Saving the Kulhudhuffushi mangroves

In the mid-morning heat Latheefa Ahmed knelt thigh deep in the Kulhudhuffushi mangrove, head scarf muddy, long skirt tied beneath her buttocks as she buried coconut husks in a shallow muddy hole.

“This is the struggle we must put up for a few coins,” said the 58-year-old coir-rope weaver.

Latheefa usually leaves the coconut husks to soak in the mud for eight months. Once soft, the fibers are pounded, washed in salt water, dried in the sun, and hand woven into coir-rope or roanu, a product once famed for its strength and durability.

Roanu had been used in boat building, in the construction of homes and in the making of furniture. But now, it is mainly used as decoration in the country’s luxury resorts.

With the decline of the coir-rope industry and the move away from traditional ways of life, the majority of Kulhudhuffushi islanders see little use to the mangrove. The vast area is now used as a waste dump and islanders have proposed dredging the site for airport development or to give out plots of land.

The plight of the Kulhudhuffushi wetlands is indicative of lack of awareness of the essential eco services mangroves provide, from acting as habitats to birds and nurseries to fish, stabilising water tables, and enriching soil for agriculture, to protecting coast lines from tidal surges.

The neglect of mangrove ecosystems seems surprising as the Maldivian economy depends heavily on tourism, an industry that thrives on rich biodiversity.

Environmentalists have called for the introduction of new economic activities in mangroves such as preservation for local tourism or harvesting seafood on a commercial scale.

Asset or dump?

Executive Director of environmental NGO Bluepeace Ali Rilwan says mangroves are only second in biodiversity richness to coral reefs in the Maldives. Mangroves and wetlands act as carbon sinkholes, capturing twice the amount of carbon dioxide as other ecosystems, he said.

Lamenting the lack of research on Maldivian mangroves, Rilwan said atoll mangroves are different to those on the continental shelf as they exist in small patches on islands and boast a different variety of vegetation and wildlife.

Supporters of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) have proposed the Kulhudhuffushi mangrove be filled in and developed into the airport promised by President Abdulla Yameen during the 2013 presidential elections.

Ali Hussein, a 50-year-old boat captain, said an airport was necessary to relieve high levels of unemployment on the island – the most populous in the North.

“There is no use to the mangrove. An airport will provide jobs. The only available jobs on the island right now are as cashiers at shops. At the Hanimadhoo airport, all the jobs go to people from Hanimaadhoo. They don’t hire graduates from Kulhudhuffishi,” he said.

Taxi driver Ahmed Nizar said Kulhudhuffushi islanders now pay MVR1500 (US$100) for a boat to Hanimadhoo, which is equivalent to a one-way air ticket from Hanimadhoo to Malé.

“When PPM asked us how can they get a majority in Kulhudhuffushi, we told them build us an airport. They agreed. Then I personally drew the pictures of the airport that you see on the walls of houses now,” he said proudly.

Those who oppose the venture — pointing out the airport 25 minutes away in Hanimaadhoo — propose the mangrove be filled in to give out plots of land for housing to ease population pressure.

No place for birds, turtles

However, for Kulhudhuffushi Councilor Mohamed Aiman, the mangrove is the “most important asset the island has”.

The council would not obstruct airport development on the island, Aiman said. But he believes the mangrove must be preserved for guesthouse tourism. Kulhudhuffushi lacks sandy beaches, and the mangrove is the only remaining site of untouched natural beauty, he said.

Local tourism would revive the coir-rope industry as well, Aiman said.

“When guests come to islands they would want to experience the culture and traditions of the island. This will have a positive effect on coir-rope making and haalu folhi [sweet crepe] production,” he said.

Bluepeace’s Rilwan blames the lack of awareness on the lack of research into mangroves, and said the biodiversity of mangroves must be documented for better conservation.

He has called for the introduction of new economic activities in mangroves such as the harvest of mud crabs to increase the economic value of the area.

Meanwhile, Director General at the Environmental Protection Authority, Ibrahim Naeem says Maldivians must reconsider their approach to development.

“Land is being reclaimed, mangroves filled in, reefs dynamited, for airports, for houses, for harbors without any thought to their environmental impacts. Large swathes of land have been reclaimed from the sea in several islands, but there is no demand for these lands. We have to consider what we are doing. We are destroying the very ecosystems tourism is dependent on,” he said.

“Islands and sandbanks are being leased out for economic activity. There are no sandbanks for the birds or the turtles. When we talk of sustaining tourism, we have to think about sustaining our biodiversity, protecting all of our living creatures.”

This article is part of an environmental journalism project supported by Banyan Tree Maldives.

