MDP condemns government’s failure to fulfil promises to fishermen and farmers

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) hascondemned President Abdulla Yameen’s government for its lack of commitment to promises made towards the betterment of fishermen and farmers in the Maldives.

While speaking at a press conference, MDP Fisheries and Agriculture Committee’s Chair Ibrahim Rasheed said that the government’s lack of commitment is clearly illustrated by the fact that no funds are allocated towards the promised MVR10,000 (US$650) for fishermen.

“Even though President Yameen has promised on multiples podiums to provide fishermen with MVR10,000 and farmers with MVR8000, the budget does not have any allotted funds for this,” said Rasheed.

The committee also expressed concerns over the high recurrent expenditure budget allotted for the fisheries and agriculture ministry while there are only three new programmes to be added to the few ongoing in the upcoming year.

The record24.3 billion (US$ 1.5 billion) budget for 2015 has an allotted MVR134 million (US$8.7 million) as recurrent expenditure for the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary debate for the proposed budget concluded today with 79 out of 85 MPs sharing their thoughts on the budget during the process.


Ambergis worth estimated MVR50 million found by fisherman

A lone fisherman has found an object believed to be the incredibly rare substance, ambergris.

Local media reported that the object weighs 50kgs, and was found this morning (March 25) by Shareef Idhris whilst trawling near the Velidhoo channel.

“I saw an object floating about 30ft away. I went close to it, but then I rode away without picking it up. I went back and forth about three times before picking it up,” he told Haveeru.

“People say ambergris floats. I scraped off a bit of the object and it smelled weird, so I decided to take it to the island.”

The locals, who were fortunate enough to have come across ambergris before, have estimated it to be worth up to MVR50 million. Shareef is currently seeking to confirm that the objects is ambergris, but due to the island’s previous experience of ambergris he is confident in its authenticity.

In June 2012 police were required to guard 25kg of ambergris in Hanimaadhoo after disagreements fight broke out between those claiming to have first found the precious substance.
Ambergris occurs as a biliary secretion of the intestines of the sperm whale and can be found floating upon the sea, or lying on the coast. It’s most common use is in perfume due to its unique musky fragrance.

Fishermen to protest EU fish import policy

Vice President of the Maldives National Chamber Of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI) Ismail Asif has today said that Maldivian fishermen are going to stage a protest against the EU.

The protest is to express concern regarding the decision made by the EU not to extend the duty-free status of imported fish from the Maldives, following the country’s failure to comply with international conventions concerning freedom of religion.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday Asif claimed that the EU was attempting to take advantage of the country’s delicate economy and force certain policies on the Maldives.

”The MNCCI had tried to talk with the EU regarding the issue but the EU declined to go for negotiations,” he said, adding that the EU was trying to spread policies that Maldivians do not accept under the guise of human rights.

”But they never directly tell us that their issue is that the Maldives does not have religious freedom,” Asif said.

“They always say under this article of that convention or something like that.”

Asif questioned the capacity in which EU was here in the Maldives and said he will ask the government why the EU was brought here and why the government had given opportunity for such a dangerous group of people.

The EU yesterday revealed details of its first full EU Election Observation Mission to take place in the Maldives, with around 30 observers working to compile a comprehensive report on the entire Majlis elections process.

Asif said the EU delegation might go back and write another report and start taking actions against the country. He suggested that democracy – which he argued was more than observing elections and criticising – could only be strengthened after stabilising the economy of the country.

Businessmen in the Maldives are very concerned that an EU delegation had come to the Maldives after taking measures that would harm the economy of the country, Asif said.

”While they had taken these actions against us they did not consider that the Maldives is the country that does fishing the most environmentally friendly way,” he said.

The EU was doing anything they want to the Maldives because it is a small country, he argued, adding that all they do is provide funds for local NGOs to spread their propaganda.

”Maldivians can decide anything they want to decide when they want to decide it,” he said.

The Maldives exports 40 percent of its US$100 million fishing industry to the EU, its single largest export partner by value.

