JP spokesperson ‘unlawfully leased’ island to ex-minister

The opposition Jumhooree Party spokesperson Ali Solih has been accused of unlawfully leasing an island to a company owned by a cabinet minister during his tenure as the minister of state for fisheries and agriculture.

The anti-corruption watchdog said Solih had leased an uninhabited island in Shaviyani Atoll to a company owned by then-minister of health Mariyam Shakeela.

The constitution bars cabinet ministers from actively engaging in a business, buying or leasing any state property or from having financial interests between the state and another party.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), in a report released today, said Solih had abused his authority in leasing the island to Shakeela’s company.

Solih was appointed to the fisheries ministry by former president Dr Mohamed Waheed in 2012.

The ACC said Solih had not consulted the fisheries ministry’s legal department in signing a contract. The department had informed Solih the transaction was illegal in a memo, but he told the ACC he was not aware that a memo had been issued.

Solih did not cancel the contract even when he found out the company belonged to the health minister, but considered transferring the contract to a new company, the ACC said.

The managing director of the new company was a shareholder in the company the island was first leased to, the ACC said. The act constituted abuse of authority to confer undue advantages and if convicted, is punishable with three years in jail, house arrest or banishment.

President Abdulla Yameen appointed Shakeela as health minister, but she lost her cabinet portfolio when pro-government MPs rejected her nomination in a cabinet shuffle in August.

It is not yet clear if the ACC will seek to prosecute Shakeela for continuing to hold shares in a company as health minister.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Solih said he was not aware whether a cabinet minister held shares in the company the island was leased to.

“It was not my responsibility to find out who owned shares in the company, but as soon as I found out that this contravened with the law, I asked the legal department to look into it,” he said.

“This is the government’s method of intimidating people who are working against their tyrannical regime,” he added.

The JP had split from the ruling coalition in January citing authoritarianism. Senior members of the party have launched an anti government campaign along with the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and the Adhaalath Party.

Two senior JP officials are now facing prosecution on criminal charges. JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and JP council member Sobah Rasheed have been charged with terrorism for allegedly inciting violence during an anti-government demonstration on May Day.

The charges under the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act carry a sentence of between 10 to 15 years in prison.

The pair are abroad at present. Sobah said he is seeking political asylum.

JP leader Gasim Ibrahim has been in Bangkok since late April. The tax authority in May froze Gasim’s Villa Group’s accounts claiming the company owed the government US$90.4million in unpaid rent, fees and fines.

Gasim insists the claim is unlawful and is contesting it at the civil court.

 

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Loan programme announced for producers of agriculture and fish products

Licensed producers of commodities from the agricultural fisheries sector are to be given financial assistance as loans, the government has announced.

According to an announcement made on the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture website today (January 5), the loans will be given under the ‘Fisheries and agriculture Diversification Programme’ and will have an interest rate of 9 percent.

The maximum amount loaned to one single party will not exceed MVR400,000 (US$25,940) and the minimum amount is MVR25,000 (US$1,621) the ministry explained.

The loan programme, funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), will give special consideration to women entrepreneurs, companies involved in adding value to fish, and parties who are currently not financially indebted.

The loan applications are open from today until the end of January, and will require applicants to propose a business plan along with other relevant application forms and documents.

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Fisheries Ministry and MNDF at odds over decision to destroy confiscated pets

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has said it was not consulted by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) before the destruction of over 120 confiscated pets.

“I was as shocked as anybody else when I saw that they had killed the animals -we were actually talking to the owl owner at the time when I saw the news,” an official with the ministry told Minivan News today.

Confusion surrounded the decision to destroy the animals after a joint operation of all relevant state institutions was prompted by a spate of exotic animal discoveries in the country in recent weeks.

The MNDF yesterday maintained that the animals had been put down upon request of the police, though the police service has denied this.

The Fisheries Ministry has today argued that regulations required the presence of witnesses to the destruction, as well as questioning the legality of the termination of the owl – whose owner had claimed the animal was found rather than imported.

“On Saturday, the ministry’s stand was that if you hand over the animals to us, we would give the choice of re-export – and the fact that the owl was something that was not imported, there was an issue – it was a controversial case that had to be dealt separately,” said the ministry source.

