President Yameen rejects request for meeting to discuss MDP-JP demands

President Abdulla Yameen has rejected a request for a meeting with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party-Jumhooree Party (MDP-JP) alliance to discuss 13 demands issued at a mass rally on February 27.

Briefing the press last night following a meeting of the MDP-JP joint party commission, JP Deputy Leader Ameen Ibrahim said the parties formally submitted the 13 demands in writing and sought meetings with both the president and Home Minister Umar Naseer.

“When we sent the demands, the home minister has replied saying ‘I have heard the demands and I will meet a team assigned by you.’ So his appointment has been arranged for 10am on Thursday morning. We sincerely thank the home minister for that on behalf of both our parties,” Ameen revealed.

“However, the president said in response to our letter, ‘if you want to meet regarding something that would be beneficial to the public, I can make time for you,’ and that it cannot be done any other way.”

The demands included immediately releasing former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim, repealing amendments to the Auditor General’s Act that saw the removal of former Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim, empowering local councils, and investigating serious corruption allegations against senior government officials.

Other demands issued at the protest march included continuing electricity subsidies, fulfilling campaign pledges to provide subsidies to fishermen and farmers, and reversing a decision to impose import duty on fuel.

“The home minister has seen that these [demands] are beneficial to the public, but unfortunately our honourable president has not yet seen it. We are extremely saddened by this,” Ameen said.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told local media today that the president did not have the authority to release suspects in detention while on trial, noting that the judiciary was an independent branch under separation of powers.

The president was open to discussions if the opposition proposed matters that were both beneficial to the public and within the president’s powers and constitutional responsibilities, he said.

After discussing President Yameen’s rejection at the inter-party commission (IPC) last night, Ameen said the parties decided its leaders – Gasim Ibrahim from the JP and Chairperson Ali Waheed or MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ‘Ibu’ from the MDP – would directly request an appointment with the president to discuss the prosecution and trials of Nasheed and Nazim.

Criminal proceedings against the pair were being conducted unfairly and unjustly, Ameen reiterated.

The parties also discussed continuing joint efforts, Ameen said, adding that decisions of the ‘joint activities committee’ would be implemented.

Ameen stressed that the activities would take place within legal bounds, adding that its purpose was achieving results desired by the public.

The MDP-JP nightly protests continued near the city council hall last night.

“Extra efforts”

Meanwhile, MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed told the press that the party could not remain inactive while former President Nasheed’s trial was “going rapidly towards a sentence.”

“So we have discussed at our commission about the MDP undertaking special extra efforts to free President Nasheed,” he revealed.

The joint commission discussed affording the space for the MDP to conduct further activities without undermining the alliance with the JP, Waheed added, calling on supporters to join the party’s “direct action”.

Waheed said the government’s lack of an adequate response to the thousands of Maldivian citizens who participated in the protest march was regrettable.

“So now we are going to have to take our efforts to another level. God willing, within bounds of Maldivian laws and regulations, we will carry out our peaceful protest and direct action in various ways in the coming days,” he said.

A special committee has been formed within the MDP to oversee the activities, he continued, appealing for party members to remain united and to channel discontent within the party “as positive energy.”

While the party was attempting to peacefully resolve the crisis through negotiation and dialogue, Waheed said MDP believed “other activities” should be scaled up.

The government was opting for the “path of ruin” with its lack of response to the peaceful protest march, he continued, noting that the opposition did not seek a violent confrontation or incite unrest on Friday.

Waheed also said the party could not “go forward” without Nasheed and that the current leadership would not stand in the way of supporters’ love for the party’s elected president.

“We will give the space both within this [joint] commission and our party for [supporters] to raise their voices,” he said.

Related to this story

MDA MP withdraws constitutional amendment on 65-year age limit to contest for presidency

February 27 a historic success, claims opposition

10,000 protest in Malé, call for President Yameen’s resignation


JP Leader Gasim meets Sri Lankan President Sirisena

Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim met Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena this morning to discuss the ongoing political crisis in the Maldives.

