Education ministry shifts functions to province offices

The ministry of education signed management contracts with seven province offices yesterday to decentralise certain administrative functions of the ministry.

Minister of Education Musthafa Luthfy signed the contract on behalf of the Ministry and state ministers for each province signed on behalf of their province.

President Mohamed Nasheed said the government intended to eventually shift all the ministry’s powers and services to the province offices.

Dividing the Maldvies into seven provinces was one of the five election pledges Nasheed made in 2008, a move that has met with considerable controversy in parliament to the extent of stalling it completely in the closing sessions of its last sitting.

Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed said the government’s plan to “wipe out” the atolls from the Maldives by dividing them into provinces was against the law.

”The government is physically trying to re-distribute the country – it is not advisable,” Nasheed said.

Nasheed said the president could name ministries, provide offices and give them whatever powers he wished, but there were no provinces in the Maldives “according to the law.”

Furthermore, he claimed it was “not wise” for the president to beginning carrying out the work of decentralising the Maldives before parliament had approved it.

”We hope the next bill on decentralising the Maldives will include more compromise than the previous bill,” Nasheed added.


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.”


Finance ministry snubs parliamentary committee

Finance Minister Ali Hashim failed to appear before parliament’s internal affairs committee today, after he was called to clarify the manner in which independent institutions in the Maldives are funded.

Hashim was asked to appear after institutions including the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), the Election Commission (EC) and the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) complained to parliament that they lacked financial independence and must “beg” for funds from the Finance Ministry.

“He left the country,” said independent MP Mohamed Nasheed, the committee’s chair. “He said he was preoccupied during the first time we set, so we sent him a formal letter rescheduling the meeting for this morning at 11:15am. He didn’t respond and we learned he had left the country.”

Nasheed said the committee had instead asked the State Finance Minister Ahmed Assad to appear, “but he said he was in another meeting. I said he should give this one priority, so he sent two junior officers.”

Nasheed said the committee had decided to invoke article 99 of the constitution and force Hashim to attend the next committee meeting after 9 January. That article allows: “the People’s Majlis or any of its committees the power to summon any person to appear before it to give evidence under oath, or produce documents.”

“If he doesn’t appear, we’ll make a report to parliament questioning his confidence,” Nasheed warned. “He’s being irresponsible and it’s so unnecessary and uncalled for.”

Hashim was unavailable when Minivan News attempted to contact him.

A question of independence

Independent institutions are currently required to seek approval from the Finance Ministry for all funding, a situation they argue undermines their ability to function independently of the executive.

“It is actually a problem,” explained Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem. “We haven’t had financial independence and we have to seek approval from the finance ministry to run programs. The money has already been budgeted and there is no need for us to be overseen by the finance ministry.”

During a meeting between the parliamentary committee and the heads of independent institutions, HRCM President Ahmed Saleem complained that the process undermined the commission’s integrity by leaving it unable to pay bills on time.

“We just got the money yesterday to pay for an invoice received two to three months ago,” he said. “This undermines our credibility.”

Saleem noted that while the PGO had yet to have a request for its money denied, the EC had not been so lucky.

“97 per cent of the finances we had allocated for training this year are still untouched and it is already December,” complained Mohamed Farooq from the EC.

“We don’t get any finance for our programs unless the Finance Ministry approves it. They are the ones who decide if we should conduct training programs.”

The prosecutor general, HRCM, EC and ACC “are all reading from the same script on this issue,” Nasheed said.

“Even when their budgets have been approved they still have to ask for permission, because the money is not physically transferred to a separate account.”

Furthermore, he said, the ministry’s decision to reduce the salaries of staff in independent institutions by 15 to 20 per cent “was made in violation of the laws used to create those institutions.”

The finance minister had previously suggested a percentage of the institution’s budgets might be made available, “but that still doesn’t solve the issue,” Nasheed argued.

“They see this as encroaching on their independence. If there is less money available then the budgets of these institutions should be subject to quarterly review and adjusted by parliament.”


Majlis budget “doesn’t add up” says president

President Mohamed Nasheed has criticised the budget passed by parliament, claiming that it contains “some recommendations that will be difficult for me to follow.”

The 2010 mid-term budget was passed by the Majlis last week, after recommendations totalling Rf800 million (US$62 million) were added following a parliamentary committee review. These included restoring civil servant salaries and subsidies for sectors ranging form fishing to agriculture and private media.

“When I looked at the recommendations, I saw that most of them were, in my view, for us to do things right,” Nasheed said, “[but] it has to be kept in mind that the budget is made up of numbers; it is a mathematical transaction. If things are to be done for political reasons, the numbers won’t add up.”

“I would like to assure the Majlis members and the people that the implementation of the budget will be based on what they said,” he said, but added that some of the recommendations “might be in violation of laws… and the government cannot implement them.”

The President’s remarks were met with outrage from members of the Majlis, who have interpreted his comments as an attempt to undermine parliament’s role in the governance of the country.

