Verdict in ‘airport protest’ delayed to August 6

The criminal court has postponed the sentencing of 15 opposition supporters accused of protesting at the main international airport to August 6.

A sentence was expected on June 14, but the court delayed the hearing after presiding judge Sujau Usman was promoted to the High Court last week.

If the sitting judge in a case leaves the court, the case is immediately referred to the Chief Judge, who then has to allocate another judge to oversee the case.

“We still don’t know if a new judge has been allocated to the case. Even then, the new judge cannot immediately issue the sentence. He has to hear the case again,” said lawyer Nazim Sattar.

Some 14 women and one man are being charged with disobedience to order, after they were arrested carrying posters of imprisoned ex-president Mohamed Nasheed at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport in March.

The 15 belong to the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

The Freedom of Assembly Act prohibits protests at airports and carries a MVR150 (US$10) fine, or six months in jail, house arrest or banishment.

Nazim contends the group’s actions do not constitute a protest.

“State witnesses include testimonies from the police officers who arrested the individuals. How can that be used to prove they were protesting?” Nazim questioned.

Malé City deputy mayor Shifa Mohamed and MDP women’s wing vice president Shaneez “Thanie” Saeed are among the defendants.

The criminal court had previously conditioned the group’s release from remand detention on avoiding protests. The High Court later said the court’s conditions are unconstitutional.

Shifa has previously accused the criminal court of misconduct and bias in the treatment of those arrested at protests, and said that the individuals are being punished for the same crime twice with the 60 day protest ban.

Judge Usman sat on the three-judge panel that sentenced ex-president Nasheed to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges. The trial was widely criticised for apparent lack of due process.


New city council office infested with rats and fungus

New office space offered to Malé city council office by the government is infested with rats and fungus, says deputy mayor Shifa Mohamed.

The housing minister ordered the opposition-dominated council last week to vacate the city hall building at Galolhu Billoorijehige and move to smaller offices at the Huravee building within seven days.

Shifa told Minivan News today that the council has shared numerous concerns regarding safety and hygiene with the civil service commission.

“There is fungus on the walls of the building. The building has a pungent smell and there are rats and rat holes everywhere,” she said.

Nearly 60 civil service staff at the council have filed a petition at commission, saying the building is unfit for office work.

The city hall takeover was the latest incident in a long-running power struggle between the ministry and the council. Earlier this year, the ministry transferred a third of the council’s employees to the ministry.

Shifa said the council has asked the ministry for an extension of the seven-day deadline for the move, but is yet to receive a response.

“The ministry is not responding to any political staff at the city council,” she said.

Services provided to the public could be interrupted if the ministry does not grant an extension, she added.

Local media observed cracks on the walls, several rat holes and waste leaking onto the carpet floor of the new office.

Civil service commission president Dr Mohamed Latheef declined to comment on the state of the building until the council officially requests for assistance.

“We do not want to get involved with the matter,” he said.

However, he assured assistance and an inquiry as soon as the council officially files a complaint.

The letter evicting the council from city hall was signed by acting housing minister Thoriq Ibrahim.

The ministry also ordered the council to hand over the compound building the Billoorijehige building and the local market.

Thoriq said the cabinet had decided on April 19 that the building was better suited for government offices.

The housing ministry did not consult the council on the issue before the decision, and Shifa claimed the lack of communication “was enough proof that the cabinet’s decision was political.”

In November last year, the council was shut down after police confiscated several hard drives and documents saying the council was using the documents to gain “unlawful advantages.”

In October, masked individuals wielding machetes uprooted all of Malé City’s Areca palms. When the council attempted to replant the trees, the cabinet announced the council no longer had power over the city roads.

Shifa has previously suggested that the government was ‘destroying decentralisation’ after the housing ministry seized numerous plots of land from the council including two parks, the artificial beach, the carnival area, the south harbour area, Usfasgandu, Dharubaaruge, and the area near the T-Jetty.


Malé City council thrown out of city hall

The housing ministry has taken over the Malé City hall and its compound from the opposition dominated city council, in an attempt the deputy mayor says is designed to “wipe out” local governance.

Acting housing minister Thoriq Ibrahim in a letter today ordered the council to vacate the city hall at Galholhu Billorijehige within seven days, and move to a smaller office at Huravee Building. 

The opposition Maldivians Against Brutality coalition has been using the city hall and its compounds for rallies in recent weeks, following the housing ministry’s refusal to lease public spaces for opposition activities.

The housing ministry had taken control of all of Malé City’s public spaces, parks and roads from the city council last year.

