Ali Waheed reports leaking of documents to police, “too late” says Zuhair

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ali Waheed has also reported the leakage of several document concerning the Guantanamo Bay detainees to police. The Foreign Ministry said it was reporting the matter to the police on Tuesday.

Press secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said that Waheed was trying to escape after he was accused of being the recipient of a stolen secret document of the government.

Zuhair claimed Waheed had reported the case because ”he realised what he had done.”

”All the collaborators involved in the crime of stealing a government document and spreading it without clarifying its validity are also equally culpable,” said Zuhair. ‘They should be given the punishment that one receives for being a thief.”

Zuhair said the theft of the documents was a crime under articles 12 and 13 of the penal code.

”Politics is not an excuse for crime,” he said. ”Whoever stole the documents is a criminal shall be treated as a criminal.”

He said that government was not trying to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees into the country in secret.

”We will only bring him according to the law,” he said. ”What is the problem with it if he has a valid passport, the threat of being attacked if he goes back to his own country and he is a innocent Muslim?”

He said that Ali Waheed was aware the matter was not unlawful or dangerous, and dismissed counter-claims by the opposition as ”pure political circus”.

”That man [Waheed] has the look of a comedian,” Zuhair said.

Waheed, in a press conference yesterday, announced that he had reported the leaked document to police and said he had requested they investigate the case, so the government’s documents could be safely protected while the National Security Committee was investigating the Guantanamo Bay affair.

”I did not steal anything,” he claimed. “When I received government documents that I believed had the potential to harm the national security of the country I presented it to the national security committee to investigate,” he said.

”I do not believe that it is known as thieving. It was not leaked by my mistake.”

Foreign minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed has also reported the case to the police.

Dr Shaheed said the documents consisted of unofficial communications to the Maldives government from the US government, and a document sent to the Attorney General’s office by the Foreign Ministry.

Dr Shaheed said the documents also included an unofficial letter sent from the US discussing how a legal framework could be established to bring in the detainees.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair has recently said that the document was not leaked but was “deliberately stolen”, which he said caused “a lot of trouble” for the Maldives, by disrupting diplomatic relationships between countries.


Foreign Ministry reports leaked documents to Police

Foreign Minister, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, has filed a case at the police regarding leaked documents concerning the Guantánamo Bay detainees issue, reports Miadhu.

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Nihan told Minivan News last week “some papers between the President’s Office and some ministries were leaked.” State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Naseem, confirmed documents between his ministry and the President’s Office had been leaked.

The documents include a copy of a letter from the Foreign Ministry to the Attorney General, seeking advice on the legalities of the transfer. A note from the US Embassy outlining the legal framework of the transfer was also included.

Dr Shaheed said the documents were forged to some extend, according to Miadhu, making the public worry about the issue.

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has also asked the government to release accurate information on the issue.


US thanks Maldives while DRP continues opposition to Gitmo decision

The US State Department has thanked the Maldivian government for agreeing to accept detainees from Guantánamo Bay, but opposition parties are still saying they were not informed of the government’s decision.

Spokesman for the US State Department, Philip Crowley, said yesterday: “The United States welcomes the Government of Maldives reaffirmation that it intends to accept detainees from Guantánamo Bay. The United States is grateful to all countries that have accepted detainees [and] for their willingness to support US efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility.”

Jeffery Anderson at the US Embassy to the Maldives in Colombo said they embassy could provide no further information on the detainees being transferred to the Maldives.

President Mohamed Nasheed said yesterday: “It was very clear back then that people were arrested [and put] in Guantánamo without proper checks. People were just taken from all over and incarcerated. Today, when the jail is being dismantled, and the Maldives is among the few 100 percent Muslim countries in the world, if we can’t care about them, where is the example we are showing to the international community and other people of the book [Jews and Christians]?”

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said he believed the detainee being transferred was a Palestinian man from the West Bank.

