Loyalty, support, money: The motivation behind Male’s political decoration

In the months leading to the September 7 presidential election, the streets of Maldives have erupted into a mosaic of party banners, with posters, flags, banners, and graffiti decorating every street corner.

While it may seem to an onlooker that the amount of material each party has placed around the country represents the amount of public support they enjoy, some volunteers putting up the decorations suggest another side to the story.

Party supporters are largely responsible for the colourful displays, but some parties are accused of spending thousands on hiring groups to help them keep up with the campaign craze, oftentimes spending large funds on the process.

“Doing it for democracy”

“We’re doing this for democracy. We don’t want any money or incentives for this. All we want is an elected government that cares about the people”, one group of young graffiti artists painting Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) themed artwork in their neighbourhood told Minivan News.

“The thing is, if we don’t get involved and try to guarantee a better life for ourselves, why would anyone else bother? I’m all for MDP, especially after the rest of the political lot brought about the coup d’etat. That is the ultimate shove of their boot against the people, a blatant admission from the ‘baaghees’ that they have no respect or concern for the common man,” said Ahmed Affan, a 26 year old man, an accountant who volunteers in his free time with a team hoisting MDP flags across the streets of Male’.

Another 23 year old volunteer who frequents MDP campaign offices during his free time to help out with banner and t-shirt printing explained his own motivations: “With the best manifesto and policies, I want MDP to win of course, I volunteer to help as I believe our artwork and ideas would get the message across in additional ways to the public and help gather more support.”

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) teams also told Minivan News that they were voluntarily engaging in campaign decorating.

“It’s ‘Zaeem’ [Supreme leader – referring to former President and Leader of PPM Maumoon Abdul Gayoom] who has done the most for our poor country. We will do whatever he wants of us. We are determined to have our candidate [Abdulla Yameen – half brother of Gayoom] have a clear win in the election, and we are spreading this message to as many people as possible,” said a 37 year old man hoisting PPM flags and putting up posters down a street in Galolhu.

One team of PPM volunteers refused to speak with Minivan News, stating, “Our leadership refuses to speak to you, and that means we have nothing to say to you either.”

“Heartfelt support” vs “just for the money”

Aishath Zubaira, a 63 year old supporter of President Dr Mohamed Waheed, who has posters of her preferred candidate on the walls of her residence, says she supports him “with heart and soul”.

While Minivan News spoke with two different groups streaming the streets with strings of small ‘Forward with the Nation’ coalition flags, they had contradicting reasons for doing so.

“Waheed’s a capable man, and the majority of his supporters are mature and, well, kind of elderly to be honest. There are few young people like us who are aware of just how much Waheed can do for this country, so we need to come out and help make him more popular,” said a 43 year old volunteer, holding a dozen or so rolled up posters sporting photos of Waheed with his running mate, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Ahmed Thasmeen Ali.

Another man who appeared to be in his late twenties, who introduced himself as “Issey”, put up posters and distributed copies of the coalition’s manifesto. “It doesn’t matter which candidate’s campaigning I am doing, it’s not even like these ugly flags and photos will make a difference for any party,” he said.

“I sometimes even go with the Jumhooree Party guys. Point is, this is an excellent time to make some money on the side and I’m going to make the best use of it. But then, I know who I’m voting for and no one’s got any business asking me who it is.”

“They spend like crazy, we earn like crazy”

A 31 year-old man working at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) told Minivan News – on condition of anonymity – that he works in one of Jumhooree Party (JP) coalition’s campaign teams of six to ten persons each.

“When we finish putting up the strings of flags across a street, we need to ring a number that the party has given us. Then a party official will turn up with a file which has information on when and where the teams are active. They will put a tick confirming the job is done and pay us in cash on the spot. We get about MVR 3000 (US$195) a night on average,” he explained.

“Some teams wait a while after the official has left and then cut off the recently hung flags, thereby allowing some other team to earn from the same street a few days later. It’s probably not right, but well, the politicians spend like crazy when elections near, and so us lucky folks earn like crazy.”

Another young volunteer laughed when asked for his reason for being so actively involved in campaign activity, “Every JP graffiti artwork that goes up is a job done for about MVR 10,000 (US$650). We’re economizing the situation when there is a demand for skills like ours. Nothing wrong with that, eh?”

According to local media reports, Police have arrested at least eight people for cutting off lines of flags of various political parties in late August, though police media officials were not responding to calls at the time of press for confirmation.

Visit our facebook page for more pictures as Male’ dresses for the election


Campaigns, celebrations and a supposedly vehicle-free evening: Eid in Male’

The Maldives celebrated Fitr Eid on Thursday, August 8 with Eid prayers at the Maafannu stadium, state organised parades, music shows, traditional games and vehicle-free streets.

Several presidential candidates contesting in the September 7 presidential elections also organised separate events on the day.


In celebration of Fitr Eid Male’ City Council, the Transport Authority and the Maldives Police Service declared that motorised vehicles would not be allowed to drive on the streets of the capital city Male’ and Hulhumale’ between 4-10pm on Thursday.

A message tweeted by the official Twitter account of the police, which was later deleted, stated “Fitr Eid to be a day of no motorists so violators will be persecuted”, with an attached statement reading that any motorists driving without a special permit from the Transport Authority would be prosecuted under the Transport Act.

