Police arrest underage females from orphanage, detain in Maafushi prison

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has called for the immediate release of two underage females living in the Villingili orphanage, who were arrested and sent to Maafushi prison.

Local media alleged that the two girls, aged 15 and 16, were arrested on December 28, 2012, after escaping the orphanage in the middle of the night to fraternise with some boys.

HRCM asked the Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights to return the girls to the Villingili orphanage immediately, noting that their incarceration in Maafushi prison violated chapter 2, article 35[a] of the constitution.

The commission stated that government authorities had not cooperated with the commission’s investigation and had furthermore provided false information on the matter.

Police Spokesperson Hassan Haneef and the Villingili orphanage were not responding to calls at time of press.

HRCM said that the two girls were living in Villingili  when they were arrested and said that HRCM understands that the girls were kept in Dhoonidhoo Police Custodial before they were transferred to Maafushi Prison.


Juvenile Court acquits minor charged over Villingili murder

The Juvenile Court has today ruled that a minor charged with the murder of 25-year old Ahmed Mirzah Ibrahim was innocent, citing a lack of evidence to support a conviction.

Juvenile Court Spokesperson Zaeema Nasheed confirmed that the ruling was made today. but could not give further information to Minivan News as she was not in Male’ at the time of going to press.

Local media has reported that the Juvenile Court ruled that statements given by two witnesses produced to the court were insufficient to prove that the defendant, who could not be named on account of their age, was guilty.

According to the ‘Sun’ Online news service, during police investigations, the two witnesses had told authorities that they saw the minor attacking Mirza.  However, in court both witnesses denied the statements they had given to police, claiming that they have not seen the minor attack the victim.

In April last year, Mirza Ibrahim was struck in the head with an iron bar while he was sitting inside a park in Villingili, the ward of Male’ where he lived.

Mirza did not survive the severe injuries received to his head during the attack and was rushed to Indira Gandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) where he was declared brain-dead.  He was then put on life support at IGMH.

Police initially suspected that the attack involved a gang, while Minivan News at the time received unsubstantiated reports that the assault was prompted following comments made about a girl.

During the early hours of April 14, Mirza died at IGMH. Police arrested five persons in connection with the case.


Muhyiddin School powers up first of 652 kW solar panels across six islands

Muhyiddin School in Villingili has switched on 61 kW of rooftop solar panels, enough to power 30 houses and the first panels of a 652 kW watt solar project to be rolled out across six islands.

The panels were switched on Monday morning by Germany’s Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation & Nuclear Safety, Katherina Reiche, with data on the power generated fed into a web browser application projected onto a screen at the school.

The project was the result of a power-purchasing agreement signed by State Electric Company (STELCO) with Renewable Energy Maldives (REM), while German solar firm Wirsol provided technology and financing.

The project was signed in June 2011. The panels to be rolled out include 294 kW in Villingilli, 64 kW in Guraidhoo, 78 kW in Himmafushi, 120 kW in Maafushi, 48 kW in Kaashidhoo and 48 kW in Thulusdhoo.

Panels will be installed at six sites in Villingili. Including the school’s 61 kW, there will be 74 kW at Eduruvehi, 28 kW on Cinamale’, 40 kW on the Judicial Building, 58 kW on the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) flats and 33 kW on the powerhouse.

REM had initially proposed a system to provide 70 percent percent of daytime load across six islands on the back of the government’s proposed feed-in tariff, but STELCO reduced the installation to 30 percent with the intention of later expanding it.

Head of REM, Dr Ibrahim Nashid, said the success of project was an important step that would instill confidence among others in the power sector to invest in renewable energy.

“When we tested the [Muhyiddin] system we found the panels were generating 10 percent more than we had initially calculated,” he said. “It is a good indication of the potential for solar in the Maldives.”

The photovoltaic panels on the roof of Muhyiddin school will power the school across were the first grid-connected solar system in the Maldives, he said. “We are groundbreaking. I say that not as a boast, but because it is difficult to bring across what we do.”

The panels were “plug and play”, simple to maintain, and modified to withstand a salty environment with a lifespan of 25 years, “probably longer than the roof”, Dr Nashid said.

