Guraidhoo By-Election, Qasim Decision, Garbage Fees

Friday, March 10

Electric buggies purchased by the Malé City Council arrived in Vilimalé, a satellite island of the capital where fuel-powered vehicles are banned. Opposition supporters greeted the buggies with a ceremonial feast.

The council plans to launch the public transport service on 16 March. Rides on the main buggy routes will be free of charge until Eid, after which it would cost MVR2 per trip. Regular users could also buy a one-month pass.

Four, six and 12-seater vehicles would be available for private hire. The new fleet also includes specialised vehicles for carrying cargo or luggage and for transporting patients in emergencies.

On 20 January, the government-owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company started an electric bus service in Vilimalé, which Mayor Dr Mohamed Muizzu condemned at the time as an “uncivilised act by the government that is alien to the decentralisation system.” 

Citing public complaints over unreliability, the city council in August cancelled its agreement with a private company that operated buggy taxis in Vilimalé.

Friday, March 10

Former MP Alhan Fahmy‘s King’s Forex Trading collected MVR98 million (US$6.3 million) from 1,864 investors but has not paid back MVR65 million, the police informed the media after an investigation into the alleged Ponzi scheme and money laundering operation.  

The company is accused of illegally setting up an investment scheme and collecting funds with the promise of high returns from forex trading. Most of the money was used for cryptocurrency transactions and the rest was transferred to the personal bank accounts of the company’s shareholders and spent, according to the police.

A payout of MVR39 million in profits was made to earlier investors with funds from new investors – the key feature of Ponzi schemes. Discussions are ongoing with the Prosecutor General’s office to press separate charges for each complaint filed by new investors who lost money, the police said.

Earlier in the week, the King’s company advertised a new copy trading scheme on social media. The police urged the public to be wary of potential fraud.

In January, police searched Alhan’s home and office and confiscated his phone. He denies any wrongdoing.

Thursday, March 9

Waste collection fees will be included in electricity bills with effect in April, the environment ministry announced, citing the failure of a majority of households in the capital to pay the MVR150 (US$10) monthly fee. Of 53,690 homes in the Greater Malé Region, only about 20,000 regularly pays the fee after registration with the Waste Management Corporation.

The non-payment strains WAMCO’s cashflow and poses difficulties in managing expenses such as repairing collection vehicles, the ministry noted. With the change, WAMCO will collect garbage from all households regardless of registration. The inclusion in the State Electricity Company’s monthly bills was facilitated by the new waste management law enacted in December.

The fee remains unchanged for households but WAMCO hiked charges for government agencies and private collectors to MVR2,660 per tonne as of 20 March. Other changes include MVR0.27 per litre for businesses and commercial centres, MVR330 per tonne for call and pickup services, and MVR1,060 per tonne for garbage brought to the transfer centre. An additional MVR1,000 fee will be charged if the waste is not segregated. Both households and businesses are required to bag plastic and organic waste separately.

Thursday, March 9

Following the death of Ibrahim Riza, Progressive Party of Maldives MP for Guraidhoo, the opposition party will field his brother Hussain Riza in the upcoming by-election for the vacant parliament seat.

The election is scheduled for 15 April.

Ibrahim Riza – a prominent lawyer who retained the Guraidhoo seat for a third consecutive term in 2019 – passed away on 22 February after battling cancer. His brother Hussain was the only candidate who sought the PPM ticket, spokeswoman Heena Waleed told the media.

The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party is due to hold a primary on Saturday (11 March) to elect its candidate. The four contenders are Mohamed Musthafa, Salman Rasheed, Ibrahim Shaaz and Abdulla Saeed. Some 844 members from the constituency are eligible to vote.

The constituency in Kaafu Atoll encompasses the islands of Guraidhoo, Maafushi and Gulhi. The voting age population in the last parliamentary election was 3,130.

Ali Areef, a former Dhivehi teacher, will contest on behalf of the Maldives National Party. He was also awarded the ticket without a primary as the sole candidate. The Maldives Third-Way Democrats led by jailed former vice president Ahmed Adeeb has also decided to field a candidate, inviting interested members to seek the party’s ticket.

