HRCM called to investigate past injustices

President Mohamed Nasheed has called upon the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) to investigate and uncover the injustices of the past to fulfill its mandate.

In his weekly radio address yesterday, President Nasheed said although the commission’s regulations stated that it could only investigate incidents dating from two years before its formation, the law gave HRCM the authority to conduct investigations before 2001.

“Until past injustices are investigated, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives will not be a commission that properly works for human rights in the country,” he said.

The president said grievous injury was done and serious injustices were perpetrated upon many citizens in the past 30 years.

“I am saying this as a person who has seen these things very closely. Many people have died. Many people were killed. The lives of many were ruined. A lot of people’s property was appropriated. Many people’s lives were destroyed to the point where they had no future,” he said.

“In truth, there is no way to find justice for these things. The time that was lost to them cannot be given back, the wrongs done to them cannot be set right. But, we have to carry out full investigations into these things to find out how it happened in order to ensure that it is not repeated.”

The president’s office continues to receive complaints from citizens about injustices done to them by the previous government.

Many senior officials of the government and MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had “endured serious inhumane treatment”.

“I would like to note the harm done to MDP parliamentary group leader Reeko Moosa Manik,” he said. “The former government destroyed his life when he was very young.”

In 1983, Moosa was sentenced to death on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government.

In the run-up to last year’s presidential election and beyond, Moosa spoke extensively about his experiences in jail and how he was tortured.

The president said he was not asking the commission to investigate such cases based on a desire for vengeance on the part of either Moosa Manik or other MDP members. “We don’t wish for this to happen again to our children. Therefore, I believe that understanding how things happened in the past will give us the opportunity for us to stay clear of these things.”

Opening his address, the president said the biggest obstacle to progress and development of the country was the failure to secure human rights for citizens and the suppression of free expression.

Nasheed said the former government lost its way because people were not allowed to criticise or oppose its policies.

“It is very important for citizens to have their rights to keep the government on the right track; for everyone to know that they have certain rights,” he said.

The president said he wanted to assure citizens that anyone whose rights were violated in the past year of the first democratically elected government had the opportunity to seek redress for injustices.


TVM asked to ‘take measures’ against poll staff

The Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) has asked Television Maldives (TVM) to investigate its poll on religious freedom and take measures against those responsible.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Ibrahim Khaleel, managing director of MNBC, said the board has asked Mohamed Asif, deputy director general of MNBC currently in charge of running TVM, to look into the matter after opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) accused the government of attempting to establish other religions in the Maldives.

“I’ve asked Asif to investigate how it happened, and if anyone is responsible, to take measures [against them],” he said. “He will investigate to see if it happened the way they said it did, and take measures based on the findings.”

The poll asked whether freedom of religion should be allowed in the Maldives; the investigation will look into how the topic was chosen and for what purpose, Khaleel said.

In a press release on Monday, the DQP condemned the poll as unconstitutional and accused the government of attempting to introduce religions other than Islam into the Maldives.

The former coalition partner claimed the poll on Sunday night was part of “a devious scheme” intended to show that other religions could be practiced in the country.

The party referred to article 10 of the constitution, which states that Islam shall be the state religion and the basis of all the laws in the Maldives.

Khaleel said he has since watched the show and it was clear that the DQP had taken the poll out of context.

“The discussion was about differences of opinion within Islam, like different sects, and to what extent it should be allowed,” he said.

Two religious scholars, MP Dr Afrashim Ali of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party and Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, state minister for Islamic affairs, were on the programme.

“If something unconstitutional was being talked about, I find it hard to believe these two scholars would stand by and let it happen,” said Khaleel.

He added it was apparent from DQP’s press release that they did not watch the programme.

Khaleel said it was “regrettable” that a political party was acting “irresponsibly” in issuing such press releases at a time when freedom of speech was in its infancy.

He denied the DQP’s allegation that the poll was taken on orders from the president’s office.

Mohamed Afruh Rasheed, producer of the show, told Minivan News it focuses on “controversial social issues” that were not being openly debated in society or suppressed.

