Businessman to sue state over discriminatory electricity prices

A businessman in the northern hub of Kulhudhuffushi has lodged a complaint with a magistrate court over alleged discrimination in electricity prices.

Adam Shareef says prices in the northern Haa Alif, Haa Dhaal, and Shaviyani atolls are 72 percent higher than in the capital Malé.

Businessmen from Ihavandhoo in Haa Alif atoll and Fuvahmulah in the south have also submitted petitions to the government over the doubling of their electricity bills.

As the constitution entitles all citizens to economic and social rights without discrimination of any kind, Shareef said the state-owned Fenaka Corporation is obliged to provide electricity at equal rates throughout the country.

Fenaka is the main electricity provider in the atolls and operates in 151 of the 188 inhabited islands of the Maldives.

The Kulhudhuffushi magistrate court rejected Shareef’s case today saying it has no jurisdiction. Shareef says he is now preparing to file the case at Malé’s civil court.

The government has previously said that the large distances between the Maldives’ remote islands mean that services such as electricity will inevitably be more expensive in the atolls.

Businesses across the Maldives protested by closing shops last month after the government’s decision to cut electricity subsidies left more than 5,700 businesses facing millions extra between them in electricity charges.

Fenaka has 46,590 meters in 151 islands, of which 5,765 meters were registered as business consumers.

Electricity bills for businesses doubled, and in some case tripled, when the subsidy was discontinued in March.

Fenaka officials previously said bills in Kulhudhufushi are higher than other islands because businesses were charged a much lower rate than the tariff structure approved by the energy authority in 2009, leading to a threefold increase when the subsidy was removed.

While the actual rate was 7.50 laari per unit for usage above 400 units, the now-defunct upper north utility corporation charged 2.75 laari per unit for Kulhudhufushi businesses.

Addu City mayor Abdulla ‘Sobe’ Sodiq has also urged Fenaka to levy equal fees, saying higher prices affect investments in the southernmost city.

“Electricity is a basic right. The service must be provided equally to everyone. There cannot be any discrimination,” he told the press yesterday

Prices in Addu City and Fuvahmulah are up to 37 per cent higher than in Malé, according to figures from Fenaka.

But Fenaka says its hands are tied as the company is only implementing government policies, which are intended to curb rising expenditure. The International Monetary Fund had urged the government to move its subsidies to a targeted system, rather than blanket payments.

Meanwhile, grocery shops have increased prices of goods in Ihavandhoo due to higher electricity prices.

Owners have also decided to keep shops closed from 6:00pm to 8:00pm.

“Almost all businesses in Ihavandhoo have decided to raise the prices of goods, as the electricity expenses cost approximately 60 percent more now,” said Abdul Mueed Ibrahim, vice president of the Ihavandhoo council

Profits are considerably lower due to the higher electricity bills, said a local Ihavandhoo shop owner, Ahmed ‘Jizuvan’ Rilwan.

Businessmen in Ihavandhoo had submitted a petition regarding the issue to the island council and Fenaka, he said, but was yet to receive a response.

Jizuvan said that the shops had raised the prices of 118 varieties of goods.

“Nobody likes to raise the prices of products as it only burdens the local citizens. However, most of us do not have any other choice,” he said.

Jizuan suggested that Fenaka earned enough income to charge lower rates, but says it’s decision to increase mangers from two to five – each with a monthly salalry of about MVR 12,000 – might have led to higher operating costs.

“I believe the providers are taking more than what is necessary,” he said.

Jizuvan said he had received text messages accusing him of trying to defame the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives MP for Ihavandhoo, Mohamed Abdulla, and warning him that he could be jailed.

The government previously provided Fenaka with about MVR11 million (US$713,359) a month to subsidise electricity for atoll businesses, but this cost must now be borne by the companies themselves.




Power company says hands are tied over $45m subsidy cut

The state-owned electricity provider to the atolls says its hands are tied after subsidy cuts last month left more than 5,700 businesses facing millions extra between them in electricity charges.

