MDP says 2015 state budget neglects transportation

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) transportation committee has said that the proposed 2015 state budget does not give adequate importance to transportation.

While speaking at an MDP press conference today, the Committee’s Chair Dr Ahmed Shamheed said that the government has failed in fulfilling its manifesto which states that providing cheap, effective, and speedy transportation as one its aims.

“Even though the government recently announced that it has achieved 90 percent of the goals outlined in its manifesto, not even 1 percent of the transportation related goals have been achieved,” said Shamheed.

Shamheed noted that the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) in its manifesto outlined that it would finish up the ongoing regional airport development projects. However, He said that no regional airports have been opened in the last year.

President Abdulla Yameen recently revealed plans of developing an airport in the north at Haa Dhaalu Kulhudhuhfushi in the upcoming year.

The government has secured a preliminary agreement for the development of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, with the cabinet revealing recently that  the Beijing Urban Group and Maldives Airports Corporation Limited had finished the drawings of the airport and were in the process of submitting the proposal to China’s Exim bank in order to finance the project.

Plans for the ambitious Malé-Hulhulé bridge project were also said to edging closer to realisation as a Chinese team visited the Maldives to conduct a preliminary survey this month.

While the record MVR24.3 billion (US$1.5 billion) proposed budget for the upcoming year allotted MVR63 million (US$5 million) for regional airports under the tourism ministry, it is unclear whether the amount is for recurrent or capital expenditure.

Also speaking at the press conference, MDP transport committee member Ahmed Zahir said that the atoll ferry system introduced during MDP’s government is currently in turmoil as the government does not prioritise development of the ferry system.

“The transportation systems in the atolls are being destroying and I am afraid that it might go back to the old days where the inter-atoll transportation was monopolised by individuals with boats,” said Zahir.

The MDP committee also slammed the government for budgeting expected revenues from increasing the import duty on vehicles and fuels, stating that the measures would have a significant impact on the guest house industry as travelling costs within the country would increase severely.

Previously, MDP’s education and training committee claimed that the funds allocated for education in the budget were poorly prioritised and would lead to corruption.

Additionally, the MDP budget review committee stated that the budget is ‘aimless’ and serves only administrative purposes, suggesting that programme budgets submitted during the MDP government were part of a strategic action plan aimed at fulfilling the party’s promises.

President Abdulla Yameen dissolved the Ministry of Transport and Communication in July, transferring regional airports to the Ministry of Tourism and the Transport Authority to the Ministry of Economic Development.

The move came shortly after the dismissal of Transport Minister Ameen Ibrahim following break down of the election-winning coalition of the Jumhooree Party – of which Ameen is a member – and the PPM.


Taxis notified to fit vacancy signs by April 15

The Transport Authority of Maldives has notified taxis to place a sign on top of the car to indicate vacancy to passengers before April 15 2014, reported local media Sun Online.

“The light-up taxi boards have to fit the authority’s standards. Places producing or selling these taxi boards will have a special permit issued by this authority,” Sun Online reported the authority as saying.

Taxi regulations, published on 16 December 2013, imposed fixed taxi fees of MVR25 per trip between 6:00 a.m. and 12:00 a.m. and MVR30 per trip between 12:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.

In addition to these regulations, taxi drivers are obligated to have on display their name and the contact details of their taxi centres.


Transport authority to destroy impounded vehicles

The transport authority has declared it will destroy all vehicles impounded by the police in their tow yard, despite a notice from parliament’s government oversight committee ordering it not to destroy the vehicles.

Speaking to the press today, chairman of the transport authority Abdul Rasheed Nafiz said that he did not believe that parliament could give the authority such an order as the motor vehicle act required the transport ministry to destroy impounded vehicles if the owner did not pay the fines within a certain duration.

Nafiz told the press that if MPs were worried about citizen’s property being destroyed they should amend the motor vehicle act to prevent the impounding and destruction of vehicles, or vote on the matter.

On June 24, police announced the impounded vehicles in the police tow yard would be destroyed if the owners did not claim them.

Police Spokesperson Ismail Ali told Minivan News that owners had already been given three months to reclaim their vehicles.

“The three month duration expired last Friday,’’ Ismail said. ‘’The tow yard is full now and we need the land for other purposes.’’

According to Ismail this is the first time  police will destroy vehicles since the motor transport act came in to effect.