“According to the US Department of State, he is not capable of planning or executing a crime,” Zuhair noted.

He said the man belongs to the Tabligh sect of Islam, and added, “that is not criminal behaviour.”

Zuhair said the man was chosen because he was “the least controversial” prisoner and had not been charged with a crime. “This man will have complete records with him,” he said, adding all consultations about his past were held by the US government.

“He did not have a fair trail,” Zuhair noted. “Actually, he did not have a trial.”

He said the Maldives had chosen to take a former prisoner of the detention centre because the Maldives is “one of many interested in closing Guantánamo Bay and the repatriation of the remaining prisoners.”

Zuhair said bringing a Guantánamo detainee to the Maldives would give the country “prestige” and “honour.”

“The [Maldivian] population is devoutly Muslim and this will translate to more prestige and honour and better sentiment towards the Maldives,” he said. “It will have a positive effect all the way.”

Humanitarian action

State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Naseem, said it was still premature to talk about how many detainees will be sent from the controversial prison, who they are or when they will be brought to the Maldives.

“It has not come to that stage yet,” he said, “but we have certain ideas of who [will be brought].”

He added that the prisoners still have to be interviewed and many legalities are still being examined.

“We also need to know why these people were arrested,” Naseem noted, emphasising that “we are not bringing any terrorists to the Maldives.”

“Not everyone who was arrested is a terrorist or a criminal,” he said, referring to the Maldivian national Ibrahim Fauzee, who was taken to Guantánamo in 2002 and brought back to the Maldives in 2005.

“His apartment happened to be formerly occupied by Palestinian terrorists and he was taken by police,” Naseem said, noting that Fauzee was later released with no charges.

Fauzee, who is president of the Maldivian religious NGO the Islamic Foundation, said he did not wish to comment on the issue.

Naseem noted that “everybody knows” there were many wrongful detentions made by the USA after the 9/11 attacks, “similar to arrests during Gayoom’s regime.”

He said the nationality of the detainees did not matter, since this is “a humanitarian issue.”

“A lot of Muslims have been affected by this,” he said, adding that as long as the resettlement was within the Constitution and laws of the country, there should be no problem in resettling former Guantánamo Bay prisoners.

Naseem said the US State Department had carefully chosen several countries around the world and had asked them to take in prisoners who were cleared of charges in their bid to close down the detention centre.

“They [USA] has confidence in the Maldives, in our human rights record, and know the [detainees] will have their rights [here].”

He noted the US “will have an obligation” to take into consideration the living expenses for any detainees sent to the Maldives.

“But those details still have to be worked out,” he added.

Naseem said this is “purely based on human rights” and the only reason it was becoming such a big issue locally was because the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) had obtained official papers “and are having a field day with this.”

He added that the decision to resettle the detainees been public knowledge since December last year when President Nasheed announced his intention to bring in detainees during his radio address.


The Dhivehi Qaumy Party (DQP) has been especially vocal in its opposition to the resettlement of Guantánamo prisoners.

They wrote in their website: “There is no reason that a small country like the Maldives with limited resources should accept such convicts when a country like America won’t accept them.”

DQP believes the president does not have the Constitutional authority to “transfer convicts” into the country, adding that such an actions would “make expatriates working in the country as well as visiting tourists more unsettled.”

They are planning on filing a case at court and a bill at the next session of Parliament prohibiting the transfer of foreign prisoners to the Maldives.

The party added the government was “not making any effort” to repatriate Maldivians in foreign jails.

DRP MP Ahmed Nihan said he thought the move would be dangerous to the country, claiming, “I do not believe this will make any betterment to the country. It is putting our country in danger.”

He said DRP MP Ali Waheed had sent a letter to the Majlis’ National Security Committee on the issue, but the sitting has been postponed. He said it would hopefully take place in the “coming weeks.”

“We are asking to get more details. No one knows what the government is trying to do,” Nihan said. “We’re totally in a dark place.”