According to Transport Authority records by late 2011 the number of motorcycles alone in Male’ – an island with an area of 5.8 square kilometres and populated by over 103,000 people according to a 2006 census – will be 42,062.

Residents of the highly congested city anticipate the annual traffic-free event, and as a results the streets are filled with persons of all ages.

Despite the cautionary announcements, Minivan News spotted a number of motorcycles and a large number of private cars on the streets during the time allocated for the ‘no vehicle’ event.

In addition to this, Minivan News also observed three state vehicles accompanying President Mohamed Waheed’s coalition-organised walk with his political supporters.

One incident observed by Minivan News occurred at 6.15pm on Medhuziyaaraiy Magu.

In one instance, a white police van containing four male officers wearing the camouflage uniform of Special Operations forces drove down Medhuziyaaraiy Magu at 6:15pm at high speed without warning siren or flashing lights, swerving through about a dozen young children on toy vehicles and their families.

Parents pulled children out of the way of the police van with seconds to spare and turned around and stared at the police van in shock. A number of parents started making comments about the “reckless behaviour” of the police force.

The police van stopped about 12 feet away, and the four police officers stared back at the families. The officers spoke amongst themselves and seemed amused. When none of the gathered parents made any move towards the vehicle, the officers laughed loudly, waved and made gestures with their hands at the shocked pedestrians before speeding away in the same manner.

One of the parents present at the place told Minivan News, “I am shocked and outraged, but I shouldn’t be. I already knew we are in a police state, and what better can I expect when I am marking Eid in what is now their country.”

“Look at the state the security forces are in. This country needs a complete overhaul of its systems. Leave aside protecting us from petty criminals, we need to first think of how to protect ourselves and our kids from the police themselves,” said another young mother.

“Why bother having a traffic free Eid in name alone if the police are going to speed around crazily, if every government car is allowed on the street, not to mention half the private cars. This event is a farce, just like everything else in this country. Anyway, I spotted that police van’s license plate number, I’ll see if the Police Integrity Commission has anything to say about this,” another pedestrian added.

A police media official told Minivan News that “police will always keep foremost a concern for public safety, even if trying to reach a crime scene as quick and possible”, adding that such incidents would not occur.

Once the license plate number was shared, the official denied that the said police van had been on the streets at the time of the incident, adding that he would look into it.

According to police, 41 people were fined for unauthorised use of vehicles.

Campaigning on Eid

Following Eid prayers, President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, former President Mohamed Nasheed and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom separately met with citizens to exchange Eid greetings.

President Waheed received people at the former Presidential Palace of Muleeaage, and was accompanied by First Lady Ilham Hussain.

Former President and Leader of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom held an Eid greetings event at Nasandhura Palace Hotel.

In addition to his wife, Nasreena Ibrahim, PPM’s Presidential Candidate and Gayyoom’s half brother Abdulla Yameen and his running mate Mohamed Jameel Ahmed also joined him in greeting ministers, former state officials and members of the public.

Former President and Presidential Candidate Mohamed Nasheed conveyed Eid greetings outside Bandaara Mosque directly after joining Eid prayers.

During the allocated traffic free hours, both President Waheed and the Jumhooree Coalition’s Presidential Candidate Gasim Ibrahim held separate walks on the streets of Male’ with their supporters.

The Jumhoree Party also organised an “entertainment afternoon” for children as part of the party’s Eid celebrations.

Celebrations broken up by Police

While a large crowd gathered in Henveiru for a grand ‘Eid Show’ organised by local telecom operator Dhiraagu, a number of smaller celebrations were broken up by police.

An attendee at a show held on Fareedhee Magu told Minivan News that police had split up their show, with one officer stating that it was “un-Islamic” to enjoy music and dancing on Eid.

A traditional game on Eid is called ‘fenkulhi’ [watergame], where coloured water is thrown at each other by friends and neighbours.

The game was played at a number of locations around Male’, with one photo circulating on social media showing MDP candidate Nasheed joining a group of youngsters in the game.

An eyewitness told Minivan News that one such group playing in Maafannu ward of Male’ was ordered by police to stop playing the game. He also alleged police had “roughed up the boys unnecessarily”.

A police media official denied any such incidents.

“I don’t think anything like that happened. I mean, there are no records of such events,” he said.


Half of cabinet to be provided with MNDF bodyguards

Seven of the government’s 14 cabinet ministers have been assigned Special Protection Group (SPG) bodyguards from the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).

Colonel Abul Raheem of the MNDF said that the bodyguards had been designated upon the ministers’ request.

SPG bodyguards are of the same type provided to the President, Vice President and the Speaker of the House.

When asked if this was in response to any specific threats, Raheem was keen to point out that the move had not come as a specific response to recent events.

“This is not because of what happened recently – security guards have been requested previously,” said Raheem.

The security of government officials has become a prominent issue in the country following the murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali last week.

Following the murder, parliament’s ’241′ Security Committee summoned Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz to discuss issues including the MP’s murder and politicians’ safety.

After failing to resolve the case, the police revealed earlier this week that they will seek foreign assistance in its investigations.

Earlier this week former Education Minister Dr Musthafa Luthfy called for a review of security arrangements afforded to Maldivian politicians over fears of an increase in “orchestrated” political attacks in the country.

The comments were made after Luthfy had been struck in the face on October 6 by an unidentified assailant on the island of Kanduhulhudhoo, Gaafu Alif Atoll.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed last week requested, in writing, that his Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) security detail – provided under the Former President’s Act – not accompany him on a campaign tour.

