Government plans to sell Dhiraagu shares to foreigners, claims PPM

The government’s decision to offer 15 percent of its shareholdings in local telecom giant Dhiraagu for sale to the general public is intended to benefit foreign parties, the incipient Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) alleged today.

At a press conference this afternoon, PPM Spokesperson MP Ahmed Mahlouf claimed that the party has learned through “inside information” that the government planned to sell a large portion of the shares up for sale through the Initial Public Offering (IPO) to British company Cable & Wireless, which currently owns the majority stake of Dhiraagu.

The government sold seven percent of its shareholding in Dhiraagu to Cable & Wireless in 2009 for US$40 million.

“While claiming to sell 15 percent to Maldivian citizens what they’re doing now is selling shares to Cable & Wireless again,” Mahlouf said. “We received inside information long ago that a large part of that 15 percent is going to be bought by Cable & Wireless.”

The MP for Galolhu South expressed concern with the shares being open for purchase by both foreigners and international companies.

He added that the Maldivian people would have to face “the bitter consequences” of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government “selling off state assets built up by the former government through a lot of hard work.”

Economic Development Minister Mahmoud Razi however dismissed the allegations as completely unfounded.

“Why would we register with the CMDA (capital market development authority) and go for an international public offering if we wanted to do that?” he asked. “We’ve already sold them the majority stake.”

If the government wished to sell shares to C&W, he added, there would be “no need of a charade.”

In a press release issued after a ceremony to launch the IPO this week, Dhiraagu stated that 11,400,000 ordinary shares having a nominal value of Rf2.50 each at the offer price of Rf80 per share would be made available to the public.

The subscription period will open on October 25 and close on November 30. Formed in 1988 as a joint venture between the government and Cable & Wireless, Dhiraagu has since invested US$155 million in developing its network and operations within the Maldives. The company employs more than 600 people, 99 per cent of whom are Maldivians.

President NasheedSpeaking at the IPO launching ceremony Tuesday night after releasing the Dhiraagu prospectus, President Mohamed Nasheed said the government’s aim was to divest its remaining 33 percent to the public at a later date.

The MDP government’s policy was to ensure that the government would no longer be involved in business, said Nasheed, reiterating the government’s commitment to free market principles and economic liberalisation.

“The government is very much certain that profits increase manifold when the government is not involved [in doing business],” he said. “This became most clear when the airport was privatised. Did you know that before [Indian infrastructure giant] GMR took over [management of] the airport, in the year that the government received the highest amount from the airport company to the state budget, it was Rf100 million (US$6.4 million). Usually it is Rf75 million (US$4.8 million). This year the government will receive Rf600 million (US$39 million).”


PPM hopes to sign up 3,000 members by midnight

The incipient Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) began a recruitment drive at Dharubaaruge convention centre this morning to collect 3,000 signatures needed to officially register the party.

The Elections Commission (EC) approved the request to form the party last week after verifying an initial 50 application forms and authorised the fledgling party to begin recruiting members.

Briefing press at the convention centre today, Dunya Maumoon, eldest child of party figurehead and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, said that the party’s target for the first day of official recruitment was to sign up 3,000 members by 12:00am.

“The registration will go ahead until 12 tonight. Everyone is invited to come and sign for the party,” she said. “Our hope is that the party will become a good and strong party.”

MP Ahmed Mahlouf – one of seven MPs who quit the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) to form the Progressive Party after months of factional strife – said that the registration process was delayed due to the tragic drowning incident of four school children and the principal of Hiriya School on Friday.

PPM registration“In the days that followed, the government did not provide us any building or facility,” he claimed. “We were able to get [Dharubaaruge] after a lot of work. And we have this place only for the day.”

The registration forms will be submitted to the EC at the beginning of next week, he said, adding that his “personal target” was to sign up 40,000 members to the party.

The MP for Galolhu South claimed that senior members of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had joined the party.

The recruitment drive is going ahead at present only in Male’, Vili-Male’ and Hulhumale’, Mahlouf said.

Dunya added that the party would establish a mechanism to collect registration forms from the atolls in the coming days.

The DRP has meanwhile informed the party’s former ‘Zaeem’ or ‘Honorary Leader’  Gayoom that his name has been omitted from the registry upon request. Gayoom announced last week that he had left the party he had formed in July, 2005.

Corruption allegations

Reports meanwhile surfaced in local media today that allegations of corruption had been lodged at the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) against MPs Mahlouf, Ahmed Ilham and Ahmed Nihan Hussein Manik.

Haveeru reported that Mahlouf was accused of owning the “Jeans Shop” in Male’, issuing cheques to take large sums from politicians, and falsifying his annual financial statement.

Ilham was meanwhile accused of involvement in illegal businesses in Sri Lanka owned by MP Abdulla Yameen, who has announced his intention to contest in the party’s presidential primary.

