Parliament reverses import duty hikes for garments and motorcycles

The parliament today reversed import duty hikes for garments and motorcycles, three weeks after increased rates came into force.

Higher tariffs approved by parliament in December as part of revenue raising measures proposed by the government came into force on April 1.

However, days before the changes took effect, economic development minister Mohamed Saeed told the press that the government was reviewing the new rates as motorcycles had become “a basic need in the Maldives”.

The custom duty for motorcycles had been raised from 100 to 150 percent.

A marketing executive at Sheesha Pvt Ltd, one of the largest automobile whole-sale and retail traders in the country, told Minivan News today that the company has not increased prices as its last shipment arrived before April 1.

Sales picked up dramatically in early February and its stock of motorcycles was completely sold out before April, the executive said.

In late March, hundreds of people queued up to buy cigarettes before import duties on tobacco was hiked from 150 to 200 percent and from 90 laari to MVR1.25 for a single cigarette.

The amendments passed today also require the customs authority to reimburse motorcycle importers who were charged the hiked rates from April 1.

However, Sheesha does not expect a reimbursement as its new shipment has not cleared customs yet.

According to a 2011 report by the Environment Protection Agency, one in six residents of the capital own a motorcycle.

Debate and voting on the government-sponsored legislation meanwhile took place today amid continuing protests by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs.

The amendments to the import-export law submitted by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Jameel Usman were passed with 46 votes in favour.

The import duty for ready-made garments was raised from zero to 15 percent in April last year. The rate will be brought back to zero once the amendments are ratified.

MP Ahmed Nihan, parliamentary group leader of the PPM, said today that discussions are ongoing with the government to reduce tariffs for other items as well, including heavy-duty vehicles used for construction.

Former minister Mahmoud Razee told Minivan News earlier this month that the government was “flip-flopping” with its policy reversals.

In December, the government also reversed a decision to impose a 10 percent import duty on staple foodstuff such as rice, flour, wheat and sugar.

“There’s no clear-cut, defined, long-term policy,” the economic development minister under the MDP government said.

Revenue raising measures

This year’s record MVR24.3 billion (US$1.5 billion) state budget includes MVR3.4 billion (US$220 million) anticipated from new revenue raising measures.

In addition to revisions of import duty rates, the measures include the introduction of a “green tax” in November, acquisition fees from investments in special economic zones, and leasing 10 islands for resort development.

The government expected MVR533 million (US$34.5 million) in additional income from import duties.

On April 1, the import duty for oil or petroleum products was raised from zero to 10 percent while duties for luxury cosmetics and perfume was increased from zero to 20 percent.

The import duty for cars, vans, and jeeps was hiked to 200 percent.

Import duties were also raised in April 2014 for most items, including textiles, cotton, sugar confectionaries, iron, steel, diesel motor oil, and seat covers of passenger vehicles.


Horns and megaphones banned in parliament chamber

The People’s Majlis today banned the use of horns, sirens and megaphones in the parliament chamber following weeks of protests by opposition MPs.

MPs of the Maldivian Democratic Party and Jumhooree Party have been protesting since March 2 over the arrest and imprisonment of former president Mohamed Nasheed on terrorism charges.

Opposition MPs continued protests with horns and megaphones today, but Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed called for a vote on the changes proposed to the parliamentary rules despite the disorder in the chamber.

The changes were proposed by the speaker and approved with 43 votes in favour at today’s sitting.

The debate on the bill was once again inaudible to the viewing gallery and the parliament secretariat ceased providing a live feed of the sittings to television stations this morning.

“Work on bringing an end to the MDP’s horns by amending article 51 of the parliament rules is on the agenda today,” tweeted majority leader Ahmed Nihan before today’s sitting.

Nihan was not responding to calls at the time of publication.

MDP spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy told Minivan News today that opposition MPs will continue the protests.

With daily anti-government demonstrations and heightened political tension, the state of the nation shall be reflected in the People’s Majlis, he said.

“While democratic principles are destroyed and political leaders are jailed, the Majlis is a place where such issues can be resolved,” he said.

The MPs are calling for a resolution to the political crisis, but the “current majority party does not want to listen,” he added.

Imthiyaz also questioned the need for the changes as the rules allow the speaker to order the sergeant-at-arms to expel MPs who disrupt sittings.

He contended that laws were passed in recent weeks in violation of parliamentary rules as voting took place with disorder in the chamber.

Constituencies represented by opposition MPs did not have a say either, he added.

Previous speakers resolved disputes through dialogue with political parties, but the current speaker “is too dictatorial and doesn’t even want to talk to the minority,” he said.

