British government must “acknowledge what is really happening in the Maldives”: Salisbury MP John Glen to UK parliament

The international community “will not find it tenable” if former President Mohamed Nasheed is excluded from elections in the Maldives later this year, Deputy Leader of the UK’s House of Commons Tom Brake has stated.

Brake was responding to a speech in British parliament on March 27 by UK MP for Salisbury, John Glen, who called for the British government to “acknowledge what is really happening” in the Maldives “and stand firm later this year”.

“The [Maldives] is now in a critical state. The free and fair elections that should happen later this year are in the balance. It is difficult to get clarity from the international community, and even from the British Government, on how assertive it is prepared to be to deal with the country,” Glen stated.

“There is systematic corruption among the judiciary, and almost every week new stories of human rights violations reach the press. Although the ousted [former President] Nasheed is expected to run in the forthcoming elections, it is difficult to say that he will have a clear pathway to the elections, given the legal machinations put up against him almost every week.

“As I have mentioned, there are the most vile human rights abuses in the Maldives. A 15-year-old girl has been sentenced to 100 lashes in public when she turns 18, and to eight months of house arrest. It is appalling that the international community can apparently do nothing about the situation. I stand today to generate some publicity, I hope, so that people are aware of the direness of the situation in the country,” he stated.

“We will only get changes in the Maldives if there is public awareness of what is going on. Similar things are happening in many countries across the globe, but I am not prepared to just stand back and let these things happen.”

Glen added that, “people often ask why the Member of Parliament for Salisbury is so concerned about the smallest Asian country.”

“I am concerned because the ousted President of the Maldives has a strong association with my constituency,” he said. “He was educated just outside it and has spent a lot of time in exile there. Since I came to the house, I have taken a great interest in the Maldives. The situation there is dire and appalling, and it deeply concerns me. I am also very worried by the reaction of the international community.’

The European Union (EU) has also earlier this month declared that it would be “difficult” to consider the Maldives’ upcoming presidential elections credible unless former President Mohamed Nasheed is allowed to contest.

Following the EU’s comments, President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad tweeted on March 16 that “it’s not proper for governments to discredit the independence and integrity of our judiciary. Doing so is undermining Democracy in Maldives.”

Masood added that the 2013 elections would be free, fair and exclusive, but would be “exclusive” of individuals who did not meet the legal criteria.

The Salisbury connection

Glen’s predecessor in the Salisbury seat, UK Conservative Party MP Robert Key, first brought the Maldives to the attention of British parliament prior to the country’s first democratic elections in 2008.

In an interview with Minivan News in 2010, Key described his first encounter with the self-exiled Maldivian activists, including Nasheed, who had established the Maldivian Democratic Party “in a room above a shop in Millford street in Salisbury.”

“[Nasheed] walked in through the door with his school-friend David Hardingham (Nasheed attended Dauntsey’s school with the founder of the Salisbury-based Friends of Maldives NGO), and said: ‘I have problems. I have problems with visas, I have problems with police, I need some advice from police about how to protect my little office in Salisbury’ – all these sorts of issues.”

“There were bigger problems: such as how to engage the British government ministers and the Commonwealth with what was happening in the Maldives. He quite rightly, as a good democrat, used the democratic system in the UK to pursue answers to his problems,” Key said at the time.

Unsettled by the political opposition growing overseas, the then Gayoom government in the Maldives commissioned private investigators to investigate Hardingham and the MDP’s Salisbury origins, in a project dubbed ‘Operation Druid’.

“When there was emergency rule here, there were a number of concerns as to who was funding the MDP. The government wanted to know who was behind it, and whether it was a foreign government,” Gayoom’s (and later Nasheed’s) Foreign Minister at the time, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, told Minivan News in an interview in 2011.

“The government may have wanted to see what was going on. What these operations did was try to see who was who. And a lot of the operations the government felt were against it came from Salisbury, and I think the government of the day felt justified in engaging a firm to look into what was going on,” Dr Shaheed said.

“We’re talking about people who they had deported from the Maldives for proselytisation, people involved in all sort of activities. They felt they needed to check on that, and what came out was a clean bill of health. Nothing untoward was happening, and these people were by and large bone-fide.”

After the investigators failed to turn up anything untoward, Hardingham and MP Key were vilified by Gayoom’s government as ‘Christian missionaries’ intent on building a church in the Maldives, on behalf of Salisbury cathedral.

“Well I recognised it as a political ploy. But we had to take it seriously as a threat because that was how it was presented – that Salisbury cathedral might become a target for some kind of activity. It was very specific,” said Key.