He said his party had an issue with the lack of transparency, noting that they knew nothing about it until “some papers between the President’s Office and some ministries were leaked.”

“The government has already made a binding agreement. Members of the Majlis hope to know about serious matters like this.”

He said resettling Guantánamo convicts in the country is “a serious issue” and could have “serious consequences. If anything happens in the wrong direction, we’re in a serious situation,” he said, referring to the geographic location of the Maldives and the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

“If the government is genuine about this,” he said, “we would already have had negotiations between the government and the Majlis.”

Nihan added that President Nasheed’s remarks to the media yesterday, particularly his dismissal of the opposition’s outcry, was “total rudeness. It was like a comment from George Bush.”

He said he could not speak for his entire party, but said that regardless of whether the government was careful about who they were bringing into the country, “I cannot agree on this.”

History of Guantánamo

Land in Cuba’s Guantánamo Bay in the Oriente Province, the south-east of the island, was rented out by the United States in 1903 to set up a naval base. It was originally used for monitoring illegal migrants trying to enter the United States through Florida and other ports in the Caribbean.

Starting in 2002, prisoners accused of terrorism were sent to a detention centre in the base, after George W. Bush’s administration began capturing “enemy combatants” from around the world following the September 11 2001 attacks.

From its inception the detention centre has been surrounded by accusations of torture and of withholding the rights of prisoners under the Geneva Convention, which would guarantee them a fair trial.

Since 2002, many detainees have been released without charge after years of imprisonment, like Britain’s “Tipton Three,” who were repatriated to England in 2004 after two years of wrongful imprisonment.

In 2009 the White House reported that since 2002, approximately 800 individuals were imprisoned as ‘enemy combatants’ and detained at Guantánamo. Around 500 of those prisoners were either transferred or released, whether to their home countries or to a third country.

Additionally, they note “the Department of Defense has determined that a number of the individuals currently detained at Guantánamo are eligible for such transfer or release.”

In January 2009, US President Barack Obama ordered the closing of the Guantánamo detention centre within a year, and assigned a special task force to “consider policy options for apprehension, detention, trial, transfer or release of detainees.” He also banned the use of “harsh interrogations”.

The order states that all prisoners not eligible for transfer must be prosecuted, or the state must “select lawful means…for the disposition of such individuals.”

On the transfer of prisoners, the president’s order reads: “[The Special Task Force] will also look at rendition and other policies for transferring individuals to third countries to be sure that our policies and practices comply with all obligations and are sufficient to ensure that individuals do not face torture and cruel treatment if transferred.”

Crowley added yesterday that “since 2009, the United States has transferred 59 detainees to 24 different destinations; 35 of these have been transfers to third countries.”


Climate change trust fund money not delayed, says surprised EU

The European Union has claimed that funds allocated to the Maldives by the EU for climate change adaptation earlier this month have not been delayed, following reports in newspaper Miadhu Daily.

Miadhu reported that the Vice President, Dr Mohamed Waheed, requested the €6.5 million from the EU directly without going through the proper channels of communication, slowing the process.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed on 6 April between the Maldivian government, the EU and the World Bank. The money will be allocated to fund climate change adaptation and mitigation programmes, which are to be proposed by the government and managed by the World Bank.

Vice President Waheed said the allegations are “part of a smear campaign. It’s come after I spoke out the other day. So it has no basis whatsoever.”

Dr Waheed said the time schedule for the utilisation of the funds, which states that all projects must be submitted by 15 January 2011, shows “we are perfectly on schedule.”

He said he doesn’t “really understand where this is coming from, but I believe it’s a political stunt, played by someone in this country to basically discredit me. You can ask the EU representative in Sri Lanka.”

The Delegation of the EU to Sri Lanka and the Maldives stated today that “the delegation is pleased to confirm that the EU has contributed EUR 6.5 million (approximately US$8.8 million) to the multi-donor Maldives Climate Change Trust Fund.”

