President discusses trade, security and consular issues with Indian PM

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and the first lady madam Fathmath Ibrahim have received a warm welcome from Indian counterpart Sri Pranab Mukherjee at the Presidential Residence Rashtrapati Bhavan today with a twenty-one gun salute and guard of honor.

Yameen, accompanied by a high level delegation arrived in New Delhi on 1 January and is to continue the visit till 4 January.

The president and his delegation has also met External Affairs Minister, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, National Security Advisor and Foreign Secretary and Finance Minster.

Maldives delegation includes Jumhooree Party leader MP Qasim Ibrahim, leader of Maldives Development Aalliance MP Ahmed Siyam Mohamed, President Yameen’s niece Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon, his nephew State Minister for Youth and Sports Ghassan Maumoon, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb, Minister at Presidents Office Mohamed Hussain Shareef, Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed, Health Minister Dr. Mariyam Shakeela.

Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh met with Yameen today and discussed mutual cooperation between the two countries at bilateral, sub-regional and regional levels.

Dr. Singh congratulated the President and the people of Maldive following the peaceful and smooth transition of power with the presidential elections.

The key areas of discussion between the two leaders were security cooperation, trade and developmental assistance, connectivity, consular issues and cooperation at regional and international levels.

Easing of visa and construction material restrictions

A mutual agreement was reached on addressing the concerns of citizens of both countries regarding consular and visa issues. Bringing an end to the Maldivian concerns on visa restrictions imposed in 2012, India agreed to provide visa free entry for Maldivians traveling to the country for medical purposes and to ease restrictions with regards to re-entry within two months. India also agreed to waiver restrictions on importing stone aggregates from India.

Both countries also agreed to give land from Male’ and Delhi for the construction of High Commission buildings of each country. A Memorandum of Agreement for allotment of plot to the High Commission of Maldives was signed at the meeting.

Trade and Development

In terms of trade and development, a mutual understanding was reached on compiling a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement in the near future.

Responding to a request from the Maldives, India agreed to export diesel, petrol and aviation fuel to Maldives and requested concerned authorities from both countries to meet proceed with necessary arrangements to make it possible.

Economic cooperation in food security, fisheries , tourism, transportation, information technology,, communications and renewable energy was discussed. With regards to the banking and financial sector, improving credit and insurance facilities and assistance in the establishment of development finance institutions was discussed.

India agreed to release USD 25 million Standby Credit Facility for imports from India and assured the continued support in development projects of Maldives.

Specific projects discussed include the Maldives Police Academy, Composite Training Centre for MNNDF and the renovation of Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH).

An MOU on cooperation in the field of Health and Exchange of Letters on extending the MoU on Manpower requirements of the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital was signed between the two countrie in the presence of the two leaders.

Establishment of the Joint Consultative Commission in 2014 under the Framework Agreement on Cooperation for Development between India and Maldives was also agreed upon.

The agreement signed in 2011 by President Mohamed Nasheed includes mutual cooperation in trade, investment investment, food security, fisheries development, tourism, transportation, information technology, renewable energy, communications and connectivity.

Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, with whom the president met earlier today, said chosing India for Yameen’s for official overseas visit gave a strong message to the people and businessmen of India. President Yameen said that Maldives is open for mega investors from India.

Security Cooperation

The two leaders agreed to enhance bilateral cooperation in issues of common concern such as maritime piracy, terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking. and human trafficking. They also agreed to increase cooperation in providing training and capacity building of Maldives National Defense Force and Maldives Police Service.

They expressed the need for strengthening maritime safety and security in the Indian Ocean region with joint patrolling, aerial and maritime survilance, information exchange and developing an effective legal framework against piracy.

President Yameen also met Indian National Security Advisor Shri Shivshankar Menon and Joint Secretarty Harsh Vardhan Shringla, to ay and discussed bilateral security cooperation. Menon discussed regional security and assured providing India’s assistance in areas of defense and policing. President Yameen noted bilateral relations with India was bolstered during his half-brother President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration.

The leaders agreed to enhance connectivity by air and sea between Kochin (India) and Male’ City (Maldives) and other destinations as under the Air Services Agreement between Maldives and India. The leaders discussed starting direct flights between Male’ and Mumbai/Delhi as soon as possible.

Cooperation at regional and international level

Mutual commitment was expressed for UN Security Council early reform, including the representation of geopolitical realities int permanent and non-permanent seats of the Council.

