Dr Hassan Saeed retires from politics

Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) Leader Dr Hassan Saeed, running mate of third-placed candidate Gasim Ibrahim in yesterday’s presidential election, has resigned from his party and retired from active politics.

A council member of the DQP told newspaper Haveeru today that Dr Saeed has decided to end his political career based on a lack of electoral success during the past 10 years.

Running as an independent candidate in the first multi-party democratic election in 2008 – after resigning as Attorney General under former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom citing obstruction of the reform agenda – Dr Saeed came third in the first round and pledged “unconditional” support for the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate Mohamed Nasheed in the run-off against the incumbent.

Appointed Special Advisor to President Nasheed following the MDP-led coalition’s victory in October 2008, Dr Saeed resigned from the post 100 days into the new administration after a series of disagreements and letters of advice shared with the media.

Saeed became a vocal critic of the Nasheed administration together with then-DQP deputy leader Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, who was sacked from Nasheed’s cabinet shortly after Saeed’s resignation.

In the run-up to a mass gathering organised by eight opposition parties and an alliance of NGOs on December 23, 2011 ostensibly to “defend Islam” from the alleged liberalisation and securalisation agenda of the MDP government, Saeed’s DQP issued a pamphlet titled “President Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy the Islamic faith of Maldivians.”

Following Nasheed’s controversial resignation in the wake of a violent police mutiny less than a month and a half later, Saeed was appointed Special Advisor to current President Dr Mohamed Waheed.

He resigned from the post citing excessive “family and foreign influence” and was shortly thereafter unveiled as Jumhooree Party leader and business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim’s running mate.


Party running mates debate on TVM ahead of September 7 elections

State broadcaster Televison Maldives (TVM) has aired a debate involving the running mates of all four candidates contesting the upcoming September 7 elections.

Jumhoree Coalition’s vice presidential (VP) candidate Dr Hassan Saeed from Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), Gaumee Ihthihaadh Party coalition VP candidate Ahmed Thasmeen Ali from the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) VP candidate Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) VP candidate Dr Mustafa Lutfi were asked questions regarding national unity, establishing a peaceful and safe environment, good governance and social protection.

According to TVM, the questions in the debate were formulated based on research done by the Maldives National University on the needs and priorities of Maldivian citizens.

National Unity

The show began with a question on what the candidates felt were the biggest challenges to the spirit of nationalism, and what their plans are to strengthen national unity.

All four candidates emphasised that Islam is the basis of unity, and that it was just as important to establish equitability among all citizens. Saeed and Jameel also spoke of treating citizens equally, without any discrimination based on political affiliation.

Saeed further pledged to introduce nationalism and civic education as subjects in all schools. He also noted the difference in economic status between north, south and central Maldives, stating their coalition would work to decrease this.

Thasmeen accused the previous MDP government of having contributed to decreasing national unity by “negligence when it comes to strengthening Islamic principles among citizens”, adding that his coalition will focus on training young children in the ways of Islam.

Jameel stated that the PPM would introduce Islamic studies in primary and secondary level education. Lutfi responded that in addition to Islamic studies already existing in the curriculum, “the entire education system is in line with Islamic principles as this is an Islamic nation”.

In response to a question as to what candidates would do to bring an end to political unrest, all candidates except Thasmeen focused on equal application of law to all citizens.

Saeed and Jameel alleged that the reasons behind existing political turmoil was former president and MDP presidential candidate Nasheed’s “habit of acting outside law”, as well as the importance of empowering and respecting decisions of independent commissions and courts.

Saeed stated that the JP coalition will ensure the Maldives is included among the 10 countries with the least corruption.

Thasmeen stated that the most important step that can be taken is to prioritise national interest over personal political interests.

Lutfi – whose party maintains that the February 7, 2012 transfer of power was illegitimate and the product a coup d’etat – answered that political unrest cannot be eradicated “until and unless a government elected by the people is established in the country”.

Establishing a peaceful and safe environment

The segment started off asking what plans had been made to handle the rising problem of the sale of illicit drugs and drug abuse, especially among youth.

While all four candidates mentioned the establishment of more rehabilitation centres, each had their own ideas as to how the issue should be handled.

Thasmeen suggested more awareness programs as a preventive measure. On the other hand, Saeed and Jameel urged stricter penalisation for drug related offences.

“Our government will give the strictest possible punishment as per the law to those involved in the drug trade. We will not hesitate even if we have to hang them to death,” Saeed stated.

Along with stricter penalties, Jameel added that it was important to expedite court processes, and implement sentences. While he mentioned privatisation of rehabilitation facilities, he placed emphasis on PPM’s plans to further strengthen the police force and provide them with greater jurisdiction in investigating drug cases.

“It is often a huge obstacle for police that they have to work alongside customs and other authorities. Our government will ensure the police have increased powers,” he stated.

Lutfi approached the matter from another angle, suggesting stronger preventive measures can work more effectively than stricter sentences in reducing drug crime.

He stated that the MDP would provide higher education and job opportunities, thereby facilitating paths for youth to create better lives for themselves, and steer them away from drugs.

“As I see it, youth do not take up drug abuse simply through faults of their own, but largely due to failures in a state’s system,” Lutfi said.

