“Cloudy side of life” protest pamphlet distributed at ITB trade show

Maldives anti-government campaigners have attempted to use this year’s ITB Berlin trade show to draw attention to allegations of police brutality and human rights abuses following the controversial transfer of power back in February 2012.

The Ministry of Tourism last year fell short of its stated aim of welcoming one million visitors to the country during 2012, citing difficulties resulting from media coverage of political turmoil following the change of government that brought President Dr Mohamed Waheed to office.

However, authorities in the country have since pledged to surpass the one million visitor goal in 2013, claiming late last year that the “hard days” were over for tourism in the country following 2012’s political turmoil.

Despite the government’s stance, as part of a so-called silent protest at this year’s ITB event, anti-government campaigners distributed leaflets entitled, ‘the cloudy side of life‘ – a play on the country’s official ‘Sunny Side of Life’ tourism slogan. The publication includes excerpts of reports from the Amnesty International NGO and select quotes from the UN high commissioner for human rights concerning alleged abuses.

“White sandy beaches, dancing palm trees and sparkling cocktails beckon the eager tourist to the Maldives: the emerald Isles in the warm blue Indian Ocean,” the leaflet reads.

“However, a few miles away from your secluded resort island, the same government, backed by the same resort-owners who wave over the honeymooners to the sunny side of life, with their other hand, imposes great injustices, brutality, and human rights abuses on us, the citizens.”

No identification of any organisation or political party in the Maldives affiliated with the leaflet is included on the publication, which accuses the current government of President Waheed of coming to power through a coup and being backed by resort owners advertising at the fair.

It concludes by requesting visitors “reconsider” a decision to visit the Maldives that will “directly fund” alleged human rights abuses and the present “illegal” government.

Last year, a Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report welcomed by the US and the UN rejected accusations that the present government came to power illegally, despite claims from former President Nasheed that the report’s conclusions were flawed and failed to include key witness statements and evidence. These allegations were later backed by Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed, a one time SAARC Secretary General and Former Human Rights Minister under the current government who was dismissed from her post late last year.

ITB Berlin, which ran this year from March 6 until yesterday (March 10), is one of the world’s largest tourism shows and was attended by Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb, as well as a host of local tourism industry figures.

Adheeb was not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press,while Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal was not in the country when contacted.

Industry confidence

Speaking back in January this year, Tourism Minister Adheeb said he was confident the industry could meet it goals of bringing one million visitors to the Maldives in 2013,  despite falling short of this mark by 40,000 people in 2012.

“There were a lot of hiccups last year with the political turmoil that the country experienced. It is important that we do not compare ourselves to other destinations like Sri Lanka or Seychelles, as our tourism market is very different. We have a high-value tourism market,” he said at the time.  “We will formulate a strategy to go forward this year.”

Following last year’s transfer of power, the incoming government of President Waheed sought to utilise public relations groups and advertising to try and offset the perceived impact of negative news headlines following the transfer of power.

This focus included agreeing a US$250,000 (MVR 3.8million) advertising deal to promote the country’s tourism industry on the BBC through sponsorship of its weather services, as well as signing a £93,000 per month (US$150,000) contract with public relations group Ruder Finn to try and improve the country’s image internationally.

Boycott calls

Former President Mohamed Nasheed last year called for a tourism boycott of the Maldives, as he continued to question the legitimacy of the government of President Waheeed – his former vice president.

However, these calls were soon dropped by Nasheed and supporters of the now opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which is still pressing for early elections.

Despite wider fears about the impact of political uncertainty on holidaymakers, Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal claimed back in September 2012 that “the hard days” were over for the Maldives tourism industry following the release of the CNI’s findings.


Government’s contract with Ruder Finn PR firm expires

The Maldivian government has concluded its contract with international public relations firm Ruder Finn, according to industry publication PR Week.

Head of the agency Nick Leonard told PR Week that the account had concluded upon reaching the end of its time frame.

Ruder Finn was selected in April by the new government to improve the Maldives’ international image, following widespread negative media coverage of February 7’s controversial transfer of power, at a reported cost of £93,000 per month (US$150,000).

Rumours in August that the contract had ended after six months were unconfirmed. Ruder Finn’s Senior Vice President and Ethics Officer Emmanuel Tchividjian at the time referred Minivan News to the government, “as we do not comment publicly on contracts that we have with our clients.”

