Dr Shakeela alleges conspiracy to drive her from office

Former health minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela has suggested her removal from office was the result of a conspiracy which included death threats and a smear campaign.

Giving an interview to local newspaper Haveeru, Shakeela alleges that she was ousted in order to clear the way for corruption within the health sector.

“When I was given the post, some people said this can’t be done by bringing in someone from far outside after we worked hard to bring this government,” she told Haveeru.

“So from the start there were some people who were bent on showing that I was a failure,” she continued.

Shakeela told the paper that she had received multiple threatening phone calls – including eight in a single evening, suggesting she would be killed if she did not resign.

Dr Shakeela’s reappointment in the redefined role of health minister was overwhelmingly rejected by the pro-government majority People’s Majlis last month.

Parliamentary group leader for the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Ahmed Nihan, has told Minivan News today that Shakeela’s removal was a democratic decision made by the parliamentary group.

“I cannot accept her claims in that regard, and cannot verify whether this is the case [of threats] or not,” said Nihan.

The Villimalé MP said that rejection of Shakeela by the parliamentary group after her nomination by the president sent a strong signal to ministers.

“If we [MPs] decide to give another year to Shakeela and wait for a whole year, who will be blamed?” he asked.

The President’s Office today said that it did not wish to comment on the interview, nor the allegations of death threats sent to the former cabinet minister.

Threats to politicians have become increasingly common in recent months, with Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim alleging fellow politicians were behind these attempts at intimidation.

Corruption allegations

Dr Shakeela, speaking while attending a conference in Bhutan, said that political opponents intended to utilise the position to benefit from large scale corruption in the health sector.

“I am not talking about small amounts [of money]. For example, because of the state of disrepair of infrastructure, about MVR500,000 has to be spent at least to build even one place. In most places, it goes above a million,” she explained.

“So consider the profit people could make. They could give it to whoever they want. They could do whatever they want to purchase equipment. I tried to do it without allowing any of that.”

Dr Shakeela – who served as environment and energy minister under the previous government – also alleged that negative media coverage of the health sector was part of wider efforts to engineer her removal.

A series of protests over regional healthcare services came soon after it was revealed state-owned Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) had transfused HIV positive blood to a patient in February due to an alleged technical error.

In June, Fuvahmulah councillors called for Shakeela’s resignation after a case of stillbirth, an interrupted caesarean, and the death of a soldier on the island. A few weeks later, over 300 protestors demonstrated in Haa Dhaal Kulhudhuffushi over deteriorating conditions at the regional hospital.

Shakeela was up for parliamentary approval in August for the second time during President Abdulla Yameen’s administration after her initial portfolio as minister of health and gender was modified.

While Shakeela told Haveeru that she was not given adequate authority to carry out her job,  PPM parliamentary leader Nihan today said that acting health minister Colonel (Ret.) Mohamed Nazim was now doing a “tremendous” job.

“I’m sure that the work of the acting Health Minister is commendable, work that Shakeela could not have done – I’m quite sure of that,” said Nihan.

Drawing parallels with the work of former health minister Ilyas Ibrahim – brother-in-law of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – Nihan argued that the sector had needed a more proactive minister.

Nihan suggested that the money allocated to the health sector in the past two budgets had been generous, a point previously disputed by both Shakeela and Permanent Secretary at the health ministry Geela Ali


PPM MPs to hold secret vote on health minister reappointment

MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) on Wednesday decided to hold a secret vote to determine the party’s parliamentary group’s stand on reappointing Dr Mariyam Shakeela as health minister.

Shakeela is up for Majlis approval for a second time after President Abdulla Yameen modified her initial portfolio as Minister of Health and Gender.

The gender department was transferred on July 1 to the new Ministry of Law and Gender to be headed by Attorney General Mohamed Anil.

According to local media, 21 of the 24 PPM MPs present at a parliamentary group meeting decided on a secret ballot following a dispute between MPs over reappointing Shakeela.

