Cabinet reassesses Maldives’ membership in Commonwealth as UK welcomes talks

The cabinet has decided to reassess the Maldives’ membership in the Commonwealth following repeated threats to leave the inter-governmental organisation.

President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told the press today that government “needs to explain to the people how much the country benefits from being part of the Commonwealth.”

“That is what the government is going to reassess,” he said, adding that the government will consider the assistance and benefits the country has received since joining in 1981 as well as the Maldives’ present role in the organisation.

Ministers recommended the reassessment to President Abdulla Yameen at today’s cabinet meeting, he said.

Muaz, however, stressed that the cabinet has not decided to leave the Commonwealth.

Earlier this month, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said the Maldives “will seriously consider its membership at the Commonwealth” if it is placed on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) for a second time in four years.

Some Commonwealth members had pushed for the CMAG to assess alleged violations of the Commonwealth’s principles by the Maldives over the widely criticised imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

However, the Maldives was not placed on the CMAG agenda despite “efforts made by some of the most powerful countries in the Commonwealth to place the Maldives on the group’s agenda and harm the nation,” the foreign ministry said on July 5.

But former foreign minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed said that the CMAG only granted the Maldives further time to “sort out [the] mess Maldives is in.”

In mid-June, Canada had called on CMAG to “urgently put the deteriorating situation in the Maldives on its formal agenda.” The Commonwealth’s democracy and human rights arm can recommend measures for collective action to restore democracy and constitutional rule.

Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on President Abdulla Yameen to release Nasheed and other jailed politicians, including two former defence ministers and a ruling party MP.

UK “closely involved”

Meanwhile, in response to a question posed by Karen Lumley, conservative MP for Redditch, at the House of Commons on Tuesday, minister of state at the foreign and Commonwealth office Hugo Swire said the British government remains “deeply concerned by the situation in the Maldives.”

He noted that Prime Minister David Cameron had called for Nasheed’s release from custody as well as all-party talks to resolve the six-month long political crisis.

Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is currently engaged in talks with the government. At the third meeting of the talks this week, MDP representative Ibrahim Mohamed Solih suggested that the opposition leader could be freed on July 26, when the Maldives marks 50 years of independence from the British.

Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June after the opposition backed a constitutional amendment that will allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace his deputy.

Swire meanwhile welcomed Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest and the ongoing political dialogue. “We hope the talks will provide the basis for progress on the numerous concerns within the Maldives,” he said.

Asked if he believed the Commonwealth should take action against the Maldives, Swire noted that the UK is not a member of CMAG.

“I have discussed these matters with the Commonwealth Secretary General,” he said.

“I understand that there has been a telephone conversation between CMAG members and that they keep the situation under continuous review.”

John Glen, conservative MP for Salisbury, urged the UK government to “resist complacency on the Maldives,” suggesting that “the current regime seems also to be a recruiting sergeant for ISIL in the Maldives.”

“There will come a time when the government will need to stand clearly on the right side of the argument and intervene more fully to secure justice in that country,” he advised.

In response, Swire said he has recently discussed the Maldives with the Indian foreign secretary and the US assistant secretary of state.

“Both my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and I have met Mr Nasheed’s wife, and Amal Clooney and other members of Mr Nasheed’s legal team, to discuss the situation. We are closely involved,” he said.

Asked about possible sanctions on the Maldives in late June, Swire had said that the UK government has not “discussed the possibility of sanctions with international partners, though we are keeping all options under review.”


Youth minister dismissed

President Abdulla Yameen has dismissed today minister of youth and sports Mohamed Maleeh Jamal in a cabinet shuffle.

Recently appointed health minister Ahmed Zuhoor was handed the youth portfolio and deputy gender minister Iruthisham Adam was appointed as the health minister.

The reason for Maleeh’s dismissal is unclear. Neither Maleeh nor president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali were responding to calls at the time of going to press.

Maleeh appeared with other cabinet minister at a ceremony held this morning to inaugurate a scientific feasibility study for a planned bridge between capital Malé and airport island Hulhulé.

The dismissal was announced at noon.

Maleeh is the cousin of vice-president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, who the president has reportedly sidelined. The vice-president who was very active during the presidential campaign rarely appears in public now.

Maleeh is alleged to have close ties with ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim, who is currently serving an 11-year jail term on weapons smuggling charges.

According to the pro-government newspaper Vaguthu, documents police found in a pen drive at Nazim’s apartment show the Yameen administration is divided into factions respectively led by the president and Nazim.

