PPM candidates win six council by-elections by default

Candidates from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) have won six out of nine council by-elections scheduled for August 1 after no other candidates stood for the vacant island and atoll council seats.

The six seats include the Meemu Dhiggaru constituency atoll council seat, and one seat from the Kaafu Maafushi, Vaavu Felidhoo, Haa Alif Muraidhoo, Thaa Madifushi, and Shaviyani Kanditheemu island councils.

By-elections will take place for vacant seats on the Haa Alif Dhidhoo, Haa Dhaal Naivaidhoo, and Noonu Hebadhoo island councils on August 1 between independent candidates and ruling party candidates.

The by-elections were triggered by the resignation of several island and atoll councillors.

In April, the ruling party was accused of vote buying after handing over air-conditioners to a school in Raa Atoll Alifushi, shortly before an island council by-election.

The opposition had also accused  the PPM of vote-buying and bribery in the Dhiggaru constituency parliamentary by-election earlier this month after the donation of x-ray machines and air conditioning units to the constituency.

President Abdulla Yameen had also pledged to provide a 140 kilo-watt power generator for Dhiggaru and urged constituents to vote for Faris to ensure development.

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Goverment to amend Decentralisation Act

The Government has proposed an amendment to the Decentralisation Act in a bid to cut spending on the Civil Service.

The Act, regarding local councils, currently ensures that five council members must be elected for every island with less than 3000 people, while islands with more than 3000 people are entitled to seven councilors.

In cities, one councilor is elected for each constituency.

The proposed amendment amalgamates the island and atoll councils to a limited extent.

Individuals may belong to both councils, and there will no longer be separate elections for the atoll councils.

Ibrahim Muaz, spokesman for the President’s Office, said, “the president’s thinking is not to cut-down on the number of councilors. But to elect councilors based on the population of the islands. This is a move to curb State expenditure.”

The government hopes to implement the amendment before the local council elections in January.

However, Moosa Manik, MP for Hulhu-Henveiru and Chair of the Parliamentary National Security Committee, warned that it may be impossible to implement the changes before January.

The committee has recently passed other local council reforms, including designating any island with more than 10 000 people a city (currently 25 000) and inviting the president of the women’s committee into council.

The Maldivian Democratic Party had proposed similar legislation in 2010, aiming to cut down on administrative costs by establishing seven provinces in place of the twenty-one atoll system.

The bill was shot down by opposition MPs, mostly from the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party, on the grounds that the proposed changes were unconstitutional.

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Widespread ‘secret’ slaughter of endangered sea turtles despite ban; “very tasty” say killers

Sea turtles are being slaughtered en masse in the Maldives with no action taken by authorities to uphold local conservation laws or adhere to international agreements to protect the endangered species.

A photo of one such slaughter taken earlier this year and obtained by Minivan News shows dozens of dead sea turtles on a dhoni (local boat).

The Maldives is home to five species of sea turtles. Protecting the endangered species is crucial for maintaining environmental health and functioning – and by extension human health – in the Maldives. Without this keystone species the unique Maldivian ecosystems – ocean, reef, sea grass, and coasts – would cease to exist altogether.

Reports of sea turtle slaughter, hatchlings kept as pets, and nests destroyed for egg collection are commonplace in the Maldives despite the government recognising the problem through national legislation and international agreements.

Kakaaeriyadhoo killing

Approximately 90-180 sea turtles have been killed this year by locals from Kan’ditheemu island in Shaviyani Atoll, who have been traveling to the nearby uninhabited island of Kakaaeriyadhoo to slaughter the turtles and take their eggs, an informed source told Minivan News.

“This is a well known nesting island and every night a group is going and hunting the turtles. It is so obvious, every day since January one or two are killed,” the source stated.

“They wait for them to nest on the island, or go snorkeling to hunt them. Even on Kan’ditheemu sea turtles that come into the sea grass area are killed.