In July, a small group of protesters gathered outside the PR firm’s London offices to mark Maldives Independence Day, including President Mohamed Waheed’s brother, Naushad Waheed Hassan.

The protest saw placards bearing slogans ‘Islamophobes and dictators’, ‘Ruder Finn: no client too toxic’ and ‘Gold medallists of spin: Ruder Finn’, according to PR Week.

Former International Spokesperson for the President’s Office, Paul Roberts, told Minivan News that a source inside Ruder Finn had revealed that the agency considered President Waheed “a lost cause from a PR point of view”.

“They said that the senior people in Ruder Finn worried that representing the Maldives government had damaged the company’s brand,” Roberts said.

Ruder Finn’s previous work includes the Philip Morris campaign disputing the health hazards of smoking, and publicising the release of the anti-Islamic film ‘Fitna’.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad confirmed that Ruder Finn had ceased working with the Maldivian government, but did not elaborate on the reason.

Journalist and climate activist Mark Lynas, formerly Nasheed’s climate advisor, has previously argued that the appointment of a such a large PR agency was counterproductive as it made journalists “doubly suspicious”.

The original request for proposals (RFP) document issued by the MMPRC on April 9 stated that the successful agency would be required to target stakeholders in the UK, USA, Commonwealth countries, “all relevant EU institutions”, academic institutions and NGOs, “arrange 1:1 meetings with influential and open minded potential champions”, and “arrange briefings to build links at various levels with the UK, US, Commonwealth and major European governments.”

The agency will “feed in academic arguments to those identified”, and “determine champions who are willing to speak publicly on Maldives”, in a bid to “Rally an alliance of support for the Maldives”.

Locally, the chosen company will be required to “assist with the roll out of policy and other announcements to media, parliamentarians,government, NGOs and others.”

Minivan News also sought clarification from Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) head Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, but he had not responded at time of press.


Maldives protesters hit Ruder Finn offices: PRWeek

A 15-strong group gathered outside the London offices of Ruder Finn on Tuesday to protest about the agency’s work for the Maldives government,” reports Matt Cartmell for PRWeek.

“The protest, which coincided with Maldivian Independence Day, saw placards bearing slogans ‘Islamophobes and dictators’, ‘Ruder Finn: no client too toxic’ and ‘Gold medallists of spin: Ruder Finn’.

The criticism came after Ruder Finn was blasted by British-based pro-democracy group Friends of Maldives for accepting a brief to promote a tourism drive by the Maldives government. This followed claims that president Mohamed Nasheed was removed in a coup d’etat in February.

Agency boss Nick Leonard had not faced protesters himself as he was on holiday.

But he defended the agency’s actions, saying: ‘I believe in freedom of speech and they have the right to voice their opinion.’”

Read more..


Tourism Ministry lauds global PR efforts as opposition proposes promo spending cuts

Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal has claimed marketing plans designed to boost consumer confidence in the Maldives have had a positive impact over the last three months, as parliament prepares to debate a proposal on cutting state promotional spending.

Maleeh said that the nature of global media coverage about the Maldives had been “much better” over the last three months, following a decision to hire several marketing firms to promote the country following February’s controversial  transfer of power.

Among these firms is the high-profile multinational PR group Ruder Finn, which has been employed to “instil confidence in the tourism industry of the Maldives [and] gain understanding and public acknowledgement of the Maldives in the international community”.

Ruder Finn, which was appointed back in April under a three month contract reported in some media to amount to US$150,000 a month, has come under some criticism from at least one opposition MP, who has forwarded a proposal to parliament on rejecting further state spending on the contract.

MP Ibrahim Rasheed hit out at the cost of the Ruder Finn contract as being unsustainable considering the current economic situation in the Maldives.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Deputy Tourism Minister Maleeh said he was aware of the parliamentary resolution forwarded by the MDP MP for Maafannu-South, stressing concern at the potential impact it could have on the national economy.

“I’ve heard of the motion. Certainly from time to time MPs in the People’s Majlis will submit not-so-important motions,” he said.

The country has experienced ongoing political tensions amidst allegations by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) that the elected government of former President Mohamed Nasheed was ousted back in February under a “coup d’etat” supported by opposition politicians, mutinous sections of the police and military and certain business leaders.

Within the current partisan atmosphere, Maleeh called on politicians, regardless of their politics, to avoid actions that would sabotage the tourism industry and the wider national economy.

