Factional Sackings, Qasim Candidacy, Striking Workers

Friday, March 31

A fire broke out at a block in the industrial island of Thilafushi. The military’s firefighters put it out about an hour and a half after it was reported at 12:45 p.m. No one was harmed.

Friday, March 31

A 24-year-old man who was reported missing from Gaaf Alif Kanduhulhudhoo around 4:45 a.m. was found dead in the island’s lagoon. He was found with his motorcycle and was pronounced dead on arrival at the health centre, according to the police.

The man suffered from mental health problems and had previously attempted suicide, a source from the island told Mihaaru. His feet had been tied to the motorcycle with a rope.

After he stopped taking medication and attempted suicide, the family had requested the gender ministry to take him under their care for treatment a year ago, the deceased’s mother told Dhauru. The family had been asking the ministry to take him to Thinadhoo as a doctor’s letter was needed to institutionalise him at the state centre in Guraidhoo. “Every time they say, ‘we’re coming to get him.’ They’ve been saying that for five months,” she said, adding that she had called again on the previous night after her son tried to kill himself again a few days ago.

Arrangements had been made to take him to Thinadhoo next Sunday, according to the gender ministry.

Resort magnate Mohamed Moosa, known as Uchchu, endorsed President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih for September’s election. The influential businessman hosted the first couple for Iftar at his Champa Giri resort and presented a jersey with ‘Ibu 23’ to the president.

Thursday, March 30

As expected, Jumhooree Party leader and “kingmaker” Qasim Ibrahim became the party’s presidential candidate unopposed as there were no other contenders for the JP ticket.  

Unlike 2008 and 2013 when the business tycoon was eliminated in the first round, the JP hopes Qasim’s third run could prove successful because the two main parties are weakened. The opposition lacks a candidate with former president Abdulla Yameen in jail and the Maldivian Democratic Party remains divided with Speaker Mohamed Nasheed refusing to endorse the incumbent. 

Nasheed is expected to back Qasim. Later on Thursday, a team representing Nasheed’s faction of the MDP travelled to Qasim’s Sun Island Resort to meet with the JP candidate. The team included the recently sacked duo Hussain Amr and Mohamed Shifaz as well as President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s special advisor Mohamed Shihab.

The JP decided to field a candidate after rejecting President Solih’s invitation to remain in the MDP-led coalition that won the 2018 election. Qasim’s decision was seen as a major blow to the president’s bid for re-election.

“The pieces are falling into place. The battle ground is set. The known unknown is getting clearer. Looking forward to interesting days ahead. It is indeed a pity that we are unable to continue this journey together. Insha Allah 2023 and victory is ours,” MDP Chairman Fayyaz Ismail tweeted after the day’s events.

Thursday, March 30

Several Jumhooree Party political appointees resigned from the party and endorsed President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih after JP leader Qasim Ibrahim was confirmed as a presidential candidate.

Adam Azim, managing director of the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company, resigned as a special advisor to Qasim, backing Solih as the best choice for stability. He was soon followed by Hassan Shah, managing director of the Malé Water and Sewerage Company, who resigned from the JP council and asked to be removed from the party’s registry. Other political appointees who left the party included Waleedha Waleed, deputy minister of arts, culture and heritage, and Aminath Mohamed Saleem, deputy minister of higher education.

The High Court halted former president Abdulla Yameen’s bribery and money laundering trial over the lease of Raa Fuggiri island. The criminal court was ordered to suspend proceedings pending a judgment on an appeal of pre-trial rulings.

The opposition leader’s legal team challenged the legality of several decisions by Judge Ahmed Nadheem, including the acceptance of former vice president Ahmed Adeeb as a defence witness. Adeeb’s testimony would be prejudiced due to his animosity towards Yameen, lawyers contended at an appeal hearing on Tuesday.

The prosecutor representing the state did not object to halting the Fuggiri trial until the High Court reaches a judgment.

In late December, Yameen was convicted in a separate trial involving the no-bid lease of Vaavu Aarah. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison. The High Court is also due to hear an appeal of the guilty verdict. 

Both cases stemmed from a corruption scandal in which US$90 million was stolen during his administration. In the Fuggiri case, Yameen is accused of accepting a US$1.1 million bribe to lease the island for resort development. The Sun Construction and Sun Investment companies of resort magnate Ahmed Siyam as well as businessman Ahmed Riza were charged as co-defendants.  

On Wednesday, hearings began at the High Court on a separate appeal of the criminal court’s order for Yameen to pay a fine of US$3.4 million over the Aarah case. The imposition of the fine almost two months after the trial ended contravened the criminal procedures law, defence lawyers argued.