Some of the issues discussed in the programme have included the rights of expatriates and neglect of the elderly as well as press freedom.

The results of Sunday night’s poll were 14 per cent in favour and 82 per cent against.


Sultans of the Sea ordered to pay US$50 million

The civil court yesterday ordered luxury yachting company Sultans of the Seas to pay over Rf654 million (US$50 million) in unpaid loans, fines and accumulated interest to the Bank of Maldives (BML) in the course of one year.

Ruling in favour of the bank, Judge Aisha Shujoon said the company was liable for loans of US$15.3 million, US$8.7 million and €12.5 million as well as US$500,000 in combined credit limit facilities as agreed upon in June 2008.

The judge ruled that records and documents presented to court proved that as of 7 December, Sultans owes US$18 million on the first demand loan, US$10 million on the second and €14 million on the third.

Sultans would have to pay the loans back in monthly instalments of about US$4.2 million, the court ruled. If the company failed to make the payments by 7 December 2010, yachts and property mortgaged by the company will be sold in auction after a 15 day period.

Minivan News was unavailable to reach senior officials of the company for a comment today.

In the BML audit report released in January, Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem revealed that defaults on bank loans issued to influential political players could jeopardise the entire financial system of the country.

Over 60 per cent of the US$633 million worth of loans issued in 2008 was granted to 12 parties, the report said.

According to the report, US$45 million was granted to Sultans of the Seas and US$36 million to Fonnadhoo Tuna Products, which comprised 13 per cent of the total loan amount in 2008.

It notes that Fonaddhoo is owned by Kendhoo MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, a former minister and now parliamentary group leader of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party, while the owners of Sultans of the Seas were closely associated with the DRP deputy leader.

In September, Maldives Customs filed a case at civil court to recover US$8.5 million from Sultans of the Seas in unpaid duties and fines for allegedly defrauding customs to import two luxury yachts.


Imam among seven men arrested for homosexual activity

A group of men, including an imam, were arrested in Alif Alif atoll Maalhos on Thursday after photos and videos emerged of the seven engaged in homosexual activity.

An islander who spoke on condition of anonymity told Minivan News a group of teenagers from the island came upon the video CDs in the house of one of the suspects. When the CDs began to be circulated in public, the “island elders” alerted police.

“It came as a big shock to everyone on the island to see that [the imam] was one of them. He gives the Friday sermons at the mosque every week,” he said. “He is a well respected person on the island and we saw him as our religious leader.”

Besides the imam, the pornographic videos featured a mosque caretaker, a carpenter and another man the islanders believe to be mentally unstable, the islander claimed.

“He is a deranged person. We have always seen him running around the island naked,” he said.

Of the three men not featured in the video, two were incriminated in photos found along with the videos, he continued, while the third was believed to have filmed the pornography.

Three of the suspects were married with children, the islander said, while one of them included a second, retired imam. The youngest of the seven men was aged 27, while the rest were over 45 years of age, he said.

Miadhu reported other islanders as claiming that two of the seven men consider themselves “as husband and wife.”

Sergeant Ahmed Shiyam from the Maldives Police Service confirmed the arrests were made on Thursday following a report from the islanders. The seven men are currently in police custody. All were residents of Maalhos.

A spokesperson for the Islamic Ministry said they were not yet aware of the case and could not speculate on any measures that could be taken. Meanwhile Abdullah bin Mohamed Ibrahim, President of Islamic NGO Salaf Jamiya, also said he was unable to comment as they did not have complete information on the case.

Under the existing penal provisions, the punishment for sodomy is 19 to 39 lashes, banishment or imprisonment of up to three years.

Another islander from Maalhos who spoke to Minivan News said a group of people had become suspicious of the seven men before the videos came out.

“They have been following them around for a long time now,” he said. “They were suspicious before, and the videos just confirmed it.”


Embezzlement accusations resurface amid World Bank investigation

Ibrahim Hussein Zaki, special envoy to the president, has renewed allegations that former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has US$80 million hidden in foreign bank accounts, including US$40 million in tsunami aid from the Emir of Qatar.

