Three arrested with ten machetes in Malé

Police arrested three young men and confiscated ten machetes at 3:45am in Malé City’s Henveiru Ward last night.

According to a police statement, Specialist Operations (SO) Officers patrolling the area stopped the young men when they noticed suspicious behavior. The machetes were found nearby.

The three young men included two 19-year-olds and a 15-year-old minor.

The two 19-year-olds had been stopped and searched on numerous occasions previously, the police said.

Street violence is common amongst Malé City’s numerous gangs. On Sunday, a 25-year-old Bangladeshi worker was stabbed to death in the early hours of the morning in Mafaannu Ward.

On February 22, a 24-year-old was stabbed to death outside his home in Malé.

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Malé pedestrianised zones to be piloted on February 15

A pilot project to establish vehicle-free zones in the capital Malé will be introduced on February 15, authorities have revealed.

Speaking at a joint press conference with the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure and the Transport Authority of Maldives, housing minister Dr Mohamed Muizzu said the scheme will see the closure of Heena Goalhi and Raiyvilla Magu in Henveiru ward to vehicles, including bicycles.

“We will also establish special parking zones for people from houses on these roads, special permits will be given to them to park in these parking zones”, Muizzu explained.

President Abdulla Yameen has previously pledged to ban traffic in narrow lanes in Malé in order to ease congestion in the densely crowded city of 130,000 people, allowing space for children to play.

Transport Authority chairman Abdul Rasheed Nafiz said that the measures would need to go hand-in-hand with a reduction in the number of vehicles in order to find long-term solutions to traffic congestion.

Although the government has not finalised the measures, Nafiz said that current proposals included the halting of vehicle registration renewal for vehicles older than 15 or 20 years, with new vehicle registration open only allowed as older vehicles are taken out of use.

“The new slots will go to the highest bidder. We think this is the most fair manner in which we can do this,” Nafiz said.

Muizz today noted that a ministry survey had shown that some areas involved in the pedestrianisation scheme have storage facilities and garages, but that those businesses will be required to load and unload goods by parking outside the pedestrianised areas.

People who park their two wheeled vehicles inside their homes will be allowed to walk their vehicles to the houses inside the no-vehicle areas.

“Physical obstructions will be put in place and traffic police will be monitoring the area to ensure vehicles do not enter. We will ensure there is enough space for wheelchairs and such,” said Muizzu.

According to the ministry, the pilot project will continue with the closure of more roads in all wards along with Henveiru – including Galolhu, Machchangoalhi and Maafannu – until June 8.

Nafiz explained that the stickers assigned to vehicle owners of the residences in the pedestrianized zones will be given free of charge and must be displayed.

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Are efforts to keep Malé City clean going to waste?

“As we increase our efforts to clean Malé, the amount of garbage dumped on to the street is also increasing,” said Mayor Mohamed Shihab.

The purpose of cleaning Malé’s streets and providing public dustbins – for which 260 people are now employed – is not to collect household waste, but to clean up litter, the Mayor tells Minivan News.

It is important to cultivate a habit of keeping the streets clean and using trash bins in the community, he said, suggesting that the implementation of laws was also required to address the issue.

However, keeping the streets free from litter is just the tip of the rubbish pile explains Shihab, revealing the difficulties the council continues to face in finding a sustainable way to manage the capital’s waste.

Regulation

The waste management regulation which came into partial force on February 5 imposes an MVR100 (US$6.5) fine for littering and a fine between MVR10,000 (US$ 648.5) and MVR100,000 (US$6,485) if any authority in charge of public spaces fails to provide dustbins.

The regulations also require boat owners to place dustbins on sea vessels, imposing a maximum fine of MVR100 million (US$6.5 million) on boats that dump waste into the ocean.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Ahmed Murthaza – assistant director at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – said that no one had yet been fined under the regulation.

