Environmental coalition urges President to stop oil exploration

Twenty NGOs have urged President Abdulla Yameen to stop plans for oil exploration in Maldivian waters, or risk the country’s economic and environmental health.

In a joint statement of concern, marine conversation NGO OceanCare’s President Sigrid Lueber warned that the oil explorations could have “severe socio-economic consequences in the fisheries and tourism sector”.

After pledging during his election campaign to begin new efforts to find oil, President Yameen’s government has claimed investor interest in the project, while a German research vessel carried out a seismic survey last August.

Speaking to Minivan News today, founder of local environmental NGO Ecocare, Maeed Zahir, said that the public does not take seriously the concerns put forward by local NGOs.

“Several people have questioned our technical expertise on oil exploration and used it as an excuse to dismiss our concerns,” said Maeed. “However, with several international NGOs speaking out against the exploration we hope it will be taken more seriously.”

The statement of concern was also sent to several members of the cabinet, including fisheries minister Dr Mohamed Shainee, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, economic development minister Mohamed Saeed, and environment minister Ahmed Thoriq.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz said that only the president could comment on correspondence addressed personally to him, directing Minivan News to the relevant ministers for updates on the exploration project – none of whom were responding to calls at the time of publication.

The Maldives has also been included OceanCare’s silent oceans campaign. The NGO – which was granted Special Consultative Status with the UN’s Economic and Social Council in 2011 – is encouraging people to write to Adeeb urging an end to exploration.

Seismic impact

The NGO coalition’s statement of concern warned that exploration will have adverse effects on the Maldivian economy as a result of negative impacts on fisheries.

Seismic air guns – one of the most commonly used survey methods for offshore oil exploration – produce loud bursts of sound by introducing air into water at high pressure which then penetrates hundreds of kilometers into the earth’s crust.

OceanCare stated that the air guns produce a pulse of noise lasting 20 to 30 milliseconds, which is repeated an average of every 10 to 15 seconds, often for 24 hours a day.

“Three decades of controlled scientific studies leave no doubt that intense sound damages fish and impact fisheries,” said the Swiss NGO. “Ocean noise has a negative effect on at least 55 marine species.”

A recent study commissioned by the Namibian government revealed a sharp decline in catch as a result of increased seismic exploration in the Orange River Basin. The country’s tuna catch shrunk from 4,046 tons in 2011 to a mere 650 tons in 2013 after a shift in migratory routes.

(IMAGE: Championsforcetaceans.com)

Similarly, the Australian tuna industry has said the process may threaten the survival, abundance, or evolutionary development of native species or ecological communities.

Additionally, a recent study into the impacts of air guns on marine life ranked them as the second highest contributor of underwater noise caused by humans – only underwater nuclear detonations have been found to cause more.

The NGO statement also noted the adverse effects on marine biodiversity as a result of such surveys, pointing out that Maldivian tourism is heavily dependent on a healthy and diverse marine eco-system.

Tourism and fishing account for 90 percent of the Maldives’ GDP, while providing three-quarters of all employment and two thirds of foreign exchange earnings.

The government’s development plans include both a reduced reliance on tourism, as well as minimising the country’s dependence on imported fuel through the enhanced use of renewables. Imported fuel consumes around one third of the Maldives’ GDP.

Preliminary Research

Last year, the German research vessel ‘Sonne‘ – which came to the Maldives to conduct research into global warming – conducted preliminary research exploration free-of-charge on the government’s request.

While pointing out the importance of proper Environmental Impact Assessments in oil explorations, the coalition of environmental groups expressed concern that no such EIA or public consultation was undertaken prior to this research.

Speaking at the time, fisheries minister Dr Shainee said that explorations will be carried out in one of three areas which have properties suggesting the presence of oil and gas. The identified locations were located 100 miles east of the area between Laamu and Thaa atoll.

Shainee also said that the information obtained will be shared with the Maldives in the first quarter of 2015. He said that the data would not be shared with any third party, and that further explorations would follow to confirm any positive findings.

In February 2014, the Maldives National Oil Company Ltd – a subsidiary of the State Trading Organization – said it would soon begin advertising the country as a destination for oil exploration.

Speaking at the 18th Saarc Summit held last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India wishes to assist Maldives in its search for oil reserves, while cabinet members reported that oil exploration was on the agenda of the first China-Maldives joint commission on trade, held in December.

Related to this story

Maldives to begin oil exploration with assistance of research vessel

Oil drilling and Maldives’ tourism “cannot coexist”, says NGO Bluepeace

Maldives National Oil Company seeks assistance with oil exploration


‘Junk’ councillor takes part in SLOW LIFE Symposia

Baa atoll Maalhos Councilor Abdul Matheen Solih has said the authority has been labeled the ‘Gondu’ – or junk – council after they started actively participating in improving the island’s waste management.

“The islanders have started calling us the ‘Gondu’ after we have physically started going to the junkyard and working on the waste management,” said Matheen.