The last time the allegation was made, by Hassan Afeef, a former MP and now political advisor to the president, Gayoom successfully sued for defamation and Afeef was fined US$350.

Zaki insisted he “was only quoting what was said in newspapers in the UK in an interview with the Global Protection Committee (GPC),” describing it only as “an international NGO.”

The GPC’s leader, Michael Lord-Castle, told Minivan News during an interview in November 2006 “that we have been advised that between US$60-80 million has been transferred from Maldives’ governmental funds directly to various private bank accounts in favour of President Gayoom. Some of those funds we understand derive from donations made in respect to the tsunami disaster.”

When Minivan News asked ‘Commander’ Lord-Castle to disclose the countries and banks the money had been transferred to, he replied that “investigations are continuing and at this stage it is necessary to withhold certain information.”

Members of the controversial GPC, of which little record exists for an organisation “first formed in 1943 towards the end of the Second World War” and boasting “over 2,400 members ranging from ex-presidents, prime ministers and ministers of different countries”, travelled to the Maldives to observe the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s planned assembly for constitutional change on 10 November 2006.

Lord-Castle said the group had been commissioned to produce a report to the European Parliament on the political situation in Maldives, a claim denied by the European Parliament. He was deported from the Maldives together with four associates.

The GPC’s website has since disappeared from the web, while Lord-Castle’s current wikipedia entry describes him as a ‘well-known English businessman’ with varied involvement in an insolvency advisory service, a failed business-class airline, a vigilante ambulance service, and the supplier of a cleaning chemical called Vizexon promising to “kill all pathogens, including swine flu, H5N1, bird flu, SARS, influenza virus and HIV.”

Zaki said that he did not believe the accusation was defamatory “and if Gayoom feels he is getting defamed then he should file a suit against the GPC.”

“If [the accusation] proves true it will be fairly significant because first of all it was money from the National Treasury, secondly the money was for tsunami victims, and thirdly there would be reason to anticipate more [hidden money],” he said.

World Bank enlisted

Zaki pictured with members of the GPC in November 2006
Zaki pictured with members of the GPC in November 2006

Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed announced in September he was seeking the help of the World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) to recover a suspected US$2 billion in embezzled funds, stating that the money was needed to plug a budget deficit of 34 per cent of GDP.

“Many people have been in one way or another connected to this huge web of corruption,” Nasheed said, adding that international help was needed because of a lack of forensic accountancy skills in the country.

Gayoom’s assistant and former chief government spokesperson Mohamed Hussain Shareef (Mundhu) responded to the allegations by demanding Zaki “show us the evidence. If you have the details make them public, instead of repeating allegations. Maumoon has said, ‘go ahead and take a look, and if you find anything make it public.'”

“There is no evidence to link Gayoom to corruption,” he insisted. “What Afeef said was very slanderous. We threw the book at him, and showed in court that he had no evidence to back up his claim at all, not a single piece of evidence.”

He described the renewal of the allegations as “immature, especially dragging the Qatari government into this. We called them and they were as surprised as us – senior officals in their government had no clue about [the alleged theft of US$40 million in tsunami aid]. Anyone of intelligence knows that aid money is not passed across a table by leaders. Gayoom could obviously not just take off with donor or tsunami aid.”

Mundhu expressed confidence that the World Bank’s investigation “would find nothing untoward. I know for a fact that our tsunami aid accounting mechanism was far superior to that of many other countries. All the aid money went through one oversight body headed by the then UN representative and the auditor general.”

The source of the allegations, the GPC, were one of many “voodoo NGOs” around at the time, he said. “We tried to find out what they were about, and basically drew a blank. Nobody in the UK knew anything about them.”

The allegations were intended “to wipe Gayoom off the political map,” Mundhu claimed. “The MDP is a minority government. Nasheed himself as an individual has no more than 25 per cent support in the country. Gayoom is the most popular individual with 45 per cent and over 100,000 die-hard supporters – clearly people thought he did a good job. Nasheed could not beat him one-to-one, and that reality is very hard [for the MDP] to stomach.”

