Dr Mariyam Shakeela appointed Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs

President Dr Mohamed Waheed on Thursday (September 12) appointed Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela as Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Dr Shakeela will be replacing Education Minister Dr Asim Ahmed in the role, which was left vacant following the death of Dr Abdul Samad Abdulla late last month.

According to the President’s Office, the government also announced the dismissal of Special Envoy of the President Adam Maniku on Thursday. No reason was given for the decision.


Dr Samad’s condition stable: Foreign Ministry

Foreign Minister Dr Abdul Samad Abdulla is now in a stable condition but remains in intensive care following a severe heart attack yesterday morning, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has reported.

A statement from the the Indian Government expressed the deep concern the Minister of External Relations had for Dr Samad’s health. Mr Salman Khurshid has written to his Maldivian counterpart wishing him a “speedy recovery”.

Dr Samad, 67, was rushed to Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth hospital after becoming ill. He was reportedly in the country for kidney dialysis treatment.


President Waheed, former President Nasheed announce trip to Saudi for Umra pilgrimage

President Mohamed Waheed departed on an official visit to Saudi Arabia today (July 10), a day after local media reported that former President Mohamed Nasheed’s request to perform Umra was rejected by Saudi authorities.

Nasheed, along with Parliamentary Speaker Abdullah Shahid and former Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad, are currently in Sri Lanka waiting for their visas to Saudi Arabia to process. They will be conducting Umra, a pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of year and is highly recommended but not compulsory in Islam.

Local media in the Maldives reported that Nasheed was denied a visa by the Saudi Arabian government, however former Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem, who is currently in Sri Lanka with Nasheed, Shahid, and Sawad, refuted the claims as inaccurate.

“I’ve been in constant touch with Saudi [Arabian government] Royal Protocol officials and Nasheed’s visa has not been rejected. They have not said anything like that,” the former Foreign Minister told Minivan News today.

“Nasheed’s visa to Saudi Arabia is being processed, it’s just a matter of time. The Foreign Ministry visa application was submitted very late, I don’t think even two weeks have passed,” said Naseem.

He believes there are a number of possible explanations for the delay in visa processing, but emphasised that there was absolutely no information coming from the Saudi Royal Protocol that Nasheed’s visa had been rejected.

“It’s taking awhile because so many presidents and former presidents [from all over the world] are traveling for Umra,” said Naseem. “[Although] it’s very likely Saudi Arabia doesn’t want Nasheed and Waheed there at the same time.”

“The whole thing has been blown out of proportion. Someone from the [Maldives] ‘baghee’ (‘traitor’) government is spreading misinformation to try and gain political capital. However, this will backfire because it’s not good to do things like this,” he declared.

“President Nasheed is a very religious person, he knows [Islam] well. Because he practices the tenets of Islam, [he knows] that going for Umra is also important,” he noted.

“If anyone is trying to prevent Nasheed from Umra it’s very bad, [fellow] Muslims should not be doing anything to obstruct any Muslim [from Islamic worship],” he continued.

Naseem said he did not believe that despite the coincidental timing of President Mohamed Waheed’s trip to Saudi Arabia, the President was intentionally obstructing Nasheed’s trip.

“Waheed is not fully informed of Islamic things, it is unlikely, but you can never know. He’s a traitor to the country and could be up to anything,” said Naseem.

Waheed’s visa to visit Saudi Arabia was issued at 5:00pm yesterday, according to Naseem.

He also noted that the Maldives’ government should be enabling and assisting its citizens to undertake religious pilgrimages.

“Infidels within the government of Maldives are not doing enough to facilitate these types of trips,” Naseem asserted.

However, an official statement from Nasheed’s spokesperson Mariya Ahmed Didi contended there had been deliberate obstruction by the Maldives’ government to obstruct Nasheed’s Umra pilgrimage.

“As we are hearing that some politicians are trying to obstruct the President’s Umra trip, the President is very saddened by this,” said Didi. “One Muslim trying to obstruct the worship of another Muslim is not something that should be done under any circumstances. We appeal for an end to this hassling.”

Meanwhile, President Waheed departed for an official visit to Saudi Arabia today to meet with top government officials, expedite some of the requests the Maldives has made to the Saudi government, and likewise perform an Umra pilgrimage.

