Changi signs consultancy deal as MACL aims for 9.6 million passengers

Singapore’s Changi Airport International has today signed a deal to provide consultancy services for the renewal and expansion of Malé international airport.

During a ceremony held this morning Maldives Airport Company Ltd (MACL) Managing Director Ibrahim ‘Bandu’ Saleem revealed that the new masterplan envisioned 9.6 million passengers using the airport by 2030.

Saleem questioned why “not much has been done for the development of Malé international airport”, saying that financial arrangements with China’s Exim Bank were in place, with work expected to start early next year.

A previous concession agreement with India’s GMR for the management and operation of the airport was terminated in late 2012, with the company winning its arbitration case against the Government of Maldives in June this year.

Political opposition to the GMR deal focused on nationalist sentiment, and President Abdulla Yameen has emphasised the importance of retaining government control over Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

Both Changi CEO Lim Liang Song and Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb spoke today of the strong emotional symbolism of the airport.

“As we know, our airport is very much emotionally attached – it’s not only an airport, but an airport that was built by Maldivian people and it is in their sentiments and it is President Yameen’s vision to develop the airport by the government of Maldives and to keep its operation under the government of Maldives,” said Adeeb.

Song compared this sentiment with Singaporean’s feelings towards Changi International Airport, noting that this would be kept in mind as the group.

“At the end of this, we are the consultants. We will give you best advice on practices on processes – the airport has to be moved by the emotions, the vision, of the government as well as MACL,” he explained.

During today’s signing ceremony, Adeeb discussed the government’s vision for the airport, noting that infrastructure would have to be complemented by enhanced human resources in order to provide an international class facility.

“We look forward to opening a brand new, luxurious, airport where the high end tourists would like to spend their time and have that luxurious feeling – a feeling that they are in an airport in the most beautiful destination in the world.”

Adeeb has previously explained that Changi, which manages Singapore’s multiple award-winning Changi airport, would be hired as consultants as they are better qualified to work with Chinese and Japanese contractors.

Following GMR’s renovations to the current international terminal in 2012 – part of the country’s largest foreign investment deal – the project became overwhelmed by political opposition, leaving the foundations of a new terminal to rust on newly reclaimed land.

After arbitration proceedings found the agreement to have been valid and binding, GMR have recently revealed they are seeking US$803 million for damages and loss of reputation – a figure equivalent to around two thirds of next year’s forecast state revenue.

With the court yet to conclude on the amount owed by the Government of Maldives, GMR were reported to have expressed surprise when a preliminary agreement was signed with Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG) to upgrade INIA.

2013 saw over 1.3 million tourists land at INIA – around one third of which were Chinese.

MACL’s Bandu Saleem noted today that the government also had plans to expand regional airports – of which there are currently ten – with plans to develop an airport in Raa Atoll.

Correction: this article previously incorrectly stated MACL had signed an agreement with Changi Airport Group. MACL signed an agreement with Changi Airports International.

Related to this story

Airport development begins, with “no chance” of GMR returning to project

GMR lodges US$803million claim, pleads for award of further damages for loss of reputation

GMR surprised with decision to give airport development to Chinese firm

Agreements on bridge and airport penned during Chinese president’s visit


NGO to conclude breast cancer awareness month with walk around Malé

The Cancer Society of Maldives (CMS) will conclude the breast cancer awareness month with a walk/run around the capital Malé on Thursday (October 30).

“Breast cancer survivors are going to participate in the walk. There will also be a CMS stall at Raalhugandu raising awareness about breast cancers and women’s boduberu at Raalhugandu during the walk,” said Chairperson Juwairiya Saeed.

According to Aasandha usage statistics, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in the Maldives, with the most number of cases coming from Malé and Addu City.

Prevention of non-communicable diseases – including cancer – is a focus of the government’s 2006 -2015 Health Master Plan.

An awareness campaign was held from October 12 to 16 at the Huravee Building in association with the Table Tennis association of Maldives where members of the public were invited to play table tennis and donate money for the cause.

“Our main aim this month is to raise awareness and we have been doing so by conducting session about breast cancer every Wednesday night. Our sessions are focused at promoting self-diagnosis so that the cancer is detected in the early stages where it is easily curable,” explained Juwairiya.

