President’s Office removes ‘socially unacceptable’ film awards pictures from website

The President’s Office has removed “socially unacceptable” pictures taken at Tuesday’s Maldives Film Awards from its website.

Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told Minivan News the pictures had been removed on Wednesday evening following local media and social media criticism of “pictures against social norms.”

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and Defense Minister Ahmed Nazim attended the event held at the Olympus Theater in Malé. The ceremony was broadcast live on state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM).

“We felt these pictures should not be on the President’s Office website. They are against social norms,” Muaz said.

Muaz refused to provide further details on which pictures were removed. But Minivan News understands they were of female film stars in revealing clothes.

Some commentators criticized the photos on religious grounds, while others pointed to the administration’s “hypocritical” treatment of female detainees arrested from a music festival on Anbaraa Island and accused of wearing revealing clothing on April 18.

The women were wrapped in sarongs when they were presented at the Criminal Court for remand hearings.

Comparing the film awards and Anbaraa music festival, one Facebook commenter said: “When the girls wore shorts and danced at Anbaraa it became a problem. But its OK when adult women wear revealing clothes and when some dance infront of political leaders. Raid Olympus just as they raided Anbaraa. This is why I say how they do things do not make sense.”

One commenter on Channel News Maldives said they were saddened by President Yameen’s presence at the event, while another said: “Those who raised their voices and cried in the name of religion and nation are now speechless, their voices silenced, mute.”

Facebook user, Shifa Aishath, called for Home Minister Umar Naseer’s resignation: “Girls wearing shorts needed sarongs to cover them. What about the so-called celebrities? End discrimination! Umar resign!”

Political Analyst Azra Naseem said the treatment of the young people on Anbaraa Island “is a supreme example of the hypocrisy that defines Maldives.”

“It is one of the worst kept secrets of Maldivian politics that most of the Maldivian cabinet, and a substantial number of parliamentarians in the Majlis all drink alcohol and/or take recreational drugs. Several government Ministers not only drink but also facilitate parties and raves for young people they know. On the more sleazy side of things, several do so with the goal of getting sexual favours from young people in exchange for the illegal substances provided,” she said in a comment piece.

Referring to the Criminal Court’s stalling of a court case against MP Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam and state failure to investigate Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed’s alleged appearance in a series of sex tapes, Azra said: “And the hypocrisy of those meting out such punishment, while happily indulging in worse behaviour themselves, boggles the mind perhaps even more than some of the substances said to have been available at Anbaraa could have.”

In May 2013, the police detained a 16 year old girl in Malé for “dressing inappropriately.”


President Yameen delivers first presidential address

President Abdulla Yameen today delivered his first presidential address in the parliament’s first official session after recess.

President Yameen detailed his administration’s achievements – claiming success in all the 100-day initiatives.

He explained that the executive had now drafted a legislative agenda for the next five years which would be gradually submitted to parliament in the form of draft bills.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has described the address as “taciturn and rather nonsensical”, arguing that major issues such as the Supreme Court and the recent HIV scandal at IGMH were ignored.

Opening the ceremony, Parliament Speaker Abdulla Shahid noted that this was first instance where an MP has been unable to attend the presidential address due to incarceration, referring to MP Abdulla Jabir.

Shahid also condemned the attack on MDP MP Alhan Fahmy, calling for the cessation of all acts against the implementation of rule of law and legal obligations. Alhan attended today’s ceremony returning from Sri Lanka where he underwent spinal surgery following his February stabbing.

The president began his address by noting that, although national debt would increase this year to MVR31 billion, the debt percentage can be maintained at 78 percent of GDP in 2014.

Government developments

Yameen said that the government had decided to construct a youth city in Hulhumalé and that physical work on construction of a bridge connecting capital city Malé to the airport island Hulhulé will begin before the end of the year.

He added that once the development of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport in Hulhumalé is completed, it can be maintained for use for a duration of at least 50 years, and that the construction of two new airports – in Kulhudhuhfushi and Felivaru – have now been opened for bidding.

Yameen also spoke of the need to strengthen investor confidence, and pledged to eradicate all obstacles and difficulties currently faced by foreign investors.

Yameen noted that the number of tourist arrivals had already increased to 348,000 in the past three months, stating that this added US$70 million to government earnings. He added that the government intended to introduce tourism to atolls currently not involved in the sector.

Regarding the fisheries sector, Yameen stated that a system has been put in place where fishermen who earn less than MVR10,000 a month will be given financial aid from the state. He added that this will commence in a period of two months.

He also pledged that scholarship schemes will be offered in the near future to students who pass a minimum of three GCE Advanced Level subjects.

