MMPRC to host UK journalists in October

The Maldives Media and Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) will host a familiarisation tour for UK journalists between October 10 and 15.

“The main objective of this FAM trip coordinated by the Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation in collaboration with McCluskey International (official PR representative Maldives in UK) is to allow journalists from a vast range of media to experience the Maldives tourism product and in line generate positive publicity to the destination,” read an MMPRC press release.

The corporation also announced earlier this month that it was launching a global advertising campaign with the BBC, running throughout September and October, which would target regional markets in Europe, Asia Pacific, South Asia, Middle East, America and North Africa.

Next month, UK journalists from four five magazines will be hosted in Four Seasons KudaHuraa, Anantarah Kihavah, and Traders Hotel in Malé.

Visitors from the UK to the Maldives currently account for 7.4 percent of market share, making it the third largest source market behind China and Germany.

During the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinpeng earlier this week, President Abdulla Yameen said that he hoped to increase Chinese tourists – who already make up 30 percent of all arrivals – three fold over the next four years.


Saudi Arabia’s growing role in the Maldives: BBC

“Foreign holidaymakers in the Maldives, one of the world’s most popular luxury honeymoon destination, were not happy earlier this year when their hotel bookings were cancelled at short notice,” writes Charles Haviland for the BBC.

“The reason was that Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, had booked out three whole islands for nearly a month.

It is just one example of the growing role of Saudi investment in the archipelago, a factor which may make the Maldives’ government unwilling to ruffle the feathers of Saudi Arabia’s rulers.

“The well-being of our guests is always our primary concern,” a spokeswoman for the Anantara resorts told the British newspaper, the Daily Mail, which reported that some tourists were angry at being moved to make way for the Saudi prince.

Prince Salman, who is also Saudi Arabia’s defence minister, was on an official business visit at the invitation of Maldives President Abdulla Yameen, who was elected in November after two years of political turmoil.”

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Security concerns preoccupy polls, says the Guardian and the BBC

Results of today’s presidential election may improve stability not only in the Maldives, but across the Islamic world, reports UK media The Guardian.

“I’ve always said that what happens in Maldives first, happens in the Middle East later,” candidate and former president Mohamed Nasheed told reporters in Male’ earlier this week.

Nasheed’s statement is reciprocated by intensified attention from regional powers, reports the Guardian. Citing India’s commercial and diplomatic ties with the archipelago, and Sri Lanka’s “cultural and other ties”, the publication adds that “China too is keenly interested in developments in the strategically situation island nation.”

The country has pushed for new growth in recent years, however international media note that basic security is a concern for voting Maldivians.

“‘Some Maldivians appear nostalgic for the stability of the long decades of [former president Maumoon Abdul] Gayoom’s rule, particularly elements of the security forces,” writes The Guardian, noting that Maldives Police Chief Abdulla Riyaz thanked Gayoom for founding national police services via Twitter six days ago.

BBC News received similar information from Transparency Maldives, a branch of Transparency International. Group representative Thoriq Hamed said the four candidates had campaigned “smoothly and peacefully,” but stated that there remains “some apprehension and confidence issues about the security forces.”

Other key issues in today’s presidential election highlighted by foreign media include religion, nationalism, gender equality, education and the economy.

Both publications observe that last year’s change in leadership sparked political unrest and generated anxiety over the negative impact on the country’s vital tourism industry. The presidential election is the second multi-party democratic election in the nation’s history, and the first since February 2012’s controversial transfer of power.


Tourism Ministry lauds global PR efforts as opposition proposes promo spending cuts

Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal has claimed marketing plans designed to boost consumer confidence in the Maldives have had a positive impact over the last three months, as parliament prepares to debate a proposal on cutting state promotional spending.

Maleeh said that the nature of global media coverage about the Maldives had been “much better” over the last three months, following a decision to hire several marketing firms to promote the country following February’s controversial  transfer of power.

Among these firms is the high-profile multinational PR group Ruder Finn, which has been employed to “instil confidence in the tourism industry of the Maldives [and] gain understanding and public acknowledgement of the Maldives in the international community”.

Ruder Finn, which was appointed back in April under a three month contract reported in some media to amount to US$150,000 a month, has come under some criticism from at least one opposition MP, who has forwarded a proposal to parliament on rejecting further state spending on the contract.

MP Ibrahim Rasheed hit out at the cost of the Ruder Finn contract as being unsustainable considering the current economic situation in the Maldives.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Deputy Tourism Minister Maleeh said he was aware of the parliamentary resolution forwarded by the MDP MP for Maafannu-South, stressing concern at the potential impact it could have on the national economy.

