Tourist facilities to be developed on local picnic island Kuda Bandos

Additional reporting by Neil Merrett

Tourist facilities are to be developed on Kuda Bandos, the only picnic island located near Male’ accessible to for Maldivians, following the island’s owner Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen submitting the sole bid for its development.

Vice President Waheed Deen, also the owner of Bandos Island Resort, previously leased Kuda Bandos for US$6000 annually. However, the after the island was opened for bids on November 16, 2012  Deen submitted the sole proposal and won Kuda Bandos again for a rent of US $180,582, according to local media.

A joint venture company will be established with the Government of Maldives to develop the island, including “certain tourist facilities”, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb told local media.

The new facilities will “modernise the island” and increase government revenue, according to Adheeb.

“We don’t want to renew the agreement every two years. Now it is to be handed over through the Tourism Act and the rent will be paid just the same as the resorts,” said Adheeb.

Currently Maldivians have exclusive access to Kuda Bandos, which is located next to Bandos Island Resort, on Fridays, Saturdays and public holidays, when local families are able to travel to the picnic island for a day of relaxation on the beach.

Adheeb claimed that even after Kuda Bandos is developed Maldivians will have full, unrestricted access to the picnic island.

“After development, safari boats can go there with tourists. It will be developed so that everyone will have the opportunity,” said Adheeb. “The tourist facilities will be established to make it easier for the tourists who visit.”

Maldivian picnic island access

Despite Adheeb’s claims that Maldivians will have “unrestricted access” to Kuda Bandos, the former Secretary General of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim, believes that developing the picnic island for foreign tourists will still limit locals’ ability to enjoy the island.

“There are less places for Maldivians to go. The problem would be solved if Mr Deen created a small island in front of Kuda Bandos [for locals]. It’s not ideal but it should serve the purpose,” Ibrahim told Minivan News today (July 18).

Whether Maldivians will have unfettered access to the sole remaining picnic island near Male’ once it is developed remains to be seen, Ibrahim does not think Maldivians enjoying the island together with tourists should be an issue.

Specifically, safari boats coming to Kuda Bandos with alcohol or foreigners sunbathing in bikinis “is a grey area”, according to Ibrahim.

“It is up to a person to decide what he wants to do or not, I don’t understand why this would be a problem,” he said.

“The question of [drinking] alcohol is not a problem, the issue doesn’t arise, because Maldivians as Muslims don’t drink,” he continued.

“[And] why would there be a problem with foreigners sunbathing in bikinis, if a lot of Maldivians are working on and visiting resorts [every] day?” he asked.

“It happens on Bandos [Island Resort] or any other resort for that matter,” he added. “As it is there is nothing to prevent Maldivians from going to resorts or accessing their facilities.”

Picnic island development

A new tourism regulation entitled the “Procedure to Follow Where the Government Undertakes Joint Venture Investment in Islands or Land”, allows a company with at least a 10 percent share held by the state to develop a resort from land set aside for tourism use, such as a picnic island like Kuda Bandos.

Land used for water sports or diving would also be included once the lease for the area is acquired by a joint venture company.

Published in the Government Gazette Volume 42, number 17 – dated January 28, 2013 – the regulation requires any joint venture partner working with the state on a tourism projects to have a minimum financial worth of US$300 million and make a minimum initial capital investment of at least US$100 million.

Tourism Minister Adheeb told Minivan News in April that the regulations applied to land such picnic islands that were effectively being used “almost as a resort”, such as areas licensed to serve alcohol to tourists, something not allowed on islands designated as “inhabited”.

“The only difference [to these islands] is that tourists cannot sleep there for the night,” he said. “Now they can stay there the night, but [operators] have to pay land rent. It is to stop the concept from being abused.”

However, an island owner involved in the country’s burgeoning mid-market holiday sector has slammed new regulations imposing financial restrictions on tourism joint venture projects with the government, claiming the legislation outright excludes small and medium-scale investors.

These recently implemented amendments to the Tourism Act served to “shut the door” on small and medium-sized investors, alleged the island owner, speaking to Minivan News on condition of anonymity.

