Beach Cleaning

Resort islands basically are of two types when it comes to the beach. There are the natural beauties and those who can use a little bit of “makeup” to call itself a resort. Resorts like Baros, Angaga, Dhonimigili, Holiday island, Ihuru are true natural beauties where the real meaning of the description “powdery white sand” stands. Resorts like Ellaidhoo, Gangehi, kuda rah, lily beach, Moofushi on the other hand are protected by a concrete ring of sea wall which looks terrible from above the island but ok on close up. Our “resorts page” has an aerial picture of most resorts and is a good guide to beach conditions of a resort from above the island.

One thing the “natural islands” will not have to worry about is sweeping the beach for “akiri” or corals once in a while, which is a pain for those who undertake to this task on less fortunate islands. Most resorts do employ the general laborer force for such works but with the belt tightening process of recent times, its not uncommon for the whole resort team to be called up to clean the beach.

Beach cleaning is physically demanding work and with the blazing sun overhead, perspiration levels rising all the time, the personal preparations for appearing agreeable is ruined after a one hour’s stint. For staff who are in contact with guests, a one hour stint of beach cleaning is followed by another one hour of rest to freshen up and return to the camp.. on the double..

For islands requiring “Make-up”, it is required to dredge sand once every few weeks to compensate for the loss of fine sand by the waves. This is carried out by electric powered submersible pumps which may or may not be supported by a floating platform equipped with a sound-proofed generator. In some islands this process is carried out in precarious situations with empty barrels bound to make a makeshift platform to support the weight of the apparatus to lower the pump and the operators aloft. Pumping alone is an option for lagoons which does not have much gravel or corals contained but where the conditions are different, filtering the discharged sand with sieves are the better choice. Most resorts cannot handle big machinery for these processes although there are some resorts which have had their complete beach sieved by mechanical sieve machines when the resort was being build.

The environmental effects of sand dredging are indeed harmful to the corals if the water and sand pumped out into the beach are not contained properly. Left unconstrained, fine sediments which are scooped from seabed by the pump float to large areas of lagoon killing growing corals.

Villa group to resume paying service charge

Our sources in Villa Hotels tells us that the Villa Group of hotels, Sun Island, Paradise island, Holiday Island and Royal Island are to resume paying service charges to staff effective from this month. Initially service charge is expected to be fixed at 1000rf per staff (service charge “fixing” is illegal under the law!) per month and the resort is said to be in talks with tour operators to levy the service charge from accommodation which would significantly increase the service charge value. Villa Group resorts have sold blocks of rooms on allocations to various many tour operators under contract and renegotiating the contract according to the resort is not an option. So the group is reported to be trying to insert this issue whenever new contracts are signed with room allocation arrangements.

However as the group tries to induct new competent talent in to the resort, they are finding it increasingly difficult because of the service charge issue. Currently Villa group resorts are said to be in the budget holiday category hence life is hectic on these resorts with guests coming in sizable hordes and leaving in a similar fashion each day. The advantage for resort staff in these islands seems to be proximity to Male’ and ease of transportation which is one key demand of local staff who have families in Male’ and in neighboring islands. Staff retention rates are high in Villa Group resorts exactly for causes like this despite the hiatus in service charge, closer to a year now.

Who are these clowns at MJA?

Hirigaa Ahmed Zahir with the president

MJA stands for Maldives Journalists Association which is run by a “Hirigaa Ahmed Zahir” a “journalist” in Haveeru. The Association is just an “association” and the number of real journalists associated to MJA according to them is 70. Quite a number in a paper-scarce country like ours.

Nevertheless MJA currently being in Sri Lanka briefing foreign diplomats and media on “the challenges facing the Maldives media” feels actually very un-journalistic. Not that our journalism is all smooth and calm but we are witnessing quite an improvement on media freedom compared to what was before. The problem with MJA seems to be that the association has aligned itself with the opposition and is failing to acknowledge this as politics. Politics and journalism are very different walks of life and its very unlikely that Sri Lankan media will be bought with anti-govt rhetoric of MJA or any other. Sri Lanka is the most advanced country in this south Asia region in terms of media and MJA will be making clowns of themselves by trying to tell how victimized they are to Sri Lankan Media. Sri Lanka is not exactly unaware of what this country went through in terms of media freedom or what was lacking of it.