The MNDF later released a statement saying that it could not take any responsibility for harm that might befall the former president whilst not under its protection.

A spate of high profile murders and an increase in assaults in the Maldives has led to criticism of the Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, with some going as far as to table a no-confidence vote in the People’s Majlis.

This week the cabinet has urged the President to take immediate measures to ensure safety and security in the country.

Local media reported that the cabinet’s security committee had decided to review businesses offering 24 hour services, and that police will conduct increases vehicle checks in an effort to maintain peace on the streets.

The government also announced its decision yesterday to submit a bill which will govern the implementation of the death penalty.

Despite being on the statute books, the Clemency Act and a lack of facilitating legislation has resulted on a de facto moratorium on capital punishment since 1953.


Waking up to ‘Greenwashing’ in the Maldives: Huffington Post

“Earlier on this month I found myself in the Maldives for hotel reviews and was outraged by the gap between President Nasheed’s ‘carbon neutral promise within a decade’ and the reality that I was faced with,” writes Rooksana Hossenally for the Huffington Post.

“Following the Maldivian government’s ministers’ highly-mediatized underwater conference in October 2009, a conference with the aim of highlighting the pressing environmental issues with regards to the sinking archipelago, I must say that when my editor announced that I would be jetted off to some of the most dazzling islands in the world, I was keen on getting a sample of this forward thinking.

Upon return however, the Maldives, as beautiful as the islands are, left a sour taste in my mouth as far as the environment is concerned. My visit only confirmed that the president’s environmental avant garde-ism is a nothing more than a marketing ploy to get himself in his people’s good books.

My trip lasted three weeks and my skepticism about President Nasheed’s wonderful ideals was far from overruled by what I saw. Going carbon-free is not only impossible for the Maldives, but it would severely penalize the country’s main industry: tourism, which would, needless to say, cause the Maldives to slip into dangerous financial waters, in addition to the already rising sea levels around the islands.

A little harsh of me, you might be thinking — let me explain. Going carbon neutral in the Maldives would require offsetting to a monumental degree. First, the only way of getting around the archipelago’s 26 atolls of 1,192 islands is by boat or plane. The President’s objectives are without doubt perfectly admirable, but how does he imagine the tourism industry functioning without transport?”

Read More…

Further coverage of the article and wider reflection on the challenges facing sustainable tourist developments can be read on Minivan News’ spin-off travel review site, Dhonisaurus.com.


“Just 300 police and military officers sustaining regime”: former President Nasheed

Ousted President Mohamed Nasheed last night claimed that only 300 police and military officials were keeping the “coup government” of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan from falling apart.

Nasheed made the remarks during a ceremony held last night on Male’ City Council hall to release a report on the findings of the controversial transfer of power on February 7, produced by a team of Danish legal experts from University of Copenhagen, and a book about the event written in Dhivehi by Ali Moosa Didi.

Nasheed stated that there were “lots of measures” taken to ensure that the “illegitimate” government remained in power, and that the 300 officers were playing a pivotal role in the process.

“300 police and military officers are responsible for undermining the public interest of the entire country, and following that coup, a lot of measures and efforts are being carried out to ensure the survival of the coup regime, and these 300 officers are playing a pivotal role in it,” he said.

He also claimed that in the course of these efforts, police brutality and state sponsored torture had shown an “alarming” increase.

Nasheed also reiterated that his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had “not run out of options”, adding that its core identity was built on “not backing down”.

Nasheed said the party could “advocate and negotiate”, but said the most effective way to bring about early elections and restore the country’s democratic legitimacy was through continued “direct action”.

“Direct action”

During the last two weeks, the MDP has been carrying out what it has called “direct action” protests.

While the opposition party contends that its protests have been “largely peaceful”, the ongoing demonstrations have at times turned into violent clashes with police. This violence has led to allegations of police brutality against demonstrators, and counter claims of protesters attacking reporters and security forces.

The MDP stated that it expected its protests, stated to continue until the present government of President Waheed “topples” would continue indefinitely. The MDP alleged that the Waheed administration came to power in February 7, through a “coup d’etat” and therefore had no legitimacy.

Party MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor who is currently under arrest following the protests at the time claimed that the MDP was committed to managing “peaceful, disciplined” protests, though he accepted that violent confrontations appeared to be increasing between police and protesters.

He alleged that this violence was a result of law enforcement officials increasingly showing a “lack of discipline” on their part.

The Maldives Police Service has contended that it continues to use “minimum force” to protect its officers during the demonstrations.

Conversely, while police have said that none of its officers were hurt in the last 24 hours, there have been serious and minor injuries sustained by police during attacks by individuals suspected of being affiliated with anti-government demonstrators.

On July 12, an attack near Dhilbahaaru Magu in Male’ required one officer to fly to Sri Lanka for treatment for head injuries received from an assault with a pavement brick.

Minivan News has observed protests in recent weeks switching from heckling and mocking of officers at police barricades to violent confrontations as police have charged through protest lines, while demonstrators themselves have broken through barricades to confront police.

Police have come under particular criticism by the MDP for using pepper spray directly in the faces of protesters – an accusation denied by law enforcement authorities.

“Maldives Police did not use any excessive force nor was pepper spray directed to anyone’s face,” police said in a statement at the time.