Nazim’s “team” included Dr Jameel, home minister Umar Naseer, former Police Commissioner and current JP MP Abdulla Riyaz, Maldives Ambassador to Malaysia Mohamed Fayaz ‘FA,’ former State Trading Organisation (STO) Managing Director Adam Azim (Nazim’s brother), PPM MP Hussain Manik Dhon Manik, PPM MP Ahmed Nazim, Maleeh, and president’s office minister Abdulla Ameen.

Police claimed the documents suggest Nazim was planning to assassinate the president, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb and police commissioner Hussein Waheed.

Nazim says the pen drive along with a pistol and bullets were planted at his home by rogue police officers on Adeeb’s orders.

Maleeh’s dismissal comes amidst a political crisis triggered by the jailing of Nazim and ex-president Mohamed Nasheed.

Minister for Islamic affairs Dr Mohamed Shaeem resigned on May 5, after the arrest of religious conservative Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla from an opposition protest.

President also reassigned state minister of Islamic affairs Dr Mohamed Ali to the housing ministry, and appointed state minister for housing Athifa Shakoor to the gender ministry.


Yameen bring changes to state institutions following Nazim dismissal

President Abdulla Yameen has brought changes to a number of ministries and state institutions in the aftermath of Colonel (ret.) Mohamed Nazim’s dismissal as defence minister.

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Mohamed Shainee was today appointed to the vacated acting health minister’s position, while Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer has been appointed president of the Local Government Association (LGA).

Additionally, the Department of Immigration and Emigration – under Nazim’s remit as part of the defence ministry since December 2012 – has been reallocated to the Ministry of Economic Development.

Meanwhile, the President’s Office has revealed that Ibrahim ‘Bandhu’ Saleem has been removed from the post of Maldives Airports Company Limited’s managing director. Saleem confirmed this to Minivan News stating that no reason had been given for his dismissal.

President’s Office Spokesman Ibrahim Muaz explained that the president has the power and authority to appoint and dismiss political appointees and that specific reasons for a decision would be shared with the media when they were available.

Yesterday’s dismissal of Nazim came as a result of a police investigation into illegal weapons being kept in the minister’s home. He had been in the position since February 2012 – one of the first appointments made by President Dr Mohamed Waheed following the controversial resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed.

Nazim had been given the health portfolio after pro-government MPs blocked the renomination of Dr Mariyam Shakeela to the cabinet in August last year. Shakeela later alleged a conspiracy and smear campaign to remove her from office.

At the time of his dismissal, Nazim was also facing challenges from within the Local Government Authority, to which President Yameen had appointed him in November 2013. Last week fellow board members voted to remove him from the position of president following a contested vote of no-confidence.

Meanwhile, Haveeru has published corruption allegations against Nazim’s brother, State Trading Organisation Managing Director Adam Azim.

The paper reported that it has obtained a copy of an Anti-Corruption Commission report which says Azim attempted to use the state-owned company’s money to influence the Football Association of Maldives’ congress.

Haveeru suggested the report revealed attempts to have a relative appointed to the post of FAM president through sponsorship money given to football clubs with voting rights in the congress.

Elsewhere, the Judicial Services Commission today elected Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed as its chair.

Hameed was appointed to the judicial watchdog by President Abdulla Yameen yesterday after the commissions Supreme Court representative Adam Mohamed resigned from the commission on Sunday (January 18) citing personal reasons.

Related to this story

Nazim dismissed as defence minister, replaced by Moosa Ali Jaleel


AG seeks to strengthen prohibitions on carrying of sharp weapons

Attorney General Mohamed Anil has today submitted to parliament a number of amendments to the act prohibiting carrying and threatening use of sharp weapons.

Speaking at a press conference held by the cabinet’s Social Council, Anil revealed that amendments included the narrowing of certain rights that the accused currently have.

Among these, the right to remain silent and the right to consult with legal representatives will be narrowed, while police will be given the right to hold suspects in custody for purposes of community safety until the court considers the case.

The proposed changes comes as the number of stabbing incidents in the country continues at an alarming rate, with 18-year old Ibrahim Shifaaz last week becoming the latest in a list of incidents that have resulted in three deaths this year.

Anil explained that the present law only stipulates penalties for the carrying of sharp weapons and for threatening individuals with the use of sharp weapons.

“Both the home minister and we at the AG office find it to be very concerning that the law does not describe penalties for damages caused by such actions, such as the taking of a life, loss of a limb, or other physical harm to the victims,” Anil stated.

