Villa Group unable to pay salaries

Opposition politician Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group has announced it will not be able to pay salaries of more than 4,500 employees after the government froze its accounts last week over unpaid fines.

The conglomerate – which operates businesses in shipping, import and export, retail, tourism, fishing, media, communications, transport, and education – says the government’s US$90.4million claim is unlawful and is contesting it at the civil court.

The opposition says the government is targeting Gasim’s businesses because of his split from the ruling coalition in January.

“This company’s revenue has suffered since last November. The struggle to balance the company has been brought to a halt by the government propaganda’s, blatant lies and the freezing of our accounts,” managing director Ibrahim Siyad Gasim said in a memo sent to all employees on Wednesday.

“In these difficult circumstance, employees who find it hard to work with us to rebuild the company again are advised to find other job opportunities,” he continued. “The employees who leave will be paid their outstanding salaries as soon as we find the means to pay.”

Human resource manager of Villa Shipping, Ibrahim Moosa said the memo will apply to more than 4500 employees of Villa Shipping and subsidiary companies.

“This is a very difficult situation for the company. I plead with our staff to stay with us. God willing we will overcome this situation,” he said.

A journalist from Villa TV, also owned by Gasim, said the memo does not come as a surprise.

“They put out a memo a few weeks back saying some employees might be sacked due to the circumstances. Also there was another memo issued back in November. We have not been paid April’s salary yet,” she said.

Another employee at Villa’s domestic airline Flyme said staff had been paid half of their salaries and half of a transport allowance for March.

“All of us at Flyme understand what is happening. We know that Gasim is really being squeezed financially,” he said.

Since the notice was issued, Gasim has not been seen in opposition protests or made any comments on the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

However, JP MPs and council members are part of a new coalition formed between the main Maldivian Democratic Party, the Adhaalath Party, defectors from the ruling coalition and members of Nazim’s family.

In an appearance on Villa TV in April, Gasim said two European banks have cancelled loans worth US$80 million due to media reports of the notice.

Unfairly freezing Villa’s accounts would “impoverish thousands of citizens” and one of the largest companies in the country will “head towards bankruptcy,” he said.

The Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) issued the US$90.4 million notice after the tourism ministry terminated agreements for several properties leased to Villa and subsidiary companies for resort development.

Some 27 cases challenging the termination of the agreements and MIRA’s notice as well as appeals of the civil court’s refusal to grant stay orders are ongoing at court.

Villa – which won the tax authority’s “Ran Laari” award last year as one of five companies that paid the highest amount to the state – insists it does not owe any money to the state.

But the civil court last month refused to issue stay orders until the conclusion of the dispute, saying the state could reimburse and compensate the company if the ongoing cases are decided in Villa’s favour.

MIRA’s notice stated that Villa owed US$75.5 million as fines, US$600,000 as interest, and US$14.8 million as unpaid rent dating back to original lease agreements signed in 2006 and 2007.

A second notice for the payment expired on April 18, but the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) did not freeze the company’s accounts saying the move may negatively affect the Maldivian economy, local media have said.

The JP has since accepted an offer by President Abdulla Yameen to commence talks.


Almost half of civil servants earn less than MVR5,000 a month

Almost half of the country’s civil servants earn a monthly salary of less than MVR5,000 (US$324), statistics from the Civil Service Commission (CSC) have revealed.

While the number of government employees who earn up to MVR4,499 a month increased from 9,914 in May to 11,000 in September, the number of employees who earn between MVR5,000 and MVR10,000 (US$ 648) decreased from 14,380 in May to 13,580 in September.

Those earning between MVR10,000 and MVR15,000 (US$972) increased by 30 percent in September while those who earn higher than MVR15,000 rose by 96 percent.

Speaking at a three-day conference organised jointly by the CSC, Anti-Corruption Commission, and the Auditor General’s Office last week, Defence Minister Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim criticised civil servants for providing “poor service” to the public.

Most civil servants have poor attendance records, arrive at work late, do careless work, and take leave or holidays excessively, Nazim said, which were “unacceptable.”

Recent statistics from the CSC showed that civil servants rose from 24,742 in May to 25,010 in September – representing over seven percent of the population.

