State budget for 2015 will be balanced, insists President Yameen

The record MVR24.3 billion (US$1.5 billion) state budget for 2015 submitted for parliamentary approval last week is a balanced budget, President Abdulla Yameen insisted yesterday in his Republic Day speech.

Referring to the Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) campaign pledge to balance the budget in two to three years, President Yameen said the 2015 budget has a “primary balance surplus.”

“Looking at the figures of the budget, that is not a deficit we cannot plug. The deficit is a small figure,” he said.

The projected fiscal deficit in 2015 is MVR1.3 billion (US$84 million) or 2.5 percent of GDP.

The deficit was not for the state’s expenditure in 2015, Yameen continued, but for arrears or unpaid bills from recent years.

“So in my book, the 2015 budget is a balanced budget,” he said.

In his budget speech to parliament last week, Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad revealed that the forecast for recurrent expenditure in 2015 is MVR15.8 billion (US$1 billion) while the forecast for government income or revenue is MVR21.5 billion (US$1.3 billion).

The projected revenue includes MVR3.4 billion (US$220 million) anticipated from proposed new revenue raising measures.

A balanced budget would allow the government to “consolidate the economy,” maintain the value of the rufiyaa, and repay foreign and domestic debt, Yameen said.

After balancing the budget, Yameen said the government should work toward achieving a surplus.

The public expected waste management systems, water and sewerage, harbours, and land reclamation, he continued, noting that the MVR6.3 billion (US$408 million) Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) in the 2015 budget – 24 percent of the budget – was unprecedented and double that of 2014.

Yameen observed that the PSIP budget was around MVR3 billion (US$194 million) in the past.

While carrying out infrastructure projects in all 188 inhabited islands in one year would not be possible, Yameen said the budget was formulated after prioritising developmental projects.

Moreover, the government would seek foreign aid, soft loans, and concessional loan assistance to finance infrastructure projects, he added.

The budget also includes welfare or social security benefits for the needy, the elderly, and persons with special needs, he noted.

The MVR5,000 (US$324) a month allowance or old age pension would be provided in 2015 as well, Yameen said, while subsidies for food and electricity would be targeted to the needy.


On the government’s achievements during its first year in office, Yameen said the economy was improving as a result of the government’s policies.

The acute dollar shortage of recent years has been alleviated, he added, while the ‘unlimited’ Aasandha insurance scheme was introduced to assist persons with chronic illnesses.

While there were only nine pharmacies in the atolls last year, the State Trading Organisation has opened 71 pharmacies in various islands this year.

Moreover, sea ambulance service was provided to six atolls, he continued, and a 50-bed multi-speciality hospital would be built in Hulhumalé within three years.

Efforts were underway to install generators across the country to ensure reliable round the clock electricity in all inhabited islands, he said.

The Special Economic Zone Act would meanwhile facilitate attracting foreign investment, Yameen said.

The government has also decided to provide sovereign guarantee for loans to develop new resorts, he continued, while the guest house island policy would benefit small and medium sized enterprises.

The government’s plan to create 94,000 new jobs as pledged during last year’s presidential campaign was through economic diversification or development and not through the civil service, he noted.

On the pledge to develop a ‘youth city’ in Hulhumalé, President Yameen said the second phase of the island’s development through further land reclamation would begin during November.

Work has also begun on introducing an insurance scheme and providing subsidies to fishermen and farmers, he added.

The implementation of the new national education curriculum in 2015 would meanwhile bring “revolutionary changes” to the education sector, Yameen said.


Housing minister informs MPs of Addu City development plans

Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz has told the Majlis of plans for a large number of infrastructure projects in Addu City this year.

Construction of housing units, harbours, roads, health centres, sports facilities, and mosques as well as upgrading of schools are among development projects in the pipeline for the Maldives’ southernmost atoll.

Responding to a query from Addu Meedhoo MP Rozaina Adam at today’s sitting of parliament, Muiz said that developing the second city was a priority of President Abdulla Yameen’s administration.

Muiz noted that harbour construction in the Hithadhoo and Hulhumeedhoo wards were underway and were expected to be completed by the end of the year.

A project for deepening the Maradhoo harbour is also expected to commence this year, he said.

Preparations were also underway to commence a road construction project in Addu City, Muiz revealed, adding that the ministry expected to award the project to a contractor in July.

Questioning of ministers resumed in parliament today after a hiatus of more than two years. Under parliamentary rules of procedure, MPs are allowed to pose questions to cabinet ministers at parliament sittings following a 14-day notice.

