Coalition to field separate candidates for Majlis speaker position

President Abdulla Yameen yesterday announced that his Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) will forward its own candidate for the position of speaker of the People’s Majlis.

The move follows Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim’s claim earlier this week that he had the full backing of his coalition partners to stand for nomination to the chair.

Parliament should be an institution that “sincerely and responsibly” fulfils the duty bestowed by the public, Yameen told supporters yesterday.

“For this reason, our party wants the speaker’s post in the next People’s Majlis,” he said during a rally held last night to celebrate the Progressive Coalition’s garnering of a 53 seat majority in Saturday’s Majlis elections.

Notably absent from the event were leaders of the JP – the winner of 15 of the coalition’s seats – with party Secretary General Dr Mohamed Saud telling CNM that the party had not attended as it had not been made aware of the agenda.

Complaints from within the JP immediately after polling, regarding PPM-affiliated candidates having stood as independents in constituencies reserved for the JP, appeared to have been justified today as local media reported that two of the five successful independent candidates had signed for the ruling party.

Following his loss to an independent candidate last weekend, JP MP for Lhaviyani Naifaru, Ahmed Mohamed, accused the PPM of attempting to “destroy” its coalition partner.

Differences of opinion among coalition partners should be settled through dialogue, President Yameen said during yesterday’s rally, suggesting that the coalition had lost 15 seats as a result of members of coalition parties contesting as independents.

“This wasn’t the fault of the people. It was a mistake made by our parties,” he said, noting that coalition leaders had “repeatedly urged” party members to vote for the coalition’s official candidate.

Senior members of the JP, including Secretary General Dr Saud and Deputy Leader Ameen Ibrahim, told Minivan News today that they were unwilling to comment on political issues on behalf of the party.

The addition of two members would bring the PPM’s parliamentary group for the 18th Majlis – scheduled to hold its first session in late May/early June – to 35 of the chamber’s 85 seats.

The third coalition partner – the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA), which is more closely allied with the PPM – took five seats on Saturday.

Local media yesterday, however, reported Ahmed Mahloof as saying that both he and fellow re-elected PPM MP Ahmed Nihan had pledged to support Gasim’s candidacy for speaker while negotiating during the 2013 presidential election.

Mahloof suggested that the nomination of a PPM candidate would be likely to cause a rift within the Progressive Coalition, and would be a decision he would find difficult to support.

Neither Mahloof nor Nihan were responding to calls at the time of press. PPM leaders have told local media that no official coalition discussion on nominations to the speaker’s chair have been held.

Adding further uncertainty to Gasim’s attempts to become speaker, reports published in the Gasim-owned Vnews media outlet today that the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – winner of 26 seats – had decided to support Gasim’s nomination to the chair have been denied.

“He’s capable, but there are many others in the parliament who are capable, we have not yet decided,” MDP Parliamentary Group Leader Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Solih told Minivan News.

The election of the new speaker – a position currently held by the MDP’s Abdulla Shahid – is scheduled to take place through a secret ballot of MPs at the first sitting of the new session.

Majlis regulations note that the speaker “shall be the highest authority of the People’s Majlis responsible for the conduction of all matters pertaining to the People’s Majlis including the administration, the sittings and the committees of the People’s Majlis in accordance with the Constitution and the Regulations.”

The speaker is also charges with preserving “order and decorum” within the Majlis, as well as observance of the institution’s regulations.


Development pointless without peace, freedom and happiness: PPM Yameen

The Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen has told the population of Kudahuvadhoo that development is “pointless if people can’t relax.”

“The end result of all this effort, of constructing harbours, and sending our children to school, should be to ensure that people can relax and live in peace, happiness and freedom. Otherwise there’s no point in doing all this,” Yameen was reported as saying during a campaign rally.

The PPM candidate is also said to have urged voters to say no to politicians who disturb the peace and make unrealistic promises.

