UK appoints new High Commissioner

The United Kingdom has appointed a new high commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, with James Dauris set to replace John Rankin in April.

“I am delighted to have been appointed to be the United Kingdom’s next High Commissioner to the Maldives. Our two island nations enjoy and benefit from a long-established relationship,” said Dauris in a Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) statement.

“Tourism is among our countries’ important links – more than 74,000 British holiday makers have visited the islands this year. At the same time we share concerns and ambitions around some of the big challenges facing us today, including climate change. I am looking forward to working on issues that are priorities for both our countries.”

Dauris has recently served as British Ambassador to Peru for four years as well as having served in Russia and Colombia after joining the FCO in 1995.


DRP MP Rozaina posts more Theemuge invoices on Twitter

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Rozaina Adam on Thursday posted more invoices and receipts from the former presidential palace Theemuge on her Twitter account, following her exposure earlier this month of extravagant spending by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s family.

The lavish expenses were allegedly made out of the Theemuge Welfare Budget – funds that were earmarked for helping the poor upon written request to the former palace, such as requests for assistance to seek medical treatment overseas.

The latest invoices to be made public by the DRP MP included a payment voucher of £1,013 (MVR 25,122) from the Maldives High Commission in the UK for “17 boxes of personal belongings of HEP’s [His Excellency the President’s] family and 1 box to the Office at the Presidential Palace, sent to Theemuge by airfreight.”

The boxes contained items purchased by the former President’s family during shopping sprees in London, the MP explained.Theemuge invoice

Among the other documents uploaded by the MP for Kaafu Thulusdhoo was “a receipt verified by the Audit Office for US$50,000 taken by [former First Lady] Nasreena [Ibrahim] on her Dubai trip,” MP Rozaina tweeted.

Rozaina also posted a credit card statement “for the meal by MAG [Maumoon Abdul Gayoom] family at Thanying Restaurant which cost MVR 21,803.88.”

She posted a second receipt of US$1,414 for a meal at the same restaurant in Singapore “on the same trip by MAG family.”

“Here’s the actual meal receipt for 1 meal by MAG family from ‘Song of India’ restaurant [at a] cost [of] MVR 22,097.7,” Rozaina tweeted with a picture of another receipt.

After MP Rozaina first made the allegations of extravagant spending from Theemuge in parliament, former President Gayoom’s lawyer, Ibrahim Waheed, released a statement insisting that all expenditure out of Theemuge was “in accordance with the rules and regulations” and in line with the former presidential palace’s budget approved by parliament.

Waheed added that all records and documentation of expenditure were left at the palace files when the former president left office in November 2008.

Rozaina however issued a counter statement last week noting that the former president’s lawyer had neither contested the authenticity of the bills and invoices nor denied that the expenses were made out of the Theemuge budget.

In her statement, the DRP MP said that the invoices and bills she made public were “just a few among thousands” at parliament’s Finance Committee.

Pressed by Twitter users when she first uploaded the documents on October 19 as to why she had not spoken about the Theemuge expenses before, Rozaina tweeted, “I thought auditor general was politicising. He sent all the bills this year.”

“Previously it was just a report,” she added. “Documentary evidence was sent to the Majlis only this year.”

Rozaina revealed that parliament’s Finance Committee was currently reviewing the Theemuge audit report.

MP Rozaina’s husband and DRP MP for Raa Atoll Alifushi, Mohamed Nashiz, is the deputy chair of the committee.

The damning audit report (English) of the former presidential palace for 2007 and 2008 – released in April 2009 – stated that 49 percent of the palace’s welfare budget, equivalent to MVR 48.2 million (US$3,750,000 at the time), was diverted from the budget for the poor in 2007 and 52 percent, MVR 44.9 million (US$3,500,000), in 2008.

“We believe this is corruption and misappropriation of public funds,” the former Auditor General had stated.


“Make them accountable”: young Maldivians talk democracy at documentary launch

Six local students – part of a nine person delegation that earlier this year visited key political institutions in the UK – were today invited to share their experiences and views of challenges facing the Maldives’ parliamentary system when compared to its counterparts around the world.