MNDF Deputy Spokesman Captain Ali Ihusaan has refuted these claims, arguing that the owl’s owner had initially claimed that the owl was legally imported, before changing his story.

“The only places that provide this authorisation were the Ministry of Defence and National Security and the Ministry of Environment – we asked both of these authorities and we asked the owner to provide the owner to provide any documentation given by these ministries,” said Ihusaan.

After cross-checking these confiscated creatures with import records, and thus proving they could not have been imported legally, the animals were put down, he explained.

“We are not an animal farm or a zoo and we cannot take care of that number of animals at the same time,” he added. “The animals that we disposed of were not endangered species so we didn’t really have to consult with any other authorities.”

Regarding the requirement that witnesses be present for the animals’ destruction, Ihusaan suggested that this was regulation was only applicable to animals seized at the ports.

The source at the Fisheries Ministry has revealed that a letter has been drafted to request proof that the animals have been terminated, suggesting that this was important in order to halt speculation about the animals potentially being transferred to new owners.

“A lot of people speculate because that actually does happen sometimes and people really don’t trust these institutions, and that’s why I stressed they should be destroyed in the presence of everybody.”

Local media today reported that the lawyer representing the owl’s owner claimed the animal has not been destroyed, arguing that the owner will withdraw charges filed with the Police Integrity Commission if the bird is returned.

The ministry of fisheries source revealed that the outpouring of anger following the animals’ destruction resulted in anxious crowds gathering at the ministry, as well as threatening phone calls being received from angry owners – hence the official’s request for anonymity.

The official went on to suggest that they had clearly requested that all the institutions involved in the operation to confiscate the animals should have been consulted before their destruction, suggesting that the only legal rationale for their transfer to the MNDF’s mandate was that the animals had been deemed ‘dangerous or wild’.

The animals destroyed included 11 iguanas, a snake, a sugar glider (possum), an owl, a squirrel, and 105 rats.

“We did not want any of the animals to be killed,” said the ministry official.

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Widespread ‘secret’ slaughter of endangered sea turtles despite ban; “very tasty” say killers

Sea turtles are being slaughtered en masse in the Maldives with no action taken by authorities to uphold local conservation laws or adhere to international agreements to protect the endangered species.

A photo of one such slaughter taken earlier this year and obtained by Minivan News shows dozens of dead sea turtles on a dhoni (local boat).

The Maldives is home to five species of sea turtles. Protecting the endangered species is crucial for maintaining environmental health and functioning – and by extension human health – in the Maldives. Without this keystone species the unique Maldivian ecosystems – ocean, reef, sea grass, and coasts – would cease to exist altogether.

Reports of sea turtle slaughter, hatchlings kept as pets, and nests destroyed for egg collection are commonplace in the Maldives despite the government recognising the problem through national legislation and international agreements.

Kakaaeriyadhoo killing

Approximately 90-180 sea turtles have been killed this year by locals from Kan’ditheemu island in Shaviyani Atoll, who have been traveling to the nearby uninhabited island of Kakaaeriyadhoo to slaughter the turtles and take their eggs, an informed source told Minivan News.

“This is a well known nesting island and every night a group is going and hunting the turtles. It is so obvious, every day since January one or two are killed,” the source stated.

“They wait for them to nest on the island, or go snorkeling to hunt them. Even on Kan’ditheemu sea turtles that come into the sea grass area are killed.

“The police know about this as well as the Kan’ditheemu Island Council, who say there is nothing they can do.

“More local awareness is needed and actions need to be taken by the authorities, like issuing fines and jail time. The lack of monitoring is challenge. Additionally, fishing vessels that participate in sea turtle slaughter should be held for a time as punishment,” the source suggested.

According to the source, the Shaviyani Atoll Council is not caring for the uninhabited islands and there is no longer a caretaker for Kakaaeriyadhoo.

One individual who admitted to killing sea turtles but would not provide his identity, told Minivan News why the sea turtle slaughter occurs.

“Sea turtles have very tasty fat and meat, but it’s very rare to get. There are not enough turtles in the sea,” the source said. “The killing is done very, very secretly.”

