Maldives signs education MOU with Australia

Australia has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Maldivian authorities to offer assistance in the field of education, local media has reported.

Edward Archibald, Counsellor from the Development Cooperation of AusAid, signed the agreement on behalf of the Australian government.

The agreement will involve Maldivian teachers receiving training from their Australian counterparts.

At the signing ceremony, Archibald highlighted the pre-existing links between the two countries in this sector – noting that 33 Maldivian were studying in Australia at the end of last year.

AusAid, Australia’s overseas aid department, announced its contribution of AUS$1million to the Maldives’ Climate Change Trust Fund (CCTF).


Climate Change Trust Fund receives money for new projects

The Maldives government and its international partners today announced the launch of three projects under the World Bank administered Maldives Climate Change Trust Fund (CCTF).

A total of US$8.5million has been contributed by Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and the European Union (EU) to the CCTF to assist with these projects.

The CCTF was established in 2010 after the signing of an MOU between the Maldives government, the World Bank Group and the EU with the aim of targeting solid waste management, capacity building for environmental management, and technical assistance for monitoring and managing key natural assets.

The projects announced today included the Ari Atoll Solid Waste Management Pilot (AASWM) and a project called Wetlands Conservation and Coral Reef Monitoring for Adaptation to Climate Change (WCCM).

AASWM will assist in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and damage done to the local marine environment in the western atoll.

“The success of the pilot project is expected to bring about the participation of the remaining inhabited islands of Ari Atoll, particularly those where IWMCs were built with prior funding from EU”, said Bernard Savage, EU’s Ambassador to the Maldives.

Australia’s new High Commissioner to the Maldives, Robyn Mudie described the benefits of the WCCM scheme.

“Sustaining wetlands and coral reefs is a cost-effective strategy for climate change adaptation with strong benefits for disaster mitigation, ecosystem conservation and economic growth”, she said.

The WCCM will work with resorts in North and South Male’ atolls to demonstrate the way in which monitoring techniques can help in targeting conservation efforts.

“The WCCM being implemented in Fuvahmulah of Gnaviyani Atoll, Hithadhoo of Addu Atoll and Alif Alif Ukulhas Island in North Ari Atoll will benefit its 22,000 inhabitants enabling the local governments to implement a clear strategy for wetland management, drainage management, ecotourism and community rainwater harvesting,” read today’s joint press release.

“These three projects will be particularly useful in the context of the decentralized governance framework and public private partnerships. Once piloted and proven successful, the models could be scaled-up and replicated across the country,” it added.

The final project announced today will attempt to provide an annual 300MWh of renewable energy via solar voltaic systems and energy efficiency measures for the people of Thinadhoo Island in the Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll.

“Independence from carbon-based fuels, if achieved through energy efficiency improvements and use of indigenous renewable energy resources has important energy security co-benefits as it will avoid fossil fuel imports that cost Maldives 20 percent of its GDP, annually”, said Dr. Mariyam Shakeela, Minister of Environment and Energy.

The Maldives’ most ambitious renewable energy project, the Scaling-Up Renewable Energy Program (SREP), fell through after political instability in the country deterred potential investors.

Climate change governance

The World Bank’s original objectives for the trust fund’s programme included strengthening government leadership and increasing the country’s institutional capacity to deal with climate change issues.

Following the announcement of these projects, local civil society group Transparency Maldives (TM) told Minivan News of its concerns regarding the CCTF financing agreement.

“We welcome the utilisation of the funds from the CCTF for the benefit of the people, but we note that the Financing Agreement of CCTF was signed in January 2011 and, as the Auditor General’s report for 2011 has identified, there are considerable delays as well as waste involved in CCTF,” a spokesperson said.

“This points to weaknesses in climate governance in the Maldives,” they added. “At the same time, we are deeply concerned by the constant change of institutions or creation of new institutions or inaction of existing ones. This increases risks of corruption.”

The spokesperson expressed their concerns that the civil society and the public were not more involved in the conception and planning of climate change projects.

