SAARC carnival planning underway

A South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Carnival will complement the November SAARC summit scheduled to be held in Addu City and Fuvammulah, President Mohamed Nasheed said in his radio address last weekend.

Various exhibitions and cultural events by local and regional groups are being planned for the carnival, which scheduled for the first two weeks of November.

Preparations for the SAARC summit have brought new infrastructure and development to Addu. The president said the summit would also give greater exposure to development projects and business ventures in the Maldives, and create new markets for Maldivian exports.

The two-day SAARC summit, grouping eight nations, will open on November 10.


GMR challenges Heavy Load for airport turf

GMR has challenged Heavy Load Maldives over land designated for a new terminal at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, Haveeru reports.

GADL International Limited, a subsidiary company of GMR, had allegedly been assigned to reclaim the land and build the new terminal.

However, reports state that Heavy Load was awarded the first phase of the reclamation project at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, which includes 50 percent of the reclamation.

GMR has said that Heavy Load would not be given the project to construct the breakwater.

Heavy Load was recently asked to stop work at the Enboodhoo Lagoon by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). The company had been awarded the project by Thilafushi Corporation Limited on September 30, 2010. Heavy Load re-submitted its proposal in August 2011, after the bidding was re-opened.

The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) interim Chairperson, ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, holds shares in Heavy Load.


Housing project only for Indian bids

The Finance Ministry has opened a housing project to build 500 housing units across the Maldives, but has limited bid submissions to Indian contractors, Haveeru News reports.

The Indian government allegedly offered the project, along with a US$40 million loan for its development, on the condition that only bids from Indian contractors be considered.

Haveeru News reports that contractors are required to make an initial bid deposit of US$400,000. They must register at the ministry before September 10.

A statement from the Finance Ministry allegedly said proposals must be submitted by September 26, and a pre-bid meeting will be held on September 8.


Bridge needed between Male’ and Hulhumale’, says President

President Mohamed Nasheed has said it is necessary for the government to built a bridge connecting the islands of Male’ and Hulhumale’ to improve transportation and development on both islands. This statement was made after the President presented documents of guarantee to flat recipients in Hulhumale’, as provided by the Veshi Fahi Male’ de-congestion program.

The President said a ferry system was insufficient to accommodate the growing populations on both islands.

The Veshi Fahi Male’ housing project is expected to add 10,000 flats to Hulhumale’. 8,000 flats are currently being constructed.

2500 flats were said to be built under Phase 2 of the Gulhifalhu development project, which is set to begin next month, reported the President’s Office.


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.


Resort proposal ‘not fully approved’, claims national planning council

National Planning Council has discussed a US$20 million proposal by Mohamed ‘Sim’ Ibrahim to develop two resorts in Malé Atoll, Haveeru reports.

Council reports said the proposal, which was submitted on June 19, was not fully approved.

Ibrahim is the Secretary General of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industries (MATI), and the husband of Tourism Minister Dr Maryam Zulfa.


SAARC centre 60 percent complete, says Foreign Ministry

The convention centre being constructed in Addu Atoll for the upcoming South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit is 60 percent complete, reports the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

This is the first time that the SAARC has been held off of Malé, and south of the equator.

Director of Communications for the Foreign Ministry, Irushaadha Abdul Sattar, said official invitations had been sent to participating countries, and teams were working round the clock to ensure the facilities were ready.

Workers were currently on a three shift a day schedule to complete the facility on time, Sattar said, noting that the physical structure was now complete and workers were focusing on internal wiring and landscaping.

“There has never been this amount of development for a SAARC Summit in the Maldives,” she said. “Roads are being built, buildings put up, wiring is being done, and this time it’s all going straight to the people.”

The Sri Lankan government has pledged to build a six kilometer road as part of project, with teams expected to arrive soon. The Foreign Ministry predicts that the facility will be completed by mid-September.

Addu City Mayor, Abdullah Sodiq, meanwhile forecast October 15 as a likely completion date for construction project, which covers 70 hectares. The Summit will be held in November.

Sodiq told Minivan News that the people of Addu were happy to see the infrastructure being built.

