‘Real’ Maldives “tarnished by gang violence, drug addiction, unemployment, political corruption, religious extremism”: The National

Ahmed fears for the life of the Maldives’ first democratically elected president and well-known environmental campaigner, who is now fighting for re-election a year after a violent uprising forced him from power. And Ahmed should know – he says he was once offered the contract to carry out his assassination, writes Eric Randolph for the UAE’s publication The National.

Picture the Maldives, and you’re probably imagining crystalline waters and perfectly groomed white beaches. Yet outside the five-star resorts, real life is very different and the image of an idyllic paradise has been tarnished by the growing problems of gang violence, drug addiction, unemployment, political corruption and religious extremism.

Having been one of the most notorious members of one of the country’s most feared gangs, Ahmed (not his real name) knows this side of the Maldives all too well. We meet in the cramped one-bedroom “apartment” he shares with his parents and two siblings. Apartment is a stretch – it’s a small room down a dingy ground-floor corridor, walls painted a lurid green, with an extended bunk bed that somehow accommodates all five of them and takes up most of the space.

In 2006, a leading politician allegedly offered Ahmed a contract to kill “or severely injure” Mohamed Nasheed, the man who was trying to bring down the 30-year authoritarian rule of Maumoon Gayoom. Local politicians and elites had been using the gangs to run their drug and alcohol operations on the streets for several years by this point. Street fights over territory and girls were leading to nine or 10 deaths a year.

Ahmed won’t talk about the violence in his past, though at one stage he draws me a picture of the knives he used to carry at all times (guns, mercifully, have yet to make it to Maldives). “This is my favourite,” he says, pointing at a serrated blade that looks like a Christmas tree in his sketch.

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Q&A: President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan

The following is a transcript of a press conference given by President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan to foreign media at 4:30pm on 16/2/2012. Also present besides the media was the President’s Political Advisor Dr Hassan Saeed and two unidentified men, one of whom identified himself as from Malaysia – “a friend passing through”.

Addendum: The individual was subsequently identified as Dr Ananda Kumarasiri, a 30 year career ambassador with the Malaysian Foreign Service.

SBS TV Australia (SBS): Can you comment on the decision of your brother, Naushad Waheed Hassan, to resign as Deputy of the UK High Commission?

Dr Mohamed Waheed (DMW): I didn’t appoint my brother to the high commission, he was appointed by the former president. I know where his loyalty is. He decided to quit and I respect his decision.

SBS: But he was very close to you?

DMW: This a very small country so you will find in any house there are people who belong to different political parties. It doesn’t surprise me.

SBS: But what he said must have been very painful – he wasn’t just resigning, he was saying you lacked character and you had been fooled into taking the role you are taking. It was very personal.

DMW: I have no comment.

Journalist: Is there a possibility of holding early elections or will you wait until 2013?

DMW: No. I really believe in elections. I have been through elections and I have fought for elections. I have been taken into custody for these reasons. I ran in a public election and was elected as a member of parliament for Male’ – the biggest constituency.

I ran the first modern political campaign in the country, ever. And then I ran with President Nasheed as his running mate. I really believe in free and fair elections. If I believe that was the time to hold elections then we would have free and fair elections – I would be the first. But I believe the conditions have to be right. We have to have a calm atmosphere, we have to address some of the deep rifts that we have in the political situation in the country, and then move towards free and fair election.

I know there are calls for an early election, and I am ready to engage in discussions with all the parties on this, but there has to be also commitments from everyone for a peaceful situation and engagement in peaceful dialogue.

SBS: I know of your reputation, you have a fine reputation – but I can’t understand why a man like you would be involved in a military takeover. I can’t understand that. What reasons do you have for that given your personal background?

DMW: I deny that it was a military takeover. I think the records have to be put straight. I have said I am open to an independent inquiry, and I am in the process of identifying people for such an inquiry position. I have sent some names already to MDP to see if they are acceptable to all the parties. As soon as we have a team acceptable to the parties we start an inquiry into this.

We have gone through the constitutional process. If a President resigns, if he is unable to serve, or has submitted his resignation, then the serving vice president has to step in. I was invited to do so by the speaker of the parliament.

SBS: [Nasheed’s resignation] was under duress. You are an educated man who has been deeply involved in the United Nations, you know that that when a General puts a gun to your head, even metaphorically, that is not a resignation. Do you not accept that?

DMW: I do not accept that.

Dr Ananda Kumarasiri: If I may inject, from the video tapes, I do not see how my colleague has got this impression that there was a coup. If there was a coup then [it would show] from the tapes… from the evidence.

DMW: I would not have associated myself with any coup. There was no irregular or unlawful takeover of power. This was not the case. I was watching what was going on on televsion like everybody else, and if you watch the tapes you wonder what really happened that day. I don’t really know what happened. There shall have to be an inquiry into it. As far as I know, what happened was the President resigned – we have videos of it, there was evidence of it, and his cabinet members were there – I was not asked to be there – he publicly announced his resignation in front of television. He could have said something, indicated that he was under duress – but he didn’t. And then I get a call from the Speaker telling me that he is expecting to receive resignation from the President. And as soon as he received that resignation he told me to come and I was sworn in by the Chief Justice.

As far as I’m concerned the whole process was legal, and I maintain the legitimacy of this government.

SBS: So you intend to continue the term? Don’t you think it would be appropriate for an interim government at the very least and move to an election? At the moment we’ve having tear gas and batons decide. We haven’t heard the people. Isn’t it your responsibility to ask the people what they want?

DMW: Absolutely. I know the constitution has provisions for an election in the next year and I can tell you that I will not be party to delaying that election in any way. I am committed to holding elections, as per the constitution, and if early elections have to be held, there are provisions for that too. You have to have a constitutional amendment.

SBS: Does it concern you that people in this country are terrified of you and the people around you? Does it concern you that dozens of people, whom you were colleagues with, were brutally beaten?

DMW: People are terrified because some people are propagating violence. We have seen so many police buildings burned down.

SBS: Those were buildings, not people.

DMW: The people have been affected by this. When people come out on the street and burn down buildings, and provoke violence, the police have to take action. Law and order has to be maintained. I do not condone violence. I have repeatedly told police they have to restrain themselves, and I will not tolerate police violence. I have been told MDP is planning violence activities [on February 18]. I can assue you police will maintain professional standards. I call on all our police forces to restrain themselves and abide by principles of human rights and the guidelines they have been given.

JJ Robinson: Is it true the MDP has been given a three day ultimatum to participate in a national unity government?