The vote will be held at a PPM parliamentary group meeting on Monday at 12:30pm.

In response, Shakeela told the press she has no issue with failing to gain the required votes if MPs do not see her work in strengthening the health sector.

“What can I say? Every day, there is a lot of work underway at this ministry [to strengthen the health sector]. If [MPs] do not see this effort, then I have no problem if they don’t vote,” she told reporters on Wednesday.

Local news agency Haveeru has claimed 21 out of 35 MPs present at a meeting in late July voted against approving Shakeela for the position.  MPs are reportedly dissatisfied with Shakeela’s performance in the past eight months.

The Health Ministry has been under fire following a series of protests over regional health care services and health mishaps in Malé.

The state owned Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) – long criticised for lack of qualified doctors, adequate medical facilities, and medicine – transfused HIV positive blood to a patient due to an alleged technical error.

In June, councilors of southern Fuvahmulah Island called for Shakeela’s resignation after a case of stillbirth, an interrupted caesarean, and the death of a soldier on the island. A few weeks later, over 300 protestors demonstrated in front of northern Kulhudhuffushi Island over deteriorating conditions at the regional hospital on the island.

Shakeela was first appointed to the cabinet by former President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan in May 2012. At the time, she held the Environment and Energy portfolio. President Abdulla Yameen reappointed Shakeela to the cabinet in November 2013 with the health portfolio.

The former 77-member Majlis approved Shakeela to the position with 43 votes in favor.

PPM’s parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan was not responding at the time of press.

The ruling party holds a majority in the People’s Majlis with 43 of the 85-member house. PPM’s ally the Maldives Development Alliance controls an additional five seats.


Health Minister seeks parliament approval for new role

The President’s Office has submitted the name of Minister of Health Dr Mariyam Shakeela for parliament approval on Sunday.

Shakeela was appointed to the post on July 1 after the ministry was renamed to the Ministry of Health from the Ministry of Health and Gender.

The re-shuffle also saw the creation of the Ministry of Law and Gender, which is set to oversee all government functions related to families, children, women, people with special needs, and human rights.


Government warns of dengue and scrub typhus risk on World Health Day

Minister of Health and Gender Dr Mariyam Shakeela has noted an increase in the incidence of mosquito-borne dengue and mite-borne scrub typhus in the Maldives.

In a televised address to mark World Health Day, Shakeela said increased travel, trade, migration and climate change is leading to an increase in insect-borne diseases worldwide.

Dengue fever has become endemic in the Maldives since 2004, she said.

“I am deeply saddened to note that individual level action to control diseases spread by small insects is not being taken. The result is the increase in dangerous diseases such as dengue and scrub typhus and deaths,” said the minister.

There were 680 reported cases of dengue in the Maldives in 2013, a decline from 2006 peak of 2,788 cases, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said.

The year 2011 also saw a relatively severe outbreak of dengue in the Maldives, with fatalities reaching a dozen – a record high in the country’s history. In 2012 there were a total of 1,083 dengue cases in the Maldives. Construction workers face an increased risk, the HPA has said.

Deaths have also been reported from scrub typhus due to failure to seek healthcare and improper diagnosis, epidemiologist at the HPA Dr Aishath Aroona told Minivan News.

The Health Ministry runs a yearly campaign called ‘Madhiri Rulhi Rulhi’ (‘Unfriendly to Mosquitoes’) to limit mosquito breeding during the rainy season.

Waste management and cleanliness are the most effective methods of controlling mosquito breeding grounds, Aroona said.

The Maldives eradicated malaria in 1984, making it the only country in the region to have done so. The last case of mosquito-borne filariasis was recorded in 2003, and the Health Ministry will complete a screening and surveillance project by October to determine the eradication of the filariasis vector, the ministry has said.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mosquito-borne dengue has spread from nine to over a hundred countries, making it the most rapidly spreading vector-borne disease. Over 40 percent of the global population is at risk from dengue, the organisation said.