What’s next to go out from your laptop?

It must be the CD-ROM. Already there are many laptops without the CD-ROM which are much cheaper  and the numbers are growing of their sales. Having a CD-ROM in laptop is becoming what it was  like to have a floppy drive in the laptop about 5 years ago. Its simply becoming irrelevant. This is a growing trend in places where internet speeds are faster as people can store vast amounts of data in their own private web-clouds. Maybe the only reason why CD-ROM is still “in” most laptops is because of Microsoft which likes to sell their Windows software CD packaged in a big box because of the ridiculously high price. Since the majority of humanity still uses Microsoft’s Windows to run their computers, Microsoft certainly has a say in the evolution of computers. However with the globe becoming ever more wired with data rates growing faster, the days of installing, booting or running computer from CD-ROM is getting closer to end. The other major factor keeping the CD-ROM still alive is the film industry which is also now moving to on-line, on-demand streaming type of media which will ease the dependence on requirement for CD-ROM. Practically speaking, a computer  be it a table-top, laptop, or a desktop is better off without a CD-ROM as it consists of moving parts which are prone to mechanical wear and tear which is one reason of the growing popularity solid-state devices. Also what a CD-ROM is capable of storing on CD is diminishing compared to what solid state memory devices can with cheaper price tags. Just as the record industry (voice) migrated to mp3 format from cassettes, so are the days of movies on cds numbered.

Gangsters rulez!

Less than 24 hours after the infamous gang leader (Chica) was released there were 2 incidents of violent crime directed against news paper workers just for covering the story. Now one wonders what is happening to this country? Are we in Mexico fighting the drug war? Despite our military spending which tops even the oil rich Kuwait and Nato member Turkey as a %age of GDP, why are our armed forces not capable of controlling this thuggery in the less than 2 square kilo meter island?

To answer these questions lets analyze the context.
The problem in Mexico is about money. Mexico is bordering USA which has a big affluent market for drugs which means money in billions. But here in Maldives that context is not there. Our ‘little drug barons’ are not dealing in billions. Compared to Mexican drug dealers the likes of Chika are pimps. But the problem is why they are so powerful. Why were some of them alleged to have been protected in the past? In the case of Chicka it was alleged he was the henchman of the then “brigadier general” (a comical title..) Adam Zahir. After the transfer of power from Maumoon to Anni that protection may not be there but still they are able to intimidate witnesses, take advantage of amendments to law which were made possible only after the transition to democracy, claim the right to remain silent and have the courts re-examine the whole investigation process to manipulate the charges etc..

In our Majlis debates frequent references are made to USA as a standard bearer of many things like process, protocols etc. But those who remark on those issues fails to acknowledge that USA has a very effective history of asserting their national interests over any other principle be it the judicial process, international relations or whatever. If the USA finds a person a threat to their ‘national interest’ anywhere in the world, they will not hesitate to snatch or kidnap, detain or even assassinate that person. That is all justified under their national interest. Coming back to Maldives such realization of threat to national interest does not seem to be evident. We have had our courts throw out cases against money launderers simply because a clause in the constitution did not explicitly spell out the word ‘counterfeit money”. We have also witnessed recently how a well known ‘drug dealer’ was let free after the court failed to find fault for lack of adequate evidences despite there being lots of questions on the case. The court in effect dismissed a high profile drug dealer on a technicality. If we are to do things the American way these drug dealers might not ever be sent to court if they knew courts will release them. They might even create a special court to convict such people. However the most effective way to deal with the drug dealers is the Chinese way.