Yameen’s comments echo his prior argument that the worst kind of extremism in the Maldives is the encroachment on other people’s rights.

The comments follow the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) pledge to implement 137 development projects worth MVR 30 billion (US$1.9 billion) over five years by the PPM’s primary opponent.

In the party’s detailed ‘Costed and Budgeted’ manifesto, former President – and current candidate – Mohamed Nasheed explained that the manifesto included 51,000 job opportunities, a savings scheme for higher education, a student loan scheme, a MVR2000 (US$129) allowance for every single parent and person with special needs, and an allowance of MVR2300 (US$149) for the elderly.

Nasheed also pointed out the importance of introducing a development bank in the Maldives.

“Take a look, this manifesto will not contain even a single policy which has not been accounted for. Even if we are asked to submit a budget to the parliament by tomorrow, we are ready to do so,” Nasheed told a crowd of 8,000 on Saturday (August 24).

The current government’s  – of which the PPM is a partner – decided to suspend development projects this year after the state was found to have exhausted its annual budget for recurrent expenditure (including salaries, allowances and administration costs) in the first quarter of 2013.

President Dr. Mohamed Waheed Hassan has blamed the current economic situation on the excesses of the Nasheed government.

The decision was made in same month that currency reserves in the Maldives were found to have “dwindled to critical levels”, according to the World Bank’s biannual South Asia Economic Focus report.

Criticisms made by Yameen in Kudahuvadhoo were also addressed at the MDP rally earlier in the week, with Nasheed railing against politicians who campaign by promising gifts to certain individuals and communities.

Jumhoree Party (JP) candidate Ibrahim Gasim has come under fire from both the MDP and the PPM this week, with PPM spokesman Ahmed Nihan describing the JP’s campaign as effectively “dumping money” in certain parts of the country.

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom also travelled to Kudahuvadhoo as the campaign entered its final ten days. The PPM leader told the island’s people that the “shattered” economy could only be mended by his half-brother Yameen.

“Our economy is seriously damaged and destroyed. This is not the way it should be, and this is not how it was before either,” said Gayoom.

After succeeding Gayoom, Nasheed was said to have inherited “the most challenging macroeconomic situation of all democratic transitions that have occurred since 1956”, according to the World Bank.


Leaked Grant Thorton report reveals beneficiaries of BML’s risky pre-2008 lending

Additional reporting by JJ Robinson

A leaked draft of a report into the Bank of Maldives’ (BML) lending practices prior to 2008 has identified those behind potentially destabilising breaches of both BML and Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) guidelines.

The asset recovery investigation by forensic accounting company Grant Thornton, drawing on the 2008 Attorney General’s report on BML, concludes that it would have been “impossible for the [BML] board to not have been influenced” in the granting of significant exposures in the form of credit to a select coterie of Gayoom-era affiliates.

The document reveals well-connected individuals bypassing BML rules regarding the handling of non-performing assets, with a number of large companies belonging to politically-active businessmen continuing to receive credit despite failing to satisfactorily meet previous repayment obligations.

“The large exposures that BML held, were in the main, due to members of the board or their relatives,” the report found.

“Due to the fact that the largest exposures of the bank were from Board members and/or their families, it would be unrealistic for the Board to provide any clear independent review of the banking facilities provided, and would in [our] view form conflict of interest issues for those Board Members involved,” it added.

The report names a number of individuals and business groups who benefitted from the state bank’s loan and overdraft facilities towards the end of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30 year tenure as head of state.

The government was handed a US$10million (MVR 154.2 million) invoice from Grant Thornton last year in what former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed told Minivan News was a penalty fee for stopping the investigation initiated under Gayoom’s successor Mohamed Nasheed.

Prior to the alleged request from the current government to halt the investigation, Grant Thornton had uncovered evidence of an alleged US$800 million oil trade involving former head of the State Trading Organisation (STO) and current presidential hopeful Abdulla Yameen. Shaheed alleged that the accounting firm was contracted to receive a percentage of any assets recovered as a result of its work.