The source acknowledged the legal prohibitions against killing endangered sea turtles, but remains undeterred. He also explained this sentiment is common nationwide, so sea turtle killing often goes unreported.

“I don’t know why the government is not taking the issue very seriously. If the government doesn’t worry, then why should we worry? I’ve never heard of anyone prosecuted or arrested, ever,” the source declared.

“People don’t know how important turtles are for the environment. Even youth don’t know that’s the truth.

“People are not very aware of legal things. If anyone sees [or knows of] someone killing turtles, they won’t report it. Communities are very small and no one wants their friends, colleagues, cousins etc, to get arrested. You’d feel guilty,” the source added.

Government disavows knowledge: “No one complains legally”

Kan’ditheemu Island Council President Nasrulla told Minivan News that the sea turtle killing is not “directly an issue” because “no one has complained legally”.

“It’s a secret thing. People go at night time,” Nasrulla stated.

“No one has officially reported this. It’s all been rumors,” he added.

No reports have been filed according to Shaviyani Atoll Council President Moosa Fathy.

Fathy explained the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture is responsible for regulating uninhabited islands.

“They have the authority to give any island to a particular person for a long term lease or they can ask a caretaker to look after the island,” Fathy stated.

“Atoll councils have not been given the [uninhabited] islands in any atoll. It’s not our duty according to article 153 of the Decentralisation Act.

“The Attorney General has to do this within six months, but it’s been nearly three years now. The Local Government Authority and the Ministry of Finance and Treasury have to do a lot.

“We cannot lease to any person or change any agreements. Two or three years before an uninhabited island would be given to a caretaker, but those agreements are not valid now,” he added.

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Ahmed Shafeeu told Minivan News that the ministry has not received any reports of sea turtle slaughter from the Kan’ditheemu Island Council or Shaviyani Atoll Council, but said he would look into the matter.

Shafeeu explained that in February 2012, the Fisheries Ministry handed over uninhabited island care to the atoll councils. The councils are expected to assign caretakers and look over leases issued by the ministry.

“It’s their responsibility to properly look after these islands. However, it’s not a requirement that someone always has to be stationed there,” Shafeeu stated.

“There are issues with atoll councils taking responsibility for uninhabited islands as per the law. They are reluctant because they have not been given the authority to lease these islands,” he added.

Shafeeu emphasised that anyone identified or suspected to be participating in sea turtle killing should be reported to the police, who should take action to enforce the law.

“Sea turtle capture and slaughter are unlawful – it’s completely forbidden. They are protected. It is a criminal offense and there are penalties for that.

“Any responsible authorities that receive any reports that come, need to attend to it immediately. Any responsible person can report directly to the police,” Shafeeu added.

In late 2012, 104 hatchling sea turtles were taken from Kakaaeriyadhoo in Shaviyani Atoll and sold to islanders on Kan’ditheemu.

Earlier in 2012, a marine biologist working in the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve reported the discovery of the remains of a baby shark and endangered sea turtle barbecue on the uninhabited island of Funadhoo, one of the country’s 14 priority nesting beaches legally protected under Maldivian law.

In 2010, sea turtles were discovered dead on the beach of Laabadhoo island in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, cut open for their eggs and left to rot on the sand.

Culture of killing

Environmental conservationist and Kan’ditheemu resident Hassan Solah discussed the endemic problem of sea turtle slaughter with Minivan News.

“This is illegal, but no one is following the law. They kill the sea turtles for the body fat and eggs. All the meat is thrown away.”

The turtle fat and derived oil is believed to be an aphrodisiac that works similarly to erectile dysfunction drugs, such as viagra.

Solah explained this belief is common throughout the Maldives and the ‘aphrodisiac’ oil is referred to as ‘theyokundi’ or ‘velaakaleyya’.

Eggs are also taken from sea turtle nests or gutted from dead adult sea turtles and cooked in a similar fashion to chicken eggs. The eggs are used to make the dish ‘velaa folhi’, similar to quiche.

“It’s not a tradition to eat sea turtles. We grow up only eating tuna, garudhiya (fish soup eaten on rice), rihaakuru (fish boiled down into a thick paste), and curries are recent since they began incorporating spices from India and Sri Lanka,” stated Solah.