DMW: No ultimatum has been given to anyone. I can assure you. We will continue to remain open to discussion and dialogue, forever.

Journalist: You have informed that the MDP should join a national government by February 20.

DMW: No we haven’t, I deny that. I am not aware of it. If somebody has, then somebody else is doing this.

Journalist: On the President’s website there is a statement that says ‘inform us by Feb 20 if you want to join the national unity government’.

DMW: No, that is not true. I have certainly not signed anything to that effect, and until now I have not even heard about it.

Journalist: But it is on the website.

DMW: Anything can be on the website. I am categorically denying that there is an ultimatum to MDP. There is no ultimatum. I continue to remain wanting to engage with them, and I will continue to the last day.

JJ: Dr Waheed, how much control do you believe you have over the police and the military?

DMW: I have full control over them. I am not shy to take responsibility. Including for the law enforcement agencies.

Journalist: If the MDP continues not to join the government, what are the next steps?

DMW: We will continue to seek ways of working with them. I cannot force them – but there is no other choice. This country cannot afford a confrontational and violent approach.

Journalist: Nasheed, talking to the media, has said that India is losing its leverage [in the Maldives], and that China may get into the Maldives. He had not signed a defence agreement with China which the Maldives defence forces were to sign. What do you have to say about increasing Chinese influence in the Maldives?

DMW: Ultimately we have not signed any agreement since I became President. Whatever agreement we have is an agreement signed by the previous President and his ministers. So I categorically deny that. We have a very close relationship with India, and we will respect all the strategic and commercial agreements we have signed with India. This is not to be questioned.

Journalist: There are no defence deals with China?

DMW: We haven’t had any agreements with any country since I took over.

Journalist: What is the relationship between China and the Maldives and what will you do to promote the relationship between the two countries?

DMW: As you know while President Nasheed was in power, we established a Chinese mission in the Maldives. So we have a mission in the Maldives now, we have good relations with China, and like everyone else in the world we are trying to promote our trade with China. China emerging as one of the most powerful countries in the world and we will continue to work with China, for more trade and cultural relations.

JJ: One of the Maldives’ top diplomats – the Maldives Ambassador to the UN, Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed, stepped down live on Al Jazeera – not questioning the legitimacy of your presidency, but that he had ethical and moral concerns in particular the people with the people who had negotiated Nasheed’s surrender on February 7 then becoming police commissioner and defence minister in the new government – both of whom have strong links to the former government under Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Do you share those concerns?

DMW: Mr Ghafoor is very far away from Male’. I respect his moral judgement and so on, but it is not for me to say whether it right or worng. He is entitled to his moral position, but he was very far away when things were happening. We were right here.

JJ: For the international community many of the faces in the cabinet are new to them. But for a lot of Maldivian people they see people who have been in the former government, people who served under Gayoom. To what extent does the current composition of the cabinet suggest an old government, rather than a new government?

DMW: OK. Anything other than President Mohamed Nasheed’s government is now being painted as the old government, as a return to the old regime. Which is a really misleading way of looking at it. In this country most of us grew up and got education during the last 33 years, and most of the well educated people in this country worked in government. The government was the biggest employer in the country and continues to be so.

Therefore don’t be surprised that some people served in President Gayoom’s government. That doesn’t mean that anyone seen in the last 33 years has allegiance to a particular person. This is a very narrow way of looking at it. If you look at cabinet you can see I have been very careful in my selections. Most of them are very young and dynamic and well educated.

I have tried not to put many political leaders in it – it is mostly a technocratic government because we need to move forward in the next two years to an election, and get as much done as possible – including many good things that have been started in the last couple of years. We will implement the programs and it is necessary to have well educated people.

Journalist: Talking of the cabinet, there is a fear of growing religious hardliners and at the same time – your Home Minister [Dr Mohamed Jameel, former Justice Minister under Gayoom] has in the past made statements against India and certain communities and companies. How do you respond?

DMW: This is a Muslim country and there will be some traditional Islamic values. In that case we will have a representative from the Adhaalath Party in the government – we had one even under President Nasheed. That doesn’t mean I am encouraging people in a certain direction.

As for the Home Minister, he one of the best qualified people in criminal justice. He is a graduate from England with a PhD, and his views in a political rally or any other context should not be transferred to what he asked to do now. I am confident that members of cabinet will toe the line that we step in terms of policy, and any previous remarks will not affect the future direction of this government.

SBS: Very simple question – why did Nasheed have to go?

DMW: I’m not the only person who should answer that question, but since you ask me, my understanding is that he has lost support of a large segment of the population, and also the armed forces and law enforcement agencies.

A series of unlawful and unconstitutional things have built up over the years and people are genuinely concerned that we are moving away from the democratic principles we started with in the first place.

SBS: He may have been, but certainly now you are not moving towards an election? You had a police and army mutiny in which you were involved.

DMW: I think Preisdent Nasheed is responsible for creating that situation. He was a very powerful President able to issue orders. He was the head of the armed forces.

SBS: He didn’t keep that close?

DMW: No he didn’t keep it close with me. Even when events transpired on the 7th, I was not part of that. He did not inform me once. When he called other people to tell them he was resigning, he didn’t call me once. If he had asked me to help I would have gone there.

So I think he should take some responsiblity for what happened to him. He had a very good chance to continue, but I think he made some mistakes. History will judge.

SBS: Is there division within the cabinet about calling an election? The rumour is that you are very keen to move to an election, but other members of cabinet aren’t keen to do that.

DMW: Everyone in the cabinet has one interest in mind. Peaceful resolution of this conflict, and moving towards a free and fair election. That is the main interest. People are not convinced at the moment that we could hold an election today. Partly because there are so many deep divisions.

SBS: You have worked in Afghanistan, India and the United Nations. Whatever its faults, you know that the best resolution of political division is an election.

DMW: The conditions are not right for an election just now. If all the parties told me tomorrow that we should have an election, and that they would cease violence, I would have no problem.

Journalist: You met the parties today, what was their response?

DMW: They are all ready to engage with MDP. To work on a roadmap and move forward, including discussions about elections.

Journalist: Are you able to complete your cabinet if the MDP continues on its current stand?

DMW: The sooner we can get the cabinet together the better. The government has to function properly. We want to move forward and we are ready to talk, but we have to have some buy-in. We have been extending my hands all along, but what have we gotten so far? I had discussions with the head of MDP and the next day they came out on the street and we had confrontations in front of the media.

