Is King Salman really buying an atoll in Maldives?

The short answer is sort of yes. The atoll in question is Faafu which is a sparsely populated atoll with lots of beautiful islands.  Total population of Faafu atoll is around 5000 will in all likelihood will be resettled in  Hulhumale under the proposed deal. The deal is rumored to be worth 10 billion and the atoll will be reclaimed and enlarged to build a mega tourist city. The rationale for the business idea around the project involves Saudi’s desire to diversify economic interests to counter whatever may appear after demand for  fossil fuel becomes low. 

In all likelihood the deal is likely to proceed with current government having super majority in parliament, significant control in judiciary, curbs on media and doing their 100% to stay credible after huge corruption scandal which landed the vice president Adheeb in jail.In president Yameen’s estimate this deal if sealed will produce same amount of revenue for the country as that of the whole tourism sector.

And then there is also significant opposition to the deal from opposition political parties who are also suffering the blame for voting for a bill in parliament which paved the way for private ownership of land in Maldives. 

For the average citizens this just political posturing as there is little difference between 99 year long term lease of islands and outright buying of the islands. Given the average life span of a Maldivian being 77 years, its very unlikely a Maldivian who lives today will see the day when existing long term leased islands lease expires. 

The only real danger Maldivians will face with selling islands may not be that one day all the islands will be bought by billionaires but that these deals will be tainted with corruption and invaluable pieces of beauty will be sold for knockdown prices. Maldives is already reeling from the biggest corruption scandal in history with the same administration in power. Several islands,  lagoons and sandbanks were traded unashamedly by corrupt politicians and things got so bad that tourism ministry even announced any party who have purchased any island or lagoon to get in contact with the ministry with proof of purchase to register the transaction! The corruption saga was never fully inspected and case looks all but closed after jailing 4 individuals including former vice president.

The business case for developing a huge resort island might be sound but the Saudi’s will be well advised not to alienate the opposition who might be not very cooperative if the current regime fails to win the election in 2018. The opposition lacks funding, clear sense of direction and leadership. The current regime almost lacks legitimacy and trust. Trust will never be won with money or power.

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It’s a political State of emergency… Not a real one!

Today is just another day Maldives is making headlines again for all the wrong reasons. The timing couldn’t be more perfect as tourist high season is just beginning and the country depends heavily on tourism revenues.

bomb disposal unit  checking on a reported IED
bomb disposal unit checking on a reported IED

The government all of a sudden declared state of emergency across the whole country citing security concerns. Specifically the authorities believe a container of explosives and fire arms has been imported to the country from China (by VP and his partners) and some elements are planning to use them against the president. The president already survived an IED attach on his boat after he returned from Hajj and the VP has since been arrested and kept in detention pending charges of “high treason” according to the home minister. The VP is accused of all sorts of crimes including running gangs, influencing police and military, bribing institutions etc. and its very likely that there are some elements of truth in these charges and that he will be given long prison sentences. The parliament is already trying to impeach him without the support of the biggest opposition party MDP, which means a crucial 5 votes needed to pass the impeachment motion will have to be either bought or ransomed for the release of former president Nasheed (who is also in jail) or whichever is less costlier for the current government.

mdp demo
Opposition MDP rally against the governement

However the view from across the public is of deep mistrust as this state of emergency looks very much an effort to stop huge demonstrations against the government for detention of several politicians including the former president Nasheed and Sheikh Imran the leader of Adhaalath party. What is most apparent in these unfortunate events is that the decree to impose state of emergency also includes clause halving the number of days the VP can prepare to answer to the parliament in the no confidence motion. The stated reason for the state of emergency namely about loose weapons posing danger to the public shall have nothing to do with the number of days VP can get to prepare for his defense. It’s also true that the current government has very little public support and is in deep trouble with public opinion locally and globally. Imprisoning politicians, stifling dissent and ruling under state of emergency should not be the way forward for Maldives. Maldives is such a sunny country we can do better than this.

For the record we can say that Maldives is as sunny as always and there are no threats to life or property and guests are unlikely to be ever harmed in their holidays. What is happening inside is crude political drama and is more hype than substance.

Male’ braced for big Mayday rally.

Mayday rally used to be a simple affair in Male’ mostly organized by TEAM. Often times the rally is attended by less than 100 and looks more like a cause for resort workers as others don’t seem interested.  But this time it’s looking like it’s going to be different. Mayday for once is going to be attended in good numbers and for a good reason.  Apart from the ruling party PPM, every other party has joined the effort to free former president Nasheed and some other high ranking officials of the previous administration who have recently been jailed on trumped up charges. Amnesty international and EU has backed the calls for releasing the former president and former defense minister Nazim as the legal proceedings that landed them in jail were neither free from political interference nor just. It remains to be seen how the popular anger against the political trials and injustices are going to be heard by the ruling minority led government which has shown amazing naivety in thinking they can mask the discontent by threats and intimidation and remain non committal to popular sentiments.

Politics being politics every party will take as much advantage as they can out of situations and frequently lie their way through situations making small things appear big, tiny problems appear as huge but there are very good reasons for voicing discontent against the government this time.

