Bill submitted to ban import of pork and alcohol

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Nazim Rashad has submitted a bill to the Majlis calling for the prohibition of pork and alcohol imports to the country.

When presenting the bill, Nazim argued that the import of these products violates article 10(b) of the constitution which states that “no law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.”

“We often hear rumours that people have alcohol at home in their fridge, available any time. We’ve heard that kids take alcohol to school to drink during their break. The issue is more serious than we think, it should not be ignored,” Nazim told the house.

Consumption of intoxicants or pork products are prohibited under Islamic law, although these products are available to foreign tourists in the country’s resorts.

When in charge, the MDP government announced it was considering banning pork and alcohol product in response to the December 23 coalition‘s campaign to protect Islam.

After being asked in January for a consultative opinion over whether the Maldives could import pork and alcohol without violating the nation’s Shariah-based constitution, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the case on the grounds that the matter did not need to be addressed at the Supreme Court level.


“We will celebrate liberation of airport on February 7”: Sheikh Imran

Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Adbulla has said that the people of the Maldives will celebrate the liberation of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) on the first anniversary of the resignation of the previous government – February 7, 2013, local media has reported.

The comments were made at a press conference held by a coalition of NGOs and political parties opposed to the deal with the Indian infrastructure company GMR – signed by former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration – to develop and manage the country’s international airport.

Imran predicted there would be “some unrest and damage” on the day the deal is annulled, but urged people to come out and support the calls for nationalisation  – although the GMR deal is actually a 25 year lease arrangement and the airport still belongs to the government.

Minivan News was unable to gain further comment from the Adhaalath Party members at the time of press.

Imran said the Maldivian population would be able to endure economic hardship should the deal be annulled, before threatening “a completely different activity” should the government fail to resolve the issue to the coalition’s satisfaction.

“February 7 this year should suffice to make this clear [to the government],” Imran was quoted as saying by Haveeru.

“We were talking about a particular thing and a particular person completed it. Therefore, when the Maldivian people carry out these activities, too, in a certain way, the people who completes it will decide it a certain way. I hope the President has the courage, ability and steadfastness to take such a measure on behalf of the people,” he continued.

Imran’s comments are symptomatic of the incendiary rhetoric surrounding the airport, the nationalisation of which the Adhaalath Party has previously described as a “national jihad”.

The Civil Coalition of NGOs joined with the seven now-government aligned parties to campaign against the former Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) led administration, most famously gathering on December 23 last year to defend Islam against what it perceived as irreligious tendencies in the Nasheed government.

The Coalition explained that it was to conduct a week of activities between November 3 – 9 in opposition to the deal, referred to as “airport week”, rather than the mass protest that had previously been planned.

Sun Online reported that the decision had been made owing to clashes with school exams and the government’s plans to celebrate the anniversary of 1988’s attempted coup on November 3.

The paper also reported that the week would be accompanied by the launching of songs and a special logo in support of the movement.

A large balloon has appeared in recent days over the skies of Male’ reading “GMR go home.”

However, previous attempts to organise demonstrations in opposition to the development met with disappointing results when a September protest was poorly attended.

One government-aligned party, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), refused to join the September protest, arguing that the dispute ought to be resolved through the courts.

DRP leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali has previously expressed his concerns that reneging on the GMR deal might have detrimental effects on investor confidence in what is already a perilous financial situation for the Maldives.

Abdulla Jabir, Deputy Leader of the Jumhoree Party (JP), has also been vocal about the economic impact of politicising the deal, criticising the Adhaalath Party.

“Sometimes they are religious experts, sometimes they are financial experts. But everyone loves Islam here. Right now, foreign investors are finding it difficult to understand the climate here,” Jabir told Minivan News earlier this month.

“This is not a perfect time for this issue to be happening with GMR,” he added. “I think these protests [against GMR] are unrealistic.”

The JP were, however, represented at the press conference, with State Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture Fuad Gasim reportedly suggesting that senior government figures were being pressured into silence over the deal.

Official government opposition to the deal is currently taking the form of investigations of the $511million deal via the country’s Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) as well as through a Singapore court of arbitration as agreed in the original contract.

However, the Attorney General has asked the Supreme Court to rule on whether the matter might be dealt with within the Maldivian court system.

Earlier this month, INIA CEO Andrew Harrison told Indian media that the company had received no official word from the Maldivian government concerning a resolution to the dispute.


DRP favours court resolution to GMR dispute as coalition partners prepare to “take to the streets”

The Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) will not join its fellow government coalition partners at a gathering in Male’ to oppose an airport privatisation contract with India-based infrastructure group GMR, claiming any resolution to the dispute must be made through the courts.

DRP Spokesperson Ibrahim Shareef has told Minivan News that while the party itself questioned if the GMR deal was in the best interest of the public, “due process” had to be followed through proper legal channels in order to establish if any wrong doing had occurred with the airport contract.