Matheen and his fellow councillors have been the labelled with the derogatory term after they set out to do what the majority of the country has failed to by recycling materials rather than burning them or dumping them in a landfill.

Public disregard for work done towards the betterment of the environment was one of the main issues raised at the recent SLOW LIFE symposia which brought local environmental NGOs, councillors, and government officials together to discuss responsible waste management and sustainability.

The symposia – held on November 17- was a sister event to the annual SLOW LIFE Symposium which has previously seen the participation of philanthropists and celebrities such as UK entrepreneur Richard Branson and actor Ed Norton.

Maalhos council also complained of the lack of response from the government to the opposition majority council, with Matheen recalling the failure to be provided with the MVR45 (US$3) needed for gloves for safety reasons while working at the junkyard.

He provided assurance, however, that the council would not succumb to the challenges, revealing plans to implement a sustainable waste management system by adopting the recycling based model currently implemented in Baa Atoll Ukulhas.

NGOS making a difference

Meanwhile, Environmental NGO Save the Beach highlighted the plight of Villingili beach – filled with garbage every weekend by visitors from the capital Malé, where there is no natural beach.

Save the Beach – which started as a youth movement in 2008 aiming to conserve the natural beauty of the Villingili beaches – now conducts clean up and awareness programs not only in Villingili but also in many other inhabited islands.

Speaking of the busy Villingili beach, co–founder Hassan Ahmed ‘Beybe’ said that the NGO has no other option but conducting daily clean-ups alongside major clean up events to keep the beach garbage free.

A recent Save the Beach organised beach clean-up saw the participation of officers and crew from the USS Rodney M Davis – the US Navy’s 7th fleet missile frigate on its last tour of duty.

When asked about the reception of the work done by the NGO, ‘Beybe’ said that they have received positive support from the Villingili community and that it now “understands the importance of preserving the beach”.

Other active NGOs present at the Symposia included his manta ray awareness and conservation organisation Manta Trust, Maldives Lifeguard Association, Dhi Youth Movement and Maldives Body Boarding Association.

Environmental Activism

Environmentalist, Aishath Niyaz who has been involved in environmental activism for over 12 years shared her experiences as an activist and highlighted some of the broader issues with the current environmental situation in the country.

“The biggest constraint is definitely managing finances. I am very lucky as I do not have huge expenses but sometimes I wonder how long I will be able to keep on going like this,” said Aishath.

Aishath’s concerns of financial difficulty were not unique to her but were echoed throughout the Symposia by many of the younger participants.

Having reviously worked at various related institutions, Aishath now provides technical support for local NGOs and small authorities after completing her education in sustainable development by making a decision to not work in institutions which “lack integrity”.

Proving that activism can be done in various forms and arts was local photographer Asad Nazeer ‘Funko’ who, while specialising in fashion and portrait photography, also creates thought provoking art pieces about pressing environmental and social issues.


The event was organised by the award-winning Soneva Fushi resort whose founders Sonu and Eva Shivdasani initiated the SLOW LIFE foundation based on the resort’s philosophies of low impact and sustainable luxury tourism with SLOW LIFE being an acronym for Sustainable-Local-Organic-Wellness and Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experiences.

While speaking at the event, Shivdasani said that the SLOW LIFE initiative reflects Soneva group’s core beliefs such as ‘intelligent luxury’ and that he believes that dedicated businesses, not governments will bring change to the world.

The participants at the Symposia were given a platform to voice their concerns over environmental sustainability in the Maldives, resulting in an action plan for the upcoming year to address these environmental challenges.

The day long symposia, which included a tour of Soneva Fush’s gardens and waste management programme, ended with discussions on ‘real’ actions that can be done in the next 12 months to contribute to the cause.

During the discussions, the individuals and NGOs chose to commit to different initiatives which will come under the banner ‘Clean Maldives’.

Related to this story

Climate experts and celebrities converge on Maldives for Slow Life Symposium


NGOs suggest government’s failure to engage is damaging civil society

As last week’s NGO conference came to close, the award ceremony – with Minister of Defence Mohamed Nazim acting as chief guest – suggested strained relations between government and civil society.

Of the 22 organisations taking part in the conference organised by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives – 12 from Malé and 10 from the atolls – not all stepped up to receive certificates from the minister.

“I believe there are more relevant figures to be the chief guest at an NGO conference the country’s defense minister,” explained one NGO representative who boycotted the ceremony.

The main aim of the conference, in addition to providing networking opportunities, was to create a forum in which the participants could share the scope of the work done by the NGOs as well as discussing greater issues faced by civil society.

NGOs involved suggest that many of those issues involved the government’s lack of effective engagement, perhaps typified by the recent decision of the immigration department – headed by minister Nazim – to introduce exit permits for migrant workers.

The controversial scheme was reversed less than two weeks after being introduced after complaints from NGOs, who had not been consulted adequately prior to its introduction.

Groups present at the conference listed migrant workers rights as one of their main areas of interest, alongside health rights, children’s rights, women’s rights, and disability rights.