“I am concerned that a major source of revenue such as tourism is being put at risk. I condemn such acts,” he said, referring to MP Rasheed’s motion to cancel state funding to hire Ruder Finn. “Without tourism the economy would be in a grave state. It is the biggest contributor to our national economy for the last 40 years. Politicians should leave the economy aside.”

According to Maleeh, during the last three years, the former government “slashed” the budget set aside for the promotion of tourism.

He added, that with President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan now in office, the new government was doing “all it could”, along with working in collaboration with the private sector, to boost promotional efforts and undo the impacts of international headlines concerning February’s transfer of power.

However, Maleeh stressed that Ruder Finn was just one of a number of promotional contracts that had been signed by the government to try and improve damage to consumer confidence in the country’s tourism industry.

“We have several international contracts with agencies that are carrying out specific focuses for us,” he said.

Earlier this month, the tourism industry announced it had signed a contract to advertise the Maldives under its recently reinstated “Sunny Side of Life” branding on the BBC weather service both through its online and World Service.

When contacted by Minivan News today about the present nature of its contract with the Maldives government, as well as the company’s aims for its work in the country, Ruder Finn’s Ethics Officer Emmanuel Tchividjian said he had “no comment”.

The contract, said to cost US$150,000 a month for the three month-long campaign, was the result of a collaboration with the private sector that tourism authorities have said they hope to continue over the next few months as they secure more funding.

In addressing the impact of the industry’s recent promotional spending Maleeh added that the “results were hard to measure”, but added that there had been a positive impact during the last financial quarter on media coverage of the country.

“Marketing is a long-term strategy. It therefore can take time to get clear results,” he said. “However, with marketing contracts such as these, the main agenda is to protect tourism.”

Amidst “quite aggressive” marketing strategies being employed by neighbouring destinations such as Sri Lanka, Maleeh stressed that improved budgets would allow the country to compete more evenly. To this end, he expressed commitment to secure further private sector support such as the country’s resort industry to aid future marketing efforts.

With the Ruder Finn contract expected to expire next month, Maleeh stressed that no decision had yet been taken on whether to continue using the group in the future.

“That decision would depend of a review of the agreement when the contract was over,” he said, stressing that any decision would be based on the perceived impacts of its current work on the global perceptions of the Maldives.

MP Rasheed today told Minivan News that he had sought to forward a proposal to parliament that calls for a cessation of state funds to be spent on the Ruder Finn contract over concerns that money was being diverted from other areas such as public health.

With a hearing now scheduled for next Monday (July 2), Ibrahim Rasheed said he was confident that the proposal would be able to garner sufficient support in the Majlis chamber.

“We don’t have a budget for sewerage programmes or to fund healthcare,” he said. It is the government who are telling us the don’t have the money for these things.

When questioned by Minivan News as to whether the potential economic benefits of PR efforts from a group like Ruder Finn would not provide a greater economic boost than the amount being paid, Rasheed remained sceptical.

“My argument remains that there are not enough funds for this. [The government] should not be spending that amount on their image,” he argued.


Resolution submitted to prevent state funds being used to pay PR company

A resolution has been submitted in the People’s Majlis that would prevent state funds being used to pay PR company Ruder Finn for the work it has been doing on behalf of the government, reports Haveeru.

The New York based company has entered into a three month deal with the current government, thought to be worth US$150,000 per month, to “improve the image” of the Maldives.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Ibrahim Rasheed proposed the topic for discussion in parliament, arguing that the budget was could not accommodate this expenditure whilst other programs were being cut or scaled back.

“The government is pressuring private hospitals to give up Aasandha. Budget to renew and restore mosques are penniless. This year’s budget had allocated funds for these activities,” Rasheed is reported to have said.

“The resolution was sent as these projects had been halted and money is being spent upon other activities (to improve the image of Maldives) which have not previously been accommodated in the budget.”

Estimates of this year’s budget deficit have been as high as 27 percent of the country’s GDP with the Finance Minister pledging to cut back on all non-wage government spending by 15 percent.


Maldives sponsors BBC weather in US$250,000 deal

Maldivian tourism authorities are pursuing private sector funding to secure advertising with prominent media networks such as CNN, after this week signing a sponsorship agreement with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal told Minivan News that authorities were presently looking for ongoing partnerships within the country’s resort industry to help fund a year-long global media campaign to offset the impacts of negative international headlines believed to have affected tourism this year.

