Future of Gulhifalhu in doubt as government halts project

Additional reporting by Ismail Humaam Hamed

The future of the Gulhifalhu development project appears uncertain as the government called a halt to proceedings, being said to have deemed the island unfit for habitation.

A buyer’s association – comprising seven families who made down payments on flats four years ago – now fear their investment may be lost.

“We are not big businessmen. We are simple people who gave up all our life savings because we wanted accommodation near the capital Malé,” said the association’s representative Adam Nadeem.

After paying the 30 percent – or MVR500,000 – of the cost of each flat in 2010, with a promise of a new home in 6 months, buyers were informed last week that the government had suspended further development, he explained.

Global Project Developments (GPD) have today said that the plan to build housing units was formulated upon the request of the state-owned Gulhifalhu Investments Ltd (GIL) and that all necessary permits were obtained in 2011.

“GPD believes that if there are any issues which would affect the livelihood of habitants of the island it is the responsibility of the government and GIL to address those issues,” read a press release from GPD.

GPD – a subsidiary of the UK company Capital Investment and Finance Ltd (CIFL) – went on to accuse GIL of failing to uphold its part of the agreement in registering the houses with the relevant authorities.

The project to develop the submerged reef situated between the islands of Villingili and Thilafushi – just minutes from the capital Malé – was signed in 2007 under the government of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Investment plans

Initially envisioned as an industrial project, the development was amended after the arrival of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) administration, taking on the title of the Global Green City, and focusing on housing units to ease congestion in the capital city.

CIFL, having signed a 35-year lease agreement with the state-owned GIL, then established GPD in order to continue the reclamation and development of the island.

After the completion of the first housing units last month, however, the cabinet’s Economic Council informed GIL that the island was not fit for habitation due to health and geological factors, reported local media.

The island is located just 200 yards from Thilafushi – often referred to as a ‘toxic bomb’ owing to the fumes produced as much of the nation’s waste is burned on site.

Despite this, the Environmental Protection Agency had issued approval for the construction of 240 two-bedroom flats in November 2011.

Neither GPD nor the buyers association have been provided a copy of the GIL statement. Officials from the President’s Office were unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

Nadeem explained that meetings with the President’s Office and the Economic Council last December had been positive, with no sign that the future of the development was in danger.

Indeed, the Maldives’ first amusement park opened on the island the same month, with locals now visiting from the neighbouring islands every weekend. Additionally, two beach villas are available for visitors wishing to stay overnight.

Investor confidence

The disruption to the Gulhifalhu project is the latest in a series of foreign investor agreements that have faced difficulties after a change of government.

The Tatva waste management project became the latest deal signed under the MDP government to founder last month, with the government announcing that it wished to use a state-owned company to provide such services in the capital.

Deals for both border control and – most notably – airport development were also terminated by the government of Dr Mohamed Waheed, while the Tata housing project in Malé was delayed for two years as the incoming administration sought revised terms.

Assuming power in November 2013, the government of President Abdulla Yameen has sought to rebuild investor confidence, making the introduction of special economic zones (SEZ) the cornerstone of its economic policy.

The fostering of an investor friendly environment is intended to facilitate the development of a number of ‘mega projects’ which the administration hopes will move the economy away from its current dependence on tourism.

The SEZ bill was passed in September, and China has signed a preliminary contract agreement on the development of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport as well as promising to “favorably consider” financing the bridge project.

Proposed projects in the Malé region include the continued development of Hulhumalé to house the capital’s overflowing population, the construction of the Malé-Hulhulé bridge, and the relocation of the country’s main port from Malé to Thilafushi.


High Court rejects former Human Rights Minister’s case contesting legitimacy of Waheed’s government

The High Court has rejected the case filed by the former Human Rights Minister Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed, requesting the court to rule that former President Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation was obtained under duress and the transfer of power on February 7, 2012 was illegitimate.

Rejecting the case, the court claimed it did not have jurisdiction to look into the matter.

Speaking to local newspaper Haveeru, the former SAARC Secretary General said that she and her legal team had been informed by the High Court that the case could not be looked into as it was beyond the court’s jurisdiction.

However, Saeed told Haveeru that she was of the view that High Court had the jurisdiction to look into the case.

She earlier stated that the constitution clearly mentions of the cases in which the Supreme Court can act as a first instance court but in other cases the High Court does have the jurisdiction to accept constitutional cases as a first instance court.

