“Nothing precedes ties with India” although ties with China also “very close”: President Yameen

President Abdulla Yameen has stated that while the Maldives has “close ties” with China, “nothing will precede ties with India, which are far more precious”.

Yameen told Indian media during his recent official trip to the country, that he had assured its leaders that the bond between the two neighbouring countries is “heartfelt” and “based on sentiments”.

“India’s primary concern has been security in the region, particularly in the Indian Ocean and our views on the issues are exactly similar to India’s views. So it was not a difficult proposition at all.”

“We have agreed and we have exchanged views on areas of concern such as security, fighting against terrorism and fighting against piracy in the Indian Ocean. So we are largely to gain from these matters that are a concern to India while we share the Indian sentiments and we have totally endorsed them,” he continued.

“While we have had a slight rough patch with India, the time of good relations far outweigh the rough patches we had. I suppose it is easy for us to be on the right track again,” Yameen said, referring to the issues between the countries following the cancellation of the airport development contract with Indian infrastructure giant GMR.

“My trip here is the testimony to that fact. This is my first visit after I assumed office and India has been a gracious host to me. The Prime Minister of India has been very generous and kind. The talks were absolutely satisfying,” Yameen opined about the outcome of the visit.

The two countries agreed on numerous plans to strengthen bilateral defence and security cooperation, to increase and protect businesses and investments, as well as assistance in multiple development projects.

However, Yameen dismissed questions regarding rising religious radicalism in the Maldives, stating that “there is nothing to worry about at this time”.

“There are people with different thoughts. Very orthodox views. But that has not escalated into an issue of concern. It has not been a source of concern. But yes, India and Maldives, we have both agreed on our position against terrorism, on piracy in the Indian Ocean,” he continued.

“Islamic sentiments are a thing that people hold privately. I would not like to categorize that. This is however not an issue to worry about at this point in time,” he said.

As recently as May 2013, however, both the Chief of Defence Force Major General Ahmed Shiyam and then Attorney General Aishath Bisham warned of increased risks of terror attacks and of Maldivian youth enrolling in terror training camps.

In the same month, Reporters Without Borders labelled Maldives’ extremist groups as “predators of press freedom”.

Development project agreements

India and the Maldives have agreed to begin implementation of an agreement on cooperation in development projects signed in 2011 titled the “Framework Agreement on Cooperation for Development”.

The Agreement, signed during the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed, mandates the establishment of a joint commission to oversee projects implemented under the programme, and a minimum of one annual meeting of the said commission.

A joint statement released by the two governments announced that the commission’s inaugural meeting will be held in 2014.

President Yameen stated on Monday that the ties between Maldives and India has been at their closest in the past 50 years during the time when his half brother and leader of ruling Party Progressive Party of Maldives Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was in power.

Yameen stated that the close ties are a direct result of Gayoom’s foreign policy, and the maintenance of mutual respect between the two countries since that time. He asserted that the current government will be re-implementing the foreign policy that Gayoom had made during his administration.

He stated that dignitaries from among India’s leadership had stated the same during the meetings held in his official visit.

Following Yameen’s return to the country on January 4, Gayoom made an official visit to the President’s Office on Monday to assure the government of unwavering cooperation and assistance from the ruling party.

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Parties rally on penultimate day before polling

The Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) held final campaign rallies on Thursday night ahead of the first round of presidential elections scheduled for November 9.

The Jumhooree Party did not hold a full scale rally on the evening.

The PPM promoted the party as the only party that would protect Islam and Maldives’ sovereignty and hailed the PPM’s presidential candidate Yameen Abdul Gayoom as an economic expert.

The MDP focused on themes of good governance, ensuring basic services such as medical care, transport and education and ending the authoritarianism of the past.

Yameen’s speech centered on alleged corruption during the three years MDP’s presidential candidate and former President Mohamed Nasheed had stayed in power and the importance of protecting Islamic faith.

“Yellow is a colour that has quarantined our whole country. They sold our airport to foreigners, but with God’s will and the work of many united parties, we were able to get it back,” Yameen said, alleging “although it was done under a contract, it is still classified as corruption as it would have benefited the foreigners more than the people of our country,” continued Yameen.

Referring to a speech given by his Electoral Agent Abdulla Ameen – who had listed out 11 persons he alleged had gained large amounts of money through corrupt means during Nasheed’s administration – Yameen argued that Nasheed’s government had misused MVR4,700million.

“However, when Nasheed came to power, he made a Presidential Commission – outside constitutional provisions – to investigate Maumoon and his cabinet for corruption. They could not find any evidence against Maumoon, nor will they ever be able to. Is it still the thirty years [of Gayoom’s administration] that we should still be questioning?”

