Rifts in government coalition over proposed budget

Ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and coalition partner Jumhooree Party (JP) have exchanged harsh criticisms following disagreements over the proposed budget for 2014.

President Abdulla Yameen has said coalition partners must let the PPM decide on the allocation of funds for the state budget.

In response, Jumhooree Party leader (JP) – and third placed candidate in this year’s presidential elections – Gasim Ibrahim has criticized the PPM for its alleged failure to consult the JP in compiling the proposed budget. Gasim’s backing was crucial in Yameen’s presidential win.

He is also the chair of the parliament’s Budget Review committee.

Speaking to the press on Wednesday, Yameen called on coalition partners to approve the proposed budget, saying “It will be impossible for the government to work for a common goal if coalition partners are to decide upon what amount of funding needs to be included in the budget for separate projects.”

Only the government will know how to draft a budget in the “best interests of the people,” he said, adding that a coalition can only work if there is cooperation within it.

The PPM had promised the JP over 30 percent of cabinet positions, parliamentary seats, and local government seats in exchange for the party’s support in the second round of presidential polls.

Yameen said that coalition members must not view the alliance as an opportunity to guarantee themselves what they want from within the government, nor should it be seen as a chance to bring out whatever number of candidates they wish to compete in an election.

Instead, forming a coalition is in itself an agreement to abide by the decisions of the main party in the said alliance, he said.

It is unnecessary for citizens to know details about a coalition or the agreements about what is promised to each coalition partner, he added.

“To view it with a united mindset and approve the budget we have proposed is the first step that our coalition partners can take to serve the people. There must be unity, or at least sincerity, in our coalition partners. For MDP, or another opposing party, to have opposing views is perfectly acceptable. But if there are to be major differences in the viewpoints of our coalition members, that is not what we made a coalition for,” Yameen said, criticizing members of his coalition.

“If at the initial stages, coalition partners themselves are to stand up and criticize every issue that arises about our proposal, I really do not see how I will be able to fulfill the people’s needs,” Yameen said.

“When figures for expenses are simply written and the budget is passed as such, while knowing it is not possible to get the said funds, and then the government fails to raise the funds written in the budget for specific projects, it is the government who will be held to account by disgruntled citizens. It is not the parliament, nor our coalition members, who will then have to be answerable, but us,” he continued.

The president stated that he or his government would only bear responsibility for unfulfilled pledges and policies if the budget is approved by parliament as it is.

“If the budget is not passed as it is, and multiple changes are brought to it, then I will not take responsibility for not being able to deliver as planned,” he said.

Parliament has scheduled voting on the budget for tomorrow.

Government held no discussion with coalition about budget: Gasim

Budget Review Committee Chair Gasim Ibrahim – who himself proposed 14 amendments to the budget – responded to Yameen’s comments stating that the government has failed to hold any discussions about the budget with coalition partners.

“Despite being a part of the coalition, the government held no discussion whatsoever with us regarding this budget. Proof enough of this fact is the number of amendments I have submitted to the budget. Had they held initial discussions with us prior to submitting the budget, I would not have had to do this today,” he said, submitting his amendments to parliament on Thursday.

“I am both a coalition member and the Chair of the parliamentary committee tasked with budget review. And yet, we have had no suggestions or discussions from the government,” he continued.

Among the 14 amendments proposed by Gasim, he has included a suggestion to add MVR 6 million to the budget of the Local Government Authority, MVR10 million to the budget of the Maldives National University and MVR5 million to the budget of Prosecutor General’s Office, all in a way that does not increase the total amount of the annual state budget.

Earlier in November, Gasim spoke in a party rally about the government’s failure to provide the promised state positions to Jumhooree Party, while adding that it may be due to PPM being “hectically engaged in other government matters” and expressing confidence that Yameen and party leader and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom will not “deprive [his party] from benefits”.


Government must reward those who helped win presidency: Yameen

President Abdulla Yameen has refuted allegations that his administration was creating a high number of political posts, but said the government must provide incentives for those who helped him win the presidency.

“We are not creating useless political positions just to appoint persons to them,” Yameen told the press at a Wednesday event in which former President Dr Mohamed Waheed and senior members of his party joined his ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

Yameen said members of the ruling coalition were only raised to political positions after the resignation or dismissal of those who currently filled the posts.

“What I want to tell all politicians and citizens regarding this matter is that in reality, it is the work of a united group that made it possible for us to get this presidential term for ourselves. And so even citizens will accept that this government must provide incentives for those who took part in that work and put in responsible work. That cannot be called partiality towards them,” Yameen said.

He went on to say that political positions must be filled with individuals who share the ideology of the government, and who will work to reach the same goals, adding that this must be inclusive of government coalition members.

Yameen pointed out that the coalition would not be complaining about failure to receive jobs if his government was increasing the number of existing positions.

