Fire Tragedy, Covid Surge, Risk Factors

Friday, November 11

Heritage Minister Yumna Maumoon defended hoisting white flags in the Medhuziyaaraiy shrine in Malé, after clerics denounced it as an un-Islamic “heretical innovation” (bid’ah). The practice of planting small prayer flags at the shrine was discontinued 30 years ago.

But renovating heritage sites and raising flags on special occasions was only intended to “revive local culture and foster national spirit,” the minister responded.

Medhuziyaaraiy houses the tomb of Abdul Barakat Yoosuf Al Barbary, a Moroccan religious scholar credited with converting the king to Islam in 1153AD.

Friday, November 11

The president conferred special achievement awards at a ceremony held to commemorate Republic Day (November 11). This year’s recipients included “13 individuals who memorised the Noble Quran at the highest level, nine individuals for their achievements in attaining an MQA Level 10 qualification and publishing their research in an international journal, and 41 individuals for their achievements in the completion of their Level 7, 8 or 9 qualifications.”

Thursday, November 10

At least 10 expatriates were killed after a fire broke out around 12:30am in Maafannu Nirufehi, a three-storey residence in Malé with a vehicle repair garage on the ground floor. The military’s fire and rescue service controlled the flames in about an hour and recovered 10 bodies from cramped living quarters in the upper floors.

The badly burnt bodies have since been identified as seven Indian nationals – three women and four men – along with a Bangladeshi man and a woman, the police informed the media on Friday. One person has yet to be identified and one male survivor was in critical condition at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital.

There were 38 people living in small rooms with a gas cylinder next to each bed, Colonel Ibrahim Rasheed from fire and rescue told the press. A single window was the only ventilation. The fire is suspected to have started in the garage, trapping residents in the top floors, which were raised with wooden decks. Two minor fire incidents previously occurred at the garage. But the garage owner speculated that the fire must have started at the staircase as the repair shop had been closed at the time.

Together with 35 Maldivians and seven expatriates from four neighbouring buildings, 28 expatriates from Nirufehi were registered at an evacuation centre set up at the nearby Maafannu stadium. The evacuees included seven children, according to the National Disaster Management Authority, which arranged temporary shelter in guesthouses. Employers provided accommodation for 18 expatriates.

In the wake of the deadliest fire in recent history, the president visited the site and ordered the relevant agencies to “inspect the accommodation arrangements of foreign workers and draw up a plan to relocate workshops and vehicle garages in residential areas.” The Malé City Council demanded immediate relocation to the industrial village near the southwest harbour. The garage was operating without a permit, the council revealed.

As the tragedy prompted renewed concern over the plight of migrant workers, a group of local NGOs condemned the “appalling” failure to ensure equal rights and enforce laws and regulations that mandate adequate housing and criminalise human trafficking.

Contrary to media reports, the relocation of chemical storage warehouses in Malé to Thilafushi has been completed, the Housing Development Corporation said.

Thursday, November 10

The president ratified changes approved by parliament to the Decentralisation Act to reduce the number of by-elections triggered by the resignation of Women’s Development Committee members. The new provisions allow the Elections Commission to limit WDC by-elections to once a year.

M. D. Alamgiri – a Bangladeshi man whose secretly filmed sex tapes with several Maldivian men were leaked online – was found guilty on six new counts and sentenced to an additional nine months and 13 days in prison.

The 25-year-old migrant worker was previously sentenced to seven months in prison after confessing to charges of consensual “unlawful intercourse.” In September, he was sentenced to a further two years and nine months on 40 counts of producing pornography. 

The scandal broke in late June with leaked videos of Alamgiri with lawyer Nazim Sattar, former MP ‘Colonel’ Mohamed Nasheed and a police officer. Nazim, younger brother of former president Mohamed Nasheed, was placed under house arrest. The police officer was sentenced to one year and 28 days in prison. A chief customs officer was sentenced last week.

Three men were arrested in September on suspicion of using the videos for blackmail.

The civil court issued a stay order to maintain the rebroadcasting license of DhiraaguTV. It was granted after the company challenged a regulatory change made by the broadcasting commission to bar companies with foreign ownership from cable television services. As Bahrain’s Batelco owns a majority stake of Dhiraagu with 41% of shares held by the Maldives government, the requirement for 100% Maldivian ownership would have prevented renewal of DhiraaguTV’s license when it expires in January. But the court ordered the regulator to uphold the existing license pending a judgment on the legality of the new rule.

