High Commission celebrates India’s Independence Day with flag-hoisting ceremony

The High Commission of India celebrated India’s Independence Day yesterday (August 15) with a flag-hoisting ceremony in Malé.

Some 350 people, including High Commissioner Rajeev Shahare and Indian expatriates working in the Maldives, along with a number of locals, attended the ceremony at the High Commission premises in the capital.

The flag-hoisting ceremony was followed by a rendition of the Indian national anthem.

According to local media, Sahare said in his remarks at the function that almost 50 years have elapsed since the establishment of bilateral relations between India and the Maldives.

A series of events were held to mark the three-week long India Maldives Friendship Festival (IMFF) to celebrate the Independence Days of Maldives (July 26) and India (August 15), including a cricket tournament, a friendship walk on August 8, and a cultural evening and magic show at the Olympus Theatre on August 12.

The Friendship Association of India and Maldives meanwhile conducted a ‘Let’s Talk’ seminar last night on the topic of expatriates in the Maldives.


President Yameen’s Independence Day address “cartoonish,” says Nasheed

President Abdulla Yameen’s address to the nation on Independence Day was “cartoonish,” former President Mohamed Nasheed said on opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV Saturday night (July 26).

Responding to the president’s claim that opposition parties were inciting unrest and sabotaging the economy, the opposition leader contended that Yameen’s intention was to deflect attention from his administration’s failure to “fulfil the hopes of the people”.

Yameen’s remarks were “uncivilised, outmoded, and unacceptable,” the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) acting president said.

At a time when the Maldives was facing a sovereign debt crisis and the president’s mandate was in doubt following the dissolution of the coalition with the Jumhooree Party, “I hear such talk as very cartoonish,” Nasheed said.

Nasheed added that the public would not be intimidated by veiled threats and insisted that democratic progress achieved in the present multi-party system could not be reversed.

Yameen had said the government would not allow the country to be plunged back into turmoil and accused opposition parties of “deliberately trying to disrupt stability by creating a spirit of unrest in society.”

If Yameen was implying that he would restrict the rights to free expression, assembly and peaceful political activity, Nasheed said the Maldivian people would “once again rise up”.

“Bleak” economic outlook

In addition to compensation owed to GMR for the premature termination of a concession agreement to develop the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport – which he predicted would not be lower than US$500 million – Nasheed said the Indian EXIM bank was also seeking between up to US$150 million.

Moreover, the State Trading Organisation has incurred a debt of US$150 million in unpaid bills to the Emirates National Oil Company, Nasheed claimed.

The economic situation was “bleak” with dwindling foreign currency reserves, a stagnating fisheries industry, and declining tax revenue, Nasheed contended, adding that the government could not afford to pay compensation to GMR.

The current administration might be planning to “settle the economic and financial system of the Maldives” with “large amounts of black money” from suspicious foreign investors, Nasheed continued, but such plans could not succeed due to domestic and international oversight.

Reiterating criticism of the government’s flagship special economic zone (SEZ) legislation, Nasheed said the Maldivian government would have less authority in the SEZs than the authority it exercised in Gan during British occupation.

The SEZs would be used for illegal businesses and “money laundering” by international criminal organisations, he claimed.

Nasheed had previously dubbed the legislation the ‘Artur Brothers bill’, referring to an infamous pair of Armenians linked with money laundering and drug trafficking who made headlines last year after they were photographed with cabinet ministers.

A system of decentralisation with local councils granted ownership of land was necessary for increasing home ownership, Nasheed continued, which was was essential for individual liberty.

The SEZ bill would, however, remove land from the jurisdiction of island councils, he explained.

The government maintains that SEZs with tax breaks and other incentives were necessary both for foreign investors to choose the Maldives over other developing nations and to launch ‘mega projects.’

“Castles in the air”

Referring to the Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project or ‘iHavan’ – which President Yameen said would be undertaken once the SEZ bill is enacted into law – Nasheed said an assessment conducted by the World Bank at the request of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration found that it posed “very delicate problems”.

Development of a transhipment port in the northernmost atoll and carrying out activities there that were “contrary to Indian foreign policy” would adversely affect Maldivian independence and sovereignty, Nasheed warned.

Nasheed also argued that guest houses businesses on inhabited islands were more beneficial to the populace than luxury resorts on uninhabited islands.

The direct benefit to island populations from SEZs would be even smaller, he added.

The SEZs and the touted mega projects were “castles in the air,” Nasheed said, “[but] if you plant a small tree in your home, you will see it grow.”

Asked about several MDP MPs voting in favour of approving Muhthaz Muhsin as the new prosecutor general, Nasheed said he does not give instructions to the parliamentary group.

MPs did what they believed was right based on political considerations, he added, insisting that the MDP was too “resilient” with its ability to “absorb shocks” for the party to be split over the issue.

Division and strife within the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives, however, would reach “extreme” levels, Nasheed suggested, after its MPs voted for Muhsin in defiance of Gayoom’s appeal for them to vote for his nephew Maumoon Hameed.