Adheeb

image012
image012

The current controversial tourism minister is by all accounts very much involved with the gangs in Male and he has made no effort to distance himself from them. It is also said that when he was made tourism minister his net worth was around minus 5000 dollars and in just 3 years he was able to present brand new car to first lady on her birthday. Former auditor general Niyaz was removed from his job for trying to probe allegation of corruption against Mr. Adheeb.

car donated by Adheeb to firstlady
car donated by Adheeb to firstlady

The courts:

Maldives maybe the only country where a sitting judge in court may have less qualification than the lawyers. It’s sad but true that some sitting judges in our judicial system have not even completed their primary education and preside over cases argued for and against by lawyers who are much learned them. Positions in courts were historically all favors by government to their loyal supporters and they basically just used technicalities in the new constitution to cement their questionably gotten positions. They have also made their positions permanent for life and wrote their own pay scale and benefits.  Against this backdrop its easy to see how any political position the government wants is easily implemented by the courts and this is exactly how the hastily conjured up sham trials of former president and defense minister were concluded.

The police

The opportunity to shine and rise to the occasion for police came when they mysteriously found an elaborate scheme collectively by all opposition politicians to murder president Yameen and tourism minister Adheeb. According to this theory, Villa group chairman (presidential contender) financed the scheme. Former defense minister Nazim wrote the sequence of events. He also kept a pistol with exactly 3 bullets (allegedly: 1 for president Yameen, 1 for Minister Adheeb, 1 for police commissioner). A trained soldier Mr. Nazim also kept an ied, the thumb drive with the murderous plans and the pistol and bullets under his pillow and he and his wife slept blissfully aware of the monstrous things under their pillow while they slept. AND WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BELIEVE THIS OF COURSE…

One maybe forgiven for believing that politics is for grown up people but when situations like these are actual news from Maldives, it’s hard to believe that sane people can go through this much longer. So in effect this mayday rally is warranted and for the right reasons.  The drama has to stop and sun has to shine. Maldives deserves better than this.

President Anni resigns, what next?

Dr. Waheed, the new president of Maldives
Dr. Waheed, the new president of Maldives

Lets first congratulate Dr. Waheed, the new president of Maldives. Dr. Waheed is a quiet, soft spoken, extremely polite figure who has worked in UN diplomatic missions for quite some time. Dr. Waheed is generally looked upon to be impartial and fair and he retained the trust of both MDP and opposition parties even in the height of political tensions these last few days. We wish the new president well and hope he will be able to bring the country to working order in a near future.

Former President Anni and former president Maumoon still have sizable support of the people and what is not known yet is weather there will be a race between the two in the near future. For Maumoon its very much anticipated that he will not enter again to politics but for Anni there is every reason to anticipate a fighting political campaign ahead for him. Its interesting to note that the major 3 political parties in the country had experienced splits in the last 3 years and only MDP is left because it was the ruling party for the last few years. With Anni out of power it is likely that, the bindings that kept the party from splitting will cease and break out. If MDP were to split it would be a split in two, with the ‘countryside’ faction headed by DR. Didi who would be the majority and a Male’ faction lead by aristocrats from Male’. This has been quite anticipated for some time the media and there are already signs that the MDP’s self examining process will make it real. During the last three years, Anni seemed to have ears only for the Male’ faction on important policy matters which was probably the undoing of the party. Unpopular issues like licensing liquor sale in inhabited islands were advanced by the MDP’s Male’ faction with probable self interest in the issues. On a personal level, if the cases of bottles of liquor recovered from president’s residence were proved to have been for his Excellency’s consumption, there will be a very slim chance for him to get elected again.

links:

shakenshpere

maldivestoday

www.maeed.com

nafix

mymaldives

working against our own interests

23rd december mega protest

It cannot be the greatest sign of wisdom, but we as a country seem forever locked in a battle with ourselves to undermine and work against our own interests, and its paying dividends!

Here is how.
Historically we had the same kind of opportunity as Singapore to benefit from association with the British when they operated a military base in Gan during the second world war period. However our elitist politicians at the time were too busy undermining own interests to get any real benefit from the friendship of a great nation. Even at that time, the executive office in Male’ was obsessed with creating the personal cult of the great dear leader type of drama which benefited none except the dear leader of the time himself. That was during our second president’s time and he is erroneously reported to have brought independence to our country! The fact was that our independence was not lost during that time and only that we had an agreement with the British that we would consult with them on international diplomatic relations which is only fair when Britain had committed to protect the country from any occupying power. Had we done any better instead of putting up a drama with the UK (for domestic audience) we would have been able to get more development to the country.

Our first 3 president’s terms were definitely wasted creating personality cults and into the 1st period of the 4th (current) president, we are witnessing another drama, this time with the limits of freedom, unbridled democracy and experimenting with media power. In the last eventful 4 years we have successfully started the divisive dialogue of religion (to our detriment), started to build the welfare state paid for by an introduction of taxes (to our credit), and generally started a major overhaul of the whole system the country is working on. We have even given a free-reign to media which is understandable as media played a very important role in demolishing the personality cult hyperbole created by former leaders.

This is all good but racing at top speed to reach the all important party manifesto goals in 2013 could be counter productive in the long term. We should slow down and take a more cautious approach because what took us forever to build cannot be rebuild from scratch again in 5 years time.

China could have done the same to Hong Kong when the mainland got Hong Kong from British but chose not to meddle with a good working economy the British left and they are reaping benefits from their decision, keeping everything stable and cautiously asserting their authority.

The effects of our race against time to do everything the democratic and modern-day values way is evident from the bad press and negative perception we are getting everyday thanks to our runaway media and populist politics. Even today in the high tourism season we have travel advisory caution against us by UK which no doubt will be followed by other countries.

Finally.. to cut the long story short:

  • we shall stop the circus about free media and take a more realistic view of news and readership. Media can make or break us so we shall check it if it undermines out top product which is tourism
  •   We shall be able to stop the gang warfare,  daylight robbery, mugging in the 2sq kilo meter island Male’ and stop playing democracy and indecisiveness to criminality.
  • We shall check the divisive debate on religion because we can ill afford to have the Pandora’s box and keep up with the consequences.