Related to this story

Precious mangrove under threat as government plans airport in Kulhudhuffushi

Kulhudhuffushi airport unconstitutional and unfeasible, says Ecocare


Maldives should forget about mitigating climate change, says Bluepeace

The Maldives should forget about stopping the effects of climate change and focus instead on adaptation, says environmental NGO Bluepeace.

“Mitigation is something we have to forget about at the national level,” said Bluepeace Executive Director Ali Rilwan.

Rilwan’s comments come after the conclusion of UN climate change talks in Peru, which have resulted in an agreement slammed as “very weak” by environmental groups.

“We don’t have much faith,” said Rilwan, citing the international community’s failure to follow through on previous commitments. “Locally, we have to look at adaptation. Maldives is the most low-lying country – we have to have dry land.”

As talks concluded in Lima, a delegation of cabinet ministers headed to Beijing for economic talks that will include plans for oil exploration in Maldivian territorial waters – a policy Rilwan described as “ironic”.

China-Maldives Joint Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation

“On paper, there are a lot of adaptation programmes, but in reality you don’t see it happening,” he said, perceiving a lack of concern about climate change within the Maldives.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed, who has gained international acclaim as an environmental activist, has recently expressed his concern that the chance to mitigate the effects of climate change has been missed.

“The world has lost the window of opportunity to mend its ways,” he told the International Bar Association in October, suggesting Maldivians were likely to become the world’s first climate change refugees.

“Big emitters have sentenced us. The world temperature will rise, and the seas will rise over our nose.”

“And what restitution, if any, can be made for the damage done to us – damage we warned about, but did not cause? I fear that these questions will be answered one day, not in the abstract, but in a court of law. And I fear that we, the people of the Maldives, will be the star witness.”

Lima Declaration

The Lima Declaration sets out a framework which further differentiates developing and rich states, as well as retaining plans for a “loss and damage” scheme to provide financial support to “vulnerable” developing nations.

However, plans to determine what information countries should provide in future emission reduction pledges were watered down after fierce negotiations.

The word “may” instead of “shall” was eventually used in the final text regarding quantifiable information to show how states intend to reduce emissions targets.

WWF officials have said the declaration text “went from weak to weaker to weakest and it’s very weak indeed”, while Friends of the Earth International said fears the talks would fail to deliver “a fair and ambitious outcome” had been proven “tragically accurate”.

The reduction pledges are required prior to the COP 21 climate change talks in Paris next December, which will seek to decide upon a new framework for a universal and legally binding agreement on climate change.

Maldivian representatives in Lima told the conference this week: “We do not want to be in Paris to get perished”.

Maldives delegation at UN climate conference in Peru

Noting the recent pledges to the Green Climate Fund – intended to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 – Ambassador Ahmed Sareer said that “as a small island developing state that is constantly facing an existential threat, the current pledges are simply not enough”.

Officials from the environment ministry were not responding to calls at the time of press.

The Maldives has recently become chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), while former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has called on larger nations to allow vulnerable states to take a lead in climate change policy.

Ambassador Sareer said this week that the Maldives’ share of global emission is negligible, and that the government of Maldives was striving to make the country resilient.

The Ministry of Environment and Energy reported that Sareer also attended a number of fringe events in Lima, telling attendees at a Japanese event of the Maldives’ plans to reduce dependency on fossil fuels.

As part of a move to reduce this dependency – which consumes around 30 percent of the country’s GDP – the current government has pledged to work with international groups to explore the potential of oil and gas reserves in the country.

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Shainee told media that the government would discuss the issue with two Chinese companies this week as a delegation headed to Beijing for the first China-Maldives Joint Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation.

India has already offered to assist in oil exploration within Maldivian territorial waters, while a seismic survey was carried out by a German research vessel in August.

Related to this story

Maldivians could be among first climate refugees, warns Nasheed

Silk road deal to be concluded in China-Maldives economic committee

Former President Gayoom calls for leadership of small island states in climate change


Local councils should be empowered to tackle the waste problem: Bluepeace

Local environmental NGO Bluepeace has said that environmental issues, in particular waste management, cannot be tackled without empowering local authorities and the provision of technical expertise and funding.

Speaking to Minivan News about the organisation’s most recent endeavor – empowering local councils to manage waste locally -Executive Director of Bluepeace Ali Rilwan said the councils should have dedicated municipal workers and facilities in order to effectively manage waste.

“It cannot be achieved by a ministry located in Malé. There should be well trained technical personnel at the councils such as environment officers and fisheries officers,” said Rilwan.

Stating that the biggest obstacle to waste management at the moment is a lack of commitment from relevant authorities, Rilwan said that some projects – such as a World Bank scheme in the north – are slowly progressing.

