Defence ministry sacks eight officers

The defence ministry has dismissed eight officers at the aviation security command claiming the military no longer trusted them.

But the dismissed officers, who are all members of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), told Minivan News they were fired because of their political views.

The dismissals come at a time of heightened political tension in Malé following the imprisonment of former president Mohamed Nasheed and ex defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

The fired officers had served between 13 and 26 years at the aviation security command.

They include the head of security for Koodoo Domestic Airport, head of administration, head of cargo unit, head of human resources, supervisor of the Malé international airport’s international terminal, two outpost duty officers and a driver.

“We are all members of MDP and we will always remain so. But never in my 26 years of service have I ever betrayed the state. Now they see my political beliefs as a threat to them,” former head of Koodoo Airport Mohamed Nadeem told Minivan News today.

Hussain Nazeef, who was the head of cargo unit, said members of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) had wanted them dismissed from their jobs.

“We were at a very senior level and the people working for us, who were also members of PPM, lacked proper qualification and the leadership to advance. So the only way for them to go ahead was to get us fired,” Nazeef said.

The ministry, citing budgetary constraints, had given the eight officers notice in early March, but the decision was not enforced until Wednesday. Two more officers who were given notice in March still remain at their jobs.

The dismissal notes said: “Based on the intelligence information gathered by the Ministry of Defence and National Security, you are no longer trusted to continue working in an environment related to the national security.”

At a press briefing today deputy defence minister Thorig Ali Lutfee dismissed the officer’s claims, but failed to reveal the reasons for dismissal.

“It is difficult to state the exact reason why we let go of any of our staff. We don’t want to reveal our reasons to the media,” he said.

Meanwhile, other employees of the Aviation Command say they “fear for their jobs” and have described their working environment as “tense.”

“There are many people who are depressed because they do not know what will happen to them eventually. People are scared of losing their jobs. It’s not easy to work in a place not knowing what accusations they are going to throw at you the next minute,” an employee who asked to remain anonymous said.

The defence ministry has previously brought changes to its ranks during Maldives’ frequent political crises.  In February, following the arrest of ex defence minister on weapons smuggling charges, the military dismissed the head of the armory and the head of the special protection group.

Several employees of state owned companies have also reported being dismissed for their participation in the opposition’s mass protests.

The defence ministry also dismissed several senior ranking officers from the military during the contested presidential elections of November 2013.

Nine soldiers including former head of military intelligence Brigadier General Ahmed Nilam, Brigadier General Abdulla Shamal, Captain Abdulla Muizz Musthafa and Sergeant Major Naushad Ali were dismissed in December 2013 after President Yameen assumed power.

Nilam and Muizz subsequently sued the state for unfair dismissal.

The Civil Court last Thursday threw out Nilam’s lawsuit, stating they were unable to summon Nilam to court as he had provided the wrong address on case documents.

Muizz’s case is ongoing.


Maldives signs MoU permitting flights to Saudi Arabia

Following the signing of a memorandum of understanding on strengthening air transport between Saudi Arabia and the Maldives, Maldivian airlines are now permitted to fly to Saudi Arabia.

The MoU was signed during a meeting between the Maldives’ Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim and the Saudi Arabian General Authority of Civil Aviation’s vice president during Nazim’s official trip to Jeddah in January .

The Defence Ministry informed local media that, with the signing of the MoU, flights from both countries are now permitted to fly to one other. They stated that 14 flights a week are now allowed to fly from the Maldives to Jeddah, Riyadh, and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

According to the ministry, the national airline Maldivian, as well as private carrier Mega Maldives has expressed interest in holding flights to Saudi Arabia.


Defense minister returns from India with gifts and reassurances

Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim has returned from his five day official visit to India bearing gifts and reassurances of better defense cooperation and hope for improved bilateral relations.

A major highlight of the trip was India’s gift to Maldives military, a locally manufactured ‘Dhruv’ Advanced Lightweight Helicopter (ALH). The Helicopter the second India has gifted – will reach Maldives in two months.

India also assured the delivery of a landing craft within this period – promised during Nazim’s previous visit to India as President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s Defence minister. During that visit, nine months ago, India promised seven new radar systems, in addition to three radar systems India had already gifted to the Maldives.

Nazim also addressed specific issues of concern that had emerged during the previous administration’s period of weakened ties with India.

The shortage of construction material imported from India following a special quota for Maldives being revoked in February 2013, and the difficulties in acquiring medical Visa for Maldivians traveling to India were discussed.

