President Mohamed Waheed Hassan has refused to reinstate the sacked Minister of Transport Dr Ahmed Shamheed and has requested the Jumhoree Party (JP) to propose a candidate for the job.
President of the JP Dr Ibrahim Didi confirmed the decision to local media, stating that the party had received an official letter from the President’s Office informing of the decision to not to accept Shamheed for the post.
Didi added that it was now up to party leader MP Gasim Ibrahim to decide whether to propose a new name, since it was he who had proposed Shamheed to the position in the first place.
The sacked minister, who on local media claimed he had “several differences” with the President, was removed from cabinet last week following the announcement of the extension of his party leader’s Maamigili Airport lease for 99 years.
Maamigili Airport is the country’s first private airport, opened on October last year, and owned by the Villa Group whose chairman is also the leader of government-aligned JP, MP Gasim Ibrahim. The airport had initially been leased to the business tycoon for a period of 30 years.
The re-extension of the lease period of the private airport was met with severe criticism from both the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and some government-aligned political figures.
However, Shamheed – whose decision to extend the lease period cost him his cabinet position – maintained that the decision on the extension of the lease was approved by the government’s Economic Committee a week before.
“Documents to extend the lease of Maamigili Airport for 99 years were sent to the transport ministry by [former President Mohamed] Nasheed’s government. But the current government delayed the matter. The present government only endorsed the decision. It was decided by the NPC (National Planning Council) during the former government,” he said at the time.
The concerned Economic Committee included Minister of Finance Abdulla Jihad and Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Ahmed Shafeeu, Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muizzu, Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela and Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb. However surprisingly, the committee did not include the Minister for Economic Development Ahmed Mohamed from the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).
Spokesperson for the Presidents Office, Abbas Adil Riza, confirmed the dismissal of Minister Shamheed on social media, where he tweeted: “Transport Minster Dr Shamheed has been relieved from his duties today. Defense Minister Nazim will be the care taker until replaced by JP.”
Riza who is also a member of JP, confirmed that the cabinet seat would be reserved for the JP, currently the third largest party in terms of membership in the ruling coalition. As per the coalition agreement, the party is allotted with two cabinet slots including that of the Ministry of Transport and also the Ministry of Gender and Human Rights.
The dismissal of ex-minister Shamheed was met by criticism from the JP, which described it as a “cowardly act”.
In a statement released following the dismissal, the JP said it would take “necessary action” following an inquiry, and expressed “serious concern” with statements in the media by officials from the President’s Office regarding the reasons for Shamheed’s dismissal.
Some local media outlets quoted Presidents Office Media Secretary, Masood Imad, as stating that Shamheed was dismissed following several inconsistencies, which included the extension of lease of the private airport.
However, the Presidents Office Spokesperson Riza at the time declined to reveal the reason behind the dismissal of the minister.
An unnamed JP official alleged to Villa TV (VTV) – a media station owned by the Villa Group – that Dr Shamheed was sacked because of his opposition to the recently concluded sale of a 30 percent stake in the Addu International Airport Company Ltd (AIA) to another tourism tycoon, ‘Champa’ Hussain Afeef.
The JP leader had alleged corruption in the deal and claimed the valuation of the 30 percent stake was too low.
The JP senior official meanwhile told VTV that Shamheed was removed to allow Champa Afeef to control the airport project, claiming that the “cowardly” act of sacking the minister was intended to divert media and public attention from the Addu airport controversy.
JP’s future in the coalition in question
The recent dismissal of the JP endorsed minister has sparked speculation as to the future of the JP in the current government coalition. JP MP Alhan Fahmy told Minivan News on Wednesday that he believed Shamheed should be reinstated if “Dr Waheed wants to sustain the national unity government.”
“I don’t believe [Waheed] was unaware of the decision [to dismiss Dr Shamheed], and it is of his own irresponsibility if he says so,” Fahmy said “A minister shall not be dismissed under the existing political situation unless it is associated with proper reasoning.”
Speaking at the press conference on Tuesday, Fahmy said Waheed met Gasim on Monday night and what he had to say implied that the President was “not fully aware of how [the dismissal] happened.”
After looking into the dismissal, Fahmy said the JP believed it was done “without a legal basis” as the JP Minister had not breached any laws or official procedures but was sacked “as a result of what the minister did to implement a decision made by the government.”
“Therefore, as we believe that this happened because the President was somewhat confused or misinformed, and after making certain of all the processes that were followed with regard to [the dismissal], the Jumhoree Party has asked the President to reinstate Dr Shamheed to the cabinet before next Sunday,” Fahmy said.
The government’s actions in sacking the minister provided opportunity to level corruption allegations against the JP’s leader who has also been announced to be the party’s presidential candidate, and were “highly damaging” to the party, the MP for Feydhoo added.
“Trust and confidence affected” – JP MP Alhan Fahmy
Speaking to Minivan News following the dismissal, Fahmy said that the letter sent by the Presidents Office did not mention “any reasonable grounds” for the dismissal of the minister.
“The party has yet not decided on how it will proceed following the response given by the President’s Office. The party council will meet very soon to decide on the matter,” he said.
Asked if the President’s decision could mean the party leaving the government coalition, Fahmy stated that the dismissal was “unacceptable” and it had affected the “trust and confidence” between the government and the party.
“I would not definitely say that the party will leave the coalition and join the opposition. But there is a possibility as you would know that political affiliations between parties do not always remain permanent,” Fahmy said.
“The party has not officially penned a coalition agreement. However, after what happened on February 7, the incoming president announced that the new government would be a national unity government. So the coalition was formed on certain moral values and grounds, which this party would never allow to be compromised,” he added.
He also raised doubts over President Waheed’s commitment towards the “moral value and grounds” of a national unity government and instead alleged that the President had now begun working in the interests of “his own party and political future”.
“He won’t acknowledge his own mistakes” – GIP Deputy Leader Zaki hits back at Fahmy’s remarks
Speaking to Minivan News, Deputy Leader of President Waheed’s Gaumee Iththihaadh Party (GIP), Ahmed ‘Nazaki’ Zaki, brushed off Fahmy’s comments describing him as being involved in “party-factionalism”.
“I refuse to believe Fahmy’s remarks that there is a loss of trust and confidence. The JP is a valuable partner in our coalition. I just don’t get it when Fahmy speaks about loss of confidence because JP leader Gasim Ibrahim has explicitly told us that he wants to remain in the government coalition,” he said.
Zaki went onto describe Gasim as “one of the most prominent figures” in bringing democracy to Maldives, and said the government always considered him a “valuable asset” in the national unity government.
However, Zaki admitted that he did not understand why Gasim was trying so hard to reinstate Shamheed when there were “many other capable people” in his party.
Asked for the reason behind Shamheed’s dismissal, Zaki said there were “many reasons” but declined to go into details. He also responded to Fahmy’s claims that the dismissal was not based on “reasonable grounds” by saying it was human nature that “he would not acknowledge his own faults”.
The former High Commissioner to Malaysia went onto state that unlike former President Mohamed Nasheed’s government, President Waheed would not sack a person unless there were severe discrepancies, and Shamheed’s sacking was no different.