The potential for violence lies in gangsterism as well as religious extremism. In the current situation in our country, we seems to have overlooked the first one which is proliferation of gangs and gang warfare. Many deaths were claimed (closer to 50) to the gang violence in the last 3 years and each time the public simply has to absorb the shock and grief of the event. Those in authority who are charged with keeping law and order simply are not doing their job and giving themselves medals and honors and fancy titles. The situation is so bad that many areas in Male’ are simply no-go areas during the night and when the gangsters are visible on the street corner. Many homes are simply virtual prisons for their inhabitants and the occupants of the house only venturing out after calling a taxi or maybe a group of friends.

The religious extremism issue is simply a trumped up issue by the authorities to divert the attention of their own culpability. The only real violence which can ever be attributed to religious intolerance in Maldives was the home made explosive device some dejected youths detonated in our “Sultan Park” injuring a few tourists. The incident happened because of the then government’s intransigence on a local issue which is the Himandhoo mosque issue. The locals only wanted not to worship in a government designated mosque, which the locals knew was constructed on a graveyard but the government sent the “military forces” for successive 3 years (Each time in the holy fasting month) to force the worshipers out from a modest small mosque they have constructed. In the last ensuing battle with the locals and the forces our country was injured big time when foreign media took up the issue and tarnished our country’s beautiful image as a peaceful country.

We got our priorities wrong on this.

Most advanced countries in the world spend tremendous amounts of money investing in the education sector which is a sure quick way to progress and prosperity. The most roguish country on earth Israel is known to spend many times more on education than their rival neighbours which maybe one reason why they have not the capacity to offer a credible to challenge to its roguishness. Here in our little country we also seems to have mixed the priorities in this issue. According to an enlightening article in muraasil, we are spending roughly 1200rf per student per year on education while we also spend 18000 per convicted criminal in detention annually. No wonder why there is no hesitation amongst hardened criminals to return to detention. This is clearly an issue we have to face with and bring about change. Crime and criminality is awarded and rewarded in our society while our schools and educational institutes are neglected. The classical modern idea of crime as a disease shall be challenged and we shall give it due regard. We shall not reward the criminals first, we shall reward the schools and the students first, and we shall tolerate criminals to the limits of our tolerance. However what we are seeing is that through successive years of neglect, the criminals have demanded and got more rights and facilities and amenities than they deserve. To lessen violent crime we shall make detention less of an appealing place than normal peaceful life.

Honourable mimimum wage killer

Proposing a minimum wage is a good first move our first labour law gave which under the proposed revised new laws might be scrapped as well. The wording of the original 3 clauses in the employment bill were not very helpful or forceful but its a welcome first. However those very same ineffectual clauses were too much of a concession for the workers that the independent MP Honourable Mr. Muttalib saw fit to propose to veto out of existence. Under the proposed amendments to the labour bill, there is no talk about this matter which might mean the minimum wage idea is a goner now. Pity the workers!

Shangri-la ignoring Addu

Villingili Shangrilla

There is news coming from Addu that Shangri-la is ignoring Addu when it comes to recruitment and that they are considering petitioning the management of Shangri-la to reconsider the position. Historically the people of Addu worked hard to let the island of Villingili be build as a resort calling upon, cajoling, taunting and even threatening the government since perhaps the first days of tourism in Maldives. Addu is the second most populous atoll in Maldives and the biggest pool of resort related talent can be found in Addu. With the exception of perhaps a handful of resorts, all resorts in Maldives will have a majority of staff from Addu and the prospect of returning to Addu and getting a job closer to home (in Shangri-la or Herethere) is a dream of almost all of them.

Most big hotel and resort chains have good corporate social responsibility policies designed to help alleviate friction arising from issues just like this and Shangri-la is no exception. However the situation in Shangri-la in Addu is quite opposite from what is preached about Shangri-la CSR policies. It maybe an HR oversight to let unskilled workers be hired from contractors who sent expatriate workers to the resort on a case by case basis whilst the same category of workers can be recruited from Addu which would go a long way to help the cash, employment (or for that matter everything) strapped community of Addu.

