Cabinet has approved the creation of a vocational higher-education institution with the stated aims of producing skilled workers, training young people and reducing the country’s reliance on expatriate workers.
With invention of the new institute, to be called ‘Maldives Polytechnic’, programs currently run by the Maldives Institute of Vocational Education Training (MIVET) and and the Faculty of Engineering Technology will be folded into the one institution.
Press secretary for the president’s office Mohamed Zuhair said the majority of workers in the Maldives with skills in specific fields, notably trades, are foreigners. He said the government intended to reduce the number of foreign workers by training skilled people locally.
”It will even make it easy for the government to provide services for people,” he said.
The new polytechnic would provide high-level jobs for trainers and educators, he added.
President of MIVET advisory council Shafeea Zubair said that the main aim of the Maldives Polytechnic was to involve young people in the country’s economy, helping unemployed youths to train and get jobs.
“The majority of young people are unemployed,” she said, “because they get their basic needs provided by their family. This is the culture of the country, and it needs to be stopped.”
She said when the polytechnic starts operating all the program conducted by Faculty of Engineering and MIVET would come under the institute to allow the Maldives College of Higher Education to evolve into a university.
The educational development would help diversify the economy beyond fishing and tourism, she said.
“The Maldivian economy is based on fishing and tourism, only a few prefer working in these fields,” she said.
A video of group of men entering the office of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) on Sunday and intimidating staff is circulating on the internet.
Secretary General of the CSC Abdullah Khaleel said the group arrived at 1:05pm and “spoke very rudely. Their actions were violent.”
“We tried to find out their purpose for coming to our office. I asked them to come sit in the meeting room to speak about the matter, but they refused,” he said.
”They were mainly talking about the civil servants’ salary issue, they were angry that we were calling on the government to reinstate the salaries,” Khaleel said.
Khaleel said staff called the police at 1:11pm but officers police arrived after the incident had ended and the men had left.
He said that the crowd consisted of around nine men, but noted that only a few of them were rude.
”Two of the nine tried to take the three angry men outside the office, and they finally left,” Khaleel said.
He said that before leaving the office, the men threatened that they would be gathering a crowd of people in front of the CSC office.
Spokesman for Maldivian Democratic Party MDP Ahmed Haleem claimed that MDP did not send anybody to enter or threaten the Civil Service Commission. .
Haleem stated that ”as 90 per cent of Maldivians are MDP members, there might be a MDP supporter involved in [any] such scenes.”
According to the Elections Commission of the Maldives MDP had 28,995 members in December last year, or 9.3 per cent of the population.
Press secretary for the president’s office Mohamed Zuhair said that ”even if there was a MDP member [involved] it does not mean that they were representing MDP. They are members of the public as well.”
He said he would not support the act, as “nobody should enter a government’s office against security procedures.”
The Maldives Police Service has issued a statement saying it will investigate “serious crimes” committed during the protest outside the president’s residence, Muleeage, and MNDF headquarters late on Thursday night.
The police statement also condemned comments made by opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ali Waheed that police supported the protest, and accused him of “trying to take away the people’s trust in the police. Police will always be faithful to the government and fulfil their duty.”
The president’s press secretary, Mohamed Zuhair, said he believed Ali Waheed “may be right”.
“I believe the police force is largely composed of law abiding officers, but there is still a rogue element and this may be the element Ali Waheed is referring to,” Zuhair said.
“The [protest] coincided with the firing of several police including assistant commissioner Abdulla Riyaz,” he said.
“Not 24 hours after [the protest], police raided a premises (Marble apartments) where three state ministers were staying, after claims of a girl crying. They went through the apartments saying they were searching for forensic evidence that a girl had been raped. Three times they raided and the fourth time they came in plain clothes and were denied entry – I’m sure some of them were not comfortable with the recent changes in the Maldives and the fact that their former hero lost the election.”
Zuhair also claimed it “was within the resources of Riyaz to find out certain facts about the man who [allegedly] died in police custody, to try and rile up the crowd.”
“I suspect this was instigated [from within] the police. They were trying to make a similar situation to Evan Naseem.”
Riyaz was not responding to calls at time of press. Sub-inspector Ahmed Shiyam said police could not comment on the case during the investigation, but noted that the police operation to control the crowd had ultimately been successful “and police did not fail in any way.”