Companies on three more islands joined growing protests over the subsidy cuts today. Much of the anger is targeted at the state-owned Fenaka Corporation, which provides electricity to the Maldives’ remote islands.

The government previously provided Fenaka with about MVR11 million (US$713,359) a month to subsidise electricity for atoll businesses, it said yesterday, but this cost must now be borne by the companies themselves.

Fenaka Corporation managing director Mohamed Nimal told reporters on Monday that the company was only implementing government policies.

“If the government changes the rules today or categorises special customers and decides to provides subsidies to small businesses, we will bill them at those rates,” he said.

Fenaka has 46,590 meters in 151 islands, of which 5,765 meters were registered as business consumers, Nimal said.

Most shops, cafés and restaurants in the northern hub of Haa Dhaal Kulhuduhfushi were closed in protest over higher electricity bills yesterday, while more than 100 people demonstrated outside the local Fenaka office.

Businessmen protested in Addu City while those in Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo and Haa Alif Dhidhoo are planning to boycott paying their bills.

Electricity bills for businesses doubled, and in some case tripled, when the subsidy was discontinued last month.

Nimal said Fenaka could not address the concerns of businessmen across the country as it was “not a regulatory body” or policy maker. The National Social Protection Agency was in charge of issuing subsidies, he added.

Domestic households have also been told to reapply for subsidies before April 9 as part of a shift to targeted subsidies aiming to save the government money.

The government provided about MVR700 million (US$45 million) in subsidies to Fenaka last year, which Nimal said benefited rich and poor alike. This annual expenditure on subsidies is not sustainable, he said.

While shops have reopened in Kulhudhufushi, local media reported today that all shops and cafés have closed in Haa Dhaal Makunudhoo in protest.

Businesses in Fuvahmulah are meanwhile preparing to submit a petition to President Abdulla Yameen, warning of layoffs and price hikes due to a 50 percent rise in electricity bills.


Fenaka officials said bills in Kulhudhufushi are higher than other islands because businesses were charged a much lower rate than the tariff structure approved by the energy authority in 2009, leading to a threefold increase when the subsidy was removed.

While the actual rate was 7.50 laari per unit for usage above 400 units, the now-defunct upper north utility corporation charged 2.75 laari per unit for Kulhudhufushi businesses.

Then-President Dr Mohamed Waheed established Fenaka in 2012 with a mandate to provide electricity, water, and sewerage to island communities after dissolving the provincial utility companies set up by his predecessor.

Meanwhile, despite the price of crude oil falling in the world market, Nimal said Fenaka could not reduce the price of electricity as it was making investments in infrastructure developments and improving service provision.

When the subsidy was introduced, the price of diesel was MVR8 per litre compared with MVR11 per litre at present, he said.

Renewable energy

Dr Ibrahim Nashid, managing director of Renewable Energy Maldives, told Minivan News today that removing subsidies for small businesses could be counterproductive.

As the main consumption of electricity in a small island comes from businesses rather than households, Nashid argued that the island’s economy and Fenaka’s income will be adversely affected if businesses were forced to shut down.

Nashid suggested that “demand side management” policies and “streamlining” high overhead costs of the Fenaka corporation would result in more savings.

At present, small islands have both a powerhouse and a Fenaka office, he noted, calling for the two to be consolidated.

He stressed that a number of other solutions were available in lieu of price hikes, such as investing in solar energy.

“But the solution for a person with a big hammer will be hitting the nail harder when he doesn’t have other tools,” he said.

Producing energy through solar panels is currently cheaper at 25 US cents per hour, he continued, whilst the cost with diesel would be 35 US cents per hour.

Although renewable energy requires a high initial investment, Nashid said there are interested and capable parties in the Maldives.

“In my view, we can provide electricity for everyone at a flat rate of MVR2.50 [per unit],” he said, adding that the technology was available, “viable and economically proven.”

Nashid welcomed the ongoing solar energy projects but criticised their limited scope as well as the government’s “lack of political will” and long-term planning.