Nasheed predicted that President Yameen will force his half-brother Gayoom into exile abroad, which had happened to former rulers in the past.

“Maldivian history is repeating again,” he said.


Foreign investments should not threaten independence, says home minister

The current administration should carefully consider how far and wide the country’s doors should be opened to foreign investors in order to protect economic independence and sovereignty, Home Minister Umar Naseer has said.

In his speech at a flag-hoisting ceremony held last night to mark the 49th Independence Day, Naseer said tactics to “enslave” nations in the present day involved infiltration of the economy and “ideological warfare”.

“[But] the happy news is that the policy of the current government is very clear,” he said, adding that President Abdulla Yameen’s administration would ensure that independence and sovereignty are protected when economic zones are created to attract foreign investors.

The property and assets of the Maldivian people would be preserved, he said, while the government would also ensure that necessary “restrictions” are in place when the special economic zones are established.


President Yameen accuses opposition parties of inciting unrest, sabotaging economy

President Abdulla Yameen has accused opposition parties of attempting to foment unrest and sabotage the economy in his address to the nation on the occasion of the 49th Independence Day.

Speaking after a flag-hoisting ceremony at Republic Square last night, Yameen said the government would not allow the country to be plunged back into turmoil while it was enjoying a period of calm and stability.

“Opposition political parties are deliberately trying to disrupt stability by creating a spirit of unrest in society,” he said, adding that incitement of such fervour in the past had repeatedly threatened the country’s independence.

“I do not believe that failing to achieve the love and consent of the public should be a reason to plunge the nation into a deep pit of hatred and strife.”

Opposition parties were pushing for a tourism boycott and attempting to convince fish importers to cease purchasing Maldivian fish in a “deliberate attempt to create distress and anxiety,” Yameen alleged.

He added that “attempts to weaken the country economically” was tantamount to threatening independence.

Yameen also condemned alleged “efforts to create doubts” in the minds of foreign buyers of Maldivian fish and an alleged campaign to boycott tourism.

The current administration would “defeat all efforts to impoverish Maldivian citizens, build a peaceful generation of youth, and go forward in securing prosperity for Maldivians,” he said.

Speaking at a press conference on July 16, Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee had accused the Maldivian Democratic Party of attempting to “destroy” the fisheries industry after the main opposition party issued a statement condemning President Yameen’s fisheries policy.

Shainee dismissed the party’s contention that the industry was stagnating and appealed against spreading “false information” to international media, suggesting that the fisheries industry was “too fragile” to be made the subject of adversarial politics.

Meanwhile, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb told Minivan News last month that the government’s “total focus” was on the economy.

“We are not running behind our political opponents and we have stopped political rhetoric now – we have stopped responding to that but we are responding to economic issues,” he said.

Development projects

President Yameen went on to outline his administration’s development plans, referring to the special economic zone (SEZ) legislation currently before parliament as integral to the government’s economic policy.

An SEZ law would ensure investor confidence, increase foreign direct investment, create job opportunities, and mitigate the dependence on the tourism industry, Yameen explained.

Once the SEZ bill is enacted into law, he continued, one of the first projects to be undertaken would be the Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project.

The ‘iHavan’ project would become “the main gateway” for development and prosperity in the northernmost atolls.

Plans for Addu City includes development of both the Gan international airport and the Hithadhoo regional harbour to spur economic activity, Yameen said.

A ‘mega project’ for development of the southernmost airport was in the pipeline while the government has decided to transfer the regional harbour under the Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) for modernisation, he revealed.

MPL would also take over the regional port in the island of Kulhudhufushi in Haa Dhaal atoll, he added.

The formulation of a master plan for the development of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) was meanwhile ongoing in collaboration with Singapore’s Changi airport, Yameen noted.

The changes envisioned in the master plan include a new terminal and a new runway, he said.

Moreover, a contract has been awarded for dredging and reclamation of Hulhumalé for development of a ‘youth city in the artificial island as pledged during last year’s presidential election, Yameen said.

He stressed that the government would ensure that development projects would not threaten the country’s independence and sovereignty following criticism of the SEZ bill.

Yameen also revealed that criminal records have been cleared for 3,588 youth since he took office in November, adding that he has asked the newly appointed Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin to introduce a new procedure to not prosecute first time offenders under an agreement signed with offenders.

Last night’s ceremony was meanwhile attended by former presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Dr Mohamed Waheed as well as senior statesmen – Abdul Sattar Moosa Didi and Ibrahim Rasheed – who worked with former President Ibrahim Nasir to secure independence from the British in 1965.


“A country does not have to be invaded to lose its sovereignty”: President Waheed

The following is a translation of President Mohamed Waheed’s address on the occasion of Maldives Independence Day 2013. Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s speech is available here.