Continuing the list of development projects, Muiz said permits have been secured from the Addu City council for a housing project financed by a loan from the Chinese EXIM bank, for which “detailed drawings” have now been completed.

“The work that is currently ongoing is putting up fences around plots of land designated for this project and preparing the site,” he explained.

Application forms have also been processed for 25 row houses built in the Feydhoo ward by the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), said the minister, noting that the final list was announced on June 11 – while the lottery draw took place yesterday (June 23).

Moreover, projects overseen by the Office of Programmes and Projects – which functions under the Housing Ministry – include the upgrading of the Addu zone stadium ahead of May’s AFC Challenge Cup and the construction of classrooms in Hithadhoo, he said.

Projects in the bidding stage meanwhile include construction of a mosque in Meedhoo with a capacity of over 700 worshippers, the addition of eight classrooms to the Hithadhoo Nooranee School, and construction of a four-storey building in Feydhoo with 12 classrooms.

The ministry expects these projects to commence during 2014, Muiz said.

A “design and supervision consultancy agreement” has also been signed for the construction of a 100-bed hospital in Hithadhoo with loan assistance from the OPEC fund, Muiz revealed.

Discussions were presently ongoing with the Addu City council on designating a different site for the hospital as the plot of land initially chosen was adjacent to a football stadium, Muiz added.

The minister explained that changing the site would require approval of the financier, which could see the project halted for some months.

Harbour construction in the Meedhoo ward is meanwhile expected to be complete by the end of November.

Following Muiz’s answer, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MP Rozaina inquired about stalled road construction and installation of street lamps in Hulhumeedhoo.

She noted that the road construction project was launched by the Road Development Corporation in May 2013 under an agreement to complete the work within a year.

In response, Muiz said discussions were ongoing with the Finance Ministry to secure finances for the stalled road construction project.

Installation of street lamps was a municipal task undertaken by the city council, he noted.


Audit uncovers illegal expenditure by Works Corporation

The audit report of the Works Corporation Ltd (WCL) for 2011 has exposed allegedly corrupt practices at the 100 percent government-owned company.

In a press release issued with the report (Dhivehi), the Auditor General’s Office stated that its audit uncovered numerous violations of the law as well as “problems related to performance and governance.”

Since the corporation did not compile its financial statement for 2011, as mandated by its charter and the Company’s Act, the press release noted that auditors reviewed selected transactions of the WCL.

The WCL was created by the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed on March 25, 2009 to facilitate or carry out infrastructure projects.

Of the 34 projects awarded to the company in 2010 and 2011, the audit found that the government canceled 24 after the WCL failed to commence work.

“The government awarded the projects without adequate planning and without assessing the company’s capability to carry out the work,” the press release stated.

As the company had completed only one infrastructure project to date, the Auditor General’s Office suggested that the WCL had not served the purpose for which it was formed.

Managing director

Auditors discovered that the company’s managing director withdrew MVR180,000 (US$11,673), ostensibly to cover expenses for assisting the President’s Office in preparations for a ceremony held in Gulhifalhu.

While the company’s employees actively participated in the preparations, the report noted that the sum was withdrawn without any documentation proving the actual cost borne by the WCL.

Although the audit report did not identify the managing director, local media has revealed that the WCL MD in 2011 was Abdulla Javid ‘Jaa’, son-in-law of the then-ruling Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) Chairperson ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik.

Auditors also found that MVR146,999 (US$9,533) was transferred to the MD’s personal bank account to purchase a “total station” containing special tools from Singapore’s Tepcon Posting Sales Pvt Ltd.

However, the company had received neither the tools nor the transferred amount as of the report’s publication date.

Moreover, the WCL did not recover 14 sheet piles provided in May 2011 to Heavy Load Maldives Pvt Ltd, which was owned by the MD’s father-in-law MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa.

The WCL’s staff informed auditors that the 40-feet sheet piles were released after the MD called the deputy manager at the company’s Thilafushi site and instructed him to do so.

The audit report revealed that on the orders of the MD the WCL also provided electricity from its Thilafushi site to the Yacht Tours Maldives’ site on the industrial island.

Yacht Tours Maldives – owned by MDP MP Abdulla Jabir – had not paid WCL for 37,376 units of electricity used from December 28, 2010 to October 1, 2012, the audit found.


The WCL awarded 12 projects worth MVR198.6 million (US$13 million) to various parties in violation of the company’s procurement rules, the audit found.

The company’s procurement procedures manual stated that contracts worth MVR1.5 million (US$97,276) or higher must be awarded through the Finance Ministry’s tender evaluation board.

However, the audit noted, the 12 projects were awarded without either a bidding process or the involvement of the tender evaluation board.

