Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thirty-five years is more than enough

Idhikeeli is starting a campaign against the bill the government has submitted to the People’s Majlis to extend the period of tourist resort lease to 50 years.

We believe the bill, if passed by the Majlis, will further broaden the gap between the rich and the poor in the Maldives. The government has said that it has no intention of increasing the lease rent or bed tax along with this plan to extend the lease period. Similarly, the government has not come up with a plan of taxing the tourist resorts, whether in the form of a GST, or a corporate tax.

The only benefit that the government will receive is a short-term one by selling revenue stamps for the extension of lease period to 50 years. The projected revenue from this has been already included in the budget for 2009. However, we feel this is only a temporary measure that would raise some revenue for the government but does not justify providing the control of tourist resorts to the current owners for 50 years.

One argument that proponents of extending the lease period come up is that it will encourage investors to invest in the tourism industry. They also point out the difficulties that resort developers have faced recently in securing investment for the newly allocated resorts.

In 2007 and 2008 the previous government had selected several uninhabited islands for resort development and awarded them to the parties that won the bids. This was an unwise decision in economic terms as the government was trying to increase the supply in the industry without taking into consideration the availability of finance for development, supply of trained labour, and various other factors that would affect the industry. The previous government was doing this because, to finance a severe budget deficit, they wanted to raise revenue by charging advance rent from the parties that won the bids.

However, under the previous government the financial sector in the Maldives had been tightly restricted. Only handful commercial banks from the neighbouring Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan are operating in the Maldives in addition to Bank of Maldives. Several offers by prestigious commercial banks to set up office in Maldives failed because of bureaucratic hurdles and corruption. Thus the resort developers had only limited options to secure finance. They had to approach either the commercial banks in the Maldives or commercial banks in neighbouring countries.

When 30 or 40 resorts were awarded and competing for development finance from a limited pool of lenders, it is inevitable that some of the developers would face shortage of funding. This problem had got nothing to do with the resort lease period. Rather the root problem lay with the foolish decision by the previous government to lease so many islands within a short time span, and the restrictive financial climate in the Maldives.

Unable to pay the advance rent or secure funds for developing the resorts, many new businesspeople had no choice but to sell the resorts to existing and wealthy resort owners. Hence, rather than create a new class of businesspeople, most of the new islands also landed in the hands of existing resort owners.

The already wealthy resort owners in the Maldives have benefitted immensely from the policies of the previous government. Most of them pay only a token amount as a lease rent. Lease rent has been increased every ten years but still the resorts that were awarded years ago pay only a small amount to the government compared to the lease rent of a new island that would be put on tender now.

Under the current regulations the lease period of a resort is 25 years. The owners can request an extension of the period to 35 years if they are investing more than US$10 million. A company that sells shares to the public has the option of leasing the resort for 50 years. The current plan by the government, if passed by the Majlis, will remove all these restrictions and allow the government to lease any resort for 50 years.

The Return on Investment (ROI) period for an upper market tourist resort developed in the Maldives now is 7 years, according to financial analysts. Hence, with a 35 year lease period the investors have enough time to gain a return on their investment and earn lucrative profits.

We believe there are no concrete economic and financial justifications for extending the lease period of resorts to 50 years. We feel this will create further inequalities in the distribution of income and will act as a barrier for a new class of businesspeople to gain a foothold in the tourism industry. Hence, we are starting the campaign “35 years is more than enough” to lobby against the government’s plan to extend the lease period to 50 years. We have created a facebook group for the campaign. Please join.

To promote the activities of Idhikeeli, we have also created a page at Facebook. If you support Idhikeeli, become a fan.
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Monday, October 27, 2008

Vote for Democracy

Mohamed Nasheed (Anni), the candidate Idhikeeli endorsed for the first round of the presidential election, is contesting in the run-off with incumbent president Gayoom. It is a contest between democracy and autocracy. It is a contest between the rule of law and totalitarian rule. It is a contest between the dream of a better life and a life of suffering. Vote for Anni. Vote for Democracy.
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Saturday, October 25, 2008

In Support of Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem

It will be a sad day for democracy if the DRP and PA uses their majority in the People's Majlis (parliament) to impeach the first independent Auditor General of Maldives, Ibrahim Naeem. The Auditor General Naeem has shown his sincerity and steadfastness by releasing a series of audit reports which show gross abuse of resources and power by various government agencies and deep-rooted corruption in state-run companies and government departments.