Former President Mr Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Chief Justice of the Maldives, Cabinet Ministers, Members of the People’s Majlis, beloved citizens of Maldives,

Assalaam ‘Alaikum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakaatuh.

On this momentous occasion, our proud Independence Day, I would like to extend my heartfelt greetings to all Maldivians. As I stand here, amidst the red, green and white decorations, my heart is brimming with nationalistic pride.

My first and foremost duty tonight is to congratulate the nine individuals who received the Honour of the State Award. I thank them for their services to this country. Among the recipients, I wish to recognise the services of one particular dignitary.

One of the Honour of the State Awards given tonight was the Nishann Ghazeege Izzaitheri Verikamuge Izzai.

This is the highest award of the State, which was given to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The Award, Nishaan Ghazeege Izzaitheri Verikamuge Izzai, is given in the honour of this country’s most brave warrior, our most beloved national hero, Al-Sultan-al-Ghazee Mohamed Thakurufaanu Al-Auzam Siri Savaadhee’tha Mahaaradhun.

This award’s first recipient was the hero of our national independence, the former President of the Maldives Sumuvul Ameer Ibrahim Nasir Rannabandeyri Kilegefaanu. He was awarded this honour 46 years ago, on 9 February 1967. The other recipient of this award was Queen Elizabeth II, who was given this award 41 years ago, on 15 March 1972.

I am aware of divergent views about the Government’s decision to award President Gayoom this honour, in different ways. Some people interpret this as a political decision. I however differ with such interpretations. I believe that those who have served the country in a multitude of manners and for many years are national treasures. The service of those individuals should be recognised and they should be awarded deservingly. Such distinguished individuals should be allowed to live a quiet and peaceful life, away from politics. They should not be demeaned because of different political persuasions. And they should not be disregarded because of personal grudges.

The Government decided to give this award to President Gayoom in recognition of his invaluable contributions to the betterment of this country, and to accord him the status that he truly deserves. I thank him for his service to this country. I wish you, Mr President, good health and happiness.

My fellow citizens,

Today is our independence day. Today we are remembering the battle fought by the Three Brothers from Utheemu and Dhandhehelu for this country; the courage and talent shown by Dhonbandaarain; how Ali Rasgefaanu sacrificed his life for this country; the resourcefulness shown by Ibrahim Nasir and Abdul Sattar Moosa Didi in their efforts to secure Maldives’ independence from the United Kingdom, and become a member of the UN; the resolve shown by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and our defence forces on 3rd November 1988 as they fought foreign aggressors. Each of these individuals played a large part in securing and safeguarding the independence of this country. Their service is invaluable. And without their service, our country would not have survived. We will be eternally grateful for their service.

My fellow citizens:

When I became the President of this country on 7 February 2012, the country was in a dire state. 2012 was the very tumultuous successor to a series of tumultuous years. It had been nearly a month since a Maldivian national had been arrested extra judicially and held hostage by the Government.

The Government had declared that the rulings of the Supreme Court would not be enforced, and that the Constitution was placed on abeyance. There was unrest on the streets. February 6 was the day that the government had decided to lock up the courts and establish a separate judiciary.

The day ended with no peace in sight. By the next morning, the situation had escalated. The defence force and the police, who are tasked by law to protect the peace, had turned on each other. Some members of the defence force, possibly under pressure, fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the police. The command and control within the defence forces was lost. While the defence forces and the police confronted each other, ordinary citizens started attacking each other; some were using tear gas, bullets and shields, while others used spears and clubs. The country was embroiled in confrontation; on the brink of a civil unrest. It was a frightening and critical time; a time when the country’s sovereignty and the safety of its citizens were at risk.

Moments after the resignation of the President was announced on media, the Speaker of the People’s Majlis called and asked me to come to the People’s Majlis to take the oath of office of President. The Speaker informed me that he had received the resignation of the President and constitutionally the Vice-President shall succeed to the office of the President in that instance, the Speaker had arranged the swearing ceremony to take place at 3 pm at the Majlis House.

As the elected Vice President of the country I felt that it was my constitutional obligation to take up the responsibilities of governing the country during that time of unrest; take over the wheel of a country in such a precarious situation and establish peace and stability, and to steer the country to safety. In doing so, my focus was on engaging as many people as possible in the spirit of reconciliation, leaving aside personal differences and try to make everyone come together.

The days that followed were not easy. The institutions that were tasked with safeguarding the priorities and policies of the government were not functioning effectively. Political differences had nearly resulted in creating deep cleavages within the society. While cooling down the heat within the country was difficult, the challenges posed from external sources were much bigger.

My fellow citizens:

It was the period in which the independence and sovereignty of the country was challenged most profoundly. External forces had infiltrated into our domestic affairs to the extent that such forces started dictating what should be taught in our schools. The government had become so weak that the leader of this country could be easily forced to sign agreements that directly affected the sovereignty of the country. Foreigners were deciding when our Constitution should be amended and when Elections should be held. Today, because of the patience and hard work of the past months, these things have slowly turned around for the better. We should ensure that they remain so.