“In many other countries, if there is a hint of a scandal about an MP they will resign or find themselves pressured out,” said one of the female delegates. “Here, many take the attitude of ‘I don’t care’. We need to make [politicians] accountable.”

It was a response met with genial laughter during a discussion event held in the conference room of the Trader’s Hotel in Male’ this afternoon – a good natured meeting that at times seemed to belie the frank concerns raised by the young delegates.

Accountability was just one of the issues concerning democratic development noted by the six-person panel, who all spoke at the launch of a new documentary of their experiences at the ‘UK Youth Exchange’.

The project – run in conjunction with Democracy House and the British High Commission in Colombo – saw delegates travel to major UK cities to meet senior political figures and NGOs in order to better understand issues of democratic development across the Commonwealth.

The participants included Mohamed Axam Maumoon, Aishath Loona Moosa, Shahaadha Ahmed, Sharoona Adil, Shinah Saeed and Abdulla Shahid. The trip was also attended by Ibrahim Nawaf, Hassan Qassan and Muhaisina Hassan, who were not present at today’s launch.

The corresponding documentary titled ‘A study tour to London’, which is aimed to be aired and local television as well as across social media platforms at a later date, detailed a ten day visit to the UK cities of Bristol and London to experience UK and Commonwealth democratic institutions.

Participants also took part in workshops with the British Youth council, Young Muslims Advisory Group and the Commonwealth parliamentary association, as well as joining in “parliamentary-style” debates with UK school children.

Having since returned to the Maldives, the delegates raised concerns over the lack of a sense of ownership of the country, the limited educational opportunities outside of Male’, and gender inequality.

Another issue raised concerned civic education in areas such as privatisation, taxation, and public healthcare with the launch of Aasandha scheme earlier this year.

One of the participants highlighted problems with infrastructure development, bemoaning a seeming lack of public ownership among Maldivian people. He believed this had resulted from a lack of discussions and opportunities for the public to have their say in advocating how state developments were being decided.

“The youth here also have no dialogue with authorities,” he said. “No one feels the country belongs to us, be it land or infrastructure. There needs to be greater sense of ownership and responsibility.”

Other delegates raised fears over discrimination, particularly towards women working at the country’s resorts.

“There is a lot of discrimination here. It is seen as unacceptable for women to work at resorts. Why? Why should this be the case? There are lots of opportunities here,” she added.

Another delegate noted the need for reform of the country’s curriculum during the event, especially in order to take into account the changes the country had undergone since its first democratic elections were held back in 2008.

“All Maldivians should know about democracy. We need civic education,” he said.

The delegate queried how the entire country was being educated, criticising a lack of focus on critical thinking in areas such as privatisation, taxation and healthcare.

“Many people still don’t know what taxes are. What benefits there are from tax. What universal healthcare is. I could go on,” he added, to the amusement of the audience made up partly of dignitaries representing both the government and key civil society organisations including the UN and local media.

As part of the UK visit, two other participants talked of their experiences “shadowing” UK parliamentarians, claiming the country appeared to have a much stronger level of youth involvement within local governance.

“Here in the Maldives there is no youth involvement. The youth is seen as representing 18 to 35 year olds,” said one of the delegates.

“In other countries, youth are seen as representing the ages between 12 and 21, but here our parents require us to concentrate only on our studies, they do not see us as being mature enough [for politics],” they added.

The participants also spoke of the custom UK MPs had of visiting their constituencies to meet with the people they represent.

“I highly doubt MPs are visiting their constituencies here,” one of the delegates added.

“Different cultures and religions”

Among the dignitaries at the launch was Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen, a resort owner and philanthropist, who thanked the British High Commission project for allowing the Maldivian delegates to “explore different cultures and religions in the cosmopolitan city of London.”

“You would be great teachers to our politicians,” he claimed in a speech addressing the concerns raised by the six delegates.

“These messages should go to our real politicians. I’m not a real politician. But I wish today that more MPs were here. I’m informed they were invited. It’s important to listen to people. The government are the servants of the people.”