“The police know about this as well as the Kan’ditheemu Island Council, who say there is nothing they can do.

“More local awareness is needed and actions need to be taken by the authorities, like issuing fines and jail time. The lack of monitoring is challenge. Additionally, fishing vessels that participate in sea turtle slaughter should be held for a time as punishment,” the source suggested.

According to the source, the Shaviyani Atoll Council is not caring for the uninhabited islands and there is no longer a caretaker for Kakaaeriyadhoo.

One individual who admitted to killing sea turtles but would not provide his identity, told Minivan News why the sea turtle slaughter occurs.

“Sea turtles have very tasty fat and meat, but it’s very rare to get. There are not enough turtles in the sea,” the source said. “The killing is done very, very secretly.”

The source acknowledged the legal prohibitions against killing endangered sea turtles, but remains undeterred. He also explained this sentiment is common nationwide, so sea turtle killing often goes unreported.

“I don’t know why the government is not taking the issue very seriously. If the government doesn’t worry, then why should we worry? I’ve never heard of anyone prosecuted or arrested, ever,” the source declared.

“People don’t know how important turtles are for the environment. Even youth don’t know that’s the truth.

“People are not very aware of legal things. If anyone sees [or knows of] someone killing turtles, they won’t report it. Communities are very small and no one wants their friends, colleagues, cousins etc, to get arrested. You’d feel guilty,” the source added.

Government disavows knowledge: “No one complains legally”

Kan’ditheemu Island Council President Nasrulla told Minivan News that the sea turtle killing is not “directly an issue” because “no one has complained legally”.

“It’s a secret thing. People go at night time,” Nasrulla stated.

“No one has officially reported this. It’s all been rumors,” he added.

No reports have been filed according to Shaviyani Atoll Council President Moosa Fathy.

Fathy explained the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture is responsible for regulating uninhabited islands.

“They have the authority to give any island to a particular person for a long term lease or they can ask a caretaker to look after the island,” Fathy stated.

“Atoll councils have not been given the [uninhabited] islands in any atoll. It’s not our duty according to article 153 of the Decentralisation Act.

“The Attorney General has to do this within six months, but it’s been nearly three years now. The Local Government Authority and the Ministry of Finance and Treasury have to do a lot.

“We cannot lease to any person or change any agreements. Two or three years before an uninhabited island would be given to a caretaker, but those agreements are not valid now,” he added.

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Ahmed Shafeeu told Minivan News that the ministry has not received any reports of sea turtle slaughter from the Kan’ditheemu Island Council or Shaviyani Atoll Council, but said he would look into the matter.

Shafeeu explained that in February 2012, the Fisheries Ministry handed over uninhabited island care to the atoll councils. The councils are expected to assign caretakers and look over leases issued by the ministry.

“It’s their responsibility to properly look after these islands. However, it’s not a requirement that someone always has to be stationed there,” Shafeeu stated.

“There are issues with atoll councils taking responsibility for uninhabited islands as per the law. They are reluctant because they have not been given the authority to lease these islands,” he added.

Shafeeu emphasised that anyone identified or suspected to be participating in sea turtle killing should be reported to the police, who should take action to enforce the law.

“Sea turtle capture and slaughter are unlawful – it’s completely forbidden. They are protected. It is a criminal offense and there are penalties for that.

“Any responsible authorities that receive any reports that come, need to attend to it immediately. Any responsible person can report directly to the police,” Shafeeu added.

In late 2012, 104 hatchling sea turtles were taken from Kakaaeriyadhoo in Shaviyani Atoll and sold to islanders on Kan’ditheemu.

Earlier in 2012, a marine biologist working in the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve reported the discovery of the remains of a baby shark and endangered sea turtle barbecue on the uninhabited island of Funadhoo, one of the country’s 14 priority nesting beaches legally protected under Maldivian law.