Idhikeeli has always advocated for separation of powers in the Maldives. The reason we lobbied for a presidential system in the country -- despite the opposition groups calling and campaigning vigorously for a parliamentary system -- is our belief that in Maldives the three branches of power should be strictly separated.

The current constitution gives unprecedented independence to the Parliament. However, that parliament will be in place only after the parliamentary election to be held in February 2009. Under clauses in the constitution that accommodates a transitional phase, the current Parliament constitutes of 8 members directly appointed by the President. In addition, there are some cabinet members in the current Parliament, another feature of the so-called 'transitional phase'. Thus the current parliament is heavily influenced by the Executive.

We appeal to the members of the parliament to respect the spirit of the constitution. The MPs should understand that the constitution relies strongly on the independence of the institutions such as Auditor General's Office. The 8 members appointed by the President and the cabinet members in parliament should note that the constitution does not give any provision for them to remain in the parliament in their current capacity after the election of February 2009. If they use their position as temporary MPs to remove Auditor General Naeem for their own political gains, they will be abusing the constitution. For they are temporary, while Auditor General Naeem's position is secured by the constitution beyond the current government's term and the term of current parliament.

There is no strong case against Auditor General Naeem. It will be a shame if the political parties, NGOs, pressure groups and concerned individuals let this blatant abuse of constitution and parliament happen in broad daylight without coming to Naeem's defense. The whole country must show their support to Ibrahim Naeem, because we want to root out corruption in this country.
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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Idhikeeli endorses Anni

Idhikeeli endorses Mohamed Nasheed (Anni) of MDP in the first multi-party election of the Maldives, and looks forward to a new government headed by Anni.

We urge all Maldivians to be non-violent and peaceful on Election Day, as Maldivians vote to elect the first President under a Presidential System. The constitution ratified in August provided us with a presidential system with improved checks and balances, and a greater degree of separation of powers. However, we look forward to amendments that will introduce a 4 year term for presidency, mid-term elections and a bicameral parliament. |

We look forward to an MDP-Gaumee Ithihad government which will respect workers' rights, especially the rights of migrant workers, encourage the formation of workers unions, and put no restrictions on the rights of freedom of expression and assembly enshrined in the constitution.

Along with Nasheed, Idhikeeli also endorses his running mate Dr Waheed. The term 'running mate' is relatively new to Maldivians, having being introduced because of a presidential system, but is one of the most commonly used terms in Maldives now. We hope Dr Waheed will be an excellent Vice President.

We appeal to all voters not to sell their vote to greedy and sleazy politicians trying to establish a plutocracy in the Maldives.
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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Vigil to be held in Male' to remember torture victim Eavan Naseem

In the night of September 19, 2003, at the young age of 19, Eavan Naseem, an inmate of Maafushi Jail in the Maldives, was brutally beaten to death by prison guards of NSS. His death caused riots in prison next day and NSS shot prisoners killing and wounding inmates. On September 20, Male' went into a riot and brought the birth of a pro-democracy movement.

To remember the death of Eavan Naseem, we are organising a vigil for the night of September 19 this year. People can sit on the seawall around Male' (thoshigandu) in Boduthakurufaanu Magu from 9 pm to 12 am. There is no specific point. You can sit on the seawall at a location close to your home or any area you prefer. This is a peaceful vigil. You can bring candles if you want. You can wear t-shirts bearing messages if you want. You don't have to continue the vigil from 9 pm to 12 am. It is okay even if you join anytime in between and leave before 12 pm.

We need the help of photographers to take photos and upload to your Flickr accounts. You can also take video clips and upload to YouTube. This is an event organised because we are against torture. Standing up against torture means you are supporting humanity.

This event has been primarily promoted through Facebook. Visit this event's page at Facebook and join, and invite all your Facebook friends.