“Currently, these crimes are tried under the existing old Penal Code, which has in it far too lenient penalties. Thus, the proposed amendments will include new penalties that can be given to perpetrators for commission of such an act.”

He described the newly proposed penalties as including 7 to 15 year jail sentences and even the death penalty, depending on the seriousness of the crime.

Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer prompted international concern when calling for an end to the country’s 60 year moratorium on the death penalty earlier this year, completing the required regulatory changes in April.

The new amendments also stipulate that crimes falling under this act should be investigated within 15 days of arrest, while the Criminal Court must complete the case within 30 days from its submission.

Anil also announced that three additional bills have been submitted to parliament. These are the goods and services tax bill, the construction bill, and the mutual legal assistance bill.

Earlier on October 15, Umar Naseer conducted meetings with pro-government parliamentarians about amendments to these same laws.

“Reactions from parliamentarians of both Jumhooree Party and Progressive Party of Maldives were positive to my recommendations,” Naseer said at the time.

At today’s press conference, Naseer also revealed that the government has plans to commence a MVR4 million  (US$260,000)  project to further develop the security of the prisons in the coming week following the recent escape of two convicted murderers last weekend – both since apprehended.


Q&A: Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Mohamed Shainee

Following a feature article on the status of the fisheries industry – in which Minivan News spoke to local fishermen about their various concerns, an additional interview was conducted with the concerned cabinet minister about these issues.

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Mohamed Shainee spoke to Minivan News about his political career, and the policies and plans of his ministry.

Shainee was appointed to his position on November 19, 2013 – two days after the new administration came to office. This is his first appointment to a cabinet position.

Mariyath Mohamed: With agriculture and fisheries being such a major component of our economy, what are the main achievements you seek to fulfill in this five year term as a minister overseeing these sectors?

Mohamed Shainee: I believe, as you rightly pointed out that fisheries and agriculture are a major part of the economy. But at this moment, I don’t believe it is well-represented in the economy as a vibrant sector. So, in these five years, what I would like to achieve is incorporating the fisheries and agriculture sector into the very vibrant economy of the Maldives. What I mean to say is that the fisheries and agriculture sectors should both be able to stand alone on its feet, without injecting any subsidies into them. It will be quite an achievement if I am able to do this. Five years is a very short time to change the way we’ve been doing things in these two sectors for a very long time. So I believe it will be a very good achievement if I can complete at least part of it in these five years.

MM: This being you first time serving in a cabinet, what are the main challenges you face?

MS: As a cabinet member, I don’t think there are any challenges. But the country has gone through many phases of instability and that is still present in the social fabric of the country. So I think it will be a challenge to get people’s trust built in the government, because we have passed through five years of lots of instability in the government or country. So it will be very difficult for the people to believe that the government will do something that is good and more solid for the people. So I believe that it will be a massive challenge to assure the public that we will really, sincerely do what we have promised to the public. So I guess, as a cabinet problem, there will not be a challenge.

And from what we have seen so far, I believe that the opposition is also willing to give the government, to prove whether we can or cannot do the promises in our manifesto. So I believe that we are now at a stage where we have a healthy government and a healthy opposition, which really is necessary for a country to move forward.

I don’t think there are any challenges within the cabinet, as all the cabinet ministers are well-educated and have the background, the knowledge, and the drive to pursue fulfillment of the manifesto we have put forward for the people.

MM: The government’s pledges include providing an allowance of MVR10,000 a month to fishermen during lean months. How will the government implement this and when?

MS: I have already announced that in the first quarter of this year I will reveal guidelines of how this will be done. It’s very simple: the system is an insurance scheme. If you take a look at PPM’s manifesto, you will see that the first pledge in the fisheries section is to provide fishermen with an installment or some form of payment in the lean months. And then after policy number two, we have policy number three. This is where we talk of introducing new people to the profession and increasing productivity of fisheries. There we talk about our aims and visions, one of which is that there won’t be a single perceived fisherman – I mean, when we talk about fishermen, there is skipjack fishery and yellowfin fishery, so not all fishermen – but on average, every fisherman will get about MVR 10,000 per month for their wages. This is where both of these combine together and becomes the slogan “10,000 regardless of catch”. In fact, we have already put together the forms to open up a registry for this particular scheme. We already know how many fishermen there are in this country, but for this particular insurance scheme we need to open up a new register.

It’s very simple. If you look at the skipjack fishing statistics for last year, you will see three or four months which are very difficult for the fishermen. The real goal of this is sustainability.

So the aim of the government is to ensure that even during these difficult months fishermen stay in the industry. For that reason, during those few months we want to give a payment so that they can do their basic necessities, so they can fulfill their daily obligations towards their family.

