President Abdulla Yameen opened the rebranded “Sun Siyam Iru Fushi” resort at a ceremony on Friday.
Resorts operated under the ‘Sun Travel’ company owned by MP Ahmed Siyam Mohamed have been rebranded ‘Sun Siyam Resorts.’
Speaking at the brand launching ceremony, President Yameen urged youth to follow the example of Siyam’s entrepreneurship, adding that success could be reached through perseverance and discipline.
The president also outlined the government’s goals for developing the tourism industry during his five-year term, which included “developing 50 new resort properties, introducing vertical tourism, positioning Maldives as a vacation home, developing live-aboard marina infrastructure, developing medical tourism with world class facilities, and introducing educational tourism,” according to the President’s Office.
President Yameen announced that a number of resorts would float a portion of their shares to the public by the end of the year, urging resort workers to become shareholders.
The Sun Siyam would be floating up to 40 percent of the group’s shares to their employees in the coming years, Yameen announced.
At the ceremony, Siyam – leader of the Maldives Development Alliance party – presented President Yameen and Toursim Minister Ahmed Adeeb with commemorative plaques, which was followed by an entertainment programme headlined by international artist Nicole Scherzinger.
The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture has said it has “not officially” received complaints that staff at the Iru Fushi Resort in Noonu Atoll have faced alleged political harassment after the property’s owners terminated a management agreement with Hilton.
Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal told Minivan News this week that while the tourism ministry closely monitored working standards and staff treatment across the industry, it had not been informed of any concerns so far resulting from the change in management at the resort on May 1.
Despite the claims, the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) said an official letter had been sent to the Tourism Ministry last week raising concerns over allegations that employees were facing intimidation over their political beliefs from fellow staff and management at the Iru Fushi Resort.
The allegations of harassment were said by the trade union to have intensified since local company Sun Tour and Travels opted to terminate Hilton’s management of the site at the beginning of the month – adding no official response had been received from the Tourism Ministry.
Sun Travel and Tours, which is owned and operated by local businessman and media magnate MP Ahmed Shiyam, announced May 1 that it was terminating Hilton’s agreement to manage the Noonu Atoll-based resort. No reason has so far been given by the resort owner for the termination despite repeated requests for an interview by Minivan News.
“The cessation of Hilton Worldwide’s management of that resort was unforeseen and due to factors outside its control,” the hotel chain said in an official statement following the termination.
Sources on the resort, speaking to Minivan News on condition of anonymity, have previously accused Sun Tours of allowing MP Shiyam’s Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) to offer jobs at the site exclusively to its supporters, while also threatening and harassing staff with differing political view points.
“When Hilton was here, there was freedom to talk about politics, whatever party you supported,” an employee at the resort claimed earlier this month. “No one was holding campaigns here for parties or anything, but now just talking about politics is a problem. This has happened recently.”
The same staff member at the time accused certain employees of acting as “MDA spies” for MP Shiyam’s political party, leading to fears about job prospects at the site for those with differing political views.
“People are really afraid to talk here now. We know that some people here represent the MDA [party] and we have heard them warn others ‘we have the power now’ – these are words they are using,” the source claimed. “We do not have job security right now.”
The resort is now being run as the Maldives Iru Fushi Resort and Spa.
MP Shiyam had his phone switched off at time of press, while company spokesperson Mohamed Hameed was out of the country when contacted by Minivan News.
Deputy Minister Maleeh said that tourism authorities had not been “officially” made aware of the allegations raised by Iru Fushi staff, adding that from the ministry’s experience, the vast majority of the country’s resort workers and management were all working together to benefit the wider industry.
“If there is an issue, we will go and inspect resorts and make sure staff are being treated in line within the stipulated requirements,” he said.
Maleeh said that various conditions and standards concerning treatment of resort staff were outlined by ministry regulations such as the number of toilets being provided to employees and their living arrangements. Maleeh added that a large number of operators complied with these practices.
“Some resorts currently even provide a staff pool,” he said.