Maseeh is conducting sittings in violation of the rules while insisting that there was order in the chamber despite the protests, Imthiyaz said.

But neither the speaker nor MPs were able to hear debates, he noted.

Last week, a three-month delay for the implementation of the new penal code was approved with a show of hands amid protests by MDP MPs.

Rules of procedure

The new provisions state that cases of MPs who use horns or megaphones and approach the speaker’s desk will be investigated by the ethics committee.

The committee can cut 55 percent of an MPs’ monthly committee allowance and suspend participation in an official parliament trip for six months.

Imthiyaz said the proposed punishment was “ridiculous” as it amounted to undoing or erasing committee attendance.

MPs receive a monthly allowance of MVR20,000 for attending more than 50 percent of committee meeting.

The purpose of today’s changes to impose pay cuts on opposition MPs as the ruling coalition lacked two-third majority required by the constitution for non-payment of salaries and allowances, he said.

He also noted that the MDP parliamentary group leader sent a letter to Maseeh expressing concern with sittings taking place in violation of the rules.

However, in a meeting last week, Maseeh insisted that he was following the rules.

Imthiyaz also objected to the speaker refusing to allow MDP MPs to speak during debates and advocate on behalf of their constituents.

At a previous sitting, deputy speaker ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik refused to allow MDP MP Mariya Ahmed Didi to speak.

Imthiyaz said Mariya was seated, but the deputy speaker said the MDP MP will not be allowed to speak while her fellow MPs were protesting.


MDP MPs suspend protest for talks with speaker

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has suspended protests in the People’s Majlis (parliament) chamber as it meets with the speaker to seek a negotiated solution to a standoff with the government.

Parliament resumed providing a live feed of sittings to television stations, a popular service which had been suspended for over a month while the MDP parliamentarians protested with whistles, sirens and megaphones in the chamber.

MDP spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy said the minority parliamentary group was awaiting a response to a letter sent to Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed expressing concern over parliament sittings allegedly taking place in violation of procedural rules.

“And as a meeting has been arranged between MDP parliamentary group leader and the Majlis speaker, the MDP parliamentary group has decided to halt the protest to give room for discussions,” the MP for Maafanu North said.

Imthiyaz told Minivan News that the MPs were not boycotting the sittings, as reported in other media. The MPs were inside the parliament building, but were not entering the chamber, he said.

“Because if we go inside we will have to protest,” he said.

Since parliament returned from recess in March, MDP MPs have been protesting on the Majlis floor with sirens, whistles and megaphones, calling for the release of former president Mohamed Nasheed, who was jailed last month for 13 years on terrorism charges.

However, Speaker Maseeh continued proceedings despite the disorder in the chamber.

Parliament also ceased providing a live feed of the sittings to television stations while the debate on bills was inaudible to the viewing gallery.

The parliament secretariat told local media that the actions and words of the MPs during the protests were “against societal norms and unfit for public viewing”.


In the absence of the MDP MPs, debate and voting at today’s sitting proceeded without incident.

However, amendments submitted to the constitution by government-aligned MP Ahmed Amir were not put up for a vote at today’s sitting due to the lack of a quorum.

Amending the constitution requires the support of a three-quarters majority of the 85-member house.

A quorum of 64 MPs was needed to call the vote, but only 45 MPs were in attendance. The MDP has 21 MPs while at least 13 more are opposition-aligned.

Amir had proposed removing two clauses from article 231 of the constitution, clauses which specify that local councils shall be elected for a three-year term and that chairs and deputy chairs shall be elected through a secret ballot by councillors.

The Maldives Development Alliance MP for Dhaal Kudahuvadhoo proposed specifying both the terms and process of electing chairs and deputy chairs in the Decentralisation Act.

Earlier in the sitting, preliminary debate began on a public service media bill, during which several ruling Progressive Party of Maldives MPs expressed gratitude to the minority party MPs for ceasing their disruptive protests.

The government-sponsored legislation seeks to replace the current state broadcaster – the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), which operates a television station and radio channel – with a new public service media company.

The company is to be operated by a seven-member governing board appointed by the president and approved by parliament. If the law is passed, the MBC and its executive board would be dissolved.

During the debate, pro-government MPs criticised the state broadcaster for not providing enough coverage of the government’s services, programmes, and development projects.

Several MPs also accused the state broadcaster of focusing too heavily on the capital and ignoring events and developments in the atolls.

Following the debate, the bill was accepted for consideration with 43 votes in favour and one abstention, and was sent to committee for further review.

