Amendments propose registering plots smaller than 600 square feet

The parliament has accepted for consideration amendments proposed to the land law to allow registration of plots of land smaller than 600 square feet.

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Riyaz Rasheed’s amendment bill was accepted unanimously with 56 votes in favour at today’s sitting of parliament and sent to committee for further review.

Under the current law, plots of land smaller than 600 feet cannot be separately registered.

In cases where children inherit a small parcel of land upon division of a parent’s property, Riyaz said the new owners were unable to obtain loans or mortgage the property as it was not registered under their names.

During today’s debate, most MPs favoured the proposed changes, noting that the problem was especially acute in the congested capital.

Meanwhile, amendments proposed to the Decentralisation Act by main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MP Rozaina Adam to change the eligibility criteria for local council candidates was rejected with 40 votes against and 21 votes in favour.

Rozaina proposed allowing individuals who have been convicted for a criminal offence to contest elections five years after serving the sentence. Under the current law, a person convicted of a crime with a punishment specified in Islam, drug abuse or trafficking, or bribery cannot contest in elections for island, atoll, or city councils.

During the debate on the amendments at today’s sitting, several MPs noted that individuals convicted of crimes can contest in parliamentary elections five years after serving their sentence. A harsher criteria for council candidates is unfair, the MPs argued.


Petition demands MP apologise for ‘discriminatory and bigoted’ tweets

An online petition has been launched calling for ruling party MP Riyaz Rasheed to publicly apologise for saying “islanders” will not be allowed to come to protest in Malé.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) estimates about 7,000 people traveled to the capital from across the country to participate in the May Day mass anti-government demonstration.

Raajje therey meehun [islanders] will no longer have the opportunity to come to Malé, protest on the streets of Malé, assault and harm police,” the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP for Thaa Vilifushi tweeted on Thursday.

“Islanders cannot come to protest in Malé anymore. The security forces will not give that opportunity anymore,” he tweeted yesterday.

Boatloads of opposition supporters converged on Malé on May 1 for the largest anti-government protest in over a decade.

Nearly 200 people were arrested following a police crackdown on the 20,000-strong protest march. Police used tear gas, stun grenades, pepper spray and baton charges to disperse protesters when they attempted to enter the restricted Republic Square. Dozens of protesters were injured in clashes and a Specialist Operations (SO) police officer was severely beaten.

The opposition ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ alliance has since announced that it is planning to stage another mass demonstration in Malé.

Riyaz’s tweets has sparked an outcry on social media with many Twitter users referring to constitutional rights to protest and travel within the Maldives.

However, the lawmaker remains defiant in the face of the public outrage, saying the constitutional provisions do not allow “arson and beating police.”

“No matter how angry MDP gets, islanders should not be allowed to come to protest and create turmoil in Malé,” the PPM parliamentary group deputy leader tweeted last night.

The controversy comes ahead of a by-election due to take place on June 6 for the vacant Dhiggaru constituency parliament seat. The PPM is fielding former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s son Faris Maumoon as the ruling coalition candidate.

The Avaaz petition was meanwhile launched yesterday and has 246 signatures as of the time of publication.

The petition urges Riyaz to “publicly apologise for his discriminatory and bigoted views against people who are not from Malé.”

It referred to articles 41 and 32 of the constitution, which guarantees freedom of assembly and the right to travel within the Maldives.

“As a Member of Parliament, who is constitutionally obliged to advocate for the rights of ALL citizens, we believe MP Riyaz Rasheed’s views are completely unacceptable and abhorrent,” reads the petition.

According to the 2014 census, 39 percent of the Maldives’ 341,256 population resides in Malé, one of the world’s most densely populated cities.

In the past three decades, thousands of people from the atolls have migrated to the capital in search of jobs, better education and healthcare, making Malé a congested city of exorbitant rents.

The UNDP’s Human Development Index report released last year revealed stark inequalities between Malé and the rest of the country.

“Where one is born within the Maldives determines many of the opportunities and choices available to a person,” the report stated.