The main focus of the EPA up to now has been to create awareness and to advise offenders to correct their actions, although he warned that the agency would start imposing the fines beginning on World Environment Day (5 June 2014).

The EPA will be working with councils and the Environmental Police Unit in implementing the regulation – all of whom are authorised to issues fines.

Waste management

Mayor Shihab has suggested a long term solution for the issue would be the door to door collection of household waste.

“This is is how it is done everywhere around the world. And in all countries, they charge a fee for the service.”

“So in the future the council will be collecting and disposing the garbage. This will be discussed. Even now each house is spending money, 100 or 200 rufiyaa, monthly for this purpose.”

Most households in Malé currently employ garbage collectors – usually migrant workers – who carry the garbage on their bicycles or private pick-up trucks. This garbage is then carried dumped on a barge in the island’s south-west harbor, which then transports it to the landfill ‘garbage island’ of Thilafushi.

This arrangement, however, was intended to be a temporary one initiated in 2013 after garbage piled up in Malé’s two primary waste yards following damage to the collection vehicles.

While the industrial junk yard is once again in use today, the household waste yard remains abandoned as its foundation structure is damaged to a point that it would be harmful for the environment to utilise the place without funding from a reluctant Finance Ministry, explained Shihab

According to the council, the current arrangement will remain in place during the Islamic month of Ramadan – beginning on June 30 – when the household waste produced can be expected to double.

According to shipping industry sources, an estimated 15- 20 percent increase in imported goods is expected during Ramadan.

Environment Ministry data from 2007 put daily food waste produced in Malé at approximately 25 tonnes, while 2012 statistics indicated that 89,797 tonnes of domestic waste was dumped on Thilafushi annually.

“Dumping waste on to the barge was a temporary measure, but this operation will continue in Ramadan with more barges. Instead of keeping a huge pile of waste in Malé, we will work to transport it as soon as possible,”  explained councillor Shamau Shareef.

Tatva solution

For the council, the immediate hope for a solution to Malé waste management is in India-based Tatva Global Renewable Energy.

The Tatva agreement has faced delays after the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed renegotiated the agreement signed by his predecessor Mohamed Nasheed in 2011.

The new agreement, which will not include collection of garbage from household in its first phase, now requires the final approval of the Finance Ministry to begin operations.

Under the Tatva agreement, the council’s equipment – including trucks and excavators – has to be to handed over to Tatva in working condition. However, as the council’s equipment has been damaged for over a year, funds are needed for repairs before the handover.

“Our concern is that the government is spending MVR7 million [monthly] to rent this equipment, such as excavators, landing craft, and the barge. This money belongs to the people,” said Shihab.

Suggesting that the council could get the same results for just MVR2-3million, he said that the ministry had repeatedly ignored requests for repair funds.

The existing arrangement must be replaced with permanent and sustainable solution, said the mayor, noting that the smell alone from the garbage barge was becoming unpleasant for people living in the vicinity.

Minivan News was unable to obtain a comment from Ministry of Finance at the time of press.

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Malé City signs sister city agreement with China’s Shenzhen City

Malé City Mayor Mohamed Shihab has signed a “sister city agreement” with China’s Shenzhen City to enhance cooperation and strengthen ties.

In a press release today, the council said Shenzhen is one of China’s most developed cities and that the agreement will promote cultural and commercial ties between the two cities. It did not provide further details.

Malé City has previously signed a sister city agreement with Taiwan’s Kaohsiung City.

Former Mayor Ali Manik visited Kaohsiung in November 2012 after the city was assigned to mentor Male’ in sustainability by the international organisation of which both are members, Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI).

But the government issued a statement denouncing Malé City Council’s decision to become sister cities with Kaosiung City, pledging the Maldives’ support for the “one-China policy”.

Links between the Maldives and China have grown rapidly in recent years, largely in step with the exponential growth of Chinese tourist arrivals which accounted for nearly 30 percent of visitors in 2013.