On the topic of health services, Yameen stated that arrangements are being made to introduce new health facilities – including ambulance speedboats – to the country. He added that an initiative has now begun where existing health institutions are being categorised and supplied with the necessary medical equipment.

The president said that the government would shortly submit a bill to parliament seeking to provide financial aid to persons with special needs,as well as a bill seeking the establishment of special economic zones within the country.

MDP Response

MDP Spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy described President Yameen’s address as ignoring many pressing issues, suggesting that he appeared “disconnected with what is happening here and now”.

“To begin with, the whole country is appalled and in shock about the HIV infected blood transfusion at IGMH which recently came to be known of. And yet, there was no apology or even a mention of the matter,” said Fahmy

Fahmy suggested that the president spend excessive time discussing administrative issues such as queues outside government offices and phones not being answered efficiently at the expense of issues of wider importance, such as the judiciary.

“This is something the whole world is talking about, that our judiciary needs to be reformed. And yet, Yameen did not even mention them,” Fahmy continued.

“He also failed to condemn the way the Elections Commission is being unconstitutionally dragged to the Supreme Court at a time when there is an election looming overhead.”

The party’s official response will be delivered via the Majlis.


MDP wants parliamentary majority to oust government, says President Yameen

President Abdulla Yameen has called on the Maldivian public to grant the ruling coalition a majority to fulfill its campaign pledges, and said the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is seeking a parliamentary majority in order to oust the government.

Speaking at a campaign event for Gemanafushi candidate Jameel Usman held last night, Yameen said Majlis approval is essential for development projects and said the government cannot bring development without Majlis cooperation.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed, while campaigning on behalf of the MDP this weekend, denied that his party would seek to obstruct development should it win a majority in the house.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and its allies the Jumhooree Party (JP) and the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) are contesting the March parliamentary elections as a group, with 50 of the 85 seats allocated to the PPM, 28 to the JP and 8 to the MDA.

The former MP for Mulaku constituency, Yameen also launched a scathing criticism of the first democratically elected parliament, claiming the Maldivian public had lost confidence in the current Majlis.

Salaries and allowances of MPs do not match their work, he said and called on the public to elect courageous and educated individuals who are willing to work against corruption.

“Maldivian citizens do not want the People’s Majlis to be a place where people who have committed huge crimes or committed offenses against the law go to get immunity,” he said.

At a separate campaign event also held last night for Laamu Atoll Isdhoo candidate Ahmed Rasheed, former President Dr Mohamed Waheed requested that the public give the coalition a majority.

The public had elected Yameen to the presidency and must now grant the coalition a majority so that the government can fulfill its pledges, he said.

Meanwhile, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom asked independents who are contesting Majlis elections to withdraw their names and support coalition candidates instead.

“A PPM member or any other party member must not run against a coalition candidate. If you do so, it will be very sad for us. That is because it will divide votes of those who hold the same ideology. If votes are divided, we will lose the seat,” he said.

Speaking at MP ‘Red Wave’ Ahmed Saleem’s campaign launch ceremony in Malé, Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed said the PPM candidates would bring peace and stability to the Maldives.

“Let us not provide an opportunity for those who call to take the law in our hands, for fear and citizens to be weakened every time there is a disagreement,” he said.

The current government had allocated MVR400 million to provide recreational facilities and vocational training for youth, he said.

The government will introduce unlimited health care under the Aasandha scheme on Monday to mark the PPM’s 100 days in government, Jameel promised. Unlimited Aasandha will end begging for financial aid for chronic illnesses, he said.

In Addu City, Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim inaugurated the campaign for the Hithadhoo Uthuru constituency, and pledged to establish a 100 bed hospital in the city.

“We will build a 100 bed hospital in this island, god willing, as a pledge by this government. This hospital will not go elsewhere,” he said noting the current 50-bed hospital is not sufficient to cater to Addu City’s population.

The PPM government will also establish water and sewerage systems in Addu City by the end of the year, he promised.


President suspends new pay structure for doctors

President Abdulla Yameen has suspended the implementation of a new salary structure for doctors.

The Ministry of Health and Gender had said the new structure, which came into effect on January 1, would increase doctors’ salaries. However, doctors have claimed their total take-home salaries would decrease by as much as MVR10,000 (US$648).

According to a statement by the President’s Office, the government is now reviewing the complaints regarding the new salary structure and will hold discussions with stakeholders to revise the structure.


Government reveals foreign policy for next five years

President Abdulla Yameen has revealed his government’s foreign policy today, stating that the most important objective was to increase economic self-sufficiency, describing this as a requirement of independent foreign policy.