“I’ve heard of the motion. Certainly from time to time MPs in the People’s Majlis will submit not-so-important motions,” he said.

The country has experienced ongoing political tensions amidst allegations by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) that the elected government of former President Mohamed Nasheed was ousted back in February under a “coup d’etat” supported by opposition politicians, mutinous sections of the police and military and certain business leaders.

Within the current partisan atmosphere, Maleeh called on politicians, regardless of their politics, to avoid actions that would sabotage the tourism industry and the wider national economy.

“I am concerned that a major source of revenue such as tourism is being put at risk. I condemn such acts,” he said, referring to MP Rasheed’s motion to cancel state funding to hire Ruder Finn. “Without tourism the economy would be in a grave state. It is the biggest contributor to our national economy for the last 40 years. Politicians should leave the economy aside.”

According to Maleeh, during the last three years, the former government “slashed” the budget set aside for the promotion of tourism.

He added, that with President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan now in office, the new government was doing “all it could”, along with working in collaboration with the private sector, to boost promotional efforts and undo the impacts of international headlines concerning February’s transfer of power.

However, Maleeh stressed that Ruder Finn was just one of a number of promotional contracts that had been signed by the government to try and improve damage to consumer confidence in the country’s tourism industry.

“We have several international contracts with agencies that are carrying out specific focuses for us,” he said.

Earlier this month, the tourism industry announced it had signed a contract to advertise the Maldives under its recently reinstated “Sunny Side of Life” branding on the BBC weather service both through its online and World Service.

When contacted by Minivan News today about the present nature of its contract with the Maldives government, as well as the company’s aims for its work in the country, Ruder Finn’s Ethics Officer Emmanuel Tchividjian said he had “no comment”.

The contract, said to cost US$150,000 a month for the three month-long campaign, was the result of a collaboration with the private sector that tourism authorities have said they hope to continue over the next few months as they secure more funding.

In addressing the impact of the industry’s recent promotional spending Maleeh added that the “results were hard to measure”, but added that there had been a positive impact during the last financial quarter on media coverage of the country.

“Marketing is a long-term strategy. It therefore can take time to get clear results,” he said. “However, with marketing contracts such as these, the main agenda is to protect tourism.”

Amidst “quite aggressive” marketing strategies being employed by neighbouring destinations such as Sri Lanka, Maleeh stressed that improved budgets would allow the country to compete more evenly. To this end, he expressed commitment to secure further private sector support such as the country’s resort industry to aid future marketing efforts.

With the Ruder Finn contract expected to expire next month, Maleeh stressed that no decision had yet been taken on whether to continue using the group in the future.

“That decision would depend of a review of the agreement when the contract was over,” he said, stressing that any decision would be based on the perceived impacts of its current work on the global perceptions of the Maldives.

MP Rasheed today told Minivan News that he had sought to forward a proposal to parliament that calls for a cessation of state funds to be spent on the Ruder Finn contract over concerns that money was being diverted from other areas such as public health.

With a hearing now scheduled for next Monday (July 2), Ibrahim Rasheed said he was confident that the proposal would be able to garner sufficient support in the Majlis chamber.

“We don’t have a budget for sewerage programmes or to fund healthcare,” he said. It is the government who are telling us the don’t have the money for these things.

When questioned by Minivan News as to whether the potential economic benefits of PR efforts from a group like Ruder Finn would not provide a greater economic boost than the amount being paid, Rasheed remained sceptical.

“My argument remains that there are not enough funds for this. [The government] should not be spending that amount on their image,” he argued.


Maldives to sponsor BBC world weather forecasts

The world weather service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) will be sponsored by the Maldives between June 18 and August 21, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation has said.

An agreement with the BBC regarding sponsorship of its international weather broadcasts is scheduled to be signed tomorrow at the Conrad Rangali Island Resort as part of a wider international marketing focus by the country’s tourism authorities.

The BBC, Britain’s public service broadcaster, is the world’s largest broadcasting corporation in terms of audience numbers and employees.


If I had no role in coup, I don’t have to resign, Waheed tells BBC

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has told the BBC he would not necessarily resign even if the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) were to find evidence of a coup, following  investigations of the ousting of the former President Mohamed Nasheed.

“If [the commission] find out that I had a role in bringing about a coup, then I would definitely resign,” he said.