The accusations of embezzlement, he suggested, were the activities of “certain unpleasant elements in the MDP. I don’t branch Nasheed in this, but [the party] was so intent on bringing in people with grievances towards the [former] government that they brought in unsavoury elements that now even Nasheed cannot control.”


IMF approves US$92.5 million for macroeconomic programme

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Friday approved US$92.5 million in financial arrangements to help the Maldives adjust to the aftermath of the global recession and support the government’s economic policy.

The “blended financing arrangements” include a 36-month US$79.3 stand-by agreement, 600 per cent of the Maldives’ quota, and a 24-month US$13.2 under the fund’s exogenous shock facility high access component.

“The Maldivian economy was severely hit by the global crisis through significant declines in Maldives’ tourism receipts, capital inflows, and goods exports. Coming after unsustainable public spending over the last few years—partly reflecting post-tsunami reconstruction efforts—the crisis led to a very large fiscal deficit, a sharply weakened balance of payments position, and reserve losses,” reads a statement by Takatoshi Kato, deputy managing director and acting chair of the IMF executive board.

“The government’s ambitious policy program, supported by the IMF, is aimed at addressing the impact of the global economic crisis and restoring macroeconomic stability and fiscal sustainability. At the core of the program is a very strong effort to bring down the fiscal deficit while protecting social spending. To that end, the authorities are taking immediate action to cut spending, including unwinding part of the recent large wage increases, and are introducing new revenue measures to broaden the tax base. They have also taken steps to reform the civil service, improve the targeting of subsidies to the poor, and transfer enterprises and services to the private sector.”

In September, the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) ceased printing money to finance the budget deficit and launched open market operations to absorb excess liquidity of the rufiyaa in order to alleviate the dollar shortage.

Meanwhile, the government debt at the MMA has been converted to tradable securities, while it announced the issuance of treasury bonds denominated in US dollars last week.

“The authorities’ program, while subject to considerable risks, is strong, comprehensive, and well-focused, and deserves strong support of the international community. If fully implemented, it will put the Maldivian economy back on a path of macroeconomic stability and set the conditions for sustained economic growth and poverty reduction,” concludes the statement.

The government’s policy to restore macroeconomic stability and fiscal sustainability involves reducing expenditure and increasing revenue to lower the large budget deficit and introducing targeted subsidies to the poor for food and electricity.


Reefwalkers: Hiking comes to the Maldives

Ever thought you could see 80 islands in three days? And purely by hiking?

This unusual venture – a first in the Maldives – was completed by more than 100 people in the WalkMaldives event over the Eid holidays in late November.

GaafuDhaalu (Gdh) Atoll, one of the world’s biggest natural atolls, makes this possible as many of its islands are all situated in the same lagoon.

“We came up with the idea when we were discussing what sort of things people can do in the Maldives, apart from fishing, picnics and activities like that,” says Ali Shareef, from the architectural firm Tekton Design.

Tekton organised the event in conjunction with Green Tech, a local company selling environment friendly products like solar panels. The two companies often work together on sites across the Maldives. While working on working on a resort island in Thaa atoll, Mohamed Latheef of Green Tech suggested “We could hike and visit islands in my home atoll, Gdh.”

The idea took off, and the pair decided to give the public a chance to participate in the event.

Trail of Discovery

Maldivian feast
Island NGOs organised feasts for the walkers

The response was overwhelming. But the group was limited to 150 people, chosen on a first come basis, “because we wanted to have a manageable group,” says Shareef.

The organisers invited islanders from the atoll and the initial group that started the hike numbered 180. Hikers were divided into 12 groups, with each group given the chance to choose their own leader and each including islanders from the area.

The cost was only Mrf 600 per person, reasonable for such an adventure, while those who flew from Male paid for their seaplane ticket to Kaadedhoo and boat to the starting island of Madaveli.

NGOs did the ground work, arranging meals at Madaveli, Hodedhoo, Nadella, Rathafandhoo and Fiyoree where the participants finally arrived at noon on the last day.

