Comment: Election-phobic politicians cowering behind judiciary

“So you are proposing to incarcerate Mr Nasheed, are you?” a reporter recently asked a leader in the so-called Maldives Unity Coalition.

“Yes, we are. We will keep him in prison for a long time,” he replied.

The reporter winces.

“I see,” he says, just managing to look respectful. “So, you won’t have him to compete with your candidate to win elections?”

Ingenious, these people must think themselves.

“It’s one way to force you to the top, of course. But I shouldn’t call it civilised, or democratic,” he blurts out. “Justice has to be enforced, so, we don’t look at it like that,” the politician says. “Posterity will.”

The defeat of 2008 common amongst them, political losers of that election have tripped up and toppled the elected government in just three years.

Getting the peculiar lexicon right – the so called “harmonious diplomatic narrative” about the police mutiny amidst-coup and the actions of politicians leading up to the regime-change – took the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) a while, and eventually they had to ‘selvam’ the whole thing.

The so-called Unity Coalition that toppled the elected government comprises leaders of parties that have ostensibly not conducted organisational or internal elections in a transparent or an all-inclusive manner since inception. Despite having to resort to stark and obvious giveaways of election-phobia, they are looking to hunker down and stay on in power, obviously for as long as possible.

Getting on about it through the judiciary

Almost all senior MDP members are political victims of the previous regime, many having undergone torture and time in their prisons. However the new democratic regime, seeming to steer clear of paving the way and facilitating transitional justice, probably led opponents to cut up rough and go on talking openly about putting Mr Nasheed away in prison again.

Maldivians know that sitting presently in the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the oversight body for the judiciary, are political opponents of President Nasheed – opponents in whose personal and political interest it is to incarcerate and disqualify their main challenger prior to elections. They have been publicly talking about it for months.

While members of the DRP, PPM and others in that bandwagon actively work to regularise discrepancies in the house, political leaders involved in regime-change such as MP Gasim Ibrahim and Majlis Speaker Abdulla Shahid continue to be influential members of the Judicial Service Commission.

Meanwhile, breaches of the Constitution by the Judicial Service Commission, such as the nullification of Article 285 – which stipulates qualification criteria for judges – by declaring it as a “symbolic article”; the subsequent reappointment of the pre-2008 Constitution judges without required checks; the prevention of meaningful changes and the establishment up of an independent judiciary are all pending in parliament without further inquiry.

The legitimacy of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed’s re-appointment as a judge can only be determined by an inquiry into the Judicial Service Commission and its actions over Article 285. All attempts to address issues of the Judicial Service Commission – especially with regard to its contravening Article 285 and pending complaints against Abdullah Mohamed – have been blocked by the opposition MPs of the DRP, PPM, and the DQP, by systematically disrupting every sitting in which these matters are raised. These MPs have gone so far as to publicly state that they will stonewall and prevaricate all pending issues concerning Article 285.

Ethical misconduct

While Article 285 embodies qualifications for judges, the case ofAbdulla Mohamed, glorified by the opposition as ‘Abdulla Gazi’, the hero of regime-change and victim of Nasheed’s government, have been widely published.  In 2005, then Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed first forwarded to the President’s Office concerns about the conduct of Abdulla Mohamed after he allegedly requested an underage victim of sexual abuse to reenact her abuse in open Court.

In 2009, the new democratic government forwarded those documents to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), which was requested to launch an investigation into the outstanding complaints as well as the alleged obstruction of “high-profile corruption investigations”.

The JSC decided not to proceed with the investigation on July 30, 2009. However in November that year, the JSC completed an investigation into a complaint of ethical misconduct against the judge.

The case was presented to the JSC in January 2010 by former President’s member of the JSC, Aishath Velezinee, after Abdulla Mohamed appeared on private network DhiTV and expressed “biased political views”.

Velezinee observed at the time that it was the first time the JSC had ever completed an investigation into a judge’s misconduct.

“There are many allegations against Abdulla Mohamed, but one is enough,” she said at the time. “If the JSC decides, all investigation reports, documents and oral statements will be submitted to parliament, which can then decide to remove him with a simple two-thirds majority”, she said.

