Maldives launches plan to combat human trafficking, content undisclosed

The government has launched today a five year strategic action plan to prevent human trafficking in Maldives, but the ministry of economic development did not disclose details of the plan.

“There will be no room for human trafficking in the Maldives. The government of President Adbulla Yameen will close all the doors open to human trafficking,” foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said at a ceremony this morning.

The action plan will improve the legal framework set by the Anti-Human Trafficking Act of 2013 by “implementing the anti-human trafficking law and putting together policies to prevent people from human trafficking,” she said.

A government report in 2011 revealed human trafficking to be the Maldives second most lucrative industry after tourism – worth an estimated US$123 million a year. The US state department said foreign workers in the Maldives experience forced labor, including fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or nonpayment of wages, and debt bondage.

With the Anti-Human Trafficking Act, the Maldives avoided last year a downgrade to the state department’s lowest tier on human trafficking and possible non-humanitarian and non-trade sanctions.

In March, the government prevented foreign workers from holding a protest over a spate of fatal stabbings.

The immigration department last week said 1,953 undocumented foreign workers were identified and deported in 12 operations conducted in 2015. More than 8,800 undocumented workers were deported last year.

Economic minister Mohamed Saeed, who is the chair of the steering committee on preventing human trafficking, assured today that the government will stop abuse of foreign workers: “We cannot traffic humans. It is an inhumane act. The government of Maldives will do everything to stop it from happening. The labour industry of Maldives should not be abused. The economy of Maldives will set examples to Asia for setting exemplary standards in the labour industry.”

Minivan News requested the economic ministry for details of the plan, but it was not available at the time of going to press.

Meanwhile, commissioner of police Hussein Waheed said the police had investigated eight cases of human trafficking since the anti-trafficking law came into force.

“We have also busted a foreign human trafficking network that was openly engaging in the crime, and have deported the foreigners involved. We are also investigating the cases of Maldivians who were part of it,” he said.

The state department report, released in June 2014, said the Maldivian authorities had not prosecuted any recruiting agencies for fraudulent recruitment practices. Some victims were penalized for offences committed as a result of being trafficked, while thousands were deported without adequately screening for indications of forced labor.

But the Maldives had opened its first shelter for trafficking victims, distributed pamphlets about rights to migrant workers in a number of other languages, and blacklisted some companies for fraudulent recruitment practices.

Police and other officials require training on trafficking, and procedures to identify victims and refer them to protective services, the report said.


Malé – Hulhulé bridge design to be completed by June, says Saeed

The design and feasibility report of a bridge connecting Malé City and Hulhulé will be completed by June, Economic Minister Mohamed Saeed has said.

Speaking to the press on his return from Beijing on Saturday, Saeed said: “China’s Ministry of Commerce have promised that the design and feasibility report will be completed in June.”

The bridge is to be financed by Chinese grant aid and a Chinese Exim Bank loan, and is among President Abdulla Yameen’s key campaign pledges.

Tourism Minister and co-chair of the Economic and Youth Council Ahmed Adeeb has previously said that the bridge will be completed by 2017.


INIA capacity will increase threefold with new runway and terminal, says economic council

Additional reporting by Hassan Mohamed

The capacity of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) will increase threefold to seven million passengers annually with the development of a new new runway alongside the previously announced new terminal, the cabinet’s economic council has revealed.

At a press briefing today, Minister of Economic Development Mohamed Saeed said efforts were underway under the direct supervision of President Abdulla Yameen to secure financing for the projects.

“The previous development concept was only for the development of the terminal,” says Saeed.

“But now we are talking of a whole new airport. We are going to build a second runway. President Yameen wants to build a second runway. That means there is no debate to this.”

After presenting a conceptual video of the airport depicting the envisioned developments, Saeed said the government’s target was completing a large portion of the project by 2017.

“We estimate that MACL [Maldives Airports Company Ltd] will earn MVR6.4 billion (US$ 410 million) in revenue in 2017 as a result of the redevelopment,” Saeed explained, adding that the income would be unprecedented in the government-owned company’s history.

Under the new master plan, Saeed said the project for the second runway has been awarded to Chinese Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG), which has since submitted BOQ (bill of quantities) and designs to the Chinese Exim Bank.