“Come to Male’ to pay rent and beg with ministers. Don’t come to Male’ for your rights!”

“Islanders should not come to Male’ for any other reason except paying rent.”


Parliament considers stricter traffic rules

Parliament has accepted for consideration two bills seeking to double fines for traffic violations and make it mandatory to wear helmets.

Amendments to the land vehicles law submitted by MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik to raise fines was accepted with 46 votes in favour at yesterday’s sitting and sent to the economic affairs committee for review.

The independent MP proposed imposing a fine of MVR1,000 for speeding in addition to impounding the vehicle for 30 days, and suspending the driver’s license for 90 days.

The bill also proposed a MVR1,500 fine for a second speeding offence, MVR2,000 for a third offence, and MVR1,000 for illegal parking.

Moosa also proposed raising fines for failing to pay annual fees and driving a motorcycle with expired registration.

The bill also states that it will be illegal for children under 10 to ride bicycles on the road.

Progressive Party of Maldives MP Riyaz Rasheed meanwhile proposed making it mandatory to wear helmets while riding motorcycles. Riyaz’s amendments were accepted with 47 votes in favour and also sent to the economic affairs committee for review.

The legislation was submitted in the wake of several fatal accidents in Addu City.


Majlis begins investigation into Ibthihaal’s death

The government accountability committee investigation into the death of Mohamed Ibthihaal in Vaavu Rakeedhoo, has decided to collect relevant information from government ministries and other state institutions.

The motion to investigate into the death of the three-year-old, who was found dead on January 28 with signs of severe abuse, was proposed by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Rozaina Adam and MP Ahmed Falah along with Jumhooree Party MP Moosa Nizar.

Multiple investigations into potential state negligence have begun after it emerged that authorities had prior knowledge of the abuse.

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Riyaz Rasheed, who chairs the government accountability committee, told Minivan News that some opposition MPs had initially proposed summoning relevant authorities to the committee.

“Later, after discussions all members of the committee agreed to collect relevant documents regarding the case to the committee and then to decide on proceeding further”, said the Vilufushi MP.

He also said that a date has not been set for the next committee sitting.

MDP MP Ibrahim Shareef stated that the committee decided to collect information and documents from Rakeedhoo Island Council, the Maldives Police Services, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), the Ministry of Law and Gender, and the Family Protection Unit.

“We will be sending out the letters requesting information tomorrow. After we receive them, the committee will analyse the first hand information,” Shareef stated.

State negligence?

Meanwhile, the 26-year-old mother of the child, Afiya Mohamed was arrested Friday (20 January) afternoon after having spent the previous 48 hours under police watch.  Media reported that Rakeedhoo Magistrates Court ordered 15 days of detention.

On Friday, a protest march circled the capital Malé to raise awareness of child abuse. Authorities are reported to have received record numbers of child abuse reports in the days since Ibthihaal’s death.

After local authorities revealed that both the police and the gender ministry had been aware of the abuse prior to the incident, Attorney General Mohamed Anil has said the child was living in a safe environment when officials last visited.

“He was not living with the mother when our team visited the island. He was in a safe environment. But we acknowledge that the situation was not properly monitored afterwards, which resulted in the child being returned to the mother,” Sun Online reported Anil as saying.

Ibthihaal’s two siblings are currently in the care of family members, local authorities have said.

Other than the government accountability committee’s inquiry, suspicions of state negligence in the case have prompted investigations from HRCM and the Prosecutor General’s Office.

NGO Advocating for the Rights of Children has pointed to deficiencies in the legal, judicial, and social sectors tasked with the protection of the rights of children, while the HRCM has condemned the state’s failure to protect him.

In another development, Haveeru has reported that police are investigating reports that Ibthihaal’s mother was raped three years ago.