An Indian company – identified as MM Export Pvt Ltd – contracted to supply reinforcement boulders was paid MVR2.7 million (US$175,097) in violation of the procurement rules as well as the WCL’s agreement with the company.

In another instance, a Sri Lankan company named Sri Krithika International was paid in excess of the stipulated amount for supplying construction material after the company imported a higher volume than was agreed upon.

Moreover, the WCL failed to recover MVR1.7 million (US$110,246) paid to Design-built Solutions Pvt Ltd as an advance payment for the Noonu Velidhoo harbour project despite termination of the agreement after the company did not commence work.

In a similar case, a company named Coastal Ventures Pvt Ltd was paid MVR5 million (US$324,254) for the construction of a harbour in Raa Fainu despite the company only completing a portion of the project.

As the portion completed by the company was worth MVR2.9 million (US$188,067), the audit noted that the company was paid MVR2.1 million (US$136,186) for work not done.

The report also contended that the WCL prioritised the interests of subcontractors in drafting agreements to the detriment of the company.

Auditors discovered that the company was owed MVR134,055 (US$8,694) in unpaid rentals and sale of equipment.

The WCL also misused a MVR50 million (US$3.2 million) stand-by credit facility provided by the Indian government to establish a sewerage system in Noonu Miladhoo and to construct a harbour in Noonu Kudafari.

Interest for the loan was rising as a result of the WCL failing to make regular payments, the report noted.

Meanwhile, as a result of poor record keeping, auditors were unable to ascertain the amount of money kept in the WCL safe when it was stolen in 2011.

While the company’s accounting systems showed that it was owed MVR22.5 million (US$1.5 million) from various parties, the audit report noted that the company’s financial book-keeping was too unreliable to establish the validity of the figure.

Similarly, auditors could not verify whether the MVR60.7 million (US$4 million) owed by the WCL for procurements and services was authentic.

The company also paid its chairman more than MVR600,000 (US$38,910) as a “special allowance” from June 2009 to February 2012 against the pay scheme for board members of state-owned enterprises.

Moreover, the company’s hiring and firing practices as well as promotions for staff contravened its “employment, benefits and salary policy.”

Lastly, the WCL had not maintained a registry of its assets since April 14, 2010, auditors found.


MDP MPs call on government to fulfil pledges as budget debate begins

The parliamentary debate on the budget proposed for 2014 began today with MPs of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) calling on the newly-elected coalition government to fulfil its campaign pledges.

MDP MP Ali Waheed urged the new administration to submit its legislative agenda to parliament and incorporate its policies in next year’s budget.

“Very big promises have been made to the people. Our grandmothers and grandfathers want MVR5,000 (US$325) in their accounts at the end of this month, MVR5,000 each, so total MVR10,000 if it’s a couple.

“Each of our citizens want a doctor in our homes at the end of the month [as pledged by the PPM]. They are clearing out the room intended for the guesthouse for the new doctor. Our fishermen are expecting MVR10,000 a month subsidies (US$650). Fishing is not too good right now,” he said.

Referring to the Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) pledges to raise the old age pension and designate a doctor for each family, Ali Waheed said the opposition party would vote for a budget that reflected the campaign promises.

“Our responsibility is to be the people’s eyes in this Majlis. People want us to watch over and hold this government accountable,” the MDP deputy parliamentary group leader said.

Most MPs suggested that the new government should be able to submit a revised budget based on the PPM manifesto.

Speaker Abdulla Shahid explained that amendments brought to the Public Finance Act stipulates that the budget must be submitted by the end of October. Parliamentary rules however allow the government to “include components of their new budget” through the Budget Review Committee, he said.

Reappointed Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad told local media today that the government did not plan to submit a supplementary budget or reduce recurrent expenditure but would propose changes to the Public Sector Investment Program (PSIP).

Jihad stressed that the proposed revenue raising measures should be approved by parliament to finance new infrastructure projects.

The measures include hiking T-GST (Tourism Goods and Services Tax) to 12 percent from 8 percent, revising import duties, deferring abolishing the tourism bed tax for one more year, raising the airport departure charge from foreign passengers from US$18 to US$25, leasing 12 islands for resort development and introducing GST for telecommunication services (currently exempt from the tax).

During today’s debate, MP for Shaviyani Kanditheemu, Mohamed Hussain, who left the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) in April and remains an independent, said there were “serious problems” with the budget and that 2013 was an “empty year” for his constituency.

None of the projects included in the 2013 budget for the islands he represent was carried out this year, he said, while some have been omitted from the 2014 budget.