Female civil servants outnumber males, with 13,280 women and 11,730 men, while 35 percent of government workers are based in the capital Malé.

The highest number of civil servants work under the Ministry of Education (9,955), followed by the Ministry of Health (7,090) and local councils (4,454).

Nazim suggested that the “only solution” to the shortcomings of the civil service was bringing amendments to relevant laws in order to ensure employees could not take leave for four or five months a year.

Aside from pay rises and promotions, Nazim said employees could also be motivated to work better as a team, advising reforms to rules for promotions to provide incentives to civil servants.

Reviewing the organisational structure of offices could also improve efficiency, he added.

“I would like to believe that employees of the civil service can get the public’s love and respect when they work for it,” he said.

Addressing foreign participants of the conference in English, Nazim said the “key role of the civil service is to provide public service in an efficient and empathetic manner.”

With democracy in the Maldives “in its infancy,” Nazim said the country was facing “multi-faceted” and “increasingly complex” challenges and stressed the importance of reforming the civil service.

He urged participants of the conference to consider “the geographical nature of the Maldivian archipelago and the nature of service we have provided while addressing the challenges and reforming the civil service structure.”

According to the CSC, the purpose of the conference was improving the service offered to the public and focused on three main themes.

“They were organisational development and review, human resource management and development, and establishing a civil service with integrity,” the CSC explained in a press statement.

Former chairman of India’s Union Public Service Commission Professor Dev Prakash also took part in the conference, delivering  the keynote speech.


Principals association calls on government to address grievances of teachers

No additional reporting by missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan

The Principals Association of Maldives (PAM) has called on the government to address concerns raised by teachers, review the pay scheme, and identify education sector reforms.

In a press statement released on Sunday (October 5), PAM contended that wages were disproportionate to the extra hours put in by teachers and expressed concern with experienced teachers leaving the field at an alarming rate.

“Efforts to retain quality teachers and attract bright students to the sector should be carried out swiftly,” PAM suggested.

“Opportunities for professional development should be increased and broadened for [teachers] on the job. Teaching should be made an honourable and generous occupation worthy of people’s respect.”

Referring to the theme of this year’s International Teacher’s Day (October 5) – ‘invest in the future, invest in teachers’ – PAM called on the government to allocate large amounts in the state budget from 2015 onward to invest in teachers.

As teachers imparted knowledge, taught skills and instilled values needed by future generations, PAM stressed the importance of “thinking about the condition of teachers and taking into account their feelings and concerns”.

In addition to better pay and benefits, PAM suggested improving work environments as well as the quality of programmes and training courses conducted for professional development of teachers.

In her message on Teacher’s Day, Education Minister Dr Aishath Shiham pledged to provide more training and development opportunities for teachers and principals before the end of the year.

Dr Shiham expressed gratitude for the “hard and invaluable work” of teachers.

Noting that the most important aspect of education policy was implemented by teachers in classrooms, the minister said efforts were underway to prepare manuals or handbooks for teachers and parents as well as development plans for schools.

A detailed and longterm “subject improvement plan” would also be provided to teachers next year, she said.


Last month, the Teachers Association of Maldives (TAM) called off a planned nationwide strike to hold talks with the government.

Following a meeting with President Abdulla Yameen, TAM revealed that the president had asked for a detailed proposal to address grievances about pay and other issues.

The proposal on revising salary for teachers and improving efficiency in the education sector would be submitted this month following consultation with the education ministry, TAM said.

The response from President Yameen was “positive” and TAM received assurances that a pay rise would be considered, the association noted.

PAM also noted that the discussions with President Yameen was a positive development.

“The government’s decision to sit for talks and compile a timeline [on meeting the demands] is a sign President Yameen himself attended to the teacher’s demands,” TAM President Athif Abdul Hakeem told Minivan News on September 21 after teachers went to work dressed in black.

Around 90 percent of teachers were reported to have demonstrated by wearing black to work.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had also announced its support for the strike should discussions with the government fail.

They have been asking for this raise from Maumoon’s administration, through Nasheed’s and Waheed’s administration and now into Yameen’s administration. It is with great sadness that we have to note that everyone has turned on a deaf ear to their pleas,” wrote MDP MP Rozaina Adam on her personal blog.

