PA Nazim agreed to sell resort for Thasmeen

Minority opposition People’s Alliance (PA) Deputy Leader Ahmed Nazim agreed to sell Shaviyani Kabalifaru, which was leased for development as a resort in 2005, for main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali to raise money for a loan of over Rf2 million (US$155,600) owed to the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Thasmeen’s lawyer said at yesterday’s final hearing of Nazim’s lawsuit at the Civil Court.

According to local media reports, Shaheem Ahmed, Thasmeen’s lawyer, denied that an agreement was made between the pair to pay back the loan in a month, claiming that to date Nazim has failed to find a buyer for Kabalifaru as agreed upon in November 2008.

Shaheem also denied Nazim’s claim that the loan was taken to pay back Thasmeen’s debts at the Bank of Maldives.

However Nazim’s lawyer, Mohamed Saleem, disputed both claims, demanding documentation to prove that Thasmeen gave power of attorney to Nazim to sell the resort.

Judge Hathif Hilmy adjourned the hearing after informing the parties that a judgment would be given at the next court date.

Deputy Speaker Nazim is suing Majority Leader Thasmeen to recover Rf1.92 million (US$149,400) allegedly unpaid from a loan worth Rf2.55 million (US$200,000) along with Rf100,000 (US$7,782) incurred as lawyer’s fees.


Umar Naseer vows to take legal action against “government and opposition figures who took bribes from GMR”

Opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader Umar Naseer vowed to take legal action against “government officials and opposition figures who accepted bribes from [Indian infrastructure giant] GMR”, following allegations that surfaced on the Dhivehi Post website last week.

Speaking at a joint opposition rally on Thursday night at artificial beach, Naseer told opposition supporters that “those in the government and those among us who took bribes” would receive “just punishment” we will give just punishment.”

That morning the GMR-Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad (MAHB) consortium took over management of Male’ International Airport.

Naseer’s claims comes a week after local media republished allegations that surfaced in an anti-government tabloid website claiming that DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid each accepted a bribe of US$1 million from GMR.

Both Thasmeen and Shahid, neither of whom attended Thursday night’s rally, have strongly denied the allegations.

“These allegations originated in an internet site called the Dhivehi Post,” Thasmeen told Minivan News last week. “If you go through it you can make a reasonable guess as to who they support.”

The website today published what it claims to be copies of ticket reservations Shahid and Thasmeen made to travel to India via Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Dhivehi Post claims that the two spent 55 minutes in transit at the Delhi airport on October 30 and returned to the Maldives the same day after meeting GMR officials at the VIP lounge.

Meanwhile, at a party rally in Kaafu Atoll Maafushi last night, DRP Deputy Leaders Ali Waheed and Ibrahim “Mavota” Shareef moved to defend the party leaders, condemning efforts by senior members to “divide the party”.

In an apparent rebuke to the party’s other Deputy Leaders Umar Naseer and Ilham Ahmed, Ali Waheed said that disagreements within the leadership did not mean DRP members should “hold rallies with other presidential candidates”.

“Given the state of the country today, the biggest betrayal to the nation and the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party would be to split up this party,” he said.

Defending the DRP Leader from the bribery allegations, Shareef pointed out that “if Thasmeen wanted US$1 million, he would not have had to take an indebted party onto his shoulders.”

In July, four opposition parties in parliament – DRP, People’s Alliance (PA), Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) and Jumhooree Party – signed an agreement to form a united opposition front against the airport privatisation deal.

Speaking to Minivan News last week, Managing Director of GMR Male International Airport Limited P Sripathy described the allegations of bribery as “totally false and baseless, and very disappointing and damaging to our reputation. We have never met any members of the opposition to date.”

“The GMR Group is in Male’ on serious business – to build a world class, benchmark airport that people of Male’ and the Group will be very proud of,” he added.

“Economic enslavement”

Addressing supporters at the sparsely attended rally on Thursday night, PA Leader Abdulla Yameen asserted that “auctioning off the airport below price” would bring no economic benefits to citizens.

Referring to the November 3 coup attempt in 1988, Yameen said that the Maldivian people were now experiencing “a second enslavement” in the month of November as handing over airport management to GMR amounted to “economic enslavement”.

Yameen contended that foreign parties were not needed to develop the airport as it made annual profits exceeding Rf200 million (US$15.5 million) and that it did not make “economic sense” to lease a state asset during difficult economic times.

“We built the airport at a time when we spent less than Rf50 million a year from our budget,” he said. “We should be ashamed today.”

He added that local businesses “could easily develop” new duty free shops, and that “it won’t take more than Rf2 or Rf3 million” to build a new terminal.

While building a new runway and alternative landing strip would have been “challenging”, he conceded, “replacing concrete walls of the terminal with glass” does not amount to modernising the airport.

Yameen pledged to take back the airport by moving legislation through parliament to declare “legal status” for the airport.

Other opposition figures who spoke at the rally launched vitriolic attacks on the government, lamenting the loss of “an airport built with the blood and sweat of the Maldivian people”.