Late MP Riza

Transparency Maldives launched a ‘Study on Corruption Vulnerabilities in the Maldives Health Sector,’ identifying 10 vulnerable areas within the health sector and offering recommendations and measures for mitigation.

The agriculture ministry warned that a dangerous plant disease is spreading across the country. Coconut palms and other trees are infested by a pathogen that causes a black fungus growth called sooty mould. The ministry was identifying measures needed to control the contagion.

The plant disease was partly to blame for a mature coconut shortage that has spiked prices in the Malé local market.

The opposition-majority Malé City Council employs 13 consultants, the highest paid of whom earns MVR37,500 (US$2,431) a month, according to details obtained by Mihaaru under a right to information request. The two with the top pay are road development consultant Ahmed Mamdhooh and ICT consultant Hussain Zeeny, followed by urban planning consultant Mariyam Juhaina Sodiq and media and public relations consultant Ahmed Fazal Hussain, each of whom makes MVR35,000.

Dismissing criticism of appointing opposition activists, Mayor Dr Mohamed Muizzu told the newspaper that the consultants were qualified technocrats needed to implement the council’s strategic action plan. The council made public announcements and followed competitive hiring processes, he insisted.

At Wednesday’s council meeting, Muizzu accused the finance ministry and the Pay Commission of blocking an MVR75 per day attendance bonus for council staff. Two requests for approval have been denied, according to the council’s secretary general.

In late February, the council was revealed to have spent MVR2 million on date palms and other fruit trees to be planted across Malé.

Wednesday, March 8

The Anti-Corruption Commission sought criminal charges against Sami Ageel, former director of the Regional Airports company, over the procurement of buses. Ageel, who was suspended from the post in 2021, is accused of accepting a shipment of decrepit buses that breached specifications in a 2019 agreement made with a private supplier, according to a message sent to the media by the ACC.

The anti-graft watchdog asked the Prosecutor General’s office to press charges of abuse of authority for undue gain to a third party.

In late December, the PG office filed corruption charges against the Fenaka Corporation’s managing director during the previous administration. Mohamed Nimal, now president of the Kaafu Atoll Council, was charged along with Fenaka’s former finance director Minhaj Waheed over the waiver of MVR2.54 million (US$164,720) owed by two private companies as liquidated damages for failing to supply goods in line with an agreement.

Sami Ageel
Mohamed Nimal

Wednesday, March 8

During a debate in parliament, MPs Ibrahim Rasheed and Hassan Afeef declared that they no longer wish to remain in the Maldivian Democratic Party. Both lawmakers are part of Speaker Mohamed Nasheed’s faction of the divided ruling party.

Afeef, who served as home minister during Nasheed’s administration, criticised amendments proposed by the government to the police law and declared that he would vote against the bill in defiance of the party’s whip line. “I don’t care what action is taken. I would prefer if you remove me from this parliamentary group,” he said.

Ibrahim Rasheed said he was considering leaving the MDP until it reverts to the party’s founding principles.

The 66-member MDP parliamentary group – a comfortable majority of which is controlled by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s faction – has previously taken disciplinary action against MPs in Nasheed’s faction for defying whip lines on several votes, including a sales tax hike approved last year. Three-line whips oblige MPs to attend and vote as instructed by the parliamentary group leader. Punishments have so far been limited to counselling and removal of privileges. But Majority Leader Mohamed Aslam has warned that repeat offenders could be barred from seeking the party’s ticket for re-election. 

On Sunday, the civil court began hearings in a lawsuit filed to annul the MDP’s primary, which President Solih won with 61% (24,566 votes) against Speaker Nasheed’s 39% (15,641 votes). But Nasheed refused to concede, alleging widespread fraud and blaming the removal of 39,000 members.

The legal challenge was mounted over the “MDP leadership’s actions in disenfranchising 39,911 members.” The petitioners were granted 10 days to respond to a jurisdictional challenge filed by the MDP.