In order to provide the councils with knowledge and technical assistance to establish integrated solid waste management programmes, Bluepeace has published a ‘Waste Management Handbook’.

According to the group, this book – published with assistance from the World Bank – consists of proven concepts and recommends the ideal ways to manage waste locally with minimum environmental damage.

The five focal areas addressed are waste-management plans, ordinances of the government and councils, enforcement mechanisms, easy disposal of waste, and the awareness and participation of the general public.

“It includes methods of waste reduction, reusing, recycling, composting. It covers the whole solid waste management regime at a local level, including how to measure and conduct research,” explained Rilwan.

2000 free copies of the book will be distributed to councils and libraries around the country following its launch as the Hulhudhuffaaru Island Environment Day event.

To increase public engagement in dealing with environmental issues, Bluepeace organised a public discussion on waste, an island clean-up program with Hulhudhuffaaru School students, and the planting of trees and coconut palms around the island.

To further engage the public and assist councils, Bluepeace will be conducting closely managed workshops regarding the implementation of the plans contained in the book and will provide assistance in areas such as placing waste bins.

A pilot workshop is to be carried out in Hulhudhuffaaru, Rasgetheemu, and Angolhitheemu islands and – based on its success – will be expanded to other islands.

“Even without a workshop, this is written in very simple Dhivehi language, and it is very detailed so that anyone can understand,” said Rilwan.

He noted that having a reference book would help in preventing practices damaging to the environment, noting that Bluepeace has come across islands where people have trie to reclaim land by dumping harmful waste into the lagoon, believing it to be an environmentally friendly method.

“This book is focused on managing waste at a local level, but it should be complemented with action at a national level. For instance, we imposed a very high duty on plastic products, but people are importing raw materials and producing plastic here. So this policy is not working and we don’t have any standard for the plastic used here.”

While toxic waste such as batteries should be destroyed in a specific way, Rilwan said that these things cannot be carried out locally and need to be done at a national level. He also said that currently no research or policies for waste management exists in the Maldives.

“Even if the law forbids littering, if there are no bins people will litter,” he said, referring to the new waste management regulation which came into partial force on February 5.

To acquire necessary facilities for managing waste, the Bluepeace handbook suggests collecting a small fee from each household, establishing an island waste management fund, making money from selling waste and organic compost, and charging businesses for using the local system.


Oil exploration attracts investors at Singapore investment forum

The Maldives has garnered interest in oil exploration during an investment forum in Singapore.

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Dr. Mohamed Shainee, told Minivan News at least one investor will be visiting the Maldives in the coming weeks to present their company profile and discuss the project further.

Over 160 companies and nearly 200 representatives from 16 countries were present at the first overseas investor forum organised by the Maldives.

Speaking at the event on Friday, Shainee assured potential investors that there was no room to refute the presence of oil in the Maldives based on seismic testing by Royal Dutch Shell.

“Those studies were carried out 25 to 27 years ago, with limited technology capable of investigating under sea. However, now we have better technology that is more capable of more exploration,” he said.

Oil has been found in both Sri Lanka and India and therefore there is a high possibility that it will be found in Maldives too, he added.

Lying just a meter above sea level, the Maldives is among the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change impacts such as sea level rise, ocean acidification and extreme weather events.

Crude oil will diversify and stabilise the economy, President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has said. At present, the Maldives heavily relies on tourism, which supports an estimated 70 – 80 percent of its GDP.

However, some have argued that economic benefits will not outweigh the possible environmental repercussions.

“When you take up the issues of drilling, we are concerned about the oil container tanks with unrefined fuel passing through,” concluded Executive Director of local NGO Bluepeace Ali Rilwan. “We can’t afford to go into that dirty energy.”

With this in mind, Rilwan asked, “can we avoid a disaster in the Maldives? The Maldives is a tiny island and this can have a very negative impact, the tanks are a worrying thing.”

In addition to oil exploration, the government is seeking investment in establishing a port in northern Ihavandhippolhu Atoll, land reclamation and maritime seaport in Hulhumalé, expansion of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) and the relocation and expansion of the central port to Thilafushi Island.

The projects for which the government was seeking investors were “designed to position Maldives to take advantage of its strategic location as a hub and gateway for commerce, innovation and creativity, linking rest of the globe with South Asia,” President Yameen said in his keynote address.

“To address investment climate and to facilitate mega investments with attractive incentive packages, a Special Economic Zone Bill will be tabled in the parliament soon. Additionally, the Foreign Investment Act and Companies Act are being revised to cater the ever increasing needs of the modern foreign investors,” he added.

Meanwhile, a Singaporean court is currently overseeing the arbitration process between the Maldives government and Indian infrastructure giant GMR in which the company has claimed US$ 1.4 billion for the abrupt termination of a concession agreement to develop the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).