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Housing Ministry to renovate, then replace Dharubaaruge

Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muizzu has revealed plans to replace the Dharubaaruge convention center with a new facility.

Speaking with local news outlet Haveeru, Dr Muizzu explained that the ministry’s development plan will consist of two phases – the first involving renovation to the current premises while bidding is opened for a new facility.

This phase is to be followed by the eventual construction of a new convention center on the same site, explained the minister.

“Since there isn’t another place like Dharubaaruge in Malé city, we are trying to renovate the place without closing it down, by dividing the work into two phases. That would make this easier,” he told Haveeru.

The announcement follows the takeover of the facility by the central government earlier this month after repeated wrangling over ownership of the premises over the past two years.

Police moved in to enforce the central government’s reclamation of the premises from Malé City Council after a cabinet decision in late March.

Council members were reportedly told that the government was taking charge of the center as it was not being adequately maintained, though the council – reliant on central government funding – claimed it had not received the requested maintenance budget.

The Dharubaaruge takeover is the latest in an ongoing dispute between the ministry and opposition-dominated council regarding ownership of land in the capital city.

Originally built for the 5th SAARC summit in 1990 — Dharubaaruge is rented out for events, press conferences and private functions.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed handed the center over to the city council with the establishment of a local government system in 2011.

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Government plotting to “destroy decentralization,” says Malé Deputy Mayor

The Housing Ministry’s efforts to appropriate lands and property under the Malé City Council is an organized effort to discredit the council, destroy the decentralization system and punish Malé citizens for voting for the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Deputy Mayor Shifa Mohamed has said today.

Since the takeover of the Dharubaaruge Conference Center, the ministry has asked for the hand over of two additional parks developed by the council, Shifa told Minivan News.

“This is an organized joint effort by the ministry and the government to discredit the council and destroy the decentralization system. When taking back lands [from the city council] is among the very the first decisions of the cabinet, it can also be seen as a revenge against people living in Malé, and people from all over the country who are living in the city. I dont think Malé citizens deserve this spirit of revenge from the government for voting for the MDP,” she said.

The ministry’s official reason for taking over the parks is “unlawful activity” taking place at the parks, but Shifa said the ministry failed to provide details of such activities.

The council had developed the two parks – Fini Park or Bondibai Park and City Park – with cafeteria services in 2012 in order to prevent drug dealing and criminal activity, Shifa said, accusing the government of taking back the parks to reverse gains.

President Abdulla Yameen’s administration is preventing the council from serving the people of Malé, she added.

“Even earlier [with Dharubaaruge and other lands] they could not give a valid reason or explanation. They just said it was based on the Attorney General’s advice which no one has ever seen. This time they say are saying unlawful activity without telling us what these activities are,” she said.

Police involvement

Council Member Shamau Shareef told local media yesterday that the Maldives Police Service was not cooperating with the council to clear out gang hangouts in Malé City’s public spaces. The police are “afraid to touch” such areas, Shamau claimed.

In response, the police said the council had not issued an official permit requesting action.

The council yesterday sent a letter requesting Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed to stop police participation in Dharubaaruge takeover without a court warrant, and asked him to investigate the incident.

No plan for development

In an official statement released yesterday, the council said the government is appropriating lands and property under the council without any plans for development and said the ministry has confirmed the absence of such a plan to the council in writing.

Regulations on transfer of lands between the local and central government states the government is authorized to take over land from the councils on a cabinet decision for socio- economic purposes and national security purposes.

The ministry also intends to take over the artificial beach, carnival area, south harbour area, lands near the T-Jetty and Usfasgandu area on the city’s southeast.

The council condemned the “unlawful takeover,” noting that the police and housing ministry officials who entered and changed Dharubaaruge locks yesterday had done so without a court warrant or any official document indicating the center had been transferred to the ministry.

The council called on President Yameen and senior members of the government to take action against such unlawful actions and asked the government to ensure the implementation of its policies would not harm the citizens of Malé City.