Prior to his departure, Waheed stressed that it was difficult for him to comment on why Nasheed has not yet been issued a visa to Saudi Arabia.

“If I say anything it will just lead to speculation. How can I know something that they even don’t know?” said Waheed.

Additionally, he insisted that the government would not stymie Nasheed’s Umra pilgrimage.

“We will do everything we can to get a visa for him,” said Waheed.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs responds

Amid the conflicting reports about Nasheed’s visa obstruction and subsequent denial, the Maldives’ Consular Service Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement today detailing the visa application protocol.

“1 – Upon receiving an SMS from the Minister to the Consular Department, informing that former President Mohamed Nasheed and Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid were to take part in Umra this year, the Department contacted the parliament secretariat and inquired as to how Speaker Shahid wanted to obtain the visa to Saudi Arabia,” reads the statement.

“Also, the visa application form required by Saudi Arabia was shared with the protocol department in order to send the form to the office of former President Nasheed. In the meantime, discussions were carried out between the Ministry and the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo regarding the procedures involved in obtaining Umra visas for state dignitaries.

“The Ministry also on repeated occasions requested the speakers bureau of the parliament secretariat to return the filled visa application as soon as possible.

“2 – The Ministry received the completed visa application forms on July 1, 2013. On the very same day, the forms were sent in mail packets to Colombo. Also the details of persons seeking the Umra visa were also shared with Maldives High Commission in Colombo via email.

“3 – The Maldives High Commissioner in Colombo had discussion with Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Maldives about the visa. The Saudi Ambassador said that visas for VIP persons are processed after receiving permission from the Saudi Royal Palace. Therefore, he said that permission must be sought through the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Saudi Ambassador to Maldives is currently working on obtaining the stated permit from the Royal Palace. The Maldives High Commission had informed the [Foreign Affairs] Ministry on July 3, 2013 that Saudi Ambassador will inform them as soon as permission is received.

“4 – The information given by the Maldives High Commission in Sri Lanka to the Ministry was shared with the Saudi Embassy on the same day. A request was also made to the Embassy to speed up the process to obtain the permit. In response, the Embassy informed the Ministry that it was working on to speed up the process and said that Saudi Foreign Ministry was waiting for the word from Saudi Royal Palace,” the statement concluded.


Maldives resumes CMAG participation ahead of presidential elections

The Maldives government said it has been “welcomed” back as a fully participating member in the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) during the group’s 39th meeting held in London yesterday (April 26) following its suspension last year.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dhunya Maumoon stated this week that the invitation for the Maldives to attend the CMAG meeting reflected the “recognition” of the work by President Dr Mohamed Waheed government’s in “strengthening democracy in the Maldives”.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) meanwhile said it understood the country’s participation in CMAG was a diplomatic attempt to ensure free and “inclusive” elections went ahead in September of this year. The opposition party contended that the elections were also expected to be scrutinised by a number of international groups including the Commonwealth.

The Maldives was suspended from CMAG – the Commonwealth’s democracy and human rights arm – back in February 2012 following the controversial transfer of power that saw former President Mohamed Nasheed resigning from office after a mutiny by sections of the police and military.

By September 2012, the suspension was revoked after a Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) concluded the previous month that the transfer of power was legitimate, that former President Nasheed was not under duress, and that there was no police mutiny.

The findings were later accepted by former President Nasheed, albeit with reservations over evidence and witness statements he claimed had not been considered in the final report.

The stance was claimed to have been taken by the former president in order to facilitate the CNI’s recommendations concerning judicial independence and a strengthening of democratic institutions.

According to the Maldives government, CMAG is charged with reviewing “serious and persistent violations of the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values”.

Return to CMAG

Taking his place at the CMAG meeting on Friday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Abdul Samad Abdullah joined his counterparts from Australia, Bangladesh, Canada Jamaica, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago and Vanuatu to review developments in Fiji as part of the group’s formal agenda.

According to a commonwealth statement, CMAG’s latest meeting was focused predominantly on ensuring democratic developments in Fiji, including calls for constitutional reform to uphold the rule of law, while also ensuring structures were in place for hosting “credible elections” where all political parties and candidates can contest fairly.

CMAG alos used the meeting to welcome the adoption of the Charter of the Commonwealth by various heads of government, as well as other key figures in the intergovernmental organisation.