Nihan was accused of purchasing a Demio brand car and 8181 vanity plate or domain.

Mahlouf and Ilham however dismissed the allegations as completely unfounded and anPPM effort to bring the MPs to disrepute and undermine the PPM’s recruitment drive.

The three MPs played a prominent part in the breakaway Z-faction in its struggle against the DRP leadership.

“I want to say that I will definitely try to get some money from the person who is trying to defame me,” said Mahlouf. “If I was greedy for money, I would be at MDP now. I have said in the media before that we have been repeatedly offered large sums to join the MDP.”

The allegations were “a joke”, said Mahlouf, as accusing Nihan of owning a car and Ilham of traveling to Sri Lanka did not amount to corruption.

Mahlouf claimed that according to information he received the complaint was filed at the ACC by former DRP MPs Ali Waheed, Alhan Fahmy and Abdulla Abdul Raheem. All three had defected to the ruling party.

“We’re talking about people who have been sold,” he said. “In addition, there is a hand of [DRP Leader Ahmed] Thasmeen [Ali] in this.”

The “Jeans Shop” was a family business owned jointly by his mother, father and two siblings, Mahlouf said, and that “it is not owned by me.”

Ilham meanwhile said that his family lived in Sri Lanka and he visited regularly for holidays and medical treatment.

“I don’t do business and have never done any business in the past,” he said, claiming that the person who filed the case at the ACC had apologised to him and admitted to “doing it for money.”


Thasmeen warns DRP councillors against helping PPM recruit members

Main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali has warned that the party’s island and atoll councillors who help the newly-formed Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – led by former DRP ‘Zaeem’ or Honorary Leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – recruit members will be dismissed from DRP.

Thasmeen told MNBC One today that the party’s charter outlined procedures for disciplinary action against members who violate the charter or party rules and regulations.

PPM Spokesperson MP Ahmed Mahlouf told local media last week that the party would seek to amend the Decentralisation Act to allow councillors to quit their parties without losing their seats.

Thasmeen however said that the law should not be changed merely because it puts the newly-formed party at a disadvantage.

The Decentralisation Act was passed in a completely partisan vote after MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) walked out in protest of the high number of councillors and the committee decision to scrap province councils in the original draft legislation.


Commodity prices vary “significantly” between retailers, reports Economic Development Ministry

The Department of National Planning and the State Trading Organisation (STO) have conducted a price comparison exercise across Male’ in a bid to show that while some retailers are charging inflated prices for basic commodities, most prices have risen little.

Speaking yesterday evening from the President’s Office, Economic Development Minister Mahmood Razee said the statistics, which were compiled by the Department of National Planning in collaboration with his ministry, indicated that although certain prices had been found to have risen in the last few months, there was no pattern to link these costs solely to a controversial managed float of the local currency.

The opposition has maintained that demonstrations raging across Male’ this week were against the government’s decision to implement a managed float of the rufiya and are led by youth unhappy with rising commodity prices.  These claims were made despite the active involvement of dismissed opposition Deputy Leader Umar Naseer, and MPs Ilham Ahmed, Ahmed Mahlouf, Ali Waheed, and Ahmed Nihan.

However, Razee added that discussions were ongoing with the STO – a main buyer of goods to the country – to try and maintain import supplies of 27 key food items in attempts to try and keep prices stable as well as enacting a cabinet pledge to cut import duty on diesel fuel by 50 percent.

Speaking ahead of a fourth night of protests by young people, parliamentarians and political activists on the streets of Male’, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Mahlouf said that although he had not been made aware of the content of the statistics at the time, he believed that protestors would not believe or be satisfied by the government’s claims and reaction.

“At this time, I think it would be difficult to accept that this is a genuine or positive message. At this point I don’t think [this] one press conference will help people,” he said.

Mahlouf added that he believed comments made by President Nasheed earlier this week, where he allegedly denied knowledge of the street protests concerning increased living costs that have garnered news coverage all over the world, had been extremely offensive to people gathering on the streets .

“It would be better to have a statement from President Nasheed apologising for the stupid comments he has made,” he added. “These comments have only made protestors more angry.”

Government findings, which were compiled on April 2 by officers visiting ten different stores across Male’, were said to highlight prices found to vary, sometimes significantly, between the retailers.

Speaking at press conference last night alongside Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz and representatives from the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA), Razee said that when talking about changes in prices, it was important to try and determine how extensive they were.

“Yes, there are changes in prices, however, we should also see that in terms of essential commodities, what are the different brands that are there [in stores] and the price variations between them?” he said.

Following price comparisons conducted on May 2 at 10 different stores in Male’, Razee took the example of the prices of five powdered milk products, where prices between the stores were said to vary between Rf150 and Rf345. In addition he also pointed to the price differences in diapers, which he claimed varied between Rf118 and Rf150 for the same product.