TM established the Climate Change Integrity Project (CGIP) last year in order to help ensure that financing for climate change projects is transparent, equitable, and free from corruption.

“These three projects will be particularly useful in the context of the decentralized governance framework and public private partnerships. Once piloted and proven successful, the models could be scaled-up and replicated across the country,” said today’s EU, World Bank and AusAID press release.

The current government has been criticised by members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) for what it views as attempts to undo the decentralisation measures taken during its time in office

Following the decision last April to re-centralise health and utility service, party member Aminath Shauna said that it was impossible to effectively implement country-wide services from the capital.

“They want to re-establish a relationship of dependency between the islands and Malé. Their intent in this is to consolidate power,” said Shauna.

Similarly, party’s spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor last month stated his belief that public-private partnerships (PPP) initiated under the MDP government have been suspended “in the interest of preserving the status and wealth of few local wealthy businessmen.”


UNDP awards US$79,862 to local CSOs in small grants program

The United Nations Development Program has awarded US$79, 862.95 to the 13 winners of the “Support to Civil Society Development” program in the Maldives.

The winning projects, supported by the Small Grants Facility and jointly funded by the UNDP and Australia Agency for International Development (AusAID), were designed by local CSOs and selected out of 54 proposed projects.

United Nations Resident Representative, Andrew Cox, spoke at the UN building today. Cox called civil society a “pillar of democracy”, and a significant factor in democratizing the Maldives. He commented on the large scale changes the country has faced in recent years, and called the Maldives “a country which shows much scope for growth and maturity.

This is the second round of projects in the program. Monitors of the first round had determined that the program was constructive, Cox said.

“Initiatives such as the Monitoring of Political Violence in the First Local Council Elections project, The Empowerment of Women project and The Right to Empower project – among the 09 projects funded in the first round, have indicated steps taken in the right direction by the civil society,” he said.

The second round of projects were selected from 11 atolls, including Raa, Baa, Noonu, Addu City, Malé City, and others. Almost every atoll in the country is represented in the selection.

Among the areas the program intends to address are human rights, governance, gender equality, and youth development. Cox added that the tenets of democracy, such as transparency, accountability, and the voice of the people will be empowered.

Cox backed the program by invoking the Maldives government’s Strategic Action Plan, “which guarantees that space will be allowed for individual freedoms and the civil society to thrive.”

In closing, Cox reminded his audience that significant challenges to establishing a full  democracy remain in the Maldives, but that they can only be overcome by the united efforts of the people. Cox reinforced the UN’s committment to supporting the Maldivian people in their pursuit of a consolidated democratic identity.


NGO aid overdependence may hamper effective national development, says UN coordinator

The high number of NGOs operating in the Maldives dependent on foreign aid may be setting back effective development in areas such as health and human rights, according to UN Resident Coordinator Andrew Cox.

At the launch of a new wave of UN joint funding, Cox told Minivan News that he believed current numbers of Maldivian NGOs “could not be sustained” with about 700 such organisations registered within the country.

Cox claimed that the funding unveiled today was being supplied in an attempt to steer future aid projects into specific areas of interest in the community where NGOs could effectively support and maintain themselves to benefit local people in the long-term.

A total of nine grants, which are jointly funded by the UN (UNDP) Development Project and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), were today unveiled as part of the first of three batches of funding to support projects by NGOs and civil society organisation (CSOs).

The projects, which range in budget and duration from four to eight months, are aimed at encompassing issues such as human rights, governance, rights-based developments and gender equality, according to the UNDP.

Although not related directly to this weekend’s council elections in terms of timing, Cox said that the focus of the local elections to transfer a strong amount of governing responsibility to islands and atolls away from Male’ tied into the grants’ intended purpose of steering country-wide developments.

“The point of today is we can see that civil society organisations and NGOs can play a major role in bringing meaning to this transfer of power from the centre to the local level. Obviously that is not going to happen on every island or even every atoll,” he said.