“People gathered at the artificial beach and proceeded to police headquarters,” Shiyam said. “Police tried to stop them but they broke police lines twice, before police reorganised and dispersed the crowd outside the president’s house.”
He noted that “senior parliament members broke police lines after police ordered them not to”, while in addition, “some people tried to enter the gate of MNDF headquarters, and MNDF has sent the case to the police. This is really serious to national security.”
DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf, who acknowledged himself as one of the protest’s leaders, questioned police support for the government.
“We are sure that 90 per cent of the police and MNDF do not support the government’s policy or the president,” he said, adding that the police statement sounded “very pressured”.
“Statements on DhiFM that the protest was trying to overthrow the government were just not true,” he said. “We try to control our protests and ask people to not attack the police and be nice. I’ve watched MDP’s protests for almost five years, and they are very violent and they attack police.”
Despite accusations to the contrary, the protesters outside Muleeage did not throw stones into the compound, Mahlouf said, “as there were no rocks in the area”.
He acknowledged that some protesters had thrown sand in the faces of police officers – Zuhair accused “opposition” parties of “employing Indian and Bangladeshi expatriates” to throw the sand.
“I also saw that on the video,” Mahlouf said. “I do not support that, it was not something nice. But I believe that happened after police fired tear gas, while the crowd was very angry.”
He said claims that the protesters had tried to gain entry to the MNDF base and the president’s residence were “a joke”.
“Nobody would have gone inside, for sure. I was one of the people leading the protest and there was no plan to go inside the MNDF headquarters or the president’s residence,” he said.
“Saying that the DRP was trying to enter the MNDF headquarters is a joke. I am still mentally fit and would not walk into the MNDF base with guns [pointed at me].”
Mahlouf insisted that the protest “wasn’t organised by us” and it “never got out of hand. I was very happy with the way the police and MNDF treated us. We didn’t do anything against the law; we can protest where we want without informing the government. They can’t override the constitution.
“It is sad that Mohamed Nasheed’s government is investigating a protest when he is the president who gave Maldivians the right to protest,” he added.
Ahmed Thasmeen Ali has been elected as the leader for the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), as no other member of the party stood to compete against him.
The party’s former leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom recently endorsed Thasmeen as the DRP’s leader following his resignation from politics.
DRP member and former president of the Islamic Democratic Party (IDP) Umar Naseer congratulated Thasmeen for becoming leader but the leader of the DRP “must not [automatically] be the DRP’s candidate for the presidential election; it has to be taken by a vote,’ he said.
DRP spokesman Ibrahim Shareef said he had “nothing to say about it.”
“The DRP congress will confirm Thasmeen as the president and it’s done, what else should I say?” he said.
MDP MP Ahmed Easa claimed Thasmeen’s automatic election as leader was undemocratic, particularly after Gayoom’s public endorsement.
“It’s unbelievable that nobody else stood up for the DRP leadership,” he said.
Press secretary of the president’s office Mohamed Zuhair said while the government was happy that the DRP is strengthening its internal democracy, Thasmeen’s election and Gayoom’s endorsement was “a one horse race, just the way it used to be.”
‘That the leader of the DRP was elected without a single person standing against is not very democratic,” Zuhair stated.
Minivan News was unable to reach Thasmeen for comment.
Minivan News presents the first in a series of in-depth interviews with the heads of the independent commissions in the Maldives.
The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) would seem a vital institution to a government that was elected on a platform of human rights and accountability. Founded by former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 2003 it came to the fore following the death in custody of Evan Naseem.
More recently, HRCM has come under heavy criticism from parts of government for its unwillingness to investigate human rights abuses committed prior to 2000. President of HRCM Ahmed Saleem defends the commission, claiming it is misunderstood.
JJ Robinson: What do you see as the role of HRCM?
Ahmed Saleem: HRCM’s major role since 2003 has been teaching the population what human rights and democracy are all about. It’s extremely difficult – you know the pressure we have been under. We are a non-political body – we don’t take sides, and there is always friction with the government in power. That’s very natural. But while I don’t mind the opposition or members of parliament criticising HRCM, it becomes a problem when the sitting government criticises and slanders independent commissions. Independent commissions must be respected, because without these independent commissions, democracy cannot work. Our job is an extremely difficult one to do without taking sides, and I think we are doing our best.