Former President Dr Mohamed Waheed laid the foundation stones for a new school and mosque in Shaviyani Feydhoo in January, he added, but the projects did not commence and were not included in next year’s budget.

DRP MP Hassan Latheef, who represents the Hithadhoo south constituency in Addu City, said there were no projects for the southernmost atoll apart from establishing water and sanitation systems.

Latheef objected to only MVR45 million (US$2.9 million) allocated for Addu City, which he contended was disproportionate for a population of 32,000.

MDP MP Mohamed Riyaz meanwhile expressed concern with the PPM backtracking on its pledges, by claiming that campaign banners with these promises were put up by supporters rather than the party itself.

Pro-government MPs

PPM MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur appealed for new sources of revenue and cost-cutting measures to be included in the budget.

Azeez also noted that projects in the 2013 budget for his constituency in Laamu Maavah did not proceed and have been omitted from next year’s budget.

PPM MP Ahmed ‘Redwave’ Saleem urged the government to reduce MVR2 billion (US$129 million) from recurrent expenditure, which accounts for 73 percent of government spending.

PPM MP Abdulla Raheem Abdulla meanwhile thanked opposition MPs for assuring their assistance and cooperation to the new administration.

The PPM deputy leader also said that the budget had to be revised for the PPM to deliver on its campaign pledges. He added that the government would provide the financial benefits that were promised.

“The budget has to be prepared in a way that we can fulfil the promises,” he said.

Several MPs expressed concern with the high recurrent expenditure compared to capital investments. While the projected revenue for 2014 is MVR13.9 billion (US$901 million), recurrent expenditure – wages, subsidies and administrative costs – stands at MVR12 billion (US$778 million).

The budget deficit is estimated to be MVR988 million (US$64 million) or 2.5 percent of GDP, according to the Finance Ministry.


Government takes over airport, evicts GMR

Indian infrastructure giant GMR has handed Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) over to the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL), after the Maldivian government voided the concession agreement and gave it seven days to leave the country.

The sudden eviction of the developer – which won a 25 year concession under the former government to manage and upgrade the airport – scraps the project, which at US$511 million was the single largest foreign investment in the Maldives.

GMR had clung to the terms of its concession agreement while the government fanned growing nationalistic and anti-India sentiment. On November 27, President Mohamed Waheed’s cabinet declared the agreement ‘void ab initio’ – invalid from the outset – and ordered the developer to leave.

With arbitration proceedings already underway in Singapore over the contested airport development charge (ADC), GMR received a stay order on its eviction and appeared confident of its legal position even as the government declared that it would disregard the ruling and proceed with the eviction as planned.

On December 6, a day prior to its eviction, the government successfully appealed the injunction in the Supreme Court of Singapore. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon declared that “the Maldives government has the power to do what it wants, including expropriating the airport.”

That verdict, effectively legalising the sovereign eviction of foreign investors regardless of contractual termination clauses or pending arbitration proceedings, was “completely unexpected”, according to one GMR insider – “the lawyers are still in shock”.

A last ditch request for a review of the decision was rejected, as was a second attempt at an injunction filed by Axis Bank, GMR’s lender to the value of US$350 million.

Following a meeting with staff yesterday, GMR issued the following statement:

“In deference to the orders of the Court of Appeals, Singapore; GMR Male International Airport Ltd (GMIAL) will facilitate a smooth takeover of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) by the Maldives Airport Company Ltd (MACL), effective midnight tonight.

GMIAL has been assured that as a result of this takeover all its employees, suppliers and other interested parties will not be put to any inconvenience. GMIAL remains committed to finding a suitable solution to this situation. We are taking requisite steps to work out the compensation receivable from the Government of Maldives, keeping in mind the judgement of the aforementioned court and the concession agreement dated 28th June 2010.

All actions as above are without prejudice to our legal rights and statements made before various courts/tribunals where matters are currently being pursued or likely to be taken up.”

An invitation-only press conference to mark the handover was held by Defence and Acting Transport Minister Mohamed Nazim in the airport VIP lounge at midnight. Minivan News understands that GMR did not participate for legal reasons.

During the ceremony, Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad presented the official handover documents to MACL Managing Director Mohamed Ibrahim, and said that the Maldives would pay whatever compensation was required “however difficult”.

Economic Minister Ahmed Mohamed claimed the eviction would enhance investor confidence:

“Investor confidence will only increase when they know that Maldives will do everything in accordance with the law,” Haveeru reported the minister as saying.

Attorney General Azima Shukoor expressed hope that the compensation would be lower than anticipated.