There is no violence in the country – people are going about their normal lives. It is calm. But the political divisions have to be resolved. We can’t live under the threat of violence and conflict. We are ready to engage and move forward.

This country is too small for violence and confrontation.

SBS: All the violence on the streets of the capital has been by police and their supporters – now your allies. They were the violent ones.

DMW: That is a matter of opinion.

SBS: No it’s not. Would you dispute that?

DMW: You know there was one instance where you saw police violence on camera. But there have been demostrations in this country for one month.

SBS: From the opposition.

DMW: There was violence there also. This is not the first time people have been sprayed with pepper spray or charged with batons. It has happened before. If you talk to members of parliament – of all parties – they will tell you personal stories of violent attacks.

So you cannot generalise just from one instance and say it is this party or that party. There is an endemic problem of violence and political rhetoric. We cannot have irresponsible political leaders continuing to do that. There is no alternative to peaceful dialogue. Some give and take is needed to move forward. That is what give and take is about.

JJ – You have maintained that the events of the 7th were not planned. However on the early morning of January 31 you met opposition leaders in this house, who subsequently gave a press conference in which they pledged allegience to you, called on you to take over the government from Mohamed Nasheed, and called on the police and military to follow your orders. Based on that press conference, which was widely reported in local media at the time, do you still maintain that the events of the 7th were spontaneous?

DMW: I said it was a spontaneous change as nobody really expected that events would turn out that way. You’re right, I met them, and they asked me whether in the eventuality that there was a change, would I be ready. Because I have very much been in the background here – not involved in most of the policy making and so on. But it is my constitutional responsibility to step in. All I said was ‘this is purpose I was sworn in for’, and that as Vice President I was ready for such a situation. That was it – nobody expected things to turn out this way. Who expected police to come out and demonstrate? It was totally bizarre.

Journalist: That means certain political parties had anticipated a possible change that might come.

DMW: I don’t know that it was so much anticipation as their wish that there would be a change of government.

LeMonde: You say that since you took over your government has not signed any agreements with other governments. But to put it another way, do you intend to review agreements signed? Particularly the understanding Mr Nasheed had with India. Will you review that?

DMW: We will not. I spoke to the Prime Minister of India. Every dignitary from India that has come here I have assured we will continue to respect all the agreements we have signed with them. I can only be accountable for the time I am in government.

During my tim in government there will be no turning back and we will respect all the agreements, all the commercial agreements we have signed.

LeMonde: One agreement was that China not increase its influence in the Maldives. Will you respect these agreements?

DMW: We have a special relationship with India and special agreements on our security and defence. Those will continue to remain the same. I cannot comment on a particular country.

JJ: Umar Naseer, the Vice President of Gayoom’s political party the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), said at a rally several nights ago in front of at least a thousand people that he had personlly warned Nasheed that there would be bloodshed unless he stepped down. Given comments such as this coming from other former opposition parties do you still maintain that there was no intimidation in the resignation of Mohamed Nasheed?

DMW: Umar Naseer should explain himself. I cannot explain for him. He is not known to be someone who is particularly careful with what he says. You know him better. Whatever he said in the political rally – and I have heard people have said that he said these things – you should really ask him. He is around in Male’.

Journalist: The Maldives has had strong relations with Sri Lanka and currently Nasheed’s wife and children are in Sri Lanka. Will this affect the current government’s relationship with Sri Lanka?

DMW: No, Sri Lanka again is very close to us. We are like brothers and sisters. We share our language, history and culture. This question doesn’t have to be raised at all. President Nasheed’s family are free to be whereever they want to be. I can assure you we have the best relationship with Sri Lanka. I have spoken to President Rajapaksa more than once and I don’t think we have to worry about it. All nationals – from India, Sri Lanka – are free to stay here and we will do our best to protect them.

JJ: What is a the status of the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed, around whom many of these events have centred? Is he back on the bench? Has he been reinstated?

DMW: [Consults with Dr Hassan Saeed] Well, you see my advisor tells me that the guy has already taken leave.

Dr Hassan Saeed (DHS): He has taken one month’s leave for his personal issues.

DMW: It is for the judiciary to decide what to do with him, not for me. I don’t want to interfere in the judiciary. I want our constitution to be respected, and work with everybody to make our constitution work. This is a new constitution, and it is the first time we are trying it out. And so there are difficulties in it. We need to find ways of solving it. It is time for us to work together, and if there are problems with the judicary we need to work together to solve them – they are intelligent good people in the judiciary and the Judicial Services Commission (JSC). We welcome assistance from the Commonwealth and United Nations to develop programs and build the capacity of the judiciary.

This is true also for the executive and the legislature. We need to work togather to build our democracy and consolidate our democracy.

JJ: If I could address this to Dr Hassan Saeed: as I understand it you in 2005 as Attorney General under former President Gayoom were the first person to raise concerns about the conduct of Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, in a letter to Gayoom. Your concerns – among others – included that he has instructed underage victims of child sexual assault to reenact their attack in a courtroom in front of the perpetrator. Are you satisfied with the investigation against the judge, and if this something you believe still needs to be looked into?

DHS: As chief legal advisor to the government at that time, I had raised issues with the in-charge of the judiciary at that time. In that constitution the President was the head of the judiciary. So it was my legal and moral obligation to raised that issue with him, which I did.

I did not know if it was followed up. Obviously if there are issues it has to be resolved in accordance with the established laws and institutions.

Journalist: The tourism industry has been particularly affected by this. What measures have been taken to help the economy?

DMW: You are right. The tourism sector is the most important sector of our economy and we cannot afford violence on the streets of Male’. This is why it is so important for us to move forward in an agreed roadmap towards elections. The tourism sector so far has not been severely affected. There have been some cancellations. But lots of people are coming and having a good time in the Maldives, and going back. I hope the situation will stabilise further and tourism increase.

We have had a steady increase in tourism over the last couple of years now. It can [continue] only if we take violence out of the equation. I hope nobody is going to call for street violence or burning down public buildings and damaging private offices.

SBS: You know that when a vote is taken away from people that is a likely resault, and that governments which come to power under hails of tear gas and police, normally exit power under hails of tear gas. Are you waiting for that?

DMW: There is a constitutional mechanism for that. I did not take power by force – I was sworn into office according to the consitution.

SBS: Because your superior was forced out.

DMW: I was already elected, on the same ticket as President Nasheed. I got the same vote as President Nasheed, and we came in together. The reason why I am here is that in any country, if something happens to the President, the Vice President takes over. We have the same mandate.