“The charter reaffirmed the Commonwealth’s commitment inter alia to democracy, human rights, the rule of law, separation of powers, freedom of expression, good governance, tolerance, respect and understanding and the role of civil society,” read an official statement. “As the custodian of the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values, [CMAG] pledged to continue to promote these commonly agreed goals.”

Political solution

Following yesterday’s meeting, MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told Minivan News that considering national democratic developments, he believed the Commonwealth continued to expect three key requirements of the Maldives ahead of elections.

Ghafoor claimed that along with conducting the CNI last year, the Commonwealth has also required free and “inclusive” elections that would allow former president Mohamed Nasheed to stand as the MDP’s candidate. He added that September’s elections were also required to be monitored by experts such as a Commonwealth team in the run up to, and during polling.

Nasheed’s participation in the elections has been in doubt over his ongoing trial for the controversial of a Criminal Court Judge while he was in power – charges that could see him unable to contest in polls this year should he be found guilty. The trial is presently suspended pending a court ruling on the legitimacy of the establishment of the court and panel of judges chosen to overhear the case.

Ghafoor claimed that the MDP, despite previous concerns about the CNI, welcomed the Commonwealth’s commitments for “inclusive” elections, especially considering findings by a number of international legal experts disputing whether Nasheed could expects a free trial as a result of alleged politicisation in the country’s courts.

However, he added that the party also hoped for a transitional administration to replace President Waheed’s government ahead of September’s voting.

“The Commonwealth’s three requirements are welcome, but we would also like to see an interim arrangement that would see this coup administration out,” he alleged. “This is something we believe that can be achieved.”

Ghafoor said that he remained unsure if the Maldives, which last September was retained on the CMAG agenda under its “Matters of Interest”, was still being monitored by the body in terms of the nation’s commitments to human rights.

Ahead of the Maldives removal from suspension of CMAG last September, former Foreign Minister and current UN Special Rapporteur to Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed said at the time that the country’s removal from the agenda would be “a travesty” – accusing the government of committing “reprehensible actions” following the CNI report’s release.

“Things are not going well in the Maldives – the government is intent on persecuting Nasheed and the MDP (Maldivian Democratic Party)”, he claimed at the time. “They seem hell bent on repressing the people.”

Ahead of Friday’s CMAG meeting, several NGOs complied a so-called joint human rights brief accusing the Maldivian government of failing to create conditions conducive to free and fair elections

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) alleged there were “clear signs indicating that the coalition government in power since February 2012 has so far failed to set the conditions for free and fair elections in which ‘all parties and leaders are able freely to conduct election campaigns’.”

Meanwhile, Back in January this year, the Maldives was one of two countries to have been dropped from NGO Freedom House’s list of electoral democracies following the release of an annual survey of political rights and civil liberties.

Freedom House is an independent, non-government watchdog organisation dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world. The NGO assesses and scores countries for political rights and civil liberties each year, and labels them ‘free’, ‘partly free’, or ‘not free’.

Contested inclusion

The Maldives government has continued to contest whether the Maldives should have ever been included on the CMAG agenda.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dhunya Maumoon has previously claimed that the country’s inclusion has been a result of a “lack of understanding of the true events that transpired in the Maldives.”

“Some countries” had realised this error and accused Nasheed of influencing CMAG members, she alleged.

In April 2012, Maldives’ permanent representative to the EU Ali Hussein Didi criticised the Commonwealth’s involvement in the Maldives, telling the European Parliament that CMAG lacked a clear mandate to place the Maldives on its agenda.


Government denies deal over Nasheed’s exit from Indian High Commission

The Maldives government has denied it conceded to a deal with the Indian government which resulted in former President Mohamed Nasheed leaving the Indian High Commission on Saturday afternoon, after 11 days in protected diplomatic territory.

A statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs today (February 24), stressed that Nasheed’s exit was not negotiated with the Indian government, adding that it cannot and will not negotiate regarding the charges put against the former president.

“Mr Nasheed went into the High Commission on 13 February 2013 seeking India’s ‘assistance’, and his continued stay and his decision to leave the High Commission was an issue between himself and the Indian High Commission,” the statement reads.

“The government of Maldives’ only involvement in the issue was in the implementation of the court order on the police to produce Nasheed to the court. The said court order expired on Wednesday, 20 February 2013.”

