Police investigating threatening phone call from MP Siyam to sacked resort worker

Police have begun investigating a threatening phone call from MP Ahmed Siyam to a former employee at his Vilu Reef resort who was sacked last month.

The ex-resort worker, Hussan Yousuf, submitted the case to police last week with an audio recording of the phone conversation.

In the approximately three-minute long clip shared with local media, the resort tycoon – owner of the Sun Travels & Tours group and leader of the government-aligned Maldives Development Alliance – is heard threatening to “destroy” Yousuf, claiming that he was out to harm Siyam’s business interests.

“Is it because you want to go to jail that you’re trying to destroy my business?” a voice that appears to be Siyam’s is heard saying.

A punishment from God such as paralysis could befall Yousuf as a result of challenging or confronting Siyam, he suggests.

In response, Yousuf tells the resort magnate that he was seeking his rights and refers to a petition signed by over 150 staff listing their grievances.

“Let me tell you, you don’t have any rights, [Vilu Reef] is not your place,” Siyam replies, claiming that Yousuf begged for a job at the resort.

Siyam further warned the dismissed employee that he could exercise the power of the government to incarcerate Yousuf.

“If you keep pestering me like this I can send my team to really pester you. If you try to harm my business I will destroy you. [God] will not even give any money in this life to an evil devil like you. Woe on you, evil devil,” Siyam is heard saying before hanging up the phone.

Yousuf meanwhile told opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV that Siyam’s threats have caused psychological distress to him and his family.

Police told Yousuf that the threats would be investigated as a serious case, he said.

The MP for Dhaal Meedhoo – reelected in the March 22 parliamentary polls – is also currently on trial for alcohol smuggling and possession after a liquor bottle was discovered by customs officers at the airport upon his return from an overseas trip in March 2012.

At the last hearing of the case in March, Siyam denied the charges at the Criminal Court.

Meanwhile, following the presentation of the staff petition to the Vilu Reef management last month, 18 employees were fired and given an hour to leave the island.

Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) Secretary General Mauroof Zakir told Minivan News that the association would assist the staff in taking the case to the Employment Tribunal, though he felt there would be “no hope” for a fair case.

“Shiyam is very strong here,” he noted, “one of the partners of the government.”

“Since 2012 the decisions are against international standards and international best practice,” he added. “It’s all corrupt judiciary, and High Court decisions against employment cases are one of the key factors.”


A flavour of “real Maldivian life”: The Observer newspaper

Writing for UK-based ‘The Observer’ newspaper, Ruaridh Nicoll asks if it is possible to experience luxury within the atolls of the Maldives without breaking the bank.

“Standing on the bone-white sand, gazing into the clear water, I watched a blacktip reef shark cruise past my big toe. It was a tiny shark, maybe 10 inches long, but it moved as if a major predator: I imagined that in its mind it was the terror of tiny things.

‘Do they bite?’ I asked.

‘No, they are completely harmless,’ said Ali, operations manager of Vilu Reef, a resort on the Maldivian atoll of South Nilandhe. ‘We’ve only had one incident with them. A small boy of maybe four managed to catch one, which is hard , and he carried it up the beach and dropped it in the swimming pool.’

There was, he said, pandemonium.

My gaze rose, over a sea richer in fish than your average aquarium, past cabanas on stilts over the water, past the reef to where a blue seaplane was landing with more guests. The Maldives, coral islands on long-extinct volcanoes, pulsed in the sun – a million visions of paradise.

I’d never thought of visiting the atolls, seeing it as a bit posh, a bit package. A friend from British Airways changed my mind. He complained that because so many visitors to the Maldives were on honeymoon (or were just plain rich), the front of their flights were always packed, while economy sat empty. I got to wondering whether it was possible to visit on the cheap.

Well, it’s not easy. One option is to avoid the tourist islands, of which there are a little short of 100, and go to the local islands, which number 200. That way you will get the flavour of the real Maldivian life, in all its Islamic constraints. It’s fascinating, but there’s no booze, you’ll spend days trying to get around on small ferries, and have to swim in a burqa (for men, that’s optional).

Most of us who work full-time would, I guess, rather indulge the dream. So I looked for a resort that wasn’t a five-star tower of marble and palm fronds and which offered deals out of season. The result was Vilu Reef, a truly international experience.

‘The Chinese are arriving in ever-larger numbers,’ said Ali. ‘And you know what’s interesting? Not many Chinese people swim.’

We were walking across the island, under the shade of the palms and through the lush and scented undergrowth, a journey which took all of five minutes.

‘Then what do the Chinese do here?’ I asked. ‘The island’s tiny.’

‘Well they walk round and round until they are bored and then they dive in. Our lifeguards are trained to look out for it. We pull them out and then we say, We can arrange swimming lessons.'”

Read more.