However a video released of the incident showed a riot police officer reaching over a crowd of people surrounding Nasheed and spraying him in the face. Nasheed turns away as the spray hits him, and is taken away by his supporters, but later returned to the protest.

In this environment, the government has itself called for “calm”, urging all political leaders to abandon the street protests, which have attracted international attention over the last few weeks, and sit down for “sincere dialogue”.

Minivan News tried contacting Presidents Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza, but did not respond at time of press.

EU Concern

Meanwhile the EU has slammed an “escalation of political tension and violent protests” in the Maldives as police confirmed that 50 people – including a former cabinet minister – were arrested during the last two days during anti-government demonstrations.

However, with the arrest of 32 demonstrators in the last 24 hours, as well as a government decision to clear the MDP’s Usfasgandu protest site by July 30, some opposition figures have claimed the tension will likely intensify further.

Spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said there remained “deep concern” in Europe over the political unrest in the Maldives.

“The High Representative is convinced that continued political unrest, heavy-handed responses by security forces, and charges filed against political leaders will only lead to further deterioration of the political climate in the country and will adversely affect the lives of all Maldivian citizens,” stated the EU.

“The High Representative acknowledges the efforts of the Commonwealth Special Envoy, Sir Don McKinnon, to strengthen the Maldives Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) whose purpose it is to establish an objective account of the events which led to the resignation of President Nasheed and the transfer of power to the present Government on 7 February 2012. She appeals to all parties to refrain from any actions that could jeopardise completion of the Commission of National Inquiry’s work, including legal action against political leaders”.

The calls followed a statement released by the Commonwealth this week urging all parties to show “restraint and restore calm” as initiatives like the reconstituted Commission of National Inquiry (CNI).  The CNI, expected to be completed by next month, was  established to ascertain the truth between February’s controversial transfer of power.

In a statement released Tuesday (July 17), Commonwealth Secretary General’s Special Envoy to the Maldives, Sir Donald McKinnon called for dialogue among political leaders, urging all parties to show “restraint and restore calm.”


Drug Court ushering new era in Maldives drug battle

A Drug Court tasked specifically with handling small-scale narcotics cases in place of the Criminal Court is expected to begin hearings this month as health authorities push ahead with wholesale reforms to national drug policy.

The Drug Court, established under the Drugs Bill approved by parliament in December 2011, has been welcomed by rehabilitation NGO Journey for focusing on punishing suppliers, while favouring mandatory treatment for users and addicts.

Despite being encouraged by the new court, the NGO claims that in a market where drugs can be purchased over a phone with less cost and time than is required to order a pizza, “serious concerns” remain over the lack of education and drug prevention measures in the country.

From a government perspective, the main focus of the Drugs Bill and the new court is to move away from taking a punitive approach against “small-scale” drug offences, while at the same time cracking down on the supply of illegal narcotics into the country. Part of these measures include reforming existing judicial services by replacing some duties of the Criminal Court with new judges trained in applying forensic evidence to drug cases.

Guidelines outlining the functioning of rehabilitation and treatment centres also required under the new Drugs Bill were expected to be gazetted by the end of last month.  The recently formed National Drug agency (NDA) has said that once these guidelines are in place and staff have been appointed to oversee their work, the first Drug Court cases are then expected to be heard during the next month.

“The staff have already been trained on the assessments so if all goes well, the Drug Court can start soon, definitely over the next month,” an NDA spokesperson told Minivan News.  The NDA was established on March 15 this year under requirements set out in the Drugs Bill.

Judicial considerations

Lubna Mohamed Zahir Hussain, Minister of State for Health and Family, told Minivan News that the new court, as well as its related regulations concerning narcotic abuse, represented long-needed changes to drug policy in the Maldives. She claimed this was particularly the case considering the role of the country’s criminal justice system in sentencing users and addicts.

Hussain, who also serves as an NDA board member, claimed that changes to the country’s judicial system were strongly needed to address concerns she held over a “lack of awareness” amongst some Criminal Court Judges over the use of forensic evidence.

“Under previous legislation, the role of forensics was not taken into account during a trial. Even in cases where a [suspect’s] urine test was shown to be positive for illegal drugs, if they continued to deny they were a drug user, courts in the past have taken the decision not to prosecute,” she said.  “Criminal court judges have not been fully aware of forensic evidence.  The Drug Court however will have five judges well trained to deal with these types of cases.”

Stipulations for the establishment of the Drug Court’s were provided in the Drugs Bill approved in December last year.

Punitive approach

According to the Ministry of Family and Health, the new regulations represent a major shift in government policy over drug policy during the course of the last three years from a solely punitive approach to a more rehabilitative focus.

“We have identified harm reduction strategies and ways to try and minimise illness as a result of drug taking,” Hussain said.  “The policy is to wean [users] off drugs.”

The Health Ministry has insisted that the new regulations provide distinct measures to assist drug abusers, while trying to crack down on larger-scale traffickers based in the Maldives and the wider South Asian region. The sale of narcotics like cannabis and heroin was seen by the NDA as a major part of the drugs trade in the Maldives.

Hussain said that “drug users” and “small time sellers” found to have less than three grams of illegal substances on their person would be sent to the new Drug Court under the bill.

Larger scale cases involving suspect drug dealers would still be sent to the Criminal Court under the rules, though Hussain believes the changes could still revolutionise drug abuse cases.