Lets meet the people’s representatives

people's majlis
Apparently there is an issue about our parliament members requesting privacy of their phone numbers, which is despite the fact that most members pledged to be in contact and forever approachable by the people in their election campaigning. Most parliament members promptly went back on their pledge the moment their election victory was announced. However an effort led by a facebook group Majliswatch calling for reform of majlis member’s pay structure have put up a posters in Male’ with our majlis members photos and their contact details asking the people to send views direct to the members on this and other similar reform issues.


We believe this is a very good initiative and everyone shall engage in calling for reform of relevant issues through majlis. Majlis members as they are people’s representatives shall respect the peoples right to be heard and shall maintain open lines of communications with the people. As long as they are in the service of the people, the people will have every right to demand and to know how much their representatives are being paid, offered, by whom and what-for etc.. This is basically accountability to the people.

Listed below here are some details of our parliamentarians and their contact numbers. We urge all fellow resort workers to respect their position and address issues in respectable terms when texting your views.

salaams

moosa manik 7771907 mdp hulhu henveiru dhaaira
eva abdulla 7782847 mdp galolhu uthuru dhaaira
muhammadh rasheed 7764243 mdp machangolhi dhekunu dhaaira
ibrahim rasheed 7785618 mdp maafannu dhekunu dhaaira
muhammad shifaaz 9699626 mdp baarashu dhaaira
ahmed sameer 7772046 mdp dhidhoo dhaaira
ali arif 7917489 drp vaikaradhoo dhaaira
ali riza 7783081 7781429 mdp milandhoo dhaaira
ali saleem 9911132 drp funadhoo dhaaira
muhammadhu thaariq 7788510 mdp manadhoo dhaaira
dr. afraasheem ali 7775327 drp ungoofaaru dhaaira
ali azim 7771918 drp mehu henveiru dhaaira
ahmed mahloof 7774567 drp galolhu dhekunu dhaaira
imthiyaz fahmee 7777852 mdp maafannu uthuru dhaaira
ahmed nihaan hussein manik 7774330 drp vilimaafannu dhaaira
Dr. abdulla mausoom 7791001 drp vilimaafannu dhaaira
muhammadhu mujuthaz 7777948 drp hanimaadhoo dhaaira
muhummad nasheed 7902266 kulhudhuffushi dhaaira
hussein waheed 7771166 mdp komandoo dhaaira
ali muhammad 7772076 drp velidhoo dhaaira
muhammad naashiz 7772370 drp alifushi dhaaira
visaama ali 7774256 drp maduvvari dhaaira
haamidh abdul ghafoor 7778245 mdp henveiru dhekunu
mariyaa didi 7771769 mdp machangolhi uthuru dhaaira
abdulla abdul raheem 7993113 mdp maafannu hulhangu
ahmed rasheed 7774650 mdp hoarafushi dhaaira
ahmed abdulla 7775645 mdp ihavandhoo dhaaira
muhammad nasheed 9992013 mdp nolhivaram dhaaira
abdul ghafoor moosa 7772656 mdp kulhudhuffushi uthuru dhaaira
muhammad hussein 7775555 drp kanditheem dhaaira
ahmed easa 7773764 mdp kendhikulhudhoo dhaaira
hamdhoon abdulla hameed 7772333 drp inguraidhoo dhaaira
muhammad zubair 7900166 duvaafaru dhaaira
thasmeen ali 7772547 drp kendhoo dhaaira
ahmed moosa 7772339 kurendhoo dhaaira
ismail abdul hameed 7777137 kaashidhoo dhaaira
hussein muhammad 7784383 drp mathiveri dhaaira
gasim ibrahim 7771111 jp maamigili dhaaira
ahmed nazim 7786789 pa dhiggaru dhaaira
ahmed aamir 7782131 kudahuvadhoo dhaaira
riyaz rasheed 7771331 (GP) vilufushi dhaaira
abdul aziz jamal abubakr 7785619 pa maavashu dhaaira
muhummad ramiz 7771724 drp vilingili dhaaira
muhummad nazim 7774548 mdp madaveli dhaaira
zahir adam 7783433 mdp gadhoo dhaaira
abdulla maseeh muhammad 7772233 drp foamulaku dhekunu dhaaira
hassan latheef 7902231 drp hithadhoo dhekunu dhaaira
alhaan fahmee 7900324 mdp feydhoo dhaaira
ahmed saleem 7773508 lp aedhafushi dhaaira
ahmed muhammad 7774618 drp naifaru dhaaira
rozaina adam 7778061 drp thulusdhoo dhaaira
ali waheed 7925554 mdp thoddoo dhaaira
yusuf naeem 7772506 drp felidhoo dhaaira
abdul muhsin hameed 7775763 drp nilandhoo dhaaira
ahmed siyam muhammad 7771020 meedhu dhaaira
muhammad musthafa 7778844 mdp thimarafushi dhaaira
abdul raheem abdulla 7795834 pa fonadhoo dhaaira
muhammad riyaz 9991298 mdp dhaandhoo dhaaira
ibrahim muthalib 7775087 jp fares maathodaa
muhammad rafeeg hassan 7778455 drp foamulaku uthuru dhaaira
muhammad aslam 7772966 mdp hithadhoo uthuru dhaaira
ilyas labeeb 7774670 mdp hulhumeedhoo dhaaira
nazim rashaad 7781182 mdp thulhaadhoo dhaaira
ibrahim muhammad solih 9998171 mdp hinnavaru dhaaira
ibrahim riza 7772823 guraidhoo dhaaira
rugiyya muhummad 7907984 mdp mahibadhoo dhaaira
abdulla yameen abdul gayoom 7785665 pa mulaku dhaaira
ahmed hamza 7771328 mdp bileydhoo dhaaira
moosa zameer 7771727 pa kinbidhoo dhaaira
ahmed rasheed ibrahim 7874050 9996027 pa isdhoo dhaaira
yusuf abdul ghafoor 7786517 7936517 pa gamu dhaaira
ilham ahmed 7777197 drp gemanafushi dhaaira
muhammad gasam 7777322 mdp thinadhoo dhaaira
shifaq mufeed 7772271 mdp foamulaku medhu dhaaira
muhammad rasheed 7781360 mdp hithadhoo medhu dhaaira
hassan aadil 7785050 mdp maradhoo dhaaira