According to Thoriq’s letter, President Abdulla Yameen and his cabinet on April 19 decided the city hall and its compounds were better suited for other government offices, which they say are suffering from a lack of space.

The housing ministry today declined to comment on which offices are to move in to the city hall.

In addition to the city hall, the housing ministry also seized control of the local market and a plot of land reclaimed for a new fish market in the northern Malé.

Deputy Mayor Shifa Mohamed said that the cabinet’s decision violates the Decentralization Act.

“The government does not know how to operate within a decentralized system. They don’t want to give even an ounce of power to the people,” Shifa said.

The housing ministry had not consulted the council on the issue, and Shifa claimed the lack of communication “was enough proof that the cabinet’s decision was political.”

The city hall takeover is the latest blow in a long running power struggle between the ministry and the council. Earlier this year, the ministry transferred a third of the council’s employees to the ministry.

In November, the council was shut down after police confiscated several hard drives and documents saying the council was using the documents to gain “unlawful advantages.”

In October, masked individuals wielding machetes uprooted all of Malé City’s Areca palms. When the council attempted to replant the trees, the cabinet announced the council no longer had power over the city roads.

Shifa has previously suggested that the government was ‘destroying decentralisation’ after the housing ministry seized numerous plots of land from the council including two parks, the artificial beach, the carnival area, the south harbour area, Usfasgandu, Dharubaaruge, and the area near the T-Jetty.


Women face charges over airport protest

State prosecutors are preparing to charge 14 women and one man who protested at Male’s international airport earlier last month over the arrest and trial of former president Mohamed Nasheed.

Police have sent the cases to the prosecutor general’s office to send them to trial, an official confirmed to Minivan News.

Another source confirmed that 15 cases were sent to the prosecutor general’s office, while a total of 90 protest-related cases have been sent to the state prosecutor.

Some 14 women and one man were arrested on March 5 while protesting at the airport with posters calling for Nasheed’s release. The protest was co-ordinated by the women’s wing of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

The opposition has been holding nightly street protests over Nasheed’s trial, but it is rare for demonstrations to take place at the airport in view of international tourists.

A police spokesperson at the time said the Freedom of Assembly Act bars protests at airports.

Nasheed has since been sentenced to 13 years of prison over terrorism charges, in a trial which was deemed unfair by the UN and Amnesty International.

Among those arrested were Malé City deputy-mayor Shifa Mohamed and MDP women’s wing vice-president Shaneez “Thanie” Saeed.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Shifa said she is yet to be officially informed of the charges, but have heard rumors about it in the media.

“We are already getting punished for protesting. [We] are barred from protesting for 60 days. If they accuse us again we are getting punished for the same crime twice,” Shifa said.

All of those arrested at the airport were released by the criminal court at their remand hearing on the condition they do not participate in further protests for 60 days.

The opposition has argued that the release of those arrested at protests on these conditions violates their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

Shifa accused the criminal court of misconduct and bias in their treatment of those arrested at protests.

The remand trial of those arrested at the airport was headed by Judge Abdul Bari Yoosuf – one of the three-judge panel who sentenced Nasheed to 13 years.

The deputy mayor said that Bari warned them he would sentence them to two months in detention if they participate in more protests.

“I see this as threat to scare us, and something done to selectively eliminate certain individuals,” Shifa said.

In another high-profile case, MP Ahmed Mahloof, formerly of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives, was arrested at a protest last week and detained for five days.

When his detention ended, the criminal court handed him a further five days of house arrest after he refused the court’s condition to stay away from protests for 60 days.

Similarly, MDP MP Ismail Fayyaz was given 15 days’ detention after he refused to accept release under the same conditions.


City council dismisses allegations of MDP favouritism at City Hall

Malé City Council (MCC) has dismissed suggestions made by the housing minister that it favours the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) when renting out Malé City Hall.

An MCC press statement released yesterday (January 11) said the council rents out the hall in accordance to the constitution, laws, and relevant regulations, and that the council does not give preference to any party or individual when renting out the public space.

In a tweet posted on Saturday (January 12) housing minister Dr Mohamed Muizzu alleged that the council premises were “not being used to serve the public”, but instead as an MDP headquarter.

The council’s response condemned the remarks, assuring the public that all private and public events were held at City Hall without discrimination.

The council – dominated by MDP members – also noted that in 2014 alone the council received MVR158,150 (US$10,300) from renting the hall, and that the entire sum has been transferred to the finance ministry to be added to state reserves.

Speaking to Minivan News yesterday, Malé City Deputy Mayor Shifa Mohamed said that the “government is coming up with lies and excuses to take over the building from where MCC is run, after it has already transferred all public spaces and roads under the Council’s authority.”

