British MPs from the Conservative Party pleaded the case of the Maldives at the House of Commons yesterday, urging the UK government to dig deep into its pockets to help the country out if its financial quagmire.
Addressing Ivan Lewis, the British state minister at the foreign and commonwealth office, MP David Amess said the UK Department for International Development (DFID) – which aims to reduce overseas poverty through aid – had offered relatively little support to the fledgling democracy.
The MP noted that since 2005, DFID had not provided aid to the Maldives, which as a lower-middle income country was not considered a priority. Further, bilateral aid to the Maldives from other UK official sources totalled Â£103,000, he said.
â€œAlthough it is not of the worldâ€™s poorest countries, it is one of the lowest lying and as such is one of those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,â€ said Amess, adding rising sea levels threatened livelihoods, infrastructure, food security and health.
In 2007, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted rising sea levels of up to 58cm would submerge many of the countryâ€™s 1,192 islands by the end of the century.
â€œTwo-thirds of the country disappeared momentarily into the Indian Ocean and when the sea withdrew, it took 62 per cent of the countryâ€™s gross national product with it,â€ said Amess.
â€œElectricity, communications and freshwater supplies on many islands were destroyed by salt water. Such disaster scenarios have the potential to multiply exponentially as a result of climate change and rising sea levels.â€
Adaptation and mitigation
Amess said the Maldives required financial assistance to fund adaptation and mitigation strategies as well as technology development and capacity building. The cost of the countryâ€™s adaptation programme adopted in 2007 is an estimated US$100 million, he said.
Referring to President Mohamed Nasheedâ€™s announcement to make the country carbon neutral within a decade, he recommended the British government rewarded nations, which had shown clear leadership in climate change matters.
In March, Nasheed unveiled plans to make the Maldives the first carbon neutral country in the world by switching to renewable energy and offsetting carbon emissions. Amess said the decision presented British companies with a wealth of business opportunities.
Next up was MP Richard Spring, who spoke to the state minister about the Maldives’ difficult fiscal position. Relative to its size, he said, the country had a large budget deficit which could be easily addressed by DFID.
â€œThis is the youngest democracy in the world and in the Commonwealth, and we owe a great deal to it,â€ said Spring.
A third MP, Gary Streeter, pointed out that aside from being a democracy, the Maldives was also a Muslim country. â€œIf its government and democracy were allowed to fail, it would send a bad signal to the wider world and…Britain ought to ensure that it succeeds,â€ he said.
The Maldives government has close ties to the British Conservative Party, which helped the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) with campaign advice, training and resources ahead of the presidential election last year.
Earlier this week, President Mohamed Nasheed spoke at the Conservative Partyâ€™s annual conference, underscoring their shared centre-right ideology.
Following the MPsâ€™ impassioned plea, the state minister said the British government was committed to helping the Maldives through a transitional moment in its history.
Lewis said he welcomed Amessâ€™s â€œgenuineâ€ interest in the Indian Ocean Archipelago. â€œI hope that he [Amess] continues to enjoy many a holiday in what is a beautiful country,â€ he said.
At the height of the British MPsâ€™ expenses scandal in May, the British newspaper, The Independent on Sunday revealed that MPs were travelling on hundreds of trips a year at the taxpayer’s expense.
While the trips did not break any rules, the paper described some, such as junkets to the Maldives, as â€œquestionableâ€.
Lewis said that while the British government recognised the Maldivesâ€™ financial difficulties, it was unable to give preferential treatment and the country would be subject to the same criteria for aid as all others.
He added, however, that the government had advised the Maldives to approach international financial organisations such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and provided technical assistance with its application.
Earlier this year the government had provided a fiscal policy advisor to help the Maldives in its negotiations with these institutions, he said.
As a board member of the IMF, he continued, the government would ensure the necessary resources are contributed for economic stability and development in the Maldives.
â€œWe will use our influence with the IMF to get the right outcome, providing that the bidding process and the application meet the necessary business standards,â€ said Lewis.
He further advised the Maldives seek financial assistance from the UN framework convention on climate change adaptation fund due to become operational in early 2010.