Luxury tour operator highlights 35 percent slump in Maldives bookings

High-end luxury tour operator Hayes & Javis – part of the TUI group which also includes Thomson Holidays – has reported a 35 percent slump in bookings to the Maldives.

The company’s ‘long-haul trends’ report observed a similar slump in Caribbean island destinations, with Barbados down 51 percent and Antigua 58 percent.

“While off-the-peg beach packages are still popular – especially four and five-star all inclusive ones – there is no doubting the steady decline in demand for traditional fly-and-flop beach holidays,” said Hayes & Javis’ Commercial Head, Sean Dowd.

At the same time, the UK-based luxury operator noted an 11 percent rise in bookings to Mauritius, and similar increases for Tobago (16 percent) and the Dominican Republic (14 percent),” fuelled by the affordability of five-star all inclusive resorts”.

“Mauritius may yet prove to be the new Maldives. Strong airfare and hotel offers, high quality all inclusive resorts and the opportunity to twin with Dubai and other cities have all helped to fuel demand,” he added.

Implying that the trend away from ‘fly-and-flop’ holidays was not solely recession-related, Dowd observed that the operator’s multi-centre trip bookings “have doubled over the past two years because growing numbers of people are keen to see more of what a country – or a region of the world – has to offer when they travel further afield.”

The report noted that the destinations “making waves in 2013 are ones which lend themselves to a combination of city, beach and culture or heritage tours.”

“Multi-centre trips now account for over a third of our business and this growth trend is one which we expect to accelerate,” Dowd said.

Bad PR and changing demographics

The Hayes & Javis report attributes the sharp slump in Maldives bookings to “tough market conditions including increased land costs and poor exchange rates”, however the destination has recorded a steady increase in arrivals from around the world.

Tourism arrivals to the Maldives during the first quarter of 2013 were up 14.6 percent on the previous year, however up to a quarter of all arrivals at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) are now Chinese, with the market eclipsing the country’s traditional staple of European holidaymakers. Some 70,570 Chinese arrivals were recorded for the first quarter of 2013, an increase of 51.2 percent over the same period last year.

Beyond changing demographics, the Maldives has also grappled with widespread negative global publicity in the wake of a flogging sentence handed to a 15 year-old rape victim in February.

The incident, which received particularly high volumes of media attention in the country’s core European markets – the UK and Germany – led to a petition calling for a moratorium on flogging by activist website Avaaz. The petition reached two million signatures barely a week – twice the annual number of visitors to the Maldives.

President Dr Mohamed Waheed pledged to appeal the sentence given to the minor by the country’s Juvenile Court, and review local laws to enact potential reforms of the use of flogging. No timeline for such reforms was set.

The tourism ministry meanwhile slammed what it labelled the “dubious” motives of the petition, alleging it to be “politically motivated”.

Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal in March said tourism had been a key driver of national development and democratic reforms in the Maldives for the last 40 years, and had “sacred” importance in the Maldives.

“People should not be doing anything to damage the industry. In Switzerland, you would not see a campaign designed to damage Swiss chocolate. Likewise you would not see a German campaign to damage their automobile industry,” he told Minivan News at the time.


Government cuts costs of foreign missions, sacks staff

The government is cutting the costs of its 13 overseas missions, Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Abdul Samad Abdulla told local media today.

“Foreign mission expenses are very high. In addition to the salaries, a large sum is spent on rent for officials,” Samad said, noting that the Maldives spent MRV 3.5 million (US$227,000) a year just on rent for some employees based overseas.

As well as curtailing maintenance of some missions, Samad said Councillor at the high commission in Malaysia, Hassan Khalid, and Deputy High Commissioner of the Maldives to India Khadeeja Ibrahim had also been dismissed “after serious deliberation”, Samad said,


Former Home Minister denies responsibility for ministry overspending in 2011

Former Home Minister Hassan Afeef has said he cannot be held answerable for the MVR 1 million (US$66,943) spent in excess of the Home Ministry’s budget in 2011.

The 2011 audit report for the ministry revealed that MVR 1,030,934 was spent in addition to its allocated budget while Afeef was Home Minister.

