President Yameen announces development of five resorts in Haa Dhaalu Atoll

President Abdulla Yameen has announced plans to develop five resorts in the northern Haa Dhaalu Atoll next year.

Yameen said that the first islands to be developed as resorts by the current government will be located in Dhipparufushi, Vaikarumuraadhoo, Kanamana, Kudafaru, and Keylakunu islands in the country’s second-northernmost atoll.

During his visit to the northen atolls, President Yameen also talked about the government’s plans to develop an airport on Kulhudhuhfushi to further encourage the arrival of tourists.

Officials from the government promised the even distribution of resorts earlier this year following an online petition calling for the area to participate in the benefits of the country’s billion dollar tourism industry. Haa Dhaalu is currently the only atoll in the country without any operating resorts.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz told Minivan News of the strategic importance of Kulhudhuhfushi Island, which has a population of around ten thousand people.

“Projects like the proposed airport, resort development, and the I-Havan mega project will bring with it prosperous employment opportunities for the people residing the northern atolls, eliminating need of migrating to the capital Malé for employment,” said Muaz.

Muaz also noted that such projects, while providing numerous employment opportunities, would also develop the infrastructure in the region and improve the general living conditions in the North.

The UNDP’s most recent Human Development Report noted that disparities between the central and outer atolls were causing losses to human development, with the northern atolls reporting to suffer the most from limited job opportunities and social services.

Regional development

This year’s Avaaz petition – signed by just over 500 people – noted that the economic and societal problems of the 20,000 inhabitants of the atoll could be alleviated by the development of resorts.

The petition argued that the development of the region’s “pristine uninhabited islands” would halt the “mass migration” to Malé which was “tearing up the social fabric of our society”.

President Yameen’s election campaign pledged to develop 50 operational resorts during the five year presidential term. Yesterday’s proposed 2015 budget also planned for tourism growth, with 10 new resorts proposed in a MVR24.3 billion budget plan.

Despite the total number of resorts in the country exceeding one hundred, the majority are clustered around Malé and the country’s main international airport.

After initial plans for the 40-year-old industry’s development envisioned regional hubs, the introduction of sea planes has encouraged the concentration of resorts in the now-crowded central atolls.

The government’s plans for regional development have centered around the controversial SEZ bill, which it argues will decentralise development in order to promote regional growth – though the bill’s detractors fear that the policy will come at the expense of political decentralisation.

Relaxed regulations in the SEZs are intended to attract investors for a number of ‘mega projects’, including the iHavan – or ‘Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project’ – in Haa Alif Atoll.

The project aims to take advantage of the strategic location of the Maldives’ northernmost atoll on a major shipping route – through which more than 700,000 ships carry goods worth US$18 trillion a year – and develop 5,700 hectares of land along with deep natural harbours.

Meanwhile, environmental NGO Ecocare has protested against the proposed Kulhudhuhfushi airport, pointing out that the airport’s development would destroy a mangrove area which would be reclaimed in order to build the airport.

Ecocare suggested a speedy ferry transportation system to Hanimaadhoo Airport which is just 16.6 km away after labelling the Kulhudhuhfushi airport as “economically less viable”.

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Q&A: MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa – Kulhuduffushi North constituency

In a series of interviews to lead into the the 2014 parliamentary elections – scheduled for March 22nd – Minivan News will be conducting interviews with incumbent MPs.

All 77 sitting members have been contacted, from across the political spectrum, to be asked a standardised set of questions with additional topicals. The interviews will be published as and when they are received.

As part of the series, Minivan News interviewed MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa.

MP Moosa represents the Kulhuduffushi North constituency and is from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), being originally elected as an independent candidate before signing for the MDP in 2010.

Daniel Bosley: What made you enter the political arena and how?

Abdul Ghafoor Moosa: In my area, in the north, during President [Maumoon Abdul] Gayoom’s regime there was no development at all, so we are joining the politics because we wanted some development of the area.

DB: Based on your attendance and work in this ending term, how would you judge your performance as an MP?

AGM: I have been in attendance at all the sessions and also have performed very well in the parliament, so I am happy about that.

DB: What are the main committees you were acting on? What particular bills did you focus on?

AGM: I have been on the Public Accounts Committee, and also the the Members Privileges Committee.

Members Privileges Committee concerns privileges of the members, the Public Accounts Committee involves the whole finance of the country and also to see what are the problems [and] where the government’s funds will be realised.

DB: What would you say are the biggest achievements within your term; in terms of what you have accomplished for your constituency and the country as a whole?

