MDP agrees to begin talks without Nasheed

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has decided to begin talks with the government without former President Mohamed Nasheed as a representative.

The government had rejected Nasheed as the MDP’s representative on the grounds that the opposition leader is serving a 13-year jail sentence. He was transferred to house arrest this week.

MDP spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy told the press today that the party’s national executive committee decided to proceed with the talks last night with the expectation that Nasheed will be allowed to participate at a later stage.

“The decision was made after discussions with Nasheed as well. He did not want to be a barrier to discussions between the party and the government,” said Fahmy.

Parliamentary group leader Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Solih will be the sole MDP representative at talks.

Fahmy said the MDP’s main demand is the withdrawal of charges against opposition politicians and supporters arrested from protests.

Some 400 people have been arrested since Nasheed’s arrest in February and many face criminal prosecution, he said.

Fahmy said the charges against opposition protesters was a major concern for the party.

The opposition MPs’ backing of a constitutional amendment to set an age limit of 30 to 65 years for the presidency and vice presidency yesterday was widely perceived to be part of a deal made in exchange for Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest for two months.

Fahmy said at today’s press conference that despite “misgivings,” the MDP parliamentary group had voted in favour of the amendment as a confidence building measure ahead of the talks with the government.

“We believe compromise is a very important part in a democracy,” he said.

President Yameen had called for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties last month to resolve the ongoing political crisis, two weeks after a historic anti-government demonstration on May 1.

The MDP had proposed Solih, Nasheed, and chairperson Ali Waheed as the party’s representatives. Waheed is currently overseas in the UK along with Jumhooree Party (JP) deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and council member Sobah Rasheed.

The JP leaders have been charged with terrorism over the May Day mass protest. The pair, along with Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, are accused of inciting violence in their speeches during the rally.

Meanwhile, Nasheed’s lawyer Hassan Latheef said today that the former president believes he will able to contest in the 2018 presidential election.

Latheef also said that he expected a positive development in Nasheed’s case at the UN working group on arbitrary detention in September. Nasheed’s legal team had filed a petition urging the working group to declare his detention unlawful and arbitrary.

Opposition politicians are describing Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest this week and the vote for the constitutional amendment as a first step towards political reconciliation between Yameen’s government and the opposition.

The ruling coalition is seeking to replace vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed with 33-year-old tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

Before yesterday’s vote, pro-government MPs had publicly accused Jameel of disloyalty and incompetence. A Progressive Party of Maldives MP called on Jameel last night to resign or face impeachment.

Opposition politicians and some media outlets have meanwhile claimed that President Abdulla Yameen is seeking a loyal deputy ahead of a life-threatening surgery. The government, however continues to deny rumors over the president’s health.



MDP says government should decrease foreign relations budget to fit “policy of exclusion”

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has called on the government to decrease its budget allocation for foreign relations, saying current policy made such expenditure unnecessary.

“Such an increase in funds will not be needed as the incumbent government has revealed that its foreign policy is one of exclusion,” said former Speaker Abdulla Shahid.

Speaking at a press conference given by the International Relations Committee of the MDP today (November 12), Shahid said that the current budget allocation was too great for such a policy.

“From the president’s speech on Republic Day, as well as various other statements by himself and foreign minister Dunya Maumoon, it has become apparent that this government’s key foreign policy strategy is to exclude itself and cut ties with the rest of the world”.

Speaking on the occasion of the Maldives’ Republic Day, President Yameen yesterday criticised “Western colonial powers” for anti-Islamic policies, suggesting that the Maldives was turning east toward China as a partner which does not involve such challenges.

Meanwhile, Yameen’s enthusiasm to participate in China’s silk road project has prompted opposition fears of strained regional relationships. The government maintains, however, that it is watchful of regional security issues.

The Yameen administration has pledged an improved foreign investor environment in order to restore confidence in local investment. Despite the introduction of the Special Economic Zone Act in August, the only najor interest shown in the government’s proposed ‘mega projects’ has come from China.

Shahid stated today that the budget allocations for foreign relations had risen by 22.7 percent from 2013 to 2014, and that the estimated MVR533 million (US$34.5 million) in the 2015 budget amounted to an increase of another 20 percent.

“An increase in this budget should only come in a government which is aiming to build ties with the international community, not break them. The MDP maintains that the budget should be reflective of the government’s policies,” he added.

Shahid highlighted that in 2014, the government shut down or downgraded a number of international missions.

He also took the closure and reopening of the missions in Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates as examples of the government’s weak foreign policies.

“Such indesicive action in matters like this affects relations with these countries. Additionally, the government has also downgraded the mission in London, which indicates that the government has no interest in maintaing strong ties with UK or the Commonwealth,” Shahid said.