They noted arrangements for the programme include a Climate Change Advisory Council, of which Vice President Waheed is the chair, which will “provide strategic direction to the climate change activities under the Trust Fund ensuring that activities are aligned with the government’s Strategic Action Plan and climate change priorities.”

There will also be a Technical Committee composed of technical experts of the government, private sector and leading civil society organisations. This second committee will be responsible for “reviewing and recommending technically well-sound project proposals for financing and monitoring the overall progress of the programme.”

Programme Manager for the trust fund at the EU’s High Commission to the Maldives and Sri Lanka in Colombo, Harshini Halangote, told Minivan News “we have already committed this money” and assured the trust fund has been made available to the government.

“The government is solely responsible for proposing to the World Bank on the government’s priorities,” she said, noting the money is “solely for climate change purposes.”

She said the government’s proposals will then be looked into by the World Bank and the EU for approval.

Halangote added the Vice President would “not request for it personally,” noting there is a governance structure which has been passed and looked at by the government which outlines the proper channels of communication.

“Minister of Finance Ali Hashim, who signed the MoU, is aware they do have the money,” she said.

Halangote added “the project can run as fast as they want it to,” and said there was no truth in the allegations that the funds had been delayed.

Delhi-based Environmental Specialist for the trust fund, Priti Kumar, said “there has been no delay. When the World Bank starts a long-term project like this, you can’t expect a trust fund to be allocated within 21 days [since the signing of the MoU].”

She said the EU and World Bank “want the money to be utilised in a very useful manner” which is not influenced by politics.

She noted the Climate Change Advisory Council “is working quite well” and projects are being developed already.

She added although “everything is on track,” it will take “a few months for everything to be streamlined” as the trust fund involves a large sum of money.

Deputy Minister for Environment, Dr Mohamed Shareef, said the money “is available” and the ministry has “proposed several projects.”

He said the money “had been delayed for a bit, but international bureaucracy also takes its time.”

Dr Shareef said the ministry hopes there will be some projects starting by the end of this year and said he had been told “there will be more funds available” in addition to the original €6.5 million.

Deputy Minister of Finance, Ahmed Assad, said he is “not aware of any [delays]” and has not been “informed of any issues” regarding the trust fund.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Naseem, told Minivan News yesterday that the funds had been “delayed for too long,” but today said he no longer wished to give details on the matter.


Donor Conference pledges now US$487 million, says Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Aid commitments following the recent Maldives Donor Conference have reached US$487 million, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed and State Minister Ahmed Naseem took to the stage this morning to dismiss claims made by the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) that the donor conference had raised less US$20 million in pledges.

“That is their own number,” Dr Shaheed said.

“If you add up the money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the UN system, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) it’s almost US$200 million. That is 80 per cent of pledges coming from these big donors.”

Shaheed spoke about monitoring and implementation mechanisms, which would ensure the funds are used according to the donor’s wishes and the government’s pledges.

Coordinator for the UN in the Maldives Mansoor Ali said the donor conference had been very successful and it was “not the time to be negative” about the results.

Dr Shaheed also spoke of the recent climate change meeting held this week by the Progressive Group in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, where delegates from 23 countries met to advance negotiations before the next international climate change summit scheduled to take place in Cancun, Mexico in November this year.

The Progressive Group brings together the countries with a “forward-looking and constructive attitude to international climate change negotiations,” and played a key role in last year’s international climate change summit in Copenhagen.

Delegates from over twenty countries came together in Colombia to “exchange opinions and promote active participation towards the next climate change summit.”

The meeting focused mostly on creating ministerial-level communication between countries, in hopes to ease dialogue between nations and to advance on key issues such as fast-start financing, adaptation, low-carbon development and verification of emission cuts.

Maldives proposed a second ministerial-level meeting to take place in Malé in July this year.

Dr Shaheed also spoke of President Mohamed Nasheed’s recent visit to Europe, and confirmed that German Police officers will be arriving in Malé “very soon” to begin training Maldives Police Service (MPS) officers to work in a democracy.

