President urges soldiers to stay clear of politics

Politics should not enter the minds of soldiers, who have a sworn duty to defend the lawful government, the constitution, and Islam, President Abdulla Yameen has said.

“The Maldivian state today needs to be defended not only against foreign enemies or adversaries, and not only from military [threats],” Yameen said at an oath-taking ceremony for new graduates of the defence institute for training and education this morning.

“The Maldivian state has to be defended against the political turmoil among ourselves.”

The president advised the new recruits not to question orders from commanders and to guard against external influences that could disrupt the unity of the army.

In his speech at 123rd anniversary of the military in April, Yameen had called on the armed forces to defend the government, claiming international pressure was undermining the Maldives’ sovereignty and weakening the rule of law.


MACL denies imminent strike action by air traffic controllers, as staff allege pay and safety concerns

Air traffic controllers in the Maldives say they are building up to a full work stoppage over ongoing grievances and safety concerns left unaddressed by the current government.

Such strikes could lead to delays and disruption of flights to the luxury tourism destination, that welcomes almost one million tourists a year.

Several controllers responsible for organising the strike explained to Minivan News that they have been raising safety concerns with all relevant government authorities following the restructuring of the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL). Despite countless promises, no action had been taken, they said.

“For the last six months we’ve been ‘going by the book’, following all the procedures which causes a lot of delays. In the aviation industry that is considered a mild strike,” the air traffic controllers explained.

The air traffic controllers are now “building towards a full strike”, and many are even now calling in sick to work, the sources said.

A full strike would involve notifying all the relevant regional and international agencies, airlines, and all relevant government agencies in the Maldives, because no planes will be able to land except for hospital and humanitarian aircraft.

“This strike affects everyone, sea planes as well. Whatever happens at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) will cause delays at the domestic airports as well,” they added.

Six air traffic controllers should be on duty at all times, three in the control tower and three in area control, the sources said.

“Last night only two people showed up to work,” they confirmed.

“The [MACL] management and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) had to run the system last night,” the air traffic controllers claimed. “Management is totally stressed.”

“This morning only one person was working area control, so management has had to fill in and today at 1:00pm nobody one went into work,” the controllers stated.

As a result, MACL management is also trying to close the area control centre and combine all operations in the control tower, the sources said.

“A pilot from a domestic carrier called me today to say he’s hesitant to fly because the guy currently in the tower doesn’t know what he’s doing – it’s a big safety issue,” one of the controllers alleged.

Ground staff at Kaadedhdhoo domestic airport in Gaaf Dhaal Atoll told Minivan News that since strike activity began many domestic flights had been delayed “three or four hours” while a number of international flights coming into Male’ “have been diverted to Colombo”.

CEO of the Maldives Airports Corporation Limited (MACL), Ibrahim ‘Bandhu’ Saleem, told Minivan News no such strikes were occurring.

“As far as I’m concerned there is no strike – you are wrong,” said Saleem.

He explained that there have been no flight cancellations or delays at INIA and that “only Male’ international [airport], not domestic airports, are under my control.”

While Saleem insisted there is no strike, he noted “there are contingency plans in place [in the event of a strike].” He declined to answer further questions.

The air traffic controllers told Minivan News that while they were not aware of flights being cancelled as of early this afternoon, a flight from Dharavandhoo airport in Baa Atoll was one-and-a-half hours delayed this morning “because INIA couldn’t handle the air traffic.”

Safety and standards

The air traffic controllers claimed strike action was supported by 75 controllers – over 95 percent of the country’s qualified staff.  They are demanding the reinstatement of a professional grading system, adherence to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), and the holding of the presidential run-off election that remains suspended by the Supreme Court.

“This was not a political issue,” they emphasised. “But now because we’ve lost trust in and cannot negotiate with the current government, [the strike has taken a political direction],” the air traffic controller sources told Minivan News.

“We were counting on a new election and government so we could bring our problems to them. If there’s no election our grievances will be exacerbated. [Now] we don’t know when we’ll be able to vote and elect a new government,” the sources continued.

The controllers repeatedly emphasised that the Maldivian Air Traffic Controllers Association (MATCA) was not involved [in organising the strike], “because they don’t want this to appear a politically motivated thing.”

Concerns and demands

The air traffic controllers said staff were not getting proper breaks, domestic airports are understaffed, the radar system – installed at INIA in 2008 – does not meet ICAO standards, and the professional grading system for controllers had been abolished.

“Everyone got knocked down to the same grade one position, there have been no promotions or pay raises in four years,” the sources explained.

The professional grading system ranks experience level and qualifications, with four levels: 1) basic air traffic, 2) aerodrome (tower) controller, 3) approach controller, and 4) area controller. While the same task is performed at each level, the airspace area each controller is responsible for increases.

“If air traffic controllers are continuously stressed out they might get into trouble by losing a picture [on radar],” the sources warned. “More fatigue means more mistakes, but we can’t makes mistakes is this job.”

The sources said MACL staff from Male’ are sent to work the domestic airports. However, the majority of domestic airports are understaffed, with only one or two air traffic controllers. At least three people should be running the control tower at any given time, the sources explained.

“Where there is only one person working the tower – like in Forvumulah’s airport – that individual has to stay awake. He only gets four hours of sleep a day and has to work 30 days continuously without a day off,” they continued.

“If you are the only person on duty you cannot leave the room, it’s a safety issue,” the controllers explained.

Thimarafushi airport in Thaa Atoll has no air traffic controller, however the Civil Aviation Authority gave authorisation for the airport to operate anyway, the sources alleged.

“That’s totally fine by us, even in the US there is uncontrolled airspace. It’s not a big issue as long as the pilots feel that they can land and take off,” the sources added.