Absurd descisions..

the island of Foamulah
Officially this is Not one, but three islands!

Geographically Maldives consists only of atolls and islands. While the majority of the islands fit in the coral reef ring that makes the atoll, some islands stand by themselves in the Indian ocean. Foa Mulah, Kaashidhoo, Thoddoo, Alifushi are lone islands like this. On the other hand we have perfect geographical atolls like the normally acknowledged atolls and Rasdhoo, Makunudhoo, Gaafaru, Fulhadhoo and Goidhoo.

However for administrative reasons successive governments have named, renamed and titled islands and atolls at will for quite some time. These naming and renaming does not follow geography and only follows what is practicable and sometimes what is convenient in politics. For example the big atoll Huvadhoo was made two atolls for administrative purposes back in the 80s because the communication equipment at the time did not have full coverage of the atoll from end to end. Ari atoll was cut in half in the 90s for purely political reasons. Similarly absurd titles were given after 2000 to Male atoll Villingili and the newly developed island at Hulhule as wards of Male’ despite the islands being separated by sea from Male’. However these naming and renaming serve the political purpose as no strong objections has been raised against such measures.

The latest absurd naming of the island happened quite recently at FoaMulah which is now officially 3 islands two of which are supposed to be uninhibited although in reality the island is still one indivisible island which couldn’t even add more territory to it by dredging because the island lacks the protective lagoons and beaches most islands have. FoaMulah has been an island by itself for centuries despite being quite close to Addu atoll. Although there were attempts to associate FoaMulah as an island belonging to Addu, it does not appear to have found any wider acceptance. The recently found two islands (imaginary ones!) is an honest attempt by current government to host two city hotels which could do for a resort possibly to provide more jobs and income to economy. Whatever the reasons, its unlikely to go unchallenged by political rivals as the plan is an obvious half thought idea! With many resort islands opening in Huvahdoo atoll and two in Addu, any hotelier who would open camp in these two islands would find it a stretch to compete for customers to their city hotel (in an imaginary island!). The idea that FoaMulah could be helped to develop by two city hotels and a domestic airport does not seem viable as Addu has had facilities for years and yet is lacking in so many ways.

Giving titles to islands and atolls maybe a tame political pastime but the implications of such changes cost the economy as each titled island is in effect a small administration with its requirements such as offices and officers who will manage the newly created narrative. If however the prevailing idea is to help an island by raising its title, what could be feasible for that island needs to be introduced. Everything does not have to be of or related to tourism. Diversifying industries which can help the economy would be better in the long run than to keep all the eggs in the same basket.

cash-strapped employers!

Eriyadhu
Its weird but true. Some resorts juts really can’t afford to pay the staff at the end of the month! Recently a fellow resort worker informed us about his experience in such a resort where he applied for a job. The HR person was all truthful and told the situation without sugar-coating the facts. The resort still has two months back-pay owed to staff and is not sure when they can pay the staff either!

But the question is how a functioning resort which has all paying clients can go so low as to hold on to staff’s wages and yet put a straight face on.. Could the situation be so bad that they would in a few months not even be able to pay for the groceries bill? How long can this farce go on?

The answers to these problems will be given when there is enough political will to confront big bussineses to respect the rule of law. As long as employers can get away with gross violations of labour laws there is little hope things will turn out better for the workers.

Alidhoo Staff fired asking for salary!

SAARC secretary General Dhiyana and JResorts owner Abdulla Jabir
Chairman of Yacht Tours Jabir with his wife Dhiyana SAARC Secretary General

Not to be unfair or one sided but if a survey is made of all the resorts in Maldives and asked which employers are the worst, Jresorts will come to the bottom of the results. There is very little doubt about that. Its a combination of bad politics and corrupt business practices which views the workers as nothing better than paid slaves. This is in very contrast to the excellent service resort workers give to their high paying clients who blissfully are unaware that the workers who pamper them in their expensive holidays sometimes go without pay for months while they still retain the smile.

Our solidarity with the wronged staff of Alidhoo Cinnamon Island who were summarily dismissed for asking for their last month’s salary. This sends a chilling message to honest workers who toil hard in resorts far away from family and friends that employers can still cheat and threat and getaway with everything and nobody seems to take notice!

Here are some background info about Alidhoo the resort, the parent company and the owner of the bussiness.