Related to this story

Body of abused child found in Vaavu Rakeedhoo

State negligence investigated in death of Rakeedhoo child

ARC condemns “systematic flaws” after death of Rakeedhoo toddler


Parliament rejects amendments to Decentralisation Act

Parliament today rejected amendments submitted by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Riyaz Rasheed to the Decentralisation Act to transfer land and and lagoons under local council jurisdiction or ownership to the housing ministry.

The amendments were rejected with 68 votes against, six in favour and three abstentions. Pro-government MPs also voted against the amendment bill submitted by the PPM parliamentary group deputy leader.

“I am proposing amendments to the Decentralisation Act to the [People’s] Majlis today because of the disputes concerning land between councils, city councils and the housing ministry, and because the existing land law and decentralisation law does not make clear enough to us who has ownership of land,” Riyaz had said while presenting the legislation (Dhivehi) last week.

“Therefore, I certainly believe that the state’s property should be under one institution.”

In the ensuing debate, MPs of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) accused the government of attempting to “destroy” decentralisation and render councils powerless.

The amendments would defeat the purpose of devolving decision-making powers, they contended, noting that articles 234 and 235 of the Constitution state that local councils shall have the authority to “raise funds” and “own property and incur liabilities”.

Riyaz  had argued that state assets should be under the control of the executive, alleging that councils with opposition majorities were deliberately obstructing development projects by refusing to provide land.


MP Riyaz Rasheed withdraws amendments to law on privileges and protection for former presidents

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Riyaz Rasheed has withdrawn amendments proposed to the Privileges and Protection for former President’s Act of 2009.

At today’s sitting of parliament, the PPM parliamentary group deputy leader said he decided to withdraw the bill as it required revision, adding that he would resubmit during the next session after the upcoming one-month recess.

The amendment proposed denying financial benefits and protection for former presidents if they are either convicted of a criminal offence or encourages an act that threatens Maldivian sovereignty and independence.

Similar amendments proposed by the Vilufushi MP twice before had been rejected by the previous parliament.

The 2009 law stipulates a monthly allowance of MVR50,000 (US$3,243) for a president who has served one term.

Before declaring his intention to withdraw the amendments, Riyaz suggested it could be beneficial to allow the bill to be debated on the People’s Majlis floor to “recall” the alleged misdeeds of former President Mohamed Nasheed and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government.

He went on to allege that the party was behind all the murders that have occurred in the Maldives, prompting MDP MP Ibrahim Shareef to object with a point of order.

PPM MPs were using the Majlis floor as “a political podium,” Shareef said.

Following the controversial transfer of presidential power on February 2012, the government had questioned Nasheed’s eligibility for state benefits on the grounds that he had not completed a full five-year term in office.

In June 2012, MDP MP Ahmed Hamza revealed that the state had spent MVR1.3 million (US$84,300) on healthcare costs for former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and his wife from 2010 to April 2012.

In November 2012, Riyaz threatened to sue the finance minister and attorney general for providing state benefits to former President Nasheed.


Bill proposed to transfer land from local councils to central government

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Riyaz Rasheed has proposed transferring land and lagoons under local council jurisdiction or ownership to the housing ministry.

“I am proposing amendments to the Decentralisation Act to the [People’s] Majlis today because of the disputes concerning land between councils, city councils and the housing ministry, and because the existing land law and decentralisation law does not make clear enough to us who has ownership of land,” said Riyaz while presenting the legislation (Dhivehi) at yesterday’s sitting of parliament.

“Therefore, I certainly believe that the state’s property should be under one institution.”

In the ensuing debate, MPs of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) accused the government of attempting to “destroy” decentralisation and render councils powerless.

The amendments would defeat the purpose of devolving decision-making powers, they contended, noting that articles 234 and 235 of the Constitution state that local councils shall have the authority to “raise funds” and “own property and incur liabilities”.

Riyaz  meanwhile argued that state assets should be under the control of the executive, alleging that councils with opposition majorities were deliberately obstructing development projects by refusing to provide land.

The deputy leader of the PPM’s parliamentary group claimed that some island councils have yet to arrange land for the fisheries ministry and youth ministry to build ice plants and sports arenas, respectively.