“We will give you the dignified life you want”: Nasheed

Speaking to thousands of supporters at Raalhugandu, MDP’s presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed said, “We will defeat those who brought about a coup through the vote. God willing, we will win this election in one round. We will take the Maldives to safe shores.”

Saturday’s vote was a vote for a dignified life, shelter, medical care, transport, education and job opportunities, Nasheed said.

He spoke of the long journey Maldivians had traveled out of authoritarianism and the numerous setbacks along the way. He commended the determination of the Maldivian people to move forward.

He described the delay in voting as an attempt to destroy the constitution.

“It is always the people of this country who have the power to uphold the constitution. Saturday is an opportunity to use that power to save this state, this Maldives. Vote for me, god willing, we will make Maldives upright again. We will give you the dignified life you want,” he said.

The Maldives is rich in natural resources and Maldivians deserve a lot more than they currently have, Nasheed said.

He also said the Supreme Court’s annulment of the vote had in fact increased support for the MDP.

Speaking about the PPM and JP’s reluctance to sign the voter registry on Tuesday, Nasheed said the two parties had changed their minds because of international pressure.

“They say for the nation, for the country, but in truth at last they had to sign the voter list because a German tourist agency ordered them to. They had to sign because a tourist agency told them to. Because that’s where the dollars come from. [They] contest elections for dollars. [They] sign the voter lists for dollars. All of life is based around for dollars. Maldivians want to tell them I am a proud Maldivian. I will look after my children through honest work,” he said.

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Development requires democracy, says Nasheed, launching “Votun Ufaaverikan” campaign

A democratic government elected by the people is necessary for development of the country, former President Mohamed Nasheed said at a rally in Haa Dhaal Kulhudhufushi on Saturday (November 2) to launch the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) “Votun Ufaaverikan” (Contentment through the Vote) campaign.

The MDP presidential candidate said the party believes democratic principles were best demonstrated by the practice of reaching consensus through consultation advised in the Quran and Sunnah (teachings and practices of Prophet Mohamed).

“It will be hard to bring about the change we want, the development we want, without following these principles,” he said.

The most important lesson Maldivians have learnt in the recent past is that a democratic system of governance must be strengthened to achieve development, Nasheed said, adding that a “muddled” government could not ensure progress.

While the MDP government planned a number of development projects for Kulhudhufushi, he added, it came to a halt under the present “unelected government.”

An election was needed to resume the projects, he said, which includes the construction of a 22-kilometre road, a ferry terminal, a city hotel and a duty-free complex in addition to building housing units, securing opportunities for higher education, widening the ‘Hunaru’ skills training programme, and connecting the island to India via a ferry network.

Before the MDP government was “toppled” in February 2012, Nasheed said regional governments had committed to an Indian ocean passenger and cargo ferry service at the November 2011 SAARC summit in Addu City.

The MDP’s presidential election campaign was relaunched with the new slogan yesterday at 4:30pm with simultaneous events in 23 locations, covering all the atolls of the country.

Gatherings also took place in Malaysia and India, with Speaker Abdulla Shahid attending the function in Trivandrum.

In his speech at the main event, Nasheed said the purpose of an election was to offer a choice for citizens to pick the best policies and pledges.

In a democracy, he added, the role of opposition parties should be holding the government accountable and ensuring that campaign pledges were fulfilled.

However, instead of campaigning and presenting policies, Nasheed said rival parties were “using religion as a political weapon” to level false accusations against the MDP.

The “bitter consequence” of persistently claiming that the MDP was “irreligious or secular” was the creation of doubt in younger generations regarding religion, Nasheed contended.

Divisive rhetoric

Arguing that the country’s religious unity could be threatened by “backbiting” and divisive rhetoric, Nasheed appealed to religious scholars to refrain “for the sake of religion and the nation” from religion-based attacks.

As the Islamic faith of Maldivians was not lost or weakened under Portuguese rule, Nasheed said there was no possibility of any efforts to weaken the people’s faith ever succeeding.

Speaking at a campaign rally in Lhaviyani Naifaru on Thursday night, Nasheed accused former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of obstructing the presidential election to prevent consolidation of democracy in the Maldives.

The MDP’s political opponents were against establishing a democratic system of governance in the country, he contended.

“President Maumoon is someone who has never won in a vote. [Maumoon] winning 90 percent of the vote in these islands was a miracle, it wasn’t an election,” he said.

Elections were the means for ensuring development, Nasheed said, adding that the experience of the past two years have shown that only the MDP could govern in a democratic system.

