Maldives ‘open for Japanese investment’

Foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said today that the Maldives is open for Japanese investments, as the east Asian country donated MVR 64 million (US $4m) of “disaster reduction equipment”.

“The Maldives is open for Japanese investment. Be it airport development, or tourist resort development, or transportation sector development, the Japanese investors will have the full guarantee that their investment will be fully protected,” Dunya said.

She was speaking at a ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs today for the signing of the Japanese aid deal.

The foreign ministry had not specified what the equipment consisted of at the time of going to press.

The government said in June last year it was in talks with the Japan Bank to secure a loan of US $200m to help redevelop the country’s main international airport, but this month it said it was looking to the Saudis for the cash.

In her remarks, Dunya expressed appreciation from the Maldives to Japan for nearly four decades of support, which have included providing the sea wall around Malé and constructing primary schools.


Chinese government offered to repair police stations, courts in Addu: Economic Minister

The Chinese government had offered to cover the damage to police stations and civic buildings in Addu City, which were destroyed in the aftermath of a police crackdown on demonstrators in Male’ on February 8, Economic Minister Ahmed Mohamed has claimed according to Haveeru.

Mohamed said police and the judiciary had been asked to draft a project proposal for China to evaluate.

“If we want to seek foreign assistance we need to submit such projects to take it forward. The government of China has proposed assistance in repairing the damage in Addu,” Haveeru reported Mohamed as saying.

He was not specific as to whether the offer to repair the Rf183 million (US$11.8 million) in damage would take the form of a financial loan or foreign aid assistance.


Britain begged India to accept aid money: Telegraph

Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee last year asked the UK to cease giving aid to the country’s booming economy, but relented after being begged to take the money for fear of “grave political embarrassment”, reports the UK’s Telegraph newspaper.

“We do not require the aid. It is a peanut in our total development exercises [expenditure],” Mukherjee told the upper house of Indian parliament, during question time, adding that the government wanted to give it up.

India is the top recipient of UK foreign aid, according to the Telegraph expose. The UK has given £1 billion in aid to India in the last five years and has earmarked a further £600 million in aid by 2015.

Projects from Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) are mired in controversy, reports the Telegraph. They include a £118,000 program to install satellite tracking on municipal buses in Bhopal – years before the technology was used in the UK – and program to deliver 7000 televisions to schools despite the lack of electricity.

Amid a surging anti-corruption movement in India, the Telegraph alleges that £70 million disappeared from one DFID-funded project along, and that £44,000 of British aid was “allegedly siphoned off by one project official to finance a movie directed by her son.”

Junior Development Minister Alan Duncan claimed that cutting off British aid to India “would mean that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people, will die who otherwise could live,” according to the Telegraph.

The admission by India is significant, implying India’s ascension as an aid donor in the region rather than a recipient, despite its own extremes of poverty and wealth. India now donates almost as much in bilateral development as it receives, according to the Telegraph’s report, of which the Maldives is a key beneficiary.

Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) was donated to the Maldives by India, along with military helicopter, scholarships and copious financial assistance, among other interests. An Indian company, GMR, has the country’s single largest foreign investment in the US$400 million renovation and upgrade of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), while the growing mid-market tourism industry is looking towards the huge Indian middle class as a wealthy market for the Maldives tourism product on the country’s doorstep.

“The Maldives is perhaps one of India’s closest partners,” observed The Indian High Commissioner Dynaneshwar Mulay during India’s recent Republic Day celebrations.

Cooperation also extends to the military, with the installation of a coastal radar array plugged directly into the Indian defence network.

More recently, Indian interest in the Maldives has been challenged by rival China, which conspicuously opened its embassy in Male’ last year during the SAARC Summit.


Islamic Foundation donates food aid to Somalia

Islamic Foundation of the Maldives (IFM) has donated vital food aid to over 80,000 victims of famine in the drought-stricken Somalia.

In a press statement released today, the religious NGO claimed that the food aid which included rice, flour, sugar, dates and cooking oil was handed over to 84,040 Somalis. Most recipients were women, children and the elderly.

According to IFM, food items worth Rf365, 203 (US$23,683) were equally distributed among 10,050 households belonging to the four worst hit areas: Bay, Bakool, Lower Shabelle and Banadir.

