Feature & Comment
Five easy fact-checks of the Maldives president
Maldives National University did not fact-check the president during a recent ‘debate.’ So we did.
On Sunday night President Abdulla Yameen took part in a question and answer session organised by Maldives National University. It was meant to be a debate ahead of an election scheduled for September 23, but the opposition said there was no guarantee it would be fair and declined to take part.
MNU was criticised for saying the debate would continue as a solo session and because the host did not challenge or follow up Yameen’s assertions including his (false) claim that “violent crime such as brutal stabbings” had fallen by 35 percent.
This is a Maldives Independent fact-check of what Yameen said.
– Gangs –
“I don’t think this [allegations about political influence on gangs] is research-based, scientific work. We actually don’t know the definition of gangs. However, there are neighbourhood groups, clubs and other groups involved in social and other activities. First of all, it is very difficult for me to address a part of Maldivian youth, Maldivian people, as gangs. The definition of gang has a negative connotation. So, normally, I don’t think these neighbourhood gangs and clubs will commit crimes. In the absence of any scientific research on this, I have never seen any research like this, I don’t believe that such big work [crime] can be done with these people.”
The definition of a gang is “an organised group of criminals.”
A rapid situation assessment of gangs in Malé was conducted in 2012 by the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation. The study, which is available online, explains the relationship that gangs have with politicians.
“Many gangs receive income through exchanges with political actors or business people and only a minority of gangs refuse to accept money in this way. The exchange is usually in the form of money, or sometimes alcohol, given to gangs to participate in political protests, start political riots, destroy property or injure a third party. Money is often given to a gang to initiate a fight so as to divert media attention from a political issue,” the study says.
Former home ministers and police chiefs have also talked about the impact gang violence has on crime rates. In 2014 a police chief inspector said a spate of violent assaults in Malé were gang reprisals. The same year a Maldives Broadcasting Commission survey of journalists found that gangs were one of the top sources of threats against journalists.
In 2016 a former home minister was placed under police protection after threats from a gang.
The Maldives even has a law titled “Prevention of Gang Crimes Act.” It covers witness intimidation, gang recruitment, turf wars, use of weapons and violent assault, as crimes committed by gangs in the country.
– System failure and Ahmed Adeeb –
“It is a problem with the system, I just explained it. That minister – don’t even ask about (him) being appointed to vice president – that minister would not have stayed on as a minister even if [corruption] was exposed through the system.”
Former vice president Ahmed Adeeb and the state-owned Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation were implicated in embezzlement from state funds in October 2014 — a year before he was arrested.
A 2014 audit report of the Tourism Ministry found the MMPRC obtained a USD$1million loan from another state-owned tourism company, in the guise of making an urgent payment to a foreign party, and loaned the money to a firm owned by Adeeb’s father.
Adeeb owned a 35 percent share in Montillion International Private Ltd, but transferred his stake to his father in March 2012 when he assumed the post of tourism minister. The company only made MVR70,100 in 2011 through trade. But, in the period between 2012 and 2014, USD$6.8 million and MVR3.6 million from tourism-related business rolled through the company’s accounts, the audit said.
The ruling party issued a statement condemning the report on the day it was published. The Progressive Party of the Maldives said the audit was politically motivated, baseless and intended to defame Adeeb – who was also the party’s deputy leader.
Auditor general Niyaz Ibrahim was removed from his office shortly after the report came out.
– Mangrove wasteland –
“It is very simple. Where is the scientific work [to prove detrimental nature of dredging lagoons and wetlands]?. Where is any scientific work done on this? What is the damage that has been done? First of all, the dredging of half of the mangrove of Kulhudhuffushi. We dredged less than half of the mangrove. What was in that area? Clean water or living fishes? It was a wasteland. Where are the environmental experts. Why didn’t they scientifically talk about this?”
A detailed environmental impact study for the dredging and reclamation of the Kulhudhuffushi mangrove area was published by the Environmental Protection Agency in October 2017. The study, conducted by contractors and available online, concluded the environmental impact of the destruction of the mangrove ecosystem would be irreversible.
“A total of over 1,200 trees (including bushes) may have to be removed for this project. This loss will be irreversible as the area has to be left cleared for the rest of the airport’s operational period.”
The report found that the clearing of vegetation in coastal areas would expose the island to severe erosion, periodic flooding and that damage from a tsunami would increase five-fold due to the removal of vegetation.
Birds, fishes and other wildlife would be severely affected due to the loss of habitat and vegetation.
“Furthermore, elevated level of greenhouse gas emissions will take place, since trees are a known carbon sink. In addition, changes to the vegetation within the island [are] imminent,” the report concludes.
The mangrove loss was given extensive coverage by local media.
– Guilty until proven innocent –
“In cases like this, after the prosecutor general looks in to the charges, if someone engaged in bribery it will be proven. If someone abused their authority it will be proven. The onus is on the person being charged to prove themselves innocent, from the investigation stage, from the charges, and even prove their innocence in court. So why don’t they go with the best lawyers in the world. Why do all of them [use their right to] remain silent? If they are innocent why remain silent? Respond [to the charges]. Declare their innocence to the investigation.”
The Maldives constitution includes the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty as a fundamental right of the accused, putting the responsibility of proving someone guilty on the shoulders of prosecutors and investigators.
The right to remain silent is also a fundamental right enshrined in the constitution, which is emphasised in the Criminal Procedure Code along with the right against self-incrimination.
Former prosecutor general Ahmed Muizzu told the Maldives Independent that using the right to remain silent is not an admission of guilt.
“Of course, it [remaining silent] is not [an admission of guilt]. The right to remain silent is a fundamental right. The burden falls on the state or the prosecutor general to prove the accused is guilty. The onus is not on the accused to prove his innocence,” Muizzu said.
– False domestic product –
“When I took over the government [the GDP] was at 4,000 or 5,000. Today the gross domestic product is 10,000 America [US] dollars. My hope is, with the will of Allah, if I am given the opportunity to complete these projects, this amount will move up to 20,000 America dollars.”
According to data published by the World Bank, the Maldives GDP per capita was between USD$4,000 and USD$5,000 in the mid 1990s. In 2014, the first year of Yameen’s presidency, the country’s GDP was at USD$8,124.
The GDP per capita for 2017 was recorded at USD$8,980 – short of the USD$10,000 claimed by the president.