President Yameen vows to send 142 pilgrims to Hajj

President Abdulla Yameen vowed last night to send 142 pilgrims to Hajj this year on government expenses.

Speaking at a function with senior citizens, President Yameen said Saudi Arabia had increased the Hajj quota for the Maldives to 2,000 this year. The government is working to sponsor more Maldivians to perform the pilgrimage, he said.

In January, the president inaugurated state-owned Maldives Hajj Corporation with a budget of MVR110 million (US$7.1 million), with the aim of reducing the cost of performing the yearly pilgrimage.

However, part of the quota reserved for the Hajj Corporation has been filled up until 2017.

In his remarks last night, President Yameen said senior citizens were a high priority for his administration. The government has increased the old age pension from MVR2,500 to MVR5,000 and expanded the ‘Aasandha’ health insurance scheme to include cancer treatment and kidney transplants.

Referring to former President Mohamed Nasheed’s imprisonment on terrorism charges in March, Yameen said Maldivians prefer peace over violence.

“We included abducting people as part of terrorism because Maldivians believe in peace,” he said.

“There is no other way to get rid of such tyranny in the Maldives.”

Nasheed is serving 13 years in jail over the military’s detention of criminal court chief judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012. The 19-day terrorism trial was widely criticised and described as a “travesty of justice” by Amnesty International.

Meanwhile, Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla and Jumhooree Party deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim are also facing terrorism charges for “encouraging violence towards President Yameen and other senior government officials” in their speeches at a 20,000-strong protest march on May 1.

Yameen meanwhile stressed the importance of protecting the Maldives’ sovereignty, independence, and Islamic identity, claiming that previous administrations involved other nations in making decisions on domestic affairs.

The European Union refused to extend duty-free status to Maldivian fish exports over the country’s stance on freedom of religion, Yameen claimed.

“A lot of foreign ambassadors have met with me recently. But my final word to them is that our democracy is run according to written laws alongside the justice system. So we will not go to gain permission from any state if we have to take actions against anyone who breaks the rules and regulations,” he said to loud cheers.


Updated Hajj regulation will help prevent fraud: Deputy Islamic Minister

Deputy Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Aishath Muneeza has said that the updated regulations for Maldivian Hajj pilgrims would help prevent Hajj-related fraud cases in the future.

Muneeza told Minivan News that the new regulations published in the Government Gazette today would make the whole Hajj process more transparent and accessible.

“We have brought major changes to the existing Hajj regulations,” said Dr Muneeza, who also serves as Chair at the state owned Hajj Corporation – officially inaugurated last week (January 20).

Dr Muneeza said one of the biggest improvements to the regulation was the introduction of a new bank guarantee to be held at the Islamic ministry paid by the Hajj agencies, requiring the agencies to deposit 25 percent of the price per head when submitting proposals.

The regulation states that the deposited money will be used to cover any required expenses which have not been paid for by the agency such as airlines or hotel payments. It also states that the money will be taken to the ministry if it receives news that the agency has taken more customers than the quota assigned to the company.

While the Hajj Corporation is to handle 50 percent of the quota given by the Saudi Arabian government, the remaining slots are equally distributed to three private companies after a bidding process.

“We have also changed the requirements of agencies submitting proposals to the ministry,” explained Dr Muneeza. “The managing director of the company should now have five years’ experience of taking people to Hajj compared to the previous one year of experience”.

Under the new regulations, the license will not be released to the company if “anyone convicted or suspected fraudulent Hajj transactions are present in the board of directors or management,” requiring the companies to hand in the criminal records of all board members while submitting the proposals.

“The new law would also require the agencies to submit a timeline to the ministry giving itself deadlines such as the dates by when tickets are brought, money is taken from customers. This allows the ministry to keep track of the agencies while giving them some leeway to construct their own timeline,” said Dr Muneeza.

Speaking at the ceremony inaugurating Hajj Corporation last week, Islamic minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed – while pledging to reduce the cost of the pilgrimage  – said that the government has become more involved in the Hajj grips after the activities of unscrupulous Hajj companies.

Last year, the government covered the expenses of 121 defrauded customers of the Al-Fathuh Hajj Umra Group with an amount in excess of US$500,000.

Dr Shaheem revealed to the press that Al-Fathuh only informed the ministry that it would be not be able to take the customers to Mecca the day prior their departure.