Conversely, a source who has participated in sea turtle slaughter explained there is a cultural history of killing turtles for their meat and fat-derived oil.

“The practice of killing sea turtles is very traditional in many ways. We eat the flesh and the fried fat,” the source stated.

“We also used to use the oil [derived from their fat] for lights in our homes. The sea turtle oil was previously put on dhonis (boats) to protect the wood from fungus.

“Island communities used to make a huge feast where everyone would eat together. People would catch six or seven turtles. This stopped around the 1980’s.

“There used to be a big store owned by the island chief. During that time if anyone caught a turtle they would have to give the oil to the shop,” the source added.

Some of these practices have stopped because “traditions change”, he said.

Crucial for Maldivian survival

Protecting endangered sea turtles is vital given the environmental pressures the Maldives already faces – which also amplify threats to turtles – such as extreme vulnerability to climate change impacts, declining fish stocks, as well as the lack of waste management and the resulting pollution on most islands.

“Sea turtles are a big part of the food chain. All species are sea grazers and keep the ocean in balance. They need to be protected and saved,” stated Solah.

“They eat jellyfish, which have become a huge problem in some parts of the world. Hawksbill turtles primarily live on the reef, while green turtles maintain the seagrass. Because sea turtles eat predators, this allows juvenile fish to grow and flourish. They also keep algae blooms in check,” he added.

Solah also explained that protecting sea turtles and leaving their nests untouched is essential for protecting coastal erosion.

“Turtles also support coastal ecosystems. When they lay their eggs, a few do not hatch. This is important for providing the shoreline with nutrients so trees are able to grow; their roots then hold the sand in place,” he said.

There is currently a nationwide ban on catching or killing sea turtles and under this moratorium 14 priority nesting beaches are protected, however collecting eggs is still permitted.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the Maldives has voiced its concern regarding the ongoing killing and capturing of protected species, such as sea turtles, and has urged these illegal activities stop immediately.

In March of this year, the country acceded to Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This treaty aims to ensure the international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival and legally requires the Maldives to adopt domestic legislation to ensure national implementation.

The Maldives became a party to the Indian Ocean South-East Asian (IOSEA) Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding in July 2010. This international agreement seeks to conserve and replenish depleted marine turtle populations via an associated conservation and management plan that focuses on “reducing threats, conserving critical habitats, exchanging scientific data, increasing public awareness and participation, promoting regional cooperation, and seeking resources for implementation”.

The Maldives committed to the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1992, requiring the country maintain biodiversity and the conservation of endangered species. The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) has not been ratified.

Local tourism opportunities

Keeping these ecosystems health is vital to meet Maldivian subsistence needs, as well as maintain the fishing industry and attract tourists. Both sectors account for approximately two-thirds of Maldivian GDP.

“Sea turtles are protected and by keeping their populations up, more tourism profits can be gained. Every day tourists pay a lot of money to see the turtles. They will stop to visit a local island and spend money in local businesses for a full day trip,” stated Solah.

“Instead of killing sea turtles, turtle ‘points’ should be protected, so in the future it will become popular and many dive boats and safari boats will come.

“This is what happened Ari Atoll with whale sharks. Local islanders used to hunt the whale sharks, but now they have a daily ‘show’ for tourists that explains how they used to hunt the sharks, what tools they used, and it generates lots of money from tourist excursions,” Solah added.

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Fisheries ministry to act against fishermen employing foreigners

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has threatened action against anyone found guilty of involving foreign nationals in the fishing sector, report Sun Online.

A statement from the Ministry is said to have described reports of foreign nationals working as crew, as well as in other functions, on fishing operations undertaken within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The Fisheries Act of the Maldives prohibits foreigners from fishing within the EEZ, defined as the area extending 75 miles from the outer reef of the atolls, even if they are working in conjunction with Maldivians.

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Q&A: Shahida Zubair, Organic Maldives

Shahida Zubair is the founder of Island Organics Maldives Pvt. Ltd., which in 2007 funded the Maldives’ first organic farm on Maarikilu, Baa Atoll. In an interview with Minivan News, Zubair describes the methods which are transforming Maarikilu’s sandy and low-nutrient terrain into agriculturally productive and sustainable soil. The method could help reduce the country’s heavy dependency on foreign imports, fuel and pesticides while improving nutritional value and civilian economic independence.