Earth Hour illuminates Maldives’ ongoing eco-concerns

Maldivians across the country are being encouraged to turn away from the creature comforts of electricity between 8:30pm and 9:30pm tonight to celebrate the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Earth Hour initiative.

With 5,200 cities around the world taking part in the scheme, Male’ residents are being asked to turn off their lights and other non-essential electronics tonight in a bid to raise awareness of the potential dangers facing the planet from factors like global warming. The Maldives has been an outspoken advocate for cutting the planet’s global carbon footprint in recent years, particularly under the previous government.

The current Ministry of Environment and Housing has run two days of events this weekend in collaboration with the Maldives Energy Authority, the Scout Association of Maldives and the Maldives’ State Electricity Company (STELCO) relating to renewable energy developments to coincide with Earth Hour.

Fifty students from each of Male’s schools have  have received invites to the ongoing events, which began yesterday at Hiriya School under the banner of promoting renewable energy sources. Several tourism enterprises and properties will be hosting special events during the day. These include Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, which has said it to be switching off all lights at non-critical areas of the premises to mark earth hour.

Political power

Whilst some enterprises and homes in the Maldives capital will temporarily cut their power supplies, the country does not however appear quite as able to switch off the increasingly fraught political divides exacerbated by former President Mohamed Nasheed’s controversial resignation last month.  Nasheed has himself since claimed he was ousted in a “coup d’etat” by political opposition and a mutiny involving certain sections of the police and military.

In this climate, local environmental NGO Bluepeace has claimed that the current political uncertainty in the country relating to questions over the legitimacy of the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan would unquestionably set back the country’s commitments to sustainable development.

With demonstrations raging both in and out of the Majlis between pro- and anti-government supporters over the legitimacy and the functioning of democratic institutions, Bluepeace Director Ahmed Ikram claimed discussions on domestic environmental commitments were being sidelined.

Ikram claimed that national media, beyond covering international campaigns like Earth Hour, were not providing much coverage or promotion to climate change adoption in the Maldives. Ikram alleged this was in part due to sections of the media favouring the former president’s political opponents, reflecting the politicisation of environmental commitments.

“We support [former] President Nasheed. Yes there are times when we may have disagreed with his policies, but we still supported him as our president,” said Ikram. “What we are experiencing today with Maldivian businesses making use of solar panels are the benefits of Nasheed’s work on the environment.”

Despite his personal criticisms of the current government and the long-term prospects for democracy in the country amidst coup allegations raised by Nasheed and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters, Ikram said Bluepeace fully supported the Earth Hour event.

The NGO’s director was therefore confident that the Maldives’ contribution to Earth Hour would be successful tonight, with significant numbers of people expected to turn off their electricity for the one hour.  When asked if he felt that Maldivians were commited to year-long energy conservation beyond one-off annual events like Earth Hour, the Bluepeace Dirctor again claimed that the Maldivian public were generally committed in adapting to climate change.

“I believe that the Maldivian people are the ones who will serve as climate change champions in the end,” he said.

President Waheed has himself committed to follow his predecessor in acting as a spokesperson over the potential impacts climate change poses for low-lying nations like the Maldives during his inaugural address to the country’s parliament earlier this month.

However, Bluepeace Director Ahmed Ikram said the NGO was presently turning its attention to issues related to human rights and democratic reform amidst allegations that Nasheed, who has been an outspoken international advocate for climate change adoption, was forced to resign under duress.

Early days

Though it remains early days for President Waheed’s government, which came to power on February 7, Bluepeace said it had so far heard very little from the new cabinet about how it would be addressing the country’s green agenda in the lead up to the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on sustainable development later this year.

Bluepeace also claimed that while recent appointees such as Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb has begun to raise issues such as how climate change was being linked to destructive coastal erosion across the country – question marks remained over their experience in dealing with environmental affairs.

Adheeb, as well as being the current Tourism Minister, has also served as the Treasurer of The Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI).

Government commitments

Adheeb and President Waheed’s Spokesperson Abbas Riza were not responding at time of press.

Waheed earlier this month pledged to ensure his government remained outspoken internationally in regards to the plight small nations faced from the potentially destructive impacts of climate change.

“The government will encourage the voice of small island nations to be heard in the global arena with regard to climate change,” said Dr Waheed in his inaugural address in parliament. “The Maldives will always participate in voicing the concerns of small island nations.”

Nasheed himself is current travelling the US to raise awareness on the current political upheaval in the country, as well as promoting a documentary film, “The Island President”.

The documentary chronicles his government’s ambitious pledge to become a carbon neutral nation by 2020, and has been garnering increased global coverage since Nasheed was removed from office last month.