Related to this story

Government sends defrauded pilgrims to Mecca

Hajj corporation inaugurated, Shaheem pledges to reduce cost of pilgrimage

Police arrest al-Fathuh Hajj group managing director for fraud

Hundreds queue to submit forms to Hajj Corporation


Islamic minister dismisses rumour of President Yameen not performing Hajj

Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has dismissed rumours of President Abdulla Yameen not performing the Hajj pilgrimage despite traveling to Saudi Arabia in September.

Asked to address the speculation during minister’s question time at yesterday’s sitting of parliament by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim Shareef, Shaheem suggested the rumours were being spread by former President Mohamed Nasheed, who he said was unable to make the pilgrimage while in office.

“The president of the Maldives made the Hajj [pilgrimage]. As you know, he was supposed to go the UN assembly but went to Hajj after cancelling it,” he said.

He claimed that former President Nasheed declined an opportunity to perform the pilgrimage during his tenure and had sent the first lady instead.

Shaheem was state minister for Islamic affairs under the Nasheed administration.

Nasheed’s remarks concerning President Yameen’s Hajj pilgrimage “opens the door for others to talk further about the things they have done,” Shaheem said.

“So I think it would be better to stay quiet without going around talking about such personal matters,” he said.

In an interview with Minivan Radio last week, Nasheed repeated calls for President Yameen to publicly address speculation concerning the trip to Saudi Arabia and his health.

The opposition leader referred to former President Mohamed Ameen informing the public about his health in a letter sent from Sri Lanka to the Maldivian parliament.

Nasheed claimed that according to close associates President Yameen was unable to perform rituals at Arafat due to poor health.

He implied that the source of the rumours was government-aligned Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) Leader Ahmed Siyam Mohamed, who accompanied the president to Saudi Arabia.

The public deserved to know the truth about the president’s health as speculation creates fear and doubt, he added.

Following numerous unofficial trips to Singapore by President Yameen this year, President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali denied rumours that the president underwent brain surgery in Singapore.

“Rumours being spread about the president’s health are false,” he tweeted on October 23.

Nasheed meanwhile contended that President Yameen was ruling “in absentia” or away from the public eye.

If the president is “incapacitated” and could not execute the duties of his office, Nasheed said the Constitution requires the vice president to assume the president’s powers.

In late October, an anonymous senior government told newspaper Haveeru that the MDP were using areca palm trees planted in Malé by the city council for black magic to curse President Yameen with ill health.

A close associate of President Yameen told the newspaper that the president did not seek treatment for a brain tumour.

Instead, the associate claimed, the president sought treatment for infections caught during his Hajj pilgrimage and had to be admitted at a Singapore hospital.

The anonymous government official said the president’s close associates believe that black magic or sorcery using the palm trees were responsible for the president’s ill health.

“[They] believe that [President Yameen’s] health worsens with every palm frond that falls off the areca palm trees. And that his health would worsen further with every tree that blossoms,” the anonymous official was quoted as saying.

Related to this story

Palm trees used by MDP to curse President Yameen, alleges senior government official

Public should be informed about president’s health, says Nasheed


Saudi Prince donates MVR18.4 million to build mosques in the Maldives

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has donated MVR18.4 million (US$ 1.2 million) to a mosque project with plans to build 10 mosques in the islands.

Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed confirmed that the money was transferred to ministry’s bank account yesterday (October 15) and that work on the mosques is scheduled to start in the next couple of months.

“This is just the first donation of a US$4 million full amount from the Saudi Prince. We are told that we would receive the rest of the amount as construction of the mosques goes forward,” said Dr Shaheem.

The Saudi Prince – who pledged to build 10 world class mosques in the Maldives in his visit to the Maldives earlier this year – told Shaheem he is willing to help the Maldivian government to preserve the Islamic identity of the nation and that Saudi Arabia sees the Maldives as a country of ‘special importance.’

For his visit in March, the prince – who also serves as the defense minister of Saudi Arabia – booked out three resort islands for nearly a month, reportedly leaving tourists unhappy as bookings were cancelled.

Hajj issues

Dr Shaheem also shared with Minivan News concerns brought forward by agents from Mecca who say that they have large amounts of money owed to them by Maldivian private Hajj companies.

“An agent from Mecca came to the Maldives and shared information about two Hajj groups who owes money in excess of US$300,000 to the agent not paid in over a year now,” said Dr Shaheem.

Recently, the government covered the expenses of the 121 defrauded customers of Al-Fathuh Hajj Umra group with an amount in excess of US$ 500,000.