The WHO’s World Health Day campaign this year – ‘Small Bite, Big Threat’ – focuses on the risks of diseases spread by mosquitoes, flies, ticks, and freshwater snails.

The International Federation of Red Crescent and Red Cross Societies (IFRC) has called on governments for a shift in approach, from responding to isolated dengue outbreaks to investing in long-term programmes for behavioral change.

“This can be done by empowering communities with essential knowledge concerning hygiene and environmental sanitation, training and engaging community health volunteers to identify and refer suspected dengue cases and improving community-based disease surveillance,” the IFRC said in a recent report


Week in review: March 1– 8

This week saw tensions between the Elections Commission (EC) and the Supreme Court rising as the commissioners were hauled before the court once again.

After telling a Majlis committee that the court’s election guidelines were undermining the commission’s work, EC Chair Thowfeek was grilled by the bench before a travel ban was placed on himself and his colleagues.

As well as having their travel restricted, EC members also raised concern that the commission’s budget – in addition to being given piecemeal by the Finance Ministry – was insufficient to conduct the March 22 Majlis poll.

With voter re-registration completed this week, the EC noted that one in four voters intended to vote in places other than their permanent residence.

After the US State Department’s human rights report joined the chorus of those critical of the Maldives judiciary, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon asked the international community to support rather than undermine the country’s courts.

After receiving criticism from the political opposition for failing to mention the judiciary’s issues in his first address, President Yameen stated that he had complete trust in the institution.

This comment prompted the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) Mohamed Nasheed to suggest that this faith stemmed from the Progressive Party of Maldives’ strong influence over the courts.

Speaking on the campaign trail, Nasheed pledged that an MDP majority in the Majlis would seek to reform both the judiciary and the Judicial Services Commission.

Two fellow MDP MPs seeking to return to the campaign trail were the recently jailed Abdulla Jabir and the recently stabbed Alhan Fahmy.

While Jabir’s legal team pleaded with the court to allow the Kaashidhoo MP the opportunity to campaign during his incarceration, Alhan was told that the Civil Court could not invalidate the candidacy of the disputed Feydhoo by-election winner.

Government agenda

As well as listing the government’s recent achievements during his address at the Majlis opening this week, President Yameen explained that a legislative agenda had been formulated. This agenda was subsequently revealed by the Attorney General to include 98 new bills and 109 amendments to existing laws.

The government’s pledge to increase the pension to MVR5000 was delivered – after some confusion while the Home Ministry’s drive against drugs continued with plans made to reintroduce sniffer dogs to the Maldives.

Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz received a royal welcome from the government this week, releasing a joint statement with Yameen reiterating the countries’ mutual commitment to moderate Islam and strengthened bilateral ties.

As the fallout from the IGMH HIV scandal continued, hospital officials revealed that a member of staff had been taken into police custody after admitting culpability for the error which led to the transfusion of infected blood.

Health Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela explained that the expenses of the victim’s children would now be borne by the state, though local NGO Voice of Women expressed concern that the family may still face discrimination due to “societal myths and misinformation” about the illness.

Shakeela told the Majlis government oversight committee that her resignation was not the solution to the health sector’s problems.

The same committee was also informed that a Maafushi Jail inmate – left in a coma after being attacked by his cellmates in February – had requested to be taken out of his quarters more than an hour before the attack.

The government’s attempts to keep Raajje TV away from President’s Office press conferences were dropped by the AG this week, while the broadcasting commission asked DhiTV to respond to allegations that it had irresponsibly criticised the Anti Corruption Commission.


State to cover all expenses of HIV infected woman’s children: Health Minister

Minister of Health and Family Dr Mariyam Shakeela has said the state will cover all expenses of all children of the woman infected with HIV due to the negligence of state hospital IGMH up until the completion of their studies.

However, details of how many children the woman has or to what standard the government will sponsor their studies and livelihood were not provided.