Eleanor Johnstone: When, how and why was your farm established?

Shahida Zubair: The idea of starting an organic farm came from my experiences of visiting agricultural islands in Maldives. For years I have seen agricultural workers using highly toxic synthetic fertilisers and chemical pesticides on their crops, entirely oblivious and ignorant of the damage they cause the soil and the environment, not to mention expensive for the farmers themselves.

Simply explaining the concept of organic farming to these farmers was not effective, so I realised that my skills as an ecologist could be utilised to demonstrate the concept of organic farming, an ecologically sustainable form of agriculture which works in harmony with the environment. I therefore founded the company Island Organics in 2007, and began successfully cultivating and producing organically-grown produce on Maarikilu, Baa Atoll.

EJ: Was the idea of an organic farm in the Maldives original, and what responses did you get from officials or locals when you first proposed the project?

SZ: We have pioneered the concept of sustainable organic farming in the Maldives. Our farm began as a pilot project committed towards empowering local communities by demonstrating and teaching the skills, knowledge and technique of organic farming.

At first, the local community was sceptical and expected us to give up quickly as they thought we would not be successful.  However officials from the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture have been very supportive and encouraged us throughout our trials. We believe we have an excellent partnership with them as they have always given us advice and direction whenever we requested for it.

We host people from the local communities, especially women and youth, on field visits to our farm, so that they can see firsthand the methods we are using for farming organically and how to prepare and use biological pesticides safely. We demonstrate the method of composting so that they can implement it in their home gardens and become self-reliant, instead of buying expensive synthetic fertilisers and proved that crops can be protected using biological pesticides effectively instead of chemical pesticides which are harmful to them and the environment.

On September 25th, 2011, we hosted a field visit of 40 people from Dharavandhoo, Baa Atoll. Thirty of them were Certificate Level participants of the sustainable agriculture course “Promoting community resilience to climate change”, organised by the NGO Live & Learn, in collaboration with Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture. The field visit was very successful, the majority of the participants were women who were very eager to stop using artificial fertilisers and chemical pesticides and start making their own compost in their home gardens, especially after realising that it is more beneficial financially and environmentally.

Four extra field visits have been organised in the near future by the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture and Live & Learn, with participants from Kihaadhoo, Kamadhoo, Maalhos and Kudarikilu, Baa Atoll.

EJ: What types of food do you grow, or plan to grow?

SZ: We currently cultivate papaya, aubergine, several varieties of chilli pepper, pumpkin, butter nut squash, gourds, cucumber, radish, beet root, rocket salad, cabbage, lemon grass, Maldivian breed of free-range organic chickens and Dhiyaa Hakuru (Coconut Sugar Syrup). We hope to expand and produce organic virgin coconut oil, granulated coconut sugar and canned coconut milk.

EJ: Many studies have concluded that the Maldivian terrain is unsuitable to farming–what’s your methodology?

SZ: Our methodology is an alternative to synthetic fertilisers. We prepare the fields using a mixture of shredded coconut husk, organic compost, green manure and ash, all of which are prepared on site. Other natural soil fertilisers are sourced locally, such as fish bone meal from islands such as Felivaru, and seaweed from Hithaadhoo and Thulhaadhoo. By limiting the source of these materials to local suppliers, we are striving to strengthen the local economy and ensure that suppliers in the Maldives are economically supported. These resources form part of the crucial nutrient cycle as composting improves the soil structure, helping to retain moisture and provide nutrients. Organic compost is undeniably superior to synthetically produced fertilisers. A nutrient rich soil produces healthy plants which are consequentially better able to resist insect and disease attacks; therefore the dependence on chemical pesticides is eliminated.

The model we have been implementing on the farm for the last four and half years is simple and cost effective because we use renewable resources to fertilise our crops. This is therefore sustainable and can easily be replicated in home gardens and on other agricultural islands. It also contributes to food security because soil remains fertile over a long period of time. This simple model empowers communities by being self-sufficient and self-reliant, as well as economical because residents do not have to depend on imported synthetic fertilisers and chemical pesticides.