Maleeh said that while the tourism ministry was able to carry out inspections of resorts where there were reported staff issues, it had not been given any information that wuld require it to carry out such checks at the Iru Fushi resort.
He added that in the case of a management termination, the ministry itself looked to avoid involvement in cases involving two private parties in the country unless there was deemed to be a significant contractual issue.
“Even then, a contract like this is normally governed by international law or arbitration anyway,” Maleeh added.
Hilton has meanwhile said earlier this month that discussions were continuing with Sun Travels over the decision to abruptly terminate its agreement, though no further details were being provided by the company at present.
Despite the decision by Sun Travels to terminate Hilton’s management contract for Iru Fushi, the hotel giant still presently operates the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island resort in the Maldives for a different company.
Maleeh claimed that the Maldives ultimately still remained a very attractive destination for multinational hotel chains and boutique hospitality groups alike, adding that the ministry had received “no complaints” regarding their treatment in the country.
“The reason that the Maldives is so popular is not only is it a place where contracts are known to be honoured, but it also offers a return on investment that is very strong,” he said.
The deputy minister said that there continued to provide a very favourable investment climate for hospitality companies.
Maleeh said that upon returning from a recent visit to the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference that took place earlier this month in Dubai, there remained a strong interest and appetite for emerging hospitality groups to enter the Maldives tourism industry.
The Maldives already has 100 exclusive island resorts being operated in the country by both local and multinational companies.
However, TEAM Secretary General Mauroof Zakir has told Minivan News he that the trade union remained concerned at the response of tourism authorities in the country to complaints raised by staff following the termination of Hilton’s agreement.
Zakir said that after having submitted an official letter to the tourism ministry earlier this month, no response had yet been received over its concerns.
Just last week, TEAM alleged it had received received information that management had been hiring local MDA members to replace staff members who resigned since the change in management.
Zakir added that he had also been informed by various members of staff that Sun Travels had since brought in a number of experienced managers from its wider resort operations to ensure the property was being run more smoothly on the back of alleged difficulties following the changeover.
“Things seem to be much more under control at the site now, staff told me,” he said last week.
However, Zakir has continued to maintain that there was concerns that authorities were failing to properly review the nature of the resort termination and its impact on staff as a result of political influence.
Sun Travel and Tours has abruptly terminated its agreement with hotel giant Hilton to manage the Maldives Iru Fushi Resort leading to the resignation of 30 employees at the property, staff have alleged. The termination has also led to some guests cancelling their bookings at the property with local operators.
Hilton said that its agreement to run the resort was cancelled officially on May 3 by the Sun Travel and Tours company.
“The cessation of Hilton Worldwide’s management of that resort was unforeseen and due to factors outside its control,” the hotel chain said in an official statement.
A staff member at the Noonu Atoll-based resort, who asked to remain anonymous, alleged the property’s owners had given Hilton barely 24 hours notice before terminating the agreement.
The staff member said Sun had given little information for the reason for the termination, stating that Hilton’s management team was notified on April 30 that their services would no longer be required.
According to a letter sent to staff that was seen by Minivan News, Sun took over management of the property on May 1 and began removing all Hilton branding from the resort, which will now be known as the Maldives Iru Fushi Resort and Spa.
“As I understand, management were informed by letter at about 3:00pm on April 30 that the owners would be taking over. Even Hilton did not know what was happening. There is a lot of shock, it is a very smoothly run resort,” the resort source claimed.
Despite a pledge by management at Sun Travel and Tours management to retain all staff at the site, the staff member said some employees were now concerned about their job security.
The staff member said 30 of an estimated 500 staff employed at the resort has resigned in the four days following the termination of the Hilton contract. Bookings had already been cancelled due to of the loss of the Hilton name, the source said, while other guests were already in the process of trying to amend their bookings.
Sources at several large local travel operators based in Male’ confirmed to Minivan News today that some bookings for the property had already been cancelled.
The resort staff member praised Hilton’s conduct in handing the property over in a peaceful manner, claiming that the company had in some cases offered to transfer guests to the company’s other resort in the country, Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.