Fellow citizens:

The Maldives is a responsible member of the international community. We have certain obligations and we will fulfill them. Yet, if that means surrendering our responsibility to govern the country to someone else, then it is a problem. We may be a small country. We may be in need of foreign aid for education, training, financial and technical assistance. Our economy may be dependent on catering to tourists from around the world. But our independence should not be the price we pay to meet these needs. We have a proud and illustrious history. This land has been enriched with the blood of those who sacrificed their lives for this country.

Fellow citizens:

With Allah’s will, two years from today, we will celebrate our 50th Independence Day. After 78 years of being a British protectorate, we earned the right to conduct our own foreign relations in 1965. The right to decide the objectives and priorities of our foreign relations in ways that best meet the needs of our country. Forty-Eight years later, what we should be asking ourselves is whether we are able to make full use of that independence.

Today, a country does not have to be invaded, or occupied for it to lose its independence and sovereignty. A country might not enjoy independence and sovereignty even though it might still be a full member of the UN. We should be mindful of situations like this. Independence is something that needs to be safeguarded from within and from outside. Today, it is hard to separate internal and external independence.

My fellow citizens:

In today’s globalised world, economic independence is one of the most important elements of a country’s independence. In many instances, external and internal independence depend on economic independence.

When I took over the leadership of this country, government debt was at 23 billion rufiya. Total amount of unpaid bills amounted to 2 billion Rufiyaa. The State’s expenses were not being managed with the revenues being generated monthly. Public companies had been weakened. After unrelenting work, by Allah’s grace, things are slowly improving. Public companies are recovering. Now we have paid 1.7 billion of the outstanding bills.

This money came at the expense of services to the Government had to provide to the people. It was at the expense of recruiting highly trained teachers and doctors. At the expense of developing our schools. And at the expense of building homes and offering family services.

My fellow citizens:

In an interdependent world, external and internal independence can only be achieved with economic independence. When the State can pay wages with its own money. When basic services can be provided to the people with revenues generated by the State. If the Government’s revenue is 9 or 12 billion rufiya, and our expenditure is 22 billion, we cannot sustain our national independence.

The government is able to relieve the people from begging for money to buy medicine. Yet, if the Government could do that only by begging for money itself from other countries, could we call that an independent country? If the country depends on the goodwill of someone else for paying salaries, fuel, food, and subsidies, would country be able to protect its independence? Sovereignty in this case, might become something that is only written in the constitution.

Dear citizens,

With lots of hard work, the economy has now begun to recover. Yet, more remains to be done. Businesses need to be expanded and jobs created. Investment must be increased and massive efforts need to be put into developing various industries. Foreign investors provide the most important boost to the economy. We must all accept that Maldives’ economy lacks sufficient drive to attract big investment. Yet, we, Maldivians must decide how much foreign investment we want. We must be in charge of driving our economy.

This is our country. We will safeguard our independence. No one else will do that for us. And I have no doubt that we can do that. It was us who sent away the Borah Merchants. We were in a much more dire state then. Maldivians were much poorer when we gained independence from Britain. Yet, Maldivians took charge that day, and took on the development of this country: we were capable and courageous Maldivians. So, why wouldn’t we be able to develop a key component of our economy, our main gateway, our airport?

My fellow citizens:

There are lessons to be learnt from this celebration. Just like there are two sides for almost every event, there are two sides whenever we lose our independence. A fellow Maldivian takes part in every such incident: every time our nationalism was threatened; every time we fought battle for independence; every time a Maldivian was widowed in such battles, and every time a child was orphaned in such battles.

In today’s world, attacks on countries are not limited to guns and swords. We must be vigilant to attacks in various manners, and from outside and within the country. We must be aware of the efforts being made by certain factions to dominate our economy. We must be vigilant of the efforts being made to destroy our religious unity.

We must be attentive to the efforts being made to damage the tourism sector of the Maldives. We should know the people responsible for these campaigns, and what they have to gain from these efforts. Whether it is trying to dominate our economy, or to destroy our religious unity, we must be concerned about their intentions. And we must not give these people any opportunity to do so.

It is not those that are in decision-making roles that will feel the pain of direct attacks to our economy. The money lost because of every tourist that boycotts the country is not only a loss to the resort owners. It is a loss to the tax revenues generated by the government from tourists. It is loss from the education and healthcare provided by those taxes. It is a loss for the workers at those resorts and the families they support: it is a loss to their children’s tuition and their parent’s healthcare costs.

My fellow citizens:

The new Constitution we ratified in 2008, was a step towards becoming a modern democracy. In this Constitution, we wrote a lot about freedom. Freedom of speech and expression: freedom of assembly and movement; judges and a judiciary free from the influence of the Government: an Elections Commission and a People’s Majlis free from the influence of the President: civil servants who cannot be removed by the President: a free and unrestricted media. All the things accepted by the most mature democracies and developed countries of the world.