“No one to trust” in government

“The government is trying to say everything is running smoothly, while trying to buy us out,” alleged the air traffic controllers. “We also gave an interview to Haveeru yesterday but they nothing has been posted about it.”

“Minister Adheeb called us today asking us if we were on strike. He’s pretending he didn’t know that our concerns hadn’t been addressed, even though we met with him earlier this year,” the sources noted.

“Three supervisors – of eight total – went to the MACL Managing Director’s meeting today. He’s asking them to talk to us to bring us back to work,” the sources continued.

“We are professionals and don’t want to create chaos in the Maldives, but with the current situation there is no one to talk to,” they explained. “We’ve tried to do it in a democratic way and did every single thing [to resolve our grievances]. We’ve exhausted all resources. There is no one to trust,” they added.

“We have been trying to raise these problems – again – since 7 February  2012 with the current government run by [President Mohamed] Waheed, [Jumhooree Party Presidential Candidate and MP] Gasim [Ibrahim], and [Progressive Party of the Maldives Presidential Candidate and MP Abdulla] Yameen,” the sources continued. “They promised us action but didn’t take it.”

The air traffic controllers have additionally met with Vice President Waheed Dean, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb, Transport Minister Ameen Ibrahim, MACL, the Civil Aviation Authority, and the Labour Relations Authority, “but nothing happened,” they explained.

Over a year ago air traffic controllers submitted a case to the Labour Tribunal signed by more than 40 individuals, the sources noted.

“On December 21, 2012, over 60 air traffic controllers signed a petition that gave notice that we would be going on strike. We were promised that by January 1 our grievances would be addressed, the grading structure would be re-implemented and we would receive proper raises,” the sources added.

The controllers agreed to withdraw the case when promised the reforms and did, however  the promised action was still not forthcoming.

“We met with MDP’s Mohamed Nasheed and he pledged that under his government he would correct the mistakes and try to get us better pay,” the controllers noted. “We [also recently] met with the other political parties, but so far nothing.”

“Some [of us] are waiting for confirmation in writing [that our demands will be met], but many are waiting for the Supreme Court to rule so we can have an election,” the sources continued. “We’ve heard that MACL ground services employees are also planning to strike.”


Six hundred flats awarded to police and military

Government authorities have awarded 600 apartments to Maldives Police Service (MPS) and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) personnel this week, including to Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz and senior police officers.

The housing development projects – providing 300 apartments for MPS, and 300 for MNDF officers – are being jointly managed by the government-owned Housing Development Corporation (HDC) in conjunction with the Police Cooperative Society (POLCO) and the MNDF co-operative SIFCO.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has described the awards as a continuation of the patronage policies that prevailed under the 30 year autocracy of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Under the MPS’s MVR580 million (US$37.6 million) ‘Blue’s Housing Project’ 210 three-bedroom and 90 two-bedroom apartments will be built.

The housing scheme was described as being important for the maintenance of the police force’s welfare by Commissioner Riyaz during the project’s foundation laying ceremony in March. Acting Home Minister Ahmed Shafeeu presented recipients with the official documents yesterday (September 2).

Apartments were awarded to officers with at least 20 years of service and based on a points system used in other housing schemes, Chief Superintendent of Police Abdulla Nawaz told local media.

The awarding of flats marks the beginning of the POLCO project, which is seeking private investment for a further 150 apartments, said Commissioner Riyaz during Monday’s ceremony.

Last month, 50 apartments on Hulhumale’ were handed over to police officers by President Dr Mohamed Waheed, who expressed hope that more housing would be made available exclusively for police and military officers.

Since the controversial transfer of presidential power involving elements of the police force, 1000 officers have been promoted and 110 new officers were hired. More recruits have been sought for a “special constabulary” reserve force, a loan scheme has been established for officers, and arrangements have been made for officers and their families to receive cheap accommodations and medical treatment in Sri Lanka.

The Maldives Police Service had not responded to Minivan News’ enquiries at time of press.

MNDF flats

Meanwhile, the government has re-started construction of 300 housing units on Hulhumale’, specifically for MNDF officers.

President Waheed, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, and senior MNDF officials laid the foundation stone for the apartment complex during a ceremony held on Hulhumale’ yesterday.

The apartments will be given to female officers who had not been previously awarded housing units, as well as to retired officers, the MNDF told local media.

Once constructed, the housing units would provide MNDF personnel and their families “adequate accommodation” as many are currently “living under a degree of hardship, having to rent their living spaces,” Waheed said during yesterday’s ceremony. Nazim added that the project would provide facilities such as playgrounds, a swimming pool, and a gym for residents.

President Waheed also awarded 50 apartments to MNDF personnel and their families last month, although seven of these flats had yet to be assigned.

Waheed noted during yesterday’s ceremony that the provision of shelter for military personnel was not an act of kindness, but rather a government obligation.

“The development and welfare of personnel should be improved in accordance with financial capability of the government, and the flats awarded today provides evidence of that fact,” Defence Minister Nazim stated at the time.

In April 2012, MNDF officers were given two years of allowances in a lump sum, which amounted to MVR 150 million (US$10 million) for the institution.

The Maldives National Defence Force was also not responding to enquiries at time of press.

“Patronage” continues: MDP

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) believes the award of 600 housing units to MNDF and MPS officers is a continuation of the patronage system established during former President Maumoon Gayoom’s 30-year autocratic rule.

“In the light of extensive exposes, such ‘patronage’ is familiar to voters from the single party dictatorship of Gayoom and I believe they will simply say to each other ‘I told you so’,” MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told Minivan News today (September 3).

The MDP previously raised concerns about whether the already constructed flats – which it contends forms part of the “Veshi Fahi” Male’ (decongestion) project launched under the previous government in 2011 – were being given to the “needy” and most deserving.