The owner:
Jresorts is owned and managed by Mr. Abdulla Jabir who is frequently referred to as a self made businessman from Huvadhooo Atoll. However like all creations of the state Mr. Jabir was also a creation of the former administration. Specifically Mr. jabir rose to prominence in tourism industry by association with Yameen the powerful minister who held many ministerial portfolios and half-brother of the Maumoon the last president. It could be safely assumed that almost all of Jabir’s resorts were built, renovated or maintained by finances and materials from deals with the State Trading Organization whose board chairman was also Yameen at the time. So unlike most resort owners who struggled with finance arrangements, Jabir had an important friend at the right place and time. Mr. Jabir’s wife the Diyana the current SAARC secretary general is not associated with his bussiness but its frequently noted in forums and local news that the position for Dhiyana was offered as part of a political deal to keep Mr. Jaabir away from ruling party politics. He is the only prominent politician/businessman in the country to have been in all major political parties, DRP, MDP, Jumuhooee Party, And People’s Alliance (Yaameen’s party) in so a short period of time. Basically he is an opportunist businessman involved in politics for the business interests like everywhere else around the world.

The resorts:
Jresorts currently owns Alidhoo, , KudaRah, Vatavarreha, Funamaudda among many other islands. The parent company of the islands is Yacht Tours Maldives. Past management deals and ownerships include Dhonveli Beach and Spa which has been sold to John Keels Holding Co of Sri lanka and Herethere which was leased from MTDC. The Herethere deal has since been abandoned after a sizable loss to everyone including the MTDC. Jresorts has also been awarded an island in lieu of a failed bid he presented to Vilivaru and Biyadhoo which was a precedent which has since not been replicated.

Tourism Ministry reprieving dodgers

Alidhoo Cinnamon Island JResorts Maldives
Alidhoo (Cinnamon Island)

The decision to reprieve resorts who are dodging payment of  rent and accrued fines is a dangerous precedent created by the tourism ministry. This is actually a very serious  issue as all of the owners of these defaulting resorts are senior members of the ruling MDP party. Tourism industry is the one sector of our economy that works well relatively compared to other sectors so its an alarming situation. The ministry and administration has to make a point of being seen as not playing favourites to the party members.

Tourism ministry may have considered the effect of revoking operation license of these resorts and the ensuing economic factors which might negatively effect the upcoming national elections in their decision. However these figures owed by the resorts in question are not of the magnitude that would have been impossible for resorts to come up with if the resorts are in business. Our resorts are well known for their over pricedness where even a bottle of water is sold for guests to the equivalent of a bottled water case! Also a quarter of million dollars is average monthly value of payroll in a mid sized resort. So its bewildering how the ministry has to bend its uprightness just to appease party benefactors.

Below is a list of resorts and the amounts owed by these resorts as rent and fines.

Alidhoo (Cinnamon Island) (JResorts) $792,042.12
Kuda Rah (JResorts) $759,363.38
Funamaudda (JResorts) $1,241,226.20
Filitheyo Island $2,563,509.01
Medhufushi $3,431,328.44
Kudafunaafaru (Zitahli Resorts) $669,604.72
Hadha (Park Hyatt) $200,833.33
Giraavaru $2,519,276.98
Kihaadhuffaru (Zitahli) $1,471,221.90
Laamu Olhuveli (Six Senses) $4,751,511.11
Nasandhura Palace $265,054.93
Total $18,664,972.12

source:Haveeru

The numbers behind the illegal immigration problem


The problem of illegal workers has soared to new heights as the country is listed on US State Department’s human trafficking watch list for a second year. To tackle the problem the military has been manning the immigration counters and human resources ministry to investigate the root causes of the problem. Prior to this takeover the two offices (immigration and human resources ministry) were not able to solve the problem of which office keeps which monies associated with the immigration and visa fees process. The problem was resolved that neither office gets to keep any monies related to expatriates visas, deposit fees, work permit, return ticket etc. Instead Maldives Inland Revenue Authority takes over the money matters from the two offices.
 
Briefly the various numbers associated with the illegal immigrants are as follows
 

  • 130milion Rf as lost visa fees per year for the country.
  • Greater than 40000 estimated illegal immigrants in the country. The two separate databases kept by the Immigration Department and Human Resources Ministry has a variance of greater than 20000 which is making it difficult to estimate the size of the problem.
  • All legal expatriate worker pays 250rf per month as work visa fees.
  • 1 office serves visas. 1 entry point for immigration.
  • Expatriates are estimated to remit 10m$ per month. The dollar shortage problem is frequently associated with this problem. However the single most drainer of dollars is high government spending.
  • Its also estimated that workers remit 100-800$ per month per worker which is contrary to popular belief that illegal workers work almost for pennies!
  • Recruitments agencies are charged 1500rf per worker as deposit.
  • To counter the unwieldy problem, the government resorted to a new boarder control system which also fell foul to corruption: The monies involved in the new boarder control system are $220m for 20 years for a company called Nexbis: A comparable system that is employed in in Sri Lanka costs 2.2$m to install and to develop!

 

links
http://www.haveeru.com.mv/?page=details&id=113427
http://www.haveeru.com.mv/?page=details&id=113237&category=cTrOpir

 

Finding a job for everyone..


The recent round of middle east turmoil and popular action to remove corrupt regimes from power started with an economic problem. Joblessness. The same kinds of problems are being experienced in more developed countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece. Here in Maldives, we had a culture of government appointing political and civil service jobs as favors for katheeb’s and atholhuverins and their friends and families for a long long time. At that time those who didn’t have the right connections had to make their own way to resorts or somehow manage to scrape a living. Time however has changed with the new popular administration and the changes that are currently being brought simply needs an urgency in creation of jobs for the local people. The current thinking for solving the housing problem is through real-estate business like as done anywhere else, which is almost a new concept for the country. There still is more needed to be done to facilitate this type of business such as changing existing laws on land ownership and laws on mortgage etc. All these measures will soon be taken up and fast-tracked as our version of ‘welfare-state’ is being built, after which the problem of jobs will come again around with a vengeance. This time it will be in the form of home-owners who needs jobs to pay for mortgage!