Both issues will be discussed further during President Yameen’s official visit to India early next year.

Nazim’s visit – from 11-15 December – was prompted by an invitation from his counterpart AK Anthony. During the visit, Nazim met many senior government officials, amongst them Minister of Home Affairs Sushilkumar Shinde, Minister of External Affairs Salman Khurshid, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, Chief of Army Staff General Bikram Singh, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral DK Joshi and Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne.

Nazim requested Indian assistance to acquire equipment and training for disaster management and fire and rescue services – a coast guard vessel for patrolling the Maldives’ EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) and an auxiliary vessel to improve logistical support across the country.

Training opportunities were also sought in other areas such as aviation security, pilot training, air traffic control training, MBBS and specialist medical training.

During the visit, the Maldives defense minister informed Indian officials of the progress of the Composite Training Center being constructed at Maafilaafushi (Lhaviyani Atoll) with Indian financial assistance.  A ten-story building for the Coast Guard and the Ministry of Defense and National Security also is all set to be built at the current Coast Guard Building’s location with Indian grant aid.

Apart from improving the military, Nazim’s main focus during the visit was on health security, especially regarding the development of MNDF’s ‘Senahiya’ military hospital – officially inaugurated by Indian Defense minister in September 2012.

Nazim sought Indian assistance in getting medical equipment such as CT scan and MRI machines for the hospital. India also agreed to deputise Indian Armed Forces medical specialists to Senahiya and other regions of Maldives in a near future.

Training of MNDF medical specialists was also discussed, while the Indian defense minister announced the opportunity for MNDF personnel to be treated for major surgeries and serious illnesses at India’s armed forces medical institutions


Week in review: November 30 – December 7

The past week has seen the administration of President Adbulla Yameen make tentative steps towards resolution of the country’s dire economic situation.

The Government of China offered the Maldives US$8.2million in grant aid for development projects. Reports also emerged in Indian media of its government being on the verge of unfreezing a credit standby facility – initiated before the recent deterioration in bilateral ties.

The New Indian Express suggested that the official announcement would be made during Yameen’s visit to India, also announced in the past seven days.

Further aid flows for climate change adaptation projects were also forthcoming, with the European Union pledging an additional €4million to the €34million given since 2009.

Solid progress on the 2014 budget continued to elude the government this week, however, with the submission of details to parliament delayed for the fourth time as the finance minister awaited further specifics about the administration’s plans.

Specific designs for the long-awaited construction of a bridge linking Malé and Hulhumalé were requested by the government, although foreign investor confidence is unlikely to have been improved by the Maldives’ failure to appear on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for the second consecutive year.

Meanwhile, confidence in the country’s tourism industry remained undiminished at the World Travel Awards in Qatar, where the Maldives collected the prize for ‘World’s Leading Island Destination’.

Politics, police, and protecting Islam

Despite prior promises of leniency from the government, Maldivian Democratic Party MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor was briefly imprisoned this week after the Supreme Court revoked a number of parliamentary privileges.

Hamid – who has cited parliamentary privileges to defend himself against contempt of court charges – spent just hours in Maafushi jail before the High Court overturned the Criminal Court’s six-month sentence.

Fellow MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy led the Parliamentary Privileges Committee in suggesting that the Supreme Court was compromising the independence of parliament.

Elsewhere in the Majlis, MPs from all sides of the political divide took to the floor of the house to support a constitutional amendment further safeguarding Islam’s position as the country’s sole religion.

The police this week recommended that the Prosecutor General’s office pursue charges against Raajje TV’s CEO and its head of news for a report criticising the Supreme Court. Police also detained an individual in relation to the arson attack that destroyed MDP-aligned Raajje TV in October.

Less progress was reported in the case of Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed’s sex-tape allegations, with police admitting they have been unable to identify the individual widely reputed to be Hameed. The police did, however, promise that more information from abroad may yet shed light upon the issue. Local media had suggested that police investigations had been thwarted by the Criminal Court’s failure to provide the required warrants.

Retired Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz was honoured this week by his former colleagues prior to his move into the political arena.  Home Minister Umar Naseer used the celebrations to order police to remove any material that might incite hatred against the force.

The fostering of dissent within its own ranks was the reason given for further dismissals within the military three senior officers were dismissed, whilst 34-year veteran Lieutenant Colonel Zubair Ahmed told Raajje TV that he had been forced to retire from the MNDF.