Ghafoor said it was “very concerning” that police should be given flats exclusively, to the detriment of teachers, doctors and other civilians. He also questioned how officers themselves had been selected for the process.

While some of the officers may have deserved the housing, there was concern that some officers involved in last year’s mutiny had been rewarded with flats, claimed Ghafoor.

Last month, President Waheed requested parliament approval to obtain a US$29.4 million loan from the Bank of Ceylon to finance the government’s budget and manage cash flow.

The Ministry of Finance and Treasury was seeking to secure the loan as a way to “enforce” the 2013 budget approved by parliament, stated a letter from the President’s Office read during a parliament session held on August 13.


Q&A: Elections Commission Chairperson Fuwad Thowfeek

The 2013 Maldives presidential election is set to occur amid the political polarisation and institutional mistrust that has escalated since the controversial transition of power in February 2012.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) maintain that a coup d’etat had been orchestrated by loyalists to the former 30-year autocratic ruler President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and led by mutinying police and military officers. This was followed by the security services’ crackdown on demonstrators, months of MDP protests, and demands for early elections, as well as fears the judiciary may prevent Nasheed from contesting.

With the Maldives’ presidential election taking place on September 7, there is considerable national and international pressure on the Elections Commission to deliver. Minivan News discusses some of these key elections issues with Fuwad Thowfeek, Chairperson of the country’s first independent Elections Commission (EC), established on November 24, 2009.

The role of security services…

Leah R Malone: Is the Elections Commission (EC) document outlining the Maldives Police Service (MPS) elections mandate available?

Fuwad Thowfeek: For every election since 2008, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed between the Elections Commission and the police service. The same document – containing more or less the same content – will be prepared and signed between the MPS and EC indicating the election duties of both institutions – when we need their services, how to approach them, what they will do for us, how we will greet them, etc. This type of understanding is there, it will help both institutions to stick to our duties.

Both institutions agreed on the prepared draft more than two weeks ago, it just needs to be finalized and signed. It’s very close to ready now. Because we have so much other work pending, and our deadlines are reaching, priority has been given to other activities, but very soon we will sign this.

LRM: Was the EC notified regarding MPS ‘Operation Blue Waves’? Were the parameters of the operation developed in collaboration with the EC?

FT: Yes, it will be our MoU in their mind. They gave us information that they will be having this operation and expressed the activities that they will be undertaking with our knowledge.

We’ve had a number of meetings with the MPS and even on our advisory committee we have an assistant commissioner of police who was present at all of our meetings. We’ve also had meetings with other branches of the police service – we are very much in contact with each other.

LRM: The MPS website states that the operational priority for ‘Operation Blue Waves’ includes “stopping campaign members from breaking any campaign laws” – is that an appropriate rule for the police to be enforcing, or should this fall within the purview of the EC?

FT: If anybody does anything that constitutes any criminal act the police are entitled to stop that activity, whether it is related to elections or otherwise. But we have not yet requested police to stop any [campaign activities].

If there are any complaints we give the specific details of that place and information to the police, and we request them to take actions according to the legal framework they have. [Stopping campaign activities is] not something specifically requested of the police [by the EC], but because the legal framework allows them to address any kind of law that’s being breached, if they’re choosing to focus on that, it’s still within their jurisdiction.

Almost the whole country is working on campaigning… We don’t request anybody to just focus [on those activities] to see if there’s anything going wrong. If anybody reports [complaints] to us then we request the police to look into it. That is our main target, not to look for any crimes, just to see how the things are going on.

LRM: The MPS has stated that police will remain 100 feet away from voting centres in “normal situations”. What will happen in an ‘abnormal’ situation? If a polling station head does request the MPS enter in the event of a disturbance, what is the protocol, how soon would they need to leave the polling station?

FT: If there is any disturbance on the day of voting, first the elections officials will try to control the situation. If the officials are unable to control it, then we will request the police to come in and take the person away from that ballot box area. In that case, once he or she or the group is taken out of that area, activities will again resume.

LRM: In July, former President Nasheed voiced concerns that police would try to influence the election by having individuals create a disturbances as a pretext for police officers entering the polling station. Additionally, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen has recently said that disturbances are likely on election day.

What type of training have the polling station heads received to address these kinds of situations? If the polling station head is a younger individual, are they going to have the authority to actually stand up to a Special Operations (SO) officer – particularly in the more disputed areas where there’s anticipated tension, such as Addu City, Thinadhoo [Gaafu Dhaal Atoll], Kulhudhuffushi [Haa Dhaal Atoll], and/or Male’?

FT: First, we have given a 10 day training to the trainers, which was completed last week. We trained 77 trainers. They will be going out to all the atolls and giving two day trainings to the polling officials. The two day training will be good enough for them to understand all the laws, rules, regulations, and procedures of the polling activities.

In each polling station there will be at least seven to ten officials and about 50 percent will have experience with previous elections. The head of the polling station will be responsible for the whole team and, on behalf of the team, the head of the polling station will make all the decisions, and even if required will call for police assistance. In the polling stations we will have young [EC] officials, but the polling station heads will be experienced officials over 30 years-old. But we are trying to place people over 35 years of age as head of each polling station. In general, we are trying to employ people with previous elections experience, [who are] not very young. We always prefer to take people, if available, above 30 years of age. In cases where we don’t get enough officials, then we go for some younger adults, but mostly you will find the average age is over 30 years.

LRM: What should the Maldives National Defence Force’s (MNDF) elections role be? Have they been in contact with the EC or have you been coordinating more with the MPS?