The project – to be financed by a concessionary loan – also involves building a fuel farm and expanding the cargo terminal as well as the runway apron, Saeed noted.

The development of the airport terminal was awarded to Japanese Taisei Corporation and is to be financed by the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), Saeed added.

Saeed revealed that he would be leaving for Tokyo in the coming weeks to fast-track the loan approval process, adding that construction could begin as soon as the loans are approved.

In December, MACL signed an agreement with Singapore’s Changi Airports International for consultancy in the development and expansion of INIA.

The estimated cost of the projects is US$845 million, Saeed continued, which includes improvements to the shore protection of Hulhulé Island, new seaplane facilities, new hangars, nine aero bridges, existing runway resurfacing and the relocation and demolition of existing facilities at the airport.

The redeveloped airport would also be connected to Hulhumalé via a new road, Saeed said.

Speaking at a ceremony last night, Saeed claimed that the Maldives will see US$600 million of foreign investment in the next five years.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada has recently alerted tourists on travelling to the Maldives, citing political instability after former president Mohamed Nasheed was arrested on terrorism charges.

Asked if the current unrest could adversely affect the Maldivian economy, Saeed urged the opposition to refrain from engaging in activities that could harm the tourism industry and the economy.

GMR Compensation

In June last year, Indian infrastructure giant GMR won an arbitration case against the government for the premature termination of its airport development agreement in 2012.

A Singaporean tribunal deemed the airport development contract “valid and binding” and the MACL liable for damages after former president Dr Mohamed Waheed’s administration declared the deal void ab initio (invalid from the outset).

The exact amount owed by MACL is to be determined after the second phase of the arbitration case, with GMR seeking US$1.4 billion in damages – a figure which exceeds the state budget for 2014.

However, Attorney General Mohamed Anil has contended that the government was liable only for GMR’s initial outlay of US$7 8million, plus any costs for construction work completed after the 2010 deal was agreed.

The US$511 million agreement to manage and develop INIA – signed during the tenure of former President Nasheed – represented the largest foreign direct investment in the Maldives’ history.

Chinese arrivals

Saeed meanwhile noted that Chinese tourist arrivals account for 35 percent of all tourist arrivals to the Maldives, predicting further growth in the coming years.

However, according to statistics from the Tourism Ministry, Chinese arrivals have been slowing down in the past months, with negative growth recorded during December and January.

“January 2015 was recorded as the worst performed month for the Chinese market to the Maldives so far, with a strong negative growth of 33.1 percent,” the ministry noted in a statement last week.

“China being the number one market to the Maldives, the negative growth registered from the market was reflected in the total arrivals to the country.”

However, Saeed insisted that arrivals would pick up this month with the Chinese new year celebrations on February 19 and continue to rise with the growth of outbound Chinese tourists, which reached 109 million last year.

Related to this story

Government seeks US$600 million from China and Japan for airport development

Tourist arrivals decline in January as Chinese arrivals slow down

GMR wins arbitration case, tribunal deems airport deal was “valid and binding”

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Economic Ministry stops issuing work permits to foreign photographers

The Ministry of Economic Development has decided to stop giving out work permits to foreign photographers starting from yesterday (January 26).

“We want to provide the opportunity to Maldivian youth and to ensure that photography stands up on its own as an established industry,” Minister of Economic Development Mohamed Saeed has told Haveeru.

“This will encourage small and medium sized businesses to develop,” he explained, adding that only Maldivians will be allowed to provide photography services in resorts.

The current government has pledged to create more jobs for local youth by replacing expatriate workers with Maldivians.

Maldives Photographer’s Association (MPA) President Mohamed Shafy told Minivan News that the government’s decision is a “huge accomplishment” for the organisation, which has been working relentlessly to provide more opportunity for local photographers.

Shafy said that foreign nationals were taking up opportunities which would otherwise be given to local photographers – especially at resorts – by demanding a smaller price than their local counterparts.

He explained that the association had discovered, via the recently passed Right to Information Act, that 14 foreign nationals were working in the photography industry in the Malé area, despite just 3 having been licensed throughout the country.

“We do not mind the photographers who come for a certain project or with famous celebrities,” said Shafy. “However, some of these resorts have foreign resident photographers for weddings and occasions while it could be Maldivians doing the job.”

