The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has called on the government to decrease its budget allocation for foreign relations, saying current policy made such expenditure unnecessary.
“Such an increase in funds will not be needed as the incumbent government has revealed that its foreign policy is one of exclusion,” said former Speaker Abdulla Shahid.
Speaking at a press conference given by the International Relations Committee of the MDP today (November 12), Shahid said that the current budget allocation was too great for such a policy.
“From the president’s speech on Republic Day, as well as various other statements by himself and foreign minister Dunya Maumoon, it has become apparent that this government’s key foreign policy strategy is to exclude itself and cut ties with the rest of the world”.
Speaking on the occasion of the Maldives’ Republic Day, President Yameen yesterday criticised “Western colonial powers” for anti-Islamic policies, suggesting that the Maldives was turning east toward China as a partner which does not involve such challenges.
Meanwhile, Yameen’s enthusiasm to participate in China’s silk road project has prompted opposition fears of strained regional relationships. The government maintains, however, that it is watchful of regional security issues.
The Yameen administration has pledged an improved foreign investor environment in order to restore confidence in local investment. Despite the introduction of the Special Economic Zone Act in August, the only najor interest shown in the government’s proposed ‘mega projects’ has come from China.
Shahid stated today that the budget allocations for foreign relations had risen by 22.7 percent from 2013 to 2014, and that the estimated MVR533 million (US$34.5 million) in the 2015 budget amounted to an increase of another 20 percent.
“An increase in this budget should only come in a government which is aiming to build ties with the international community, not break them. The MDP maintains that the budget should be reflective of the government’s policies,” he added.
Shahid highlighted that in 2014, the government shut down or downgraded a number of international missions.
He also took the closure and reopening of the missions in Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates as examples of the government’s weak foreign policies.
“Such indesicive action in matters like this affects relations with these countries. Additionally, the government has also downgraded the mission in London, which indicates that the government has no interest in maintaing strong ties with UK or the Commonwealth,” Shahid said.
The MDP alleged that such actions demonstrate to the world that the incumbent Maldives government does not have a long term foreign relations plan or objectives.
The MDP also expressed concerns that the number of political positions in foreign missions are on the increase.
“I don’t see why taxpayers should continue to pay for PPM activists to fill positions at foreign missions, when they don’t do any constructive work and do not even possess the skills necessary to do the required work,” Mariya Ahmed Didi stated.
Shahid added that the increase in political positions posed a disadvantage for better trained senior professionals at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose opportunities to work at foreign missions have decreased by half within the year.
He also emphasised the failure to provide incentives which allow female professionals to take up jobs in foreign missions, including allowances for child care and education.
Shahid went on to say that , while the next session of the SAARC Summit is scheduled for 2015, he feels that the government should exclude budget allocations for the event as past actions show the government “has no interest or intention to maintain ties or hold discussions” with neighbouring countries.
“The MDP maintains that its foreign policy will always remain non-discriminatory and open to all countries. We will continue to build ties with any interested countries as much as we can without compromising our country’s sovereignty or independence”.
The Maldives currently has 13 overseas diplomatic missions in China, Saudi Arabia, and Japan, with high commissions in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.
The Chinese mission in Malé is the latest addition to the Maldives’ small diplomatic circuit which otherwise includes only the SAARC countries of Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.