It is not for you or me to decide if it is a coup. Why didn’t he say it in front of the television when everybody was there? He was not alone, his cabinet members were there, it was not like people were going to crack down on him.

SBS: He had mutinious police in the square, he had the army turning against him, he had former police and army chiefs entering the cabinet room giving orders…

DMW: All this was caused by himself.

SBS: I agree perhaps he was indelicate or lacked political skill, but he was still the elected representative of a country – the first elected representative of this country in 30 years.

DMW: If he was under duress, if he had had the guts to say in front of the camera, “Dear citizens, I am being asked to resign under duress”, we all would have been out on the street. I would have been out on the street. I have been out on the street with him before, and I would have been out on the street with him again. But it was a matter of undermining our constitution.

Let us have an inquiry, and come out with the facts.

Journalist: If there is an election, are you going to contest against Mr Nasheed?

DMW: I don’t know. At the moment my preoccuptation is to work with everybody, be a facilitator. I have said I won’t have any of my prty in the cabinet. I am fully committed to being a facilitator. If everybody agrees and says “Waheed, you shouldn’t stand”, I would accept it.

LeMonde: You say that MDP is planning a violent demonstration [Friday] night?

DWH: These are the reports I have received?.

LeMonde: You have reports convincing you that they plan to be violent?

DMW: This is the information I have received, but I hope it is not the case.

Journalist: In your opinion, how is this going to end?

DMW: I think with a little bit of time. The last time we had violence was on the 8th, and since then it has been calm. I hope people have the time to think a little bit, and reflect. I am optimistic. we will be able to work out a peaceful way of moving forward.

Journalist: There are allegations that police have accepted money and corruption is rampant within the police. Are investigations being conducted into this?

DMW: I am not aware of this, and no cases have come to me since I took over. If there was I’m sure the former President would have done something about it.

Journalist: If the street violence stops, will you have early elections?

DMW: As I said, let us talk. Violence is not the only factor. There is an economic factor here – our financial situation is not great and it hasn’t been for the last couple of years. We need to have guarantees that we are going to respect the rule of law, that we are going to uphold the consitution and our judiciary is going to be independent – that it is going to be in such a way that anyone who fears justice deserves justice. If you don’t have justice, how can you go ahead?

Journalist: Do you have any specific economic strategies?

We will continue the economic policies of the former government, and I have already announced the forming of an economic council. I will appointment distinguished economists in the country who will review the economy to put it on a good footing.

I have appointed an economic development minister who is young and competent, and a tourism minister, and I am looking for a finance minister at the moment.

I can assure you that you will have the best minds in the country working to take the economy forward. I don’t claim to be an expert, and I will not tell people how to run this country. My job – the job of any top executive – is to find the right people and help them do their work well. I have learned this in my many years of international experience.

LeMonde: Mr Nasheed introduced a new fiscal system, in particular income and corporate taxes. Will you change this system?

DMW: So far we have not decided to change anything, but we will ask the economic council. If there is something that does not work we will correct it. But there is no massive overhaul of policies. There is no deadline. It is not hard and fast deadline.

SBS: He was already president – why would Nasheed want to join your national unity government?

DMW: He should join a coalition, because he came to power in a coalition. And he decided to rescind. He couldn’t find somebody to work with him. We only had 25 percent of the vote – we had to go and ask other political parties to join, like Dr Hassan Saeed. and then we won. We had a coalition. We couldn’t work as a coalition – why not? This is a small country. You cannot rule by yourself. It is too small for one particular party to rule everybody.

SBS: So you would have him in your cabinet?

DMW: Absolutely.

SBS: As Vice President?

DMW: I have currently named a Vice President. But there are other people I would work with in the same cabinet.

JJ: The MDP has floated the idea of elections in two months – you’ve said this is too short a time. The rumour flying around today was that Nasheed may have been negotiated up to six months. Is there any truth in that, following the meetings held today?

DMW: No, there is no such timeline. The timeline is to be worked out in open discussion with regard to elections.

Journalist: So you are willing to sit down with Nasheed and decide on a date to hold elections?

DMW: We are ready to discuss.


Q&A: Education Minister Dr Musthafa Luthfy

Education Minister Dr Musthafa Lufthy is facing a no-confidence motion in parliament later this month, a move led by Fares-Maathodaa MP Ibrahim Muttalib and sparked by a proposal from the Ministry’s steering committee to make Islam and Dhivehi optional subjects at A-Level. Dr Luthfy spoke to Minivan News on Sunday.

JJ Robinson: The Education Ministry has been heavily criticised for a proposal that Dhivehi and Islam be made optional subjects at A-Level in the new curriculum. Why do you think this happened?

Dr Musthafa Lufthy: The curriculum was developed in 1984, and there has been no major overall or revision since then. We have brought in changes now and then, but this is first time the we have embarked on a mega-revision of the curriculum.

The new curriculum we are envisioning will be very much different from the old curriculum and will be more relevant to the current society and also to the future of the Maldives.

JJ: Why do you think the A-Level Islam and Dhivehi subjects are proving so controversial?

ML: There are many changes in the present proposal, and one of the propositions is that all the subjects in higher secondary (A-Level) will be optional. The intention is to give students many different subject options, so they are not forced to take some subjects – rather they have the freedom to choose whatever they want.

That was the initial proposition. But it was taken very seriously by a group of people – initially we did not think it would be such an issue for these people. [On average] around 2000 students choose higher education every year, and all the rest, out of 10,000 students, do not.

We are taking about these 2000 students, not the rest. Previously we have had debates on whether we should teach primary grades in English or Dhivehi – but there was no enthusiasm for teaching in the Dhivehi language. Many people wanted to teach in English.

I think the Ministry’s steering committee did not think the proposal to make Dhivehi and Islam optional at A-Level would become such a big issue – it would not introduced this year or next, it would be in new curriculum.

JJ: The proposal to make these subjects optional is being perceived by some in the community as an assault on national identity – why do you think this has happened?

ML: I think there is a certain group of people who actually think that it is their responsibility and their duty to safeguard Maldivian culture and Maldivian religion, and that others are not treating this fairly.

But in fact we, as the educationalists, we are also taking care of our culture and religion and trying to train our students to become world citizens, rather than narrowing their perspective.

That may be one of the reasons why they have suspicions that we are not trying to do justice to the religion or language [of the Maldives], and that is obviously untrue.

JJ: Why make them optional? To encourage more students to take A-Level? Is there any evidence to suggest a lack of option is discouraging students from taking on A-Levels?

