Council to decide on ferry service retender after protesters blockade terminals

Transport Minister Adhil Saleem has said the ministry and Male’ City Council have discussed terminating the agreement with the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) to operate ferry services, if the council finds that it could provide a better and cheaper service by reopening the bid.

The Minister’s comment comes after riot police were deployed over the weekend to break up protests at Villimale’ and Hulhumale’ ferry terminals, over price increases.

The price for Villimale’ ferry was increased from Rf3 to Rf5 and the price for the Hulhumale’ ferry was increased from Rf5 to Rf8.

Speaking to Haveeru, MTCC CEO Hussein Amr said the company received no public subsidies, “like STELCO”, and was losing Rf 2-3 on every ticket following a hike in fuel prices.

“When a Hulhumale ferry ticket was set at Rf5, a litre of diesel sold for Rf4. The ticket is still sold for Rf5 despite the fact that a litre of diesel is now sold for Rf17 now,” he said. Last year the Maldives spent approximately 20 percent of its GDP on marine diesel, according to customs documents.

Local media reported that pepper spray was used and violent confrontations between police and protesters occurred over the weekend.

Mayor of Male’ City ‘Maizan’ Ali Manik went to Villimale’ while the protest was going taking place and met with the protesters, promising that he would give an answer to their demands before Tuesday.

On Friday, citizens living in Hulhumale’ also conducted a similar protest regarding the decision to increase ferry ticket prices.

The MTCC ferry that arrived to Hulhumale’ late that afternoon was told by the protesters that it could not dock there and passengers had to wait in the ferry.

Later protesters said they had no issues with the passengers aboard the ferry, and let the passengers enter Hulhumale’.

On Saturday, a large number of citizens living in Villimale’ gathered near the MTCC ferry terminal with loudspeakers, banners and boards calling on the MTCC to keep the ferry ticket prices the same price.

Protesters blocked the entrance to the ferry terminal as well as the passage of the boats coming from Male’, by tying a rope across the channel through the reef.

Riot police arrived to Villinmale’ and warned people to leave the area, however after repeated warnings the protesters did not leave the area and police used force to disperse the crowd.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said five persons were arrested from Villimale’ during police efforts to control the protest, and were was released last night.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Parliamentary Group Media Coordinator and MP Ahmed Shifaz told Minivan News that protesters “should respect the rights of others”.

”Yesterday’s protest affected the citizen of Villimale’ who have no connection with the issue,” Shifaz said. ”Many who work in Male’ and students attending schools in Male’ had to wait back because the protesters had blocked entrance to the terminal.”

He said that Maafannu Madhrasa’s Sports Meet 2011 had to be cancelled because many students could not come to Male’.

Minister Saleem meanwhile told Minivan News that the Council would analyse the the quality of the services provided and the usage of land by the MTCC, and would inform the ministry “whether terminating the agreement and reopening the bid for ferry services will be better and cheaper.”

“If the council makes this decision we would pay what we owe to the MTCC and terminate the agreement,” he said.

Adhil said the Transport Ministry was not interested in which company provided the service, but rather the quality of services provided and the price.

”Protesters should not have obstructed the transportation service because that would have caused so much damages to many people,” he added.

He said the protesters had not complained at the Transport Ministry or at any other institution, or tried to meet any officials, but had immediately gone to the terminals to protest.

In a statement issued following the protest police said that such actions violated the rights of others, and warned that action would be taken against those who misused the right to gather and freedom of expression.