Shakeela further stated that the unborn child of the pregnant woman is of “good health” and that the baby is “showing a good response” to medication.

“God willing the baby’s progress is good, and is under continued supervision,” she told media after a press conference held together with the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday.

Shakeela confirmed that the baby is receiving the “best treatment for HIV that is given by the WHO”, adding that the organisation’s head office in Geneva and the Health Ministry is continuing to hold daily teleconferences on the status of the mother and her unborn baby.

WHO Regional Director for South East Asia Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh reiterated that the organisation is extending assistance, and applauded the Maldives government for having taken “productive action” following the incident.

“As a result of the investigation launched by the government, other such issues in the Health Sector will come to light and incidents like this can be avoided in future. Together with this, the capacity of the laboratory can be increased,” Singh said, mentioning that she had visited the IGMH laboratory on Tuesday.

WHO pledges assistance to the health sector

Today’s press conference was officially held to mark the end of Dr Singh’s two day visit to the Maldives. Dr Singh commended the government for its “commitment and vision for universal health coverage for all its citizens”.

Last week, President Abdulla Yameen’s administration announced the introduction of universal healthcare, maintaining that the enhanced coverage – previously capped at MVR100,000 – was financially sustainable.

“The most major challenges faced by the Maldives, like many other countries in the region, is the issue of having sufficient human resources, and the procurement of medicine,” Singh noted.

She said that the WHO was currently working with the government to explore ways in which to ease the procurement of medicines, adding that some initiatives include purchasing generic medicine instead of patented ones, and promoting bulk purchase of medicines – both of which would bring down costs considerably.

Health Minister Shakeela further stated that the government is paying special attention to training more locals to work as nurses and doctors, stating that this would bring down the number of foreign nationals working in the health sector.

Singh further noted that the Maldives has achieved much on the front of strengthening its disease surveillance, response,and case management capacity for dengue control.

“Despite challenges such as high turnover of doctors in the islands, and difficulty in retaining experience and expertise, Maldives has maintained a low case-fatality rate for dengue.”

“This is a country whose collective efforts and strong determination have successfully eliminated malaria and has sustained this remarkable achievement. Maldives is the only country in WHO’s South- East Asia Region to achieve this goal,” she continued.

“We would like Maldives to reflect on the malaria experience and use their expertise to prevent dengue which poses a major public health risk to its citizens.”

Dr Singh also met with Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed on Tuesday and congratulated him on Maldives’ achievements made towards the Millenium Development Goals and what she termed as “gains in public health more broadly over the past decade”.


Health minister apologises over HIV transfusion as investigations launched

Minister of Health and Gender Dr Mariyam Shakeela has apologised for the transfusion of HIV positive blood to a patient at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), in a press statement issued almost fifteen hours after the incident was made public.

The statement said that “as it happened due to the negligence of a staff working at IGMH” the minister and the ministry “apologised with deep grief” to the patient, the patient’s family, and all citizens of the Maldives.

“Given the modern technological resources and tools established at IGMH to prevent such an incident, the ministry accepts that this incident should not have taken place and this sad incident shouldnt be acceptable for anyone. Today is a sad day unlike any other day this ministry and IGMH has ever seen.”

The ministry said that an investigation was launched as soon as it came to the attention of the government and the hospital, and that the employee found to be negligent was relieved of their duties immediately.

“The ministry assures that, after completing the investigation, strict action will be taken against everyone who is found to have been negligent in this,” read the statement.

Stating that “changing the sorrowful result of this incident is not in the power of this ministry”, assurance were given that all necessary steps are now being taken to prevent such an incident in the future.

Concluding the statement, the ministry requested all health service providers to “learn from the incident” and to be more attentive, kind, and dedicated in providing their services.

Speaking to crowds gathered outside IGMH this evening, local media have reported Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Chairperson ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik has pledged to introduce a no-confidence motion against Dr Shakeela in the Majlis.