In 2010, sea turtles were discovered dead on the beach of Laabadhoo island in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, cut open for their eggs and left to rot on the sand.

Culture of killing

Environmental conservationist and Kan’ditheemu resident Hassan Solah discussed the endemic problem of sea turtle slaughter with Minivan News.

“This is illegal, but no one is following the law. They kill the sea turtles for the body fat and eggs. All the meat is thrown away.”

The turtle fat and derived oil is believed to be an aphrodisiac that works similarly to erectile dysfunction drugs, such as viagra.

Solah explained this belief is common throughout the Maldives and the ‘aphrodisiac’ oil is referred to as ‘theyokundi’ or ‘velaakaleyya’.

Eggs are also taken from sea turtle nests or gutted from dead adult sea turtles and cooked in a similar fashion to chicken eggs. The eggs are used to make the dish ‘velaa folhi’, similar to quiche.

“It’s not a tradition to eat sea turtles. We grow up only eating tuna, garudhiya (fish soup eaten on rice), rihaakuru (fish boiled down into a thick paste), and curries are recent since they began incorporating spices from India and Sri Lanka,” stated Solah.

Conversely, a source who has participated in sea turtle slaughter explained there is a cultural history of killing turtles for their meat and fat-derived oil.

“The practice of killing sea turtles is very traditional in many ways. We eat the flesh and the fried fat,” the source stated.

“We also used to use the oil [derived from their fat] for lights in our homes. The sea turtle oil was previously put on dhonis (boats) to protect the wood from fungus.

“Island communities used to make a huge feast where everyone would eat together. People would catch six or seven turtles. This stopped around the 1980’s.

“There used to be a big store owned by the island chief. During that time if anyone caught a turtle they would have to give the oil to the shop,” the source added.

Some of these practices have stopped because “traditions change”, he said.

Crucial for Maldivian survival

Protecting endangered sea turtles is vital given the environmental pressures the Maldives already faces – which also amplify threats to turtles – such as extreme vulnerability to climate change impacts, declining fish stocks, as well as the lack of waste management and the resulting pollution on most islands.

“Sea turtles are a big part of the food chain. All species are sea grazers and keep the ocean in balance. They need to be protected and saved,” stated Solah.

“They eat jellyfish, which have become a huge problem in some parts of the world. Hawksbill turtles primarily live on the reef, while green turtles maintain the seagrass. Because sea turtles eat predators, this allows juvenile fish to grow and flourish. They also keep algae blooms in check,” he added.

Solah also explained that protecting sea turtles and leaving their nests untouched is essential for protecting coastal erosion.

“Turtles also support coastal ecosystems. When they lay their eggs, a few do not hatch. This is important for providing the shoreline with nutrients so trees are able to grow; their roots then hold the sand in place,” he said.

There is currently a nationwide ban on catching or killing sea turtles and under this moratorium 14 priority nesting beaches are protected, however collecting eggs is still permitted.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the Maldives has voiced its concern regarding the ongoing killing and capturing of protected species, such as sea turtles, and has urged these illegal activities stop immediately.

In March of this year, the country acceded to Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This treaty aims to ensure the international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival and legally requires the Maldives to adopt domestic legislation to ensure national implementation.

The Maldives became a party to the Indian Ocean South-East Asian (IOSEA) Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding in July 2010. This international agreement seeks to conserve and replenish depleted marine turtle populations via an associated conservation and management plan that focuses on “reducing threats, conserving critical habitats, exchanging scientific data, increasing public awareness and participation, promoting regional cooperation, and seeking resources for implementation”.

The Maldives committed to the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1992, requiring the country maintain biodiversity and the conservation of endangered species. The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) has not been ratified.

Local tourism opportunities

Keeping these ecosystems health is vital to meet Maldivian subsistence needs, as well as maintain the fishing industry and attract tourists. Both sectors account for approximately two-thirds of Maldivian GDP.