The Ministry of Education had earlier appeared unwilling to give in to teachers’ demands for higher pay and reform, while the Labor Relations Authority reportedly labelled the proposed strike as ‘not peaceful’.

A statement from the Civil Service Commission meanwhile noted that government was treating the potential strike as illegal.

Grievances raised by TAM include revised pay, protection of teachers and students, and official recognition of the association.


President asks Teachers Association for proposal to address grievances

The Teachers Association of Maldives (TAM) met President Abdulla Yameen on Wednesday (September 24) to discuss pay rises and education sector reform after a calling off a planned nationwide strike.

TAM informed local media following the one-hour meeting at the President’s Office that the president listened to teachers’ concerns and asked for a proposal on addressing grievances about pay and other issues.

The proposal on increasing salary for teachers and improving efficiency in the education sector would be submitted next month following consultation with the education ministry, TAM said.

The response from President Yameen was “positive” and TAM received assurances that a pay rise would be considered.

“The government’s decision to sit for talks and compile a timeline [on meeting the demands] is a sign President Yameen himself attended to the teacher’s demands,” TAM President Athif Abdul Hakeem told Minivan News on Sunday (September 21) after teachers went on to work dressed in black.

The Ministry of Education had earlier appeared unwilling to give in to teachers’ demands for higher pay and reform, while the Labor Relations Authority reportedly labelled the proposed strike as ‘not peaceful’.

A statement from the Civil Service Commission meanwhile noted that government was treating the potential strike as illegal.

Grievances raised by TAM include revised pay, protection of teachers and students, and official recognition of the association.


MPs abolish 1990 law on MP renumeration

The People’s Majlis today passed an amendment bill submitted on behalf of the government to abolish an outdated 1990 law governing renumeration for MPs of the People’s Majlis and Special Majlis.

The bill was approved with unanimous consent of 70 MPs at today’s sitting of parliament following review by the economic affairs committee.

The Special Majlis was a plenary assembly last convened in June 2004 to revise the constitution. Article 102 of the constitution meanwhile stipulates that salaries and allowances of People’s Majlis MPs will be determined by the parliament.


Cameroonian player owed over US$13,000 by Maldives football club from 2009

A second foreign footballer has come forward regarding his mistreatment by Club Valencia in the Maldives, claiming that he is still owed US$13,610 by the club since 2009.

Cameroonian national Nkemi A Rim Marcelin was signed to the Maldivian football team from 2007 to 2009, but left after he was allegedly unpaid for a total of five months.

Marcelin’s pay dispute mirrors that of another African player, Wright Charles Gaye, who was signed to Club Valencia in 2012.

On Sunday (March 10), Minivan News reported that Charles had been forced to stay in Male’ for six months whilst waiting for Club Valencia to pay him his remaining US$2,600 salary and a promised one-way ticket home to Liberia.

Unlike Charles, Marcelin was able to leave the Maldives despite being owed over US$13,000, after his new club Becamex Binh Duong Football Club in Vietnam paid for his flight out of the country.

“I feel very, very sad for the club [Valencia], I had helped to win cups in the Maldives, but they are still saying they cannot pay me my money,” Marcelin told Minivan News.

“The club’s management said they would send me all of the money in Vietnam, but I have not received anything yet,” he added.

According to Marcelin, he is still owed US$10,210 from January 2009 to May 2009, as well as a one-way ticket home worth US$1,500.

A number of emails obtained by Minivan News detailing contact between Marcelin and Club Valencia officials from 2010, show the Cameroonian striker pleading with team management and Football Association of Maldives to rectify the problem.

In a message addressed to both the former general secretary of Club Valencia Mohamed Ahmed and the club’s former Chairman Ahmed Saleem, Marcelin claims they had promised to send the money to him 10 months ago.

“I’m not good [at] this moment because my father is sick in Cameroon [and] I don’t have [the] money to give for a hospital,” reads the message, dated March 2010.

A single response sent on March 2010 from Club Valencia’s former Chairman, Saleem, reads: “Thank you for your mail. Sorry for being able to answer your call. I will try to settle your outstanding [payment] ASAP.”