“They are the ones who retrained the Stasi in East Germany after German reunification, as well as the police force in Kosovo,” Shaheed said. “They are the best in the world at what they do.”

He said the German team will stay in the Maldives from one year to eighteen months, depending on when they believe the MPS is ready, “all at the German government’s expense.”

Dr Shaheed added that Icelandic President, Ólafur Grímsson, will be visiting the Maldives soon to promote sustainable green energy alongside President Nasheed.

Dr Shaheed spoke of the recently signed agreement with the Rothschild banking dynasty, which has agreed to help the Maldives in the bid to become carbon neutral by 2020.

“There needs to be a study on where we have most carbon emissions,” Dr Shaheed said, adding that “they will also try to carbon-proof our current systems.”

The Rothschild group will secure international financing to fund a carbon audit of the Maldives. Dr Shaheed said the surveying will take approximately nine months.

Dr Shaheed ended the press conference with news of the UN Human Rights Council’s decision to draft a new international human rights treaty as an additional optional protocol to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), which was proposed by the Maldives.

Maldives was chosen to chair the core group discussing the CRC in Geneva, joined by Slovenia, Slovakia, Egypt, Kenya, France, Finland, Thailand, Uruguay and Chile.

The CRC, which is the most ratified treaty in the world, was lacking in allowing cases regarding abuse of the rights of children to be submitted to international UN mechanisms.

The new treaty proposes to allow cases to be sent to international protection mechanisms to intervene when domestic institutions fail to offer protection.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story Dr Shaheed was quoted as saying the visiting German police trainers were  responsible for retraining the Gestapo after the Second World War. This has been clarified as the Stasi, the East German secret police, who were retrained after the reunification of Germany post-1990.


‘Muslims of Russia’ exhibition on display at Islamic Centre

The Honorary Consul of the Russian Federation to the Maldives has organised a photography exhibition showcasing Muslims in Russia, in partnership with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The exhibition, ‘Muslims of Russia’, opened last night at the Islamic Centre and will close on 3 April. It is open to the public from 10am-12pm, 2.30-6pm and 8-10pm.

The photographs give a glimpse into the culture of Russia’s 22 million Muslims and give colour and life to the white exhibition room under the Mosque at the Islamic Centre.

Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Vladimir Mikhalov, gave a speech at the opening ceremony held yesterday.

Muslims of Russia exhibition

The ambassador asked for a minute of silence in the memory of those killed in the terror attacks in Moscow on Monday morning.

Mikhalov said Russian police had confirmed the attack was carried out by two female suicide bombers from the northern Caucasus Mountains.

“This region is populated mostly by Muslims and unfortunately about twenty years ago…some selfish local leaders decided to take advantage of the weakness of the central government…and declared “jihad” to Russia and started their fighting.”

Mikhalov said most people, including Islamic spiritual leaders of the region, condemned their actions.

“That’s why they were defeated and peace in general was restored,” he said, but noted that the remnants of the group had been financed from overseas in order to destabilise the situation in Russia.

He assured guests that Russians had never associated terrorism with Islam and believe “terrorists have neither religion nor nationality.”

He said Islam is currently the second most widely professed religion in Russia, and Russians wanted to show “Muslim men, women, their children and elders in every day life.”

He also wished “the friendly Maldivian people…all the success in their development, as well as peace and prosperity.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed also spoke before guests explored the exhibition room.

The exhibition

symbols of faith
'Symbols of faith' and Khan's Mosque

The photographs are set out around the room, printed on canvases, depicting Muslim festivities, gatherings during Ramadan, Qur’an reciting competitions, Islamic architecture and Russian mosques, Muslim schools, prayer, sermons, Russian pilgrims in Mecca, and even an Islamic fashion show in Moscow.