Debate also began on amendments submitted to the Elections Commission Act by Deputy Speaker ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, who proposed mandating the commission to oversee and conduct presidential primaries of political parties.

Separately, the former MDP chairperson – who was expelled from the party last year after repeatedly defying three-line whips – declared that he will be the main opposition party’s presidential candidate for 2018, although the party says its candidate is former president Nasheed.

The Independent MP for Hulhuhenveiru told parliament that he was ousted for announcing his intention to challenge Nasheed for the party’s ticket, claiming that that the opposition leader’s family controls the MDP.

He also criticised the MDP’s new alliance with the religious conservative Adhaalath Party and the Jumhooree Party. Both parties were responsible for the fall of the MDP government in February 2012, Moosa said.

Moosa’s bill was accepted with 44 votes in favour and sent to committee.


Former police commissioner calls for independent inquiry into jailbreak

Former Commissioner of Police and Jumhooree Party (JP) MP Abdulla Riyaz has called on the government to form an independent commission of inquiry to look into the escape of two convicts from Maafushi jail on Friday (October 17).

“I believe the [escape] of those who should be kept apart from society was due to the failure of an institution to properly fulfil its legally mandated responsibility,” Riyaz said during debate on an urgent motion submitted by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz Fahmy at today’s sitting of parliament.

The MP for Kinbidhoo also advised strengthening the prisons department and ensuring that it is able to function professionally, claiming that the post of its highest-ranking official had changed three times during the past year.

Competent persons should be appointed to such posts, Riyaz continued, adding that he had confidence in the ability of the security services to find the escaped convicts.

In an appearance on state broadcaster Television Maldives on Sunday night (October 19), Home Minister Umar Naseer revealed that investigations were ongoing to determine whether prison guards were complicit in the escape.

“Nothing we have so far found in the investigation indicates any negligence or involvement of prison guards. However, if such a thing comes to our notice, we will take immediate action,” he said.


Opposition MPs meanwhile contended that the government’s “negligence and irresponsibility” allowed the dangerous criminals to break out from a high security prison.

Introducing the motion, Imthiyaz said the Maldives National Defence Force’s (MNDF) appeal for MPs to stay in at night was indicative of the prevailing state of fear and the government’s loss of control over “terror activity in the Maldives.”

“We believe this is an alarm bell for the loss of domestic security,” the MP for Maafanu North said.

Imthiyaz’s early day motion or motion without notice was accepted for debate unanimously with 53 votes in favour, which opened the People’s Majlis floor for a one-hour debate.

Public fears over personal safety and security was “a characteristic of a failed state.,” Imthiyaz continued.

Referring to the suspected abduction of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan, Imthiyaz noted Home Minister Umar Naseer’s acknowledgement of the involvement of gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance.

Weeks before Rilwan went missing, Imthiyaz said MDP had alerted the government to the actions of a vigilante group who abducted several young men in June.

The release of suspects who attacked an MDP rally in Addu City was a further sign of the state of the nation, Imthiyaz continued.

“But the government said at the time that the case would be investigated with the utmost seriousness. Police were also attacked,” he said.

“They were caught redhanded from the scene of crime with their faces covered and with wooden planks and iron rods in their hands. But they were all released in less than 24 hours.”

MDP MP Eva Abdulla noted that four murders and more than 30 violent assaults have taken place since the end of Ramadan.

“Death threats have been sent to about 15 journalists and 16 MPs as well as our families,” she said.

Moreover, she added, the main opposition party’s office was torched, crude oil was thrown on the residence of former President Mohamed Nasheed, and the car of MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed’s was vandalised.

“This is the state of the country today. This is one side of the news,” she said.

On the other hand, Eva continued, media reports have revealed that police are unable to identify the source of the death threats, a suspect arrested after a machete was buried in the Minivan News office door was released by the court, and eyewitnesses to violent assaults are scared to testify in court.

Pro-government MPs meanwhile criticised the MDP government’s track record and referred to the military’s controversial detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, the arrests of then-opposition MPs Abdulla Yameen and Gasim Ibrahim, and inmates setting fire to the Maafushi jail on two occasions in 2009.

Hoarafushi MP Mohamed Ismail claimed that the MDP government released 700 dangerous convicts.

MP Ahmed Nihan, parliamentary group leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), alleged that the MDP formed a “big cell” within the party to create ties with inmates following the prison riot in September 2003.

Referring to the arson attacks on February 8, 2012, Nihan alleged that the MDP had “sponsored terrorism”.

While the current administration should bear responsibility for the prison break, Nihan assured that the government would control jails.

