The unforgivable metal birdie

bird statue in Addu
the unwanted birdie ..

the statues of birds and beasts which has been erected in Addu for the SAARC summit are a first for the country and are already causing much controversy. Prior to this, Maldives has been free of statues like this in accordance with the conservative religious norms of the country.

It maybe a creative idea gone wrong on the part of SAARC organizers to come up with the idea of statues which is scorned by everyone across the board. But like everything else it has a money trail in the millions which probably is the reason why they are hastily fixed there without any public consultation or regard to peoples sensibilities . Street news have it that the bird statue in Feydhoo alone cost more than a million ruffiyaas to create it although news sources set the figure at 600000 rufiyaas. Whatever the amount is, the cost of producing the scorned objects in the first place, maintaining 24 hour military security around the statues is clearly ludicrous as our country is still barely making ends meet and there are recommendations, advice and even threats by leading world bodies like IMF and worldbank to trim the already wasteful state expenditure or else!

The statues are even politically not tenable because it has infuriated a sizable percentage population which surely will cost the ruling MDP much votes and possibly the executive office if a strong contender emerges for the president.

Statues, fine arts, exotic drinks are fine for developed countries which has money to spare after doing everything they can think of doing but here in Maldives where we are on par with Ethiopia in corruption scale and where we fare even less than sub saharan african countries in terms of higher education enrollment, this is an unforgivable mistake.

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How to realize SAARC objectives

mahindha raja paksa and anni
Mahindha Rajapaksa and Anni

Following through the news about the ongoing 17th SAARC summit in Addu, it appears that there indeed are some beneficial ideas floating around in the summit. Here are some snippets of ideas under discussion at the summit:

  • Pakistani delegation proposed to work towards single currency in the region like Euro and to remove visa restrictions throughout the SAARC region.
  • Sheikh Haseena of Bangladesh spoke about this issue in terms of removing restrictions to migrant workers through SAARC region.
  • Dr. Manmohan Singh emphasized the need to open up economies for foreign investment.
  • The Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa proposes to iron out their position with India and Maldives on fish poachery by south Indian fishermen.
  • Not to be outdone, Maldives proposed common railway link agreement between SAARC member nations which hopefully will make travel between some SAARC countries easier and cheaper.

Looking at these positions, its evident that each politician is just voicing concerns that is primarily advantageous to their economies. This is politically playing it safe and treading the well-worn path. This could be the reason why the region is slow to adapt to any meaningful beneficial proposals from successive SAARC summits over the years. What is needed for the region is bold daring moves to bring meaningful changes to the region. Currently the position of member countries is such that its a pain even to obtain a student visa to most SAARC countries despite all the talk of SAARC brotherhood.

To realize SAARC objectives, the leaders need to rise above the day to day quibbling with political drama and be visionary in thinking. Of course it is easier said than done and in giant countries like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh one would be naive to think that a magic spell exists to rise above that level that keeps our politicians at permanently at their lows.

SAARC summit in Addu

17th SAARC convention center at Addu
17th SAARC convention center at Addu

After months of preparation, Addu will today host the 17th SAARC summit with several world leaders from South East Asian countries. Talks on agenda include the usual India-Pakistan befriending talks, transportation agreements and the idea to use single currency throughout the region like EU. SAARC is generally perceived to be a talk shop for leaders from the region and there is talk (just as before!) of giving more teeth to SAARC secretariat to make SAARC more pragmatic.

An example of the disconnect between SAARC summit organizers and the people is the ongoing demonstrations in Addu in protest at the monuments erected for the summit which depicts engraves images and statutes which are offensive to local belief and customs.

Just as SAARC has an agenda of things to talk about, SAARC also does have a smaller list of things not to talk about. These include to be hush about human rights violations in the nearby Burma (the ruling military junta even changed the name of the country to Myanmar), not to mind the media restrictions freshly ordered in Sri Lanka and not to be too concerned about US violating Pakistan’s sovereignty by conducting military operations without Pakistani consent.

Alidhoo staff on strike, again!

Alidhoo Cinnamon Island JResorts Maldives
Alidhoo (Cinnamon Island)

We are getting reports that a strike is happening at Alidhoo Cinnamon Island over last month’s pay. Apparently the resort has still not paid August month’s pay to the staff and is not even able to tell the staff when the resort can pay them. The same situation was repeated in June when staff had to go on strike to get their pay! That time the resort fired 12 staff for their legitimate demand on pay.
SAARC secretary General Dhiyana and JResorts owner Abdulla Jabir
Chairman of Yacht Tours Jabir with his wifeDhiyana former AG

Under the labour laws of the country, every employer is required to pay the previous month’s salary no later than the 10th of the next month. Cinnamon Island resort which is owned and managed by JResorts Maldives (formerly Yacht Tours Maldives) has a history of abusing workers rights and flout labour laws without fear of reprisal. The managing director of the company happens to be a senior member of the ruling MDP and a former parliamentarian whose wife is the current SAARC secretary general. It is scandalous that such high profile persons can afford to openly flout laws of the country with impunity.

We call on the Tourism Ministry and the Human Resources ministry to look in to the recurring problem of delays on staff’s monthly pay at resorts managed by JResorts and to bring those responsible to justice.

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.