AGM: During the MDP government, we have gotten the maximum number of projects for Kulhuduffushi – like road construction and sewerage. I have looked after my people very well.

DB: What would you say is the biggest mistake or worst step you have taken in your career? Why?

AGM: In politics? So far, nothing. I don’t have anything for which I feel regret – I never did.

DB: Are you taking the optional committee allowance of an additional MVR 20,000? Why or why not?

AGM: Yes. Because my people aren’t bothered about anything I’m doing regarding the financial status – what I get I will spend to them. So they have no complaints about the salary or allowance whatsoever. There’s no complaints from my people – they never asked me not to take it.

DB: And if they did?

AGM: Then I don’t take it. There never have been any complaints regarding that. What we believe is that we are getting what we deserve. You see like government ministers, they are getting paid MVR62,000 salary, their phone bill, their car, their allowance, driver, fuel, transport – all in all it comes to around MVR180-190,000 per month. Same as court judges.

You see, if you want to go to our area, the airfare plus the transport – everything will cost about MVR6000, plus accommodation and everything. A return trip to my area will cost MVR20,000 – because, a boat cost will be MVR2500 one way, so two-way will be about MVR5000. Plus airfare is about MVR2,500.

DB: What is your view about parliamentarians and other public servants declaring their financial assets publicly for the electorate to be able to refer to?

AGM: At the moment it is there, but there is no system in the country to evaluate it. Because they are asking us to declare our assets, but there is no law – they have no right to materialise any of this legally. So what is the use? There should be a law, because the reason to declare the wealth is so they can see if there is any corruption or anything but even other government authorities don’t have any authority to check my account.

It is good to have it, but the effect is not there – there’s no income tax law here, so how can they verify my income and everything? They cannot say anything I have is illegal unless the income tax and all these things are there. The way they are doing it now – we have to declare how much money is in the account, that is my personal money which was in the account, and how much personal expenses I have, and the amount of shares I have in the company. Nothing more than that – so that is not enough to work on an investigation even.

Very rich people are in the parliament – people that don’t want to declare everything.

DB: Are you contesting in the next elections? What do you hope to accomplish should you be elected for a new term?

AGM: Yes. I have a few things to be done. Still the public health sector is lacking. What we believe is that the north is very much different from the south, and also from Malé. So we need a lot of economic activity to be done there, most important is that Hanimaadhoo airport has to invested in – because we see even Haa Dhaalu has no resort, in Haa Alif we have a few but these resorts they have paid their management four times and they’re not paying to the government or even the staff. It is not actually economically viable for these things without the airport. Airport depends on the jobs – everything. You know, we should have more economic activities, because otherwise people are not surviving there – there’s no things happening there.

So that’s my next hope, to have Hanimaadhoo airport invested in and to had Kulhuduffushi hospital developed. You go anywhere – our hospital they only have oxygen and aspirin. How can they call it a hospital? It is like a medical centre – people have to know these things very well. IGMH and  Kulhuduffushi hospitals should be at the same level. We don’t have any facilities – for everything they have to come to Malé. It is worse that when MDP was in power – there’s no proper doctors, there’s no specialists.

DB: What improvements do you feel the 18th parliament will need to make to improve as an institution?

AGM: We are in a changing process. Still things are not in a proper way. This is the first Majlis, we are sitting in the first Majlis, that has been democratically elected. So, even the government is not fully mature to have a fully democratic system. You see, whenever an authority criticises the government, even whether the the government are MDP or PPM [Progressive Party of Maldives] or whatever, the government takes it personally in the sense like they are not acting on a fact basis – and this is the problem.

They are not happy with the auditor general, they are not happy with the Anti-Corruption Commission, they are not happy with the Civil Service Commission, even the Human Rights Commission. Because the government cannot cope with these things. They always think these people are criticising they are supporting some other party – there’s no issue base. Then they don’t want to give budget to them, they are financially tightening, so many things are happening. So this is the problem we are facing today.

Even the present government is not happy with the auditor general. If there’s something wrong he has to write in the audit report. It’s nothing personal, but the government can’t cope with these things. It was happening in the MDP government also – even now we see the same things repeat.

DB: What are your thoughts on party switching – do you think it undermines the party system?

AGM: Party switching – you see we have 35 or 34 members in MDP – there are few people who was always floor-crossing. Those people are doing it, other than these we don’t have these issues with other members.

It is a problem everywhere in the world, not just in the Maldives. That same problem is continuing here and even you are likely to see in India and Pakistan this is happening.

