“That was yesterday”: JP Jabir explains u-turn on Health Minister issue

Jumhoree Party (JP) Deputy Leader Abdulla Jabir, after yesterday calling for the removal of the newly confirmed Health Minister Dr Ahmed Jamsheed, has today described him as “the perfect minister”, pledging his party’s full support to the cabinet member.

Speaking with Sun Online yesterday, Jabir was quoted as having said that the Health Ministry ‘slot’ had been assigned to JP and that, following Jamsheed’s refusal to sign with the party, it would consider proposing a no-confidence motion against him.

However, when contacted by Minivan News today regarding this issue, Jabir was in full support of the “highly qualified” Jamsheed.

“Jamsheed is a suitable person and we will support him”, said Jabir. “This is a coalition partner government and we have come to an understanding.”

Jabir made no attempt to disown the previous day’s comments – which included a threat to reconsider the JP’s position in the unity government – saying only, “that was yesterday”.

When asked about the issue of the cabinet ‘slots’, Jabir told Minivan News that this was no longer an issue and that the JP was happy to work with its coalition partners.

President spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza was similarly confident in the security of the government-aligned group.

“There is no chance that the JP will pull out of the coalition,” he said.

When asked about the allocation of certain ministries to certain parties, Abbas said that he wished to make no comment about the matter.

Yesterday

Jamsheed’s appointment was approved in the Majlis yesterday alongside three other cabinet posts. The ratifications became necessary after two new ministries had been created by President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

The cabinet changes entailed the division of the ‘Ministry of Health and Family’ into the ‘Ministry of Health’ and the ‘Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights’.

The ‘Ministry of Housing and Environment’ has now become the ‘Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure’ and the ‘Ministry of Environment and Energy’.

The approval for these posts was delayed after they failed to gain the approval in the government accountability committee. Yesterday’s vote was conducted on the full floor of the house.

Committee member Alhan Fahmy, who joined the JP at the start of June, sided with the opposition MDP members in blocking three of the four nominees .

The final nominee for the post of Minister of Gender – JP member Dhiyana Saeed – was approved by the committee after Fahmy abstained from this round of voting.

Speaking with local newspaper Haveeru before yesterday’s vote, Fahmy said he would again withhold his support for the candidates.

“I will not vote for them because I have doubts about the legitimacy of this government. I won’t vote because the Commission of National Inquiry has not issued a definitive statement. Because from my investigation, it seems this government had come to power from a coup,” Fahmy explained to Haveeru.

The JP’s Council had agreed last month that its leaders would forward the name of Dr Ibrahim Didi to the President for the position of Health Minister.

Didi joined the JP at the start of June after an acrimonious departure from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). Formerly the President of the MDP, Didi was elected, unopposed, to the newly created post of President of the JP shortly after having joined the party.

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Government-majority committee rejects cabinet appointees

The Majlis’s Government Accountability Committee yesterday approved only one of four proposed cabinet members after half of the government coalition’s committee members failed to vote for them.

The governing coalition holds a majority of seats on the committee, with eight members compared to the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) three.

At yesterday’s committee meeting, only the proposed appointee for the Ministry of Gender, Dhiyana Saeed of the Jumhooree Party (JP), was approved by those present.

After the MDP members voted against Dhiyana’s appointment, the Chair of the committee and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Mohamed Mujuthaz cast the deciding vote in her favour.
The other  nominees – Dr Mohamed Muiz as Mohamed as Minister of Housing and Infrastructure, Dr Mariyam Shakeela as Minister of Environment and Energy, and Dr Ahmed Jamsheed Minister of Health – failed to get the required votes.

Three of the pro-government members of the committee failed to attend yesterday’s vote whilst another voted against the appointments, resulting in the failure to gain the votes required to approve three of the government’s candidates.

Following the government’s re-structuring of cabinet, two new members required parliamentary approval, whilst two others required the Majlis’s confirmation after changes to their ministerial portfolios.

MP for Feydhoo constituency Alhan Fahmy is reported by Haveeru to have voted alongside the three MDP members against the unsuccessful government nominees.

Fahmy now represents the Jumhoree Party (JP) in the Majlis after his recent defection from the MDP.

The Jumhoree Party held a council meeting yesterday evening during which it elected Dr Ibrahim Didi, another recent arrival from the MDP, at the party’s President following his uncontested candidacy.

Dr Didi, who was President of the MDP until its National Council voted him out on April 30, told Haveeru yesterday the appointment was “the happiest day of my political career.”