Economics and value praised by industry body for ongoing tourist turnaround

The Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour operators (MATATO) believes an improving economic situation in a number of key travel markets has helped drive a bounce back in visitor arrivals to the Maldives during 2010, when compared to the same period last year.

Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, Secretary General for the group, said that an improving economic climate and better complimentary packages have been positive developments for the industry after recent negative headlines generated in light of the high profile ‘false wedding’ video widely circulated in the press and online.

The comments were made as tourist arrivals to the Maldives were found to have increased by 19.7 percent during October compared to the same period last year, marking improved fortunes for the country’s travel industry during 2010, according to new official figures.

The statistics from the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture found 74,707 visitors had arrived by air to the Maldives, up from 64,432 a year earlier. The growth continues a successful nine-month period for Maldives tourism that has seen year-on-year visitor growth of 21.8 for the last ten months.

In addressing the increases, Jamal told Minivan News that an improvement in the global economic climate had aided tourist industry commitments to try to be more competitive by offering more complimentary offers like an additional night’s stay or free transfers.

Alongside an explosion of interest from Chinese tourists that the MATATO Secretary General expects to continue during the next few months and years, a ‘good number’ of travellers from established markets in Europe also continued to flock to the nation’s atolls to provide a more balanced revenue source.

Between January to October 2010, Tourism Ministry figures found that 63.3 percent of visitors to the Maldives came from European markets. Asia Pacific territories contributed 32.3 percent of overall travel demand to the country.

The figures come after a turbulent month for Maldivian tourism, following a video recording of a ‘false wedding’ conducted at the Vilu Reef Resort and Spa that depicted some staff members mocking a Swiss couple in the local dialect of Dhivehi during a vow renewal ceremony being leaked online. The incident garnered both local and international coverage.

Jamal said that with many people now deciding to take or research holidays over the internet, the high profile nature of the incident was definitely likely to stain the country’s reputation as a hotspot for luxury and honeymoon travel.

“To be honest, it was a strange incident that we never would have expected to happen,” he added. “We don’t know yet how much of an impact it will ultimately have on tourism. It is not good, but [the impact] has not yet been as bad as we first thought.”

Addressing the incident, Ahmed Solih, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Tourism told Minvan News that he was reluctant to use the term ‘false wedding’ in regard to a ceremony that had been booked as an authentic experience for the couple who had been filmed.

In response, Solih pointed to a number of high profile apologies made to the couple – including a personal call from President Mohamed Nasheed with an offer to come back to the country as his guests – as a reflection of the serious anger among the industry and Maldivians about the incident.

The Permanent Secretary added that although it is impossible to speculate how the wedding video would impact tourist demand in the future, it was now vital for the industry’s reputation to prevent any repeats of the incident in the future.

Solih said that although the incident was isolated to a single occurrence on one of the country’s more than 90 tourist resorts, a number of e-mails and correspondence had been received reflecting the bad taste left by the incident on the tourism market.

In looking at current tourist growth though, Solih believed that the complex nature of tourism means that there are many contributing factors to the growth beyond just fauvorable economic conditions.

The Permanent Secretary claimed that the Ministry was itself focused on trying to diversify the nation’s appeal to a wider number of markets and nations wads vital to try and protect the industry from external factors such as economics that it has no control over.

“Along with the Maldives Tourism Promotion Board (MTPB) we have spent years of hard work researching and looking to new markets,” he said.

Aside from lucrative emerging economies like China, Solih claims that the industry had been making inroads to Middle Eastern and American markets in attempts to try and broaden the Maldives’ appeal around the world.


No clash within Adhaalath Party over statement criticising ‘fake wedding’ regulations, says Shaheem

State Minister for Islamic Affairs and Adhaalath Party member Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has refuted reports in local media yesterday of a “clash” within the party, following a press statement it released on November 11.

In the statement, the party expressed concern about the government’s new regulations governing ‘symbolic’ wedding ceremonies, drawn up in the wake of the humiliation of a Swiss couple in Dhivehi by staff at Vilu Reef Resort and Spa.

Resorts deemed to break the aggressive new regulations can now be fined up to Rf one million (US$78,000), or even have their license to operate suspended under the Tourism Act.

Non-Muslims are unable to get married in the 100 percent Islamic Maldives, but many tourists pay for elaborate ‘renewal of vows’ ceremonies, often requesting a ‘Maldivian flavour’ to the proceedings. The infamous Vilu Reef ceremony reportedly cost US$1300, with an optional US$440 photograph service made available.

In its statement, the Adhaalath Party condemned the government for failing to consult with religious scholars before publishing the new regulations.

“Marriages are not performed in the Maldives as a cultural ceremony. Maldivians marry according to the rules and regulations of Shariah,” the statement said.