JP Spokesperson Ali Solih told Minivan News that former Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz, deputy leader of the JP parliamentary group, and JP Deputy Leader Dr Hussain Rasheed Hassan also took part in the meeting at the President’s Office in Colombo.

The JP leaders briefed President Sirisena about the current political situation in the Maldives, he said.

Former Maldivian Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem – a senior member of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – revealed in a tweet following the meeting that Sri Lanka “is sending a high level delegation to Malé to express deep concern on the arrest and harassment of political leaders.”

While the MDP-JP alliance launched nightly protests against alleged breaches of the constitution by President Abdulla Yameen’s administration in the wake of former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim’s arrest on charges of possessing illegal weapons, tensions escalated further with the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed on Sunday (February 22) on charges of terrorism.

Solih meanwhile revealed that the JP leaders are scheduled to meet a United Nations delegation today whilst further meetings with foreign diplomats could also take place.

A time or date for Gasim’s return to the Maldives is yet to be determined, he added.

Asked if the JP believed the government was planning to arrest the party’s leader upon his arrival, Solih said the party “would not be surprised” if Gasim was taken into custody.

“Our leaders have undertaken these efforts expecting that anything could happen at any time,” he said.

At the first hearing of Nazim’s trial last week, State Prosecutor Adam Arif said documents on a pen drive confiscated from the then-defence minister’s apartment showed he was planning individual and joint operations, financed by the Villa group, to cause bodily harm to “senior honourable state officials.”

However, speaking to journalists prior to departing to Colombo, Gasim dismissed allegations of a conspiracy between his Villa Group and Nazim as “a deliberate fabrication” intended to “frame” political opponents.

MDP-JP protest march

Gasim departed to Colombo with a joint MDP-JP delegation on Wednesday night (February 25) to meet diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka.

The delegation met with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe and European Union delegations and provided information on the state’s prosecution of former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim.

While MDP MP Abdulla Shahid, International Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Gafoor and Malé City Mayor Mohamed Shihab returned on Thursday night (February 26) ahead of the MDP-JP mass rally yesterday, Gasim stayed behind with the JP leaders, ostensibly to meet President Sirisena today.

In a recorded message from Gasim played out at yesterday’s 10,000-strong protest march in Malé, the JP leader called on the government to immediately release opposition leader Nasheed as well as retired colonel Nazim and withdraw terrorism charges against current Defence Minister Major General (Retired) Moosa Ali Jaleel and former Defence Minister Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfan.

Gasim also issued several demands to the government, which were later reiterated during the protest march across the capital’s main thoroughfare Majeedhee Magu.

In addition to withdrawing charges against “political prisoners,” the demands included repealing amendments to the Auditor General’s Act that saw the removal of former Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim, empowering local councils, and investigating serious corruption allegations against senior government officials.

Gasim said he could not participate in the rally due to important appointments the next day and insisted that toppling the government was not the purpose of the protest as alleged by the government.

While the JP had declared that the rally would end at 6:00pm, Gasim appealed to participants not to carry out any illegal activities or incite violence or unrest.

However, despite MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed announcing the end of the protest march shortly after 6:00pm, opposition supporters continued the protest in the absence of MDP and JP leaders near the Malé City Council Hall, and the Alikilegefaanu and Majeedjee Magu junction near President Abdulla Yameen’s house.

At least 31 protesters were arrested before riot police dispersed the crowd around 1:00am.

Related to this story

10,000 protest in Malé, call for President Yameen’s resignation

Allegations of conspiracy with Nazim “deliberate fabrication,” says Gasim

High Court overturns stay order halting seizure of Villa properties

Gasim defiant as opposition sign agreement to defend Constitution


10,000 protest in Malé, call for President Yameen’s resignation

Thousands of opposition supporters marched through Malé calling on President Abdulla Yameen to resign and free “political prisoners.”

Approximately 10,000 people are estimated to have attended the rally organized by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP).

Protesters carried national flags and placards calling for former President Mohamed Nasheed, former Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim and MDP MP Ali Azim’s release.

Nasheed and Nazim are currently in police custody until a verdict is delivered in two separate trials on terrorism charges. Azim was arrested during a protest last week, with police alleging he tested positive for drugs.

