Former Nasheed employees deny media claims of excessive PR spending

Additional reporting by Zaheena Rasheed

Former members of President Mohamed Nasheed’s press team have denied charges of ‘excessive’ spending on PR during his term, arguing the Maldives had enjoyed an enviable international reputation on democracy, human rights, and the environment.

Yesterday (January 14), Haveeru published an article titled ‘Excessive state expenditure on President Nasheed’s film and press team’, claiming the President’s Office had spent MVR2.86 million (US$185,000) on three British employees.

According to Haveeru, the President’s Office spent MVR1.16 million on Communications Advisor Paul Roberts, MVR1.05 million on lawyer Jude Laing and MVR650,000 on Climate Change Advisor Mark Lynas.

Sun Online also reported having obtained the same documents this week (January 13).

Responding to questions regarding President Abdulla Yameen’s frequent trips abroad, President’s Office Spokesman Ibrahim Muaz told Minivan News the day before (January 12) that he would gladly comply with the spirit of the Information Act: “even if president Nasheed’s travel expenses and information on how many foreigners he employed, paid by the state, was requested”.

The President’s Office was not responding to calls at the time of publication.

Roberts has today said he had been employed with the press team under former Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair for a monthly salary of MVR29,000 in 2009 and MVR34,000 from 2010 onwards.

“During President Nasheed’s tenure, the Maldives achieved an enviable international reputation, and was widely hailed internationally as a beacon of democracy and human rights. The country and its president also became leading global voices in the fight against climate change,” he said in an email.

Roberts noted that former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom had employed PR firm Hill and Knowlton at a total cost of MVR26 million (US$1.6 million) while Nasheed’s successor Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan hired Ruder Finn for a reported MVR2.3 million (US$150,000) per month.

Lynas – author of prize winning book ‘Six Degrees: Our future on a hotter planet’ – said he had worked pro bono for Nasheed during the first few months of his appointment as Climate Change Advisor in 2009 before later being paid a small stipend of US$950.

In an email to Minivan News, he said his responsibilities included providing scientific advice on the latest evidence and projections for climate change impacts, and suggestions on how the Maldives could further its international climate advocacy work on plans to become carbon neutral by 2020.

For the duration of his posting, Lynas was based in Oxford, UK. However, he attended various climate meetings as a Maldives climate advisor – including UN negotiations in South Africa, Mexico, Chile, Malawi, and Samoa.

“During the period of my employment, under President Nasheed’s administration, the Maldives was one of the most visible nations in the world in terms of diplomacy and influence in climate change,” Lynas said.

“Unfortunately, events since then have shown that other political leaders and forces do not share basic values of human rights, democracy and freedom of the press – sadly this has undermined the country’s reputation on the international stage, on climate change as well as other issues.”

Haveeru also said it had obtained documents that show the President’s Office bore the expenses of the San Francisco based Actual Film crew during the filming of the ‘Island President’.

The award winning documentary was produced at a cost of US$1.5 million with funds from the Ford Foundation, the Sundance Institute, American Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Atlantic Foundation.

The paper did not reveal the amount spent on the crew of Actual Films, but said leaked documents did not reveal details of the expenses born by the state.

Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party suggested responses to this week’s media coverage should be obtained from the individuals concerned. Minivan News is awaiting a reply from Actual Films and Jude Laing.

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Sean Paul threat a hoax to create atmosphere of fear, says President’s Office

The President’s Office has said that the online death threat against Jamaican dancehall artist Sean Paul was a “local hoax” aimed at damaging the country’s reputation.

“The investigation has revealed that the threat is designed to dissuade visitors, create an atmosphere of fear and disappoint the many thousand fans of Mr. Sean Paul who eagerly await the landmark concert in the capital, Male’.”

“The threat is also aimed at tarnishing the longstanding reputation of the Maldives as a destination of peace, security, and tranquility,” continued a statement released today (December 28).

The video (since removed) promised that “the world will see your burnt and blood drenched dead body,” should the artist perform in the Maldives.

Representatives of the singer are reported to be undecided about whether the performance is to go ahead.

Although the logo of the Bilad Al Sham Media (BASM) group appeared in the Youtube video, the Syrian-based jihadi group immediately distanced itself from the threat, also suggesting a hoax designed to defame the country’s reputation.

Though it condemned the concert itself as an “ideological attack” on the youth, BASM accused the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party of being behind the threat.

Despite assurances from tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb that the concert would continue, Islamic minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has criticised the decision to hold the event.

Similarly, Adhaalath Party MP Anara Naeem and religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf have since spoken out against the concert.

