“We should all party sometime”: young people allege inducements offered to join President’s party

President Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP) has denied claims the party has been trying to induce people to join through illegitimate means, in a bid to shore up the party’s membership base ahead of a bill that could see smaller parties dissolved.

According to the latest statistics from the Elections Commission (EC), GIP’s current membership base stands at 2,538 members. The draft bill on Political Parties currently in parliament stipulates that parties with membership less than 5000 members after six months of the bill’s passage shall be dissolved by the EC.

A number of young people have come forward and alleged to Minivan News that they were offered government positions, promotions, jobs with salaries of more than MVR 10,000 (US$650) a month, music equipment and even hosted parties to join GIP.

GIP Secretary General Ahmed Mushrif has dismissed the allegations as an “outright lie”, and said that the party from its formation had never attempted to add members illegally.

Allegations of offers

A young Maldivian working in the tourism sector told Minivan News on condition of anonymity that a parliament member and prominent figure in the industry had called him and asked him to sign with GIP “as a favor”.

“He told me that in return for me joining the party, I would be rewarded with a position in the current government that I could never have even imagined. He further tried to convince me that all I needed to do was join the party – I could vote for anybody I wanted,” he said.

Another person who has worked in the civil service for the last 15 years told Minivan News that he was contacted by GIP with a promise that he would “easily be promoted” to a supervisor level job if he joined the party.

“A GIP member called me and told me that I could easily get promoted to supervisor level if I left my current party and joined GIP. Even though I am not an active MDP member I said I would think about it, but later did not respond to his calls,” the civil servant said.

According to the law, it is unlawful for any authority to influence civil servants for political reasons by threatening or offering them employment opportunities.

“We should all party sometime” – Deputy President of GIP

A third person – aged 20 – claimed that he and his group of friends aged around 18 to 22 were approached by GIP through a friend and were invited to the party’s office where they were received by the party’s Deputy Leader  and the Maldives High Commissioner to Malaysia, Mohamed ‘Nazaki’ Zaki.

“When we arrived we were received by ‘Nazaki’ Zaki and treated with pizza. He said that in return for joining GIP, he would offer each of us a job with a salary not less than MVR 10,000, but asked us not to question where the jobs would be allocated from,” the youngster claimed.

Apart from the job, the source alleged that Zaki had offered him and his friends “music equipment and a place to play for free” to those among them who wished to play music. He added that the group were also promised various entertainment activities such as “hosting shows and parties”.

“They asked us to join the party and work in the party’s youth wing,” the source said.

When they asked what they were supposed to do as members of the party’s youth wing, the source said Zaki had told them that their main task  would be to increase the party’s membership as it was “currently very low”.

At the end of the meeting, the high commissioner reportedly suggested the holding of a party event that would be fully funded by GIP.

“They said we should all party sometime. Maybe they said that because we had long hair and looked stylish,” the source suggested.

Zaki was one of the founding members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). However he resigned from the party in April claiming that the MDP was now focused around former President Mohamed Nasheed and had become a personality-based party.

He later joined GIP and was appointed as its deputy leader.

The opposition MDP had accused Zaki of being involved in corruption in the controversial installation of border control system by Malaysian IT firm Nexbis.

However, Zaki denied the claims, stating that he had only helped facilitate the deal from taking place in his capacity as the High Commissioner to Malaysia.

Minivan News was unable to contact Zaki as he was out of the country at time of press, while President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad was not responding to calls.

GIP member Illyas Hussein Ibrahim, the former Immigration Controller and brother-in-law of President Waheed, referred Minivan News to Secretary General Ahmed Mushrif.

Similar remarks

In a leaked audio clip released in August, former CEO of Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) and senior member of GIP Ahmed Faiz was recorded discussing the hiring of individuals to loudly promote President Waheed in local cafes.

Faiz in the audio claimed that he was a “close confidante” of President Waheed, and that he had been given many assignments to help his presidency.

“Not necessarily going out into the streets with huge knives and attacking people, okay? What I want is, for example, when the key people who are involved in this are in a certain place… for example, four or five of these people might be in a coffee-shop.

“You go in there, do you understand? You go and barge in right into the middle, and say, no need to be discreet at all, just say it out loud openly, ‘Hey you (expletive) dogs, this country is being destroyed because of you (expletive). Don’t even think you can do what you please with this country,” he explained in the audio clip.

Similar to Zaki, Faiz also spoke about offering jobs and other benefits at the expense of the state to his audience.

“What I’m saying is, this government is now appointing people to different posts and it’s getting structured in the manner we want. Now there is a lot of things that I can do. Material benefits can be gained, and lots of other things. Credit from STO (State Trading Organisation) worth millions of rufiya, that’s absolutely welcome. Do you get it?

“Then maybe funds are needed for some activity, for example, ‘Please arrange this amount of cash needed for something’. I will get that done. Or perhaps, ‘From this project, give us this amount of money’. Now when it’s put like that, it seems somewhat twisted to me. I tend to see that like cutting a ‘deal’,” Faiz stated.

Following the release of the audio clip, Faiz was sacked from his position in MPL.

Destroying democracy

President of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Hassan Luthfee said he condemned the unlawful acts carried out by political parties to increase membership figures.

“This is a very serious issue. Actions like these will only destroy the democracy in this country. The purpose of democracy is to exercise the free will of the people in making their political decisions. It is not democracy when a party induces an individual to join a specific political party by unlawful means by offering jobs and money. That is not in within the spirit of democracy,” Luthfee told Minivan News.