Lack of support

Discussing concerns raised during the conference, Maldivian Democracy Network’s (MDN) Shahinda identified the government’s lack of financial support for NGOs as the most pressing issue facing civil society.

“For several years, the government has allotted financial support for NGOs in the state budget. However, we have never seen the support being fully realizsed even though it is stated in the budget,” said Shahinda.

HRCM Vice President Ahmed Tholal noted that, although financial support for NGOs is included in the state budget, a lot of the expenditure is spent on sports association rather than NGOs working for human rights.

“Given the lack of state financial support, NGOs often have to resort to individuals and donors,” continued Tholal. “The current public perception is that if an NGO has a donor, then it must be one sided or politically motivated. This is not true in most cases.”

A general lack of perception or an understanding of the work civil society is doing was another key issue raised during the three-day conference.

While speaking at the closing ceremony, one participant representing Muraidhoo Ekuveringe Jamiyya from Haa Alif Muraidhoo, said there was little appreciation of work done by NGOs from either the public or from government institutions.

Chairperson for the Maldives Association of Physical Disabilities, Ahmed Mohamed, commented that the general public remains unaware of disability rights.

“I think it is the duty of the government to increase awareness or work on empowering NGOs so that we can increase our outreach in spreading awareness,” said Ahmed.

MDN also suggested that the poor public appreciation of civil society and the lack of acknowledgement of NGO could be traced back to a lack of engagement from the government.

“Every year, our annual reports are sent to the home ministry which just files it. The reports detail what we do, our achievements and other relevant information. All of this is not acknowledged by the state so the general public is unaware of the work we do,” complained Shahinda.

Tholal also stressed the importance of state acknowledgment of NGO work, suggesting that public perception is shaped by the state’s response to work done by NGOs.

“NGOs are institutionalised and organised voices of the public. Government institutions have to respect statements and reports from NGOs whether they agree or disagree with the political ideology of the government,” noted Tholal.

Shahinda added that the public sometimes has unrealistic expectations of NGOs, saying that organisations do not have the capacity to deal with every single issue.

An intimidating future?

HRCM Vice President Tholal stressed that NGOs role as human rights defenders was being jeopardised as there was insufficient space and capacity to operate effectively and independently.

NGOs at the conference voiced concern over the prevalence of threats and measures made by the state to intimidate and silence civil society and other independent institutions.

“There have been numerous threats and attacks on civil society organisations and individuals. Government has done little to no work to address these threats,” said Shahinda.

Most recently, Supreme Court initiated a ‘suo moto’ proceeding against the HRCM for its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submission made to the UN, while denouncing the HRCM’s suggestions that the judiciary was controlled and influenced by the Supreme Court.

A similar proceeding – in which the court acts as both plaintiff and judge – was used in the ousting and prosecution of Elections Commission President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz in February.

In October 2013, the home ministry launched an investigation into comments made by Transparency Maldives and the Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM), saying that it would not allow any organisation to challenge the law.

Staff at anti-corruption NGO Transparency Maldives have also been subject to death threats as well as one employee being physically assaulted during the recent Majlis elections.

Asked about the future of the civil society in the Maldives, Tholal reiterated the importance of state acknowledgement in order to improve the current atmosphere.

“I believe that the civil society is the most important voice in raising issues against the state in making it more responsible,” said Tholal.

While things may get difficult, Shahinda expressed confidence that important work carried out by civil society groups would continue.

“If things do not change, it is going to be more and more challenging. However, I am sure these challenges alone will not hinder the work of the civil society”.


Political bias limiting right to information: panel

The biased editorial practices of media outlets owned by politicians is one of the major impediments preventing the right to information from being upheld in the Maldives, journalists and civil society actors highlighted during discussion panels organised by the US Embassy this week.

Maldivian journalists and NGO leaders met with representatives from the US Embassy, the UN, as well as a US attorney representing the American Society of News Editors, Kevin Goldberg, to discuss the current status and future efforts needed to protect this human right in the Maldives.

The state is the guardian of information and the public have a right to access that information, according to the forum.

This is essential for not only holding the government accountable to the public – so residents of the Maldives can understand what the government is doing for the people – but also for instilling public trust in government institutions.

Any type of information, including documents, electronic records, audio, video, etc., produced, held or maintained by a state institution should be easily accessible. Uninhibited access to events held in the public domain, such as protests, are also protected, the forum was informed.

Journalists and NGO representatives alike noted the lack of cooperation from government institutions as well as the shortcomings of media outlets in disseminating balanced information.

The media discussion panel held Monday (August 12) was nonetheless poorly attended, with three journalists from Sun Online, one Maldives Media Council (MMC) official, and one Minivan News representative participating.

While two Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC), also known as Television Maldives (TVM), reporters were present during part of Attorney Kevin Goldberg’s opening remarks, they left prior to the group discussion taking place. No representatives from the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC), Raajje TV, Villa TV (VTV), DhiTV, Haveeru News, Channel News Maldives (CNM), Miadhu News, or Minivan Radio attended the event.