New beginnings – The Weekly Review

June 21st – 27th

This week saw a number of fresh starts – in particular for Supreme Court judge Ali Hameed who was cleared of misconduct charges.

With the police’s investigation of the judge in relation to his alleged appearance in multiple sex tapes already suspended, the Judicial Services Commission’s decision appeared to close all investigations into the issue.

JSC members past and present called the decision a contravention of Islamic principles, suggesting that the commission had clear grounds to remove the controversial judge.

The Supreme Court this week also ruled that sitting judges can vote in the appointment of a lawyer to the vacant position on the JSC – overruling current regulations prohibiting their involvement.

After a previous request from the Supreme Court, the Home Ministry this week dissolved the Maldives Bar Association – the single largest lawyers’ group – for failing to change its name.

Meanwhile, the government’s legislative agenda seems poised to begin in earnest after the People’s Majlis reached a compromise on the composition of standing committees this week – an agenda that will no doubt be assisted by the defection of another opposition MP to the government’s camp.

Elsewhere in the Majlis, Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz was called to answer questions regarding developing plans for Addu City.

Speaking with Minivan News this week, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb defended the government’s first legislative proposal – the special economic zones bill – against accusations that it will do little to alleviate regional disparities in development.

Adeeb argued that giving the government flexibility in negotiating relaxed regulations for new investors would be the best way to bring quick developments to the atolls.

The government also promised a new options for the tourism sector, with the launch of the country’s first guest house island – though critics questioned the real benefit of the scheme to local communities.

The enactment of anti human-trafficking legislation was acknowledged this week as the US removed the Maldives from its watch list, while local employers of undocumented workers in Laamu Gan were also given a second chance as the government’s removal of illegal migrants continued.

As the administration announced its intention to seek US$600 million from China or Japan for assistance with the new start for Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, the Maldivian Democratic Party revealed its decision to sue former President Dr Mohamed Waheed for his role in the termination of the previous development deal.

While Sri Lankan leader Mahinda Rajapaksa made an official visit this week – offering assistance in a number of areas – former President Mohamed Nasheed suggested India ought to assist Maldivians by helping the MDP remove the current government.

MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy suggested that sometime government ally Gasim Ibrahim’s candor regarding judicial and security service pressure in his political decisions further supported the MDP’s coup theories.

Theories of a health service in crisis were given additional support this week by the death of a 31-year-old pneumonia patient en route to Malé as well as angry protests outside Kulhudhuffushi Regional Hospital.

Finally, Malé City Council this week revealed the extent of the littering problem blighting the streets of the capital, while experts revealed hopes for resurrection of the country’s reefs after in the face of a potentially devastation el nino.


Police looking for father who took 5-year-old daughter from her mother

Police have asked the public for assistance in locating a father who took his 5-year-old daughter from her mother after saying he was going to a nearby shop.

In a statement the police said that the Kulhudhufushi Magistrate Court had ordered the police to take the child from her father and to give her back to her mother as soon as possible.

The police identified the father as Hussain Thahseen of Filladhoo in Haa Alifu Atoll.

Kulhidhufushi Magistrate Court has said that it was unacceptable to victimise the child in an issue related to her father and mother.

The court also noted that Thahseen has a previous criminal record which includes drugs and crimes related to large amounts of money.


Man found dead on April 1 tested positive for opiates

A 24-year-old man found dead in Henveiru Annaarumaage on April 1 less than 24 hours after his release from rehab tested positive for opiates, police have revealed.

“Analysis shows that there was a high concentration of the drugs opium and benzodiazepine in the youth’s urine,” police said in a statement yesterday.

Police media officials were not responding to calls at the time of press to confirm whether a heroin overdose has been established as the cause of death.

Local media identified the deceased last week as Mohamed Rashad from the island of Kulhudhufushi in Haa Dhaal atoll.

According to Rashad’s family, he was released from the rehabilitation centre in Himmafushi the day before his death.

“Mohamed was released yesterday, and he was staying with a friend at Annaarumaage until the community centre could make arrangements,” Rashad’s uncle was quoted as saying by Sun Online.