The JP has also announced that its council had backed Dr Didi to be the Health Minister – a position currently held by Dr Ahmed Jamsheed, whose appointment was one of those voted on earlier in the day.

Fahmy, who was unavailable for comment at the time of press, is said to have abstained from the vote concerning his fellow JP colleague Dhiyana, leaving only seven members to vote on her appointment.

Haveeru reported that the JP party leader Ibrahim Gasim will now talk to President Waheed about this proposed change to the cabinet.

The decision on these appointees will now move to the floor of the Majlis where President’s Office Spokesman Abbas Adil Riza is confident that they will still be approved.

Asked by Minivan News if the problems with the ministers’ approvals was indicative of greater problems within the governing coalition, Abbas responded, “no, it’s nothing like that”.

The cabinet changes entailed the division of the ‘Ministry of Health and Family’ into the ‘Ministry of Health’ and the ‘Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights’.

The ‘Ministry of Housing and Environment’ has now become the ‘Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure’ and the ‘Ministry of Environment and Energy’.

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Didi and Fahmy allegedly poised to reprise MDP leadership roles in JP

Local newspaper Haveeru has reported that the former President and Vice-President of the Maldivian Democratic Party, Dr Ibrahim Didi and Alham Fahmy are on the verge of joining the Jumhoree Party (JP).

The paper quotes “reliable sources” – as it did when successfully predicting the defection of Shifag ‘Histo’ Mufeed from the MDP to the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) at the start of the month.

Prominent figures within the JP reportedly told the paper that the pair had both held discussions with the party leader Ibrahim Gasim although Dr Didi has denied that any such meeting had taken place.

Haveeru continued, stating that the pair have insisted on retaining Presidential and Vice-Presidential positions within the new party. This would require an amendment to JP regulations, for which a meeting of the national council has supposedly been arranged.

Both Dr Didi and Alhan were not responding at time of press.

Didi and Alhan were removed from their posts in the MDP after being accused of making statements in contradiction of the party’s official line concerning the the events that led to the resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed on February 7.

A motion of no confidence was supported by 95 percent of the MDP’s National Congress on April 30. Both men disputed the legitimacy of the process which led to their ousting.

Dr Didi filed a complaint with the Elections Commission (EC), which was later dismissed, whilst Alhan staged a poorly attended ‘free MDP’ rally, protesting against what he alleged was the negative influence of Nasheed on the party.

Didi told Haveeru earlier this week that he intended to challenge this decision. In the same interview he said it was “very likely” that he would soon leave the MDP for another party, criticising what he described as the undemocratic inner workings of the party.

Should Alhan, who is currently the MP for Feydhoo constituency,  join the JP, its representation in the Majlis would rise to four. This would bring the overall number of MPs in the pro-government coalition up to 46 out of the total 77 , reducing the MDP’s numbers to 31.

At the time of Shifag’s move to the PPM, the party’s group leader Abdulla Yameen told Minivan News: “The MDP will have to make extra efforts, they have an uphill battle to fight. They will have to arrest the movement of MPs to other parties.”

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Dr Didi “very likely” to leave MDP

In an interview with local newspaper Haveeru, former Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) President Dr Ibrahim Didi said he was considering his position with the MDP before saying that it was “very likely” he would be seen in another party.

“We have to leave, when the time to leave the party comes. I believe that the time has come for me,” Didi told Haveeru.

He added that he was currently discussing his decision with many people and, should he decide to leave, he would work for the party “which has the nation’s best interests at heart”.

Didi, who was unanimously voted out of his former position by the MDP’s national council on April 30, said that he had stayed with the party “in order to expose the undemocratic nature of the party’s inner workings.”

In the weeks since his deposition, Didi has challenged the legality of the process which brought about his removal. His complaint to the Elections Commission however was dismissed, a decision which he alleged to Haveeru “involved foul play.

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Fishermen’s Union says ‘No’ to private ownership

The Fishermen’s Union has rejected Male’ City Council’s proposal to privatise the fish market on the grounds that the change would eliminate competition and complicate boat routines.

“We have to keep our system,” said union chairman Ibrahim Umar. “Privatising will make the operation too big.”

Umar said that 50 vessels currently come to Male’ each day to deliver fish, and that space is tight. Under the proposed plan, said Umar, fishermen would have fewer responsibilities in Male’s fish market but would be expected to make more frequent trips in and out of Male’s harbor.