He reiterated that politicians should realise that the success of a democracy depends on sincerity.  He also highlighted the challenges faced by the ACC in looking into such allegations.

“The biggest difficulty is that as per the laws of the country, finding substantial evidence is very difficult. Even when we summon a suspected person, would they be honest in giving evidence to the commission?” Luthfee asked.

He further stressed that it was important to have more efficient and stricter laws to address such issues, but said that the ACC is working with the Elections Commission to reduce fraudulent action being carried out by political parties in acquiring members.

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Belgian ambassador presents credentials to President Waheed

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has today received the credentials of Belgium’s new ambassador to the Maldives, Pierre Vaesen.

The ambassador, who is based in the Embassy of Belgium in New Delhi , took part in a ceremony at the President’s Office this morning.

Vaesen discussed measures to increase bilateral ties between the two countries, whose diplomatic relations were established in 1977. The Maldives joint embassy to Belgium and Mission to the European Union was established in Brussels in 2010.

Belgium, which has sent around 3,500 tourists to the Maldives this year, provided over $1.3million to the country in financial assistance following the 2004 tsunami.

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Tsunami watch alert cancelled after 8.6 earthquake and aftershock off Indonesia

An Indian Ocean-wide Tsunami Watch Bulletin was issued on Wednesday afternoon by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre after an earthquake measuring 8.6 on the Richter scale occurred off the coast of Indonesia, followed by an aftershock measuring 8.2 almost two hours later.

The Centre revised its initial update after sea level readings confirmed a “significant” tsunami was generated, and subsequently cancelled the warning five hours after. Any tsunami was predicted to hit the Maldives at 11:49(GMT) – 16:49 Male time, and 11:44(GMT) – 16:44, the Centre reported, but advised that waves could follow for up to two hours after this period. The first wave may not be the largest and further waves could follow in intervals of five minutes to one hour.

The Centre said that the initial shock generated a tsunami measuring 17 cm (6.7 inches), and advised authorities to “take appropriate action”

Such an earthquake had the potential to “generate a widespread destructive tsunami that can affect coastlines across the entire Indian Ocean basin”, according to the centre’s initial report.

Alerts were issued by the Maldivian meteorology department, which extended its alert period by two hours to 7:30pm, following the aftershock.

Residents in the capital Male’ reported feeling tremors with bottles and glass shaking when the first earthquake struck. Several tall buildings, including the government building Velanaage, and schools, were evacuated earlier this afternoon.

Tremors were also reported in the Indian cities of Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram.

Bruce Presgrave of the US Geological Survey (USGS) told the BBC that the nature of this quake made it less likely a tsunami would be generated, as the earth had moved horizontally, rather than vertically, therefore had not displaced large volumes of water: “We can’t rule out the possibility, but horizontal motion is less likely to produce a destructive tsunami,” he said.

The 2004 tsunami inundated entire islands in the Maldives, but only caused minor damage in capital city Malé. The northern sea wall and buildings on city’s seafront were damaged. The waves caused minor flooding as well.

Minivan News will provide updates as the situation develops.

UPDATES:

14:30 – According to the BBC, the US Geological Survey has reported that the quake at Aceh quake was centred 33km (20 miles) under the sea about 495km from Banda Aceh.

14:35 – Offices, school and governent buildings in Male’ and Hulhumale’ were evacuated as the people felt the tremors.

14:40 – MET Director Hussain Waheed told state broadcaster: “There is a potential tsunami risk to the Maldives in next two or three hours. But there has been no sign of a tsunami yet. However, he advised the people to be on alert.

14:52 – Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal told Minivan News that government bodies were now following the instructions of the coast guard and Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF). Resort management had been formed and the government was set to form its crisis management committee established following the 2004 Asian tsunami that struck many islands across the Maldives.

Jamal said he himself had been in the Velaanage Building, where he said that tremors as a result of the quake could be felt.

“All government employees in the building were evacuated to ground level,” Maleeh said of the situation at the time. “We are still waiting for exact details on the situation, but we are working with the military and coast guard.”

Report from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre:

“EARTHQUAKES OF THIS SIZE HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO GENERATE A WIDESPREAD DESTRUCTIVE TSUNAMI THAT CAN AFFECT COASTLINES ACROSS THE ENTIRE INDIAN OCEAN BASIN.

HOWEVER – IT IS NOT KNOWN THAT A TSUNAMI WAS GENERATED. THIS WATCH IS BASED ONLY ON THE EARTHQUAKE EVALUATION. AUTHORITIES IN THE REGION SHOULD TAKE APPROPRIATE ACTION IN RESPONSE TO THE POSSIBILITY OF A WIDESPREAD DESTRUCTIVE TSUNAMI.

ESTIMATED INITIAL TSUNAMI WAVE ARRIVAL TIMES AT FORECAST POINTS WITHIN THE WARNING AND WATCH AREAS ARE GIVEN BELOW. ACTUAL ARRIVAL TIMES MAY DIFFER AND THE INITIAL WAVE MAY NOT BE THE LARGEST. A TSUNAMI IS A SERIES OF WAVES AND THE TIME BETWEEN SUCCESSIVE WAVES CAN BE FIVE MINUTES TO ONE HOUR.”

15:07 – Mobile networks are suffering from congestion due to a sudden spike in usage, report major providers.