Yet, we need to ask ourselves whether we have reached the necessary democratic maturity to sustain these values. We must also ask ourselves whether the objectives of the Constitution have been achieved. If our freedom encroaches on the rights of others, it is not the objective of the Constitution. If our shared spaces and parks have no space for our children, but are arenas used for political purposes all day long, we are not protecting the rights of the children as envisioned in the Constitution. It is not upholding the value and spirit of democracy if people accused of serious offences occupy senior positions of the State.

Freedom is something much more sacred. It has boundaries. It has limits. It does not protect only the most vocal and the most powerful people. But protects the weakest and the most vulnerable as well.

Such disregard to democratic values takes place not because of an inherent problem with the Constitution: or because of the weakness of the legal framework. Our thinking and actions must be more mature and developed than today.

Today, we are seeing people taking advantage of a nascent constitutional system with several loopholes: people flippantly widening those loopholes, if it is in their interest.

In a pluralist society, there will always be differences of opinion. An open society will think differently. But now we are seeing people being killed because of differences in political opinion. We do not seem to hesitate to invite outside influences into our domestic issues when our opinions differ. We do not seem to hesitate to sell our national assets for political power. This is not only sad, but also highly dangerous. If these are allowed to continue, the State would fail, and we would lose control of our own affairs. The repercussions of such a failure will not only be felt by some of us: but every single one of us.

Much work needs to be done to correct the situation. The Constitution has to be amended. But does the State have sufficient strength to carry out these big reforms? Not only is there lack of human and financial resources. But can decisions be made for the common good despite all the different ideas and ideologies? Can public interest triumph personal interest? Can we answer the distress call of our nation?

My fellow citizens:

Encroaching on other people’s rights is not freedom. Inviting outside forces into our domestic issues is not freedom either. This is not something that any Maldivian should be allowed to do. Nor should any foreigner be allowed to do that on our land. For, the freedom and independence that we enjoy have been handed to us for safekeeping. Handed down from our forefathers to be passed down to future generations. Our independence is something that every person born to these white sand beaches, has worked for.

One of the most important statesmen produced by the Maldives, the late Ibrahim Shihab once said that there is a lesson in the fact that the national flag that represents our independence is tethered on two ends. If it is allowed to flutter without any restrictions, it will fall to the ground and get muddied. Thus, there are limits to freedom as well. There are limits to competition. And there are limits to feuds as well. There are things we are not allowed to do, even in anger or jealousy. That is because we are Maldivians. That is because we are the children of this beloved land.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today is our country’s independence day. Tonight is the 19th day of the Holy month of Ramadan. At this moment, in all manner of speaking, I am standing in front of the national flag. Behind the national emblem. We are all gathered near the spot where Shaheed Hussein Adam sacrificed his life for this country. Where I can see the Islamic Centre, which is the symbol of the country’s Islamic identity.

As I stand here tonight, my heart is trying to comprehend the thoughts of young Shaheed Hussain Adam, the twenty-year old soldier, as he lay breathing his last breadth, having tried with his own life to defend his country’s independence. What he must have willed to the people who came after him, who are now responsible for defending this country’s independence. The hope he must have had for the country he had just sacrificed his life for. It is our responsibility to fulfil his wishes. To let the light of independence shine bright. Take care of these responsibilities. Because we are Maldivians. Because we are the children of this beloved land.

May Allah, the Almighty, bring you all happiness and prosperity. May this beloved nation remain as an independent and free country forever. Aameen.

Wassalaam ‘Alaikum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakaatuh.


Museum staff express concern over moving artifacts to host Independence Day event

National Museum staff and Male’-based arts NGO Revive have expressed concern over plans to move delicate exhibits for upcoming Independence Day celebrations to be held in the museum.

“We at the national museum believe the museum’s objects are very valuable and cannot be replaced if anything happens to any of the items,” National Museum Director Ali Waheed told Minivan News.

“I am concerned, we are not happy about this,” Waheed said.

He said that the President’s Office had sent a letter about holding the Independence Day event to the Tourism Ministry, which had in turn notified their Department of National Heritage.

“The department only informed us about the event three days ago,” Waheed claimed.

He said there were concerns that National Heritage Department Director General Zakariyya Hussain had not consulted museum staff about whether holding the event in the museum would be sensible.

“Zakariyya gave the approval but he didn’t say anything to us. He didn’t want to talk about it. At least he has to ask if this is good or not,” he claimed.

The President’s Office meanwhile said it had not been informed of the museum staff’s grievances, while rejecting claims that there would be any issues with holding such an event in the museum.

The President’s Office held an Independence Day event at the National Museum last year, which posed the same challenges to staff as it took place during Ramazan. The permanent exhibition items had to be shifted internally and placed against the walls to clear the middle of the hall, according to Assistant Curator Ismail Ashraf.

“[However,] it was quite different last year because there were many political issues and they were not able to get another venue,” noted Ashraf.