‘’These vehicles that we are going to destroy have been here since 2008,’’ he said.

He said a committee consisting of members from Male City council, police, media, and transport authority will decide how to destroy these vehicles.

‘’The committee will give instructions to police,’’ he added.

Following the decision by police, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed ‘Bonda’ Rasheed staged a one-man protest inside the parliament chamber.

The Speaker Abdulla Shahid repeatedly asked Rasheed to take his seat, and after several hours asked security officials to remove him from the parliament chamber.

Later that day the issue was filed at the government oversight committee and the committee passed a motion to send a notice to the transport authority requesting it not destroy the vehicles.


Mega Maldives expands fleet with Boeing 757

Mega Maldives has announced an expansion of its fleet with the acquisition of a Boeing 757-200ER aircraft to aid the possible operation of services to a wider number of destinations from the country.

According to the company, which presently operates two 767 jets, the new aircraft is set to come into service this month to support the groups’ existing services from Male’ to Hong Kong, Chongqing and Chengdu.

In April, Mega Maldives joined forces with the Maldives government and the wider tourism industry to conduct a travel roadshow to promote the destination on a whistle-stop tour of five Chinese cities in one week.

The tour was part of attempts to counter the negative impacts of international news coverage concerning the destination after February’s controversial transfer and help the industry meet its aims of attracting a record 1 million visitors to the Maldives during 2012.

MEGA Maldives Airlines CEO George Weinmann claimed that as well as bolstering the group’s ability to provide existing services, the aircraft could also form part of plans to expand to new markets.

“The 757 will allow us to serve markets with more frequency and to open up smaller markets with non-stop direct service,” he said. “The aircraft’s long range capability – which can reach as far as Beijing, China; Perth, Australia; and Johannesburg, South Africa make it a very flexible choice as well.”

The company said it remained committed to expanding mew routes “to widen” the aviation and tourism industries in the Maldives.


Council to decide on ferry service retender after protesters blockade terminals

Transport Minister Adhil Saleem has said the ministry and Male’ City Council have discussed terminating the agreement with the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) to operate ferry services, if the council finds that it could provide a better and cheaper service by reopening the bid.

The Minister’s comment comes after riot police were deployed over the weekend to break up protests at Villimale’ and Hulhumale’ ferry terminals, over price increases.

The price for Villimale’ ferry was increased from Rf3 to Rf5 and the price for the Hulhumale’ ferry was increased from Rf5 to Rf8.

Speaking to Haveeru, MTCC CEO Hussein Amr said the company received no public subsidies, “like STELCO”, and was losing Rf 2-3 on every ticket following a hike in fuel prices.

“When a Hulhumale ferry ticket was set at Rf5, a litre of diesel sold for Rf4. The ticket is still sold for Rf5 despite the fact that a litre of diesel is now sold for Rf17 now,” he said. Last year the Maldives spent approximately 20 percent of its GDP on marine diesel, according to customs documents.

Local media reported that pepper spray was used and violent confrontations between police and protesters occurred over the weekend.

Mayor of Male’ City ‘Maizan’ Ali Manik went to Villimale’ while the protest was going taking place and met with the protesters, promising that he would give an answer to their demands before Tuesday.

On Friday, citizens living in Hulhumale’ also conducted a similar protest regarding the decision to increase ferry ticket prices.

The MTCC ferry that arrived to Hulhumale’ late that afternoon was told by the protesters that it could not dock there and passengers had to wait in the ferry.

Later protesters said they had no issues with the passengers aboard the ferry, and let the passengers enter Hulhumale’.

On Saturday, a large number of citizens living in Villimale’ gathered near the MTCC ferry terminal with loudspeakers, banners and boards calling on the MTCC to keep the ferry ticket prices the same price.

Protesters blocked the entrance to the ferry terminal as well as the passage of the boats coming from Male’, by tying a rope across the channel through the reef.

Riot police arrived to Villinmale’ and warned people to leave the area, however after repeated warnings the protesters did not leave the area and police used force to disperse the crowd.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said five persons were arrested from Villimale’ during police efforts to control the protest, and were was released last night.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Parliamentary Group Media Coordinator and MP Ahmed Shifaz told Minivan News that protesters “should respect the rights of others”.