The President’s Office today noted that the Maldives was famous for its peaceful people and its safety as a destination for over one million tourists a year.

“However, local authorities will take every possible measure to ensure the safety of Mr. Sean Paul and all his adoring fans in the Maldives, to ensure that the concert is a resounding success.”

Police have corroborated the President’s Office statement, saying that their investigations into the incident had revealed the threat to have been a hoax.

Message from artist

Meanwhile, Sean Paul has thanked the people of the Maldives for inviting him to perform, noting that he was aware of the concerns raised by some ahead of the concert.

“I have felt the love and support from many Maldivian citizens looking forward to the concert,” read a message posted on the singer’s official Facebook page.

“I have also heard the concerns of some citizens regarding the concert and the concerns of my fellow Jamaicans.”

“During this very holy season for people of all faiths, I pray for peace.”

Jamaican media yesterday reported that a final decision on whether Paul would perform was yet to be made, following the threat posted on Youtube on December 25.

“It is because I have the utmost respect for various religions and cultures that I have sought to travel the world to learn and to share,” read the status update on Paul’s page today.

“I support freedom of expression within whichever context best suits you and do not judge others based on their religious beliefs.”

Sean Paul’s publicist has been quoted in the Jamaican Observer as saying that the discussions with event organisers were ongoing.

“We are aware of the developing situation. We are currently in contact with all related parties concerning the concert to address the matter. No further details are available at this time,” Carlette DeLeon told the paper.

The ‘Tourist Arrival Countdown Show’ has been organised by event management company Chopart after tourism minister Adeeb invited the grammy award winning singer to perform in a free concert as part of the government’s tourism promotion efforts.

Although the event’s posters feature the ‘Sunny side of life’ logo of the Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation, when contacted by Minivan News today, the corporation said that it was not involved in arranging the event.

When contacted for further comment today, Islamic minister Shaheem stated only that the concert was not being arranged by his ministry before declining to comment further.

Tourism minister Adeeb was not responding to calls at the time of publication.

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Four applicants for auditor general’s job

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz has told local media that applications from four individuals have been received for post of auditor general.

While the application deadline ended on Monday, Muaz stated that the applications are currently being processed. He declined from providing any information regarding the applicants other than saying that none were females.

On October 29, the parliament approved an amendment proposed by ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Thoriq to the Audit Act enabling the president to reappoint the auditor general, four years before the end of the incumbent Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim’s seven year term.

The recent amendment stipulates that the president must submit a nomination for the post to the parliament 30 days from the ratification of the act.

The amendment was passed despite the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members’ argument that it should not have been put to a vote as it allows the discharging of the incumbent without following the constitutional provisions for impeachment.

The amendment came into effect on the same day that the Auditor General signed a damning report into an alleged US$6 milllion corruption scandal involving PPM Deputy Leader and Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb – a report Adeeb claimed was politically motivated.

Earlier in November, Niyaz Ibrahim told local media that he will not be reapplying for the post, and that instead he intends to challenge the constitutionality of the amendment in court.


Human Rights Commission summoned to Supreme Court

Members of the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) have been summoned to appear before the Supreme Court next week.

The summons closely follows the HRCM’s report for the UN Human Rights Council’s (HRC) Universal Periodic Review, submitted earlier this week which criticised the court’s growing powers.

“Judicial system is controlled and influenced by the Supreme Court, weakening judicial powers vested in other superior courts and lower courts,” wrote the commision for the HRC’s examination of human rights in the Maldives.

Members of the commission have revealed that the summons, originally for today (September 18) has been delayed until September 22 due to the current absence of members from the capital, Malé.

The President’s Office has today criticised the report, suggesting in particular that sections on the death penalty could mislead international opinion.

Minivan News understands that the letter of the Supreme Court summons says only that the HRCM is being summoned “for the purposes of the court”.

Changes to contempt of court regulations made in June authorised courts to initiate legal proceedings and punish individuals for any expression, action, gesture, or piece of writing “inside or outside a courtroom” that could be considered contempt of court.

Contempt of court charges were also used to dismiss senior members of the Elections Commission (EC) just weeks before March’s Majlis elections.

Constitutionally protected testimonies given to the Majlis was included in evidence used to remove EC President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz for violating article 141 of the Constitution – which prohibits interference with the functioning of the courts.

The HRCM was accused of interfering in the work of the Juvenile Court earlier this year following a report on the infamous case of an abused 15-year-old sentenced to flogging. The court summoned commission members after suggesting the report contained false information.

Through a raft of regulations enacted in recent months, the Maldives Supreme Court has sought to consolidate control over administrative affairs of the judiciary.