While leaders from both parties have insisted in recent days that toppling the government was not the purpose of the mass rally, MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed Ali suggested at a march on February 20 that the demonstration would usher in “a second February 7,” referring to the day when former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned in the wake of a police and army mutiny.

However, speaking to reporters after a meeting with senior police officers today, Waheed said the protest would take place within legal bounds, adding that the objective was to show the size of the opposition to the government.

When Waheed announced the end of the rally at 6pm, opposition supporters converged at the Malé City Council Hall, and the Alikilegefaanu and Majeedhee Magu junction near President Yameen’s house. They were calling for Nasheed’s release. At least 31 people were arrested tonight.

Minivan News ceased live updates at 1:00am

1:00am: Police are pushing protesters at Alikilegefaanu Magu junction back towards Malé City Council Hall. Only a few hundred remain on the streets now.

12:20am: Speaking to Minivan News, ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives’ (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan said the opposition had done a “commendable job” during it’s official march from 4-6pm.

“It was largely peaceful, and a good amount of people turned up. It was very professional, they stuck to the 6pm deadline agreed with the police. MDP has always been able to mobilize large numbers on the streets, they had more impressive numbers in 2012. The numbers today were not at all surprising. They have made their voices heard to the government.”

11:45pm: On its live blog on today’s protests, the police claimed Vice President of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives Ahmed Tholal called police “traitors” as he disembarked from a speedboat returning from Dhoonidhoo Island. Tholal had returned from a visit with former President Nasheed. The police have lodged a complaint with the People’s Majlis.

11:26pm: Addressing the crowd at Alikilegefaanu Magu junction, former MP Thasmeen Ali said the opposition has demonstrated it’s strength today, and said supporters must continue the fight. “It may not happen over night. We must remain steadfast. Justice will prevail.”

10:32pm: Two molotov cocktails were hurled into the group of protesters at Alikilegefaanu Magu. No one was hurt. Meanwhile, protesters in front of Malé City Hall a few blocks away have spread mats on the street and have started eating rice pudding. Nasheed’s running mate Musthafa Luthfi told reporters MDP would not step back until Nasheed is released.

9:59pm: Approximately 150 protesters, calling for President Yameen’s resignation and Nasheed’s freedom, remain at the junction of Alikilegefaanu Magu and Majeedhee Magu. Protesters can be seen walking back and forth between Seagull café and Alikilegafaanu Magu junction. Neither the MDP nor JP leadership are present at the protests.

Police have now arrested a total of 31 people from the protests, including two foreigners. Their nationalities are unknown.

9:13pm: Speaking to Minivan News, MDP Vice President Mohamed Shifaz said the main aim of this evening’s mass protest was to issue reform demands on President Abdulla Yameen and demonstrate public support for these demands. The ongoing protests are not organized by the party leadership, he continued. Depending on the government’s response tomorrow, the MDP and JP joint commission will restart and scale up activities, he said.

8:57pm: Protesters have scattered. Close to a hundred protesters have now gathered at Seagull café on Chaandhanee Magu and Majeedhee Magu. There are pockets of protesters on Majeedhee Magu.

8:38pm: According to the Maldives Police Services, 28 people have been arrested from the protest.

8:37pm: Minivan News journalists observed police arrest five more people from the protest. They have now cleared the junction of Alikilegefaanu Magu and Majeedhee Magu.

8:26pm: Protesters are alleging police are targeting and arresting protesters instead of arresting the young men who attacked protesters and vandalized Rajje TV’s equipment.

8:23pm: The young men have left now, and police are now pushing protesters away from the junction of Alikilegefaanu Magu and Majeedhee Magu. Protesters are alleging the young men were helping the police break up the protest and clear up the area.

8:19pm: Dozens of young men on 20 motorbikes, some with their faces covered, have charged into the crowd.

8:17pm: Police have now started pushing protesters back and arrested former MP and JP member Dr Ibrahim Didi.

8:08pm: A group of six young men charged into the crowd, attacked protesters and Raajje TV’s cameraman, cutting the station’s live feed. The six have escaped, according to Minivan News journalists on the scene. The police reportedly arrested six men who attempted to obstruct the attackers.