“Neither the president nor the finance ministry has the discretion to implement the budget contrary to what was passed by the People’s Majlis,” said a statement from the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), highlighting article 96(b) of the Maldives constitution.

That article reads: “The People’s Majlis may approve or amend the budget submitted by the Minister of Finance as it deems fit.”

The DQP accused the president of disregarding the constitution, claiming his remarks were “something only a dictator would say” and that he was “unable to digest a democratic system with separation of powers.”

“The people’s representatives will decide how the people’s money will be spent. After the people’s representatives make a decision, the president does not have the discretion to implement the budget any other way,” the party said.

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP for Vilumaafannu, Ahmed Nihan, insisted that parliament had worked within the law when making ammendments to the budget.

“The constitution clearly gives us the right to make amendments [to the budget],” he said. “We made those amendments, including subsidies for fishermen, agriculture and a little amount independent media. The president doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Nihan accused Nasheed of “playing hide-and-seek with democracy”.

“I’m sure he’s lying. We’ve worked within the law,” he said, when asked if any of the recommendations would prove unconstitutional.

Asked where the additional Rf800 million would come from, Nihan replied “taxation”, observing that “after Copenhagen [Nasheed] said all the finances we need have been arranged with overseas parties.”

During his homecoming press conference, the president joked that “the bulk” of $30 billion in short-term aid promised by the developed world at the UN’s Climate Change Convention in Copenhagen would be given to the Maldives.

“I can say now with confidence that we will provide water, sanitation, electricity and build harbours in all islands,” he promised. “God willing, we will not face difficulties with money now.”


Copenhagen a victory for the Maldives, says President

The Maldives will benefit from short-term funding for island and developing nations pledged at the The UN’s Climate Change Forum in Copenhagen, President Mohamed Nasheed told a press conference on his return home, even if the accord itself was not as comprehensive as hoped.

Ten per cent of the $30 billion in short-term funding would go towards helping small island nations adapt, he said.

“The talks were a success for the Maldives as funds were pledged for adaptation. We will get the money we need,” Nasheed said, adding that the challenge now was to improve the country’s capacity to undertake such large projects.

“I can say now with confidence that we will provide water, sanitation, electricity and build harbours in all islands. The only question is when can we do it? That depends on how fast we can work,” he said. “God willing, we will not face difficulties with money now.”

In addition, the Maldives’ high profile on the world stage now meant it can go straight to important world leaders, Nasheed said.

“A lot of people were depending on us, so I think if we need something and ask for it, now it will be easier to get it done.”

Nasheed drew praise from many world leaders, including Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, for his sustained negotiations with stubborn countries. Such mediation was necessary, Nasheed explained, due to a “deep mistrust” between developing and developed countries.

Six countries, Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Tuvalu opposed the accord.

Nasheed said he talked with the Tuvalu prime minister and the Cuban negotiator and convinced them to sign. “I pleaded with the Nicaraguan president. The Saudis stepped aside when the Americans asked them to…the Venezuelan official refused to speak to me. Just refused to speak at all.”

Others were friendlier. Nasheed was given a lift back to the conference centre by Rudd after a BBC debate, chatted with UK billionaire Richard Branson, and even had to cancel a meeting with former US presidential candidate and environmental advocate Al Gore due to a double-booking. “The World Bank president (Robert Zoellick) called constantly up to the last minute,” Nasheed added.

The cost of the trip was covered by other countries, while the ongoing publicity benefits would be considerable, he added.

“We spend US$1 million on tourism promotion. Even if we had spent billions I’m certain we wouldn’t have got the same degree of coverage as we have over the past two or three weeks across the world on newspapers and TV.”

The accord itself “was a good beginning”, and a far better outcome than failure, he noted.

“If we had been unable to get this, everything would have failed. We were working in an environment of fear that could have caused serious conflicts among nations,” he said. “If no accord had been reached, the status of the UN would have been in jeopardy while some European leaders would have been unable to go back to their people.”

Nasheed said he viewed the final accord as a framework with “many promising features that could become legally binding.”

“A decision will be made on lowering the limit from 2 degrees to 1.5 degrees celsius based on the advice and counsel of the Inter-government Panel on Climate Change in 2015,” he explained.

“The science says the world really has seven years to make a decision. If something is not done in seven years, climate change will go beyond our control or reach a tipping point.”


Maldives President fires up rally at Copenhagen

President Mohamed Nasheed galvanised thousands of environmentalists at a rally in Copenhagen yesterday, vowing to persevere until a politically binding climate change treaty was attained.

“I refuse to believe that a better world isn’t possible,” said 42-year-old Nasheed at Klimaforum, the global civil society counterpart of the official UN conference.

“I have three words to say to the doubters and deniers. Three words with which to win this battle. Just three words are all I need. You may already have heard them. Three-Five-Oh,” he said.