The figures presently supplied by the government to Minivan News did not appear to verify these price fluctuations.

Razee added that he was unable to speculate on how long some of these potential differences in prices may have been present in stores across the capital or when and for what purpose they may have been implemented.

“What we are saying it, if you look at the price fluctuations that were there in 2006, 2007 and 2008, and if you look at the price fluctuations of the last few years, you will see there is no clear cut format or reason to believe this is directly related to the float of the currency,” he said. “Yes, it would have a bearing, but what needs to [be understood] is that there may changes to the prices. However, these are varied.”

Razee claimed that the government was not using this explanation as an excuse to avoid acting on public price concerns and said that measures were being taken to try and offer stable prices for certain “essential products”.

“We are in consultation with the STO and we have identified together 27 elementary items, out of which six are currently imported directly. [STO] is going to import the other items [on this list] as well to try and maintain price stability and ensure the availability is there,” he said. “In addition to this, the cabinet today advised the president to remove 50 percent of the duty on diesel. So this will give some relief to power generation, electricity bills and transportation costs.”

Finance Minister Inaz added that the government had decided to release some of its statistics to try and highlight current prices being paid by goods in relation to the last few years.

“It is very easy in a small economy to play with and manipulate the confidence of the economy,” he said. “Confidence is the most important factor to build an economy and it can be easily twisted. We agree the prices have gone up, but we want to maintain these price levels at a competitive level compared to other international rises.”

Cost statistics

The government, in figures compiled by Department of National Planning, outlined a number of changes in the average prices paid for goods between March 2010 and March 2011.

These price changes include:

• One kilogram of loose rice – up 1.07 percent from last year

• One kilogram of ordinary flour – down 1.89 percent from last year

• One kilogram of frozen chicken – up by 8.73 percent from last year

• One medium sized coconut – up 69.71 percent over last year

• One hundred grams of garlic – up 22.34 percent last year

• One kilogram of potatoes – up 8.74 percent last year

• One kilogram of imported onions – down 12.64 percent from last year

• One kilogram of yellow coloured dhal – up 17.63 percent from last year

• One 500 millilitre bottle of Kinley mineral water – down 30.30 percent from last year

• One 185 gram can of Felivaru brand fish chunks in oil – up 22.24 percent from last year

• One unit of state-supplied electricity – unchanged from last year

• Thirteen kilogram of cooking gas – up 12.12 percent from last year

• One litre of petrol – up 32.65 percent over last year

• One packet of Fitti brand small baby diapers – up 4.35 percent from last year


Mahlouf’s resolution to postpone recess narrowly defeated

A resolution to delay parliament’s upcoming recess at the end of the month, until crucial bills to reform the criminal justice system could be passed, was narrowly defeated today.

Opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Mahlouf had proposed extending the ongoing session until belated bills on evidence law, criminal justice procedure and special measures to combat crime along with amendments to the gang crimes legislation and Children’s Act, could be enacted into law.

Of the 70 MPs in attendance, 34 voted against the resolution while 30 voted in favour and six abstained.

During yesterday’s debate, MPs of both the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and opposition parties argued that parliament’s perceived failure to pass necessary laws was not to blame for the shortcomings of the criminal justice system, particularly the authorities’ collective failure to secure convictions against “dangerous criminals” and enforce jail sentences.

Home Minister Hassan Afeef revealed on Monday that there were “about 300 people” sentenced in absentia that were yet to be taken to jail.

Closing the debate at the penultimate sitting of this year’s first session of parliament, Mahlouf argued that MPs should hasten to pass the legislation if only because “there will no longer be any person or institution that could point the finger at us and say ‘it’s because the People’s Majlis hasn’t completed [necessary laws].'”

Despite the 17th parliament having passed more legislation than any of its predecessors, Mahlouf urged MPs to “accept the reality” that the public did not believe parliament was doing enough.

“[They say] the number of days we work in the Majlis is low,” he said. “I accept this today. We take a holiday for four months of the year. We work about 12 days a month. For a year, it’s about 96 days. We don’t work for about 260 days of the year.”

The DRP MP for Galolhu South noted that none of the MPs opposed to postponing the recess had claimed there was no urgent need for the criminal justice legislation.

After voting on the resolution ended, Speaker Abdulla Shahid informed MPs that completed legislation on special measures to combat crime has been sent for their perusal.

The bill was amended in consultation with law enforcement authorities to include essential provisions from all three belated bills to serve as a stop-gap measure until parliament returned from recess.

Shahid explained that a proposal for a special sitting to be held during the recess in May would be put forward at tomorrow’s final sitting.