The auditor general’s report further states that the ministry initiated a number of projects without any announcement – a violation of the Public Finance Regulation, according to local media.

Afeef claimed that while he held his post in 2011 he had no involvement in the ministry’s spending, adding he was “not supposed to be aware” of the matter.

“I was not in charge of the finances, for that we had a financial controller. It is under the finance act that each individual ministry has one, and they deal with the expenditure.

“I cannot be answerable to those things because [the financial controller] has the responsibility for spending the Ministry’s budget,” Afeef told Minivan News.

Asked if he was aware that the ministry had gone over its budget at the time, Afeef added: “I am not supposed to be aware. If there was something I should be aware of, they would make me aware of it.”

The Home Ministry audit report revealed that MVR 86,329 (US$5,605) was spent on the preparation of Dharubaaruge convention centre in Male’, while MVR 75,000 (US$4,870) was spent for a music and boduberu program and MVR 36,225 (US$2,352) allocated towards a sound system for a presidential speech.

The decisions, according to local media, were all made without prior announcement to find a suitable party.

Furthermore, MVR 12,548 (US$814) was spent by the Home Ministry in 2011 to host a Ramadan breakfast for its employees, without authorisation from the Finance Ministry.

Speaking about the expenditures, Afeef stated that there were certain factors that had not been taken into consideration in the budget, adding “if the budget is not enough, they have to spend the money to fund the extra costs.”

The report noted that MVR 64,000 (US$4,155) was spent on ‘attire allowance’ for employees for national day and independence day celebrations.

The audit report also highlighted further discrepancies in expenditures made from the Department of Immigration and Emigration – which at the time functioned under the Home Ministry.

The Controller of Immigration was awarded MVR 26,729 (US$1,735) for his phone bill, while 10 employees from the department were given MVR 48,032 (US$3,118) in excess of their salary. Meanwhile, three employees at the department received MVR 2,392 (US$155) less than their agreed salary, according to local media.

Issues raised in the report on the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Service (DRPS) show that MVR 617,257 (US$40,081) had been used in contradiction to the shift-duty guidelines declared by the Civil Service Commission.

MVR 56,123 (US$3,644) was awarded to employees in excess of their salary, while MVR 3,473 (US$225) was withheld from two employees who were owed the amount.

Furthermore, contraband confiscated from inmates was not properly recorded. MVR 8,691 (US$564) was also taken from the DPRS safe and left unaccounted.

The auditor general advised that proper action be taken against parties who had violated the regulation.

Investigation into failure to recover misappropriated funds

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee announced on Monday (February 25) that it intended to investigate the failure by authorities to recover misappropriated funds in previous audit reports.

In the meeting held on Monday, Committee Chairperson MP Ahmed Nazim revealed that the committee intended to send a letter to Attorney General Aishath Azima Shakoor regarding the failure to recover the money.

Majlis Finance Committee member MP Ahmed Hamza told Minivan News that the Public Accounts Committee was still going through the reports and was unable to give an estimate as to how much money is still owed as a result of the misuse of state funds.

The finance committee member said that there were two issues in regard to the failure of recovering misused funds.

“If the government incurs a loss due to the misappropriation of funds, rather than recover the money, the guilty party faces criminal punishment instead.

“Secondly, it is a case of certain members finding it not possible to recover the funds that have been misused,” Hamza added.

When asked whether there had been any effort to recover the money in the past, Hamza stressed that some had been returned, but he was unable to give a rough figure as to how much.

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Visam Ali was reported by local media as saying that government offices do not correct issues relating to how funds are managed, even after repeatedly being advised to do so in audit reports.


Disappointment over low government turnout at One Billion Rising event

Organisers at One Billion Rising in the Maldives have expressed disappointment over the number government officials who failed to attend the event, aimed at ending violence towards women.

The international campaign was launched in the Maldives on Thursday (February 14) by NGO Hope for Women at Jumhooree Maidhaan in Male’.

The One Billion Rising campaign began after research revealed that one in three women around the world will be raped or beaten in their lifetime.