“His friend was there when I went to the house, who told me that Mohamed was still sleeping when he woke up. When we went and checked, he was dead.”

National Drug Agency (NDA) CEO Ahmed Muneer explained to the online news outlet that patients undergoing community treatment upon release from rehab were required to attend several classes.

Recovering addicts were required to stay in Malé until the process could be completed, Muneer said.

He also denied the family’s claim that they were not informed by the NDA of Rashad’s release.


Speaking at a ceremony held on Thursday to mark the second anniversary of the Drug Court, Acting Chief Judge Mahaz Ali expressed concern with the rehabilitation facilities available in the Maldives.

The NDA informed the Drug Court in April last year that all rehabilitation centres in the country were at full capacity, Mahaz revealed.

The main community centre in Malé was at full capacity at the start of this month, he continued, and could not accept more patients.

Since its formation in January 2012 with the enactment of the new Drugs Act, Mahaz said that 93 drug offenders had completed the court-mandated rehabilitation programme.

Of the 93 recovering addicts, Mahaz noted that only eight had been arrested again.

In March 2009, Minivan News reported the death of five drug addicts from overdose or suicide in the space of one month.

Four out of the five addicts had received treatment at the rehabilitation centre in Himmafushi.

Police revealed at the time that a forensic examination of confiscated drugs showed that heroin sold on the streets was laced with benzodiazepine, a class of psychoactive drugs.

The combination of benzodiazepine with opiates is known to lead to coma and even death.

According to local NGO Journey, about 95 per cent of addicts who seek rehabilitation in the country relapse into drug use.


Week in review: February 9 – 15

The Supreme Court’s running battle with the Elections Commission resurfaced this week, with a trial for contempt of court – including the dissolving of political parties – being sprung on commission members.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) slammed the case as an attempt at intimidation prior to the Majlis elections, with Mohamed Nasheed suggesting that an election boycott would do less harm to democracy than participating in a fraudulent poll.

As campaigning for the March elections began in earnest, the MDP criticised the current government’s development plans, while the ruling coalition questioned the opposition’s commitment to separated branches of government.

Estranged coalition member the Adhaalath Party, meanwhile, continued its plan to field candidates in direct competition with its supposed allies, much to the chagrin of Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim.

As the government approached 100 days in charge, ambitious plans to double the current pension pot through “innovative” investments were announced, while plans to enhance the role of Islam in society took further shape.

Plans to increase Islamic education are likely to hindered slightly, however, after the Teacher Association revealed its plan for strike action should the government not heed requests for reform. Elsewhere, court employees refusing unpaid overtime were suspended.

The development of Kulhudhuffushi airport appeared a step closer this week, with environmental regulations altered in order to allow dredging of the island’s mangrove.

Local NGO Ecocare continues to view the project as unconstitutional and economically unviable.

The cabinet’s promised discussion on the implementation of the death penalty took place this week, with ministers urging President Abdulla Yameen to establish regulation for execution procedures.

The confession of the country’s most recent recipient of the sentence, Hussein Humam was used as key evidence in the continuing Criminal Court case against his alleged accomplice in the murder of Dr Afrasheem Ali.

The recent recipient of an 18 year sentence for drug trafficking, Ibrahim Shafaz ‘Shafa’ Abdul Razzaq, this week appealed his sentence from Sri Lanka after being allowed to leave the country on medical grounds last week.

Questions regarding the Criminal Court’s own actions were also asked this week as it continued to refuse new cases sent by the the Prosecutor General’s Office, despite requests from the Supreme Court. The new PG will now start the job with a backlog of over 500 cases.

Members of the Majlis national security committee were informed by the Asia Pacific Group of the country’s obligation to enact anti-laundering legislation, while the parliamentary privileges group summoned police to give information on the investigation into the Alhan Fahmy stabbing.

Former Police Integrity Commission Chair Shahindha Ismail this week accused both the Majlis and the police watchdog of “intentional negligence” in investigating the chaos that followed the controversial transfer of presidential power two years ago.