Although the panel was small, discussion was lively, with everyone in attendance concerned about editorial policies that catered to the government or a specific political party, which they said had staunched the flow of information reaching the Maldivian public.

Unbalanced reporting in favor of the state during the February 2012 controversial transfer of power that followed former President Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation, as well as government authorities cutting Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) aligned-Raajje TV’s feed, were highlighted as concerns.

In addition to the need for a culture of balanced, ethical reporting, journalists highlighted the difficulty in obtaining information from various government representatives and institutions.

Goldberg noted that “information delayed is information denied”, and that procedural mechanisms should be in place to allow the public, including journalists, easy access information. The state should “proactively disclose” information of public interest, individuals “shouldn’t have to ask for it”, he said, explaining that readily available information was as much a means for public officials to protect themselves from the media as it was for the media in conducting investigative journalism.

Goldberg, as well as the Human Rights Advisor to the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office, Safir Syed, stated that MBC’s requirement that journalists be licensed to enter a protest was a human rights violation.

Goldberg emphasised that it takes time to build enough collective momentum to effectively pressure a government to uphold the right to information, and that collaboration between media outlets and civil society was essential to do so.

NGO representatives echoed the concerns noted by journalists during the discussion panel held Tuesday (August 13) and emphasised that unethical reporting and the media’s lack of cooperation with NGOs had limited civil society’s trust of local media outlets.

The inability to appeal to the judiciary to obtaining access to public information was also highlighted as a problem.

Transparency Maldives Project Director Aiman Rasheed explained to Minivan News that while Article 19 of the Maldivian Constitution guarantees the right to information, current practice was limited to the executive. He added that the right to information regime needs to be spread across all state institutions, including the judiciary, parliament, independent commissions and state companies.

Furthermore, the Maldives is a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which also protects this human right.

“The right to information is important for citizens to make informed choices, participate in the democratic process, and hold the government accountable,” said Rasheed. “Freedom of information is a key prerequisite for democracy.”


Recent bills “restrict fundamental rights,” NGOs warn

A number of bills passed by parliament in 2012 could “weaken the democratic, good governance system” and “restrict some fundamental rights,” local NGOs Transparency Maldives (TM) and Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) have warned.

In a joint statement issued today, the civil society organisations expressed concern at the potential narrowing of constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and expression as well the formation of political parties.

The statement also expressed concern with the “loss of transparency” due to the decision to conduct no-confidence motions through secret ballot.

With legislative and oversight powers over the executive and independent institutions, the NGOs noted that the People’s Majlis had “the most prominent role” in establishing democratic, good governance and protecting human rights.

The NGOs also called on the relevant authorities to ensure that MPs could fulfil their legal responsibilities “free from harassment and fear in a secure environment”

It added that the NGOs did not believe calls for dissolving parliament “could strengthen the People’s Majlis.”

On the amendment approved to the parliamentary rules of procedure to conduct no-confidence motions through a secret vote, the NGOs said it believed that decision could lead to “loss of transparency in the Majlis, pave the way for corruption and impede holding the people’s representatives accountable.”

Fear of physical harm or other forms of retribution based on such votes was not a justification for the decision, the NGOs said, contending that secret votes was “not the solution” to the purported threats.

The political parties bill meanwhile restricted the constitutional right to form political parties by requiring 10,000 members for registration, the statement continued.

“What is needed to strengthen the functioning of the party system is to increase participation of party members, party’s taking initiative to inform members of financial matters, auditing, ensuring implementation and taking measures against violations,” the statement read.

The NGOs suggested that the number of votes a party receives in general elections, number of parliamentary seats and strength of internal mechanisms could be used as a measure to provide state funding in lieu of the number of registered members.

The organisations further contended that the bill on peaceful assembly posed “serious challenges to the whole democratic system.”

The bill could restrict the constitutional right to freedom of assembly (article 32), freedom of expression (article 27) and press freedom (article 28), it added.

As article four of the constitution states that “all the powers of the state of the Maldives are derived from, and remains with, the citizens,” both NGOs warned that narrowing the fundamental rights guaranteed by the second chapter of the constitution would “facilitate taking away from the public the powers that remain with them.”

The legislation on freedom of assembly was passed on December 25 with 44 votes in favour and 30 against.

MPs of the formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party voted against the bill, which would outlaw demonstrations outside designated areas and require accreditation for media to cover protests.

Parliamentary privileges

Transparency Maldives and Maldivian Democracy Network also expressed concern with the controversial parliamentary privileges bill passed last month.

The bill was submitted in late 2010 and became the subject of controversy and public outrage. In January 2011, a group of “concerned citizens” demonstrated and petitioned then-President Mohamed Nasheed urging him to veto the legislation.

The bill was passed on December 27, 2012 with Speaker Abdulla Shahid casting the tie-breaking vote.

The vote was tied 31-31 with three abstentions. Most MPs of the opposition MDP voted against it and later raised concerns with some of the clauses.