Weeks later, Ibrahim Shahum Adam of Galolhu Cozy, listed by police as one of the nine most dangerous criminals in Maldives, and in prison for his alleged involvement in a stabbing near Maafannu “Maziya Grounds” during July, 2010 that killed 17-year-old Mohamed Hussein of Maafannu Beauty Flower,  was abruptly released by ‘Abdulla Gazi’ saying he wanted to hold the Health Minister accountable, as police had claimed a difficulty in obtaining a health certificate.

Shahum had also earlier attacked a fellow student attending an Imam course inside a teashop, and the victim, Ahmed Naeem of Carnationmaage, Alif Alif atoll Thoddu, had testified in court .

Days after Shahum was released by Abdullah “Gazi”, he was arrested again by police for the alleged  stabbing murder of 21-year-old Ahusan Basheer of Varudheege, Hithadhoo, Addu City, while the young man was walking along a street in Male’.

In October 2011, the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) appealed for assistance from the international community over the “increasingly blatant collusion between politicians loyal to the former autocratic President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and senior members of the judiciary – most of whom were appointed by Gayoom during his 30 years of power.”

On October 26, Judge Abdulla ruled that the arrest of Gassan Maumoon – son of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – on suspicion of hurling a wooden block at protesters leading to a participant being disabled for life, was unlawful. This established a precedent that police could not arrest suspects without an arrest warrant “unless the arresting officer observes the offence being committed”.

The contentious ruling led police to release 11 suspects while the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) sought legal clarification on criminal justice procedures.

JSC a stakeholder in trial

It is laughable that the Judicial Service Commission is itself a stakeholder in the ongoing case against President Nasheed, as it is the very failure of that Commission to uphold the rule of law and fulfill its Constitutional mandate that underlies the creation of “Judge” Abdulla Mohamed, the subject of the trial.

Thus it is difficult to ‘selvam’ the fact that it is contradictory to the principle of natural justice for the Judicial Service Commission to decide the bench or in any way interfere and/or influence the trial.

The Judicial Service Commission intervened in Nasheed’s trial with blatant impunity, by abusing its powers to appoint judges to courts and deciding the bench for the trial itself. The Judicial Service Commission temporarily transferred three magistrates from other magistrate courts specifically to create the three member panel that is presiding over President Nasheed’s trial.

Some months earlier, the Anti Corruption Commission was widely quoted in the press on the appointment of the wife of a JSC member, Magistrate Shiyama, to the so-called Hulhumale’ Court, and the allegations continue that the Hulhumale’ Court is kept by the Judicial Service Commission in violation of the Judicature Act as a reward to Shiyama who, with a diploma in legal studies, does not qualify for appointment as a magistrate to a superior court.

Meanwhile, many people who attended the enforced first hearing of this so called trial believe that the Prosecutor General filed the case against President Nasheed invoking Article 81 of the Penal Code in open contravention of Article 17 of the Maldives Constitution under which every citizen is entitled to rights and freedoms without any discrimination, regardless of their political beliefs.

There has been no previous instance of a magistrates’ panel being convened to prosecute any case or individual charged under Article 81 of the Penal Code. Thus, it is common belief that appointing a magistrates’ panel to prosecute this case, by appointing magistrates from different jurisdictions including one who is currently under investigation by the Judicial Services Commission, is a direct violation of Article 17 of the Maldives Constitution.

Calls for Judicial reform get louder

Calls for judicial reform in Maldives are getting broader acceptance with talk rife these days in tea shops, coffee houses and Usfasgandu, of widespread corruption and corruptibility among judges.

Meanwhile some lawyers are publicly detailing tactics used by various judges to deny litigants due process.  Alleged such tactics include intimidation, muzzling, ignoring court rules, creating new rules, fabrication of facts, testifying for a party, issuance of absurd legal opinions, torturing the law as well as other creative means that have boggled the minds of numerous laypeople, lawyers and even judges.

These discussions are removing the halo of honorability that surrounds many “respected” judges and demonstrating how, for many judges, the canons of judicial conduct and Article 285 were enacted only for public consumption. It also demonstrates how certain judges, when challenged to explain their decision or stance, act no different than the same common criminals they were appointed to judge.