“There isn’t room for that kind of traffic in the harbor. And there isn’t storage capacity for the extra fish that would be coming in,” said Umar.

According to Umar, the fish market currently enjoys a healthy level of competition.

“Every day the fishing is good, there is enough money, and there is even demand from other atolls for fish from Male’. Privatising the fish market will kill the competition because fishermen will have to sell at the same private rate. Bringing in more fish will also keep the price down, and there’s nowhere to keep it on Male’. We need to run this through the union,” he said.

Male’ Mayor ‘Maizan’ Ali ‘Alibe’ Manik said the plan to privatise is an effort to comply with World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, Haveeru reports.

“When we hand over the fish market for management, the fishermen will just have to bring the fish to the market and hand it over to those in charge of management. That way it saves the fishermen time, allowing them to set off fishing faster,” he said.

For Umar, the advantages were unclear.

“How will fishermen get paid? It will take longer if they aren’t selling the fish themselves,” he observed.

Addressing the issue of facilities, however, Umar said that an earlier proposal to build a fish harbour in Hulhumale’ was being revisited by the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, the Ministry of Transport and Hulhumale’ Development Corporation (HDC).

In 2009, plans to build a fish harbour on Hulhumale’ were sent to the National Planning Council. The harbour was intended to expand and expedite the fishing industry, and reduce the pressure on Male’s market.

When the National Planning Council rejected the plan, however, Umar said there was a breakdown in communication and trust. “They weren’t talking to us, I found out through the Fisheries Minister that they had rejected the plan. There was no communication with [the union] about the plan or the finances.”

Umar said the union was told there was a lack of funds, but claimed that the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) had set aside money for the harbour. “I don’t know what happened with that money, we never got an explanation.”

In 2006, IFAD approved a post-tsunami recovery program in agriculture and fisheries. IFAD currently classifies the program as ‘ongoing’.

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Ibrahim Didi, said the earlier financial problems have been resolved and the ministry is currently working with HDC to construct a fish harbour.

Didi said expanding work space is integral to privatising the fish market, which is growing.

“There’s already plenty of demand for the fish,” said Didi. “Privatising it would bring significant benefits to fishermen. They will have more access to the harbors, necessities such as ice will arrive on time, and things will happen more quickly.”

Didi said development of Hulhumale’s fish harbour has priority, and plans for other fish harbours will be considered accordingly.

According to Didi, President Mohamed Nasheed’s plan will distribute fishing components such as ice, oil and parts to different interested parties. Didi said the approach would improve facilities.

“If the different components of the fishing industry are spread out among interested parties working with a commercial interest, then business will move very fast because there will be a real business interest.”

The City Council earlier told Haveeru that the goal of privatising the market was to improve selling procedures, not to increase profits. Representatives said the union’s response would affect planning.

Council representatives and officials familiar with the proposal had not responded to inquiries at time of press.

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From “Anni” to “H.E.P”

“You know, they said this day would never come. They said our sights were set too high. They said that this country was too divided; too disillusioned to ever come together around a common purpose.”

So spoke Barack Obama on the night that he won the Iowa caucuses. It was the night that he proved he could win the presidency by claiming victory in a largely white state.

These are words that could have easily been spoken by Mohamed Nasheed (Anni) when he won last year’s presidential election.

People try to put us down

When Anni and other reformists first launched the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) many did not believe that it had a chance of succeeding. After all, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government was all-powerful and exercised a huge degree of control over society.

Anni himself was seen as a figure who did not “look” like a president and thus would be unable to mobilize support in a country which was still deemed too conservative. This partly explains why MDP opted to go for a dual leadership structure, with a party president and a chairman. Ibrahim Ismail and Mohamed Munavvar both served as party president but did not manage to make much headway.

Anni and MDP were seen as too divisive. This led to all opposition forces trying to unite behind one candidate, with both Hassan Saeed and Gasim Ibrahim vying for that spot. Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, speaking on behalf of Saeed tried to convince Anni to stand aside by asking whether Maldivians were more likely to vote for “foreigners” like the two of them, or for a “mullah” like Saeed.

Despite all this, against the odds, Anni managed to cobble together a victory in the presidential election. Many people familiar with the political spectrum would not have believed that it was possible. The election was, in many ways, a fairy tale. Or, as GQ magazine described it, a “momentous victory of belief against chaos.”