However, he pledged to assign all promised positions under the coalition agreement to all the involved political parties.

He called on those who are currently filling political positions who are not part of the government coalition to leave their jobs and “make space” for those within it.

The current administration has 112 known political positions within the government; 15 cabinet ministers, 3 other ministerial rank positions, 33 appointees at the level of state minister, 50 appointees at the level of deputy minister and 11 high commissioners and ambassadors, as per the President’s Office website.

These 112 positions do not account for presidential appointees to the boards of state enterprises and other institutions.

Government coalition

Besides ruling party PPM, the government coalition consists of Maldives Development Alliance (MDA), Jumhooree Party (JP), Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), Adhaalath Party (AP) and Gaumee Ihthihaadh Party (GIP).

With GIP leader former President Waheed and many of its senior members joining PPM on Wednesday, the party council has announced their decision to dissolve the party.

“I have not set any conditions in joining this party, and am doing so as I believe it will be most beneficial for the country at this time. I have neither asked for any political appointment nor have I asked for any share of the government,” Waheed said, speaking to media at Wednesday’s event.

Earlier in December, rumours arose that Adhaalath Party had left the government coalition, after the party announced it will be contesting in the upcoming local council and parliamentary elections separate from the coalition. The party later refuted the claims on December 8, asserting that although they will contest separately, the party fully supports the government. The party, along with a number of state and deputy minister posts, holds two cabinet seats.

On November 26, JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim said in a party rally that the government had thus far failed to allocate the promised state positions to the party, adding that he believed this could be due to the government being “hectically engaged in other government matters”.

“Our President Abdulla Yameen is an experienced man. Maumoon [Abdul Gayyoom, former President and Leader of PPM], too, is a person who has far more political experience than seen otherwise in the history of the Maldives. They will certainly not act in a way which will deprive us of benefits,” he said then.


Japan grant MVR30million in grant aid, invite President Yameen for state visit

President Abdulla Yameen has officially been invited for an official state visit to Japan, with local media reporting that he will make the journey in March next, year.

Meanwhile, a ceremony was held at the foreign ministry to announce the award of 200 million Japanese yen (MVR30 million) in grant aid for medical supplies.

The invitation to Japan was made during an official visit to the President’s Office by Japanese Ambassador to the Maldives Nobuhito Hobo.

“President Yameen expressed confidence that his visit would further expand the close ties between the two countries. During his visit the President will meet with Emperor Akihito, Prime Minister Abe and other senior official of the Japanese Government,” reported the President’s Office website.

Whilst former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom visited Japan three times during his thirty year rule, it was reported that President Yameen’s visit will be the first time a Maldivian leader has been invited by the Japanese head of state.

During the meeting with Nobuhito today, the topics of bilateral ties were discussed and the ambassador was thanked for his country’s support for the Maldives’ election bid for a second term on the UN Human Rights Council.

“President Yameen Abdul Gayoom noted the importance of people-to-people contact, and the important role of Japan as a key tourism market for the Maldives. On this point, Ambassador Hobo assured the President of Japan’s wish to enhance promotion activities of the Maldives as a preferred tourism destination for Japanese holidaymakers,” reported the President’s Office.


Presidential residence expenditure to increase next year

Despite President Abdulla Yameen’s decision to live in his own residence, the allocated budget for the official presidential residence “Muleeaage’” will be MVR 19.1 million next year, a MVR2 million increase from this year.

The chair of Parliament’s Budget Review Committee Gasim Ibrahim expressed the need to have the required budget allocation in case President Yameen decides to move to a state funded residence, CNM reports.


MNDF gifted helicopter as ties with India continue to grow

The Government of India has gifted the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) an advanced light helicopter, with local media media declaring a “new chapter” in Indo-Maldivian defence ties.

The Hindu reported Nazim as stating that the gift was “paving the way for further strengthening of ties between both countries.”

The helicopter was officially handed over by Indian Southern Naval Command officer Vice Admiral Satish Soni to the MNDF’s Brigadier General Ali Zuhair – the second such award after a similar gift in 2010.

The Maldives’ Minister of Defence Mohamed Nazim – currently on an official visit to the Maldives northern neighbour – officially unveiled the colours of the aircraft. The helicopter will reportedly be manned by an Indian flight crew for search and rescue operations, and surveillance within the Maldives EEZ.

The Times of India reported Satish as praising the Maldives contribution to security in the Indian Ocean region, citing the MNDF’s frequent assistance in anti-piracy operations.

Nazim’s trip precedes that of newly elected President Abdulla Yameen, who is scheduled to visit India on his first official state visit on December 22.

Yameen’s attempts to enhance bilateral ties after a fraught period in the pair’s diplomatic history were recently lauded by former President – Yameen’s half-brother and party leader – Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Indian media has suggested that Yameen’s visit will see the re-opening of a standby credit facility which had seemingly been frozen during the relationship’s nadir in 2012.