“These are new laws and new judges,” she added.  “It will be very hard to deviate from the law in these courts.”

“Last resort”

The Ministry of Health claims that the judges appointed to this new court would view the incarceration of suspected drug users as a “last resort” option when reviewing  smaller time offences – a move designed to help overcome concerns about prison overcrowding.

State Minister Hussain added that drug users wishing to be sent to the Drug Court instead of the Criminal Court would need them to admit they had been using narcotics – a decision that would require them to undertake mandatory rehabilitation.

The NDA board insisted that it would ultimately be for the Prosecutor General to decide on which cases would be put before the new drug court.

However, Hussain claimed that prisoners already being held in custody for previous drug offences could apply to have their cases appealed through the new judicial body.  The NDA has said it can assist prisoners with technical assistance as part of the Drug Court’s appeals process against drug charges.

Hussain cautioned that the NDA did have some concerns over the board’s present capacity to assess previous cases alongside the Drug Court’s current workload.

She claimed that addressing previous cases against suspected drug users would nonetheless be vital in addressing issues of overcrowding in the country’s prisons system.

Last year, a report jointly conducted by the government of former President Mohamed Nasheed and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) claimed that the country’s prison population could be cut by up to two-thirds by decriminalising the offence of drug usage and proposing mandatory rehabilitation in its place.

State Minsiter Hussain claimed that under these new laws, the NDA was now equipped to rehabilitate prisoners found guilty of minor drug offences – something that had not been possible through the prison service previously.

“Seventy percent of prisoners currently being held in jails on drug offences have never been given treatment whilst they are incarcerated,” she claimed.

“Second chance”

Under the previous government, a rehabilitation programme called Second Chance was instigated to try and expedite the re-integration of former inmates incarcerated for minor drug offences back into society.

However following the controversial resignation of former President Nasheed in February, the Second Chance scheme was closed down a month later after new Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed alleged it had been releasing criminals under “political influence”.

The “uncontrolled release of criminals” over the recent years had threatened the public safety, Jameel announced following the decision.

The charges were vehemently denied at the time by the programme’s manager, who claimed that the majority of the country’s prison population were young people incarcerated for small drug offences leading to them face “long jail terms that were destroying their lives”.

The Second Chance programme’s project manager additionally claimed that the Maldives’ Parole and Clemency board did not have the required technical expertise to oversee efforts to rehabilitate prisoners.

State Minister Hussain believed that recent amendments to national drug laws would compensate for the loss of such a programme.

“The essence of the Second Chance programme is seen in the new drug law,” she said.

Transfer of Power

Since the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan came to power under controversial circumstances on February 7, the Health Ministry said that the work related to the drug act had not been significantly impacted.

The Drugs Bill, which was formulated and approved under the previous administration was continuing without significant change, including the staff working on the project, State Minister Hussain claimed.

The Health Ministry noted that whilst serving as vice-president under Mohamed Nasheed, Dr Waheed was himself put at the centre of attempts to overhaul and modernise drug treatment and rehabilitation.

Hussain therefore claimed the ministry had been able to continue its work unaffected by the transfer of power and the political upheaval that has resulted from allegations and counter allegations over the legitimacy of the present administration.

Minister of State Hussain added that the regulations that were devised in collaboration with Dr Waheed afforded a much wider number of powers – not to mention much “greater responsibility” – for the Health Ministry’s role in drug abuse prevention.

“Perhaps the most important aspect of these laws is that the NDA has been granted the authority to offer Methadone Maintenance Treatment (MMT),” she added.

MMT is a method of opiate replacement therapy used by health authorities around the world to try and help intravenous drugs users combat addiction by supplying a controlled delivery of methadone over a set period of time.

As part of the additional responsibilities granted to the NDA under the new Drugs Bill, the controlled delivery of methadone to try to combat addiction was something Hussain believed there would be widespread public support for as part of the reforms.

“This law is very much needed.  If these regulations were in place in the 1990’s, I do not think we would have the number of [drug] users that we now have today,” she said.

However, Hussain claimed using substances like methadone for treating and rehabilitating addicts should not be seen as controversial – even among more religiously conservative elements of the Maldives’ Islamic society.

The NDA has said that it therefore remained focused on finding the best potential methods for treatment rather than consulting with other government ministries over whether such amendments would have their approval

“Methadone is one of the basic treatments used around the world in terms of opiate replacement therapy,” she said.  “I feel there will be national support for these treatments as long as there is discipline. As long as there are not drug addicts out on the streets.”

Beside from garnering public support, the NDA said that it was now looking to establish a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with police to collaborate in areas such as the operation of a remand centre to allow detoxification to be conducted with suspected drug users and addicts.

Hussain said that the need to ensure the security of staff within such a centre, which under the Drugs Bill is required to be established,  meant that police were ideally suited to assist as partners with the scheme.

“In regards to the remand centre we would like to have an MOU with the prison service to do a joint service this has been discussed at a intermediate stage,” she said. “A remand centre has to be opened for detoxification in the future. It would be ideal to be able to utilise existing security available at the country’s prisons for this.”

Supply chain

Outside the treatment aspect of the government’s drug policy, fellow NDA board member Faathih Ali told Minivan News that there has been a huge increase in the supply of drugs  last six months.  This increase was said to include more refined forms of heroin as well as the “brown sugar” variant of the drug being made available to Maldivians.