Talking ‘bout my generation

Since assuming power President Nasheed has further confounded critics by fitting into the role in a refreshing way. He has scaled back on the pomp and ceremony that Gayoom enjoyed. He fits in comfortably with the new, younger generation.

People now accept that the presidency is defined more by the strength of the occupant’s character than by gaudy displays of wealth and power. Nasheed walks to work everyday and is in the habit of making appearances at places like Al Fresco and the local market. “It’s better for the environment and I can stop and chat to people on the way,” explained Nasheed.

By all accounts, Nasheed takes a very business-like approach to government and gets deeply involved in policy issues. This has come as a bit of a surprise to opponents who subscribed to the school of thought that activism and intelligence could not coexist in one person.

The president’s hands-on approach was evident this Friday on DhiFM’s “One to One” show. It was the first time that a sitting president took questions from the public in a live radio show. Nasheed displayed a firm grasp of the issues as he engaged in a lively discussion with the programme’s host and those that phoned in.

Nasheed has managed to balance competing interests, keep the government in one piece, deliver on a few manifesto pledges; and all this while averting an economic collapse despite the empty treasury he inherited.

“It is one of life’s ironies that it falls upon this government led by a party, as has been criticized, accused of being activists with little experience of governing, to put the house back in order,” the president declared to a meeting of donors.

With twenty percent of his term up, the accusation that Nasheed is somehow not “qualified” no longer holds up. That his bachelor’s degree in maritime studies is the least mentioned line in his biography is unsurprising. After all, it seems to have had the least effect on his political career. Solitary confinement, exile, journalism, the study of Maldivian history, and the experience of starting a movement and managing a political party are what really inform his decisions.

Domestic bliss

And what has been achieved in one year? Better governance: corruption has been curbed and there is greater transparency. The influence of gangs, which are believed to have been in an unholy alliance with the former regime, has diminished.

An independent Anti-Corruption Commission and empowered customs and police services have seen the rule of law strengthened. The fact that more drugs have been seized during the last year than in the preceding five is testament to the work of these institutions.

The country is also closer to seeing real social justice. The old welfare system which was controlled by the presidential palace and saw much of the benefits go to family and cronies has been abolished. A new social protection programme provides a pension of Rf2,000 to all those over 65 years of age.

In what is a significant step for the government’s affordable healthcare pledge, about half the adult population of the country has been signed up for the Madhana insurance scheme. While utility tariffs are being raised in order to help plug the deficit, targeted subsidies are ensuring that the poor do not slip through the net.

Steps have also been taken to foster a climate for economic development. A responsible economic framework has been established with the assistance of the IMF. This involved tough political decisions which the former regime avoided taking. Rather than financing development projects through the budget, they are to be implemented through public-private partnerships (PPPs).

An early success story can already be seen. Transport networks, one of the MDP’s key pledges, have been established in two provinces and have brought markets and services closer to the local communities.

International affairs

President Nasheed’s star has really shone on the international stage. Seeing their foe being elevated to the role of global statesman has been a particular source of ire for his critics.

Since taking office, Nasheed has forged close links with democratic India, spent a night at Windsor Castle with Queen Elizabeth II, gave an impassioned plea for action against climate change at the United Nations General Assembly, addressed the Annual Conference of the British Conservative Party, grabbed the world’s headlines with an underwater cabinet meeting, scooped up the Anna Lindh Memorial Prize for Human Rights and Climate Change, been named Time magazine’s leading Hero of the Environment, and negotiated a $92 million dollar fiscal adjustment programme from the IMF.

Yet, all this pales in comparison to the Maldives’ role at the COP15 summit held in Copenhagen. With the talks on the brink of collapse, Nasheed and the Maldives delegation acted as a bridge between the developing and developed countries as they sought to come up with a compromise that would allow the process to carry on at the next COP summit to be held in Cancun, Mexico.

The leaders of the industrialized nations recognized that the support of the Maldives was essential if such an agreement was to be brokered and decided to invite Nasheed to the small group of 28 countries known as the “circle of commitment”.

What transpired in that room has since been leaked in The Guardian; that it was China and it’s proxies in the G77- led by its chief negotiator Lumumba Stanislaus-Kaw Di-Aping of Sudan (incidentally, one of the most brutal countries on earth) that wrecked the chances for a stronger agreement is now well known.

So what benefits have the president’s performance at COP15 brought to the Maldives? For a start, cash for adaptation measures: $30 billion in short term aid from the developed countries spread out over the next three years. It gets better in the long term with a commitment to raise the figure to $100 billion by 2020. The Maldives will get a large share as it is a vulnerable, small island state.

