Liberian player signed to Maldivian football club “trapped” in Male’ after salary dispute

A Liberian striker brought in to play for a Maldivian football club has spoken of his desperation as he remains trapped in the Maldives with no money and no ticket home.

Wright Charles Gaye, a former striker for Maldivian football club Club Valencia, has spent the last six months living in poverty after the club failed to provide him with two month’s owed salary and a promised one-way ticket home.

Speaking to Minivan News on Thursday (March 7), the 27-year-old Liberian national revealed how he had been forced to live in accommodation with no water or electricity, having to survive on handouts from club officials and other players.

“It has been terrible. I am owed US$2,600 and a one-way-ticket home to Liberia, but for six months I have received nothing.

“It’s hard because I have family back in Africa. They are looking to me because I have to send money back. My son is no longer is school because I don’t have the money to send home,” Charles said.

The issue has now attracted the attention of Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), after Charles lodged a formal complaint to the international organisation.

A letter from FIFA calls for the Football Association of Maldives (FAM) to provide Club Valencia’s position on the claim lodged by Charles no later than March 25.

FAM was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Charles, who has played for multiple clubs in Maldives, Sri Lanka and Liberia, claimed that Valencia’s Chairman Ibrahim Raai Rasheed had told him not to put anything in the news regarding his situation.

“He [Rasheed] is going around telling people that everything is okay for me. But if you want to believe that you can come and see my apartment.

“A former official from the club is giving me MVR 500 (US$32) a week because he feels sorry for me. It’s hard to survive on, but I feel ashamed to be calling for help,” he added.

The Liberian striker said that he had been recently moved into a guest house by his former club after he complained about the lack of electricity and water at his apartment.

Charles claimed that Rasheed had made multiple “promises” to the striker, assuring him that he would be given his wages and a flight home, but each time the chairman did not deliver.

“Sometimes the chairman would call me and say ‘Charles pack your things, you are leaving tomorrow, get your money together and get ready’, so when I pack and call him back, he doesn’t pick up. This has happened two or three times,” Charles said.

“In December I was told I would be leaving on December 23 and would arrive on December 25 on Christmas morning. It meant I would see my son and would get to spend Christmas with him. But over the next few days he was not taking my calls. When he did eventually pick up, he would just say ‘I’m busy, I’ll call you back,” he added.

Club Valencia responds

Responding to the footballer’s claims, Club Valencia Management – when contacted by Minivan News – said that Charles will be paid his full wages and will be given a ticket home to Liberia in Africa.

“There has been a lot of miscommunication recently. Charles has communicated with me on only a few things, but I feel bad for him,” a club official claimed. “His salary and ticket home is now all sorted had he will be returning home.”

The club’s management denied that Charles’ apartment was without running water and electricity, adding that they had written proof of utility bills for the months he had stayed there.

The reason behind the delay in Charles’ payments – according to Club Valencia Management – was that there had been delays in financial assistance from the sports ministry and from the club’s sponsorship.

Despite Valencia’s claims of financial hardship, the Liberian striker claimed that the club had recently brought in three foreign new players and a new coach for the team.

“[Valencia] must have the money. If they don’t, how can they bring in these new players, put them in a big hotel and let them eat in good restaurants? How can they do all that and not pay me?” Charles said.

Club Valencia Management confirmed that three new players and a coach had been taken on by the club.

Life as a foreign footballer in the Maldives

Wright Charles Gaye came to the Maldives four years ago after being signed by New Radiant SC, where he experienced similar pay disputes with the club before transferring to VB Addu FC – known as VB Sport Club until January 2012.

Following a complaint to the Football Association of Maldives over a lack of pay for six months, Charles was eventually paid by New Radiant SC in November 2012.

The striker joined Valencia in the June 2012 transfer period, and started playing in July until the clubs last game on September 28.

Having allegedly only received one month’s pay for July, Charles then left the club and has been waiting for a promised ‘one-way-ticket’ home and his remaining two month salary.

“When you first come to the Maldives as a player, they talk to you nicely and treat you well, but as soon as you sign the papers, it all finishes.

“Some Maldivian players have the same issue, I know two or three players from different clubs who have had payment problems, but for the foreign players it is worse,” Charles said.

The Liberian national also revealed how certain clubs retain foreign player’s passports over concern that the players will buy their own tickets and fly home.

“I have a friend who played here from Cameroon and the club hid his passport, and would not return it when he asked for it back.

“Whenever you ask for your passport they would give you a story, maybe say that is being kept in immigration. They have asked for mine before, but I know what would happen if I gave it them,” Charles alleged.

Addendum: Wright Charles Gaye subsequently contacted Minivan News to say Valencia had paid the US$2,600, an additional one month’s salary and had booked him a one-way flight to Liberia.