A beautiful blue-lit photograph shows one of Russia’s oldest mosques, Khan’s Mosque, in the town of Kasimov in Ryazan district. Next to it sits one of the most captivating photographs, named ‘Symbols of Faith’ which shows a crescent-shaped light display on a mosque’s dome.

Another photograph shows a conference named ‘Russia-Islamic World: Partnership in the Name of Stability” held in Moscow and the 2009 International Contest of Qur’an Reciters.

The photographs depict everything from geese seemingly flying towards a mosque, to Russian dancers in a National Dance, History and Modernity Festival.

Russian Muslims

The first Russian Muslims were the Dagestani people in the current region of Derbent, after the Arabs arrived in the 8th century. The modern Tartars inherited the religion from them. European and Caucasian Turks also became followers of Islam.

Many churches and mosques were closed down during Soviet rule of the country, but started reopening in the 1990s.

In 2005, the Kul Shariff Mosque in Tatarstan was rebuilt in celebration of the 1000 year jubilee of Kazan. It is now one of the biggest mosques in Europe.

Kazan has the second largest Muslim population in Russia after Moscow, and is the location of the Russian Islamic University at Tatarstan.

The St Petersburg Mosque will be celebrating its 100 year anniversary in 2013. It was the biggest mosque in Europe when it was built in 1913 and is still one of the largest in Europe.


Former Hill & Knowlton employee now working for government

A former employee of global public relations agency Hill & Knowlton, which was controversially contracted by the former government to improve its international image, continues to work for the government in its Geneva office.

In a previous interview with Minivan News, Independent MP and former Information Minister Mohamed Nasheed said the PR firm was hired to respond to the allegations of human rights abuses promulgated by the MDP.

He also said that while he believed it had whitewashed some of the activities of the former government, its primary agenda was to encourage the government to show a more democratic face.

The PR company was also criticised for editing the statements on the country’s wikipedia entry critical of the former government, after was caught in the act by data-mining tool Wikiscanner.

Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair said there “might be one staff member [from Hill & Knowlton] in Geneva who was hired by the former government.”

“Cancelling the contract was more expensive than continuing it,” Zuhair explained.

He added that this person was probably still doing PR work for the government.

Minivan News contacted the Permanent Mission of the Maldives to the United Nations in Geneva and spoke to the man in question, Mark Limon.

Limon said he finished his work for H&K nine years ago, but could not give any details of his work with the firm or with the former Maldivian government due to contractual clauses.

“I am helping as a local employee [in the Geneva Mission],” Limon said. He added that the rumours of continued links with the PR firm were “absolutely not true. There are no links or contracts at all [between the Maldivian government and Hill & Knowlton].”

Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed said the rumours of a Hill & Knowlton employee working for the current government were “total rubbish. There is no one from Hill & Knowlton [under the current government].”

He confirmed that Hill & Knowlton was hired by the former government in 2004 and stopped working for them in 2007, he said, noting that there were currently only two foreign nationals working in Maldivian Missions in Europe – one in Brussels and one in Geneva.

Shaheed dismissed rumours the foreign nationals were receiving an extravagant pay checks of up to ₤80,000 a year, saying that they were being paid “competitive rates, comparable to that of an ambassador.”

State Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem said the MDP had been concerned about Hill & Knowlton’s work with the previous government, and the current government had no one from the firm working for them.

To claim otherwise was “a ridiculous suggestion”, he said.

“There are so many people inherited from the previous government. This doesn’t mean they work for Hill & Knowlton,” he said.

Mohamed Hussain ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, spokesman for the former president, confirmed that the former government had terminated its contract with the firm in 2007. Rumours that a Hill & Knowlton employee was still on the government payroll were incorrect, he said.

“The gentleman in Geneva is a former employee of Hill & Knowlton, but is now working for the government,” Mundhu said.

He said Limon “still has all the skills” from his time in Hill & Knowlton and had been “instrumental” in in setting up the Mission in Geneva.