“Right now we do not feel that the best option is to take to the streets on this matter. We do not know what the purpose of this [coalition] gathering is, so we will not be taking part,” he said.

Shareef added that the party’s position remained that the government was bound to the agreement should it fail to prove through due process that the contract to develop and manage Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) was invalid.

The comments were made as key financial figures within the former government maintained this week that the deal was vital to not only modernise and boost efficiency at the airport, but also to address concerns over present state expenditure through a focus on privatisation.

Under the terms of the agreement – a US$511 million deal representing the largest ever case of foreign investment in the Maldives’ history – GMR agreed to a 25 year concession agreement to develop and manage the site, as well as redevelop the existing terminal by the end of this year.

The document was overseen by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank group and the largest global institution focused on private sector projects in developing countries.

However, the Maldives government earlier this month accused the IFC of negligence during the bidding process for INIA – allegations there were rejected by the organisation amidst continued calls from government-aligned parties to renationalise the airport.

Both the government and GMR are presently involved in an arbitration case in Singapore over the airport development.

Coalition gathering

With the arbitration ongoing, six government-aligned parties are set to hold a gathering from 9:00pm on Thursday night at the Artificial Beach area of Male’ calling for INIA, as the country’s main airport, to be “returned to Maldivians”.

Through a movement called “Maldivians’ airport back to Maldivians”, the coalition – excluding the DRP – told local media this week that the gathering represents the first in a series of activities aimed at regaining management of the airport.

According to local newspaper Haveeru, Sheikh Imran Abdulla of the government-aligned religious Adhaalath Party (AP) said the gathering was aimed at showing the coalition would take a “united stand” on opposing the GMR deal until the airport was “liberated”.

“Our hope is on the night the true feeling of the Maldivian people would be revealed on the airport issue,” he was quoted as saying by Haveeru.

The coalition movement is also expected to detail what it has claimed are losses sustained to the local economy from the awarding of the company to the Indian infrastructure group.

Sheik Imran was not responding to calls at the time of press. However, fellow AP member and Maldives’ Islamic Affairs Minister, Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, said he had “no idea” about any such gathering being held.

Meanwhile Dr Hassan Saeed, head of fellow coalition member the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), referred a query by Minivan News about the gathering to the party’s Secretary General, Abdulla Ameen. Ameen was not returning calls at the time of press.

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Parliamentary Group Leader Abdulla Yameen meanwhile referred enquiries about the gathering to Secretary General Yumna Maumoon – daughter of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Yumna was not responding to calls at the time of press.

DRP Spokesperson Shareef claimed that even should the validity of the agreement between GMR and the former government be found to be questionable, it remained for the courts to decide on such a matter.  Shareef added that senior members of his party had been penalised for holding such views by political opponents.

“Both [DRP Leader] Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid have been accused of taking bribes on this matter and trying to obstruct efforts to take the airport,” he said.

Shareef claimed the allegations had been devised by a faction formed in the DRP by members loyal to former party head and national President Gayoom, which later branched off to form the PPM party last year.

“Gayoom’s supporters had wished to take the airport back by force,” he said. “I’m not saying the deal is fair, but first we can look to renegotiate terms and get a new agreement. Also the government has the resources to investigate the deal and make the best decision on how to move forward to benefit the Maldivian people.”

Shareef added that the party had therefore decided against “taking to the streets” with other parties in President Waheed’s coalition government.

“We are not saying that the former government were not involved in something improper with the agreement,” he claimed. “But we do not see the previous government as an MDP government, or the current government as a DRP or PPM government, it is always the government of the Maldives, so if an agreement made by the government is found to be valid, than it must be honoured under the law.”

Privatisation pursuit

Speaking yesterday on private broadcaster Raaje TV, former Economic Development Minister Mahmoud Razee said the GMR deal reflected a commitment by the former government to pursue privatisation as outlined in the MDP’s manifesto.

“Firstly, if or when anything is run like a business, private people are more skilled and efficient. They are far more competent and they work for profit unlike the government,” he claimed.  “This means it requires less cost for the government, but needs more outside investment or capital. Private people are more skilled and efficient in terms of managing. The end product thus is more beneficial.”

Addressing criticisms from some local politicians that privatisation provided no benefits to the nation, Razee conceded there was an element of truth to the assumption, but stressed it did not reflect longer-term economic benefits.

“Because the investment is huge, the project is big; the first beneficiaries are always the investors. True. The benefits go to the foreigners,” he said. “In foreign countries, they make a consortium, which means the profits are being shared within multiple parties. For example, if a Turkish company is investing here, it doesn’t mean they do everything themselves. If they are developing a property, the construction, or other necessary work is done through local companies.”

Also speaking during the programme was MDP member and former Minister of Finance and Treasury Mohamed Shihab. Shihab claimed that in cases where there was limited national budgets such as in the development of a new airport terminal, then finance should be sought from outside sources.

He added that as within the case of technology and other expertise, and pointed to local resort groups such as Universal Resorts Maldives as examples in the country’s past where foreign partnerships had benefited the country’s economy.