The Defence Ministry this week threatened action against any media outlets who criticised its disciplinary procedure, subsequently receiving censure itself from the Media Council.

Finally, preparations for the January 18 local council elections continued in the past seven days, with government-aligned parties – excluding the Adhaalath Party – deciding to divide seats up amongst themselves to maximise their prospects. The opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party hopes to arrest its declining fortunes going into future polls by rebranding its party color, logo and slogan.


US PISCES border system to come into use at midnight

The US granted Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System – or PISCES – system will go live in the Maldives tonight, local media has reported.

The system, described as “a critical tool in the war on terrorism”, by its manufacturer Booz Allen will be implemented just weeks after the cancellation of the government’s deal with Malaysian IT firm Nexbis to supply a customised border control system.

While Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim was today reported as saying that PISCES is a direct replacement for Nexbis’s, the Malaysian company has argued strongly that it is not, labelling PISCES nothing more than a “terrorist tracking system”.

After years of wrangling over the deal, Nexbis was given 14 days to vacate earlier this month. Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim cited “major losses” to the state as the reason for the contract termination – an argument Nexbis has strongly refuted.


MPs vote against transferring immigration department under defence ministry

MPs today voted 27-23 against approving President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s decision to transfer the department of immigration and emigration under the defence ministry.

During the debate on the request by the President’s Office to endorse the changes to the defence ministry’s mandate, MP Mohamed Rasheed of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) proposed a motion against approving the changes.

The motion was carried with 27 votes in favour, 23 against and one abstention.

MDP MPs contended that the transfer of the immigration department in December 2012 contravened the constitution. The department was functioning under the home ministry at the time.


Increase in Chinese presence in Maldives IT sector sparks Indian concern

Indian authorities have expressed concern over China’s expanding influence in the IT and telecom sectors in the Maldives, Indian media has reported.

The Indian Ministry of Communications and IT, along with security agencies in India, have now agreed that Beijing’s state-owned companies should be “kept at bay” from Maldives’ IT and telecom sectors, The Hindu reported.

Indian intelligence agencies were alerted to the issue after the Maldives requested a soft loan of US$54 million for an IT infrastructure project from China

The Ministry has suggested the Indian government plan a substantial investment in the Maldives along similar projects to ensure telecom traffic between India and Maldives is handled through equipment the Indian government has confidence in.

“The Government… may also plan substantial investment in the Maldives on similar projects [as being planned by China] ensuring that the traffic between India and the Maldives is handled through the equipment installed and commissioned in the Maldives by India,” read internal government note, according to Indian newspaper the Hindu.

The Sri Lankan subsidiary of Chinese telecom equipment-maker Huawei Technologies has already signed an agreement with Maldives’ National Centre of Information Technologies to develop IT infrastructure under the ‘Smart Maldives Project’, Indian media stated.

“The proposed project assumes significance due to the fact that China can capitalise its influence over the Maldives to utilise the latter’s network once the project is implemented,” the Indian Reasearch & Analysis Wing said in an internal note as reported by the Hindu.

Minivan News was awaiting a response from Indian Minister for Communications & Information Technology Shri Kapil Sibal and Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid at time of press.

Former Transport and Communications Minister Dr Ahmed Shamheed claimed the issue of Chinese involvement in the Maldivian IT sector had been raised by Indian officials in the past.

Shamheed said that a ‘smart card’ project that had been signed between China and Nasheed’s government to replace the National ID cards had sparked interest from the Indian government.

“The Indian High Commissioner in the Maldives once suggested to me that [the Chinese] would steal all of our government’s data should we work with them.

“The deal with the Chinese was that they would provide us with smart cards which will replace our current ID cards. When this happened, the Indian government wanted to provide us with their own system instead of the Chinese one,” Shamheed told Minivan News.

Acting Minister of Transport and Communications Mohamed Nazim was not responding to calls at time of press.

Defence Minister visits China

Last month (December 10, 2012) Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim departed to China on an official five-day visit at the invitation of the Chinese Minister of National Defence.

The move fuelled speculation in the Indian media of a Chinese role in the government’s decision to void the agreement and evict the GMR-led consortium that took place two days prior to the visit in December.

“Looking at the political situation and political framework in Maldives, I can’t rule out anything,” GMR Airports chief financial officer (CFO) Sidharth Kapur told journalists in New Delhi in December.