Judges accused of being corrupt are acting with the knowledge that their decisions will most likely be affirmed by fellow judges on appeal, pursuant to a tacit “fraternity” code. In other words, trial court judges openly utter absurdities in their opinions with the knowledge that fellow judges at the appellate court are not too keen on reversals.

They are also accused of acting with the knowledge that any commission charged with investigating judicial misconduct at the state level can at present ‘selvam’ such reports and dismiss any complaints against fellow judges.

Can they ‘selvam’ the vote?

Out in Singapore and Bangalore, schemes are going on at full blast to ‘selvam’ a submission in procuring Dr Duhbuhlyoo a good international job, after his much lauded and ruthless puppet role here. After all, the deputy, Duhbuhlyoo D, other friends among glorified foreign touts, and merchants of blood-oranges, all parodying here in the guise of diplomats and others flaunting professional respectability, are thinking of questionable money transactions in the PR, hospitality, border control and other deals pegged to Maldives.

Here in the Maldives, those who have faith in human ingenuity and meaningful change for the good, those who consider it necessary every once in a while for the right-thinking element of the community to slip it across certain of the baser sort – are at it regular like these days. They exude the confidence that all this will begin to come right again soon, through ballots proving the best weapon, against both a shady judiciary and those cowering behind it.

Mohamed Zuhair was former President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary from November 2008 to February 2012.

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]


Chief Justice says lower judges lawfully appointed

Justice Ahmed Faiz has dismissed claims by President Mohamed Nasheed that lower court judges were unlawfully appointed and therefore their rulings need not be obeyed.

President Nasheed has also stated that he will withold the salaries of lower court judges.

Faiz has claimed that all judges were appointed and sworn in according to rules and regulations put forth by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) which is tasked with overseeing the judiciary.

Faiz added that the constitution awards the JSC the authority to decide if judges meet necessary criteria, and to decide on actions against those judges who do not meet these criteria.

According to local media Faiz stressed that only the Parliament can decide on issues relating to salaries and other benefits to the judges.

“The violation of such rules and regulations would result in the failure of democracy and rules of governance”, the Chief Justice added.

President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair has countered that Faiz’s statements are prejudiced and do not carry any legal bearing.

Zuhair added that the President’s decision to withhold salaries is not final and is currently being “discussed”.


DQP “pamphlet of hatred” filled with “extremist, bigoted and hate-filled rhetoric”: Zuhair

The President’s Office has issued a response to a 30-page pamphlet published by minority opposition Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP), which accuses the government of participating in an anti-Islamic conspiracy.

According to translations of the pamphlet released by the President’s Office, “[President Mohamed] Nasheed’s big plan is to undermine Maldivians’ religion, introduce other religions into the country and encourage vice.”

According to the President’s Office Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair, however, the pamphlet “contains a litany of extremist, bigoted and hate-filled rhetoric aimed primarily at President Nasheed and his administration.”

“There isn’t a sentence in this pamphlet that isn’t a slanderous lie against the government,” Zuhair was quoted as saying. “This is an official DQP pamphlet, colour printed and branded with their logo and contact details.

It has clearly been sanctioned, and probably written, by senior party officials including leader Dr Hassan Saeed”, he said, adding that Saeed and DQP members “should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.”

A former Attorney General and 2008 presidential candidate, Dr Hassan Saeed made similar claims under the previous government in 2007, prompting then President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government to contract UK security and private investigation firm Sion Resources for a surveillance operation dubbed ‘Operation Druid’. After a series of inquiries, it was clear that nothing untoward or anti-Islamic had taken place.

Saeed today said he would not speak to Minivan News. When asked whether other DQP members would be available for comment he retorted, “you can try your luck”.

DQP members Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and ‘Sandhaanu’ Ahmed Ibrahim Didi were summoned for questioning at 8pm on Thursday, January 12.

Saeed accompanied the pair as their lead lawyer. Since that time, Jameel has been detained twice and Didi has been detained once, although they have both been summoned for questioning every night since except for Friday. Didi was not summoned on Monday.