Shifa has previously suggested that the government was plotting to “destroy decentralization” after the housing ministry seized numerous plots of land from the council including two parks, the artificial beach, carnival area, south harbor, Usfasgandu, Dharubaaruge, and land near the T- Jetty.

With the removal of road maintenance duties in the capital late last year, the council has said it remains in charge only of facilitating construction, issuing death and birth certificates, and cleaning mosques.

Last month, the council expressed concern after 377 of its employees were transferred to the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure without prior notice – constituting over a third of its workforce.

Speaking at the time, Mayor Mohamed Shihab said that the council has only been operating within the powers granted to it by the Decentralisation Act, adding that the government has been persistently making its work difficult.

In November 2014, nearly all services at the council came to a halt after police confiscated important documents and several hard drives, including the server system necessary for daily operation.

Police searched and confiscated the council’s office on the night of November 26 after a search warrant was requested from the Criminal Court regarding a corruption case against council staff.

However, the council denied the corruption allegations, which had alleged staff had used documents sent by the housing ministry to gain unlawful advantages.

Speaking at the time, Maafannu Hulhangu Constituency Councillor Shamau Shareef said the incident was one of many intended to intimidate the council and to prevent it from providing the services to the people of Malé.

October also saw masked individuals wielding machetes cut down over 30 council-owned areca palm trees along the capital’s main thoroughfare, Majeedhee Magu  – an attack former President Mohamed Nasheed alleged was carried out by off duty special operations officers.

Related to this story

Over one third of Malé City Council staff transferred to Housing Ministry

Malé City Council close to shut-down after police confiscate documents and server system

Malé City Council helpless as housing ministry takes over all land, public services staff

Can decentralisation take root in the Maldives?


MDP says poorly prioritised 2015 education budget will lead to corruption

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has said that the poorly prioritised education sector of the 2015 state budget is structured in a way which will eventually lead to corruption.

While speaking at a press conference, MDP education and training committee chair and former education minister Dr Musthafa Luthfee criticised the allocation of a large budget to the education ministry without proper planning.

“A lot of money from the budget has been allotted to the education ministry,” claimed Dr Luthfee. “This includes the salaries of eight new political figures to be hired to the ministry bringing the total of political figures to 20.”

MDP’s budget review committee earlier this week previously accused the 2015 state budget of being ‘aimless’ and criticised it heavily for not being goal-oriented.

The record MVR 24.3 billion (US$ 1.58 billion) proposed budget for 2015 is currently at the committee stage in the Majlis, where today’s session was held behind closed doors for the first time in the legislature’s history.

Dr Luthfee today claimed that the education budget of MVR2.45 billion (US$ 160 million) had no connection whatsoever to the government’s manifesto which had promised to bring ‘innovative’ changes to the sector in the upcoming year.

Education minister Dr Aishath Shiham last week said “significant changes” had been brought to the education sector during the first year of the current administration, including introduction of Quran as a subject for grades one to seven, Arabic language in 20 schools, and vocational training.

A volunteerism programme and a new “vocational education stream” would also form a major part of next year’s plans for the sector, she added.

Malé City Council Deputy Mayor Shifa Mohamed – herself a former minister of education – alleged that the government had not budgeted the required MVR532 million (US$34.5 million) needed to raise the salaries of teachers despite promises made by both President Abdulla Yameen and Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

The Teachers Association of Maldives (TAM) has threatened to stop work numerous times this year, demanding the government to reform the education system and to settle the pay discrepancies.

After a full strike appeared inevitable in September, discussions with the government appeared to have gained results, with TAM expressing confidence that the president was attending to the issue.

The MDP education committee also expressed concern over the MVR481 million (US$31.25 million) increase in the recurrent expenditure of the ministry while questioning the need for 2,159 new staff to be hired under the ministry.

“Current teacher to student ratio stands at 1 to 9. We don’t understand the need to increase the number of teachers while the current teachers are not getting proper pay and the schools are in need of new facilities,” said Shifa.

The government currently employs just under 25,000 civil servants, representing over seven percent of the population. Finance minister Abdulla Jihad told the public accounts committee last month that government would freeze recruitment for 2015 in a bid to control spending.

Shifa today commented on the lack of allocated funds for the government’s promises to provide Arabic language as an additional subject in all schools and to ensure that Quran education is included in all stages of education.

The education committee’s vice-chair, Shaifa Zuabir expressed the committee’s concern over promises to make the Maldives Polytechnic a central hub in training the 95,000 individuals who are to be provided with employment during President Yameen’s government.