Power from the solar panels will be sold – and fixed – at 25 cents a kW/hour, compared to the current cost of around 35 cents a kW/hour.

Founder of Wirsol, Stefan Riel, said the six-island 652 kW installation would avoid the equivalent of 800 tons of carbon entering the atmosphere every year.

“In the next 12 months, we want to put 20 mW into the grid across several islands, which would mean 25,000 tons of carbon reductions,” he said.

“We are using German technology and experience to create jobs in the Maldives, and give young people here the opportunity to be involved in their energy production. For that to happen we need the continued support of the Maldives government, and the German Development Bank.”

While the final details of the feed-in tariff are still being discussed, the Wirsol system will operate “under a special arrangement between us an STELCO,” Riel said.

Cabinet has embraced the economics of solar and announced plans to generate up to 80 percent of the country’s electricity using the proven technology, while President Mohamed Nasheed has installed solar panels on the roof of both his residence and office.

Research conducted last year suggested that electricity costs could be reduced to 17 cents or even lower on some islands through the use of solar. Many existing diesel generators on islands are extremely expensive to run as they have a capacity far above the demand of their islands, with electricity costing up to 77 cents a kW/hour in some areas. Solar was, claimed the President’s Energy Advisor Mike Mason, “an opportunity to print money – and there aren’t many of those available to the government.”

But the key challenges remain economic and regulatory, according to REM’s Director Hudha Ahmed.

“We have been making 20-25 year contracts on good will. We need to make sure investments are secure and that regulations are in place,” she said. “Contracts also have to be signed by the councils as well as the utility providers, as the councils have the responsibility for providing electricity.”

However capital investment and the lack of financing options was the greatest obstacle, she said.

“It has been a huge challenge – no bank would finance this project,” she said. “We approached every bank in the Maldives but none would invest.”

Very few people in the Maldives would have US$5000 to invest in a typical rooftop solar system, she explained, even if such a system were to cut the average electricity bill in half and pay for itself in 5-6 years.

While elaborate financing mechanisms exist to fund the capital city’s enormous motorcycle fleet, with costs not dissimilar to a solar PV system, no such small loans system exists for solar.

“The solar technology itself is really the simplest part,” Hudha said.


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.


“No ambulance on Fridays”: Villigili man takes wife to hospital in garbage cart

An elderly man named Ali Waheed living in Villingili, a residential island that is the fifth district of Male’, has claimed he had to carry his wife to hospital in a garbage cart after the island’s health centre said there was no ambulance available “because it was Friday”.

“I called the police and asked for help, but they said all their vehicles had been damaged and taken Male to repair,’’ Waheed said. “The health centre said that because it was Friday there was no doctor or health worker available, and when asked if one could be made available as it was an urgent case, they said it was not the health centre’s policy.’’

Waheed’s house is located near the garbage pile on the island, and he found a wheel-cart nearby which was used to carry trash.

“I carried my wife on the wheel-cart to the Villingili-Male’ ferry and wheeled her to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH).”

Waheed said he had informed Health Minister Aiminath Jameel of the incident by “sending more than 50 text messages to her mobile phone.”

“But so far she has not responded to any of those texts. It is very sad that this is the current situation in Villinigili,” he added.

He said doctors and other staff working at the health centre were themselves frustrated due to low wages and because they did not receive any overtime payments.

“They are frustrated and it affects the citizens of Villingili,” he said.

Minivan News spoke to Director of Villingili Health Centre Ahmed Zahir, who said that while Waheed had asked if an ambulance was available to take his wife to the ferry terminal, staff were not made aware that her condition was urgent.

Zahir said an ambulance and doctors were available on Fridays in urgent cases, but said there had been recent cases of the ambulance being called to carry boxes to the ferry terminal in lieu of a taxi.


Villingili assault victim on life support after gang attack causes serious head injury

A 25 year-old man who suffered severe head injuries in an assault by a gang in Villingili two days ago has been declared brain-dead and is currently on life support at Indira Gandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH).

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said that police had received a report that the man had died, however this was not confirmed by the hospital.

”We can’t confirm whether he is dead, we have not yet received any official document yet,” Shiyam said, adding that five men had been arrested in connection with the attack.