In its statement, the NGOs insisted that the parliamentary privileges bill should have been “based on the concept of privileges stated in article 90 of the constitution” to uphold the “integrity of the institution” and ensure that MPs could fulfil their duties “free of undue influence”.

Article 90(a) states, “No member or other person shall be liable to any proceedings in any court, and no person shall be subject to any inquiry, arrest, detention or prosecution, with respect to anything said in, produced before, or submitted to the People’s Majlis or any of its committees, or with respect to any vote given if the same is not contrary to any tenet of Islam.”

Moreover, article 90(b) states, “No person or newspaper or journal shall be liable in respect of any report or proceedings made or published under the authority of the People’s Majlis, or in respect of any fair and accurate report of the proceedings of the People’s Majlis or any of its committees, where this is done in accordance with principles specified by the People’s Majlis.”

The NGOs contended that the parliamentary privileges bill violated the spirit of article 90 of the constitution and contained “inappropriate financial and other benefits” for MPs.

The NGOs concluded their statement by calling on parliament to review the bills passed during the third session of 2012.

The statement urged MPs to consider the constitution and human rights as well as “international general principles and measures” in its review of the approved legislation.

Beyond privileges

In a video message posted on his personal blog yesterday (January 1), Independent MP for Kulhudhufushi South Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed explained that the “main reason” he voted against the privileges bill was because it “contained a number of clauses outside the meaning of privileges.”

Parliamentary privileges should be construed as eliminating obstacles to fulfilling MPs’ legal responsibility, Nasheed said.

Former Information and Legal Reform Minister Nasheed objected to clauses in the bill specifying financial benefits for MPs as well as jail terms for persons found guilty of violating  MPs’ privileges.

“In my view, when we are implementing these things for the first time, we could settle for fines instead of big criminal punishments,” he said.

Nasheed also disagreed with a clause that allows convicted MPs serving a jail term or sentence of less than 12 months to participate in parliamentary proceedings. MPs convicted to longer than a year would lose their seats.

The bill also stipulates that MPs who serve one five-year term would receive 30 percent of their pay as a retirement pension upon reaching 55 years of age and 45 percent as a pension if they serve two five-year terms.

Nasheed noted that seven percent of an MP’s salary was contributed to the pension fund under the existing pension law, which the bill did not address.

Moreover, Nasheed contended that the bill conflicted with a number of provisions in the parliamentary rules of procedure or standing orders.

Among other issues he raised, Nasheed noted that punishments for offences specified in the bill contravened punishments in existing laws and that the parliamentary secretary-general was to receive “the security offered to the Speaker of Parliament, a state car and a diplomatic passport.”

Nasheed also observed that the legislation did not settle the question of whether MPs could refer to ongoing court cases during parliamentary debates.

While the bill states that official secrets must not be disclosed, Nasheed said it did not specify a penalty for the offence.

Nasheed also expressed concern with the absence of ethical guidelines or rules for MPs in exercising powers to demand and receive any information – “for example, a person’s bank account, information regarding his health, information on loans he has taken.”

According to the privileges legislation, persons who refuse to comply with such demands for information, documents or records would face penalties or punishments specified in the bill.

As both the executive and judiciary would have special privileges as well, Nasheed suggested that such a bill should “balance the scale” between the three powers of state.


Comment: The mixed story of the rise of Islamism in the Maldives

One of the many lessons of the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor’s magisterial book, A Secular Age, is how religion continues to exist and continues to be relevant.

The relevance is not only limited to religion’s potential for creating identity and meaning in life.

Religion’s relevance also lies in the moral and epistemological limitations of the virulent forms of atheistic exclusive humanism and hardcore naturalistic ‘science’ that Richard Dawkins, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and their ilk seem to be promoting.

Religion’s potential for solidarity and taking the cause of justice and vulnerable forms of life, is as relevant as ever.

Its potential for an ultimate explanation against an unfounded scientific reductionism cannot be blindly and arrogantly dismissed.

Rise of Islamism and electoral democracy

During the last seven or so years, coinciding with (or in response to) democratisation, the most spectacular religious phenomenon in the Maldives is the rise of Islamism. At least twelve Islamic/Islamist NGOs were registered between 2004-2010. Prior to 2004, there were no more than three organisations with the specific goal of religion.

But re-Islamisation led by Islamism itself should not be taken as alarming for at least ‘electoral democracy’.

If popular participation in politics can be an indication of support for democracy, the voter turnout in February 2011’s local elections stood at around 70%, which is comparable to past turnouts for parliamentary elections. Equally important, Islamist Adalath Party fared quite badly in all three elections since 2008.

However, re-Islamisation seems to have had, and will continue to have, mixed results for the society and politics.

Questioning religion

As late as the mid-1970s, ethnographic research in the Maldives could conclude that Islam of the people was largely limited to ‘washing, praying and fasting’.