“During last year’s ceremony government agency heads and parliament members attended and there was no damage to the objects,” he continued. “However, there is the risk and probability of something happening [this year] when 400 plus people will be attending.”

Staff accepted that a similar event to celebrate the 2012 Independence Day had been held at the museum without incident – although the guest list is anticipated to be larger this year.

President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad told Minivan News yesterday (July 22) that the government did care about preserving Maldivian culture and heritage, but dismissed concerns that there were any politics involved in the event.

“There is enough time [for museum staff to prepare], we have not been informed [holding the event is problematic],” said Masood. “Nobody feels it is an issue. Minivan News is not the party that should be spreading these concerns, this is not a claim the museum staff are making, Minivan News is actually,” Masood said.

NGO Revive has meanwhile said it plans to submit a petition, signed by National Museum staff, to the President’s Office tomorrow (July 24) requesting the government reconsider its decision to hold the July 27 Independence Day celebrations inside the National Museum.

National Museum concerns

“We are caring about these things very much. The objects are very, very old and delicate. If they are moved several times, it may cause damage. I am responsible for their safety and security,” Waheed told Minivan News.

“I submitted a letter to Director General Zakariyya Hussain at 1:10pm on Monday (July 22) that we [the museum staff] are not responsible [for the damage that may be caused] when the objects are side by side in the hall,” he claimed.

Ashraf the assistant curator echoed Waheed’s sentiments that moving the artifacts to accommodate the event risked damaging them.

“It’s a permanent exhibition and we will have to move everything [on the ground floor] away to make a walkway for people for the ceremony,” Ashraf told Minivan News. “There are many artifacts to have to move, and having to do so quickly poses a risk of damaging the objects.”

“The other risk is that lots of people come in and not all will think the same way we do, [so] it is a risk that people may touch or take,” he continued.

Ashraf explained said that since the museum only has six permanent staff, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) is supposed to help with moving the artifacts.

“They can help move the very heavy things, but we have to be there to supervise. We are in charge and if there is any damage [caused to the items] we are responsible,” he said.

Since it is currently the holy month of Ramazan, the amount of work National Museum staff can accomplish in preparation for the Independence Day event is also limited due to restricted working hours, Ashraf explained.

“In the month of Ramazan, museum hours are 9:00am to 1:30pm. This Independence Day event will take place Saturday night and Sunday  morning we have to open the museum [to visitors],” he noted.

Ashraf urged the President’s Office to hold the event in another location.

“This year there are other options, so why still choose the National Museum?” he asked.

“The National Art Gallery has a full hall empty for temporary exhibitions, with enough space for the ceremony”.

Ashraf also noted that artifacts were destroyed “the day the government changed”, during former President Mohamed Nasheed’s controversial transition of power last year – by people with “different thoughts” to those of the museum’s staff.

“A mob of people took advantage of the lack of security,” he explained. “These things happened and the risk [of it happening again] is still there. It shows the government doesn’t have much interest in this work,” he alleged.

Civil society support

Revive, a local NGO which works in collaboration with the National Archives and National Museum, has advocated in support of the museum staff’s concerns surrounding the event.

“I’m very surprised the government [is holding this event] but are not able to arrest those who vandalized the museum last year,” Revive President Ahmed Naufal told Minivan News.

“Moving permanent exhibitions is not done anywhere in the world, only temporary exhibitions,” Naufal explained.

“National Museum staff have a low budget and are unable to preserve [everything],” he continued. “There is a high risk items will be destroyed by moving the exhibition.”

National museum staff have signed the ‘Revive Petition’, which calls on the government to reconsider its decision to hold the Independence Day celebrations inside the National Museum, as it would require moving the permanent collection of artifacts which could cause damage that cannot be restored.

“Fifteen staff have signed the petition. That’s everyone who came to the [National] Museum and Heritage Department,” noted Naufal.

“This includes the only Maldivian archaeologist from the Heritage Department, Shiura Jaufar and the National Museum Director.”


President Waheed calls on Maldivians to improve conditions of expatriate workers

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has called upon Maldivians to “do everything possible” in order to improve the working conditions of Bangladeshi expatriate workers in the Maldives.

Speaking at a function to mark the Bangladesh Independence and National Day on Tuesday (March 26), Waheed stated that Bangladeshi expatriate workers make a huge contribution to the economic growth and development of the Maldives.

Acknowledging to the fact that Bangladesh accounts for the largest group of expatriate workers in the Maldives, President Waheed stated the importance of reflecting on the conditions of foreign workers in the country.

“Let me reiterate here the government’s unfailing commitment to ensure the rights of the expatriate workers in the Maldives are fully protected in accordance with the relevant laws of the Maldives.

“I take this opportunity to appeal to my compatriots in the Maldives to reflect on this current condition and do everything possible to improve the working conditions of our brothers and sisters and to ensure that their rights are always guaranteed,” said Waheed.