JJ Robinson: What would be some specific incidents of criticism you consider to have been the most damaging?
Ahmed Saleem: It is not even in the interest of the government [to slander us]. HRCM doesn’t go on TV shows, and we don’t retaliate even if somebody attacks us – you’ve never seen us retaliate, because we want to respect even those who criticise us. When people like the press advisor to the president criticises the commission, that means the government doesn’t respect the commission and that’s a problem because this government came to being on platform human rights and democracy – the government can’t afford to criticise the commissions, least of all the human rights commission. There are times we criticise the government but that’s because we are obliged to do so by law.
The government should respect our criticism, find out what’s wrong and talk to us. We cannot demonstrate our independence if the government gives the impression it is trying to use HRCM to achieve its own objectives, like investigating abuses [under the former government]. For that we have suggested a way: a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
JJ Robinson: Groups such as the Torture Victims Association (TVA) and the Maldivian National Congress (MNC) have attacked the former president for human rights abuses committed during his administration. Do you think this is a productive way forward?
Ahmed Saleem: [TVA founders] Moosa Ali Manik is my brother in law and and Ahmed Naseem is a friend of mine, so I know very closely exactly what happened. These are people who have suffered grievously, and I can’t blame them. I am not at liberty to criticise anybody. It it is the system – the system is wrong.
We must look into these abuses, we must investigate and find out who is responsible and who is not responsible. They have genuine grievances and I think it would be wrong for anybody to say nothing happened during the last 30 years. Abuses have taken place, and we must find out who did it, why it happened, and also find out how this can be prevented in the future. That is why we have suggested a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
JJ: Do you think the TVA was attempting undermine HRCM through its promises to bring in international lawyers to document and review human rights abuses?
Ahmed Saleem: We definitely support them doing that, but I don’t think it’s so easy. It doesn’t happen that way. They are saying they will take statements and submit them to international courts – it’s not that easy; there are procedures and ways of doing these things.
If they can do it we would welcome it, but I have my doubts as to how successful they will be without the support of the opposition. That why I always talk about a national effort – even if this TVA claim they are not political, the people involved in it make it extremely political.
There are people like my brother-and-law who are not political, but I know for sure what he went through. He was hurt really badly, and until recently he did not want to even talk about it. Abuses have taken place in the past, but only they know what they went through – we will never understand it. As a human rights commission we will support any NGO working to promote the protection of human rights as long as there are no politics.
JJ: A lot of people currently in power have gone through some terrible things. Do you think that at any stage those experiences can compromise some body’s ability to work effectively in a government with an opposition?
Ahmed Saleem: Yes, I think so. And I think it is worth making an effort. After all we are one people, we are all Muslims here and almost everyone is related, it’s like one big family. The Maldives is just not like any other country that has many cultures and communities – everything here is homogeneous.
That’s why I’m saying we must put the country first, otherwise we may create problems that affect the country and our very existence. But if they feel like [investigating the past] we should do it in the right way. We will play a major role if this Truth and Reconciliation Commission happens, but it will have to be initiated by the government.
JJ Robinson: You yourself were appointed by the former government, and as a result some of these groups have attacked your willingness to investigate past abuses. Has this position you’re in made your work more challenging?
Ahmed Saleem: Yes it has. But we are going to stick to our policy. If you have seen our law, we can’t investigate any issue before 2000.
For instance there is this case some MDP people are trying to pursue through us which took place in 1994. This particular issue has been up taken by my wife’s own family, the person in question is my wife’s brother-in-law, but it happened in 1994. It was very cruel the way he was handled, and we talking about an 80 year-old man. Putting him in jail and harassing him was completely wrong. They brought this case to HRCM and we had to say, ‘no we can’t investigate that’. Because if we did investigate, we’d have to investigate each and every case or I would be open to accusations of favouring family members.
If we take a case like this it has to really do with the sovereignty of the country – we can’t handle so many cases otherwise. Right now we are investigating the political abuse case of someone who is very close to the MDP, the high commissioner to Malaysia. He says he was abused, and we looking into it because that case occurred after 2000.
JJ Robinson: The Maldives is a very small country and you have many links here yourself. How has being president of HRCM affected you? Have you been subject to threats or intimidation?