Service charge issue

The service charge issue has been taken up by a thread in a tripadvisor forum and here is the link:
Although the intro of the thread has been deleted by tripadvisor police, the issue is quite obvious and those of us who are in the know, know this is a real McCoy of a true issue. The thread includes a list of ‘bad employers’ who ‘steal’ (for lack of a better word) from staff service charge in an attempt (a commendable one) to name and shame them. The list of resorts is:

Meedhuparu/ meed
Club Rannalhi
New Vadoo
Aaa resorts
Sun Travel
John Keels
The Chaaya group
Villa hotels
Sun island island
Paradise island
Holiday island
Fun island

Of the islands listed above the resorts run by Villa group (Sun island, Paradise island, Holiday island,Fun island, Royal Island) have not been giving any service charge to the staff for the past many months possibly for a year now. To evade the new labour rules which obliges employers to pay 99% of any service charge collected, they are reported to have added the 10% to pricing and maintains they are not charging service charge from guests now.

Adaaran and John Keels resorts have had workers strike over this issue and where there is a good case for a resort boycott, these resorts perhaps deserve such a boycott.

Filitheyo, Medufishi, Eriyadhoo, Vilamendhoo and the brand Zitahli are all in the lower end of caring for staff and its a good thing that big websites like tripadvisor are taking these issues on workers behalf. A few lines of comment asking the management to reconsider their policies towards staff by guests would go a long way to address these issues.

One surprise name in the list is Anantara which is somewhat comparable to Four Seasons Kuda Huraa and Landaagiraavaru where service charge is compared in the higher end. By far the best resort when it comes to service charge is W Maldives at Fesdu.

One important omission from the list is Kurumba Village and Universal Group resorts which will fit somewhere in between the lower and middle portion of a worker care scale.

Poaching in resort lagoon

pirates of the maldives...?

Poaching or rather fishing very close to the house reef of a resort property is a contentious issue which is dealt with differently in different resorts. There appears to be no law or regulation on this issue except the resort can chase away the poachers with their high speed boats powered with outboard engines, given that the resort is aware that its a problem in the first place. With the ever great need for guests for absolute privacy, rooms built on the ocean side of the island maybe the ideal private rooms which is all but open to the ocean giving panoramic views. There are many resorts built with this format and the room types and constituency of beach houses and ocean houses are determined by the geology of the island. Such ocean houses offer good privacy on the land side but is bare on the other side which is especially bad if the ocean side is on an established route of sea traffic.

Tourism and Fisheries are in totally opposite sides of the interests table such as the gun and peace lobby of USA. Tourism here in our country relies on presenting the beauty of nature, natural fauna and flora to guests while fisheries is about taking out these very same resources from nature and present it to hungry mouths elsewhere to be eaten! Its also quite difficult to debate on the merits and demerits of the situation as both sectors can wreck the high ground other will claim on variety of issues and all sorts of emotive genies will escape the bottle as the debate continues.

The best way to deal about this problem with lack of judicial protection would be for resorts to adopt the corporate social responsibility thing to a little more practical level. This could be done by showing the neighbouring villagers the positive side of having a rich neighbour as a resort and how important it is to keep relationship amicable. An annual photo-shoot with island kids and resort executives “island cleaning” will simply not do the magic nowadays. There are some resorts who have successfully done this “catching up with neighbours” such as Naide which recently opened up a small training facility in their resort to recruit apprentices from neighbouring islands.

Ultimately the source of these social problems of the country stems from unemployment which makes an already hopeless people do reckless things which in turn comes to affect the main bread earner (tourism) of the country.

Internet is a basic human right.

While the majority of the world’s population now believes (4 of 5 according to a bbc report) that Internet access shall be a human right and be regarded such as basic infrastructure like roads, electricity and water, here in Maldives we are still in the dark ages of information technology. Majority of our Internet services are provided by Dhiraagu which is still believed to be the world’s worst telephone company. This is despite the fact that here in Maldives we can try every new telecommunications technology thanks to lack of big legacy systems which would have to suffer come any new technologies. Other big countries already with legacy infrastructure might have to worry about costs of revamping up to the new systems but here we are ‘a free new country’ open to all options.