”Yesterday’s protest affected the citizen of Villimale’ who have no connection with the issue,” Shifaz said. ”Many who work in Male’ and students attending schools in Male’ had to wait back because the protesters had blocked entrance to the terminal.”

He said that Maafannu Madhrasa’s Sports Meet 2011 had to be cancelled because many students could not come to Male’.

Minister Saleem meanwhile told Minivan News that the Council would analyse the the quality of the services provided and the usage of land by the MTCC, and would inform the ministry “whether terminating the agreement and reopening the bid for ferry services will be better and cheaper.”

“If the council makes this decision we would pay what we owe to the MTCC and terminate the agreement,” he said.

Adhil said the Transport Ministry was not interested in which company provided the service, but rather the quality of services provided and the price.

”Protesters should not have obstructed the transportation service because that would have caused so much damages to many people,” he added.

He said the protesters had not complained at the Transport Ministry or at any other institution, or tried to meet any officials, but had immediately gone to the terminals to protest.

In a statement issued following the protest police said that such actions violated the rights of others, and warned that action would be taken against those who misused the right to gather and freedom of expression.


Kaadedhoo airport transfer up in the air

The government handover of Kaadedhoo airport in Gaaf Dhaal atoll to Island Aviation Services limited (IAS) is two weeks over-due, Haveeru reports.

Previously, Haveeru journalists had been told that the exchange would take place on August 23. An island was said to be included in the package, allegedly for resort development.

IAS officials say the Finance and Economic ministries are in charge of the matter, which has not yet been settled.

IAS claims to have been unaware of plans for a ceremony to mark the transfer on August 23, although Haveeru reports that such a ceremony had been announced by the President’s office.


Transport minister talks Maldives’ SAARC ferry plans

Minister of Transport and Communication, Mohamed Adhil Saleem, has said that he expects the Maldives to be among the first beneficiaries of expanded ferry services between South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member states.

Miadhu reported that Saleem said he expected the Maldives to be included within initial plans to strengthen the regional transport network between different SAARC member states with a ferry service travelling to the country from India and Sri Lanka. According to the news service, Pakistan and Bangladesh are also expected to be included in these regional ferry services at a later date.

Adil Saleem claimed that the services are expected to provide Maldivians with more cost efficient opportunities to transport goods and travel around South Asia in a safe and secure manner.

Ferry services between Sri Lanka and India have been restarted in recent months after a 30 year cessation of the services.  Meanwhile, the expansion of similar regional transport links is expected to play an important part in discussions at this year’s 17th SAARC summit being held in Addu Atoll in November.

Earlier this week, summit organisers said that connectivity – both in physical and diplomatic terms – would be a central theme of the SAARC meeting.


Transport Ministry rules out Male’ bus service

The Transport Ministry has backed down from a plan to introduce a bus service in Male’ because of the condition of the roads and lack of alternate routes for large vehicles in the city’s narrow streets.

Adil Saleem has ruled out the possibilities of beginning bus transport service in Male because of the current condition of the roads.

“What would happen now is, if the bus were to travel from Hulhumale ferry terminal with a busload of people to Vilingili ferry terminal and if for some reason a road happens to be closed and there is no other route the bus could take, [the system] would be brought to a standstill,” said Transport Minister Adil Saleem, according to Haveeru.

“There are many things to do before we can begin the bus service. Space needs to be created on the roads of Male so that buses can be accommodated.”


Comment: The big picture, rethinking policies

In the past couple of weeks, we have seen several responses to the growing gang violence in the country with high level committees set up to look into the matter.

We also saw a national security seminar for the tourism industry in response to recurring raids on resorts which left a 19 year-old dead two weeks ago.

These are immediate and reactionary measures. We can only do so much to prosecute young criminals and fill up the already crowded jails. If we want real answers to these problems, we need to look at a bigger picture.

The same applies to the exchange rate situation. Beyond devaluation, there is much to do to fix the macro-economic situation. To me the key words are ‘long term’ and ‘priorities’. We need long term strategies and to identify the right priorities to solve our growing economic and social problems.

A long-term growth strategy

The economic section of the government’s manifesto ranges from pledges on cost of living, tourism, fisheries, agriculture, SMEs, water, sewerage, employment, environment and to date, implementation of these pledges appear to be ad-hoc and piecemeal. There is no overall direction to regain recovery and growth of the economy.