“The government of Maldives also wishes to reiterate its clear and firm position that it cannot, and will not, negotiate the charges laid against Mr Nasheed for unlawfully arresting a judge during his presidential tenure, in January 2012,” the statement continues.

The statement notes that upholding the rule of law and respecting the independence of the three arms of government were a “fundamental pillar” of President Mohamed Waheed administration.

“The charges are laid by the prosecutor general which is an independent institution under the constitution of Maldives. The government has made this position clear to all of its external friends, including India.”

Last night however, UK-based newspaper Daily Mail reported that Nasheed left the high commission following a “deal brokered by New Delhi with the Maldives government”.

The paper claimed that while New Delhi had been accused of shielding a “fugitive” by senior officials in the Maldives, it sent a high-level team to “sort out” the diplomatic crisis.

“Nasheed was assured that that he would be allowed the political and social space that he wants till the elections, but he was made to accept that he would follow the legal process,” a source was quoted as telling the Daily Mail.

The article stated the high-level team sent from India met with various Maldivian officials, including the defence minister and attorney general, to negotiate Nasheed’s “exit conditions”.

According to the Daily Mail, Nasheed was told that his political career would be destroyed “forever” should he stay inside the Indian High Commission, and that his opponents would use it against him in the run up to the September elections.

The Maldivian government was meanwhile told its “rigidity” would impact the country economically and prompt the international community to consider sanctions over possible human rights violations, the source told the publication.

Nasheed’s trial

Nasheed sought refuge inside the Indian High Commission after the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court issued an arrest warrant for police to produce the former president at the court for his trial hearing on February 13.

Nasheed has maintained that the charges against him – of detaining the Chief Criminal Court Judge during his final days in office – are a politically-motivated effort to prevent him contesting the 2013 elections.

A second arrest warrant was issued by the court on February 18 whilst Nasheed was still inside the Indian High Commission and required police to bring Nasheed to Hulhumale’ court on February 20.

The warrant expired after the hearing was cancelled following Nasheed’s refusal to leave the commission building for his scheduled trial.

After 11 consecutive days inside the High Commission, Nasheed emerged on Saturday (February 24) and subsequently held a press conference in the Dharubaaruge exhibition hall, across the street from the party’s former protest site at Usfasgandu.

Nasheed emphasised his desire for stability to be restored, following eight days of continuous protests by the MDP, dozens of police arrests, and a violent attack on a Maldivian journalist.


Statement accusing Mulay of interference was forged, says JSC

The High Commission of India in the Maldives has expressed disappointment with the Agence France-Presse (AFP) newswire after it published a story on what the high commission claimed was a “forged” media statement from the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

The statement, with JSC header and dubbed an ‘official translation’, said the JSC “regrets the interference of the High Commissioner of India in Maldives in his personal capacity with the judicial process of the Maldives, by keeping former President Mohamed Nasheed within the diplomatic confines  of the High Commission thereby impeding the due process of the Law.

“We appreciate the official stand of the Indian Government to refrain from interfering with the internal affairs of Maldives and respect independence of the judiciary,” read the statement.

It was emailed from an anonymous gmail account, [email protected].

The High Commission of India issued a press release on Sunday (February 17) admonishing the AFP for circulating the report based on the false JSC statement.

“The High Commission expresses its disappointment that a respected news agency like AFP has chosen to give undue publicity to such a cheap gimmick against the High Commissioner in the current sensitive atmosphere, without even bothering to check the veracity of the said letter with the JSC or High Commission of India in Male’,” the statement read.

The high commission statement was accompanied with an email from the JSC Secretariat denying having issued the release.

JSC Secretary General Aboobakuru Mohamed said the letterhead was “forged” and the statement was “false”.

“Regarding the issue of sheltering by the Maldivian ex-president, Mr Mohamed Nasheed within the compound of the High Commision of India, Male’, Maldives, we, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) of Maldives, categorically deny issuing any statement on this regard,” the statement said.

The Indian High Commission called on AFP “to immediately retract its report and issue an apology prominently for the damage caused to the reputation and good will of the High Commissioner and the Indian Mission.”

Various new outlets have reported senior Maldivian government officials echoing the sentiment of the “forged” JSC statement: “The fact of the matter is that some individual Indian diplomats are interfering in our internal affairs. This must stop,” a senior government official told AFP, asking not to be named.

