Government reaffirms commitment to protect migrant workers

Speaking at the ‘Workshop on Migration Processes and Policies in the Maldives’ held yesterday (August 21) in Malé, Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon emphasised the importance of addressing the gaps in the law and issues in its implementation.

The minister reiterated the commitment of President Abdulla Yameen, to address the issues and challenges with regard to migration management in the Maldives.

She thanked the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Development Fund for its assistance in protecting the rights of migrant workers and welcomed the recommendations detailed in the initial findings report, “A Review of Migration Management Processes and Policies in the Maldives”.

Ahmed Amjad of the Friendship Association of India and Maldives told Minivan News that the seminars hosted by IOM in January had been very effective.

Speaking at the event, Dunya stressed the importance of striking the right balance between excessive permeability of the borders, with excessively regulated migrant labour markets and having safeguards to prevent exploitation of the system by both employers and migrant workers.

Furthermore, Dunya emphasised the importance of distinguishing illegal migrants and undocumented workers, and orienting policies accordingly.

Highlighting the fact that the majority of migrant workers in the Maldives are from Bangladesh, Dunya stated that the study tour to Bangladesh, conducted in May this year for Maldivian Government officials, contributed immensely towards the work of the government with regards to migration management.

Earlier this year the Department of Immigration and Emigration deported 6,400 migrant workers between January and July and was holding 159 workers in detention as of July 22.

According to the department, barring a handful arrested on criminal offenses, all were undocumented – some having worked illegally for up to 12 years.

The current special operation to deport undocumented workers was announced on April 24, with Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim – also in charge of the immigration department – promising “the whole [of] Malé will be cleaned [of migrant workers]” within three weeks.

The 2014 US State Department’s Trafficking In Persons Report highlighted lack of procedures to identify victims among vulnerable populations, and inadequate training for officials.

The report stated that “the government penalized some victims for offenses committed as a result of being trafficked and also deported thousands of migrants without adequately screening for indications of forced labor.”


India failed Maldives, MP Hamid tells Indian media

“Howsoever much India talks about democracy but it failed the people here,” opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told India’s Zee News this week.

The comments came as the Indian and Maldivian governments prepared to celebrate bilateral ties with a week of cultural events.

The Dosti-Ekuverikan week also follows the recent state visit of President Abdulla Yameen to India.

Speaking at the inauguration of the week’s events on Monday (January 20), Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed praised the “long-standing historical bonds” between the two states.

“India can surely count on the sincere gratitude of our people for the ever-present, ever-reliable friendship, support and assistance,” added Jameel.

Upon President Yameen’s return from India earlier this month, one coalition member described the trip as “the most successful trip a Maldivian leader has ever made to India”, with the vice president suggesting that all recent tensions between the allies had been resolved.

Conversely, Hamid told Zee News that recent events in Maldivian politics are a “disgrace to Indian democracy”.

“People of Maldives do not think that India is that ‘great country’. We have been disappointed, we have been hounded,” the MDP’s international spokesperson told the Hindi news channel.

Hamid recently spent four weeks seeking refuge from arrest in the People’s Majlis. After spending time under house and a short period in jail, Hamid’s charge for failing to attend the court was quashed by the High Court.

“As a politician, especially as an MDP person, I get disappointed whenever I hear such sentences like ‘we are with the people of Maldives’; it just makes me sick. No one is with the people of Maldives because if they were with the people of Maldives, then they would have come to help us in this violent coup.”

“You know, we had no choice [but to accept the presidential election result]. The international community, Commonwealth endorsed the coup. It is similar to what the British did in India, we too have something called CONI reports (Commission of National Inquiry),” he continued.

Hamid repeated his party’s initial pledge to behave as a responsible opposition, although relations with the new administration have begun to appear strained. Attempts to pass revenue raising measures in the Majlis – necessary to finance a record budget – were stymied by MDP representatives last week.

More recently, following local council elections, former President Mohamed Nasheed expressed his intention to seek the new president’s impeachment.

Asked about India’s GMR company – ejected by the previous administration part-way into their US$500 million development of Malé’s international airport – Hamid suggested that GMR had not been backed by the Indian government.

During Yameen’s state visit, Indian PM Dr Manmohan Singh asked for the dispute with GMR – currently the subject of billion dollar arbitration proceedings – be resolved amicably.

The president’s trip included meetings with the Indian business leaders, with the coalition reporting the promise of one billion dollars through the State Bank of India. Yameen has also welcomed the return of GMR investment, though he has ruled out further involvement in the airport.