Ahmed Saleem: We don’t have threats like we used to have. I was personally attacked, my car was attacked, I was attacked by people on the street in those days, when the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) was in the opposition. The previous government attacked me and my family, and MDP was very supportive of us. But this the life of a Human Rights Commission. That is what it was all about. HRCM is misunderstood so I don’t take anything personally. I do understand when people criticise on street, but talk to them and most people don’t understand what we trying to do. Creating awareness of human rights is the main objective of HRCM.
JJ: What kind of public support do you think there is for HRCM?
Ahmed Saleem: We don’t see anybody working against us, and understanding of HRCM and its work has increased. In 2003 when we came into being everybody felt HRCM was only about caring for inmates in jails. We visit jails because there is nobody else to care for [the inmates], but that’s only a fraction of what we do.
People who’ve never been to jail don’t understand what happens in there. We work very closely with government because if the government fails, we fail. We ensure the government does its job and respect article 18 of the constitution, but some in senior levels criticise us and I feel that’s not right. We have enormous support from UN Ambassador for Human Rights, and with this in mind it is very damaging for the government to criticise the human rights commission. Because HRCM could fail.
JJ: Is there a risk of HRCM failing?
Ahmed Saleem: Yes there is a risk. If we keep being attacked by the government on a daily basis we have an obligation to let our friends in human rights circles know this is happening, and they would not be happy about this. They expect a government that came into being on a platform of human rights and democracy to work with HRCM and other independent commissions; they don’t expect the government to criticise the commission all the time.
JJ: Why is the government criticising the commission, then?
Ahmed Saleem: Let’s be very clear. I don’t think the government as such has any policy on it – it’s individuals [in the government]. Sometimes we find it difficult to be mature politicians instead of activists. I think this is something we have to learn quickly – there are those in high positions in the government who must change themselves into mature politicians, because the things they say can have enormous effect.
As far as the president is concerned we work very closely and I have enormous faith in him. For instance, he has told me personally to ‘never ever give up on torture.’ ‘If you do that, the government itself will torture people,’ he said. He has gone through it himself.
The president keeps saying ‘If we never let go of the past we’ll never have a future.’ But then he might say HRCM’s work will never be complete until it has investigated past abuses, and the next day he says something different. I don’t think he himself wants to dig into the past.
JJ: Who are these individuals in the government who have a problem with HRCM?
Ahmed Saleem: There are a few in the government. I don’t think some of them even believe in the policies President Nasheed has issued. He is milder, compared to some of these people.
I’m talking about only a few people here; these are the same people who criticise HRCM and other independent commissions. You’ve never heard the president criticise HRCM or any other commission. He is more democratic than most of these people and he knows value of commissions. I have great confidence in the president, but he has a very challenging job.
JJ: What are some of the areas in which HRCM hasn’t achieved what it set out to do?
Ahmed Saleem: One thing I would say is the culture of torture. I remember a few years back, on human rights day, I said there was a culture of torture in the Maldives. During the previous government someone came up and said ‘you’re wrong, you’re making a very big mistake – there is no culture of torture in the Maldives.’ I stick to my word and stand by what I said.
You can still see it happening. But unlike before the police have changed; police tactics have changed, and they want accountability. We are working with police and the police integrity commission, and the police are giving us all the evidence we need because they feel we should be investigating [complaints].
But I can be 100% sure that the new government has no policy of torture. It’s been the system – it’s the system that’s been wrong, whether it was President Nasir, President Gayoom… under that system anybody could do anything and get away with it.
That’s not the case now, and that is why [the previous government] was a dictatorship – there was no separation of powers, there was no justice. But right now the nature of politics in this country is so divisive it is threatening the existence of this country. I think at some stage the opposition must acknowledge that violence took place in the past.
JJ: Let’s look at some specific issues around human rights in the Maldives. How important is gender equality to the country’s future?
Ahmed Saleem: I think it’s extremely important. I don’t think you’ll find any other Muslim country that has so little discrimination against women; even in the government there are more women than men. At the top levels there are fewer women because they started late – this used to be a very male dominated society.
We have extremely well-educated young ladies these days and I think we should be bringing more of them into the government. Women in Maldives had voting rights long before many other countries, and the only hitch we had as far as human rights were concerned was that women were barred from running for president – that’s gone from new constitution.