Maldives-India relations

Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay was meanwhile summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday (February 17) – the first time a high commissioner has been summoned by the ministry according to local media.

Mulay reportedly delivered a brief diplomatic note discussing the Indian government’s accommodation of Nasheed.

“We have not interfered with Maldivian politics and have no intention of even doing so. India also wants the Maldives’ judicial process to go on. We also want stability and peace in the Maldives. We want political reconciliation through peaceful dialogue,” Mulay told local media afterwards.

Following India’s initial warning that a failure to allow all political leaders to contest the elections would call into question the integrity of the electoral process and perpetuate instability, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ministry declared it was “unfortunate that the government of India has decided to comment on the types of candidates that could contest the upcoming Presidential Elections in the Maldives scheduled for September 2013.”

Local newspaper Haveeru quoted an unnamed government official as stating that the “political atmosphere in the Maldives would reach a boiling point” if India allowed it.

Meanwhile, President Waheed Hassan Manik  promised to promote democracy and maintain law and order in a statement issued Saturday (February 16).

He emphasised his “dismay” that Nasheed had sought refuge in the High Commission, instead of heeding his court summons, which expired on February 13.

“There is no reason for him to remain in the High Commission and to instigate street violence. The court order has nothing to do with my government. Upholding the rule of law means nobody is above the law,” Waheed said.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad implied that India was trying to fuel political turmoil in the Maldives.

“Mulay should take direct responsibility for the fresh unrest and violence in the capital,” he told local media.

Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has also expressed his disappointment over the Indian government’s decision to provide refuge to Nasheed in the Indian High Commission.

Nasheed’s trial

Former President Mohamed Nasheed failed to attend the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court hearing on February 10, resulting in a court order for police to produce Nasheed for trial regarding his controversial detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

In response to rumours of Nasheed’s imminent arrest, he entered the Indian High Commission on February 13 seeking India’s assistance.

His Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) maintain that the charges – based on his detaining Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed during his final days in office – are a politically-motivated attempt to prevent him contesting the 2013 elections.


Maldivian and Indian officials deny reported agreement to address “consular issues”

Additional reporting by Neil Merrett

Indian and Maldivian authorities have both denied media reports that an agreement has been reached on relaxing visa restrictions for Maldivians entering India.

The Indian High Commission in the Maldives today said it has not been made aware of any new agreements with Maldives authorities over amending visa restrictions, despite discussions continuing between the two nations to address “consular concerns”.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali also stressed that he was unaware of any official agreement being made to address the concerns raised by Indian officials.

Local media reported today that the Maldives had “agreed” to conditions set out by India in order to relax the conditions recently imposed on Maldivian nationals wishing to obtain a visa.

A spokesperson for the High Commission confirmed to Minivan News that discussions were being held with the Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs to address respective concerns raised by both nations.

The Indian High Commission maintained that these discussions with Maldivian officials were “not about conditions”, but rather working to address concerns held by both sides.

“We have a long and cordial relationship with the Maldives that is not based on conditions,” a source at the commission said.

State Foreign Minister Hassan Saeed, speaking during parliament’s Government Accountability Committee on Monday (January 28), said cabinet had decided to find a resolution to issues put forward by India.

“[India] had asked to resolve seven issues. Mostly they highlighted the issues faced by the 30,000 Indians in the Maldives,” he said.

“After the discussions at the President’s Office, we are currently trying to solve these issues,” Hassan was quoted as saying in local media.

During the committee meeting, Foreign Minister Abdul Samad Abdulla said Indian government officials had hinted at the relaxation of the present visa restrictions should the Maldives government agree to extradite its Indian prisoners.

“We have received various signals that the visa issue can be resolved if an agreement can be reached over the Indian prisoners in Maldives,” Samad told local media.

“Moreover, when the Indian media reports on the Indian prisoners in our jails, the officials in the Maldives High Commission in India face various pressures.”

Speaking during India’s Republic Day ceremony in Male’ on Friday, Indian High Commissioner Dnyaneshwar M Mulay pointedly conveyed greetings “to those Indian expatriates who are in Maldivian jails”.

Amd rising diplomatic tensions with its neighbour, Maldivian nationals have found themselves queuing outside the Indian High Commission in Male’ to obtain medical and other visas for travel to India.