“The only concern is that it may not be completed on schedule,” he said, “At the beginning, progress was very slow, but now they are working very hard around the clock to be finished by October 15,” he said.

The Foreign Ministry said 30 groups have been chosen to perform sideline activities, such as entertainment, during the convention. Sodiq noted that youth groups and NGOs will be included, as well as some groups from other countries in the region.

The government has previously announced that the theme for the 17th SAARC Summit will be “Building Bridges” between member states, both in a physical and diplomatic sense.

One anticipated topic for the summit – heavily promoted by the Maldives – is the introduction of ferry services between the Maldives and destinations such as India and Sri Lanka.

President of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s youth wing, Shauna Aminath, previously observed that SAARC member nations included those the lowest-lying in the world – the Maldives – and the highest: Nepal.

“There are differences, but we want to use these as an opportunity to celebrate as a united force to build bridges of friendship, peace and security,” Aminath said.


Tata announces government link-up for residential developments

India-based construction giant Tata Housing Development has announced a multi-million dollar cooperation agreement with the Maldives government to construct residential and resort properties in the country.

The Wall Street Journal newspaper reports that as part of a Maldives government-commissioned programme valued at an estimated US$190million, Tata will develope around 350 residential flats and a number of island villa properties that will be sold both to the state and on the open market.

Tata estimates that about 80 per cent of the flat developments from the project would be sold to the Maldivian government, with the remaining properties sold privately in the country. No plans were mentioned for the proposed island villas.

Tata Housing Managing Director and Chief Executive Brotin Banerjee has told media that the project is expected to be completed within two to three years, with work carried out by a company called Apex Realty, part of the SG18 Developers group.


Climate change and “practical” development among talking points as Gayoom visits Bangladesh

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has called on members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to be more realistic in their aims for collaborative development during a visit to Bangladesh this week.

Gayoom, who was invited to the country by the University of Science and Technology of Chittagong (USTC) to attend a convocation scheduled for tomorrow (June 29), was reported to have asked SAARC leaders to be “practical” and outline more achievable developments in the region, according to the local Daily Star newspaper.

While unaware of the exact purpose of Gayoom’s visit, which has included meeting Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, parliamentary supporters of the former president claimed that the apparent statesman-like nature of his comments did not signify a return to active politics beyond attempts to try and settle divides within the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) that he helped found.

Outside of the domestic political sphere, the 73-year old former head of state has this week been speaking to local media about his own concerns on the importance of addressing issues like climate change and higher education, along with outlining what he perceives as the main challenges facing SAARC nations.

Gayoom said he believed that technical limitations and issues of resources had set SAARC members back in the “very high goals” set by each nation, though he said he believed the organisation had not failed in its plans and had great potential – particularly from regional enterprise.

“There must be more cooperation among the private sector of the SAARC countries,” the Daily Star quoted him as saying.

A spokesperson for President Mohamed Nasheed, who in 2008 successfully unseated Gayoom after 30 years in power during the country’s first ever democratic general elections, was not available for comment at the time of going to press on the visit.

Gayoom retired from active politics in early 2010, appointing  MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali as leader of the country’s main opposition party.

The former president remains a divisive figure in Maldivian life and politics following 30 years of autocratic rule that has inspired fierce support and criticism in equal measure depending  on individual political persuasion in the country.

However, MP DRP Ahmed Mahlouf, who along with Gayoom has been linked to the factional Z-DRP movement that now opposes incumbent party leader Thasmeen, said the former president remained a popular figure among SAARC member states for his work in the field of regional development.

“He has done a lot for the region and I wouldn’t be surprised if SAARC leaders praise him for his efforts,” he said.

Despite his reputation, Mahlouf said that the visit to Bangladesh should not be seen as an indication that Gayoom would run for president in 2013, adding that the former president had shown no interest to change his mind on retiring from front line politics.

“[Gayoom] has not really been commenting much on the current government despite concerns he has.  Right now he is working to try his best and solve disputes within the DRP, something Thasmeen is trying to prevent,” he claimed.

“I would like to see him form a new party under his own image.”