“We have given the company one month to reimburse the government for the expenses and the company has informed the government via police that they are currently in the process of paying back the government,” explained Shaheem.

While speaking to local media after coming back from the Hajj pilgrimage, Shaheem said that the ministry had decided implement a policy which would require private Hajj companies to keep a deposit at the Islamic Ministry in order to acquire the permit from the government in order to prevent a repeat of this type of fraud.

Haveeru also reported the story of ten Maldivian students who were on their way to the pilgrimage from Medina when they were stopped at a checkpoint near Mecca and denied access being told that the permit was invalid.


Government sends defrauded pilgrims to Mecca

The government has sent the 121 victims of the al-Fatuh Hajj and Umra group frauds on the Hajj pilgrimage under the care of the Hajj Corporation.

According to local media, the people sent today were those who had paid al-Fatuh and obtained their visas before the company pleaded bankruptcy to the Islamic Ministry explaining that it would not be able send the pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.

Haveeru reported that the government has spent MVR9 million (US$584,036) to cover the expenses of the defrauded pilgrims.

At a press conference on Friday, Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said that the government was covering the expenses of the victims because the Saudi Arabian Government might reduce the quota to the Maldivians if the full quota is not fulfilled.

The 1000 pilgrims quota provided by the Saudi Arabian Government is split into two, with 500 reserved for the Hajj Corporation and the rest divided into private corporations chosen after a bidding process.


Hajj Corporation reaches quota limit, begins registration for 2015

The Hajj Corporation has reached the limit of its quota of 370 slots for this year’s Hajj pilgrims as hundreds continued to queue outside its registration offices in Dharubaaruge.

The announcement that the limit has been reached in the early hours of Tuesday led to voices of discord among the hundreds in line. Police later assisted in dispersing the crowds of would-be pilgrims gathered at the location.

The state owned Hajj Corporation has reserved 30 of the 400 slots it received – half of the total quota allowed to the Maldives from the Saudi Arabian government – for the security forces and other officials who will be performing Hajj while assisting pilgrims.

The remaining 400 slots are reserved for those who wish to apply to join the pilgrimage through private hajj groups, though the Anti Corruption Commission has called for the groups’ bidding process to be revised.

Each pilgrim needs to pay MVR 69,965 (US$4,537) as total payment to the Hajj Corporation. Those who have previously performed the Hajj pilgrimage are not eligible to apply via the state corporation.

On Tuesday morning, the Hajj Corporation commenced accepting applications and payments from those who wishes to perform Hajj pilgrimage in the next year.

Under a programme termed ‘Long term initiative to fulfill Hajj pilgrimage saving package’, the corporation will be accepting applications for 2015 until 2pm on Wednesday afternoon (March 5).


Week in review: February 22– 28

A tragic incident at the country’s main public hospital – IGMH – caused outrage this week as it was revealed that HIV infected blood had been given to a patient.

Profuse apologies from the Home Minister were not enough for the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) who accused the government of hiding the news for eight days in order to complete the celebrations of its first 100 days in power.

Earlier in the week, Minivan News was informed that certain operations at the hospital had been suspended owing to the lack of the necessary staff safety equipment. The week had begun with Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid pledging US$10 million for the renovation of the Indian-built facility.

The introduction of unlimited health insurance had already been announced earlier in the week. The ambitious pledge is soon to be followed by larger pensions, both of which are set to be sustained through the issuance of government debt.

Promises for completion of the long-awaited Malé-Hulhulé bridge within two years were also given, though development of the central atolls appeared to be coming at the expense of the Addu – the country’s second-city.

High priority is being given to the housing situation of police officers, while the fisheries minister launched a training scheme for long-line fishing, arguing that deviation from the country’s traditional pole-and-line approach was important to utilise all fishing grounds.

The Supreme Court’s decision to prosecute the Elections Commission (EC) on contempt of court charges prompted alarm this week from both representatives of the EU and Maldivian civil society, who demanded the court “earn the respect of the people”.

The EU called upon the government to ensure the EC’s independence in the run up to the March 22 parliamentary elections. Despite the government’s financial restrictions on EC spending, the commission has assured that polls will be unaffected.

While on the campaign trail, the MDP’s Mohamed Nasheed warned that the people of the country would not tolerate further electoral interference, labelling the ongoing court case “unjust”.