Rising numbers of tourists in Malé led the council to issue a suggestion to all local hoteliers that visitors be made aware of appropriate dress codes in inhabited areas.

The latest figures from the Maldives Monetary Authority revealed that tourist arrivals has risen by 17 percent in 2013, though this was not sufficient to prevent Air Asia X suspending its Maldives services.

Finally, the Maldives slipped further down RSF’s Press Freedom Index, dropping to 107th in the list. Elsewhere in the media, DhiTV and it’s sister station DhiFM Plus were asked to stop broadcasting upside down pictures of Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek.


Development requires democracy, says Nasheed, launching “Votun Ufaaverikan” campaign

A democratic government elected by the people is necessary for development of the country, former President Mohamed Nasheed said at a rally in Haa Dhaal Kulhudhufushi on Saturday (November 2) to launch the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) “Votun Ufaaverikan” (Contentment through the Vote) campaign.

The MDP presidential candidate said the party believes democratic principles were best demonstrated by the practice of reaching consensus through consultation advised in the Quran and Sunnah (teachings and practices of Prophet Mohamed).

“It will be hard to bring about the change we want, the development we want, without following these principles,” he said.

The most important lesson Maldivians have learnt in the recent past is that a democratic system of governance must be strengthened to achieve development, Nasheed said, adding that a “muddled” government could not ensure progress.

While the MDP government planned a number of development projects for Kulhudhufushi, he added, it came to a halt under the present “unelected government.”

An election was needed to resume the projects, he said, which includes the construction of a 22-kilometre road, a ferry terminal, a city hotel and a duty-free complex in addition to building housing units, securing opportunities for higher education, widening the ‘Hunaru’ skills training programme, and connecting the island to India via a ferry network.

Before the MDP government was “toppled” in February 2012, Nasheed said regional governments had committed to an Indian ocean passenger and cargo ferry service at the November 2011 SAARC summit in Addu City.

The MDP’s presidential election campaign was relaunched with the new slogan yesterday at 4:30pm with simultaneous events in 23 locations, covering all the atolls of the country.

Gatherings also took place in Malaysia and India, with Speaker Abdulla Shahid attending the function in Trivandrum.

In his speech at the main event, Nasheed said the purpose of an election was to offer a choice for citizens to pick the best policies and pledges.

In a democracy, he added, the role of opposition parties should be holding the government accountable and ensuring that campaign pledges were fulfilled.

However, instead of campaigning and presenting policies, Nasheed said rival parties were “using religion as a political weapon” to level false accusations against the MDP.

The “bitter consequence” of persistently claiming that the MDP was “irreligious or secular” was the creation of doubt in younger generations regarding religion, Nasheed contended.

Divisive rhetoric

Arguing that the country’s religious unity could be threatened by “backbiting” and divisive rhetoric, Nasheed appealed to religious scholars to refrain “for the sake of religion and the nation” from religion-based attacks.

As the Islamic faith of Maldivians was not lost or weakened under Portuguese rule, Nasheed said there was no possibility of any efforts to weaken the people’s faith ever succeeding.

Speaking at a campaign rally in Lhaviyani Naifaru on Thursday night, Nasheed accused former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of obstructing the presidential election to prevent consolidation of democracy in the Maldives.

The MDP’s political opponents were against establishing a democratic system of governance in the country, he contended.

“President Maumoon is someone who has never won in a vote. [Maumoon] winning 90 percent of the vote in these islands was a miracle, it wasn’t an election,” he said.

Elections were the means for ensuring development, Nasheed said, adding that the experience of the past two years have shown that only the MDP could govern in a democratic system.

Addressing supporters in Shaviyani Milandhoo the following night (November 1), Nasheed said MDP’s opponents were trying to maintain a “dictatorial regime” after preventing a presidential election from taking place.

“They do not want development. In truth, they despise the situation of the Maldivian people improving. They believe that development is an obstacle to their own businesses. They believe others entering the resort business is an obstacle to their businesses,” he said.