What this means can best be contrasted by describing what James Piscatori and Eickelman call ‘objectification of Muslim consciousness’. They explain that this is ‘the process whereby basic questions come to the fore in the consciousness of large numbers of believers’.

This process has become a salient feature of all Muslim societies. Similarly, this growing objectification of consciousness, largely over the past decade, became the most important religious development in the Maldives. Its main feature includes fragmentation and pluralization of religious discourses.

For sociologists like Jose Casanova this could ultimately mean an Islamic aggiornamento, or a sort of reform that took place in the Second Vatican when Catholicism finally endorsed democracy and human rights in the 1970s. But should we be so optimistic?

Judging from data and people’s comments, often here on Minivan News, it would be hard for some of us in the Maldives to see any positives from objectification of our religious consciousness.

Indeed, in the Maldives what we have seen is a sort of reflexive re-Islamisation: through responding to the terms of alternative discourses (e.g. democracy and human rights) and processes of global modernity, the society seems to be undergoing a new re-traditionalization.

Mixed Results of Islamism

We could observe two parallel processes led by Islamism in the Maldives. It seems to be a striking reversal of what had happened since the 1970s.

First, there is an attempt at de-secularising the actual community. The most obvious example is public piety such as the Muslim veil.

But there is also an attempt at re-Islamising the functional spheres like the economy. Islamic banking or riba-free business is a case in point.

Call for re-Islamising the national curriculum, call against music and entertainment, and rise in ‘creationism’ pseudo-science, are important examples too.

Perhaps a more important example is greater de-privatisation of religion: Islamist organizations and Islamist media outlets have proliferated in the public sphere. Their influence in the political society and the state has increased (e.g., a religious ministry led by Islamists).

But here is the other side of the picture. Islamist attempts at ‘rationalisation’ and ‘objectification’, or in short ‘purification’ of the society, seem to have mixed results for the dominant national consciousness.

The powerful motif of a ‘100% Muslim nation’ may no longer serve as a taken-for-granted, internalised background. It may no longer be a largely unconscious sacralised background understanding of the nation.

The signs of this change could already be seen from the increased sarcastic deployment of ‘sattain satta muslim qaum’ (e.g., ‘are we really a 100% Muslim nation?’), especially by Islamists to decry the alleged failure of officials to make the society ‘Islamic enough’.

If this is so, there is not only de-secularisation. There is a sort of ‘secularisation’ taking place too. This is a secularisation of the imagined community, of the taken-for-granted national consciousness. Ironically, reflexive re-Islamisation is driving this secularisation.

Now, why does this matter? Here is one reason why it matters.

Freedom of religion

This sort of secularisation of the national consciousness seems to be a condition of effective religious liberty. Even if political secularism was to be enshrined in the Constitution, freedom of religion might not be effective without this sort of secularisation of the ‘imagined community’.

The poignant suicide of a young man, possibly because he felt he betrayed his ‘comrades-in-identity’ (i.e. the rest of us Muslims) is a case in point. His desperate email is telling: ‘Maldivians are proud of their religious homogeneity and I am learning the hard way that there is no place for non-Muslim Maldivians in this society.’

One cannot only legally be non-Muslim; but more importantly such a person may be dismissed as unworthy. If this is so, political secularism itself may not be a sufficient condition of liberty without secularisation now seemingly driven by reflexive re-Islamisation. (Here then is also a lesson for the arrogant global (i.e. the US) project of bringing freedom of religion to the world.)

Awareness of the Other

If the above interpretation is correct, we could increasingly experience these phenomena:

i) Through objectification of the taken-for-granted national consciousness, an increased awareness of the existence of some fellow Maldivians with different worldviews and faiths.

ii) Through a process of de-secularisation of the actual community, intense reflexive and political bulwarks (especially by Islamists) against this cross-pressured awareness.

I think both of these things are taking place.

Political Reconciliation of the Cross-Pressure

How we finally politically reconcile this awareness is the ultimate condition of the possibility or impossibility for democracy – and therefore equality, liberty, fraternity – in this over two-millennia-old country.

This is not a place for advocacy. But for this political reconciliation, a necessary, but not sufficient, condition is a dose of humility from the full political and social spectrum.

As a colleague at the government once pointed out, as a first step, the government needs to get over with its ‘hubris’ of going it alone.

Azim Zahir has a BA in Philosophy and Politics and is completing his MA degree at the University of Sydney.

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]


MDP MP attacks committee allowance protesters for invading MPs privacy

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Musthafa has said that protesters against MPs committee allowance have invaded the privacy of MPs and violated MPs privileges, after the protesters put up posters of photos of MPs with their personal mobile phone numbers.

“MPs have been subjected to disturbances from citizens that hate them, and publishing the personal mobile number of MPs invades the privacy and privileges of MPs,” Musthafa said. “They have invaded our personal life by doing that.”

Musthafa said he had asked Speaker Abdulla Shahid to look into the matter, and said he was looking forward to hearing from the parliament.

