Leader of the government-aligned Jumhoree Party (JP), business tycoon MP Gasim Ibrahim, has vowed to find oil in the Maldives should he be elected president of the country later this year.
Gasim – who owns television station VTV and the Villa group of companies and resorts – has already announced that he would be contesting in 2013 presidential elections. The Presidential candidate is also a member of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), responsible for appointing a three-member panel of judges to oversee the criminal trial of fellow presidential candidate, former President Mohamed Nasheed.
Gasim is currently campaigning under the slogan ‘Tharaggee Gaimu’ (‘Development Guaranteed’).
Oil exploration has emerged as a key policy for several candidates aligned with the current government, including Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) presidential prospect, Abdulla Yameen.
Gasim unsuccessfully contested in the 2008 presidential elections finishing the race in fourth place with 15.2 percent of the total vote. He finished behind candidates including then President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, eventual winner former President Mohamed Nasheed and political advisor of President Dr Mohamed Waheed, Dr Hassan Saeed.
Gasim announced his plans to try and uncover oil during a press briefing held Sunday (February 3), after concluding a trip to France to buy a new aircraft for his company, Villa Air.
Speaking to the media, he claimed there was evidence to suggest oil could be located in Maldives and that technology was now sufficient to make drilling for fuel financially viable.
The chairman of Villa Group added that previous oil expeditions ended in failure because of “lack of technology” at the time and it would still be impossible if Maldivians tried to dig for oil “eighties style”.
“I was the first one who brought the idea to the government. I even spoke of this during the 2008 presidential elections,” Gasim said.
Gasim, stressing the importance of seeking oil in the Maldives, said it was wrong to turn away from a blessing given by Allah.
He went on to dismiss claims made by former Deputy Leader and a PPM presidential prospect Umar Naseer, who has claimed that digging for oil could destroy the tourism sector and the country’s economy.
“It is very wrong to turn ourselves away from a blessing given by Allah. On the other hand, with current technological advancements, that oil can be extracted safely without causing any harm to tourism sector,” he said.
During a PPM Rally, Umar Naseer claimed that digging for oil is “too risky” and it would take one oil leak into the sea to ruin the Maldives.
Gasim further said that it was a “baseless and irrational” to suggest that drilling for oil could harm the tourism sector. He added that if the drilling process is carried out within proper standards and with international expertise, such risks are unlikely to take place.
“There will always be a way to get things done. When you know that you have to get the technology to do that. We don’t have to use the technology that was used 70-100 years ago to find oil in the world,” he said.
“The way I see it, it is something we should pursue. If I get to be the President, it would be the first thing my government would turn towards,” he added.
Tested and trusted
Speaking to Minivan News, Spokesperson for the Jumhoree Party Moosa Rameez said his party’s presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim was a “tested and trusted” candidate and that he was “100 percent sure” Gasim would be successful in seeking oil.
“Gasim Ibrahim is very experienced in the field of business. He is very familiar with almost all kinds of industries in the world including the oil industry. He was the first one who pledged to find oil in the country in 2008,” Rameez said.
With the announcement, Gasim becomes the second presidential hopeful who has expressed desires to search for oil within the country.
Earlier, PPM Parliamentary Group Leader and contender in the party’s presidential primary Abdulla Yameen also announced that he would attempt to seek oil in the country if he gets elected.
During a rally held to kick off his presidential primary campaign, Yameen proclaimed that “when the PPM comes to power” it will conduct oil exploration, attract foreign investment and create 26,000 tourism jobs.
“It is very possible oil might be found in the Maldives,” Yameen said at the time.
Referring to Yameen’s pledge, JP’s Spokesperson said that when Gasim first announced that he would drill for oil, it was Yameen’s supporters who “mocked him” and made a joke out of it.
“Now when [Yameen] claims oil can be found in the country, it shows that Gasim was telling the truth from the very beginning,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb – who is backing Yameen in the primaries – has told Minivan News that Maldives’ environmental image and commitments are no obstacles to developing of an oil industry.
Adheeb told Minivan News last month the Maldives was “a big nation, and places not in marine protected zones or tourism areas could be explored for oil, like in the less developed north.”
“Oil exploration is a term and [we] cannot conclude something with out the details. Regulations and more planning need to be done,” he said.
Previous oil exploration attempts in 1980 found the cost of retrieving the oil was too high compared to the US$20 (MVR 308) price per barrel at the time. However the present price of US$125 (MVR 1925) per barrel made further exploration feasible.
Yameen was not responding to calls at time of press.