DhiraaguTV was set up with a US$30 million investment and its customer base has grown to more than 15,000 across 90 islands, CEO Ismail Rasheed told a parliamentary committee last month.

Wednesday, November 9

Members of the Alif Alif Feridhoo island council, all five of whom were elected as independents, joined the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party together with more than 50 people from the small island.

Wednesday, November 9

The Supreme Court was petitioned to remove Speaker Mohamed Nasheed from parliament for attending the COP-27 climate summit as a member of the Sri Lankan delegation. The MP for Central Machchangoalhi has lost his legal status in relation to the constitutional requirement to act in the national interest, contended Ahmed Thalib, the lawyer who filed the case.

The government was behind the “legally baseless” attempt to unseat the speaker, alleged MP Hassan Latheef, who is part of the divided ruling party’s faction loyal to Nasheed.

The former president’s travel expenses were borne by the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a 58-country group of which Nasheed is an ambassador, according to parliament’s media official.

Former attorney general Dr Mohamed Munavvar and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Maldives Reform Movement condemned Nasheed for representing another country. Questions were also raised in the Sri Lankan parliament.

Some local media reports suggested that the government did not invite Nasheed to join the Maldives delegation, which was led by Vice President Faisal Naseem.

After the climate meeting in Egypt, Nasheed flew to Italy to attend the Annual Meeting Conference of the HABITABLE Project.

Nasheed was recently reported to have declared in a party WhatsApp group that he could not support President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the upcoming Maldivian Democratic Party primary.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó concluded his visit to the Maldives, the first official trip to the country by a foreign minister of Hungary.

Three agreements were signed during Szijjártó’s visit, including one on establishing a joint commission “o facilitate cooperation in important areas of development and provide a framework to promote business linkages and improve trade”. The other agreements were an additional protocol to the existing MoU on Hungaricum Stipendium scholarships and an MoU on cooperation in the field of sports diplomacy.

Ahmed Nishar, chief magistrate of the Baa Goidhoo court, resigned ahead of an impeachment vote in parliament.

Nishar abused his authority for personal benefit, the judicial watchdog found after an ethics investigation.

Tuesday, November 8

The foreign minister and attorney general defended the government’s decision to recognise Mauritius’s sovereignty over the neighbouring Chagos archipelago.

Briefing the press at the president’s office, Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid accused critics of deliberately misleading the public for political gain. The current administration has not taken a stand that would be detrimental to national interest, they insisted, after offering a detailed timeline. No previous government has ever claimed Chagos to be Maldivian territory, Shahid stressed, as Riffath noted the lack of records to argue that Maldivians should enjoy fishing rights over the disputed overlapping zone.

An information paper was shared with lawmakers in February, the attorney general said. But letters sent to a committee do not amount to seeking approval, parliament retorted.

Tuesday, November 8

626 cases of dengue were reported in October, up from 270 cases in the previous month. The incidence of acute respiratory illnesses also spiked compared to previous years.

The president warmly welcomed ex-parliamentarian ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik back to the Maldivian Democratic Party. A former majority leader, MDP chairman and deputy speaker, Moosa was expelled from the party in 2014 and had backed former president Abdulla Yameen in the last election.

Monday, November 7

Half the population could be dead or disabled before the Maldives disappears from sea-level rise, a doctor wryly suggested over the dire results of a survey on risk factors for non-communicable diseases, which found that 1 in 3 adult Maldivians under 45 face a high risk of cardiovascular diseases, and half of Maldivians between 45 to 69 years of age have three or more risk factors for heart attacks and strokes.

The survey also found that 1 in 3 Maldivians has high cholesterol; 1 in 4 has high blood pressure; 1 in 4 smoke or use drugs; and 1 in 20 consume alcohol. Half of the respondents were overweight and did not exercise or eat fruits or vegetables.

The findings were presented at a ceremony held to launch initiatives to control noncommunicable diseases. 

Monday, November 7

Parents of Arabiyya School children protested against the sacking of the only Arabic-medium school’s principal. The parents say he was fired for backing their campaign against the government’s alleged discrimination and plans to build a new school at the old Jamalludin plot. But the education minister cited the need to fix administrative problems with a more experienced principal.

Later in the day, representatives met Education Minister Dr Aishath Ali after parents gathered outside her office.

A laparoscopic surgery – also known as keyhole surgery or minimally invasive surgery was performed for the first time in the northern atolls at the Kulhudhuffushi Regional Hospital.

Covid-19 hospitalisations climbed to 25 patients amid a new surge and the first fatality in weeks. Hospital admissions started to rise in mid-October after staying in single-digits since July.