“The real issue here would be that only those with very high net worth can be venture partners with government. Very, very few tycoons are in that wealth bracket,” the source said.

“[Former President] Nasheed’s government tried to be inclusive in offering business opportunities. This regulation is exclusive and shuts the door for medium to small-size investors to partner with the government,” the source added.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture has announced a public tender to lease several other islands across the country for development as resort properties.

Through the tender, applicants will bid for a 50 year lease to develop one of several islands including, Kunnamala in Noonu Atoll, Kudafushi and Fasmendhoo in Raa Atoll, Vanabadhi and Kani in Thaa Atoll, Dhigudhoo in Gaafu Alifu, and Ismehela Hera in Seenu Atoll.

Additionally, seven parties have expressed interest to develop tourist resorts on the islands of Madifushi in Meemu Atoll, Keradhdhoo in Gaafu Alifu Atoll, and Ismehela Hera in Seenu Atoll.

While Ismehela Hera was also included as one of the three islands the Tourism Ministry invited bids for in April, the ministry did not clarify why the island was listed twice, according to local media.

Bidding documents will be made available to Maldivian nationals for a non-refundable payment of MVR 2000 (US$130) or US$300 for foreign nationals, until July 28.

All bids must then be submitted before 1:00pm on August 1, 2013 to the ministry, where they will be opened at a ceremony held later the same day.

Former MATI Secretary General Ibrahim said the process for tenders was “pretty much standard” for obtaining an island lease.

“The investment climate is better than a year ago and source markets are improving,” said Ibrahim.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb was not responding to calls at time of press.

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Minister of state for tourism resigns, cites “unacceptable” conduct of Minister Adheeb

Mariyam Mizna Shareef resigned from her position as Minister of State for Tourism, Arts and Culture yesterday (June 19), stating on social media that she had quit over unspecified “differences” with Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb

Taking to micro-blogging site Twitter after announcing her resignation yesterday (June 19), Mizna wrote that she had found the manner in which he ran the ministry to be “unacceptable”.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Mizna declined to comment on the post, adding that she wished to keep a low-profile and stay out of the political arena.

News of Mizna’s resignation came following the President’s Office announcement earlier the same day that it had dismissed Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal and Minister of State for Economic Development Abdulla Ameen from their posts at the behest of their former party.

Maleeh alleged yesterday that could see no other reason for their dismissals beyond the decision of both Ameen and himself not to back President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s election campaign.

Both men have pledged to back the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) presidential candidate MP Abdullah Yameen during September’s election.

Mizna today confirmed that her resignation as state minister had not been related to the dismissals of Maleeh and Ameen, though she did not elaborate further.

Posting on Twitter following her resignation, Mizna claimed that she had tried to enact change within the ministry during her time in the post, but claimed “things [were] going from bad to worse” despite her attempts.

“Only way is to remove Adheeb,” she concluded.

Mizna’s comments on Twitter prompted a flurry of activity on the social networking site, including one post from an account claiming to be that of a PPM Council Member.

Mizna meanwhile accused Adheeb of being “busy giving away lagoons, sandbanks and uninhabited islands.”

Mizna Shareef’s Twitter profile could not be viewed as of this afternoon.

Ministry response

Minister Adheeb was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press today.

Adheeb told newspaper Haveeru that his “only crime was being the PPM deputy leader.”

“I have become the target of everyone. It has become their purpose to slaughter me politically. But if there’s a corruption issue involving me shouldn’t they go to the Anti-Corruption Commission or a Majlis committee? But [instead] certain individuals are trying to bring me into disrepute. I regret the corruption allegations made about me. But I will not budge. I won’t budge for a government post,” he was quoted as saying.

Tourism Ministry spokesperson Hassan Zameel told Minivan News that Mizna had not raised any official concerns with the ministry relating to allegations of misconduct against Minister Adheeb.

“She may have discussed these matters with the minister or her colleagues, but we have not received an official complaint,” he said. “The ministry can only recognize complaints if someone has put these concerns to us officially in written form.”