ML: No, it is not because of that. A-Level requires five five passes at O-Level, and those students who do pass go for A-Level. The reason [behind the proposal] was to give them the freedom to choose – that was the main reason.

JJ: Do you think forcing students to study Islam and Dhivehi at A-Level may be discourgaging them from higher education?

ML: You would have to ask the students. [Dhivehi and Islam] are not favourable subjects, actually – one reason may be the way they are taught and the quality of teachers, and also the reason that these subjects are not required to pursue higher education. Perhaps due to these reasons students do not give them equal attention as they do to other subjects.

JJ: Do you think a likely outcome is the revision of these subjects to make them more appealing to students?

ML: It should be done. Whether the subjects will be optional or not, we will revise them, and the curriculum, and we will train our teachers to teach these subjects in a better manner. That will be done.

JJ: Given the outcry this has caused already, do you think it is at all likely these subjects will become optional?

ML: It is still open for discussion – we haven’t concluded discussions yet. But we know this will not happen yet, not for several years when the new curriculum is implemented. I am not actually making these decisions, it is done in consultation with many groups of people, and that depends on result of the consultation process.

JJ: What is the pass percentage of the 10,000 students who complete O-Level?

ML: 32 percent. Last year it was 27 percent.

JJ: A 32 percent pass rate sounds extremely low – why is it so low, and how does in compare with the region?

ML: Even when it is compared with the region, it is very low. One reason is that we are teaching in a foreign language (English), and teachers may not be as conversant in the language as those who teach in their mother-tongue – that is one reason.

The other reason is we have teachers from other countries who do not remain with the students for a long period of time, only two years before another teacher comes. So a change of teachers is frequent. And the other reason may be the quality of teachers we have – mainly primary grade teachers.

We still have a lot of untrained teachers, and also teachers who trained several years ago who are not up to the standard that we would require to implement a natural curriculum. With them we have come this far.

We are focusing on improving certain areas – and one focus is on teachers. We are doing a lot of work upgrading teachers using the internet, business learning, reactivating teacher resource centres in the atolls and establishing teacher in-service training at the Centre for Continuing Education.

JJ: How has O-Level pass rate trended historically?

ML: Gradually it has been moving upwards. but this is the first time there has been such a large jump (five percent).

JJ: What is the pass rate of those students who go on to do A-Levels?

ML: A-Level pass rate last year was 69 percent. In 2004, 1835 students went on to A-Level. In 2009 it was 3244 students.

JJ: It is still surprising to hear so few students go through to do A-Level – what kind of effect do you think this has on Maldivian society?

ML: That’s a very important question, and it’s a question that we need a good answer for.

When students finish Grade 10, and when they do not have many other avenues to go to for education, they remain in society and have two years before they become adults at 18 years. So they have two years of not being able to get a job, and this is also a crucial period in their physical development.

During this time they are not in a school and due to this I think there will be negative impact on their behaviour and also on society.

Because of this we are thinking of a new venture – we are trying to keep students in the system until they are 18. We can do that by diversifying our curriculum – some can do A-Level, some can go for other programmes such as foundation and certificate level courses, and through that proceed to higher education.

So there are many ways there can go to higher education, and not only GSCE. We are trying to create paths for them to follow – this can be done through public-private partnerships, such as with Villa College. They are teaching A-Level, about they are also teaching other foundation courses as well.

So students even if they do not pass in five subjects they can continue their education. This year we are going start this programme and later expand it to the atolls, and we are hoping all students will remain in the system until they are 18.

JJ: We have heard anecdotal reports that some parents are bringing in outside tuition or coaching to make up for lapses in the education system. Is there any monitoring of this outside tuition?

ML: Unfortunately there is no monitoring – we do not track how many students go to outside education, and I don’t think schools do that. But we are trying to change schools into one session schools – so one batch of students come to a schools.

Previously, with two sessions, there was no space for students to become involved in extracurricular activities or remedial tuition, but it will be different now we have four one session schools in Male. By doing this schools can provide necessary help and find time and space.

But even then, unless parents are fully confident of the quality of education, they will continue to send their children to private education. Even then there is competition – they want their children to be the best.

JJ: If the standards do not approve does that mean that later down the line there will be a class issue between parents who can afford private tuition for their children and those who cannot?

ML: I don’t think there will be a class issue that is not there right now. One of the aims of education is to reduce disparity between people. We are consciously assisting disadvantaged groups in the country. It is one of the functions of the education system to reduce that disparity.

JJ: Are you concerned about the upcoming no-confidence motion in parliament against you?

ML: I’m not concerned about the no-confidence vote, but I am concerned about the possibility – and it’s very unlikely – the possible discontinuity to the work we are doing right now if it happens.

JJ: How would it affect the Ministry’s work it is doing now?

ML: It will affect us very much, because we have started our work very enthusiastically. I have been in the education system for a long time ever since I started teaching in the atolls, and in various institutions in the country and I know the system very well – and I know the important things we haven’t done.

So I think with the team I have we will be able to improve the education system very much within our period of time. If a new person comes, he or she may not have the vision I have. Of course it will depend on the manifesto, but even then, how you see the work and how you see other people and deal with the situation, it all matters in how you get appropriate results.

JJ: Where has the support been coming from?

ML: I’m getting good from the President and the cabinet ministers, and I’m also working very hard in convincing parliamentarians [as to the merits] of my position. I have distributed documents to them – one is the curriculum framework and a letter to suggest this is only a draft and nothing has been finalised, and they know this is consultation and debate. I also sent another letter answering questions raised in the debate, so the parliamentarians know my views on this.

JJ: What happened with the collapse of Arabiyya School’s wall?

ML: I don’t know why this became a big issue. When a school becomes unsafe for students we have to find an alternative. When we found the school was unsafe for students to remain there we have to find an alternative, and we did after consultation with parents and school board, and we negotiated finance to rebuild the school building (demolition work began today).

JJ: The school says it has been complaining about the wall for 15 years.

ML: We have only been here 18 months.

JJ: Do you think it is less than a coincidence that this no-confidence motion arrived at the same time as your decision to leave the Gaumee Itthihaad Party (GIP) and sign with the [ruling] Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)?

ML: I don’t think so. I think this was going on even then. It is just a coincidence.

JJ: For the record, what was behind your decision to leave GIP?

ML: This is a very important question that many people have asked. I was one of the architects of forming the Gaumee Itthihaad Party. At that time [Vice President] Dr Mohammed Waheed Hassan (also a GIP member) was not in the Maldives. We worked tirelessly to form the party and Dr Waheed joined at the later stages. He is a good friend of mine and we worked together in the education ministry. I have strong faith in him.

