Comment: Komodo Island remains in New7Wonders of Nature campaign, as do the islands of Maldives

On Saturday, readers of Minivan News were greeted with the headline: “Indonesia joins Maldives in withdrawing from New7Wonders competition”.

Now, a good headline is an essential component of good journalism, but headlines don’t always reflect the complexity of a story. An alternative title for the article could have been, “Komodo Island remains in the New7Wonders of Nature campaign, as do the Islands of the Maldives”. Here’s why.

On August 11, the new Official Supporting Committee (OSC) for Komodo Island in the New7Wonders of Nature campaign was announced in Jakarta, Indonesia.

P2Komodo is led by Ms Emmy Hafild, the leading independent Indonesian environmentalist, recognised by Time magazine and the UN for her successful environmental campaigning in the past against the Suharto dictatorship. P2Komodo is an alliance of positive and forward looking members of Indonesian civil society, who are keen to ensure that Komodo Island has a fair chance of participating in the New7Wonders of Nature.

Four days later, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (MCT) of Indonesia organised a somewhat surreal press conference in Jakarta to announce the MCT’s “withdrawal of Komodo Island” from the New7Wonders of Nature.

But the MCT had no authority in this matter as it ceased to be the legitimate New7Wonders representative in Indonesia in February, so the announcement was absurd. Naturally, New7Wonders of Nature has no issue with the Indonesian MCT’s right not to be involved in the Komodo Island campaign, in the same way that we have no issue with the MMPRC agency resigning as the OSC for the islands of the Maldives in May.

By the way, the 41 Official Supporting Committees from 37 countries representing the 28 Finalists in the New7Wonders of Nature were invited, all expenses paid (including flights and accommodation) by the Indonesian MCT, to attend the press conference. Only one accepted the generous offer, Mr Simon Hawkins, the British head of the MMPRC agency. Does this mean that Maldives tourism policy is now being influenced by the money of another country? We do not know. However, the MMPRC agency shares with the Indonesian MCT the dubious distinction of both being former OSCs in the New7Wonders of Nature.

Despite a series of malicious attacks on New7Wonders by the MCT, the public and media opinion consensus in Indonesia is that the MCT should not interfere in the democratic right of the Indonesian people to vote for Komodo Island in the New7Wonders of Nature. Voting for Komodo Island itself has increased dramatically since the events of the past few days, showing quite clearly how the people of Indonesia are viewing this matter. As Emmy Hafild has said, “Indonesia is a democratic country, so the government must not prevent the Indonesian people from voting for Komodo and making it one of the New7Wonders successfully”.

We believe the same democratic rights should be extended to the people of the Maldives. Three months have passed since we accepted the resignation of the MMPRC agency, and since then we have received reports of many Maldivian people and organisations that are willing to form a new OSC, but who feel threatened and unable to exercise their civil right of freedom of expression and organisation. That’s why we recently wrote to the government of the Republic of the Maldives, requesting the assurance that it will not interfere with or threaten the formation of such a new OSC for the Islands of the Maldives, and respecting the democratic principles that now guide the nation of the Maldives. We are pleased to say that the government of the Republic of the Maldives has agreed to our request, and we received this assurance in writing on August 20.

Because we believe the time has come for everyone to move on constructively we will not comment again on the many misleading statements that have been made about New7Wonders by the MMPRC agency. Instead, we urge the positive and forward thinking members of Maldivian society to exercise their democratic right to actively support the Islands of the Maldives in the New7Wonders of Nature, like the enlightened majority members of Indonesian civil society are now doing for Komodo Island.

So, here’s the story in a headline: “Komodo Island remains in the New7Wonders of Nature campaign, as do the islands of the Maldives”.

Eamonn Fitzgerald is Head of Communication at New7Wonders

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Indonesia joins Maldives in withdrawing from New7Wonders competition

Following in the footsteps of the Maldives, Indonesia has officially withdrawn the Komodo National Park from the New7Wonders competition citing doubts about the credibility of the organisers.

During a press conference last week, Indonesia’s Tourism Minister Jero Wacik announced that the decision was taken “because the organisers – the New7Wonders Foundation – have taken actions that are not professional, consistent and transparent.”

According to reports in the Jakarta Post, Wacik said the New7Wonders Foundation was“unprofessional”, “unaccountable” and were “not credible”.

“We have spent around Rp 10 billion (US$1.1 million) on campaign activities over the past three years,” Wacik told the newspaper, claiming that the foundation had subsequently demanded a US$10 million licensing fee and a US$35 million fee to host a ceremony celebrating the competition’s winners.

Also speaking during the press conference, Indonesia’s tourism marketing director Sapta Nirwandar claimed that the New7Wonders foundation did not have an office.

“We sent a letter to the office address in Zurich, but the letter came back to us because the address was not clear,” the Post reported Nirwandar as saying, adding that it was “very strange” for an international organisation involved in million-dollar transactions “not to have a real office”.

New7Wonders has meanwhile announced the launch of a text voting service in Indonesia, allowing locals to vote for Komodo at US$0.12 per text.

The Maldives cabinet withdrew the country from the New7Wonders campaign in May, claiming similar demands for increasingly high fees in order for the Maldives to compete meaningfully for the remainder of the competition.

State Minister for Tourism Thoyyib Mohamed said at the time that the Maldives was withdrawing from the competition “because of the unexpected demands for large sums of money from the New7Wonders organisers. We no longer feel that continued participation is in the economic interests of the Maldives.”

The Maldives had invested substantially less in the campaign than Indonesia – a total of US$12,000 on banners and voting terminals – before the company behind New7Wonders, the ‘New Open World Corporation’ (NOWC), began requesting ‘sponsorship fees’ (‘platinum’ at US$350,000, or two ‘gold’ at US$210,000 each), and the funding of a ‘World Tour’ event whereby the Maldives would pay for a delegation of people to visit the country, provide hot air balloon rides, press trips, flights, accommodation and communications, at a predicted cost of US$500,000.

NOWC had initially levied a US$199 participation fee upon signing of the initial contract in early 2009, and no further costs were explicitly detailed in the contract.

Investigating the company in May, Minivan News confirmed that a ‘New7Wonders Foundation’ was registered in the Swiss canton of Zurich as a charitable foundation, however the contract signed with the Maldives gave NOWC’s address as a law firm in the Republic of Panama.

In response to this story, New7Wonders Spokesperson Eamonn Fitzgerald said the foundation had transferred the commercial operations to its licensing company, New Open World Corporation, “which then runs the commercial aspects.”

In a letter to Minivan News, Fitzgerald insisted that the the Maldives remained in the competition despite the government’s decision.

“The authority to withdraw a participant from the campaign is a decision for New7Wonders alone, not for any government agency. In this respect, New7Wonders adheres to the same principles as FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), organisations that do not tolerate any government interference so as to ensure their independence,” Fitzgerald wrote.

The government responded that “the democratically elected Government of the Maldives is the only legitimate authority to act in the name of the Maldives and its people”, and that its continued use of the Maldives brand by NOWC was “infringing the sovereign rights of the Maldives”.

Following the Indonesian announcement, Minivan News understands from a source familiar with the matter that the tourism authorities of 6-7 other countries have “expressed doubts” about the competition, “but are concerned about losing face.”

Three of Indonesia’s ministers – fisheries, forestry and tourism – acknowledged that the Maldives had led the way, the source said.