“But if I have no role – if somebody else has done it – it doesn’t mean I have to resign, according to the law of the Maldives.”

Waheed’s interview with the BBC came whilst the President was in London as an invitee to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

He would not be drawn into debate ovr what course of action he would take should the commission determine the circumstances surrounding the transfer of power in February to have been illegal.

The BBC reported Waheed as saying only that he would seek “legal guidance” in this eventuality.

Waheed suggested that the consequences of his resignation and a premature election would be far worse for the country.

“We have to consider the political situation. We have other political parties – big political parties – who are not ready for an election. I have to exercise my judgement – as leader of the country – to make sure we don’t get into a worse political turmoil.”

He also told the UK’s Financial Times that calling early elections would be “reckless”, as it would require him to resign hand power to the Speaker of Parliament, Dr Abdulla Shahid, “who got elected with just 2,000 votes”.

Dr Waheed’s own Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP) received 518 votes in the 2009 Parliamentary Election, and had 2625 members as of February 27.

President’s Office Spokesman Abbas Adil Riza explained that the suggestion that some big political parties were not ready for elections referred to the “unanimous” desire of all political parties to introduce new legislation that would govern the activities of political parties.

Abbas claimed that a ‘Political Parties Act’ was discussed at the all party talks held at Bandos Island resort last weekend. Such legislation would make it easier to penalise parties who fail to accept the outcomes of elections or who violate the law, he said.

The Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) international spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor agreed that both elections and reforms were needed to move out of the current political crisis, but questioned the President’s ability to oversee the required changes.

“He is unable to get these reforms as he is not in control of the coalition, which is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode,” said Ghafoor.

Ghafoor saw such comments as an attempt by the President to posit himself as an interim president.

“I suspect he is playing the victim card, saying ‘I am holding on for the sake of this country’, pleading with the international community to help him, “ Ghafoor continued.

Former Maldives High Commissioner to the UK Dr Farahanaz Faizal told the BBC that Waheed’s February move from the Vice President’s to the President’s office would become an illegitimate one if any kind of coup is proven.

“If the elected president has been deposed unconstitutionally, then there is no rightful succession of the vice-president,” said Faizal.

Not ready for elections?

When speaking with the BBC in April, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon also argued that reforms were needed before free and fair elections could be held.

One of the institutions criticised by Dunya, the Elections Commission (EC), dismissed suggestions that it was too weak to supervise polls almost immediately after they were made, claiming it was ready to hold any election when required.

This claim appeared to be substantiated later in the month as several elections, including two parliamentary by-elections, were held over the same weekend in mid-April without incident.

Abbas told Minivan News today that reform of the EC was an issue raised again at the Bandos round of all party talks.

Identifying necessary reforms for independent posts and institutions, discussing laws to be enacted, and possible amendments to the constitutions were third, fourth and fifth, respectively, on the talks’ six point agenda.

Setting a date for fresh presidential elections was last on the list.

The first item on the party talks’ agenda was solving the problem of public disturbances, the governing coalition’s solutions to which led the MDP to argue that the talks were not being taken seriously.

Among the 30 points suggested by the coalition to alleviate “political turbulence” in the country, it was suggested that all partys stop practicing black magic and using sexual and erotic tools.

It was also suggested that parties not walk in groups of more than 10, not hold rallies in the street, and stop the use of megaphones in protests.

The MDP yesterday held its usual Friday protest as many hundreds marched round the streets of the capital. Loudspeakers accompanied the rally, challenging the legitimacy of the current government and calling for early elections.

The party’s rally yesterday was also used as an opportunity to celebrate world environment day.

Earlier this week, US Senator Robert Casey, who Chairs the Senate’s Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs Subcommittee, called for elections as early as possible “to ensure that the seeds of the democratic process planted in 2008 are able to flourish.”

In April United States pledged US$500,000 (Rf7.7million) in technical assistance to assist Maldivian institutions in holding free and fair presidential elections, available from July 2012.

However President Waheed has said repeatedly that he is constitutionally restrained from bringing elections forward any further than July 2013.


‘Apocalyptic’ floating island of waste in the Maldives: BBC

The Maldives are known as an unspoilt, paradise island destination for upmarket tourists but the BBC’s Simon Reeve has paid a visit to a part of the Maldives that tourists do not see – a huge floating island waste dump.

He was accompanied by local conservationist Marie Celine who explained how the country struggles with waste management.

The Maldives’ government told the BBC they were looking at ways to tackle their waste problem.