All candidates spoke of introducing educational, entertainment and job opportunities for youth.

Saeed added that his coalition would provide accommodation for all young couples who get married. Thasmeen said that youth who are between jobs will be given an “unemployment benefit”, although he did not reveal how much such an allowance would be.

Good governance

Asked about the foreign policies included in each of the parties’ respective manifestos, all candidates spoke about the importance of ensuring that no outside influences compromised the country’s constitutional requirement to be 100 percent Muslim.

Saeed, Jameel and Thasmeen stated the importance of not letting foreign influences compromise Maldives sovereignty, religion and independence.

“We must not go begging to foreign powers every time we need something,” Saeed asserted.

Jameel meanwhile alleged that Nasheed had “negatively affected our tourism industry by speaking openly about the country being at risk of sinking due to climate change while he was still in power”, adding that a leader should always keep the country’s best interests in mind.

The candidates also spoke on the issue of politicisation of the security forces. Saeed suggested that the best way to deal with the problem was to create stricter regulations regarding the protection of state secrets, and by politicians refraining from using security forces as a political tool.

Lutfi however suggested that the best way to ensure the forces upheld their pledges to protect state secrets was by maintaining equality among officers, and by providing adequate training and education.

Implementation of Islamic Sharia

Saeed assured that the JP coalition would not hesitate to implement Sharia law, be it even severe punishments including amputation and the death penalty. He accused former governments of hesitating to do so, as some among their leadership had cases against them which warranted these hadd penalties.

The other three candidates acknowledged that there were problems within the law enforcement forces and the judiciary which inhibited the implementation of harsher Sharia penalties.

Thasmeen stated that the GIP-DRP coalition would open up a national debate to address the issues, while Lutfi stated that such penalties could only be implemented after the judiciary had reformed and gained the trust of the people.

Admitting that there were weaknesses in the law enforcement bodies and the judiciary, Jameel stated that “there are changes we need to bring to the penal code and the criminal justice system. It is also a huge problem that people are currently granted the right to remain silent and that the [Prosecutor General] is not compelled by law to prosecute criminal cases in a predetermined short period of time.”

Jameel asserted that as it is specifically stated in the Quran, there was “no way anyone can refuse to implement death penalty”.

Criticism of competitors

While the program was carried out more as a question and answer session, some candidates leveled criticisms at others in the time allocated for closing statements.

Saeed stated that his candidate, Gasim Ibrahim had served both during Gayoom’s time and Nasheed’s time, and that he had been tasked with major responsibilities, displaying the trust that previous leaders had in his capabilities. He further accused PPM candidate Abdulla Yameen, MDP Candidate Mohamed Nasheed and GIP-DRP coalition running mate Thasmeen Ali of being involved in cases of corruption.

Saeed stated that only MDP and JP had created manifestos after consulting with citizens, adding that “Gasim traveled to all inhabited islands through rain and shine”.

Thasmeen retorted that while Gasim had been busy visiting citizens, Saeed had been writing the GIP coalition manifesto prior to his defection. Thasmeen also said that prior to contesting in the upcoming elections, both Saeed and Jameel had “sung nothing but praise for President Waheed”, which was evidence of the president’s capabilities.

Jameel meanwhile stated that it was irrelevant to listen to three men who had individually served as Attorney General, Minister of Atolls Administration and Minister of Tourism during Gayoom’s 30 year administration. He asserted that the PPM was the right choice as all three candidates had previously worked in Gayoom’s administration. Jameel himself served as Gayoom’s Justice Minister.

Lutfi, who asserted the importance of establishing “a people’s government”, concluded the debate with a summary of the policies launched by the MDP, stating that “on September 7, the Maldivian people will be making an extremely important decision.”

The full debate (in Dhivehi) can be viewed here.


GIP-DRP coalition not a third way; “two men with no other way”: Nasheed

The Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ihthihad Party (GIP) were forced to form a coalition to contest the upcoming presidential election out of necessity, former President Mohamed Nasheed has said, contending that the parties lacked grassroots support and comprehensive policies to represent “a third way” for voters.

Appearing on state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) Thursday night, Nasheed reiterated that power-sharing coalitions were not compatible with a presidential system of government.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate stated that the public wanted political parties to present policies that could deliver job opportunities, public transport, better healthcare and education, a higher standard of living and “a way to overcome anxiety over paying water, electricity and phone bills.”

“I do not see a citizen who wants ‘another way.’ What is the path to deliver this way [to development]? We do not hear [political parties] talking about that,” Nasheed said.

“We are presenting one path to that [development]. We believe MDP’s policies will bring prosperity to the people. I do not see this third way you referred to as ‘a way.’ I see it as two men with no other way. That is not a political philosophy,” he said.

Coalition agreements were made by politicians who wanted “power” in terms of cabinet posts and influence in the government, said Nasheed, observing that the parties in the current ruling coalition have yet to offer any policies.

Third way

Announcing its decision to back Dr Waheed’s presidential bid last week, DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali said that the party believed voters should have a third alternative to what he contended were the “hardline and extreme” ideologies of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the MDP.