One of DQP’s vice presidents Abdullah Matheen was also briefly detained.

At 2312 members, DQP is the sixth smallest of the nation’s 15 political parties. No other DQP members had responded to phone calls at time of press.

Meanwhile, opposition supporters have protested the police action against DQP leaders on a nightly basis on the grounds that the government is impounding the people’s freedom of expression, granted under Article 27 of the Constitution.

Portraying the government as sympathetic to the Jewish people, the pamphlet contends that the President aims to undermine national unity by attacking the national religion of Islam.

“When the Nasheed administration established diplomatic relations with the biggest enemy of Islam [Israel], the government agreed to change the school curriculum and teach our small children about the goodness of Jews,” reads page seven of the pamphlet.

Deputy Minister of Education Dr Abdulla Nazeer believed the accusations were “baseless lies”.

“We haven’t had any such discussions at any stage during the reform of the curriculum,” he said.

Nazeer pointed out that as the school curriculum had not been revised since 1984 at the time that the current government took office, the Ministry had issued 7,000 surveys and held 200 public meetings to get the public’s input on the matter.

He added that information discussed at a curriculum symposium is publicly available on the ministry’s website. While the ministry has added a group of elective subjects, Nazeer noted that Islamic and Dhivehi studies were mandated according to the public’s request.

The only subject that comes close to teaching about the “goodness of Jews” would be the broad, non-religious discipline of Social Studies.

“The O-level pass rate has improved from 27 percent to 35 percent over the pass three years, and this year we are hoping for 40 percent. Parents, schools boards and teachers are working very hard to improve the school system.

“Unfortunately, some social and oppositional elements are not happy with these efforts and are looking for ways to ridicule the government,” Nazeer concluded.

The DQP pamphlet also criticises the government’s foreign policy as evidence of its penchant for the Jewish people.

“The government accepted the responsibility of monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in Iran. This task was assigned to Nasheed’s former Foreign Minister Dr Shaheed. There is no doubt that this was a reward for the Nasheed administration’s efforts to strengthen ties with the Jews and please the Jews,” the pamphlet reads on page 20.

“The Jew’s plan and way of thinking is to divide Islamic countries,” it adds, further claiming that Maldivian government officials hold secret identities as “Christian priests”.

Directing accusations at neighboring SAARC countries, DQP claims that the cultural monuments gifted at the 2011 SAARC summit hosted in Addu City are really “religious statues, depicting other Gods for praying [towards].”

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is also implicated for unveiling his country’s statue of the national lion – a “statue for praying”, DQP claims.

According to DQP, the monuments prove President Nasheed’s involvement in an international conspiracy to introduce other religions into the Maldives.

Following repeated acts of vandalism and theft, the monuments were recently removed to a secure location by Addu City Council. Officials have claimed that the acts against the monuments were not religious but political, and noted that the stolen Nepalese monument was a simple block that read “Nepal”. Other accusations target people who dance and women who wear skirts as “disrespectful towards Islam”, reads the President’s Office translation.

Dancing is frowned upon by conservative interpretations of Islam. However, the popular Maldivian dance and drumming tradition of bodu beru engages men in dancing activities.

According to Press Secretary Zuhair, DQP’s statements have “[undermined] the religious harmony of the country” by using the constitutionally-granted right to freedom of expression as an excuse to engage in hate speech.

“With rights come responsibilities. Freedom of speech does not entitle you to maliciously shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre,” he said. “Similarly, you cannot spread malevolent lies about the government, whip up hatred against people and undermine the religious harmony of the country and claim it is your right to do so under freedom of expression.”

Meanwhile, the President has requested Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari to investigate DQP’s allegations and advise on the proper response–whether to form an independent commission to investigate the matter, or request Dr Bari to seek the counsel of his colleagues.


Islamic Minister to investigate “Christian missionary” allegations against the State

Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari has consulted with President Mohamed Nasheed on allegations that the government has cooperated with Christian missionaries in an effort “to wipe out Islam”.

“The President is now considering the best way forward,” said Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair. “He will either form an independent commission to address the issue, or allow the Islamic Minister to consult with his colleagues. The Islamic Minister will advise the President in the matter.”