Addressing supporters in Shaviyani Milandhoo the following night (November 1), Nasheed said MDP’s opponents were trying to maintain a “dictatorial regime” after preventing a presidential election from taking place.

“They do not want development. In truth, they despise the situation of the Maldivian people improving. They believe that development is an obstacle to their own businesses. They believe others entering the resort business is an obstacle to their businesses,” he said.

Meanwhile, speaking at a campaign rally on Saturday night (November 2) in Haa Alif Kelaa, vice presidential candidate of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, reportedly said that Nasheed must be held accountable for the military’s detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

“I will only believe that the rule of law is enforced in the Maldives when the court sentences Nasheed for detaining Judge Abdulla. No one should doubt that this will happen. Nasheed must also be penalised for fraudulently selling the airport to GMR, the serious acts of corruption he committed, and the MVR 5 billion he stole while he was president,” he was quoted as saying by Sun Online.

Jameel also accused the MDP of torching government buildings on February 8, 2012, which he labeled “acts of terrorism,” and claimed that the party was also behind the brutal murder of MP Afrasheem Ali in October 2012.

The MDP could not return to power for these reasons, Jameel said, calling on other parties to unite and prevent Nasheed from winning the election.

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President Waheed inaugurates Thaa Atoll, Dhaalu Atoll road developments

President Dr Mohamed Waheed yesterday (August 5) inaugurated two separate road development projects on the islands of Vilufushi in Thaa Atoll and Kudahuvadhoo in Dhaalu Atoll.

Speaking on Vilufushi, Dr Waheed said the projects were part of a nationwide commitment undertaken by his administration to build roads over the last two years. Nine roads were expected to be built in Vilufushi alone, according to the President’s Office website.

President Waheed added that with Vilufushi being one of the islands most severely impacted in the Maldives during the 2004 Asian Tsunami, a greater number of services still needed to be provided to the local population living there.

According to the President’s Office, Dr Waheed also shared specifics of government development plans for the island.

The president’s campaigning has recently come under criticism from rivals standing against him in the upcoming election.

The Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – part of his current coalition government – has accused Dr Waheed of using state resources to campaign for his own Gaumee Ihthihad Party (GIP) ahead of the upcoming presidential election scheduled for September 7.

PPM Presidential candidate MP Abdulla Yameen back in May said he understood “concerns” raised by MDP candidate Mohamed Nasheed regarding President Waheed’s use of state resources for campaigning.

“That is, the way [the government] is doing things, there are problems over whether we could reach free and fair elections. The Auditor General and ACC [Anti-Corruption Commission] have taken note of this,” he said at the time.

The PPM has nonetheless pledged to continue supporting President Waheed’s government up until September’s election, despite concerns about the decision to dismiss former Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed after he decided to stand as MP Yameen’s running mate.

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Tourist facilities to be developed on local picnic island Kuda Bandos

Additional reporting by Neil Merrett

Tourist facilities are to be developed on Kuda Bandos, the only picnic island located near Male’ accessible to for Maldivians, following the island’s owner Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen submitting the sole bid for its development.

Vice President Waheed Deen, also the owner of Bandos Island Resort, previously leased Kuda Bandos for US$6000 annually. However, the after the island was opened for bids on November 16, 2012  Deen submitted the sole proposal and won Kuda Bandos again for a rent of US $180,582, according to local media.

A joint venture company will be established with the Government of Maldives to develop the island, including “certain tourist facilities”, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb told local media.

The new facilities will “modernise the island” and increase government revenue, according to Adheeb.

“We don’t want to renew the agreement every two years. Now it is to be handed over through the Tourism Act and the rent will be paid just the same as the resorts,” said Adheeb.

Currently Maldivians have exclusive access to Kuda Bandos, which is located next to Bandos Island Resort, on Fridays, Saturdays and public holidays, when local families are able to travel to the picnic island for a day of relaxation on the beach.

Adheeb claimed that even after Kuda Bandos is developed Maldivians will have full, unrestricted access to the picnic island.

“After development, safari boats can go there with tourists. It will be developed so that everyone will have the opportunity,” said Adheeb. “The tourist facilities will be established to make it easier for the tourists who visit.”

Maldivian picnic island access

Despite Adheeb’s claims that Maldivians will have “unrestricted access” to Kuda Bandos, the former Secretary General of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim, believes that developing the picnic island for foreign tourists will still limit locals’ ability to enjoy the island.

“There are less places for Maldivians to go. The problem would be solved if Mr Deen created a small island in front of Kuda Bandos [for locals]. It’s not ideal but it should serve the purpose,” Ibrahim told Minivan News today (July 18).