The problem is here, the system is not working – the people they are changing the party due to some issues like the government is influencing the judiciary to attack the actions against all these and all these and these. Those things are there very much.

DB: What do you feel the major issues of concern will be for your constituents over the next five years?

AGM: As I mentioned, the health sector is very poor and there is no economic activity. Over fifty percent in the north are below the poverty level. Most of the families – maybe five or six members – only one or two persons will be earning the income – which is not more than eight or nine thousand. Still they need economic activity. If they don’t get it, it’s very difficult to survive. We have to cross the poverty level – the only option is that we have more economic activity.

The only option we are left with is the guest house policy. In the north we have very big, very beautiful islands where the locals are living, and in those islands we have ample space. A few islands we have about 5-6km beach. You know, guest house policy can work out there very nicely. But even this government is not preparing for that. That is the only option where they can get a job and be on their own island. When they can’t find a job from their island, there are a lot of other social problems – family will be living there and they will be working here [Malé] for one or two year, they went back home, there are a lot of problems.

People want to get jobs in their own place which we can do easily if the government would just support that. But those things are not happening – you know Hanimaadhoo airport? – this airport has been operating for 25 years, but still to develop it into an international airport the government doesn’t need to spend any money on this. Only thing is they have to give it to a party to do it – they can give one or two islands for that, they can give a 50 year contract for that. Last time when they called for tender, 29 parties submitted their plans but when the government changes they have all been thrown to the dustbin now. We want this airport to be a big-time airport. Tourism is the only option for the time being.

We have huge islands where agriculture can be done, plus aquaculture can also be done, but for the time being even Hanimaadhoo could be developed within one year’s time and we could have a good income there.

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Agreement signed for construction of new roads on six islands

A MVR 424 million (US$27.5 million) agreement for the construction of roads on six islands has been signed by the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure and Maldives Road Development Corporation (MRDC).

The islands chosen for the road construction project are Dhidhdhoo in Haa Alif Atoll, Hanimaadhoo in Haa Dhaalu Atoll, Kudahuvadhoo in Dhaalu Atoll, Vilufushi in Thaa Atoll, Villingili in Gaaf Alif Atoll and Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll.

According to local media, nine roads are to be constructed in Vilufushi, fifteen in Villingili, 21 in Thinadhoo, 13 in Kudahuvadhoo, 21 in Hanimaadhoo and 15 in Dhidhdhoo.

Speaking at the ceremony, President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik expressed hope that road construction work in the six islands would be completed soon.

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Hanimaadhoo Airport to begin services to Trivandrum

Hanimaadhoo Airport in Haa Dhaalu Atoll is to begin operating international flights to Trivandrum in India as of February 2, the Transport Ministry has announced.

Acting Transport Minister Mohamed Nazim told local media that Island Aviation and the Indian High Commission have come to an agreement whereby the appropriate visa is available with the ticket.

“Island Aviation will open for the purchase of the tickets and announce the prices soon. It has been arranged that the forms, once filled out, can be submitted to the High Commission through Island Aviation,” Nazim was quoted by Sun Online.

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Vital climate change data “ruined” by Hanimaadhoo rubbish fires: MCOH resident scientist

Krishnakant Budhavant, Resident Scientist for the Maldives Climate Observatory – Hanimaadhoo (MCOH), has revealed that smoke from rubbish fires on the island is “ruining” vital climate change data recorded at the station.

The world-class ‘super-observatory’ in Hanimaadhoo, Haa Dhuaalu Atoll serves as a key background site for atmospheric and climate studies in South Asia.

However, the data recorded by MCOH is being corrupted “at least twice a week” by local islanders who are burning rubbish in the fire-restricted area near the observatory, Resident Scientist Budhavant has claimed.

The smoke from these fires – depending on the wind direction – drifts towards the station and interferes with the data being recorded by the observatory’s highly sensitive equipment, Budhavant told Minivan News.

“These fires are becoming a regular occurrence here, and more recently they are being lit closer to the observatory,” he said.

“We can normally expect to lose roughly two to three days worth of data per week, but in some instances the smoke is ruining our data for the entire week,” Budhavant added.

MCOH serves as a receptor site monitoring long-range transport of pollutants from the emissions regions of South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

According to Budhavant, MCOH is “the best” observation site downwind of South Asia for the study of long-range transport of air pollution.

It is jointly operated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the Maldives and an international team of scientists organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP’s) Atmospheric Brown Cloud (ABC) initiative.