The gathering in Male’ featured live music and dance performances, and saw many young men and women in the crowds dancing together.

Despite the event’s popularity with youth in Male’, Chair of Hope for Women, Aneesa Ahmed, said the poor turnout from government officials “showed their lack of commitment” in tackling the issue of violence against women.

“We have been working alongside the Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights, and they have invited all government agencies and ministries, but I have hardly seen any of them here,” she said.

“I really don’t know what to say – the commitment is just not there. In the last few years nothing has really been done to help this particular cause,” Aneesa said.

Speaking to Minivan News, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said that the government was a broad entity consisting of many ministries and that he had not been aware of any specific invite to members of the government.

“As I understand, Acting Minister of Gender, Family and Human Rights] Dr Mariyam Shakeela attended. Some other ladies from the the government were there,” he said.

Masood said a member of staff from the President’s Office had also attended the event, as he had “skipped a meeting he was supposed to attend”.

Last month a study by Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) found that support for women’s equality in the country had experienced a “significant drop”.

The report found that fewer respondents – compared to the 2005 survey – believed that women should have equal rights to men.

Aneesa said that the event was aimed towards the younger generation in the Maldives as they do not possess the “prejudices” elderly people have in regard to equality.

“I am particularly happy because there were so many young people here, it is very encouraging. These people will stand up against violence, they are going to be a very strong force.

“In the past few years we have this increasing influence of conservatism in the country and because of this the older generation are more cautious about coming to such an event. Things like dancing, as you see today, we are not supposed to do this,” Aneesa added.

Speaking at the event, Heat Health and Fitness Managing Director Aishath Afra Mohamed spoke about her concerns regarding violence against women in the Maldives.

“Some men are trying to keep their wives in the house, they don’t want women to work and socialise with their friends. They are very possessive.

“The rate of violence is going up and women are keeping quiet about it here. But this event is good to see, the more we make light of the matter, the better it will be,” Afra added.


Former finance minister Inaz leaves MDP

Former Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz has confirmed his decision to leave the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Inaz did not give a reason for his decision, but told local newspaper Haveeru that the move “puts an end to my political career for now”.

In a response to Minivan News, he said he would “always remain independent and serving the national interest”.

Inaz was appointed after the then-opposition majority parliament unseated Finance Minister Ali Hashim in November 2010, along with six other cabinet ministers.

That vote came after three weeks of disruption in parliament, a stalemate ended only when MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) boycotted the sitting before voting began.

Inaz’s resignation followed an incident in December 2011 in which MDP activists “dragged” him from a car in which he had been spotted hold holding a covert meeting with former president Gayoom’s half brother, MP Abdulla Yameen.

MDP activist Ibrahim ‘Dhonbeli’ Haleem told Minivan News afterwards that he had observed Inaz and Yameen holding a discussion “for two hours” near Male’s South Harbor, “a dark area poorly lit that is only really frequented by boys and girls, not for official business.”

“I told Inaz it was wrong, that Yameen is an enemy and why is he going to this area to hold a business meeting. If he needs to discuss business he should do it in his office.

“Inaz admitted it was wrong, and the MDP activists were yelling and shouting so I took him on my bike to Haruge (MDP headquarters),” claimed Dhonbeli.

Inaz would not confirm that this was the reason for his resignation at the time.

Tax advocate

Inaz’s term as finance minister was characterised by swiftly-enacted tax reforms, passed amid juggling many conflicting political interests and a campaign to sell the concept to the public.

Inaz noticeably took the time to meet with businessmen, parliament and opposition party delegations to explain the reasons and rationales for the various reforms he was implementing.

“All the businessmen I have met – all the reasonable businessmen I have met – believe that the country has to move to a much more structured, predictable and more coherent system of governance. And to do that we need an economic system that supports social change, and supports the change we have brought politically,” he told Minivan News, in an interview in May 2011, shortly after becoming minister.

“To sustain their businesses it is important that they have social and political stability. It would be a grave mistake if one stands up and says they don’t support [income tax], because that will bring instability to the country and harm businesses,” he said.