Estimates as to the amount of compensation for which the government is liable have ranged from the US$220-240 million GMR estimated it has already invested, up to US$700 million – a sizeable chunk of the country’s GDP.

Apart from the size of the compensation is the Maldives’ ability to ultimately pay, given the crippled state of its domestic economy.

Finance Minister Jihad in late October warned that the Maldives would be unable to pay government salaries without a promised US$25 million loan from India.

A month later, amid rising anti-India sentiment over the GMR issue and a diplomatic incident triggered by the government’s spokesperson, Jihad described India’s calling in of US$100 million in existing loans as “not a major concern”. The debts, he said, would be paid from the state’s reserves, which local media at the time reported could fall to as low as US$140 million (MVR2.2 billion) once the payments to India were settled.

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation in November warned that the Maldives’ financial reserves “have been declining slowly, [and] now account for just one and a half months of imports, and could be more substantially pressured if major borrowings maturing in the next few months are not rolled over.”

Further pressure on reserves came from a ballooning public debt ratio, “which now stands at over 80 percent of GDP, and has helped to boost national imports, thus worsening dollar shortages in the economy and putting pressure on reserves,” the IMF warned.

Presenting the 2013 budget to parliament in late November, Jihad warned of “bitter consequences” should the spending trend continue.

His target budget deficit of 6.1 percent in 2013 takes into account a raft proposed revenue raising and cost cutting measures which would impact the tourism industry – such a proposed tourism GST increase to 15 percent – and require parliamentary approval.

Further modernisation of the airport – or even completion of the existing upgrade – is likely to require extensive outside assistance or further loans. The rusting foundations of GMR’s new terminal sits on 60 hectares of newly reclaimed land on the airport island, after the government ordered a halt to the development in August. Large sections of the old terminal remain boarded up for construction work, which the government’s ability to proceed with is in doubt.

Further modernisation of the airport is likely to depend on outside assistance. President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad told Indian newspaper The Hindu yesterday that after reclaiming the airport, the government would again float a tender for its modernisation “and get more parties in to take the work forward.”

“The tender will be floated by the Maldives government in a transparent manner and after consulting investors. The mistakes made during the float of the tender which has been cancelled will not be repeated,” Imad told the paper.

Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela has meanwhile separately appealed to China for financial and technical support, telling journalists from the Chinese government’s authorised web portal that the Maldives “needs funds for infrastructure building.”

“We are obviously in need of funds and technical assistance as we do not have the financial means, the technical know-how or the capacity to address these huge climate change issues,” said Mariyam, in an appeal for assistance with climate adaptation.

The government has dismissed speculation Chinese involvement in the development, however Minivan News has learned that senior Chinese military officials landed at the airport in the tense week leading up to the handover, even as India warned of “adverse consequences” should the government proceed with forceful eviction.

India’s reaction after the Singapore Supreme court ruling was muted. Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said the ministry was “studying” the judgement and that their lawyers “need to understand it”.

“There are two issues in the case – one the sovereign right of a nation and other the legality of the agreement, which was linked to compensation to GMR and its associates in Malaysia, he said the latter part has not been “affected or responded” in today’s judgement.

“These issues are not affected with the judgement or not responded to. Fulfilment of all legal process and requirement is what we want to see in this case and we hope that all relevant contracts and agreements would be adhered to and all legal process are carried through,” he said.


Housing success a three-part puzzle

The development of housing, industry, and transportation infrastructure is expected to greatly improve the “extreme” situation on Male’, said Infrastructure Development Ambassador Sarangu Adam Manik.

“There are more people in Male who do not have housing than people who do,” he said.

The capital Male’ has a land area of less than two square kilometers but is home to one-third of the country’s population or approximately 125,000 people residing in an estimated 16,000 households; the total number of households in the Maldives is estimated to be 46,000.

With 50,000 people per square kilometer Male’ is the most densely populated city in the world, outdoing Mumbai’s 33,000 people per square kilometre.

President Mohamed Nasheed previously said the “household is the main engine of development.” Making good on this claim, he yesterday conferred land tenure agreements to 20 parties who had applied for housing and housing grants to 27 applicants, saying the government intends to provide housing for all 21,000 applicants to the Veshi Fahi Male’ housing program.

Earlier this year, ten flats were awarded under the same program.

The government originally pledged 10,000 flats.

A statement on the President’s Office website said the program aims “to satisfy the lives of all Maldivian citizens, and augmenting the nation’s economically active population by economically mobilizing nearly 150,000 people.”

Under phase one of the project launched in January, a total of 1,000 parties were invited to apply for the housing scheme. Over 8,000 application forms were submitted on the first day.