“If the parties supporting President Waheed, DRP and other parties contest the 2013 presidential election separately, we believe that the vote will be split, the Maldivian people will not have a real opportunity, and there will be a chance for the past to be revived,” Thasmeen said at a press event on Sunday (May 12), referring to the three-year rule of MDP and the preceding 30-year reign of PPM figurehead, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The DRP believed that “moderate” parties should join an alliance united behind President Waheed as a third option to MDP and PPM, said the MP for Kendhoo in Baa Atoll.

Earlier this year, the government-aligned Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) and religious conservative Adhaalath Party both announced their intention to join a coalition with President Waheed’s GIP.

DRP Spokesperson Ibrahim Shareef told Minivan News last week that in the absence of a strong coalition, the PPM could face MDP in a second round run-off and “those of us in the middle ground would be forced to support the MDP.”

The PPM was a party that belonged to “one family, or a supreme leader,” Shareef said.

Meanwhile, responding to Nasheed characterising the coalition parties as “empty shells,” DRP Leader Thasmeen and President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad told local media today that the criticism showed the former president’s “concern” with the challenge posed by the coalition.

Masood claimed that the combined strength of numbers in Dr Waheed’s coalition would outstrip both the PPM and MDP before the election scheduled for September 7.

Dr Waheed’s GIP currently has 3,930 registered members while the DRP has 21,411 members, according to the Elections Commission (EC).

The MDP has 45,666 members followed by the PPM with 22,383 members. The two largest parties are also respectively majority and minority party in parliament.

Dr Waheed’s GIP does not have a single MP of the 77 in parliament or a single councillor out of more than 1,000 elected representatives on local councils.

2008 ‘Watan Edhey’ coalition

In his TVM appearance, Nasheed shed light on the rapid disintegration of the MDP-led coalition that took office in November 2008, agreeing that the power-sharing experience was “bitter.”

In the second round run-off in October 2008, MDP candidate Nasheed was backed by third placed candidate Dr Hassan Saeed and fourth placed candidate Gasim Ibrahim from the Jumhooree Party (JP), which was allied with the Adhaalath Party (AP) at the time.

Gasim however resigned as home minister 21 days into the MDP government while Dr Saeed resigned as special advisor after the first 100 days. The Adhaalath Party remained in government in control of the Islamic Ministry, but decided to sever its coalition agreement in late 2011 following a change of leadership.

Asked why the coalition fell apart, Nasheed first noted that Dr Saeed backed the MDP “unconditionally” and without a formal agreement.

“But after winning the election, [Saeed] secured posts for Dr [Ahmed] Shaheed and Dr [Mohamed] Jameel and secured positions in some government-owned companies for their people,” Nasheed alleged.

Gasim’s Jumhooree Party also secured cabinet posts, he added, stressing that all other parties agreed to endorse the MDP manifesto and implement its policies.

“The policies include, for example, public-private partnerships (PPP), opening up fishing,” he said. “Opening up fishing was a big problem for some people. And developing the airport and our other public-private partnerships were unacceptable to some people. And striking at resorts became completely unacceptable to some people. They felt if there was a strike at a resort, riot police should be sent immediately to put a stop to it.”

On November 30, 2008, police clashed with about 200 striking employees at the ‘One and Only’ Reethi Rah resort. Police were sent to the island by Home Minister Gasim at the request of the resort management.

Nasheed said that the “regrettable incident” occurred while he was in Fuvahmulah.

TVM visit

Nasheed’s appearance on the Raajje Miadhu programme marked the first time the former president has featured on the state broadcaster since the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012.

On February 7, the main compound of the now-defunct Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) was taken over by mutinying police and soldiers almost two hours before Nasheed’s resignation.

After briefly broadcasting live feed of Gasim’s Villa TV, the MNBC brand name was changed to TVM, its title under former President Gayoom.

Nasheed’s visit to the state broadcaster on Thursday night meanwhile prompted a flurry of tweets and Facebook posts by TVM staffers.


President Waheed to form election coalition with religious conservative Adhaalath Party

President Dr Mohamed Waheed has announced plans to form a coalition between his Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP) and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP), ahead of presidential elections scheduled for later this year.

Writing on his personal Twitter account Thursday (March 28), President Waheed welcomed the support of the  AP, while expressing hope other undisclosed parties would be making similar announcements at a later date.

The AP tweeted the same day that its council have approved the coalition with the current president ahead of the September this year.

By yesterday (March 29), the AP tweeted that it aimed to “form a large, strong coalition” including other parties in the country to try and provide stability and prosperity in the Maldives following the presidential race.

The AP, one of five parties in the country meeting a recently approved regulation requiring any registered political body to have 10,000 registered members, is part of the coalition government of President Waheed following the controversial transfer of power that brought him into office in February 2012.

Both Adhalaath and GIP do not presently have any elected members in parliament.

The religious conservative party was previously a coalition partner in the government of former President Mohamed Nasheed, later leaving the government citing concerns at what it alleged were the irreligious practices of the administration.

This led the AP in December 2011 to join then fellow opposition parties – now members of Waheed’s unity government – and a number of NGOs to gather in Male’ with thousands of people to “defend Islam”.