Under Inaz, the Maldives implemented a tourism goods and services tax (TGST), general GST and business profit tax, and was working towards an income tax for those earning over Rf 30,000 (US$2000) a month. Nasheed’s government maintained that combined, these elements would give a full picture of the money and assets in the country, and avoid the hiding of company tax revenue with individuals.

New Economic Minister Ahmed Mohamed announced at a press conference yesterday that policy of income tax would temporarily be halted, according a report in Haveeru.

Under Inaz, the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) also took over most of the Maldives’ government’s cash handling, greatly reducing petty counter-level corruption across the public sector and giving a single picture of government income.

Inaz also pushed – against subtle but solid opposition – for the rufiya to be used as legal tender for all transactions in the Maldives, aside from tax collection.

Most resorts continue to charge tourists in dollars, a practice which is contrary to monetary policy and technically illegal, but ignored by the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA). Those dollars swiftly leave the country for more financially-stable shores, instead of generating a demand for the local currency at the point of sale. The country consequently has a dollar shortage, banks have little money to loan, and the average population benefits little from the tourism industry beyond employment – for which they are paid in rufiya.

“What other country has prices in another country’s currency?” Inaz asked Minivan News, in May 2011.

A key moment under Inaz’s term as finance minister came with the discovery that based on income from the TSGT, the tourism economy was 300-400 percent previous estimates.

“Previously we had thought tourism receipts for the country were around US$700 million. But since collection of the 3.5 percent Tourism GST it has come to light that the figure is around US$2.5-3 billion,” then President Nasheed said during a press conference in June 2011.


Record US$2.8 million in alms to be distributed to poor, says Islamic Ministry

The Islamic Ministry received a record amount of money as alms last year, reports Haveeru.

The Ministry received Rf 36 million (US$2.8 million) last year, an increase of Rf 9 million (US$700,000) on 2009.

Assistant Director General Ahmed-ulla Jameel told Haveeru that the number of people giving alms had also increased, as a result of “an increased public awareness about religious matters.”

The Ministry’s Alms Committee would distribute the money to the poor, Jameel told Haveeru.


Fleeing principal trapped as Lale International School investigated

Lale Youth International School is under investigation as a front for an international tax and visa racket operating out of Turkey, Minivan News understands, after weeks of investigation and dozens of interviews with concerned staff, parents and government agencies.

Today police requested that Maldives immigration hold the passport of Principal Serkan Akar, after he attempted to flee the country this morning. Minivan News understands the investigation relates to matters concerning child abuse at the school, and potentially fraudulent qualifications.

The school is also currently being investigated by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), following complaints from parents. A team from the commission has already interviewed staff and management, and is reportedly in the process of reviewing two conference-tables worth of documents.

Minivan News understands the investigation is now examining visa issues relating to the school, and possible human trafficking.

President of HRCM Ahmed Saleem said the Lale case was “very strange” and a “high priority” for the commission.

“A lot of government institutions have  investigated the school: the Labour Ministry, police… the strange thing is that no action has been taken,” he said. HRCM’s investigation is ongoing but is expected to be resolved next week.

Serkan Akar said he did not wish to comment on the status of his passport and promptly hung up when the subject of Lale was raised.

Deputy Principal Suleyman Atayev said Akar was trying to escort two children to an Information Communications Technology (ICT) Olympiad when police stopped him at the airport

“He had a return ticket for May 20,” Atayev said, adding that he was confident any allegations against the Principal would be proven false.

“Serkan has been told he cannot leave for seven days while the investigation is in progress. His passport is being held by police,” he said.

A teacher familiar with the matter said if Akar was escorting children to an ICT Olympiad, “then why didn’t he tell anyone, and why did he pack up his apartment?”

Atayev was also critical of HRCM’s investigation: “They are refusing to tell us the nature of the complaints they are investigating. They are supposed be about human rights but they are not respecting ours.”

“We are grateful you are seeking the truth,” he added.

I. Biz Atoll

The former government-managed Fareediyya School was converted to an international school and renamed Lale Youth International School in 2008, under an agreement made with the former government, and was officially opened by President Mohamed Nasheed in May 2009.