“The foreign policy of my government will be based, just as those firm policies of President Maumoon, on the principle of mutual respect between countries, respect for the sovereignty of countries,” Yameen said.

He said that a well-thought foreign policy is necessary “for a small Maldives to travel safely amidst the turbulent political currents”.

“The foreign policy of Maldives will protect and sustain Maldives’ selfhood and Islam. [It is] a policy that will sustain the independence, security and sovereignty of the the Maldives. A policy that will open opportunities abroad for Maldivians to benefit from,” Yameen said.

The foreign policy revealed today has six main targets: protecting national independence and increasing national security, protecting the Islamic unity of the country and promoting Islamic characteristics internationally, increasing economic self-sufficiency, increasing South Asian regional cooperation, providing quality services for Maldivians living abroad, and the strengthening and development of foreign services.

In terms of protecting national independence and increasing national security, the government plans to increase cooperation with Indian ocean states in combating terrorism, piracy, and other non-traditional security threats, and get more involved in keeping world peace.

In addition to this, the government aims to improve relations with international civil society organisations and think tanks, and to improve the reporting for conventions to which the Maldives is a party.

Speaking at the ceremony held to reveal the policy, Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon said the Maldives’ role in achieving regional and international stability will increase in the coming five years and that Maldives will especially speak out on challenges faced by small states and on climate change.

Economic self-sufficiency

On increasing economic self-sufficiency, Dunya said the ministry will work towards finding more markets for Maldivian products and increase the number of tourists and investors that visit the country. She particularly highlighted finding new markets for fish exports within the year.

Such new markets was something the government announced last year when the European Union declined to extend the duty-free status of imported fish from the Maldives for non-compliance with international conventions concerning freedom of religion.

“We should think about who gives [foreign] aid and what their intentions are. We should accept that [they] will not give without expecting something in return” Dunya said.

The foreign policy published today states “finding funding for development projects” and to “invest more in renewable energy” as strategies for increasing economic self-reliance.

Speaking at the ceremony Minister at the President’s Office Mohamed Hussain Shareef also highlighted the importance given to commercial diplomacy in the government’s foreign policy, and the need for creating a name internationally as a safe destination for investors and businesses.

Foreign service restructured

The government revealed that many steps have already been taken to strengthen the foreign service, including the establishment of Foreign Service Institute of Maldives (FOSIM) within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week.

This institution is mandated with providing training for foreign service employees and youth who wish to pursue a career in the foreign service. It is also to conduct academic research required for the formulation and implementation of foreign policy.

A Foreign Relations Advisory Council (FRAC) – composed of experienced persons who have previously served in the foreign service – was also created to advise the institute and a policy department.

In addition to this, President Yameen announced that a Foreign Service Bill will be sent to the People’s Majlis within the first hundred days of his government.

In the Foreign Minister’s speech she noted that foreign policy is much more than “getting as much aid from as many countries” and highlighted some achievements of Maldives foreign service.

“In 1965 many countries were against the UN recognizing Maldives as an independent sovereign state, however today those countries have accepted Maldives as a country that can work alongside at the same level,” Dunya said.

Lauding this as a great achievement, she said the Maldives was currently an active partner and a leader in many global issues such challenges faced by small states, protection of human rights, democratisation and climate change.


Comment: ‘Awesome’ Indian ‘readiness’ in ‘accomplished visit’

“The first day of the New Year, I am spending not with my people, I am spending with India. I have come to India at a very difficult time to the Maldivian people. Maldivian economy at this point in time is impoverished. I have come to India at a time of great need for Maldivian people. Anticipation from my visit is high. India has assisted the Maldives in times of need. India continues to assist us in all areas of development. We will be coming to India time and time again. The readiness on the part of Indian Government has been awesome. While we have had slight differences in the past, my regime is committed to resolving all of these issues. The relationship India and the Maldives has cannot be matched by the relationship that we can have with any other country. My visit to India is an accomplished visit…”

It is not always that any visiting head of state would be as candid and frank about the state, status and inherent strengths of bilateral relations with the host country as the new Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen was during his four-day visit to India.

Coinciding with President Yameen’s visit, India restored the export of sand and aggregates required by the Maldivian construction industry. Taking note of the increased fiscal pressure on the country, New Delhi also restored the US$25 million stand-by credit facility to the Indian Ocean archipelago. Visa restrictions on Maldivians wanting to undertake medical treatment in India, particularly in south Indian cities have also been eased.