Most speakers at the rally alleged corruption in the airport and accused the government of “selling off state assets one by one”.

While DRP MP Ali Arif said that President Mohamed Nasheed “deserves every obscene word in the Dhivehi language,” MP Ahmed Mahlouf alleged that “GMR gave large amounts of money in bribes to the MDP campaign” to secure the deal.

The government has meanwhile flatly denied accusations of any wrongdoing, pointing out that the transaction was overseen by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the financial arm of the World Bank.

Moreover, the government has alleged that opposition to the airport deal stems from the “vested interests” of certain MPs, several of whom it arrested following the resignation of cabinet on June 29 in protest against the “scorched earth politics” of the opposition-majority parliament.

The fuel trade is the most immediately lucrative part of the airport deal, Minivan News understands, and is a key reason behind both GMR’s interest and the government’s decision to award the contract to the Indian infrastructure giant. GMR has told Minivan News it will amalgamate the trade under one umbrella, a decision that will likely affect current third party suppliers.


Government’s proposed grouping of islands “senseless”: Thasmeen

The government’s proposal to group islands to create new administrative island constituencies is “senseless”, claims opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, warning of “dire consequences for the people” if administrative consolidation fails.

Public referendums are due to take place on October 9 in over a 100 islands on the government’s proposed changes to island administration under the Decentralisation Act, the landmark legislation passed in July to introduce local governance through elected island and atoll councils.

The referendums are required by article 136 of the Decentralisation Act, which states that islands could be grouped to form constituencies if the respective populations make an appeal to the president.

“Whilst best practice in democracy advocates the involvement of people and a bottom up approach, it is a shame that the government has announced this plan without consulting the people of the islands concerned,” Thasmeen writes on his personal website, adding that the party “has all along said and maintained the stance that such changes should be made only if the people of the islands are willing.”

As a result, he continues, people were not fully aware of the implications of the changes to their lives: “What will happen to the system of civil and social services? Should the school children change school? Will there be a change to their representations is local councils? How does the administrative-joining differ from physical relocation of a population from one island to the other? How would the proposed Local Elections Constituency divide work in par with the Parliamentary Constituencies, when there are crossovers?

“These are just some of the many questions that people need answers before they vote at a referendum.”

The unique culture of islands as well as geographic dispersion, he adds, are other aspects that should have been considered.

Dr Hussein Rasheed Hassan, state minister for fisheries and member of the advisory committee to the president on administrative consolidation, denied that citizens had not been properly consulted.

Gauging public opinion through an informal “gathering on the beach” would not be enough to determine either support or opposition, he explained, insisting that the government took into account a host of socio-economic factors for the proposed groupings.

“We believe the best way is to go directly to the people with referendums in a secret ballot where it will be one vote for one person,” he said.

Article 115(p) empowers the president to “hold referendums on issues of national importance”.

Island populations “will know the implications very well” before casting their ballots, Hussein Rasheed said.

“We are preparing a proposal to inform voters on the issues, including the benefits of the administrative grouping and the changes to their daily lives,” he said.

“A sinister plan”

The Elections Commission (EC) announced on Tuesday that the referendums will take place on Saturday, October 9 from 8am to 4pm in 110 islands across the country.

The government has proposed grouping 99 islands into 64 administrative island constituencies by joining two to three islands within four nautical miles, while an additional 11 islands will vote on creating city councils for island populations that exceed 10,000.

In addition to Male’, depending on the outcome of the referendums, city councils will be elected in Haa Dhaal Kulhudhufushi, Fuvahmulah and Addu Atoll.

However, the DRP MP for Kendhoo and parliamentary majority leader also argues that “it would be highly irresponsible to spend taxpayer money” on the referendums in islands with potential opposition.

“Anyone who understands the politics of the different islands would understand that some of the groupings are just non-starters,” writes Thasmeen.

The proposal to merge Lhaviyani Felivaru and Hinnavaru, he continues, reveals the “senselessness” of the plan as the industrial island Felivaru with its fish cannery does not have a settled population.

“Does this mean this is a done deal, a sinister plan of the government to gift Felivaru to Hinnavaru people ripping other islands in the atoll of its stake in the industrial island of Felivaru?” asks Thasmeen. “It sure raises questions.”

In February 2009, the cabinet decided to turn Felivaru, which houses the Maldives Fisheries Company (MIFCO) main fish cannery, into an inhabited island and the hub of the North Province.

In the intervening period, however, the government lost the parliamentary squabble over decentralisation, ending with the Act being passed in a partisan vote after MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) walked out in protest.

The case of Felivaru was a misunderstanding, said Hussein Rasheed, and voting will not take place in Felivaru as the island has not yet been settled.

The state minister urged both the public and opposition politicians to “express their concerns” and “offer constructive criticism” as the issue was of national interest.

He added that the government is “open for consultation.”

“We are very grateful for the DRP Leader for their cooperation,” he added. “We understand that this has to be done in a very short period of time, but we are determined to hold the referendums before the date agreed upon in our talks with DRP.”