I don’t think any there’s effort being made against women being active in society except by conservatives – extremists I would say, who are a threat to the very existence of this country.
JJ: How has religious extremism affected the country? And how has this changed under the new administration?
Ahmed Saleem: I think there is more extremism [in the Maldives] now than then. I also think that unless we can bring it under control we are going to be in danger. In our 2006 report we predicted that there would be serious problems in society not because of politics but because of extremism, and that’s become very true – we see it happening now. People are misusing freedom of speech and expression.
We have had moderate Islam [for a long time] and most of us belong to moderate Islam, but there are a few – I would saw half-baked – religious scholars who are advocating something totally different. I think the Islamic Ministry has to take huge responsibility for this.
JJ: Do you think the Islamic Ministry is fulfilling this responsibility?
Ahmed Saleem: I don’t think so. They should be doing much, much more.
JJ: Where are these scholars coming from? Why has this suddenly surfaced?
Ahmed Saleem: We never thought of religious extremism as a problem, so nobody really thought of doing anything about it. Now I think the present government recognises the danger, and are even trying to restrict people going to certain countries and certain colleges.
I think that’s very good. This state is a democracy and anybody can go anywhere, but when it threatens the whole of society and the country I think it’s time the government takes action. I heard the other day [the government] is trying to restrict people from travelling to certain madrassas in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.
JJ: How much of this happening because people are seeking higher education opportunities that the Maldives cannot provide?
Ahmed Saleem: This happening because the people advocating this kind of extremism don’t understand what Islam is. Islam is a very simple religion. I don’t think Islam advocates any violence – it doesn’t do that. But some of these extremists think any non-Muslim should be killed, for instance, which is wrong. They go on jihad to various countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is highly against the religion.
I don’t know if this is anything to do with our education system. I think our own system should work on this, and try to [cater to] those who want to learn religion. I think the Islamic and education ministries should really think about how best they can handle this situation [internally], rather than have large numbers of people going outside the country and returning with different beliefs and only half an education. It’s a very serious problem that must be addressed.
JJ: Do you think human rights can be guaranteed under the current constitution?
Ahmed Saleem: Yes, I think so. We have never had a Constitution like this – it’s very democratic, but it’s not perfect; no constitution is perfect. I think it was done in a hurry in a way, and there are lots of changes that must come with practice. Our own legislation needs change – the Maldives is one of the few countries that has signed almost all human rights instruments, and there are so many laws that must be incorporated into Maldivian law.
This ought to be done by the Majlis (parliament). At a time like this, during a process of transition, there is so much to be done, and yet the members of parliament are going on leave for two months. I think that is very irresponsible – now is the time to do this, before people get fed up with democracy, before they start thinking that the former dictatorship was better because there was no quarrelling; there was stability under dictatorship. I don’t know why the Majlis has to take two months leave, and cannot take leave like we do. They are elected by the people why not take leave like we do? There are so many laws pending and so much work to be done.
JJ: Do you think the members of parliament are as informed about human rights as they need to be?
Ahmed Saleem: Democracy cannot function without rights. So much is missing because they are not in session. Some people are saying there is more peace in the country because the Majlis is not in session. It is going to take maybe 20 years to create the kind of parliament we are trying to imagine.
JJ: How much success has the media had in the last year in becoming independent, and what do you think of its current condition?
Ahmed Saleem: The media has developed a lot. But with media independence also comes responsibility – we need responsible journalism these days. I find there aren’t too many people who can investigate a report or analyse a situation and suggest recommendations for the government and independent bodies. People just go and report anything they want, and in most cases they want sensationalism. And they don’t follow up their reports – just one report and that’s it. The media needs to mature.
JJ: Until recently media in Maldives existed on government subsidies for quite some time. Do you think it is possible to have a fully independent media that receives subsidies from the government?
Ahmed Saleem: In order for the media to develop I think the government must provide some kind of media subsidies until they mature. The media is the fourth pillar of democracy, and unless there is a genuine and productive media I don’t think we can work as a democracy.
JJ: Has one of the failings of journalism in the Maldives been its political attachments?