The agreement to run the school was made between the Education Ministry and a local Maldivan company called Biz Atoll Pvt Ltd, which operates out of an unmarked fifth floor residence in a large, nondescript apartment block on Buruzu Magu. The Biz Atoll paperwork is signed by a Turkish individual called ‘Cengiz Canta’.

Education Minister Dr Musthafa Luthfy told Minivan News last week that the Ministry was thinking about the school’s future “very carefully”, and had amended its agreement with Biz Atoll to include a requirement for a new principal “within three months”, together with minimum qualifications. The Ministry also included “termination clauses”, he said, adding that while it preferred to minimise disruption to the school and students, it was prepared to go through a six month process of re-tendering if necessary.

Regarding the allegations of child abuse, he noted that it was very difficult to prove first hand “because when the supervisory team is there these things don’t occur.”

“We are still receiving complaints. Parents are not very happy with the school and we are not happy about what has happened – we look first to the welfare of the children,” Dr Luthfy said.

Biz Atoll declined to comment on this story “due to an ongoing investigation.”

Atayev said that Biz Atoll was “continuing to advise us.”

II. A ‘cardboard school’

Lale’s school fees are somewhat arbitrary. Most students pay a monthly tuition fee of US$150. Others pay a combination of other fees including a ‘registration fee’ of US$240, an ‘admission fee’ of US$50, and in some cases an ‘annual enrolment fee’ of up to US$300-465. Yet other students receive discounts on these amounts ranging between 5-50 percent.

The school, which was provided to Biz Atoll free by the government, reportedly receives 50 percent of its funding from a group of Turkish businessmen who pour charity funds into schools in several developing countries, including Sri Lanka, Burma, Indonesia and Cambodia.

Asked who these individuals funding the school were, Lufthy said “I don’t think anyone is sure.”

Atayev confirmed the school was funded by Turkish businessmen through a Turkish organisation called Tuskon, ‘The Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists’, and its subsidiary.

But despite the apparent presence of an income, Lale teachers report being denied clocks and light bulbs for their classrooms because of budgetary constraints, while the school’s science labs have no water or electricity and the chemistry lab no gas connection, preventing students from completing coursework necessary for their IGCSE exams in 2011.

In addition, the school has no librarian after he was dismissed last year and not been replaced.

“It’s like they are intentionally trying to keep the school small,” a teacher remarked to Minivan News.

“Last December they gave the same exam to a student four times. Afterwards the teacher was advised to give the student more marks, and he passed. Multiple teachers have said they have failed half their classes, but still their students still move up.”

Another staff member told Minivan News that one of the greatest sources of angst among staff was “the situation with money.”

“It is commonly accepted among the foreign staff that Turkish teachers are getting higher wages, and that much of the money being brought into the school is not being directed in the appropriate manner. Indian and local teachers are at a huge disadvantage, with many of them receiving very low wages, and even gaining contracts minus basic privileges that other foreign staff get, such as rent allowances,” he said.

Atayev told Minivan News that a local teacher earned Rf10,000, while a Turkish teacher earned “maybe Rf10,200” out of which they paid their own accommodation.

“We don’t have accommodation at the school,” he explained. “A teacher who because of his position and responsibility might get 10,400-10,500 still has to pay US$800-900 rent from his salary.”

When a foreign staff member queried the salary situation, a Turkish staff member reportedly replied: ‘I don’t know, we get paid differently to you.’

Yet another staff member reported sighting “bundles” of Rf 500 notes being given to Turkish staff.

Meanwhile, a parent told Minivan News that he had spoken to one of the Turkish businessmen involved with the school, who had boasted that if his business donated money to the school, under Turkish taxation law he did not have to pay taxes on it.

A teacher told Minivan News that “Turkish teachers escort Turkish businessmen around the school on a weekly basis, and regularly make trips to Turkey. We certainly couldn’t afford to go to Turkey on our salaries, and this is a school that can’t afford clocks or light bulbs.”