The current administration was “facing serious difficulties” in implementing its policies, he contended.

Following disputes between the housing ministry and councils, Riyaz noted that councils have recently been informed not to conduct transactions involving state-owned land or lease property without obtaining permission from the president.

In June, the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure removed two parks from the jurisdiction of the MDP-majority Malé City Council, while Dharubaaruge convention centre was reclaimed by the government in May.

Riyaz also criticised the city council for leasing parks in the capital for restaurant businesses. While councils should have authority over land, Riyaz said the law should not allow that power to be misused.

“It should be done in accordance with the government’s policies,” he insisted.


During the debate, MDP MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa said the amendments would make councils “toothless” and the decentralisation law “useless.”

Ghafoor denied Riyaz’s allegations of non-cooperation from MDP-majority councils, adding that the claims were intended to “mislead” the public.

JP MPs also noted that property and lagoons under council ownership were the only significant means available for generating an income.

MDP MP Rozaina Adam said the government was trying to “cut off the arms and legs” of councils as they would not be able to do “any work when the government steals land from small islands.”

Several MPs suggested that there were many island councils doing exemplary work for the benefit and development of their islands or atolls. All local councils should not be punished or blamed for the actions of a few, the MPs said.

JP MP Hussain Shahid suggested amending the law to allow councils to function more efficiently, arguing that the number of councillors in each island were excessive.

The current model of more than 1,000 elected councillors approved in 2010 by the then-opposition majority parliament was branded “economic sabotage” by the MDP government, which had proposed limiting the number of councillors to “no more than 220.”

Following the release of the UNDP’s second Human Development Index report in June – which found the rest of the country lagging behind the Malé area with its ‘highly developed’ score – Salma Fikry, a prominent campaigner and proponent of decentralisation, told Minivan News that lack of political will was to blame for the disparity.

“The whole point of decentralisation is scary for the Maldivian government because they like to keep people dependent, they like to think of themselves as doing people favours,” she said.

She predicted that “three quarters of the population would probably move to the capital and the rest of the country will be taken over by the corporations.”


JP and MDP MPs boycott committee reviewing SEZ bill

Jumhooree Party (JP) and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs boycotted parliament’s economic affairs committee today in protest of alleged procedural violations by the committee’s chair in his haste to complete reviewing the government’s flagship special economic zone (SEZ) legislation.

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Abdulla Khaleel – the committee’s chairperson – was “repeatedly violating Majlis rules and committee rules as well,” said JP Leader Gasim after walking out of a meeting this morning and raising a point of order at the ongoing parliament sitting.

The SEZ law would authorise a board formed by the president “to sell off the entire country in the name of economic zones,” the business tycoon said.

He added that the committee was not considering recommendations by state institutions concerning relaxed regulations, exempted import duties and tax incentives.

PPM MPs wanted to complete assessment of the bill “like a snap of the finger,” he said.

Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed, however, said he could not accept Gasim’s objections as a point of order and advised the Maamigili MP to submit a complaint outside the sitting.

Backing Gasim’s stance, MDP MP Eva Abdulla – who had walked out of the committee with Gasim – contended that procedural violations at committees must be dealt with by the speaker.

As the “smallest example” of Khaleel’s misconduct, Eva alleged that the chair was participating in votes while the rules stipulate that he could only cast a vote to break a tie.

The chair was completely “disregarding” recommendations and commentary sent to the committee by the Maldives Police Service, Customs Service, Local Government Authority, and Maldives Monetary Authority, Eva claimed.

Moreover, the views of JP and MDP MPs were deliberately being ignored, she added.

Parties in the minority should be respected, she continued, warning of disruptions to proceedings at parliament sittings if the issue was not resolved.

In a second point of order, Gasim said he would not stand for the PPM misusing its parliamentary majority to get its way in flagrant violation of rules.

If the SEZ bill is passed into law without revisions, Gasim said the country’s “independence would be lost” and “certain people” would be allowed to carry out corrupt dealings.