This is an "open source event". Like open source software to which you can add plugins and extensions and modify the source code to make it better. Those attending can add new flavours to the event such as banners and t-shirts. You can get an old t-shirt and write on it using a permanent marker. This is cheaper but effective. Be creative with what you write. You can also go there in your evening dresses and shirts/-t-shirts. What is important is to sit on seawall to show that you are against torture. You don't have to spend a dime for the event if you don't want to do it.

This event is a non-violent and peaceful action.

We request all bloggers to promote this event in their blogs. Give a link to the Facebook event page from your blogs. Write a blog post about the event both before and after the event.

Start sending SMS to your friends about the event. Something like "Sit on seawall (thoshigandu) around Male' in Boduthakurufaanu Magu in the night of 19 September, between 9 pm and 12 am, and join a vigil to mark the 5th anniversary of killing of Eavan Naseem. Raise your voice against torture".
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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Flawed constitution ratified

A flawed constitution has been ratified by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on Thursday. The constitution was drafted by the People's Special Majlis over a period of four years. Even though the amended constitution will give more freedom and liberties to the Maldivian people than the previous constitution, it is a flawed constitution with several inconsistencies. Though separation of powers is a hallmark of a Presidential System, there are several flaws in the constitution that prevents a functional presidential system in Maldives and will decrease the accountability of the Executive and the Parliament. The ratified constitution does not provide room for a bicameral parliament, there will be no mid-term elections and the presidential term is for five years instead of four years. We discussed these issues in a previous blog post while other writers have expressed concern about it. We hope that the youth of Maldives will in the future work to bring a better constitution to Maldives.

In a letter to editor of Minivan News, Adam expressed concern about these deep flaws in the constitution.

The adopted draft constitution lacks some of the basic features of a presidential system of government, such as bicameral (two-branch) legislature (with upper and lower houses), mid-term elections, and shorter terms for both the legislature and the executive.

A presidential system is based on direct democracy, where people normally make the executive and the legislature directly accountable in elections.

Unlike in a parliamentary system, in a presidential system one of the main functions of the legislature is making laws, and the legislature’s role of holding the executive accountable is quite weak.

But mid-term elections for the legislature make the legislature and the executive more directly accountable to the people in a presidential system. The life of the legislature is normally half that of the executive, and elections are held apart from each other, so the people can hold these powers more accountable.

The adopted draft constitution, without a bicameral legislature and mid-term elections, creates weak checks and balances, and poor accountability.

Allowing candidates to represent an area of the country where they do not necessarily live creates weak direct representation of the people, too.

The adopted constitution, without an upper chamber and offering weak direct representation and weak accountability, leaves room for a wealthy class to dominate and marginalise the rest with impunity.
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Friday, June 27, 2008

Maldives to get a flawed constitution

After spending five years in the comfortable and cool chambers of Constituent Assembly, the members of the Assembly have finally completed the amendment of constitution. Even though the amended constitution will give more freedom and liberties to the Maldivian people than the current constitution, it is a flawed constitution with several inconsistencies. It is hardly a constitution which can be hailed as a milestone or even remarkable.

Though separation of powers is a hallmark of a Presidential System, there are several flaws that will decrease the accountability of the Executive and the Parliament.

1. Bicameral Parliament

During debates at Special Majlis our MPs just dismissed the idea of a bicameral parliament without even a sound debate and decided that Maldives should have a unicameral parliament. They did not consult their constituents much before making their decision. The reason is obvious: these MPs who are hopeful of future re-election, are not ignorant of the power, influence and benefits they can reap out in a single chamber parliament.

But we call for a bicameral parliament in the Maldives because two chambers work to check and balance the work of each chamber. We find examples of bicameral parliaments in countries with presidential system as well as parliamentary system. Examples include USA, UK, India, Japan and Australia. Wikipedia outlines some of the benefits of such a parliament.

A 2005 report on democratic reform in the Arab world by the US Council on Foreign Relations co-sponsored by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright urged Arab states to adopt bicameralism, with upper chambers appointed on a 'specialised basis'. The Council claimed that this would protect against the 'tyranny of the majority', expressing concerns that without a system of checks and balances extremists would use the single chamber parliaments to restrict the rights of minority groups.