Ahmed Saleem: The only problem is unfortunately we are still learning what democracy and human rights are all about. That people are misusing both is a matter of great concern – there is a limit to criticising the government and making the government responsible. I don’t think anywhere else in the world people call for the ousting of the government at every meeting of the opposition – you just don’t do that. I wish there was some kind of law to prevent that from happening.
JJ: Would that conflict with freedom of speech?
Ahmed Saleem: I don’t know, but at this time we must do what is right for the country. I’m not saying if the time is right the opposition shouldn’t call for a no confidence vote, it is the opposition’s mandate to do that. But not at every rally; you don’t do that without a reason.
It is a difficult situation for the government in power – extremely difficult after so many years without democratic rule. People are misusing freedom of speech and freedom of expression to a great extent, and that is a concern.
The reduced salaries of staff at independent commissions, courts, parliament and the judicial services have been restored while civil servant salaries will follow in April, the government has said.
State Minister for Finance Ahmed Assad said the salaries had been increased in line with the budget approved by parliament and that the salaries of civil servants and staff at other government institutions would follow when the government’s economic condition stabilised.
“The government intends to restore salaries sooner than April if possible,” Assad said, adding that he would have preferred all salaries to be restored at the same time.
Speaking during his weekly radio address, the president said the government’s present situation was “unsustainable” and the Maldives had “the highest wages in the world relative to expenditure over income”.
“Despite criticisms and calls for protests by several people, public servants appreciate the value and importance of public sector reforms undertaken by the government,” he claimed.
“Fiscal adjustments” were necessary, he said, because of the country’s large financial deficit.
“I [therefore] wish to thank all civil servants very much.”
The president’s press secretary Mohamed Zuhair said he expected that the government’s economic condition to improve by April.
He further added that the decision to restore the salaries was “not related” to Thursday night’s protest outside the president’s residence, Muleeage.
Spokesperson for the Civil Service Commission (CSC) Mohamed Fahmy Hassan sounded disappointed and said it was hard for him to trust the president’s words because they differed from the actions of the finance ministry “and the way things have gone.”
“We do not know what to [do] now,” he said, adding that it was unfair for government staff other than civil servants to receive the restored salaries.
”We have been repeatedly begging the finance ministry,” he said. “The president wishes the best for civil servants, but these things are happening without the knowledge of the president.”
Spokesperson for the Civil Servants Association (CSA) Abdulla Waheed said the government was ruling the Maldives “as if there was no law.”
He said that the CSA was planning to hold a protest in front of finance ministry on Tuesday.
Many civil servants were “afraid to come out for protest because they might be fired,” he added.
He carefully loads the garbage into the boot of his car: it’s a mix of household waste.
“My mother composts all the food items in the backyard,” says Ahmed Ali, 30.
He drives to the dump site.
It is hard to miss; both sides of the road leading to it are lined with garbage, cans, plastic water bottles, paper waste, discarded household items, even a toilet seat. The entrance to the dump site is blocked by piles of garbage and overgrown bushes.
“I don’t want to dump garbage outside like this, but do I have a choice?” says a dejected Ali.
Sure enough, all three roads that lead to the dump site are lined with garbage on both sides.
A municipality worker comes by shortly with a rake, and carefully makes sure that no garbage spills onto the middle of the road.
Surveying the strewn garbage, it is easy to feel Ali’s dejection, after all this is Fuvahmulah; one of the most beautiful and fertile islands in the Maldives, and its unique ecosystem is being destroyed by waste.
Garbage dump or airport
“The 10,000 square feet dump site was built in 2003,” says Ahmed Mujthaba, councilor in charge of the Fuvamulah office. He adds that in 2006 the then government decided the same area of land was ideal to build an airport.
“It was decided that the dump site would have to be relocated and Mf600,000 was given as compensation by the government.”
It took one and half years for public consultation and to get an Environment Assessment Report (EIA) and approval from the housing ministry for the new location.
But no work has been carried out in the newly allocated dump site, located 200 meters from the existing dump.
Hassan Saeed, the atoll councilor, says a team from Environmental Research Center (now the Environment Protection Agency, or EPA) came to do a study in April 2008.
“They had a public consultation with the stakeholders and promised a ‘total waste management solution’ project that would take off in 2009.”
With no news from the EPA, Saeed contacted them in 2009 to be told that they didn’t have the necessary funds.