During the last quarter of 2011, an IFM official went to Somalia and dispersed the aid with the help of Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW), the statement noted.

The UN has officially declared six parts of Somalia to be suffering from famine amid the worst drought in east Africa for 60 years.

“The Somalia crisis is everybody’s responsibility and Somalis need support now. We cannot afford to wait or we will let down the Somali people,” said Mark Bowden, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia.

According to Bowden, more than half of Somalia’s 10 million people who are in dire need of help “will die without assistance”, while tens of thousands, including children, have already died of starvation.

The drought in East Africa has put an estimated 11 million people at risk. Suffering decades of relentless conflict, Somalia is the worst-hit country in the region.

Somalia’s south are experience the worst cases of famine, particularly the regions of Lower Shabelle, Middle and Lower Juba, Bay, Bakool, Benadir, Gedo and Hiraan, where the UN says an estimated 310,000 now suffer from acute malnutrition.

Meanwhile the UN has appealed for $1.5 billion for 2012, warning that the humanitarian crisis gripping millions of Somalis will persist for the coming months.


Visit to Fares-Maathoda shows challenge of decentralised development

In the final part of a special report from the island of Fares-Maathoda, Minivan News looks at the challenges for communities developing beyond Male’s glance as they attempt to switch to decentralised governance and overcome their natural vulnerabilities.

Sitting in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, the conjoined landmasses making up the island of Fares-Maathoda present an environment that has seen little of the economic and infrastructure changes witnessed in the population hubs in North Male’ atoll.

Yet like everywhere else in the Maldives, the formation of island and Atoll councils following nationwide local elections in February 2011 has raised new challenges to bring about change on a more decentralised basis.

However, some opposition politicians believe that the government was “not fully prepared” in its plans to devolve power locally, and that has caused friction between the government and local councils over what exactly their roles and responsibilities are in relation to overseeing potential changes.

For the residents of Fares-Maathoda and the five-member council elected to serve them, these changes include a proposal to use aid funds from Denmark to try and offset continued flooding resulting from drainage and waste management issues as part of wider development aims.

Ibarahim Shareef, spokesperson and deputy leader for the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) told Minivan News that he believed a combination of a lack of experience among elected councillors and obstruction by central government was limiting the roles of individually elected councils to oversee and deal with projects such as development.

“There is disagreement over the role of councils and what duties are being issued to them. Our country is disintegrating around us,” Shareef claimed, accepting that divisions between the present and previous leaderships of his own party had added to the partisan atmosphere of the country’s political backdrop.

“We should get all the parties including the government and opposition groups to stick together and try and resolve the differences like this issue.”

Speaking earlier this month during a visit to Fares-Maathoda, two islands that were linked together in the 1990s by reclaiming area between them – a move that exacerbated flooding problems – UN Resident Coordinator Andrew Cox said he believed that environmental and development facing the country required cooperation from all stakeholders in light of decentralised government.

“What seems to be the case at the moment is that the decentralised structures [island and Atoll councils] are developing and that’s fine. But what that means at the moment is that until things become clearer in some of the areas where we need to work, we need to stay closely connected with everybody. Yet we appreciate the need for strong coordination,” he said.

“In the end, you need the right environment if you are going to attract large-scale funding. In actual fact for the money to come to the Maldives there needs to be a favourable environment for that and even more so there needs to be a good investment environment, because that’s the way that you are going to do large-scale projects.”

Cox was on Fares-Maathoda alongside representatives from the Ministry of Finance and Treasury, the Ministry of Housing and Environment, the National Office and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to meet with local councillors and outline how Danish donor aid for funding climate change adaptation would be allocated on the island.

Pointing to a sea-wall development riddled with flags, displaying the yellow of the MDP on one side and the blue of the DRP on the other, Cox suggested that was a powerful reflection of the country’s partisan political functioning and the challenges it created for decentralising aid distribution.

“You have the blue on one side and the yellow on the right, which typifies the Maldives more than anything else,” he added.