The MDP alleged that such actions demonstrate to the world that the incumbent Maldives government does not have a long term foreign relations plan or objectives.

The MDP also expressed concerns that the number of political positions in foreign missions are on the increase.

“I don’t see why taxpayers should continue to pay for PPM activists to fill positions at foreign missions, when they don’t do any constructive work and do not even possess the skills necessary to do the required work,” Mariya Ahmed Didi stated.

Shahid added that the increase in political positions posed a disadvantage for better trained senior professionals at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose opportunities to work at foreign missions have decreased by half within the year.

He also emphasised the failure to provide incentives which allow female professionals to take up jobs in foreign missions, including allowances for child care and education.

Shahid went on to say that , while the next session of the SAARC Summit is scheduled for 2015, he feels that the government should exclude budget allocations for the event as past actions show the government “has no interest or intention to maintain ties or hold discussions” with neighbouring countries.

“The MDP maintains that its foreign policy will always remain non-discriminatory and open to all countries. We will continue to build ties with any interested countries as much as we can without compromising our country’s sovereignty or independence”.

The Maldives currently has 13 overseas diplomatic missions in China, Saudi Arabia, and Japan, with high commissions in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.

The Chinese mission in Malé is the latest addition to the Maldives’ small diplomatic circuit which otherwise includes only the SAARC countries of Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.


Housing minister hopes to sign amended TATA contract next week

Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Dr Mohamed Muiz has expressed hope that the amended contract with Indian infrastructure giant TATA Housing regarding the construction of two apartment complexes can be signed next week.

“Based on the most recent communication, we estimate that the amended contract will be signed next week, that is if no further reasons for delays come up,” Muiz told local media.

He stated that the company was expected to commence work on the two sites within a period of 45 days after the signing of the contract, and to complete the projects within a year.

The deal – first signed in 2010 – has faced repeated delays after successive governments sought amendments to the original contract.

“In addition to this project, there is also work on an additional 150 flats that need to be started,” Muizzu said yesterday.

The minister explained that previous delays in signing the agreement had occurred due to the actions of TATA Housing.

After deliberation by the cabinet’s economic council in July, the Housing Ministry had announced intentions of resuming the projects under a revised contract.

The government of Maldives contracted Apex Realty Pvt Ltd – a joint venture between TATA Housing Development and SG 18 Realty – to construct residential apartment complexes on four separate sites in capital Malé city in May 2010.

Work commenced on the Gaakoshi site and former Arabiyya School premises, but was later halted due to pending resolution of numerous contractual issues.

While reasons suggested for the delay included shortages in construction materials and the incumbent government’s reclamation of land plots included in the original deal, TATA was reported in Indian media as expressing concern that local politics were endangering their investments.

Apex Realty also released a press statement in May 2014 indicating its intention to commence work on the apartment complexes within 45 days of getting the final approval from the government of Maldives for the amended contract.

“We are committed to the Maldives project and can start the project within 45 days after the final nod is received from the Housing Ministry and contract amendment is signed,” Apex Realty Director Sandeep Ahuja stated at the time.


Friends and family of missing journalist seek to submit a petition to parliament

Friends and family of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan are petitioning the Majlis, posing a series of questions which the family believes “arose due to the negligence of the Maldives Police Services in searching for Rilwan.”

“These are also matters on which state institutions have so far conducted no work in order to reach the truth,” read the questions to be submitted to the national security committee.

The petition calls on all relevant authorities to provide answers for the following questions, urging thorough investigation into the following issues:

  • What is the standard operating procedure for police once a report, such as the abduction that took place on August 8 in Hulhumalé, is lodged? Did police follow these procedures following the said incident?
  • To what extent have police explored the possibility of a connection between the abduction reported on August 8 and the report of Rilwan being missing on August 13?
  • What work has been conducted to date in the search for Rilwan? What are the current concerns and thoughts of the police regarding the condition and situation Rilwan might be in at present?
  • While friends and family who are working together to search for Rilwan have received multiple threats via SMS and other mediums, to what extent have the police provided them with assistance and protection? Additionally, to what extent have police explored the possibility of a connection between those issuing such threats and the disappearance of Rilwan?

Organisers of the petition are currently holding a variety of events through which they aim to collect the 3000 signatures required before it can be submitted to parliament.

Last weekend (August 29 and 30) friends and family held an event at the Artifiical Beach where signatories of the petition were given free t-shirts printed with the message ‘Today Rilwan has been forcefully disappeared. Will it be me tomorrow?’

Additionally, the group provided a screen projection in the same area on Saturday night displaying video clips of messages from Rilwan’s family and friends.