Given the steep increases in global oil prices, which has further brought pressure on successive Governments in the Maldives when it comes to imports, India is now offering to export petroleum products to that country. In bilateral talks with President Yameen, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh advised Indian agencies to “offer best possible terms and arrangements” for meeting the petroleum product requirements of the Maldives.

India is the single largest aid-giver and economic partner of the Maldives, although bilateral economic relations came under some stress in the face of anti-India protests that marked the change-of-power. President Waheed was seen not as reprimanding the kind of aides who had targeted then Indian High Commissioner, Dyaneshwar Mulay, but rather promoting them. In this background, the restoration of existing facilities that had been withdrawn augurs well for bilateral economic cooperation.

The present restorative economic measures from the Indian side may not be enough to put the Maldives’ on the recovery process wholly, or fast-track future direction and growth. Yet it could be a propitious beginning, considering that as a small nation desirous of catching up with the rest of the world in terms development, the Maldives has been swinging between the extremes of possibilities and desirability.

This has been the case ever since ‘resort-tourism’ became the mainstay of the economy in the seventies, when the Maldives was still an idyllic island-nation with capital Malé still one large fishing village, with a people eager to move up the development ladder. Today, the Maldives may have reached the next stage, in which fresh foreign investments have to be accompanied by fresh ideas for using those investments for the nation’s good.

While the nation’s energies and time may have been expended in the pro-democracy struggle and democratisation process through the past years, the economic travails did not lessen during the period. Now that multi-party electoral democracy has stabilised as the nation’s politico-administrative process for the foreseeable future, it is time that greater energy and urgency are conferred on the economy.

It is here that President Yameen’s past experience as the nation’s Finance Minister under his half-brother, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, is expected to keep him in good stead. Having identified the economy as his government’s priority area, and having acknowledged that close to half the nation’s voters did not vote for him in the presidential polls, he is well-equipped and well-placed to work towards a ‘consensus approach’ to economic reforms, which his bete noire and predecessor, President Mohammed Nasheed, had initiated.

It’s compensation for GMR?

It is in this overall context and background that the future course of the controversial construction-cum-concession contract for the Indian infrastructure major GMR Group – initiated by the Nasheed Government and annulled by the Waheed administration – needs to be viewed. There are those in the Maldives who view that many of the Indian decisions on the bilateral economic front over the past year had more to do with the GMR contract annulment than real issues. They have refused to acknowledge that it may have had more to do with domestic politics in the Maldives and that India may have been badly hurt by the unprovoked and unjustified street-sentiments.

In a nation where ‘coalition politics’ came to rule the roost with the first multi-party democratic elections in 2008, there is precious little that the Yameen leadership could be expected to do by way of restoring the GMR contract. What the Government now seems to be looking at instead are the ways and means by which it could restore investor-confidence in the future, aimed mainly at Indian investors and the Indian Government. These groups had previously shown a tremendous interest in creating non-governmental Indian initiatives for improving and stabilising the Maldivian economy and moving the balance of trade a little closer to parity.

GMR was just one of the few big-ticket Indian investments that have run into hurdles in the Maldives. Yet it was also the single largest FDI in the Maldives, and may remain so for a long time to come. Other Indian investments whose futures were put on the limbo included the Tatas, whose Taj Group has been running two resorts in the Maldives. An ‘amicable solution’ thus sought by Prime Minister Singh to the GMR issue thus covers other Indian investors in the Maldives, existing and future. Needless to say, other investors from other countries will also be looking at the ‘GMR issue’ for clues on what all may lie ahead of them for investing in the Maldives.

In talks with the Indian delegation led by Prime Minister Singh, and later at a luncheon with Indian business leaders in Delhi, President Yameen readily conceded that the ‘GMR issue’ was ‘politicised’. He was not known to have elaborated on whether he was referring to the annulment or the agreement; the Nasheed government was seen as playing a cat-and-mouse game with domestic stake-holders to have the GMR contract pushed through the governmental processes.

Given that President Yameen is still at the top of a pyramidal political coalition, and will need to maintian this alliance until after the parliamentary polls and even beyond, there can be little hope or expectation for his government to revive the GMR contract. It only needs to be recalled that the coalition had together protested the GMR contract at it conception, calling for its annulment when President Waheed was in power.

It is sad that domestic politics in the Maldives, aimed at whipping up ‘nationalist, religious’ sentiments, was allowed to make India a political, if not an electoral issue, in the country. In a televised message on the Maldivian National Day, coinciding with his India visit, President Yameen said that the “nation’s independence and sovereignty must not be compromised when facing major challenges”. He called upon all Maldivian citizens to consider protecting and upholding the Islamic faith and Maldivian nationhood as their foremost duty.