FT: We are coordinating more with the police services and, even in the previous elections, we have been in touch with the police to see to the security of all the ballot boxes and polling stations. The police will seek assistance of MNDF only if they find it necessary to ask for help, but it’s very unlikely.

The security of the presidential candidates and running mates will be looked after by the MNDF. That is the only role they should be playing.

Election preparations…

LRM: Police Commissioner Riyaz recently noted that a national coordination committee has been established with representatives from different political parties and relevant institutions, so the committee can address any election issues that may arise “using diplomacy rather than out on the streets”.

Is this a committee that the EC participates in? What is the committee’s purpose?

FT: I think he was referring to the National Advisory Committee. We have in this committee a representative from each of the presidential candidates, the Maldives Police Service (MPS), the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC), the Maldives Media Council (MMC), Transparency Maldives – representing all the local civil society organisations – plus five members of the EC.

The purpose of the committee is to facilitate communication between the different institutions. The representative from each candidate or institution will take our decisions or discussions to their organisations and/or the concerned people.

LRM: How many EC staff will be placed on smaller islands during the presidential election?

FT: On every inhabited island we will have a minimum of seven EC officials at each ballot box, even if the number of people [voting] is less than 500, or even 200. In the tourist resorts and industrial islands we are planning to send five officials to each ballot box [location], because there will be an average of 200 people to vote at each ballot box. There are 700 to 1000 people expected to vote per each ballot box on the inhabited islands. In Male’ also we have 103 ballot boxes. For example, there are 48 boxes for residents of Male’ voting in Male’ and 55 for people from other atolls living in Male’.

LRM: How do you plan on coordinating elections observers from so many different institutions, including the EC, HRCM, Transparency Maldives, media, and other individuals from the Maldives and abroad?

FT: Actually, our planning section will be dealing with all the observers, monitors, and all the [election] officials. We will hold a training session  – what they can do, what they should avoid and each individual will be given a photo ID pass, so with that ID they can visit any ballot box, whether it is in Male’, Hulhumale, Villingili, even Addu or Fuvahmulah – any place depending on their need, they can go and see it.

For the coordination [of these various individuals] we will keep some special staff for that, but we don’t have much to communicate with them. Once the training session is completed, the observers and the monitors will be very sure about their roles and work. And we are going to leave them very independent actually, so that it is their duty. That makes it very easy for us as well as easy for them.

After making their observations, they write their reports, we will like to receive all the comments and remarks from all the observers. That’s something that will help to develop our process for the next election.

LRM: Why is the 2013 presidential election being held September 7, when the 2008 election was October 8?

FT: We have to follow the dates and periods given according to the constitution, the presidential elections law and also the general election law. September 7 is the first round and then in three weeks time on September 28 we have to hold the second round if nobody gets over 50 percent of the valid votes. The president will be sworn into office in November.

In 2008, it was a special period given, as noted in the constitution. [This year] if the second round is going to be on the 28 of September, one week from that date on October 4 we will be announcing the final result. There will be over one month for the elected president to prepare to take office. I think that’s good because last time the period was too short. There was not sufficient time previously between when the president was elected and then took office. [This year] it’s only one month and one week [to prepare] or even if we count the date from the preliminary result there will be just six weeks for the president to prepare to take office.

LRM: To what extent have India and the US provided elections assistance as pledged?

FT: The Indian Elections Commission mainly and also the Indian High Commission in Male’, and USAID have been assisting. Last year, two batches of 10 people each [from the EC] were given a one month training in New Delhi in their elections institution. This year also two batches of six each received training, one batch in Bangalore and one in New Delhi. In addition, two commissioners have been given the opportunity to attend an observation tour and training program.

Also, the Indian Elections Commission has provided a team of IT experts, software developers, to produce programs for various activities of the EC, like maintaining a political party register, the dispatch of voting materials, result making of the various elections, and there are many other administrative requirements. The software will make the EC’s work simpler and help to maintain very transparent records.

For example, [regarding] the local council elections and parliamentary elections, in the Maldives people can live on any island, but they will be registered mostly on the island of their birth or their parents’ island. For example, I can live on Kulhudhuffushi for any period and there can be people lets say from 150 islands living on Kulhudhuffushi too, but for the local council election, if they are from 150 different islands then 150 different types of papers should go there. Sorting this out and sending the exact number of ballots manually – according to the law we cannot send more than 1 percent of the [islands] ballot papers, unless there are 100 voters belonging to that island – is kind of a nightmare for determining the results. Last time our staff were working day and night and found it so hard to make the appropriate packets for each island. A very powerful software [program] is needed [for this] process.

It’s very difficult and complex, but the presidential election is nothing compared to this. We are very comfortable with the presidential election – it is the same ballot paper we are sending all over the country.

Political party criticisms and next steps

LRM: The PPM has claimed that the EC has not provided adequate answers to their previous complaints/enquiries, and that the upcoming presidential election is not likely to be free and fair as there is a possibility voters’ information will be altered.

How did the EC respond to their concerns previously? Was it addressed in the Advisory Committee or was it addressed separately when speaking with their party representatives?

FT: A few times they have come and met me – twice a delegation from PPM came and met me and once a delegation met the Vice Chair of the Elections Commission.

Every time we have very clearly explained everything to them, answered all their queries and gave very detailed responses to them. But there are some demands that we cannot meet. For example, one of their demands was to see our IT section. They wanted to see the hardware and software of our network system, which we cannot do and we are not ready to do for the safety and security of our system.

Other than that we have attended to almost all their requests. We have given them very detailed answers. The interesting thing is that it is the same commission, the same five members have been in this commission for the last three and a half years. I was here for the last five years, but I was the only member during the interim period that is still with the commission – I have seen the entire progression.