In 2010, it was claimed that the exploitation of foreign workers in the Maldives rivals fishing as the most profitable sector in the Maldivian economy after tourism.

High Commissioner of Bangladesh Rear Admiral Abu Saeed Mohamed Abdul Awal said that the commission was working closely with the Maldives government to address the issue.

Awal stated that the commission is dedicated to ensuring the treatment of expatriate workers by Maldivian employers, adding that the working conditions and rights of the employees need to be protected.

Last month, the head of Maldives Association of Construction Industry Mohamed Ali Janah alleged that almost half of all foreign employees in the construction industry were thought not to be legally registered.

A report on human trafficking in the Maldives saw the country remain on Tier 2 of the US State Department’s Watch List for Human Trafficking for the third year in a row, only narrowly avoiding a decent to Tier 3 – the most severe category.

Various government ministries claim to have stepped up efforts to address the problem in the past few months in the build up to this year’s human trafficking categorisation by the US State Department.

In January, President Waheed expressed concern about the rising number immigrants in the Maldives, claiming that the “foreign influence” threatens the country’s “Maldivianness”.

In regard to a potential decent to Tier 3 of the US State Department’s human-trafficking watch list this year, Waheed warned that the Maldives would face difficulties in seeking foreign assistance should it slip to the most severe category.

Speaking at the function on Tuesday night, President Waheed said that in order to become a modern democracy, Maldives must follow the “democratic experience” of Bangladesh and other developing countries in order to learn from their experience.


Government has “no choice” but to hold early elections this year: MDP

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has claimed that the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan will have no choice but concede to holding early elections this year amidst what it sees as “intense” domestic and international pressure to do so.

MDP Spokesperson and MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor made the claims amidst what he alleged was a background of “intense diplomatic activity” currently taking place in the country on the back of the ongoing protests and political deadlock that have followed February’s controversial power transfer.

The MDP has alleged that former President Mohamed Nasheed was forced to resign under “duress” on February 7 in a “coup d’etat”, leading to calls from the party for early elections this year over concerns about the present government’s legitimacy.

However, President Waheed, who contends he came to power legitimately after Nasheed’s resignation from office, has said the earliest fresh polls can be held under the constitution is July 2013.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad and spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza were not responding to calls at the time concerning the comments.

As state and private celebrations took place this weekend across the country to mark 47 years of the Maldives becoming an independent nation, President Waheed used a national address to call for citizens to maintain a “high regard” for the country’s laws and legislation.

MDP supporters have themselves continued nightly demonstrations in the capital.  Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef has said the protests were conducted without serious incident and have resulted in no arrests over the last two days.

The MDP anticipates that thousands of its supporters took to the streets on Thursday evening during a march in the capital to call for early elections and an end to alleged arbitrary arrests of demonstrators.

International concern at “political tension”

The demonstrations, which have been held consecutively over the last month, have led to international bodies such as the Commonwealth and EU raising concerns over what they claim has been as an “escalation of political tension and violent protests” in the nation of late.

These statements were followed this week by calls from British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt for “high level talks” between the country’s opposing political factions. The minister said such discussions were needed to find a more peaceful political resolution to the violent clashes between protesters and police.

Burt said that while welcoming the formation of a reconstituted Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) – established initially by President Waheed to investigate the transfer of power that saw his administration inaugurated on February 7 – the UK wished for a quick and fair conclusion to the body’s work.

“I encourage all relevant actors in Maldives to refrain from any actions that could jeopardise the stable environment necessary to allow the Commission of National Inquiry to complete its work and for free and fair elections to take place,” he said.

“I call on all sides to show restraint in the interest of achieving a sustainable political solution to Maldives’ recent problems. Protests must be peaceful and the security response professional and proportionate. Violence and any cases of excessive use of force should be investigated and those responsible held to account,” the statement continued.

“Very successful” protests

MDP MP Ghafoor claimed the month’s ongoing demonstrations had been “very successful” in galvanising support for early elections to be held this year – an aim he believed that would “soon” be realised.

The protests have continued amidst allegations of protesters inciting violence against reporters and security forces, as well as counter claims of unchecked police brutality.

“Many people were there for the Independence Day protests regardless of how the current administration wants to make it appear otherwise,” Ghafoor alleged. “This coup administration is now very shaky, they are unable to run the country, of which they have made a complete mess. I cannot see how they can hold on [to power].”

The MDP spokesperson said that despite the international community prioritising ongoing violent clashes in Syria at present, concern was increasing among foreign diplomats over the rhetoric and demands of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who currently serves as leader for the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

Ghafoor added that Gayoom has, on separate occasions, called for an apology from, and the arrest of former President Nasheed over insinuations he was directly involved in organising the alleged “coup d’etat” on February 7.   The MDP meanwhile has alleged that the PPM leader was refusing to sit down to talks between the country’s various political heads.

After Nasheed appeared to offer a conditional apology to his predecessor, Ghafoor added that Gayoom’s continued refusal to engage in dialogue with opposition figures in the country threatened to make him an “irrelevant” figure in the current political process.