Shortly before the attack, a Minivan News journalist observed a man throw crude oil at riot police officers behind the barricade on Alikilegefaanu Magu. The man fled the area. However, riot police has so far not made any move to disperse the crowd.

7:55pm: “Despite announcing that the protest held this evening jointly by the Maldivian Democratic Party and Jumhooree Party has ended, as participants of the protest are gathering at various locations in Malé and raising their voices, we note that the Maldives Police Service does not believe that the protest that started this evening has ended,” reads an update posted on the police live blog at 7:36pm.

“And if any activity outside legal bounds occur at the present gatherings, the Maldives Police Service believe that the organisers of the protest will have to bear responsibility.”

7:46pm: Protesters remain scattered near the Alikilegefaanu Magu-Majeedhee Magu junction and in front of the city council office. When riot police behind barricades moved into the crowd, protesters drew back. However, riot police did not push the protesters back and have now withdrawn behind barricades.

7:04pm: Two groups of protesters with a gap in between are currently gathered at the Chandanee Magu-Majeedhee Magu junction and in front of the city council office. Some protesters have sat down at both locations. Despite the official announcement that the mass rally has ended, several hundred protesters remain on the streets.

6:57pm: JP MP Ali Hussain has also told Minivan News that the protest will continue until Nasheed and Nazim are released.

6:50pm: Hundreds of protesters are currently headed to the Chandhanee Magu-Majeedhee Magu junction. Protesters on the pickup vowed to continue the protest until Nasheed and Nazim are released.

6:43pm: After announcing the end of the protest, MDP and JP leaders have left the march. However, approximately 100 protesters have gathered behind police barricades near the Maldives Monetary Authority area. Police have blocked entry to the Republic Square.

6:35pm: Home Minister Umar Naseer at 6:21pm: “This is a responsive & a responsible government. We have seen & heard you.”

6:20pm: MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed has announced that the mass rally has now ended, warning the government that the protest will resume if the government does not comply with the 13 demands.

6:13pm: Vnews has reported that PPM MP Hussain Areef has joined the protest march. The MP for Nolhivaram defected to the PPM from the JP in June 2014.

6:12pm: The protest march has stopped near the Social Centre. Speakers continue to demand the release of Nasheed and Nazim.

6:02pm: Protesters are reaching the western end of Majeedhee Magu while the tail end of the march is currently at Chandhanee Magu. The march stretches half the length of the capital’s main thoroughfare.

5:59pm: Protester have issued several demands to the government: Afford all rights enshrined in the constitution; release all political prisoners; withdraw amendment to Audit Act that saw removal of former Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim; withdraw politically-motivated charges; investigate allegations of corruption; ensure justice for the murder of Dr Afrasheem Ali and the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan; provide affordable electricity service; fulfil PPM campaign pledges such as providing MVR10,000 a month to fishermen and farmers; empower local councils; enforce the Fiscal Responsibility Act; increase salaries in the health and education sectors; increase salary across the board before hiking taxes or introducing new taxes.

5:52pm: MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy says President Yameen jailed opposition leader Nasheed because the PPM government lacks public support. Imthiyaz appealed to the security services to observe the size of the opposition to the Yameen administration.

5:45pm: The protest march has stopped in front of the JP headquarters, Maafanu Kunooz. Water bottles were passed out to participants.

5:38pm: Photos from the protest march:

5:28pm: The protest march has started moving forward again. The front of the march has reached Chandhanee Magu.

5:23pm: Addressing the crowd, MDP MP Eva Abdulla says there will be no political negotiation with the government as long as President Nasheed remains in jail. President Yameen cannot rule while the opposition leader is jailed, she said.

5:20pm: Multiple rows of police officers in full riot gear are blocking entry to both sides of Alikilegefaanu Magu.
5:17pm: The protest march currently stretches from the Alikilegefaanu-Majeedhee Magu junction to the Prosecutor General’s Office on Majeedhee Magu.