“I think the parliament will issue a press release today, I am looking forward to it,” he said. “Shahid is currently abroad on an official trip so I sent him a text message to bring it to his attention.”

Musthafa said that some MPs have said they are unable to use their numbers any longer.

“One MP told me that he had been using his number for 12 years and the number was used for international relations as well, but he said now he has no other choice but to throw it away and get a new number,” he said. “How the NGOs acted on this matter is very disappointing, they could have done it a better way.”

He alleged that were “senior figures” behind the NGOs.

“MPs are members representing constituencies and become an MP with the consent of their constituency, so people should have at least some respect for them,” Musthafa said.

In the text message sent to Speaker Shahid, Musthafa said that it was very concerning that MPs personal contact numbers had been published on a poster with their photo in Majeedee Magu.

He told Shahid that the personal details of MPs could not be published without their consent, alleging that culprits had asked people to call and disturb the MPs.

“It is the legal duty of the parliament to find out the culprits, and they should be prosecuted and action should be taken,” Musthafa said.

Project Coordinator of Transparency Maldives Aiman Rasheed’s mobile phone and landline was not reachable and he was unavailable for comment.

Parliament meanwhile issued a press statement today noting that the constitution protected the privacy of individuals.

“Matters should be brought to MPs’ attention responsibly in a way that does not undermine their dignity and reputation or create difficulties in their personal lives,” it reads, adding that making MPs photos and contact information public “as a nusisance to them” was a “matter of concern.”

Noting that MPs had special privileges under the law, it continues, “any action that undermines MPs’ dignity can be seen as violating MPs’ privileges.”

The statement concludes by urging the public not to violate “social norms” in contacting MPs.

A Majlis media official confirmed to Minivan News today that only 19 of 77 MPs have written requesting that the lump sum of Rf140,000 not be desposited with their salaries. They include 16 MDP MPs, Independent MP ‘Kutti’ Mohamed Nasheed and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and his wife MP Visam Ali.

Last Monday Aiman told Minivan News that the campaign against the committee allowance will continue and there was hope for success.

“Today we presented the Finance Ministry 1365 letters signed by concerned citizens and eight cabinet members, plus high-profile people across the country,” he said at the time.

“We have made plans to continue the letter campaign and to make the citizens aware of the impacts of this committee allowance.”

MP salaries have increased 18-fold since 2004, according to a graph released by the NGO.

The committee allowance was Rf18 million, Rasheed said. “In comparison, the budget to combat drugs is Rf 14 million, the budget subsiding the fishing industry is Rf12 million, medical services Rf18 million and the budget for small and medium businesses is Rf16 million,” he said, adding that these areas would be impacted by the increased expenditure on MPs.


Addicts, dealers and NGOs: dealing with drugs in the Maldives

A coalition of local NGOs conducted a workshop yesterday to review new drug laws proposed by the government.

Ahmed Adam, chairperson of drugs NGO Journey, said drug abuse was a “national issue” that urgently required a solution.

”We wish the MPs would cooperate with us hope they do not think this bill was politically motivated,” he said.

A number of participants at the workshop expressed concern about the difficulty they had reaching MPs. Adam said MPs had not even attended meetings to discuss the bill despite numerous invitations.

Among the NGOs represented at the workshop were Journey, Hand to Hand, Maldivian Detainee Network and Transparency Maldives.

History of drug use

Adam, a recovered drug addict, spoke briefly about the history of drug use in the Maldives.

Historical documents that reveal travellers who visited to the Maldives in the 16th century observed opium being used inside the palace, he said.

Moreover, in the 18th century, Indian traders introduced cannabis to the country.

”In 1972, with the advent of tourism in the country, most people started smoking grass,” he said.

The government was only alerted to what was happening much later, he added.

Adam said ‘brown sugar’, the low-grade heroin that is prevalent in the country, was introduced after the mass arrests of marijuana users in the early 90s.

A drug centre was established for the first time in the Maldives in 1997.

NGOs discussion

The discussions at the workshop focused on both the reasons why people get hooked on drugs and methods of prevention.

NGOs were divided into four groups and together discussed the drug epidemic and ways to solve it.

Among the factors identified that drove people to drug use were parental neglect, congestion and lack of privacy and space at home that draws children out to streets, peer pressure, lifestyle decisions as well as lack of job opportunities and proper role models.

The NGOs argued in favour of categorisation of drugs in the bill and called for the introduction of different methods and models for treatment apart from the existing therapeutic community (TC) model.

TC was not adequate for all types of drug addicts, they insisted.

While drug smuggling could be prevented by imposing penalties on customs officials suspected of accepting bribes, higher penalties should be imposed on convicted drug dealers, they agreed.

Drug traffickers and money they earn

Minivan News spoke anonymously to an individual who divulged information on drug trafficking in the Maldives.

He claimed that he sold drugs because he felt “pity for the sick people” [drug addicts] and did not want “to isolate them from society.”

He added that he did not face “any trouble” in attracting customers.