The government talks about diversification of the economy. The government also declared that Maldives is open for business and wants see increased investments and private sector role in as many sectors as possible. Fiscal adjustment measures have been initiated here and there and now there is a growing reference to market forces and a market based economy.

We need to look above all these plans and the long list of manifesto pledges and decide on what the economy should look like in the next 5 to 10 years, what the share of tourism would be, how growth can take off and what impact we want to see on incomes, on private sector and on job creation. Above everything we need a long-term economic growth strategy that is clear and consistent.

Setting the right priorities

The government’s manifesto and the five year development plan are overly ambitious with 5 key pledges and 20 odd other pledges. Many ministries are overwhelmed with new policies, projects and programmes everyday where there is only a limited pool of technical expertise and managerial staff to roll them out. In my opinion, political disillusionment and public frustrations are a result of too many promises. Investors, donors, private sector and the public are often confused, not knowing the real direction of the country’s economic and development agenda. To me, the priorities are simple and straightforward. We need to decide on growth sectors and growth hubs.

Growth sectors

We constantly talk about the high level of dependency on tourism and the vulnerability of the economy to external shocks. We are increasingly seeing a decline in fisheries and despite many efforts, share of agriculture is still negligible. The government often refers to plans to diversify tourism and fisheries. There are the long standing debates on our competitiveness in potential sectors such as ports services, off-shore financial services as in the Caribbean and Maldives specialising as a knowledge-based economy, as a hub for  R&D on climate change, marine research and even to the extent of specialising on democratic and human rights research.

The reality is that as a small island nation we cannot do it all. We need to focus on one or two sectors and we need to prepare our labour force, our laws and institutions to specialise in these sectors and equip the private sector and gear donor assistance and foreign investments to develop these sectors.

Growth hubs

We have a tradition of not giving consideration to population and migration in development planning. The failure to predict and prepare for the explosion of school leaving population gave rise to joblessness and the related youth problems we see today. The failure to plan for an explosion of migration to Male’ from the atolls has caused over-crowding, harsh living conditions, congestion and pollution in Male’ which in turn causes crime and violence that keeps escalating. If we fail to plan for an ageing population in the next 15 years, the consequences could be worse.

The government insists on extending services to all islands and on increasing accessibility of services through connectivity and transport. The reality is that service provision even with ferries to 200 islands is unrealistic. It is costly to not only invest but to maintain high quality education, healthcare, social services, security, utilities, harbours and not to mention airports. We cannot afford it if the government wants to achieve a balanced budget. We cannot afford it even otherwise given the limited human capital. Attempts to expand tourism to all parts of the country have not had a major impact on reversing migration or on local economic growth. The resorts run on a parallel economy and have not opened up economic opportunities for islands except for remittances of employees.

Additional flats on the islands is definitely no solution. Those who move to Male’ are looking for better education, healthcare and better job prospects. The government cannot guarantee all three services to every single island in the country. Villingili and Hulhumale’ have not relieved housing pressures and living conditions in Male’. These satellites islands are simply getting filled up with migrant families everyday and this trend will accelerate when additional flats are built in Hulhumale’ or in Gulhifalhu. Housing pressures, living costs, overcrowding in schools and hospitals will only worsen.

The government needs to decide on one or two growth hubs in different parts of the country based on population needs and migration patterns. The dispersed 200 inhabited islands will never have scale for commercial development and economic growth. The government should leverage investments, people, infrastructure and direct services to the growth hubs. It is the only option for improving quality of life of people in Male’ and outside of Male’.

Economic and social transformation

The real solution to gang violence, drugs and crime and the exchange rate situation is therefore a long term growth strategy that prioritises sectors for economic diversification and hubs for population concentration.

Thirty-odd election pledges on 200 islands is simply impossible. I echo Imran’s conclusions in an earlier article that we need a ‘bold government that shows leadership’. We need to acknowledge the big picture, give up reactionary and ad-hoc approaches, and show consistency and vision. The government should stop jumping on big ideas and take the national institutions, investors, donors and the public towards a focused and realistic recovery and growth path.

Without thinking long-term and without setting priorities, I don’t see how we can really solve the growing problem of dollars, drugs, crimes, violence, social disillusionment and even political frustrations that we see everyday across all parts of the country.

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