The cancer society of Maldives is cut launched an SMS quiz about breast cancer as part of the awareness campaigns with a chance of winning a weekend for two at Reveries Diving Villa at Laamu Atoll. Participants must SMS ‘BC’ to 360 and answer all 10 questions correctly to be entered for the prize.

In February, CMS conducted a breast cancer screening at Addu City with the help of voluntary doctors from Singapore with plans to make the screenings an annual event to be held at a different atoll every year.

Juwairiya said that the association plans to establish a psycho-social support group for cancer patients, survivors and family members while highlighting the importance of eliminating the current social stigma surrounding cancer.

“CMS is also working on trying to establish a cancer database detailing the locations of the cancer patients, the expenses incurred for the treatment in order to identify suitable treatment methods. World Health Organization has expressed interest in the project,” said Juwairiya.


Exit permits required for foreign workers from today

Foreign workers in the Maldives will be required to obtain permission from their employer before leaving the country from today (October 19).

The exit permit requirement – announced via local media on Thursday (October 16) – is now being implemented, with expatriate workers required to present a form, signed by their employer, at airport immigration.

“The procedure is simple,” explained the immigration department’s Information Officer Hassan Khaleel.

“The employer needs to fill out the form and hand it over to the employee. The employee is required to submit it to the immigration counter at the time of departure.”

The abuse of exit permit systems elsewhere has led to condemnation from international human rights groups, with local NGO Transparency Maldives today expressing concern over the scheme’s use in the Maldives.

While exact figures are unavailable, the number of expatriate workers in the country has been estimated to be as high as 200,000 – equivalent to two thirds of the local population.

Although the majority of these workers are Bangladeshi, Bangladeshi High Commissioner Rear Admiral A.S.M.A Awal has told Minivan News he has not yet been informed of the new exit permit procedures.

During the first week of the permit’s use, allowances will be made due to the short notice given regarding exit permit procedure, explained Khaleel.

“It will not be very strict for the first week. Airport staff will ask for the form and may call employers to check for a period of time.”

He explained that the introduction of the permit system had come after requests from employers concerned at the number of expatriate workers leaving the country without permission.

The illegal practice of withholding the passports of migrant workers – described as “rampant” in the Maldives by the US State Department – may also be lessened as a result of the new permit scheme, added Khaleel.

Potential for abuse

Advocacy and communications manager at TM, Aiman Rasheed, has expressed concern that the exit permits will exacerbate the well-documented abuses within the immigration system.

“Requiring an exit permit to depart from Maldives may have the same effect as withholding travel documents, that is, the employer has control of the mobility of the worker,” explained Rasheed.

“While this is an infringement on the freedom of movement for workers, it also presents opportunities for perpetuation of bondage, trafficking, etc, by limiting movement of the worker.”

Long viewed as a country with a poor record on combatting human trafficking, the Maldives was this year removed from the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report watchlist.

A government report in 2011 has revealed the scale of the problem, with human trafficking said to be the Maldives’ second most lucrative industry after tourism – worth an estimated US$123 million a year. In 2013, Bangladeshi authorities temporarily halted migration of its nationals, blaming the failure of local authorities to address the problem.

After four consecutive years on the TIP watchlist, the Maldives avoided potential sanctions this year after the introduction of the Anti-trafficking Act in December 2013.

“Serious problems in anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim protection remained,” said the TIP report, which noted that an unknown number expatriate workers in the country experienced forced labour.

Exit permit systems are also operated in other nations with large numbers of expatriate workers – such the UAE and Qatar, although Qatar announced earlier this year that it was to abolish the practice after pressure from human rights groups.

Human Rights Watch noted last year that the Qatari system “unfairly shackles foreign workers to their Qatari employers, opening them up to unfair treatment and exploitation.”

Khaleel told Minivan News today that the immigration department was aware of the potential for abuse inherent within the system.

“If there are any disputes employers should approach the Labour Relations Authority. They are responsible for disputes and breaches of contract,” he explained.

Any workers requiring further information on the exit permit system can contact airport immigration on 332 0452 or 794 0452.

The exit permit form can be downloaded here.


Maldives’ UN journey proof small states can contribute to international community: Foreign minister

Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon has told the UN General Assembly that the Maldives journey with the body is proof small states can contribute to the international community.