Whether Maldivians will have unfettered access to the sole remaining picnic island near Male’ once it is developed remains to be seen, Ibrahim does not think Maldivians enjoying the island together with tourists should be an issue.

Specifically, safari boats coming to Kuda Bandos with alcohol or foreigners sunbathing in bikinis “is a grey area”, according to Ibrahim.

“It is up to a person to decide what he wants to do or not, I don’t understand why this would be a problem,” he said.

“The question of [drinking] alcohol is not a problem, the issue doesn’t arise, because Maldivians as Muslims don’t drink,” he continued.

“[And] why would there be a problem with foreigners sunbathing in bikinis, if a lot of Maldivians are working on and visiting resorts [every] day?” he asked.

“It happens on Bandos [Island Resort] or any other resort for that matter,” he added. “As it is there is nothing to prevent Maldivians from going to resorts or accessing their facilities.”

Picnic island development

A new tourism regulation entitled the “Procedure to Follow Where the Government Undertakes Joint Venture Investment in Islands or Land”, allows a company with at least a 10 percent share held by the state to develop a resort from land set aside for tourism use, such as a picnic island like Kuda Bandos.

Land used for water sports or diving would also be included once the lease for the area is acquired by a joint venture company.

Published in the Government Gazette Volume 42, number 17 – dated January 28, 2013 – the regulation requires any joint venture partner working with the state on a tourism projects to have a minimum financial worth of US$300 million and make a minimum initial capital investment of at least US$100 million.

Tourism Minister Adheeb told Minivan News in April that the regulations applied to land such picnic islands that were effectively being used “almost as a resort”, such as areas licensed to serve alcohol to tourists, something not allowed on islands designated as “inhabited”.

“The only difference [to these islands] is that tourists cannot sleep there for the night,” he said. “Now they can stay there the night, but [operators] have to pay land rent. It is to stop the concept from being abused.”

However, an island owner involved in the country’s burgeoning mid-market holiday sector has slammed new regulations imposing financial restrictions on tourism joint venture projects with the government, claiming the legislation outright excludes small and medium-scale investors.

These recently implemented amendments to the Tourism Act served to “shut the door” on small and medium-sized investors, alleged the island owner, speaking to Minivan News on condition of anonymity.

“The real issue here would be that only those with very high net worth can be venture partners with government. Very, very few tycoons are in that wealth bracket,” the source said.

“[Former President] Nasheed’s government tried to be inclusive in offering business opportunities. This regulation is exclusive and shuts the door for medium to small-size investors to partner with the government,” the source added.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture has announced a public tender to lease several other islands across the country for development as resort properties.

Through the tender, applicants will bid for a 50 year lease to develop one of several islands including, Kunnamala in Noonu Atoll, Kudafushi and Fasmendhoo in Raa Atoll, Vanabadhi and Kani in Thaa Atoll, Dhigudhoo in Gaafu Alifu, and Ismehela Hera in Seenu Atoll.

Additionally, seven parties have expressed interest to develop tourist resorts on the islands of Madifushi in Meemu Atoll, Keradhdhoo in Gaafu Alifu Atoll, and Ismehela Hera in Seenu Atoll.

While Ismehela Hera was also included as one of the three islands the Tourism Ministry invited bids for in April, the ministry did not clarify why the island was listed twice, according to local media.

Bidding documents will be made available to Maldivian nationals for a non-refundable payment of MVR 2000 (US$130) or US$300 for foreign nationals, until July 28.

All bids must then be submitted before 1:00pm on August 1, 2013 to the ministry, where they will be opened at a ceremony held later the same day.

Former MATI Secretary General Ibrahim said the process for tenders was “pretty much standard” for obtaining an island lease.

“The investment climate is better than a year ago and source markets are improving,” said Ibrahim.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb was not responding to calls at time of press.

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Rising religious fundamentalism, conservative thinking impacting women: Department of National Planning

Progress toward achieving gender equality has not kept pace with other development achievements in the Maldives, as reflected by the 12 percent of women who have suffered sexual abuse before the age of 15 while one in three have been the victim of violence, a Department of National Planning study has found.

The study examined how much human development progress has been achieved in the Maldives in terms of population and development, reproductive health and rights, gender equity, equality and empowerment of women as well as education during the period 1994 – 2012.

The “Maldives Operational Review for the ICPD Beyond 2014” study was conducted under the supervision of the Department of National Planning (DNP), in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), to determine whether the Maldives has met the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) thematic Programme of Action (PoA) goals.

The study found that “Despite impressive advancements in all development areas, the progress towards achieving gender equality and equity and the empowerment of women have not been the same.”

“Even though, the Maldivian Constitution guarantees equal rights and freedom for all Maldivians without any discrimination, prevailing traditions and socio-cultural norms have limited women’s participation in the workforce and in the community,” the study determined.