View the report here


Police charge driver in 2011 Kuredu quad-bike crash that killed British newlyweds

Police have forwarded a case against the driver of a quad-bike that crashed and killed two passengers on Kuredu Island Resort to the Prosecutor General (PG)’s office.

The recently-married British couple from West Yorkshire, Emma and Jonathan Gray, were riding on the quad-bike as passengers when it collided with a tree around 4:00am on August 6, 2011. The pair had been married for just seven days and had a six-month old son, Jake.

Police subsequently identified the driver as 23 year-old Swedish national Filip Eugen Petre, the son of a shareholder of the company that operates the resort, who was employed by the company as a trainee guest relations officer.

Petre, who was injured in the crash, was charged under section 88 (d) of the penal code, Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News today. He confirmed that Petre was in the Maldives and was free to move about, “although his passport has been retained.”

The section cited broadly refers to “Disobedience to order authorised by Sharia or law”. Article (d) reads that “Where such disobedience resulted in the death of a person the offender shall be subjected to punishment described by Islamic Law.”

UK media reporting the charges have noted that the maximum extent of these punishments include the death penalty, however while this sentence is still given by the courts it is usually commuted to up to 25 years imprisonment and was last implemented in 1953: Hakim Didi, by firing squad, on charges of practicing black magic.

Several MPs in parliament, including Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Ibrahim Muthalib and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Rasheed have previously submitted amendments to the relevant Clemency Act demanding that such sentences be carried out if upheld at Supreme Court level, however they have not been passed.

The prospect of Petre facing such a penalty was “shocking. It’s absolutely horrendous,” Jonathan’s mother Cath Davies told the Halifax Courier.

“We never expected there to be an outcome like this. It’s good they have dealt with it. It’s great they have investigated it properly. But I wouldn’t want it to be carried out. It’s not going to bring Jay and Emma back. It’s not going to make us feel any better. It doesn’t seem right. I just find it quite abhorrent,” she told the paper.

“It’s not like he set out to maliciously hurt or kill them. He never intended it. What happened was a tragic accident and not the result of wilful or malicious intention.”

Hearing of the charges had “brought back all the events that happened and what we have gone through since,” she said.

“We don’t want to keep revisiting these things. We want to move on and we want to remember Jay and Emma for the lovely couple they were and not always being brought back to the tragic event that ended their lives,” she said.

Following the incident in 2011, Filip’s father Lars Petre provided a statement to Minivan News in which he described the accident as “by far the most tragic event in my life, and words cannot describe how saddened we are. I and my family are deeply concerned with errors on some of the media reports and we are also deeply saddened by some accusations made at my son.”

“My son Filip Petre (23 years) was taking the two guests home, to the other side of the island, when he experienced some difficulties with the bike, and crashed headlong into a tree on the road. The crash took two lives and badly injured my son.

“He fell unconscious with the crash and woke up some time later to find the two deceased also lying on the road. He immediately called for help and worked alongside with the doctor who arrived to try and save the victims of the crash, while he was bleeding himself.

“The quad bike which my son was driving was registered and my son Filip is licensed to drive such vehicles. My son Filip and his brother Tom (who was the first to arrive at the scene of the accident with the doctor), the management and staff of Kuredhu have been cooperating with the police investigation fully, and I give every assurance that they will continue to do so in the future.

“We understand the grief of the families who lost their loved ones in the accident, and we also respect the duty of the Maldives Police Service to investigate the matter. However the fact remains that what happened on August 6 is an accident, a very tragic fatal event, which my son no anyone else had the power to change.”


President interviewed by BBC – “The last thing I want to do is circumvent the constitution”

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan was interviewed last week by Steven Sackur for the BBC’s flagship news programme ‘HARDtalk’.  Former President Mohamed Nasheed spoke with the uncompromising Sackur one month ago and the current president’s appearance on the show was no less hard-hitting.

When introducing the president, Mr Sackur contrasted the idyllic “heaven” of the Maldives’ image in the tourism industry, with the “political hell” of “street protests, sporadic violence and parliamentary chaos.”

In Sackur’s first question to Waheed, he referred to a recent press release during Waheed’s tour of Shaviyani Atoll. Waheed was asked how he could describe the country as having changed for the better?

Waheed explained that the last three years had seen an erosion of the constitution’s values and the rule of law in the country and that he felt he had an opportunity to put democracy “back on track.”

