President Abdulla Yameen’s address to the nation on Independence Day was “cartoonish,” former President Mohamed Nasheed said on opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV Saturday night (July 26).
Responding to the president’s claim that opposition parties were inciting unrest and sabotaging the economy, the opposition leader contended that Yameen’s intention was to deflect attention from his administration’s failure to “fulfil the hopes of the people”.
Yameen’s remarks were “uncivilised, outmoded, and unacceptable,” the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) acting president said.
At a time when the Maldives was facing a sovereign debt crisis and the president’s mandate was in doubt following the dissolution of the coalition with the Jumhooree Party, “I hear such talk as very cartoonish,” Nasheed said.
Nasheed added that the public would not be intimidated by veiled threats and insisted that democratic progress achieved in the present multi-party system could not be reversed.
Yameen had said the government would not allow the country to be plunged back into turmoil and accused opposition parties of “deliberately trying to disrupt stability by creating a spirit of unrest in society.”
If Yameen was implying that he would restrict the rights to free expression, assembly and peaceful political activity, Nasheed said the Maldivian people would “once again rise up”.
“Bleak” economic outlook
In addition to compensation owed to GMR for the premature termination of a concession agreement to develop the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport – which he predicted would not be lower than US$500 million – Nasheed said the Indian EXIM bank was also seeking between up to US$150 million.
Moreover, the State Trading Organisation has incurred a debt of US$150 million in unpaid bills to the Emirates National Oil Company, Nasheed claimed.
The economic situation was “bleak” with dwindling foreign currency reserves, a stagnating fisheries industry, and declining tax revenue, Nasheed contended, adding that the government could not afford to pay compensation to GMR.
The current administration might be planning to “settle the economic and financial system of the Maldives” with “large amounts of black money” from suspicious foreign investors, Nasheed continued, but such plans could not succeed due to domestic and international oversight.
Reiterating criticism of the government’s flagship special economic zone (SEZ) legislation, Nasheed said the Maldivian government would have less authority in the SEZs than the authority it exercised in Gan during British occupation.
The SEZs would be used for illegal businesses and “money laundering” by international criminal organisations, he claimed.
Nasheed had previously dubbed the legislation the ‘Artur Brothers bill’, referring to an infamous pair of Armenians linked with money laundering and drug trafficking who made headlines last year after they were photographed with cabinet ministers.
A system of decentralisation with local councils granted ownership of land was necessary for increasing home ownership, Nasheed continued, which was was essential for individual liberty.
The SEZ bill would, however, remove land from the jurisdiction of island councils, he explained.
“Castles in the air”
Referring to the Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project or ‘iHavan’ – which President Yameen said would be undertaken once the SEZ bill is enacted into law – Nasheed said an assessment conducted by the World Bank at the request of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration found that it posed “very delicate problems”.
Development of a transhipment port in the northernmost atoll and carrying out activities there that were “contrary to Indian foreign policy” would adversely affect Maldivian independence and sovereignty, Nasheed warned.
Nasheed also argued that guest houses businesses on inhabited islands were more beneficial to the populace than luxury resorts on uninhabited islands.
The direct benefit to island populations from SEZs would be even smaller, he added.
The SEZs and the touted mega projects were “castles in the air,” Nasheed said, “[but] if you plant a small tree in your home, you will see it grow.”
Asked about several MDP MPs voting in favour of approving Muhthaz Muhsin as the new prosecutor general, Nasheed said he does not give instructions to the parliamentary group.
MPs did what they believed was right based on political considerations, he added, insisting that the MDP was too “resilient” with its ability to “absorb shocks” for the party to be split over the issue.
Division and strife within the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives, however, would reach “extreme” levels, Nasheed suggested, after its MPs voted for Muhsin in defiance of Gayoom’s appeal for them to vote for his nephew Maumoon Hameed.
Nasheed predicted that President Yameen will force his half-brother Gayoom into exile abroad, which had happened to former rulers in the past.
“Maldivian history is repeating again,” he said.