Public Transport, Bribery Trial, Cemetery Clearance

Friday, September 9

Three off-duty Drug Enforcement Department police officers were “violently assaulted with weapons by members of a known crime group” in the Henveiru ward of Malé around 11:52 a.m., according to Police Commissioner Mohamed Hameed, who revealed that two suspects were in custody and vowed to arrest all the assailants.

The assaulted policemen were undergoing treatment at the ADK hospital.

“The wider systems need to step up efforts to holistically tackle the problems of violent crime groups and the trafficking of narcotic drugs,” the police chief said. “More support is needed to protect police officers, for us to be able to protect lives of people and serve communities.”

Friday, September 9

Thursday, September 8

The president declared three days of mourning with the national flag at half-mast following the death of Queen Elizabeth, a recipient of the Maldives’ highest honour, the Grand Order of the Distinguished Rule of Ghaazee.

Both the ruling and main opposition parties also released messages of condolence.

Thursday, September 8

The Maldives climbed seven spots to rank 90th among 191 countries in the UNDP’s annual Human Development Index.

Per capita income reached US$15,448 in 2021, up from US$6,261 in 1990. Life expectancy was 79.9 years with 12.6 years of expected schooling.

In the South Asia region, only Sri Lanka ranked higher than the Maldives at 73rd with India at 131 and Pakistan at 161.

The HDI offers a “summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and have a decent standard of living.”

Six men between the ages of 44 and 50 have been arrested on charges of homosexuality, the police informed the media. The arrests were made in connection with videos of the suspects with a Bangladeshi man.

The sex tapes scandal broke in late June with leaked videos of lawyer Nazim Sattar, former MP ‘Colonel’ Mohamed Nasheed and a police officer, all three of whom are now facing trial.

The 25-year-old Bangladeshi man, M. D. Alamgiri, was sentenced to seven months in prison last week.

The opposition-majority Malé City Council decided not to renew an agreement with the Waste Management Corporation for cleaning parks and public spaces, citing high fees and complaints about dirty roads. The agreement expires in December.

WAMCO cried foul and warned that the cost would be three times higher if the council were to undertake cleaning operations on its own. The state-owned company’s Maldivian employees could also lose their jobs as the council mainly employs foreign workers, WAMCO said, accusing the council of failing to account for the cost of vehicle maintenance and safe waste disposal in its complaint over the service fees.

The state utility Fenaka Corporation took over the powerhouse of Raa Ungoofaaru, the last powerhouse that was operated by an island community. A new 800 kilo watt generator is being installed to ensure 24-hour electricity, according to Fenaka, which provides water, sewerage and electricity services to more than 150 islands.

Most island powerhouses were built and operated by the public prior to 2009 when government-owned utility companies started operations beyond the central atolls.

A second Covid-19 booster dose with the Pfizer vaccine is now available for all residents above 18 years of age who completed the first booster dose four months ago, the Health Protection Agency announced.

Appointments can be booked online in the Greater Malé Region.

More than 25,700 cases of acute respiratory infections were recorded in August, far higher than the same period in previous years, according to the monthly communicable disease report.

Wednesday, September 7

The Environment Protection Agency revealed photos from its ongoing assessment of damages after a bridge platform ran aground on the Vilimalé reef.

Metal pillars that sunk into the reef appear to have left holes more than 10 feet deep.

After delays in re-floating the platform, the Indian developer Afcons Infrastructure completed the reef clean-up earlier this week.

Wednesday, September 7

Local taxi app Avas Ride banned a driver who was accused of harassing a customer.

Firefighters put out a woodland fire in Addu City’s Hithadhoo island.

A pedestrian who was hit by a lorry near the Addu Equatorial Hospital was left in critical condition. The man suffered serious injuries to the head and lungs.

Photo by Thoha Yaseen

Based on an alert by its European counterpart, the Maldives Food and Drug Authority advised against the import and sale of the Stella brand’s ice cream powder over suspected production with unauthorised food colourants.

Tuesday, September 6

Former vice president Ahmed Adeeb testified in former president Abdulla Yameen’s bribery and money laundering trial, accusing his former boss of ordering the no-bid lease of Vaavu Aarah for resort development at a discounted acquisition cost of US$2 million.

The president personally oversaw the transfer of Aarah from the agriculture ministry to the tourism ministry in order to lease the island, said Adeeb, who was tourism minister at the time.

During cross examination of the witness, Judge Ahmed Shakeel refused the prosecution’s request to play audio recordings of phone calls between Yameen and Adeeb in 2013, citing lack of relevance as the alleged crime occurred two years later. But a decision on admissibility as evidence would be made later, the judge said.

Yameen is accused of accepting and laundering a US$1 million bribe from former lawmaker Yousuf Naeem in September 2015 in exchange for the resort lease. The opposition leader denies the charges and insists that Naeem had deposited US$1 million into his bank account in a legitimate currency exchange transaction.

The charges stem from a corruption scandal in which US$90 million was stolen through the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation during Yameen’s administration. The bulk of the embezzled funds was resort acquisition fees, which were siphoned off through a private company and allegedly used for bribes and political purposes.

Abdulla Ziyath, the MMPRC’s former managing director, also testified as a prosecution witness. Yousuf Naeem had told him after the lease agreement was signed that he paid US$1 million to Yameen to secure the island, Ziyath alleged.