Maldives reiterated the support for India’s bid to win a permanent seat at the council. Both showed support for their bids at non-permanent seats of the council, Maldives for 2019-2020 term and India for 2021 – 2022 term.

Both leaders highlighted the need to strengthen and reform multilateral financial institutions and increased participation of developing countries in global economic decision-making.

The two leaders also agreed to cooperate in strengthening the SAARC and promoting regional cooperation.

President Yameen, in his meeting with Indian Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh assured that India’s priorities will be priorities for the Maldives as well.

The President’s visit was prompted by an invitation from the Indian President Shri Pranab Mukherjee in November 2013, soon after his inauguration. Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim visited India last month, responding to an invitation extended by his counterpart AK Anthony.

Traditional and long standing bilateral relations between India and Maldives were strained under President Dr. Mohamed Waheed following the controversial power transfer of February 2011 and the premature cancellation of Indian Infrastructure company GMR’s $511 million airport project in 2012.

President Abdullah Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) lead by his half-brother former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was also a coalition partner in Waheed’s government. However since Yameen’s inauguration last November, the brothers have expressed an essential and urgent need to improve Indo-Maldives relations.


Lack of international cooperation could force MDP to militancy: MP Ali Waheed

Following high-level visits by the Commonwealth and United States Embassy this week, a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP claimed the party will resort to militancy if the international community does not do more to help restore democracy in the Maldives.

The United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Michele J Sison arrived in the capital Male’ today (March 26). Earlier this week (March 24), the Canadian Special Envoy for the Commonwealth, Senator Hugh Segal met with the Maldives parliamentary Committee on Government Oversight.

Parliament Oversight Committee Chairperson and MDP MP Ali Waheed implored the international community to take immediate, decisive actions to help restore democracy in the Maldives.

He explained militant and radical forces – which included presidential candidates – within the Maldives were becoming more powerful.

“The current situation within the country is going from bad to worse and heading towards chaos. Everything is politicised,” Waheed said.

“Umar Naseer is militant, but the international community are promoting more diplomatic candidates like [DRP] leader  Thasmeen Ali, who is failing.

“Why can’t they see this reality? The security of the Indian Ocean region and the Maldives is threatened,” he exclaimed.

MP Waheed also claimed that the MDP will resort to behaving like the militants if the international community does not provide help to ensure free and fair elections in September.

“MDP will not give away our presidential candidate [former President Mohamed Nasheed]. We already gave the government away because of the coup.

“MDP urges diplomacy and dialogue, but will but will step toward radicalism. MDP will be like the militants if the international community does not take action. MDP will be on the ground if Nasheed is not on the ballot paper. We will fight to the last drop [of blood].

MPs are very concerned the international community will continue to only focus on diplomatic discussions, which appear to be failing, claimed MP Waheed.

“We cannot wait for more talk. Nothing is moving, it has been ‘stuck’ since the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) report.

“We urge them to act now. Inclusive elections are the way forward. We call on other countries to help find a solution,” MP Waheed implored.

MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor further explained the MDP’s frustration to Minivan News.

“With the relative passivity of the international community on pending issues such as CoNI, action on errant forces and judicial reform, taken together with the ‘bash up’ attitude of mutineers towards MDP members, emotions are naturally bound to be heightened.

“[Therefore] the party top echelon would provide leadership, especially as it looks like the MDP shall have to go it alone towards elections,” said Ghafoor.

During the Parliament Oversight Committee’s meeting on Sunday, MPs briefed the Commonwealth’s Canadian Special Envoy, Senator Segal on the events surrounding February 2012’s controversial transfer of power, the current political situation in the Maldives, and the police services’ impunity from prosecution.

“He was very shocked,” claimed MP Waheed.

According to MP Waheed, the Commonwealth has pledged to give all the support necessary to bring back democracy and push for a solution regarding [the presidential candidacy of] Nasheed.

“We hope the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) will seriously consider these things and discuss them,” he said.

“We thank the Canadian government and asked the Senator to pass along a letter to the Prime Minister. We requested he meet us and really keep an eye on the situation here,” he added.

The US Embassy stated the visit by Ambassador Sison today was routine.

“The Ambassador is in Maldives as part of our normal bilateral relationship. She will meet with government, military, and civil society leaders,” said embassy official Christopher Elms.

International commitments to reform

The Commonwealth has played a key role in terms of the international community’s stance towards the Maldives, particularly following the controversial transfer of power in February in which the present government came to office.