Until January 2014 those exports were duty-free under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) program, a non-reciprocal trade agreement extended to developing countries.

The Maldives applied for an extension under the ‘GSP+’ program, a unilateral trade concession of the EU given to a limited number of countries on the basis of good implementation of human rights are labor conventions, officials said, however did not qualify due to the country’s reservations to ICCPR on religious freedom and CEDAW concerning women’s rights.

The total fish catch has been declining each year since 2006 reaching 83.1 thousand metric tonnes in 2011, leading to fears about the impact of climate change and overfishing by better equipped fishing fleets on the borders of the Maldives’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

In November last year, the government said that the Maldives will look to alternative fish export markets, including the middle-eastern and the Malaysian market.

Asif was unavailable for comment when contacted by Minivan News today.

Under the Maldivian constitution all citizens are required to be Sunni Muslim and the practice of other religions is criminalised. Customs authorities forbid the import of religious items and scan the baggage of tourists arriving at the airport, while politicians frequently use allegations of ‘consorting with missionaries’ as a political attack.


Leading Swiss retail group opens training centre for Maldives fisherman

Switzerland’s retailing group Migros and the International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF) have opened a training centre for Maldivian fishermen.

The fishing industry news source ‘Fish Site’ reported that the aim of the newly opened Fishermen’s Community and Training Centre (FCTC) was to provide long term support for the country’s pole and line fishing communities through fisheries training and education.

According the website, the FCTC will provide free training courses for active fishermen and school leavers.

The source quoted Chairman of the IPNLF John Burton, who described the training centre as “an important milestone for the Maldivian fishing industry, an industry we are all part of, an industry that is at the heart of Maldivian way of life.’’

Government records show that, in 2012, over 120,000 metric tons of fish were caught in the Maldives, with over 10,000 fishermen registered.

“The opening of this centre marks our collective and considerable efforts in building a stronger and commercially competitive pole and line fishing industry for this country, while directly supporting the local fishermen and their communities,’’ said Burton.

Also present at the ceremony, Maldives Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee sincerely thanked everyone supporting the program in the name of the ministry and local fishermen for partnering in the development of the fishing industry, keeping pole and line fishing a sustainable method as well as promoting it to other countries.

The FCTC is based in Gan in Laamu Atoll, and will be run by Maldives Fishermen Association.

In November 2013, The European Union declined to extend the duty-free status of imported fish from the Maldives, following the country’s failure to comply with international conventions concerning freedom of religion.

The Maldives exports 40 percent of its US$100 million fishing industry to the EU – its single largest export partner by value.

However, in an interview with Minivan News, Fisheries Minister Dr Shainee stated that this issue could be solved through bilateral relations between the countries in EU.

“The European market or consumer will be affected from this as well. There will a lot of pressure from the consumer’s side, as when prices of fish go up, it’s not just us carrying the burden, but also the consumers. So I think there will be a lot of pressure,’’ he told Minivan News.

Shainee noted that there would be a lot of pressure from the consumers in Europe, with the minister suggesting that people were more educated and wanted these types of niche products.

“Maldives is the only country that doesn’t catch by-catch fish. We are dolphin free. We are catching one by one. We are the most green fisheries industry in the world, in fact. So I am sure the consumers in the European market would like to get something from this side of the world which is more green and environmental friendly,’’ he added.


Government formulating roadmap for first 100 days to implement PPM manifesto

A roadmap for the first 100 days of the new administration is being drawn up to implement the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) manifesto and fulfil campaign pledges, President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has said.

Speaking to press after an impromptu PPM council meeting yesterday (November 18), President Yameen explained that the roadmap would “outline what will begin to be implemented by the 30th or 45th day.”

“Committees have been formed and work has started on implementing what we promised for youth and fishermen in our manifesto,” he said.

The PPM’s campaign pledges include raising the old age pension to MVR5,000 a month, designating a General Practitioner to each family, providing subsidies for fishermen and farmers, and creating more than 90,000 jobs.

