Chinese companies have discussed Maldives’ satellite slot: former communications minister

Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim met with two Chinese companies interested in launching and operating a satellite designated for the Maldives during a recent visit to China, former Minister of Communication Dr Ahmed Shamheed has claimed.

Shamheed told Minivan News today that the Maldives government was potentially entitled to an “orbital slot” for a satellite from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). However, because the Maldives’ currently lacks the capabilities to launch and operate a satellite, the state would have to lease out the slot to an external party.

Earlier this month (December 12) the Communications Authority of Maldives (CAM) announced that it was looking to find a partner in order to form a venture for the operation of a satellite serving the Maldives.

The announcement was made at the same time that Defence Minister Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim was on an official five-day visit to China, where he signed a military aid agreement with Chinese National Defence Minister General Liang Guanglie.

According to Shamheed, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim has already been approached by various Chinese companies who have expressed interest in the satellite venture.

“At first, I had been involved in casual meetings with these companies, but now it seems to getting more serious. Nazim had even questioned as to why we have not yet signed an agreement with them,” Shamheed alleged.

Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Orbital slot

The former transport and communications minister said that in his view, the best option would be to lease the “orbital slot” only after the Maldives was officially awarded the space by the ITU.

“Operating a satellite is not an easy thing to do, and [the Maldives] does not have the facilities to do such a thing. The best plan would be to get the slot and then to sell it to whomever we wanted. I don’t understand why we have to agree to anything right now,” Shamheed said.

However, he warned selling the slot to a Chinese company before the ITU had awarded the space to the Maldives could result in “external” influences swaying the decision.

“If we sell the slot right now to a Chinese company there could be problems. We don’t know who influences the ITU or who could be involved behind the scenes, if we sell the slot now it might mean that our orbital slot is revoked,” added Shamheed.

Deputy Transport Minister Ishaq Ahmed told local newspaper Haveeru on Friday (December 21) that two Chinese companies have expressed interest in launching and operating a satellite designated for the Maldives.

However, he added that the government did not wish to sell the slots specifically to Chinese companies , adding there had been no official transactions made so far.

An expert committee will evaluate proposals and select a party, he explained.

“We have not decided to give it to a particular country. I’ve learned that it is a Chinese company does this for [Sri] Lanka now. Therefore it is likely that another Chinese company could be interested in the Maldives. All countries would have an opportunity in this. They should come with the best proposal,” he was quoted as saying.

Ishaq denied the Transport Ministry was planning to sell the slot to a Chinese enterprise.

He explained that obtaining the slot would be up to the chosen party and that the ITU informed the ministry that the process could take two years.

The request for proposal (RFP) was announced with a view to commencing the project soon, he added.

CAM previously announced that the satellite project will be carried out in three phases whereby an orbital slot is to be secured, before manufacturing and launching the satellite itself. The final stage will involve the commercial operation of the satellite.

Local media reported that the CAM had stated the importance of a satellite was increasing “by the day”, following a surge in broadcasters within the country.

The authority stated that spending money on foreign satellite service providers is a financial burden and that its excessive capacity can be utilised commercially to generate money for the country.