Maldives donor conference ‘not a begging bowl’ says Shaheed

The IV Maldives Partnership Forum, or donor conference, is to be held on the 28-29 March at Bandos Resort and Spa will focus on attracting foreign investment rather than donations, said Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed.

“You can do business here and make a profit,” he claimed, while still helping the country improve its infrastructure and economy.

“We don’t want to become mendicant people with a bowl begging for some money. We have interests to promote here.”

“A lot of countries are required by the UN system to focus their assistance on certain countries,” he explained, mainly those in the Least Developed Countries (LDC) list.

Until the Maldives graduates from the LDC list at the end of 2010, other countries with higher GDPs are encouraged by the UN to offer investment and concessions to the Maldives.

“The [donor countries] have their own internal policy requirements to fulfil by focusing on countries who are vulnerable, like island states,” explains Dr Shaheed.

“At the same time,” he adds, “there are those who are keen to promote certain causes or issues, such as human rights. They want certain opportunities to promote those issues.”

Dr Shaheed added that “a lot of countries want to invest in a stable Maldives. A stable, prosperous Maldives is a market. An unstable, impoverished Maldives is a liability.”

The invitations “are being sent out” and ministers are travelling to world capitals to begin lobbying, including Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Kuwait City, Riyadh and Doha.

The Forum will address five key areas:

Macro-economic Stability

For there to be macro-economic stability in the country, the government “hopes the parliament, when they come back, as a first order of business, will look at the taxation package and actually pass it.”

The government is currently working in partnership with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the economic development programme. Dr Shaheed says “it is very important that we make that programme succeed.”

He added that for the IMF programme to work, it is crucial for the taxation bill to be passed.

Public Reform

“Again this is linked to the IMF program,” says Dr Shaheed, “because we need to cut down expenditure.”

Part of this public reform is the very controversial policy of cutting down the number of public servants.

“We won’t just sack them,” he says. “We are going to restructure some of the government bodies into complex entities, like the media sector.”

There will also be some retirement packages available, as well as study and training packages.

Governance and Democratisation

“This is a very broad area,” Shaheed explained. “We need an oriented look at division, and how to increase capacity [in government agencies].”

All areas of government must be studied extensively to make sure they “function better”.

Climate Change Adaptation

Dr Shaheed said the most important issues concerning climate change are renewable energy and eco-degradation (for example, waste management). It also includes building “more sea walls, jetties and harbours.”

Social Development

The government will be “targeting the vulnerable of the population, like children, young girls, and old people” as the main recipients of the benefits of social development.

It will also deal with the health and education sectors, which it hopes to improve.

Past Forums

Dr Shaheed said the first forum, held in 2007, “was a time when a lot of questions were asked about where the Maldives was headed.”

The focus was on the reform program, which he claimed was “a very good forum to bring the donor community, the recipients, and policy makers together on the same page.”

For this year’s forum, the minister says “we have projects in place, so we have a much clearer idea of what we’re going to do.”