The most recent installment of India’s pledged budget support stalled just stays before a concerted – and often xenophobic – campaign against the development of Malé’s international airport culminated in the eviction of Indian company GMR.

The following month, the Indian High Commission in Malé publicly aired a list of consular grievances including persistent discrimination against Indian expatriate workers, a failure to reciprocate generous visa processes for Indians in the the Maldives, and threats made against diplomatic personnel.

Largesse from other regional powers has also come in the form of Chinese development aid, with 50 million yuan (US$ 8.2 million) promised for development projects within weeks of Yameen’s November 16 election victory.

The MNDF’s official website has reported that the award of the helicopter was part of its roadmap for the first 100 days of the Yameen administration. Other aims include the establishment of a justice system within the – recently fratricidal – organisation, and the conducting of international training with its Indian counterparts.

Meeting with Indian Defence Minister A.K. Anthony last week, Nazim discussed increasing cooperation between the armed forces of both countries and  advancing medical facilities and expertise in the MNDF through training medical specialists.

Anthony announced that all MNDF personnel will now be eligible for treatment in Armed Forces medical institutions in India for major surgeries and for treatment of major and serious illnesses.


Government continues plans for first 100 days

Twenty-six days into the administration of President Abdulla Yameen, state institutions have been unveiling plans to commence or to resume projects within a 100 day period of the government’s November 17 inauguration.

A number of ‘roadmaps’ have emerged in the transport, health, and immigration. Similar lists of projects have also been devised for customs, the police, and the military.

Transport and communication

On December 8, the Transport and Communication Ministry revealed that it would finish drafting plans and begin the groundwork within a 100 days to develop the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) to be able to cater to 5 million passengers.

Plans were also made to introduce the nighttime landing of flights in Thimarafushi and Fuvahmulah airports within this period.

In the field of land transportation, the ministry pledged to improve local ports, connect islands via seaplane transport and to improve ferry services between atolls.

There are further plans to establish a broadband internet policy and to provide fast-speed internet to all inhabited islands. Besides this, the plan also includes the introducing number portability between the two telecom service providers currently available in the country.

Transport Minister Ameen Ibrahim said that the government’s object was to make the Maldives the most advanced among the SAARC countries in the field of communication.

The government has also announced its intention to build a bridge between Hulhule’ – the airport island- and capital Male’, and have requested proposals from interested companies.


Just a week after the new administration was established, Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed announced that the government had begun to solve issues in providing health services to the people.

Visiting the sole state-owned hospital – IGMH – in capital city Malé on November 24, Jameel announced that the government would begin fulfilling its health policies “as soon as we get the budget for it”, adding that this would include revamping the Aasandha insurance scheme and training nurses and doctors.

Early in December, prior to the appointment of a health minister, President’s Office Minister Abdulla Ameen announced that chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients would be introduced within the first one hundred days.

Stating that the lack of the service forced many Maldivians to live abroad for medical purposes, Ameen said that the introduction of chemotherapy facilities in the country was crucial. He added that screening to diagnose cervical cancer would also be introduced -both under a government insurance scheme.

Echoing Ameen’s assurances of fast development to IGMH, Health Minister Mariyam Shakeela said at a press conference held today that the government was drafting a policy to “bring major development to IGMH in a very short period of time to an extent never before seen”.

She said that this included a complete renewal of the management figures at the hospital.

The minister further revealed that the government had decided to transfer specialist doctors to the atolls for a period of time which would be allocated by the ministry.

Shakeela stated that funds for development are included in the budget, and that the government is also seeking aid from international donors for some of the projects. She hoped that such developments would  lead to “decreasing the burden on Aasandha”.

Shakeela promised that the full 100 day programme would be revealed next week.


Immigration Controller Hassan Ali announced on December 5 that the institution’s biggest focus in the first 100 days of Yameen’s government would be to control the issue of illegal immigrants.

The plan itself includes work to offer illegal immigrants a chance to change employees, and increasing the number of illegal immigrants who will be deported in 2014.

The immigration controller also revealed plans to establish an online system of obtaining work visas from Kulhudhuhfushi, establishing a single office to deal with all migrant related work, and a mechanism where e-passports can be issued from two areas of the country.

Customs, Police and Military

The Maldives Police Services has also created a roadmap of goals they will work to achieve in the first 100 days of the Yameen administration.

On December 9, police revealed that the foremost goal in this roadmap is to complete investigation of 80 per cent of ongoing cases – the total amount of which was not specified – and to forward them to the Prosecutor General’s office.

Other goals include completion of investigation into small and petty crimes within a 30 day period, pre-emptive identification and intervention in cases of intention to commit crimes, and the setting up of additional security cameras in Male’ and Addu City.