While Nasheed assured that his party does not intend to obstruct the government should it win a majority, President Yameen remained unconvinced, assuring voters that the MDP would attempt to remove him.

Yameen also rounded on the current members of the country’s legislature, arguing that the public had lost confidence in the institution. The recently jailed MP Abdulla Jabir was this week cleared of further cannabis possession charges – his lawyers have suggested his earlier conviction violated his constitutional rights.

The Criminal Court’s running feud with the Prosecutor General’s Office continued this week, with the PG’s Office accusing the court of overstepping its authority when introducing new time limits for the forwarding of cases.

In the Civil Court, a dispute over an oil trade agreement between the State Trading Organisation and Villufushi constituency MP Riyaz Rasheed was thrown out after the former’s legal team failed to show up.

Further agreements on oil trade could be on their way, however, as the the national oil company announced it was searching for outside assistance for further exploration projects.

Though well-qualified to discuss oil, Saudi Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz was reported to be visiting the Maldives in order to talk about potential investments in tourism, transport, and Islamic affairs, as well the provision of a soft loans to the Maldives.

One avenue of Saudi investment into the country was confirmed this week, with a prominent investment firm from the kingdom making plans for a US$100 million resort in Laamu atoll.

Maldivians seeking to travel in the other way may have to delay their plans, however, after both the Civil Court and the Anti Corruption Commission ordered the Islamic Ministry to halt the awarding of contracts for Hajj trips pending investigations into the bidding process.

Elsewhere this week, the second case of forced child prostitution in the country’s southern atolls, while an inmate at Maafushi jail suffered severe head injuries during a fight with other inmates.


MNDF officers to travel with hajj pilgrims for assistance

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and the state enterprise Hajj Corporation have signed an agreement under which officers of the MNDF will attend hajj pilgrimage to provide assistance to pilgrims.

The memorandum of understanding was signed at an event held at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs on Tuesday – signed by Chief of Defence Force Major General Ahmed Shiyam and Hajj Corporation Managing Director Yamin Idrees.

Speaking at the event, Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed revealed that a similar agreement will be signed with the police force in the near future.

The minister further revealed that the Hajj Corporation would be covering all expenses of the officers who will be attending the pilgrimage. He stated that he aimed to eventually have all MNDF officials attend hajj prayers under the initiative.

The corporation is sponsoring seven MNDF officers this year.

An official of the Hajj Corporation stated that the idea behind the initiative was not to have MNDF officers conduct menial tasks for the pilgrims, but rather to facilitate a means for soldiers to engage in the prayers of Hajj.

Hajj Corporation Chairperson Dr Aishath Muneeza stated that 400 pilgrims would be taken to Mecca for the pilgrimage this year. She added that a delegation of the corporation is soon leaving for Saudi Arabia to seek ways of increasing convenience for Maldivian pilgrims, including the renting of a separate hotel solely for the use of Maldivians during the hajj season.

MNDF Spokesperson Major Hussain Ali told Minivan News that they have not decided a criteria under which officers who will get the seven pilgrimage slots this year will be selected.

“So far, we have just signed the memorandum of understanding with the Hajj corporation and announced it. We have not yet drafted a selection criteria, though it will be done under some form of selection process,” Major Ali said.

Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed stated that the ministry would not be directly involved in either the selection of officers, or in the compilation of criteria for selecting officers. He said that the target was to allow officers selected by the Hajj Corporation and the MNDF to be able to attend pilgrimage completely free of charge.

The MNDF also concluded a Quran recitation ‘Qari’ course on Monday, held in alliance with The Centre for Holy Quran. Twenty MNDF officers participated in this course.


Finance Minister Jihad to oversee Maldives Hajj pilgrimages

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad will head a government body formed to oversee Hajj pilgrimages undertaken by Maldivian nationals, according to the President’s Office.

The government announced its intention in May to establish the state-owned Maldives Hajj Corporation Limited following a recommendation by the Cabinet Economic Committee.

President Dr Mohamed Waheed opted at the time to form the company with 100 percent government shares.

The announcement of the company’s foundation follows recent legal wrangling in the Maldives’ courts over whether the Islamic Ministry should be forced to reevaluate several unsuccessful bids by local Hajj groups wishing to offer pilgrimages.

The case was filed on the back of concerns at alleged corruption within the current system.

Select Hajj groups were this year authorised by the government to provide transport and accommodation for pilgrims in Mecca, as well as offering guidance in helping them complete the religious rituals.