Education ministry locks up Mandhu College

The ministry of education locked up the Mandhu College in Malé last night after a 24-hour eviction notice expired yesterday, sparking an outcry on social media outcry.

Education ministry officials entered the building around 1:00am with police officers, padlocked the gate, and put up a notice that read, “these premises are now under the ministry of education.”

The notice stated that entering the grounds without a special permit from the ministry is illegal, and advised contacting the ministry to make arrangements for removing private property.

“Nobody and nothing is safe,” Mandhu College chairman Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail tweeted last night.

The civil court reportedly granted a stay order halting the eviction, before holding a separate hearing to annul the stay order.

“Going into court in 15 mins to try and save 1500 students’ future. Many of them too poor to come to Male’ to study. Pray for them,” Ibra tweeted yesterday after the education ministry gave a notice to to clear the premises by 3:00pm.

Mandhu college launched a virtual campus in August last year and offers online courses to students residing in islands across the country.

The education ministry said in a statement on Monday that the old Malé English School building was leased in December 2008 for development of an international school

The owner of the international school transferred the agreement to Malé High Pvt Ltd, which operates Mandhu College, and registered the international school under the company.

Operating a college in the premises was contrary to the purpose of the agreement, the ministry said, noting that public schools in the capital faced problems due to lack of capacity.

The education ministry previously ordered Mandhu to vacate the premises in January, but extended the deadline to May 30. The first semester at the college ended last week.

The ministry said the college had not responded to requests for discussions to formulate a timeline for vacating the building,

Outrage

In a Facebook post today, Mandhu College urged students to remain calm and patient while the college sets up “alternative facilities for next semester.”

“It is with deep sadness that the college has to inform its students that the police have forcibly and unlawfully entered the college premises at around midnight tonight and evicted all staff and taken over all property of the college,” the college said.

One student expressed support for the college in a comment: “Our loyalty cannot be shaken by any such intimidation. We are with you Mr. Ibrahim Ismail and team.”

The forcible eviction has sparked outrage on social media, with one opposition MP suggesting that shutting down higher education institutions was a higher priority for police than investigating murders and other serious crimes.

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Mandhu College urges students to proceed as normal despite eviction notice

Mandhu College is urging its students to proceed as normal with their studies despite an eviction notice from the Ministry of Education giving the college 15 days to vacate the premises.

In a press statement, the college said that it has been contacted by concerned students believing that college operations might come to a halt after the “Ministry of Education provided not entirely accurate information to the media”.

“We urge the students to be patient, and to support the college management at this time,” read the press statement.

Yesterday, State Minister of Education Dr Abdulla Nazeer told Minivan News that the college was handed the notice as it was operating in violation of the agreement made with the government.

“The building was initially given to Malé English School (MES) in to operate a school. In 2008, the contract was renewed and MES signed a third party agreement with Mandhu College who then started using the building to run a college,” said Dr Nazeer.

Nazeer said that a separate letter was sent to Mandhu College inviting it to engage in negotiations with the government regarding the interest of students currently studying at the college.

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Maldives airport operator praises “smooth” handover as government remains undecided on INIA future

The Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) has said there has been no disruption to services at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) after it resumed management of the site from infrastructure group GMR on Saturday (December 8 )  – a claim backed by several resort operators and airlines.

Indian-based GMR yesterday handed INIA over to the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) after the Maldivian government had voided its concession agreement, giving the company seven days to leave the country.

The sudden eviction of the developer – which won a 25 year concession under the former government to manage and upgrade the airport – scraps the project, which at US$511 million was the single largest foreign investment in the Maldives.

Upon reclaiming management of the airport yesterday, MACL Managing Director Mohamed Ibrahim told Minivan News that the handover had gone “smoothly”, with INIA continuing to operate over the last 24 hours as it had done under GMR.

“We have the same staff and equipment here as before [the handover]. Two years back we handed over the same equipment to GMR and there has been no discontinuation of service,” he said.

As part the GMR’s concession agreement, aside from developing an entirely new airport terminal building, the company had also undertaken work to renovate and update INIA’s existing terminal structures and operations – including retail and baggage handling facilities.

With MACL once again managing the site, a senior services manager for one of the largest airlines presently flying to the Maldives told Minivan News that it had experienced “no issues at all” in terms of operating in and out of the country since the handover.

