Presidential candidates’ policy pledges threaten the environment: Environment Ministry

The Environment Ministry has ‘called out’ presidential candidates for making election pledges that threaten the environment, amidst civil society calls for government authorities to support NGOs’ sustainable development initiatives.

Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela noted that no policy on environmental protection has been articulated by candidates despite their numerous election pledges during her speech at the “NGO Forum on Environment and Sustainable Development 2013” held by the Environment Ministry and NGO Federation yesterday (May 5).

“Although all political parties are currently talking about their plans to govern the country for the next five years, none of their manifestos include policies on protecting the environment,” local media reported Shakeela saying.

“When you deeply consider these policies, I certainly haven’t heard of any plans to protect the environment. But on the other hand, we keep hearing of plans that can seriously threaten the environment of the Maldives,” she added.

Shakeela stated that despite the economic benefits which could be gained from finding oil or establishing a mariculture industry, these policies could pose grave threats to the environment, according to local media.

“Sometimes, although these plans gain a short-term gain, or some amount of money, they may cause great damages in the long run. It is very important that we give this due consideration,” said Shakeela.

Shakeela emphasised that civil society must hold the Maldivian government and policy-makers accountable when they “veer off course” and endanger the environment.

“Regardless of who prepares it, if the plans are such that they may harm the environment, it is the role of the civil society organizations to be vigilant over such matters and try to stop them,” declared Shakeela.

She also stressed that civil society organisations must identify the environmental threats posed by such policies on the behalf of Maldivian people.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has pledged to develop a mariculture industry in the country should former President Mohamed Nasheed be reelected in September 2013.

The potential for developing a domestic oil industry was launched as a campaign issue during a January 14 speech by Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) presidential prospect, MP Abdulla Yameen.

Leader of the government-aligned Jumhoree Party (JP), business tycoon MP Gasim Ibrahim, has also vowed to find oil in the Maldives should he be elected president.

NGOs issue government recommendations

The NGO forum was held to facilitate environmental protection discussions between civil society organisations, as well as implementation of sustainable development methodologies and policies.

“This is the only forum of this kind. Civil society did not previously get the opportunity to come together and discuss these issues,” NGO Federation President Ahmed Nizam told Minivan News yesterday (May 6).

Many NGOs work on environmental issues at the island and national level – particularly conducting advocacy and awareness programs – however they do not conduct adequate work on environment and sustainable development, according to forum participants.

Participants highlighted ongoing issues that narrow the opportunities available for Maldivian NGOs, which include legal challenges as well as government administrative procedures. NGOs also lack access to resources, such as well educated people and finance.

Given these limitations, the 15 participating civil society organisations presented a list of recommendations to the government, in line with the forum’s theme of enhancing NGO engagement in environmental governance and management.

The forum recommended the government provide NGOs with equal opportunities and “reveal their stand” to the organisations.

Participants also recommended the Environment Ministry establish a separate focal point to engage with NGOs and provide a common room for civil society organisations within the “green building” currently under construction for the ministry. Research grants for NGOs and environmental studies students should also be provided.

Organisations further recommended the government include NGO representatives in all delegations from the Maldives attending environmental and sustainable development meetings. These organisations also requested the government provide Maldivian NGOs opportunities to participate in environmental and sustainable development projects.

“Minister Shakeela’s response to the recommendations was very positive. She pledged to do everything possible to implement the recommendations,” said Nizam.

“However, she also said certain things might not be possible to implement immediately due to budget and planning constraints,” he added.

Nizam explained that the NGO Federation plans to take the discussion forum to a “different level” by ensuring dialogue and collaboration on environmental protection and sustainable protection continues.

He emphasised that the NGO Federation aims to hold conferences annually or biannually and will continuously seek improvement and additional NGO participation.

The Maldivian NGO Federation held a follow-up workshop today on NGO capacity building for advocating environmentally sustainable development, a project funded by UNDP’s Global Environment Facility, Small Grants Programme.


Maldivian NGOs call for “immediate changes” to inquiry commission

Four NGOs working under the banner ‘Thinvana Adu’ (Third Voice) have urged President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan to “bring immediate changes to the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) so that it gains public trust and confidence and is able to achieve its objectives.”

Transparency Maldives, Maldivian Democracy Network, Democracy House, and the Maldives NGO Federation, itself representing 59 organisations, joined forces to declare that they are “deeply concerned by the recent political polarisations in the society.”