5:15pm: The march has stopped at the Alikilegefaanu-Majeedhee Magu junction. President Yameen’s residence is located at the southern side of Alikilegefaanu Magu. Protesters at the front of the march are carrying a large yellow banner with Nazim’s face.

5:12pm: MDP MPs Shahid, Eva Abdulla and Rozaina Adam as well as Chairperson Ali Waheed are at the head of the march. Protesters are calling for the resignation of the “25 percent government.”

5:07pm: The protest march currently stretches from Sosun Magu to the artificial beach stage on the eastern end of Majeedhee Magu.

5:05: Protesters are calling on the government to withdraw politically-motivated charges against opposition politicians, stop police brutality and respect the constitution.

MDP MP Abdulla Shahid is currently addressing the gathering. The government cannot “hijack democracy,” the former speaker of parliament said, calling for President Abdulla Yameen’s resignation.

The PPM government is “weak” and will fall, he said, reiterating calls for Nasheed and Nazim’s release.

5:00pm: Protesters are calling for the immediate release of former President Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim.

4:55pm: Police say they’ve found more weapons, including a machete, three knives and pieces of metal.

4:47pm: Thousands of protesters are now marching westward on Majeedhee Magu.

4:31pm: Police claimed to have found weapons in the western corner of the Usfasgandu around 3:50pm, including iron rods and two large knives.

“The items were found hidden in a gunny bag while searching the area based on police intelligence information,” reads a live blog on the police site.

4:26pm: Police officers are searching the area near Dharubaaruge convention centre. Minivan News journalists observed police searching the bushes in the open area and empty trash cans.

4:25pm: The JP has issued a press release stating that the mass rally will take place from 4 to 6pm today. The crowd will disperse before Maghrib prayers.

4:20pm: While the security services last night threatened legal action against protesters arriving in the capital from the atolls, police have said no vessel en route to Malé have been impeded.

However, marine police have inspected boats to ensure safety standards, police said.

Meanwhile, roads leading to the police and military headquarters have been closed to traffic.


Gasim pledges to establish National University faculties in each atoll

Government-aligned Jumhooree Party (JP) presidential candidate and business magnate MP Gasim Ibrahim has pledged to establish a faculty of the National University in each atoll of the Maldives.

According to newspaper Haveeru, Gasim said at a campaign rally on the island of Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaal atoll last night (June 23) that he would upgrade the National University faculty in the island and open a Villa College campus should he be elected president in September.

Gasim is the chairman of the Villa Group of businesses, which includes resorts, a domestic airline, a cement packing factory, gas providers and retail outlets. Gasim is also the owner of private broadcaster Villa Television (VTV), which airs extensive coverage of the JP leader’s presidential campaign.

Speaking in Thinadhoo, Gasim meanwhile pledged developing the island’s hospital to match the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in the capital Male’ as well as building an indoor sports center and an artificial beach.

He also pledged to upgrade the regional airport in Kaadedhoo to an international airport, after which additional resorts and city hotels would be developed in the southern atoll.

A Villa gas and cement factory would also be opened in the atoll in his presidency, the MP for Alif Dhaal Maamigili reportedly said.

The inter-atoll ferry service established by the previous government would function reliably under a JP government, he added, and would be overseen by island councils with government subsidies.

Among Gasim’s other pledges made during campaign visits to islands include building an international dock yard in Haa Alif atoll, expanding the previous government’s Aasandha universal health insurance scheme to allow Maldivians to receive medical treatment for free in India and Sri Lanka and establishing Villa College campuses across the country.


Proposed budget faces cross-party criticism

The state budget for 2013 submitted to parliament by Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad has come under heavy criticism from both opposition and government-aligned parties during last week’s 16-hour budget debate.

Speaking during Thursday’s sitting, Majority Leader MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ‘Ibu’, parliamentary group leader of the formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), contended that the proposed budget could not be salvaged or improved through amendments.

Ibu suggested that parliament should “set this aside” and approve enough funds for the state to function in the first three months of 2013.

“After that, appeal [to the government] to propose a budget that is beneficial to the whole nation and represents all constituencies. I don’t believe we can implement this budget any other way,” the majority leader said.

