Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives, snubbed invitations to attend Tuesday’s official ceremonies held to mark Independence Day.
Gayoom, who is locked in a bitter power struggle for control of the PPM with his half-brother President Abdulla Yameen, was notably absent from the midnight flag-hoisting ceremony as well as last night’s official reception hosted by the first couple.
At last year’s Independence Day ceremony, Yameen had presented a ‘Golden Jubilee Shield of Honour’ to the elder Gayoom in recognition of his efforts to maintain independence.
Unlike previous years, a foreign head of state was also absent from this year’s ceremony. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Srisena was last year’s chief guest.
The government previously said Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would be the chief guest this year. But the president’s office spokesman confirmed in a tweet Monday that no head of state will be attending the ceremony.
But representatives from numerous countries will attend, Ibrahim Muaz Ali had said.
Muaz has meanwhile denied a report in newspaper Mihaaru today about diplomats from the UK and the EU snubbing invitations to attend the official reception.
According to the local daily, Western governments did not send representatives in protest against the government’s crackdown on civil and political rights.
Ambassadors and high commissioners accredited to the Maldives attended the official Independence Day ceremonies in previous years. But according to Mihaaru, the United States also sent a political affairs counsellor based at the embassy in Sri Lanka.
But Muaz dismissed the report.
Queen Elizabeth was among the first to send felicitations to the government, he said, adding that representatives from all EU nations have never attended the annual ceremony.
The president’s office also stirred controversy by awarding the catering contract to Newport despite allegations of corruption in the MVR3.7 million (US$240,00) deal with the restaurant last year.
Mohamed Hussain Shareef, former presidential affairs minister, was accused of graft in awarding the lucrative contract to a restaurant owned by a PPM council member.
But the Prosecutor General’s office declined to prosecute Shareef after the Anti-Corruption Commission forwarded charges of abuse of power to unlawfully benefit a third party.
Newport did not have the experience to cater for such an event, and the minister never checked if they had the capacity, the ACC said. Other employees of the president’s office complained to the ACC of the poor quality of the food and said it did not live up to the price.
A total of MVR7.9 million was spent on the banquet, of which MVR3.9 million was disbursed by December, the ACC said.
A diplomat told The Maldives Independent that the food was “inauthentic and tasteless.”
But a senior manager at Newport said that they had operated at a loss. “The dinner cost half a million more than the price we asked for,” he said.
Muaz told the press on Monday that the president’s office learned its lesson from last year and assigned a special team to oversee the banquet.
Some 4,000 guests were invited for last night’s ceremony, including more than 60 representatives from foreign nations, according to Muaz.
Mihaaru reported that Newport is charging MVR80 (US$5) per head for this year’s banquet. The restaurant charged MVR3,000 (US$195) per head last year.
The reception was held this year outside the Islamic centre in Malé.
— Ahmed Nihan (@ahmed_nihan) July 27, 2016
The PPM split was meanwhile triggered by Gayoom’s refusal to grant Yameen the party’s 2018 ticket without a primary. The internal strife worsened last week after members of the PPM council loyal to the incumbent president walked out of an emergency meeting.
Several PPM MPs meanwhile sued Gayoom after he suspended the party’s committees and launched a reform agenda, suggesting PPM MPs, who hold a majority in the parliament, were pushing through legal changes “that paves the way for corruption.”
After failure to reach a mediated settlement at a dispute resolution meeting last week, a second meeting has reportedly been scheduled for Monday, August 1.