“This makes it impossible to see how a Maldivian wedding can be regarded as a cultural act. It is an important religious rite. It is the view of the Adhaalath party that the performance of symbolic traditional Maldivian wedding ceremonies, or the performance of a symbolic Muslim wedding ceremony between two non-Muslims, are both acts that belittle the sacred beliefs of Islam.”

The statement raised several specific concerns with the regulations: most significantly that under Article 10(b) of the Constitution, “no law can be made in the country that is in conflict with the tenets of Islam. No Maldivian citizen is under any obligation to recognise as legitimate any laws that do not follow those Constitutional stipulations.”

The regulations were, the Adhaalath Party claimed, “therefore void.”

Furthermore, in allowing foreigners to choose the language of the ceremony, the regulations “leave the door open for foreigners to travel to the Maldives and verbally abuse Maldivians in a foreign tongue that Maldivians do not understand.

“It should be noted that these regulations do not make it an offence for tourists to denigrate Maldivians and use filthy language against them,” the statement added.

Adhaalath also expressed concern that the regulations did not stipulate according to which religion the symbolic ceremony should be practiced, and that such regulations theoretically allowed such symbolic weddings to be performed between same sex couples, “a practice that has become common in the West.”

“Introducing regulations such as these that allow practices of other cultures and religions to occur in the Maldives, and to use legitimate legal mechanisms of the country to do so, is a way of legitimising such practices,” the Party’s statement read.

“It is a way of legalising un-Islamic activities to occur in the Maldives. Such acts, even if symbolic in nature, are unconstitutional. Because of the various such problems with this law, and because of the doors that they open, we wish to draw the attention of our beloved citizens to these regulations.”

The party also accused the government of failing to implement the recommendations of scholars in matters such as the attempted introduction of the sale of alcohol to foreigners on ‘inhabited’ islands, “trivialising” the subjects of Islam and Dhivehi by suggesting they be made optional at A-level,and victimising the Arab-Islamic system of education at Arabiyya school.”

Senior members of the government were, the party alleged, disregarding “and [treating] as of no value the advice and counsel of the [Islamic] Ministry on such issues.”

If the government continued on its current path, the party warned, “Adhaalath will have to reassess its alliance with MDP, the ruling party.”

No clash

Local newspaper Haveeru reported yesterday of a “clash” among the Adhaalath Party’s senior leadership over the statement, claiming that the party’s President Sheikh Hussein Rasheed Ahmed – also the State Minister of Home Affairs – had sought to distance himself from the statement.

Haveeru reported Scholars Council member Mohamed Didi, also one of the party’s founders, as saying that Sheikh Rasheed “could not dodge the statement on any grounds as he chaired the council meeting.”

“Sheikh Rasheed was chairing the meeting when members of the committee, which drafted the statement, were selected. The statement was made in reference to the issues noted at the meeting,” Didi reportedly told Haveeru.

Speaking to Minivan News yesterday, Sheikh Shaheem said that while he did not wish to comment on the statement itself, reports of “a clash” within the party over the matter were erroneous.

“There is no clash within the party – there is strong unity within the party. Just because there is a different opinion doesn’t mean there is fighting,” he said.

The Adhaalath Party was not taking any action against the government, he said, and had decided to request a meeting with President Mohamed Nasheed after the holidays to resolve the issues through discussion.

“Adhaalath was just giving a reminder to the government that things are going the wrong way. If the government resolves the problems then there’s no issue,” he said.

The concern was rather the government’s failure to discuss the new regulations with scholars, he explained.

“Islam is an important part of this country and you cannot boycott scholars,” he said. “There will be big challenges if [the government] boycotts the opinions of scholars.”

The Islamic Ministry was part of the government and had a role to provide advice and discuss such matters, Shaheem explained.

“The Maldives has been a Muslim country for 900 years, but this doesn’t mean we’re against other religions. We have [foreign] doctors, nurses, teachers – these people live with us here and enjoy our life[style]. But the Maldivian people want to keep their culture and respect for their religion. If the regulations are not in opposition against Islamic principles, we are not against them.”

Islam did not recognise civil marriages, Shaheem said: “We don’t do fake weddings, we do serious marriage.”

“If we want to [provide ceremonies] for guests the regulations must be good – [for instance] there are strong laws for alcohol, so only foreigners can buy it.”

He highlighted some specific concerns with the new regulations, which are technically now in effect after being published in the government’s gazette.

“If the ceremony is conducted in a language we don’t know, there is a possibility people will come and do what the [Vilu Reef staff] did, if it’s in a language we don’t have. The regulations should specify what languages should be used,” Shaheem suggested, adding that he was also concerned about the regulations theoretically allowing ceremonies to be performed between same-sex couples.

The Islamic Ministry, was, he said, part of the government and aimed to promote moderate Islam by preaching respect for other cultures and peoples in Friday sermons, and providing the government with suggestions on matters such as how the subject of Islam should be taught in schools.