“A lot of money is going somewhere,” another suggested. Atayev, on the other hand, claimed that no Turkish teacher worked at the school for the money, but rather “for the benefit of humankind.”

“Even Bangladeshi staff are given an airfare home once a year,” he claimed.

Parents who become inquisitive are reportedly offered scholarships, often by Serkan himself. A parent who had become concerned about the situation told Minivan News that Serkan offered her daughter a scholarship to Turkey even though only her son attended the school.

III. Lacking qualifications

A common complaint among both Maldivian and expatriate staff at the school is that many of the Turkish teachers are unable to speak English sufficiently to communicate, let alone teach.

Instead, students are reportedly taught five sessions of Turkish a week (compared with two in Islam). Several teachers have even offered English lessons to the Turkish teachers, and expressed surprise at the apparent lack of interest.

“The level of the Turkish staff’s English is a real concern, with many foreign teachers unable to even have an open conversation with some of the Turkish staff,” a Lale teacher told Minivan News. “They have been offered English lessons by two staff members, to which they have been lacklustre contributors.”

One Turkish teacher explained that it was “not important for [another Turkish teacher] to be fluent”, and that he would only use English “when he has to”.

Atayev said it was unnecessary for those teachers teaching Turkish to speak English, “but the chemistry and maths teachers are fluent.”

Many staff complained in particular about the Physical Education teacher, whose “demeanour both around students and staff has been the subject of discussions for some weeks now,'” according to one teacher.

The principal Serkan Akar was criticised for lacking both professionalism and any apparent qualifications in education or management. A source told Minivan News that when pressured over his qualifications, Akar had produced certification “still warm from the printer.”

“The Turkish teachers treat the school like their playground – their kids are here for 24 hours, and they even do their laundry and cooking on the grounds,” a teacher commented.

After HRCM demanded documentation from the school, including codes of conduct and school disciplinary procedures, foreign teachers were locked out of the school’s printing and photocopy room.

Minivan News understands that two large conference tables at HRCM are now straining under the weight of Lale School documents. A copy of Lale school’s disciplinary procedures, sighted by Minivan News, contains a category called ‘unsafe behaviour’ under which is included “throwing snowballs”.

Gambling is also prohibited “because it disrupts the learning environment”, as is “pulling the fire alarm”, despite the fact that Lale does not possess one.

IV. Visa discrepancies

Initial recruitment of teachers was performed by Biz Atoll. An early job advertisement sought nearly 138 staff, including eight mathematics teachers, eight biology teachers, six Russian teachers, five PE teachers and six chemistry teachers for Rf 10,000 apiece. Specific qualifications sought included “at least three years of experience” and “Should have good communication skill”(sic).

Despite the high numbers of teachers sought, the school currently has over 200 students, around 60 of whom are in the preschool headed by Serkan’s wife, Saliha Akar.

Sources in the Labour and Immigration Ministries have confirmed that the school’s work permit quota for foreign staff stands at 97, however the school only employs 26 expatriates (Atayev noted that 18 of these were foreign teachers).

However figures from the Immigration Department show that Biz Atoll has brought 30 workers into the country on Lale’s behalf, and there have been scattered but unconfirmed reports of Lale’s work permit cards turning up in several construction sites around the Maldives. One immigration official, appearing confused, commented to Minivan News that Biz Atoll “might be a manpower agency.”

In one instance last year a work permit was reportedly issued to an Australian teacher called ‘Christopher John Wright’. Immigration records purportedly show that Wright entered the country, however no one of that name has ever worked at the school.

Moreover, staff members familiar with matter have revealed that ‘phantom teachers’ not working at the school are being paid salaries, “and there are other instances in which teachers who have departed are still being paid.”

The school counsellor, who also works as a chemistry teacher and has ‘English teacher’ on his work permit, “can’t speak English and doesn’t even know what psychology is”, according to another teacher.

“Meanwhile, the music teacher has a degree in psychology, and while there is no business teacher, a teacher with a degree in business and tourism is teaching Japanese.”