The MVR10,000 scheme is a top-up system. We actually do not want to inject subsidies into the industry. That is what I said in response to your first question – that I want the industry to work on its own in a vibrant, active manner. If we start giving subsidies, we will always remain dependent on subsidies. As you well know, subsidies are an injection of capital into an area where things have gone a little out of the ordinary. So, we needed that kind of subsidy from 2004 onwards as the catch amounts had gone down. So yes, in those days we needed a subsidy to make fishermen remain in the industry.

But it is slowly catching up. In 2013 we have seen productivity increasing. So now we need to make the industry stand alone and be more vibrant and shock-proof to absorb these shocks. We need to devise a way to get people’s minds set on the idea that they can work in the industry.

The real reason is the sustainability of the fishermen in the industry to keep them in the field during this low season. This is because what we don’t want is for fishermen to turn to other sectors in these difficult months because we need the fishing industry to run as it does now and get further developed. That is the main idea behind this.

MM: President Yameen has announced that the ministry is compiling a register of existing fishermen. According to your statistics of 2012, there were 10,264 registered fishermen at the time of the report. What is the need for a completely new register, and how much time do you estimate it will take for the completion of this register?

MS: We do have a register, but we are not sure they are inclusive of all the fishermen. This is because always a registry is maintained for a service. And we have the subsidy for which they are automatically registered, so we know exactly how many fishermen there are.

But for this specific purpose, we need to build a new registry. We need a new registry for the insurance scheme as this will be done by a second party.

We are considering for this purpose the government fund management agency NSPA, for example, to deliver this service to fishermen.

MM: Many fishermen I have interviewed have raised concerns about the decreasing price of fish. Does the ministry have any plans to address this?

MS: Yes, that is true. Every year in this time when the supply increases, the demand goes down and so prices go down. But one thing we did not say in the manifesto this time is that we will give a set price to the fishermen. But for the same reasons I said before – that we want an economically viable system to be in place – what we have said is we will give the best price to the fishermen.

And to assure that, what we have done is we have put in clauses or actions in the manifesto to make it transparent – to let fishermen know that the price they are getting is exactly the best maximum price that they can get.

So for that reason, in the first few months of the government we have made a Fisheries Promotion Board to diversify our business to various markets. Insha Allah, I have gotten four countries interested – I’m looking into the arab markets, the Russian markets, the Chinese market and the Pakistani market, who are also very interested in diversifying.

So in fact, there is a lot of work being done in all these fronts to diversify markets, because what we cannot do is to rely on one specific market – which is the European market. I mean, the European market still is the largest and the biggest and the most important market for the country. But still, if we rely on one single market, any shock to that market will be felt very badly in the country here. So we are trying to diversify, that is one action.

The other thing is in this promotion board, for the first time, we have a fisherman in the board. This is to show to other fishermen that we are working on their behalf and that the price that they are getting really is the best price they can get. On top of that, even in the ministry website, we are now publishing the yearly rates of skipjack in the market. This, as well, is for the reason that we want fishermen to know they are getting the best price. So that when they go to any buyer, they can’t fool the fishermen now.

MM: You have said there is a fisherman on the Fisheries Promotion Council itself. How was he appointed?

MS: Yes. What we are trying to advocate from the ministry is for the formation of associations or co-operatives to voice for other fishermen, or vessel owners, or other sectors – to voice out through one body.

If I listen to one individual, and go to another island and listen to another fisherman, it will be totally different. Even in the same island, there will be different views. One way of doing it is for the vehicle to make the co-operatives.

At this time, in this country we have only one running organisation, which is the Fishermen’s Association. So we requested them to give us a candidate from the fisheries who is an active fisherman to be on the board. So so far we have only one that is functioning, and that is where we selected the fisherman from.

The fisherman on the board is from Alif Dhaalu Atoll, I believe. He is a skipjack fisherman and has sat in the past three or four sittings of the board.

MM: Another concern of numerous fishermen is the rising cost of fuel and ice, which in turn raises their overhead fees and brings down the profit they earn. While you have already said that the government wants to cut down on subsidies, what other plans does the state have to assist fishermen facing this issue?

MS: Yes, of course we are increasing the number of ice plants. In fact, one of the ice plants which has been idle for a few years now will be up and running in a few months time when we [open bidding on] this plant located in Thaa [Atoll] Guraidhoo. Insha allah, this will be done in the next few months.

