Parliament accepts bill potentially banning pork and alcohol from resorts

Parliament has narrowly voted to accept a bill that would potentially ban pork and alcohol completely from the Maldives, requiring resorts to cease serving haram (prohibited) products to foreign tourists.

The proposed amendment to the Contraband Act was initially submitted by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Nazim Rashad, who after the vote praised MPs’ “willingness to serve Islam”.

When presenting the bill, Nazim argued that the import of these products violated article 10(b) of the constitution which states that “no law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.”

“We often hear rumours that people have alcohol at home in their fridge, available any time. We’ve heard that kids take alcohol to school to drink during their break. The issue is more serious than we think, it should not be ignored,” Nazim told the media, presenting the bill last week.

The vote was level with 24 MPs voting to accept the bill, and 24 to reject it, while 11 MPs abstained. Speaker Abdulla Shahid cast the deciding vote, in favour of accepting the bill.

The bill will now be sent to Parliament’s National Security Committee, which will assess it and potentially forward the proposal to parliament for a final vote on the matter.

Regulation permitting the sale of pork and alcohol in tourism establishments was passed by the Ministry of Economic Development in 1975. Parliament did not reject the regulation on the sale of pork and alcohol in 2009 following the introduction of the new constitution, thus allowing it to stand by default.

However the 2008 constitution explicitly states that no regulations against a tenet of Islam may be passed in the Maldives, in apparent contradiction of those laws allowing the import and sale of haram commodities.

After being asked in January for a consultative opinion over whether the Maldives could import pork and alcohol without violating the nation’s Shariah-based constitution, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the case on the grounds that the matter did not need to be addressed at the Supreme Court level.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mariya Ahmed Didi this week told Minivan News that the issue of alcohol needed to be “clarified” and “addressed”.

“If this is a religious issue, that is if Islam bans sale of alcohol, it should not be sold in the Maldives as we are a 100 percent Islamic nation. If the sale is allowed, then the question to ask is whether alcohol is needed for the tourist trade to flourish,” she said.

She added that if alcohol proved to be a vital element in the tourism sector, then the sale of alcohol should be allowed for “registered places” to which a permit is given to accommodate tourists including resorts, safari boats and guest houses.

“If the objection to the sale of alcohol is on [religious] grounds, it should not be sold in places where Maldivians reside. But Maldivians do reside on resorts as employees. If we deny Maldivians the employment opportunities in the resorts, then the income from resorts will be restricted to those who own resorts, that would give way to increase in expatriate workers and foreign currency drainage,” she explained.

Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Abdulla Abdul Raheem – who voted in favour of accepting the bill – was reported by Sun as stating that as alcohol was banned under Islam, it was illegal in the Maldives to create laws and regulations concerning it.

The JP is headed by local resort tycoon, Gasim Ibrahim, who owns the Villa Hotels chain. According to customs records for 2011, those properties – including the Royal, Paradise, Sun, and Holiday Island resorts, in 2011 imported approximately 121,234.51 litres of beer, 2048 litres of whiskey, 3684 litres of vodka and 219.96 kilograms of pork sausages.

Gasim abstained on the vote, as did fellow resort owners Abdulla Jabir and Ahmed Hamza. Resort owner ‘Sun’ Shiyam voted in favour of accepting the bill.

Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali voted against accepting the bill, as did Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed and Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) Parliamentary Group Leader, Abdulla Yameen.


Comment: A national emergency

Minivan News on Sunday: a 13 year old girl is being abused by her own father.

Another child abuse story. Another day. Did I notice anyone raise an eyebrow?

The children of this country are being sexually assaulted and abused by people they know and trust. This is the only conclusion that can be drawn from the regular appearance of news articles and stories about the abuse of children in our communities.

This happens all the time. It is becoming quite ‘normal’ now. In fact, there is evidence to support this.

The Maldives Study on Women’s Health and Life Experiences published in 2007 by the then Ministry of Gender and Family found that “girl child sexual abuse was most often a repeated form of abuse rather than a once off occurrence”.

The study also found that “male family members (other than fathers and step-fathers) and… male acquaintances were identified as the most common perpetrators of girl child sexual abuse”.

Most damningly, the study found that “overall, one in three women aged 15-49 reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives, including childhood sexual abuse”.

Another story, a different day.

Hundreds of liquor licenses allow the expatriate community to indulge themselves in the supposed pleasures of alcohol. A steadily increasing community of foreign workers have been indulging in such pleasures in our homes and communities for decades, quite legally.