The consultation is in keeping with the government’s commitment to share decisions of religious matters with Islamic scholars.

Speaking to local media today, Dr Bari said “The President called very late yesterday and said he would request the Ministry to look into the allegations to understand the truth.” At the time, Bari had not received a formal letter stating the request but said he would cooperate with the request upon receiving such a document.

The Minister and officials at the Islamic Ministry could not be reached at time of press.

Over the past week, members of minority opposition Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP) Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and ‘Sandhaanu’ Ahmed Ibrahim Didi have accused the government of cooperating with “Christian missionaries” and “Jewish parties” against the state religion of Islam- Didi claimed the President was “a madman and a Christian”- and of spreading undue fear with the claim that the islands are sinking.

Both men have been repeatedly summoned for police interrogations, prompting protests outside police headquarters and the Presidential Palace.

Speaking today with Minivan News, Zuhair called the allegations “a big lie that has been repeated since 2003, when Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) began to work abroad.”

He added that the claims were also raised in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, in which currently ruling MDP won the election over the 30-year administration of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

“At that time Dr Hassan Saeed had made these allegations and the government carried out a full-scale, professional investigation in the United Kingdom. The ‘Operation Druid’ found no substance to any of the allegations. There was no evidence of any contact with Christian missionaries or priests. So it is surprising that members of Saeed’s party are again repeating these allegations,” Zuhair observed.

Operation Druid

In 2007, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government contracted UK security and private investigation firm Sion Resources for a surveillance operation dubbed ‘Operation Druid’. According to the former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed, Gayoom “had concerns” about the origins of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), exiles from which had fled to Salisbury where they had been sheltered by Nasheed’s high school alumni, David Hardingham.

Hardingham, founder of the Friends of Maldives NGO, and Sarah Mahir had previously ambushed Gayoom in the UN building in Geneva in May 2005, accusing him of complicity in human rights abuses.

“I think Gayoom was quite shaken by that, and afterwards he was not as complacent over the security given to him by his hosts, be that by the UK or UN,” Dr Shaheed told Minivan News, in an interview in June 2011.

Subsequently, “The government may have wanted to see what was going on [in Salisbury],” Dr Shaheed said.

“What these operations did was try to see who was who. And a lot of the operations the government felt were against it came from Salisbury, and I think the government of the day felt justified in engaging a firm to look into what was going on,” he said. “They felt they needed to check on that, and what came out was a clean bill of health. Nothing untoward was happening, and these people were by and large bone-fide.”

Back in the Maldives, Gayoom’s government released a leaflet accusing Hardingham and Salisbury Cathedral of conspiring to blow up the Islamic Centre and build a church.

It was just a mischievous suggestion, a very mischievous suggestion,” Dr Shaheed acknowledged. “At the time everyone was accusing each other of being non-Muslim, and this accusation that the MDP was non-Muslim was getting very loud.

“There is this very, very deep reaction to anything un-Islamic in this country, and you can use Islam as a political tool quite easily. Therefore these allegations become political charges.”

Former Conservative Party MP for Salisbury, Robert Key, who had been instrumental in getting Nasheed an audience in British parliament, told Minivan News in February 2011 that Salisbury Cathedral had taken the accusation “at face value” .

“It was not true, and therefore we had to say ‘It is not true,'” he said. “The Dean of Salisbury Cathedral understood the issue, she took it at face value, and we sought security advice as necessary. But it was never a serious threat. It was a juvenile political ploy.”

For his part, Hardingham has dismissed the allegations that he is a Christian missionary as “absolute nonsense – I have never been a priest or anything associated with any church, and I challenge the people making the allegations to provide a shred of evidence to support their case.

“I was refused entry into the Maldives in April 2005. Government spokesperson at the time, Mohamed Hussein ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, told Associated Press that this was due to my involvement with an Islamic extremist group. So I have been accused of being an Islamic extremist and a Christian missionary – probably the fastest and most radical conversion in history.”

Government respects religion

Citing the Maldives’ commitment to be an Islamic state, Zuhair today pointed out that it was the government’s public responsibility to clarify that the allegations against it were baseless.