The finance ministry sought consultancy services for the design and supervision of 400 social housing units to be built in Hulhumalé, a project financed by the Saudi Fund.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, the Bank of Maldives announced support for a month-long coding and engineering programme for 30 girls aged 12 to 14 years from selected schools in Malé.

“The programme will be offered in partnership with ForLoop Coding Academy, and will focus on content such as game development with Visual Blocks, developing apps using Python and building Bluetooth controlled robots,” according to the bank.

This year’s Women’s Day theme centres on developing skills for women to engage in digital spaces and pursue careers in STEM. While women far outnumber men in enrolment in higher education institutions (23,698 women to 12,557 men in 2021), women account for only 31% of graduates in ICT, engineering and manufacturing, according to the statistics bureau.

As part of Women’s Day activities, the National Centre for Information Technology conducted a two-day training with 35 participants on ‘E-Commerce and Digital Marketing for Women Entrepreneurs.’

The State Trading Organisation introduced scholarships for 15 women to earn advanced certificates in electronics, electrical engineering, refrigeration and air-conditioning.

The higher education ministry invited expressions of interest to operate a junior college in Haa Alif Dhidhdhoo. Along with the college, the finance ministry is also seeking an operator for a “state-of-the-art” Technical and Vocation Educational and Training (TVET) centre under development in Raa Alifushi.

The college is to offer courses in food processing whilst the TVET centre will focus on boat building. Construction is reported to be 90% complete on both projects. Laboratories and workshops needed for the specialisation programmes would be developed in both buildings in addition to multi-purpose workshops, classrooms and ICT laboratories, according to the ministry.

Projects to build a polytechnic centre in Kaafu Thulusdhoo and a junior college in Noonu Kendhikhulhudhoo were awarded in December.

Tuesday, March 7

The Vaavu Atoll Council cried foul after the Environment Protection Agency decided that a resort developer was not responsible for damage to the Ambara island’s mangrove.

The Hadhuvaru Ocean company that holds a 50-year lease to develop a resort on the uninhabited island was accused of cutting down mangrove trees. But after a survey and investigation, the EPA concluded that it was not done by the developer, who was therefore not liable for damages.

The atoll council appealed to the president’s office, parliament and environment ministry for a review of the EPA’s decision. According to the council, the resort developer demolished a building that was on Ambara when it was previously used as a picnic island and buried the debris in the wetlands at the mangrove. This was done using heavy machinery, the council alleged.

As resort development on Ambara did not start within the construction period, the council urged the government to cancel the lease and to return the island for public use. In October last year, protesters led by the council demanded the return of Hulhidhoo island.

Tuesday, March 7

Abbas Faiz, the president’s special envoy for monitoring the investigation and prosecution of the attempt to assassinate Speaker Mohamed Nasheed in May 2021expressed concern about delays in the trials of the terror suspects.

“The Maldives judicial authorities have not given me an acceptable reason for this delay,” he tweeted after a meeting with the criminal court’s registrar.

On the anniversary of the bomb attack in May last year, Faiz raised concerns over the inability to identify the financiers of the failed assassination attempt. 

“There are legitimate concerns in the Maldives that the May 6 attack could not have been planned and executed without encouragement and financial support from outside the current circle of suspects,” observed Abbas Faiz, a former Amnesty International official. He also expressed concern that the trials of the terror suspects “have not kept pace with the time-bound momentum of the investigation and prosecution.” A prime suspect, Adhuham Ahmed Rasheed, 26, who confessed to detonating the IED, was sentenced to 23 years in jail in December 2021.

Following public complaints, the Environment Protection Agency threatened action against unauthorised warehousing, cleaning and recycling of aluminium, iron, copper and other metals in residential areas of Malé, offering a 30-day period to seek permits. Metalwork without safety precautions poses serious health risks to pedestrians and neighbours, the EPA warned.

Briefing parliament’s security services committee about missing person investigations, the police revealed that the same children were often involved in multiple cases, including one child who was reported missing 11 times and another who went missing four times.