15:11 – Government spokesman Abbas Adil Riza said the Maldives was evacuating beaches. The National Disaster Management Centre is continuing to issue updated warnings and assess any potential threat: “Right now, we are seeing if there is a threat [from today’s Indonesian earthquake] to this side of the Indian Ocean.

15.18 – David Cameron tells Indonesian President that he is ‘hugely concerned’ about the earthquake, reports the BBC.

15:25 – Bruce Presgrave of the US Geological Survey (USGS), has told the BBC that the nature of this quake made it less likely a tsunami would be generated, as the earth had moved horizontally, rather than vertically, therefore had not displaced large volumes of water: “We can’t rule out the possibility, but horizontal motion is less likely to produce a destructive tsunami,” he said.

15:42 – Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem has said that no signs of a tsunami wave within the Indian Ocean have as yet been identified.

“At the moment we are monitoring areas around the country, but have not observed any tsunami,” he said. “We have been in contact with other countries like Sri Lanka and India and they have said the same thing.” Raheem concluded that at present, the Indian Ocean remained calm.

15:44 – Indonesia’s disaster management agency said power was down in Aceh province and people were gathering on high ground as sirens warned of the danger. “The electricity is down, there are traffic jams to access higher ground. Sirens and Koran recitals from mosques are everywhere,” said Sutopo, spokesman for the agency.

The quake was felt as far away as the Thai capital, Bangkok, and in southern India, residents said.

15:49 – Reuters news agency, quoting tsunami warning centre official, has reported the total vertical measurement of the tsunami wave, according to monitoring gauges, was 35 cm (13.8 inches), making the height 17 cm (6.7 inches).

“It doesn’t look like a major tsunami,” Victor Sardina, a geophysicist on duty at the Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said. “But we are still monitoring as tsunamis come in waves.”

16:14 – The Centre revised its initial update and said that if generated, the tsunami was likely to hit the Maldives at 11:49(GMT) – 16:49 Male time, and 11:44(GMT) in Gan local time 16:44

16:16 – Sea level reading confirm a tsunami was generated, reports the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre.

16:21 – Met Office Director Hussain Waheed has said that the country has not decided to updated the severity of its warning since the tsunami warning was first raised earlier this afternoon, but will be extending the period of the tsunami watch for at least an hour and a half.

The Met Office said it continues to issue a yellow bulletin, which requires authorities to keep a watch on potential tsunami development.

“Any earthquake of a  magnitude of over 8.0 results in a yellow bulletin being issued,” he said.

With the yellow bulletin in place, Waheed said that the Met Office would be continuing to run a tsunami watch regarding the situation in the Maldives for at least the next hour and a half due to aftershocks that have occurred in Indonesia.

16:25 – The latest (4th) bulletin from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre advises that when no major waves have occurred for two hours after the estimated arrival time (16:49 for Male, 16:44 for Gan, local time), authorities can assume the threat is passed.

“Danger to boats and coastal structures can continue for several hours due to rapid currents. As local conditions can cause a wide variation in tsunami wave action the all clear determination must be made by local authorities.”

16:29 – UNICEF worker Edward Carwardine in Jakarta, Indonesia, told Al Jazeera: “People are quite rightly moving to higher ground, moving away from the coastal areas as fast as they can. I think it’s an indication of how much people have learned from the terrible experiences of a few years ago. We haven’t yet heard of things like structural damage … right now people are looking after themselves and that’s the best thing they can do.”

16:30 – The 2004 tsunami inundated entire islands in the Maldives, but only caused minor damage in capital city Malé. The northern sea wall and buildings on city’s seafront were damaged. The waves caused minor flooding as well.

Following the Indonesia geophysics agency’s extension of a tsunami warning in Aceh province, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre has issued a new warning for the Indian Ocean following aftershocks off the Indonesian coast.

16:35 – The Maldives MET Office has extended the alert for Maldives until 5:30pm local time, following the latest after-shock which measured 8.2 on Richter scale.

16:46 – The Tourism Ministry activated its disaster management policy at 14:15 today, Minister Ahmed Adheeb has said on Twitter. All resorts were informed, tourist recalled to the island and head counts taken.

16:25 – Trans Maldivian Airlines (TMA) Managing Director Edward Alsford said the company is not making any changes to its scheduled activites at the moment. He said that the company did have back up systems in place when necessary. At the moment the sea plane operator was taking a precautionary stance while awaiting further information, he said.

16:45 – Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) CEO Andrew Harrison has said that management were currently monitoring the situation as it developed at the airport, and enacting countermeasures to protect vehicles in the event of a tsunami.

Harrison added that airport management was currently talking to sea plane operators and other airline operators to potentially move some aircraft to protect against any adverse impacts from a tsunami or irregular tidal pattern.

16:54 – People from coastal areas in Indonesia have been evacuated, police have told an Al-Jazeera correspondent. There are no reports of damages or casualties.

16:57 – India’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has played down tsunami reports in the region. The organisation had initially issued a warning for Andaman and Nicobar Island, and an alert to coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

“There is no specific threat. It was a watch and alert. There is no likelihood of any tsunami in the Indian Ocean region,” NDMA Vice President Sashidhar Reddy told the Press Trust of India.

“It is the kind of strike and slip earth quake which does not trigger tsunami. There was no vertical displacement of water under the sea,” he said. “Tsunami possibility is virtually ruled out.”