The Cabinet also approved related projects including the development of a container park in Thilafushi to incentivise relocating warehouses in Male’ and construction of a multi-purpose local market with modern facilities for residents of Male’.

The programme was launched on November 10, 2010 with the aim of combining the development of Malé, Vilingili, Guli Falhu, Thilafushi, Hulhumalé and Malé International Airport.

Manik said the network of projects  will jointly reduce the stress on Male’.

“Gulhifalhu will help tremendously the housing and economic situation. Thilafushi will  centralise the industrial sector, and the bridge will improve mobility–all components will help the situation on Male’,” he surmised.

The Cabinet yesterday decided to proceed with the plan to construct a bridge between Male and Hulhule, a reclaimed island attached to Hulhumale.

Since Hulhumale’s population is expected to double in the next year as people take advantage of new housing opportunities, mobility will become an issue, Manik said.

“Think about it, you will have two to three thousand flats, each with a family of four or more people on average. That’s eight to twelve thousand people,” he pointed out.

He also noted that the current boat-based system is vulnerable to changes in weather.

Manik said building a bridge was not a new idea. “The previous government proposed it but didn’t find a way to do it. President Nasheed’s ability to think ahead and think strategically means that the new government has found a way to do it. Gayoom’s government talked about it but we never saw a plan.”

Reflecting on public complaints of some infrastructure development programs, Manik surmised that “everybody wants to be the khafir except the khafir.

“Each power is trying to draw new borders, and there are always demarcation problems. People will settle down and things will become more progressive. It takes time to accept a new democracy.”


Addu grows roots with SAARC preparations

“This is the foundation of Addu’s development,” said Addu’s mayor Abdullah Sodiq, referring to the city’s SAARC preparations during a press conference held in Hithadhoo yesterday. He said the projects had been supported by “99 percent” of Addu residents.

Maldivian media was flown to Addu yesterday to observe preparations for the upcoming 17th annual SAARC Summit, scheduled for November 10-12. Festivities will be held in the area starting on the first of the month, in conjunction with the Muslim holiday of Eid.

“We are expecting a lot of traffic through here, and are confident that everything will be ready in time,” Sodiq said. “But this is only the beginning, and we have many more plans for development.”

Addu’s SAARC projects have been underway for six months, officials report. As the deadline approaches, construction teams are working round the clock to finish two harbors, a VVIP lounge, roads and the country’s largest convention center.

Sodiq said the harbors will renovate Addu’s commercial prospects, while the convention center provides new opportunities for locals, officials and foreigners alike.

Construction of Feydhoo harbor continues as the first deadline passes and another approaches.

“The harbor is a central place for Addu, there is demand for it even after SAARC and we have plans to generate more industry and shipping using these new resources,” said Sodiq.

New roads constructed around the convention center have made future road development less expensive for the council’s budget, he added.

Addu’s council also plans to use the Rf115 million convention center, a two-story building of glass, wood and marble with a capacity of 3000, to transform the atoll from a quiet place to a hub of business and tourism.

“We have some representatives talking to businesses in Singapore and Malaysia about hosting events here,” Sodiq told Minivan News. “We will be soliciting bids to find the right event manager to look after the convention center as well. I think there are people interested in what Addu has to offer, and I’m sure we can get a market for it.”

Officials and locals interviewed also hinted at hopes for musical events, theatrical performances, art exhibitions and holiday celebrations.

Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Assistant Director Ahmed Abeer Ismail said the centre’s origins were a sign of Addu’s potential. “That area began as a swamp, now it’s the biggest convention center in the country.” The swamp was heavily landscaped by MNDF and police forces, and now features a few scenic islands.

One of the Maldives’ most strategic atolls, Addu has been largely left to seed since the British withdrew its forces and influence in 1975. City councilor Ahmed Mirzad called SAARC the beginning of a new Addu.

“For 30 years we had Gayoom, and nothing was done in Addu. Then there was a new president, and unlike Gayoom he didn’t just look after Male’, he looked after the entire Maldives. For 30 years we didn’t even have one harbor that was working for Addu, but in the past six months, we have gotten everything,” said Mirzad.

Addu’s councilors were elected for the first time six months ago. Mirzad said the next three years will be a difficult but critical time for the council to prove itself to Addu’s people. Still, the timing is ideal.

“I don’t think, I know that this summit is the right starting point. Now, we will only keep going with our plans to grow,” he said.

Workers cross a newly-constructed road to continue landscaping across from the convention center.

One particular operation illustrates the grassroots motives behind the SAARC preparations. Selected from Maldives National University (MNU) Addu first-year students in hospitality, 24 Media Liaison Officers greeted Male’s press pack yesterday.