“I recently spoke to some children in grade 11-12, and they had some very extreme ideas,” he said. “It is important to teach Islam properly, by teaching about terrorism and what [concepts] such as jihad really mean, and that innocents should not be killed. An understanding of extremism and human rights – these are things that can be taught in Islam. But when Islam is not taught or is made optional, [students] will go to other places, such as [extremist] websites.”

Problems with the regulations could be resolved through discussion, Shaheem said. “There are some legal and religious concerns among some scholars, but we are not against guests coming to our country.”

Translation of the Adhaalath Party’s statement. Original available on the party’s website (Dhivehi).

11 November 2010

“Tourism is the backbone of our economy, it is very important that we develop our tourism industry.

But, tourism should be developed in ways that are compatible with Islam. As a 100 percent exemplary Muslim state for the last nine hundred years, it is within Islamic thinking that Maldivian culture and traditions have been formed. This is made clear in the Constitution.

In the same manner matrimony in the country has too evolved within the principles of Islam. Marriages are not performed in the Maldives as a cultural ceremony. Maldivians marry according to the rules and regulations of Shariah. This makes it impossible to see how a Maldivian wedding can be regarded as a cultural act. It is an important religious rite.

It is the view of the Adhaalath party that the performance of symbolic traditional Maldivian wedding ceremonies, or the performance of a symbolic Muslim wedding ceremony between two non-Muslims, are both acts that belittle the sacred beliefs of Islam.

This is the case whether the service is provided as a means of appeasing tourists, or to financially exploit them.

Islam does not allow anyone to benefit from the improper exploitation of non-Muslims. The alternative is to allow foreigners to renew their marriage vows in the Maldives according to their own traditions and wants. Neither the Maldivian Constitution nor its culture permits the display of any other religion in the Maldives.

It has been decided by the Maldivian Fiqh Academy that the display of any other religion on Maldivian soil is unacceptable both in terms of law and in terms of spirit. We condemn the government for delaying the implementation of this edict by the Fiqh Academy and express concern that the government has failed to accept the ‘formal recommendations’ made by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs towards the government’s efforts to draft new regulations on symbolic wedding ceremonies in the Maldives.

The Adhaalath Party fully supports the recommendations by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and their rationale. On behalf of all members of the Party and on behalf of its Advisory Committee, we would like to thank the Ministry for its limitless work in this regard.

The government has kicked the knowledge of scholars in the face, and failed to implement their recommendations. We call upon the government to immediately cease these activities that goad the beautiful culture of Islam and attempt to break the spirit of Islam.

Revealed below are the points of legal importance:

Article 271 of the Constitution states that any regulations that Maldivians need recognise as applying to them are regulations arising from a law approved by the Majlis. The regulations on symbolic wedding ceremonies refers to the Maldivian Tourism Act as its source and, having been published in the Government Gazette, are now legally binding.

Article 10(a) of the Maldivian Constitution states that Islam is the religion of the Maldivian state, and the source of its laws. Article 10(b) states that no law can be made in the country that is in conflict with the tenets of Islam. No Maldivian citizen is under any obligation to recognise as legitimate any laws that do not follow those Constitutional stipulations. The regulations are, therefore, void.

Law, as it is defined in Article 274 of the Constitution should be interpreted as: ‘Laws that have been passed by the Majlis and ratified by the President and regulations arising from such laws’.

Even though Article 43(a) of the Constitution does allow anybody resident in the Maldives to get married in the Maldives, Article 16(a) states that the right is dependent upon being compatible with the tenets of Islam. The regulations on symbolic wedding ceremonies is one that is aimed not at Maldivian but tourists. Even though the regulations stipulate that it is symbolic, the following issues can be noted when we contemplate the regulations from the perspective of law as well as that of the concept of marriage itself.

a) What a symbolic marriage ceremony is, and the degree of its legitimacy,

b) The regulations do not stipulate according to which religion the symbolic ceremony should take place.

Under the circumstances where there is no requirement that all tourists to the Maldives be Muslim, it is possible that some of these symbolic ceremonies could be conducted according to rituals of other religions. It also means that these regulations will allow such symbolic “wedding” ceremonies to be performed between same sex couples, a practice that has become common in the West.

c) Introducing regulations such as these that allow practices of other cultures and religions to occur in the Maldives, and to use legitimate legal mechanisms of the country to do so, is a way of legitmising such practices. It is a way of legalising un-Islamic activities to occur in the Maldives. Such acts, even if symbolic in nature, are unconstitutional.

d) The legitimacy of the person officiating at the ceremony is dubious. Right now, these ceremonies are conducted by Maldivian staff members at resorts. What are the legal or religious powers, it can be asked, of the registrar who performs these marriages, symbolic marriages or renewal of vows for non-Muslims. The question also arises of under what policy the management of a resort would certify the validity of the wedding vows that were so renewed or a wedding so conducted.