17: 10 – The tsunami alert period has been extended in the Maldives to 19:30 local time, reports Haveeru.

17:13 – Safari boat operator Danielle Clayton, currently on her vessel in Dhaalu Atoll, said that she and her crew had not experienced any adverse conditions since the country issued a tsunami warning this afternoon.

“We first found out about the situation from Facebook, but since then we have come into the atoll with a number of other [live-aboard] boats,” she said.

Clayton added that they had been visited by the coastguard and remained in touch with other vessels for updates on the situation.

“Our crew are local guys and they have been getting in touch with people too.”

17.15 – Director General of the Department of Meteorology, Hassan Waheed, has confirmed that due to the aftershock the tsunami warning has been extended until 7.30pm local time.

17:16 – The airport has issued a statement noting that a tsunami watch “means there is the potential for a tsunami, not that one is imminent”. The airport continues to be on amber alert and “all seafarer vessels are advised to keep distance from the jetties and moor in the mooring areas located in the outer harbour area.

17:23 – The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre has issued a fifth notification following the earthquake, scaling back the tsunami watch area to Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Diego Garcia. Estimate arrival times for a tsunami in the Maldives have now passed, but the watch period continues for two hours past the estimate (11:49GMT/16:49 local for Male’, and 11:44GMT/16:44 local for Gan).

17:29 – Indonesia’s Jakarta Post reports “small tsunamis” reaching upto 80 centimeters high have hit Meulaboh and Sabang cities in Aceh.

17:59 – The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre has cancelled the tsunami watch alert for both the 8.6 earthquake at 1339 Male time, and the 8.2 aftershock at 1543. “Sea level readings now indicate that the threat has diminished or is over for most areas”, the centre reported.

19:45 – Director General of the Meterological Department confimed the cancellation of the tsunami watch saying: “The danger has passed. The wave was recorded mostly affecting Indonesia. There was only a small rise in our tsunami gauge.”

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Anti-government crowds disrupt Japanese tsunami ceremony

Anti-government crowds disrupted a ceremony marking the anniversary of the Japanese tsunami in Male’ on Sunday night.

The ceremony was held at Nasandhura Palace Hotel. A member of the Japanese embassy’s diplomatic staff said that 100 guests were expected, adding that it would have been more were it not for the current “security” concerns in the country.

The capital has seen nightly protests since the end of last year. This period of unrest has seen marches, police brutality, and a controversial change of President.

The ceremony began with the Maldivian and the Japanese national anthems followed by a minute’s silence, before the Japanese ambassador to the Maldives, Ambassador Nobuhito, gave a brief speech.

Nobuhito cited the reasons for the ceremony as being condolences for those lost, gratitude for the help received and to give reassurance of Japan’s recovery from the tsunami’s destruction. Following the tsunami, the Maldives donated 86,400 tins of tuna to Japan, which has been one of the country’s major aid partners.

Outside, hundreds of anti-government demonstrators gathered at the gates of the Nasandhura Palace Hotel.

President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s newly appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Abdul Samad Abdulla, spoke about how the 2004 tsunami had brought the people of the Maldives together.

“Gayoom removed some charges against detained opposition members to unite the country,” Dr Samad claimed.

Many in the room seemed distracted, turning their attention towards the raised voices that could now be heard outside.

Dr Samad rounded off his speech by suggesting that it was more than just adversity that united the Maldivian and Japanese nations, it was a mutual commitment to human rights, to the rule of law, and to democracy.

Outside, this commitment was being questioned. Riot police rounded on the crowd, visors down, shields at the ready. Some people in the crowd shouted “baaghee (traitor) Waheed”.

Refreshments were barely touched before an announcement was made that the reception was now ending.

Leaving the hotel and walking a little way down the road towards the crowd, Minivan News asked a passing soldier why the people were there. The soldier smiled and said simply, “They think the government is not the government.”

A young man on the other side of the police barricade grinned and said, with similar poignancy, “Nice Maldives, huh?”

Meanwhile

Once the more prominent guests had safely left the area, the security forces began to recede back towards their headquarters.

Simultaneously, the MDP camp by the Tsunami monument was silent as former President Mohamed Nasheed fielded questions from the Women’s Wing, or ‘Women’s Spirit’ of the party.

The atmosphere here was one of stark contrast to the disorder and tension outside the Nasandhura Palace Hotel.

The scene at Raalhugandu resembled that of a traditional conference. Rows of seated women faced Nasheed, whose head table contained a panel of the MDPs prominent female members.

The discussions were observed by thousands of MDP loyalists who listened in near silence as the women’s concerns were aired.

MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that the event was an attempt at a new “creative form of direct action.”

Japan is also providing 250 million yen (US$3million) as foreign aid to the Maldives government to purchase industrial products produced in the affected areas of Japan, to accelerate the economic progress of those areas.

The agreement was signed between the two countries today at the Maldives Foreign Ministry.

According to a statement released by the ministry, the purchased equipments will be utilised in the health, education sectors and at the Maldives Polytechnic and Male’ Health Corporation.

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New climate change models for Maldives predict rising sea temperatures

The Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System (RIMES) has completed a nine-month research into developing a model interpreting the future climatic change scenarios for the Maldives that can provide projections which can referred during national and local development planning.

