Local market patched with personal alliances

Compared to markets in many developing countries, Male’s fruit and vegetable market appears tranquil. Visitors aren’t hassled, and the pathways are fairly clean. Nearly each stall presents banana bunches, coconuts young and mature, and bundles of various leaves alongside giant papayas and modest mangoes. A few sport coconut oils and juices for skin, hair and cooking, as well as containers of Maldivian spice mix and a salty fish sauce.

While the market is the shopkeeper’s source for local goods, the rules of competition are personal. “Business depends on your friends–both shopkeepers and customers,” said one vendor. Pointing out the homogeneity of goods available, he explained, “We compete by making sure we have what the other guy has. We don’t lower the price.”

While business is alright, the annual holiday season (October – December) brings a dismal combination–low supply and low demand. In spite of their personal connections, most vendors note that business hovers between “alright” and “bad.”

During the holidays many locals leave the country, and island-based suppliers make fewer trips to Male’. One man said the price of a coconut, one of the Maldives’ most common products, has dropped from Rf5 (US$0.30) to Rf2 (US$0.13). Bananas sell for Rf1 (US$0.06) apiece, versus the shop rate of Rf3 (US$0.9). He adds that most tourists who stop in don’t buy.

Seasonal market trends are a nuisance for vendors, but their complaints mostly lie with the changes imposed on the market system by the Male’ City Council, then Male’ Municipality.

Renovations earlier this year transformed the former sprawl to a plot of concrete squares delineating 176 stalls, available by lottery for three-month periods only at Rf750 (US$49) per month.

Many vendors said they were uninformed of the changes and simply asked to evacuate. Protests against the order were unproductive, and vendors claim the new arrangement has hurt their business as well as their pride.

“People who had worked here for years weren’t given an advantage in the lottery,” said Ahmed Zakariya. “It’s only by chance that they can sell goods, and for three months only.”

Zakariya said the situation had led some vendors to lease out their stalls at a profit.

“Some guys have families, and their whole life is based on this business,” he explained. “They try to lease a stall from someone else so they can sell for longer, but they’re not too happy with the set up.”

Vendors have also turned to their own resources to fix physical flaws.

Although the Municipality provided white tarp covers for the stalls, the sandy pathways were unprotected and rain often splashed into the stall areas, coating products in wet silt. One vendor explained that the blue and patched sheets now draping over the walkways were raised by the men themselves, in the interest of protecting business.

Noting the prevalence of unstable and crumble-prone styrofoam surfaces, Minivan News asked a vendor why the stalls were built out of such impermanent material.

“People don’t invest in improving their stalls because they only have them for three months,” said one man. “Even if you win the next lottery, you may move across the market. So we use re-usable materials that are easy to move.”

Gesturing to his approximately four foot by seven-foot stall, Zakariya added that the restricted stall spaces hurt business prospects.

“Sometimes we can’t keep enough produce in the given space, so we can’t sell as much.”

He said some vendors partner with their neighbors to expand storage and sales, paying a fee or entering into partnership as friends.

Mohamed Manik of Gaaf Alif Atoll believes he is one of the few vendors currently selling solo. He said he makes a monthly minimum of Rf10,000 (US$649), but believes the joint operations make a much higher profit. “They are my big competitors, the ones who have partnered,” he noted, looking around. “But I usually can’t compete, so I just try to make a satisfactory living.”

In spite of the delicate competition for social-professional connections, Manik said people are friendly. But he pointed out that they share a common antagonist: night burglars.

“Theft is a big problem,” said one older man.

Without a security guard or market gate, he said, the market is hard to defend. Pranksters most often steal banana bunches, however he said some coins he had had the day before had disappeared overnight.

“Sometimes the guys who stay here overnight catch the thieves and beat them, and hand them over to the police. But they are soon released, and come back the next day to hassle us,” he said.

“Security needs to be better, the city council should take responsibility. It’s very, very, very very sad,” he concluded.