Deen claimed that politicians in the country were failing to listen to the voting public, while he also bemoaned the attitudes in the country that blamed young people and gangs for crime and murder without considering factors leading them to commit such acts.

“The problem with leaders is we try too hard to stay in power, but we often forget about our successors,” he said. “We don’t create leaders for tomorrow.”

The vice president said he aimed to do his utmost to take each of the delegates’ concerns and address them in the cabinet, pointing especially to the need for political sciences, civic education programmes and an understanding of the country’s constitution.

“Otherwise, what are we teaching?” Deen asked, this time without laughter from the gathered audience.


No restrictions as UK updates Maldives travel advisory over potential CNI unrest

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has updated a travel advisory for the Maldives on August 24 to account for potential violent clashes linked to the release of findings by the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI). Despite the update, the advisory has not recommended any restrictions regarding travel to the Maldives.

A statement on the official website of UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated that there was a risk of unrest that may become worse after the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) releases its report on the controversial transfer of power on February 7.  The CNI is charged to look into the controversial transfer of power on February 7 that brought President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan into office.

‘’There have been political demonstrations in the capital island of Male’. There is currently an increased risk of unrest and this may heighten towards the end of August when a politically significant report is expected to be released,’’ the statement said.

‘’Some previous demonstrations have resulted in violent clashes involving police, military and demonstrators. We advise that you stay alert, exercise caution and avoid demonstrations and spontaneous gatherings.’’

Meanwhile, in a video statement posted Friday (August 23), the UK High Commissioner for the Maldives and Sri Lanka, John Rankin, said that he would not like to speculate on the contents of the CNI Report before it is released when he was queried whether he thinks it will be fair.

“The UK follows the events in the Maldives closely and I and my team visit their on a regular basis. It will be wrong for me to speculate on the contents of the CNI report, we look forward to seeing it when it comes out,’’ Rankin stated in the video.

‘’But in the meantime we urge all the parties to remain clam, for people to refrain from violence. And for there to be a political dialogue, UK remains in touch with all the parties and our shared goal is for stability, peace and democracy for the Maldivian people.’’

Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Gafoor, Minister for Tourism, Arts, and Culture and Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal were not responding to calls by Minivan News at the time of press regarding the update to the FCO advisory. The Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) Secretary General ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim was also not responding to calls at the time.

Following February’s controversial transfer of power, the UK FCO advised against “all but essential travel to Male’ island” in reaction to violent clashes at the time between security forces and protesters against the new government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.  Former President Mohamed Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have alleged that the present government of Dr Waheed came to power at the time in a “coup d’etat”.

In the ensuing clashes, the travel industry was quick to respond at the time that there had been no violence or unrest at the country’s main airport, from where guests are transferred to their resorts safely without having to travel through the capital of Male’ where protests had been mainly based.

Kuoni, which is one of the largest European tour operators working in the country, continued to fly UK customers to the country without incident, yet urged caution for tourists staying in Male’, while cancelling all excursions to the capital.

The United Kingdom was the source of tourists to the Maldives before 2010, before being overtaken by China. In 2011, however, the UK market still represented 11.2 percent of all arrivals in the country.

The travel advisory was followed by similar moves from major European travel markets such as Germany. These advisories were removed by the respective authorities as of March 2012.


UK officials conclude Chevening scholarship interviews

British officials from the UK High Commission in Colombo have concluded a visit to Malé to interview applicants for the Chevening scholarship programme.

Second Secretary Political and Public Diplomacy Dominic Williams, British Council Director Tony Reilly and Maldives Political Officer Shahla Ali visited to interview applicants.

“It is always a pleasure to meet the bright and enthusiastic students who apply to the Chevening scheme,” Williams said.

“This year the quality of the applicants was once again very high. Their energy and drive in many ways captures and reflects the optimism and ambition inspired by the Maldivian transition to democracy. I am sure that all the applicants will go on to make a significant contribution to their country.”

He said that the British government had substantially increased its funding to support the Maldives’ transition to democracy.

“During the visit, we were able to discuss ideas with a range of partners on how best to use this money to help consolidate the Maldivian success story,” Williams said.