The soil in most islands is not fertile and due to the sandy condition does not retain nutrients for a long period. It is possible however, to convert it to fertile soil using the methods we are implementing on the farm. The process of composting in Maldives is surprisingly fast due to the warm temperature and high humidity of our climate. Organic matter breaks down into compost within 3-4 months due to bacterial activity. So, yes it is an astonishingly fast process with wonderful results. Since we have been able to achieve success, we believe anyone can replicate this model almost anywhere in the Maldives with a bit of hard work and patience. The appeal is simple implementation.

EJ: How does the Organic Farm reflect the growing global trend of sustainable living and organic agriculture?

SZ: Over the last few years, consumer demand for sustainably produced food has increased rapidly.  The global trend towards living sustainably is becoming more popular and efforts to reduce the carbon footprint are increasing daily. The future of agriculture is sustainable small farms with self-reliant communities. The current use of synthetic fertilisers and chemical pesticides has been proven to be unsustainable and harmful to the environment. As we have been reducing our reliance on fossil fuels (by using solar energy) and only use natural fertilisers, our farm reflects the growing trend for sustainability.

EJ: What could organic farming do for Maldivians, and for the national economy?

SZ: Because the produce can be consumed immediately, the fruit and vegetables have higher nutrients and so are healthier for us. Food miles are non-existent, saving on the damaging greenhouse gas emissions associated with our modern food chains. Waste is more or less eliminated from going into landfills because they are being composted and turned into fertiliser. And by managing their home gardens using organic principles, locals will encourage bio-diversity, thereby helping improve their local environment.

At present, Maldives is heavily dependent on imports, especially food and energy. One way of reducing this dependency is through organic farming which contributes towards food security by strengthening the agricultural sector. It will increase income opportunities, strengthen our livelihoods, improve nutrition, thereby improve our quality of life. It will also reduce dependency on expensive imports of synthetic fertilisers and chemical pesticides and instead we can become self-sustaining using local resources.

EJ: What do you see happening next in the country’s agricultural sector?

SZ: We are facing rapidly rising fuel costs; undeniably the way forward is sustainable agriculture using renewable energy technology in the agricultural sector. We should start implementing types of renewable energy such as solar and wind energy, biomass fuelled from waste.

Currently there is a rising interest in hydroponics. However, I believe that organic farming is a far more efficient and sustainable form of agriculture, especially as water is such a precious commodity in the Maldives.

It is my belief that it is imperative for small farms to transition to an ecologically managed system of agriculture if they are to be competitive and sustainable in the long run. Our method of sustainable organic farming is a combination of crops and livestock, with poultry and goats. Chickens and goats all provide a source of income and supply manure which we use as a fertiliser for our crops. This integrated system of crops and livestock on small farms can be more competitive because they can be more energy-efficient and self-sustaining.

The stakeholders involved in the agricultural sector should realise that the only way forward in such a fragile environment as the Maldives is by farming organically. It is the only method where we can preserve and conserve our soil, fragile aquifers and our marine environment, as well as adapt to climate change.

I feel that we as a nation are at the right moment to launch this type of sustainable agriculture which has enormous potential for the local market. It also is very appealing for the tourism industry as we can offer locally grown quality organic produce to our luxury hotels instead of importing produce grown in other countries.

The Organic Farm plans to expand its current workforce of ten by hiring and offering internships to locals. The farm is currently self-sufficient, operating on profits earned from produce sales.

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Fishermen’s Union says ‘No’ to private ownership

The Fishermen’s Union has rejected Male’ City Council’s proposal to privatise the fish market on the grounds that the change would eliminate competition and complicate boat routines.

“We have to keep our system,” said union chairman Ibrahim Umar. “Privatising will make the operation too big.”

Umar said that 50 vessels currently come to Male’ each day to deliver fish, and that space is tight. Under the proposed plan, said Umar, fishermen would have fewer responsibilities in Male’s fish market but would be expected to make more frequent trips in and out of Male’s harbor.

“There isn’t room for that kind of traffic in the harbor. And there isn’t storage capacity for the extra fish that would be coming in,” said Umar.

According to Umar, the fish market currently enjoys a healthy level of competition.