Zameel added that yesterday’s resignation of former State Minister Mizna and the dismissal of former Deputy Minister Maleeh would have no significant impact on the day-to-day running of the ministry.

He added that the ministry would continue to operate with the minister and state minister making political decisions, while civil servants would continue to oversee the rest of the authority’s work.

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Maldives Pavilion at Venice Biennale split in “mini-coup d’etat”

The political strife gripping the Maldives has permeated the country’s first pavilion at the Venice Biennale art show, catalysing a behind-the-scenes split that ultimately factionalised the pavilion in what one side contends was a ‘mini-coup d’etat’.

What was initially intended to be an innocent story highlighting the creative climate change advocacy occurring through the pavilion’s artistic expression, instead revealed infighting and controversy stretching back to February 2012.

The official Maldives Pavilion exhibition is curated by a joint Arab-European collective of artists called the Chamber of Public Secrets (CPS), and commissioned by current Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb.

The overarching theme of the Maldives’ pavilion, entitled “Portable Nation: Disappearance as a Work in Progress – Approaches to Ecological Romanticism”, is about how the survival of the nation, Maldivian people and cultural heritage are threatened by catastrophic climate change impacts, such as rising sea levels.

The unofficial pavilion, located 200 metres up the road, is the Maldives Exodus Caravan Show, curated by Danish artist and former resident of the Maldives Søren Dahlgaard and initially commissioned by former Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Maryiam Zulfa.

Deputy Curator of the Exodus Caravan Show, Elena Gilbert, told Minivan News that the some of the artists “recognising the necessity and urgency to focus on the current political and cultural unrest of the Maldives, and to provide solidarity with the majority of the population against the dictatorship”, split from the pavilion following February 7’s controversial transfer of power.

The rebel pavilion, Gilbert said, “presents a selection of works and
 performances from Maldivian and international artists in regards to an expanded conversation of climate.”

Dahlgaard told Minivan News he “initiated the original idea to have a Maldives National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2010, then presented this idea to former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Minister Zulfa,” Dahlgaard told Minivan News this week.

“In December 2011, Zulfa commissioned me to organise/curate this project – there was no money from the Maldivian government involved in this, I was to raise the finances for the project myself,” said Dahlgaard.

“But now the Maldives National Pavilion is a deeply problematic project, which represents the current coup regime. The artists are now puppets of the regime, whether they are aware of it or not,” he added.

Dahlgaard met with former President Mohamed Nasheed in Copenhagen, Denmark this April and discussed the Venice Biennale ‘proxy-coup’.

“Nasheed laughed when I told him about the coup of the Maldives National Pavilion by Khaled Ramadan, the CPS Danish-based Lebanese curator,” recounted Dahlgaard, “because this is of course peanuts in comparison to the fight Nasheed has gone through and is going through for democracy in Maldives.”

‘Hijacked’ pavilion

Dahlgaard explained that he wanted the project to be a collaborative effort and met with many people experienced with Biennales and large exhibitions, and said ultimately Khaled Ramadan and the CPS decided to join the project.

However, the partnership between Dahlgaard and Khaled began to fall apart following the controversial transfer of power which rocked the Maldives in February 2012.

“Khaled has hijacked the project and is now working closely with the coup regime and representing them in Venice,” said Dahlgaard. “Most of the artists in the Pavilion have not been told this story.”

“After the coup in Feb 2012, we decided to continue the planning of the project, since we were hoping the democratic party would be back in power by June 2013, in time for the opening of the Venice Biennale,” he said.

“If this was not the case, the plan was to clearly state that the Maldives National pavilion was representing the democratic Maldives and did not acknowledge the current coup regime,” he continued.

“You have to be aware of the situation you are part of, and this includes the political situation. The political context is very important… even a flower painting is political in the current context of the situation in Maldives,” he explained.

“So you can not ignore that, especially when dealing with an issue like climate change.”

Dahlgaard alleged  that instead of leaving the project, “Ramadan wanted to take control… But the only way he would do this was to jump into the pocket of the current regime in Maldives.”