e) Article 5 (a) of the regulation says that the ceremony should be conducted in the language requested by the couple wishing to have the ceremony in the Maldives. This opens the door for ceremonies such as this to be conducted in a language other than Dhivehi, and for representatives of other religions such as priests to travel to the Maldives to conduct such ceremonies. Furthermore, it leaves the door open for foreigners to travel to the Maldives and verbally abuse Maldivians in a foreign tongue that Maldivians do not understand. That is, in fact, some have suggested, the reason why such a regulations was needed. It should be noted that these regulations do not make it an offence for tourists to denigrate Maldivians and use filthy language against them.

f) Article 7(a) of the regulations, which says that the ceremony can be conducted by someone other than a Maldivian, means there is a chance a priest may travel [to the Maldives]. As mentioned before, the representation of any other religion in the Maldives is a crime.

Because of the various such problems with this law, and because of the doors that they open, we wish to draw the attention of our beloved citizens to these regulations.

The Adhaalath Party is extremely concerned about the regular and continuous manner in which the Islamic personality of the Maldives is being confronted. The attempt to sell alcohol on inhabited island by using similar regulations, attempts to trivialise the subjects of Islam and Dhivehi in the school curriculum by trying to make them optional modules and victimising the Arab-Islamic system of education at Arabiyyaa are among such activities that can be noted here.

Adhaalath participated in the spirit of ‘the Maldives that the nation wants’ and decided to be a part of the government on the guarantee that religious affairs of the country will be conducted according to the advice of religious experts. However, it is with deep concern that we state today, the government has failed to seek the advice of the religious affairs ministry in various major issues regarding Islam.

We wish to note, also, that it is a matter of great concern and seriousness for Adhaalath that some members of the current government have chosen to disregard and treat as of no value the advice and counsel of the Ministry in such issues.

It is very clear what happened on the issue of the regulations governing religious unity. If these matters continue without change, Adhaalath will have to reassess is alliance with MDP, the ruling party.


Resorts to face fines and suspensions for future ‘wedding ceremony’ foul ups

Resorts that break aggressive new regulations governing ‘symbolic wedding ceremonies’ in the Maldives will be fined up to Rf 1 million (US$78,000).

Depending on the nature of the breach, the Tourism Ministry will also have the discretion “to cancel the license granted under this Regulation and to temporarily withhold the permission granted to operate to such resort.”

The government raced to introduce the new regulations after a video of a couple being insulted in Dhivehi by 15 complicit resort staff at Vilu Reef Resort and Spa surfaced on YouTube, and quickly made headlines around the world.

The 15-minute video of the ceremony was uploaded on on October 24 2010 by a member of staff. Vilu Reef Manager Mohamed Rasheed told Minivan News at the time that the staff member who uploaded the video did it as “a joke”, without “realising the seriousness of the potential consequences”.

Earlier this week, President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed rang the couple degraded in the Vilu Reef  incident to apologise on behalf of the nation, and invite them back to the Maldives at their convenience as his personal guests.

Non-Muslims are unable to get married in the 100 percent Islamic Maldives, but many tourists pay for elaborate ‘renewal of vows’ ceremonies, often requesting a ‘Maldivian flavour’ to the proceedings.

The new regulations governing such ceremonies state that these ceremonies must now be conducted under the supervision of a resort’s senior management.

“If the tourist chooses to hold their ceremony in a language that is unknown to them, the resort must provide the tourist with a translation of the ceremony in a language they understand,” the President’s Office said in a statement.

Furthermore, “the attendees to the symbolic marriage ceremony shall not engage in any disrespectful activity either actively or verbally while the proceedings are ongoing.”

The regulations also state that “The attire of the participants from the resort organising the symbolic marriage ceremony, the decorations used, the embellishments used to enrich such ceremonies in the form of
entertainment that may be organised and any tunes and songs which may be used during such ceremony, shall be used in a manner compatible with Maldivian culture.”

Resort management must also keep an audio or video recording of a ceremony for one year, if the tourist agrees, and provide it to the Ministry of Tourism on request.

“Tourists frequently say the Maldives’ warm hospitality is the main reason they keep coming back to the country,” said the President’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair.

New regulations in full (English)


President apologises to Vilu Reef couple, invites back to Maldives

President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed rang the couple degraded in the Vilu Reef ‘wedding ceremony’ incident to apologise on behalf of the nation, and invite them back to the Maldives at their convenience as his personal guests.

Nasheed called the couple on Saturday afternoon to personally apologise for the incident, which grew into an international media firestorm after a video of the couple being mocked and humiliated in Dhivehi by up to 15 complicit resort staff surfaced on video sharing website YouTube.