Commonwealth Secretary General’s Special Envoy to the Maldives, Sir Don McKinnon, visited the Maldives in January 2013.

“A key objective of Sir Donald’s visit will be to discuss efforts to strengthen democratic institutions and processes in Maldives, and how the Commonwealth can further assist in this regard,” said Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma in a statement.

McKinnon’s visit followed the publication of a report in August 2012 by the Commonwealth-backed CoNI into the controversial transfer of power on February 7 2012. The report concluded that there was no mutiny by police or the military, and that former President Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation was not made under duress.

During McKinnon’s visit the MDP accused the Commonwealth Secretariat of being complicit in a “systematic government cover-up designed to subdue testimonies from key witnesses to the coup d’etat”.

In December 2012, the Commonwealth said it would work with the Maldivian government to push ahead with strengthening and reforming “key public institutions” as it reiterated calls for “inclusive and credible” presidential elections to be held next year.

In a statement issued December 7, Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma said the intergovernmental organisation would continue to work with international partners and Maldivian authorities on a programme of reform and “practical collaboration”.

Meanwhile, the US delegation that visited the Maldives in February this year gave no “definitive answer” to political issues raised by former President Mohamed Nasheed, the MDP has said.

Nasheed informed the delegates that the present government had failed to act upon the recommendations made in the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) report, claiming there had been a “lack of effort” to reform the judiciary.

However, MDP Spokesman Ghafoor said the US delegation were unable to answer the issues raised by Nasheed, and that their interest was focused on the implementation of free and fair elections later this year.

In April 2012, the US government pledged US$500,000 (Rf7.7 million) for an elections programme to assist Maldivian institutions in ensuring a free and fair presidential election.

The European Union (EU) declared this March that it would be “difficult” to consider the Maldives’ upcoming presidential elections credible unless former President Mohamed Nasheed is allowed to contest.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has highlighted “free, fair and credible” elections as the “best course” for overcoming political uncertainty in the Maldives.

In a statement issued this March, Singh – referring to last year’s controversial transfer of power – noted that “there have been unfortunate problems in the Maldives after the February 2012 event.”

The Elections Commission of India (ECI) and the Elections Commission of the Maldives (EC) agreed on a roadmap for cooperation this March that includes jointly developing an assistance project to enable free and fair elections later this year.

During the protests that erupted during Nasheed’s stay in the Indian High Commission this February, the UK issued a statement calling for “inclusive” presidential elections as well as calm and restraint.

“During FCO Minister Alistair Burt’s recent visit to Maldives, he said it was vital that the country move decisively towards free, fair and inclusive Presidential elections. He also stressed the importance of all parties being able to participate in elections with the candidate of their choice. It is important for all parties to avoid taking action which could lead to doubt over the integrity of the electoral process and contribute to continuing instability,” the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated.

At the time, the UN Secretary General’s office stated that it was “monitoring the developments with concern”, and urged “all political actors to exercise restraint, renew their commitment to the constitution and work toward creating conducive conditions for fair, peaceful and inclusive elections.”

“All parties contesting the September 7 presidential elections should be able to field the candidates of their choice in accordance with the rule of law and the constitution,” the UN stated.

Many of these prominent international actors initially supported the legitimacy of President Waheed Hassan Manik’s government following the controversial transfer of power February 7, 2012.

The CoNI report that followed six months later was welcomed at the time by the United Nations, Commonwealth, and United States.


“India will be at your side”: Dr Manmohan Singh addresses parliament

Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh pledged support at parliament yesterday for the Maldives’ democratic transition through financial assistance and bilateral initiatives for development, becoming the first foreign head of state or government to address the legislative body in its 78-year history.

The Indian Prime Minister was greeted with a ceremonial welcome in Male’ for his first official state visit after the conclusion of the 17th SAARC summit in Addu City on Friday.

“India will be at your side in your transition to a fully functioning democracy,” Singh declared at the special sitting of the People’s Majlis. “We will assist the Majlis by way of training, formulation of rules and regulations and any other assistance that you may desire.”

The Speaker of the Lob Shaba, the lower house of the Indian parliament, is due to visit the Maldives, Singh noted, while the formation of India-Maldives parliamentary friendship groups “augur well for the development of relations between our two parliaments.”

Prior to his historic address before parliament, the Indian Prime Minister signed five agreements under a ‘Framework for Cooperation in Development’ with President Mohamed Nasheed after official bilateral talks at the President’s Office.