And the other ice plant which, again, has been idle for the past three or four months is in Haa Alif [Atoll] Ihavandhoo. This will probably be starting from January 22 onwards. There are certain areas where we can reduce the price and one of the ways is by increasing the number of ice plants. Three ice plants will come in operation, insha Allah, this year.

What it actually does is it allows the fishermen to sell the fish at a higher price.

And unfortunately – I have to say unfortunately – the culture of the fishermen is they are very passionate about what they are doing. So if one of the fishermen builds a boat, the next one wants to build a bigger and nicer boat. So that has been an issue. We have been advocating that the increasing of fishing vessels to over a certain limit is not economically feasible. And already the fishermen have realised that ‘yes, we have a 35 tonne fishing boat, but how many days in a year does a fisherman actually catch 35 tonnes of fish?’

I think people will realise in time that we cannot keep increasing the size of the vessel and that we need an economic size. And we have shown through our ministry’s research that 85 feet is a manageable and economical size.

But now the real issue is that fuel prices have gone up and it will be difficult for us to stop that. But indirectly, the government is also working to get fuel at a cheaper price. In fact, the President His Excellency Abdulla Yameen has in his last visit had some negotiations with the Indian government to get fuel at a cheaper price. We are looking at other ways to land projects in the Maldives which will help us get fuel, diesel at better prices.

I am also on this committee in the government which has already started to explore for oil in the Maldives. So, these are long term, but indirectly we are trying to bring down the consumption or price of fuel in the country.

MM: The Malé City Council has announced that fishermen will have to take a special licence to sell their catch in stalls at the fishmarket. Which institution holds the mandate for this and does the Fisheries Ministry have any involvement in this?

MS: Like yourself, I am also confused in this area. We have a sort of tug of war going on between the council and the ministry and other institutions. But recently – about two or three weeks back – the council met with the ministry asking for our help in managing the fishmarket.

The truth is that until then we did not know what was happening on the other side. But now, after the new government came into place the council met with us and we are giving colloboration to the government.

In fact, I think it is today or next week we are planning to have training for the council members so that they know what the hygiene standards should be, what the methods are… And so we have requested them to give us the plan for the fishmarket so that we can give them the technical backing and advise them on how to build a market so that it is more hygienic.

So, I think it is a collaborative effort between the council and the ministry. We have a bigger role to ascertain that the public is safe and getting the right fish, so that everything goes smoothly. On the other hand, the council has the municipal right over the market. I think we can do this hand in hand. I believe this will happen now much better as things are happening much better now than a few months before.

MM: Are you supportive of the council’s initiative to lease stalls at the fishmarket?

MS: What I heard from the council, which is the truth, is that there a lot of issues in the fishmarket. And one way of always managing is through licenses or some mechanism where you have power over whom you allow and whom you don’t allow. So that might be a good idea.

But I don’t think it should be at a rate which is difficult for the fishermen. It should be a nominal fee just for the registration. It should just be a management fee, and not for business purposes. I think the idea – I don’t know, I haven’t heard from the council – but I believe the idea is to create a managed system rather than an open system. I think it should be that way. So that it is well-managed and not just anyone can go and do unhygienic practices there.

MM: What are the main countries that fish are exported to, via the state enterprise MIFCO and otherwise? What are the challenges faced in exportation of fisheries products in recent days?

MS: The EU is by far the biggest market, especially for yellowfin tuna. But apart from that, the industry also exports to the US, as well as some to Canada, to Japan, and other markets as well. I don’t have all the details of it at the moment but the EU is the biggest market, as well as the US then. And Japan is also another market to which we export certain type and grade of fish.

On the other hand, skipjack tuna is mainly exported to Bangkok. But if they are value-added, processed, then the can again goes to Europe, so that remains our main market.

MM: The president has appealed to the British high commissioner to impress upon the EU the importance of extending GSP plus facilities to the Maldives again. What do you think the chances of this happening are?

MS: I think it can be done, because I think in the past EU and Maldives have had a good relationship as countries. So I don’t think it is impossible for this to happen. It’s just more about bilateral relations and understanding.

I mean, looking at one side, the European market or consumer will be affected from this as well. There will a lot of pressure from the consumer’s side, as when prices of fish go up, it’s not just us carrying the burden, but also the consumers. So I think there will be a lot of pressure.

I think there will be a lot of pressure because when you look at Europe, people are more educated and want these kinds of niche products.

Maldives is the only country that doesn’t catch by-catch fish. We are dolphin free. We are catching one by one. We are the most green fisheries industry in the world, in fact. So I am sure the consumers in the European market would like to get something from this side of the world which is more green and environmental friendly.