“The story of the Maldives, is the story of all small states at the United Nations. The Maldives journey at the UN, is proof that with smart ideas, small states can successfully contribute and become significant members of the international community,” said Dunya on the anniversary of the Maldives’ membership.

A press release from the foreign ministry has today described the UN as a “trusted partner and a staunch advocate” of the Maldives during the past half century.

Dunya’s comments were in stark contrast to the previous two appearances by the country’s leaders at the UNGA in New York, during which the Maldives was critical of perceived attempts by the organisation to interfere in the state’s sovereign affairs.

Speaking at the 69th session of the UNGA this week, Dunya noted that the Maldives was the first so-called ‘micro-state’ to seek entry to the UN, and has since been at the forefront of the small state issues, holding the first ever conference of small states 25-years ago and forming the first alliance of small nations.

During its 49 years as a member of the UN, the Maldives has worked to establish recognised links between climate change and human rights, explained a foreign ministry statement today.

Speaking at the 3rd International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Samoa last week, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – father of the foreign minister – called upon larger nations not to stand in the way of small island leadership on climate change.

“SIDS are ready to lead. Don’t stand in our way,” said Maumoon, representing the Maldives as a special envoy at the conference.

The foreign ministrya also noted that, following the difficult transition from less developed to middle income status nation in 2011, the Maldives has “raised concerns about the criteria used for graduation by the UN as negatively impacting Small Island Developing States”.

The graduation from less developed status was recently described by President Abdulla Yameen as coming with “enormous challenges and hardships.”

As the country’s graduated to middle income status in 2011 – forfeiting access to concessional credit, certain trade concessions, and some foreign aid – Maldivian representatives to the World Trade Organisation accused the UN of ignoring the country’s vulnerabilities.

At the 67th session of the UNGA in 2012, President Dr Mohamed Waheed argued that “small justice is being served for a small state” following the international response to his controversial ascent to the presidency that year.

The following year, it was Dunya’s predecessor Dr Mariyam Shakeela who attacked the UN for what she suggested had been attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of the Maldives following the UN’s concern at repeated delays of the 2013 presidential election.

Criticism of the Supreme Court’s role in the electoral process by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay was subsequently described as “ill-informed” and “irresponsible” by Waheed, while a report into the judiciary by a UN Special Rapporteur in the same year was described by the Maldives as undermining the government.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ statement today reiterated, however, the country’s belief that the UN remained the most legitimate forum for globally significant issues.

“It remains the only forum where every nation in the world, big or small, has an equal say,” the statement read.

“Forty nine years ago, the Maldives affirmed our faith in the United Nations; as a shining example of equality, hope and peace, and joined the community of nations to ultimately achieve freedom from want, and freedom from fear. The Maldives will continue on its journey at the UN, providing smart ideas, offering solutions to all issues of global interest.”


PPM celebrates SEZ bill with fireworks

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) celebrated the passage of President Abdulla Yameen’s flagship Special Economic Zone (SEZ) bill with fireworks and a music show on Friday night (August 29).

The ‘Development Certain – SEZ for the atolls’ celebration at Malé’s Alimas Carnival saw PPM MPs heap praise on President Yameen and Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb. MPs hailed Yameen as an economic expert and a president for the youth.

The SEZ bill “would bring unparalleled development” to the Maldives and accelerate development of the country’s rural atolls, MPs said. The SEZ bill, passed under PPM’s mantra ‘Economy, Youth, Hope,’ would usher in a prosperous future, the PPM said.

MPs also celebrated what it called a “war” against opposition Maldivian Democratic Party in passing the bill. The opposition had proposed over 180 of the 245 amendments to the bill at an extended sitting on Thursday. However, the bill passed with only six minor amendments, which had been proposed by the ruling party.

At the ceremony, Speaker Abdulla Maseeh and PPM parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan handed over a copy of the bill to President Yameen.

MDP contends the SEZ law would pave the way for money laundering and other criminal enterprises, undermine the decentralisation system, and authorise a board formed by the president to “openly sell off the country” without parliamentary oversight.

The government, however, maintains that SEZs with relaxed regulations and tax incentives were necessary for foreign investors to choose the Maldives over other developing nations and to launch ‘mega projects,’ including the I-Havan free port in northern Haa Alif atoll.