We conducted local council elections – which were much more complex and complicated [than the presidential election] – without any problems we managed to do it. And we have also held three parliamentary by-elections and over 20 local council by-elections. In each election or by-election there were complaints [filed], but no one has ever complained about the members of the Elections Commission. [Now] suddenly they started questioning our competence and our ability, this is very strange.

LRM: Why do you think the PPM is putting so much pressure on the EC, since the commission addressed their concerns previously? Why do you think this is happening now, with less than 20 days to the election, when there were many months to file complaints?

FT: I don’t know actually, and regarding the questions they have raised, we have given really clear answers to them. We are not hiding anything, we are very transparent. Everything has been really clearly explained, so I don’t understand. President Mohamed Waheed and President Mohamed Nasheed are very confidant in this commission, they have no complaints at all.

We don’t hesitate to answer any questions from any party, whether it’s a political party, or media, or any social club or society. We are ready to meet each and everyone. We are willing to share our knowledge and experience. That is what even we have been hearing, that the public recognises our efforts and they have confidence in us. So it is very strange that suddenly PPM has found these types of problems with us.

LRM: What is the next step the EC will take to address these issues with the PPM, particularly if they pursue legal action? Do they have any legal grounds to stand on? If they do take these issues to court, given the need for judicial reform, do you think that could be problematic for the EC to hold the presidential election?

FT: They don’t have any grounds for legal action. That is why we are very comfortable. Even if they go to court we will have no problems at all. We will clarify everything to the court.

Today (August 22) we are trying to publish our voters list according to the ballot boxes, so this will be the list that will be used on the day of voting. A copy of this list will be given to all the presidential candidates and also to the political parties that are interested in obtaining a copy of the ballot boxes with the voters list. We have so much confidence in our work – we have done really good, professional work – that we are giving it openly [to the public] to see and tell the EC if we have incorrectly listed any person in the voter registry or if any person is missing.

If anybody is missing from the list, we will very clearly tell them why the person is missing. For example, during the last two weeks, we received complaints from 17 people that they were absent from the voter list, out of 239,593 people registered to vote. Only 17 are missing out of 239,593 [only .007 percent of registered voters].

This type of accuracy is kind of a world record. For this we did so much work. We produced a list on the government gazette website, we have been talking to the media, newspapers, radio, and TV, asking people to check their names and inform the EC if anybody’s name is missing. We have made it so easy for everybody that someone can sit at home and check our website, just enter your ID card number and if your name is not there you will get a message. Or call 1414 and one of our operators will answer, or send an SMS to 1414 and you will get an automatic SMS reply, or send somebody to the EC and ask the receptionist to check for the name in the voter list.

So much work has been done, but these are 17 people that for some reason ignored or didn’t hear our calls and they just realised it when it was too late. Another reason why some of them are not recorded [in the voter register] is that a lot of people go to Sri Lanka, India, Singapore, or Malaysia for delivery. Then after the birth of the child they don’t remember to put them in the local register, so this is one reason why some names are missed. But still we said if there is a second round we are going to include these people, because they have informed us we will take the necessary steps, however for this round there is nothing we can do.

We are not the people compiling the initial register, we are getting it from the island council offices and also the Male’ City Council office. So the primary source of the [voter] list is from all the council offices, then we have to communicate with them and also we have to check it with the Department of National Registration. It’s has been very hard work over the last five year to come up with a voter registry of this standard.

LRM: Is there any additional statement you would like to make or message you would like to give Maldivian voters and/or the international community?

FT: My request is kind of an advanced request to all the voters. Today we are uploading all the voters lists for each ballot box – make sure where you are going to vote. Please check it through our website, SMS, by making a telephone call to us at 1414, or sending someone here [to the Elections Commission] to check it.

On the day of voting, we are starting at 7:30am, so go to the ballot box as early as possible so you will not be standing in the queue for long – going early will avoid delays and facilitate all the officials. If you go at the closing hour at 4pm, the queue may be too long and you will have to wait.

Regarding the international community, we want them to observe all the [election] activities including the actions at the ballot box and also in the other areas, and to express their observations very frankly and very truly. That will help us in the future and give confidence to the world as a whole regarding how the election has gone, how good or bad it was. I’m sure we will get a very good result because we have worked very hard.


Maldives Police Service launch election operation

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) has begun sending large numbers of police officers to the islands in preparation for the upcoming presidential election.

The MPS launched ‘Operation Blue Waves’ at 6:00pm on August 15 and will continue it “until voting ends and the elected president is officially sworn in”. The stated objective of the operation is “making the presidential elections proceed peacefully”.

The second-ever democratic presidential election in the Maldives is scheduled for September 7, while the second-round runoff will take place (if necessary) October 28, followed by the newly elected president taking the oath of office November 11.

‘Operation Blue Waves’ priorities include “stopping campaign members from breaking any campaign laws as well as stopping any incident that may occur”.

The MPS has stated that a large number of police officers from Male’ and the atolls are participating in the operation.

While normal patrolling will continue in Male’, additional police officers will also be deployed under ‘Operation Blue Waves’ to “maintain peace” by patrolling the capital in two shifts.

The MPS has begun sending officers to the islands Saturday (August 17), with police teams sent to most central and southern atolls, including Faafu, Dhaalu, Meemu, Thaa, Laamu, and Huvadhoo Atolls, as well as Fuvahmulah and Addu City.

Additionally, police officers who have recently completed the Police Recruitment Training Course on Vaanee in Dhaalu Atoll, are to be deployed in the atolls north of Male’.

Meanwhile, police are to be deployed from Male’ to the northern atolls today (August 18).

Prior to launching ‘Operation Blue Waves’ the police had several discussion meetings with the Elections Commission (EC) regarding the “assistance police can offer”, Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News Thursday (August 15).