Meanwhile, speaking at a campaign rally on Saturday night (November 2) in Haa Alif Kelaa, vice presidential candidate of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, reportedly said that Nasheed must be held accountable for the military’s detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

“I will only believe that the rule of law is enforced in the Maldives when the court sentences Nasheed for detaining Judge Abdulla. No one should doubt that this will happen. Nasheed must also be penalised for fraudulently selling the airport to GMR, the serious acts of corruption he committed, and the MVR 5 billion he stole while he was president,” he was quoted as saying by Sun Online.

Jameel also accused the MDP of torching government buildings on February 8, 2012, which he labeled “acts of terrorism,” and claimed that the party was also behind the brutal murder of MP Afrasheem Ali in October 2012.

The MDP could not return to power for these reasons, Jameel said, calling on other parties to unite and prevent Nasheed from winning the election.


Court extends detention of two arrested for printing ballot papers

The Criminal Court has extended the detention period of two persons arrested for allegedly printing ballot papers in Kulhudhufushi.

According to local newspapers, the two suspects were brought to Male’ when the Kulhudhufushi Magistrate Court extended their detention period to three days.

They were taken to the Criminal Court last night (14 September) as the three day period was about to expire.

At the time of the arrest on September 12 , an island council member of Kulhudhufushi, who spoke to Minivan News on condition of anonymity, said the printed ballot papers in question were bigger than the actual ballot papers and were also laminated.

“I heard they were printed by some pro-Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters to make people aware of what the ballot papers would look like,” he said.


Two arrested on Kulhudhufushi for allegedly printing ballot papers

Police have arrested two individuals from the island of Kulhudhufushi in Haa Dhaalu Atoll for allegedly printing ballot papers.

A police spokesperson told Minivan News today that police could only confirm that a case involving the printing of ballot papers was under investigation.

“That’s the only comment we can give at the moment,” he said, declining to provide further information.

An island council member of Kulhudhufushi, who spoke to Minivan on condition of anonymity, said the printed ballot papers in question were bigger than the actual ballot papers and were also laminated.

“I heard they were printed by some pro-Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters to make people aware of what the ballot papers would look like,” he said. “Two men were arrested in connection with the case.”

One of them was arrested on Tuesday (September 10), the council member said, while the other was arrested yesterday (September 11). He also confirmed that they were taken to the island court, which extended their remand detention period to three days.

According to the council member, the ballot papers were printed at a major bookshop on the island which is owned by a pro-Adhaalath party supporter.

“They did not make it an issue at first but when they were defeated in the elections they reported it to the police as a complaint,” he said. “If the police arrested the people who printed it, the police will also have to arrested the people who helped them print it.”

He said that the case was reported to police by “anti-MDP people” on the island.

“They are trying to mislead people and claim that the elections result was not right,” he said, adding that he himself believed that the election was free and fair.

He added that there were no issues with the ballot boxes placed on the island.

The Elections Commission (EC) told local media yesterday that the commission would have been aware if fake ballot papers were cast and dismissed allegations of fraud.

“The ballot papers we printed has strong security features. If other papers were used in ballot boxes, we would know it very clearly,” EC Vice Chair Ahmed Fayaz was quoted as saying by newspaper Haveeru.

Fayaz explained that the EC printed 2,407 extra ballot papers, which was one percent of the total number of ballot papers, and that Novelty Printers would bear witness to the number of papers that were printed. Each polling station was sent 11 extra ballot papers, he added.

Meanwhile, MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy tweeted this afternoon that police have allegedly arrested a “third MDP activist in Kulhudhufushi.”

The party has also issued a press release strongly condemning the arrests.

“We believe that our campaign event manager Ahmed Athif was arrested based on completely false allegations for the purposes of bringing the party into disrepute, creating fear on the island, and intimidating senior campaign activists,” the statement read.

The party identified the second individual as Ahmed Abdul Raheem ‘Beney,’ an MDP youth activist. The MDP contended that the arrests were intended to divert attention from the defeat suffered by pro-government parties, calling on police to “cease intimidating the public with such uncivilised allegations.”