At the ongoing budget debate in parliament, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs have been calling on the government to incorporate its policies in next year’s budget and fulfil its campaign promises, pledging their assistance and cooperation.

Both opposition and government-aligned MPs agreed that the government should be offered the opportunity to revise the budget based on the PPM manifesto. A budget of MVR16.4 billion (US$1 billion) was submitted by the outgoing administration on October 30.

President Yameen meanwhile told reporters that he has asked Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad to revise recurrent expenditure as “more than a billion could be saved.”

Funds could be reduced from budget items in recurrent expenditures, he said.

Recurrent expenditure of MVR12 billion (US$778 million) – wages, subsidies and administrative costs – accounts for 73 percent of government spending in the proposed budget.

“We will bring big changes to the budget. The budget has to be changed to one that addresses what our parties pledged to do for the public,” he said, referring to the pledges by other parties in the PPM-led coalition.

Other parties in the coalition government include the Jumhooree Party led by business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim, the Maldives Development Alliance led by tourism magnate Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party, former President Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ihthihad Party and a number of smaller parties.

The new administration was also in the process of “restructuring” the President’s Office, Yameen said, and all political appointees at the office were dismissed on Sunday (November 17).

Government ministries would follow “the example the President’s Office is showing” to reduce the number of political appointees and posts, he said.

Cabinet ministers would not formulate new policies but focus on implementing the manifesto, he added.

President Yameen also met former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom at the President’s Office yesterday.

In a statement following the meeting, Yameen said the PPM leader assured the new administration of political support and assistance through the People’s Majlis.

He expressed confidence in implementing the party’s manifesto with the cooperation of coalition partners as well as the opposition in parliament.

The focus of the new administration was on reducing costs and increasing government income, President Yameen said.

“The aim of our efforts will be to provide at the earliest possible opportunity all the services we assured for the public,” he said.


Parliament approves committee report on assisting fishermen

Parliament today unanimously approved a report produced by an ad hoc committee formed three years ago to identify and propose solutions for difficulties faced by fishermen and boat owners.

The committee was formed on October 6, 2009 following a proposal by then-opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP for Haa Alif Kelaa, Dr Abdulla Mausoom.

In its report (Dhivehi), the committee recommended alerting the government to issues identified after consultations with officials from the fisheries ministry as well as fishermen from the three southernmost atolls.

The committee noted that fishermen were facing difficulties paying back loans due to the seven-year trend of declining fish catch.

Meanwhile at today’s sitting, MPs debated a declaration or resolution submitted by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Mahloof to expedite the Majlis’ legislative duties to enable the criminal justice system to function more efficiently. Eleven MPs spoke during the one hour debate allocated by Speaker Abdulla Shahid for the declaration.

Also at today’s sitting, an amendment proposed by Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed to the Privileges and Protection for Former Presidents Act of 2009 was rejected 37-22 with one abstention.

The MP for Thaa Vilifushi had proposed specifying exceptions in the law whereby ex-Presidents could be denied protection and financial benefits by the government.

The amendment was rejected despite several MPs of the ruling coalition declaring support for the changes. The law on state benefits and protection for former presidents was the first bill to be passed by the 17th parliament after it convened in May 2009.

Today’s sitting was adjourned by the Speaker at 1.40pm due to disorderly conduct by some MPs. Section 40(a)(4) of the standing orders or rules of procedure grants authority to the Speaker to adjourn a sitting due to disruption of proceedings.


Detained Indian fishermen released

Eleven Indian fishermen have been released after they were last week taken into custody by the Maldives National Defence Force Coastguard for straying into Maldivian waters.

The fishermen were released into the care of the Indian High Commission in Male’, police reported, after a request by India’s External Affairs Ministry.

The fishermen had been detained on Kulhudhuffushi in Haa Dhaal Atoll.


Protests slow at start of third week

Opposition protests in the capital city of Male’ appear to be deflating as they stretch into their third week of late-night stand-offs with riot police.