“The actual threat was that Salisbury and Salisbury Cathedral were trying to convert the Maldives to Christianity. Which was absolute nonsense but had to be taken seriously, because quite obviously in the Maldives that would be seen as a significant threat in a country that is 100 percent Islamic. I understood that straight away.

“It was not true, and therefore we had to say ‘It is not true.’ The Dean of Salisbury Cathedral understood the issue, she took it at face value, and we sought security advice as necessary. But it was never a serious threat. It was a juvenile political ploy.”

“It was just a mischievous suggestion,” said Dr Shaheed, in the subsequent interview. “At the time everyone was accusing each other of being non-Muslim, and this accusation that the MDP was non-Muslim was getting very loud.”

Meanwhile, following the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012 and the resignation of Nasheed, the Salisbury-based Friends of Maldives NGO reverted from health, education and sports development to advocating human rights and democratic restoration.

“FOM’s focus has been forced to revert to protecting human rights and promoting social justice until safety and democracy is restored,” the NGO states on its website.


Q&A: Dr Ahmed Shaheed

Dr Ahmed Shaheed has served as a Foreign Minister across two successive (and opposing) governments, and remains one of the country’s most astute politicians. Recently appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Iran, he tells Minivan News about being on both sides of the country’s first democratic election, reveals the extent of PR firm Hill & Knowlton’s involvement in drafting reforms and the former government’s use of private security firms to investigate the origins of the MDP, and the realities of prosecuting complex human rights abuses with a criticised judiciary.

JJ Robinson: How does the Iranian government’s refusal to allow you into the country affect your role as UN special rapporteur on Iran?

Dr Ahmed Shaheed: Whenever special rapporteur mandates are country-specific they always have the issue of not being able to access the country they are investigating. Often the country itself feels unfairly singled out for scrutiny, or that they don’t have a problem.

This is always a challenge, but by and large they come around in the end. The last time a Special Rapporteur was in Iran was in 1996. Countries eventually come round, but it takes time.

The work of the special rapporteur is structured in such a way that even if a field visit is not possible the work can continue. I will take up the assignment in August.

JJ: Will you continue in your capacity as a political advisor to the President during the mandate?

AS: No I will not. I will speak with the President and terminate my work with the government before I take on this role.

JJ: Following your resignation as Foreign Minister in the wake of Parliament’s decision in November 2010 to not approve the reappointment of seven members of cabinet, you were appointed to the Presidential Commission. What were you working on?

AS: Even as Foreign Minister I was involved in transitional justice and [pursuing] embezzled funds. It started during a conference we had in March 2009, when a number of donor countries and institutions met President Mohamed Nasheed and requested he look into the allegations of corruption.

Looking for the embezzled funds was important and the Foreign Ministry obviously had to pay attention to that. So I keep tabs on it as part of my work. In that time, one of the major issues we focused on concerned the leaked report [by forensic accountancy firm Grant Thorton, documenting the State Trading Organisation (STO)’s sale of discounted oil to the Burmese military junta on the blackmarket].

You will recall that in the furor last year over [the Maldives accepting an former inmate from] Guantanamo Bay, one of the memos showed a conversation between Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed and US Government authorities regarding the potential for US help with asset recovery.

JJ: This was StAR, the Stolen Asset Recovery programme?

AS: StAR was the World Bank’s program. We were also in discussion with other authorities. It showed the importance we attached to the issue.

My assignment to the Presidential Commission was a means of continuing the work I had done while in cabinet.

JJ: The leaked Grant Thorton report revealed that the Maldives had been selling oil on the blackmarket to Burma for years, and named former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s half-brother Abdulla Yameen as a person of interest. What is the current status of the investigation?

AS: I haven’t resigned my post from the Commission so I am bound by their code of silence.  The report that was leaked was a very preliminary report. What was surprising was Yameen’s reaction. He has since realised his error and stopped commenting, not wanting to incriminate himself further.

JJ: Did the leak compromise the investigation?

AS: The leak has not compromised anything. Of course there were worries that it would, but the report was very preliminary. Much work has been done subsequently.

JJ: Has there been any effort to trace the source of the leak to avoid further compromise of the investigation?

AS: There was an attempt to identity the leak, but leaks are always hard to plug or identify. I’m aware measures were taken to ensure material handled remains confidential. I am satisfied that nothing else has been compromised.

JJ: The government to some extent seems to be relying on the court of public opinion. Even if it accumulates considerable evidence against Yameen or Gayoom, or any minister of the former government, given the intense politicisation is it even possible to conduct a trial locally?