The CNI came under fire last week from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) which released a statement giving the government four weeks to reform the body established to investigate the February 7 change of power lest CMAG consider “further and stronger measures”.

“The group was of the view that the Commission of National Inquiry, established to assess the events leading to the transfer of power on 7 February 2012, is not independent or impartial, and has failed to gain sufficient support in Maldives,” read the CMAG statement.

“What we see in the Maldives today is confrontation instead of political dialogue. Because of this political turmoil is increasing in the country,” said Aiman Rasheed, representing Transparency Maldives.

“Thinava Adu believes the citizens must know what happened. Citizens must know the truth. Maldives will find it difficult to take steps forward unless we know the answers. If the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) remains the same as it is today, we believe the inquiry cannot proceed in a way that citizens can trust or accept,” he continued.

Thinvada Adu said that they had previously written to the President on February 29 regarding the CNI as well as meeting with him on March 7. In both instances, the concerns of the group were expressed to the President. These concerns were said to have been “well received” without anything being “translated into action.”

In a press conference this morning, Ahmed Nizam of the Maldivian NGO Federation said, “Political opinion has become divided into two main thoughts since the change of power on February 7 and consequent events. Hence, we believe a third voice is very important in coming to a resolution.”

Reaction to CMAG criticism

Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, leader of the coalition government’s Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), responded to the CMAG report by saying that the group had based their report on incomplete information.

President’s Office spokesman Abbas Adil Riza last week said that the government did not understand CMAG’s criticisms and was requesting clarification over the required changes.

In response, the NGOs amended their CNI recommendations to include the following:

  • Members of the CNI must be persons of integrity and should be nominated from groups such as the Human Rights Commissions (MHRC), the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the Police Integrity Commission (PIC), the Election Commission (EC), under the guidance of the Prosecutor General’s Office.
  • The mandate and scope of the CNI must be decided by agreement across the political divide.
  • The CNI must pool technical assistance for the international community to both expedite and give credence to the process.
  • There must be opportunity for observation of the process by international actors.
  • The CNI’s finding must be shared with the Parliament and independent state institutions as well as to the public.
  • The state and its institutions must cooperate and make sufficient resources available to the CNI.

All-Party talks

Thinvana Adu also focused on the importance of continued dialogue between political parties “without preconditions”. It was argued that, in order to resolve the current crisis, all parties must be permitted to join the discussions which must be attended by key decision makers.

The India-brokered all party talks have failed to build up momentum due to squabbles over the group’s composition and agenda. The MDP boycotted the first meeting on February 20, complaining that some of the parties represented had no democratic mandate, referring to representatives of former President Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) who at the time of the first meeting had no official representation in the Majlis.

Any MP having switched allegiance to the PPM after its formation in October 2011 was technically classed as an ‘independent’ according to parliamentary regulations. The PPM has since won its first official seat in the Majlis with Ahmed Shareef, formerly Secretary General of the Elections Commission, winning the Thimarafushi by-election on April 14.

The MDP was present at the second round of talks, at which a tentative agenda was defined without specific prioritisation, before the PPM and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) walked away from the meetings following the MDPs refusal to allow the Majlis’s opening session to commence on March 1.

After the eventual opening of the Majlis on March 19, the talks did resume but the latest round, again, made no progress, this time the MDP calling for the inclusion of all registered parties. Today’s Thinvada Adu statement appears to be taking a similar line.

The group of NGOs also criticised the availability of the talk’s convener Ahmed Mujthaba whose absence from the country has delayed the talks on more than one occasion. Explaining his absence after the last session, Mujthaba told local paper Haveeru, “I did not plan my life with the knowledge of the events of February 7”.

Mujthaba had not responded at time of press.

The group also stated that decisions on early elections should be decided through “participatory, transparent, political processes, via discussions amongst political parties.” Aiman Rasheed of Transparency Maldives added that this entailed any decision between parties that did not contravene the existing legal or constitutional framework.

Regarding the long term recommendations of the group, it urged legislation to enable independent commissions of inquiry to function effectively. It urged state institutions to show greater leadership and commitment to responding to the current crisis.

The group also repeated calls for the support of the international actors in the “process of democratic consolidation”.

“It is a concern that in the absence of such guidance it will be a challenge to the national institutions to nurture the infant democracy of the Maldives,” the group said.