We started this party and were very lucky that because Dr Waheed was with us he was taken as a running mate by[President] Nasheed. It was because of that our party became one of the strong parties in the coalition.

Unfortunately my views and Dr Waheed’s views changed – my view was that we should assist the government as much as possible and try to work as hard as possible to implement the manifesto promises. Dr Waheed wanted to do the same but then our party started acting as an opposition type of party – criticising from outside the government. That I did not like.

I was telling them that we cannot do that because we are a coalition partner and we have to be with the government all the time – this is the second year of a new democracy and we have to work very hard to get results as soon as possible, and it is not helpful our party to [criticise] while we are one of the strong parties in the government. But this continued and I thought I would not be able to tolerate it any more – that why I thought only thing for me to do was join MDP. That was the reason.

JJ: What was your view when (GIP member) Mohamed Rasheed was removed from the post of Economic Development Minister? Were you worried?

ML: I was very worried because we had two members from our party in the cabinet and he is a close friend of mine. We worked closely in forming GIP and I had good support from him. I was very unhappy with the decision [to remove him]. We did not like that – we did not want any of our cabinet members to be removed in that way.

JJ: Now GIP has lost two of its cabinet members, what is your view of the party’s future?

ML: GIP is a party of many members. Even if a few members leave the party I think the party will continue. But it is very unfortunate that very strong members of the party had to leave it.

JJ: What was your opinion of Dr Waheed’s holding a meeting with members of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP)?

ML: My feeling was that it is OK for the Vice President to meet the opposition party members, but at that time when there was tension between the government and the opposition it was an unlucky coincidence. If it had happened at another time perhaps it would not have raised the concern that it did. For me it was OK to meet with them, but the time was not right.

JJ: The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) hasn’t quite got around to releasing its report on Lale Youth International School, the former principal of which is currently in court facing assault charges. Why wasn’t the Education Ministry monitoring the school?

ML: That school is one of the private partnership initiatives taken by the previous government. As soon as we started getting complaints we sent our supervision team there. The supervision team found some activities that should not happen in the school. We asked the police to investigate – that took some time.

We also informed HRCM, so two parties were investigating. In the meantime we followed suggestions given by the our own supervision team, while consulting with the Maldivian company (Biz Atoll) that took the school jointly with the Turkish group. We have seen their agreement – it is a very weak agreement. We revised the agreement in order to put in stronger conditions.

JJ: How seriously will the Ministry take the recommendations of the HRCM report, when it is released?

ML: We will take them very seriously. We have been very frank on this even from the initial stages – we were the people who reported this to the police. We have given the school conditions of our own to fulfill. So we will take those recommendations very seriously.

JJ: Is there a possibility that the school may be re-tendered and removed from Biz Atoll?

ML: I think there will be a possibility. In fact we consulted the Attorney General’s office on this before that report, thinking along that line.

JJ: We received many comments concerning the Lale case, that if the government is so serious about public-private partnerships but these sorts of thing can occur in a school, it doesn’t inspire public confidence in such partnerships. How do you address this?

ML: There is public confidence in public-private partnerships, like Villa International High School. I think parents and students are very happy about the progress of this school. These do inspire public confidence in public-private partnerships. The Lale case was an agreement done long before we came in [in government] and the agreements are not the kind we are doing now. It was a very simple agreement.

JJ: Was there any evidence of corruption in that agreement?

ML: I don’t know. It not fair for me to say. I haven’t investigated that part of it. I haven’t seen the report – only the draft. I think on our part we have taken Lale school issue very seriously and we have been doing work in order to change the situation. We are one of the group that brought this case to the independent authorities.

But these things should be reflected more in the report – the activities the Ministry has done. We are the people who know the schooling – we should know the students and the parents – we are professionals in this regard.

JJ: If you are voted out in parliament’s no-confidence motion, what will you go on to do afterwards?

ML: I have to think about it. There are different things I can do – I was in the previous government as Tourism Minister before I was transferred and resigned. These are not so complicated things. Life is like that.


Q&A: United Nations Resident Coordinator for the Maldives, Andrew Cox

Andrew Cox is the newly-appointed UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative for the Maldives. Before arriving in the Maldives, Cox was based in New York as the Chief of Staff for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in New York.

Prior to this he held several positions in Sudan where he worked on comprehensive peace agreements between warring factions, and in Afghanistan. Before his UN career Cox worked as Field Director for Concern Universal in Sierra Leone and had assignments with various companies and NGOs in the UK, Democratic Republic of Congo and Côte d’Ivoire.

JJ Robinson: How does your experience in development and within the UN system benefit your new role in the Maldives?

Andrew Cox: I’ve worked for the UN since 1999 and NGOs before that. I come from a development background, but I just seem to have ended up in a lot of conflict, post-conflict and post disaster-places.

During my three years in Sudan I spent a lot of time working on a comprehensive peace agreement, and I spent time in Afghanistan in 2002 just as the situation there was changing – I was very sorry to leave, actually. I have also spent some working in Sierra Leone, which oscillated between conflict and post-conflict.

I think the process of transition in [such places] is very interesting – it’s about how people behave when their basic assumptions are changing and the bedrock is shifting under them. People act in extreme ways and sometimes it’s very difficult to get institutions in these countries to change.

What is especially difficult [about countries in transition] is the need for urgency. You don’t have luxury of 10 years to see if something might work. You just have to try things at high speed and discard them if they don’t.

One of the interesting things about coming to Maldives is that I find this transition happening. There is a tremendous amount of dialogue, although sometimes a little above the level of dialogue in terms of intensity and rhetoric.

What the Maldives is going through is not unusual and is to be expected in such circumstances. What I hope I can bring from my past is help and advice, and assistance from the UN system in managing this transition.

JJ: The Maldives has made a major transition to democracy, and the next major transition is the transition from less developed country (LDC) status to middle income. What does this mean and what are the key challenges for the country?

AC: On the surface there are some things the Maldives will lose along with its LDC status, such as access to concessional credit, which is probably one of the more important things. It will also lose a certain amount of grant income from donors.

But the point is to look at it as an opportunity; OK it may hurt in certain areas at the beginning, but in the end the Maldives has got itself where it needs to be and now has more to offer the world than it might have had before – it’s not just about offering beaches to tourists coming in.