AS: Let me correct the initial presumption. No, we are not relying on the court of public opinion. If we did, then everything we knew would be published. We are aware of the limitations the judiciary have here in terms of handling cases of commerical fraud and corruption cases. There’s a damper on what can be achieved here.

This is about asset recovery – we do not necessarily want to see anybody behind bars. We want to establish the fact that money was stolen and recover it. The real benefit lies in recovering the funds.

JJ: The Democratic Voice of Burma, reporting on this story, raised a number of points regarding drug links and noted that people who were listed as board members of MOCOM, the STO joint venture involved in this deal, were also connected to senior members of the Golden Triangle. Has there been anything in the government’s investigation so far to suggest there may have been a drug element in this?

AS: No, we are not pursuing it as broadly as this. We are focused on asset recovery. The investigation is making progress, and I think the government might be in a position to give out more details in a month’s time.

JJ: On the subject of the judiciary – there is periodic push by the senior figures in the government, such as the present Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem, to investigate and prosecute human abuses committed under the former administration. Again, given the politicisation of the issue, is this viable and are fair trials of such cases even possible given the current state of the judiciary?

AS: Well, the short answer to your question would put me in contempt of court. I think the judiciary has a public trust deficit. It needs to really demonstrate that it is competent and able to handle complex cases, especially those trials that have a high political content. If you ask around, it is anybody‘s guess – most people will say a fair trial [on human rights abuses] would be very difficult to hold.

But that does not absolve us of the responsibility of trying to set the record straight on what was done. The aim is not prosecution but reconciliation and moving on. The idea is to understand what happened here so we do not repeat it in the future. But for the people who want direct remedy for what what was done to them – I think we have to look at the possibilities.

With parliament’s election of [Jumoree Party leader and local business and media tycoon] MP Gasim Ibrahim to the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), I think we have to fathom the public reaction.

JJ: Was Gasim’s appointment to a commission tasked with overseeing the country’s justice system a step backwards for judicial independence?

AS: My worry is that the judiciary is supposed to be independent. The Maldives already violates the [Commonwealth’s] Latimer House Principles [o  separation of powers] because of the way the constitution is set up. There is already too much interference by the parliament in the judiciary, and there is too much concern from the judiciary about parliament’s sanction over them.

So when a powerful member of parliament is elected to the judicial watchdog, you really begin to wonder whether the Latimer House Principles apply in this country at all. From this perspective Gasim’s election is a concern – he is like Lord Chamberlain combined with Donald Trump.

People here are concerned about undue influence of the judiciary, they are concerned about money politics, they are concerned about justice – these concerns are amplified when you have a big industrialist overseeing the judiciary. It doesn’t matter whether it is Gasim or whoever. If you have a country coming out of autocracy and a person [from that system] sitting on the JSC, you have the stuff of nightmares.

JJ: On the subject of reconciliation over reparation, do you think there is room for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) here?

AS: No, I do not think so, because right now, every dream we had 3-4 years ago is in the background to the Z-faction (Gayoom’s faction of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party).

The values of the Z-faction are the same values people have been looking to move away from – nepotism and all these ultra-conservative attitudes. The belief that it is OK to pass the baton to family members, to cling to power for 40 years, to do all you can to cling to power. That attitude is what the Z-Faction is representing.

Look at the way it is organised. It is based on the most ultra right-wing Gayoom [support] you can find in this country. Gayoom still has so much traction in the opposition that they all react to him – either to placate him, or to mitigate his influence. Either way, they are all focused on Gayoom.

An opposition focused on Gayoom is not what we want. And therefore reconciliation – drawing the line and moving on – all that has to wait until we can move beyond Gayoom.

JJ: The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s reaction to the current state of the opposition – and the recent poaching of their MPs – suggests a new pragmatism in their political thinking. However,  some of the core membership of idealistic activists have privately expressed concern that the new arrivals are bringing skeletons with them, as in the case of the former Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Hassan Adhil who is currently being tried for child molestation. Is there a risk that this new wave of pragmatism will undermine the party’s idealistic roots?

AS: All politicians have to be practical and pragmatic. Ideals are fine and they should not be abandoned, you should remain focused on them and pursue them, but then you ultimately have to work with the canvas given to you.

The key here is finding the critical mass for reform. To get that critical mass you need to build coalitions. And you can’t build coalitions with castles in the air – it has to happen with people on the ground.

The thing to do is not to overlook or condone, but to put up mechanisms and institutional processes to take care of these cases;  so no person is above the law or accountability, and no person has impunity. To think that you have 77 seats in the Majlis is a mistake.