The MDP earlier accused the government of delaying the news of the incident – first discovered eight days ago – to allow for celebrations of the government’s first 100 day achievements.


Maldives Police Service has confirmed that an investigation in to the incident is being carried out in coordination with the Ministry of Health.

The parliament’s government accountability committee will begin it’s own investigation tonight at 8:00pm,  and will  later summon the minister of health and other senior members of the ministry and the hospital.

Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has also announced the launch of an investigation as well as expressing condemnation and grief over the incident.

“This commission calls upon the state to provide special protection and care in accordance to international standards for the person who sustained an irrevocable loss in this incident, and to provide health care of the highest standard for the person,” read a press release this afternoon.

The commission noted that the right to life and right to security and safety of the person of the victim have been violated and requests the government and state to ensure the victim and family are provided with their rightful social protection and are not discriminated against in any way.

Requesting that legal action be taken against all responsible parties, the HRCM also demanded the strengthening of regulations and procedures in accordance with international best practices.

In a separate ‘public appeal’ statement today, the commission called on the media and members of the public to respect the grief and privacy of the victim and family, and to refrain from any action liable to cause further harm and distress by willfully imparting false information.


Maldivian-Canadian spat explained by Global News

Canada’s Global News has revealed the story behind the recent war of words between Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird and the Government of Maldives.

The news outlet reports that Baird’s “inappropriate remarks” – later complained about by Waheed in a letter to Canada’s Prime Minister – came as a result of the Maldives’ Acting Foreign Minister accusing Baird of bias during the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting on September 27.

Citing sources familiar with the incident, Global News’s Laura Stone reported that Dr Mariyam Shakeela had brandished an ipad showing photographs of Baird posing with anti-government Maldivian protesters prior to entering the meeting.

Baird was reported to have responded to the accusation by acknowledging that he was indeed biased.

“Biased in favour in of democracy and a free and fair second round of elections.  Biased against the delay and anti-democratic actions of President Waheed who only garnered five per cent in the first round of elections,” Global News’s sources recalled Baird remarking.

The spat subsequently escalated as Waheed wrote to the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper arguing that these comments had “put unnecessary pressure on an otherwise excellent relationship” between the Maldives and Canada

Baird’s office responded to Waheed’s complaint by pointing out “the irony of the Acting Foreign Minister of the Maldives representing that country at CMAG, when her President received five percent of the vote in the first round of the election. Perhaps that is where President Waheed took offence.”

“It might have also been when Minister Baird pointed out to CMAG members that the second round of elections were ‘suspended’ under mysterious circumstances and called on Maldivian officials to proceed with the second round of elections without delay,” said Baird’s Spokesperson Rick Roth, in a statement.


Political instability is key concern at Maldives renewable energy investment conference

Participants attending this week’s Maldives International Renewable Energy Investors Conference consider the event a “good beginning”, but claimed political instability was presently hampering foreign investors’ confidence in the sector.

The two day event, which concluded yesterday (June 17), aimed to facilitate long-term partnerships between international investors, project developers, energy companies and utilities groups in order to enable successful renewable energy projects throughout the Maldives.

The Ministry of Environment and Energy hosted conference at Bandos Island Resort and Spa in an effort to boost investor confidence and attract renewable energy financing.

Although Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela noted that the conference was successful, she also urged participants to “reflect on our mutual needs” and emphasised that investments will be “protected, facilitated, and supported by the government” during her concluding speech yesterday.

“Your need to promote your [renewable energy] products and our need to reduce energy costs – that of course is a huge issue as was mentioned here so many times – and also of course to combat climate change,” said Shakeela.

“We currently rely extensively on imported fossil fuels, as we have heard here over and over and over again these last few days. Yet paradoxically, many islands have ample but underutilized renewable energy resource potential,” she continued.

“The Ministry of Finance and Treasury is working to create an enabling environment for investments in general, which I believe is a concern of a lot of investors,” she added.