The People’s Majlis passes a bill which attempts to control the distribution and consumption of alcohol. It would also stop the consumption of alcohol in our homes, which are rented by expatriates who have these liquor licenses.

Uproar ensues following the passage of the bill. Our airwaves are filled with news of protests and the constant reportage makes the whole issue akin to a national emergency. The horror of such a move by the government!

A group of allegedly devout men and women threaten to destabilise the country by toppling the government if the bill were to come into force. Communities are outraged and will not allow this to happen because alcohol is ‘haraam’.

Meanwhile, the lives of unknown numbers of vulnerable children continue being quietly destroyed behind closed doors, often by the very people who are responsible for their welfare and protection.

The community does not protest. It seems to be a non-issue for them. They do not condemn such behaviour or threaten to overthrow the government in fits of outrage. In fact, the community is silent.

The brutal treatment of children is clearly not a concern in this society. But the sale of alcohol to non-muslims sends our communities and media into uncontrollable convulsions.

What does this say about our society? What does this say about our priorities?

When the controlled sale of alcohol to non-muslims becomes a bigger issue than the destruction of our childrens’ futures due to sexual abuse and violence, is it not time to reflect on the madness and incoherence of the value system of this society?

Let us not look around for someone to blame. Let us consider and reflect upon our own failure to address this silent national emergency.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Alcohol licenses to be issued to hotels on inhabited islands

Hotels with more than 100 beds will be allowed to sell alcohol on inhabited islands – such as Male’ – according to new regulations approved by the Ministry of Trade and Economic Development.

In addition to tourist hotels, bars at the airport departure terminal will be authorised to sell alcohol. Diplomats at the ambassador level will also be eligible for liquor permits.

The illegal imports law 4/75 authorises the ministry to formulate such regulations. The new law applies to both alcohol and pork products, and will go into effect from 1 March.

The new regulations for liquor licenses were proposed in November 2009, but were withdrawn shortly afterwards due to public outcry and opposition from the Islamic Ministry.

State Minister of Trade Adhil Saleem said a hotel seeking to acquire a liquor license under the new regulations would be required to follow the government’s “strict rules” on the sale of alcohol.

Hotels will not be allowed to have a bar that is visible from the outside, and it must only serve foreigners. Furthermore, the alcohol can only be sold and consumed in designated areas of the hotel.

Maldivians cannot be employed at the bar and all employees of the bar must be registered with the economic development ministry and undergo a police check. Security cameras must be installed in both the serving area and storerooms, and back-up recordings kept.

Moreover, an inventory of the alcohol in storage and daily sales must be maintained and made available to police on request.

Saleem believes a side effect of the new license regulations will be “the proper disposal of empty liquor bottles”.

“Now, it’s not an issue if you find an empty bottle of liquor on the streets of inhabited islands,” he said, suggesting that with the new licenses establishments must dispose of bottles properly.

Sim Mohamed from the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) said the changes in alcohol licensing would have little effect on the tourism industry, “as most people travelling to Malé do so for business, or stay only for the day.”

Mauroof Zakir, spokesperson for a coalition of NGOs against the sale of alcohol on inhabited islands said the issue is intrinsically a serious one.

“Maybe the government thinks it’s only a few people with beards who want to stop this,” he said. “The government is doing what it likes without considering what the people might want.”

He said the Islamic Foundation and the coalition of NGOs “will not support this and will take action against it, within the law.”

Regulations at a glance:

a) alcohol and pork cannot be served outside the bar area, for instance from mini-bars in hotel rooms

b) Maldivians cannot be employed at the bar, while all employees must be registered at the ministry after a police clearance

c) the bar should not be visible from outside and should be located at a place that is not easily visible to those who visit the hotel

d) the hotel should have a separate warehouse to store pork and liquor items and it should have proper security

e) a daily inventory must be kept, including the amount in storage and the amount served

f) the inventory should be made available to police upon request

g) only expatriates registered at the ministry after a police clearance should be allowed to store and remove items from the warehouse

h) there must be a CCTV at the warehouse

i) only those with foreign passports can be served at the bar and Maldivians with foreign passports cannot be served

j) the security guard at the bar must check passports before entry

k) the hotel must establish a private security system approved by police

l) it will be illegal to remove pork and liquor items from the bar or selling it outside the hotel

m) inebriated customers should not be served before they regain sobriety nor should they be allowed to leave the hotel

n) the hotel must establish a breath-testing mechanism approved by police for patrons before they leave the bar

o) cameras must be installed if police request it and CCTV camera footage must be kept for a month