Fortunately we currently seem to have the capacity to provide jobs for prospective homeowners and taxpayers in the private sector as well, but its by no means in an orderly fashion. Our current job market is in serious chaos and it needs drastic restructuring to be efficient and useful for the local economy.

Broadly here are the industries and the situations thereof which needs to be taken in to consideration.

Tourism industry:
Tourism industry provides most jobs for local economy and this industry can still provide more opportunities by quota adjustment by profession. Currently the situation is that almost any number of foreign workers for any position can be employed for any length of time. Apart from a requirement that 50%ratio of expats to locals workers need to be maintained (even which is not a hard or fast rule!) there is no more encouragement for employing local workers.

Construction industry:
construction industry has vast potential for local economy but is actually the worst in terms of work opportunity for local workers. Its not a problem of lack of talent but rather lack of willingness to tackle corruption in the industry. Construction industry as its currently running is only useful for a handful of big contractors and a few smaller ones who are have the right connections to the big ones. Its almost a no-go area for local artisans and craftsmen because of lack of job security, poor work conditions, and extremely meagre wages designed to discourage local workers. Being businesses everyone tries to get the most profit which equates to finding the cheapest labor which is where the local worker looses out.

Fishing industry:
This is one industry which can be better managed by innovative means. Only depending on one type of product, one type of boats, and one methodology to fish have exhausted the industry and drastic measures needs to be made to revive the industry.

Agriculture industry:
Although we would love to call it an industry, we do not yet have much of agriculture in any comparable industrial scale. Because our islands are small and soil is not very fertile, traditional methods of agriculture as practised in other countries will not work. Things like hydroponics and aquaculture are perfectly suitable for some varieties and needs to be propped up. A most pressing problem for this industry is financing and small business assistance, which also needs to come up somehow somewhere and the sooner the better!

Manufacturing:
Apart from The Static-Company (they export R/O plants) we do not yet seem to have any exportable manufacturing products but there are many encouraging signs. We have successful businesses in bottling plants for water and soft-drinks and a few canning factories for fish cans. What we can successfully introduce to local economy with little effort and financing include, cookies, biscuits, soap, detergent, lotion , perfume etc. These small scale productions can be introduced to aspiring enterprising souls through chambers-of commerce activities and small businesses initiatives.

Financing:
There is great urgency in propping up institutions and mechanisms to help create and sustain other industries by providing capital and finance services. With the upcoming income tax regulations and associated restructuring, its hoped that the government will not be forced to take loans from local banks which is the cause of all financing woes the the country faces.

Minimum wage debate restarted..

Minimum wage is an emotive issue which has broad consensus of acceptance. Its evident from the ongoing dialogue on the issue in various media outlets. There was an attempt to set up a minimum wage for the country to prevent labour exploitation in the past which was duly shot down by the pro-business lobby in the People’s Majls. The current attempt to set the minimum wage comes at a time the balance of power is shifting in favour of the ruling MDP party which hopes to re-energize the local economy by creating more jobs for the locals, releasing and unsustainable peg on dollar to rufiyaa and introducing long overdue tax reforms. Although there are voices of dissent only from the bussiness lobby which includes resorts owners such as Villa group chairman Gasim Ibrahim, Sun Travel Shiyam the minimum wage issues is expected to proceed through People’s Majlis.

Contrary to popular belief, minimum wage when it becomes reality will not be as high as is expected of it. The figure could be based on criteria such as type of work or age of worker etc or one all encompassing one figure such as 2000.00rf etc. It remains to be seen how the the figure is arrived but one criteria the govt. will have on mind is to device it in such away that the current labour exploitation will be halted by this one stroke of legislation. The Minimum wage figure need only to be above the edge the employers are employing expatriates over locals such as 70$ or 100$ per month levels. With these levels of pay, the workers (often expatriates) are enduring back-breaking work in exploitative conditions and suffering for years on end without any regard to rights and benefits of work. If the minimum wage figure is higher than these levels, there is a good chance that construction industry will be more favourable for local employment.

The business lobby will work hard to undermine this measure and yet they do not have convincing arguments against the measure. Vague observations like “we will go bankrupt.. if this happens” only exposes the depth of their understanding of basic issues in running a business. If they do not offer credible objections or alternatives , then they are just a voice and no more. Running a business is no more like a running a slave-trade operation. That was some time back and does not reflect current working condition in resorts or construction industry or anywhere else.

The long overdue recognition of Worker’s Day

The government has added May 1 to the list of official public holidays after a cabinet meeting yesterday. Its an improvement from over the years where a day for workers rights was unheard of. Workers rights in the Maldives has largely been championed by the tourism sector workers who have put a lot of effort to raise the issues of workers and has suffered the most. The last workers rally conducted by the TEAM was attended by a few dedicated resort workers and was a novelty kind of approach to voice workers issues. The few attendees held placards displaying various issues faced by the workers. The issues included calls to implement the provisions of labour law as well as demands to review the labour laws! The situation is worse this year as recent patches to labour law crafted by MATI (resort owner’s cartel) has been added in to labour laws, which almost effectually bans workers protests in resorts.