GMR chair expects arbitration proceedings to be concluded by May

GMR Group Chairman GM Rao expects arbitration proceedings in its dispute with the Government of Maldives to be concluded by May next year, India media has reported.

Rao was quoted whilst commenting on the infrastructure company’s bid to secure an airport development deal in the Phillipines.

A record-breaking US$5oo million deal to re-develop Malé’s Ibrahim Nasir International Airport was cancelled by the Maldives Government in late2012.

On November 27, then-President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s cabinet declared the agreement to be ‘void ab initio’ – invalid from the outset – ordering the developer to leave.

GMR subsequently took the case to a Singapore court of arbitration, claiming US$1.4billion in compensation – a figure that eclipses the Maldives’ state budget.

During the second round of procedural hearings in August this year, the tribunal acceded to GMR’s request to split the proceedings into firstly determining liability, before quantifying the amount of compensation to be paid separately.

Minivan News understands that the tribunal agreed this would simplify examination and quantification of what was effectively three claims being made in the hearing: GMR-MAHB’s claim for compensation as per the termination clause of its concession agreement, its parallel claim for loss of profits over the lifespan of the agreement due to its termination, and the government’s counter-claim for restitution should the tribunal decide in its favour.


Former President returns to Addu for final leg of campaign trip

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has rejoined his party’s ‘Journey of Pledges’ in the southern atolls following his release from custody on Wednesday.

Prior to his original departure last week on the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) campaign trip, Nasheed was placed under a travel ban restricting his movements to the capital.

The Department of Judicial Administration have confirmed that Nasheed had requested permission before leaving the Male’ area to rejoin his party. The Foreign Ministry observed in a statement that Nasheed was no longer under a travel ban.

He has since flown south and rejoined his party which is currently in Fuvamulah in Gnaviyani Atoll, continuing its door to door programs and policy workshops in order to gather information ahead of the next election – scheduled for July 2013 at the earliest.

Nasheed had been returned to Male’ on Monday after the Hulhumale’ Magistrates Court ordered the police to produce him at the first hearing in the Judge Abdullah Mohamed detention case on Tuesday.

Nasheed’s lawyers asked the three member panel of judges to give them a time period of 30 days to study the evidence and prepare a defence.

The judges however gave a period of 25 days. They announced that the next hearing would be held on November 4, 2012.

He will fly back to Male’ after the completion of the campaign at the Equatorial Convention Center in Hithadhoo on Saturday October 13 while the rest of the five boat flotilla returns separately.

Information gathering

President of the MDP’s Youth Wing, Shauna Aminath, said that the trip had been extremely useful in gathering specific information on the situation in the atolls.

A similar trip is planned for the northern atolls before the end of the year.

Shauna said that the party had been made aware of the deficiencies in public service provision in a number of areas.

“At almost every island, people have said that since February 7 they have been having problems receiving benefits for single mothers and for those with special needs,” she said.

Shauna also noted a failure to provide consistent public transport as promoted under the Nasheed administration.

“Almost every island said the ferry system had been stopped by non-MDP councils,” said Shauna. “People have grown to appreciate the need for public transport – we found a way around the problems but the people who have the passion and commitment are not there.”

Shauna said that some ferry services were refusing to take small numbers of passengers while others even asked passengers to provide fuel for the service.

She also alleged that the party had gathered information regarding the sacking of MDP supporting government workers since February in what she described as a “witch-hunt”.

The seeming reversal of decentralisation policies observed in the trip – such as those concerning local health workers – was reminiscent of the “old style”  under the 30 year Presidency of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, said Shauna.

In April the government announced its intention to annul provincial health and utility corporations in an attempt to streamline and improve service delivery.

The Local Government Authority (LGA) has said that it intends to revise the current system of local governance which it has described as prohibitively expensive for the country – which is said to cost US$12 million a year in salaries.


Mahlouf accuses Maldives history website of promoting other religions

Undersecretary at the President’s Office Fareesha Abdulla has said she intends to file a defamation case against Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Mahlouf, after he appeared on DhiTV’s ‘Habaru Therein’ (In The News) and accused her of trying to introduce other religions to the Maldives.

“I have asked the Maldives Police Service on January 11, 2012 to investigate this case,” Fareesha said in a statement.

Mahlouf told Minivan News today that “Fareesha, and her husband, I think he’s a foreigner, run a website called Maldives Culture promoting other religions in Dhivehi.”

“Her husband was [previously] deported and Fareesha stayed away from the Maldives for a long time. Under this government, she is now working in the President’s office,” Mahlouf said.

Maldives Culture is a website run by Fareesha and her husband Michael O’Shea, containing English translations of documents about the history, culture and society of the Maldives.