In his public statement after the bilateral talks in New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Singh said that he had asked President Yameen to settle the airport issue ‘amicably’. Both sides acknowledged the existence of an issue, and did not shy away from the need for the Maldives to address the investor-concerns regarding possible long-term investments after future changes of government. President Yameen also told the Indian investors that his government was all for an out-of-court settlement with GMR, thus partially trying assuring that even if a contract went bad, investors’ interests would be protected to the limited/highest extent possible.

Stand-alone issue and debt-spiral

Ahead of the presidential visit, GMR Group chairman G M Rao had told the Indian media that they would be willing to operate the Malé airport, if invited by the Maldivian Government. President Yameen’s declaration since may have put an end to revived hopes on that score. Back home in Malé from the India visit, President Yameen did not lose much time in telling newsmen he was looking only at compensation for the GMR Group for monies expended on the airport project.

President Yameen also reiterated the Government’s resolve to continue operating the Malé airport through the public sector corporation, as it used to be before and after the ‘GMR saga’. In a way, it may have been aimed at silencing critics who suggested the forced exit of the GMR was paving the way for the entry of other corporates from countries not exactly friendly towards India.

If the government were to demand upfront payment from other foreign investors and seek to rotate those moneys for compensation to GMR, it would only cause a ‘debt spiral’ from which it would become difficult for future governments to escape. A nation that has continued to live off budgetary support and aid from India even when per capita income and GDP had been the highest in South Asia would have to look inward more than it is willing to do. GMR thus would have to be handled as a ‘stand-alone issue’ – not only in terms of rebuilding investor-confidence but also on the compensation front.

In the past, the compensation issue itself had proved ticklish with the Waheed government, contesting GMR’s claims both on the investments and losses at the Singapore arbitration court. Thankfully, the fact that the GMR Group had paid US$78 million upfront to the Maldivian Government of the day and had also visibly invested massive sums on the airport cannot be contested. In New Delhi, President Yameen told Indian investors that his officials were already talking to GMR representatives.

Promoting and protecting investments

The joint statement issued at the end of the official leg of President Yameen’s visit clearly spelt out the desire of the two nations to sign an investment promotion and protection agreement at the earliest. This would also mean that unlike in the case of the GMR investments, where the Government of India had encouraged the Indian private sector to invest in the Maldives to help sustain and stabilise the economy, New Delhi may have to ensure that there is no cause or circumstance for loss of investor confidence in the southern neighbour.

Independent of an ‘amicable settlement’ to the GMR dispute, Indian investors – and their counterparts elsewhere – would be looking hard at the future of such investments, even if investor-protection laws were to be put in place. Once bitten, they would be twice shy. Both sides, for starters, would be looking at the fine-print in future, and reading the political barometer in the Maldives with greater scrutiny. They would be looking at laws that would have to address conceptual and contractual issues in clear terms, going beyond political polemic of a given time and holding true for all political conditions.

For instance, the question of ‘national asset’ not applicable while leasing out resort-islands (the only tangible asset of investment of the host government) to foreign investors came to be flagged post facto in the airport issue. Procedural issues like the authorised bank guarantor from the government side to protect the investor’s interests have also come under question. ‘Political consensus’, ‘legal protection’ and ‘due diligence’ would be the phrases that could be expected to be in vogue as the government settles GMR’s claims on the one hand, and also seeks to put in place a legal and/or constitutional framework aimed at separating ‘national issues’ from economic concerns.

Peace in the Indian Ocean

Independent of the Indian media’s focus on economic matters, more abiding bilateral interests in political, diplomatic and security cooperation came to be discussed with the visiting delegation. With Maldivian Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim having met with his Indian counterpart less than a fortnight earlier in Delhi, President Yameen’s meeting with A K Antony thus was confined to a passing line in official statements. That did not in any way reduce the importance of bilateral defence and security discussions that the visitor had with Indian leaders, more so in the shared Indian Ocean context.

It was thus that both sides in the bilateral talks at different levels kept referring to mutual cooperation in the sensitive areas of diplomacy and security. President Yameen in particular highlighted India’s rushing immediately help to the Maldives, both during ‘war-like situation’ and peace-time – the 3 November coup attempt of 1988, and the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. He highlighted how the two countries had backed each other in international forums and would continue to do so.

From the Indian side, concern was expressed for ensuring peace in the shared Indian Ocean Region (IOR), which as during the ‘Cold War’ years is increasingly becoming a ‘hot-bed’ of geo-strategic competition as never before. In meeting with his Maldivian counterpart, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee said that New Delhi “wishes to work with the Maldives and other like-minded nations to ensure peace in the Indian Ocean region. India and the Maldives are natural partners in this enterprise,” he said.