284 cases were reported to the gender ministry in February, including 27 cases of child sexual abuse and 23 cases of domestic violence.

The civil court held a second hearing in the lawsuit filed to annul the Maldivian Democratic Party’s primary.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih won the January 28 polls with 61% (24,566 votes) against Speaker Mohamed 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.” 

At Thursday’s hearing, lawyers sparred over a jurisdictional challenge filed by the MDP, which contended that the petitioner Ali Amjad was not a member of the party and therefore lacked legal standing. But his lawyer Dhiyana Saeed accused the party of removing Amjad from the party’s registry a week after the lawsuit was filed.

At least six new deputy ministers were appointed without the usual public announcement by the president’s office, Dhauru reported. The political appointments were made after the finance ministry instructed state agencies last month not to create new posts without approval and to reduce expenses on employees, travel and offices.

The new deputies are Samiu Anwar at the tourism ministry, Hussain Adam at the planning ministry, Ahmed Mohamed and Ahmed Tholal Mohamed at the youth ministry, and Imran Ibrahim and Mohamed Suad at the gender ministry.

A total of 515,122 people live in the Maldives, including 382,751 Maldivians and 132,371 foreigners, according to the provisional results of the 2022 census. About 41% of the population resides in the capital Malé, up from 39% in 2014. Aside from Malé, only Addu City’s Hithadhoo and Kulhudhuffushi have a population in excess of 10,000 people. Most other islands have fewer than 1,000 people.

The resident population of the Maldives grew at an average rate of 1.5% per year since the last census in 2014. Nearly 70% of the Maldivian population is aged between 15 to 64 years. As the birth rate fell, the percentage of children decreased from 28% in 2014 to 26% last year.

The Sultanate of Oman exempted Maldivians from seeking entry visas, granting a 14-day visa free stay in the country.

“The visa exemption is subject to certain requirements including passport validity of minimum 6 months, a prior and confirmed hotel booking, health insurance, and a return ticket,” according to the foreign ministry.

On Friday, the foreign minister announced that Bangladesh has decided to facilitate long-term visas for Maldivian students.

The government plans to demolish the Ghazee office building in Malé to develop a parking lot, a state minister for national planning and infrastructure told the press. The dilapidated decades-old building currently houses the Maldives Correctional Service and Auditor General’s offices, which are in the process of relocation. The building is to be demolished in late June.

Wednesday, March 29

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih sacked President’s Office Minister Mohamed Shifaz, the second high-profile dismissal of a political appointee from the rival faction of the Maldivian Democratic Party this week.

Like Hussain Amr, who was sacked as CEO of the State Trading Organisation on Sunday, Shifaz – a former lawmaker and the MDP’s vice president – had sided with Speaker Mohamed Nasheed in the MDP’s presidential primary and continued to back the former president as he refused to endorse Solih.

After the dismissal, Nasheed advised Shifaz “not to worry at all” and suggested that no one would have “sacrificed more” to bring the current administration to power.

On Wednesday night, both Shifaz and Amr represented Nasheed’s faction of the MDP along with MP Hassan Latheef in a second round of talks with the Jumhooree Party. Discussions focused on a coalition agreement, a joint manifesto, the composition of the next government and a referendum on changing to a parliamentary system, Latheef told the press. They were representing the MDP, he insisted, contending that Nasheed as the MDP’s president has the authority to enter coalition talks.

President Solih told the press last week that the MDP’s statutes prohibit separatist factions or working against the elected presidential candidate. But the MDP leadership has refrained from taking disciplinary action so far out of respect for Nasheed as a co-founder and former president, Chairman Fayyaz Ismail said, reiterating appeals for reconciliation.

In an interview with Adhadhu before his sacking, Shifaz blamed the president’s faction for not seeking to repair the rift between Nasheed and Solih.

Shifaz was replaced as president’s office minister with Ibrahim Waheed, the MDP’s deputy chairman and former deputy managing director of Fenaka Corporation.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Haroon Rasheed was sacked as managing director of the Agro National Corporation and transferred to the Maldives Fund Management Corporation. Haroon also campaigned for Nasheed against President Solih in the MDP’s primary.

Wednesday, March 29

Nearly MVR36 million (US$2.3 million) was spent from the Zakat Fund to cover medical treatment of applicants, the Islamic ministry informed parliament in response to a query from a lawmaker. The bulk of the charitable funds (MVR22.5 million) was spent in 2019, prompting the lawmaker to insinuate corruption as it coincided with the last parliamentary election.