Despite later pleas for the club to pay half of his owed salary for his father’s treatment and a complaint to Football Association of Maldives (FAM) – the most recent dated from February 2013 – Marcelin has received no response.

Club Valencia’s current Chairman Ibrahim Raai Rasheed was not responding to calls or text messages from Minivan News at time of press.

Football Association of Maldives

In regard to Marcelin’s complaint, FAM General Secretary Mohamed Hanim stated that the issue should have been addressed by the former FAM administration.

“We are a new administration that came in on January 26 this year. As soon as I receive a complaint on my table, I will address that problem accordingly.

“FAM will always stand for the rights of players and the clubs. If there is a player [who has a complaint] they should follow procedures for it to be addressed,” Hanim told Minivan News.

When asked if there was any concern from FAM regarding rumours that certain clubs were taking away the passports of foreign players, Hanim said: “We will not taken action on speculations and rumours, instead we take action on matters documented by players or the club itself.

In regard to the rights of players, the FAM Secretary said that the topic will be on the agenda for next Executive Committee meeting.

“The next meeting will involve discussing in more detail what actions we can be taken in regard to mistreatment of players.

“The meeting will highlight the rights of both foreign and local players and that they should be dealt with in a manner that could be regarded as inhumane. This goes for every club,” Hanim said.

Had to survive off handouts: Wright Charles Gaye

Former Club Valencia striker Wright Charles Gaye was finally able to return home on Sunday (March 10) after six months of living in poverty in Male’.

Charles, who resigned from Club Valencia in September 2012 due to a lack of salary, was left stranded in Male’ as he waited for two month’s worth of salary from the club and a promised one-way-ticket home.

Speaking to Minivan News the Liberian national said that he had been forced to live in accommodation with no water or electricity and had survived on just MVR 500 (US$32.49) a week.

Club Valencia’s management stated that the reason behind the delay in Charles’ payments, was because there had been a delay in securing financial assistance from both the sports ministry and from the club’s sponsorship.

Media coverage of Charles’ situation resulted in Club Valencia paying him US$2,600, a one-way ticket home and an extra month’s salary.


Liberian player signed to Maldivian football club “trapped” in Male’ after salary dispute

A Liberian striker brought in to play for a Maldivian football club has spoken of his desperation as he remains trapped in the Maldives with no money and no ticket home.

Wright Charles Gaye, a former striker for Maldivian football club Club Valencia, has spent the last six months living in poverty after the club failed to provide him with two month’s owed salary and a promised one-way ticket home.

Speaking to Minivan News on Thursday (March 7), the 27-year-old Liberian national revealed how he had been forced to live in accommodation with no water or electricity, having to survive on handouts from club officials and other players.

“It has been terrible. I am owed US$2,600 and a one-way-ticket home to Liberia, but for six months I have received nothing.

“It’s hard because I have family back in Africa. They are looking to me because I have to send money back. My son is no longer is school because I don’t have the money to send home,” Charles said.

The issue has now attracted the attention of Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), after Charles lodged a formal complaint to the international organisation.

A letter from FIFA calls for the Football Association of Maldives (FAM) to provide Club Valencia’s position on the claim lodged by Charles no later than March 25.

FAM was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Charles, who has played for multiple clubs in Maldives, Sri Lanka and Liberia, claimed that Valencia’s Chairman Ibrahim Raai Rasheed had told him not to put anything in the news regarding his situation.

“He [Rasheed] is going around telling people that everything is okay for me. But if you want to believe that you can come and see my apartment.

“A former official from the club is giving me MVR 500 (US$32) a week because he feels sorry for me. It’s hard to survive on, but I feel ashamed to be calling for help,” he added.

The Liberian striker said that he had been recently moved into a guest house by his former club after he complained about the lack of electricity and water at his apartment.

Charles claimed that Rasheed had made multiple “promises” to the striker, assuring him that he would be given his wages and a flight home, but each time the chairman did not deliver.

“Sometimes the chairman would call me and say ‘Charles pack your things, you are leaving tomorrow, get your money together and get ready’, so when I pack and call him back, he doesn’t pick up. This has happened two or three times,” Charles said.