The statement also explained that the Ministry of Finance and Treasury rejected the council’s request in December 2012 for funds to repair a badly damaged and deteriorating Dharubaaruge.

According to the council they were asked to utilize funds allocated for the council in 2013, and the council informed the ministry the funds were insufficient for repair. However, the ministry refused to release additional funds, the council claimed. Copies of the letters was shared with the media.

When funds were denied, the council handed over the maintenance and development of Dharubaaruge to a private company, under a public-private partnership agreement through a public bidding process.

The council statement also said the ministry’s actions were “without any respect to the legal contract between the council and a private party” and without considering  how the action may affect members of the public.

Although MDP dominates the council, a council member from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Zaidul Ameen has also condemned yesterday’s incident.

The MDP has on several occasions accused the ruling PPM of opposing decentralization and said their policies reflect the party’s founder President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s centralized policies.

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Malé City Council to bring back 24 hour shops and cafes

Malé City Council has decided to bring back the 24 hour service at cafes and shops, seventeen months after it was banned by Dr Mohamed Waheed’s government.

The proposition was passed unanimously by nine members present at yesterday’s council meeting (March 18), though the government has suggested that it does not have the authority to make such decisions.

Councilman Shamau Shareef said that the council decision came in response to a number of request from Malé City residents.

“This is what the people want. The former government discontinued the permissions to operate such places citing criminal activity and instability in the city. But now we have an elected government, and we think it should be reconsidered now,” said Shamau.

He noted that council have now been tasked with issuing trade permits for the city and it is in the council’s mandate under the Decentralisation Act to address this issue.

But the Ministry of Economic Development has today said that the issuing of trade permits was delegated to the council under a memorandum of understand with the ministry, which does not allow issuing 24 hour license.

“The government decided to end the running of 24 hour businesses. From that point the procedure for issuing trade permits were changed. City council have been tasked with issuing permits under those procedures,” the ministry’s Director General Usman Shakir was quoted as saying in Haveeru.

Shakir said that the government has not yet changed it’s position on allowing 24 hour businesses, and warned that the ministry will take action if any such permission is issued.

Responding to the ministry’s statement Councilman Shamau said that there are “some barriers” in implementing the decision, but the council is willing to overcome these issues by discussing it with the ministry.

“We will do whatever it takes. This is the capital city, and there are 24 hours ferries operating, people coming from other islands, people are working round the clock. There should be some way for them to eat or buy things they need. We are talking about basic necessities of the people,” he said.

President Mohamed Nasheed’s government decided to issue permits for 24 hour businesses in December 2010. After the change in government, Dr Mohamed Waheed’s administration in October 2012 decided to put an end to these opening hours.

The ministry’s official reason for decision was national security concerns. There was a high level of concern about increasing rates at the time, particularly with political instability and the murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali within the same month.

While it is not known whether the decision had any positive impact in reducing crime rates, the parliamentary national security committee at the time suggested impact it had was negative.

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party at the time described the decision as an attack against small and medium businesses which ‘left thousands of people unemployed’. Resuming the permits was an election pledge of the party’s presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed in 2013.

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives was at the time a coalition member of the government, and President Abdulla Yameen was elected as president, the party has maintained support for the ban on 24 hours businesses.

When the permits were revoked in 2012 there were forty four businesses with permit in Malé city, now all shops have to be closed at 11pm and all cafes at 1am.

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MDP primaries restart after cancellation of disorganised first poll

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has restarted voting in 18 parliamentary primaries after polls were cancelled yesterday following administrative and voter registry issues.

Minivan News observed large and orderly queues at Dharubaaruge today where voting for 12 constituencies is currently proceeding. Ballot boxes for the remaining 6 constituencies have been placed at Malé City Hall and party offices in Hulhumalé and Villingili islands.

Candidates and voters complained of  fluctuations in the voter register, but MDP Chairperson and primary candidate ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik said he did not notice significant changes in his own constituency.