Faathih, whose work is linked to the Maldivian Customs Service, claimed that drug prices had dropped during a period of political uncertainty across the nation – particularly from December onwards.

He said that the growing influence of Pakistan’s drug cartels in the country were suspected as being responsible for the majority of the supply surge.

“Three years back, we had seized huge amounts of heroin originating in Pakistan,” Faathih said. “However, these kind of networks require intelligence to break down. While we have in the past signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Indian customs agencies, though we now wish to do the same with Pakistan.”

Faathih added that while pursuing treatment and rehabilitation for small time drug users based in the country, the Criminal Court needed to ensure that dealers were being “subjected to the law”.

Ali Adyb of the Journey NGO, which runs a drop in centre in Male’ as well as outreach programmes across the country’s many atolls, concurred that the issue of drug supply into the country had been a major concern of late.

“Buy four pieces… get one free”

Adyb told Minivan News that following a visit to Addu Atoll in March, he found a very sophisticated selling network that allows users to purchase drugs through ‘supermarket style’ special offers.

“If you were buying four pieces, you can get one free. It’s like going to (US retail giant) Wal-Mart,” he observed.

Even in the capital of Male’, the Journey spokesperson said there were worrying parallels between purchasing narotics and the convenience of takeaway food.

“A telephone is all you need to get drugs these days. It’s like calling for a pizza, but with a pizza you would have to wait forty minutes to receive it,” he said. “You can have drugs in minutes [in Male’].”

Adyb accepted that the NDA’s work to establish a Drug Court was ultimately a “huge step forward” in trying to help drug users and addicts break the cycle of addiction that they found themselves in.

From Journey’s perspective, Adyb said he believed that the policy of criminalising drug users had failed, in part, because of a failure to segregate prisoners convicted of petty theft with more serious crimes.

“We are aware of people who have actually become addicted to drugs whilst in jail here,” he said.

Journey stressed that even for convicted addicts who were no longer being held in the country’s prison system, the stigma of having a criminal record for using narcotics led even qualified people to struggle to find a job.

According to Adyb, the NGO had been made aware of several cases where employees, sometimes in more menial fields of work, had offered reduced wages to workers  previously found to have been addicts.

Prevention fears

Adyb said he was concerned at an ongoing failure to provide measures to prevent young people from turning to drugs in the first place, though he welcomed the pledges of successive governments.

“We need to work with communities and build a generation of young people who can simply say no,” he said. “We are therefore trying to advocate for drug prevention measures right now. As soon as the [Drugs Bill] is settled, addicts needing rehab and treatment will be getting support. But we believe that drug education is also needed to be part of the school curriculum. We are seeing school leavers going straight into drug addiction and no effort is being made to prevent them from choosing such a life.”

According to Journey’s estimates, about 60 percent of the Maldives population come into contact with drugs at least once in their life. Pointing to a 2006 survey of 181 addicts in the country, Adyb said 50 percent of respondents claimed to have taken up drug use as a result of peer pressure.

The exact scale of drug abuse in the country has never been fully studied, though the Ministry of Health is currently undertaking a “scientifically robust national survey” designed to try and ascertain the habits of Maldivians aged between 15 to 64.

United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), the All Indian Institute and the European Union are providing funding and expertise, and 13 local NGOs are assisting the project, particularly within island communities.

Originally scheduled for release in February, the NDA has said that the findings were still presently being studied and put together by the various stakeholders.  An NDA spokesperson said it anticipated the report’s release later this year.

Scale of the problem

With the findings yet to be completed, Adyb said that it was still clear that Maldivians were growing up in an environment where they were not being given the social skills to resist the temptation to turn to drugs – a development compounded by the “high availability” of narcotics in the country.

“No one is being brought up in the country with the skills to say no. [Journey] has been to all atolls in the country for prevention programmes and we see people, including teachers, the government and parents, lacking an understanding of what drug addiction is,” he said.

Adyb claimed that a failure in society to address drug problems and accept the scale of addiction within communities had made any possibility of dialogue concerning the issue into a taboo. He believed that both authorities and families were happier to ignore drug addiction rather than address the potential causes.

“You have a situation where parents believe that their own children are better informed about drugs than they are, but these parents don’t realise the power they have. A parent explaining the dangers of drug abuse is one of the most powerful prevention measures for a young child,” he said.

“If we don’t focus on prevention, who is going to run the country in the future. When parents and teachers refuse to talk about drugs, the first messages young people receive will no doubt be negative ones from peers encouraging them to try such illegal substances. “

Adyb added that part of the problem was a wider national failure to understand addiction as a form of illness.

“Our communities are in denial and do not understand the social realities of addiction. Addicts will often steal and rob to fund their lifestyle, but what people don’t know is that it is not the person, it is the drugs driving them to do it,” he claimed.

Aside from raising awareness in society of the impacts of addiction on people, Adyb said he also wanted to see more work done to raise awareness among police of dealing with addicts and users.

While Journey believed that police have been helpful in assisting the NGO with its outreach programmes, Adyb claimed that the wider Maldives Police Service required a better understanding of dealing with addicts and the signs of a drug user experiencing withdrawals.

“We have had sessions with police about this, but there needs to be consistency. Police need to be educated about addicts, otherwise this adds to the culture of denial here,” he said.