“When Gayoom refuses to engage in dialogue and has his tantrums, he is showing the international community that he is not a 21st century politician,” he claimed. “When these people are against dialogue they show there is no interest in moving ahead peacefully.”

PPM MP and Spokesperson Ahmed Mahlouf and the party’s Deputy Leader Umar Naseer were not responding to calls at the time of press regarding the MDP’s claims.

With the holy month of Ramazan commencing last week, the MDP contended that the mindset of its supporters had not changed in regards to its so-called “direct action” demonstrations – with the recent nightly protests expected to continue indefinitely.

Ghafoor claimed that he expected tensions could rise further with PPM-backed protests also potentially taking place in and around the capital during the next few weeks.

The party’s demonstrations have in part been linked in local media to concerns over the high-profile murder this week of policeman Lance Corporal Adam Haleem whilst he was on duty on the island of Kaashidhoo.

The officer’s death saw figures on both sides of the country’s political divide accusing their opponents of using the death to forward their own respective agendas, particularly in relation to the legality and conduct of ongoing opposition protests in the capital.

Ghafoor has alleged that in the current environment, and with opposition allegations of arbitrary arrests and violence against civilians, a growing number of police and military personnel were not wanting to be identified with the current government.

He also alleged that while a number of officers had acted in a mature manner with their approach to trying to control crowds, a number of “thugs” working within police ranks had continued to incite violence against demonstrators, while targeting specific opposition individuals and media personnel.

The Maldives Police Service has maintained that its officers have continued to exercise minimum force against protesters despite a handful of serious injuries sustained within its ranks during the sporadic eruption of violent clashes during the last month.

During the month’s protests, Minivan News has at times witnessed a general atmosphere that has verged between noisy and almost playful to sudden bouts of cat and mouse baiting of police by anti-government figures in the crowd.

The MDP has maintained that its protests are “largely peaceful” and that it was police who were responsible for instigating violence and making arbitrary arrest of senior figures. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has also this month expressed concern over violent protests and use of “excessive force” against demonstrators.

In this volatile climate, the Police Family Association yesterday released a statement calling for the public to consider that police officers were human beings who have “rights like others, and their persons and dignity must be held in due regard by everybody”.

According to local media, the statement also raised concerns over the death of Lance Corporal Haleem, stating that lessons should be taken from his “sacrifice” in order to motivate offcers to peacefully restore law and order.

“The Statement of PFA also said that it was ‘proud of the exemplary service rendered by the Police and for the great sacrifices by police officers without a step backward, in order to protect this nation from the challenges posed by social changes today,’” reported the Sun Online news service.

“At times of sadness, hatred and anger, everyone must accept that police officers are also human beings, and that they are also entitled to human rights just as others are, and the dignity of their lives must be respected. Especially, this Association believe that everyone must respect the rights of police officers serving this nation if we wish to strengthen and prolong democracy and human rights in this country”, the statement continued.

CNI extension

Aside from protesting, Ghafoor also pointed to the CNI’s ongoing work on the country as being another key focus for the MDP during the next month, despite raising concerns about who exactly had given permission for an extension to the body’s deadline until the end of next month.

“Who has allowed for the extended deadline to go ahead? The CNI was scheduled to conclude by July 30, but now this Judge Selvam has said there will be one more month for its work,” Ghafoor claimed. “We also see that there is a two month process involved here, yet the judge has at times taken a four-day weekend off from CNI. Similarly there is just one media briefing a fortnight. Considering this is just a two-month process, there should be at least one a week.”


President calls for “unanimous” patriotism with Independence Day address

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan used his Independence Day address to stress the importance for all Maldivians to “practice solemn allegiance to the principles of Islam, and observe firm adherence to fine social etiquette”.

Speaking at a special ceremony at Male’s Republic Square on Thursday (July 26) to celebrate 47 since the Maldives became an independent nation, the president was reported to have called upon Maldivian people to cooperate with the state’s “relentless peace efforts”, according to the President’s Office website.

Aside from calling for national laws and legislation to be held in high regard, the address was also said to have focused on asking Maldivians to convey unanimous national pride and patriotism through “loyalty and respect” towards the country and peoples’ rights.

According to the President’s Office, Dr Waheed also emphasized the importance of “strengthening” the country’s independence to ensure continued national development.

The president was said to have highlighted the need to safeguard the country’s religion, a consolidation of military and “unifying our people” to further ensure planned developments went ahead.

In addressing national politics, the president said that nearly a decade had been spent to establish democracy in the Maldives, which he contended had “flourished so rapidly”. However, the speech emphasized that the “poor social and political condition of today” were the result of “certain changes” to the judicial and legislative system that had been made in the past.

The speech saw the president call on parliament to move ahead with passing bills to reinforce and strengthen the country’s judicial and legislative system in a bid to reduce crime and improve safety and security.