The Maldives Police Service celebrated its 90th anniversary with a flag-hoisting ceremony and official function in front of the police headquarters in Malé.

According to the police, the institution is in the process of changing from a “harsh and authoritarian force” to a more community-oriented service with initiatives such as neighbourhood policing.

Ten academic papers related to modernising and reforming policing were presented at a three-day ‘Police Research and Innovation’ conference earlier this month.

Maldivian model and influencer, Fathmath Zayan, known as Kaizeen, celebrated her birthday at the Usfasgadu in Malé with fireworks and a golden five-tier cake. The six-minute fireworks display was put on by the military at a reported cost of MVR75,000 (US$4,864). The military’s cooperative society offers the service for private events.

Tuesday, March 28

About 1,800 Indian construction workers in Hulhumalé have been on strike for four days, Adhadhu reported. Their grievances include the poor quality of food, a 10-hour work day without overtime pay and the denial of paid sick leave. A disturbance occurred after representatives of the employment agent went to the accommodation blocks in the morning to resolve the dispute. The workers are reportedly employees of a subcontractor of India’s JMC Projects, which is building 2,000 social housing units in Hulhumalé phase two.

On Wednesday, some workers protested in front of the Indian High Commission in Hulhumalé over alleged non-payment of wages for months.

“The biggest concern is that we’re getting rotten fruits and vegetables to eat. Eggs are boiled and kept in the fridge. That’s given to eat after three or four days in the fridge,” a worker told Dhauru on Wednesday. Unless their demands – which also include access to healthcare – are met, the workers want their employer to arrange their return to India.

Photo by Mohamed Shahzan.

Tuesday, March 28

The government’s decision to dissolve the Maldivian Democracy Network over the alleged slander of Islam in a 2016 report was lawful, the civil court ruled, after the NGO’s former executive director challenged the legality and procedural fairness of the ban.

The ministry of community empowerment deregistered the NGO in November 2019 after the Islamic ministry and police concluded that MDN’s ‘Preliminary Assessment of Radicalisation in the Maldives’ mocked Islam and Prophet Mohamed. The 2003 associations law prohibited civil society groups from contradicting tenets of Islam or undermining religious unity, the ministry noted at the time.

Ahead of inclusion of the waste collection fee in electricity bills for the Greater Malé Region with effect on 1 April, the Waste Management Corporation urged households and commercial residential properties to submit a utility meter exclusion form to remove maintenance, service, booster pump and telecom meters from WAMCO’s billing list.

Commercial property owners could also submit separate forms to tie charges to a primary meter or to group charges of multiple meters to a primary meter.

The environment ministry decided to merge the garbage collection and electricity bills due to 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 paid the fee after registration with WAMCO.

A 43-year-old man was arrested in connection with the theft of MVR700,000 (US$45,395) from an office in the Henveiru ward of Malé. More than MVR500,000 was retrieved from the suspect’s home, according to the police.

Contrary to rumours, the offshore support vessel Rumailah used for the Thilamalé bridge construction did not leave the country over a financial dispute, project manager Mohamed Jinan told the media. The Gulf Drilling International company’s vessel – which is equipped with a helipad and accommodation facilities – left because its work was done, he said, assuring that the bridge remains on schedule.

Work is ongoing on 12 pillars at the Malé and Vilimalé ends. The V-shaped pile cappings or “superstructures” to be installed on top of pillars are being manufactured at the contractor Afcons’ worksite in Gulhifalhu.

The number of SIM cards that can be registered under the name of an individual will be capped, the Communications Authority of Maldives told parliament’s state-owned enterprises oversight committee. A new verification procedure will be introduced during May for issuing SIM cards through the new digital national identity system, CAM’s chief executive Ilyas Ahmed told MPs.

The registration of multiple phone numbers under one identity was flagged as an obstacle to investigating scam calls. The police previously informed the committee that there were more than 800 SIM cards registered under the name of a single person, 24,000 SIM cards taken by two expatriates and 38,000 SIM cards under the names of a dozen foreign workers.

According to CAM, a three-month period will be offered to register SIM cards under the user’s name, after which unregistered numbers would be cancelled.

The Velana International Airport’s runway was temporarily closed after a tyre burst during an aircraft landing. The passengers and crew of the Fly Dubai flight were unharmed. The runway was closed for two hours until the Boeing 737 was towed off.