Shafy said that the association has held talks with various government officials regarding the matter.

“We have had talks with tourism minister Adeeb, [former] defense minister Nazim and we were told they will try to change things around. So we did not think that the minister Saeed would take such a drastic measure.”

Another local photographer described the move as a “very good decision” which would provide a lot of opportunities to work at resorts.

While there are 1500 professional photographers registered with MPA, Shafy estimates that there are over 3000 photographers working professionally in the country.

“It used to be that tourists would come to the Maldives just for the underwater scenery and pictures. But now we see more honeymooners who want their pictures taken,” said Shafy, describing the potential of the industry.

He expressed his belief that the decision would prompt a lot of photographers who had given up on the profession to return to the industry.

The theme of ‘Maldivian work for Maldivians’ forms a major part of the government’s current policy for strengthening the economy and reducing youth unemployment.

Youth minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal has told Minivan News recently that there are over 13,000 individuals in the youth unemployment registrar. Shortly after the current government took office in late 2013, the youth ministry said it would attempt to resolve unemployment by replacing expatriate workers with locals.

After pledging to create 94,000 jobs during its five year term, the government recently announced that it would be illegal to hire expatriate workers as cashiers starting from April this year.

Speaking at the time, Saeed said: “A large percentage of the Maldivian youth is unemployed and looking for unemployment. All they need is support and guidance.”

In December last year, former Managing Director at Maldives Airports Company Ltd Bandhu Ibrahim Saleem told a Majlis committee that difficulties with local staff had resulted in a dependence on foreign employees, and even military assistance, to keep the international airport running.

Saleem – who had been called before the Majlis to explain the high number of foreign workers at Malé international airport – was removed from his post for unspecified reasons last week.

Related to this story

Foreigners barred from cashier jobs as President promises work for Maldivians

MACL chief says airport dependent on foreign workers


Foreigners barred from cashier jobs as President promises work for Maldivians

Economic development minister Mohamed Saeed has told local media that it will be illegal to hire expatriate workers as cashiers from April 2015.

“A large percentage of the Maldivian youth is unemployed and looking for employment,” Saeed told Haveeru. “All they need is support and guidance”.

Saeed’s announcement closely follows comments made by President Abdulla Yameen yesterday noting that new economic opportunities were being created for Maldivians, not foreign workers.

“This is not to say anything of disrespect to any neighboring or foreign countries,” said the president. “But these jobs are created by the Maldives. Be it in the tourism industry, from hotel industry work to refrigerator work, these jobs are not created for foreigners, but for the Maldivian Youth.”

Yameen’s comments came during the graduation ceremony of the ‘Dhasvaaru 2014’ vocational training programme yesterday evening (December 30).

“The government’s current policy for strengthening the economy is working towards the theme ‘Maldivian work for Maldivians’. The economy is creating jobs, the economy is filling those jobs with Maldivians. This will result in a sound economy,” said the president.

Youth employment has been a major focus of the Yameen administration, which has pledged to create 94,000 new jobs during its five year term.

Economic development minister Saeed is reported to have told Haveeru today that authorities will stop issuing quotas to foreign workers for work as cashiers, after having received a number of complaints.

During yesterday evening’s ceremony, President Yameen reminded the graduates that their job security entirely depended on their work ethic, enthusiasm, and competence – noting that these qualities must be self taught.

“Even if you know how to do the work very well, even if you are very skilled, you will still have to develop proper work ethics on your own.”

Local youth-led NGO Democracy House states unemployment among the youth (aged 15-24) may be as high as 43 percent.

Youth employment

A recent Democracy House publication, however, highlighted a “disconnect” between the current school curriculum and life skills, noting that many were “not able to handle adult responsibilities after we leave school.”

While the government has established a youth unemployment register with 13,000 individuals, youth minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal has reported receiving complaints from businesses about individuals failing to attend interviews and quitting jobs within a few weeks.

Earlier this month, Maldives Airports Company Ltd head Bandhu Ibrahim Saleem told a Majlis committee that difficulties with local staff had resulted in a dependence on foreign employees, and even military assistance, to keep the international airport running.

After being summoned to the government oversight committee regarding the company’s failure to replace foreign staff with local employees, Saleem informed MPs that 500 employees were currently on leave.