Speaking to the Conde Nast Traveler publication to promote the film, Nasheed expressed hope that the country would continue to work towards becoming carbon neutral, but he also challenged the legitimacy of Dr Waheed’s government.

“We were making real progress. I hope the government will continue our policies. But you can’t have good policies without democracy. And you won’t address the climate change crisis without good policies,” Nasheed told journalist Dorinda Elliott. “All democratic movements must talk about both climate change and human rights.”

Despite Nasheed’s high-profile activism to use the Maldives to promote international recognition of the perceived need to cut carbon footprints globally, Greenpeace in 2010 told Minivan News that the Maldives acted more as a symbol than a practical demonstration of how national development and fighting climate change can be mutually exclusive.

“The Maldives can become a strong proponent of a paradigm shift in the World Bank and in developing countries whereby it is recognized that fighting climate change and promoting development go hand in hand,” said Wendel Trio, Climate Policy and Global Deal Coordinator for Greenpeace International.


Bureaucrats drag at Durban as Maldives lobbies for survival

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

UN Chief Climate Change official Christiana Figueres quoted former South African president Nelson Mandela in her opening speech to the 17th UN Climate Conference, which began Monday in Durban, South Africa. Figueres urged all parties to be flexible.

At the top of the agenda is renewing the Kyoto Protocol, an international and legally binding agreement to cut greenhouse emissions which is due to expire at the end of 2012.

Within hours of the opening discussions, however, Canada said it would not commit to a second term of the Kyoto Protocol and even moved to withdraw early, while China, a leading emitter, and the G77 group said their participation in a global deal depended on all developed nations signing a second Kyoto term.

The United States said China’s participation was a basic requirement for its own involvement, but provided no guarantee.

The European Union voted in favor of a second term, but stipulated that the largest emitters, US and China, should agree to legally-binding emission cuts by 2015.

The UN conference is attended by approximately 15,000 delegates from 194 nations.

Departing for Durban today, Environmental Minister Mohamed Aslam said the Maldives would not relent to any country during the talks. During the 12-day conference, Aslam said the Maldives would lobby for a new international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions and prevent a rise in sea levels.

“We can’t go on without finding a conclusion to this. The Maldives will lobby for and say whatever we have to say to any country it is that we will not be able to move forward without endorsing this agreement. Our survival will be our top priority,” he told Haveeru.

The last climate talks were held in Copenhagen in 2010 amidst great international excitement and pressure. However, the vague outcome–an accord with no binding articles – disappointed the public to the point of protests in Copenhagen.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem tried to correct public skepticism at the Climate Vulnerable Forum in Dhaka earlier this month.

“Today, conventional wisdom suggests that Copenhagen was a failure,” Naseem said. “I beg to differ. In my opinion, the Copenhagen Accord was not an admission of defeat, but the first step on the road towards a solution – a solution based on the vision laid down in the Male’ Declaration. That vision was simple: that global warming will only be halted when States realize the futility of arguing over whom should cut emissions, and begin competing to become the leaders of the new industrial revolution – a revolution based not on the finite power of coal and oil, but on the infinite power of the sun, sea and wind.”

Naseem called on conference attendees to push towards a climate-friendly resolution based on positive action.

Yet so far, Copenhagen’s results appear to haunt Durban.

“The main problem we face is that some countries don’t want to discuss a binding international pact,” Aslam said, echoing a key obstacle at the conference two years ago.

Aslam and other officials at the Environmental Ministry were not responding to phone calls for further commentary at time of press.

Presenting its annual report on climate trend at the conference yesterday, World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said 2011 caps a decade that ties the record as the hottest ever measured. In the past 15 years, 13 have broken records for high temperatures.

South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and the conference chair Maite Nkoana-Mashabane echoed the Maldives’ plea when she said that the world’s poorest countries – many of them in Africa – were dependent on swift action to stave off the catastrophic effects of global warming which affect them most.

South Africa stands to suffer high disease and mortality rates, longer droughts, intense flooding and decreasing biodiversity as temperatures rise. Agriculture would also suffer in a country where nearly half of the population lives below the poverty level.

BluePeace founder Ali Rilwan told Minivan News doubted politics would carry the day at Durban, but hoped that the public would begin to carry the issue at hand.

“I don’t think anything striking will come out of [the conference]. It’s been a ritual thing for what, 20 years? And Durban is not like Copenhagen, the excitement isn’t there, and the level of participation is also low,” he said.

Calling climate conferences “talk shows,” he said the Maldives “should pay more attention to what we can do at home. For a micro-state like the Maldives, by acting locally we could have a global impact.” But not much has been done to resolve issues threatening the country’s reefs, aquatic vegetation and mangroves, he observed.