“Hilton have been so patient in this matter and left the place so professionally. Although its GM had left, the management urged us not to resign right away and to think of our families,” the source claimed.
After Hilton management were informed of the cessation of the management agreement, the source alleged the company was given less than 24 hours to vacate the premises, with access to the site’s computer equipment and offices cut off by 12:00pm the following day (May 1).
“I am a Maldivian myself, but I am ashamed of these guys and the way in which they have [taken over management],” the source claimed.
No statement from Sun
Sun Travels and Tours Pvt Ltd is owned and operated by MP Ahmed Shiyam, a local businessman and media magnate, who last year founded his own political party known as the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA).
Shiyam was not responding to calls at time of press, though senior MDA official Ali Mauroof recommended Minivan News contact Abdulla Thamheed, “our general manager” at the resort.
Thamheed later requested that media inquiries on the resort be addressed to Sun Travel and Tours offices in Male’. Minivan News was still awaiting a response from the company at time of press, which had yet to release an official statement as of May 5.
Political activities: TEAM
The Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) meanwhile claimed it had received complaints from workers at the resort before and after the termination of the Hilton management agreement concerning attempts to politicise staff.
TEAM Secretary General Mauroof Zakir alleged he had received several reports of widespread uncertainty at the resort from staff, alleging a number of guest rooms were being provided to MDA supporters and members.
“The resort’s operations are being jeopardised by a complete lack of understanding as to who are paying guests and where people are staying,” he alleged. “It sounds like a real mess there at the moment.”
Zakir said that TEAM had also received complaints by staff concerned over job security at the resort amid reports that individuals signing up to the MDA were being offered employment at the site.
“More than this, there is the direct damage to the industry of losing a major name like Hilton from the country,” he claimed. “We haven’t heard anything from the Tourism Ministry about this and will be looking to meet authorities over the matter tomorrow.”
Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb and Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.
The staff member meanwhile claimed that during the second day of working under the new resort management, a speedboat belonging to MP Shiyam had arrived with an entourage of people who had been campaigning for the MDA on nearby local islands.
“This party have been staying here with the owner [MP Shiyam] while they conduct political activities,” claimed the source.
As well as using the resort’s offices for MDA administrative matters such as photocopying and producing promotional material, the member of staff alleged that politicisation of the resort had been ongoing even while Hilton was in charge of site.
“Management have already hired two new guys linked to [MDA]. As I understand they were employed without undergoing any of the regular formal processes. Those who are here do not feel this is a safe place to work right now,” the source alleged.
Police called over harassment of female guests
Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef meanwhile confirmed that police had attended the resort on May 4 in response to allegations that three female Maldivians staying at the resort had been harassed.
Haneef said police arrived at the site yesterday afternoon to investigate after receiving a complaint from resort management over alleged harassment of some guests by an unidentified suspect.
He claimed that police had insufficient information to identify a suspect at the time of press.
The resort source alleged police had been called to the resort over allegations of attempted sexual assault of female guests on Friday (May 3) by an individual he claimed was part of the resort owner’s group.
“This individual entered the room belonging to these ladies and threatened them if they tried to make a noise,” the source alleged. “They managed to scare the man off and he escaped. These ladies complained and the police were called. This person was not a guest,” he said.
“You are swine” and “the children that you bear from this marriage will all be bastard swine,” a tourist couple renewing their marriage vows in the Maldives were told in a ‘traditional Maldivian’ ceremony conducted in Dhivehi at Vilu Reef Beach and Spa Resort.
“Your marriage is not a valid one. You are not the kind of people who can have a valid marriage. One of you is an infidel. The other, too, is an infidel – and we have reason to believe –an atheist, who does not even believe in an infidel religion,” the ‘celebrant’ tells the couple, who appear completely unaware of the humiliation they are being subjected to.
A 15-minute video of the ceremony was uploaded on YouTube on October 24 2010 by a member of staff. Vilu Reef Manager Mohamed Rasheed told Minivan News that the staff member who uploaded the video did it as “a joke”, without “realising the seriousness of the potential consequences”.