Ibu argued that the estimated revenue of MVR 12.9 billion (US$836 million) was unlikely to materialise.

“This [projected income] includes MVR 1.8 billion (US$116 million) in new revenue. [But] this will not be received,” Ibu asserted.

The MDP MP for Lhaviyani Hinnavaru explained that parliamentary approval would be required for the new revenue raising measures, such as reversing reduced or eliminated import duties, hiking T-GST to 15 percent, raising the airport service charge from US$18 to US$30 and introducing GST for telecom services.

Ibu claimed that the import duty revision to raise tariffs on oil “will not be passed in this Majlis,” calling on the budget review committee to scrap the estimated revenue forecast from import duties.

The MDP would not support increasing T-GST without consultation with the tourism industry, he added.

Predicting that the revenue in 2013 would reach “only MVR 11 billion at most,” Ibu warned that income would not be enough to meet recurrent expenditures on salaries and administrative costs.

Moreover, the fiscal deficit would be considerably higher than the forecast of six percent of GDP, he contended.

“The Finance Minister said the budget deficit in 2013 would be MVR 2.3 billion, that is MVR 2 billion less than the current year. This, too, is a serious deception,” he said, adding that the figure would be closer to MVR 5.9 billion (US$382.6 million) or higher than 10 percent of GDP.

Ibu also noted that while US$50 million was to be taken as foreign loans at an interest rate of 10 percent for budget support, the Finance Ministry did not include any information of the supposed lender.

“The [budget] document says we don’t yet know where the money is going to come from,” he said.

With a public debt-to-GDP ratio of 85 percent at the end of 2013, Ibu said international financial institutions would declare the Maldives “bankrupt.”

The majority leader also criticised Finance Minister Jihad for failing to mention budgeted salary increases for military and police officers as well as plans to hire 800 new officers for the security services.

Combined with the transfer of about 5,400 employees in the health sector to the civil service, Ibu explained that the wage bill would shoot up by 37 percent.

Ibu further questioned whether funds would be available to implement the proposed public sector investment programme (PSIP) of MVR 3.1 billion (US$201 million).

“I am saying that not even 25 percent of this MVR 3 billion PSIP can be implemented next year,” he said, adding that details of lenders for the proposed loans were not provided.

Ibu also protested that the only project for Hinnavaru in 2013, the sixth largest population in the country, was a youth centre worth MVR750,000 (US$48,638).

Echoing the concerns of the parliamentary group leader, MDP MP Eva Abdulla revealed that MVR 6 million (US$ 389105) was added to the budget of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) following the controversial transfer of presidential power on February 7.

Since the MDP government was ousted in the wake of a police mutiny on February 7, Eva said that the police and army have hired 250 and 350 new staff respectively.

Consequently, the institutions spent more than MVR 75 million (US$4.8 million) in addition to the approved budgets for 2012, she claimed.

The proposed budget of MVR 930.9 million (US$60.3 million) for defence expenditure in 2013 was meanwhile 14 percent higher than 2012.

Eva observed that the increase in the government’s wage bill of 37 percent was approximately MVR1.7 billion (US$110 million), which was also the amount allocated for harbour construction in the 2013 budget.

These funds should instead be spent for “harbours, education, sewerage and housing,” she argued.

“I know that the coming year is an election year. But what we know from the experience of [the presidential election in] 2008 is that the election cannot be won by adding employees to the government,” she said.

Coalition partners

Meanwhile, minority leader MP Abdulla Yameen, parliamentary group leader of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), said that the government’s objectives or policies could not be discerned from the proposed budget.

“These projects are very random or ad hoc. The government’s planning should be better than this,” he said.

While continuing deficit spending and accumulating high levels of public debt was a serious concern, “a good thing about this budget is that it hasn’t considered taking funds from the MMA’s [Maldives Monetary Authority’s] ways and means account, or in common language printing money, to finance this MVR 4 billion (US$259 million) [deficit].”

Financing the deficit with loans from the central bank leads to depreciation of the rufiyaa and rising inflation, Yameen said.

Securing commercial or concessional loans to plug the deficit was however “fine in itself if it can be repaid,” he added.