While opposition-led crowds continue to congregate outside the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) building, some bearing posters reading: “No one knows where the judge is” and “We want democracy”, the action has been pushed back towards the fish market by the sudden construction of a ferry terminal by Male’ City Council in the area used for the nightly gathering.

Minivan News understands that fishermen sleeping on the docked boats opposite the MMA had complained to the council about the nightly clashes between police and opposition demonstrators.

Protesters also appear to be voluntarily dispersing at earlier hours. Speaking last night to Minivan News, protest regulars said “a few speeches” were made near the fish market, but that they had drawn to a close well before midnight. Whereas last week opposition supporters had waited until midnight before advancing on police forces, last night the gathering had thinned out by 11:30pm with no reported confrontation with authorities.

Members of opposition parties have protested the “unlawful” detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed since he was arrested by the military on January 16, after he attempted to block his own police summons. He is currently being detained at a military training facility in Girifushi, his whereabouts and wellbeing established during a visit two weeks ago by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM).

In response, the government applied for international legal assistance to resolve its stand-off with the judiciary, which it claims is unsuited to its duties and dysfunctional. Among its grievances are the former Supreme Court’s 2010 decision to tenure itself, allegations of corruption within the courts, and the Civil Court’s 2011 ruling against the Judicial Service Commission’s (JSC) investigation of the judge.

While meetings and statements are made by day, opposition protesters have agitated by night, injuring several policemen as well as journalists. A targeted attack outside state television station Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) left one videographer with a broken hand. The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) as well as the government have condemned the attacks, and security forces are maintaining surveillance of the station. Government homes and property have also been vandalised during the exchanges.

Violence is unusual for Male’, despite the often heated political rhetoric at such gatherings. Both opposition and ruling party activists have accused the other side of deploying paid thugs to create unrest and disrupt the other’s gatherings, while local gangs are known to be employed by various political figures, accepting payments for scare tactics.

Over the weekend Dhiyana Saeed, formerly SAARC Secretary General, called for President Mohamed Nasheed to be impeached. Last evening she was removed from Republic Square by police officials for protesting in an unauthorised area. It was the second time in four days that Saeed had attempted to protest in that area and had refused to comply with police orders.

Police officials emphasised that Saeed “was not arrested, and has been released from police charge.”

Saeed did not respond to phone calls at time of press.

Although protest activities appear moderately subdued, a habit seems to be developing. When asked if there were further plans for achieving their goal, one protester near the fish market simply said, “we will continue the protest here, every night.”

Still, as midnight approached most citizens in the area headed off on their motorbikes while others walked home.

Meanwhile, activities at the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) camp near MNBC, last week a protest target, have also calmed.

While ruling  party supporters awaited the arrival of an estimated 40 opposition members who were supposedly approaching the area, a film was screened in which four young people’s relationship was used to illustrate that MDP members could not be bought by the opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), viewers explained.

When police forces established road blocks around the area at midnight, half of the crowd gathered outside the camp dispersed from the area, sensing trouble. As a group of opposition protesters appeared at one end of the blockade, onlookers cautioned Minivan News to be wary of thrown objects. However no confrontation developed and the protesters quickly moved on.

MDP members watching the film outside the party camp meanwhile peered down the road from their stationary bikes to observe any possible commotion, shrugged their shoulders when nothing occurred, joked amongst themselves and returned to watching the movie.

The protests – which have typically consisting of 200-400 people – now represent one of the longest running demonstrations over a single issue since the new government was elected in 2008.

Howver the opposition-led demonstrations are effectively an extension of last year’s anti-government protest to defend Islam, none have drawn crowds comparable to those who appeared at the December 23 rally.


Fishermen found dead

Police have recovered the body of man who went net fishing from Hulhumale last night, reports Haveeru.

The 52 year-old man, identified as Mohamed Sameer, was brought to Hulhumale at 3am in a police speedboat. After hearing cries, police rescued a 59 year-old man, Ali Manikufaanu, police stated.

Manikufaanu was transferred to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in a critical condition.