”If we sell good quality stuff to one person, he will go and tell his friends that we have good stuff and they also will start buying from us,” he said.

He claimed to earn “at least Rf15,000 every day” (US$1167) selling drugs, approximately Rf465,000 per month (US$36,186).

”Everyday one person will buy at least three to five packets, sometimes people from the islands come and buy 40 packets also,” he said, claiming that each 0.03 gram packet (of brown sugar) cost Rf100.

Almost one or two kilograms were smuggled into the country at a time, he explained.

The rise in crime was because drug addicts needed to feed their addiction, he said.

“All gangs are operated by people and money. Gangs earn money by selling drugs. If someone gets stabbed also the gangs would provide them with medication and financial assistance.”

Moreover, he said, “gangsters” would not have any source of income without dealing drugs.

“Real drug dealers” meanwhile, do not use drugs themselves, he said. The drug of choice for Maldivian youth was brown sugar, he added.

“There’s also hash oil, ‘white stuff’ and Charas [resin from the hemp plant] also in the market.”

While more treatment facilities and job opportunities should be offered to combat drug addiction, he said, ”drug dealers should be stopped first, but [the government] can never do that. Drug dealers are assisted by high-profile people in the country,” he said.

“First, they should figure out who they are and stop them, then come after the drug dealers. Then there will be no drug abusers in the country.”


Discrepancies in rape statistics highlighted in NGOs report

A coalition of NGOs have condemned the performance of the judiciary and the State for its treatment of criminal cases, especially those concerning rape.

Maldivian Detainee Network, Trasparency Maldives, Rights for All, Maldives Aid, Madulu, Democracy House, Maldives NGO Federation and Strength of Society issued a statement “condemning the increase in serious crime and the failure of the state and responsible authorities to convict those responsible for these crimes.”

The statement referred to statistics on crimes such as murder, child abuse, assault with sharp weapons, and threats to journalists and others in the media, comparing these with the number of crimes investigated by police, the number sent to the Prosecutor General’s office and the number tried in the Criminal Court.

The NGOs said the blame for the “failure to deliver justice” should not be placed on the new democratic system or human rights safeguards, “but rather [on] the unsatisfactory implementation of these systems and safeguards.”

They “note with great concern that there is not a single case of ‘rape’ in the statistics maintained by either the PG or the Criminal Court.”

Technical misunderstanding

Information provided by the Maldives Police Service (MPS) to Transparency Maldives states that in 2009 ten cases of rape were reported to police, eight of which were investigated and five sent to the Prosecutor General (PG)’s office.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said in the instance of these rape cases, the three that had been labelled as ‘finished’ by police but were not sent to the PG were still “being checked” by police before being sent to the PG’s office.

“Sometimes we check and update information,” Shiyam said, “and there could be other documents being collected.”

Information gathered by the coalition of NGOs from the Criminal Court show zero cases under ‘rape’ were prosecuted in 2008 and 2009.

But Senior Judge at the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed said the Criminal Court had processed six cases of rape during the year.

Deputy Prosecutor General Hussein Shameem said the discrepancy was “a misunderstanding of technical terms.”

“If consent is lacking, regardless of whether or not there was intercourse, the case would fall under sexual misconduct,” he said.

Shameem said when the PG’s office received cases from the police, they decided whether or not to prosecute it depending on the evidence.

He added that the statistics from the police might “not give a clear idea” of the number of cases, as the PG’s office might prosecute for a different offence.

“For example, if police investigate a case for rape, and within the document we find evidence for battery and assault, we would prosecute both charges.”

In the document provided by the Criminal Court, 37 cases falling under the category of “sexual misconduct” are shown as being received by the court.

Of those, nine were dismissed due to lack of evidence while fourteen were tried.

Aishath Velazinee from the Judicial Service Commission said the remaining fourteen cases did not appear asdismissed or tried because they were still being processed by the court.

She said that “because rape is not a crime under the current Penal Code” cases of rape would fall under the category of “sexual misconduct”.

“The existing Penal Code is not adequate,” she noted, adding that under the new Penal Code (which is still tabled in the Parliament) rape, including spousal rape, would be considered a crime under its own category.

Rising concerns, rising crime

The coalition of NGOs said “lack of communication between the [State] authorities” was one of the “main reasons behind the recent failure to convict criminals.”

They called upon the State to “comprehensively study and identify the causes for the recent rise in crime, in particular, identify why convicted criminals are able to offend repeatedly.”

The Human Rights Commission Maldives (HRCM) has also recently condemned the rise in crime.

In their 2009 annual report released on 9 March 2010, they claimed the crime rates in the country had risen, and communities in the Maldives have reached a state of fear, mainly because of “failure to enforce sentences for convicts.”

The United States 2009 annual country reports on human rights, published on 11 March 2010, also expressed concern for increased violence against women in the Maldives and lack of convictions by the judiciary.

The report cited that “In 2008 the Ministry of Gender and Family released data showing an increase in the reported cases of violence against women, although NGOs believed that most cases remained unreported.”