“Resort owners do [private partnerships] because they profit from it. Let’s conduct a survey among resorts. Definitely the salaries and service charges are higher in foreign managed companies. It is a fact that, countries where foreign investment has been made are far more developed.”

Speaking earlier this year, INIA Chief Executive Officer Andrew Harrison claimed that INIA would remain a Maldivian owned enterprise that would be continuously developed by the company for the duration of the tender.

“We are just the caretakers here,” he said.  ”The airport remains and has always been owned by Maldivians.”

Harrison contended that to ensure profitability for its investment in the airport, GMR was itself committed to strengthening the wider Maldivian economy by working with local businesses, industry and contractors.


The President will not apologise for Pillay without Parliament: Zuhair

President Mohamed Nasheed will neither condemn nor apologise to the people over the statements made by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay about flogging, Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair has said.

Zuhair explained that the comments were made before Parliament, which has not yet spoken against the comments.

He said the President would respond after “the head of the particular state body cites a valid reason to speak against Pillay’s comments.”

During her visit in November, Pillay told Parliament that flogging as a punishment for extra-marital sex was one of the most degrading punishments for women, and asked that the government issue a moratorium on the Shariah-based penalty.

According to Haveeru, Zuhair said that former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom earlier made statements similar to those of Pillay.

The demand that the President apologise for Pillay’s remarks is one of five demands made the coalition which protested in defense of Islam on Friday, December 23. Since then, the government taken steps to address the demands which include removing SAARC monuments in Addu, preventing Israeli airlines to operate flights into the Maldives, closing down brothels and places where prostitution is practiced, and reversing the decision to declare areas of inhabited islands uninhabited in order to permit the sale of alcohol.


Pakistanis and other released from detention

The police have confirmed some foreigners in Male’ were detained as a “security” measure, prior to the mass religious rally on December 23.

Violent outbreaks and confrontations were speculated to take place during a religious rally organised by NGO’s and opposition parties “to defend Islam” in the Maldives and another led by ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to exhibit support for a “moderate Islam”.

Contrary to speculation, the protests proceeded peacefully.

Sub- Inspector of Police Ahmed Shiyam said the foreigners were arrested before the protest and were released afterwards.

Shiyam did not specify the number of foreigners arrested and their nationality.

“We brought them under police custody as part of security measures taken during the protest. All of them have now been released,” Shiyam said.

Minivan News has learned that the arrested foreigners included Pakistanis and people of two other nationalities who had arrived in the Maldives on tourist visas. They were detained on suspicion of participating in the religious rally, according to a source.

Controller for Immigration and Emigration Abdullah Shahid told Minivan News that “there was a high number of Pakistanis coming into the country at the time” of protest.

Shahid noted it was part of the security procedure to investigate inconsistencies in arrival rates.

Meanwhile, religious groups in Maldives have been accused of using funds from extremist groups in Pakistan to finance their activities locally.

India’s The Hindu reported last week that Maldives believed Pakistani money was helping extremists, according to a top source.

However spokesperson for the religious coalition, Abdullah Mohamed, rejected the accusations and said that they have not taken any money from foreign organisations.

“We are funding our activities through donations by our supporters,” he added.

He also added that he is unaware of any foreigners who came to Maldives to participate in the protest or their arrest.

According to him a few Maldivians living in Sri Lanka and India came to Male’ for the protests.


PPM MP Mahlouf’s shop vandalised

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Mahlouf’s clothes shop was vandalised last night by unknown assailants.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Mahlouf said he believed that the attack came in retaliation for the protest the opposition and coalition of religious NGOs have decided to conduct next Friday.

‘’It is in connection with the protest we have planned. Ever since we planned these protests I have been warned and threatened that if the protest is conducted I will suffer the consequences,’’ Mahlouf claimed.

Mahlouf said police attended the area would have collected video footage captured by the shop’s cameras.

‘’I think police will be able to find out the culprits using the footage,’’ he said. ‘’It is regrettable that those who oppose us have started vandalising property.’’

Mahlouf alleged that Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) officials and senior MPs had threatened him “with consequences” if the protest was conducted.PP

‘’They have sent me texts and threatened me that there will be consequences if the protest is conducted,’’ he claimed, further alleging that the MDP was “paying gangs” to disrupt the protest on Friday, but would not state which MPs he believed were involved.

‘’Not many gangs have cooperated with MDP because it is a religious thing this time,’’ Maulouf.

Minivan News sought response from MDP Parliamentary Group Media Coordinator MP Mohamed Shifaz, MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, MP Ahmed Easa and MP Ali Waheed, but none responded at time of press.

MDP MPs Mohamed Musthafa and Ahmed Hamza refused to comment on the matter.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed that the incident had occurred and that police were investigating the case.

The religious NGO coalition and opposition political parties are planning a protest on Friday in which they claim 15,000 citizens will attend.