The HRCM report to the UN said that “due to shortfalls in judicial system, functioning of the judiciary is often questionable on various grounds including independence, transparency, interference, influence, competency, consistency, and accessibility”.

Criticism and confusion

The report – part of a study of the human rights records of all 193 UN member states – has been criticised by the President’s Office, which has suggested the report was “very confusing” on the death penalty issue.

The ‘Child Rights’ section of the report calls for the abolition of the “death penalty” for minors after moves to end the 60-year moratorium earlier this year.

While the revised Penal Code, passed in April, ensures those under 15-years cannot be held criminally responsible, minors can still be charged for Hadd offences, with death sentences not carried out until 18-years of age.

“The Government of Maldives is not going to give the death penalty to children,” President’s Office Spokesman Ibrahim Muaz told Minivan News today.

Comments from the Swiss delegation on the Maldives’ death penalty policy, made during the general debate session of Tuesday’s HRC meeting, prompted an angry response from Maldivian counterparts.

After being criticised by the Swiss for changing legislation “to permit the death penalty for children as young as 7 years old”, the Maldives itself attacked statements “rooted on misrepresentation and media speculation”.

Legal sources told Minivan News that, while the new Penal Code does include the “immaturity excuse” – removing criminal responsibility from those under 15, Article 15c still allows for minors to be held accountable for hadd offences.

Human Rights Commission member Jeehan Mahmood has defended the overall report submitted for the UPR.

“It’s the one chance we get to bring the world’s attention to issues that the state chooses to ignore on domestic forums”.


Agreements on bridge and airport penned during Chinese president’s visit

The historic visit of Chinese President Xi Jinpeng today saw MoUs signed on the development of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport and promoting the construction of the Male-Hulhulé bridge.

Following a lively welcoming ceremony – featuring a Chinese dragon, Maldivian dancing, and a 21 gun salute – President Xi and President Abdulla Yameen observed the signing of eight MoUs.

The visit has also seen the signing of a preliminary contract agreement on the development of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

Xi’s arrival marks the first visit to the Maldives by a Chinese president in the 42 years since diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in October, 1972.

The most notable MoU concerned the promoting the construction of the long-awaited Male-Hulhulé Bridge – with a replica awaiting President Xi’s arrival at Republic Square this morning.

A foreign ministry statement has said that the Chinese government will “favourably consider” providing financial support for the project.

Both presidents also launched two Chinese funded and implemented projects concerning housing in Hulhumalé and a link road in Laamu Atoll. The housing project is to be financed through concessional loans, while the 15.1km Laamu road project will be constructed through non-reimbursable aid financing.

Other MoUs were signed on health sector promotion, establishing a joint committee on trade and economic cooperation, strengthening cooperation between the foreign ministries of both countries, and establishing a joint mechanism on dealing with the issue of safety and security of Chinese tourists visiting the Maldives.

President Yameen also revealed that further development of the tourism industry had been discussed during today’s talks, expressing hope that Chinese arrivals would increase three-fold over the next four years. Chinese tourists currently make up around 30 percent of all arrivals to the country.

During a joint press conference on Monday at the President’s Office, President Yameen thanked China for its assistance, stating that “graduation from a less developed country has come with enormous challenges and hardships.”

“As a small island state, we are at a disadvantaged position in global commerce and trade. Our socio-economic development forecast changed dramatically with the status of a middle income country”.

“At such a crucial juncture in our development, it is indeed a source of major encouragement and inspiration that one of our most trusted economic partners is willing to support our national effort to transform our economy, bringing happiness to our youthful population and promoting trade and investment,” he stated.

New phase

In addition to the Maldivian President, President Xi Jinping and his delegation have also met with Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed and other senior government officials.

Chinese Ambassador to the Maldives Wang Fukang – signatory of a number of today’s MoUs – told Chinese media that, after decades of development ties, the bilateral relationship had entered a new phase

“China has helped with several construction projects in the Maldives, including the foreign ministry building, and the national museum. This has been totally free of cost. We have also helped the country build a thousand residential homes,” said Wang.

A press release from the President’s Office reveals that the Housing Project’s Phase II will be funded through concessional loan financing by the Government of China, and implemented by the China Machinery Engineering Corporation.

Yameen also praised the New Silk Road project, reported by Chinese state media to be pass the intended site of the Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project – or ‘iHavan’ – in the northernmost atoll in the Maldives.

“Maldives is now honoured to feature among China’s partners in building a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road – a unique vision of President Xi which will bring Asian neighbours closer together,” said Yameen at this morning’s press conference.

In an op-ed published in local media ahead of the visit, President Xi called for the Maldives “to get actively involved in building the 21st century maritime Silk Road by leveraging its own strength.”

