Waheed secures release of additional US$25million credit during India trip

As President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s first visit to India nears its end, a joint press release from the two governments has summarised the trip.

“The President of Maldives conveyed appreciation for the release of an instalment of US$ 20 million from the Standby Credit Facility from India in February 2012 as well as the rollover of the US$ 50 million State Bank of India (SBI) Treasury Bonds by a year,” the statement read.

The President of the Maldives also thanked the Prime Minister of India for agreeing to an additional release of US$25 million from the Standby Credit Facility to the Government of Maldives,” it continued.

India extended a US$100million credit facility to the Maldives in November last year with the aim of increasing economic ties between the two countries.

A standby line of credit is normally forwarded to countries which have reached macroeconomic sustainability but experience short term financing issues.

The Maldivian Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) recently reported that government income has increased 91.8 percent based on the same point in 2011. This increase, however, is expected to be offset by the reduction in customs duties after amendments were made to the import/export legislation last year.

The Majlis finance committee this month revealed that this year’s budget deficit will reach Rf9.1 billion (US$590 million), which is equivalent to 27 percent of GDP.

Today’s joint statement confirmed that all agreements made during the November 2011 visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s November 2011 visit to the Maldives would be upheld.

“In this context,” the statement continued, “it was agreed to expeditiously implement the projects for renovation of the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Male and the establishment of the National Police Academy under grants-in aid from India.”

The release also highlighted President Waheed’s gratitude for last year’s extension of a $US40 million line of credit for the construction of 500 housing units.

Prime Minister Singh’s hopes for Indian investment in the Maldives were also mentioned in the joint statement.

“[The Prime Minister] expressed the hope that the Government of Maldives would ensure a climate conducive for the promotion of investments and that the existing projects with Indian investments, including the Male International Airport project, would proceed satisfactorily.”

President Waheed has been meeting with prominent members of the Indian business community during the trip assuring them of the government’s commitment to signed contracts, whilst in the Maldives the dispute over the details of the airport development deal between the government and GMR continues unabated.

Media offensive

Waheed’s first overseas visit since assuming office has been accompanied by extensive international media attention.

President Waheed spoke at length to New Delhi Television (NDTV) on Sunday in an interview that encapsulated all of the topics covered during his media campaign in India. These included the Commonwealth, former President Nasheed, radical Islam, investment, China, and former President Maumoon Gayoom.

Waheed told his interviewer that the fact that the Maldives was a young democracy had not been understood by some of its “international partners”.

“They assumed that Maldives has now embraced democracy and that democracy has arrived, but the early stages of democracy involve many obstacle sand many tendencies that come and haunt us from the past,” said Waheed.

When asked about the possibility of earlier elections he argued that he was willing to move them forward as far as he is able under the terms of the constitution.

“I will support that, but we had an independent elections commission appointed by the parliament. The moment I give a date the Elections Commissioner will come out and say it’s none of your business,” he responded.

Newstrack India and the Indian Express have reported Waheed as saying that no party other than Nasheed’s supported elections any earlier than July 2013.

Asked about the demands of the Commonwealth for early elections, Waheed said “the Commonwealth is not pushing for early elections as vehemently as before, as I believe they understand the situation in the Maldives a little bit better than they did.”

Regarding the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) and the demands of the Commonwealth for its reformation, he said “we will do whatever is necessary to make everybody feel comfortable”.

“We did the best we could , at the time, to identify three very prominent people in Maldives who are apolitical, who have not been involved in any part politics for the last couple of years and who are well-qualified,” he said.

“I think it would have been proper for the Commonwealth to observe the proceedings of the commission and to understand the terms of reference better before they came to a conclusion about its integrity and impartiality.”

Asked whether he was “bothered” by the meetings between Nasheed and Indian leaders, he said: “No, he is a former president and as a former president it is proper for the Indian government to receive him.”

When the topic of rising Islamism was raised, specifically the inclusion of two Adhaalath members in the cabinet, Waheed said “we have to engage with the Islamic scholars – if we try to isolate people, the situation can get worse.”

He said he was not worried about a growing trend and that any Muslim country was bound to have small extremist elements: “I think it is manageable… people tend to get associated with extremist factions because they don’t have the economic benefits of development.”

Relations with China also came up for discussion, with Waheed offering assurances that there was “no real chance” of the Maldives moving into China’s orbit. “We have a preferential relationship [with India] as our closest neighbour and this is a concern Indians should not be worried about.”

The interviewer also asked why the visit was an official rather than a state visit, to which Waheed responded that this was not significant, saying that he thought the Maldives had requested an official visit.

Regarding the safety of Indian investment in the Maldives, Waheed said that it was common for commercial deals to encounter difficulties and that the country was committed to honouring all deals – “they will remain”, he said.

President Waheed has also claimed in Indian media that his government is a continuation of that of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

IBN-CNN today reported that Waheed had discussed with the governor and chief minister of Maharashtra state. the possibility of Indian companies assisting the Maldives’ in addressing its power deficiencies.

Waheed was asked about India’s stance on the dispute between his supporters and those supporting former president Nasheed.

“India is the world’s largest democracy. I can understand its concern for other democracies. The Maldives is a success story, it’s just that we are very early on in our path to democracy.”

He added that a new system, consisting of elements of a presidential system mixed with elements of a parliamentary democracy, will not always work as smoothly as people would like straight away and will need “refining” and “polishing”.

Asked about the comment attributed to State Minister for Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon regarding Indian interference in Maldivian domestic affairs, Waheed said he felt that the comment had been taken out of context.

The interviewer concluded the interview by asking for Waheed’s response to rumours that former President Maumoon Gayoom was influencing his government’s policy.

Waheed explained that Gayoom was still head of a large political party and so, as part of a political process, could not be discounted. He also explained that many parties were represented in his cabinet.

“It is not entirely fair to assume that Gayoom has too much influence in this government,” Waheed claimed.