The government yesterday finalised a US$250,000 (Rf3.8million) advertising deal to promote the country’s tourism industry on the BBC through sponsorship of its weather services. Tourism authorities said the strategy reflected a collaboration between the government and the private sector to try and strengthen arrival numbers to the country.

Under the recently reinstated “Sunny Side of Life” branding, Maleeh said the sponsorship of the BBC’s weather services will run from June 18 to August 27 on both the BBC World TV service as well as the broadcaster’s website.

Pubic relations

In April, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) confirmed the appointment of New-York based public relations agency Ruder Finn to “oversee the overall media coordination and achievement of PR related solution for destination Maldives.”

According a contract speculated to be worth over US$150,000 per month, Ruder Finn is required to work to: “ instill confidence in the tourism industry of the Maldives, gain understanding and public acknowledgement of the Maldives in the international community and ensure sustainable development of the tourism industry.”

Questioned whether the BBC sponsorship agreement was designed to try and generate greater media coverage about the Maldives on international news services, Maleeh claimed the MMPRC’s promotion plans were focused on tourism rather than generating headlines.

“At present we are trying to build investor confidence in the country,” he claimed. “There has been too much focus on stories such as how the Maldives will be sinking in 30 years.”

Maleeh pointed to recent coverage of several events in the lead up to February’s controversial transfer of power – such as former President Mohamed Nasheed’s proposed spa ban – as an example of headlines that had damaged confidence among tourists and investors in the Maldives.

The previous government under Nasheed claimed a spa ban introduced back in December 2011 was made in response to criticisms made against it during a demonstration of opposition politicians and NGOS relating to “un-Islamic” practices in the country.

“Mainstream” promotion

Once the present BBC sponsorship agreement ends in August, Maleeh added that the MMPRC and tourism authorities hoped to secure more funding to continue its advertising plans. He said that the motivation at present was to extend advertising ideally to “all mainstream media organisations” such as organisations like CNN.

Maleeh stressed that funding remained the biggest issue at present to extending advertising efforts.

“We are seeking support from local and international hospitality groups right now,” he said. “We are still waiting to receive support. However, other hotel chains have shown an interest.”

During the signing of the BBC agreement yesterday at the Conrad Rangali Island Resort, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb welcomed the assistance of local business tycoons Mohamed ‘Champa’ Moosa and Mohamed Umar Maniku in securing the deal, according to local media.

Adheeb told Sun Online that authorities had decided to re-use the country’s “The Sunny Side of Life” branding due to previous experiences the industry had with the slogan, as well as negating costs associated with setting up an entirely new brand.

“Over the past years it has become a very expensive brand. I believe that if we were to opt for a rebranding it would in the least cost us US$50 million. We don’t have that much of a budget. The new government decided to go forward with the old brand,” he was quoted as telling local media.

Meanwhile, Vice President Waheed Deen, who was also present during the signing, lauded the financing of the new ad campaign as an “achievement” and a “success” for the country as it celebrates 40 years since the inception of Maldivian tourism during 2012.

“Coup” allegations

The 50,000 member-strong opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) maintains it was ousted from power on February 7 following what then President Mohamed Nasheed described as a coup d’état planned by political opposition, sponsored by some wealthy resort tycoons and carried out by a mutinous police and military. The party has continued to claim that President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s government is illegitimate and represents a return to the autocratic era of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Such criticisms of the present government have led to the establishment of the Maldives Tourism Advisory (MTA) by the Friends of Maldives NGO that names resorts alleged by the MDP to have involvement in the “coup”.

In April, the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) has issued a statement expressing “serious concern” over what it describes as a “concerted international campaign” against several of the country’s resort operators.

MATI claimed that calls from the Maldives Tourism Advisory (MTA) for tourists to avoid certain properties on the basis of ownership were “libellous in the extreme”, as the allegations against the tourist resort operators “have not been proven either through an investigation or a court of law.”

The MTA website features a ‘traffic light’ system with “red” resorts recently appearing to have been expanded to include an assortment of 18 properties owned by Vice President Waheed Deen and senior figures associated with the new ruling coalition, including Jumhoree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim and Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MP Abdulla Jabir.


Government’s statement that McKinnon endorsed independence of CNI “misleading”: Commonwealth

The Commonwealth has condemned as “misleading” a statement issued to international media by the Maldivian government, claiming that Commonwealth Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon had endorsed the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) as “impartial, credible and broadly acceptable”.

