Police accuse former Home Minister of defrauding Madoogali Resort of service charge payments

Police have accused the former government’s Home Minister Hassan Afeef and a fellow shareholder of Madoogali Resort of implementing a policy halting service charge payments to staff, as required by the Employment Act.

In a statement police said company involved was Blue Lagoon Investment Private Limited, and identified the second shareholder as Moosa Hassan of Mathidhoo in the Maafaanu ward of Male.

Police alleged that Blue Lagoon Investment Private Limited had taken a 10 percent service charge from the tourists from November 2011 to January 2013, but failed to account for this in documentation.

Police claimed their investigation had revealed that the shareholders had defrauded 29 percent of the money they took as service charge.

According to police, the two shareholders also mortgaged the resort with a bank without consulting with the company’s third shareholder, against the regulations of the tourism ministry.

Police alleged the money from the bank was then used to pay the rent of Raafushi Island in Noonu Atoll, an uninhabited island being developed into a resort by a company shared by the two shareholders, Afeef and Moosa.

Speaking to Minivan News, Hassan Afeef alleged Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz had been bribed and told Minivan News to call Riyaz and “ask him more about it”.

Afeef then referred Minivan News to his lawyers as the case was going to be taken up in court.

Mauroof Zakir Hussein of the Tourism Employment Association of the Maldives (TEAM) said the organisation had not received any complaints from staff at the resort concerning service charge payments.


Advocacy group requests government “not delay” reform of child sex abuse laws

A child rights NGO has called on the Maldivian government to pass needed legislation concerning the treatment of sexual abuse victims, on the back of several high-profile court cases involving minors.

The Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) NGO told Minivan News it was concerned about a lack of legislation in the country to protect victims of abuse. The NGO has also raised concerns over the potential impact on the state’s ability to prevent sexual offences following reductions to the state budget approved by parliament in December 2012.

The comments were made as the government reiterated a pledge over the last month to review and amend laws on sexual abuse that it has claimed, in certain cases, treat sexual abuse victims as perpetrators.

A spokesperson for the President’s Office confirmed Thursday (February 7) that authorities would be holding a one day seminar with the Islamic and gender ministries over the next two weeks on legal reform over concern at cases such as a 15 year-old girl being charged for fornication.

Acting Minister of Gender, Family and Human rights Dr Mariyam Shakeela was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Civil society concern

Addressing these commitments by the state, a spokesperson for ARC said it hoped the government would not delay in fulfilling its “pledge to try and review sexual abuse laws with regard to how victims are treated.”

“In addition, we also believe that further steps need to be taken to such a review. [These include] reviewing and strengthening the current institutions and existing services,” the NGO spokesperson said.

ARC has also called for reforms of the juvenile justice system and reform of the current protection mechanisms provided to minors who are kept in state run institutions, such as homes and foster programs.

A spokesperson for the NGO claimed such reviews would be vital to help ensure the protection measures are “gender sensitive, non-intimidating and safeguard children’s access to justice.”

“We concerned that the government budget for 2013 saw a huge decrease in the area of social protection, which will strongly impact work in this field,” the spokesperson added.

Legislative support

ARC identified a lack of specific legislation protecting rights for children and adults – despite the Special Measures Act 2009.

The spokesperson for ARC said a lack of a comprehensive laws on child’s rights, coupled with a general reluctance by witnesses and professional to testify in court, highlighted wider challenges affecting reforms to abuse cases.

“ARC believes that in the event that a need for testifying in a court of law is required, every person should make this a moral obligation/duty to give their full cooperation to the authorities/courts,” the spokesperson said.

According to the NGO, another important challenge urgently needing to be addressed was a perceived disparity between how child abuse cases were being investigated in the capital Male’ compared to the country’s outer atolls – particularly in regards to the use of evidence and psychological support.

In cases where the police or judiciary were dealing with minors, ARC said more training was needed to ensure children were being dealt with sensitively during investigations or trials.

“It is imperative that if the child has to be taken for questioning to a court or by police officers, it has to be ensured that the surroundings are child friendly and that all officials dealing with the child have received adequate training and experience to sensitively deal with children,” said the NGO spokesperson.

ARC said it hoped the government would provide greater room for civil society to play a role in shaping future legislation, adding that NGOs themselves needed to show greater cooperation on key issues.

“While it is encouraging that more civil society groups are being active on social issues such as this, there needs to be a stronger collaborative mechanism between them, particularly in efforts to raise awareness,” the NGO spokesperson added.

ARC said it had been conducting ongoing awareness campaigns to make the general public aware that child abuse was not just related to physical or sexual attacks, but also verbal and emotional torment that could have long terms impacts on the development of a minor.

“While child abuse cases have been increasing, it is also important to recognise the many numbers of unreported cases. We have placed billboards in Male’, and will soon air a public service awareness [advert] to emphasise that suspected child abuse must be reported and not overlooked, and also familiarise people with the reporting numbers of both the child helpline and police helpline,” stated the ARC spokesperson.