When I saw the President I asked him if he had thought about having the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) serve in UN peacekeeping operations – it’s one way in which Maldivian experience can be sent out there to benefit the rest of the world, and of course it’s a learning experience for those who participate.

Similarly, the Maldives was a victim of a major natural disaster in the tsunami, and in my view it would make a lot of sense for the country to join the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC), which sends in disaster coordination experts to a country whenever there a natural disaster. The Maldives should be able to contribute to that.

I also think, and the President said this and I fully agree with him, that the Maldives should not be about dependency on aid. It should be about development, trade, and punching greater and greater weight in the region.

What everyone seems to be doing at the moment is focusing on the future. The loss of income from donors, if things go well, will be replaced by greater trade and economic growth. But there are some structural issues making that difficult, no doubt about it.

JJ: What kind of structural issues?

AC: The budget deficit is the major one. I’m not completely up-to-date with the figures, but last time I looked it the deficit was 33 percent of GDP, which everyone – the government as well as international institutions – has said the Maldives has got to address.

The deficit in Greece is 12 percent of GDP. Obviously Greece is a very different place [to the Maldives], but everybody needs to be serious about the problem. It’s a huge challenge and until it is solved it is going to be difficult to change other things.

The UN’s position is to help the government find ways dealing with this. There’s various things you can do but in the end the gap between income and expenditure has to change, because it is simply not sustainable at the moment.

JJ: How does the UN navigate the polarised politics here? How do you find the middle-path and involve the opposition?

AC: There have been many changes here over the last few years, and the UN has been here throughout that entire period. I think we played quite a positive role – although you can’t get everything right. But by sticking to its principles, the UN tries navigate its way through. For example, during the change to democracy the UN worked closely with then-president and his party, as well as the opposition.

What we tried to do was help them manage the process [of transition]. It’s very clear what the UN stands for – our principles are out there. There’s no hidden agenda and the approach is consistent across the UN. There are many different levels of support the UN can bring.

I’m not trying to be naive or idealistic – but it’s [an approach] that works just as well if you’re dealing with rebels in the middle of a conflict or if you’re dealing with development challenges – you help those who are there to make the right choices, and sometimes provide an enabling environment for that to happen.

The UN is also here to try and improve the lot of ordinary Maldivians. One of our principles is that we work with all parts of society and we do that in an open way, and that can sometimes be difficult to explain. But in the end it is our job to work with everybody who can be a positive force for change, and to try and advise those who are less convinced for the need to change to change their approach. That’s consistent across all the countries we work in.

JJ: What are some of your experiences from the programs you have worked on in the past that you think would also work in the Maldives?

AC: I worked on the last stages of the comprehensive peace agreement in Sudan, which is a mostly Muslim country. The key in Sudan was doing everything you could to get the parties to sit together. Obviously we don’t have the same kind of situation in the Maldives, but the principles are still the same.

A facilitating role sounds a little bit ‘wishy washy’, until you realise what happens when you don’t have that. It doesn’t have to be the UN – in Darfur the African Union had the lead on the political side, and the UN helped them to do their job.

As a newcomer to the Maldives, it is very obvious that there is a certain amount of heat in the political discourse, to say the least. A lot of this is a very natural outcome of the change everyone has gone through. I think the trick is to find areas where there can be cooperation, and not to allow bigger disagreements to pollute the water where consensus might be possible.

For example, I think the cross-party effort to deal with domestic violence is very interesting right now. Everyone agrees domestic violence is a problem, and although there may be disagreement over how that problem should be addressed, this is absolutely one of those areas for mature political dialogue. We will try and help that process along, but it needs to be the parties in parliament to figure out how they want to deal with domestic violence issues.

The UN's role is to facilitate dialogue, explains Cox
Civil society is weak in the Maldives, explains Cox

JJ: To what extent should be UN be a leader of civil society in a country, in terms of supporting NGOs and helping them work properly and efficiently?

AC: I don’t think leader is the right word. If we were, then if we withdrew our support the whole thing would collapse and that’s not the way it should be. The real strength of civil society in most countries, to use an overused phrase, is ‘grassroots.’

Civil society is only powerful if it comes into being organically. I think most people on either side of the political divide recognise that civil society is very weak in the Maldives, and that much more needs to be done to support its growth.

I think the UN can play a major enabling role. There are an awful lot of people around the world who have [grown civil society], and one thing we can do is to bring some of them in to explain how they did it. That process of sharing information and knowledge is very important.

JJ: What do you mean when you say civil society is weak in the Maldives? There are a great many NGOs and it does seem to be a sought-after profession.

AC: Yes exactly – I think across all parts of society, and obviously it varies area to area, from human rights to gender to drug prevention, there are a number of things you look for, such as sustainability of funding and resources. In the end civil society will only be strong if Maldivians embrace their own civil society and start paying for it.

Some of that is about government funding, but much more of it is local philanthropy and gift giving – and earning the organisation that you’re associated with.

The UN can give out a grant of US$20,000 [to an NGO], and what they’ll do is buy a computer, pay for some travel and training and so on, then it’s gone and that’s it. What happens then?

This is a very important question that a lot of civil society organisation managers are thinking about – or at least I hope they are. Because in the end, international funding can’t be assured for anybody over time.

I think the whole point is to use that external support as a way to building up a civil society organisation so it can have links with the community and an income stream, and a sufficiently strong volunteer network to get done what they think needs to get done.

How do we help them through that process? Definitely we have supported NGOs in the past, and there has been a proliferation in the last year or two, but now they need to move beyond that start up phase and become a bit more secure. You really need a strong civil society because it gives you a way to get important things done that is separated from politics.

JJ: The Maldives recently beat Iran to the UN Human Rights Council – what kind of an achievement does that represent?

AC: I think it’s a remarkable achievement. The Maldives ran a good election campaign on its own merit and got the support, which was a very big deal.

The Human Rights Council is in organisation in flux, and I think both [UN Secretary General] Ban Ki Moon and the High Commissioner of Human Rights [Navi Pillay] see it as a long term project – and many of its members see it in the same way.

For the Maldives it represents a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate it can be a world leader, as it already is in the area of climate change. For a country to progress so far on the human rights side allows it to go out there with a very honest position and say ‘we’re not perfect yet, but this is what we’ve done.’

Another part of the Human Rights Council is that you have support from your peers to deal with human rights issues, so when it works well is when there is an atmosphere of cooperation and people get down to business away from the heated rhetoric you also sometimes hear on human rights issues.