Consular issues

The Indian High Commission in the Maldives said among the concerns raised with the government were 11 consular issues relating to the treatment of Indian expatriates in the Maldives.

These included discrimination against Indian expatriates, the keeping of passports of Indian nationals by employers and government agencies, and the exploitation of Indian workers.

“Discussions on addressing these matters are ongoing and we do hope to find resolutions from both sides soon,” said a spokesperson for the commission.

Indian authorities late last month said tightened restrictions imposed at the time on providing medical visas to Maldivians were a “signal” for the country’s government to address concerns about the nation’s treatment of migrant workers.

The Maldives has been on the US State Department’s Tier 2 watch list for human trafficking three years in a row, only narrowly avoiding tier 3 in 2011 due to promises by the former government to resolve the matter.

A lapsed police investigation into labour trafficking in the Maldives in July 2011 uncovered an industry worth an estimated US$123 million, eclipsing fishing (US$46 million in 2007) as the second greatest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldivian economy after tourism.


Foreign Ministry halts issuing India visa application tokens

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has decided to hand back all Indian visa application operations to the Indian High Commission following a decline in visa requests, a Foreign Ministry spokesman has confirmed.

Last month Maldivians were forced to queue outside the Indian High Commission in Male’ – sometimes overnight – to obtain medical visas to travel to India due to tightened restrictions by Indian authorities.

To alleviate the issue, the Foreign Ministry launched an SMS system that alerted individuals when it was their turn to have their visas processed.

However, following a decline in visa requests this month, Maldivians wishing to obtain tokens for their Indian visas to be processed will now have to use the Indian High Commission building as before, as the Foreign Ministry is no longer providing the service.

A spokesman from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Minivan News that the decision to hand back full control of the visa process to the Indian High Commission was due to a “decline in visa requests”.

“During the school holidays there were more locals requesting visas to go to India, however the holidays are over now and the demand is less.

“Also, only 50 percent of the people we contacted by SMS to collect their visas from the high commission actually turned up,” the spokesman added.

Asked as to what would happen should the visa demand suddenly increase, the spokesperson assured the ministry would take measures to “ensure” all visas are processed

“If there is a requirement we will consult the Indian High Commission. It is currently issuing 53 tokens per day and we think that is working fine for now,” he said. “We will ensure that Maldivians will get their visas.”

An official from within the Indian High Commission today confirmed that visa applications to India had decreased, noting that today there had been “less than 50” applicants.

“The Foreign Ministry is only taking difficult cases now as the arrangement from December was only a temporary solution to deal with the circumstances,” he said.

The official admitted that there was a possibility for the queues to increase following the switch, however added “if there is a problem, we will try our best to find a solution to it.”

Visa restrictions

The High Commission has claimed that the tightened restrictions were in line with a bilateral agreement signed back in 1979 and its appropriation by Maldivian authorities in the intervening years.

A source within the Indian High Commission, speaking to Minivan News on December 29, 2012, contended that all visas given to Maldivians for travel to India were provided free of charge – a courtesy claimed to have not been extended to Indian citizens coming to the Maldives for work.

The commission spokesperson added that the introduction of the tighter regulations was imposed as a clear “signal” from Indian authorities that the concerns it had over practices in the Maldives such as the confiscation of passports of migrant workers, needed to be brought to an end.

On November 26 last year, a public notice had been issued by the Maldives Immigration Department requesting no employer in the country should be holding passports of expatriate workers.

The Maldives has come under strong criticism internationally in recent years over its record in trying to prevent people trafficking, with the country appearing on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking three years in a row.

The high commission also claimed this year that skilled expatriate workers from India, employed in the Maldives education sector, had continued to be “penalised” due to both government and private sector employers failing to fulfil their responsibilities.


Union links New Zealand consul to Maldives resort worker dispute

The New Zealand Government risks being held in “international disrepute” over the alleged involvement of one of its honorary consuls in an ongoing employment dispute with a Maldives resort, a letter from the Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU) has warned.

The letter addressed to New Zealand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully has alleged that the country’s Honorary Consul in the Maldives, Ahmed Saleem, was “involved” in an employment dispute with 29 former resort workers from Conrad Rangali Island resort in the Maldives.