“There’s no Dhivehi in the site – it’s all in English,” Fareesha said. “There’s nothing about other religions, and Michael was never deported.”

Fareesha told Minivan News that while she could laugh off Mahlouf’s allegations, “they have serious ramifications for me. He is a member of the Majlis and people do trust what he says – they may not check the truth for themselves. I am concerned for my physical safety – I may not be able to walk on the streets without being attacked.”

Mahlouf meanwhile claimed that the government was using the police “to try and stop us talking.”

“There’s no way they can stop us,” he said.

Documents available on Maldives Culture cover topics ranging from Maldivian art, history, social customs to historic photographs and maps of the Maldives, and a Dhivehi-English dictionary.

The site also includes translations of the works of famous explorers who visited the Maldives throughout its history, including the Ibn Battuta, François Pyrard de Laval and HCP Bell.


Supreme Court to rule in defamation case against self

The Supreme Court has issued a writ of prohibition and taken over a defamation case against it filed in the Civil Court by Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail.

The Supreme Court order issued today states that it had learned that the Civil Court had accepted a defamation suit filed by Ibra. It ordered the lower court not to take “any action regarding the said case” and to send “all the documents in the case file, including all actions taken since the case was filed as well as the minutes” to the court before 3:30pm this afternoon.

The writ of prohibition was signed by Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz.

Ibra, a member of the Constitution Draft Committee of the former Special Majlis, longstanding Male’ MP and founding member of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), had filed the case against the Supreme Court after it reprimanded him for calling on the public to “rise up and sort out the judges”.

In response to Ibra’s calls, the Supreme Court and the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) demanded authorities investigate the former MP, claiming that “making such statements in a free, democratic society under lawful governance goes against the principles of civilisation”.

Ibra responded by filing a defamation suit in the Civil Court against the Supreme Court.

But today, “The documents and everything have been handcuffed and taken to the Supreme Court,” Ibra told Minivan News.

“Initially [the Civil Court] was of the opinion that the case was not in their jurisdiction, because it involved the Supreme Court. But I appealed to the registrar, outlined my argument, and the second time they agreed they could and should accept the case,” Ibra said.

“I paid my fees, and was waiting for them to hold the first hearing. Then today I had a call from newspaper Haveeru asking me to comment on the Supreme Court’s taking over the case – I replied that no one had told me about it and I was not in a position to comment. Later my lawyer called and said the Supreme Court had published the writ on their website.”

As a result, Ibra said, “I now have to go before the Supreme Court and say to them ‘You have defamed me, now please decide in my favour.’”

Ibra has previously observed that the act of an appellate court taking over the jurisdiction of a trial court was unprecedented “in any democratic country, anywhere in the world.”

“Even in cases of a mistrial, the instruction is to retry the case. Appellate courts don’t sit on trials. And they are systematically doing it – at least three cases so far. What they are effectively doing is influencing the independence of the trial court. The significance of that is that if trial court judges cannot be independent of the higher court, there is no room for appeals. Because the decision is going to be the Supreme Court decision,” Ibra told Minivan News.

“I don’t see how they can sit in judgement on themselves,” Ibra said today. “Every single defamation case until now has been tried in the Civil Court. Just because the Supreme Court is involved doesn’t mean the Civil Court should not hear the case – the Supreme Court is obstructing the process of justice.”

The fact that the decision to take over the case from the Civil Court implied that a majority of the seven Supreme Court judges had elected to do so, Ibra said.

“This means the majority of the Supreme Court judges are not cognisant of the principles of natural justice, and are clearly trying to obstruct the provision of judge to a citizen claiming his fundamental right as guaranteed in black and white in the Constitution.

“This is not about Ibra. If they can do this to Ibra they are setting a precedent to do it to just about anyone.”

He suggested that the Supreme Court’s action today “establishes what I originally claimed. We as citizens – the public – have to do something. We can’t let seven idiots hijack the justice system of the entire country.”


Brand of butter commonly used in Maldives declared non-halal by Malaysia

The Islamic Development Department of Malaysia has declared the ‘Pure Creamery Butter-Golden Churn’ as non-halal (forbidden under Islamic sharia). The brand, widely used in the Maldives, was found to contain pig DNA.

According to media reports, the department’s director general explained that the product was the same brand that had been previously banned but had been brought into the country by different importers.

Meanwhile, local daily Haveeru reports Ibrahim Arif from the Olympia Shop as insisting that the New Zealand company that manufactures the butter had guaranteed it was pig-free.

“The company has denied the reports as baseless. As the company has guaranteed [that the product is free from pig DNA], we have recently placed an order worth US$100,000,” he said.