“Sea turtles are protected and by keeping their populations up, more tourism profits can be gained. Every day tourists pay a lot of money to see the turtles. They will stop to visit a local island and spend money in local businesses for a full day trip,” stated Solah.

“Instead of killing sea turtles, turtle ‘points’ should be protected, so in the future it will become popular and many dive boats and safari boats will come.

“This is what happened Ari Atoll with whale sharks. Local islanders used to hunt the whale sharks, but now they have a daily ‘show’ for tourists that explains how they used to hunt the sharks, what tools they used, and it generates lots of money from tourist excursions,” Solah added.

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Haa Alif Atoll councillors allegedly assaulted in Dhidhoo

Haa Alif Atoll councillors were allegedly attacked yesterday by island councillors of Dhidhoo together with a few young men from the island, following a vote of no-confidence against the chair of the atoll council.

An atoll councillor told Minivan News on condition of anonymity that the dispute between the island and atoll councils centered around the vacant residence used by the former Atoll Chiefs.

“The Haa Alif Atoll Province Office gave us the building to stay in because atoll council members were elected from different islands, and we all had to move to Dhidhoo because that is where the atoll council has to hold meetings,” he explained.

The dispute began after island councillors claimed the building for their purposes but were overruled by the Province Office, he said.

“This has been going on for a while,” he said. “While we were staying there with the authorisation of the state, the island councilors broke in and threw us out, and they changed the locks on the doors. Then we had to wait two days without proper sleep, shelter or food.”

The incident led the atoll councillors to move a motion of no-confidence against the chair of the council, who is from Dhidhoo.

“We passed the no-confidence motion and the island councilors came with eight or nine young people in the island and attacked us,” he claimed. “Three of the atoll councillors were injured, but no major injuries were caused.”

Following the incident, he added, atoll councilors were told by the government to move back to their islands until further notice.

“Now all the councilors have moved back to their own islands and we are thinking of ways to conduct our work even while staying in different islands,” he said.

A Dhidhoo island councillor, Abdulla Waheed, however dismissed the allegations and insisted none of the events took place.

Waheed said the atoll councilors were staying in the ‘Atoll House’ unlawfully and claimed that electricity bills had not been paid for the past eight months.

“It is the property of the island council and it has been a month since the atoll councillors were told to hand the building over to the island council because it does not have an adequate place to work,” he said.

The situation in Dhidhoo was “calm and normal” in the wake of the dispute between the councils, he said.

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Atoll councilors entered the office by force, allege police

Police have accused Kaafu Atoll councilors of entering the Thulusdho island office without the permission of police, after the Thulusdho island court ordered police to hand over the keys. Police did not comply.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said that ”police are still watching over the building. When the councilors entered using force, we did not try to stop them.”

Shiyam said that police have not yet given the keys to the councilors.

”I don’t think anyone gave them the key, so police are active in the area to watch over the assets and valuables inside the building,” he said.

Local media today reported this morning the police were “laying siege” to the Atoll Office in Thulusdho and blocking the entrance, but said later that the building was handed over to the atoll councilors after minor confrontations between police and citizens of Thulusdhoo.

On Saturday, in a council meeting held in the Kaafu Atoll Office in Maafushi, the newly elected Kaafu Atoll councilors decided to move the current Atoll office in Maafushi to its former premises based in Kaafu Atoll, Thulusdhoo.

However, after the decision was made, police confiscated the keys of the former Kaafu Atoll office in Thulushoo and councilors were not allowed to enter. Councilors then requested the island court order police to hand over the keys.

The Court yesterday ordered the police to hand over the keys to the atoll councilors, and also court ordered the police not to obstruct the work of Atoll Councilors.

In a meeting with the press today, Home Minister Hassan Afeef said that the councilors did not have the authority to decide where the council’s office should be located.

”The passed the resolution not after discussing with us,” SunFM quoted Afeef saying. ”There will be no law that gives authority to the council to decide where there office will be located.”