“The increasing level of religious fundamentalism and conservative thinking has worsened the situation,” it added.

Although the Domestic Violence Act 3/2012 was “a historical milestone for women in the country,” domestic violence and violence against women remains a “major concern” in the Maldives.

“One out of three females aged between 15-49 years has experienced some form of violence within their lifetime. Further, 12 percent of women reported having experienced sexual abuse before their 15th birthday,” the report stated. “Most of the time, the perpetrators are a close family member or intimate partner and the incidence goes unreported and undocumented.”

Victims to not receive appropriate and timely support, since domestic and sexual violence are perceived as a private matter and often go unreported, the study found.

Additionally, “Women continue to be stereotyped and underrepresented at professional decision making levels,” noted the report.

The low level of women being represented in senior level positions is partly due to the “high domestic burden on females,” with women heading 47 percent of households in the Maldives, one of the highest rates in the world, the study determined.

Although women are represented in the workforce, they are “mostly represented in stereotypical roles” such as education (72 percent), health (68 percent), manufacturing (65 percent) and agriculture (64 percent), said the report.

Meanwhile, 40 percent of young women remain unemployed, with 10.5 of the overall youth population being neither employed nor seeking to further their studies, the report added. Employment opportunities for many have been obstructed primarily due to inadequate employment opportunities as well as the mismatch between skills and job requirements.

The report also found that the number of women continuing their studies beyond secondary education is low compared to men. This disparity is the result of “limited access to educational institutions at the island level, domestic responsibilities and hesitance to allow females to study on another island.”

“Special affirmative actions are needed to create more employment and livelihood opportunities for women and to increase the number of women in public and political life,” stated the report.

Despite the Maldives achieving the Millennium Development Goal target to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, malnutrition and anemia are still limiting women’s equality, equity and empowerment, noted the study.

“Poor nutritional status and anemia are significantly high among pregnant women and women of reproductive age, [which] puts them in high risk for maternal mortality,” the report found. “Malnutrition among women puts them in high risk during pregnancy and hinders their full participation in education, employment and social activities.”

Women – and young women’s – health is also at risk due to the lack of access to quality services, particularly in regard to sexual and reproductive health.

“With regard to reproductive rights, men often control decisions regarding women’s reproductive health, often based on religious and cultural grounds,” the report noted.

“[Furthermore,] the sudden growth of religious fundamentalism and conservative thinking is an emerging challenge, particularly for women and young girls,” the study stated. “There have been increase towards certain trends such as preference for home schooling and refusing vaccination and other medical services for women based on religious beliefs.”

Violence against women

Despite the extensive provisions in the Domestic Violence act, it has done little to curb the abuse of women, minors and other vulnerable people; the police, the judiciary and wider Maldivian society have made minimal progress addressing domestic violence and abuse, former Gender Minister and Chairperson the Hope for Women NGO, Aneesa Ahmed, recently told Minivan News.

Meanwhile, support for women’s equality has experienced a “significant drop” despite overall progress in improving the human rights situation nationally, a Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) second baseline survey recently concluded.

“Despite the freedoms that the constitution has provided for women, attitudes towards women’s empowerment show a negative trend,” stated Andrew Cox, the former UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP representative in the Maldives.

“Alarmingly, the study also suggests that there has been a regression in people’s sensitivity towards domestic violence and gender based violence,” he added.

Male attitudes have become “more conservative” regarding women’s rights issues, whereas female views have become more supportive of rights in some areas, the report stated.

In a reversal from the 2005 human rights study, more women than men now consider it inappropriate for men to hit their wives. However, significant numbers of respondents stated where there was a “substantive justification” – as opposed to something trivial – “violence against wives was justified,” the report determined.

Both genders in the Maldives were also found to believe that in the husband/wife relationship, women should play a “subordinate role”.

In spite of this culturally conservative shift regarding women’s rights, an “overwhelming” 92 percent ofMaldivians believe that laws and systems to protect women from sexual assault should be reformed, according to the results of a survey conducted by Asia Research Partners and social activism website Avaaz.org.

Of those polled, 62 percent supported an outright moratorium on the practice of flogging, while 73 percent declared existing punishments for sexual crimes were unfair to women.

The international community has echoed this sentiment, particularly in regard to the recent
case in which a 15 year-old rape victim was sentenced to 100 lashes and eight months’ house arrest for a separate offence of fornication garnered substantial international attention and condemnation.

In March, an Avaaz petition calling for the repeal of the sentence and a moratorium on flogging in the Maldives collected more than two million signatures – a figure more than double the number of tourists who visit the country annually.