President Mukherjee said that as India, like the Maldives, has had to address the challenges of piracy, smuggling, extremism and religious fundamentalism, both countries would like to see uninterrupted peace and security prevail in the Indian Ocean region. “India remains fully cognizant of the needs of the Maldives in dealing with these issues and is committed to assist in achieving the defence and security objectives of the Government of the Maldives,” a Rashtrapati Bhavan statement said, quoting President Mukherjee.

Prime Minister Singh’s opening statement at the news conference with President Yameen made the point further. Stating that the two countries have agreed on a number of initiatives to strengthen bilateral defence and security cooperation, through training, equipment supply, capacity-building, joint patrolling, aerial and maritime surveillance, Prime Minister Singh said: “We are also deepening trilateral maritime security cooperation with Sri Lanka, and look forward to expanding it to other countries in the Indian Ocean. India is ready to provide further assistance and support to the Maldives in strengthening our collective ability to address our shared security challenges.”

The reference was obviously to India and the Maldives inviting and involving Sri Lanka in the 11th edition of bilateral, bi-annual Coast Guard exercise, ‘Dhosti’ in 2012, and following it up with a trilateral maritime security cooperation agreement, addressing piracy, extremism, smuggling and environmental concerns, etc, the following year.

Whether the current initiatives would take a deeper defence and security meaning on the military side, and/or a political initiative that goes back to the ‘Cold War’ era, with a call for declaring the ‘Indian Ocean as a zone of peace’, but with demonstrable collective fire-power to back the demand remains to be seen. That security cooperation among the three nations has been robust even through the recent periods of bilateral strains between the two nations and India needs to be noted with satisfaction.

Likewise, the Indian strategic community should learn to appreciate the need for acknowledging areas of fiscal and development cooperation between neighbourhood nations and extra-territorial powers like China and the US, Russia and the EU, and Australia and Japan (the last two being extended neighbours, all the same). The commitment of the two nations not to allow their territory to be used in ways inimical to other’s security concerns would go a long way in reassuring India in particular, but the Maldives too, on issues religious and political extremism creeping in through the sides.

State visit and more

President Yameen was in India only weeks ahead of the commencement of the presidential polls in September last year, which proved to be as controversial as it later became conclusive. That was candidate Yameen coming to acquaint himself with the Indian leadership and to update one another mutually on understanding bilateral expectations and personal positions. This time, he came on a ‘State visit’ after India consciously decided that it should be one.

This meant that President Pranab Mukherjee as the Head of the Indian State received President Yameen on the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, along with Prime Minister Singh, to the accompaniment of a tri-Services ceremonial guard-of-honour, not to be confused with such other ‘official visits’. As Prime Minister Singh later pointed out, it was appropriate that President Yameen was the first international visitor to India in the New Year.

India’s democracy experience over the past decades, including in areas of executive powers, legislative rights, and judicial activism – both in constitutional matters and others – can go a long way in the Maldives’ understanding of democracy and the role of democratic institutions in the South Asian or Third World context. As the Maldives aims at further economic reforms and investor laws, covering national interests and investment-protection, India’s experience with legislation-making could also be of help. The modern Maldives, always moderate, can also learn from India’s long experience in striking the right balance between religious codes and civil laws.

To this end already, the two nations signed an agreement during Prime Minister Singh’s bilateral visit in November 2011 (when the Addu City SAARC Summit was in greater focus) for helping with banking laws in the country. Agreements signed during the current visit of President Yameen also provide for increased cooperation in the all-important fields of education and healthcare, which are closer to the hearts of every Maldivian than is understood.

This could – but should – involve the deployment of experienced and well-equipped Indian doctors and paramedics in addition to teachers all across the Maldives, and equip Maldivian hospitals adequately. Though Indian medical and teaching professionals are already there, the Indian Government’s involvement in these peripheral areas would also go a long way toward improving people-to-people contact in a more meaningful way than already. And in a grassroots-level, electoral democracy that would also matter after a time – and at times, that alone would matter, too.

There is a long way to go in bilateral cooperation between India and the Maldives, but a lot was covered during President Yameen’s visit. Both in India and back home, President Yameen underscored the point that bilateral relations had peaked during the tenure of his half-brother and party boss, President Gayoom, indicating the scope and commitment to revive and continue on the same path, all over again. Democratisation in the Maldives, and the nation’s democratic experience and dynamism during the first five years may have identified even more areas of practical and pragmatic areas of cooperation.

The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Indian PM asks for “amicable” settlement in GMR issue

Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has requested President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom to “amicably” settle the GMR airport issue.