The observatory employs 11 local Hanimaadhoo residents.  According to co-chair of the science advisory board of the MCOH, Professor Örjan Gustafsson, the site provides important information on “imported” versus domestic air pollution, which is “helpful” to assess the air quality status throughout the Maldives.

Burning Issue

During a recent visit by the Ministry of Environment and Energy, Budhavant was “promised” that something would be done to move the fires and that “necessary action” would be taken.

Hanimaadhoo Island Council President Abdul Salaan Ali explained that islanders have been asked to stop burning rubbish as the smoke from these fires often drifts towards the observatory.

Despite being designated a new area to burn biomass, Hanimaadhoo residents are yet to comply.

A rubbish fire lit within the 500 metre fire-restricted area of the observatory.

“We have made a new dumping ground for the rubbish to be burnt, but there is no road connecting it to the community yet. This is why they are still burning rubbish.

“Currently the road to the new site is blocked by trees belonging to the islanders and we [the island council] will need to compensate them for their removal,” Salaan added.

“We have asked the government for the money, but still they have not paid.”

Whilst claiming the best option would be to move biomass burning away from the vicinity of the observatory to another area of the island, Budhavant has stated that an interim option would be to have islanders burn the rubbish on certain days of the week.

“Even if they restricted burning the rubbish to certain days, it would mean that we wouldn’t collect data during the period. It would save us a lot of trouble,” Budhavana added.

Various scientific organisations from around the world have contributed to the observatory, providing it with around 29 different instruments to measure changes in the atmosphere.

“It’s difficult to know just exactly how much money is being spent on this observatory because there are several groups involved. However, I do know it is a very large amount of money, millions of US dollars,” added Budhavant.

He claimed that through the establishment of the MCOH, the Government of Maldives had gained global recognition for scientific collaboration, while the wider scientific community was given an opportunity to study regional climate using the long-term data measured at the site.

“There is now collaboration between UNEP-ABC and the EPA to increase the use of MCOH data for national air quality assessment as well as using MCOH as a local resource centre for science education,” added Budhavant.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Environment and Energy told Minivan News this week that issue of biomass burning “had come to our attention and we are working to resolve it”.

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CCHDC allays fears of disease outbreak

The Centre for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC) has allayed fears of an outbreak of diseases in islands affected by flooding caused by heavy rainfall last week.

At a press conference on Sunday, Fathmath Nazla Rafeeq, officer in charge at the CCHDC, said the biggest threat was the spread of diarrhea caused by damaged sewage systems in islands hit hardest by the flooding.

She revealed that there was an outbreak of fever in the island of Kelaa in Haa Alif atoll. The centre has supplied chlorine and medicines to the island in the northernmost atoll, she added.

Nazla also appealed to the public to be wary of the spread of dengue by taking measures to prevent mosquito breeding.

Meanwhile, the Maldives Red Crescent sent teams of volunteers to Haa Alif Hoarafushi, Haa Dhaal Hanimaadhoo and Laamu Gan reportedly to provide information on prevention of communicable diseases and managing hygiene.

The teams will also participate in cleaning up efforts, the Red Crescent said in a press release, including 45 trained volunteers working at Hoarafushi to assess the cost of damages caused by severe flooding.

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Parliament urged to vote against Bari

The parliamentary committee assigned to review Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari’s reappointment as Islamic Minister has advised against the recommendation.

Nine out of 11 members of the Government Accountability Committee voted against Bari’s reappointment.

According to committee member Villufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed, only four members of ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) voted for Bari’s appointment. Meanwhile, four opposition MPs voted against it. Committee chair Hanimaadhoo MP Mohamed Mujthaz tipped the vote.

Riyaz told Haveeru news that the committee made its decision based on the assertion that Bari earlier resigned from the position without a valid reason.

Bari first resigned as Adhaalath Party’s Scholars Council President on September 29, and then stepped down as the Islamic Minister on October 3 when the party decided to sever coalition ties with MDP. He was reappointed on October 9.

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Cabinet briefed on Hanimaadhoo international airport

Cabinet has been briefed briefed by the Privatisation Committee on additional proposals submitted by GMR Group of India to develop Hanimaadhoo airport as an international airport.

Chairman of the Privatisation Committee and Minister of Civil Aviation and Communication Mahmood Razee briefed the Cabinet on the issue.

Razee informed the Cabinet that GMR has proposed to develop the airport in two phases; the first phase overseeing the construction of a 2.8 km runway. The second phase would be started when there is sufficient air traffic.

Razzee said the international airport at Hanimadhoo could see 2.5 million passengers by 2025, provided that 12,000 beds in the tourism industry are operated in the region.

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