When asked if the Maldives was focusing too much on international support, Rilwan said, “we need expertise and funding. And some international parties have given that. But we don’t see anything happening.”

Rilwan’s hopes lie with the people. “The people are getting stronger. We saw it at Copenhagen and we will see it at Durban as well. They are slowly losing faith in their leaders and instead are starting to network world-wide. I think they can push their leaders to be more active on climate change,” he said.

Indeed, “Occupy Durban” has gathered momentum. US-based The Huffington Post reports that the movement stems from frustration with world leaders, and that activists doubt the people are being accurately represented.

“We had faith 16 times before but no more…most of us are saying it’s a conference of polluters,” said Patrick Bond, a professor in the in the University of Kwazulu-Natal, who is part of the occupy movement. “If anything good starts to happen then Washington will sabotage it does it again and again.”

Activists have formed a People’s General Assembly in contrast with the UN’s General Assembly. One member pointed to the decision to hold the conference in an area known for South Africa’s petrochemical industry as a sign that public and political views were at odds.

While the official conference appears to side-step stated goals, the people’s conference is still articulating its purpose. “What we’re trying to do is reengage with politics on a people based level,” one activist told Huffington Post. “What we’d like to see is a much more non-hierarchical localized politics.”

The Occupy movement currently claims a few hundred participants, but those interviewed said they were hoping for thousands to turn out a rally scheduled for December 3.


Comment: Where do you draw the line?

Where does one draw the line?

In a referendum held on August 18, 2007, 60 percent of the people of the Maldives overwhelmingly decided on a Presidential system of government.

In 2008 a new Constitution came into force, taking into consideration the doctrine of the separation of powers and incorporating the ideas of checks and balances.

The executive branch separated from the legislative, and the judiciary began working independently. The Constitution is clear about the extent of the powers of each entity, the demarcations clearly drawn.

The powers and duties of the President, elected directly by the people, are clearly defined by the Constitution. There is a clear demarcation line drawn between the two spheres of influence: the legislative branch and the executive. It allows the separate powers to act independently while understanding the need for co-operation between these entities.

The legislature, staffed by members directly elected by the people, is a kind of deliberative assembly with the power to pass, amend and repeal laws. Article 5 of the Constitution vests the Peoples’ Majlis with all the power to enact necessary legislation.

In addition, the legislature has the authority to pass bills related to the lowering or raising of taxes, adopting the national budget and related money bills.

The executive branch is unipersonal, meaning that all executive power lies with the President. Members of the Cabinet are appointed by the President, held legally responsible, and are expected to implement the policies of the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches of the government. It is the President’s prerogative under the Presidential system to direct members of the Cabinet, the military or any officer or employees of the executive branch.

The President’s power, however, does not extend into the domain of the judiciary: he generally has no power to dismiss or pass orders to judges.

The fact that a Presidential system seperates the executive from the legislature is sometimes held up as an advantage, in that each branch may scrutinize the actions of the other.

The question we are grappling with here is whether the legislature has the power under the Constitution to announce for applicants, interview, shortlist and hire members into State institutions.

While the Presidential system empowers legislative approval of Presidential nominations to the Cabinet as well as various other government posts such as judges and members of independent commissions, it does not allow the legislature to encroach into this sphere of influence that is specifically the domain of executive power.

A clear line has to be drawn between nomination and appointment of members of state institutions within the executive domain and approval and accountability which is the prerogative of the legislature.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


‘Love’ of Hulhumale’ becomes waste management issue for property group

A developer of commercial properties across the Maldives is hoping a new cleanup scheme launched this week on the island of Hulhumale’ will not just put a positive shine on its corporate social responsibility, but also provide bins and a boost to waste management in the country.

As part of a joint property development venture between Pruska and the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) on the North Male’ Atoll island, 40 public bins have been donated as part of a promotional cleanup programme called I Love Hulhumale’. 

The programme saw a number of public and private groups working together alongside Pruska–HDC on Sunday (December 5) to attempt to clean the island of waste discarded onto the surrounding streets and beaches.

Although only six of the donated bins have as yet been placed around Hulhumale’s commercial units in the neighbourhood one area, Ahmed Varish, Senior Marketing Officer for the HDC, said that the joint venture hopes to pursue further possible waste management and recycling schemes around the island alongside its future construction developments.

While some local environmental organisations have praised the joint venture’s work to try and set up a network of bins for public use, they claimed that there is generally insufficient local management knowhow and expertise to deal with refuse in a sustainable and environmental manner.

With President Mohamed Nasheed having committed to the much publicised goal of making the Maldives a carbon neutral nation by 2020, waste management is one potential key focus of a national master plan set to be unveiled early next year focused on becoming a sustainable economy.