According to MDP media official and MP Ali ‘Alibe’ Mohamed, voting was cancelled yesterday due to “unmanageable” large crowds, with the MDP having scheduled voting for 58 constituencies at Dharubaaruge for all party members registered in Malé. Voters also took issue with their names not being present on the party registry, he said.

“The MDP has a very large membership. We were unable to accommodate such a large number of people at Dharubaaruge all at once yesterday. Many voters also complained over their names not being present on the voter list,” Alibe said.

The MDP is the largest political party in the Maldives with 43,277 members registered at the Elections Commission.

Eyewitnesses described the scene as a “bureaucratic nightmare” and accused ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) members of disrupting the vote.

A 10 member committee – which includes former President Mohamed Nasheed and parliamentary group leader Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih – has been set up to oversee polling.

Candidates in 27 of the 85 constituencies have won the MDP ticket without a primary. They include Eva Abdulla for Galolhu Uthru, Ali Azim for Henveiru Medhu and Imthiyaz Fahmy for Maafannu Uthuru in Malé.

Voting was completed for Kulhudhufushi North and Dhuvaafaru constituencies yesterday. The party hopes to schedule polls for the remaining 38 constituencies in the upcoming week, Alibe said.

Nightmare

Candidate for Machangoalhi Uthuru Aishath Velezinee described the large crowds at Dharubaaruge yesterday as “suffocating.”

“There were too many people, too many ballot boxes. Even I left without voting. People were really cheerful yesterday. Quite a few are elderly and some of them were sick. So they got tired and left without voting. I’m hoping all of them return today,” she said.

Ahmed Hameed, 29, said his name was not present on the voter registry despite having submitted a membership form in February 2012. He also claimed he saw PPM members at Dharubaaruge to disrupt the vote.

“We know faces. Very well known PPM members were there. They were pushing and shoving people. MDP members are not like that. There was so much aggressiveness,” he said.

Polls had originally been scheduled from 2:30 pm to 8:00 pm, with ballot boxes set-up in every island and in Malé. At 4pm, however, the MDP announced it was cancelling the vote and rescheduling polls for 12 constituencies between 9:00 pm – 12:00 pm in Malé.  The party was subsequently unable to proceed with this vote, eventually rescheduling a new vote for 18 constituencies today.

These 18 constituencies include 10 Malé City seats and eight atoll constituencies – Addu Meedhoo, Addu Hulhudhoo, Nilandhoo Meedhoo, Mahibadhoo, Hithadhoo Uthuru, and Hoarafushi constituencies.

According to the MDP, voting had proceeded smoothly in only these eight constituencies yesterday, and today’s polls would allow constituency members residing in Malé to vote.

Despite the cancellation of polls yesterday, MDP members remain positive. Zubaidha Mohamed, 29, said the experience was a learning process for the MDP.

“We are the only party in the Maldives to hold primaries on such a large scale. This is a learning process. I think today’s voting will go well,” she said.

Ahmed Ikram, 22, said voting was proceeding smoothly, but expressed concern over the voter registry.

“Things are going well today. But there are still several complaints regarding names not being present on the voter registry. Some people who voted in the primaries for local councils say their names are not present on the list,” he said.

Double voting

The MDP had published an updated voter registry on January 10, which included all membership forms submitted to the party offices up until December 19.

A press release at the time said the party had received 10,518 new membership forms in the period between December 10 and 19. Of that number, 5,464 forms were received on December 19. The final list was published on the party’s website on January 10.

The party opened up a ten-day window from January 7 – 15 to allow voters to register. According to the MDP’s election committee member Ibrahim Waheed, members were required to register if they were voting in a location different to the one registered for the nationwide local council elections held on January 18.

After members complained of their names not being present on the voter registry, the MDP has now opened up voting for all MDP members without registration

Election committee member Ali Niyaz has expressed concern over room for double voting, but said he hoped candidate’s representatives at polling booths would monitor repeated votes.