PPM MP Riyaz Rasheed meanwhile advised resolving the dispute through dialogue in lieu of disrupting proceedings with quarrels in the chamber.

Shortly after the second session of today’s sitting resumed at 11am, Speaker Maseeh adjourned proceedings in the face of consecutive points of order raised by JP and MDP MPs.


Khaleel had told newspaper Haveeru last week that he expected to complete the review process and send the bill to the Majlis floor for a vote before the end of the month.

Parliament breaks for a one-month recess at the end of August.

As the bill was a high priority for the government, the MP for Faafu Nilandhoo said he had decided to hold two meetings for every day when there is a parliament sitting.

Khaleel had stressed that stakeholders would be consulted and technical expertise would be sought.

Prior to walking out of today’s meeting, Gasim advised that it was “very important” to specifying a period for offering tax incentives to investors instead of leaving it to the discretion of a board.

Eva meanwhile objected to PPM MPs refusing to “accommodate” any recommendations from state institutions and urged the chair to “respect parliamentary practice.”

In response, Khaleel insisted that he was conducting proceedings in accordance with the rules and that comments that were “not against the spirit of the bill” were being considered.

After the JP and MDP MPs walked out, Khaleel continued the review process – with PPM MPs and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) Leader MP Ahmed ‘Sun’ Siyam Mohamed in attendance – and put articles 34 through 48 to a vote after seeking proposed amendments.

Reflecting its simple majority in the 85-member house, the PPM-MDA coalition has voting majorities on parliamentary oversight committees.

Meanwhile, responding to criticism of the SEZ bill from the opposition, President Abdulla Yameen insisted in a speech on Monday night (August 11) that foreign investments in the zones posed no threat to Islam or Maldivian sovereignty, assuring that the businesses would be fully subject to Maldivian law.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed contends that the zones would be used for criminal enterprises, “irreligious” activities such as gambling, and money laundering.

The opposition leader had dubbed the legislation the ‘Artur Brothers bill’, referring to an infamous pair of Armenians linked with money laundering and drug trafficking who made headlines last year after they were photographed with cabinet ministers.


Parliament approves amendment for state to cover expenses of president’s private residence

Parliament today voted through an amendment to the law governing renumeration and benefits for the president and vice president making it mandatory for the state to cover expenses of the pair’s private residences.

If either the president or vice president choose not to live in the official residences, the amendments stipulate that the state should provide employees and cover other expenses required for the private residence out of the budget allocated for the official residence.

However, aside from expenses for maintaining security, the amendment states that the expenses should not include “any additional capital expenditures.”

The amendment bill proposed by ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Riyaz Rasheed was approved with 35 votes in favour, 15 against and one abstention.

The amendments (Dhivehi) were sent to a select committee for review following preliminary debate on March 31. The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party was not represented in the committee, which consisted exclusively of pro-government MPs.

Immediately after being sworn in on November 17, President Abdulla Yameen announced he and his vice president – Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed –  would be fulfilling a campaign pledge of only taking half of the MVR100,000 (US$6500) salary afforded to the head of state.

“The reason behind this is that Dr Jameel and I both live a simple life. No matter what has been said about us we are not wealthy. We want to be an example to others and lead by example,” Yameen said.

After assuming office, President Yameen announced that he would continue to live in his private residence while Dr Jameel moved into the official vice presidential residence, Hilaaleege.

However, despite Yameen’s decision, the budget allocated for the official residence was increased by MVR2 million (US$130,208) in the state budget for 2014 – rising to MVR19.1 million (US$1.2 million).

In December last year, Parliament’s Budget Review Committee Chair Gasim Ibrahim – leader of the JP – said the increased budget was necessary in case the president decides to move to Muleeage.

Highlighting the increased budget for Muleeage at the time, MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor described Yameen’s decision to live in his personal house as a “symbolic act.”

“Unlike in the past, even media points out inconsistencies in what leaders say and what reality presents these days. I do not believe the public will be deluded about any of this,” Hamid said.