During the same day, Nasheed’s MDP held their own rally held at the Artificial Beach area in Male’ claiming his government would continue to practice a “tolerant form” of Islam, reminding listeners that Islam in the Maldives has traditionally been tolerant.

“We can’t achieve development by going backwards to the Stone Age or being ignorant,” Nasheed said at the time.

Shortly after coming to power in February 2012, flanked by members of the new government’s coalition, President Waheed gave a speech calling on supporters to “Be courageous; today you are all mujaheddin”.

GIP Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad and President of the Adhaalath Party Sheikh Imran Abdulla were not responding to calls regarding the coalition announcement today.

Diverging opinions

Despite the agreement to cooperate between the two parties, Waheed and the AP differ in their reaction to the recent controversial sentencing of a 15 year old rape victim to 100 lashes for fornication with another man.

President Waheed’s  stated on his official Twitter account at the time: “I am saddened by the sentence of flogging handed to a minor. Govt will push for review of this position.”

The Foreign Ministry subsequently expressed “deep concern by the prosecution and the Juvenile Court’s sentence to flog a 15 year-old girl on the charges of pre-marital sex.”

“Though the flogging will be deferred until the girl turns 18, the government believes she is the victim of sexual abuse and should be treated as such by the state and the society and therefore, her rights should be fully protected. The Government is of the view that the case merits appeal. The girl is under state care and the government will facilitate and supervise her appeal of the case, via the girl’s lawyer, to ensure that justice is done and her rights are protected,” the Ministry stated.

The President’s Office also recently announced it was looking at the possibility of bringing about reform to potentially bring an end to the use of punishments like flogging in the country’s justice system.

However the Adhaalath Party has publicly endorsed the sentence, stating that the girl “deserves the punishment”, as outlined under Islamic Sharia.

The party, members of which largely dominate the Maldives’ Ministry of Islamic Affairs, stated that the sentence of flogging had not been passed against the minor for being sexually abused by her stepfather, but rather for the consensual sex to which she had confessed to having to authorities.

“The purpose of penalties like these in Islamic Sharia is to maintain order in society and to save it from sinful acts. It is not at all an act of violence. We must turn a deaf ear to the international organisations which are calling to abolish these penalties, labeling them degrading and inhumane acts or torture,” read a statement from the party.

“If such sinful activities are to become this common, the society will break down and we may become deserving of divine wrath,” the Adhaalath Party stated.

Coalition potential

Of the parties yet to announce candidates to stand during the upcoming presidential elections, Dr Hassan Saeed, Leader of the government-aligned Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) and People’s Alliance MP Ahmed Nazim were not responding to calls regarding President Waheed’s announcement today.

Earlier this month, the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) ruled out a coalition with the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) ahead of elections, despite being open to collaboration with other parties.

Both the PPM and DRP serve within President Waheed’s national unity government.

The DRP has also previously ruled out a collaboration with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).


Maldivian and Indian officials deny reported agreement to address “consular issues”

Additional reporting by Neil Merrett

Indian and Maldivian authorities have both denied media reports that an agreement has been reached on relaxing visa restrictions for Maldivians entering India.

The Indian High Commission in the Maldives today said it has not been made aware of any new agreements with Maldives authorities over amending visa restrictions, despite discussions continuing between the two nations to address “consular concerns”.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali also stressed that he was unaware of any official agreement being made to address the concerns raised by Indian officials.

Local media reported today that the Maldives had “agreed” to conditions set out by India in order to relax the conditions recently imposed on Maldivian nationals wishing to obtain a visa.

A spokesperson for the High Commission confirmed to Minivan News that discussions were being held with the Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs to address respective concerns raised by both nations.

The Indian High Commission maintained that these discussions with Maldivian officials were “not about conditions”, but rather working to address concerns held by both sides.

“We have a long and cordial relationship with the Maldives that is not based on conditions,” a source at the commission said.

State Foreign Minister Hassan Saeed, speaking during parliament’s Government Accountability Committee on Monday (January 28), said cabinet had decided to find a resolution to issues put forward by India.

“[India] had asked to resolve seven issues. Mostly they highlighted the issues faced by the 30,000 Indians in the Maldives,” he said.

“After the discussions at the President’s Office, we are currently trying to solve these issues,” Hassan was quoted as saying in local media.

During the committee meeting, Foreign Minister Abdul Samad Abdulla said Indian government officials had hinted at the relaxation of the present visa restrictions should the Maldives government agree to extradite its Indian prisoners.

“We have received various signals that the visa issue can be resolved if an agreement can be reached over the Indian prisoners in Maldives,” Samad told local media.

“Moreover, when the Indian media reports on the Indian prisoners in our jails, the officials in the Maldives High Commission in India face various pressures.”

Speaking during India’s Republic Day ceremony in Male’ on Friday, Indian High Commissioner Dnyaneshwar M Mulay pointedly conveyed greetings “to those Indian expatriates who are in Maldivian jails”.

Amd rising diplomatic tensions with its neighbour, Maldivian nationals have found themselves queuing outside the Indian High Commission in Male’ to obtain medical and other visas for travel to India.

Consular issues

The Indian High Commission in the Maldives said among the concerns raised with the government were 11 consular issues relating to the treatment of Indian expatriates in the Maldives.