Haneef explained the proposed MPS elections assistance included: providing security for EC heads and officials, election offices, candidates and their running mates; stationing police officers on every inhabited island; making voting arrangements for incarcerated individuals; curbing criminal offenses; and establishing protocols for incidents that might occur during elections.

The MPS plans to maintain peaceful law and order and public safety during the election by “increasing the visibility of police actions during elections, as per the rules regarding the presidential election”, said Haneef.

There will be a “police presence on every island where vote boxes are to be kept”, he noted.

“Police teams will be stationed 100 feet away from the ballot boxes in normal situations,” Haneef continued. Officers will also “attend criminal offences whether they occur at the vote centre, or otherwise”.

Police have been trained for “various possible scenarios” and “units to act during emergency situations will be kept on alert,” he explained.

“[Additionally,] discussions have been held between the MPS and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) to establish protocols for joint operations to bring back order,” Haneef added.

Elections Commission regulations

Currently the EC is drafting a document to articulate what the MPS’ mandate will be during the September 7 presidential elections, which is to be made public this week.

EC President Fuwad Thowfeek outlined some of the key regulations related to concerns regarding police interference with elections while speaking with Minivan News in July.

“Police cannot stand within a 100 foot radius of the ballot box,” Thowfeek confirmed.

“Police can enter the area only if the Head of Polling Station requests their assistance to control any criminal activity that goes beyond his control,” he continued.

“The role of the police will be to assist the Elections Commission in keeping peace and public safety,” he added.

Last week, EC Vice President Ahmed Fayaz further explained to Minivan News that while the commission has requested the MPS play a supporting role to help ensure peaceful, free and fair elections take place, police officers cannot intervene without a specific EC request.

“Police can intervene only at the request of the Elections Commission staff,” said Fayaz.

“The police are playing a support role and support will be requested [by EC officials] in case anything happens that would prevent a smooth election,” he continued.

“We have requested police provide assistance on every single island that will have ballot boxes,” he added.

The MPS mandate regarding elections is limited to enforcing law and order and monitoring the situation on each island, Fayaz noted.

MPS manipulating election: MDP

Meanwhile, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has continued to accuse both the government and senior police officials of trying to undermine free and fair elections, alleging the institution was actively seeking lists detailing the country’s deceased in an attempts to try and rig voting.

Earlier this month, MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that concerns about police trying to seek the details of deceased nationals reflected the party’s wider suspicions that senior figures in the MPS were trying to use their influence to manipulate the election.

Ghafoor said one key concern had been an announcement back in June that staff at the Department of National Registration were refusing to continue issuing national identity cards 94 days before elections, complaining of a malfunctioning air conditioning unit.

Yesterday (August 17) the EC revealed that 38 people’s names have been fraudulently re-registered to vote outside of their home towns in next month’s presidential poll.

However, earlier this month the EC rejected any possibility that the identities of deceased citizens could be used to fraudulently vote in the upcoming election.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed also emphasised his concerns about police influencing September’s presidential election results while speaking at an MDP campaign rally in July.

“According to information I am getting, [Police Commissioner] Abdulla Riyaz is instructing police officers to barge into polling stations upon his signal, after two individuals enter and create a scene,” Nasheed declared.

The second method by which the police will attempt to ruin the elections is intervening during the vote counting process, after claiming that difficulties are being experienced, such as the election being “rigged”, Nasheed alleged.

The MDP maintains that its presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed resigned on February 7, 2012 in a coup d’etat instigated by mutinying police officers of the Special Operations (SO) command.


MDP questions legitimacy of leaked security force reform proposals

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has questioned the legitimacy of a paper leaked on social media allegedly detailing plans to transfer and reform police and military powers should it win the upcoming presidential election.

MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said the party was not aware of having produced any document outlining police reforms as mentioned in local media, despite pledging a ”transitional arrangement” to reform security services in line with recommendations in the Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) report.

Sun Online reported today that a policy paper, alleged to have been assembled by the MDP in collaboration with former defence chiefs, had been leaked on social media detailing efforts to “neutralise the powers” of the police and military .

Among the proposals said to be included in the paper are the transfer police to the authority of city councils, similar to the US model, while salaries and allowances of officers would be provided through the Local Government Authority (LGA).

The draft is also said to favour creating a national intelligence agency run from the President’s Office, replacing the current police intelligence department, while police forensic activities would be undertaken at Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in Male’, according to Sun.

Additionally, the draft reportedly calls for limits to powers granted under the Police Act by limiting the number of branches within the MPS and “dramatically” reducing officer numbers to a force capable of controlling traffic and protests. Local media reported that the report had been compiled to address fears the entire police institution was “anti-MDP”.

MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said he had seen media coverage of the report, but was not aware of efforts within the party to draw up such a document, suggesting its content had been “fabricated”.

He claimed the MDP was presently focused on campaigning for the presidential election scheduled for September 7, while also overseeing what the party called voter protection measures through the use of observers and registration programmes.

While dismissing knowledge of the leaked reform paper, Ghafoor said the party had considered the need for a “transitional agreement” for reforms of the country’s security forces based on recommendations raised in last year’s CoNI report.

“Coup” allegations

The MDP has continued to accuse the country’s security forces of helping orchestrate a “coup e’etat” on February 7, 2012, leading to former President Mohamed Nasheed controversially resigning from office and being later replaced by his then Vice President Dr Moahmed Waheed.

The resignation came after sections of the police and military mutinied against the president on February 7 – a development rejected by the CoNI report, which concluded that the administration of President Waheed had come to power legitimately and not through an alleged coup.

With the CoNI process concluded, Ghafoor accused the Commonwealth and the wider international community of failing to ensure reforms to strengthen democratic institutions called for in the report’s findings were met.