“The couple told the President that their images have been published in the media without their consent, which is causing them considerable distress and embarrassment,” the President’s Office said in a statement, adding that Nasheed was appealing for their privacy to be respected.

“The couple asked President Nasheed, during a telephone call on Saturday afternoon, to make the intervention on their behalf.”

“President Nasheed calls on the media not to reproduce photographs or video footage of the couple without their consent and to report the incident in a sensitive manner.”

The statement added that the couple “thanked President Nasheed for taking the time to personally intervene in this matter.”

Ambassador Iruthisham Adam from the Maldives embassy in Geneva also telephoned the couple, offering the government’s “profound and heartfelt apologies”.

“I informed the couple that the entire country is deeply shocked and saddened by what has happened. The Maldives is renowned for its warm hospitality and this incident has brought great shame upon our tourism industry and our country,” Ambassador Adam said in a statement.

The Ambassador informed the couple the two members of the resort´s staff had been arrested by Maldives police and the case was being investigated. The ‘celebrant’, food and beverage assistance Hussein Didi, and another man, are in police custody while the authorities determine the charges.

Minivan News understands that the Ministry of Tourism met with tourism industry leaders today to discuss steps to avoid a repeat of the incident. The government has already proposed to regulate ‘renewal of vows’ ceremonies in every hotel and resort in the country.


Comment: Culture and misfortune

The Vilu Reef Beach & Spa Resort disaster reminds me of the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, I read in June. It has a story, about how Korea Air became one of the safest airline (almost overnight) from being the worst. The author explained, justifiably, without emphasis on the number of accidents or the technical issues behind, rather how our culture (Asian culture) was responsible for the misfortune events that occurred before the Korean government took responsible measures. The specifics of the case related to a concept defined by the Dutch Geert Hotstede. Our Vilu Reef case, I feel is very similar to Korea Air story.

The story unfolds into pointing the conversations between pilot and the co-pilot of a specific flight, recorded in a black box. When the conversation was critically analysed, the Korean government accepted how much a role their culture had taken in the death of thousands. This was serious, but Koreans learned and corrected.

According to Hotstede, there are five major variables of life in a society. Where I feel we are at, on these scales are irrelevant. These are questions each and everyone has to confront in life!

Maldivians, as I have perceived, have preferred explicit rules, of the quiet sort, accepting uncertainty as a fact of life. We accept without questioning and we limit our boundaries. We are of a culture where employees remain with the same employer for a long period of time.

We are not of the culture where rules are flexible or implicit, or where activities are more of the informal. That being the majority, I observe there is a minority amongst us who are at the other end of the spectrum. They are either have convictions in hypocrisy or hidden. A recent estimate by an International NGO said two percent.

The composition of the collectivist thought far outweighs the individualist. The Individualist thoughts progress more quickly in wealthy communities. What the observation though, is a collectivistic counter-fight at its extreme, to a wealth enjoyed unequally. I wonder if the Individualist has the same ideology towards sexual relationships – the multiplier index for the divorce rate. I would think so.

The Long & the Short Term orientation varies according to people’s expectations from future. Some agree with responsibility to the future, while some stay with history and present. Persistence/Perseverance, thrill, thrift and shame is acceptable to the futuristic mind.

Reciprocation of favours and gifts is non-compulsory. Some stand to claim history being futuristic, when it has always proven otherwise. Else time stops. However, stability is more prone to the short-term oriented. On the other hand, instability during early gear-shifts is summoned to futuristic changes and therefore more associated to short-term orientation. A futuristic citizen understands the costs of instability and bears it responsibly.

The masculinity & femininity index measures, without any consideration of its literal value, how strong a value we put on relationships and quality of life as opposed to competitiveness, assertiveness, ambition and the accumulation of wealth.

The feminist elaboration is deliberate. Relationships can strive, with longer and healthier features although softer, even with the Individualistic. Difference acceptance is a survival vitality. Femininity and Individualistic is not therefore mutually exclusive. This index seems to exhibit a dependency on other indexes as well.

Power distribution and its acceptance varies from the consultative, democratic, and equal treatment regardless of position, as to paternalism or autocracy. Positions command power in less democratic approaches, and subordinates acknowledge and accept power of hierarchical positions, compromising critique and contribution. Power distribution doesn’t explain the motives of the people, rather a practice.

One may ask if these indexes relate to the current event, I would love to counter-argue that it very much is so. Ignorance is not bliss for me.

Reflecting on the contents of the video, how did one become accustomed to abusive language such as words like “Nagoobalhu” or swine to mirror a human? These are not just aesthetics but deep rooted in ourselves. I can vouch for hearing such crude language on our streets on a daily basis. Even close friends refer to each other with these words. The embarrassed nimbly tries to ignore it while the receptor tries to outsmart being addressed as such with equivalent or more abusive language.