“31 children were returned to families after going missing 63 times,” Police Commissioner Mohamed Hameed told MPs, referring to cases from 2021 and 2022.

There were 35 cases of elderly persons who went missing last year. But the police chief did not reveal further details.

On the case of Mohamed Asir Ismail, a 31-year-old man who was found nearly two weeks after he went missing, the police said his whereabouts remain a mystery as he has refused to talk. Asir suffers from a mental illness, according to his family.

He went missing from Malé on 4 February. According to Asir’s family, he left home to go to work at a family-owned shop in Hulhumalé. The police later identified him on security camera entering the Velana International Airport’s terminal later that night. But a search of the airport yielded no sign and there was no record of him boarding a plane. The police also checked nearby islands as Asir could have traveled via speedboat. All guesthouses in Malé, Hulhumalé and Vilimalé were also checked.   

On the night of 17 February, he was found sitting in the waiting area of the airport, wearing the same clothes as the night he went missing.

“Blind spots” in the VIA security camera posed challenges as police were unable to follow Asir after he was spotted arriving in a taxi. The police commissioner also expressed concern with the lack of real-time access to the VIA’s security camera live feed.

The Thinadhoo island council started taking legal action to recover MVR4.7 million (US$304,798) owed as unpaid rent and fines for several plots of land leased to private parties.

Monday, March 6

Details of the new pay framework for higher education sector staff were shared during a press conference at the president’s office.

Last week, the president announced a pay rise of up to 59% for university staff with effect on 1 March. Under the new framework, the wages of administrative staff would also rise by 35%.

Efforts to harmonise the pay structure for all government employees – which “would eliminate discrepancies and ensure uniform pay for staff in the same position and level” – were in the final stage, it was revealed.

Monday, March 6

A suspect was arrested over the vandalism of the Juice Time takeaway café in Hulhumalé on 23 February. The 28-year-old man was arrested with a court warrant, the police informed the media. A 19-year-old man was also arrested on Sunday in connection with the incident.

Security camera footage shared on social media showed two men in helmets scare off the cashier and smash up the shop with hammers before fleeing with cash from the counter.

Both the Juice Time vandalism and a fatal stabbing on 24 February were revenge attacks between rival gangs, the police chief told Adhadhu. The café destruction was related to a dispute between the Masodi and Vai Kammathi gangs, he revealed. Seven suspects were arrested on 28 February after the police raided an apartment in Hulhumalé and seized weapons and drugs.

The opposition Progressive Party of Maldives condemned the promotion of Judge Ahmed Shakeel to the High Court as “clear evidence of inducement and the government’s influence over the judiciary to pursue political vendettas against the opposition.”

In December, the criminal court’s chief judge sentenced former president Abdulla Yameen to 11 years in prison on bribery and money laundering charges, barring the opposition leader from contesting in the 2023 presidential election.

The Judicial Service Commission decided to appoint Shakeel to the appeals court after interviewing candidates who applied to fill a vacancy on the bench. Shakeel, who holds a bachelors and masters in shariah from Villa College, was first appointed as a judge in 2003. He went on to serve in the Alif Alif Ukulhas magistrate court as well as in the juvenile court, family court and criminal court in Malé.

An opposition lawmaker asked parliament’s judiciary oversight committee to look into the JSC decision.

The Jumhooree Party’s national council authorised leader Qasim Ibrahim to enter talks on forming a JP-led coalition for the 2023 presidential election. The council unanimously decided to grant him “power and discretion for negotiations in the event that a coalition needs to be formed with the presidential candidate.”

The move came after the JP’s national conference in late February adopted a non-binding resolution advising the party to either field a candidate or contest with a JP-led coalition. A vast majority of delegates favoured Qasim contesting in lieu of accepting President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s invitation to remain in the Maldivian Democratic Party-led coalition and support his re-election bid.

The council effectively left the decision up to Qasim, one of the country’s richest men and three-term MP for Alif Dhaal Maamigili. Hailed as the “kingmaker”, Qasim’s endorsement was pivotal in previous presidential elections.