These included discrimination against Indian expatriates, the keeping of passports of Indian nationals by employers and government agencies, and the exploitation of Indian workers.

“Discussions on addressing these matters are ongoing and we do hope to find resolutions from both sides soon,” said a spokesperson for the commission.

Indian authorities late last month said tightened restrictions imposed at the time on providing medical visas to Maldivians were a “signal” for the country’s government to address concerns about the nation’s treatment of migrant workers.

The Maldives has been on the US State Department’s Tier 2 watch list for human trafficking three years in a row, only narrowly avoiding tier 3 in 2011 due to promises by the former government to resolve the matter.

A lapsed police investigation into labour trafficking in the Maldives in July 2011 uncovered an industry worth an estimated US$123 million, eclipsing fishing (US$46 million in 2007) as the second greatest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldivian economy after tourism.


ACC files ADC case with Prosecutor General’s Office

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has filed a case with the Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office today over the decision to allow infrastructure group GMR to deduct a court-blocked Airport Development Charge (ADC) from concession fees owed to the state.

The deducted concession fees were to have been paid to the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL).

As part of the filed case (Dhivehi), the ACC is seeking reimbursement of MVR 353.8 million (US$22.9 million) from former MACL Chair Ibrahim ‘Bandhu’ Saleem and former Finance Minister Mohamed Shihab over the alleged misuse of authority it claimed had led to significant financial loses for the state.

The ADC issue had been a key point of contention between GMR and the administration of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik before his government opted last month to void a sovereign agreement with the India-based infrastructure group to develop and manage Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

When contacted by Minivan News today, a PG’s Office spokesperson confirmed that the ACC case had been received, but could not provide any further details on the matter while its investigations were taking place.

The spokesperson claimed that under normal procedure, whether a case was submitted from an institution like the ACC or the Maldives Police Service, the PG’s Office would review all details before deciding whether to move ahead with a prosecution.

ACC case

According to the case filed by the ACC, former Finance Minister Shihab stands accused of misusing his ministerial authority to benefit a third party by allowing GMR to deduct the ADC and insurance charges from concession fees it owed MACL between October 2011 and September 2012.

Shihab was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

The ACC has also accused former MACL Head Saleem of allowing GMR to deduct the ADC through a consent letter signed in violation of the company’s rules. According to the ACC’s case, normal procedure for MACL would be to have the company’s Board of Directors pass a resolution allowing for consent to be given to deduct the ADC.

Airport Development Charge

In late 2011, the then-opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) filed a successful Civil Court case blocking GMR from charging an ADC – a US$25 charge for outgoing passengers stipulated in its concession agreement with the government – on the grounds that it was a tax not authorised by parliament.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration chose to honour the original contract, and instructed GMR to deduct the ADC revenues from the concession fees due to the government through state-owned MACL, while it sought to appeal the Civil Court ruling.

However, the Nasheed government fell a month later and the opposition inherited the result of its court victory, receiving a succession of bills from the airport developer throughout 2012, despite the government’s insistence that the January 5 letter from MACL outlining the arrangement was no longer valid.

In the first quarter of 2012, the government received US$525,355 of an expected US$8.7 million, after the deduction of the ADC. That was followed by a US$1.5 million bill for the second quarter, after the ADC payable eclipsed the revenue due to the government.

Combined with the third quarter payment, the government at the time of the GMR contract termination owed the airport developer US$3.7 million.

GMR attempted to compromise by offering to exempt Maldivian nationals from the ADC.

The offer was claimed to have had been personally mailed by GMR Chairman G M Rao to President Waheed. However, GMR later claimed to have received no response from the government on the matter.


Comment: The strange case of Dr Hassan and Mr Saeed

Dr Hassan Saeed is an educated, articulate man. The Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) leader, former Attorney General and one time Presidential hopeful has penned a series of articles in a local daily, in which he outlines his vision for a democratic future for the Maldives – although one could argue that much of it is various justifications for getting rid of President Nasheed ahead of 2013.

He was launched into the national limelight by former President Gayoom – along with Dr Ahmed Shaheed and Dr Mohamed Jameel – as the reformist, camera-friendly face of his dictatorial regime.

Perhaps to Gayoom’s detriment, the media savvy Dr Hassan Saeed was perceived as collaborating with various agencies to actually implement those reforms – efficiently working within the system to lay some of the groundwork for the historic 2008 elections that he would contest himself.

As Attorney General in 2005, he was the first to file complaints against Abdulla Mohamed – the Criminal Court ‘Judge’ who was detained by Nasheed’s government earlier this year leading to the national crisis that ultimately led to its downfall.

Hassan Saeed, who would later campaign vigorously for the Judge’s release, had highlighted serious cases of Abdullah Mohamed’s misconduct, including misogyny, obstruction of justice, and perhaps committing child abuse in court by making children enact their own molestation in front of the actual perpetrators and the rest of the court.

While one cannot legally defend the unlawful detention of any citizen, Dr Hassan Saeed’s efforts certainly gives one some moral ammunition to combat the country’s broken judiciary and the vile characters at its helm.

There is much to admire about Dr Hassan Saeed.

