Tourism will suffer if parliament bans pork and alcohol: Tourism Minister

A proposed blanket ban on the import of pork and alcohol would destroy the tourism industry of the Maldives beyond repair, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb has told parliament’s National Security Committee.

Local media reports said Addeeb told the committee that vast majority of the Maldives economy relied on tourism, which in turn depended on the sale of alcohol and pork. The whole tourism industry would suffer should these commodities be banned, Adheeb said.

The Tourism Minister said alcohol and pork were not imported for the consumption of Maldivians, and were brought in only under strict laws.

Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed was also summoned to the committee to discuss the proposed ban on the import of pork and alcohol.

The Islamic Minister told the committee that serving alcohol and pork or profiting from the trade of such haram commodities was not permitted under Islam.

Shaheem said told the committee that despite this religious fact,  the decision to ban alcohol and pork altogether had to be “made by experts”.

The National Security Committee is currently researching a proposed amendment to the Import/Export Act to completely ban the importation of alcohol and pork in the Maldives.

The amendment to the Contraband Act was submitted by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Nazim Rashad, in November 2012.

Parliament at the time narrowly voted to accept the bill that would potentially ban pork and alcohol completely from the country. Consumption and sale is currently restricted to foreigners on resort islands, officially designated as ‘uninhabited’.

Presenting the amendment, Nazim argued that the import of these products violated article 10(b) of the constitution which states that “no law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives” – theoretically rendering laws governing the import and sale of haram commodities illegal and unconstitutional.

“We often hear rumours that people have alcohol at home in their fridge, available any time. We’ve heard that kids take alcohol to school to drink during their break. The issue is more serious than we think, it should not be ignored,” Nazim said at the time.


US invites Maldives delegation aboard USS John C Stennis aircraft carrier

Senior government officials were invited aboard a United States aircraft carrier on Wednesday (March 27) as it passed by the Maldives.

The visit was followed by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Maldives and the US government on Thursday to install a free border control system in the country.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz and Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen, were flown to the USS John C Stennis aircraft carrier as part of an arrangement between the US embassy and Maldives Defence Ministry.

The visit was documented by the ministers, who posted photographs on social media site Twitter.


Tourism Minister confident to meet 2013 one million tourist target

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb has claimed the Maldives will post one million tourist arrivals in 2013 after falling narrowly short of the mark last year.

Adheeb told local media that the government had “re-set” its sights on the one million arrival target that was set in 2012.

Last year, a total of 958,027 tourists arrived in the Maldives, with visitor numbers showing an eventual improvement despite the negative impact on the industry from political uncertainty in February.

“I really believe we can bring one million tourists to Maldives. We can very much confirm that when January and February end,” he was quoted as saying in local newspaper Haveeru.

The Tourism Minister said that with Chinese New Year being celebrated this month, the Maldives would see an unprecedented boost in arrivals, local media reported.

“As the Maldives market is based in China, large numbers of tourists come here to celebrate the Chinese New Year. I will say that Maldives’ New Year is already here,” he added.


PPM has “maturity” to hold competitive internal elections: Ahmed Adheeb Ghafoor

Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb Ghafoor has claimed that the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has the “maturity” to hold competitive internal elections without divisive splits among its members.

Internal elections for the PPM’s senior posts are due to take place at its long-delayed national congress scheduled between January 17 to January 19, 2013.  The congress will then be followed by primaries to decide who will stand as the party’s presidential candidate during general elections expected next year.

Adheeb, who is one of three candidates contesting for two vice president roles in the PPM, said that the party – unlike some of its political rivals both within government and opposition – was capable of demonstrating a “strong” and “competitive” internal democracy that also allowed younger people like himself to stand for key positions.

His comments were made as PPM MP and Parliamentary Group Deputy Leader Ilham Ahmed alleged that the party has pressured him to stop standing as a third candidate for the two vice presidential roles.  Two other fellow candidates contesting for the position withdrew their names last week.

Ilham has claimed PPM figures were attempting to prevent him from contesting for the party’s vice president seat to ensure only two candidates – Adheeb and MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla – remained in contention.