Meanwhile, Maldives-based representatives from the World Bank (WB) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) present at the conference pledged their continued support in an effort to attract renewable energy investors.

ADB Director Mr Yongping Zhai pledged to “go as far as it costs” to transform Maldives into a renewable energy dependent country, as opposed to oil dependent, according to the Environment Ministry.

However, he noted that although the Maldives has the commitment, market potential, resources, and willing investors for renewable energy, there is a “missing link to put these pieces together”.

“In theory things should work, but why things are not working so far is [the lack of] the right business model,” said Zhai. “That’s the purpose of this conference and of the ADB’s work.”

The WB considered the conference to be a “good initial first information gathering” event for facilitating renewable energy investments and emphasized that it was working very closely with the Maldives government to develop the energy sector and national financial institutions, said WB Senior Energy Specialist Abdulaziz Faghi.

In an effort to boost investor confidence, the Environment Ministry emphasised the WB would guarantee any investments made in the Maldives.

“One of the issues facing the private sector investing in any sector is the payment guarantee and their concern with the return on investment,” State Minister for Environment and Energy Abdul Matheen Mohamed told Minivan News yesterday.

He explained that the government of Maldives has allocated US$5 million from the International Development Association (IDA) financing though the World Bank, which will be leveraged up to US$ 25 million.

“So basically the World Bank will be issuing a guarantee for this amount to give guarantees to the investors investing [funds] under the scaling-up renewable energy program (SREP) investment plan,” said Matheen.

He noted that conference participants concerns have “been resolved though the guarantee facilities introduced by the World Bank”.

Foreign investors lacking

Following the conference yesterday, Renewable Energy Maldives Managing Director Dr Ibrahim Nashid told Minivan News that he believed banks and foreign investors crucial to revitalising the national energy “didn’t turn up” at the event.

“The main idea was to bring investors here, but I don’t think that has happened,” said Nashid.

He explained that while Maldives-based institutional representatives from the WB, ADB, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and various other Maldivian institutions attended the conference, individuals with authority to authorize lending and/or donor funds were not present.

“Basically there wasn’t any financial institution that could give the finance or lend the money,” said Nashid. “No international banks came and what is very noticeable there wasn’t Indian investors. Not a single Indian company was represented.”

“ADB was saying they have earmarked funds for the Maldives, but their idea was also to leverage that with some other lending institution and that was not there,” he added.

Nashid noted that none of the Maldivian banks were present at the conference.

“The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) was there, but not the Islamic Bank in Male’, even the Bank of Maldives didn’t attend,” said Nashid.

“It shows the confidence that everybody has, [which is] the reason the World Bank is talking about giving a bank guarantee,” he continued.

Although Minister Shakeela was asked many times about what the government would do to guarantee investments “she skirted the question saying the ADB and WB is giving the guarantee,” according to Nashid.

“That was not the issue, the issue is what happens to our investments,” he said. “The GMR case is very very open and obvious to everyone. The issue of political instability was very much skirted, [but] everybody knew.”

Nashid claimed that most conference participants who discussed renewable energy investments said a decision would not happen until after the presidential election scheduled for September.

“We need political stability here, without political stability I don’t think any project is going to take off,” said Nashid.

“We can do the preparation of paperwork, etc. but money will not be put on the table. That’s the message we get from abroad,” he added.

These sentiments were echoed by conference participants representing various private sector businesses.

“It was a good start, but this is really just a beginning. There were not very many investors present,” an infrastructure company representative told Minivan News on condition of anonymity.

“The three things investors are looking for are credibility, stability, and return on the investment,” a telecommunications company representative told Minivan News on condition of anonymity.

The source explained that political instability was the main concern preventing investors from committing to renewable energy development. He also agreed with another conference participant’s observation that political instability in the Maldives was the ‘elephant in the room’ at the event.

“There were very few investors present, which is not surprising. No one is going to be eager to invest [in developing renewable energy] until after elections,” he added.