Police will also be working to eradicate sexual abuse of children, and to establish what they have termed ‘be ready camps’ to achieve this goal in two atolls.

Facilitating youth employment by helping to get sea vessel driving licences, increasing women’s employment in the policing field to 50 percent, and the establishment of a juvenile detention centre is also included among the listed aims.

The roadmap also includes internal work like the establishment of a new system to address complaints against police officers, the creation of a police clinic for health support to officers and their families, and the compilation of a four-year strategic plan on professional development of the force.

Police, together with customs, have also initiated programs to tackle the illegal import and abuse of narcotics and serious and organised crimes.

Customs – which has also revealed a roadmap for the same period – have on December 12, expressed concern that budget limitations may prove to be an obstacle in the realisation of their goals.

Commissioner General of Customs Ahmed Mohamed stated that the budget cuts would affect the institution’s reaching of its objectives, including the provision of more convenient online services.

Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF)’s 100 day strategic plan includes the submission of various amendments to relevant laws – including the Armed Forces Act and Narional Security Act – to the parliament, and the establishment of a ‘justice system’ within the force.

The plan further consists of a variety of other projects, including the addition of a helicopter and landing crafts to its fleet, and the establishment of fire stations in the islands of Kahdhoo and Naifaru.

The military intend to lay the foundation for a new eight story building where the current Coast Guard offices are, to conduct additional international training for officers – especially with the Indian Army, to provide medical care at low fees for general citizens at the Senahiya military hospital, and the establishment of a day care centre for the use of officers and families.


President Yameen invited to visit Sri Lanka by Rajapaksa

President Abdulla Yameen has been invited to visit Sri Lanka by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The letter of invitation was given to Yameen today when Sri Lankan High Commissioner Dickson Sarathchandra Dela paid a call to the President’s Office today.

“The High Commissioner also praised the smooth and peaceful manner in which the presidential election was held in the Maldives,” the President’s Office reported.

Meanwhile, local media today reported that Maldivian tourists visiting Sri Lanks had increased by 83 percent in the 12 months leading to October this year. Sun Online reported that 46,805 Maldivians had visited Sri Lanks in the first 10 months of 2013.

After discussing the increasing bilateral relations in the fields of health, education, and security at the President’s Office today, Sarathchandra expressed Sri Lanka’s eagerness to work with the new Government of Maldives.

Yameen’s first official visit as president will be to India on December 22.


President and Vice President sign book of condolences for Nelson Mandela

President Abdulla Yameen has described the late Nelson Mandela as “the greatest statesman the world has seen”.

Writing in the book of condolences currently available for signature in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yameen praised the anti-apartheid leader who passed away last week at the age of 95.

“President Mandela was the greatest statesman the world has seen. His long walk to freedom; his achievement of the “Rainbow Nation”; his principles of courage, justice and equality are shining lights to millions around the world,” wrote Yameen.

“His patriotism and his passion for the protection of human dignity will stay with us for generations to come,” added the President.

The President’s Office has also reported that Vice Presidene Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has also signed the book, expressing his belief that Mandela’s legacy would improve the human rights of all, regardless of race or religion.

Yameen ordered the Maldives national flag to be flown at half-mast last weekend, offering condolences to the current South African President Jacob Zuma on behalf of the people of the Maldives.

The book is available for the public to sign from 9am to 12pm, and from 1pm to 3pm today and tomorrow (December 12).


India’s diplomatic course correction averts impasse: Russia and India Report

“Indian diplomacy averted an impasse in the ties with Maldives through a course correction through past several months,” writes Indian career-diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar for the Russia & India Report.

Bhadrakumar compares recent elections in both the Maldives and Nepal, assessing their impact on India’s external relations.

“When the ‘pro-Indian’ elected president was overthrown in Male last year, Delhi took umbrage. Its fury was fuelled by the summary termination of a highly lucrative contract of an influential Indian firm for managing the Male international airport.

But Maldives pushed back and the futility of the pressure tactic compelled Delhi to rethink and change tack to an equidistant stance between the warring Maldivian political parties.

Thus, although the recent presidential election in Maldives produced a surprise outcome, Delhi could engage the new power centre with alacrity. President Abdulla Yameen accepted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s invitation to visit Delhi for his first overseas trip as head of state.

However, as any passionate reader of Joseph Conrad would vouchsafe, island states wear a deceptively languid look. There is that certain edginess in the air. Curiously, one major decision taken by the new government in Male is to introduce Arabic language in the curriculum of Maldivian schools. The political elites have not hidden their tilt toward ‘Islamization’ of the Maldivian society.

One way of looking at it is that this is only a variant of cultural nationalism, which is sweeping over the region – India included. But then, it also carries the subtle overtone of an attempt to differentiate the island nation from the ethos of the Indian subcontinent.”

Read more