“Not only do these statements refer to the government, they also refer to our members and supporters and their respect for our religion”, he said, adding that the allegations involving Jewish parties came close to anti-Semitism – “and we don’t want to spread that image.”

In its efforts to staunch DQP’s “hate speech”, the government has drawn criticism from main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) for “suppression of the constitutional right to free expression”.

Speaking previously at a press conference held in response to the allegations, which were broadcast on DhiTV news on January 8, Zuhair called “spreading baseless and demonstrably false claims” about the government a “criminal offence”, and the coverage of demonstrably false allegations of foreign religious influence a “violation of journalism ethics”–statements which drew prompt criticism from media associations and opposition parties.

“The government will not allow anybody to be influenced by the crime of incitement,” Zuhair clarified today, explaining that the opposition had put the media in a position of defending the general freedom of expression in order to promote their own agenda.

“It is very easy for any Maldivian or journalist to find out about the Druid operation or to see if we have been accepting payments from a Christian priest. Ask us. What is surprising is that this story has been going on for a week and yet none of the media have found out or reported what the grounds for the allegations are,” Zuhair said. “It’s part of journalistic integrity to at least get the five W’s right: who, what, where, when and why. Why are they being fooled?”

According to Zuhair, the findings of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and the court will be necessary to resolve the matter.

The matter continues to be investigated by the police, who have now summoned Didi and Jameel for four consecutive nights. Meanwhile, a protest supporting the freedom of expression has been scheduled for the Artificial Beach this evening.


Tourism Ministry issues circular to close spas and massage parlors

After thousands of protesters gathered last Friday and demanded the government “close the spas and massage parlors and such places where prostitution is conducted”, the Tourism Ministry has today published a circular asking all the resorts to shut down their spas and massage parlors.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair today confirmed to Minivan News that the Tourism Ministry had issued the circular.

The circular informs that the government has decided to shut down all the spas and massage parlors in accordance with demands made by the general public during last Friday’s protest to “defend Islam.”

Speaking at a press conference held yesterday, Zuhair said the protesters did not specify where exactly the prostitution was conducted but mentioned that prostitution was conducted inside spas and massage parlors.

He said the government does not know how to differentiate between the spas and massage parlors that are complicit with prostitution and those which are not.

Therefore, Zuhair said the government has decided to shut down all such locales because Maldivians, including high-profile individuals, have been visiting tourist resorts and having spa treatments.

He said the government does not want those high-profile individuals’ good names being damaged by visiting places accused of such crimes.

Zuhair added that some of the individuals making these demands last Friday also conduct business in the tourism industry. Therefore, the government believes that, given their insider understanding of the resort and spa industry, their accusations are well-founded and there is not much to investigate.

This week, five spas run in five resorts owned by opposition Jumhoory Party (JP) Leader ‘Burma’ Gasim Ibrahim were asked by the Tourism Ministry to shut down operations over similar allegations.

The company subsequently sued the government. Meanwhile, the Civil Court issued a warrant permitting those spas to continue operations until the suit has reached a verdict.

Tourism Minister Dr Maryam Zulfa was unavailable for a comment.


Government considering nation-wide ban of pork and alcohol

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair has said that the government has decided to shut down all the massage parlors in the Maldives and is considering banning the trade of alcohol and pork throughout the Maldives in response to demands made by protestors on December 23.

‘’The government has decided to take urgent measurements to fulfill the demands,’’ Zuhair said. “There are five demands made after raising voice in the name of protecting Islam.’’

Zuhair said one of the demands was to close massage parlors and spas, as there have been accusations that prostitution is conducted widely in these locales.

‘’Therefore the government has decided to close every massage parlor and spa in the Maldives,’’ he said. ‘’Those places are not operated with a special permission from the government, but the government has now begun inspecting those places.’’

Addressing the demand to disallow Israeli flights to land in the Maldives, he said the government has tried to commence operations of any flight only for the purpose of tourism, for the benefit of the citizens and for the benefit of businessman in the tourism sector.