Varish told Minivan News that Pruska-HDC accepted that the wider national impacts of supplying bins was not a complete solution for preventing litter; yet the company said it hoped to ensure cleaner streets for current and future residents of the island at the very least.

“We don’t believe bins alone are enough [to clean up Hulhumale’]”, he said. “We need to educate more and get the message out to the population to take responsibility for the environment.”

However, Varish said that the bins were an attempt by the joint-venture company to try and ensure the all round environment looked cleaner for both its future customers and the public at large.

According to the HDC, the six public bins that have been donated are emptied and sent to the island’s waste dump everyday.  The full 40 units will eventually be spread across Hulhumale’ in the future.

Varish claimed that previous attempts to try and establish public bins on Hulhumale’ two and a half years ago had resulted in their theft by members of the public.  Nonetheless, the company said it had planned to “fix each of the bins to the ground” to prevent similar setbacks to its own green commitments, which may include similar clean up campaigns being launched alongside the opening of a number of its new property developments during the next few months.

Varish said that HDC, which is currently constructing commercial residences on six islands in the Maldives, had no plans to extend the donation of public bins to any of these other destinations.  He added that the group was looking at the possibilities in the future of extending into recycling schemes though planned collaborations that were currently being considered.

Ali Rilwan, Executive Director of local environmental NGO Bluepeace, told Minivan News that he believed Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives being carried out in the Maldives, which were generally being conducted by resorts, “were more for publicity.”

Rilwan said that he was nonetheless generally “very encouraged” by schemes to provide public bins in the Maldives by groups such as the Pruska–HDC joint venture in Hulhumale’.  Yet despite this encouragement, he said that a greater need for authorities to spend more on litter collection and street cleaning in the country needed to be matched by business, particularly among some soft drink and bottle water groups that operate there.

“Government funds alone will not help with the country’s waste management issues,” Rilwan added.

When questioned whether there was a need and demand for public bins in Maldivian society, Bluepeace’s Executive Director claimed that in certain areas of the capital of Male’, there were indications of public concern about a lack of amenities to store waste beyond just discarding them in the streets.

“If you look at Male’ there aren’t any bins, yet people can be seen putting their cans near trees as authorities have not come up with preferable facilities,” he said.

With upcoming local council elections now scheduled for February, Rilwan stressed hope that issues of littering, waste handling and environmental legislation may become important points of discussion for candidates looking to secure votes.

Yet amidst hopes of a publically-driven political consensus on stepping up action and investment in more sustainable waste management within the Maldives, Rilwan said he believes that awareness and management were just as vital a resource in dealing with trash efficiently.

“After the tsunami, we had groups like the Canadian and Australian Red Cross spending millions of dollars on building waste management centres,” he said.  “There are now 80 centres on 74 island, but very few of these are functioning, the awareness of how to use them has to be there.”


Whale shark researchers threatened at knife point, lose research permit

The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP) has had its research permit suspended by the ministry of fisheries and agriculture after complaints about the organisation’s research methods.

“The Divers’ Association and segments of the community complained to us that they were unhappy with the way the research was being conducted,” said Minister of State for Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan.

The ministry was concerned that the research “was not being conducted under the conditions issued”, he said, adding that “the decision was made in consultation with the ministry of tourism and community stakeholders.”

The MWSRP researchers have been involved in an ongoing dispute over the tagging of whale sharks with the Divers Association of the Maldives and a number of safari boat operators, who claim the practice is driving the rarely-seen species away from its habitat and threatening the livelihoods of safari and dive boat operators.

The MWSRP contends that the tagging is harmless and the whale sharks are being driven away by the throngs of boats and swimmers that converge every time a shark breaks the surface.

The dispute reached a head on 13 January when the researchers claimed their vessel was boarded and the crew threatened at knife-point.

MWSRP’s director Richard Rees said eight men from a liveaboard called ‘The Southern Cross’ came alongside the researchers’ vessel on 13 January.

“Their spokesman was armed with a knife,” Rees said. “It started out reasonable. We told him to ask his questions about our research and we would try to answer them.”

The researchers said in a statement that they tried to explain that tagging “does not lead to evasive behaviour in the sharks and is imperative to the conservation of the species”, and that moreover, “we have not tagged in South Ari atoll since May 2009.”

They said the man then accused them “of tagging 300 whale sharks. We explained that there are only 130 known individuals in the whole of the Maldives.”

“He then declared, ‘I have no interest in shark research. I don’t care if hundreds of people come here to see the sharks. I just care about my safari boat businesses.'”

Following the verbal stoush, Rees said the men demanded to see the vessel’s research permit and search the boat.

“We didn’t have the permit with us, so we phoned the ministry of fisheries and agriculture. [The ministry] said we had their full backing, after that the men became aggressive.”