IGMH Spokesperson Zeenath Ali told Minivan News that the victim’s condition was critical and that no progress had been observed since he was admitted to IGMH.

”The attack caused a very serious head injury,” she said. ”He is currently in a coma and on life support.”

Several media outlets have identified the person as Ahmed Mirza from the island of Maalhendhoo in Noonu Atoll.

Mirza, who works in a shop in Male’, was attacked on Monday night and rendered unconscious by his attackers. He was attacked while he was sitting in a park in Villingili.

Police have suggested the attack involved a gang, while Minivan News has received unsubstantiated reports that the assault was prompted following comments made about a girl.

A family member of the victim told local newspaper Haveeru that doctors had lost hope that Mizra would survive.

“He’s still on life support, hospitalised in the ICU because of the family’s request”, she told the paper. ”It’s like he’s gone, only with a pulse.”


Shangri-La ‘PlayStation’ strike dissolves after leaders dismissed

The strike at Shangri-La Villingili Resort and Spa has ended, according to Vice President of the Tourism Employment Association Maldives (TEAM), Mauroof Zakir.

157 Staffs at the Shangri-La Villingili Resort went on strike last week after four workers were dismissed for reportedly playing on a PlayStation in a vacant villa on the last Sunday. It continued throughout the week until Shangri-La management dismissed the 10 leaders of the strike and four villa host, and invited the remaining staff back to work.

Zakir claimed the strike ended when Shangri-La management sent a letter to the parents of the strikers on Feydhoo.

”They sent a letter signed by the general manager of the resort requesting that the strikers resign or the matter would be handled to the police,” Zakir said.

”Their wives, kids and parents were disappointed with the letter and pressured the staff to stop the strike and go work.”

Zakir said the strikers did not achieve all they had set out to achieve, but “it was a success that only 14 staffs were dismissed. At first they dismissed 65 staffs on the island.”

He said that strikers took a vote on Wednesday to decide if they were going to continue or end the strike.

”Ninety per cent of them voted to continue the strike,” Zakir claimed.

He said TEAM would “still work until we achieve our demands, with the help of international organisations.”

”We will take the case to the tribunal also,” he said. ”We will do as much we can.”

Shangri-La’s Communication Director Leslie Garcia denied management sent a letter to the strike leaders.

”They were dismissed in an agreement proposed by the resort management,” she said. ”They agreed to it.”


Shangri-La dismisses 14 striking staff, invites rest to return to work

Shangri-La Villingili Resort and Spa has invited striking staff to return to work, after 157 staff stopped working in protest over the dismissal of four villa hosts.

The villa hosts were dismissed after security and a duty manager discovered they had locked themselves in a guest villa with a PlayStation during a lunch break.

Senior management from the hotel chain flew into the Maldives earlier this week to resolve the situation, just as the Ministry of Human Resources and the Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) became involved.

A statement from the resort today said while management “acknowledges and accepts employees’ rights under Maldivian
Law, because of the serious nature of employee behaviour, 14 staff members will no longer be employed by the property.”

“The management will fill the resulting vacancies with Maldivians,” it added.

Other employees “are invited to return to work”, the resort’s statement said, adding that “initial claims that 65 employees were dismissed are untrue.”

“The resolution reflects the desire to move forward in a fair and reasonable manner considering the needs of the local community and all employees. The resort is operating as normal and no guests have been affected,” Shangri-La said.

Minivan News contacted one of the striking employees camped on Feydhoo, who said the protesters would stick to their original demands, which include a written statement from the resort reinstating the dismissed employees.

“Most of the strikers have been given first and last warnings, which means next thing they do wrong they will be dismissed,” he claimed.

The resort’s general manager went to Feydhoo yesterday and called the 14 dismissed strikers one by one to an area secured by riot police, the striker claimed, to inform them of their dismissal.

Vice President of TEAM Mauroof Zakir said those dismissed included the four villa hosts “and 10 staff who management suspects have been leading the strike.”

He noted that the protesting staff had taken a vote yesterday over whether to continue to with the strike “and the majority decided to continue.”

More than 80 staff are continuing to strike, he said, adding that the resort was continuing to operate normally “because the majority of staff are expatriate.”