Following official talks between the defence ministers, Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency reported in December that Nazim assured Chinese Minister of National Defence General Liang Guanglie that the Maldives was “willing to cement relations between the two countries and their militaries.”

Chinese companies discuss Maldives’ satellite slot

Former Minister of Communication Dr Ahmed Shamheed told Minivan News in December 2012 that Defence Minister Nazim had met with two Chinese companies interested in operating a satellite designated for the Maldives.

Under the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Maldives could be entitled to an “orbital slot” for a satellite.

Because the Maldives’ lacks the capabilities to launch and operate a satellite, the state would have to lease it out to an external party, Shamheed said.

According to Shamheed, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim had already been approached by various Chinese companies who have expressed interest in the satellite venture.

“At first, I had been involved in casual meetings with these companies, but now it seems to getting more serious. Nazim had even questioned as to why we have not yet signed an agreement with them,” Shamheed alleged.


Zaki’s remarks “threat to national security,” claims Defence Ministry

The Ministry of Defence has said widely-reported remarks by Special Envoy of former President Mohamed Nasheed, Ibrahim Hussain Zaki that the previous government would have sought Indian military assistance to protect its economic interests in the Maldives, constitute a “threat to national security”.

In a statement on Friday, the Defence Ministry condemned the remarks “in the harshest terms” and contended that “such actions are very dangerous [threats] to national security and encourage activities that would harm the country’s independence and sovereignty.”

“If we were in the government, definitely we would have done it by now… definitely [asked for] their [Indian forces] to be on the ground,” Zaki was quoted as saying during a recent visit to the country.

The former Secretary General of SAARC reportedly warned India that rising fundamentalism in the Maldives threatened the country’s economic interests.

“Zaki, 67, a former minister in successive Maldivian governments headed by former presidents Maumoon Gayoom and [Mohamed] Nasheed, said he would have called for Indian forces to protect the multi-million-dollar investment by Indian infrastructure firm GMR Group,” Indian media reported on Thursday.

“The attack on GMR contract is an Islamic fundamentalist issue,” Zaki told reporters.

Zaki explained that “many top figures in the Adhaalath Party are educated in Pakistan and draw their philosophy from the hardline Salafist form of Islam.”

“When Islamic fundamentalism takes over the country, if the Lashkar-e-Taiba can take over the country, then I have no choice [but to call in forces from India],” Zaki was quoted as saying, “referring to the Pakistan-based militant group that India blames for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack.”

India’s Daily News & Analysis reported Zaki as saying that fundamentalists in the Maldives “have links with terror group Lashkar-e-Toiba” and warned that if Islamic fundamentalism goes unchecked the country could turn into a terror state that threatens Indian security.

Meanwhile, according to the Indian Express, Zaki’s meetings with External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon and Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai were “a clear signal from New Delhi of its unhappiness with Male’ over its handling of the opposition in that country to the GMR agreement for airport development.”

The Indian Express reported that Zaki received treatment at the Indian Army’s Research and Referral Hospital for injuries sustained during his arrest from an uninhabited island last week on charges of alcohol consumption.

Following his arrest and hospitalisation, former Human Resource Minister and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) lawyer Hassan Latheef tweeted that Zaki was “severely beaten by baton and handcuffed for hours”.

Zaki told the Express that he was thrashed with “boots and electric batons” for hours. “There was no space on my body where I was not hit,” he said.

External Affairs Minister Kurshid and his wife were meanwhile “old friends,” Zaki said.

Earlier this month, India’s Business Standard reported that Indian companies operating in the Maldives were expressing concerns over political interference derailing their substantial investments in the country.

“A recent meeting held with the Maldivian Housing Minister [and a joint venture between developers SG18 and Indian super-conglomerate TATA] is said to have ended abruptly with officials from the firm and the Indian High Commission being asked to leave,” the Standard reported.

“Maldivians’ airport to Maldivians”

Waheed with anti-GMR t-shirtThe Adhaalath Party has been at the forefront of a campaign to renationalise the airport dubbed “Maldivians’ airport to Maldivians” led by parties of the ruling coalition.

Remarks by government spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza at a protest rally by the coalition earlier this month, alleging that Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay has been bribed by GMR, triggered a diplomatic incident and saw the government dissociate itself from the comments.

Meanwhile, Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla said at a press conference last week that there should not be any further discussions or negotiations with the Indian infrastructure giant and reiterated calls for the government to immediately terminate the agreement.