“We have also highlighted that people can maintain anonymity when reporting, which is often one of the reasons people hesitate to report such cases, particularly in a small society like the Maldives.”

High profile cases

Just last week, the Maldives high Court rejected a request to take a local man into custody over the alleged abuse of an 11-year old relative, despite the male suspect having previously been held under house arrest at the same property in which his alleged victim lived.

The Prosecutor General (PG’s) Office confirmed that following a remand hearing on Tuesday (February 5), the suspect had been released from house arrest – with no restrictions placed upon his movement ahead of his unscheduled trial.

The remand hearing took place at a time when the PG’s Office is already facing government criticism for pursuing a case against a 15 year-old minor on charges of having “consensual sexual relations”.

The 15 year-old presently facing charges of having “consensual sexual relations” has also been identified as the victim of child sex abuse in an unrelated criminal case also being pursued by authorities.

The two cases are the latest in a line of high profile sexual abuse trials concerning minors, which have been met with international condemnation.


Weak fisheries sector could benefit from strong tourism

The Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Ahmed Shafeeu has suggested that the tourism industry might be “tapped” to improve the fortunes of the ailing fisheries sector.

“The internal market is there for agriculture and fisheries. The local demand for fish is huge, including resorts,” he said.

Shafeeu noted that there was potential in closer links between resorts and local producers, and that there had already been suggestions from some island communities that such links be further cultivated.

“The [fisheries] sector needs to be re-prioritised. Recently, the focus has been mainly on tourism. We are very vulnerable if we depend only on tourism,” said Shafeeu.

The most recent statistics from the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) have revealed that the volume of fish exports dropped by 63 percent in the twelve months from January 2011 to January 2012. The value of these exports dropped by 33 percent during the same period.

The statistics, provided by the Department of National Planning, show that tourism constituted around thirty percent of real GDP last year and is projected to represent a similar figure in 2012.

The fisheries industry is predicted to contribute just 1.1 percent of Maldives’ real GDP this year, dropping nearly two thirds from its 2006 contribution. The national significance of the industry however remains huge, providing employment to more than half of the population.

Potential issues that may act as potential barriers to the consumption of local fisheries produce in the resorts seem to be transport and product quality.

Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamaal said that the opening of local airports and the development of transport may make it easier to increase the consumption of local produce in resorts.

He said that there had not been any research done on the exact patterns of consumption on resorts. The MMA figures show that the Maldives exported an average of 43 percent of its fish catch over the five years up to 2011.

“Currently, there are many challenges in the transportation of products,” said Maleeh.

“We hope domestic products can be consumed in our resorts. Fisheries have a high potential. All resorts consume a lot of fish. I think the demand for locally caught fish is very high,” he added.

Maleeh said that the sustainability of Maldivian fishing techniques were a strong selling point of the nation as a tourist destination. He saw this as part of what makes the Maldives unique.

The sustainability of centuries-old ‘pole and line’ fishing methods is not only considered a source of national pride, but also attracts buyers from premium supermarkets in the UK and Europe.

Shafeeu said that the resorts often imported only local reef fish, choosing to import other high value fish products which could potentially be available domestically.

A senior management source at one resort told Minivan News that they did source local fisheries’ produce in their restaurants and in their staff canteen, owing to the low cost.

“We don’t buy from outside,” said the source, although they said the choice was often limited: “It’s not every day we can get what we want.”

They added that this arrangement was possible due to the location of their resort, in North Male’ Atoll. For more isolated resorts, they explained, it is not viable for local fishermen to bring fresh fish every day.

This issue was also touched upon by Maleeh: “Resorts need continuity and consistency of supply,” he said, adding, “The quality of products needs to be maintained.”

Describing alternative methods of improving the prospects of the industry which has suffered greatly from foreign competition in nearby waters, Shafeeu raised the issue of the impact the “major shortage” of fresh ice had on the quality of produce.

“One of the major concerns is getting good ice across the country,” said Shafeeu, explaining that the delays imposed while vessels waited for ice, as well as the potential impact on the quality of the catch, were “not acceptable”.

He added that with the budget being “very limited” he was exploring the possibility of converting funds from other projects to meet this need.

Investment in ice processing plants was described as one of the areas he hoped would benefit from the resumption of fishing subsidies was announced by President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan last month.

The subsidies, amounting to Rf100million a year (US$6.5million), are yet to receive official approval from the Majlis, although Shafeeu said that the chair of the Finance Committee had indicated that a consensus in favour of subsidies had been reached.

He said that he had instructed ministry staff to advertise the availability of the subsidies so that fishermen could register and receive their vouchers as soon as the Majlis reconvened.

When asked if he felt the fishing industry to be in terminal decline, Shafeeu replied that he did not think this was the case, believing that the industry could still play a prominent role in the country’s economy “if we give it enough attention”.