Currently, British couples are being asked to avoid the Maldives as a honeymoon destination to force the country’s government to overturn the conviction of the girl, who was given the draconian sentence after being raped by her stepfather, while UK Prime Minister David Cameron has been asked to intervene in the case, writes Jane Merrick for the UK’s Independent newspaper.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Eva Abdulla explained the current context of women’s rights in the Maldives to the publication.

“Consider the statistics on flogging: that 90 per cent of the cases are women. Consider the statistics on rape charges: 0 per cent success rate of prosecution, with the latest being the release of four men accused of raping a 16-year-old, on the grounds that there wasn’t enough evidence,” said Abdulla.

“The increasing religious fundamentalism followed by the attempts to subjugate women, both politically and otherwise, should be cause for alarm. This is a country of traditionally very strong women.

“However, increasingly, the Adhaalath Party, a self-claimed religious party which is in alliance with the current government, uses the religious card to scare off women. We women MPs are often threatened whenever we speak against the party,” she added.

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Maldives achieves 5 of 8 Millennium Development Goals

The Maldives has achieved all but three of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), local media has reported.

However, the country must do more to promote gender equality and empowering women, ensuring environmental sustainability, and creating global partnerships for development, according to Haveeru.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) made the announcement Monday (June 18), adding that the Maldives’ country report on the MDGs will be released this year.

The last report on the Maldives’ progress in trying to achieve the eight MDGs was published in 2010.

Thus far, the Maldives has achieved the MDGs of universal primary education, reducing child mortality rates, improving maternal health, as well as combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

However, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) recently announced that the Maldives has also met part of the goal to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by halving the percentage of hungry people in the country.

The MDGs are a blueprint agreed upon by all the world’s countries and leading development institutions to galvanize efforts to meet needs of the world’s poorest, with the achievement target date of 2015.

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Government suspends new development projects due to budget constraints

The government has decided to delay implementation of new development projects financed out of the state budget due to shortfalls in revenue, Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad confirmed to Minivan News today.

Jihad said that the cabinet decided to postpone planned infrastructure projects that have not yet started in an attempt to ease cash flows rather than deducting a specific amount from the development budget.

“We are in the process of [drawing up a supplementary budget]. Hopefully by the end of the month we will have something,” he said.

The decision to suspend new projects was revealed by Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz today following the signing of contracts to build harbours in four islands.

Speaking to press after the signing ceremony, Muiz said he was instructed by the finance ministry not to commence any further infrastructure projects included in the 2013 budget, such as harbour construction or land reclamation.

Muiz explained that government-funded projects in the pipeline will be pushed back until parliament passes bills to raise additional revenue.

The move follows parliament’s rejection last week of government-sponsored legislation to raise the airport service charge to US$30, which was among a raft of measures proposed by the Finance Ministry in the estimated 2013 budget to raise MVR 1.8 billion (US$116 million) in new income.

Other measures included hiking Tourism Goods and Services Tax (T-GST) to 15 percent from July 2013 onward, leasing 14 islands for resort development, introducing GST for telecom services as well as oil, and “selectively” reversing import duty reductions.

Following the narrow defeat of the airport service charge amendment bill in parliament, Jihad told local media that a “significant amount” would be lost from projected revenue as the additional income was anticipated in budget forecasts.

“If the amendments for the import duty are not passed, we will find it extremely difficult to manage the budgets of institutions. So it’s critical that the parliament expedites work on the bills and support them,” he was quoted as saying by newspaper Haveeru.

The bill proposed by the government to raise the airport service charge was defeated 28-27 despite the ruling coalition’s provisional majority in the 77-member house.

During the parliamentary debate last week, MPs of both the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – respectively majority and minority parties in parliament –  accused President Dr Mohamed Waheed of using state funds to finance his presidential campaign.

Supplementary budget

Dr Waheed meanwhile told the people of Thulusdhoo in Kaafu Atoll yesterday (April 20) that there was no cause to worry about the budget or rumours of impending bankruptcy.

“The Maldivian economy is not really that bad,” he was quoted as saying by Haveeru.

President Waheed however conceded that “difficulties” had arisen due to spending beyond the country’s means in the recent past.

As a consequence of deficit spending financed by loans, Dr Waheed said the government had to spend an amount almost equal to the state’s wage bill on interest and loan repayments.

“We Maldivians are not indebted to anyone. We are proud people. We pay back what we borrow. We don’t have any outstanding payment, to any party,” Dr Waheed said in his speech, according to the President’s Office website.

He added that the finance ministry was preparing to submit a supplementary budget to parliament before the end of April, which would seek funds needed to provide services to the public without interruption.