On 14 November 2012, Minivan News published a leaked letter written by this gentleman to the Indian Prime Minister.

In the letter, Dr Hassan urged the Prime Minister to make Indian infrastructure giant GMR terminate its contract to develop Male’s international airport, on the basis of a range of serious allegations – from the Indian High Commissioner not knowing his job, to massive bribery allegedly being carried out by GMR.

Failing this, Saeed warned, the Maldives would become a ‘fertile ground for extremist and nationalist politicians’.

Dr Hassan Saeed’s warnings are absolutely correct, as any observer of Maldivian politics over the last few months would agree. The extremist, nationalist rhetoric has reached a feverish pitch, and never before in modern times has any Maldivian political party taken to abuse regional neighbours as a political platform.

Having said that, the same observers would also notice that it is Dr Hassan Saeed and his allies who best embody this nationalist, extremist threat.

Will the real Hassan Saeed please stand up?

It is a bewildering metamorphosis that Dr Hassan Saeed undergoes between his clashing personalities, playing Jekyll and Hyde with staggering ease.

“Nationalism and extremism in India’s backyard is not good for India or our small country,” said the reasonable Dr Hassan in his letter.

But the same Dr Hassan Saeed was present on the podium on 23 December 2011, where he joined other parties in rallying thousands behind extremist, nationalist demands – including the closing down of ‘massage parlours’ and preventing the landing of Israeli airlines, thus saving us all from the impending Zionist invasion that exists primarily in Sheikh Imran’s imagination.

On one hand, he has co-authored a book titled ‘Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam’, where he academically and emphatically argues for freedom of religion within the framework of Islam, while making the case against capital punishment for apostasy.

On the other hand, he has published a series of pamphlets, including one titled ‘President Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy the Islamic faith of Maldivians’, pouring vitriol on President Nasheed for ‘fostering ties with Jews’ and failing to support medieval practices like flogging in the Maldives.

Dr Hassan Saeed extends copious platitudes to Dr Manmohan Singh in his letter, even thanking India for defending the country in 1988 against armed terrorists.

But how does he reconcile this with the fact that he – through his minority Dhivehi Qaumee Party pamphlets – is the primary source that has poisoned the airport debate with harsh anti-Indian rhetoric?

On one hand, he warns against India bashing and how unhelpful it can get. On the other hand his only representative in Parliament vocally defends the willful public slander against the Indian High Commissioner by Abbas Adil Riza, the spokesperson for the Waheed Regime.

So then, one wonders, who is the real Dr Hassan Saeed?

Is he the democrat who pens numerous articles extolling the virtues of democracy? Or is it the man who candidly acknowledged that the controversial February 7 transfer of power that he was involved in was a ‘unique coup’?

One Hassan Saeed brought up ‘legitimacy issues’ of the Waheed regime in private, calling the former Vice President “politically weakest person in the country“. Another Hassan Saeed publicly lauded the Waheed regime, giving it a generally favourable report card.

Is Dr Hassan Saeed the enlightened academic that makes convincing arguments of a pluralist, modern, tolerant Islam? Or was that just a mask for the Jew-bashing, anti-semitic Hassan Saeed behind the feverish Islamist rhetoric that constantly destabilised the country over much of the last year?

Is he the reasonable statesman who understands the wisdom of maintaining close ties with a friendly neighbour like India? Or is the real Hassan Saeed the guy who publishes India-bashing literature? Is he the mild-mannered man who is married to a foreign lady, or the rabid xenophobe spewing nationalist rhetoric?

Could the Hassan Saeed that calls President Nasheed’s record in office “indefensible” also be the same guy whose party defends the bombastic imbecile in the President’s office who might very well lead us to war with India before lunch?

These are important questions to ask, because one of these Hassan Saeeds is an asset to the nation – an educated, intellectually sound, democratic, modern Muslim who can contribute immensely to salvaging what precious little is left of our democracy.

A democracy, one sadly notes, that was shredded with the connivance and active support of the other, irresponsible and much more unwelcome Hassan Saeed.

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President’s Special Advisor appeals to Indian PM to terminate GMR contract, warns of “rising extremism”

Special Advisor to President Mohamed Waheed and leader of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), Dr Hassan Saeed, has appealed to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging him to terminate the Maldives’ airport development contract with Indian infrastructure giant GMR.

GMR signed a 25 year concession agreement with the former administration to develop and manage Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA). Saeed’s DQP was vocally opposed to the deal while in opposition.

In a self-described “candid” letter to Singh dated September 19, obtained by Minivan News, Saeed claimed that “GMR and India ‘bashing’ is becoming popular politics”, and warned that “as a result, “the Maldives is becoming fertile ground for nationalistic and extremist politicians.”

“I want to warn you now that there is a real danger that the current situation could create the opportunity for these extremist politicians to be elected to prominent positions, including the Presidency and Parliament on an anti-GMR and anti-India platform,” Saeed informed Singh.

“That would not be in the interests of either the Maldives or India. You are well aware of the growing religious extremism in our country,” Saeed stated, in an apparent turnaround from the party’s former position.