Speaking to media previously, member of Saeed’s legal team Ishraq Thaufeeg said that following legal review of the circumstances, the team had noticed several legal inconsistencies and lapses that suggested the transfer of power took place illegally.

He also said the  public still questioned the legitimacy of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s government, and that therefore it was important that a court of law decides on the matter.

Dhiyana Saeed, formerly a member of current President Mohamed Waheed’s cabinet and one of the earliest critics of Nasheed’s decision to detain Judge Abdulla, has also released a personal memoir explaining her interpretation of Waheed’s ascension to power. In the memoir, former SAARC Secretary General alleged that Nasheed’s political rivals had conspired to assassinate him.

Saeed alleged that the controversial transfer of presidential power on February 7 was the result of a premeditated and well-orchestrated plan, and questioned the findings of the Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI), which had declared that there was no coup and Nasheed had resigned voluntarily.

Parliament’s Executive Oversight Committee’s review of the report revealed several concerns including omission of key evidence and witness statements.

Chair of Parliament’s Executive Oversight Committee, MP Ali Waheed, claimed the August 2012 report produced by the CNI was “flawed” based on the findings of the committee.

He added that many interviewed by the committee claimed the CNI report lacked “key information they had given [the CNI panel]” while “others claimed their information was wrongly presented”.

To support its claims, the parliamentary select committee released audio recordings of all the statements given by the witnesses. These included former police and military chiefs and officers, who claimed that Nasheed had no option but to resign.

Leaked statements to the CNI given by key witnesses of the events, including senior police and military officials, also suggested that the transfer of power took place illegitimately.

In the transcript of the statement given to CNI by MNDF Staff Sergeant Shafraz Naeem – the commander of the riot squad of the Bandara Koshi (BK) Battalion on the day – said that he also believed that Nasheed was ousted in a coup.

“In my view this was a coup. Why? I could see it from the way they handled everything, their attitude, how cool and calm all the officers were. I could tell from how cool General Shiyam was inside the MNDF. They did nothing. This is not how a uniformed officer should behave,” he told the CNI.

Meanwhile former President Nasheed told the CNI that he was forced to resign, as he believed his life was at stake on February 7 if he did not.

“In essence, my statement is very small. I was forced to resign. I resigned under duress. I was threatened. If I did not resign within a stipulated period it would endanger mine and my family’s life. I understood they were going to harm a number of other citizens, party members. They were going to literally sack the town. I felt that I had no other option, other than to resign,” he said.

On September 2012, following the release of the report, a legal analysis of the CNI’s report by a team of high-profile Sri Lankan legal professionals – including the country’s former Attorney General concluded that the report was “selective”, “flawed”, and “exceeded its mandate”.

“The report offends the fundamental tenets of natural justice, transparency and good governance, including the right to see adverse material, which undermines the salutary tenets of the Rule of Law,” observed the report.

The Sri Lankan legal team also contended that “there is evidence to demonstrate that there was in fact adequate evidence to suggest that duress (or even ‘coercion’ and/ or illegal coercion as used by CNI) is attributable to the resignation of President Nasheed.”

Saeed was not responding to calls at time of press.


MVR 11.7 million awarded to nine political parties from state budget

MVR 11.7 million (US$762,215) has been awarded to nine political parties from the state budget according to local media.

Secretary General of Elections Commission (EC) told local media that the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had been awarded MVR 3.6 million (US$ 234,527) alone – the most money given to a political party this year.

Out of the 16 political parties registered at the EC, the nine that were awarded money include: MDP Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Adhaalath Party (AP), Maldives National Congress (MNC), Jumhooree Party (JP), Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and Maldives Development Association (MDA).

PPM received a total of MVR 1.98 million (US$128,990), DRP were awarded MVR 1.9 (US$123,778) million and JP received MVR 1.2 million (US$78,175).

Islamic Democratic Party, Maldives Social Democratic Party, Social Liberal Party, People’s Party, People’s Alliance, Maldivian Labour Party and Maldives Reform Movement, received no funding from the EC.

President of the EC, Fuad Thaufeeq, told local media that some parties were not awarded the money this year due to the commission being unable to contact them through the details the party had provided.

Parties were also not awarded money due to lacking the minimum number of members required by political party regulation.

The EC will disburse money to the political parties if the courts issue an order to do so, local media reported.


Embezzlement accusations resurface amid World Bank investigation

Ibrahim Hussein Zaki, special envoy to the president, has renewed allegations that former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has US$80 million hidden in foreign bank accounts, including US$40 million in tsunami aid from the Emir of Qatar.