“We were told that the budget for it had been transferred to the newly created Waste Management Corporation (WMC) by the finance ministry.”
The WMC informed him that they hadn’t received any money for Fuvamulah.
Mohamed Zuhair, director general of EPA, says a study was done in Fuvamulah to try and develop energy from the waste but it was considered not feasible due to the small size of the population.
“We did have a budget under PSIP but that was taken from us and we can’t say for sure where it was transferred.”
Saeed says islanders who live in the vicinity of the proposed dump area also have concerns.
“They say how we can be sure people won’t dump garbage all over the place like they do now.”
They have agreed to the dump being built if the walls are 12 feet in height, the garbage is be segregated and if the latest equipment such as incinerators are brought in.
“Our funds are only enough to build a wall of three feet in height,” says Saeed.
He adds that a total waste solution is the answer and not just another dump site.
“There has to be household level sorting, ward collection points, a drive to re-use, re-cycle, and a way to export things that can’t be destroyed.”
The Women’s Development Committee is already sorting out garbage in their area, but it is proving to be futile as everything has to be dumped in the same area. Another NGO has proposed to provide bins in the famed beach areas in Fuvamulah, “but all that is useless, if all we are going to do is dump it at some site.”
“It is not only Fuvamulah, almost all the islands of Maldives have a waste management problem,” says Ali Rilwan, executive director of NGO Blue Peace. He says it’s a serious issue and the lagoons of the Maldives are getting destroyed day by day.
“Does the environment ministry know what is happening in the islands? Do the councilors in the islands know that an EIA report has to be done for each project?” he asks.
He takes as an example the announcement by a councilor in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll Thinadhoo that they are going to build a dump site in the sea.
Zuhair says the EPA is working towards a national waste management solution.
“We are not only developing waste management centres with the WMC and Province Utilities Companies, we are working to find solutions – we also want to do public awareness campaigns and have regional waste management sites.”
However no project is planned in Fuvamulah at the moment. Zuhair says most islands do contact them and know that they have to abide by their regulations.
“We found out about the Thinadhoo proposal through the TV and are contacting them to talk about it.”
Rilwan says a drive to reduce waste also has to be done “to reduce garbage, lessen PET bottles, plastic waste, all of these non bio-degradable items.”
He calls upon the government to do more, saying all he has seen so far is the creation of two corporations and the president and environment minister participating in a garbage collection day.
While the relevant authorities search for solutions, the garbage in Fuvamulah and other islands continue to pile up and pose safety, health and social issues to the islanders.
The ruling Maldivian Demcratic Party (MDP) have expressed concern over the raised electricity prices in Male’.
“It has always been a vow of the MDP to lower living costs, however at the moment electricity prices are ridiculously high,” said MDP chairperson Mariya Didi.
MDP MP Hamid Abdul Gafoor explained the main issue was the change in the pricing scheme.
“On average, a household will use at least 300 to 350 units of electricity in a month,” he said.
STELCO, the state electric company, recently dramatically increased the price for the first 300 units of electricity. The first hundred units have risen from Rf1.60 to Rf2.25, while the second and third hundred units have risen from Rf .70 and Rf2.15 to Rf2.50 each.
That means the average monthly electricity bill for household has risen almost overnight from Rf545 ($US42) to Rf725 ($US56).
“Many people are assuming we are attacking the government, but we are just voicing the concerns of the people,” Hamid said.
Currently there is a Rf45 subsidy per head per day to help with the cost of electricity for households with monthly incomes of less than Rf9450 ($US735).
“We have to get rid of this mentality that if a house hold electricity bill is high, they are well off,” urged MDP MP Eva Abdulla. “We have to assume that it might just be 12 people living in that household, chipping in for the bill – this is the reality.”
The president’s office issued a statement claiming the government was listening to the concerned MPs.
“We can’t provide additional financial assistance to STELCO – if we did that we would have to start printing money, and this would devalue the ruffiyya,” said the president’s press secretary, Mohamed Zuhair.
Hamid agreed that the solution was not to print more money.
“If we were to print an additional Rf50 million, it would only raise inflation and we would have no control over prices,” he said.
“The MDP wants to increase the subsidy, but there are many issues we need to rethink,” he said. “The figures we are currently using to calculate eligibility for the subsidy is very outdated, so there is research underway to get a ground figure.”