The offending statement was circulated on May 25 using the PR Newswire service, which PR agencies subscribe to in order to widely distribute releases to publications all over the world.

“We welcome Sir Don McKinnon’s support for the Committee of National Inquiry and are delighted that all the concerns expressed by the Commonwealth will be resolved,” the statement quoted President Mohamed Waheed Hassan as saying.

The Commonwealth Secretariat issued a statement on Saturday in response: “Sir Don has not stated that the Commission of National Inquiry as currently constituted is ‘impartial, credible and broadly acceptable’.”

Instead, the government’s efforts to implement a commitment made to the Special Envoy, to strengthen the powers of the CNI and broaden its composition with an international co-chair and nominee of former President Nasheed, “are still ongoing”.

“Indeed, [Sir Donald McKinnon’s] efforts while in Maldives, and since his departure have been focused on achieving that objective, so that a truly impartial, credible and broadly acceptable Commission of National Inquiry can be put in place within the agreed time-frame,” the Commonwealth stated.

‘Coup’ inquiry

The CNI was established by President Waheed to investigate the controversial circumstances that brought him to power on February 7, following what the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party claimed was a coup d’état orchestrated by members of the former 30 year autocracy.

Police and military officers joined opposition demonstrators in an assault on the country’s military headquarters on the morning of February 7, before storming and taking over the state broadcaster.

President Nasheed subsequently resigned on camera, but later claimed this was under duress. In an audio recording obtained by SBS Australia and aired soon after the events, Nasheed is heard pleading with members of the armed forces for the safety of his wife and children.

The day after Nasheed’s resignation, police launched a brutal crackdown on thousands of protesters, in front of Al-Jazeera and other international media.

President Waheed appointed a three member panel to inquire into the legitimacy of his presidency, including Dr Ibrahim Yasir, Dr Ali Fawaz Shareef and Chair Ismail Shafeeu, Defence Minister under former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The panel was derided by the MDP as lacking independence, a view subsequently shared by the Commonwealth which gave the government a four week deadline to change the composition of the commission to include both a foreign co-chair and a “suitable” nominee to represent Nasheed.

The government agreed to a new June 1 deadline, and then immediately rejected nine of Nasheed’s nominees on the grounds of their “unsuitability”. Conditions imposed by the government included requirements that Nasheed’s appointee not have served in a political position in the past two years, not taken a public stand on the transfer of power, and must “be of good behavior and integrity”.

On Saturday the government issued a second statement – also circulated on PR Newswire – rejecting Nasheed’s latest appointee, Lt. Colonel Zubair Ahmed Manik, whom it argued “does not meet the basic requirement of having an undergraduate degree as per the agreed terms of reference.”

The government expressed “disappointment at former President Nasheed’s continued inability to nominate an appropriate candidate who meets the agreed criteria for inclusion on the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI).”

“The repeated proposal of generally unacceptable candidates by the former President Nasheed suggests a lack of seriousness and willingness to cooperate. The administration has already agreed to change the original terms of reference of the CNI following advice from the Commonwealth and to agree on including a foreign judge as co chair of the CNI,” the government said.

“I suspect this is Ruder Finn at work,” said MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, commenting on the statements put up on PRNewswire. The New York-based PR agency was recently hired by the Maldivian government to counteract negative international media, in a deal thought to be worth US$150,000 a month.

Ghafoor said the MDP had initially demanded equal representation on the CNI panel, and the evening before the announcement was made, had been expecting two: “We got one, and gave up on co-chairing it,” he said.

The conditions imposed by the government were paternalistic and a stalling tactic, he suggested.

“Nobody of sane mind thinks the transfer of power wasn’t suspicious,” Ghafoor said. “This government does not have the moral high-ground to paternalistically prescribe conditions.”

While the situation might appear calm during the negotiations, Ghafoor said tensions on the street and during protests remained high, and that it would not take much for it to combust – “I’ve started seeing signs of impunity [on behalf of police],” he said.

“We are under threat – right now, the Commonwealth is the only thing stopping us from all being arrested,” Ghafoor claimed.


Comment: Open letter to Ruder Finn

The following open letter was sent by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Eva Abdulla, also a member of the IPU’s Coordinating Committee of Women Parliamentarians, to Emmanuel Tchividjian, Senior Vice President and Ethics Officer at US public relations firm Ruder Finn. The company recently won a three-month contract to represent the Maldivian government.