World leaders will meet in the Danish capital this week at the historic UN climate change conference to thrash out a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

But, the two years of negotiations have reached a virtual impasse as the developed and developing world remain at loggerheads over who should shoulder the lion’s share of emissions cuts.

Over on, Bill McKibben, the man behind the campaign, wrote that Nasheed was the first head of state to arrive in Copenhagen and “he drove the crowd into a frenzy…with a thousand people on their feet chanting ‘3-5-0’”.

The 350 campaign is lobbying for cuts in atmospheric carbon to the safe levels of 350ppm, a figure cited by James Hansen, the head of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Current levels stand at around 387ppm.

In October, Nasheed demonstrated his commitment to the campaign by diving into a lagoon with 11 of his ministers to hold the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting.

The laws of physics, said Nasheed, could not be argued with. “You cannot cut a deal with Mother Nature, and we don’t intend to try. That is why, in March, the Maldives announced plans to become the first carbon neutral country in the world.”

In March, the president unveiled plans to make the Indian Ocean archipelago carbon neutral within a decade by switching to 100 per cent renewable energy and offsetting aviation pollution, primarily generated by tourists flying to one of the country’s luxury resorts.

Addressing yesterday’s rally, Nasheed said going carbon neutral was not simply a question of taking the moral high ground but was also economically prudent.

“Countries that have the foresight to green their economies today,will be the winners of tomorrow,” he said. “These pioneering countries will free themselves from the unpredictable price of foreign oil. They will capitalise on the new, green economy of the future.”

Looking back over history as well as his own experience, Nasheed said he believed in the power of peaceful protest.

“From the civil rights movement, to Gandhi’s Quit India campaign; non-violent protest can create change. Protest worked in the struggle for democracy in the Maldives,” he said.

Last year, Nasheed, the leader of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party unseated Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in the country’s first democratic elections. A former journalist, Nasheed was jailed by the former regime for his political writings on numerous occasions.

Recounting this period, he said, “We sat in those cells because we had deliberately broken the unjust laws of dictatorship. We had spoken out for a cause in which we believed. That cause was freedom and democracy.”

While the former government had “guns, bombs and tanks”, the opposition only had the “power of our words, and the moral clarity of our cause.”

“My message to you is to continue the protests. Continue after Copenhagen. Continue despite the odds. And eventually, together, we will reached that crucial number: Three-five-oh,” he said.


Developing countries to share US$10 billion climate package

Commonwealth leaders welcomed a US$10 billion annual package for developing countries ahead of the landmark United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen this December.

Leaders of the 53 countries, among them President Mohamed Nasheed, issued a declaration committing to “achieving the strongest possible outcome” in the Danish capital.

“The latest scientific evidence indicates that in order to avoid dangerous climate change likely to have catastrophic impacts we must find solutions using all available means,” the declaration stated. “We must act now.”

Participants at the two-day annual Commonwealth meeting in Trinidad and Tobago agreed that an international legally binding agreement at Copenhagen was essential and pledged their support to Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen to deliver a comprehensive treaty.

Negotiations over the past two years have virtually stalled with developed and developing countries unable to agree on the level of emission cuts and financial assistance to be given.

However a meeting between US President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Hu Jintao earlier this month breathed new life into the climate change talks as each agreed to lobby for a legally binding deal at Copenhagen.

In their declaration, leaders of the Commonwealth agreed that developed countries should continue to take the lead on cutting their emissions.

“And developing countries, in line with their national circumstances, should also take action to achieve a substantial deviation from business-as-usual emissions with financial and technical support,” the declaration said.

Copenhagen fund

Commonwealth heads welcomed the initiative to establish a Copenhagen Launch Fund to start next year and building to US$10 billion a year by 2012.

The goal received backing by French Prime Minister Nicholas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who said the UK would contribute US$1.3 billion over the next three years.

“The rest of Europe will do so,” Brown said at the Commonwealth summit. “And I believe American will do so as well.”

US Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said, “We need to get every country on board.”

Leaders also called for fast funding for the poorest countries as well as those most vulnerable to climate change and requested that 10 per cent of the fund be put aside for small island states and associated low-lying coastal states.

“The needs of the most vulnerable must be addressed. Their voice must be heard and capacity to engage strengthened. Many of us from small island states, low-lying coastal states and least developed countries face challenges, yet have contributed least to the problem of climate change,” the declaration said.


Scientists said last week the effects of climate change were being felt faster than anticipated and oceans were rising by 3.4 mm per year, greater than predicted.

As one of the lowest-lying countries in the world, the Maldives is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels. In 2007, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that sea level rises of up to 59 cm within a century would swamp many of the Maldives’ 1,192 coral islands.

“My country would not survive,” said Nasheed at a conference of vulnerable nations earlier this month. “The sums of money on offer are so low, it is like arriving at an earthquake zone with a dustpan and brush,” he added.

In their declaration, Commonwealth heads further called for support for adaptation, technology transfer and capacity building in addition to financial assistance.