But I would also say that because the Maldives has a somewhat exalted position on this council, this is also a challenge. The Maldives can’t stop its progress on human rights, because the eyes of the world are on the Maldives as much as eyes of the Maldives are on the world in the human rights sense. I think it is very important that this election provokes a renewed investment in human rights in the Maldives, and if it doesn’t happen then the Maldives’ position on the Human Rights Council could invite unwelcome attention.

It just the way we seen these things work over the years. I sincerely hope – and everything I’ve heard suggests this will continue to happen – that the Maldives will continue to strengthen human rights in the country, especially now.

JJ: How would you describe the level of human rights in the Maldives, from the perspective of a newcomer?

AC: I would probably describe it again as a situation of change. There have been tremendous advances made, but obvious areas that need strengthening – areas like access to justice.

I think there are important bills pending on the judiciary, things like access to legal aid. The Maldives needs to invest in the judiciary and its ability to do its work, and there needs to be investment in corrections – I think the problems are self-evident. Then there’s right to information, and of course the police, who now have themselves been changing and adapting to new challenges. I think there’s a raft of institutional legal framework measures that are needed to strengthen human rights in the Maldives.

I think the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) needs to continue to be supported, for obvious reasons. It’s important to have a strong home-grown human rights commission to encourage the government to take the steps it needs to take, and I think it is absolutely important to have strong human rights organisations on the civil society side. This is a priority for UNDP, and we’ll be scaling up our support to human rights NGOs. If you get them right, there’s a knock on effect to other NGOs.

JJ: Human rights issues such as freedom of expression and gender equality appear to sometimes conflict with stricter interpretations of Islam. Is it possible for human rights to be fully realised in a 100% Islamic country?

AC: I think there is a very strong human rights tradition in Islam, and I think it’s absolutely possible. I know there are many different legal systems under the Islamic system, and what I think is quite important is to learn from other experiences around the world and shamelessly steal the best parts. I see absolutely no contradiction between Islam and human rights.

JJ: The Maldives has established itself as an international leader on climate change based on its vulnerability to rising sea levels, but at the same time it’s trying to attract long term business investment. Is there room for these to exist side by side?

AC: I think it’s an interesting dilemma, and if it’s going to get solved anywhere it be here. Obviously I’m not a climate change scientist, but speaking as the manager of UNDP I think there’s interesting opportunities in the Maldives over how to cope with climate change.

We still don’t know how bad it’s going be, so yes, risk inherent in every situation. But let’s not forget that the Maldives is not alone in this – the Maldives may have problem with rising sea levels, but there are many other countries with problems related to climate change – you just have to look at sub-Saharan Africa, and see how climate change is affecting water and food production there.

Certainly from the Maldives side, the country has to press on with mitigation and creating a low-carbon economy. There are thousands of different possibilities, and money to be made off successful models of technology that can be proven to reduce carbon. On the adaptation side there’s a lot we don’t know how about how reefs will react to changing water temperatures, and new technologies which can be looked at in terms of sea defenses. And things like if you’ve mangroves that you look after, you got a much greater change of withstanding rising sea levels and weather events than if you don’t have them. It’s a matter looking at these things and the impact of communities that live in these areas.

With all that in mind, the Maldives is a good place to invest in from the point of view of climate change-related industries. Businessmen and women are not stupid – they evaluate situations and make decisions accordingly. One of the things the government has committed to is loosening the trade environment and having clear regulatory frameworks, and I suspect if they successful pushing that through then that will also encourage investment.

So don’t think the two messages are contradictory. You have to do an awful lot because of climate change, but you can continue to build the economy as well.

I think adaptation is also very important – people need to be able to manage risk more than they can at the moment. Generally speaking we estimate that for every dollar spent on disaster risk mitigation you save $10 in losses when a natural disaster strikes – the economics are quite obvious.

We have quite some interest in the Maldives’ obvious vulnerabilities to climate change and major weather events, and it’s useful to use different communities around the Maldives to test ways of strengthening people’s ability to withstand natural disasters. If we get that right, then that is also something the Maldives can export – knowledge and know-how about how to deal with vulnerability in the face of climate change.

What we are going to be doing over the next year or two is looking along with the government at creating a global climate change centre in the Maldives. We are working on the details at the moment.

Another priority area is to look at governance programs and see how we can help. A major step forward of the last few months was the government getting together its strategic action plan – it’s a great document but it’s very thick, and it’s not much use unless it gets implemented. We all feel it is quite important to have a results framework, and if the government is able to do that, Maldives stock will go up in eyes of donors.


President bids for renewable energy investment at summit

President Mohamed Nasheed has opened the Maldives as a place “to test the latest renewable technologies in energy, waste, water, housing and transport.”

Speaking at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, Nasheed invited assembled government ministers and energy company representatives “to come to the Maldives and share the best of your technologies.”

“The Maldives is open for business. To my mind, the smart money is green,” he said, predicting the introduction of a carbon market would eventually drive up the price of fossil alternatives.

“Renewables are becoming more efficient and affordable. While fossil fuels may [now] appear cheaper, sooner or later polluters will be forced to pay for the damage their products cause. When they do, market failures will be corrected and carbon pollution will be properly penalised.”

During the three day Summit, Abu Dhabi’s General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced the emirate will invest US$15 billion in alternative energy projects, including Masdar City, the world’s first carbon and waste-free city.

“Abu Dhabi has reliably provided the world with energy for several decades,” Sheikh Mohammed said. “Global demand for energy continues to increase ever rapidly. As an energy provider, we have the responsibility to continue to meet that demand.”

Nasheed said he hoped Abu Dhabi’s “pioneering work in renewable energy and carbon neutrality” could be utilised in the Maldives to help fulfil the country’s ambitions of becoming carbon neutral in 10 years.

“I am here today because, in many ways, Abu Dhabi represents the future,” he said.

“I am here because this enlightened country is jettisoning the past and embracing change. Abu Dhabi is investing the proceeds of yesterday’s resources to build the green economy of tomorrow.”

Abu Dhabi is a cosmopolitan metropolis that sits on nine per cent of the world’s oil reserves and generates 15% of the GDP of the United Arab Emirates. Much of the emirate’s wealth stems from the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company which produces 2.7 million barrels of oil a day, a figure the company has previously said it hopes to push to four billion during 2010.

“Some nations choose to take a back seat in this green revolution,” Nasheed said, “but others, such as Abu Dhabi, are playing a major role in the greatest transformation since the start of the Industrial Age. With the leadership being shown here, I am certain we can tackle the climate crisis.”