RIMES, based in Bangkok, provides regional early warning services and capacity building to its member states in Africa and Asia – including Maldives- in the end-to-end early warning of tsunami and hydro-meteorological hazards.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Dr  Govindarajalu Srinivasan, technical adviser-climate applications and research, who headed the research in Maldives, explained that “we tried to interpret the scenarios of future climate change for the Maldivian context”.

He noted that the existing global climate change models (GCMs) which are the most important tools to study climate change and make projections, do not provide descriptions for regional or local scale.

Therefore, he revealed that the GCMs were statistically downscaled, and prior reports addressing climate change concerns for Maldives were examined to “generate a high a resolution climate change scenario for Maldives”.

Analysis was also done to look at the extreme climate change risks for the Maldives, Dr Srinivasan added.

He also observed that 13 participants from the Maldives Meteorological Services (MMS) and the Environment Ministry were trained in the last leg of the project to analyse extreme climate events linked to temperature and rainfall changes.

State Minister for Housing and Environment Dr Mohamed Shareef added that the findings of the program and trainees’ recommendations will be used in the ministry’s decision making process.

Although the details on the findings of the research were not revealed to the press, Dr.Shareef added that the ministry has received an initial draft and a final report will be submitted by the RIMES soon, which will be publicised at a later date.

In a press statement issued on Thursday the ministry pointed out that the present findings also suggest that the sea level, sea surface temperature, rainfall and its variations pose future climate risks for Maldives.

“Future climate change scenarios inherently represent a set of likely climate futures. Sea Surface Temperature parameter inferred directly from GCMs show a steady increase in temperatures up to 2080, the statement reads.

However, the ministry noted that more focused research is recommended to understand the projected sea level changes and better observational network are required to characterize the unique climatological settings of the Maldives.

The project commissioned to RIMES is a component “Integrating Climate Change Risks into Resilient Island Planing in the Maldives”, 2010- 2014 – a government initiative which seeks to ensure that climate change risks are integrated into resilient island planning and that governments and communities are able to prioritize and implement climate change adaptation.

UNDP, a large contributor to the project, says that the most serious underlying driver of increasing vulnerability to climate change in the Maldives is the “absence of systematic adaptation planning and practice”.

“Climate change risks and long-term resilience are not adequately integrated into island land use planning or into coastal development and protection policies and practice, and past autonomous risk reduction efforts have sometimes had mal-adaptive effects” an entry on the UNDP website reads.

UNDP also highlights that small, low-lying atoll islands of Maldives are highly vulnerable to flooding and coastal erosion: “More than 44 percent of settlements, including 42 percent of the population, and more than 70 percent of all critical infrastructures are located within 100 meters of shoreline. Intensive rainfall, storm surges and swell waves are expected to be aggravated through sea level rise and climate change effects on weather patterns. This will compound underlying trends of increasing coastal erosion and pressure on scarce land resources, and increase physical vulnerability of island populations, infrastructure and livelihood assets.”

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Islanders protest as President arrives on Filladhoo

Islanders of Filladhoo in Haa Alifu Atoll gathered at the beach yesterday upon President Mohamed Nasheed’s arrival on the island to protest the current government’s religious policy.

President of Filladhoo Council Mohamed Vijaan told Minivan News that the protesters conducted the protest to express their opinion from the time President arrived until he left the island.

“I do not know which party they represented or the amount of protesters,’’ Vijaan said. ‘’They were protesting against placement of ‘idols’ in Addu and demanding to give the money that Filladhoo is waiting to receive from the money foreign countries gave in aid to the country following the 2004 December tsunami.’’

Vijaan said the money was granted to the Maldives during the time of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

‘’Due to a court ruling the money was not given to Filladhoo, and this government said they would appeal the case at the High Court but after that there was no news of it,’’ Vijaan said, adding that 110 houses in Filladhoo were destroyed by the tsunami.

He said President Nasheed arrived to the island at 12:20pm and left at 3:30pm yesterday. The protesters protested until his departure.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said that it was not a protest but a group of people expressing their opinion.

‘’There was no unrest,’’ Zuhair said. ‘’It was this government that introduced freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.’’

According to the President’s Office the President met with Island Councils of Filladhoo and exchanged views with the Council members on proposed development projects for the islands.

‘’He also called for the support of the Island Councils in executing government policies,’’ read a statement on the President’s Office website.

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Government misled by NDMC’s management of Moreway money

Senior members of Moreway Construction Company and the National Disaster Management Center (NDMC) have been implicated by employees of NDMC and the French Red Cross (FRC) for their alleged corrupt involvement in a 2005 Laamu Gan tsunami housing project.

“Moreway is a scapegoat for forgeries and fabrications committed by the Arif brothers Ahmed and Abdullah, and Mohamed ‘Dhigali’ Waheed,” alleged one member of the business community familiar with the individuals, who wishes to remain anonymous.

Dhigali is a former shareholder and current executive manager of Moreway Construction. Ahmed Arif owns Apollo Holdings Company, which has been linked to Moreway, while Abdullah Arif, formerly director of Moreway Arun Excello, today holds shares in Lotus Company.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) recently entered NDMC with police forensics experts to review files relating to a Rf18 million (US$1.16 million) payment issued to Moreway by the government in May. The ACC stopped a second payment of Rf15 million (US$973,000) in August on suspicion of corruption.

In 2005, the FRC tendered a US$7 million post-tsunami housing project for Laamu Gan, accepting bids from several companies, including Moreway, in a joint venture with Indian company Arun Excello and local company Aima. Although the project initially proposed 460 houses, complaints of insufficient conditions and finances prompted the FRC to reduce that number to 240.