In a media statement regarding Yameen’s first state visit to India, Singh said he had  discussed ways of expanding bilateral economic relations and said that an increase in Indian investments in Maldives would contribute to expansion of bilateral economic relations.

“In this context, I requested President Yameen to amicably settle the issue of Male International Airport and address the problems that some of our investors are facing. “ Singh said.

In 2010, the GMR Male International Airport Pvt Ltd (GMIAL) – a consortium of the Indian GMR Group (77%) and the Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad (23%) — was awarded a concession contract to manage Ibrahim Nasir International Airport in Male for a period of 25 years.

However President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s government – of which President Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) was a coalition partner –prematurely terminated the concession agreement.

GMR later filed a compensation claim of US$1.4 billion for “wrongful termination”.

Singh said Indo-Maldives bilateral trade is worth INR 7billion (USD 112 million), but the balance is “overwhelmingly in India’s favor”. He said he would like see a more balanced growth in bilateral trade and pledged to encourage flow of Indian tourists to Maldives.

The prime minister said that India “is committed to supporting peace, stability and progress in Maldives” and that he is confident that Maldives will be able to fulfill the aspirations of its citizens under President Yameen’s leadership, and that Maldives will be able to play its due role in the region, opening a new chapter in Indo-Maldives bilateral relations.

Meanwhile local media ‘CNM‘ has reported that the Maldives government is working on an out of court settlement with GMR. Quoting Yameen as saying at a meeting with Indian businessmen, CNM says the the government and GMR are discussing to settle the issue by mutual agreement.


President discusses trade, security and consular issues with Indian PM

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and the first lady madam Fathmath Ibrahim have received a warm welcome from Indian counterpart Sri Pranab Mukherjee at the Presidential Residence Rashtrapati Bhavan today with a twenty-one gun salute and guard of honor.

Yameen, accompanied by a high level delegation arrived in New Delhi on 1 January and is to continue the visit till 4 January.

The president and his delegation has also met External Affairs Minister, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, National Security Advisor and Foreign Secretary and Finance Minster.

Maldives delegation includes Jumhooree Party leader MP Qasim Ibrahim, leader of Maldives Development Aalliance MP Ahmed Siyam Mohamed, President Yameen’s niece Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon, his nephew State Minister for Youth and Sports Ghassan Maumoon, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb, Minister at Presidents Office Mohamed Hussain Shareef, Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed, Health Minister Dr. Mariyam Shakeela.

Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh met with Yameen today and discussed mutual cooperation between the two countries at bilateral, sub-regional and regional levels.

Dr. Singh congratulated the President and the people of Maldive following the peaceful and smooth transition of power with the presidential elections.

The key areas of discussion between the two leaders were security cooperation, trade and developmental assistance, connectivity, consular issues and cooperation at regional and international levels.

Easing of visa and construction material restrictions

A mutual agreement was reached on addressing the concerns of citizens of both countries regarding consular and visa issues. Bringing an end to the Maldivian concerns on visa restrictions imposed in 2012, India agreed to provide visa free entry for Maldivians traveling to the country for medical purposes and to ease restrictions with regards to re-entry within two months. India also agreed to waiver restrictions on importing stone aggregates from India.

Both countries also agreed to give land from Male’ and Delhi for the construction of High Commission buildings of each country. A Memorandum of Agreement for allotment of plot to the High Commission of Maldives was signed at the meeting.

Trade and Development

In terms of trade and development, a mutual understanding was reached on compiling a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement in the near future.

Responding to a request from the Maldives, India agreed to export diesel, petrol and aviation fuel to Maldives and requested concerned authorities from both countries to meet proceed with necessary arrangements to make it possible.

Economic cooperation in food security, fisheries , tourism, transportation, information technology,, communications and renewable energy was discussed. With regards to the banking and financial sector, improving credit and insurance facilities and assistance in the establishment of development finance institutions was discussed.

India agreed to release USD 25 million Standby Credit Facility for imports from India and assured the continued support in development projects of Maldives.

Specific projects discussed include the Maldives Police Academy, Composite Training Centre for MNNDF and the renovation of Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH).

An MOU on cooperation in the field of Health and Exchange of Letters on extending the MoU on Manpower requirements of the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital was signed between the two countrie in the presence of the two leaders.

Establishment of the Joint Consultative Commission in 2014 under the Framework Agreement on Cooperation for Development between India and Maldives was also agreed upon.

The agreement signed in 2011 by President Mohamed Nasheed includes mutual cooperation in trade, investment investment, food security, fisheries development, tourism, transportation, information technology, renewable energy, communications and connectivity.

Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, with whom the president met earlier today, said chosing India for Yameen’s for official overseas visit gave a strong message to the people and businessmen of India. President Yameen said that Maldives is open for mega investors from India.

Security Cooperation

The two leaders agreed to enhance bilateral cooperation in issues of common concern such as maritime piracy, terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking. and human trafficking. They also agreed to increase cooperation in providing training and capacity building of Maldives National Defense Force and Maldives Police Service.

They expressed the need for strengthening maritime safety and security in the Indian Ocean region with joint patrolling, aerial and maritime survilance, information exchange and developing an effective legal framework against piracy.

President Yameen also met Indian National Security Advisor Shri Shivshankar Menon and Joint Secretarty Harsh Vardhan Shringla, to ay and discussed bilateral security cooperation. Menon discussed regional security and assured providing India’s assistance in areas of defense and policing. President Yameen noted bilateral relations with India was bolstered during his half-brother President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration.

The leaders agreed to enhance connectivity by air and sea between Kochin (India) and Male’ City (Maldives) and other destinations as under the Air Services Agreement between Maldives and India. The leaders discussed starting direct flights between Male’ and Mumbai/Delhi as soon as possible.

Cooperation at regional and international level

Mutual commitment was expressed for UN Security Council early reform, including the representation of geopolitical realities int permanent and non-permanent seats of the Council.

Maldives reiterated the support for India’s bid to win a permanent seat at the council. Both showed support for their bids at non-permanent seats of the council, Maldives for 2019-2020 term and India for 2021 – 2022 term.

Both leaders highlighted the need to strengthen and reform multilateral financial institutions and increased participation of developing countries in global economic decision-making.

The two leaders also agreed to cooperate in strengthening the SAARC and promoting regional cooperation.

President Yameen, in his meeting with Indian Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh assured that India’s priorities will be priorities for the Maldives as well.

The President’s visit was prompted by an invitation from the Indian President Shri Pranab Mukherjee in November 2013, soon after his inauguration. Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim visited India last month, responding to an invitation extended by his counterpart AK Anthony.

Traditional and long standing bilateral relations between India and Maldives were strained under President Dr. Mohamed Waheed following the controversial power transfer of February 2011 and the premature cancellation of Indian Infrastructure company GMR’s $511 million airport project in 2012.

President Abdullah Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) lead by his half-brother former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was also a coalition partner in Waheed’s government. However since Yameen’s inauguration last November, the brothers have expressed an essential and urgent need to improve Indo-Maldives relations.


President Waheed receives grand welcome on return to Malé

President Abdulla Yameen has received former President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan upon his return to Malé last night amidst great fanfare.

Waheed and his wife Ilham Hussein were greeted at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport by Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and several ministers including Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim and Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb.

Speaking to the press on his arrival, Waheed said he now wished to work “for the benefit of the community.”

Yameen , Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim, MPs, senior government officials and dozens of supporters welcomed Dr Waheed on his return to the capital. Speaking to the media, Yameen pledged “the highest honors and respect” to his predecessor.

When asked if Waheed will be given a government position, Yameen declined to comment, stating “this is a matter between us”.

An official motorcade escorted Waheed and Ilham to their residence.

Waheed had departed the Maldives on a private visit on November 14, days after declaring he would remain in power beyond the end of the presidential term on November 11. In a televised speech, Waheed pledged to resign on the day of the presidential run-off, scheduled for November 16.

The Ministry of Finance and Treasury approved MVR 525,000 (US$34,047) for Waheed’s month long trip.

He had contested in the annulled first round held on September 7,winning just 5.13 percent of the vote. Waheed subsequently decided to back Yameen in the following rounds.

Speaking to local media before his departure, Waheed said his return depended on the political environment in the Maldives. When Yameen won the presidential election on November 16, Waheed quickly announced that he would be returning to the Maldives.

Waheed assumed the presidency after the controversial resignation of his predecessor, Mohamed Nasheed, on February 7, 2012. Nasheed has accused his deputy Waheed of engineering a coup d’état to unseat the Maldives’ first democratically elected government.

Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) played a key role in supporting and maintaining Waheed’s rule amidst two years of political turmoil.

The PPM will seek to amend the Former Presidents’ Privileges Act in order to ensure Waheed receives privileges and immunities, Yameen said. At present, the act states that a president must hold power for 30 months in order to qualify for privileges. Waheed had held the post for 21 months.

In his farewell address on November 15, Waheed defended his track record, claiming he had maintained peace and stability despite assuming the presidency at a time of “anger, unrest and economic ruin.”