However, Cox claimed that rather than acting as a test for the viability of other collaborations with recently appointed local councillors in delivering aid, Fares-Maathoda represented the need for “development best practice” and how best to try and mitigate detrimental environment and economic factors over partisan thinking.

“In the end, people involved in a project need to be involved in its decision making. That’s the bottom line, so frankly I think if you succeed, you succeed and it’s good for development and everyone who is involved can take credit,” he said. “But if you fail, it’s important to know why you failed. Then you try and reflect that back when you expand an approach outwards than you better find a way of taken advantage of that knowledge and understanding and don’t do it again.”

However, Ibarahim Shareef said he believed that in opting to decentralise power following February’s elections, President Mohamed Nasheed and his fellow MDP members had been “shocked” by the number of island councils seats that fell to opposition parties like the DRP.

Shareef claimed that he believed the government was now aiming to try and centralise power in an apparent reversal of its original intentions.

“Local people have been in a long struggle for democracy, yet some are now questioning the wisdom of supporting democratic reform,” he said. “They have not got empowerment at the level they expected.”

Shareef said that despite these uncertainties regarding the exact role of local councils, everyone involved in the process of decentralisation needed to work together to set out what powers councillors did and did not have in order to function properly.

“It is in everyone’s interests to ensure they are working properly,” he claimed.

In a bid to try and help coordinate the development projects undertaken by local councils such as those bought forward by UN aid, the President’s Office announced the formation of seven national offices back in March that it claimed were not related between some isolated disputes with local councils.

Speaking from Fares-Maathoda during the UN visit, Mohamed Shareef, Deputy Minister of State for the Upper South Province national office, claimed that government coordination remained vital to ensure all councillors are sufficiently trained to oversee development and aid in the future.

Speaking to Minivan News, Mohamed Shareef said he believed that criticism of the national offices stemmed from incorrect presumptions that the government was acting against its own decentralisation plans by giving the president more power over the country.

To try and offset these criticisms the national office has said it is offering training programmes across the country in places like Thinadoo and Addu City that aim to provide information to councillors and outline their responsibilities.

“Councillors have come from many different walks of life, but many haven’t been in administration or management, so they are very new to these procedures and understanding them,” said Shareef. “They keep saying that there are no procedures, but it is just a matter of understanding what the procedures are. So we have to keep on running training programmes. The government has a very extensive programme to try and make the councillors and the public aware of the system.”

With the councils now in place, Shareef said that these training programmes would be vital to try and ensure the success of decentralisation. However, he accepted that there was a notable difference of opinion between whether more details and information should have been given to candidates and the public before electing councillors or whether the system should be fleshed out afterwards.

Despite criticisms that more education for the public and councillors on the exact purpose of decentralisation in the Maldives should have been in place before voting began, the national office claimed that it believed the best way – as has happened – was to start the programme and learn along the way.

“I think if we had earlier tried to make people understand what [the government] were trying to do, it would have been a difficult process. On the other hand, if you have bought the system and make everyone learn by experience it might have been easier for us – it could be debated either way,” Shareef said. “We were in need of immediate change that was for sure. So we wanted a change to be implemented and it was done very quick.”

In terms of main challenges facing national offices like those in the Upper South Province, Shareef said that the cost of running five member councils across the country was definately a concern.

“We have a very poor income and the country is very small in terms of people and resources. We can discover new resources in terms of tourism but the challenge lies in the expense of bring about these changes [local councils]. It is an expensive process.”

Shareef claimed that the national councils would ultimately like to see more responsibility being taken by local councillors in dealing directly with donor agencies such as the UN over development and aid projects, while it held a light coordination role in instead.

“This would allow the direct impact [of these funds] to be felt more closely by the councils. Otherwise we should have a major role. It’s not very easy for the government agencies,” he said. “In terms of being more responsible, I think the councils can very much have a role in making the maximum use of aid coming in.”

Mohamed Shareef added that the belief of the national councils was that training projects would be at the heart of granting more development roles to local councillors in the future.

“The vision of the government is that we are going to have a very big leap in terms of development by having decentralisation. So the councils need to be very responsible and capable if they want to take up these challenges,” he said. “It all depends on how capable the councils are. In one way it’s a big relief for the government that there are councils and governors who are interested in dealing with them. For the government, it doesn’t make it very easy, but it’s the way they want to go forward I guess.”