“Khaled first went to the Venice Biennale office and told them that the commission I had was from the previous government, creating an issue around this so the Biennale Foundation would want a new letter,” said Dahlgaard.

“Then he proceeded to the Maldives, where he stayed for more than two months trying to get an appointment with people at the Ministry of [Tourism and] Culture,” he continued.

According to Dahlgaard, he and Ramadan were supposed to travel to the Maldives together in March 2013, but claimed Ramadan stopped communicating with him in late January.

“I don’t know what Ramadan said to Adheeb and the present Culture Ministry, probably along the lines that ‘Soren Dahlgaard is the son-in-law of [former Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmed] Naseem, is connected to President Nasheed, and therefore representing the opposition now’,” alleged Dahlgaard.

“Or that we had been talking about having a pavilion that would have free expression and be a platform for voices from the ground.”

Ultimately the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture issued a new letter of commission on April 8, 2013, declaring that “Dahlgaard is no longer associated with the Maldives Pavilion by any means” and “obliged” CPS and their representative Ramadan to “send regular reports on their activities to the ministry”.

The previous letter, issued by the ,inistry on March 5, 2013, confirmed that Dahlgaard alone was to be the “official organiser and curator” of the Maldives Pavilion.

“It’s a coup dictator regime that can say whatever they want [and] Adheeb is a horrible gangster,” alleged Dahlgaard.

“He only learned about the project when Khaled Ramadan came to Malé to explain to him that this is a big international cultural prestige project.”

Dahlgaard told Minivan News he believes the situation is “not about two guys having a power struggle”.

“I don’t want or need power or to be the boss; I was not kicking him out,” Dahlgaard said.

“I have nothing to hide and the truth must come out. I am not scared of Khaled’s crazy accusations,” he added. “I have no wish to damage anybody’s reputation. I will however defend myself against untruthful attacks from Khaled Ramadan.”

Nasheed knew nothing about the Biennale: Ramadan

CPS curator Khaled Ramadan and the producer of his documentary film, Abed Anouti, claimed former President Mohamed Nasheed “never knew anything about the pavilion not even till this very moment”.

“I met Mr Nasheed as an Arab journalist and I am sure he has no idea at all about the Maldives Pavilion at the Venice Biennale,” Ramadan said in a letter, sent to Minivan News and the Inter Press Service (IPS) following the publication of articles he felt were “full of errors and misinformation”.

Former President Nasheed told Minivan News on June 10 that “Soren has been working on [the pavilion] for a long time and has in many instances come to me and we have had many discussions about it. The last I heard about was when I was last in Denmark and it’s good he has been able to get the show on the road.”

No dispute

“The pavilion has never been part of any political dispute in the Maldives. It was independently curated from A to Z and different art councils from around the world financed the works of the invited artists,” Ramadan told Minivan News via email.

“In relation to the Venice Biennale, governments do not usually outsource such assignments,” he explained.

“Due to the prestigious nature of the biennale, governments commission professional curators by inviting them to help promote local artists and cultures.”

Ramadan claimed that the “entire project, concept, title, construction of website, design of social media, formulation and design of PR material, and all applications are the outcome of the CPS members, NOT Soren Dahlgaard in any respect.”

“He is incapable of contributing to any of the mentioned products,” Ramadan added. “Mr Dahlgaard has never been an inspiration to any of us in the group due to our academic backgrounds and level of art conduct.”

He alleged Dahlgaard “cheated his way into serious art arrangements like the Venice Biennale by obtaining a letter of commissioning via corrupt contacts and not according to qualifications.”

After the Venice Biennale office contacted the CPS about the March 2013 letter from the Maldives’ Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, which stated Dahlgaard was to be the sole organiser and curator of the Maldives Pavilion, “we immediately contacted the [Maldives’] Minister of Culture asking for an explanation,” said Ramadan.

He claims the letter Dahlgaard provided the Venice Biennale was a “corrupt letter” which Minister Adheeb “didn’t know anything about”.

“Therefore the minister ordered the total removal of Dahlgaard from the project… following an internal inquiry,” said Ramadan.