One young woman said the event was as much for the liaisons as for Male’ press.

“It’ll be challenging to handle foreigners and media personnel,” a group of students concurred. “But we are so happy to have this opportunity.”

“I was shocked to be asked to take part in SAARC, I never thought that I would get to work at something I’d heard so much about,” said another student. “And the certificate of reference that I’ll get afterwards will be really helpful for me when I’m looking for a job after graduation,” she added.

Liaisons have just completed a six-month management course and are attending seminars and briefings for SAARC. They will be divided into 11 teams of two to three officers and assigned to press pooles from different countries.

“The ministry was going to get people from Male’, but I suggested we use the local energy. They are good, they can do the job, and this is a key event, so why shouldn’t these students take part?” said Abeer.

Addu’s development isn’t only tailored to foreigners; Sodiq said part of the development plan is to bring Addu residents home.

“Unlike other islands, we have historical places to visit and our islands are connected, so tourists can actually see more than the sun, sand and sea. We will be constructing more lodgings as well, and our hospital and airport are going to be expanded. More business means more jobs, and part of the purpose of all this is to bring Addu citizens back after their migrations to Male’,” he said.

In Addu, infrastructure is a priority for community growth. Noting that education was key to development, Sodiq said that a Kangaroo school is scheduled to open next year, and a Billabong school is being considered.

For the moment, however, Addu’s mind is on SAARC.

With teams working around the clock to complete harbors in Gan and Feydhoo, and MNDF motorcades practicing their moves late into the night, Addu is a bustle of construction and security.

Both harbors were originally due for completion on October 25, yet concrete foundations have not yet been laid. However officials assure that they are 90 percent complete. When asked about setbacks, National Security Advisor Ameen Faisal said, “The weather. Due to heavy rains, many projects were delayed. It was unexpected and beyond our control, but we managed and we are on target.”

Inquiries of Addu’s appearance for SAARC yielded few details. “It’s a secret, we want it to be a surprise,” Faisal and Sodiq concurred.

Security, however, is highly detailed.

MNDF has delegated security teams to specific event components including media, medical, resort transport, and the airport. “Right now we are very confident in our security personnel and do not anticipate any problems during the SAARC summit,” said International Media Coordinator Ahmed Ibrahim.

Ibrahim added that “it will be helpful to have the extra security forces that other countries are providing because Addu is very big.” In addition to ground security, MNDF will be supported by the coast guard, which will establish multiple security layers around Addu’s marine perimeter, special task forces from Sri Lanka, and surveillance equipment from China, among others.

Summit guests include three of the world’s most controversial heads of state from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their reputations do not appear to cause anxiety to SAARC officials.

“They will not receive any special treatment, unless requested of course,” said MNDF Commander of SAARC Airport Security, Ahmed Shafeeq.

“There is no risk at all,” said Faisal. “We aren’t even bothered about it.”


SAARC carnival planning underway

A South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Carnival will complement the November SAARC summit scheduled to be held in Addu City and Fuvammulah, President Mohamed Nasheed said in his radio address last weekend.

Various exhibitions and cultural events by local and regional groups are being planned for the carnival, which scheduled for the first two weeks of November.

Preparations for the SAARC summit have brought new infrastructure and development to Addu. The president said the summit would also give greater exposure to development projects and business ventures in the Maldives, and create new markets for Maldivian exports.

The two-day SAARC summit, grouping eight nations, will open on November 10.


Prisons burdened with small crimes and poor management, report finds

The Maldivian prison population could be reduced by up to two-thirds if the government would “de-criminalise the offence of drug usage and propose mandatory rehabilitation”, according a report by the government and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The reform could reduce the number of youth incarcerated for minor offences, the report suggested.

The report also found that “the existing legislative framework and the current penal system does not support the human rights guaranteed under the Constitution, nor is it compatible with best practices outlined in the UN Standard Minimum Rules on Treatment of Prisoners.”

The “Prison Assessment and Proposed Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Offenders Report“, published on September 5, was conducted by Dr Aishath Ali Naaz and UNDP program specialist Naaz Aminath. The report surveyed 60 percent of the prison population as of February 2011 to assess current prison conditions and make recommendations.

It is the first report of this scope to be done in the Maldives.

Aminath said the report took five months to prepare. “It involved very consistent record-taking and visits to prisons. About part way through we realized that we needed a legal framework to make a more comprehensive report, so we met with MPs across the board to understand the strengths and weaknesses.” The team had met with government officials throughout the project.

Aminath said timing the release of the report was difficult after the release of prisoners from Maafushi prison in July.