While President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has noted the high salaries paid by institutions such as the People’s Majlis as “a serious problem,” Yameen said he could not see “any kind of sign” of reducing recurrent expenditure or salaries and allowances for government employees.

In his budget speech last month, Finance Minister Jihad noted that almost half of recurrent expenditure was paying salaries and allowances.

On the proposed revenue raising measures, Yameen said PPM could not support introducing GST for telecom services.

“I believe there should be ways to raise income for the government without taking this tax. Therefore, we, our party, cannot support trying to get MVR 200 million (US$12 million) in additional income through imposing GST on telecommunications,” he said.

Concurring with the MDP parliamentary group leader, Yameen called on the government to consult the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) to determine whether the sector would be adversely affected by the proposed T-GST hike from 8 to 15 percent.

Government-aligned Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader MP Gasim Ibrahim, business magnate and chair of the budget review committee, said that parliament should consider the economic and social impact “at the micro-level” of the proposed revenue raising measures.

Gasim urged MPs on the budget committee to assess the costs and benefits of the proposed measures, noting that increasing import duties would lead to higher prices.

The MP for Alif Dhaal Maamigili appealed against proposing “unrealistic and empty documents” with the budget and pledging infrastructure projects that could not be delivered.

“The budget we passed for this year was in reality higher than MVR 16 billion (US$1 billion). But coming to year’s end we know from the revised budget that we achieved about MVR 12 billion or MVR 13 billion. So we are actually showing a dream to the public. We are intoxicating them with hopeful fantasies,” he said.

MP Visam Ali of the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) meanwhile said it was regrettable that a sizeable portion of the population did not have access to “basic services” such as sewerage, water and electricity while the GDP per capita was forecast to exceed US$5,500 in 2013.

With public debt projected to reach 82 percent of GDP next year, Visam said immediate steps were needed to avoid “bankruptcy”.

She added that it was questionable whether the proposed revenue raising measures could be approved next year as the government had yet to submit any of the amendments or bills required for its implementation.

Visam also expressed concern with administrative costs for government offices increasing by more than MVR 500 million (US$32.4 million) in 2013 compared to this year, noting that it diverts funds away from the public sector investment programme.

In a recurrent complaint of most MPs who spoke during the budget debate, Visam said the two islands in her constituency were neglected in terms of development projects in 2013.


JP Leader Gasim threatens STO MD with dismissal if Addu airport stake is sold

Jumhoree Party (JP) Leader and MP for Alif Dhaal Maamigili MP, Gasim Ibrahim, has warned the Managing Director of the State Trading Organisation (STO) Shahid Ali that he would be sacked from his post if an agreement is signed to sell a 30 percent stake in the Addu International Airport Company Ltd (AIACL) to Kasa Holdings.

Responding to a question from a reporter at a function at the JP office last night, Gasim reportedly said Shahid could not “stay in his post if he signs it,” according to newspaper Haveeru.

He also warned that the STO MD could “not live on this island” if the sale was finalised.

The remarks from the JP presidential candidate comes after the Finance Ministry yesterday asked AIACL to halt the sale of a 30 percent stake in the consortium to Kasa Holdings, which was intended to raise finances for development of the Gan airport in Addu City.

‘Champa’ Hussain Afeef, tourism pioneer and business mogul, owns Kasa Holdings. A consortium formed by the Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL), STO and the Gan Airport Company meanwhile owns AIACL.

AIACL Managing Director Shahid Ali – also managing director of STO – told Sun Online on Sunday that the Finance Ministry asked to halt the sale of shares until the Public Enterprises Monitoring and Evaluation Board (PEMEB) gives clearance for the sale.

Shahid meanwhile told newspaper Haveeru that the agreement for the sale of shares was to be signed yesterday and that all arrangements had been made to complete the sale when the Finance Ministry’s instructions came through.

Shahid however claimed that it was “not the government’s policy” to stop the sale, adding that he expected the agreement to be signed next week with PEMEB’s clearance.

Meanwhile, Gasim sent a letter to President Dr Mohamed Waheed last week alleging corruption in the proposed sale of 30 percent of AIACL’s stake.