We need to ask where we are, how and why we arrived at this point. It’s time we tried to measure our scales.

The book was an insightful read, although some stories were very slow in ripening. The gist of my note is that we need to take responsibility to what has happened on Vilu Reef. We need to reflect deeply on the incident and understand the deep rooted issues within. We need to study them, acknowledge them, apologize to those who were hurt, rectify and start over where necessary.

How critical an analysis should our Ministry of Tourism, Arts & Culture consider when developing the regulatory framework, policies and laws to implement and monitor standards?

Should we not investigate the psychological implications that led to such behavior – is there a role for the Ministry of Health here? Can we study the trends in human development in the context of the Maldivian environment?

How should the education system be overhauled to lay the educational foundation for the development of the children towards growing up to be responsible young adults – is this a responsibility of the Ministry of Education?

When can we start listening to our children? Can parental education be introduced to ensure that the children and youth are supported with social, personal, and other skills required to be part of the growing up community, encouraging critical thinking and promoting freedom of expression?

Should we not study how employment regulations affect the rights of geographically-restricted staff with limited means to reach legal assistance? How do we integrate conditions for employees welfare to meet his social, educational, personal and spiritual needs in a purely working environment such as a resort – what about Ministry of Human Resources, Youth & Sports?

How can the religious education embrace a more holistic and human rights based approach that can instill values in Maldivians – define the role of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs? What about ethics and values of our society including the business community? Shouldn’t Ministry of Economic Development be concerned about why foreign investors think twice before venturing with a local partner?

It is time for serious national action, for we cannot let this be repeated. Or we will hurt ourselves, again and again. We shouldn’t allow this to be swept under the carpet, after a short lived juicy-story-hype, with political veils. The government shall not just condemn it but take responsibility for rectification. Reports have to be published. The government should be questioned over its steps of rectification.

Punishing is not just a solution. Pointing a finger is not a solution in singularity. Apology without corrective action is not a solution. The solution is within us, which we cannot neglect to admit anymore. We need to learn our issues – issues of principle. We need to fix it and fix it soon.

The repercussions are a serious cost to each and every Maldivian. I believe it is the worst of its kind Maldives has had to face in its history and scars will remain for a long time. Reconciliation with the world, with nations and with religions and cultures is pre-requisite to restore Maldives.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Police arrest ‘celebrant’ as President expresses disgust over false wedding ceremony

The Maldives Police Service have arrested two men involved in the infamous ‘wedding’ ceremony at Vilu Reef Resort and Spa, in which the ‘celebrant’ and up to 15 complicit members of staff degrade and humiliate a Swiss couple in Dhivehi.

One of the men arrested was identified as Hussein Didi, a food and beverage assistant at the resort who acted as celebrant and who was filmed unleashing a torrent of hateful abuse at the oblivious couple.

Under Maldivian law non-Muslims are not permitted to marry in the Maldives, but many resorts offer ‘renewal of vows’ ceremonies.

“The court decided yesterday that [the men] should be kept in police custody during the investigation,” said Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam.

The men have not yet been formally charged, “but this is a very serious issue related to our economy,” Shiyam said. “Once we complete the investigation the Prosecutor General’s Office will decide the charges.”

President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed has meanwhile announced that the government will introduce strict guidelines for the conduct of tourist wedding ceremonies.

Speaking during his weekly radio address, President Nasheed said he was “disgusted” by the incident and described the behaviour of those involved as “absolutely disgraceful”.

He called on staff working in tourist resorts – indirectly responsible for 80 percent of the country’s economy – to be “vigilantly professional”, as such behaviour could cause “enormous damage to the country´s tourism industry.”

The government would leave “no stone unturned to ensure that an incident like this never happens again,” Nasheed said.

Meanwhile Maldives Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed issued a state apology to the couple, who have not been identified but are believed to be from Switzerland.

“The Maldives is a world-class tourist destination famed for its warm welcome and excellent customer service. Episodes such as that captured on video have no place in our tourism industry or in our society more broadly; and are alien to our cultural and religious values,” Dr Shaheed said.

The Maldives is grateful that the couple in question chose to renew their vows in one of our resorts and we cannot escape the fact that, on this occasion, because of the disrespectful and unacceptable actions of a few individuals, we have let them down.”

The Maldives Diplomatic Service had been instructed to contact the couple “and issue a face-to-face apology,” Dr Shaheed said.

“We will also be compensating them for any distress caused by this unfortunate incident. The Foreign Ministry will also be writing to our counterparts in Switzerland to offer our intense regret and to indicate the steps that the Government is taking to deal with the situation.”

Furthermore the government was seeking to hold talks with the Maldives tourism industry “in order to have assurances that this was an isolated incident,” the Foreign Minister added.

