Judge refuses to officiate MDP-themed wedding

A judge from Kanduhulhudhoo Island in Gaaf Alif Atoll has refused to officiate a wedding decorated with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s presidential campaign slogan ‘MDP Ehburun’ last week, reports local media.

‘Ehburun’ (one round) is a reference to the MDP’s pledge to win the September 7 presidential election in the first round.

The Kanduhulhudhoo Magistrate Judge Hassan Didi refused to proceed with the marriage vows because the table set for the marriage ceremony was “decorated with the words ‘MDP EhBurun’ in bold letters,” according to CNM.

“I refused to officiate because ‘MDP EhBurun’ was written. I do not object to the color or arrangements used for decoration. But we cannot conduct a wedding to promote a certain group,” Didi told CNM.

“I told them that it would be better to have a phrase such as ‘Baajjaveri Kaivenyakah Maruhaba’ (‘Welcome To A Happy Wedding’),” he added.

The families of the couple then changed the table decorations, before the judge would proceed with the wedding, Didi explained.


Nasheed’s travel request denied by Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court

The Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court has denied former President Mohamed Nasheed’s request to travel abroad for a family wedding.

According to a statement from the former President’s Office, Nasheed had requested to leave the Maldives from March 27 to March 31.

The request was denied by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, which stated that it was too close to President Nasheed’s next scheduled trial date on April 4.


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.


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)


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]


Couples clamour to begin wedded bliss on 10-10-10

Fifty couples, more than three times the daily average, are planning to get married on Sunday the 10 October 2010, reports Haveeru.

The binary number 10-10-10 prompted many to lodge applications at the Family Court to have their marriage ceremony performed on the day. The Family Court approved 50 applications, and told Haveeru that it will try and accommodate all requests.

On average 15-20 marriages are performed daily. On dates that are easy to remember – and leave little chance of forgetting the anniversary – the average always increases manifold. 87 couples got married on 08-08-08, 56 on 07-07-07 and 63 on 06-06-06, says Haveeru.