During an investigation of the school last year, the Department of Labour Relations in the Human Resources Ministry told Minivan News that some employees at Lale were working “in positions that were different to those specified on their visa.”

Further complaints regarding the qualifications of teachers from private parties prompted the Labour Ministry to write a letter to HRCM and the Education Ministry, to review teachers’ qualifications and academic accreditation.

Moments before leaving the office to be interviewed by HRCM regarding the case, Deputy Education Minister Dr Abdulla Nazeer confirmed that checking the qualifications of foreign teachers was the responsibility of an accreditation board that answered to the Ministry, and was charged with ensuring authenticity and comparison of credentials to their Maldivian equivalents.

“There will be substantial changes to the board from July, and in the future all teachers will be registered,” Dr Nazeer said, adding that several schools, “and not just Lale”, would be subject to “an ongoing monitoring program.”

“The ministry will not sit back to see a school mismanaged by private parties, without intervening,” he promised.

He said he had met a man who he understood was the school’s new principal, “and according to certificates submitted to the Ministry he has a masters degree and eight years experience at management level.”

V. Past abuse of students

Minivan News reported on January 14 that parents had made allegations that Serkan Akar and then-Deputy Principal Guvanchmyrat Hezretov were using physical force to discipline children.

“[The violence] has only been towards the boys, but they have done it in front of the girls as well,” a parent told Minivan News at the time. “A pupil was held by the neck and put up against the wall. Many pupils went home and told their parents they were so scared they nearly wet themselves.”

The parent of a 13 year-old boy told Minivan News that her son “would come home and tell me about the beatings. He told me it depended on how angry the principal was – sometimes a leather belt was used.”

Students were reportedly threatened that if they told their parents they would receive worse punishments.

Minivan News understands that Hezretov later fled to Sri Lanka after police obtained a warrant for his arrest. A supervision team sent by the Education Ministry to the school meanwhile interviewed parents and students about abuse at the school, and collected sufficient evidence to merit forwarding the case to police.

However, the case subsequently lapsed due to lack of evidence. Atayev emphasised that “there has never been corporal punishment at the school and there never will be,” and said he was not sure why the school was under attack.

“There were reports that some students were abused, but there was not much evidence,” said Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam from the Maldives Police Service, adding that since this incident, police had only received further complaints from one parent and child. “If child abuse [is occurring] there should be more than one,” he suggested. The investigation was unfinished, he emphasised.

Minivan News was sent a list of allegations in April by a distraught parent, who claimed that while the beatings had stopped following the intervention of the Education Ministry, “students who were abused then are now being abused verbally.”

“The principal uses filth and vulgar words when addressing [the students] and for any mischief done by any student, these students are blamed and given suspensions.”

A teacher at Lale told Minivan News that incidents of corporal punishment were believed to have disappeared following the departure of Hezretov.

“It’s important to note that the school has had a huge turnover of staff from 2009 to 2010, and from accounts of staff that were here last year, the environment of the school is much more positive and supportive on a number of levels,” he said.

“Several past teachers, including the previous vice-principal, are spoken about very openly as being over-aggressive and harsh disciplinarians. They have left the school, but unfortunately misrepresentations in the past have contributed to the current staff being dragged through the mud.”

A core group of teachers, he said, remained “extremely dedicated, hard working and flexible, and are working overtime to make the school successful.”

Other teachers noted that the mismanagement had forged a “strong rapport” between teachers and their students.

“They are clearly not running a school,” one teacher said of the school’s senior management.

“But they made the mistake of bringing in good teachers to try and make them look good to the outside world.”


President submits decentralisation bill

President Mohamed Nasheed has submitted the revised Decentralisation Bill to the People’s Majlis.

The bill states that each of the administrative divisions stated in Schedule 2 of the Constitution—except Malé—will be administered by an atoll council elected in accordance with the Constitution.

It also provides representation to both men and women in the elected island and city councils.

The bill gives the president the authority to establish province offices to provide the services of ministries and coordinate government projects in different regions.

The president also proposed the 2nd amendment bill to Act 2/99 (Tourism Act), to make the industry more sustainable and increase the government’s revenue from tourism.