The last time the allegation was made, by Hassan Afeef, a former MP and now political advisor to the president, Gayoom successfully sued for defamation and Afeef was fined US$350.

Zaki insisted he “was only quoting what was said in newspapers in the UK in an interview with the Global Protection Committee (GPC),” describing it only as “an international NGO.”

The GPC’s leader, Michael Lord-Castle, told Minivan News during an interview in November 2006 “that we have been advised that between US$60-80 million has been transferred from Maldives’ governmental funds directly to various private bank accounts in favour of President Gayoom. Some of those funds we understand derive from donations made in respect to the tsunami disaster.”

When Minivan News asked ‘Commander’ Lord-Castle to disclose the countries and banks the money had been transferred to, he replied that “investigations are continuing and at this stage it is necessary to withhold certain information.”

Members of the controversial GPC, of which little record exists for an organisation “first formed in 1943 towards the end of the Second World War” and boasting “over 2,400 members ranging from ex-presidents, prime ministers and ministers of different countries”, travelled to the Maldives to observe the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s planned assembly for constitutional change on 10 November 2006.

Lord-Castle said the group had been commissioned to produce a report to the European Parliament on the political situation in Maldives, a claim denied by the European Parliament. He was deported from the Maldives together with four associates.

The GPC’s website has since disappeared from the web, while Lord-Castle’s current wikipedia entry describes him as a ‘well-known English businessman’ with varied involvement in an insolvency advisory service, a failed business-class airline, a vigilante ambulance service, and the supplier of a cleaning chemical called Vizexon promising to “kill all pathogens, including swine flu, H5N1, bird flu, SARS, influenza virus and HIV.”

Zaki said that he did not believe the accusation was defamatory “and if Gayoom feels he is getting defamed then he should file a suit against the GPC.”

“If [the accusation] proves true it will be fairly significant because first of all it was money from the National Treasury, secondly the money was for tsunami victims, and thirdly there would be reason to anticipate more [hidden money],” he said.

World Bank enlisted

Zaki pictured with members of the GPC in November 2006
Zaki pictured with members of the GPC in November 2006

Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed announced in September he was seeking the help of the World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) to recover a suspected US$2 billion in embezzled funds, stating that the money was needed to plug a budget deficit of 34 per cent of GDP.

“Many people have been in one way or another connected to this huge web of corruption,” Nasheed said, adding that international help was needed because of a lack of forensic accountancy skills in the country.

Gayoom’s assistant and former chief government spokesperson Mohamed Hussain Shareef (Mundhu) responded to the allegations by demanding Zaki “show us the evidence. If you have the details make them public, instead of repeating allegations. Maumoon has said, ‘go ahead and take a look, and if you find anything make it public.'”

“There is no evidence to link Gayoom to corruption,” he insisted. “What Afeef said was very slanderous. We threw the book at him, and showed in court that he had no evidence to back up his claim at all, not a single piece of evidence.”

He described the renewal of the allegations as “immature, especially dragging the Qatari government into this. We called them and they were as surprised as us – senior officals in their government had no clue about [the alleged theft of US$40 million in tsunami aid]. Anyone of intelligence knows that aid money is not passed across a table by leaders. Gayoom could obviously not just take off with donor or tsunami aid.”

Mundhu expressed confidence that the World Bank’s investigation “would find nothing untoward. I know for a fact that our tsunami aid accounting mechanism was far superior to that of many other countries. All the aid money went through one oversight body headed by the then UN representative and the auditor general.”

The source of the allegations, the GPC, were one of many “voodoo NGOs” around at the time, he said. “We tried to find out what they were about, and basically drew a blank. Nobody in the UK knew anything about them.”

The allegations were intended “to wipe Gayoom off the political map,” Mundhu claimed. “The MDP is a minority government. Nasheed himself as an individual has no more than 25 per cent support in the country. Gayoom is the most popular individual with 45 per cent and over 100,000 die-hard supporters – clearly people thought he did a good job. Nasheed could not beat him one-to-one, and that reality is very hard [for the MDP] to stomach.”

The accusations of embezzlement, he suggested, were the activities of “certain unpleasant elements in the MDP. I don’t branch Nasheed in this, but [the party] was so intent on bringing in people with grievances towards the [former] government that they brought in unsavoury elements that now even Nasheed cannot control.”