Dear Mr Tchividjian,

On 7th February 2012, elements of the police and army loyal to the former autocratic leader of the Maldives, Mr. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, threatened the democratically-elected President of the country, H.E. Mr. Mohamed Nasheed, his family and his supporters with physical harm unless he resigned by a certain time that day. Those elements of the police and army then escorted President Nasheed to the President’s Office and stood over him as he wrote a ‘resignation’ letter, while others forcibly took control of the country’s main television station. A new Government has since been constituted, dominated by allies of former President Gayoom – even though the country clearly rejected him and his thirty-year dictatorship through the ballot box in the 2008 presidential election.

As a member of the governing council and the Women’s Wing of the Maldivian Democratic Party, and an elected representative, I am therefore writing to express our surprise and disappointment that Ruder Finn decided to tender for and sign a contract with this clearly undemocratic and illegitimate government, a contract under which you will be asked to act as public apologist and public advocate.

We note that you claim to be Ruder Finn’s ‘Ethics’ Officer and that you once argued in an interview that “ethics is essentially an issue of values”. We put it to you however that both you and Ruder Finn, by accepting this contract, have demonstrated a complete lack of both values and ethics.

You justify your decision on ‘ethical’ grounds by saying that you have studied the “complex political situation” and have concluded that the current government is legitimate according to the country’s constitution but that if the National Commission of Inquiry determines that the government came to power illegally you will resign the contract. This position is so riddled with contradictions that it is difficult not to conclude that your ‘ethical’ analysis is nothing more than a fig leaf disguising a policy of ‘profit-at-any-cost’.

How can Ruder Finn have determined that the government is constitutional and legitimate when the national mechanism established to answer that very question, the NCI, has not yet presented its findings? Do you have the power of foresight?

Having already prejudged the conclusions of the NCI, you then claim Ruder Finn will resign the contract if the NCI demonstrates foul play. And yet if you had indeed “closely examined” the complex situation you would know that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), the Maldives’ largest political party – the MDP, and the country’s civil society have all stated that the NCI, chaired by President Gayoom’s former Minister of Defence, is neither independent nor credible.

Also in interview, you have argued that “the starting point of using one’s values to make an ethical choice is, one would presume, to have a clear and accurate understanding of the facts”. If this is the case, one wonders which facts you are basing your ethical choices on. You are the only organisation outside the Maldives, which has already decided that the current government is legitimate. Both the Commonwealth and the European Union, the two organisations most closely following events in the Maldives have both said the opposite – that there are clear questions marks over the legitimacy of this government and it can only demonstrate its legitimacy through an independent and impartial national commission of inquiry, and through early elections. Does Ruder Finn have a political analysis capability greater than that of the Commonwealth and the EU?

Which brings me to perhaps the most damning indictment of your company and your claim to conduct “ethical public relations” – that in your public statements on this issue you have knowingly issued untruths and sought to mislead. You claim in your interview with the Holmes Report on 27th April that “accusations of a coup have been dismissed from many international organizations and governments, including the United Kingdom government who has said that they do not recognize the transfer of power in the Maldives to be a coup”. Yet this is a clear misrepresentation of the position of the UK and the European Union, both of which have consistently made clear that there are serious questions about the legitimacy of this government and thus (taken from a Declaration by Baroness Catherine Ashton on behalf of the European Union on 22nd February 2012 ): “The EU is of the view that the legitimacy and legality of the transfer of presidential power in the Maldives should be determined by an impartial, independent investigation as agreed by all parties in the Maldives”. Both the EU and the Commonwealth – which is working in close cooperation with the United Nations on this issue – have also clearly said that in the medium-term legitimacy can only be conferred through a popular vote expressed through early elections in 2012.

Thus one can only conclude that, if ethical public relations is indeed a case of having a clear and accurate understanding of the facts, and then applying one’s values, it would seem that Ruder Finn practices a deeply unethical form of public relations because you lack a clear grasp of the facts, and, it would seem, have no values beyond a wish to make money.