Islanders welcome
Islanders welcomed the 180 participants

“It was amazing to see such natural beauty. It’s a sight that even most Maldivians don’t get to see,” says Zoona Naseem, a diver. Her group consisted mostly of fellow divers and water sports instructors, who were so enthusiastic they stayed on after the walk and have now visited 103 islands. While the sights were spectacular, “unfortunately we noticed a lot of erosion also,” she says.

Azim Musthag joined the walk partly to see the Gdh area, and partly for the challenge of completing the 35 kilometre hike. “It’s a very unique atoll, with all these islands in one lagoon. Sometimes it’s only five minutes’ walk between two islands.”

He says the most difficult thing was trying to avoid stepping on live coral.

“The corals are so colourful and alive, so the locals must have routes that they take. But since we were new in the area sometimes we had to swim to avoid stepping on any coral,” he says.

“Gdh is the most beautiful part of Maldives I have yet seen,” describes Aiminath Shauna. After spending the night at Keramitha and Kanandhoo, two uninhabited islands, she says “the sunrise and sunsets there put to shame the ones we see in Male.”

The ancient coral mosques and the warm welcome extended by the islanders made the trip especially memorable for Shauna. “And we had 100% visibility – it’s so amazing to see the beautiful islands and coral, and it was never tiring because of the rush of adrenalin hiking through such beauty.”

Exploring with awareness

Taking a rest
Taking a rest during the walk

Many of participants say they hope walks like this will motivate more Maldivians to take an interest in preserving nature.

“The organisers were very good, they asked people not to step on live coral or throw things in the sea,” says Zoona.

However Musthag says a lack of knowledge meant some Maldivians were not able to differentiate between live and dead coral, “so we held a briefing on the second day with the organisers on how to identify live ones.”

Shauna says most of the group had never seen such natural beauty, even growing up so close to it.

“It’s important that research is done, and it would be good if the hiking trail informed people where they should snorkel and even canoe.”

An identifiable walking trail was suggested by many participants as the best way to have a minimal impact on the environment.

“This small ecosystem of our country protects us, is a breeding ground for fish and attracts tourists, so we should take care of it,” Shauna says.

Future walks

With the resounding success of the first walk, Shareef looks forward to continuing it.

“We will do it in smaller groups so it will be easier to manage,” he says.

Protecting the environment was also one of his concerns, so the forms signed by participants had a clause to that effect.

The organisers also plan to train guides in partnership with island NGOs: “We really appreciate the help and support they gave us, and we want this to benefit the atoll as well.”

Shareef says visiting the atoll felt like stepping back in time 10 years, as it had not been developed to the extent it could have been.

It’s a wish shared by Abbas Ali, the island councillor of Nadella: “WalkMaldives is a very good initiative; we are ready to support in any way we can,” he says.

He believes the events will generate publicity for the atoll as well as enable further development, and eventually “we’d like to see tourists come here as well.”

Eighty islands, 35 kilometers and one lagoon in three days is WalkMaldives in a nutshell: perfect for those looking for adventure or simply to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the Maldives.

To contact the WalkMaldives team, visit the website


CSC asks govt to restore civil servants’ salaries

The civil service commission (CSC) has sent a letter to parliament requesting civil servants’ wages be restored to their former levels as the proposed mid-term 2010 budget anticipates a revenue of more than Rf7 billion (US$544 million).

CSC Spokesperson Mohamed Fahmy Hassan said a similar letter was also sent to President Mohamed Nasheed, reminding him of his remarks in October.

In his weekly radio address, Nasheed said civil servants’ pay cuts were a temporary measure and would be restored once the economy recovered and the government had increased its revenue beyond Rf7billion (US$544 million).

“The president’s message was very clear. In this case where so many are involved and it’s a promise that he made…I am very sure that in January they will be given their full salaries,” said Fahmy.

Ismail Shafeeq, permanent secretary of the finance ministry, said that according to the law, the finance ministry has to review the pay cuts every three months with the next evaluation coming at the end of the month.

Projected Revenue

Addressing MPs last week, Finance Minister Ali Hashim said the projected revenue for 2010 was Rf7.3 million (US$568 million).