There is no reason why it can’t be done. I think as an Islamic country – a Muslim country – we have worked together well in the past. There’s no reason why we can’t.

MM: Being a low lying island state, the Maldives is vulnerable to adverse effects of climate change. What do you see as the threats of climate change to the fishing industry? Is the ministry taking any steps to counter them?

MS: I think what we have felt in the past is actually part of this changing of the climate. And for us, it would be the change in the temperature of the surface water. Because we are very environmentally friendly fishermen who catch fish from the surface waters.

If the surface water gets a bit hot, then the fish swims deeper. So we need to penetrate through that layer of the ocean to get access to the fish. That is why we have already introduced long line fishing. That is to diversify from just one way of fishing.

Again, we will be very vulnerable if we commit to just one form of fishery. It is a good sign that in terms of income, we are meeting expectations by value in yellowfin and skipjack fishery. So we already have diversified into two forms of fishing. This is one of the ideas.

Another idea or another front we are working on is mariculture and aquaculture, which also is a way to minimise the impacts on the natural fishery that we have. This is because, from what we have seen, it is more seasonal, – about a ten year cycle. But even in those times, to reduce the impact of climate related issues, we need to diversify fisheries. That is what they policy is.

MM: What are the main challenges besides environmental, faced by the fishing industry, as well as the ministry, and what are the state’s plans to deal with them?

MS: The biggest challenge is actually the budget. As you know, over the years, the government has acquired a lot of debt. And that is a challenge for the government and one of our pledges is that by the third year we will get rid of the debt.

So during these two years, it will be harder to fund any of the projects from the government’s side, so we have to find innovative ways to do so. And that we are already doing. I mean, the ministry’s plan has not decreased because we don’t have sufficient funds. But there are ways we can do this. And that’s why the government’s plan is to enable the industry to become a more vibrant industry rather than the government doing business.

So we have already given up on a lot of the businesses that we do, and we are promoting that the private partners should come and invest, and we will give them concessions so that we work in hand in hand to get what is required.

So the biggest challenge, I think, for the ministry, the government and the whole country, is the cash flow issue and the tightness of the budget.


Cabinet to discuss implementation of death penalty

The cabinet had not discussed implementing the death penalty before Home Minister Umar Naseer ordered the correctional services yesterday to enforce death sentences through lethal injection, President Abdulla Yameen has revealed.

Asked by reporters last night upon his return from a state visit to Sri Lanka if the home minister’s directive followed cabinet deliberations, President Yameen said the cabinet has not discussed capital punishment as his administration “has not faced this issue before.”

“This issue has not been discussed in our cabinet yet. However, as a rule, since the death penalty is already in the penal code, the home minister has issued his opinion,” he said.

“Broad discussions” on the subject will take place in cabinet next week, Yameen said.

“Our government will prioritise protecting the rights of innocent citizens. However, I have to say along with that, in such matters, even a convict who had a judgment passed upon him in the first stage has rights. He has stages of appeal to conclude,” he said.

The government would make a decision after the appeal process was exhausted and guilt has been established beyond doubt, he added.

“Before it comes to that, we have now decided to have discussions in cabinet. Even if I have my own thoughts [on the issue], decisions on such serious matters will be made after cabinet deliberations,” Yameen said.

The government’s highest priority was assuring a safe and peaceful environment for citizens, he stressed, adding that legal advice would be sought on enforcing the death penalty.

President Yameen had spoken in favour of introducing the death penalty during the campaign for last year’s presidential election.

“Murder has to be punished with murder,” Yameen had said.

While he was previously against the death penalty, candidate Yameen said he “had a change of heart” due to “murders becoming too commonplace”.

Home Minister Umar Naseer – who lost the Progressive Party of Maldives’ presidential primary against Yameen and was subsequently dismissed from the party – signed the order to the Maldives Correctional Services (MCS) in front of the press at a ceremony yesterday.

The MCS was ordered to implement the death penalty through the use of lethal injection and to set up the necessary equipment at the Maafushi prison.

The move comes after a death sentence was handed to Hussain Humam Ahmed on charges of murdering the moderate religious scholar and MP, Dr Afrasheem Ali, in October 2012.

Naseer told the press that the order was in line with provisions of draft legislation on implementing the death penalty prepared by the government for submission to parliament, adding that legal advice was sought from the attorney general.

“We will not wait for laws to be drafted and passed. The law allows for implementation, and it is at the discretion of the home minister to order implementation,” Naseer said.