“It’s really sad that the party’s senior members are orchestrating an attempt to get rid of me,” Ilham was quoted as telling local newspaper Haveeru on Saturday (December 29).

Earlier this month, the PPM unveiled the candidates for several of its key senior posts with interim leader and figurehead, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom the only candidate for party president.  However, a number of candidates were announced to be standing for two available deputy leader posts in the party.

These candidates at the time included MP Ahmed Nihan, Hussain Manik, MP Ilham Ahmed, MP Moosa Zameer, MP Ahmed Mahloof, MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla, Tourism Minister Adheeb and former MP ‘Jausar’ Jaufar Easa Adam.

However, following the decision this week of MPs Mahloof and Nihan to withdraw from the race and lend support to Adheeb and MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla, only three people are now scheduled to contest for the PPM’s vice president roles.

“I’m getting calls from all over asking me not to withdraw my name. Many are also condemning Mahloof and Nihan for the decision to withdraw their names. I believe that their decision is politically very strange,” Ilham told the Haveeru newspaper. “When the number of candidates is down to three, pledging support for just two is like pointing the finger at me and asking the members not to vote for me. I wouldn’t have had any problems if they decided to back just one candidate.”

PPM MPs Ahmed Mahloof and Ahmed Nihan were not responding to calls at time of press, whist Minivan News was awaiting a response from fellow MP Ilham.


However, Tourism Minister Adheeb has rejected any accusation that the PPM was attempting to reduce the number of candidates standing for party vice president.  Adheeb claimed that he did not believe “anything was going on” in terms of senior PPM figures trying to influence the outcome of the upcoming primaries.

“I was surprised that the two MPs – [Mahloof and Nihan] – took their names out [of the contest] especially when they endorsed two other candidates in the election,” he said.

“However, my stand remains that I am standing for principals. I am currently in a political position and believe I can bring something to the second largest party [in terms of membership] in the country.”

With three competitors presently standing for the two vice president roles in the PPM, Adheeb said he believed there was room in the party for competition.

Ahead of the vote, Adheeb claimed that his relative youth and experience both as tourism Minister and the former head of the Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI) would allow for different thinking within the party.

“With former President Gayoom’s experience of running the country, I think we would have a good partnership that would give more value to PPM,” he claimed.

Adheeb said that if he was able to win a vice president role within the PPM, he aimed to continue to advocate for what he called centre-right, business friendly positions, explaining his belief that political reforms made over the last decade had taken attention in the country away from “economic freedoms”.

The tourism minister said he would therefore pledge to pursue “neo-classical economic policies” that promoted, among other factors, a reduced role from government in shaping national finance policies.

The previous administration of Mohamed Nasheed had sought to introduce a number of reforms in taxation, notably in the introduction of a General Goods and Services tax and a Tourism Goods and Services Tax (TGST) over the last two years.

With his policies outlined for the upcoming vice presidential election, Adheeb claimed that he intended to see out the three candidate race and rejected the possibility of negative campaigning during the party’s internal elections.

“I would like to wish both Ilham Ahmed and Abdul Raheem Abdulla the best of luck,” he claimed.

“Too partisan”

Speaking to Minivan News last week, Dr Abdulla Mausoom, Deputy Leader of the fellow government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) claimed that the Maldives’ young democratic culture was at present too partisan for relying on US-style primary elections to decide on presidential candidates and other senior party roles.

Mausoom contended that there was a pattern of behaviour in the Maldives among candidates defeated in both parliamentary and council elections to contest independently – at times proving detrimental to their one-time party owing to a possible split within the voter base.

“Maldivians are not ready to accept defeats in internal primary elections. Even at presidential level, parliamentary level and council level, we are seeing that if [a person] loses in a primary, they contest the national election as an independent to prove the party members were wrong in deciding party candidate,” he said.

“In the 2008 United States presidential primaries, we saw Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fiercely contesting for the Democratic Party’s presidential ticket. At the end, Obama won and Clinton backed him. That spirit of partisanship has not been seen here in Maldives,” Mausoom added.

“Primaries an essential and fundamental aspect of democracy”: MDP

Responding at the time, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor MP and Spokesperson for the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) dismissed the notion that the Maldivian public were not “prepared” for internal elections.