Photo from @AviatorsMaldive

Monday, March 27

Eight towers of the Hiya flats were left without electricity for about four hours, forcing many residents to break their fast in the dark. The power outage around 5:30 p.m. was caused by a short circuit in the tower one substation’s switchgear busbar, according to the State Electricity Company. Power was restored around 9:30 p.m.

Monday, March 27

Five soldiers were promoted to the new rank of Chief Warrant Officer for the first time in the history of the Maldives National Defence Force.

Legal changes were proposed to allow blind voters to vote without an assistant to ensure secrecy of the ballot. The government proposed amendments to the elections law to allow the use of a plastic device or template that could be placed on top of the ballot paper with checkmarks cut out to line up with the boxes on the ballot. Blind voters could touch the cut outs and tick the box for their preferred candidate.

The first reading of the bill took place at Monday’s sitting.

The stencil idea was proposed by the Blind and Visually Impaired Society as a cost-effective alternative to printing ballots with braille, which the Elections Committee is unable to do within its budget. 

Only one such template card would be needed for each ballot box, Hussain Shareef, the Blind Association’s vice president, noted at a press briefing earlier this month. The association – which met with lawmakers, political parties and independent institutions over the past few weeks – has long been advocating for blind voters to be granted the right to enter the voting booth by themselves.

Sunday, March 26

Hussain Amr was sacked as CEO and managing director of the State Trading Organisation. The dismissal came after Amr campaigned for Speaker Mohamed Nasheed against President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the Maldivian Democratic Party’s primary.

After losing the contest for the MDP ticket in January, Nasheed refused to endorse Solih, alleging widespread fraud and blaming the removal of 39,000 members. The former president has since been recruiting members to form branches within the MDP under his campaign slogan ‘Fikuregge Dhirun’ (Revival of an Ideology).

More recently, Amr represented Nasheed in talks with the Jumhooree Party and discussed formulating a joint manifesto. Nasheed is expected to back JP leader Qasim Ibrahim in September’s presidential election.

Amr’s sacking drew criticism as the JP’s political appointees remain in their posts, including the transport minister, tourism minister and fisheries minister as well as bosses of state-owned companies. After President Solih was accused of political retaliation, the Privatisation and Corporation Board insisted that it follows fair and legal procedures in appointments and dismissals at SOEs. All such decisions are made “freely and independently” in the best interests of shareholders, the public and the state, the PCB said on Monday.

The president’s loyalists contend that political appointees who openly work against the government should resign or be removed.

Nasheed praised Amr’s performance at the state-owned behemoth, noting record profits and provision of staples to all islands during the Covid-19 pandemic. Several local councils expressed gratitude to Amr following his sacking.

Abdulla Saeed, managing director of the STO subsidiary Maldives State Shipping, is expected to be appointed as the new STO boss. Mohamed Nizam, executive director and CFO, temporarily assumed the CEO’s responsibilities.

A day before Amr’s dismissal, the state broadcaster Public Service Media cancelled an interview planned for 9 p.m on Saturday night. But PSM’s managing director claimed that Amr’s appearance had only been rescheduled, denying allegations from Nasheed’s faction about following instructions from the president’s office.

Sunday, March 26

Of 392 complaints filed against judges in 2022, the Judicial Service Commission decided to investigate 15 cases, according to the watchdog’s annual report. The low number of cases that merited inquiries was testament to positive changes to ethical standards, JSC chair Hisaan Hussain suggested.

The 10-member commission is tasked with investigating complaints and taking disciplinary action.

Speaker Mohamed Nasheed withdrew a lawsuit filed against the removal of decades-old trees for the Ameenee Magu redevelopment.

In October, the civil court refused to grant a stay order to halt the uprooting of the trees. Citing irreparable damage to the environment, Nasheed’s lawyers argued there were alternative ways to build the road. But the court ruled there was no legal right to protect with an injunction. 

In the face of public criticism over the loss of greenery from the Malé thoroughfare, including large trees with full canopies, the president’s office spokesman told the press that it was necessary to remove the trees to upgrade underground water and sewage pipes as well as cable networks, which were entangled with roots.

The Road Development Corporation said that the uprooted trees will be replanted on the Kudagiri picnic island. New trees will be planted where possible and ‘tree pits’ will be placed throughout the new asphalt road upon completion, RDC assured. 

More than 4,000 people applied for 1,000 plots of land to be awarded in Addu City. Most applications were submitted for 500 plots of 1,500 square feet each in Hithadhoo, the largest island in the southernmost atoll, Mayor Ali Nizar told Mihaaru. The plots will be handed out in June after an independent evaluation process, he added.