Meanwhile the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has expressed concern over the violence occurred in Thulusdhoo.

HRCM said that the commission was observing the commotion since yesterday and noted that it was “worsening day by day.”

”We call on all the concerned authorities to solve the issue by negotiating,” said the HRCM. ”And we all call on everyone to keep their actions within the law.”

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Thulusdhoo court orders police to give councilors keys to former atoll office

The Island Court of Thulusdhoo has ordered police to hand over the keys of the former Atoll office in Thulusdhoo to councilors immediately.

Yesterday, in a council meeting held in Kaafu Atoll Office in Maafushi, the newly elected Kaafu Atoll councilors decided to move the current Atoll office to its former premises based in Kaafu Atoll, Thulusdhoo.

However, after the decision was made, police confiscated the keys of the former Kaafu Atoll office in Thulushoo and councilors were not allowed to enter. Councilors then requested the island court order police to hand over the keys.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam told Minivan News that the atoll office building in Thulusdhoo “is an asset of the government, so the councilors will have to come to a common understanding with the government if they want to enter the building.”

Shiyam said that police had taken the keys due to a conflict between the government and the newly appointed local council over officially handing over the building.

“The building in question belongs to the government, which therefore has to agree to officially hand it over to the council,” he said. “The situation requires some form of agreement between the two parties and this is what the police have tried to [negotiate].”

Shiyam said that it was waiting for the government and council representatives to come to “some sort of understanding” in order to solve the dispute.

He said he could not comment on whether the police would be obeying the island court order.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said that councilors do not have the authority to decide where the atoll office would be located.

”When this government came in to administration, the atoll office of Kaafu Atoll was located in Thulushdoo, once when the Province state minister visited Thulusdhoo, islanders forced him to leave the island,” Zuhair explained.

”So by presidential decree, President Nasheed moved the atoll office to Maafushi, to locate the atoll office on an island where province state minister could visit.”

Zuhair said that the decision of the Kaafu Atoll councilors “harms the sovereignty of the state.”

”It’s not within their legal power to decide whether they will have the atoll office on an uninhabited island or inside president’s office, only the president has that authority,” he said, adding that ”the atoll councilors will have to report to the atoll office wherever it is located”.

the dispute led to a confrontation between police and citizens of Thulusdhoo, according to the local media, in which both police and islanders were said to have been injured.

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Islanders will “regret it” if DRP wins council elections, says MDP

Secretary General for the Maldivian Democratic Party(MDP) Hussein Shah said that if the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) wins the upcoming island and atoll council election, “islanders will regret it.”

Shah accused the DRP of not wanting to “bring powers close to the people”.

”They wish everyone to be crowded in Male,” Shah said. ”Their purpose is to try and stop the government from fulfilling its pledges.”

He said the party was trying to make people understand how things would be like if DRP won the election.

”In parliamentary elections we did not win the majority,” he said. ”Now people can witness the DRP MPs trying to [sabotage] the beneficial bills sent by the government.”

DRP MP Abdulla Mausoom said people had “no confidence” in the current government “as they have feel that it is a dictatorship.”

Mausoom said that people knew now that “nobody in the MDP thinks about the nation and its people.”

”In all the islands of the country we see people against MDP,” he said. ”It’s up for them to make a good decision.”

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said that a loss to DRP in the island and atoll council election would mean the government “will not be able to do anything for the people.”

Zuhair said after the council election there will be a direct link between the government and the islanders.

”Look at the parliament now – the situation is worse there than in countries that have civil wars,” he said.

He said the supposed date to hold the elections had now passed.

DRP Deputy Leader Umar Naseer claimed that the government had proved it could not run the country.

”Eighteen months have passed and they haven’t done anything,” Umar said. ”DRP would try to do everything it can to develop the islands.”

”Nothing will happen if MDP wins, ” he said. ”Things will be just same as they are.”

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