Ultimately, Shareef said that the main plan in the long-term for each council would be to have them become more technical and development orientated rather than trying to serve a particular party political interest.
“That was the stand with which the councils came into their position, but still we have some way to go to get the councils to realise they are a technical and development body and not a political body.”


Comment: The big picture, rethinking policies

In the past couple of weeks, we have seen several responses to the growing gang violence in the country with high level committees set up to look into the matter.

We also saw a national security seminar for the tourism industry in response to recurring raids on resorts which left a 19 year-old dead two weeks ago.

These are immediate and reactionary measures. We can only do so much to prosecute young criminals and fill up the already crowded jails. If we want real answers to these problems, we need to look at a bigger picture.

The same applies to the exchange rate situation. Beyond devaluation, there is much to do to fix the macro-economic situation. To me the key words are ‘long term’ and ‘priorities’. We need long term strategies and to identify the right priorities to solve our growing economic and social problems.

A long-term growth strategy

The economic section of the government’s manifesto ranges from pledges on cost of living, tourism, fisheries, agriculture, SMEs, water, sewerage, employment, environment and to date, implementation of these pledges appear to be ad-hoc and piecemeal. There is no overall direction to regain recovery and growth of the economy.

The government talks about diversification of the economy. The government also declared that Maldives is open for business and wants see increased investments and private sector role in as many sectors as possible. Fiscal adjustment measures have been initiated here and there and now there is a growing reference to market forces and a market based economy.

We need to look above all these plans and the long list of manifesto pledges and decide on what the economy should look like in the next 5 to 10 years, what the share of tourism would be, how growth can take off and what impact we want to see on incomes, on private sector and on job creation. Above everything we need a long-term economic growth strategy that is clear and consistent.

Setting the right priorities

The government’s manifesto and the five year development plan are overly ambitious with 5 key pledges and 20 odd other pledges. Many ministries are overwhelmed with new policies, projects and programmes everyday where there is only a limited pool of technical expertise and managerial staff to roll them out. In my opinion, political disillusionment and public frustrations are a result of too many promises. Investors, donors, private sector and the public are often confused, not knowing the real direction of the country’s economic and development agenda. To me, the priorities are simple and straightforward. We need to decide on growth sectors and growth hubs.

Growth sectors

We constantly talk about the high level of dependency on tourism and the vulnerability of the economy to external shocks. We are increasingly seeing a decline in fisheries and despite many efforts, share of agriculture is still negligible. The government often refers to plans to diversify tourism and fisheries. There are the long standing debates on our competitiveness in potential sectors such as ports services, off-shore financial services as in the Caribbean and Maldives specialising as a knowledge-based economy, as a hub for  R&D on climate change, marine research and even to the extent of specialising on democratic and human rights research.

The reality is that as a small island nation we cannot do it all. We need to focus on one or two sectors and we need to prepare our labour force, our laws and institutions to specialise in these sectors and equip the private sector and gear donor assistance and foreign investments to develop these sectors.

Growth hubs

We have a tradition of not giving consideration to population and migration in development planning. The failure to predict and prepare for the explosion of school leaving population gave rise to joblessness and the related youth problems we see today. The failure to plan for an explosion of migration to Male’ from the atolls has caused over-crowding, harsh living conditions, congestion and pollution in Male’ which in turn causes crime and violence that keeps escalating. If we fail to plan for an ageing population in the next 15 years, the consequences could be worse.

The government insists on extending services to all islands and on increasing accessibility of services through connectivity and transport. The reality is that service provision even with ferries to 200 islands is unrealistic. It is costly to not only invest but to maintain high quality education, healthcare, social services, security, utilities, harbours and not to mention airports. We cannot afford it if the government wants to achieve a balanced budget. We cannot afford it even otherwise given the limited human capital. Attempts to expand tourism to all parts of the country have not had a major impact on reversing migration or on local economic growth. The resorts run on a parallel economy and have not opened up economic opportunities for islands except for remittances of employees.