According to Yameen Rasheed – long time friend of Rilwan who is among the volunteers at the event – the group has already gathered over 1500 signatures, while today (August 31)) volunteers are covering different areas of Malé in order to seek more signatures.

“Friends and family have made tremendous efforts to seek the public’s support in finding Rilwan. This is sadly in contrast with the continued silence from the state,” Yameen stated.

State response

On Thursday, August 28, Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed was summoned to parliament’s national security committee.

While the meeting was held behind closed doors, police released a press statement on the same day, revealing some details of the investigation as it has proceeded to date.

According to the statement, police have questioned 198 persons and taken statements from 80, including neighbours of Rilwan in Hulhumalé. It also stated that 293 hours of CCTV footage from over 30 locations are being reviewed and analysed.

Police also claim to have searched all public and industrial areas of the island, as well as an additional 50 places for which they had obtained warrants.

The island of Farukolhufushi – formerly Club Faru resort – near Hulhumalé, vessels moored at Hulhumalé harbour, and a number of other local islands have also been searched, the statement continued.

Police also claim that in relation to the reports of an abduction in Hulhumalé on August 8, officers were doing forensic tests on samples taken from three different cars.

The statement did not say whether any concrete information was gathered from these interviews and other investigative measures.

Meanwhile, Minister of Defence Mohamed Nazim speaking at a DhiTV event held on Saturday (August 31) that the government is doing all necessary to find Rilwan, saying “there is hope that we will find him”.

Minister of Youth and Sports Mohamed Maleeh Jamaal has also tweeted a similar message, stating “Government has mobilised all necessary resources to find #Rilwan. The search should continue #findmoyameehaa”.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has also met with friends and family of Rilwan on Saturday, pledging assistance to the cause.

In a press conference held on Sunday, newly-elected MDP Vice President Mohamed Shifaz stated that the party will work from within the parliament and all other possible avenues to assist the search for the missing journalist.


Government declares an extra day as a public holiday on the occasion of Fitr Eid

President Abdulla Yameen has declared an extra day as a public holiday in relation to the occasion of Fitr Eid at the end of the month of Ramadan.

The President’s Office announced that if the Ministry of Islamic Affairs announces July 28 to be Fitr Eid, then July 31 will also be a holiday. If the Ministry instead announces July 29 to be Fitr Eid, then July 28 will be a holiday.

Government bodies will reopen on August 3 after Fitr Eid holidays.


Government opens applications for National Awards

The President’s Office on Wednesday has opened applications and nominations for the annual National Awards.

Applications will be accepted until the end of August and forms are available on the President’s Office website.

The National Awards aim to recognize service in a variety of fields.

At a press conference held today, President of the National Awards Committee Abdul Rasheed Hussain stated that the categories in which awards will be given will be published in today’s edition of the government gazette.

He revealed that awards will be categorized into two Awards of Honour and Awards of Encouragement.


Guest House Association established by Maafushi businessmen

Thirty-two managers of guest houses in the island of Maafushi have established the Guest House Association of Maldives with the objective of developing and promoting the sector.

Association member and Manager of Maafushi Inn Hussain Raznee interprets the government’s current guest house island policy as an attempt to inhibit the current guest house business model.

“The establishment of guest house islands will not have any benefits at all for those of us living in the islands,” said Raznee, saying that the current model provide local youth and businesses with an decent income.

“Guest house owners assist in all community activities, donating funds to schools, school events, island community events, and even to efforts to keep the whole island clean. This is all made possible because of guest houses,” he added.

After previously expressing a reluctance to promote the guest house tourism model for fear of damaging the country’s luxury resort brand, the new guest house policy is designed to make the traditional one island/one resort model accessible to small and medium enterprises – with the government’s PR wing, the MMPRC, taking a lead role.

Raznee called on the government to further facilitate the running of guest houses in all islands, suggesting that it could handle promotional activities as long as permits for the businesses were approved.

The group will work to protect the rights of guest house owners and employees from all over the Maldives and to promote local tourism in international markets, he continued.

Raznee noted that, although members of the association are currently all from Maafushi, they are now in the process of contacting and inviting guest house owners from across the country to join the association.

Guest House Islands

The recently launched guest house island project will begin begin with the development of the uninhabited ‘Thumburi’ island in Laamu atoll into a 2000 bed resort.

According to promotional material, the guest house island concept – endorsed by industry groups – aims to “responsibly” diversify the tourism industry without encroaching on inhabited islands.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb has previously explained the benefits of the policy – part of the Progressive Party of Maldives presidential election manifesto.