He said that the CPS’ collaboration with Dahlgaard ended when the Minister Adheeb “discovered that Mr Dahlgaard was misusing the Ministry’s name and was planning a secret pavilion”.

Contentious IPS article

The split at the biennale was first noted by an article on the Maldives Pavilion published on the Inter Press Service by journalist Ferry Biedermann.

Biedermann wrote that the pavilion, once the initiative of former president Mohamed Nasheed, “was almost abandoned after he resigned under hotly contested circumstances in February 2012.”

“The new government, with plenty of other issues demanding its attention, lost interest and allowed a joint Arab-European collective of curators, calling themselves Chamber of Public Secrets, to take over the pavilion and mount a show under the banner Portable Nation,” the journalist wrote.

He cited Maren Richter, an Austrian associate curator: “They did not care. They did not mind. They don’t believe in the power of art to affect anything anyway.”

Following the publication of the IPS article, referred to by Minivan News in an earlier story on the pavilion controversy, Ramadan and Anouti wrote a letter to both publications accusing Biedermann of “misuse and misinterpretation of our artistic intentions” to “score a journalistic sensation”.

“Our work in the Maldives Pavilion is an independent and positive project that focuses on climate issues in global context while addressing the Maldives as a case study,” the pair stated.

“The article by Ferry Biedermann published at IPS is full of miss information. Mr Ferry NEVER interviewed anyone from the Maldives Pavilion, his claims stand for his own account. He has no sound recording, email correspondence, footage or even photos from the curators of the pavilion to support his claims,” they alleged.

Minivan News put the allegations to Biedermann, who replied he was “puzzled more than anything else by how brazen Mr Anouti is in his attack from the very first line.”

“Unfortunately for him, he immediately makes the grave mistake of saying something that can be easily disproven; of course I have sound recordings and email exchanges to prove that I talked to Ms Richter and communicated by email with Mr Ramadan.

“They would never deny that. If they, as curators, do not belong to the Maldives pavilion, then who does?” he said.

Image courtesty the Maldives Exodus Caravan Show

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“They do not care”: Maldives outsources climate change pavilion at international art show

The Tourism Ministry outsourced the Maldives’ first national pavilion at the Venice Biennale art show to an Arab-European collective of curators, some of whom have alleged the Maldives government does not care about climate change or the arts.

The overarching theme of the Maldives’ pavilion, entitled “Portable Nation: Disappearance as a Work in Progress – Approaches to Ecological Romanticism”, is about how the survival of the nation, Maldivian people and cultural heritage are threatened by catastrophic climate change impacts, such as rising sea levels.

The pavilion is meant to raise awareness and be a call to action against climate change as well as explore questions of environmental impact, climate change and migration in the Maldives, as part of the art show taking place in Venice, Italy.

The art exhibitions also highlights Maldivians’ current efforts to archive and collect as much of their cultural heritage as possible, prior to the entire nation’s disappearance, due to rising sea levels, and the subsequent forced displacement of 350,000 people.

The Maldives pavilion was “almost abandoned” following the controversial transfer of power February 7, 2012, given that it was originally an initiative of former President Mohamed Nasheed and envisioned as a way to draw attention to climate change and the plight faced by the Maldives, according to an article published by the Inter Press Service (IPS).

Although Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adeeb commissioned the pavilion, President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik’s government “lost interest” in the initiative and allowed a joint Arab-European collective of artists, called the Chamber of Public Secrets (CPS), to curate the exhibitions, alleges the IPS.

Some of the Maldives pavilion curators have accused Waheed’s government of having no interest in the arts, the pavilion exhibitions, or climate change.

“They did not care. They did not mind. They don’t believe in the power of art to affect anything anyway,” associate curator Maren Richter told the IPS.

“The new government even denies the [climate change] problem and says that Nasheed was a liar. They say, ‘He built an airport and resorts, why would he do that if sea levels are rising?’,” added Richter.

CPS curator and Lebanese artist Khaled Ramadan echoed these sentiments in his documentary “Maldives To Be or Not”, which “explores Western preconceived notions about the Maldives and its ecology.”

