Government claims India ties “as strong as during Gayoom’s time”

President Abdulla Yameen has returned to the Maldives after an official trip to India, where both countries made multiple mutual agreements of cooperation for the development of various sectors.

Speaking to media upon his return, both Vice President Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) leader and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom have claimed that ties with India have become “as strong as they were during Gayoom’s time in power”.

It was claimed that rifts between the countries had risen as a result of the failure of the Nasheed and Waheed administrations to raise inter-country discussion as a key strategy.

Upon returning from his trip, President Yameen briefed the media on the various deliberations that had taken place between the Maldivian government’s high level delegation and their counterparts in India during the trip from January 1 to 4.

He stated that the delegation was able to find solutions for “a large part of the major difficulties” the country is facing at the moment, predicting ease in the obtainment of visa and the availability of basic food staples, fuel and construction material.

He added that long deliberations had also been held regarding regional maritime security.

The president also extended an invitation to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit the Maldives.

SBI to increase lending, GMR to get cash compensation

Yameen revealed that talks had been held with representatives from the State Bank of India (SBI) regarding the granting of an increase in the amount of loans released by the bank’s branch in the Maldives – titled ‘portfolio landing’. The president stated that this would benefit customers of SBI and businesses investing in the country.

“Indian leaders pledged to provide approximately one billion dollars needed for development of the Maldives to SBI, and that this will facilitate businesses in the country in the near future,” member of the visiting delegation and government coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) leader Ahmed Shiyam stated.

Shiyam went on to describe the trip as “the most successful trip a Maldivian leader has ever made to India”.

President Yameen stated on Saturday that GMR – Indian infrastructure giant with which the former administration had made a contract for airport development – would not be given the airport as compensation for cancelling the agreement, but rather would be given the compensation in the form of money.

He stated the government is currently considering ways of solving this matter at a time when “the state budget itself is so tight”, claiming that he had suggested a resolution other than the renewal of the contract.

“My hope is that the GMR matter can be solved with the government having to pay a fine that is affordable,” he stated, adding that while the company has informed local media that the compensation fee is US$1.2 billion, the amount was quoted as US$700 to 800 million by former Attorney General Azima Shakoor.

He revealed that the government’s approach is to find a solution agreeable to both parties prior to the completion of the arbitration case, which they believe will increase India government’s trust in the Maldivian government.

“Truth is that according to my calculations GMR has invested about 168 to 170 million dollars, and so there is no question as to whether they are entitled to compensation. Compensation must be granted. The question, however, is whether we have to pay the full amount that they are claiming,” Yameen said.

Protection of investments

Additionally, India pledged to provide funds for the establishment of a police academy and a composite training facility for the MNDF security forces. Agreements were also made by which India will provide funds to repair and develop the Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in the capital city, Malé.

Further plans were made to facilitate better connections between Cochin, in India, and Male’ via sea and air travel. Both leaders also noted that it is of crucial importance to introducing direct flights between the Maldives and Delhi.

The leaders signed two agreements regarding the health sector, and an agreement regarding the provision of land from India to construct a Maldivian Embassy.

Vice President Jameel stated that bilateral relations were now “approaching the close ties that were seen before”.

“With the President’s trip, we have the opportunity of raising to a whole new level the historically strong bonds between the two countries. India has fulfilled everything that the Maldives requested for,” Jameel is quoted as saying in local media.

He further  claimed that the struggles the Maldives had to undergo in the past five years have been solved with a single trip to India by President Yameen, with former President Gayoom backing this assertion.

“During the President’s trip, India has given assurance that we will be soon enjoying a relationship as devoid of problems as the one we had during the time I was in power,” Gayoom told local media. “Things will soon be as smooth as they were during my time. We are seeing an end to the problems we have at present.”


Maldives denies diplomatic snub by India, as High Commission issues list of consular grievances

The Indian government has rejected an official request from Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdul Samad Abdulla to visit the country, Indian media has reported.

According to the Indian Express newspaper, Samad sought to set up an official visit for Maldivian President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik through formal channels but was rebuffed.  He then reportedly visited Delhi in a personal capacity to try and arrange meetings.

“With elections expected in the next three to six months, [the Prime Minister’s Office] was wary about Waheed or his foreign minister wrongly projecting a meeting for domestic political gains in the name of rapprochement with India,” the Indian Express reported.