Since the execution of Hakim Didi in 1954 for the crime of practising black magic, there has been an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty with the president commuting death sentences to life imprisonment.

While 20 individuals currently face the death penalty, according to an official from the Home Ministry, all such cases have been appealed at the High Court and have yet to reach the Supreme Court.

In May 2013, the UN country team called for the abolition of the death penalty in the Maldives: “In view of the country’s more than 50-year moratorium, the United Nations call upon the Maldives to take the opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to its international human rights obligations, and abolish the death penalty.”

Earlier in 2013, calls for limiting the presidential power to grant clemency resulted in then-Attorney General Azima Shakoor asking the High Court for a ruling.

Azima drafted a bill in December 2012 outlining the implementation of the penalty through lethal injection.

The proposal was met with opposition from religious groups, including NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf, which called for the draft to be amended in favour of beheadings or firing squads.

In June 2013, MP Riyaz Rasheed submitted a bill asking for the death penalty to be implemented by hanging. The bill was rejected by 26 votes to 18, with no abstentions.


MDP asked for cancellation of Nasheed trial: Adheeb

The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) deputy leader and Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb has said the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) asked for cancellation of criminal charges against former President Mohamed Nasheed in exchange for MDP endorsing cabinet ministers.

Nasheed has been charged with the unlawful arrest of a Criminal Court chief judge Abdulla Mohamed. The case is still pending.

MDP International Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor has dismissed Adheeb’s claims, terming them “nothing but blatant lies”.

Adeeb alleged that the MDP had raised Nasheed’s personal interest over national interest in discussions held between the two political parties ahead of the parliamentary vote to endorse cabinet ministers.

The People’s Majlis voted to endorse President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s cabinet yesterday. Six MDP members voted against a three whip line in endorsing eight ministers who MDP had rejected claiming they are ministers of “the coup government.”

Describing Nasheed as a man who “raised self-interest above all with no consideration towards national good”, Adeeb claimed that MDP had “reverted back to it’s old manners”.

“Instead of that exemplary behaviour, what we saw was that the party wants to revert back to its old manners and return to the past. Every time we tried to sit down with MDP and talk about endorsing our government’s ministers, they set the condition that we must recall the case against Nasheed. But we are not a government who will form commission upon commission and engage in digging up people’s past,” Adeeb said in a press briefing on Monday.

“Despite some MDP parliamentarians failing to work responsibly, the brave decision to vote in favour by some among those MPs who have deep-rooted love for the nation made it possible for all our ministers to become endorsed,” Adeeb stated.

“While I won’t accuse all of them, some among MDP attempted to inhibit the development we are trying to bring to this country, and to decrease investor confidence. However, the parliament vote has demonstrated the fact that our party is going steadily forward. That we will bring about the development that the citizens yearn for,” he stated.

Prior to Monday’s vote, President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali had also expressed confidence that the ministers will receive sufficient votes from the parliament, saying at the time that “the government has a very good understanding with the leadership of MDP.”

He added then that the MDP had “put forward a number of suggestions”, but refused to reveal details of the discussion.

“Blatant lies”: MDP

MDP has meanwhile dismissed Adeeb’s allegations as “blatant lies”.

“Adeeb’s comments are nothing but blatant lies. To my knowledge, no one from this party has brought up some a topic or condition with any other person ever. We have set no conditions in discussions about ministers endorsement,” the party’s International Spokesperson Hamid told Minivan News today.

Hamid added that there has been “no formal negotiation between the parties, although there have been unofficial discussions between politicians from over the political spectrum”.

“Over a 1000 regular members of MDP have been placed in detention after the coup d’etat of February 2012, with a wide range of fabricated charges raised against them. I have heard of discussions about this matter between politicians of various parties. MDP does have an expectation that these people must be freed and allowed to return to their normal lives now that there is an elected government in place. They have done no wrong, and the charges against them were fabricated after they were arrested for exercising their right to demonstrate,” Hamid explained.

Former President Nasheed has also dismissed Adeeb’s allegations as false.

“To my knowledge, no such conditions were put forward. This is clear even from MDP parliamentary group’s whipline in the vote,” he is quoted as saying in local media Haveeru.

In Monday’s parliamentary vote to endorse ministers, MDP had enforced a three line whip against voting for 8 of the 15 cabinet ministers, while a free whip had been released in voting for the remaining 7.

A number of parliamentarians had breached the party’s whipline, resulting in the endorsement of all cabinet ministers. One of these members – Mohamed Rasheed – has since joined ruling party PPM.