“But community organisations; working with some of the most disadvantaged and trying to give them poise is a key part of what local democracy is about. What I really want to see coming out of these grants and the ones which come along in the future is more of the same kind of thing.”

Grant beneficiaries

The list of beneficiaries of these grants includes:

• Take Care Addu; received US$20,514.98 to try empowering NGOs to protect and promote human rights on Seenu Atoll and Fuahmulah for seven months

• Maldivian Democracy Network; received 18,815 to monitor political violence for the first local council elections over four months

• Maldives Deaf Association – in collaboration with Care Society; 24,928 over eight months to help create awareness of the United Nation’s convention on rights of people with disabilities

• Raajje Foundation Maldives; US$20,980 on a six month project looking at civil society and democracy to be implemented in two atolls

• Maldives Civil Servants Association (MCA); provided US$21,151 for funding five month projects in Male’ and other atolls

• CHOCO; US$18,400 for six months development of a “masterplan” for Huvadhoo Atoll

• Lhohee Zuvaanunge Club; received US$15,347 for the raising of public awareness of local governance and empowering women in Noonu Atoll

• Billedhoo School Isdharivarunge Jammiyya; provided US$15,634 for protection of women’s rights and their role in political and social spheres for a four month project

• HIRIYA; US$14,340 for a four month project aiming to strengthen the role of women youth leaders

According to Cox, the projects, which were selected by the UNDP’s own Grants Gommittee were geographically focused to try and benefit as wide a group of people as possible.

In terms of monitoring the aid, Cox said that the grants committee had focused on trying to find key long-term areas that future funding could efficiently support in the country without depending on continued foreign aid.

“The applying organisations had to show that this is a way of not just blowing off some cash, but that this might strengthen things in the area they are focusing on,” he said. “We’ll have to see how it goes, but if we see some useful trends coming out of this we will try and steer the remainder of resources towards this.”

When asked whether potential suspicion from some people or groups over the motives of international bodies such as the UN and AusAID in supplying financial aid was a problem, Cox claimed that he had not heard of any such criticisms of the Society Development Project funding.

In addressing prominent concerns in supplying the funding, the UN Resident Coordinator said that ensuring long-term benefits from the aid packages was particularly important due to the high number of NGOs currently operating in the country, which he claimed could not be sustained on current national levels of financial resources.

“In the long run, especially in a country like the Maldives, you can’t have NGOs that are dependent on international funding because it won’t continue forever,” he said. “So the idea of projects like this, at least in theory, is that you can provide funding for very particular activities and you hope that the resources that provides allows for professionalization to help develop stronger management structures.”

One possible solution to concerns over an over dependency on foreign aid according to Cox could be the emergence of a number of “champion” or strong NGOs focusing on a number of “key issues” like reproductive health, drugs and human rights.

“One of the things we try and push NGOs to do – which can be a difficult sell – is to look to their own communities and the people who support them to find the reasons they exist and find ways that resources can be mobilised nationally and locally,” he said. “On a secondary level, you need a number of organisations to hold the government accountable, it happens in the UK, it happens in Sri Lanka and slowly it is happening here.”

In practice though, Cox said that such changes were beginning to be seen in the Maldives, but added that they would still take some time to develop.


UNDP and AusAID target US$340,340 to building civil society

The Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and have signed an agreement to boost civil society in the Maldives.

UNDP said the aim of the project would be to strengthen civil society organisations in the hope of promoting an open and democratic society.

The ‘Support to Civil Society Development’ project will particularly target smaller and more remote organisations at a grassroots level, as well as financially support NGOs in human rights, governance, rights-base development and gender equality.

“A strong civil society can only make a democracy stronger, by promoting dialogue, good
governance and even differing points of view,” said UNDP Resident Representative Andrew
Cox, in a statement.

“This project will be an important and practical step in bringing real support and building the capacity of Maldivian NGOs,” he said, acknowledging “the important role played by civil society organisations in
advancing the democratic process.”