“China looks forward to working with Maldives to speedily translate this cooperation initiative into reality so as to boost the development and prosperity of all countries and the rise of Asia,” wrote President Xi.

The foreign ministry reports that the Maldives is prepared to actively participate in relevant cooperation with regard to the establishment of the Silk Road, and that the two countries further agreed to cooperate in the fields of maritime issues, economy, and security.


Former political appointees and staff of abolished Transport Ministry to be transferred

Political appointees from the defunct Transport Ministry have been moved to other departments.

Civil Service Commission Secretary General Mohamed Faizal has confirmed that none of the civil servants who worked there would lose their jobs.

“We are currently in the process of transferring them to the ministries to which the departments they served under have been delegated. They will be getting their salaries without interruption even while we are working on the transfers,” Faizal explained.

Faizal stated that the staff do not have a say regarding which ministry they are transferred to, and that the commission will instead be transferring them to whichever ministry is currently delegated with running their previous department.

According to him, no changes will be brought to their posts or salaries as a result of the change.

Former Ministers of State for Transport and Communication Abdul Latheef Mohamed and Mohamed Anees have been appointed to the same posts at the Ministry of Economic Development, the President’s Office has revealed.

Their colleague, Minister of State Mohamed Ibrahim, has also been transferred to the same post at the Ministry of Environment and Energy.

Meanwhile, the removal of Deputy Transport Minister Ikram Hassan and Executive Coordinator Mohamed Azeem have been announced today. Three other deputy ministers were also removed from their posts with the abolition of the ministry on June 19.

Work conducted at the ministry has since been delegated to other ministries and institutions.

The Regional Airports Department has been transferred to the Ministry of Tourism, while the Transport Authority has been transferred to the Ministry of Economic Development.

The Communications Authority of Maldives was transferred under the Ministry of Home Affairs, although a number of other functions formerly fulfilled by the Transport Ministry have been delegated to the Environment, Home, Economic Development and Finance ministries.

Following the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives severing its coalition agreement with the Jumhooree Party(JP) in May, President Abdulla Yameen dismissed Transport Minister Ameen Ibrahim – who was filling a JP cabinet slot – from the post.


Vice president continues search for investors during China visit

President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has attended the 9th China-South Asia Business Forum during his official visit to China, reiterating the government’s focus on increasing foreign investments and strengthening the economy.

Speaking at the event, Jameel stated that his government prioritised economic transformation, youth empowerment, and domestic security, read a statement on the official President’s Office website.

He further spoke of the government’s aim to encourage foreign investment and capital in order to implement the Yameen administration’s economic development programmes and projects.

President Abdulla Yameen has promised a number of ‘mega projects’ during his term, pledging legislation to create a more welcoming investor climate, and organising a landmark investment forum in Singapore in April in order to find potential foreign investors.

The vice president further stated that corporate China has shown interest in engaging in infrastructure development projects in the Maldives. He assured Chinese investors that the government would do all possible to ensure a “flexible and efficient investment climate”.

To this end, the government last week introduced legislation to create special economic zones (SEZ) in strategic locations, with Economic Minister Mohamed Saeed – also present on the China trip – suggesting that the move might help the country end its reliance on tourism.

Jameel noted that China has been the number one tourism market for the Maldives since 2010, predicting that the number of Chinese arrivals – accounting for one in every four tourists in 2014 – will continue to grow.

During the trip, Jameel has also attended the 2nd China-South Asia Expo, where he repeated his belief that foreign investment is crucial for economic growth, private sector development and wealth creation.

“Our government firmly believes that broad based, private sector-led growth is essential to achieving faster development progress and to transform the economy from where it is today,” he is quoted as saying.

The details of some of the ‘mega projects’ were explained to the Chinese audience, with Jameel discussing the  ‘iHavan’ project – a regional development project in the northern atolls, potential oil and gas exploration projects, and plans to redevelop the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

Last month, the Maldives Airports Company (MACL) signed an agreement with China’s state-owned engineering and construction company, Synohydro, to build a US$9 million parking apron at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

In addition to the forums, Jameel also paid a visit to the Governor of Yunnan Province, H E Mr Li Jiheng.

At the meeting, discussions were held with regard to areas where the countries could increase cooperation, with the governor pledging to work with the Maldives to strengthen cooperation in a number of fields including renewable energy, science and technology, tourism, connectivity, economy and trade.

He further discussed the strengthening of bilateral ties with Vice Premier of China H E Wang Yang.


President’s Office calls for applicants to post of information commissioner

The President’s Office has called for applicants for Information Commissioner – a post created under the recently ratified Right to Information Act.