He alleged that the Maldives Police Service (MPS) had failed to fully be transferred from a militarised to civil institution dating back to the administration of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s before the country’s first multi-party democratic election in 2008.

“Gayoom had moved to separate the military and police into different bodies. In the end, he failed to do this adequately,” Ghafoor said.

Despite pledging to reform the police and military, the MDP said it was not planning a “witch-hunt”.

According to Ghafoor, the MDP was instead focused on trying to secure a “huge election majority” in order to carry out reforms with the mandate of the public.

“This will help solve everything,” he said.

Minivan News was at time of press awaiting a response from Police Integrity Commission (PIC) Director General Fathimath Sareera Ali Shareef over the allegations and reforms within the police since last February’s power transfer.

Internal investigations

In June this year, the PIC announced it had concluded investigations into allegations of police brutality against demonstrators of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on February 8, 2012, submitting six cases for prosecution – recommending administrative action by the home ministry against those officers.

However, the police disciplinary board later decided not to take any administrative action against five officers facing criminal prosecution.

According to a status update from the PIC on June 6, the commission had investigated 29 cases of police brutality before forwarding six cases for prosecution.

PIC Vice Chair Haala Hameed told parliament’s Government Oversight Committee on June 4 that the commission had urged then-Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed to suspend the accused officers immediately.

However, Hameed said that the request was not adhered to and at least one of the accused officers was promoted.

Hameed said the commission had failed to identify the police officers in five of the remaining cases while 11 other cases lacked supporting evidence.

Former PIC Chair Shahinda Ismail – who resigned citing failure to hold police accountable for human rights violations – explained to Minivan News in September 2012 that article 44 of the Police Act allows the home minister to ignore PIC recommendations if the commission is informed in writing.


US government pledges US$9.7 million for Maldives climate change adaptation, election preparations

The United States government has pledged US$9.7 million (MVR 149 million) to the Maldives as technical assistance for climate change adaptation and election preparations.

The memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the two nations was signed yesterday afternoon (July 7) by the Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ambassador-at-large Abdul Azeez Yoosuf and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Acting Mission Director Todd Sorenson.

The United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Michele J Sison highlighted the importance of the agreement during the American Embassy’s Independence Day reception held last night (July 7) in Male’.

“The MoU will allow us to expand and enhance our bilateral cooperation, it is a truly special day… [it is my] sincere hope that the many ties that bind our two nations will grow ever stronger,” Sison stated.

Under the MoU, USAID will provide US$7.2 million for a global climate change adaptation project, and US$2.5 million as technical assistance for election preparations.

The Ambassador highlighted the importance of consolidating democracy and promoting the integrity of the electoral process prior to the September 7 presidential elections as the impetus for the US working with Maldivian partners to prepare for elections. One of the new programs covered under the MOU, through USAID, was launched by the U.S.-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).

“These efforts will promote the integrity of the electoral process in Maldives in advance of the September 2013 presidential elections, but also support efforts aimed at the local council and parliamentary elections which are to follow [in 2014],” said Sison.

“The US has urged all parties all actors here to work together to chart a positive way forward that respects the Maldivian constitution, Maldivian democratic institutions, human rights and the will of the Maldivian people,” she continued.

“As such, we’ve called on all sides here to work closely together to ensure the elections in Maldives are free, fair, transparent, credible and inclusive and that the results are accepted by all stakeholders,” she added.

The US government in partnership with the UN is also “actively supporting” a small grants program for Maldivian civil society.

“Democracy – good governance – is not just about elections it’s about the process of governance and the interaction between the government and the people,” noted Sison. “Which is why… we are looking to support projects to enhance the democratic space and to effectively engage civil society organisations in promoting good governance.”

“The US is proud to be supporting Maldivian efforts to strengthen civil society and consolidate the democratic transition,” she added.

The Ambassador also reflected on the founding of the United States, the evolution of democracy within the country over the last 237 years, and the democratisation process in the Maldives. She noted the personal responsibility of citizens to strive toward a more perfect union by pushing forward, speaking out when there is injustice, and advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves, as President Barack Obama noted in a 2008 presidential campaign speech.

“I thought of those words – both of our founding fathers and of President Obama – as I thought about the Maldives, because in the coming weeks and months ahead, reflecting the vibrancy of Maldivian institutions, the Maldivian people will once again make their voices heard in a democratic process,” said Sison.

The American Embassy’s other current initiatives include “robust USAID projects” aimed at increasing Maldivian capacity to cope with the impact of climate change and improving water security. USAID is also working with the Maldivian government to identify additional areas of cooperation related to climate change adaptation.

The US is also becoming “increasingly active” in the Maldivian economic and commercial sector.

“I’m happy to report that a number of other US companies are looking to expand their operations here, their presence and investment in the Maldivian economy,” noted Sison.

Furthermore, US initiatives have also been extend to the education sector with the “Access English Language” teaching program – with programs in Male’, Addu City, and Kulhudhuffushi in Haa Dhaal Atoll – and “Access Microscholarship”.

“The goal of these english language enrichment microschoarlips is to enable Maldivian secondary school students to pursue higher education and to increase their employment opportunities – we hope – in the job market,” Sison explained.

She also noted that US is “very proud” that the cooperation, joint exercises, and training endeavours conducted with the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and the Maldives Police Service remain “very strong and robust”.

“The US knows that all of you are as committed as we are to the prosperity of Maldives, to the democracy of Maldives, and to the well being of Maldives. We hope to work together with you in a way that will inspire and benefit future generations of young Maldivians,” the ambassador concluded.