If the sale goes through, Gasim warned that Kasa Holdings would be positioned to acquire 70 percent of AIACL by moving to sell 40 percent to a buyer of its choice.

“If a member representing the government does not attend a board meeting held to sell this 40 percent, Kasa Holdings will have the power to sell 40 percent of shares to whoever it pleases at whatever price it wants,” Gasim wrote.

“In light of my experience on how these [deals] are completed, I have to say that the ultimate result would be the remaining unsold 40 percent being sold to a buyer of Kasa’s choice and the opening up of the opportunity for Kasa Holdings to control 70 percent, and within this opportunity, for [Kasa] to sell 51 or more percent of AIA to another foreign party.”


Gasim alleges corruption in Gan airport development deal

Jumhoree Party (JP) Leader and MP for Alif Dhaal Maamigili, Gasim Ibrahim, has alleged corruption in the proposed sale of a stake in the Addu International Airport Company Ltd (AIA) to finance development of the Gan airport in Addu City.

The allegations were made in a six-page letter from the business magnate MP sent on Tuesday to President Dr Mohamed Waheed, which was leaked to local media last week.

The JP presidential candidate reportedly contended that the government had decided to sell a 30 percent stake in AIA to a local company named Kasa Holdings “without due consideration.”

‘Champa’ Hussain Afeef, tourism pioneer and business mogul, owns Kasa Holdings.

A consortium formed by the Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL), the State Trading Organisation (STO) and the Gan Airport Company meanwhile owns AIA.

AIA Managing Director Shahid Ali – also managing director of STO – confirmed to newspaper Haveeru in September that the AIA board of directors had decided to sell a 30 percent stake in AIA to Kasa Holdings for MVR60 million (US$3.9 million).

Shahid explained that Kasa Holdings and a Malaysian company had bid for the project following a public tender or announcement. He added that the Finance Ministry was consulted prior to the decision to sell the 30 percent stake.

Moreover, the bid announcement was made after the President’s Office approved the process, he said. However, the sale has been held up after the Transport Ministry asked the consortium to review the process and determine if the valuation was in line with the Public Finance Act.

Shahid said in September that AIA had requested legal advise from the Attorney General and that the government had not instructed the company on how to proceed.

Gasim meanwhile said in his letter that MVR60 million for 30 percent of AIA’s share was “a very small amount” as the value of the airport would be higher than MVR 3 billion (US$200 million).

Moreover, while US$44 million had been estimated as the cost of developing the airport, the JP MP claimed that the project could be completed with US$24 million.

An “open tender just in China alone” for the project would suffice to prove his assertion, Gasim wrote in his letter to Dr Waheed.

If the sale goes through, Gasim warned that Kasa Holdings would be positioned to acquire 70 percent of AIA by moving to sell 40 percent to a buyer of its choice.

“If a member representing the government does not attend a board meeting held to sell this 40 percent, Kasa Holdings will have the power to sell 40 percent of shares to whoever it pleases at whatever price it wants,” Gasim wrote. “In light of my experience on how these [deals] are completed, I have to say that the ultimate result would be the remaining unsold 40 percent being sold to a buyer of Kasa’s choice and the opening up of the opportunity for Kasa Holdings to control 70 percent, and within this opportunity, for [Kasa] to sell 51 or more percent of AIA to another foreign party.”

Gasim further contended that the move would pose a risk to national security, as the government would have no legal powers over the company.

Cancelling the agreement would mean paying the foreign party a “huge amount in compensation,” he claimed.

Gasim insisted that the Gan aiport should be developed by MACL and offered in his letter to reclaim land for the project free of charge “using my own dredger, employees and machinery with the government only providing oil.”

In October 2011, Gasim opened the Maldives’ first private airport at his native Maamigili with his ‘Flyme’ Villa airline landing the first flight in the new airport in Alif Dhaal atoll.

Gasim’s Jumhooree Party, part of the ruling coalition, is among parties calling for the nationalisation of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport and cancellation of the previous administration’s concession agreement with Indian infrastructure giant GMR to develop and manage the Hulhule airport.