Similarly, the general manager of a resort in Male Atoll also stressed that there had been no disruptions to service.

“Certainly so far there has been no impacts on our arrivals or departures, things seem to have gone smoothly,” the general manager said.

Future direction

When contacted about the future for the airport post-GMR, the President’s Office today told Minivan News that no decision had yet been taken on when – or if – the country would look to tender a new privatisation agreement for the site.

“Nothing of that kind has been decided,” said President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad.

Asked as to what action would be taken over the existing structures put in place by GMR before work on its proposed new terminal was halted over a permit dispute earlier this year, Masood questioned why the President’s Office had been contacted over the technical “nitty gritty” of the airport.

“We don’t micromanage all aspects of the airport, these are questions for the Transport Ministry,” he said.

Development conference calls

Meanwhile, the religious Adhaalath Party, which forms part of the government coalition of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, today called for a national level conference to be held on how INIA should be developed and operated in future.

Speaking at a press conference, party President Sheikh Imran Abdullah told local media that the airport development should not be delayed, calling for a conference to be held to air opinions on how best to proceed in future – not ruling out foreign expertise if needed.

“All people involved in this sector should come together soon for a national conference, the result of which should be a vision of how the airport should be operated in the future,” he was quoted by Sun Online.

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

In recent months, the Adhaalath Party has been among several key government-aligned parties working to oppose the GMR agreement.

Sheikh Imran has previously predicted there would be “some unrest and damage” should the GMR deal be annulled, but nonetheless urged people to come out and support the calls for nationalisation.  The GMR deal was a 25 year concession agreement, with the airport still belonging to the government.

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Maldivian government appeals stay order as GMR eviction deadline nears

The Maldivian government is appealing an injunction granted by the Singapore High Court halting its eviction of Indian infrastructure giant GMR from the Maldives pending the outcome of arbitration proceedings.

Minivan News understands that the hearing began at 10:00am this morning Singapore time, and is expected to take most of the day.

The government at the time denounced the injunction as an imposition on the country’s sovereignty. At a press conference hours after the stay order was granted by the Singapore High Court, Defence and Acting Transport Minister Mohamed Nazim pledged the government would “continue the airport takeover and Insha Allah from next Saturday onwards [the state-owned] Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) will be running the airport.”

“The government remains firm and committed towards implementing its decision to terminate the agreement. We will not reconsider it,” he said at the time.

The deadline for the government’s eviction of the Indian airport developer is midnight tomorrow (December 7).

GMR on Tuesday “categorically” refuted claims by the government to international media that it had agreed to vacate Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), following a meeting between airport CEO Andrew Harrison and Defence and Acting Transport

Harrison told Minivan News that Nazim had said that “no force would be used to take over the airport” and that “media reports that the MNDF would take over the airport are untrue.”

“Our position, which I communicated to them, remains crystal clear,” said Harrison. “The Singapore High Court has issued an injunction which clearly prevents MACL or the Government of Maldives or any of its agents from taking any action that interferes with GMIAL operating the airport.

“The injunction clearly prevents them from taking the action outlined in their notice issued to us stating that the airport would be taken over at the end of the seven day period. We remain resolute in our position and there is no question of an offer being made and certainly no question of any alleged offer being accepted as we will simply not agree to our rights nor the injunction being undermined in any way.”

The Civil Aviation Authority has however informed the developer that its aerodrome certificate will be withdrawn at 23:59 on December 7, without which GMR has acknowledged it cannot operate the airport. The impending stalemate potentially has ramifications for tourism disruption at the start of the peak season.

Meanwhile, Minister of State for Home Affairs Abdullah Mohamed was reported in local media as telling a press conference yesterday that “GMR has the opportunity to seek fair compensation if they are not satisfied with the government’s decision.”

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs has meanwhile issued a statement calling on the Maldivian government to allow the “legal processes involved in the GMR case to take their own course based on the contractual obligations of the parties involved. The Maldivian government should not allow the situation to go out of hand.”

“In this context, it is expected that no arbitrary and coercive measures should be taken pending the outcome of the legal process underway. Resort to any such actions would inevitably have adverse consequences for relations between India and the Maldives,” the MEA Spokesperson said.

“We are concerned over reports from the Maldives about continuing violence and intimidation against elected representatives and expressions of radical sentiments. There is need to ensure that the rule of law is upheld and principles and tenets of democracy are maintained. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

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