SEZ for the atolls

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb, who spearheaded the drafting of the SEZ law, said benefits and tax breaks in the legislation would attract multi-million dollar investments and will bring benefits to all citizens.

“As I stand here, I see a very prosperous future. I know, in the past two years numerous investors have come wanting to invest in the Maldives. They ask, why should we go to Haa Alif? Why should we go to Addu Atoll? What’s so special there? There are islands and lagoons near Malé, why should we invest in the Malé region, build guesthouses here? That is true, before this, the government did not have any special offers on negotiation, such as designating special economic zones. But today, we have special offers on hand,” he said.

California had competed with other American states to attract car manufacturer Toyota with free water and electricity, he said. But investors in the Maldives have to establish water, electricity, and sewerage systems before they could make investments, he said.

He went on to dismiss opposition concerns over the legislation, including the proliferation of gangs and criminal activity, he said.

“But I think gangs are being formed even now. You don’t need a law for that. That happens outside the law,” Adeeb said.

Opposition leader and former President Mohamed Nasheed had dubbed the legislation the ‘Artur Brothers bill’, referring to the infamous Armenian brothers linked with money laundering and drug trafficking who made headlines last year after they were photographed with cabinet ministers.

Economic Minister Mohamed Saeed also defended provisions that allow 40 percent of investment in any special economic zone to be in tourism or tourism related industries.

Critics have said the excessive benefits and tax breaks to tourism related investments in SEZs would allows tourism owners to legally evade taxes.

But Saeed contended all SEZs, whether it is a free port or a financial center, require a tourism component, as “the Maldives’ unique selling point is sun, sand, and sea.”

With a US$1 billion investment, only US$400 million could be invested in tourism, just enough to build 250 rooms, Saeed said.

Dissolve councils

MP Ahmed Nihan warned the opposition dominated Malé City Council that the ruling party would not hesitate to dissolve councils that are “obstructing development.

“I am informing you tonight, as leader of the progressive party’s parliamentary group, I am closely observing Malé flooding and congestion in Malé,” he said.

“We will not hesitate to dissolve councils that obstruct the government in order to provide services. Our parliamentary group in general agrees to this. We know [councils] are obstructing development.”

The Maldives is a unitary state, he said and argued public land and assets do not belong to councils, but to the government and the president or a ministry designated by the president.

Meanwhile, MP Abdulla Rifau (Bochey) said the SEZs will create jobs for unemployed youth and Kudahuvahdoo MP Ahmed Amir pledged to stop any sort of corruption in SEZs.


Speaking to the media on Thursday, Yameen said he would ratify the bill as soon as Attorney General Mohamed Anil reviews it, and start work on existing project proposals including the I-Haven project and SEZs in central Faafu and Dhaalu atolls.

“We will not wait until we get proposals. Our aim is to start work on evaluation of proposals we have already received. The government will compile the framework necessary for that under this bill. Then investors can come and start work. It will not be difficult for them to continue with their work with this bill,” he said.

President Yameen has said the SEZ law would “transform” the economy through diversification and mitigate the reliance on the tourism industry, while opposition leader Nasheed has dismissed SEZs and the touted mega projects as “castles in the air.”

Referring to the opposition to his administration’s public-private partnership projects on religious and nationalistic grounds – with opposition parties accusing the government of “selling off state assets” – Nasheed has previously argued that the current administration’s economic policies were far worse according to these standards.

Nasheed also contended that Maldivian law would not be enforced in the SEZs, claiming that gambling would be allowed in the zones.

Former coalition partner Jumhooree Party (JP) previously claimed the SEZ law would facilitate massive corruption and undermine independence, but on Wednesday announced a three-line whip in favor of the bill.

The change in the party’s stance closely follows the state’s cancellation of various business agreements made with the JP leader Gasim Ibrahim’s business Villa Enterprises.


Passports of four men held in connection with Rilwan abduction

Minivan News understands that the Maldives Police Service (MPS) has requested immigration services withhold the passports of four individuals in relation to the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

The news marks the first confirmation of progress in the search for the 28-year-old, missing for 19 days. The case is widely regarded as being the most complicated investigation ever faced by the service.

Further details of the police’s investigation have not been made public, although local news outlet has reported the men under suspicion to be aged between 20 and 25-years-old. Two are reported to be from Gaaf Alifu Thinadhoo, one from Fuvahmulah, and a fourth man from Malé.