The film focuses on the current socio-political challenges faced by Maldivians, which include climate change as well as “the corrupt tourism industry” and the struggle “to balance their life between modernity and traditions,” he explained to the publication BLOUIN ARTINFO.

Ramadan visited the Maldives in March 2013 as a “citizen of the Arab world who wanted to learn about what’s left of the shared history and how this amphibious nation is treating its contemporary culture in relation to its ecological strengths and weaknesses.”

“The environmental hazard about the Maldivian nature is an over politicised notion, and the nature has proven to be much more sustainable than the Maldivian culture,” wrote the Maldives Pavilion blog.

“Would our request to represent Maldives as outsiders have been accepted by Venice Biennale officials without official letter from the current Maldives government?” asked Ehsan Fardjadniya, an artist and activist based in Amsterdam participating in Maldives Pavilion.

The initial ideas for the Maldives pavilion were to unite a network of activists to discuss and act on climate change issues and the ongoing political turmoil in the country via a mobile pavilion representing the forced migration of these future climate refugees, Fardjadniya explained in an interview for the Maldives Pavilion blog.

“Right now, the project has found a venue and doesn’t seem to relate itself much or at all with the pressing issues in the Maldives,” said Fardjadniya. “On the contrary, we seem to be commissioned by the current government to represent the Maldives at 55th Venice Biennale.”

“I would rather be an outsider to this present situation and act against this cultural coup,” Fardjadniya declared.

The Maldives pavilion includes a variety of exhibitions created by international multi-media artists, individual contributors and group collaborations.

While the exhibitions were primarily created by artists of various nationalities, two Maldivians, Moomin Fouad and Mohamed Ali, contributed their film “Happy Birthday”. The film, about a kidnapping and disappearance, previously won 12 MFA Awards at the 2011 Maldives Film Festival.

The 55th Venice Biennale was launched on 29 May and will be open to visitors until 24 November.

The Biennale claims to be “one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world…promoting new artistic trends and organising international events in contemporary arts” since its formation in 1895.

Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adeeb was not responding to calls at time of press.

Addendum: Following publication of this article Minivan News received the following statement from Abed Anouti, Producer at the Chamber of Public Secrets, in response to an enquiry made by Minivan News the previous day.

In compliance with CPS’s copyright request Minivan News has also taken down an image of the pavilion’s promotional poster, distributed by CPS and used to illustrate the story.

The article by Ferry Biedermann published at IPS is full of miss information. Mr. Ferry NEVER interviewed anyone from the Maldives Pavilion, his claims stand for his own account. He has no sound recording, email correspondence, footage or even photos from the curators of the pavilion to support his claims.

As we do with all journalists, we only presented to Mr. Ferry our PR which is published on our website. CPS always asks journalists to look at our PR statement at our website to learn more about the project. He didn’t use time to study the artworks at the pavilion, he is not an art writer or even cultural writer, he is another journalist who is looking for sensations.

Mr. Ferry Biedermann is not the only journalist who took advantage of our positive pavilion to score political or journalistic points to himself or his agency.

Minivan is another agency that is spreading rumors and misquotations. Neither the curators of the Maldives Pavilion nor the participating artists have given any interviews to Ferry Biedermann or Minivan.

CPS team and the invited artists worked hard for over a year on the issue of climate change to present a research based art exhibition in Venice, our focus is not only Maldives but environment in a global context.

So far professional art writers have been given the Maldives Pavilion the best reviews and we are among the most popular destinations of the Venice Biennale. Furthermore, the Maldives Pavilion was the only one to be interviewed by the Italian national TV on the day of the opening.

As a professional artists group, we approach the Maldives with positive thinking, we are not journalists who seek negative stories. We don’t wish to politicize art and refuse to be part of any political sensational publishing agencies like Minivan.

Just for the record all conversations and emails with non-professional art writers or art critics are published on our web to avoid misuse or misquotation of any of us like in the case with Mr. Ferry.

Finally, Minivan unethically used our graphic poster without our knowledge or permission. Therefore we urge you to remove it from your website due to copyright.

Abed Anouti,

CPS – Producer

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