Announced in the government gazette today, the applications process will be open until 3pm on June 1.

Under the act, President Abdulla Yameen is mandated to appoint a commissioner for a five-year term who will enforce citizens’ rights to information. The appointment is required within six months of its ratification in January.

The commissioner has the power enforce a fine on information officers who deliberately refuse access to information. Such a fine may not exceed MVR5000 (US$324).

The successful applicant will also be responsible for fining any individual who destroys requested information, or obstructs a public authority from providing access to information. Such a fine may not exceed MVR25,000 (US$ 1621).

Under the act, any public authority is obliged to comply with a request for information within 21 days. However, if the request is relevant to an individual’s liberty or protection of a person’s life, information must be provided within 48 hours.

Following the passage of the act, local NGO Transparency Maldives described it as “an important step towards increasing transparency of the state institutions, ensuring greater accountability of public officials, and fighting corruption”.

Other key features of the act include the establishment of an information office in all state institutions, a seven-day period of response for information requests, and a 30-day period to provide the information or to explain a failure to do so.


President’s Office spent MVR30 million in excess of approved budget in 2011, audit reveals

The President’s Office (PO) spent MVR30.6 million (US$1.9 million) in excess of the approved budget in 2011 while MVR2.8 million (US$181,582) was used to cover expenses that were not directly related to the office’s mandate, the PO’s audit report (Dhivehi) has revealed.

Among the unrelated expenses were MVR1.8 million (US$116,731) spent on trips by former President Mohamed Nasheed to 88 islands ahead of the February 2011 local council elections, MVR904,855 (US$58,680) spent for then-Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed to stopover in Singapore after attending the “Third Symposium on the European Academic Space” in Italy, and MVR139,676 (US$9,058) spent on a trip by the PO to check progress on the editing of ‘The Island President’ documentary.

While MVR526,454 (US$34,140) was spent for two trips to the United States by the vice president and his family, the report made public yesterday noted that there were no details of expenditure for MVR364,267 (US$23,623) of that amount.

Moreover, MVR235,556 (US$15,276) was spent out of the vice presidential residence’s budget for the vice president, his wife, child, and father to make the Hajj pilgrimage, but there were no details of expenditure for MVR60,524 (US$3,925) spent on food and accommodation.

“And while MVR69,112 (US$4,481) was spent for medical treatment during a trip by the vice president and his wife to Singapore in 2011, no documentation concerning the medical treatment was submitted,” the report stated.

Similarly, the report noted that MVR462,326 (US$29,982) was spent to cover the medical expenses of the president’s family in 2011, but were no documents related to the medical expenses.

A total of MVR677,369  (US$43,927) was meanwhile spent in 2011 on holidays for the president’s family, the report revealed.

Auditors also found that the PO paid mobile phone bills for political appointees out of the office’s budget in the absence of either a ceiling limit or rules to determine whether the calls were made for official purposes.

While MVR187,397 (US$12,152) was loaned from the PO budget to political appointees for personal expenses, auditors found that MVR184,191 (US$11,944) had not been repaid.

Moreover, MVR51,669 (US$3,350) was spent out of the vice presidential residence’s budget to pay mobile bills of the vice president’s wife, Madam Ilham Hussain, in contravention of the law governing privileges and state benefits for the vice president.

While the law stipulates that security for the vice president and his family must be arranged by the Ministry of Defence and National Security, auditors found that travel expenses for bodyguards during unofficial overseas trips by the vice president and his wife were settled out of the vice presidential residence, Hilaaleege’s budget.

Among other cases flagged in the report, auditors found that the PO had to pay MVR555,808 (US$36,044) as compensation to Shady Cabin after screws and sponges from 170 rented chairs went missing. The chairs were rented for the SAARC summit held in Addu City in November 2011.

The PO also covered expenses for foreign dignitaries out of its budget in the absence of rules for hospitality, the report noted.

Auditors found that MVR294,037 (US$19,068) was spent out of the presidential residence Muleeage’s budget for the stay of two British citizens from February 16 to 23.

Moreover, MVR29,058 (US$1,884) was spent out of the Muleeage budget for the “son of the president of a neighbouring country” to stay in a resort.

Auditors also discovered that there were 25 cable TV decoders in Muleeage and 12 decoders in Hilaaleege, for which MVR174,080 (US$11,289) and MVR81,917 (US$5,312) respectively was spent in 2011.

Lastly, auditors found that the PO did not maintain inventory records in accordance with public finance regulations. Plots of land and buildings under the care of the official residences of the president and vice president as well as fittings, furniture, and vehicles were not valued and included in the asset register.