“If we do not receive such reassurance, we reserve the right to take all remedial steps necessary, legislative or otherwise, to ensure that episodes such that which occurred in Vilu Reef Resort never happen again, and do not tarnish the positive image of the country built up over so many years.”


Sun Travels to compensate couple while police investigate ‘wedding ceremony’ video

The Maldives Police Service have confirmed they are investigating staff at Vilu Reef Resort and Spa at the request of both the Ministry of Tourism and the resort’s operator Sun Travel and Tours, after a video of a controversial ‘renewal of vows’ ceremony was leaked to YouTube.

In the video, a Vilu Reef staff member, acting as the ‘celebrant’, unleashes a tirade of insults against the couple in Dhivehi in the solemn tone of a religious preacher, sparking both local and international outrage.

The couple, identified by the AFP as Swiss, appear oblivious to the humiliation as 10-15 resort staff look on and make disparaging comments about the couple’s appearance, and urge the celebrant to “make them suck mouth” – a Maldivian phrase to denigrate the act of kissing.

Non-Muslims are unable to be married in the Islamic country, however many resorts offer ‘traditional Maldivian’ renewal of vows ceremonies and the country is a popular destination for honeymooners.

Sun Travels and Tours issued a statement yesterday afternoon saying the corporate management of the resort was “deeply saddened by this humiliating event and expresses its serious concerns over the incident, including the content shown in the video and the unforgivable conduct displayed by the staff involved in the incident.”

“The management is in the process of contacting the two tourists who were victimised in this incident to extend sincerest apologies for this unacceptable incident. The management would offer compensation for the abuse they have suffered,” the company said.

“We sincerely apologise for the damage and serious repercussions this incident could cause to the tourism industry of the Maldives, the image of the country, the Maldivian people and their government.”

Speaking to Minivan News today, CEO of Sun Travels Ahmed Shakir confirmed that police had taken up the investigation “and the people directly responsible have been removed from the property.”

“Two employees have been removed to Male’, others have been suspended from duty and forbidden from leaving the staff area of the resort,” Shakir said. “[Staff] on the resort are being individually questioned as to how informed they were [about the incident].”

Vilu Reef Manager Mohamed Rasheed told Minivan News on October 26 that the that the staff member who uploaded the video, Ali Shareef, did so as “a joke”, without “realising the seriousness of the potential consequences”, and complied with management’s request to remove the video from YouTube.

Rasheed also said that he had become aware of the nature of the ceremony conducted by Food and Beverage Assistant Hussain Didi, and had banned Didi from performing any more ceremonies.

Shakir said today that the company was waiting on the advice of its lawyers as to whether it had grounds to take action against Shareef, and had established a proceedure for conducting the weddings and “eliminate the reading of anything in Dhivehi during the ceremony.”

Minivan News understands the company is attempting to contact the couple and explain the situation, and offer undisclosed compensation.

Shakir would not divulge the identity or nationality of the couple, “as we believe that at this stage it would do more harm than good.”

He would not comment on whether the humiliating ceremony was an isolated case or whether the behaviour had occurred before, but said the resort was “investigating”.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said the resort was cooperating fully with the police investigation.

“We are discussing with the Prosectutor General’s office as to whether there is any way those involved can be charged,’ Shiyam said.

Not uncommon

Disparaging of guests in Dhivehi by resort staff was not uncommon, claimed Vice President of the Tourism Employment Association of the Maldives, Mahrouf Zakir.

“Sadly this is very common, and not only in Vilu Reef but even in very upmarket luxury resorts,” said Zakir. “I’ve seen it happening, and not just for wedding ceremonies but birthday songs as well. It’s a stupid thing to do, I think it’s crazy.”

“I don’t think this is new – if you look at the Vilu Reef video there are 15 people standing around for the ceremony, and a lot more people in the background. The management must have been aware of it.”

Many upmarket resorts actually prohibited Maldivian staff from speaking Dhivehi in front of guests, he noted.

“I know it’s difficult to believe, but the workers don’t do this out of disrespect for the guest. They don’t think that far. I know it probably doesn’t make sense, but they just do it for fun as they know guests don’t understand the language.

“We have to raise awareness among resort workers that this is unacceptable, as well as talk to the Ministry [of Tourism]. Many resort staff come from local islands, and simply do whatever they want for a laugh.”

Deputy Minister of Tourism Ismail Yasir said the Ministry was “very concerned” about the impact the incident would have on the Maldives’ reputation, and was also investigating to determine whether the practice was common.

Despite the religious insults in the video, Yasir said he did not believe the video was evidence of rising extremism.

“I don’t think this is extremism,” he said, “just irresponsibility on behalf of the management of the resort. It has had a huge impact on our reputation, and I would like to assure people that the government is doing everything in its power to make sure this does not happen again.”