Vilu Reef Beach and Spa Resort advertises itself as a place where couples can renew their wedding vows “hand in hand against a golden sunset backdrop” and where their “everlasting love” can be sealed by a “kaleidoscope of romantic hues” that covers the sky during the sunset.
In the video the ‘celebrant’ briefs the couple in English, prior to the ceremony, that it will be conducted according to “not only Maldivian” but also “Arabic and Islamic” norms.
Two wedding rings inside an open coconut, which appears to be lined with mother of pearl, are in front of the couple along with two fresh coconuts. The couple seem dressed for the ceremony, the woman in white as favoured by Western brides.
“Don’t look at her chest”, a man – possibly the videographer – is heard saying as the woman leans over to take a sip from the coconut. She adjusts her neckline.
Men, about ten or more, surround the area both outside and inside the palm fronds, which appears to be a make-shift wedding venue.
The celebrant twirls his thumbs over a piece of paper that he appears to be studying with deep concentration. A male voice asks him if the document is “something new”. He replies that it is “the seventh Article of the Penal Code”.
The document, of which there is a brief close-up in the video, has absolutely no relation to marriage laws in the Maldives. Words that are legible on the document refer to “staff employment”, suggesting that it is a document relating to employment regulations.
Asking the couple and other ‘officials’ to raise their hands as is customary for Muslim prayers, the ‘celebrant’ begins his marriage vows.
“Fornication has been legalised according to Article six, 1.11 of the Penal Code”, he chants in a tone favoured by religious scholars. “That is, frequent fornication by homosexuals. Most fornication is by males,” he continues.
“Research has shown that men have a higher sex drive than women,” he says. “According to Article 8 to 6 of the Penal Code, converting to Islam, or circumcision, is not desirable under any circumstances.
“Germs of anger and hatred will breed and drip from the tips of your penises,” he says.
The ‘celebrant’ then switches from his improvised “Islamic and Maldivian marriage laws” to reading aloud from the document in front of him in the same ‘religious’ tone. This time, what he chants to the couple is to do with terms of employment.
When he returns to the ‘marriage vows’, he refers to certain Articles of the Constitution and combines ‘Section e” and “Section f” to create the word “balhu”, which in Dhivehi means “swine”. ‘E’ in Dhivehi is the letter ‘baa’ and ‘F’ the letter ‘lhaviyani’.
The ‘celebrant’ mixes the two letters to make the word ‘balhu’, the full version of which, as used by the ‘celebrant’, is ‘nagoo balhu’. The literal translation of the term is ‘crooked tail’, believed to refer to a pig’s tail, and is considered to be one of the worst insults in the Dhivehi language.
“You are swine according to the Constitution,” he declares, solemnly.
He then asks the couple to stand up and hold hands. The ‘officials’, too, stand up and place their hands on the couples’. They form a séance-like circle and the ‘celebrant’ begins chanting.
“Aleelaan, baleelaan…”, he begins. What he is chanting is not a verse from the Qur’an, or marriage vows in Dhivehi, but are the words of a popular Dhivehi children’s game.
Words of the game, too, are changed to say “black swine” instead of what is contained in the original.
“Before buggering a chicken, check if the hole is clean. That is because the people of the countries that you are from are familiar with the taste of the ****holes of chicken,” he chants, still with hands held over the couples’.
“Do not treat with kindness people against whom violence is being committed. Commit more violence against victims of violence. You are not people who have been sent to this world to commit violence.”
He then returns to the matter of staff salaries, which he continues to chant in the same tone as he had done the insults. “Do not complain too much about salaries, or matters regarding salaries. That is against the Penal Code. This is not something I am saying for your benefit – it is a law that we have made.”
He begins to chant loudly about “black swine”, stringing insult after insult and delivering it in the same rather ominous tone that Maldivian religious figures choose to deliver their sermons in.
“You fornicate and make a lot of children. You drink and you eat pork. Most of the children that you have are marked with spots and blemishes… these children that you have are bastards,” he continues solemnly.
