Selfies and suspensions – The Weekly Review

May 17th – 23rd

The start of the AFC Challenge Cup and that selfie dominated headlines and twitter feeds this week.

Talk of national unity and a belief that the tournament could be a springboard for the advancement of the nation’s football will continue as the Maldives rode their luck to make it into next week’s semi-finals.

Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed’s luck also appeared to hold out this week as police announced investigations into the justice’s alleged appearance in a sex-tape were being suspended.

The Maldivian Democratic Party declared that this, along with the judicial watchdog’s failure to make headway with its own investigation, to be evidence of a justice system unable to deliver justice.

With criticism also coming from President Abdulla Yameen regarding the Judicial Services Commission’s failure to conclude cases in a timely fashion, the JSC stated that all procedures were being followed.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court continued to strengthen its grip on judicial administration with new regulations. The court was also said to have played a leading role in the decision to change the judge in the alcohol smuggling trial of governing coalition leader Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam.

Despite only one hearing having been held regarding the two-year-old charges, Shiyam had expressed concern that the presiding judge’s demeanour had indicated a personal grudge against him. Judge Abdulla Mohamed has taken over the case.

The Family Court was said to have ejected two representatives of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) this week, though the court itself denied the claims. A regional report from Transparency International urged the government to further empower the commission in order to fight graft.

The ACC received a case last week accusing Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb of using state-owned companies to withdraw millions of dollars which has not been repaid – charges Adeeb has refuted.

The government announced this week that it will soon empower one company to build the fabled Malé–Hulhulé bridge, with bidding set to open early next month. While plans for the US$7 million renovation of IGMH were also revealed.

With three minors convicted this week in relation to a fatal stabbing, the recent decision to facilitate the reintroduction of the death penalty again made international headlines. Former Home Minister Hassan Afeef, however, questioned the government’s sincerity in moving to end the sixty year moratorium.

Speaking at the country’s third Finance Forum this week, Maldives Monetary Authority Governor Dr Azeema Adam called for the government to work in concert with society to cut expenditure before a panel of experts discussed how to attract foreign investment.

The investments of the Foreign Ministry during 2011 were questioned by the auditor general this week, while the mayor of Malé City Council questioned the Finance Ministry’s assistance in the capital’s growing waste management problems.

The details of the deputy mayor’s run-in with a fellow council member – since suspended – were caught on tape. Progressive Party of Maldives councillor Ahmed Mamnoon bragged to Shifa Mohamed that he was a ‘gunda’ – thug/gangster.

Working alongside their Sri Lankan counterparts, the police this week returned convicted drug kingpin Ibrahim Shafaz Abdul Razzak to the Maldives after he overstayed his medical leave.

Meanwhile, seven former employees of Sheraton’s Full Moon resort were escorted from the island by police, alleging that their dismissal was linked to their union activities.

Police also dismantled a youth hangout in Villimalé, leading to criticism from local MP Ahmed Nihan who questioned the police’s approach to dealing with the youth.

In the atolls this week, a “benchmark” low carbon emission project was launched in Laamu while a continuing drought in Haa Alif atoll caused the islanders on Ihavandhoo to pray for rain.


TEAM fears resort workers’ income may be indirectly affected by T-GST rise

The Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) has expressed concern that certain resorts are planning to reduce service charges in the wake of the proposed increase to the Tourism Goods and Service Tax (T-GST).

“While the decision to increase Tourism General Services Tax (T-GST) is going to increase the government’s income, some resorts are trying to reduce the percentage of service charge collected from tourist for the resort workers; this is very concerning and unacceptable for our association,” read a TEAM press release today.

Earlier this month the People’s Majlis agreed to revenue raising measures which involved increasing T-GST to 12 percent in order to help finance the government’s record MVR17.95 billion budget.

“Even now, in most resorts, the services charge collected from tourists are not distributed according to law, and they are sometimes spent by the companies; the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives is very concerned about this as well,” said TEAM.

An employee of one of the country’s top resorts explained that current legislation mandated that 10 percent of service charge must be taken for staff, and one percent used for additional staff costs.

“But the current legislation doesn’t specify that the service charge has to be distributed equally,” said the employee – who preferred to remain anonymous. “There are a lot of loopholes.”

The trade union today called for the government to establish a comprehensive legal framework that regulates the payment and disbursal of service charges.

“Service charges and monthly wages and other allowances are privileges that should be sustained through bargaining through an agreement between the employer and and the employed,” said the union.

Workers at the Sheraton Full Moon resort went on strike last month, citing low service charge as one of the reasons. Local reports suggested that Sheraton’s staff were being paid less than one third of the amount made by fellow-workers in similar resorts from service charge.

One general manager, however,  told Minivan News that he felt TEAM’s fears were unfounded, suggesting that comparison with other resorts was a major reason for keeping staff benefits competitive.

“We need to keep staff happy in order to have happy guests. It’s highly uncommon for a resort to do this – it’s just not worth it. We want to attract and keep the best staff.”

“TEAM’s logic doesn’t make sense,” said the GM, who wished to remain anonymous. “I don’t know of any resort that does anything wrong with the service charge.”

Asked about the potential impact of the scheduled changes to tourism charges – which include the reintroduction of that flat-rate bed tax until November, alongside the T-GST increase in the same month – the GM said that it was the top resorts that would be worst affected.

“Higher end resorts will be experience more of a problem after higher T-GST replaces the bed tax, and it’s these resorts which normally charge a higher service rate,” he said.

Earlier this week, IMF representatives told a Majlis committee that – even at twelve percent – the rates of taxation in the tourism sector were “quite low” compared to other tourist destinations.

Dr Koshy Mathai, resident representative to Sri Lanka and Maldives, said he had paid “north of 20 percent” in taxes at a hotel in Fiji and that, as 70 to 80 percent of the Maldivian economy was “driven by tourism”, Mathai said that it was “only natural that the [tourism industry is] contributing resources for the economy to operate.”

He added that “rates of return on Maldivian resorts are among the highest in the world”.

“The people who come here are people with more wherewithal, more financial resources, who are more likely to be price insensitive,” said Mathai.