Testifying as the first defence witness at Wednesday’s hearing, Ahmed Nareesh claimed to have handed over MVR15 million in cash to Yousuf Naeem at Yameen’s behest, backing the defendant’s alibi of purchasing dollars. Nareesh, deputy mayor of Malé, claimed to have counted MVR15,420,000 in cash at Yameen’s private residence before taking it to Naeem in two bags. Pressed repeatedly by prosecutors, Nareesh told the court he could not remember how long it had taken to count the MVR500 bundles.

Tuesday, September 6

An imam from the Meedhoo island of Addu City was suspended for delivering the Friday prayer sermon in the Addu dialect. The translation to the southern dialect of Dhivehi was deemed an unauthorised change to the sermon sent out by the Islamic ministry. A khutba committee in Addu City is investigating the incident, according to the president’s office spokesman.

The street harassment of a woman who was wearing the niqab prompted concern from the home minister, who called the incident “unacceptable” in an Islamic community.

A man allegedly called her “ninja” (a derogatory term for face-veiled women) and pulled on her niqab.

UK institute Nekton’s historic research expedition – which aims to “undertake the first systematic survey and sampling of the Maldives from the surface to 1000 metre depths” – set sail with scientists from the Maldives, UK, India, Sri Lanka, Seychelles, South Africa and Europe.

“By 2050, half of the world’s population will live on the shores of the Indian Ocean. Currently it’s the least known and the least protected ocean,” Nekton observed. “The Indian Ocean is warming three times faster than the Pacific Ocean causing increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events that threatens the lives and livelihoods of all in the region.”

The scientists will descend in submersibles and the mission will also deploy “robots, autonomous systems and over a dozen advanced subsea research technologies.”

The police warned of scam messages in the guise of government agencies and companies, urging the public not to press on any links and to report such text messages through its online portal.

Speaker Mohamed Nasheed suggested during a parliamentary debate that the lack of entertainment options on rural islands and the preference of younger generations for urban life were among the reasons for migration to Malé.

The remarks were widely reported amid fierce debates on social media over controversial plans to award 3,000 plots of lands from the manmade islands of Hulhumalé and Gulhifalhu exclusively to registered residents of Malé. Critics argue that migrants to the capital – including about 1,400 people from other islands who are on a special municipal registry (dhaftharu) and thousands of non-native residents of Malé – cannot be excluded from government housing schemes.

Monday, September 5

A public transport option was introduced in Malé with a minibus service for residents of the densely-packed capital island.

Operated by the Raajje Transport Link – a subsidiary of the state-owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company – the air-conditioned 20-seater RTL buses cover the main thoroughfares on three routes from 5:45 a.m. to 12:15 a.m.

Bus tickets – which can be purchased online through the RTL app or website – will cost MVR7 (US$0.4) after a free two-week trial. But the service will remain free for the elderly, disabled persons, children under the age of three, and students in uniform.

More than 8,000 people travelled by bus on the third day after the service was launched, up from more than 2,200 on the first day.

Buses were first operated in Malé in 2011 by a private party contracted by the city council. However, the service ended in less than a year.

On Tuesday, RTL officially launched its ferry service in Shaviyani atoll, covering the three northernmost atolls and completing the first phase of an MVR800 million (US$51.8 million) project to establish a nationwide ferry network with purpose-built speedboats.

A flagship policy of the current administration, the ‘Integrated National Public Ferry Network’ is expected to be completed by September 2023. Atolls are grouped into six zones with routes designed for a commuter link to connect nearby islands, a non-commuter link for longer trips to domestic airports and business hubs, and a highway link to connect regional hubs.

According to RTL, “each vessel has 48 reclinable airline style seats, designated seating for wheelchair passengers, and securable mechanism for medical stretchers”. Customers can book and pay for tickets on the RTL website or app. 

Monday, September 5

The first school to be opened in Hulhumalé phase two drew criticism over its tin structures and reported cost of MVR23 million (US$1.4 million).

Local company SJ Construction was contracted in March to develop two pre-schools in walking distance of the Hiya flats within six months. But the education ministry later decided to temporarily use part of one compound as a primary school.

The ministry explained that 581 students in grades one through six will transfer in January to the 3,000-capacity Salahudin school under construction nearby. All students living in phase two would be accommodated once an additional school opens in mid-2023.

The government decided to ease the burden of parents who are forced to take their children to Malé or phase one, the president’s spokesman said, blaming the previous administration for failing to plan for “mosque, schools or even a shop” to serve the new inhabitants of the social housing flats.

The education ministry also defended the design of the new pre-school, which has 271 children in kindergarten. Despite the tin sheets in the exterior – which were said to offer a protective layer from rain – classrooms were built with concrete, an official said.

Photo from Sun Online

Sunday, September 4

Echoing public outrage, a ruling party member of the Malé City Council objected to plans for clearing out the Maafannu cemetery to develop a parking lot. Digging out corpses and paving over the only green spots in Malé was “unacceptable,” Saif Fathih said, calling the ward graveyards “important and meaningful heritage”.

As historians expressed concern over the loss of significant tombstones, social media users questioned the lack of a government policy to declare a carrying capacity or limit the number of vehicles allowed on the congested island.

After parking was banned on several main roads to introduce a minibus service, the city council asked the government to provide land to develop new parking lots. The Maafannu cemetery is one area designated by the government.

Sunday, September 4

Three foreign nationals were arrested on Bilehdhoo for allegedly performing a Hindu religious ritual with an idol on the island’s roads. Three men, aged 27, 37 and 39, were remanded in custody for 10 days, police told the media. A group of islanders reportedly searched the expatriates’s residence. Idols of worship and prayers in public of any religion other than Islam are prohibited in Maldives.