The private parties named in Grant Thorton’s BML assessment include the Sun Group, Lily Group, Sultans of the Seas, VA Group, Afeef Group, Villa Group, Thasmeen Ali, VB Group, and Rainbow.

“Many of the above parties benefited from loans that were used to assist in purchasing leases for resorts, related tourism businesses etc, of which would not have been achieved without the connections held by certain individuals,” the report said.

The report also makes particular mention of the role of Ibrahim Gasim, both Finance Minister and non-executive BML board member at the time of the majority of cases documented within the Grant Thornton report.

Gasim, who is also standing as the Jumhoree Party (JP) presidential candidate in next month’s election, would have been responsible for the appointment of the majority of the BML board at this time.

Grant Thornton’s report revealed that Gasim’s Villa Group had been loaned MVR481,299,571 (US$37,601,520) as of October 31st 2008, representing 32.4 percent of the bank’s entire capital.

This represents one of a number of examples of such exposure featured in the report, despite the Bank’s acquiescence in 2006 to an MMA request to reduce any credit guaranteed to individual or related group borrowers to 30 percent of overall capital.

After repeated lobbying, the MMA increased this amount to 40 percent. Grant Thornton suggested that this extension request was due to the fact that a number of the groups mentioned in its report were already exceeding the original lower limit.

In rejecting one of BML’s requests for an increased credit exposure limit, the MMA wrote that “such concentration of credit is far in excess of the legal lending limits of the bank and it could seriously threaten the bank’s position, and the stability of the whole financial sector,” the leaked document stated.

Even with this increase, Sun Group is reported to have exceeded this limit after January 2008, with loans and overdraft facilities reaching  MVR 607,345,442 (US$46,879,400) as of 31 October 2008.

“This amounted to 40.8 percent of the Bank’s capital as at 31 October 2008,” the report observed.

Loans and overdraft facilities provided to Afeef Group totalled MVR 245,123,414 (US$19,150,266) as of October 31, 2008 – approximately 16.5 percent of BML’s total capital at the time.

Sun Group Chairman and majority shareholder Ahmed Shiyam’s Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) meanwhile this week announced its decision to form a coalition the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), headed by former President Gayoom.

Alterations to BML’s internal loan approval mechanisms for board members in May 2007 resulted in the bypassing of the bank’s Credit Committee.

“This effectively meant that those Board Members that had applied for credit facilities were approving their own loans,” stated the draft report.

BML board members complicit in self-approving their own credit lines include Mohamed Ahmed Didi (Sultans Group shareholder), Ahmed Hamza (Director of the VA Group), and Gasim (Chairman of the Villa Group).

Director Mohamed Adil also features prominently, being cited in one particular example of a board meeting in which he approved the re-financing of the Sultan Group’s debt at the same time as being the group’s major director/shareholder.

BML’s recovery

In the intervening years, BML wrote off multiple toxic non-performing assets and returned to profitability, largely by outright ceasing to pay dividends to shareholders for almost five years.

The Bank’s board approved a MVR 50 million (US$3.23 million) interim dividend to shareholders in July 2013, the first since 2008.

“This marks the end of a painful and challenging journey that began in 2009 when the bank reported record level non-performing loans. However, in recent years Bank of Maldives has reported record level earnings and operating profit and the company returned to profit in 2012,” read a statement from BML.

BML’s former CEO Peter Horton, a UK banker appointed in February 2011 with extensive experience tackling distressed portfolios and problem lending across Africa as part of Barclay’s corporate turnaround team, resigned in August 2013 to head up Bermuda Commercial Bank.

“The profitability and dividend payment will be sustainable going forward,” said Horton in the bank’s July statement. “This is an interim dividend and at MVR 9.29 [a share] for the half year places us in a strong position to pay the highest full year dividend in the Bank’s recent history at year end”.