“We believe that party primaries are an essential and fundamental aspect of democracy. The MDP has shaped up a good model in holding party primaries where all the elected officials generally should face a party primary before seeking re-election. Even I would have to face primaries before I could run for re-election to parliament,” he claimed.

According to Ghafoor, it was the MDP that introduced the mechanism of primaries into local party politics, a decision he believed had forced its rivals to reluctantly follow.

He added that the sentiments expressed by Dr Mausoom reflected the DRP’s founding by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who oversaw thirty years of autocratic rule that ended following the elections in 2008.

Ghafoor claimed that the DRP was still trying to cope with the changes bought about four years ago.

“I believe [Mausoom] and others who talk like that are talking for self-interest. They built their party on shaky grounds, and for them it is very difficult to keep up with us in terms of internal democracy within the party. We can understand that,” Ghafoor added.

Former President Gayoom opted to form the PPM following a public war of words with Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, his successor as head of the DRP.


Tourism Ministry issues circular to close spas and massage parlors

After thousands of protesters gathered last Friday and demanded the government “close the spas and massage parlors and such places where prostitution is conducted”, the Tourism Ministry has today published a circular asking all the resorts to shut down their spas and massage parlors.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair today confirmed to Minivan News that the Tourism Ministry had issued the circular.

The circular informs that the government has decided to shut down all the spas and massage parlors in accordance with demands made by the general public during last Friday’s protest to “defend Islam.”

Speaking at a press conference held yesterday, Zuhair said the protesters did not specify where exactly the prostitution was conducted but mentioned that prostitution was conducted inside spas and massage parlors.

He said the government does not know how to differentiate between the spas and massage parlors that are complicit with prostitution and those which are not.

Therefore, Zuhair said the government has decided to shut down all such locales because Maldivians, including high-profile individuals, have been visiting tourist resorts and having spa treatments.

He said the government does not want those high-profile individuals’ good names being damaged by visiting places accused of such crimes.

Zuhair added that some of the individuals making these demands last Friday also conduct business in the tourism industry. Therefore, the government believes that, given their insider understanding of the resort and spa industry, their accusations are well-founded and there is not much to investigate.

This week, five spas run in five resorts owned by opposition Jumhoory Party (JP) Leader ‘Burma’ Gasim Ibrahim were asked by the Tourism Ministry to shut down operations over similar allegations.

The company subsequently sued the government. Meanwhile, the Civil Court issued a warrant permitting those spas to continue operations until the suit has reached a verdict.

Tourism Minister Dr Maryam Zulfa was unavailable for a comment.


Transport, Tourism Ministers summoned for actions against Gasim’s businesses

Parliament’s Government Oversight Committee has decided to summon Transport Minister Adil Saleem and Tourism Minister Dr Maryam Zulfa after the government closed five spas in five Villa company resorts and grounded Airline ‘Flyme’ operations.

Flyme operations were cleared earlier today upon completion of a security inspection.

The companies are owned by opposition Jumhoory Party (JP) Leader and MP ‘Burma’ Gasim Ibrahim.

Transport Minister Adil Saleem today told Minivan News that the parliament has not informed him about the decision and has not yet received a summons.

He said the Transport Ministry had to ask Flyme to stop operations after it received a report that a plane’s windscreen broke during a flight to Male’.

‘’I as the Transport Minister have to be responsible for the safety of the flights operating in the Maldives,’’ Adil said. ‘’We did a safety audit following the incident.’’

He said three things were noted in the audit report.

‘’They have now corrected the three things noted in the safety audit report,’’ he said. Adil said he would not like to tell the media about the three things noted in the report.

Meanwhile Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) voiced its extreme concern over the Tourism Ministry’s actions.

‘’The association has not been able to find the reason behind this nor see any investigation done by Tourism Ministry for such irresponsible action,’’ read MATATO’s press statement. ‘’The industry is in the midst of the business period with the new year ahead of us and sees that these actions by the ministry will have serious implications beyond repair.’’

The association noted that transfers that have been arranged for tourist arrival via ‘Flyme’ will be disrupted due to the decision to suspend the airline.