The employers appears still firmly locked in medieval mindset when it comes to playing fair with the workers. What has to dawn on employers is the fact that a happy, loyal, motivated workforce will be more productive and more beneficial for the business they are employed in. It doesn’t make anybody a genius to know that and to apply these. It would also be universally acknowledged that employers in this day and time couldn’t be that daft not to know such a basic truth. However it should be beneficial to be reminded that we are dealing with the same employers who raised fears that resorts would have to hire double the amount of staff they were currently employing just to comply with the 8 hour work rule when the labour law was enacted. Its a sign of how low the employer class been and how much catching up there is.

Dollar exchange rate revised

The long expected devaluation of local currency Rufiya has happened with an official range of 10.28rf to 15.42rf per 1$ announced yesterday. The immediate implications of this exchange hike would be a jump in consumer goods prices so one Rufiya would have less buying power than it had one day ago. This measure was enacted by president Anni with consultations of financial experts to curb a thriving black market for dollars at higher than official figures for exchange rate. The official storyline is that although there will be a lift in consumer goods prices in the short term, the crisis will pass and that dollar to Rufiya rate will fluctuate on a daily basis and everyone will live happily ever after. However with the current political realities its difficult to believe this measure will go unchallenged by the opposition.

The implications of this dollar exchange rate will be negatively felt by resort workers in resorts where the staff are paid their salaries in Rufiyas. Although there is no real reason for resorts to pay salaries in Rufiyas, several resort do exactly that. This is despite the fact that all the revenues generated in the resorts are foreign currency.

The construction industry will also be affected by this exchange rate measures, which hopefully will consider offering more work opportunities for local workers. The current model for construction industry is to employ illegal immigrant workers at near extortion rates for back breaking work and to employ only illegal immigrant workers (because they will be unlikely to pursue their rights in official channels) to do the job all the while saying local talent is unavailable. Nothing can be further from truth. Locals are as or more willing to work for a reasonable pay which the ‘construction industry’ does not seem inclined to give.

Ultimately, the solution to dollar shortage in the country is to adopt more financial reform measures which will be fought with on every step of the way by our opposition political parties which has only mission in office; to oppose the government weather its right or wrong!

Congrats to all fellow resort workers who became councillors


Our heartfelt congratulations to many fellow resort workers from various resorts, who joined the local council elections and won the seats. Politics and resort life are indeed not the same thing but for everything there has to be a start! We hope you will do a tremendous job and you will be remembered as the pioneers of councilmen in the country.

Our country needs new ideas and new institutions and perhaps a clean break from the old ways. Local council as we have in the country is not the most effective solution to our problems with a parallel line-up of ‘katheebs’ the opposition will want to keep in office, but advocating against a benefit to an island community is political suicide. So it will be a top-heavy federal type of government with local administration coming from party offices in Male’, that controls the councils which is definitely a negative development.

However we hope against hope that local councils do actually work and becomes useful to the people and the country.

Runaway processes

We have quite a number of alarming runaway process in the country . Mostly this is about politicians finding themselves in a situation like where the little boy was locked in the sweetshop. The only difference here is that our politicians are not little boys, nor are they locked in a sweet shop. We are talking about public accountability, honesty, integrity, qualities which they talk about so much but the reality does not match.

  1. The most alarming of such a processes is the People’s Majlis setting the salaries of everyone. It’s quite accepted that most of our People’s Majlis are not capable of rational discourse on technical matters such as fiddling with pay structures, but they are doing it anyhow either for greed or to make life tough for the ruling party.
  2. There is a trend in the government to sell off (not exactly but long term lease) islands across the country for developing tourism etc. as a means of fund-raising for their pet projects. Some of these projects are for like raising money for building flats for fellow countrymen or as an escape route to appease the islanders from the previous government’s promises. Such situations include airports at Thaa and Foa Mulaku atoll which perhaps were not the brightest ideas of the former administration, but anyhow they were promised to the people and the new politician’s are doing all they can to appear that they actually worked to fulfil the dreams of the people. Dream or no dream, the intention has to be honest; that if something or some project is unworthy or unrealistic it shall be explained to the people.
  3. Another and equally damaging process is the Majlis members passing and enacting laws which will not benefit the majority of the people of this country. One prime example of this fact was in the passing of the copy rights bill which stipulates unrealistically high punishments for software piracy etc. The point here is not the legitimacy but the realization of the situation of the country. This is a country like many in the world, where almost every computer runs Microsoft and the OS is likely to be a pirated copy of Windows. The funniest part is that bill was pushed through Majlis because of perceived threats to ‘Mollywood’ the equivalent of Holywood in US or Bollywood in India, which creates a bunch of ‘films’ every year which somehow all seems to have been created, directed, watched and played by the same people…

There are indeed are many such runaway processes in the country that needs to be checked. If we really cared about our country, we have to be more honest and upfront about our good intentions.

The wov moment


All industries and endeavours starts modestly, runs a gradually till it meets a defining moment in its history (the ‘wov’ moment) and from there on, the industry gets transformed. It’s like growing up after long and seemingly inexhaustibly years of youth. In a small and developing (really?) country like Maldives, its still possible to see these defining moments in history at various walks of life.

One example of such a defining moment in the modern history of Maldives is the dhoni album of Zero Degree. Prior to which almost all songs and music were copycats from India or elsewhere. The lyrics were mostly about love, nationalism and good values. Dhoni album was a big change from its contemporaries at the time. The music was original, the lyrics was about historically themed dhivehi country gnere or something similar. From that moment onward our little music industry just transformed. Its now like artisitic suicide to sing or even hum a hindhi tune or to put dhivehi lyrics to a hindhi song.