Download the leaked GT report


Vice President should not be a “spare part”: Waheed

President Dr Mohamed Waheed last night told state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) that a vice-president should not be treated like a “spare part”.

Speaking in the second of a series of TVM interviews with next month’s presidential candidates, the incumbent president stated his belief that the vice president ought to have more responsibility.

“I believe that changes are needed. A vice president should not be a spare part that replaces the president if he resigns or passes away. The people choose a vice president after careful consideration. They vote for two people, the president and the vice president, on the same ticket,” President Waheed said.

Waheed assumed office on February 7, 2012, after being elevated from his position as vice-president to Mohamed Nasheed. President Nasheed resigned amidst chaotic scenes as police mutinied following weeks of anti-government agitation.

Waheed told his interviewer, Leeza Laurella, that Nasheed had reneged on a prior agreement to hand the vice-president powers over foreign policy – giving preference to fellow Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members.

Soon after Waheed assumed the presidency, his frustration with his previous role was described by his then-special advisor Dr Hassan Saeed in a leaked audio recording.

“There was no major role for President Waheed in the previous government. Very many days [spent] bored in the office… When an educated man like him whiles the day away being like this, going on the Internet… really it is sad. This is how Waheed was,” said Dr Saeed.

Prior to his political career, Dr Waheed was notable for being the first Maldivian to gain a doctorate as well as being the first person to appear on Maldivian Television, anchoring TVM’s first broadcast in 1978.

After a short period as a member of the People’s Majlis, Waheed spent a number of years working for UNICEF, eventually becoming Deputy Regional Director for South Asia.

Role in February 7

Responding to the repeated accusations that he did not fulfil his responsibilities in supporting President Nasheed during the February 2012 crisis, Waheed told his interviewer that Nasheed had not asked for his counsel.

“President Nasheed did not call me. If he wanted to talk to me, he could have asked the SPG (Special Protection Group), the same group that protects us both. He could have handed me the phone through them, could he not?”

Maintaining that the events of February 7 marked the final stages of a conspiracy in which Waheed was complicit, the MDP have repeatedly accused Waheed of failing to fulfill his duties as second in command.

Mentioning a late night meeting with anti-Nasheed figures just days before the transfer of power, Waheed told TVM that Nasheed had been informed of the meeting and all normal procedures followed.

MDP MP Mariya Didi manwhile published a report in June 2012 arguing that Waheed’s failure to fully discuss this meeting with the rest of the cabinet represented a violation of his responsibilities as the vice-president.

Waheed had been open on a number of previous occasions regarding his marginalisation in the decision making process, in 2010 describing the Nasheed administration as a “one man show”.

Nasheed will stand against Waheed in September’s poll, having chosen Dr Musthafa Luthfy as his running mate. When making the announcement, the MDP stipulated that Luthfy would call an election immediately should Nasheed be “killed or incapacitated” rather than assuming the presidency himself.


Waheed yesterday explained that he had chosen his current running-mate, Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) leader Thasmeen Ali as he is “well-mannered and keeps his word”.

During the interview he also denied that he had described the Adhaalath Party as containing extremist elements – comments which prompted the religious party to leave Waheed’s ‘forward with the nation’ coalition in June, later allying with the Jumhoree Party (JP).

Yesterday’s interview, the second in a series featuring all the presidential hopefuls, followed Friday’s combative encounter with Jumhoree Coalition candidate Ibrahim Gasim.

Following Gasim’s discussion with Laurella, JP deputy leader Ilham Ahmed told local media that the JP would be considering a boycott of the station. Ilham argued that, contrary to the shows title – with ‘siyaasath’ meaning ‘policy’ – the presenter asked Gasim a series of personal questions in an attempt to damage his reputation.

“This was done with the intention of demeaning a person under a systematic plan. We don’t believe that this could have been done under press freedom,” he explained to reporters from Haveeru. “We have seen TVM going after Gasim.”