“95,000 individuals are to be trained from Maldives Polytechnic,” said Shaifa. “Yet we see the Government has only assigned a mere MVR 13.4 million (US$ 870,000) to Maldives Polytechnic.”

MDP Vice-Chair Ahmed Ali Niyaz claimed the 2015 budget is not different from those during former president Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom while stating the budget ‘serves for administrative purposes alone


MCC laying pipes to prevent further flooding

Malé City Council (MCC) began laying underground pipes in the capital to prevent the persisent flooding of certain areas of the capital during rain showers.

Malé City Deputy Mayor Shifa Mohamed told Minivan News that the pipes are being laid with assistance from Malé Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC) at the areas worst affected by floods during bad weather.

“This is not permanent solution, but we believe that the pipes which are being laid underground will temporarily prevent severe flooding,” said Shifa.

Many major roads in the capital were severely flooded last Thursday (October 30) after a heavy downpour, disrupting transportation with much of the south-west of the 6km sq island left under water – a foot high in many places.

Shifa blamed poor planning and lack of maintenance as the lead cause in the flooding while stating that the drains on the sides of the roads have not been emptied in over 25 years.


Malé night market to continue despite alleged corruption

The Malé night market will continue despite the Anti Corruption Commission’s (ACC) instruction not to continue with the deal, the Malé City Council has said.

Deputy Mayor Shifa Mohamed told Minivan News their legal advisors had told them that the ACC does not have the authority stop the agreement with GoMedia from going ahead.

“They asked us to stop certain things, but it has to be finalised from the court,” Shifa said.

“So according to legal officers the Supreme Court has taken a role in saying the ACC is not a place to stop any projects,” she stated.

Shifa referred to a Supreme Court verdict in September 2013 in which the apex court said the ACC does not have the authority to stop a contract between the Maldives government and a Malaysian mobile security firm Nexbis to establish a border control system.

The ACC is consequently planning to take legal action against the Council and GoMedia.

Speaking to Vnews, ACC President Hassan Luthufee said that the Go Media agreement should not be followed by any means and that the agreement’s maintenance was a direct attempt to abet a criminal offense.

“We have forwarded the Go Media case to PG (Prosecutor General) Office for prosecution. If the present Malé City Council members are speaking with this intent, we have to investigate and prosecute them as well,” Luthufee said.

Council disputes corruption allegations

The ACC had stated that the agreement made between Malé City Council and Go Media was compiled in manner that favored some parties and paved way for possible corruption.

However, Shifa yesterday stated that investigations into corruption had not been carried out sufficiently, and questioned the thoroughness of the ACC’s research.

“The Major has sent letter telling [ACC] to redo the whole investigation,” revealed Shifa.

“When the ACC started looking there was one single letter, by a single councilor. The ACC have not really gone into depth,” she added. “They need to check all the documents.”

The arrangements for the market are well underway with many of the stalls already let out to traders, and stopping the plans now could damage many small business owners, Shifa said.

GoMedia has rented out 450 stalls and three canteens at the rate of MVR 4000 (US$ 259) each.

“Small business have already bought tables,” she explained, “we should not disappoint them. We have to consider the fact that agreement was signed.”

“The ACC’s main responsibility is to check if the project is going on properly,” Shifa continued.

She explained that any grievances the ACC may have should be put forth to the Prosecutor General.


Football star caught with local girl escapes family fury

Football star Ahmed ‘Ammaday’ Mohamed, captain of the New Radiant Football Club, was caught with a girl inside his room on Maalhos in North Ari Atoll leading to a disturbance involving family members of the girl and other islanders.

An islander who witnessed the incident said that the girl was 18 years-old.

“A group of young boys on the island noticed the girl’s behaviour was odd and followed her secretly to find out what she was about,’’ he said. “They discovered the girl went inside the room of visiting football star Ahmed Mohamed, and so they phoned the girl’s family.’’

A short while later, members of the alerted family went to the house and peeped through an opening in the wall.

“Her brother knocked on the door and tried to kick down the door, but it was locked. They were both stuck inside the room,’’ the witness said. “In the meantime, Ahmed called a group in the island and a second group of  men armed with sticks and knives arrived at the place to stop the girl’s family members.’’

After the girl’s family demanded that she come out, he continued, a person with a key to the room opened it and the girl came out leaving Ahmed inside.

“The girl’s brother then assaulted her, leaving her with bruises,’’ the islander said. “The man left that same night.”

According to the islander, Ahmed Mohamed was staying on the island to play for a football tournament held during the Eid holidays.