Key issues identified in the report were a lack of legislative framework to support rehabilitation and reintegration programs; widespread accusations of corruption and inappropriate political influence among institutions; poor prison design; and inadequate budgeting and human resources.

The report’s first recommendation for reform was to “de-criminalise the offense of drug usage” and require rehabilitation, according to the offender’s criminal record.

A second recommendation to “establish a restorative justice program to minimize offenders being incarcerated for minor offences” would regulate the currently heavy flow of Maldivian youth into the prison system.

Of prisoners in the Maldives, the majority are males under 30 years of age who are educated below O-levels. At the time of the report, 66 percent of inmates polled were in jail for drug use or possession.

“There are small time drug users of 23 years of age who are being being sentenced for 70 years in prison,” said Aminath. “When you visit other countries, the jails are divided between minimum and maximum security according to the sentence. You know that criminals in maximum security areas are really hard-core. You also find that drug trafficking is a serious offense in most countries, and traffickers do the most time in jail. But here, traffickers get 25 years while small-time users get 60 to 80 years. These are not hard-core criminals, but they’re put away for almost their entire lives.”

Aminath noted that in the past, drug users who test positive for drugs were given two charges: one for using drugs, and another for testing positive. At present, only individuals in possession of a prohibited drug are prosecuted.”

“I’m not condoning drugs,” said Aminath, “but I think we need to help.”

The report criticised Maldivian prisons for being understaffed and poorly managed.

“The problem in the Maldives is that there aren’t proper prisons,” said Aminath. “It’s hard to even say what the capacity of these facilities is.”

After the fires in 2009, Maafushi prison in March and October 2009, Aminath said that basic living equipment like mattresses were not replaced. Maafushi and Male prisons do not have kitchens, and “there is no structure to support the prisoners who are there,” she said.

Asseyri prison was originally designed as a juvenile rehabilitation center. But Aminath noted that it remained empty until this past year, and since then has been filled with inmates of all ages. She said individuals she asked regarding it’s changed purpose were uniformed.

Inmates surveyed said medical services were inadequate. An investigation found that Maafushi prison compensated by sending an average of ten people to Male each day for medical purposes–an excursion which opens opportunities for smuggling good into prison.

Inmates also complained about a lack of structure in prison life. The report lists claims of torture, inhumane treatment, drug availability and false messages of hope from politicians as examples.

Prison regulations also make it difficult for inmates to develop their own structure. Aside from the Qur’an, inmates are not allowed to have any reading material. Only Asseyri and Maafushi prisons have ‘libraries’–rooms with a few books located outside the gated complex. “It’s risky to go there because it’s not within a protected area, and there simply aren’t enough staff to organise daily library trips,” said Aminath. “Plus, there isn’t much to read there. Really, I wouldn’t even call it a library.”

Naaz and Aminath asked prisoners to describe the types of rehab programs they felt were needed. Most recommended religious education (86.4 percent), counseling therapies (76.1 percent) and life skills (75.1 percent).

Among the report’s recommendations for reform is the development of a Mental Health act. It also encourages Parliament to pass legislation that was proposed 3 years ago, including a criminal procedure code, a penal code, an evidence act, and a parole bill.

Another suggestion is to establish a prison industry to train prisoners in vocational skills, a program that would directly support rehabilitation and reintegration programs.

Aminath said the research team is in conversation with the State Minister, and the Home Minister supports the recommendations.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Home Minister Hassan Afeef said, “the Government is committed to improving the rehabilitation system, given
how large a problem drugs are for our community.”

But change won’t happen overnight, Aminath cautioned. She said all institutions “need to strengthen the legal framework and get more involved with the community to make these changes. This applies to all institutions across the board here.”

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the UNDP team had “‘met with government officials across the board to understand the strengths and weaknesses.'” It should have stated that the UNDP team had “met with MPs across the board to understand the strengths and weaknesses and advocate passing legislative framework bills.” The UNDP team had been in correspondence with government officials from the beginning of the project.

The previous version of the story also stated that, “Aminath noted that drug users who test positive for drugs are given two charges: one for using drugs, and another for testing positive.” It should have stated that “Aminath noted that in the past, drug users who test positive for drugs were given two charges: one for using drugs, and another for testing positive. At present, only individuals in possession of a prohibited drug are prosecuted.”

The previous version also stated that “Asseyri prison was originally designed as a juvenile detention center.” It should have stated that “Asseyri prison was originally designed as a juvenile rehabilitation center. Also, individuals who Aminath asked about its current use as a standard detention center were uninformed. Minivan News apologises for any confusion.”