As health authorities have this year raised concerns over the increase of “high risk behaviour” potentially driving the rate of Sexually Transmitted Infections and HIV, Adyb claimed that it was time to begin discussing issues related to sex and drug abuse with young people in the nation.

“People in the Maldives are marrying and dying much later these days, they are having more sexual partners and at a younger age, sometimes in their early teens,” he said. “If we don’t talk about sex and drug education, how do we tackle concerns with them? We should start educating at a much earlier age. At present we are only talking to 18 year olds about drugs and it is often too late by then.”

Taking sides

In looking to the future of combating addiction and drug abuse in the Maldives, Journey said it believed that the current political uncertainty experienced in the Maldives since February’s transfer of power had not helped factors influencing people turning to illegal drugs.

However, in regards to the NGO’s own work, Journey said that since its founding back in 2005 under the autocratic rule of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, it had been encouraged by the support afforded to it by successive authorities.

“We have been working with various governments in the work we do. For instance we would not be able to afford the rent for our drop-in centre (based on Alikilegefaanumagu in Male’) without the support of the state since 2005. We do not choose sides [politically],” added Adyb. “The government has accepted our work far better than the general public has.”


Italian ambassador, former UAE minister meet President Waheed for political updates

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has this week met with foreign dignitaries including Italian Ambassador designated to the Maldives, Fabrizio Pio Arpea and former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in the UAE, Mohammed Al Shaali.

In two separate meetings held at the President’s office this week, Dr Waheed briefed both dignitaries on the current political situation in the Maldives.

According to the President’s Office website, Dr Waheed’s meeting with Fabrizio Pio Arpea included discussions on the progress of the National Enquiry Commission charged with ascertaining the legitimacy of the present government over allegations that Mohamed Nasheed had been removed from office in a “coup d’etat”.

The following day, the president met with Mohammed Al Shaali to talk about efforts in the Maldives to form a proposed national unity government – a move Dr Waheed claimed was needed to strengthen democracy in the country. The discussions were also reported to have included the issue of financial stability in the Maldives, the President’s Office website added.


DRP MPs pay Vice President “a courtesy call”

Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan last night met with senior members of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) at his residence, Hilaaleege.

The meeting sparked a demonstration outside of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters, protesting against what they viewed as a political betrayal and calling for the VP’s resignation.

The visit by DRP MPs Ali Waheed, Ilham Ahmed, Ahmed Nihan and Ahmed Mahlouf, as well as party Vice President Umar Naseer, was described by DRP spokesman Ibrahim Shareef as “a courtesy call.”

“They discussed national issues,” he said, but would not reveal further details of the discussion. None of the MPs who participated in the meeting had responded to calls at time of press.

“I think there are issues that of national importance facing the country, but there’s been a breakdown of communication between the government and the opposition,” Shareef suggested. “I think the VP believes the temperature is rising too much at the moment.”

Shareef described Dr Waheed as “cool headed”, and able to create “meaningful dialogue between the government and the DRP. He has no power to decide anything, but he is willing to talk,” he said.

“At the moment MDP’s leaders are not able to even talk to the opposition, and I think the President is trying to find a way forward.”

Mahloof told Minivan News today that President Mohamed Nasheed “was the person who planned the protest outside VPs house.”

However a highly placed source within the government said the president appeared “very unhappy” about the gathering, and dismissed the possibility of such peace talks as “utter tosh”.

“If that was the case other senior people in the government would know about it. I think he wants to join DRP; maybe not sign with the party, but rather use it as a bargaining chip. His intentions are clearly malevolent,” the source said, adding that the VP was also observed last week meeting Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) leader Dr Hassan Saeed.

“He is clearly angry at the dismissal of [fellow party GIP party member] former Economic Minister Mohamed Rasheed. The fact is now that the core MDP supporters are convinced that Waheed is going to run for president in 2013, and are keeping a fair degree of distance.”

The Vice President was not responding to calls today, and Minivan News understands he was not in the office because of illness.

In a previous interview with Minivan News Dr Waheed said be believed there should be “a mechanism for dialogue between the opposition and the government. There is too much polarisation. There are things, of course, we want from the opposition. We want their support to pass the bills in Parliament, and there may be things they want from the government. And that is also to address some of their own concerns. I believe we should be able to engage with all parties.”

Following the meeting the DRP MPs who attended told the press that they would lobby to give the Vice President more powers and a greater role in government.

MDP Spokesman Ahmed Haleem said that Dr Waheed initiated the meeting “because he wants to pass a bill [in parliament] giving himself more power. He thinks he is a president – I think he is totally sick. Twenty years ago he was the first PhD holder in the Maldives and he thinks he is one of the best; now the VP is very close to Nasheed but he cannot digest this.”

Haleem added that “there are a lot of people sick for power in this country – Gasim is also sick for power, but Dr Waheed is one of the best.”

MDP MP Mohamed Mustafa said he doubted Dr Waheed had the popular support to become president, and had accepted the role of Vice President “without bringing a single seat with him. He has become a liability to [MDP] – there is no reason to hold such secret meetings.”


Comment: Speak freely, Dr Waheed

I write this letter with the passion of one who has not heard enough from the man who holds the second leading position in the government of the Maldives.

As Dr. Waheed says, “It is [high] time to get rid of that fear of speaking out.”

This is a new freedom we have as a nation that is clearly not being utilised enough.

