First couple moves to official residence as president backtracks on campaign pledge

First couple moves to official residence as president backtracks on campaign pledge
March 13 14:05 2016

President Abdulla Yameen has done a u-turn on his much-publicised campaign pledge of living in his family home with an unexpected move on Thursday to Hilaaleege, the state residence formerly used by his first Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

According to local media, Yameen’s private residence, Galolhu Dhoovehi, is due to undergo renovation. Tenants living in a rented apartment in Dhoovehi were reportedly asked to move out before March 15.

Criticising the move – which has yet to be officially confirmed by the president’s office – Dr Jameel said in a tweet that the president “has backtracked on the major pledge he made to live in his own home & end up using all available state houses in Maldives.”

Jameel has been living in exile in the United Kingdom since his impeachment by the parliament in July last year.

Yameen has also been using the official presidential residence, Muleeage, for meetings and official functions.

The first couple’s move comes in the wake of a series of security breaches, including the September 28 explosion on the presidential speedboat – which the government insists was caused by a bomb – as well as the arrest of a Sri Lankan “sniper” allegedly hired to assassinate Yameen.

Jameel’s successor, Ahmed Adeeb, is facing charges over the ‘Finifenma’ blast.

After assuming office in November 2013, Yameen had announced that he would continue to live in his private residence in a bid to reduce state expenditure on the head of state.

However, despite Yameen’s decision, the budget allocated for the official residence was increased by MVR2 million (US$130,208) in the state budget for 2014 – rising to MVR19.1 million (US$1.2 million).

In April 2014, the pro-government majority in parliament approved an amendment to the law governing remuneration and benefits for the president and vice president, making it mandatory for the state to cover expenses of the pair’s private residences.

According to the opposition-aligned Raajje TV, the monthly expenditure for Galolhu Dhoovehi has been MVR 1.9 million (US$123,200). A total of MVR23 million (US$1.5 million) was allocated for the private residence in the 2015 state budget.

Meanwhile, amid speculation of the first couple’s imminent move to Hilaaleege in December last year, two state-owned flats on the same road as the vice president’s residence was leased to Yameen’s elder son, below the market price but with the consent of the anti-corruption watchdog.

Immediately after being sworn in on November 17, Yameen had also announced he and his vice president would be fulfilling a campaign pledge of only taking half of the MVR100,000 (US$6500) salary afforded to the head of state.

“The reason behind this is that Dr Jameel and I both live a simple life. No matter what has been said about us we are not wealthy. We want to be an example to others and lead by example,” Yameen had said.