The MDP will also crosscheck lists of those who voted in their constituencies and in Malé to ensure no double voting took place, Niyaz said.

Changing lists

Candidates and members alike have complained of frequent changes to the party registry.

“I have been carrying out a targeted campaign. I initially received a list with 588 members. Now there are 846 members on the list. There are entire households on the list who told me they are not MDP members when I visited them,” Velezinee said.

Meanwhile, MDP member Ahmed Hameed said he believed several candidates had submitted new membership forms to manipulate the vote in order to win the party ticket.

“Many MPs have submitted forms just to win the party primary. That is not good for the party. The party membership will not be genuine or healthy. I think the vote should be delayed until all issues are resolved. Otherwise people may question the validity of the vote,” he said.

However, MDP Chairperson and primary candidate ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik said he did not notice significant differences in the voter registry.

Candidate for Machangoalhi Dhekunu Noorban Fahmy said she did not want to comment on the registry, but said she hoped voting would proceed smoothly today.

Minivan News was unable to reach MDP’s membership committee chair Ali Shiyam at the time of press.

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Nasheed threatens impeachment after MDP wins in Addu, Malé cities

Following the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) win in Malé and Addu cities, former President Mohamed Nasheed has predicted an MDP majority in parliamentary elections scheduled for March and threatened to impeach President Abdulla Yameen.

MDP appears to have won all six of the local government seats in Addu City and eight of the 11 Malé City seats. Results for the remaining 1083 island and atoll council seats are rolling in.

Speaking at a press conference tonight, Nasheed predicted the MDP will win approximately 700 of the 1100 local government seats and said he believed the Maldivian citizens continued to hope for an MDP administration.

“The Maldivian citizens still want an MDP government, and for Maldives to be ruled according to MDP’s philosophy. I would like to tell the Maldivian public, do not be disheartened. God willing, without much delay, we will take over the government,” he said.

Nasheed had lost November’s controversial presidential elections narrowly, winning 48.61 percent of the vote (105,181) to Yameen’s 51.39 percent (111,203) – a difference of just 6,022 votes.

The 2013 presidential elections were marred with repeated and controversial delays after the Supreme Court annulled a widely commended first round of polls.

The apex court then imposed a 16-point electoral guidelines on the Elections Commission (EC), which critics say limit the independent commission’s authority to administer elections and allow political parties and candidates to veto elections.

Nasheed’s threat of impeachment comes after allegations of electoral fraud involving fake national identity cards in the presidential polls.

Elaborating further tonight, Nasheed said: “There are many ways to legally change a government. One of them is through the People’s Majlis. I believe the local council elections indicate the direction the People’s Majlis will go. I believe Maldivians want an MDP majority in the country, and an MDP government in the country.”

“The laws state two methods for changing a government. That is through an election or through a no confidence vote followed by an election. If the Maldivian citizens give us a majority in parliament, then we will be forced to take that no confidence vote,” he continued.

Earlier today, Nasheed said the non-existent voters had been added to the voter registry as part of “efforts to rig the election through the Supreme Court.”

The Supreme Court’s guideline included a clause ordering the EC to discard its voter registry and compile a new list based on the Home Ministry’s Department of National Registration’s (DNR) database.

Speaking to the media this afternoon, Nasheed said the DNR’s list contained hundreds of eligible voters without photos.

“We suspect very strongly that those without photos are non-existent people. However, they voted in the presidential election,” Nasheed said.

EC President Fuwad Thowfeek told parliament’s Independent Institutions Committee on Thursday (January 16) that the first list with ID card photos provided by the DNR was missing photos of more than 5,400 people.

However, the DNR provided photos of about 4,000 voters two weeks ago, Thowfeek told MPs, which left the final voter lists without the photos of 1,176 people.

Asked if photos could have been repeated in the DNR list, Thowfeek said the EC could not check and verify the information.

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