“In December I was told I would be leaving on December 23 and would arrive on December 25 on Christmas morning. It meant I would see my son and would get to spend Christmas with him. But over the next few days he was not taking my calls. When he did eventually pick up, he would just say ‘I’m busy, I’ll call you back,” he added.

Club Valencia responds

Responding to the footballer’s claims, Club Valencia Management – when contacted by Minivan News – said that Charles will be paid his full wages and will be given a ticket home to Liberia in Africa.

“There has been a lot of miscommunication recently. Charles has communicated with me on only a few things, but I feel bad for him,” a club official claimed. “His salary and ticket home is now all sorted had he will be returning home.”

The club’s management denied that Charles’ apartment was without running water and electricity, adding that they had written proof of utility bills for the months he had stayed there.

The reason behind the delay in Charles’ payments – according to Club Valencia Management – was that there had been delays in financial assistance from the sports ministry and from the club’s sponsorship.

Despite Valencia’s claims of financial hardship, the Liberian striker claimed that the club had recently brought in three foreign new players and a new coach for the team.

“[Valencia] must have the money. If they don’t, how can they bring in these new players, put them in a big hotel and let them eat in good restaurants? How can they do all that and not pay me?” Charles said.

Club Valencia Management confirmed that three new players and a coach had been taken on by the club.

Life as a foreign footballer in the Maldives

Wright Charles Gaye came to the Maldives four years ago after being signed by New Radiant SC, where he experienced similar pay disputes with the club before transferring to VB Addu FC – known as VB Sport Club until January 2012.

Following a complaint to the Football Association of Maldives over a lack of pay for six months, Charles was eventually paid by New Radiant SC in November 2012.

The striker joined Valencia in the June 2012 transfer period, and started playing in July until the clubs last game on September 28.

Having allegedly only received one month’s pay for July, Charles then left the club and has been waiting for a promised ‘one-way-ticket’ home and his remaining two month salary.

“When you first come to the Maldives as a player, they talk to you nicely and treat you well, but as soon as you sign the papers, it all finishes.

“Some Maldivian players have the same issue, I know two or three players from different clubs who have had payment problems, but for the foreign players it is worse,” Charles said.

The Liberian national also revealed how certain clubs retain foreign player’s passports over concern that the players will buy their own tickets and fly home.

“I have a friend who played here from Cameroon and the club hid his passport, and would not return it when he asked for it back.

“Whenever you ask for your passport they would give you a story, maybe say that is being kept in immigration. They have asked for mine before, but I know what would happen if I gave it them,” Charles alleged.

Addendum: Wright Charles Gaye subsequently contacted Minivan News to say Valencia had paid the US$2,600, an additional one month’s salary and had booked him a one-way flight to Liberia.



Finance Ministry orders all institutions to pay back former govt’s civil servant salary cuts

The Finance Ministry has today issued a circular informing all institutions to pay the amount cut from civil servants from January 2010 to December 2012 by the former government, staring from July onwards.

The circular said the money should be paid monthly and not in a lump sum, and advised all institutions to pay the amount from the annual budget for wages. If the money in budget was not enough, the finance ministry advised the institution to cut the money from the budget allocated for other expenses.

The circular was signed by the Ministry’s Financial Controller, Mohamed Ahmed.

The reduction in civil servant pay was introduced by the previous government in an attempt to manage a financial crisis back in 2009. The initial deduction, agreed between the Finance ministry and the Civil Service Commission (CSC), was only due to last for three months until the government’s income had risen above Rf7billion (US$544 million).

However, after the Finance Ministry refused to restore wages to the previous level, the CSC took the case to the courts.

The Civil Court ruled that the Finance Ministry did not have the authority to reduce the salaries, a cut of up to 20 percent in some cases. The CSC at the time interpreted this as a decision to restore the deducted salaries, a decision upheld by the High Court in May of last year.

In April this year the Civil Service Commission said the wage repayments, amounting to Rf443.7 million (US$28.8 million), will be disbursed in monthly installments over 12 months from July 1 this year. This money has not been accounted for in this year’s state budget, the deficit of which has already drawn concern from the International Monetary Fund.