The Maldives’ relationship with India has been strained since the Waheed government evicted Indian infrastructure giant GMR from the country with seven days notice, declaring its US$511 concession agreement ‘void from the start’.

“Waheed has lost all credibility with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as he had specifically assured Singh during his visit to India last May that Malé will not rescind on the GMR contract despite political pressure,” the Express added.

However Foreign Minister Samad told local media that the Maldives had not been snubbed by India, and had last met the Indian Foreign Minister in November.

“I did not request a meeting in an official capacity. They facilitated our request for a meeting in a personal capacity,’ Samad told Haveeru. “So why would they snub a request for an official meeting? They facilitated it.”

The foreign relations between the two countries were “quite strong”, Samad insisted: “The Foreign Minister told me that he was reachable 24 hours.”

“Issues will arise diplomatically. But the ties between India and Maldives are strong. The relations won’t be affected as it remains cordial,” Samad added.

Whatever impact the government’s sudden eviction of the Indian investor had on foreign relations, it did not appear on a full list of 11 grievances handed to all senior Maldivian reporters by the Indian High Commission earlier this week:

Consular issues affecting the India-Maldives relationship

1. Discrimination against Indian expatriates

In recent past, several cases have come to the notice of the High Commission of India regarding the arrest of Indian nationals on various charges. In most of these cases, the Indian High Commission was not even officially informed.

In a recent case, an Indian national was arrested and kept in detention for several weeks, but we did not receive any official intimation despite a letter sent by the High Commissioner to the Home Minister.

2. Keeping passports of Indian nationals by employers

It is unfortunate that despite many references and high level meetings with Indian delegations, no progress has been made to eliminate this illegal practice which effectively results in the restriction of movement of Indian nationals. In several cases Indian nationals are not able to reach India in times of extreme emergency such as critical illness of family members and relatives, due to these practices.

It is unfortunate that even government authorities such as the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health keep the passports of Indian teachers and medical personnel in their custody.

It is also reported that deposits and original certificates are kept illegally by the Ministry of Education before returning the passports of Indian teachers needing to visit India in emergency situations.

3. Exploitation of Indian workers

In the past 12 months there have been more than 500 cases regarding the suffering of Indian workers due to various acts of their employers. These include non-payment of visa fees, non-payment of salaries, keeping workers in inhumane conditions, and not allowing workers to go to India even for medical emergencies or after the death of their relatives.

While so many Indians suffered – including one who died waiting for his return to India – there is no information of any action taken against employers/agents. Furthermore, the salaries of many workers who have left India still needs to be recovered from employer/agents.

In another recent case, several nurses working out in the islands had to finally cancel their scheduled weddings because their permit and visa were not renewed by the Ministry of Health even after three weeks of waiting in Male.

4. Repatriation of mortal remains

While the departments of the Maldivian government such as the Ministry of Education do repatriate the mortal remains of Indian teachers at their cost, some private employers refuse to do so resulting in serious difficulty repatriating the bodies of Indian expatriates who die while in the Maldives.

5. Issue of dependent visa for old parents of Indian employees

While India readily provides dependent visas for the parents of children, the Maldivian government requires a request letter from the Indian High Commission to entertain such a visa request from an Indian expatriate.

6. Visa fee

While all visas for Maldivian nationals to travel to India are free, there are steep fees for visas for Indians in the Maldives, including newly born babies. There are very high penalties of MVR 15,000 (US$1000) even for a one day delay in the return or renewal of a visa.

7. Repatriation of salary

Indian professionals are complaining that they are not allowed to repatriate salaries of more than US$1000 a month, putting them at great disadvantage and difficulty.

8. Threat calls to diplomats

Threat calls have been received by the First Secretary. Authorities have given no feedback despite the lapse of one month.

9. Reopening of cases relating to sentenced Indian prisoners

Three Indians who have been convicted on murder charges have represented against their conviction based on forced confessions and requested reopening of their cases or presidential pardon.

10. Payment of deduction of salary

Fifteen percent of salaries and allowances were deducted [for some workers] during the economic recess. We have received representation for payment of the amount.

11. Pension contribution

Pension/contribution entitlement for Indians who have died, retired or returned to India should be paid to them.

President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad was not responding at time of press.