The MDP leadership has announced that it will reveal the form of action to be taken against those who voted against the whipline after further investigation of the matter.


Majlis committee rejects 8 cabinet nominees

The parliament’s Executive Oversight Committee has rejected eight of 15 ministers in President Abdulla Yameen’s cabinet.

However, President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali has told Minivan News he was confident all ministers will be endorsed on the parliament floor regardless of the committee’s views.

The Executive Oversight Committee rejected Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim,, Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adheeb, Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer, Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, Minister of Health and Gender Mariyam Shakeela, Minister of Transport and Communication Ameen Ibrahim, Minister of Finance and Treasury Abdulla Jihad, and Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Mohamed Muizzu.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs holds six of ten seats in the committee.

Ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan proposed casting a single vote for the full cabinet. However, the proposal failed with MDP MPs voting to vet each cabinet minister separately.

Pro-government members claimed it is crucial that the People’s Majlis fully endorse President Yameen’s cabinet in order to facilitate the government to function at its full capacity.

Pointing out that the Majlis had voted for former President Mohamed Nasheed’s cabinet as a group rather than separately, MP ‘Redwave’ Ahmed Saleem said it was “unacceptable” for the opposition to act differently now.

In reply, the MDP said the eight rejected nominees were “ministers of the coup government,” as they had served under former President Dr Mohamed Waheed after the controversial transfer of power on February 8, 2012. Nasheed had resigned amidst a police and military mutiny and his deputy Waheed assumed the presidency. MDP maintains the transfer of power is a coup d’etat

In addition to Waheed’s ministers, MDP members also refused to endorse Home Minister Umar Naseer.

Despite this being his first appointment to any cabinet position, MDP members claimed that based on various speeches he has previously given on political podiums, it is “evident that he will not be loyal to Yameen”.

All ten committee members in attendance voted to endorse the remaining seven cabinet members. These consisted of Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Mohamed Shainee, Minister of Economic Development Mohamed Saeed, Minister of Environment and Energy Thoriq Ibrahim, Minister of Education Aishath Shiham, Minister of Youth and Sports Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, and Attorney General Mohamed Anil.

Although Foreign Minister Dunya – Yameen’s niece and former President and PPM leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s daughter – has not held a cabinet post in Waheed’s government, she had served as State Minister of Foreign Affairs during his term.

While the committee will present its views to the parliament floor, it is the votes of the full parliament which will decide cabinet endorsement. Voting on the matter is currently scheduled for Monday, December 30.

MDP must facilitate an elected government

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali has stated that the MDP’s justification for refusing to endorse eight of the government’s cabinet ministers is “unacceptable”.

Muaz said that the MDP is the party that had advocated most for the establishment of an elected leader, and as such has the responsibility of facilitating elected President Yameen’s government to fulfill the needs of the citizens.

“MDP claims they cannot endorse these ministers as they belonged to what they say was a coup government. The fact of the matter is, even though they were previously in Waheed’s government, it is now a leader elected by the people who are re-submitting their names,” Muaz stated.

“MDP has always claimed, straight from the beginning, that they will extend cooperation to run a democratic government. Endorsing the cabinet is the best form of cooperation they can show. In any case, there is a culture of endorsing any president’s first cabinet in this country,” he continued.

“Despite the committee rejecting eight cabinet ministers, the government is confident they will receive endorsement from the parliament’s full floor. The government has a very good understanding with the leadership of MDP. And there are also discussions being held between the government and MDP on a number of matters,” Muaz said.

According to Muaz, the government and opposition are holding discussions on numerous matters including cabinet endorsement and budget approval.

Muaz said the government is continuously emphasizing the importance of cabinet endorsement and budget approval in order for the PPM to fulfill citizens’ needs, Muaz said. He also said the MDP is putting forward a number of suggestions, but declined to reveal details.

Speaking at Thursday’s Unity Day event, President Yameen has also appealed to the parliament to endorse his cabinet, urging to set aside differences in political opinion for the betterment of the nation.


Cabinet split into economic and social councils

President Abdulla Yameen has divided his cabinet ministers into two sub groups – categorized as the Social Council and the Economic Council, the President’s Office has today revealed.

The Social Council is compiled of the Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, the Minister of Education Aishath Shiham, Minister of Environment Thoriq Ibrahim, and the Minister of Gender and Health Mariyam Shakeela.

According to council member Shaheem, it will be headed by Vice President Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

While this still leaves eleven other cabinet members, the compilation of the Economic Council has not been announced yet.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali was not responding to calls at the time of press.