Months prior to the downfall of Nasheed’s government in February, Saeed’s DQP published a pamphlet entitled ‘President Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy the Islamic faith of Maldivians’, which accused Nasheed of “working ceaselessly to weaken the Islamic faith of Maldivians, allow space for other religions, and make irreligious and sinful behaviour common.”

Specific allegations in the pamphlet against Nasheed’s administration included “fostering ties with Jews”, “holding discos”, “dancing”, permitting the consumption of alcohol, fraternising with “Christian priests”, characterising the Maldives as “a nest of terrorists and Maldivian scholars as terrorists”, failing to condemn comments by UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay opposing “Shariah punishments like flogging fornicators”, permitting senior female diplomats and party officials to wear skirts, and attending the Miss France 2011 Beauty Queen pageant on the night of the Holy Hajj.

“Nationalism and extremism in India’s backyard is not good for India or our small country,” Saeed informed Prime Minister Singh, in his letter.

Saeed went on to accuse GMR of extensive bribery, including the payment of “millions of dollars to buy MPs to get a parliamentary majority for the then ruling Maldivian Democratic Party”.

He claimed that “politicians and MPs who end up in GMR’s pocket keep silent but no one – with the exception of former President Nasheed and his key associates – have defended the indefensible GMR deal in public.”

“When politicians and legislators are unable to debate openly such important national issues and address them in an appropriate manner the public starts to look for alternative voices,” Saeed claimed.

“I fear that the only viable alternative for them appears to be nationalist and religious leaders, which could turn a bad situation ugly.”

Saeed advised Prime Minister Singh that “due to the negative connotations of the GMR issue, many positive elements of our relationship such as the vast amounts of grants and loans by India to the Maldives go unnoticed.”

Maldivian Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad in late October warned that the Maldives would be unable to pay state salaries for the rest of the year without a further US$25 million loan from the Indian government.

The US$25 million was agreed upon in September 2012 as part of a US$100 million standby credit facility signed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2011.

“Indians and the Indian government may find it difficult to understand the growing anti-Indian sentiments here in the Maldives in spite of the vast amount of aid and loans we receive from you,” Saeed informed Prime Minister Singh, and complained that all bilateral talks with India now “start with and end up on the subject of the GMR issue.”

“As a result many other crucial discussions are delayed or are tied up with GMR. Normally straightforward issues such as simplifying the Indian visa for Maldivians end up being tied into the GMR issue,” Saeed said.

Longstanding opposition

A second pamphlet produced by Saeed’s DQP while it was in opposition criticised GMR as “paving the way for the enslavement of Maldivians in our beloved land”, and warned that “Indian people are especially devious”.

“Maldivians feel our respect is taken for granted, our sovereignty infringed and that India is developing a ‘big brother’ approach to relations with us,” Saeed wrote to Singh on September 19.

“The Indian Foreign Secretary’s visit to our country in February [2012] failed to resolve the political crisis largely because India is no longer seen as a friendly and fair neighbour who could broker an honest and fair deal. It cannot help India’s international reputation to be seen as unable to resolve a crisis in its own backyard.”

Saeed furthermore informed Prime Minister Singh that “the Indian diplomatic corps in the Maldives appears to be so passionate in protecting GMR interests that one often gets confused as to whether they are GMR employees or diplomats representing the Indian government.”

The remarks echoed controversial comments by President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza at an anti-GMR rally on Friday – during which Riza accused Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay of protecting GMR’s interests and being “a traitor and enemy of Maldives and Maldivian people”.

Saeed claimed in his letter that “increasingly Maldivians believe that the unfair treatment of the Maldives by the Commonwealth is connected with GMR and India.”

“It appears to many Maldivians that Indian officials are using international leverage and contacts to influence Commonwealth governments and forcing the way the Maldives is governed, thus impinging on our sovereignty. Some Indian diplomats continuously remind our senior government officials that the Maldives would be removed from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) agenda the moment the GMR issue is resolved,” Saeed claimed.

Growing tensions

For its part, GMR has downplayed its confrontation with the new government. However it admitted last month to India’s Business Standard publication that “public statements and press conferences of some government ministers and coalition party leaders are clearly aimed at arousing public sentiments against GMR and creating undue challenges for us.

“To gain political advantage, some elements of the government itself have started hampering the smooth functioning and development of the airport,” the company added.

The most recent surge of tension follows the company’s forwarding of a US$2.2 million bill to the government’s side of the contract – the Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL).

The negative balance was the result a civil court case filed by Saeed’s DQP during the Nasheed administration, which blocked the company from levying an airport development charge (ADC) as stipulated in its concession agreement.

The Civil Court ruled in the DQP’s favour. Opting to honour the contract, the Nasheed administration instructed the company to deduct the ADC from its concession fees while it sought to appeal the matter.

The new government – which included the DQP – inherited the problem following the downfall of Nasheed’s government on February 7. In the first quarter of 2012 the government received US$525,355 of an expected US$8.7 million, after the deduction of the ADC. That was followed by a US$1.5 million bill for the second quarter, after the ADC payable eclipsed the revenue due the government.

Combined with the third quarter payment due, the government now owes the airport developer US$3.7 million.

“The net result of this is that the Maldivian government now has to pay GMR for running the airport. On this basis it is likely that the Maldivian government will end up paying about MVR 8 billion (US$519 million) to GMR for the duration of the contract,” Saeed wrote.