NDMC Senior Project Manager Mohamed Waheed said Moreway’s complaints of insufficient financing and obstacles to construction prevented the company from fulfilling its contract, although at the time, claimed Waheed, imported materials were duty-free. A former employee of the French Red Cross, Adam, added that Red Cross site inspections and budget plans were nearly fool-proof. But “they were always demanding money from FRC, they had all kinds of excuses,” said Waheed.

Meanwhile, Arun Excello had abandoned the project mid-way due to frustrations with Moreway, incurring a loss of US$300,000.

Representatives at Arun Excello had not responded to inquiries at time of press.

After building 80 houses, Moreway’s contract was terminated by the FRC and the project handed over to Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) under the government’s remit.

Moreway was subsequently sued by NDMC on behalf of the Maldivian government for losses incurred by the unfinished project. In November 2007, the Civil Court delivered a verdict requiring Moreway to pay US$2.3 million to the government and granting NDMC the right to sell Moreway property at their construction site if the money was not paid within one month.

Sources say the money, due four years ago, has not yet been paid.

“Misleading” letters

Although payments were released to Moreway this year by the Finance Ministry, Waheed claimed that the government has been misinformed.

On April 19, 2011, Deputy Minister of Housing and Environment Ahmed Zaki sent a letter to Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz stating that a sixth invoice submitted by Moreway in March 2007 had yet to be paid, and requested that the ministry release the funds.

In response, Inaz said budget constraints prevented the money being allocated to NDMC, “so, money is to be paid from the NDMC budget.”

Further letters obtained by Waheed illustrate government confusion around the issue. In what Waheed called “misleading letters” between the Finance Ministry and NDMC, NDMC personnel requested the government to pay expired contractor invoices for a project which it had not tendered. At Zaki’s suggestion, the Finance Ministry reallocated money for current housing projects in Dhuvaafaru and Vilufushi to facilitate these payments, which were made using the current dollar-rufiyaa exchange rate.

Although the first payment voucher, processed in May, required Mohamed Waheed’s authorisation, his name had been crossed out and replaced by Deputy Minister Adam Saaed’s, who authorised the voucher along with Zaki.

Asked why this had been done, Waheed speculated that “they thought I wouldn’t sign it, and since Saeed is a friend of Zaki’s they had him sign it. I don’t think he even knew about it, maybe he signed it without thinking much.”

Meanwhile, documents used to obtain these payments are in dubious standing. Waheed points out that only copies were submitted to the Finance Ministry. “Who will accept invoice copies these days? Not even a small child!”

FRC officials also pointed out that the invoices had long been considered invalid.

Emails exchanged between Waheed, FRC senior project manager Brett Campbell and FRC construction coordinator Xavier Chanraud confirmed that all legitimate invoices from Moreway had been paid in full by the time FRC closed its housing projects and left the Maldives.

Chanraud recently stated that, “The FRC has closed all of its housing projects in the Maldives years ago and has already paid 100 percent of its contracts value through NDMC, which includes all defect liability retentions to the contractors. I do not think those invoices are still eligible, especially if rejected four years ago by the NDMC for technical reasons.”

Campbell added that the Civil Court’s verdict against Moreway indicated that “not further payments were due to Moreway.”

In reference to requests for additional payments for access road construction, Campbell said those claims were “discussed at length” and “deemed to be a contractor’s cost.”

Then NDMC Chief Coordinator Abdulla Shahid allegedly rejected the invoices at the time on similar grounds.

“It is questionable how these invoices made headway into NDMC budget section [in 2011],” Waheed wrote in a statement. “These are not outstanding payments to Moreway as one would think and FRC does not recognise these invoices as pending.”

When the invoice for a second payment was authorised by Zaki and NDMC chief coordinator Sheikh Ilyas Hussain and submitted to the Finance Ministry, Inaz questioned its validity against Moreway’s pending debt to the government.

Zaki then took the invoice with comments from NDMC Finance Director Mohamed Shiyam’s desk and passed a new copy to someone else for processing, Waheed alleged. Copies of both invoices with clear discrepancies were shown to Minivan News in private interviews.

The Maldives’ current Red Cross affiliate office, the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC), was unable to comment on the case.

A blind spot

Sources at NDMC and formerly the FRC agreed the previous regime’s corrupt reputation has left the current government with a blind spot.

“At the time, the government was too corrupt to get money for projects,” said Waheed. “So the FRC was funding the project, but after Moreway could not complete the project FRC left and the government stepped in.”

Government bias may have pervaded the project from the start, however. Moreway’s original bid was rejected over a fake bank guarantee, Waheed pointed out, and the company had to go to court to clear its name before re-submitting its bid.

“This is how things were done then, I don’t know why Moreway was selected but that was Gayoom’s regime,” he said.

Internal complications at the Red Cross were also rumored, although a source familiar with the operation could not confirm the reports.

For Adam, the central issue in the Moreway case is ignorance. “GoM does not understand the discrepancies in payments and procedures, and has not been properly informed of the project, so it is being charged for variations that were not approved by FRC,” he said.

According to Adam, the “local procedure” leaves project tendering and awarding to the Ministry and does not include consultants. It is “the only procedure Maldivians know,” and supports a “culture of embezzling state funds” whereby invoices are frequently submitted, rarely checked, and often paid.