Another example of a defining moment can be the struggle for multi party democracy in the country. Although a lot has happened, and every party or politician will want to claim a share of the history, the fact is that a lot of people did a lot to dismantle the one party state we had and looking back over the years, its difficult to pin-point the the equivalent day in our politics when the Berlin Wall came down. It could have been the secret signing up of members to MDP, or it could have been the first date when Sandhaanu, Hukuru or even Sangu was printed. It could even have been the day when Dr. Hassan Saeed chanced upon the then constitution of Maldives and discovered  that multi-parties were actually allowed under the constitution. Whatever the occasion or the many occasions, Maldives was a very different country from what it was then and its unlikely that there will be any going back to the past.

The same has not yet happened to other more areas of the country which hopefully will not be the case for a long time. For example, our media although it has come a long way from singing praise of the dear leader all the time is still in the clutches of both sides of political process. The opposition is doing all it can to legitimize its hold on the media through the parliament and the ruling party is doing all it can to hold it in their camp. Media ideally shall be too powerful for parties and governments to meddle with, it shall also be independent, able to doom and condemn politician’s career  where it crosses lines with media. Control of the media shall not be vested in any political party and it shall be just and balanced and be useful to the people. Those who work in the media shall also receive more training and be able to question hard-talk like to people who claim to bring Utopia to the country.

The moon has not been visited by humans for a long time now since the early heyday of space explorations. They found out its a dusty inhospitable place so they stopped sending astronauts there. Nor has much happened in the tourism industry of Maldives  since the first batch of Italian tourists came back in the seventies looking for fun. Apart from a few international brand names setting up camp in a few resorts, nothing has happened. There is no minimum wage for the worker, there is complete opacity as to his or her benefits or job security in the job as was the case in the past. The only glimmer of hope for the worker which materialized in the form of a worker’s rights bill at the parliament was diluted so much to the whims and wishes of the resort owners in the Majlis that it would be better to draft the same thing anew (which the HR ministry seems to be doing).

Our little law and order problem


Velezini, the reformist voice in Judicial Services Commission was stabbed in broad day light, in one of the busiest streets in the country and yet the attackers fled the scene never to be found again. Just last night there came another report of a stabbing, this time a police officer was stabbed by some gang near IGMH. Of course the attackers are unlikely to be found or even if found unlikely to receive any punishment for their violence. Male’ being so tiny as it is one wonders how can these daring crimes happen in broad day light and where the responsibility lies for preventing these crimes or making Male’ a safe place for common people live.

Of course it is easy to point at somebody and blame him/or her or for this shameful failing. But are we not all to blame for this? Do we all not have a stake in making Male’ and our other islands a safe place for fellow human beings?

  • Commenting on this story and similar stories in the past many commented rightfully that this is not the first such incident. Indeed people had been killed in broad daylight in the streets of Male’ by gangs. What the authorities had done to make Male’ or our other islands safe clearly doesn’t seem to work.
  • Whilst other advanced countries were debating putting on cameras on the streets, or subjecting the population to use id cards or the use of electric stun guns, our law enforcement agencies have been using these instruments freely and yet we do not seem to be able to control this criminality in our less than 3 sq km island city. This is not to say that there were modest improvements over a period of time, but the general public’s patience for tolerating these crimes have dropped to zero. What remains is only despair and helplessness.
  • The popular ignorant view that these ‘small crimes’ were done by boys… is another factor. These are not small crimes, these are big crimes committed by criminals. Its not boys or girls playing here. If they are playing then they are playing with peoples lives, people who have families, who are loved and cared by their families and those who loved them. The proof of this wrong assumption is well summed up in Velezini’s facebook update which she updates from her bed reading “The boys who committed the attack are simply tools of those who fear the truth and its’ consequences to them…” Nor is Velezini the only one who uses this false assumption. Our president Anni regularly uses this term ‘boys’ to refer to these criminals objects. This is one basic thing which has to change if we really want to confront this criminality.

Parliament debating prohibiting protests at resorts

Dr. Hassan Saeed Leader of DQP

People’s Majlis is today debating prohibition and severely limiting freedom to protest by workers in resorts. The bill was submitted to the parliament by a member from Dr. Hassan Saeed’s party. If the bill goes ahead and gets passed by the Peoples Majlis, the country would take a serious blow to freedom of expression and the right to protest against injustices. The debates are still going and both sides of the political spectrum seem to be aware of the negative implications of this bill.

For a healthy democracy to survive more needs to be done to open up rather than closing in which seems to be the only outcome of limiting and restricting freedom of expression and speech. The trigger for workers in a typical resort to come to a protest will normally be fired after many many attempts at a solution which eludes them. Unlike other countries where unionism is already established and workers organize and plan their protests, the protests that happen in resorts in Maldives are more like an ‘uprising’ than a protest. It so happens because the workers rights are not protected and are already at the bottom of the rights ladder and yet the People’s Majlis is already finding ways to stop and repress the workers rights even further.
The only party that will benefit from this law when and if it becomes one, will be the employers as they would even be able to ‘preside’ over any protest by the workers suffering injustices under the employers.

Not that there are many ears to listen to resort workers demands, but at least for the record, we the resort workers call upon Dr. Hassan Saeed to withdraw this bill (if it isn’t already too late!) and to reconsider oppressing the workers! Its tourism, resorts and resort workers who contribute overwhelmingly to the country’s budget from where the non-productives like politicians and civil-servants get their monthly pay, perks and benefits.

Please follow the story here at Haveeru:
and also an earlier article we wrote a while back here…