2. Mid-term elections

One of the most important features of a Presidential System is mid-term elections. Mid-term elections make the Parliament more accountable. If mid-term elections comes with a bicameral parliament it creates more accountability and checks and balances. For example, in the USA all members of House of Representatives are elected every two years in mid-term elections while some members of Senate are also elected in mid-term elections. However, our MPs have decided to have a five-year term for the parliament. Instead of this our parliament should consist of two houses with one of them facing elections every two years.

3. Four-year term for President

We believe the term of five-years for a President is too long as one person can rule for ten years if he or she can win two-terms. The two-term restriction for one person is excellent. However, we believe the term of a President must be four years and not five years. During the four-year term a mid-term election must be held to elect members of one of the chambers in a bicameral parliament.

Without these crucial elements the amended constitution will be a farce of a presidential system, a constitution that will be pushed down the throats of ordinary Maldivian citizens by the members of Special Majlis and ratified by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia's longest ruling dictator.
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Monday, March 24, 2008

NGOs Demand Halt to China’s Crackdown, Announce Temporary Pause to March

Dharamshala – The five largest Tibetan non-governmental organizations (NGOs) today denounced China’s military crackdown in Tibet and called for an immediate end to the killing and international intervention. In a majority decision, the Organizing Committee of the March to Tibet temporarily paused the March in order to focus on the emergency response to the crackdown inside Tibet. They joined the Tibetan government in exile in demanding the immediate and unconditional release of all Tibetans arrested in connection to the protests, medical aid for those injured and for unhindered media access to all Tibetan areas. The March, which had reached Roper in Punjab, 38kms from Chandigarh, will continue to Delhi where the participants will join in a public outreach campaign meant to build pressure on the Chinese leadership to end the crackdown.

“In this moment of extreme crisis, Tibetans in India and around the world must stand together in solidarity with Tibetans inside Tibet and condemn the Chinese government’s vicious attacks against our people,” said B. Tsering, President of the Tibetan Women’s Association. “As reports of arbitrary arrests, beatings, and disappearances in Tibet increase, we are calling on the Indian government and the international community to use their diplomatic influence to press for an immediate withdrawal of Chinese troops from Tibet and the release of all Tibetan protesters.”

As emotionally devastating first-hand reports of the Chinese government’s violent crackdown on Tibetans continue to trickle out despite the media blackout in Tibet, Tibetans in exile focused their attention on securing the release of hundreds of Tibetans arbitrarily detained, beaten and abducted by Chinese forces. They called on Tibetans everywhere to support these efforts by launching a nation wide campaign to garner the support of the international community, in particular Indian citizens and decision-makers, to build pressure on the Chinese government.

“We are calling on Tibetans everywhere to mobilize the global public into action so that decision-makers and governments are compelled to condemn China’s actions in Tibet,” said Chime Youngdung. “As we have seen Tibetans inside Tibet unite in their opposition to China’s ongoing repression, Tibetans in exile are coming together across India and around the world to demand the immediate release of all Tibetans currently held in Chinese detention centers and prisons.”

On March 10th, the 49th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan national uprising, monks from Drepung, Sera and Ganden monasteries on the outskirts of Lhasa began peacefully protesting. By March 18, Tibetan protests occurred in more than 20 counties, most of them in Tibetan autonomous prefectures located in Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu provinces, and involving monks, laypeople and sometimes schoolchildren and elderly Tibetans.”

For more information please visit:


Campaign Coordinators:
Tsering Chodup: +91 9418 221 605
Sherab Woeser: +91 9418 394 426 Dhasa /+91 9868 332 883 Delhi

Tsewang Rigzin: +91 9805 247 259 (President, Tibetan Youth Congress)
B. Tsering: +91 9418 792 810 (President, Tibetan Women’s Association)
Ngawang Woebar: +91 9418 102 483 (President, GuChuSum Ex-Political Prisoners’ Mvmt)
Chime Youngdrung: +91 9418 069 179 (President, National Democratic Party of Tibet)
**Tenzin Choeying, President of Students for a Free Tibet India, is currently being held in detention.

March 24, 2008

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