“Every day the fishing is good, there is enough money, and there is even demand from other atolls for fish from Male’. Privatising the fish market will kill the competition because fishermen will have to sell at the same private rate. Bringing in more fish will also keep the price down, and there’s nowhere to keep it on Male’. We need to run this through the union,” he said.

Male’ Mayor ‘Maizan’ Ali ‘Alibe’ Manik said the plan to privatise is an effort to comply with World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, Haveeru reports.

“When we hand over the fish market for management, the fishermen will just have to bring the fish to the market and hand it over to those in charge of management. That way it saves the fishermen time, allowing them to set off fishing faster,” he said.

For Umar, the advantages were unclear.

“How will fishermen get paid? It will take longer if they aren’t selling the fish themselves,” he observed.

Addressing the issue of facilities, however, Umar said that an earlier proposal to build a fish harbour in Hulhumale’ was being revisited by the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, the Ministry of Transport and Hulhumale’ Development Corporation (HDC).

In 2009, plans to build a fish harbour on Hulhumale’ were sent to the National Planning Council. The harbour was intended to expand and expedite the fishing industry, and reduce the pressure on Male’s market.

When the National Planning Council rejected the plan, however, Umar said there was a breakdown in communication and trust. “They weren’t talking to us, I found out through the Fisheries Minister that they had rejected the plan. There was no communication with [the union] about the plan or the finances.”

Umar said the union was told there was a lack of funds, but claimed that the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) had set aside money for the harbour. “I don’t know what happened with that money, we never got an explanation.”

In 2006, IFAD approved a post-tsunami recovery program in agriculture and fisheries. IFAD currently classifies the program as ‘ongoing’.

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Ibrahim Didi, said the earlier financial problems have been resolved and the ministry is currently working with HDC to construct a fish harbour.

Didi said expanding work space is integral to privatising the fish market, which is growing.

“There’s already plenty of demand for the fish,” said Didi. “Privatising it would bring significant benefits to fishermen. They will have more access to the harbors, necessities such as ice will arrive on time, and things will happen more quickly.”

Didi said development of Hulhumale’s fish harbour has priority, and plans for other fish harbours will be considered accordingly.

According to Didi, President Mohamed Nasheed’s plan will distribute fishing components such as ice, oil and parts to different interested parties. Didi said the approach would improve facilities.

“If the different components of the fishing industry are spread out among interested parties working with a commercial interest, then business will move very fast because there will be a real business interest.”

The City Council earlier told Haveeru that the goal of privatising the market was to improve selling procedures, not to increase profits. Representatives said the union’s response would affect planning.

Council representatives and officials familiar with the proposal had not responded to inquiries at time of press.

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NSPA expands health insurance to cover poor

The National Social Protection Agency (NSPA) has said the list of people who received Zakat (alms for the poor) last year will be added to the government’s Madhana health insurance programme, reports Haveeru.

NPSA Chairman Ibrahim Waheed said the list, which includes orphans as well, has been requested at the Islamic ministry and island offices.

Over 30,000 people are registered as eligible for Zakat funds. The list will be verified before registration with Madhana, Waheed said.

Meanwhile, the ministry of fisheries and agriculture has re-opened applications for fishermen and farmers to join Madhana.

The decision was made following a number of requests from fishermen and farmers who missed the earlier deadline, reports Voice of Maldives.

The second round of applications will be open till June, while a verified list of those who applied earlier has been sent to the National Social Protection Agency for registration.

The ministry will pay half of the annual Rf2,000 fee for farmers and fishermen.

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Cabinet briefed on Hanimaadhoo international airport

Cabinet has been briefed briefed by the Privatisation Committee on additional proposals submitted by GMR Group of India to develop Hanimaadhoo airport as an international airport.

Chairman of the Privatisation Committee and Minister of Civil Aviation and Communication Mahmood Razee briefed the Cabinet on the issue.

Razee informed the Cabinet that GMR has proposed to develop the airport in two phases; the first phase overseeing the construction of a 2.8 km runway. The second phase would be started when there is sufficient air traffic.

Razzee said the international airport at Hanimadhoo could see 2.5 million passengers by 2025, provided that 12,000 beds in the tourism industry are operated in the region.

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