Mariya noted that many eligible households were failing to claim the subsidy.
“We have conducted house-to-house research and found that many people do not have sufficient information about the subsidy and thus have not been filling out their subsidy forms,” she said.
The government could only boost subsidies if it reduced its current spending, Eva claimed, renewing the government’s controversial calls to slim the administration by reducing the spend on civil servant salaries.
“The government needs to reduce the civil service – offices should only have the required number of employees for optimal performance. Only then will government spending be reduced,” she said.
Civil service spending must be kept “on hold” until the government’s income surpassed Rf7 billion, Hamid said.
Cabinet has appointed a committee to reform the Maldives Police Service (MPS) after allegations that the institution continues to have a “culture of police torture”.
The committee includes the Attorney General Husnu Suood, Minister of Human Resources, Youth and Sports Hassan Latheef, and Minister of Tourism Arts and Culture, Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad, a human rights lawyer. The Cabinet also elected to appoint Minister of State Principal Collector of Customs Mohamed Aswan as Minister of State for Home Affairs, giving him a mandate to reform the police service.
The decision to form the committee was made following the new government’s first emergency cabinet meeting, held on Saturday shortly after DhiTV aired a story showing six men claiming they had been arrested and tortured in Atolhuvei detention centre. The men, several of whom displayed bruises to the TV station, alleged that police kept them face down, cuffed their hands and feet behind them, tied the cuffs and jumped on them.
The president’s press secretary Mohamed Zuhair said the decision to form the committee was not made “in response to a particular incident”, and was instead an attempt to implement reform after public complaints about the culture of the police force.
“All the cabinet ministers appointed to the committee are lawyers and will listen to any allegations and those made by the police as well,’ he said, adding that the committee would act “as a bridge” by speeding up the resolution of existing complaints.
Clash with PIC
Shahindha Ismail from the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) and former head of the Maldivian Detainee Network said she was unaware of why the committee was set up “because the police integrity commission has a mandate to investigate everything the committee was set up to do. They are duplicating our work.”
The PIC had “more powers by law [than cabinet] to conduct investigations,” she said. “I wish the government would give more thought to letting the PIC carry out its mandate. Right now we are stuck because of our financial difficulties, we have to go to the finance ministry for everything. We’ve sent reports on this to the president, because if the government want us to do our job they have to allow us to do it.”
Shahindha said while no one had made a complaint to the PIC, she “has a slight idea” that cabinet’s response was due to six people who were alleging they had been beaten in custody.
“When police took them to the criminal court to extend their detention periods [two] showed the judge marks and bruises on their bodies, saying they were beaten,” Shahindha said.
“My sense is that the beatings were quite severe because the judge apparently ordered them to be released because he felt they were not safe in the hands of the police – upon their release they contacted the media while they were in hospital.
“The original arrests were related to the physical sexual harrassment of women, and these people are no longer in police custody,” she added.
Shahindha said she had asked police for an official report into the matter “but they have not submitted it.”
Police spokesman Sergeant Ahmed Shiyam said the MPS was not commenting at this stage.
“A culture of torture”?
The government’s decision was surprising not only because it risked duplicating the work of the PIC, but because “these [beatings] appear to happen every day. I don’t know what’s special about this incident, I’m guessing the beatings were very severe,” Shahindha said.
Incidents of police brutality were usually confined to a minority of field officers, she said.
“I wouldn’t call it a culture any more. We find during our investigations that senior police are unware of what goes on in the field as to brutality. The problem is that some of the field officers are still carrying it around. It has reduced quite a lot, but now they do it inside and don’t let people see, unlike during the demonstrations when police used to beat people in broad daylight. Now it happens either in police vehicles or detention centres.”
She was positive about the appointment of Aswan to the new role of State Minister for Home Affairs, “although I would like to know more about the committee’s mandate.”
Zuhair said the committee’s aim was police reform following “public complaints about the culture of the force”, and “nothing to do with police integrity.”
For his part, Aswan said he had only just taken up the new post after being on holiday for two weeks and was still gathering information. The appointment was “sudden”, he said, adding that while he believed his law enforcement experience would be very valuable for his new role, he had “mixed feelings” about leaving his customs portfolio.