Police promote one thousand officers, recruiting further 200

In a ceremony to celebrate the 79th year of the police service, Police Commissioner Abdullah Riyaz and Minister of Home Affairs Dr Abdullah Jameel announced the promotion of around 1000 police officers – approximately a third of the force.

The appointment of four new Assistant Commissioners was also announced, more than doubling the previous number holding this rank – the third highest position in the service.

Additionally, the police have revealed plans to recruit 200 new officers to the force this year.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said that these promotions were in line with normal police regulations, and were awarded “based on performance, merit, and number of years served.”

The weekend’s celebrations continued as President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan announced plans to allocate 74,000 square feet of land to develop homes for police personnel.

Dr Waheed also expressed his gratitude for the police’s actions on February 7. “I state that the police worked on February 7 to uphold the constitution of Maldives,” he said.

The anniversary of the police service comes after months of intense scrutiny in which it the service been accused of brutality, human rights abuses and complicity in the downfall of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

On Saturday, Commissioner Riyaz stated that he did not intend to pursue an internal investigation into the alleged events of February 7 and 8, citing the lack of credibility that such an investigation was likely to have.

The unrest on February 8 saw a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protest swiftly suppressed by the security forces while the footage of police aggression was beamed around the world.

Instead, Riyaz declared his decision to focus on repairing the organisational damage done to the institution.

“I can’t just come in here and investigate the alleged police brutality as the first order of business. It is essential to establish who was occupying which post first by assessing the organizational structure. The whole institution had been politically influenced,” the Commissioner told Haveeru.

“We all know that the positions within the police institutions had not been assigned in accordance with police regulations and had functioned in violation of the police system. Hence, I am compelled to drag the institution back into its proper system,” said Riyaz.

He also stated that he had discussed any potential investigation with the President and the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) shortly after taking up his post, requesting that the HRCM take up the responsibility.

Amnesty International had last week criticised this method of investigation after having spoken to HRCM regarding the investigation of alleged sexual abuse of female detainees.

“HRCM has told Amnesty International that they have serious limitations in terms of trained investigative staff and dealing with human rights issues in a highly politicised environment is an overwhelming challenge for them,” said Amnesty’s representative in Male’, Abbas Faiz.

“By referring cases of police abuse of power to the HRCM, when it is clear that such investigations are beyond its capacity, the government is in effect forfeiting its own responsibility to enforce respect for human rights within the police force,” said Faiz.

President Waheed’s speech at the anniversary’s official function event focussed on the difficult environment the police had found themselves since the upheavals of February.

Waheed called on public to show respect for and cooperation with the police while urging all officers to respect human rights and human dignity in the course of their duties.

The strong public discontent with the police’s role in, and its reaction to, the events of February 7 and 8 has led to simmering tensions which have erupted in sporadic violence.

The President also expressed his sadness at the physical and emotional distress suffered by the police in recent weeks.

The opening of the people’s Majlis on March 19 was accompanied by clashes which saw the police suffer multiple casualties. This was followed by a series of attacks which saw four police officers hospitalised in five days.

Popular discontent also saw the staging of a large rally on March 15 in support of the International Day Against Police Brutality.

Both Commissioner Riyaz and President Waheed have been reported expressing concerns that people in the media were attempting to defame the image of the police force, expressing concern that this was damaging the country.

“I am aware of their contempt towards the institution. I will try to resolve the matter. The biggest challenge would be to win back their trust and confidence,” Riyaz told Haveeru.


14 year-old boy stabbed on way home from school

A group of unknown assailants have stabbed a 14 year-old boy, after he refused to hand over his mobile phone to the group.

Haveeru reported that the boy was attacked while he was walking home from school.

The boy has now been admitted to hospital for treatment and is in a critical condition, according to reports.


RAF man says Gan reunion the inspiration for Addu Atoll hospital fund

A recent return to Gan for one former member of Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) has reportedly been the inspiration for a fund aiming to strengthen medical facilities on the island.

Richard Houlston, from Devon in the UK, spent a year of his RAF service in Addu Atoll between 1969 and 1970, where he worked to maintain transmission equipment to support a nearby British airbase operated from Gan, reports the Express & Echo newspaper, published in Exeter in the UK.

Speaking to the newspaper, Houlston said that the Gan Scholarship Fund, which hopes to raise about £10,000 (Rf202,664) to provide training and equipment in order to try and boost medical facilities in the area, was formed after a visit to the island by 28 airmen the island earlier this year.

After being greeted and looked after by the people of Addu Atoll during a visit, which also included time for a spot of diving, Houlston said the airmen were concerned by the standards of healthcare available to local people.

“There is a hospital on the island of Hithadhoo, where I was working, but it struggles to give anything more than a basic service,” he told the paper. “The closest proper hospital is in India, over 1,000 miles away.”
At present, Houlston said £1,600 (Rf32,000) has been raised for the fund.

The RAF were based at Gan from the early 1950s to the mid 1970s.