“People escape from jail in all countries of the world,” he said, adding that he was pleased some MDP MPs were willing to assist and cooperate with the government.


Government releases MDP MP “Gadhoo” Zahir’s passport

The Department of Immigration has released Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Zahir Adam’s passport today.

The passport was withheld on Friday night at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) as Zahir attempted to leave the country to get medical treatment.

Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali said Kaafu Atoll Guraidhoo Island had issued an order to withhold the passport, but had ordered its release today.

“We follow the court’s orders. When Guraidhoo court asked us to withhold the passort we did that. When they told us to release the passport, we did that also,” Ali told Minivan News.

In a statement on Saturday, Zahir said he had not been informed of charges against him in any court.

“This is an act to cause trouble for MDP MPs, and to threaten and obstruct MDP’s reform programs,” Zahir said.

Minivan News was unable to reach the Guraidhoo Court at the time of press.

MDP MPs Eva Abdulla and Ali Azim were arrested last week as the party continues demonstrations for elections to expedited after the Supreme Court ordered the police to forcibly halt the second round of presidential elections. The run off had been scheduled for September 28.

Eva was arrested at a protest on Tuesday evening and released after a few hours of detention. Ali Azim was arrested on Sunday last week, and has now been transferred to house arrest.

Meanwhile, the police have said it is investigating MDP MPs Alhan Fahmy, Imthiyaz Fahmy, Mohamed Rasheed (Bonda) and ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik for contempt of court and threatening the police, judges and their families.

MDP MPs Abdulla Jabir and Hamid Abdul Gafoor are currently standing trial on suspicion of possessing drugs and alcohol.


MDP MPs call on JSC to suspend CSC Chair Fahmy

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs have called on the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to suspend Civil Service Commission (CSC) Chair Mohamed Fahmy Hassan from the judicial watchdog body as a sexual harassment case against the JSC member had been forwarded for prosecution.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, MDP MPs ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, Hamid Abdul Gafoor, Ibrahim Rasheed, Mohamed Rasheed and Mohamed Thoriq criticised the JSC’s public statements insisting that parliament could not summon judges to committee.

The MPs contended that the JSC continuing to hold meetings with Fahmy in attendance was against the spirit of the constitution, adding that Fahmy had a conflict of interest in sitting in the JSC while a criminal case against him was being prepared to be filed at court.


Parliament sittings canceled indefinitely by Speaker

Speaker Abdulla Shahid has announced that parliament sittings will be cancelled indefinitely as “a peaceful atmosphere could not be assured” for sittings to proceed amidst rising political tension.

In a press statement today, Speaker Shahid said that MPs of the formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) confronted the Speaker in his private chambers after MDP MP Mohamed Rasheed ‘Kubey’ was forcibly removed at the beginning of today’s sitting.

“Moreover, confrontations occurred between MPs in the chamber to the point of becoming dangerous,” the statement read, adding that “an atmosphere of calm necessary to conduct sittings could not be assured” as all recent sittings had to be cancelled due to disorder.

Shahid explained that he decided to invoke the Speaker’s authority under section 213(e) of the rules of procedure to cancel sittings indefinitely as he believed a political solution had to be sought through dialogue among parliamentary group leaders.

Section 213(e) states that the Speaker has the discretion to not conduct sittings for a period “as a precautionary measure if there is fear of a certain type of danger facing the Majlis.”

Both today and yesterday’s sitting were cancelled after MDP MPs vociferously raised points of order to protest the arrest of MPs during the party’s ongoing street demonstrations and the government’s decision to alter the ‘Aasandha’ health insurance scheme to charge patients from private hospitals and clinics.

MDP MPs led by MP Ali Waheed also disrupted today’s meeting of the Finance Committee alleging that the committee had failed to investigate the government “illegally borrowing” MVR 300 million from the Bank of Maldives.


Speaking at a press conference yesterday, MDP MP Ali Waheed argued that parliament has been “paralysed” since the transfer of power on February 7 and that “nothing productive” had been done in the past six months.

MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ‘Ibu’, parliamentary group leader of the MDP, contended that the government was violating the Public Finance Act by borrowing large sums of money without parliamentary approval.

Ibu claimed that the Finance Minister had written to parliament’s Finance Committee seeking MVR9 billion (US$583 million) for the budget as well as MVR 3 billion (US$194 million) in additional expenditure.

MP Ali Waheed meanwhile noted that MPs last month overwhelmingly rejected a Finance Committee recommendation to make changes to the Aasandha health insurance scheme.