President meets with Icelandic ministers

On his last day in Iceland, President Mohamed Nasheed met with both the Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture, Jón Bjarnsason, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Össur Skarphéðinsson.

President Nasheed met with Minister Bjarnsason at Iceland’s Marine Research Institute, where they discussed the development of a mutually beneficial cooperative framework between the Maldives and Iceland in the area of fisheries and fishing technologies.

They agreed that both countries could benefit from sharing their experiences in the fishing industry.

President Nasheed said Maldivian fisheries industry could benefit from Iceland’s experience in practices and fishing technologies and Minister Bjarnsason said Iceland wanted to work with small fishing island nation such as the Maldives.

President Nasheed and Icelandic President Ólafur Grímsson visited Iceland’s Marine Research Institute, where President Nasheed was briefed on marine research and mechanisms to monitor and control fishing activities.

President Nasheed then met with Minister Skarphéðinsson at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where they discussed ways of further strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries.

They mainly focused on the areas of fishing, renewable energy and climate change adaptation.


Maldives donor conference ‘not a begging bowl’ says Shaheed

The IV Maldives Partnership Forum, or donor conference, is to be held on the 28-29 March at Bandos Resort and Spa will focus on attracting foreign investment rather than donations, said Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed.

“You can do business here and make a profit,” he claimed, while still helping the country improve its infrastructure and economy.

“We don’t want to become mendicant people with a bowl begging for some money. We have interests to promote here.”

“A lot of countries are required by the UN system to focus their assistance on certain countries,” he explained, mainly those in the Least Developed Countries (LDC) list.

Until the Maldives graduates from the LDC list at the end of 2010, other countries with higher GDPs are encouraged by the UN to offer investment and concessions to the Maldives.

“The [donor countries] have their own internal policy requirements to fulfil by focusing on countries who are vulnerable, like island states,” explains Dr Shaheed.

“At the same time,” he adds, “there are those who are keen to promote certain causes or issues, such as human rights. They want certain opportunities to promote those issues.”

Dr Shaheed added that “a lot of countries want to invest in a stable Maldives. A stable, prosperous Maldives is a market. An unstable, impoverished Maldives is a liability.”

The invitations “are being sent out” and ministers are travelling to world capitals to begin lobbying, including Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Kuwait City, Riyadh and Doha.

The Forum will address five key areas:

Macro-economic Stability

For there to be macro-economic stability in the country, the government “hopes the parliament, when they come back, as a first order of business, will look at the taxation package and actually pass it.”

The government is currently working in partnership with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the economic development programme. Dr Shaheed says “it is very important that we make that programme succeed.”

He added that for the IMF programme to work, it is crucial for the taxation bill to be passed.

Public Reform

“Again this is linked to the IMF program,” says Dr Shaheed, “because we need to cut down expenditure.”

Part of this public reform is the very controversial policy of cutting down the number of public servants.

“We won’t just sack them,” he says. “We are going to restructure some of the government bodies into complex entities, like the media sector.”

There will also be some retirement packages available, as well as study and training packages.

Governance and Democratisation

“This is a very broad area,” Shaheed explained. “We need an oriented look at division, and how to increase capacity [in government agencies].”

All areas of government must be studied extensively to make sure they “function better”.

Climate Change Adaptation

Dr Shaheed said the most important issues concerning climate change are renewable energy and eco-degradation (for example, waste management). It also includes building “more sea walls, jetties and harbours.”

Social Development

The government will be “targeting the vulnerable of the population, like children, young girls, and old people” as the main recipients of the benefits of social development.

It will also deal with the health and education sectors, which it hopes to improve.

Past Forums

Dr Shaheed said the first forum, held in 2007, “was a time when a lot of questions were asked about where the Maldives was headed.”

The focus was on the reform program, which he claimed was “a very good forum to bring the donor community, the recipients, and policy makers together on the same page.”

For this year’s forum, the minister says “we have projects in place, so we have a much clearer idea of what we’re going to do.”