‘’When tourists want to come they will first book the resort before booking the airline and if the resorts cancel their bookings they will not come to the Maldives and the airline will stop operations because it cannot run the business if there won’t be any passenger to travel,’’ he said adding that the situation was in the hands of tourism businessman.

Referring to the demand made to remove all the SAARC monuments placed in Addu, he said under the decentralization plan, the decision rests with the Addu City Council.

‘’The government will not obstruct any decision made by the council to remove those monuments.’’

‘’Next is [UN High Commissioner for Human Rights] Navi Pillay’s remarks made in parliament, according to the President during the meeting she held with the President she did not mention anything that a Muslim would resist,’’ Zuhair said. ‘’The parliament is the one that has said anything in response to comments made by her in parliament, because the meeting with parliament was not organized by the government.’’

Trade of alcohol, Zuhair said, is not a business conducted by the government. He added that the government receives a relatively large amount of money through this trade from Goods and Services Tax (GST).

‘’The businessman running the trade of alcohol receives a huge amount of profit through this business as well,’’ he said. ‘’The government is now considering banning trade of alcohol and pork throughout the Maldives.’’

Only 200 people live in some less populous islands, but 400-500 citizens live in the tourist resorts, he pointed out.

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Mahlouf today said no matter what Zuhair said the government will not have the courage to ban the trade of alcohol in the resorts.

‘’It is all lies made by the government to mislead the citizens,’’ Mahlouf said.


Islamic Minister asks government to remove idolatrous SAARC monuments

Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari has requested government authorities remove SAARC monuments that contradict Islam, placed in different areas around Addu City.

Dr Bari did not give further information about the matter to Minivan News, but confirmed that the media reports about the request he made were correct.

Local media have reported that Dr Bari has asked the President’s Office, the Foreign Ministry and Addu City Council to take down the offending SAARC monuments, although he did not specify which.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said that the government will respect Dr Bari’s decision.

‘’All concerned authorities will respect the word of Dr Bari,” Zuhair said, but added that it was “very difficult for the government to return a monument gifted to the government, especially when it is handed to us by another Islamic country,’’ he said.‘’If you think of it diplomatically, it is very difficult.’’

Zuhair said the Islamic Minister’s request will be forwarded to the President, who will decide whether or not to remove the monuments as soon as he comes back to office after his post-SAARC vacation.

Former President of Adhaalath Party and current State Islamic Minister, Sheikh Hussein Rasheed, today told Minivan News that he was not informed of the decision of the Islamic Minister.

‘’I do not know anything about it, nor did the Minister discuss anything like that with me,’’ Sheikh Rasheed said.

He said that the monuments “do not contradict the religion of Islam.”

‘’They were all given to us by member countries of SAARC, and represent their countries. The Pakistan monument showed how Pakistan became an Islamic country from its Buddhist origins,’’ he said. ‘’Although the monument does not contradict Islam, it should not be kept there if Maldivian citizens do not want it to be there.’’

The Pakistani monument was toppled during the SAARC Summit and subsequently set ablaze, and eventually stolen outright. The Sri Lankan monument, a statue of lion, was reported yesterday to have been coated in crude oil.

However Deputy Sri Lankan High Commissioner Shaanthi Sudusinghe told Minivan News today that she had been informed by the Addu City Mayor that the reports were a domestic political issue,  and that the Sri Lankan monument had not been vandalised.

“He said the monument was made of carved stone and had black characteristics,” Sudusinghe said, “and that the monuments were being afforded full protection.”

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s political party, the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), this week hailed the vandals of the Pakistani monument to be “national heroes”, and vowed to fight for their release from police custody in court.

Yesterday, PPM filed a case with police against the Maldives Customs Department for allowing the monuments to be imported to the Maldives.


Maldives delegation forced to return ahead of UNESCO vote for Palestinian membership, says Press Secretary

The Maldives delegation to the 36th UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) General Conference was forced to return without participating in yesterday’s vote to grant full membership to Palestine, Press Secretary to the President Mohamed Zuhair has said.

Zuhair said the delegation, which included Education Minister Mariyam Shifa and Deputy Education Minister Dr Abdulla Nazeer, were unaware of a vote when they attended the bi-annual meeting of the UN cultural agency.