State witnesses defend MP accused of corruption

Five prosecution witnesses defended Kaashidhoo MP Ismail Abdul Hameed at Civil Court today from allegations of corruption during his time as Director of Male’ municipality waste management section.

The Independent MP for Kaafu Atoll Kaashidhoo stands accused by the state of abuse of power for undue gain in importing a Rf8.6 million barge from Indonesia in 2008 and making advance LC payment before the vessel arrived in the Maldives.

Newspaper Haveeru reports that former municipality employee Ali Rasheed however testified at court today that the barge was brand new apart from scraped paint that could be explained by its month-long journey to the country.

The state attorney pointed out that Rasheed had previously told the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) that the vessel was rust-coloured.

Three of the other witnesses backed Rasheed claiming that the rust was caused by insufficient sand glassing before applying paint.

All three insisted that the vessel was brand new.

Ismail Abdul Hameed meanwhile claimed that US$28,000 was left unpaid to the Indonesian company under an agreement between the parties to use the remaining amount for repairs if the vessel was not satisfactory.

Finance Ministry Director General Sami Ageel testified that the state did not suffer financial loss in the transaction.


”Expat or locals, both are human”: DRP calls on government to reopen water taps

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Nihan has called on the government to reopen the closed public water taps in Malé by the end of this week.

Deputy Head of Malé Municipality Mohamed Arif told Minivan News yesterday that all but four of the 19 taps closed because they were “mostly being used by expats [and] not Maldivians.”

The water taps cost the municipality Rf3.5 million (US$270,000) last year, he said.

Today, Nihan said many people were complaining that the municipality’s decision was causing them difficulty.

”Expat or locals, both are human,” he said. ”Water is a basic fundamental right for any human being.”

”We want the government to keep at least eight taps available,” Nihan said, ”so that two are available for each district.”

He said the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) standards would not allow a country to keep its public water taps closed.

Nihan said he did not want the water from the taps to be used for car washing or business purposes.

”We are ready to go out on the streets and protest on this issue,” he said. ”If they do not reopen the taps by this week we will come out to the streets and will even take the issue to parliament.”

Nihan said the party was waiting so as to give some time for the government to reverse the decision.

”This shows how incapable and unable the government is to run this country,” he said. “They cannot even manage the public water taps.”

Head of Male’ Municipality Adam Manik said the government “might or might not” reopen four more taps.

”We do not want to know what the DRP wants,” Adam said. ‘We understand what the people want, and so far nobody has complained [to us] that they are having difficulties.”

Adam said there would be enough water available from the four open taps, and that he did not wish to comment on the issue further.

MDP MP Alhan Fahmy also said he did not want to comment on the issue while spokesperson for the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Parliamentary group, Ahmed Shifaz did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.


Closing public water taps “like drinking blood of the people”: Umar Naseer

Male’ Municipality has closed 14 public water taps across the city, leaving only four taps available.

Deputy Head of the Municipality Mohamed Arif said the taps were closed because the council had received many complaints about the taps, which were “not being used by Maldivians.”

”Most of the water is used by expats, for car washing and a very few poor locals,” Arif said. ”We have done surveys to check who has been using the water taps.”

Arif said the water taps cost the municipality Rf3.5 million (US$270,000) last year.

He said the water taps were established intending to help the poor locals who could not afford to pay the water bill.

”Our records show that only 10 per-cent of the people using the water taps were Maldivians,” he said.

”We receive many complaints from Ameer Ahmed School that people throw water at the students,” he said. ”We also have many complaints from people that they are having difficulties due to water spilt near the taps.”

Press Secretary for the president Mohamed Zuhair also said that the taps were used mainly by expats and for washing cars.

Vice president of Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party DRP Umar Naseer said that he was concerned about the issue as “a lot of people are unable to afford their water bill.”

”That’s why they stay in the queue for hours, ” he said. ”Closing the water taps is like drinking the blood of the people.”

Most people could not afford to drink bottled mineral water all the time, he noted.