In June 2011, 29 staff members working at the Conrad resort alleged they had been dismissed from their posts following a strike held by workers in March that year. However, the resort operator denied the allegations, maintaining that the staff had been made redundant and at the time due to renovations and lower occupancies as a result of the low season.

Conrad Rangali Island resort has previously stated that affected staff had all been provided with “generous” financial support packages as part of their redundancies.

According to the letter sent this month by the SFWU’s National Secretary John Ryall, 22 of the workers made redundant at the resort later challenged their dismissal at a local employment tribunal. The trade union said the tribunal had ruled the employees’ termination had been “unfair” and ordered the resort to reinstate the staff.

The letter alleged that the Conrad Rangali Island resort, supported by resort owners Crown Company, refused to comply with the tribunal order. However, the resort group has maintained that the case was presently being heard at the Maldives High Court.

The letter also alleges that Saleem, through his dual position as New Zealand’s Honorary Consul in the Maldives and as one of the directors of Crown Company, “advertised” his business as being located as the same address as the consulate.

“We urge you to inform Mr Saleem that having the New Zealand government connected in any way with defying a court reinstatement order for workers who were merely standing up for their basic rights is unacceptable and will bring our country into disrepute internationally,” the statement read.

“We urge you to inform Mr Saleem If he wants to continue as a New Zealand Government representative that he needs to ensure that the court ruling is immediately adhered to, that the Crown Company – appointed management recognise the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) union and that good faith negotiations commence to resolve the outstanding issue,” the letter reads.

Minivan News was waiting for a response from the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Saleem at time of press.

Seaborne protest

On Friday (January 4), Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) held a seaborne protest near the beaches of Conrad Rangali Island Resort over the resort’s alleged refusal to comply with the tribunal order.

TEAM Secretary General Mauroof Zakir told Minivan News that the aim of the protest was to make guests aware of the allegations raised by former staff members, as well as the employment tribunal verdict calling for their reappointment.

“We went by boat to show our banners to the tourists on the beach [at the resort]. There were a lot of guests there who saw what we had written, however after two hours the police came,” he said.

“Even though we close to the island, we did not cross the line that dictates what the resorts property is. Even though we said this, the Police said they would arrest us if we stayed any longer.”

A spokesperson for Conrad Rangali Island Resort told Minivan News yesterday (January 8 ) that the case is currently under appeal at the High Court.

“Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is aware that there are petitions for the reinstatement of employees made redundant in 2011. The case is under appeal at the High Court of the Maldives and the final verdict is still pending.

“We would like to remind the media that the resort is not required to reinstate the previous employees while the High Court considers the appeal,” the spokesperson added.

Industrial action

TEAM has claimed that its seaborne protest was the beginning of a wider movement that would focus on workers from other resorts alleged to have been mistreated by management.

Mauroof stated that members of TEAM intend to picket at the airport and that letters have already been sent to President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik and other senior government officials to inform them of an industrial strike.

“I have already been receiving mail form many resort workers as they all want to go on strike right now. But we have to go by regulations, especially in accordance to the new bill outlining the rules for protest,” Maroouf said.

Under the new ‘Freedom of Assembly Bill’ recently passed by parliament, demonstrations outside a number of public places, including resorts and airports will be outlawed.

The regulation also states that although demonstrators do not need to seek authorization ahead of a gathering, police must be then notified of any pre-planned demonstrations before they commence.

Palm Beach Island Resort protests

On Saturday (January 6), local media reported that room boys from Palm Beach Island Resort had gone on strike over alleged delays to salary increments.

A resort employee told local newspaper Haveeru that the striking room boys had also demanded for the head of the Human Resources Department to be sacked over mistreatment of staff.

“There are room boys who have worked here for seven years. However, even they are yet to receive a salary increment. It has been months since a pay raise had been promised,” a resort employee was quoted as saying.

According to Haveeru, the Italian management of the resort pays their room boys MVR2,500 as a basic salary while an estimated US$80 to US$90 as service charge.

Palm Beach resort was not available for comment when contacted by Minivan News at time of press.

Speaking at a photo exhibition celebrating 40 years of tourism on Sunday (January 6) Tourism Minister Ahmed Ahdeeb said that the ministry had been informed about the recent protests.

“We have engaged with both the resort and the striking staff to take a middle position where we can calm the situation. In the future, other disputes will be addressed and we intend to look into them,” he added.