Measures to increase government revenue, including the introduction of new taxes such as corporate tax and a goods and services tax to be imposed on tourist resorts, are still awaiting the passage of legislation in parliament.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Mohamed Zuhair, president’s office press secretary, said civil servants’ salaries would only be restored
when the government’s revenue “physically” reached Rf7 billion (US$544 million).

“If we reach it by September then September we will do it,” said Zuhair.

Acknowledging that the government may not reach its expected revenue, Fahmy said civil servants’ salaries should only be reduced if the government fails to attain its target.

In August, the government unveiled a raft of austerity package to help ease the budget deficit. Measures included pay cuts of up to 20 per cent for civil servants, a reduction in overtime as well as cutback on foreign travel.

The pay cuts have sparked outcry and several protests among civil servants and opposition groups who have accused the government of economic mismanagement.

“We will hold another demonstration on 10 December outside the finance ministry to back up the commission,” said Abdullah Mohamed, spokesperson for the civil servants’ association.

“We believe this damage was done to civil servants as a punishment and if there really were special economic circumstances, members of parliament and independent institutions too should have taken a pay cut,” he added.

Last month, an informal meeting of MPs on pay cuts ended in a heated argument after opposing parties accused each other’s government of mishandling the finances. All MPs Minivan News spoke to said they would be willing to take a salary reduction.

Pay cuts for independent institutions came into effect this month.


In their letter, the commission also noted that civil servants asked to work overtime should be paid accordingly.

“If and where and when they are asked to do overtime, they are entitled to be paid overtime under the employment law,” said Fahmy.

He added that the CSC had received “lots of complaints” from civil servants who had been asked to work overtime but had not been paid.

“The work should be organised in such a way so that nobody should do overtime. In very specific cases where it’s needed to complete a
crucial task then that person has to be paid,” he said.

Zuhair said the government’s policy was that overtime should not exceed 15 per cent of the total hours worked and that all staff
working overtime should be paid.

If this was not the case, he continued, civil servants “should just refuse to work overtime.”


Dissolving IDCs an undemocratic power grab, says DQP

The government’s abolition of the Island Development Committees (IDC) is a blow against democracy in the Maldives, the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) has said.

“This is a mockery of the public and the Constitution,” the party said, “and more a feature of autocratic rule than democracy.”

The Maldivian Cabinet dissolved the IDCs – elected bodies of five to seven members, functioning like a local council – last month after
courts ruled they had no legal authority under the new constitution.

Government-appointed advisory boards will administer the islands until local councils can be elected, assuming a decentralisation bill (currently at committee stage) is passed by parliament.

“We think this is a step backwards for democracy,” said DQP Secretary General Abdullah Ameen, who accused the government of strengthening its territorial control through autocracy.

“Even during Gayoom’s time the IDCs were the only institutions where people on the islands saw democracy practiced, and were among the only democratic institutions in the country,” he said.

The move, claimed independent MP Mohamed Nasheed on DhiTV last night, amounted to “burying democracy in the islands”.

Under the terms of the constitution, the elections of island, atoll and city councils were to be held before July 1, 2009, in order to provide for decentralised administration of the country.

Instead, argued the DQP, the government had not only missed the deadline but was using the dissolution of the IDCs to claim island assets such as powerhouses for privatisation.

“Dismissing the IDCs and appointing advisory boards doesn’t accomplish anything,” Ameen said.

The deadline for the local elections elapsed after the parliamentary election was postponed from February to May because MPs failed to pass the necessary legislation.

Deputy Home Minister Ahmed Shafeeq acknowledged that island assets were currently being valued through the courts before being handed over to utility companies, but said the government was waiting for the”new rules and procedures” in the decentralisation bill to be implemented before establishing elected and salaried island and atoll councils.

“After the new constitution was introduced the Island Development Committees were no longer lawful – and that’s a problem for such an institution,” he said.

“They have no legal basis and we can’t just [continue] as if they do,” he added, explaining that the government-appointed advisory boards were only a temporary measure.

Besides dissolving the IDCs, the cabinet decided to allow the development of tourist guest houses on inhabited islands in the hope of generating additional income from visitors.