The long lists of things we don’t have here is indeed long and in top of the list there will be:

1st; consumer protection.
2nd; choice.
3rd; recourse to judicial proceedings
4th; fair price

And there are very good reasons why we do not seem to have them too.

1. there is no consumer protection because there are no laws for it. Its not peculiar to telecom customers and we have more pressing issues like lack of laws for money laundering, dealing with counterfeit currency etc. Even now police have in custody a currency counterfeit suspect who will be released the moment he will be presented to court! Its understood that police and PG are in talks to frame the criminal in a ‘bindable’ case so as to let the justice prevail.

2. choice: There was no choice till Wataniyya came and it came too late and too slow. Prior to Wataniyya there were the dreaded price sheets we (older batches of resort receptionists will remember this) would rather hide than show to guests for fear of open revolt simply because the rates were beyond reason! The rates were international calling rates from Dhiraagu and the rates were simply preposterous. Like 10$ per one minute etc..

3rd; recourse to judicial proceedings: This is very tricky issue as our courts are very selective in the proceedings and anything can be expected. We do not blame the courts and its all down to law makers to make suitable laws, the police to submit suitable evidence, and arrangements for witness protection programs etc in case witnesses were subjected to threats and intimidation..

4th; fair price… This is not common or understood terminology in Dhiragu it seems. Ask any Sri Lankan or Indian about the prices they pay in their respective countries for the same services they get here and be mildly surprised. eg; Even for their latest gadget, the wireless modem is hopelessly overcharged cos its still limited. 2500rf first plus 250rf each month is still way too expensive for a limited Internet package which can be used only for reading news headlines or email headers..

Majlis reboots again today

Peoples Majlis Today is the opening day of Peoples Majlis and to ‘honor’ the day all civil servants and government employees take a holiday while here in resorts, we the resort workers work hard. The first order of the business will be by the president to deliver his first ‘presidential address’ which for the last 30 years has been an extravaganza of speech by the then president Maumoon Abudul Gayoom. The talk is expected to consist mainly of gloating over the achievements of the past year and perhaps what the president wishes to do next year. Its certainly an improvement on the situation before with lots of changes to the system and the address is really worth attention.

Peoples Majlis with its prominent position now in the political landscape is in need of drastic measures to align it with peoples expectations, to allow it to be called a democratic institution. There are quite a few urgent measures which had been proposed even in the past by fair minded parliamentarians in the past. These might include addressing a few points like:

1.parliamentarians should also be required to attend to their place of work:
With the huge amounts of money spent on them from public coffers, they shall make it an obligation on themselves to deliver worth for the money they receive. This is all the more important considering our parliamentarians are not even required to attend the parliament in the first place. Perhaps they are the only group of people who earns without ever having to work.

2.Their position shall not only be to oppose the government for the fun of it.
Traditionally the role of the parliament was to say “yes” to whatever the government proposes and a few mild debates which always ends supporting the side of the government. However with the new found freedom of the Majlis, the Majlis rarely finds itself giving affirmation to government’s views even if is profoundly true and highly beneficial for the country. Their voting position now is dictated by a mixture of party politics (which needless to say also is in a precarious situation), an overzealous fondness to exercise a newly found freedom, an indescribable sense of irrationality and all shades of the above qualities…

3.while everyone took cuts on their salaries they didn’t
With the recent pay cuts by the civil service and all government employees the Majlis found itself too selfish to join the common good of the people by going without a small percentage of their income which was bloated exponentially only a few years back by the then president to make life miserable for his successor. Unashamed and yet blabbering about care and concern for the people, they still remain unrepentant about their position. This is not to say that quite a few parliamentarians actually did that by their own volition but the vast majority of the members are clearly too selfish even to consider it.

4. the best were chased away by party ticket.
Like it or like it not, our current batch of parliamentarians have more strength in their vocal cords than real substance in their gray matter. This is to state a fact considering the kind of talent, knowledge and experience which were thrown away in favor of loud mouthed people thanks to the party ticket. A most vivid example of this is the replacement by the MP Ibra with the current MP who holds his position. Ibra was an original thinker unlikely to parrot after others position and quite a loss for the country.