FRC’s procedure is more meticulous and independent, Adam explained. Consultants are included in the bid review process, and officials at local and international FRC offices review projects alongside NDMC officials and consultants.

Had the government been more aware of FRC’s procedures, Adam said it would have noticed that the recently-paid invoice had not been signed by a consultant or passed through the review process at FRC.

The trickle-down effect

Distribution of the Rf18 million (US$110,000) is unclear. One source said it was obvious to anyone familiar with the business community that Dhigali “has profited personally, that he is a crooked businessman is known across the whole Maldives.”

A source familiar with the business community implicated Dhigali in a check fraud case involving companies Apollo and Lotus. The Arif brothers are currently shareholders in Lotus, and were allegedly issued a bad check by Apollo, in which Dhigali is a shareholder.

Other sources believe that anyone involved in processing the payments has also received a share.

The Arif brothers, said to have split associations with Dhigali earlier this year, were reportedly unaware that the payments were made. Ahmed Arif avoided scheduled interviews with Minivan News, and Dhigali did not respond to phone calls.

To date, Moreway’s debt of US$2.3 million has not been paid.

Breaking the Silence

“This is a big fraud and corruption case involving senior members at the government and at NDMC,” said Waheed, who said he suspects political tensions could make the ACC’s investigation difficult. “I’ve told Ilyas and Zaki not to do this. But Ilyas said he is helpless because he is not part of the ruling party. Zaki is MDP, though, and I think the two don’t want to have a conflict.”

While Waheed believes the ACC “is now more professional than before, and we should attach some faith to their investigation,” he chose not to report his findings to the commission.

Instead, he wrote to the President. “Because this involves so many government members I thought it was best to go to the government first, before reporting anything to an outside body. But when I spoke with them they were nervous, they didn’t want this thing to be talked about.”

Minister Inaz had not responded to phone calls at time of press, and Ilyas refused to speak to Minivan News. Deputy Minister Zaki denied all allegations.

ACC’s investigation of NDMC is currently underway.

Correciton: Previously, this article stated “Zaki then took the invoice with comments from Inaz’s desk and passed a new copy to someone else for processing.”

It should have read, “Zaki then took the invoice with comments from NDMC Finance Director Mohamed Shiyam’s desk and passed a new copy to someone else for processing.”

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Coconuts and sea cucumbers main course for Maldives agriculture

President Mohamed Nasheed recognised World Food Day this week by inaugurating the Coconut Planting Programme in Noonu Ken’dhikulhudhoo and diving for sea cucumbers off the island.

Recalling his 2009 underwater cabinet meeting, which drew international attention to the topic of climate change, the President’s dive honored an initiative for sustainable aquaculture in the Maldives.

For the past two years, a researcher known as Kandholhudhoo Dombe has harvested sea cucumbers in Ken’dhikulhudhoo lake and sold them on the international market, namely to Singapore and Hong Kong, MP for the area, Ahmed Easa, told Minivan News.

“Dombe did research on sea cucumbers 20 years back, and finally, over the last few years the research has become successful,” said Easa. “We are exporting quite a lot of these, and I believe that with the government’s support we have a good opportunity to develop agriculture in the Maldives.”

Sea cucumbers are bottom-dwelling animals enjoyed most commonly in Asian countries. The species is said to have nutritional and pharmaceutical values.

The government yesterday signed a contract establishing a formal cooperative relationship between Masmeeru Investments and the Noonu Ken’dhikulhudhoo island council. Under the agreement, the lake will be used for 20 years to harvest sea cucumbers, although the lease price will be re-negotiated with the community every five years.

The project comes at no cost to the community, and Dombe is responsible for any environmental or legal damages incurred. Dombe is also required to contribute a minimum of Rf 50,000 (US$3200) annually towards community projects on the island.

The contract has also opened up job opportunities. Easa said that new staffing needs will provide between 10 and 20 jobs for locals seeking employment.

“The government wants to do this properly. Currently, the community is receiving Rf 4-5 million (US$260,000-325,000) in profits annually from the project. It’s time to invest more, and we want to protect both sides,” Easa said.

Approximately 6 tons of Maldivian sea cucumbers with a value of US$12 million are exported annually. They are currently selling for between US$130-$150 per kilogram on the international market. Locally, one cucumber sells for Rf3.

All in the timing

Easa said the initiative comes at an important time for the Maldivain economy. Although leading economic contributor tourism is expanding, the Maldives’ most profitable export industry, fishing, is entering troubled waters.

In an interview with Minivan News, Felivaru’s Deputy General Manager Mohamed Waheed observed that the Maldivian tuna catch has fallen from “very high” figures in 2005-2006 “to now less than it was in 1995-1996.”

“The main thing is that the pattern of fishing changed,” Waheed said at the time. “May to August is the low season, but we can usually still catch fish in the southern waters of the country. But this season it did not happen – we had hardly any fish in the north, and very little in the south.”

Competition from the foreign market is also cutting into local fishing profits. While fresh local fish costs between Rf18-20, the same fish tinned abroad and imported back to the Maldives costs Rf11.

Noting the struggles of the fishing industry, Easa called agriculture the next big economic contributor.

“Tourism and fishing are declining, we need another way to provide income. Sea cucumbers have a bright future. All you have to do is drop the seeds in a lagoon or a lake and let them grow for eight to twelve months,” he said.