In January 2010 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that international funding to the Maldives would be threatened if civil servant salaries are restored to former levels.

“One of the primary drivers of the large fiscal deficit has been government spending on public wages, which has more than doubled between 2007 and 2009, and is now one of the highest in the world relative to the size of the economy,” Rodrigo Cubero, IMF mission chief for the Maldives said at the time.

“Measures that would substantially raise the budget deficit, such as a reversal of previously announced wage adjustments, would also put the program off track, jeopardising prospects for multilateral and bilateral international financing,” he warned.

The Maldives is currently facing a foreign currency shortageplummeting investor confidencespiraling expenditure, a drop off in foreign aid and a crippling budget deficit of 27 percent.


Finance Minister to convene pay board despite professed reluctance to cut wages

Minister of Finance and Treasury Abdullah Jihad said today he would avoid cutting the salaries of civil servants in order to tackle the budget deficit which has spiralled to 27 percent of GDP.

He told Minivan News that he would seek to make savings in other areas of expenditure first.

“Civil servants are the lowest down of all government employees. We will try to cut all non-wage expenditure by 15 percent. Salaries will be considered after this,” said Jihad.

The minister’s comments today came after local newspaper Haveeru reported him as having said on Friday that the government was to review the pay of all state employees.

Jihad was reported as having said that the government may have to consider cuts of between 10 and 15 percent in order to save up to Rf2.5billion (US$162 million) from the state budget.

The Finance Ministry’s most recent weekly figures revealed the state’s expenditure to have been 140 percent of its income this year, resulting in a Rf1.5billion (US$97 million) overspend which has been predicted to reach over Rf9 billion (US$584 million) by the year’s end.

However, speaking with Minivan News today, Jihad said that the view expressed in the article was “just an opinion” although he did confirm that a pay board, mentioned in Haveeru, was being formed in order to “harmonise” the pay of all government employees.

The minister said that the review of public salaries will be conducted by a pay review board which will include independent commissions in order to reach an agreement on the necessary reductions.

Sun Online has quoted a senior official at the Finance Ministry as saying that the cabinet had already decided to make cuts of 15 percent to all executive branch agencies although Jihad stressed to Minivan News that no decisions had been made regarding any wage cuts.

“The Cabinet has not yet decided on any cuts,” said Jihad, “we cannot just impose these cuts, we have to agree.”

Parliament’s Financial Committee revealed earlier this month that expected revenue for 2012 had plunged 23 percent , whilst spending was set to increase by almost 24 percent.

Between 2004 and 2009, the country’s fiscal deficit increased exponentially on the back of a 400 percent increase in the government’s wage bill. The year’s 2007 to 2009 included the most significant largesse as the World Bank found wage expenditure to have increased from Rf2billion to almost Rf5billion even as revenues began to recede.

According to statistics from the Civil Service Commission (CSC), the number of permanent civil servants has more than halved between 2006 and June 2011. There has been some contention in the past, however, that the transfer of many civil servants to state owned companies under the previous government masked the true figures.

The Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) published figures for May estimated that the government will spend Rf2.6billion (US$168million) on salaries and wages in 2012.

This represents only 12 percent of the  GDP figures for 2012, predicted in November last year. The figures announced by the finance ministry earlier this month, however, suggest that salaries and wages will now make up 31 percent of the government’s income.

The Governor of the MMA Dr Fazeel Najeeb was reported as saying that the country was experiencing the worst financial crisis in recent history during a finance forum held last week on Bandos Island resort.

“Expenditure in the country has exceeded income, and as a result the budget deficit is increasing. From November 2010 inflation has also been going up,” he said.

The country last year spent 63.1 percent of its GDP on state expenses, Dr Najeeb claimed, adding that only four countries had worse percentages, including Cuba and Zimbabwe.

The Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) figures for May estimated that the government will spend Rf2.6billion on salaries and wages in 2012.

The previous administration of President Mohamed Nasheed saw the government’s balance of payments fall from 21 percent of GDP in 2009 to an estimated 10.2 percent last year, according to the statistics provided by the Ministry of Finance and Treasury.

Jihad contended in  Haveeru that it was the expenses of the former administration that had left the current government in financial dire straits.