However, the diplomatic achievement is much more valuable. Nasheed has now guaranteed his place as one of the key global figures on climate change with access to all the world leaders that matter. His voice will be an important one in the fight against climate change in the months and years to come.

Great Expectations

This assessment began with a parallel to the 44th American president, and it ends on a similar note. In many ways, the situation this country’s 4th president finds himself in is not much different: universally adored abroad, met with a sceptical and divided country at home.

Both face bitter political enemies who question their legitimacy and are bent on disrupting their agendas. They face demanding coalition partners with whom they are forced to compromise with. And to top it off, the weight of expectation from the people who voted for them has been immense.

This balancing act is not a situation either of them would have wished for; but their actions show that it is a reality that they are comfortable with.

Playing with the hand you are dealt whilst not losing sight of the long-term objective is what this is all about. And it is in this sense that Anni and His Excellency the President have proved to be not so different after all.

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The Sinking of the Yoahanbarass

In 1943 war was raging in Europe and the Pacific. The Asian mainland was itself crumbling under the might of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy, with 1941-42 seeing the fall of Burma, Malaysia and Singapore.

Even the isolated Maldives was feeling the effects of war. Food shortages led to people eating bark from trees, a national suffering that would later become known as ‘Bodu Thadhu’, directly translated as ‘ big famine’.

The British had beefed up their presence in the country. The admiralty felt Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) unsuitable to for a base after the fall of Singapore, so a naval base was established in Seenu Gan on the southernmost tip of the Maldives. This would be many Maldivians only exposure to the war.

That was not the case for the 40 unfortunate passengers aboard the ‘Yoahanbarass’, a cargo vessel running regular trips from Seenu Hithadhoo.

The Yoahanbarass was captained by Ibrahim Didi and was carrying cargo. Little did the crew know that the Japanese navy planned to invade the Maldives, and use it as a stepping stone into India – the thick Burmese jungle was deemed too harsh to cross and alternative routes were being sought – and so Captain Didi and his crew and were being tracked by a submarine.

On the seventh night after they had left Hithadhoo, Yoahanbarass was rammed by the Japanese submarine – many on board had never seen such a vessel before. The submarine surfaced and one of the passengers died when machine gun fire was sprayed across the deck. Japanese officers demanded that the person in charge to come on board.

This is where a the story takes a twist. A single decision saved one man’s life, and condemned the other to death. The person in charge of Yoahanbarass was Mohamed Ali Didi, brother of none other than Abdulla Afeef, the man who would become president of (the short-lived)  United Suvadive Republic.

Panicking, Mohamed Ali Didi urged someone else to own up to being in charge. Mohamed Manikufan stood up and went over to the Japanese, later recalling  how he was bundled into a tiny room on the submarine. It was the last he would ever see of the Yoahanbarass.

Meanwhile, back on deck, Captain Didi and the rest of the passenger and crew of Yoahanbarass were brought onto the deck of the submarine. Didi was also taken on board with the Japanese, and the hatch was closed.

Although no official record was made, Didi claimed the submarine dived, drowning everyone left on deck, including Mohamed Ali Didi.

Another vessel later arrived on the scene to find the Yoahanbarass sinking. The captain reported lots of sharks and debris, but no bodies were ever found.

Submerged

After a short trip, Mohamed Manikufan and Didi found themselves in Japanese-occupied Singapore. Imprisoned in the same cells as British and American prisoners-of-war (POWs), they were subjected to torture and interrogation.

The Japanese wanted to know the British strength at Gan, how many personnel, naval vessels and planes they had. Not knowing the answers to these questions, they were subjected to more torture. Nails were ripped and routine beatings were administered.

In addition to this, the two Maldivians bore witness to the cruelties inflicted on the other POWs. They later recalled about how badly burnt American pilots were brought in and chucked into tiny cells, how officers slowly killed English soldiers.

Both Mohamed Manikufan and Captain Didi survived their ordeal in prison until Japan surrendered Singapore on 15 August 1945. The English soldiers liberated all the prisoners.

However, Mohamed Manikufan and Didi did not find their way home until Mohamed Amin was President of Maldives in 1953. People back home did not know the story of the Yoahanbarass, nor did they know that these men were still alive until they returned.

After arriving back in the Maldives, both men returned to living normal lives. Both have since passed away, but their story is kept alive.

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