Ilham also insisted that the show had made repeated attempts to make Gasim appear “odd”.

The Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) defended its station, telling local media that Gasim’s TVM interview was conducted within its editorial policy.

It was announced in June that TVM would be scheduling a presidential debate featuring all four candidates for September 1.


Police covered-up involvement in death of bystander, suggests leaked CCTV footage

Leaked CCTV footage has thrown into dispute an official police account of 43 year-old Abdulla Gasim Ibrahim’s death in a motorcycle accident on August 17.

Reporting the accident at the time, newspaper Haveeru stated that that according to police, two individuals on a motorbike had stolen a mobile phone from a foreigner on Majeedhee Magu and sped away on a motorcycle. Police had then ordered them to stop, but the two men had ignored the orders and fled from the scene at high speed.

Police said the speeding motorcycle hit the 43 year-old who was sitting on a parked motorcycle in front of the Justice Building, who was subsequently transferred to hospital with head injuries. The other two men were taken into police custody and charged with theft and speeding to avoid arrest, and the stolen phone was retrieved and returned to its rightful owner.

At the time of the accident, police told local media the accident had occurred due to the speeding motorcycle’s collision with Ibrahim’s motorcycle. They had made no mention of any police involvement in the collision aside from ordering the motorcycle to stop.

However, footage leaked on social media – which appears to be from a camera on the wall of the Presidential residence of Hileaage – shows a police officer stepping in front of the speeding motorcycle and appearing to hit the driver on the head with a baton as he rides past.

The driver loses control and collides with Ibrahim sitting on his motorcycle just in front of the Justice Building entry, causing both to fly off their vehicles. The police officer retrieves an object from the ground and wanders away, as other police and a military officer rush to the scene.

Ibrahim’s widow Naseema Khaleel at the time of the collision shared details of his condition with the media: “Doctor says he is 99 percent braindead. He has been kept on the ventilator from day one. The doctor said they’ll turn off the machine at 7:00pm tonight.”

Ibrahim was taken off the ventilator and died on August 20.

Letter to PIC

In a letter to the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) dated September 24 and obtained by Minivan News, Ibrahim’s wife expresses regret that police failed to reveal details of the incident.

“The ‘accident’ occurred due to a policeman standing in front of Hilaaleege using his baton to hit the head of the driver on a motorcycle which had two people fleeing after stealing, which caused the motorcycle to lose control and drive into Abdulla Gasim Ibrahim’s motorcycle,” Naseema writes.

She calls on the PIC to investigate the incident in depth and look into whether the police, either as an institution or as individuals, acted in breach of the law.

Article 41(c) of the Police Act states that Maldives Police Service should inform the PIC upon the occurrence of death or infliction of grave bodily injury to a person due to the use of force by a police officer.

Naseema refers to the Act in her letter and suggests that if the PIC had not been informed of the incident by police, it proved they were violating the law. She states that she intends to file the matter in court.

A police source told Minivan News that law enforcement officials were required to assess whether the application of force was justifiable, adding that the officer’s use of his baton on the fleeing suspect was “total negligence on his part”.

“They could have let them go and found them afterwards. They had the number plate, they could easily make out who it was, and there looks to have been plenty of eyewitnesses. What he did was totally stupid,” the source said. “There was also danger for the officer involved.”

The source said it was “very concerning” that police had not released to the public the true account of the circumstances which had led to the death of the bystander.

“There should be a thorough inquiry into police procedure and training in the proper application of force,” the source suggested.

After the footage began to circulate on social media, Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News that police could not respond to allegations that officers were involved in Ibrahim’s death.  Haneef said it was unable to respond as the letter of complaint was addressed to the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) and not the Maldives Police Service.

“The PIC will investigate and take necessary steps if any police or the institution is found to have committed such an act. The investigation is still ongoing,” he claimed.

Warning – some viewers may find the following footage disturbing