Sackur went on to contrast this response with a statement Waheed had, as the former vice-president, given to the United Nations General Assembly last September.  In the statement, Waheed said “Maldivians enjoy more freedoms today than at any other point in their history”, describing the Maldives as a “harbinger of the Arab awakening”.

At this point, Waheed drew upon the example of the military detention of Chief Justice Abdulla Mohamed, positing this as a breach of the people’s basic rights to freedom from arbitrary arrest and freedom from fear.

This answer prompted Sackur to ask whether this incident was sufficient to justify a coup. Waheed denied that there had been a coup.

After asking Mr Waheed to comment on the opinions of his brother, former Deputy High Commissioner to the UK, Naushad Waheed, that the current government was illegitimate, he responded that his brother’s loyalty to Nasheed was understandable, having been appointed to a senior diplomatic post by the former President.


The intensity of the interview climaxed as Sackur pressed Waheed to commit to the early elections that have been called for by the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the Commonwealth.

Waheed steadfastly maintained that as the President, he was constitutionally able to move elections forward only 120 days. Whilst theoretically in support of early poll, his continued deferral to the People’s Majlis appeared to wear thin with Sackur.

Waheed: “[Nasheed] can have elections this year if the parliament approves an amendment to the constitution…I am all for it and I have already said that I will encourage and work with all political parties…”

Sackur interrupted, “So when? When would you like to see the election?”

“As early as the Parliament wants” responded Waheed hesitantly before again being cut off by his interviewer.

“Yes but when? Show some leadership here. You have taken the job, you are the President, tell me when these elections could take place – the earliest moment,” prodded Sackur.

“We have several political parties here. This is not a dictatorship” responded Waheed.

After this exchange, Sackur was able to gain Waheed’s assurance that the arrangement for early elections ought to be the first order of business for resolving political deadlock in the country.

This commitment itself was significant as a major stumbling block in the all-party talks has been the failure to agree on an order of precedence for the seven-point agenda, of which early presidential elections is just one point.

This impasse resulted in the opening of Parliament on March 1 being blocked by the MDP who are poised to do the same with tomorrow’s rescheduled opening.

Faustian Pact?

The next line of questioning concerned the controversial make-up of Waheed’s government, which has come under scrutiny due to a number of representatives who also worked under the authoritarian President Maumoon Gayoom.

After Waheed had highlighted the MDP’s refusal to trust his administration, Sackur commented: “Maybe by throwing your lot in with Gayoom’s people he doesn’t feel you’re deserving of his trust. Let’s remember, Gayoom is the man who made him a prisoner of conscience, who in effect forced you into exile for years.”

“Gayoom and his people are not committed to democracy,” continued Sackur, “Why are you working with them?”

Waheed defended his appointments, arguing that there are seven political parties involved in his cabinet and that only three of the fourteen are from Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM). He also added that some of Nasheed’s closest allies had worked in Gayoom’s cabinet.

“This country is a small country” said Waheed, “Gayoom was ruling this country for thirty years. Most of the people who have got education here went through higher education during his time. Government was the biggest employer so almost everybody had some role in this government.”

After being asked about the brutal suppression of demonstrators the day after Nasheed’s resignation, Waheed argued that those protesting Nasheed’s government at the start of the year were dispersed similarly and “nobody made a big deal of it”.

He did concede that the police force was in need of better training in order to build people’s confidence in its capability.

At this point, Sackur summarised his argument by asking the President if he had ever wondered in his “darker moments” if he had “engaged in a Faustian pact?”

The journalist continued to suggest that this ‘deal with the devil’ may mean things in the Maldives will get worse before they get better.

Waheed responded, “We have a situation here where it’s Nasheed’s way or no way. All the political parties are working with me, they represent a majority of the people in this country…The only disturbances that are caused here are caused by Mr Nasheed’s supporters.”

To conclude, Sackur asked how long this “Very difficult phase in the Maldives current politics was going to last?”

“I hope not too long” replied Waheed, “Even today I met with the parliamentary leader of Nasheed’s party and I have assured him that I would support any decision of the parliament to hold early elections”

“I have assured him that we will have elections, even if the parliament can’t agree, we will have elections as early as possible under the current constitution.”

The leader of the MDP’s Parliamentary group, Ibrahim Mohamed ‘Ibu’ Solih,  emerged from the aforementioned meeting reporting his disappointment that no progress had been made.

Waheed was allowed the final word: “We have come to this point because we have not respected the constitution and we have not respected the rule of law. The last thing I want to do is circumvent the constitution.”