“This is a blueprint for cooperation in areas such as trade and investment, food security, fisheries development, tourism, transportation, information technology, new and renewable energy, communications and enhancing connectivity by air and sea,” Singh said in his address.

In addition to a US$40 million line of credit to construct housing units, India extended a credit facility of US$100 million to help the Maldives “meet its short-term budgetary needs” and import essential commodities.

India extended similar financial assistance in December 2008 to plug the fiscal deficit and in the following year subscribed to US$100 million in treasury bonds. The new loan is to be used to settle Rf4.76 billion in T-bill sales sold through the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) by April 30, 2012.

US$30 million of the credit facility was issued on October 31 by the Indian government.

As part of the aid programme, said Singh, India will undertake “a major renovation” to be completed by 2013 of the India Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in Male’, the main referral hospital in the Maldives.

The Prime Minister noted that Indian companies were engaged in infrastructure projects in the Maldives and wished to “forge closer economic links through banking and financial institutions” and “cooperate in the modernisation of your fishing and food processing industry.”

Among the agreements signed yesterday was the inception of a regular passenger cum cargo ferry service between Cochin and Male’ and the development of a regional port in Kulhudhufushi, the main population hub of the north.

Interlinked security interests

On global warming and climate change, Singh said India understood the threat Maldives faced from rising sea levels and shared its concerns.

“I wish to state in no uncertain terms that India will stand as one with Maldives in combating global warming. Maldives’ views must be heard with respect in global councils,” he said.

“We will help Maldives to achieve its aim of becoming carbon neutral. We will help build your capacities through sharing of energy efficiency technologies and provide scholarships for students from Maldives in areas such as coastal zone adaptation and management.”

On the “extended neighbourhood” of the Indian Ocean and shared security concerns, Singh noted that “over 97 percent of India’s international trade by volume and 75 percent by value passes through the Indian Ocean.”

“The challenges we face are well known – extremism and religious fundamentalism, piracy, smuggling and drug trafficking to name a few. Maldives is additionally concerned about poaching in the coral reefs and illegal commercial fishing by foreign trawlers. We have together experienced the devastation caused by the tsunami in 2004,” Singh observed.

As part of a “multi-pronged approach” to dealing with the problems, India has pledged to support the construction of a police academy in the Maldives while agreements were signed for cooperation in combating terrorism, drug trafficking, disaster management, coastal security, and transfer of sentenced prisoners.

The Indian Prime Minister also congratulated President Nasheed and his administration for “the outstanding manner in which the [SAARC] Summit was organised,” a conference that has helped “further consolidate the process of regional integration in South Asia.”

Singh praised the “impressive strides in nation-building” the Maldives has made since independence in 1965, with the highest socio-economic indicators and progress on Millennium Development Goals in the South Asia region.

“You have chosen the path of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights. You have shown how even a small nation can stand up and be counted in the affairs of the world,” he said.

“I am confident that the people of Maldives will continue to consolidate their achievements. As an abiding friend, India will always stand by you in these efforts. Our relations are time-tested and I wish to reaffirm that they shall remain so in the future.”


Indian Prime Minister to be invited to address parliament

Parliament today unanimously approved a proposal to invite Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to address parliament during a maiden visit to the Maldives.

The proposal was put to a vote after an amendment to the rules of procedure was passed yesterday to allow foreign heads of state or heads of government to deliver speeches before parliament.

“The fact that [the invitation proposal] was passed with unanimous consent of all MPs who participated in the vote has shown our Majlis’ sincerity and desire to invite and welcome Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh,” said Speaker Abdulla Shahid after the vote.

Shahid said he would work with parliamentary group leaders to “offer a warm welcome” to the Indian Prime Minister and sent the official invitation to the Indian government today.

During the debate on the proposal, MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, parliamentary group leader of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), said he was pleased that the Indian Prime Minister would become the first foreign head of state to address the Maldivian parliament.

MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom, deputy parliamentary group leader of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), said Dr Manmohan Singh’s address would benefit the fledgling democracy in the Maldives.

MP Abdulla Yameen, parliamentary group leader of the newly-formed Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), observed that Dr Singh was an economist by profession and “what the Maldives needs the most today is to strengthen our democracy and economy.”

“I am sure he will highlight these two areas in his address,” Yameen said.

Meanwhile at today’s sitting, MPs voted 52-8 to approve the signing of a treaty between the Maldives and India on mutual legal assistance on criminal matters.