Immigration officials were not able to comment on these reports at the time of publication.

Rilwan was last seen on the 1am ferry to Hulhumalé on August 8, shortly before a man fitting his description was seen being forced into a vehicle directly outside Rilwan’s apartment.

Local media are also reporting that a vehicle was taken into police custody last week in relation to the incident.

Minivan News observed several men acting suspiciously in the Malé ferry terminal at the time of Rilwan’s appearance on CCTV footage at 12:44am, August 8.

With public criticism of the police’s investigation growing, the MPS has publicly accused both the family and media outlets of hindering its search efforts.

The family has offered a reward for information leading to the finding of Rilwan, with the figure raised to MVR200,000 yesterday.

Earlier this week, Rilwan’s mother gave an impassioned plea during a demonstration outside the People’s Majlis following the presentation of a letter urging MP’s help in the search.

“Please don’t do this. Help us. Please. I don’t know where he is. I do not know if he is alive. I do not know if he is dead,” Aminath Easa, 67-years-old, begged authorities.

With three days left before the parliament goes into recess, the Majlis has yet to take firm action on the journalist’s unprecedented disappearance, despite the issue being lodged in three separate committees.

After an urgent motion from Maldivian Democratic Party MP Imthiyaz Fahmy was resoundingly approved last week, with MPs subsequently calling for a speedy investigation.

MDP MP Ibrahim Shareef said he did not believe that lack of progress in investigating either the death threats or Rilwan’s disappearance was “a coincidence.”

MP Inthi himself reported receiving a death threat immediately after submitting the motion yesterday, while members of Rilwan’s family have reported intimidation while conducting their own search efforts.


NGO Junior Chamber International train youth leaders

The Maldives branch of the NGO Junior Chamber International (JCI) has held a training programme in leadership for young people.

The training sessions took place between May 14 -16 at the Society for Health Education (SHE) building, and were aimed at empowering young people to create positive change in their local communities.

The event was organised by the JCI head trainer for Asia region Yogesh Chandak, and was attended by 29 JCI members.
JCI Maldives president Ali Shakir stated, “Such courses will result in increasing Maldivian youth’s capability to stand firm on any global platform,” reported Haveeru.

“The youth has a very good opportunity to go into the world via JCI. This organisation offers to promote those who wish to take on leadership skills and go forward.”

The level of inclusion of youth leaders in the formulation of the current government’s youth policy has been questioned this week by leaders across the political divide.


Defence minister denies Indian offer to build Thilafalhu dockyard

Minister of Defence Mohamed Nazim has told local media that no official offer from India to build a dock yard in the Maldives has been received.

Following reports in the Indian media last week that India’s Army Chief General Bikram Singh has offered to build a dockyard worth MVR 7.7 billion (US$ 500 million) in the Maldives during his official visit, Nazim told Haveeru that the job would not be awarded to a foreign military.

Nazim did say that many offers had been received for the Uthuru Thilafalhu lagoon project, in the archipelago’s north, but that no decision had yet been made.

Reclamation work is already underway in the area. Once completed, it will serve as the Maldivian Coastguard’s primary operations base and will provide a much-needed berthing space to naval ships and ocean liners.

India’s Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, during a visit to the Maldives in February, visited the Uthuru Thilafalhu project site.


Gender ministry explains 5-year delay in child abuse register

The Ministry of Health and Gender has explained to local media the reasons behind the failure to compile a legally mandated registry of child abusers.

State minister Dr Aishath Ramila told Haveeru that the Child Protection Services unit – required to compile the list under the 2009 Child Sex Abuse (Special Protection) Act – did not have access to the criminal records necessary to complete the register.

“Even if we look at other countries, an Offenders Registry is always with the Police of the country. This is because all the criminal records of the offenders are within the police database,” Dr Ramila told Haveeru.

Furthermore, the minister suggested that the compact communities unique to the Maldives islands made the public naming of abusers problematic.

“For example, when the child abuser’s own children go to school, they may be bullied by other children at school. These instances may occur and we need to think about this.”

A growing number of child abuse cases have been reported to police in recent weeks, with the Human Rights Commission calling for greater awareness raising and legal protection for children.