This letter begins my own attempt to follow his example. This letter is also a plea that he continue to speak publicly, namely about the recent injustice to the Minister of Trade and Economic Development of the Maldives.

The government’s administration of injustice on Rasheed due to the call for freedom of speech led by Dr Waheed is discrimination. There was no reason given for Rasheed’s dismissal. I urge Dr Waheed to speak freely on what is going on in our government.

Dr Waheed brings up a grave concern. The gravity of the situation can clearly be seen now, as we know that even a Minister holds no safety in his position. Is this not just another autocratic government that does as it pleases with the power it holds? Who was involved in Rasheed’s firing?

Yet Dr Waheed is hopeful. He says in a recent article, “there is ‘nothing that can’t be fixed'”, as the government “is going through a learning process.”

Despite the hindrance on his job, he says, “I don’t see why we should be hiding our feelings now. We did not bring about this change to work in despair.”

In my view this is a man of courage and integrity. He is clearly working for the people. He speaks his mind and faces in the process public scrutiny and even ridicule. In my opinion, he needs to do more of this. If the government is not hearing your advice, tell it to us, the public. Continue the open line of communication you have started by beginning to voice your concerns.

If you are for the people, Allah’s power is with you. We did witness a miracle when we elected our current government into power, but the abuse of power can never reign without the intervention of Allah’s force. Dr. Waheed has not responded publicly to Rasheed’s loss at the hands of the government.

Please do not be silent for the sake of avoiding confrontation. Sometimes, difficult things need to be voiced, as you have suggested. Anything can be said in the spirit of compassion. Allah shows us this. This must be what is meant by freedom of speech.

As far as the claim that he is angling for the presidential seat in the next election, how is this even relevant to the concerns of governance of the people now, and the obvious unrest in the current government? As a self respecting citizen, I will not buy into this line of inquiry nor comment on what I think the VP is going to do, or is trying to do.

The question we should be more concerned with revolves around the unclear governance of our nation now, the very question Dr Waheed points us towards. The tyranny of the government has gone too far. The Vice President is being left in the dark. A minister has been fired for no reason. How can the people feel safe and secure under such a government?

Power is a dangerous mechanism and can be used too easily for harm. Dr Waheed speaks the truth that it should never be in the hands of a few. This always leads to the subjugation of others, just look at the history of governance of every nation in the world.

As a side note, when a voice of governance speaks publicly in any nation, he or she is speaking in his or her role, the role that this individual was elected into, especially if s/he makes it clear that s/he is speaking from this capacity! May Dr Waheed use his power for the benefit of the people. Speak to us, for us.

Dr. Waheed played a lead role in the reconstruction of a war torn country, Afghanistan, where he led an organisation of 250 Afghans and an international staff from 20 different countries. His early biography is brief, but mentioned he came from a low income family, and we all know what a low income family in Male was like in the early 1950’s.

Regardless of how he is able to serve us as a country, in my mind, this man has earned our respect for his very impressive track record abroad. As much I am giving Dr Waheed the benefit of doubt, I also think he needs to step up, and be more vocal about policies he would implement and the injustice being conducted by the government he is a part of. If you are working for the people Dr. Waheed, be the voice that gives us the power of information. Give the power that is being taken from us, back to us, where it belongs.

We as a country cannot forget the past that we come from. This man represents that past. If we are to move forward into the future with dignity and continued growth, we have to face the suffering of our past in unity, as well as the suffering we face today though of a very different form than it was only a few years prior.

I plead our honorable president to take heed of the words of a man who should be his best, his right hand man. Having read of Dr Waheed’s accomplishments abroad, I feel eager for some of this good work at home.

May Dr. Waheed continue the process of speaking his mind that he has only just begun. I challenge him to be even more transparent. What is the point of bringing his dissatisfaction to the public if he will not continue that process through, and keep us informed as to what he feels our country needs, as well as what is happening behind the curtains of the powers that be? You have the chance Dr Waheed, to use the power of words for our benefit.

Finally, as a Maldivian woman, I have been disappointed with the slow pace of progression when it comes to women’s rights and leadership. What does it take to right a patriarchal system that finds roots in the entrenched world patriarchal culture that we still live in?

I would like the women in power to speak to these issues. I implore the women in power to do so. For such an educated man as Dr Waheed, I find myself questioning how far he would go to uphold the rights of the people in this country, so many of whom are women.

This is a very high standard that I hold him to above others of his standing because of his background and experience. The task of reconstructing our patriarchal system is one I would like to see someone with power in our government tackle. When we look at the history of subjugation of women, we see how subtle and how permeable is the assault inflicted by those that hold power.

Every major power in the world that has found great success has not been able to do so without its women empowered to hold their own on equal footing with men, and add their wisdom to the process of growth.

Women have been given positions of power in the Maldives, but we are underrepresented and so our voices cannot be heard loudly enough. As a feminist, I am extremely sensitive to the power differentials among the sexes. Perhaps the task of addressing this issue in my country is one that I as an educated woman need to begin to tackle for myself. Perhaps I need to take my own advice around using the power of words and freedom of speech, being that I have it.

What I have learned as a feminist is that we each cannot hold anyone but ourselves responsible for speaking to the suffering in our own hearts. May the might of words bring power of justice back to the people where it belongs. May this letter be a start for me, in the name of our most Merciful and Compassionate.

With Best Intentions,

Mirani Bhava

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]