“They were travelling on a UNESCO ticket and they had difficulties in extending their stay, besides Education Minister had to attend a [parliamentary] committee meeting the next day,” Zuhair explained. “Due to those reasons they were forced to return but that does not mean that the Maldives worked against the Palestine resolution. It was co-sponsored by the Maldives and we did a lot of campaigning for it.”

The resolution was adopted with 107 countries voting in favour, 14 voting against and 52 abstaining. The vote signaled a significant symbolic victory for Palestine’s bid for statehood ahead of a similar vote at the UN General Assembly in New York.

Zuhair said the Ambassador to France, Dr Farhanaz Faisal, was in the Maldives at the time and Ambassador to Geneva, Ibthisham Adam, was unable to attend on short notice.

Opposition parties, including Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and religiously conservative Adhaalath Party, has meanwhile condemned the non-participation and dismissed the reasons provided as “unacceptable.”

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Media Coordinator MP Ahmed Nihan told Minivan News that the government’s stated reasons for the non-participation was very irresponsible.

“What they are saying to defend themselves is a big joke to me and does not make much sense,” said Nihan. “The campaign they did and the co-sponsoring the resolution is a big drama the government played.”

The Vili-Maafanu MP claimed the last time he sent a notice to the Education Minister to attend a parliament committee, she appared one and half month later.

“So the cabinet ministers in this government does not give that much attention to attend committee meetings and saying that they returned without taking part in the vote does not make any sense at all,”

He alleged the absence of the Maldives delegation was the result of conversations between former Defence Minister Ameen Faisal and Israeli intelligence agency MOSSAD revealed by the Wikileaks US State Department cables

Nihan claimed the current government had “secret relations with Israel” and suggested hidden reasons behind the non-participation.

Press Secretary Zuhair however dismissed the insinuations as attempts by the opposition to “politicise the matter and mislead the public.”

“The Maldives will be one country that worked most to make the Palestine resolution get passed,” he said.


Market to decide cost of private clinics, cabinet rules

The Maldivian government has dropped price controls of private health clinics months after clinics raised them illegally, according to President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair.

The decision, recommended by the Cabinet, was a reaction to the rising costs of medical materials and consumables.

Earlier, the Health Ministry had approved a general consultation fee of Rf 75-100 (US$5-6), with Rf 300 (US$20) as the highest fee chargeable for a specialist consultation. So-called ‘super-specialists’  could charge more than Rf 300.

On May 12, 2011, Minivan News reported that private health clinics had raised consultation charges without government permission. The cost change was allegedly an effort to balance the devaluation of the dollar exchange rate following the government’s decision in May to implement a managed float of the rufiya.

“The private sector complained that the government had too much control over their services, and after the costs rose they weren’t able to fully operate,” Zuhair told Minivan News.

Zuhair said the government expects private clinic rates to remain moderate, and said most services will be eligible under the government’s Madhana health insurance program. The government also requires changes in medical service charges to be presented to the Ministry of Health one month before taking effect.

“The Minister of Health already has a wonderful system of monitoring in place, and whenever necessary the Ministry will propose a policy change,” said Zuhair. He added that the situation was not expected to be problematic. “The quality of treatment is equal at private clinics and public hospitals,” he claimed. “Now, people don’t have much to complain about.”

A senior informed source in the Maldives health sector told Minivan News that on average, private clinics were a Maldivian’s first choice for treatment. Although the medical treatment might be the same, the atmosphere and degree of personal supervision was often better at a clinic than at a hospital, the source said.

“Cost recovery is not the objective at most hospitals, which are subsidised,” the source explained, revealing that many patient bills at state-run hospitals only cover 25-35 percent of the total service.

“When people go to a hospital to get treated, they are not usually aware of what the hospital is able to provide,” said the source. “The treatment is fine, but hospitals need to increase the quality of care because people expect it, in spite of the low fees.”

The source said he believed that the competition between private clinics would keep costs affordable: “I think it’s good for the markets to determine the rate,” he said.

The source added that large clinics were likely to keep costs within the scope of the Madhana program, in order to maintain their clientele.