While the head of the religious conservative party had given the government a deadline of six days to “reclaim the airport” at the rally on November 9, the ultimatum was later extended to November 30.

On Thursday, the anti-GMR campaign presented a petition with 35,000 signatures to President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik. The petition was handed to Dr Waheed by Sheikh Imran before a meeting at the President’s Office.

Speaking to press following the meeting, State Minister for Home Affairs Abdulla Mohamed said that the President assured the group that the dispute would be resolved in line with “the wishes of the Maldivian people” and that a decision would be made after a cabinet meeting.

With its second ultimatum, the group warned the government that it would have to resort to “direct action” unless the concession agreement was not terminated by November 30.

“Independence and sovereignty”

The press release from the Defence Ministry meanwhile referred to article 67(d) of the constitution, which states that every citizen has a responsibility “to promote the sovereignty, unity, security, integrity and dignity of the Maldives.”

The Defence Ministry appealed to politicians against making remarks that could undermine “national independence and sovereignty” and “issuing threats of confrontation and the use of force.”

The statement also warned that the Defence Ministry would take “necessary legal action against anyone who commits an act that harms the independence and sovereignty of the nation.”


State appeals Hulhumale’ Court’s decision to reject Nasheed case

The Prosecutor General’s Office (PG) has appealed in the High Court a decision by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court that it did not have jurisdiction to proceed a case presented to the court against former President Mohamed Nasheed, and former Defense Minister Tholhath Ibrahim and three senior officers of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).

The case was submitted by the PG accusing Nasheed, Tholhath and the MNDF officers of violating article 81 of the Penal Code by detaining Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed, and “unlawfully arresting a person who hasn’t committed a crime”.

The Nasheed administration had accused the judge of political bias, obstructing police, stalling cases, links with organised crime and “taking the entire criminal justice system in his fist” to protect key figures of the former dictatorship from human rights violations and corruption cases.

Elements of the police and military subsequently mutinied on February 7, alleging that Nasheed’s orders to arrest the judge were unlawful.

Nasheed publicly resigned the same day, but later said he was forced to do so “under duress” in a coup d’état. Judge Abdulla was released on the evening of February 7, and the Criminal Court swiftly issued a warrant for Nasheed’s arrest. Police did not act on the warrant, after international concern quickly mounted.

As well as Nasheed, the Prosecutor General has also pressed the same charges against former Chief of Defense Forces Moosa Ali Jaleel, Brigadier General Ibrahim Mohamed Didi and Colonel Mohamed Ziyad for their role in detaining the judge.

The Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court rejected cases forwarded by the Prosecutor General on July 18 after studying the case and learning that the case was beyond the jurisdictions of the magistrate courts. The PG had forwarded the case to Hulhumale’ because of concerns over a conflict of interest that would exist if it was sent to the criminal court.

‘’We studied the case and we found that we do not have the jurisdiction to deal with the case according to article 66 of the Judicature Act,’’ Hulhumale’ Court Chief Magistrate Moosa Naseem told Minivan News at the time.

Naseem said that the Hulhumale’-based court can only accept the case after the Chief Justice issues a decree in agreement with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and the Judicial Council as stated in the article 66[b] of the Judicature Act.

Article 66[b] of the Judicature Act states that “In accordance with Section (a) of this Article, if additions or omission to the jurisdictions stipulated in schedule 5 of this Act has to be carried out, the modification has to be done in agreement with the Judicial Service Commission and the Judicial Council and by a decree issued by the Chief Justice.’’

The Chief Judge was detained by the military, after he had opened the court outside normal hours to order the immediate release of former Justice Minister and current Home Minister and deputy leader of the Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP), Dr Mohamed Jameel.

On July 25, Deputy Prosecutor General (PG) Hussein Shameem said that Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court does have the jurisdiction to hear the case of former President Mohamed Nasheed over his role in the detention of a Criminal Court Chief Judge.

Shameem contended that should the court maintain its decision against hearing the case, there were few other judicial alternatives in trying to ensure a “fair trial”.

The Civil Court meanwhile recently dismissed a decision by its own watchdog body, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), to take action against Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdullah Mohamed for violating the Judge’s Code of Conduct.

The Civil Court overruled the JSC stating that Judge Abdulla was not given an opportunity to respond to the allegations during the investigation.

According to the decision, providing a chance to submit any complaints after the investigation was completed could not be deemed as an opportunity for the judge to present his defence.