“We loaded and unloaded cargo three times with assistance of army personnel. I don’t think any of you know this. Our employee attendance is low. The process of letting go an employee, so complicated. The foreigners are there to bridge all this,” explained Saleem.

Shortly after his appointment as home minister late last year, Umar Naseer mooted the idea of national service for the country’s youth in order to instill discipline, as well as suggesting that many jobs carried out by foreign workers could be done by locals.

“There is no task too menial or lowly for a Maldivian,” said Naseer at the launch of a ‘Blues for Youth’ camp – organised by the police with the aim of preparing adolescents for the job market.

“None of the work currently being conducted by foreigners in this country is either lowly or dirty work. It is not something that we Maldivians cannot do,” said the home minister.

The 2014 census showed the expatriate population to be 58,683, although Minister of Defence Colonel (retired) Mohamed Nazim – who also heads the immigration department – has said the real figure is more likely to be double this amount.

As part of the government’s drive to reduce undocumented workers in the Maldives, Nazim’s department has deported or repatriated 7,962 undocumented foreign workers so far this year under a voluntary departure programme.

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Jumhooree Party cabinet member and two more MPs join President Yameen’s PPM

The minister of economic development and two MPs have left the Jumhooree Party (JP) to join  the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

Cabinet member Mohamed Saeed was joined by Milandhoo MP Hassan Mufeed Abdul Qadir and Nolhivaram MP Hussain Areef.

The three members confirmed the switch at a function held at Muleeaage in the presence of President Abdulla Yameen, PPM leader and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and the party’s deputy leader Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb.

“I don’t think anyone would want to be stuck in a political dispute for five years of their lives, no citizen would want that, and i can see that President Yameen’s government developing the Maldives,” Saeed said.

After signing for the party, Saeed said he had joined the PPM to make use of the opportunity to develop the nation in the coming five years through Yameen’s government, assuring that he was not pressured by the government to sign.

He added that he has also not received any pressure from the JP to stay with them.

The election coalition between the PPM and JP crumbled late last month after both parties decided to field candidates for the position of the Majlis speaker.

President Yameen subsequently moved against political appointees representing the JP in the government, while the parties continue to dispute the alleged breach of the initial coalition agreement.

Earlier this month, Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim also transferred from the JP to the PPM. The only remaining JP minister in the cabinet is Home Minister Umar Naseer, currently the subject of disobedience to order charges in the Criminal Court.

MP Mufeed last night said he joined PPM upon requests from many of his constituents.

“The message [constituents] are giving to me right now, through phone calls and other means is; ‘we want your service in your term to be carried out in collaboration with the ruling party’. So, since i was elected by their votes, in response to their requests I also wanted to join the ruling party’,” Mufeed explained his decision to switch parties.

Nolhivaram MP Areef said that he had switched parties because he was confident that joining the ruling party would speed up development and assistance for his constituency.

Speaking at yesterday’s ceremony, however, President Abdulla Yameen affirmed that his government would continue to provide services for everyone regardless of their MP’s affiliation, though he noted that development would slow without a Majlis majority.

“In obtaining loans to acquire funds for the state, regardless of how low the [interest] rates are, we have to go to the Majlis [for approval],” said the president.

“So when we have a clear majority in the People’s Majlis, when we have such conveniences to serve the people,we can pass [the loans] from the Majlis Finance Committee, and also it would be easier to pass motions on the Majlis floor as well.”

With this latest transfer of MPs,  the PPM has 40 representatives in the 85 member People’s Majlis. Earlier four of the five independently elected MPs, as well as opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Musthafa, also switched to the president’s party.

With these developments, the current parliament composition consists of 25 MDP seats, 40 PPM seats, 5 seats for the Maldives Development Alliance, one for the Adhaalath Party, and 13 seats held by the JP.

Madaveli MP Muaz Mohamed Rasheed remains the only independent member of the Majlis.

This gives the ruling Progressive Coalition a clear majority of forty five with coalition member MDA’s five seats. Adhaalath Party which was excluded from the coalition’s seat allocation plan for the parliamentary elections also considers itself to be part of the coalition, but PPM has confirmed that no coalition agreement has ever existed between the two parties.