‘’The spa and wellness concept is very popular among tourists and many tourists pre-book their treatments in advance not only in Villa Resorts but across all the resorts in the Maldives,’’ the statement read. ‘’Already several international hotel chains operating in the Maldives are worried that the same could happen to them, and this will have a negative impact on investor confidence and will be a motive for businesses to take money out of the economy rather than inject it locally.’’

MATATO also urged the government to keep politics away from tourism as ‘’majority of Maldivians depend on tourism for their livelihood and it is something to be dealt with extreme caution and care.’’


President appoints finance minister as acting tourism minister

President Mohamed Nasheed has appointed Finance Minister Ali Hashim as the acting tourism minister.

Former Tourism Minister Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad was appointed Attorney General when former Attorney General Husnu Suood resigned, claiming his job was untenable because of parliamentary obstruction. The appointment is awaiting approval of parliament.

President Nasheed has said he will appoint a new tourism minister shortly.


Tourism Minister Dr Sawad nominated as new attorney general

Tourism Minister Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad has been nominated as the new attorney general of the Maldives, according to a senior government official.

Husnu Suood resigned yesterday, taking some responsibility for the constitutional crisis, and urged Speaker Abdulla Shahid to step down as well.

The source told Minivan News that Dr Sawad was ready to take the oath of office pending the missing law on judges, which the administration is waiting for parliament to pass.

‘’As soon as the parliament passes the new law on judges, the new Attorney General will take the oath,’’ said the source.

Dr Sawad was not contactable at time of press.

Meanwhile, the MNDF has blocked the the interim Supreme Court judges from entering the Supreme Court, on advice from the former Attorney General that the interim Chief Justice and judges at the Supreme Court ceased to have any legitimacy following the interim period deadline last Saturday.

When queried why the Supreme Court judges were not allowed to enter to the court, the source replied “that’s because they are not judges.’’

The opposition – and yesterday, the Civil Court – contends that the interim Supreme Court continues to function until a new court is appointed by parliament.  The government claims this chapter was annulled after the two year deadline.

The former Attorney General Husnu Suood resigned claiming his position is untenable in the “constitutional void” triggered by parliament’s failure to enact legislation ensuring the continuation of state institutions such as the judiciary.

In his resignation letter, Suood stated that he had resigned because he did not believe that the state could be operated according to the constitution, because he had noted that state institutions had failed to fulfil their responsibilities as obliged by the constitution.

As a consequence, Suood wrote he did not have the opportunity to perform his own duties and responsibilities under article 133 of the constitution, prompting his resignation.

All three arms of state – executive, judiciary and legislature – are now deadlocked.


Maldives to be the “best country” for press freedom, says President Nasheed

President Mohamed Nasheed has said that the Maldives intends to be “the best country in the world in terms of press freedom.”

In a message to the Commonwealth media development workshop, a four day training event that started this morning at Holiday Inn in Male’, Nasheed said the government wanted the Maldives to have  “the most free and most professional media in the world.”

”We strongly believe that press freedom is important for consolidating democracy,” said Nasheed. ”We also believe that development can only be achieved through a transparent and free discussion of ideas.”

Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad, and President of Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir also addressed participants in the workshop.

Secretary General of Commonwealth Kamalesh Sharma, in his message to the participants, highlighted the role of journalism in the society and explained how  important a balanced news article was.

”Journalism is an honourable profession,” Sharma said. ”You can hold accountable both the government and the private sector.”

He said that members of the press played a pivotal role in revealing the truth and upholding the values and principles that would lead to a just society.

In his address, Dr Sawad said journalists in the Maldives “are not responsible”, and urged them to be more professional, sophisticated and accountable.

Dr Sawad said that in the past the free pens of the Maldivian journalists were held hostage.

”But today we are seeing what we dreamed we would see in the 80s,” Sawad said. ”Now we have a new constitution and new legislation.”

He urged journalists at the workshop to convey the truth with their pens, adding that ”the government will not let you down.”

The Commonwealth media workshop is a four day event being conducted by the Commonwealth in collaboration with Maldives Journalists Association (MJA). Around 25 local journalists are taking part, including Minivan News.