Maldives’ Minister of Defence Mohamed Nazim assured the attendees of the US Embassy’s independence day event – who included the Indian High Commissioner Rajeev Shahare, various UN agency officials, and Maldivian government ministers – that the government of Maldives was committed to ensuring elections were “free, fair and competitive”.

“Exactly two months from today maldives will vote in a historic election to elect a president,” said Nazim.

“Free and fair elections are the strongest and most visible manifestations of a country’s democratic development. The Maldives remains committed to moving forward to consolidating democracy,” he stated. “We are continuing to further strengthen our democratic institutions.”

“We are grateful to the United States for the Maldives election program 2013-14 which will contribute profoundly to strengthen the capacity of state institutions and civil society organisations in preparing for the presidential elections,” he added.

Nazim also highlighted other “key global issues of mutual concern” both governments and working closely on, particularly in the areas of national defence, promoting democracy and the respect of fundamental human rights, as well as climate change adaptation.

“The Maldives-US defence cooperation which has been vital in enhancing our national defence capabilities,” he noted.

“Climate change is an existential threat to the Maldives. As a low-lying state, no country is more vulnerable and none is more committed to increasing investments in renewable energy,” said Nazim. “I salute President Obama for his recent initiative aimed at finding a global solution to the question of climate change.”

“Climate change is too critical an issue to be left unaddressed. We need to find solutions and be ready to make hard decisions and hard choices,” he added.

“The relationship is based on a solid foundation of friendship, shared beliefs, and mutual respect. The US continues to be a close partner of Maldives through diverse spheres and greatly contributes toward the socio-economic development of the country,” Nazim concluded.


Military dismisses alleged planner of Afrasheem murder

The Maldives National Defence force (MNDF) has dismissed Corporal Azleef Rauf over his alleged involvement in planning the murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali.

Azleef was dismissed for “disorderly conduct”, as well as “repeated actions that would harm the reputation and dignity of the armed forces”, according to the MNDF.

Azleef was arrested in relation to the Afrasheem murder case on May 23, and during a recent court hearing to extend his detention period, police accused him of terrorism, intimidation, gang crimes, operation of gangs, and using gangs to plan crimes, according to local media.

The prime suspect in the Afrasheem case, Hussain Humam Ahmed, accused Azleef of planning the murder of the MP during a recent Criminal Court hearing.

Additionally, Azleef was also previously apprehended for mugging, according to local media.


Police summon JSC member over gang link allegations

Police have summoned the president’s appointed member to the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), Mohamed ‘Reynis’ Saleem, for questioning regarding allegations he commissioned gang activities.

Saleem reported to police headquarters in Male’ yesterday (May 25) to answer questions related to an ongoing police investigation.

He has been accused of “exploiting a gang to commit crimes, including mugging,” according to local media. Saleem allegedly enlisted a gang to recover money owed to him.

The case under investigation is not related to the Dr Afrasheem Ali murder, a police media official told Minivan News today (May 26).

“As the investigation is ongoing, I am not able to provide any further details. We are facing difficulties now,” the official said.

The police do not have any plans to arrest Saleem or forward charges to the Prosecutor General’s Office at this time.

Meanwhile, Saleem has refuted the allegations, claiming he has no links to gang members, or anyone affiliated with gangs, and he did not enlist gangs to conduct criminal activities.

“The first thing I want to make clear is that I don’t have any links with gangs, or links with any person connected with gangs,” Saleem told local media.

“The question the police asked was whether I had sent a group to collect some money owed to me by someone. I said that I never sent any group to collect any money for me. So if someone owed me money, I would go to court. I shouldn’t have to involve a group,” explained Saleem.

Saleem also denied allegations he had links to the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) officer Azleef Rauf, who was accused of planning the murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali by suspect Hussein Humam, and was subsequently arrested on May 23.

“A serious question is being raised, about a person named Azleef. When I read the papers today, there were reports about a person named Azleef. Right now is a very critical moment, and they have associated my name with his name. I don’t want any newspaper writing in this manner,” said Saleem.

Saleem claimed that his police summons was politically motivated and related to his current JSC responsibilities, but that he would “disclose details [about the allegation] when the right time comes.”

“It’s a personal issue”: JSC

“We believe the issue is unrelated to the JSC or JSC work,” JSC Secretary General Aboobakuru Mohamed told Minivan News today.

“It is a personal issue [of Saleem’s] and the commission is not going to do anything or comment,” said Mohamed.

“We don’t appoint members, the President or Majlis (parliament) does, and should take up the matter,” he added.

Former President’s Member on the JSC Aishath Velezinee told Minivan News that JSC members under police investigation should not participate in the commission while this was ongoing.

“When any JSC member is being investigated they should not be participating in the commission. It reflects on the commission and the status of the judiciary,” she said.

“The JSC should be above criticism. How can the public trust judges if JSC members are under question?” she asked.

“Saleem should refrain from participating in the JSC voluntarily, that would be the best course of action,” she added.

Velezinee explained that because “Maldivians do not think like that,” parliament should suspend Saleem from the JSC until the investigation is complete, as was the course of action taken with the Civil Service Commission (CSC) President Mohamed Fahmy.

“Parliament should put Saleem on leave, not as a punishment but until the investigation is over,” stated Velezinee.

“It doesn’t matter who it is, [allegations of] involvement in serious crime require a full investigation by the police,” she noted.

She further detailed that the appropriate course of action requires police to inform the Prosecutor General, who should then inform Parliament so they can take action.

“I welcome the police to investigate, although the police are not without question themselves,” said Velezinee.

“The government itself is in question, anything that happens at this moment will be politicised,” she added.

President’s Office Spokespersons Masood Imad and Mohamed Thaufeeq, as well as Parliament Speaker MP Abdulla Shahid were not responding to calls at time of press.