Expatriate workers becoming “very desperate” in wake of blackmarket dollar crackdown

Low-wage expatriate workers in the Maldives are becoming increasingly desperate in the wake of a government crackdown on the blackmarket exchange of rufiya into US dollars.

Many of the country’s 100,000 foreign workers, particularly a large percentage of labourers from Bangladesh, are paid in Maldivian rufiya by their employers and are forced to change the money on the blackmarket at rates often several rufiya higher than the government’s pegged rate of Rf12.85, before sending the money to their families.

Banks have been reluctant to sell dollars at the pegged rate in more than token quotas for much of the last year, a symptom of the ongoing dollar shortage – even those with dollar accounts have reported difficultly withdrawing cash at the counters without appropriate connections within financial institution.

Several expatriate workers Minivan News spoke to expressed frustration that banks were refusing to exchange rufiya to dollars, only to hand over money to local residents next in the queue.

A well-known figure in the Bangadeshi community, Saiful Islam, who has been in the country for 28 years, told Minivan News that many people were becoming “very desperate.”

“They are struggling to get money remitted to relatives and parents at the other end. This is a very desperate situation for them,” he said.

“There are some people who work in resorts and who are paid in US dollars who travel to Male’ and sell them at a much higher price than the government’s [pegged rate] of Rf12.85, sometimes as high as Rf14 or Rf15. There are people who are so desperate they will buy dollars at any price because they have no other choice,” Islam said.

“Without taking this demand into consideration, I don’t think a crackdown will work. I don’t think it is unfair to abide by the rules when you are in another country, however that changes when people become desperate – look at people in Libya, do you think they will apply by the government’s rules and regulations?”

“There needs to be an outlet where they money can be changed to US dollars, even 50 percent of it. Otherwise, why are they here? They have a big family at the other end who depend on their income.”

Unable to change money legitimately and under pressure to provide for families at home, and unable to leave due to the expense of air travel, debts owed to unscrupulous recruiters or common practices such as employers holding workers’ passports until the conclusion of their contract, many workers are functionally left without options other than to risk arrest.

Bangladesh’s High Commissioner to the Maldives, Rear Admiral Abu Saeed Mohamed Abdul Awal, acknowledged the problem was one that ”all expatriates face, because all their revenue is earned in local currency, but when they go to pay remittances it must be paid in dollars.”

The crackdown, Awal said, was the government’s prerogative, “however our concern is the payment of expats in local currency. There needs to be a proper government arrangement for repatriating salary.”

“This has become a pressing problem and a serious concern, however the availability of dollars is a longstanding issue. The issue of dollar scarcity is an internal matter for the Maldives.”

The President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair told Minivan News that there was an “expatriate element” to the dollar shortage faced by the Maldives due to the high numbers of “illegally-employed workers buying dollars on the blackmarket and transferring them overseas.”

Zuhair claimed that every expatriate arriving in the Maldives came in on a contract “stating what currency he would be paid in. The onus is on the employer to pay in US dollars.”

“If [the worker] accepted a contract paid in rufiyaa, then if he wants to send dollars back to his country he will have to change it at the bank when and if that is possible, or on the blackmarket [and risk arrest]. Banks have a quota at which they sell dollars based on need and supply.”

Zuhair said the police crackdown targeting the illegal sale of dollars by both licensed and unlicensed vendors had made “considerable progress, with two arrests.”

“The government hopes [the crackdown] will stabilise the dollar market, black or otherwise, and create a scenario whereby the dollar dips so anyone hoarding dollars will release their reserves,” he said. “We have the numbers and the numbers are clear: we have enough dollars in the country.”

Meanwhile, Zuhair said, the government was seeking to replace the Governor of the Maldives Monetary Authority, Fazeel Najeeb, “who has not effected any changes to rectify this situation.”

“Najeeb is known to be affiliated with the People’s Alliance (PA) party and its leader, Abdulla Yameen, the former Minister of Trade and half brother of the former President. He is said to be a guarantor of the former regime and retains tight control of the MMA,” Zuhair alleged.

“From the government’s point-of-view the MMA needs to be much more involved in the current situation, rather than the Governor being away on study leave. It has not released a single piece of regulation to address this issue.”

Islam meanwhile pointed out that the government had long been stating it intended to reduce the number of expatriates working in the Maldives – currently a third of the total population – “but we do not see this happening in practice.”

“Every day a lot of people are still coming into the country, on tourist visas from countries such as Sri Lanka and India,” he said. “There are very few genuine tourists arriving from Bangladesh, mostly they are on work permits. Why are they being allowed in without any work being attached to the work permits?”