Speaking to press after today’s sitting, MDP Chairperson and Hulhu-Henveiru MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik said the party would not allow parliament to resume while the current government was altering the MDP’s flagship free universal health insurance scheme.

MDP MP Eva Abdulla claimed that the government was facing a shortfall in budgeted funds for the health insurance scheme due to increasing expenditure on the police and army.

“What we’re seeing is the result of a group of people assuming power without making any pledges to the public,” she said. “That is, they do not have to be accountable to the people. They do not have to let the people know what is going on.”


MPs released from Dhoonidhoo but party members remain in detention: Solih

Five Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs who were arrested during yesterday’s peaceful march around Male’, including Mariya Ahmed Didi, Alhan Fahmy and Imthyaz Fahmy, were released from Dhoonidhoo Detention Centre at midnight last night.

MDP MP and parliamentary group leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said the MPs had been handcuffed since the time of their arrest between 4:00pm and 5:00pm yesterday, and their release at midnight. Didi has sustained injuries to her arms, back and face, he said.

Over 50 party members and citizens were admitted to the hospital yesterday with head injuries and bruises to their backs, arms and stomachs following yesterday’s march, which was reportedly attacked without provocation by police forces.

Party Chairperson and MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik was last evening reported to be in critical condition following the attack. In an interview given to local media Raaje TV from his hospital bed, where he was on a ventilator being treated for serious head injuries, Moosa claimed security forces “wanted to kill me.”

Speaking today to Minivan News, Solih said the doctor is examining Moosa’s injuries. “He is still in the same condition [as yesterday],” he said.

Former president Mohamed Nasheed also sustained injuries to his back, hands and head. He was kept in a safe house until some time last night, when he returned to his home in Male’.

MPs held in Dhoonidhoo have returned home, but more than 15 party members were believed to remain in Dhoonidhoo.

Solih said security forces have not been cooperative with providing information.

“They are not answering our calls, and didn’t even allow lawyers to go to Dhoonidhoo, saying their computer system was down. They continued to refuse lawyers access to the centre and later released the MPs,” he said.

Solih said the party is currently trying to get information about party members who may still be held in Dhoonidhoo.

Meanwhile, Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed has issued an arrest warrant for Nasheed and former Minister of Defense Tholhath Ibrahim.


Millions of rufiya and a 100 foot fiberglass fishing boat to join JP: leaked letters allege corruption

Letters sent by MDP MPs to President Mohamed Nasheed containing allegations of corruption against Jumhoree Party(JP) leader MP Gasim Ibrahim have been leaked to the press.

Gasim is currently under house arrest, charged with bribery and treason.

The documents are addressed to the President and signed by ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs  Mohamed Nazim, Ahmed Easa, Mohamed Gasam, Mohamed Rasheed, Mohamed Shifaz and Ilyas Labeeb.

In one of the letters, Madaveli MP Mohamed Nazim claims that Gasim offered him a 100 foot fibereglass fishing boat and Rf4 million to join the JP, adding that the offer was unlawful and could be considered attempted bribery.

In his letter Kedhikolhudhoo MP Ahmed Easa alleges that Gasim offered him Rf5 million to defect from MDP to the JP.

The letter from Mohamed Gasam, MP for Thinadhoo, claims Gasim had offered him “many rewards” to recruit him away from MDP.

In a letter signed by Hulhu-Meedhoo MP Ilyas Labeeb, the writer mentions that Gasim offered him Rf5 million to buy and construct a house in Hulhumale’.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said that he could not confirm whether the letters were genuine, or that the letters were the same as those received by the president.

‘’Similar complaints were forwarded to president by several MPs,’’ said Zuhair. ‘’I cannot confirm whether the [leaked] letters are the actual letters.’’

Zuhair said that police were currently investigating the allegations of corruption against the opposition leaders.

Spokesperson for the MDP parliamentary group, Baarah MP Mohamed Shifaz, one of the MPs whose name was on one of the leaked letters, revealed that the leaked letter in his name was an edited version of the letter he actually wrote.

Shifaz said that the middle paragraph of the leaked document in his name was edited.

‘’I did not mention any amount of money Gasim offered me,” Shifaz said. “I wrote that he had offered me different amounts on different occasions.”

‘’I did send a letter to president last month, because of a rumor that circulating in those days that I was about to join the JP,” he said. “It dragged me into a situation where MPs almost lost confidence in me, and I thought the president might feel the same way. So I sent him a letter to make him confident that I would not leave MDP.”

MDP’s Council adopted a resolution late last month to terminate its coalition agreement with JP.

Gasim did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.