Someone else is heard at this point to tell the ‘celebrant’ to “say a little bit more, and then quit.”
The concluding chant is delivered in a gentler, softer voice: “Keep fornicating frequently, and keep spreading hatred among people. The children you will have from this marriage will all be bastard swine.”
While the couple are putting rings on each other’s fingers, someone is heard saying that the recording should stop. “Don’t you worry about it,” says someone else, and the recording continues.
“Aren’t they going to suck mouth?” someone is heard asking. “Make them suck mouth”, it is urged. ‘Sucking mouth’ is a term used by Maldivians to denigrate the act of kissing.
“So now, in Maldivian law, in Islam, you are already married”, says the ‘celebrant’, returning to English. The hapless couple are then told to relax and enjoy the celebrations that are to follow, by the end of which a certificate of their nuptials will be ready for them.
Once the ceremony is concluded, the celebrant, who is dressed in a shirt and tie – with the shirt left to hang loose over a traditional Maldivian sarong – swaggers out of the makeshift wedding venue – tugging at his tie and proclaiming himself “President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed.”
The celebrant, Vilu Reef Manager Rasheed told Minivan News, is an assistant Food and Beverage Manager named Hussein Didi. As he leaves the wedding venue having concluded his job, someone announces his presence, as “Ghaazee Hussein Didi”.
A Ghaazee is the Arabic name for a judge or magistrate, also adopted to mean the same in Dhivehi.
People clap loudly as the couple, whose marriage vows have just been mocked in some of the filthiest language known to Dhivehi, are videoed making their way to the next part of their ceremony – the planting of a coconut tree to mark the occasion.
Various types of insults about the woman and the man, their clothing and demeanour, are being spoken throughout in the form of a running commentary in a sports video.
As the bride bends down to plant the coconut tree, a man is heard is exclaiming, “Can see her breasts!” The ‘commentator’ observes, “She is wearing something”, he knows, he says, “because my beard has gone grey watching those things… I have seen so many of them now that I don’t even want to look any more when I see them.”
The groom, who is watering the new coconut tree which they have just planted, is totally unaware of the manner in which his wife and her breasts are being discussed by the group of Maldivian men ‘officiating’ at the renewal of their wedding vows.
‘Celebrant’ Didi tells the couple they should return soon to check on the progress of their plant, testament to what had taken place on the island that day.
The video concludes with the ‘commentator’ repeatedly urging the ‘celebrant’ to make the couple ‘suck mouths, suck mouths’.
The resort’s Manager Rasheed was unable to tell Minivan News how much the occasion had cost the couple or where they were from.
Asked if the couple had been made aware of the nature of the ‘wedding vows’ they had taken, Rasheed said they had been sent pictures but not the video.
“Our package includes sending them pictures on the CD the very same night”, he said. Rasheed added that the resort does not have a written ‘khuthuba’ or sermon from which to read, nor is the role of the celebrant undertaken by a designated person.
“It is done on a rotating basis. We have been doing it for ten years now, and from a very small start, it has grown into a very successful part of what we offer at Vilu,” he said.
Rasheed said he had become aware of the nature of the ceremony conducted by Didi shortly after it happened. He had banned Didi from performing any more ceremonies, but did not feel it was necessary to take any further action, until the video appeared on YouTube.
The staff member who uploaded the video, Ali Shareef, a shop assistant, is not being disciplined or investigated further, Rasheed said. He complied with the request by the management to remove the video from YouTube.
The ‘celebrant’, Didi, however is currently under investigation by the Head Office in Male’, Sun Travel and Tours.
Minivan News has learned that the ‘wedding package’ offered by Vilu Reef Resort lasts an hour, costs US$1300 which includes the services of a ‘celebrant’, a sailing trip and Maldivian music and dancing.
The happy couple can obtain photographs of their beautiful ceremony in the Maldivian sunset on Vilu Reef Resort for an additional US$440.
CEO of Sun Travel Ahmed Shakir was unavailable for comment.