A statement from the researchers claimed the man waved his knife at them and said: ‘I don’t care about the government or research. If you are in the area tomorrow I will bring more safari boats to fight with you and sink your dhoni. If you continue your research I will kill you all.'”

Rees said the man then slashed the banners identifying the ship as a research vessel and said worse would happen if the boat was in the same area the following day.

“It was a real nice experience for us; two of the people on board were on their first day as volunteers,” Rees said, adding that after the men left the vessel the researchers retreated to avoid inflaming the situation further.

“We remained calm and said we were going straight to the police. Then the Southern Cross’s sister ship MV Orion turned up and chased us down, said we didn’t have a permit and continued to harass us.”

Inspector Ahmed Shiyam from Maldives Police Service confirmed a complaint had been filed and that while no arrests had been made, the case was currently under investigation and had been referred to officers in Male.

“We can’t say anything yet. We will investigate and make recommendations to the relevant government authorities,” he said.

Rees said that it was not just the researchers who had been threatened by the liveaboards.

Ismail Mohamed from the water sports section at Diva Resort and Spa said congestion and poor behaviour around whale sharks in early January had led to one of the resort’s guests being hit in the head by a dive dhoni while he was swimming in the water.

“They can’t control the boat that close,” he said, adding that while the guest had escaped with bruising and swelling and was filing a complaint with the resort, a lot of whale sharks also suffered from propeller damage because of the boats getting too close.

The proximity of the reef break near the popular whale sighting spot also meant “that if [other vessels] crash into me and there’s a problem [with the engine], my boat will crash on the reef and I will lose it.”

The crew of some liveaboards had also shown poor behaviour to some of Diva’s guests, “throwing dive weights and showing their naked behinds, which is disappointing behaviour for Maldivians. One guest was very angry, I think he also made a complaint.”

Tagging controversy

Ahmed Risheen from the advisory board of the Divers Association of the Maldives said the tension had been building between the vessels and the researchers because of their tagging methods.

“The sharks are disappearing because they are tagging them and taking samples. It’s a threat [to the shark’s] environment – because of the research there are less whale sharks,” Risheen said.

“They’ve been working for only three years, Maldivians have been watching sharks here for 15 years. We have a really good code of conduct here.”

Risheen also accused the MWSRP of tagging in front of guests, an activity Rees denied.

“We have a policy not to tag when tourists or boats are in the area, because we understand what their responses are going to be,” he replied.

The tagging itself was harmless to the animal, he said, “and the majority do not react. Some swim away, but we catch up and take photos to make sure tagging occurred properly.”

Allegations that researchers had boasted on their website that tagging the sharks was “like drinking coffee on a roller-coaster” were false, the researchers said.

“It is very disappointing that people believe hearsay. Our website is readily available for anyone to read and to be able to contact the MWSRP to obtain the correct information.”

The tagging process was “essential to learn more about them,” Rees insisted. The organisation’s research had revealed that the sharks travelled “enormous distances but come back to the [Maamigilli] area over and over again. “This is important because if the shark goes into international waters there are conservation implications – they are not protected outside the Maldives.”

The tags also recorded depth and temperature, allowing the reseachers to plot the whale sharks’ vertical habitats.

“The sharks spend an awful lot of time very deep and only surface infrequently, often at night. It’s amazing we get sightings at all – this kind of information is of huge value to the tourist industry.”

Opportunities to see whale sharks were unpredictable and “very limited”, he said.

“A lot of liveaboards guarantee ‘whale shark encounters’ which is ludicrous. There’s huge pressure when there are no sharks and they blame it on our research program – we have data that proves this is not the case.”

Risheen insisted that researchers’ conduct in the Maamigilli area, “the only place where you’re guaranteed to see whale sharks”, was affecting vessels’ “businesses and livelihoods.”

As for the attack on the researchers, “I heard that story, and I really regret that a Maldivian diver has done that – we’re trying to track this guy down also. We’ve had a lot of calls from Ari atoll asking us to do something about [the situation] and we’ve been trying, but apparently we were a little late.”


Risheen also claimed the MWSRP were commercialising their research “through a contract with Conrad [Rangali Island] Resort.”

Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan said the ministry was also concerned about this, “as the terms and conditions [of the research permit] state that the research must not be exploited for commercial advantage.”

“I visited their website and the researchers are asking people to donate money to sponsor whale sharks – nobody can sponser a whale, nobody has the right except the Maldives government. I’m very concerned about somebody saying they can sponsor our animals.”

Rees said the MWSRP was meeting with the ministry on 30 January to explain the program and the tagging methods that had been used.

“We will also be making our findings available on our website,” he said.

Image provided by the MWSRP.