On this point, it has been reported that your contract with the current government is worth almost $150,000 a month ($1,800,000 or Maldivian Rufiyaa 28 million annually). To provide you with some “clear and accurate facts.” If in the Maldives:

  • N. Milandhoo sewerage project = 29.9 million MRF
  • N. Magoodhoo harbour project = 18.8 million MRF
  • One government built housing unit in Ga. Kolamaafushi = 1 million MRF
  • Aasandha health insurance premium per person = 2650 MRF

The Ruder Finn contract, per annum, with the current Maldivian regime is then equivalent to:

  • A sewerage project
  • A harbour project
  • 28 government built housing units,
  • Aasandha health insurance premium for 10,473 citizens (the same health insurance scheme the current regime has announced scaling back, claiming lack of funds).

I invite you to apply your ‘values’ to these facts and to reach an ‘ethical’ conclusion.

Finally, I would like to remind you that while you are fortunate, in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom to enjoy stable democracies which allow for the full enjoyment of human rights, with those rights come certain duties and responsibilities. Among those duties, I would hope, is to use your freedoms to promote the rights of other people in other countries and not knowingly work towards the suppression of those rights. President Gayoom presided over extrajudicial killings in our jails, and over hundreds of documented cases of torture. Since the overthrow of President Nasheed, cases of Police brutality have again begun to resurface – including against Members of Parliament (cases have been lodged with the Inter-Parliamentary Union), as have cases of State-sponsored sexual and gender-based violence against women, arbitrary detention and police brutality. Ruder Finn has now unwittingly made itself a vehicle through which he and his associates are defying the democratic right of people in the Maldives to choose their government and are instead reasserting the old autocracy.

If you continue down this path, then you will be party to one of the greatest injustices ever inflicted on the people of the Maldives. It is difficult to understand how Ruder Finn or you personally would be able to call such a choice “ethical”. We also wonder whether your corporate clients, such as Israeli Airline El Al (which Members of Parliament of the current regime voted to ban from landing in the Maldives) Reuters, Acca, Lexus, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Ricoh, Michelin, Four Seasons, Johnson & Johnson, Manpower, would be able to understand.

Yours sincerely,

Eva Abdulla

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]


MMPRC confirms appointment of Ruder Finn for international PR

The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) has confirmed its appointment of New-York based public relations agency Ruder Finn, following speculation in the PR industry press last week.

Ruder Finn will provide international PR in a three-month contract PR Week speculated to be worth over US$150,000 per month.

According a statement from the MMPRC, the agency will “oversee the overall media coordination and achievement of PR related solution for destination Maldives, instil confidence in the tourism industry of the Maldives, gain understanding and public acknowledgement of the Maldives in the international community, ensure sustainable development of the tourism industry, and improve the image of the destination.”

President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s spokesperson, Abbas Adil Riza, told Minivan News last week that the appointed PR firm would only be responsible for promoting tourism, and would not be involved in politics or government.

Ruder Finn’s Senior Vice President and Ethics Officer, Emmanuel Tchividjian, told PR industry publication The Holmes Report that the company would “resign its lucrative new Maldives’ tourism brief if a national enquiry finds that the country’s new government took power illegally.”

Tchividjian claimed the company had “closely examined the complexity of the current political situation in the country”.

“Accusations of a coup have been dismissed by many international organisations and governments, including the United Kingdom government who has said that they do not recognise the transfer of power in the Maldives to be a coup,” he claimed.

“We were encouraged by the desire of the current government, in place according to the country’s constitution, to focus on ensuring stability, democracy and transparency in the Maldives, including a free press.”

Ruder Finn’s resignation of an account under such circumstance is not without precedent.

The firm’s founder David Finn, cited on the website of the American Jewish Committee, a think tank and advocacy organisation “combating anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry” and “supporting Israel’s quest for peace and security”, recounts how  “some years ago a professor at the Seminary helped us make the decision to resign the sizeable Greek tourism account after three colonels seized power and installed a military dictatorship. “

The company nonetheless has a reputation for representing controversial clients, including tobacco giant Phillip Morris and Israeli airline El Al, which MPs of the Maldives government coalition last week voted to ban from landing in the Maldives.

The PR firm was also embroiled in controversy over its distribution of the incendiary film ‘Fitna’, produced by Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, at a conference organised by Ruder Finn in 2008 called ‘Facing Jihad’.

The MMPRC has also appointed several other agencies to target specific markets, including Rooster PR (UK), Belcanto Communications (Germany) and Travel Link Marketing (China).

The MMPRC said it was also in the process of appointing PR agencies in India, Russia and the Middle East.