Saeed concluded his letter to Prime Minister Singh by suggesting that India “assist us in terminating the GMR contract as soon as possible, well before the 2013 presidential election.”

Download the complete letter (English)


Former President Nasheed denounces DQP’s economic criticism of GMR contract

Former President Mohamed Nasheed on Sunday slammed a pamphlet released by the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) which claims to detail the financial loss caused to the country through leasing the international airport to Indian infrastructure giant company, GMR.

“I assure you that no loss at all would be caused to the Maldivian people through having a foreign company manage the airport,” Nasheed assured the crowds of over 1500 supporters gathered at Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s rally grounds Usfasgandu on Sunday night.

During his speech, Nasheed broke down the figures published in the book titled “Loss and Challenges of the long-term leasing of Male’ International Airport to GMR” written by current Special Advisor to the President, Dr Hassan Saeed. He further emphasised the inconsistencies that those figures held in comparison with the values he put forth with reference to external sources and the GMR contract.

“I am inclined to think that these people who have written this book must have studied their mathematics in an opium field in Afghanistan’s Kandahar. There is no other way that they could have gotten their arithmetic so completely wrong,” Nasheed said.

Nasheed said that while the book cites the MDP government’s estimation of a profit of MVR 45 billion in the next 25 years if GMR managed the airport, it went on to state that if the government took over management, they stood to receive a profit of MVR 60 billion (US$3.9 billion).

Elaborating on what the book had provided as backing for the said claim, Nasheed said “The first estimate they’ve made is that airport growth will increase by 25 percent every year. However, the IFC, World Bank, and other relevant international entities tell us that the rate of growth will be between 3.5 and 4.5 percent.”

“What is being said here is that the number of people coming to our airport far exceeds the number of tourist beds in the country. Even taking this to account, I see that they have sneaked in MVR 12 billion (US$778 million) to reach this 60 billion,” Nasheed said.

Nasheed added that the book had failed to consider the expenses that the Duty Free shops would pose, instead noting only estimated earnings.

“Usually expenses add up to 75 percent of earnings. Therefore, MVR 19.5 billion (US$1.26 billion) has been sneaked in to reach that 60 billion figure,” Nasheed stated.

“They also say that GMR is to invest MVR 4.8 billion (US$311 million) [over the lifespan of the contract] but I can without a doubt tell you that in accordance with the contract, GMR is to invest MVR 8.9 billion (US$577 million),” he further said.

Nasheed also pointed out that while the book claimed the government would finance the airport through a direct loan, they had omitted payment of any interest on the loan.

“In their accounting, they have not put down any expenses for the Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL). These expenses are at least a MVR 110 million (US$7.14 million) per year, so again MVR 2.7 billion (US$175 million) needs to be taken out from this said MVR 60 billion.”

“In conclusion, the actual figures show that if MACL manages the airport, the government will receive MVR 18 billion (US$1.16 billion) over the next 25 years. Whereas if GMR manages it, the government will receive MVR 45 billion (US$2.92 billion) – that is MVR 1.6 billion (US$103.7 million) per year,” stated Nasheed.

Nasheed further claimed that under the contract, the Passenger Service Tax (US$18 US from foreigners and US$12 from locals) which used to be paid to MACL was now paid directly to the government.

“Thus in addition to the figures I’ve just shared, an additional MVR 324 million (US$21 million) will go into the government budget,” Nasheed claimed.

“No truth in government’s claims to nationalise airport”: Nasheed

Nasheed said that statements regarding “reclaiming” the airport from GMR were “highly irresponsible”, stating that such words from a government could cause irreparable damage to the country.

“Most of us citizens will doubtless understand that putting up banners with slogans all over the streets of Male’ and raising voices against India holds no benefits at all for the country,” Nasheed said, criticising the current ‘Airport Week’ being marked by the unity government parties.

Nasheed further alleged that airport nationalisation was a topic currently being used by political actors for their own personal interests .

“They are talking about the airport, and the religion of Islam, nationalism, national heritage and patriotism for the sole purpose of pulling the wool over people’s eyes and to orchestrate the coup,” Nasheed continued. “Even today they are not really trying to take the airport back from the GMR. This talk about the Adhaalath Party and Waheed’s government nationalising the airport has no amount of truth in it,” he said.

“I remember one mutinying officer on February 7 saying that he was there because the MDP government had sold the airport his father and grandfather had built. I want to say that the airport is still there. The only difference is that it roof is no longer leaking,” Nasheed said.

Nasheed ended his speech sharing his wish that the airport was developed by a capable company and that it would in future become the best of its kind across Asia.

Minivan News tried contacting Hassan Saeed, but he was not responding to calls at time of press.

DQP Secretary General Abdulla Ameen, President of the Adhaalath Party (AP) Sheikh Imran Abdulla, and Minister of Islamic Affairs and AP Member Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed were also not responding to calls.

The Adhaalath Party has previously called on President Mohamed Waheed Hassan and other coalition parties to not conduct any communication with GMR which might disrupt the government’s push for airport nationalisation, a push it praised as “national jihad”.