“It is a huge infrastructure investment to build a tourist resort. It becomes an expensive place to go to when they invest in water set-ups, sewerage systems – and all before building rooms,” Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb explained to Minivan News during an interview in January.

Adeeb stated then that the Malé Water and Sewerage Company will set up water and sewerage, and electricity systems in guest house islands, after which plots of land from the island will be given to different individual businessmen.

“The thing is, we just don’t talk about guesthouses so much. From a marketing perspective, we have positioned the Maldives as a high-end destination. A-category guests will continue coming for a long as we market the country as an A-category destination. Guests for B,C,D and E categories are something we automatically get,” said Adeeb.

He added, however, that the government supports the running of guest houses even though it will not promote them in international markets.

Some leaders in the industry have also expressed similar concerns regarding the destination’s brand, while the sector’s capacity has tripled in the past six years.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has meanwhile criticised the government’s launching of guest house islands, with former President Mohamed Nasheed last week suggesting that guest house islands would not benefit locals, describing them as a threat to the success of guest houses in inhabited islands.

In April, the MDP-dominated Addu City Council passed a resolution to create an ‘Addu Guest House Venture’ which will develop and expand the guest house tourism industry within the city under the guidance of a designated promotion board.


Newly appointed MMA governor reveals plans to strengthen economy

The newly appointed Governor of Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) Dr Azeema Adam has stated that she will ensure firm action is undertaken to strengthen both the economy and its currency.

“We need to strengthen foreign exchange market regulatory framework and establish a sufficient monetary policy framework in order to maintain the value of rufiyaa,” she told local media yesterday.

Azeema added that the strengthening of these frameworks would also assist in reducing inflation and the rise in prices of general commodities, as well as echoing the concerns of her predecessor regarding monetisation.

“Printing money to overcome the budget deficit is something that brings down the value of the Maldivian rufiyaa. Therefore, this needs to brought to an end.”

“In order to do so, the MMA will assist the government to finance their budget deficit through a market mechanism,” she revealed.

She added that this will be difficult to accomplish without decrease government spending, while also noting the importance of the ratification of the new MMA Act which has been recently drafted.

Azeema also pledged to bring an end to dollar transactions on the black market, noting the importance of maintaining the value of local currency in a country like the Maldives which strongly depends on foreign currency.

The MMA’s recent balance of payments projections estimate that the country’s current account deficit will widen to US$562.5 million in 2014, which is equal to 22 percent of GDP.

She pledged to bring down the expense of running the central bank, stating that decreasing spending throughout the state bodies is imperative to strengthening the country’s economy.

Azeema stated that, although Maldives has a comparatively high level of investments in tourism and other sectors, it has so far failed to be reflected in the country’s financial status.

Productivity increasing

Due to the rapidly developing tourism sector, productivity of the Maldives will increase by 4.5 percent by the end of 2014, she said.

“At the end of 2013 we had US$368 million. Our estimate is that this will rise to 400 million dollars by the end of this year. Looking at how much is imported from this reserve, this is the import of about 2 or 3 months,” local media reported the new governor as saying.

Dr Azeema estimated that, compared to 2013, the current account deficit of the country will increase by 16 percent this year, while the official reserves exceed this. She said that this estimate is made based on the developing tourism sector, and the increased earnings that the government is acquiring from the field.

She went on to reveal that the major work the MMA will currently undertake is to introduce new insurance services and to establish further Islamic financing instruments.

The MMA will assist banks in releasing more loans to individuals by decreasing the minimum reserve requirement that they have to keep deposited at the central bank, she said.

“We need to strengthen the financial sector through revisions, this is a work we must undertake. We do not see big investments being made in the financial sector. However, we need to attract investments into this sector too,” Azeema told the press.

The governor stated that, where required, the central bank will also work to revise necessary laws and regulations in an attempt to strengthen the financial sector. She stated that this would assist the government in obtaining funds to implement various projects, while also being of help to small and mid-level businesses.

She highlighted the importance of creating more public awareness about the financial sector as well as encouraging a mentality of keeping savings from their earnings.

She further said that the MMA would encourage the use of electronic payment systems as opposed to cash and cheques. She stated that more convenient and efficient electronic payment systems will be introduced by the central bank, adding that this would be more secure than cash and cheque transactions.


President appoints deputy minister of finance and treasury

President Abdulla Yameen has appointed Imran Salih of Fehivilaage in the island of Hithadhoo in Addu City to the post of deputy minister of finance and treasury.

Local media reports that Salih has a Masters Degree in finance from the International Islamic University of Malaysia and a Bachelors Degree in accounting from the Multimedia University in Malaysia.

According to the President’s Office website, there are currently sixty other political appointees of the deputy ministerial rank.