Questioned repeatedly by journalists after a meeting with President Solih last week, Qasim was tightlipped on his stance. Contrary to speculation about Speaker Mohamed Nasheed becoming the JP candidate’s running mate, Qasim said no such discussion has taken place. Speculation about a Qasim-Nasheed ticket was fuelled by the JP leader’s effusive praise of the former president during the party’s national conference.

Over the past week, Qasim also met with the leaders of the two other parties in the MDP-led coalition – Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla and Maldives Reform Movement leader Faris Maumoon.

On Friday, Vice President Faisal Naseem was reported to have met Qasim at the Sun Island resort, where the JP leader resides. Naseem, a JP member, was conspicuously absent from the JP national conference after publicly endorsing President Solih.

In an interview with Dhauru, JP MP Ali Hussain expressed “99% confidence” that the party would field a candidate in September’s election.

Addu City Hithadhoo’s ‘Aagala’ cargo boat caught on fire near Meemu Thuvaru en route to Malé around 2 a.m.

The 15 crew members – five Maldivians, five Indians and five Bangladeshis – jumped overboard. A coastguard vessel rescued 14 of them but one Indian man remains missing. The search operation covered a 1,342 square metre area by Tuesday.

The rescued crew were taken to the Muli island’s hospital. The cargo boat sank around 8:20 a.m., according to the coastguard.

Sunday, March 5

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih addressed the 5th United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries in Doha, Qatar, stressing the importance of supporting countries that graduate to middle-income status and highlighting challenges faced by the Maldives.

In 2010, the Maldives became only the third country to graduate from LDC to middle-income status. Forty-six nations are currently classified under LDC status.

During the trip, President Solih held talks with UN Secretary-General António Guterres and “discussed ways to improve collaboration between relevant UN organisations and public sector groups”. On the sidelines of the conference, the president also met with his counterparts from Malawi, Palestine, Timor-Leste, Seychelles and Serbia,

The president then travelled to Germany, where the first couple toured the Maldives stand at the ITB Berlin fair.

On Friday, President Solih held bilateral talks with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The pair “explored avenues for support for the Maldives in negotiating tariff rates for Maldivian fish exports and easing visa facilitations for Maldivian travellers,” according to the president’s office.

Sunday, March 5

The Environment Protection Agency imposed a fine of MVR3 million (US$194,550) on the owner of a vessel that ran aground on the Kudagiri lagoon in Kaafu Thilafushi on 31 January.

Surveys found damage to a 130 square metre area of the coral reef.

The Prosecutor General’s office decided that staff could work from home on one day of the week during Ramadan. Employees could choose either Thursday or Sunday, which falls before and after the weekend.

Saturday, March 4

Eleven people were arrested after a fight broke out between foreign workers at the T-jetty in Malé’s southwest harbour. Five people underwent treatment at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital for injuries.

A video on social media shows the men attacking each other with wooden planks and brooms.

All of the suspects were released a day later.

Saturday, March 4

Former attorney general Dr Mohamed Munavvar announced his intention to run for president. He would become the second independent candidate after former home minister Umar Naseer.

Photo by Abdulla Abeedh

The Malé City Council denied Vilimalé councillor Aishath Nahula’s allegations about leasing a plot of land to build a Redwave supermarket without due process.

The decision was made after a public announcement and a competitive bidding process for a commercial building in Vilimalé, the council said, denying her claims about secret deals and decisions made outside of council meetings.

Nahula, who was elected on a Progressive Party of Maldives ticket, was expelled from the main opposition party in May last year. She also accused the PPM-majority council of removing her as chair of its Vilimalé committee.

The Redwave supermarket franchise is owned by PPM parliamentary group leader Ahmed Saleem.

The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party’s candidate won a by-election for a vacant seat on the Haa Dhaal Vaikaradhoo island council.

Fathmath Shizna edged out Adhaalath Party candidate Fathmath Nazla by 283 votes to 258 votes. The turnout was 42% of 1,361 eligible voters.

The seat was reserved for female candidates under a one-third quota introduced for the last local council elections.