Economic Development Minister Ahmed Mohamed – a senior member of the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) – however told Haveeru last week that a supplementary budget would be of no use if parliament failed to approve the proposed revenue raising measures.

“Numbers written on paper will not increase funds. One or two billion rufiya can be added to the budget through the supplementary budget,” he explained. “But shouldn’t there be a way to get that three or four billion rufiya?”

The minister also referred to media reports suggesting that some government offices have exhausted their annual budgets after the first three months of the year.

Parliamentary approval

During the budget debate in December 2012, Majority Leader MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih warned that the additional revenue projected in the budget was unlikely to materialise.

The MDP parliamentary group leader claimed that the import duty revision to raise tariffs on oil “will not be passed in this Majlis.”

Moreover, he said at the time, the MDP would not support increasing T-GST without consultation with the tourism industry.

Predicting that revenue in 2013 would reach “only MVR 11 billion at most,” Ibu warned that income would not be enough to meet recurrent expenditures on salaries and administrative costs.

Meanwhile, Minority Leader MP Abdulla Yameen, parliamentary group leader of the PPM, said at the time that the government’s objectives or policies could not be discerned from the proposed budget.

“These projects are very random or ad hoc. The government’s planning should be better than this,” he said.

While President Waheed had taken note of the high salaries paid by institutions such as the People’s Majlis as “a serious problem,” Yameen said he could not see “any kind of sign” of reducing recurrent expenditure or salaries and allowances for government employees.

The state’s wage bill amounts to 48 percent of recurrent expenditure, which accounts for 70 percent of government spending.

2013 budget

A public sector investment program (PSIP) of MVR 3.1 billion (US$201 million) was proposed within the 2013 budget.

This included MVR 1.5 billion (US$97 million) from the state budget, MVR 21 million (US$1.3 million) from domestic loans, MVR 1.2 billion (US$77 million) as foreign loans and MVR347.6 million (US$22.5 million) as free aid.

After parliament trimmed more than MVR 1 billion (US$64.8 million) from the MVR 16.9 billion (US$1 billion) budget submitted by the Finance Ministry, Jihad warned that funds allocated in the budget would not be enough to manage expenses and predicted that a supplementary budget would be needed before the end of the year.

Parliament’s Budget Review Committee approved MVR 1.6 billion (US$103.7 million) in cuts from recurrent expenditure and added MVR 389 million (US$25.2 million) for infrastructure projects.

The budget items that the committee reduced included; overtime pay (cut 50 percent), travel expenses (cut 50 percent), purchases for office use (cut 30 percent), office expenditure (cut 35 percent), purchases for service provision (cut 30 percent), training costs (cut 30 percent), construction, maintenance and repair work (cut 50 percent) and purchase of assets (cut 35 percent).

The committee also instructed the Finance Ministry to reduce an additional MVR 605.7 million (US$39.2 million) from office budgets.

In December 2012, the Finance Ministry ordered offices to cancel all overseas trips, such as for study tours and training, and to seek approval from the ministry for all official trips that were not completely funded by foreign parties; cancel all repair work for the rest of December; and cancel purchases of capital items that were not included in the public sector investment programme (PSIP).

In the circular, the Finance Ministry noted that 15 percent had previously been deducted from office budgets to reduce the fiscal deficit “as a result of income being lower than estimated in the 2012 budget passed by parliament.”

However, since government spending necessary to provide essential services to the public could not be reduced, “the state’s expenditure has to be further controlled as additional measures are needed to reduce the state’s budget deficit,” the circular stated.

In July 2012, the Finance Ministry instructed all government offices to reduce their budgets by 15 percent, with only 14 of 35 offices complying by the given deadline.

“Some offices will face difficulties. But we don’t have a choice,” Jihad told local media at the time.

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Prospect of “radicalised, authoritarian” Maldives threatens all nations: former president Nasheed

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has spoken of the close relationship between climate change, human rights, and democracy during separate addresses to the Danish parliament and the University of Copenhagen this week.

Discussing concerns over political instability in the Maldives that have been raised by NGOs such as Amnesty Intentional since President Dr Mohamed Waheed came to power last year, Nasheed accused the current government of reversing “hard won freedoms” and awarding “Islamic extremists” with cabinet positions.

He also claimed that the prospect of the Maldives becoming a “radicalised, authoritarian stronghold” would have negative connotations well beyond the country’s borders.

“In many ways, [extremists] set the tone of Government communications and they are busy trying to indoctrinate the people with a misguided version of Islam,” Nasheed said.

The office of President Waheed – who entered into office through a controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012 – today dismissed Nasheed allegations that Islamic extremists were serving in the government.