MDP MP “Reeko” Moosa Manik raised a point of order to suggest a sitting to be held tomorrow night to pass the crime legislation, but Shahid replied that a decision would be made after discussion with party leaders.

DRP squabbles

Mahouf – who has sided with “Zaeem DRP” against DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali in the ongoing factional strife within the main opposition party – was attacked yesterday by MPs of the rival opposition faction for taking a holiday after submitting the resolution.

While DRP MP Abdulla Abdul Raheem accused Mahlouf of attempting “to pin a medal on himself and claim to be the best,” DRP MP for Mid-Henveiru Ali Azim claimed Mahlouf had taken the most leaves of absence during the past Majlis session.

Mahlouf hit back at Raheem today, claiming that he saw a form the Maafanu West MP had allegedly signed to defect to the MDP before changing his mind in 24 hours.

Moreover, he added, MPs Rozaina Adam and her husband Mohamed Nashiz were yet to return from an official trip to Panama despite MP Mariya Ahmed Didi, Speaker Shahid and Secretary General Ahmed Mohamed having arrived back in the country three days ago.

After attacking Thasmeen and Football Association Chairman Ali Azim for alleged poor attendance and lack of participation in important committee tasks, Mahlouf also exchanged heated words with DRP MP for Mathiveri Hussein Mohamed, who told him “to shut up and sit down.”

Hussein Mohamed argued that since Mahlouf’s resolution stated that a one month holiday should be granted once the “complex and technical” bills were passed, “what if we are only able to go to recess in November, how do we pass the state budget then?”


Mahlouf calls on DRP supporters to shun “Thasmeen faction” rally

MP Ahmed Mahlouf of the split main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party’s (DRP’s) faction loyal to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom called on the party’s supporters today not to attend a rally planned for Thursday night by DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali’s faction, and new coalition partner Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP).

At a press conference held by the ‘Gayoom faction’ today, DRP’s Youth Wing President Mahlouf insisted that tomorrow night’s event was not organised by the party, urging members who support the former President to stay away from the rally at Kalaafanu School.

“That is not a rally held by DRP,” Mahlouf claimed. “We urge anyone who supports [the Gayoom faction] not to participate in that rally or even go there to watch the show. They are trying to test something. That is, [to find out] how much support they have.”

The ‘Gayoom faction’ has meanwhile moved its rally, originally planned for the same night, to Friday night.

Earlier in the day, MP Rozaina Adam, sister-in-law of the embattled DRP Leader, stressed at a separate press conference at the DRP office that the purpose of the rally was not to “hit back at others within the party, quarrel with them and call each other names.”

DQP Secretary General Abdulla Ameen told press that tomorrow night’s rally would mark the beginning of “renewed efforts to hold the government accountable,” adding that internal disputes since the end of last month’s local council elections had weakened the opposition.

The rally will be the first joint event by the two parties since a coalition agreement was signed on February 14.

Widening divide

Following the controversial dismissal of Deputy Leader Umar Naseer in December, the worsening factional split within DRP led the party’s founder and ‘Honorary Leader’ Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to officially withdraw his endorsement of Thasmeen for the presidency in 2013.

While Gayoom accused his former running mate of running the party “dictatorially” to protect and advance personal interests, Thasmeen contends that a few members within DRP’s leadership are pursuing “an internal campaign” to discredit and replace him on the DRP presidential ticket.

At a rally held last Thursday night by the Gayoom faction – attended by a number of DRP MPs along with minority opposition People’s Alliance MPs and senior ministers in Gayoom’s cabinet – Umar Naseer read out letters purportedly from DRP branches in the atolls retracting support for Thasmeen.

Umar called on those within the DRP’s front ranks who are “indebted to the government” to “go to the back seat.”

Former President Gayoom addressed the crowd through Umar’s phone – which was held up to the mic – offering gratitude and a vote of thanks to the speakers at the rally.

Also at the rally, Mahlouf’s calls for Thasmeen’s resignation was echoed back by the crowd gathered at the tsunami memorial area; Mahlouf called on the beleaguered leader to either resign or “step aside and pave the way for a primary so that we can have a new leader.”

Mahlouf asserted that he purposely broke the DRP’s three-line whip in last week’s vote on approving members to the Broadcasting Commission “to teach Thasmeen a lesson.”

The DRP MP for Galolhu South claimed that he does not have to follow instructions from a leader he does not recognise as legitimate.

Moreover, Mahlouf warned that Thasmeen would be “more dictatorial than President [Mohamed] Nasheed” should he win the presidential election in 2013, adding that the current DRP Leader would “pursue personal vendettas and target opponents.”

The country would go “into a slumber” under Thasmeen’s presidency, Mahlouf continued, as “even now when he’s trying to win power he spends four days a week at an island in Vaavu Atoll.”