Additional flats on the islands is definitely no solution. Those who move to Male’ are looking for better education, healthcare and better job prospects. The government cannot guarantee all three services to every single island in the country. Villingili and Hulhumale’ have not relieved housing pressures and living conditions in Male’. These satellites islands are simply getting filled up with migrant families everyday and this trend will accelerate when additional flats are built in Hulhumale’ or in Gulhifalhu. Housing pressures, living costs, overcrowding in schools and hospitals will only worsen.

The government needs to decide on one or two growth hubs in different parts of the country based on population needs and migration patterns. The dispersed 200 inhabited islands will never have scale for commercial development and economic growth. The government should leverage investments, people, infrastructure and direct services to the growth hubs. It is the only option for improving quality of life of people in Male’ and outside of Male’.

Economic and social transformation

The real solution to gang violence, drugs and crime and the exchange rate situation is therefore a long term growth strategy that prioritises sectors for economic diversification and hubs for population concentration.

Thirty-odd election pledges on 200 islands is simply impossible. I echo Imran’s conclusions in an earlier article that we need a ‘bold government that shows leadership’. We need to acknowledge the big picture, give up reactionary and ad-hoc approaches, and show consistency and vision. The government should stop jumping on big ideas and take the national institutions, investors, donors and the public towards a focused and realistic recovery and growth path.

Without thinking long-term and without setting priorities, I don’t see how we can really solve the growing problem of dollars, drugs, crimes, violence, social disillusionment and even political frustrations that we see everyday across all parts of the country.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


India pledges financial support for Male’ hospital overhaul: report

India’s government has pledged to provide Rf2.7m in aid designed to try and boost services being offered at Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in Male’, Haveeru has reported.

The funds form part of a package that is expected to provide new examination equipment and medical consumables at some point during the next month ahead of additional plans to renovate the hospital.

Zubair Mohamed, Managing Director of Male’ Health Services Corporation (MHC), reportedly announced that more details on the nature of aid being made available for renovating IGMH would be announced after the completion of negotiations between the Maldivian and Indian governments.

The hospital has recently experienced uncertainty over the issue of its future management on the back of protracted discussions with the India-based medical company, Apollo Hospitals.

Just last month, local media reported that Health Minister, Dr Aminath Jameel, claimed a deal between the Maldives government and Apollo Hospitals to manage IGMH had fallen through.

“We had to terminate the agreement because they [Apollo] were unable to meet the terms and conditions stated in the agreement.
Every agreement specifies deadlines to settle certain matters,” Dr Jameel reportedly said. “We have also informed them [Apollo] that the agreement has been terminated.”

Senior staff at the Health Ministry and Chair of the Maldives’ Privatization Committee, Mahmoud Razee, told Minivan News at the time that they had not been informed of the deal’s collapse and had only heard media reports.

The government reportedly terminated the agreement with Apollo after the Indian medical giant was unable to invest the agreed amount to develop the hospital.


Tsunami report identifies recovery aid failures in India and Sri Lanka

‘Lessons from Tsunami Recovery in Sri Lanka and India’ described as a ‘large and wide-ranging study of post-tsunami recovery’ by researchers from Monash and RMIT universities in Melbourne, Australia, has been released.

The report identifies ‘serious shortcomings in how international aid agencies dealt with local groups, leaving them poorly equipped to manage with long-term recovery efforts. The researchers say they’re already seeing many of the mistakes repeated in the wake of more recent natural disasters, with worrying consequences’, reports ABC Radio Australia.

Radio Australia transcript with audio link

Lessons from Tsunami Recovery in Sri Lanka and India – pdf file


EU confirms €6 million grant to boost governance

The EU will provide a €6 million grant to boost governance on top of an existing €4 million for areas including climate change and the fight against drug abuse.

“Additional contributions include a further €3.8 million from the EU’s Global Climate Change Alliance Funds which has also been allocated towards the on-going climate change project,” the EU said in a statement.

The objective of the new funding for 2011-2013 was “to fight poverty and help the Maldives follow a sustainable growth path, in line with Maldives’ policy priorities,” the EU said.

“Thus, under the single focal sector of governance, in consultation with the Government of Maldives and other stakeholders, EU assistance may be directed towards the areas of environment, combat drug use or public administration (not excluding trade or economic regulations).”