“I urge Mr Nasheed to stop spreading lies to promote his political agenda.  I call on him to engage professionally,” President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said via SMS today.

Senior government figures have earlier this year criticised some of the recent findings published about the Maldives by Amnesty International, accusing the group of publishing reports without conducting research.

During his visit to the Danish capital, Nasheed also met with current and former Danish Ministers, high-level officials, supporters, as well as gave an interview to local tv news show DR2 Dagen.

Nasheed, who is a globally recognised high-profile advocate for climate justice, expounded on how he believed environmental issues, human rights, and political stability are increasingly intertwined.

“The fight against climate change is a human rights issue and the way we respond to it will shape not just our environment, but also geopolitical reality – for generations to come,” he stated while speaking at the University of Copenhagen yesterday (April 16).

“Bad energy policy is not just polluting our planet, it is polluting our politics, warping international relations.”

“New balance of power”

Nasheed gave a lecture to the University of Copenhagen highlighting the “corrupting influence of fossil fuels” on energy politics and how this has clashed with the newly-founded Maldivian democracy.

“The politics of energy is polluting international relations, just as it pollutes the air, casting a shadow over much of the world and holding back clean energy,” he stated.

“It is the invisible force holding nations in thrall to dictators, causing conflicts and repressing human rights, a suffocating inertia that holds back democracy and development.”

Nasheed addressed how “the fight for fossil fuel resources has shaped the world” for over a century, but now “the time has come for a reformation in energy politics; one that values human rights above mineral rights.”

While fossil fuels have “driven companies to corruption, governments to repression, and nations to war, the new resources – solar, wind, waves – are much more widely distributed…there are no ‘resource fields’ to fight over.”

Clean energy is about a significant shift in the established geopolitical order, a shuffling of the deck in the great game, not just about rewiring the world economy, Nasheed explained.

“Carbon emissions”

“If we turn our backs on corrupting influence of fossil fuels, if we reject the polluting in pursuit of the beautiful, we can protect the world around us. We can deliver sustainable economic growth. And we can do so whilst putting development and democracy first,” he stated.

“For the first time since the Industrial Revolution, it is now technologically, economically and politically feasible for people to get their energy sustainably.

Nasheed said it was important that climate change not be underplayed as “some abstract risk,” claiming that the lives and freedoms of people all over the world were threatened if no action was taken to address environmental concerns meaningfully.

“I know it is possible, because we had a plan to do it in the Maldives. A fully costed plan, approved by the World Bank, to go carbon neutral. The only reason we didn’t was because we were rudely interrupted by a coup!” Nasheed exclaimed.

“Radicalised, authoritarian stronghold”

Nasheed also gave a speech to the Danish Parliament that reiterated similar environmental themes, but with an emphasis on the Maldives’ 2008 democratic transition.

A year prior to the Copenhagen Accords – the first time that big emitters from the developed and the developing world all agreed to cut carbon emissions – the Maldives had transitioned from former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30-year authoritarian rule to democracy, Nasheed explained.

“Positive changes such as ‘Basic freedoms’ – freedoms which been repressed for generations – began to take hold,” said Nasheed.

“The Maldives was being hailed by NGOs as a model of liberal, Islamic democracy,” he added.

Nasheed provided the Danish parliament with a brief narrative account of the police and military mutiny on February 7, 2012, which he alleged was controlled by “Gayoom, and his allies, alongside Islamic extremists keen to re-establish the old order.”

“[Gayoom’s] former dictatorship organised the coup because they could see the edifice of their economic and political power crumbling,” he explained. “It was crumbling because Maldivians had rejected authoritarianism, rejected feudalism and largely rejected Islamic extremism.”

Nasheed also added that the prospect of the Maldives becoming a “radicalised, authoritarian stronghold” was a threat for many people.

“It is a threat to the hundreds of thousands of Europeans who holiday there every year. It is a threat to neighbouring democracies, such as India.  And it is a threat to the stability of the wider Indian Ocean, through which 40% of world trade passes,” he said.

“A democratic Maldives is not only your friend; it is also the best guarantor of your interests,” he emphasised.

Free and fair elections

Domestically, Nasheed is presently being tried in the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court over the controversial detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

However, Nasheed has maintained that the trial, presently on hold pending a High Court decision on the legitimacy of judges appointed to hear the former president’s case, is politically motivated to try and prevent free and fair elections from occurring this September.

He highlighted recent conclusions of both local and international experts into the present status of the country’s judiciary to support his claims.

“The United Nations Special Rapporteur says the court is bias and politicised. This view is shared by Amnesty International and the UN Human Rights Committee,” he said.

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