During the events on Ken’dhikulhudhoo, President Nasheed noted that the government plans to open the fisheries sector, especially the aquaculture and mari-culture fisheries, for investors. He observed that the Maldives was “wasteful by neglecting the potential use of various products of the palm tree,” and needed to capitalise on its natural and man-made resources to meet daily requirements and generate income-boosting activity.

Overcoming obstacles

The US State Department’s profile of the Maldives notes that agriculture makes up a mere two percent of the nation’s GDP, and that the soil has traditionally supported only subsistence crops such as coconut, banana, breadfruit, papayas, mangoes, taro, betel, chilies, sweet potatoes, and onions.

The report also observes that the 2004 tsunami contaminated many groundwater reserves with salt water. The U. S. government recently contributed US$7.1 million towards improving water systems in Lhaviyani Hinnavaru and Haa alif Dhihdhoo islands.

According to Easa, hydroponic methods may overcome these obstacles.

“The government is doing a good job of informing the community on how to grow products in different systems,” he said. “At yesterday’s festivities, there were stalls instructing locals on how to grow vegetables and fruits at home using these methods.”

Organic farming methods could also yield positive positive results. Island Organics Maldives Pvt. Ltd., which was founded in 2007, supports the Maldives’ first organic farm on Baa Maarikilu.

Company founder Shahida Zubair told Minivan News that the farm uses local resources to fertilise crops by composting shredded leaves, branches and coconut husk, manure from chicken, seaweed from Thulhaadhoo and Hithaadhoo, and kitchen waste.

“We have been trying over four years to fertilise our poor soil organically and now we are successful because the soil is beginning to be alive with micro-organisms and mycorrhizal fungi and earthworms,” she said. Zubair indicated that the soil results can be achieved elsewhere and will improve crop growth.

The President also attended celebrations in Thoddoo of Alifu Alifu Atoll, where he inaugurated the tele-medicine unit at the Thoddoo Health Centre, and helped lay the foundation for new classrooms at Alifu Alifu Thoddoo School.

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Fishermen’s Union says ‘No’ to private ownership

The Fishermen’s Union has rejected Male’ City Council’s proposal to privatise the fish market on the grounds that the change would eliminate competition and complicate boat routines.

“We have to keep our system,” said union chairman Ibrahim Umar. “Privatising will make the operation too big.”

Umar said that 50 vessels currently come to Male’ each day to deliver fish, and that space is tight. Under the proposed plan, said Umar, fishermen would have fewer responsibilities in Male’s fish market but would be expected to make more frequent trips in and out of Male’s harbor.

“There isn’t room for that kind of traffic in the harbor. And there isn’t storage capacity for the extra fish that would be coming in,” said Umar.

According to Umar, the fish market currently enjoys a healthy level of competition.

“Every day the fishing is good, there is enough money, and there is even demand from other atolls for fish from Male’. Privatising the fish market will kill the competition because fishermen will have to sell at the same private rate. Bringing in more fish will also keep the price down, and there’s nowhere to keep it on Male’. We need to run this through the union,” he said.

Male’ Mayor ‘Maizan’ Ali ‘Alibe’ Manik said the plan to privatise is an effort to comply with World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, Haveeru reports.

“When we hand over the fish market for management, the fishermen will just have to bring the fish to the market and hand it over to those in charge of management. That way it saves the fishermen time, allowing them to set off fishing faster,” he said.

For Umar, the advantages were unclear.

“How will fishermen get paid? It will take longer if they aren’t selling the fish themselves,” he observed.

Addressing the issue of facilities, however, Umar said that an earlier proposal to build a fish harbour in Hulhumale’ was being revisited by the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, the Ministry of Transport and Hulhumale’ Development Corporation (HDC).

In 2009, plans to build a fish harbour on Hulhumale’ were sent to the National Planning Council. The harbour was intended to expand and expedite the fishing industry, and reduce the pressure on Male’s market.

When the National Planning Council rejected the plan, however, Umar said there was a breakdown in communication and trust. “They weren’t talking to us, I found out through the Fisheries Minister that they had rejected the plan. There was no communication with [the union] about the plan or the finances.”

Umar said the union was told there was a lack of funds, but claimed that the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) had set aside money for the harbour. “I don’t know what happened with that money, we never got an explanation.”

In 2006, IFAD approved a post-tsunami recovery program in agriculture and fisheries. IFAD currently classifies the program as ‘ongoing’.

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Ibrahim Didi, said the earlier financial problems have been resolved and the ministry is currently working with HDC to construct a fish harbour.

Didi said expanding work space is integral to privatising the fish market, which is growing.

“There’s already plenty of demand for the fish,” said Didi. “Privatising it would bring significant benefits to fishermen. They will have more access to the harbors, necessities such as ice will arrive on time, and things will happen more quickly.”

Didi said development of Hulhumale’s fish harbour has priority, and plans for other fish harbours will be considered accordingly.

According to Didi, President Mohamed Nasheed’s plan will distribute fishing components such as ice, oil and parts to different interested parties. Didi said the approach would improve facilities.

“If the different components of the fishing industry are spread out among interested parties working with a commercial interest, then business will move very fast because there will be a real business interest.”

The City Council earlier told Haveeru that the goal of privatising the market was to improve selling procedures, not to increase profits. Representatives said the union’s response would affect planning.

Council representatives and officials familiar with the proposal had not responded to inquiries at time of press.

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