JJ: We’ve talked about human rights and investigating past abuses, and the government is fairly consistent in this both domestically and in its statements denouncing war crimes in countries like Libya. But when the UN publishes a report accusing the Maldives’ neighbour Sri Lanka of war crimes and requests an investigation, the Foreign Minister [Ahmed Naseem]’s comment is that such a report is “singularly un-counterproductive”. Is there a point where a human rights agenda runs up against diplomatic realities?

AS: At a generic level throughout history this is there. But I think Naseem’s comments and the government’s position on Sri Lanka have been misunderstood. The Libyan situation is different from the current situation in Sri Lanka. Libya is ongoing – things are happening today on the ground, and we need to try to prevent further abuses tomorrow.

In Sri Lanka’s case these are post-conflict issues. What we say is that the most important thing in a post-conflict situation is to find a way forward and not live in the past. This does not mean we are condoning abuses, or saying such things are fine. But Sri Lanka needs to find common ground with the UN Human Rights Council in which both parties can move forward. The government of Sri Lanka needs to be able to enter into dialogue with the international community to achieve speedier reconciliation.

You can’t have reconciliation and long-lasting peace unless you respect human rights and set up mechanisms to do so. But we should steer clear of politicisation, or the divisions that have kept the flame of terrorism alive in Sri Lanka for so long. We are saying let Sri Lanka find a way forward and achieve reconciliation – we are not saying we don’t care about the past.

JJ: It is looking increasingly like the decision of whether to launch an international investigation into alleged war crimes in the closing days of the Sri Lankan civil war will come down to a vote on the UN Human Rights Council, on which the Maldives sits. If it does come to that, is the Maldives likely to vote for such an investigation?

AS: I no longer speak for the Maldives, but in these situations the context does matter. My recommendation for the government would be to not get bogged down in the details, and to look at the broader perspective. The long-term interest for the Maldives is that Sri Lanka improves and Sri Lanka remain within the committee of nations, and has a positive engagement with the UN Human Rights Council.

I think Sri Lanka has many friends in the West and there are many who still want to work with Sri Lanka. My advice would be to remain politically engaged.

JJ: Is there a risk that domestically-unwanted international scrutiny into these war crimes and human rights abuses could alienate Sri Lanka from the international community and risk turning it into a pariah nation? It has already opened a Chinese submarine base.

AS: Talking to the Chinese should not make anyone a pariah state. I don’t think Sri Lanka is in any danger of this – pariah states are countries such as North Korea. Sri Lanka is still democratic and it is still working, it just needs to bring some closure to a 25 year conflict that has created some very nasty wounds. It needs to find a way of healing. The West is also trying to help find a healing process.

The bottom line is that war is hell. People should try to recognise the context of what happened [in Sri Lanka], and find a way of moving forward.

JJ: You have been foreign minister across two successive and very politically-polarised governments, and you have been very active in promoting the Maldives’ human rights agenda. As a minister under the former government, were you not in a position to do something about the human rights abuses to which you now campaign against? What was it about that situation that made you unable to pursue such an agenda at the time?

AS: Without being too modest about it, I was able to make a difference to the Gayoom regime in terms of how it dealt with these issues. When I came into the Gayoom regime (in July 2005) it was very unfriendly to human rights. My terms of engagement with Gayoom was that he would pursue and reform certain policies – which happened, ultimately.

You will notice that it was on my watch as a minister that we signed onto the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), the CAT optional protocol (to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment), and any number of things.

We welcomed the first visit of Amnesty International and began working with them, and became much more open and engaged. We opened the doors to all UN Special Rapporteurs.

We became much more engaged with human rights. I and New Maldives (a group within the regime that pushed for liberal democracy) colleagues of mine were able to impart to Gayoom and his older advisers that we should allow pluralism at home – that we should allow political parties, and give space to the opposition.

Many of those who are linked to the President himself, through his friends and family, will know that I was an interlocutor between them and Gayoom. Twice I put my job on the line to get President [Mohamed Nasheed] out of arrest, and said I was going home unless he was released. I also put my job on the line for reporters.

Gayoom needed me to talk to the media and foreign diplomats, and I had certain no-go areas in return for that. I represented him at the Westminster House talks, and I agreed to a package of measures without consulting him, which included releasing Jennifer Latheef and Nasheed from prison, and I made sure Gayoom authorised these releases on time.

Because the things I did for Gayoom gave him international space, he was willing to go along with things I said. I was moving him along to become more open.

The only way you can verify what I’m saying is to ask others. I met [former US Ambassador, now Assistant Secretary of State] Robert Blake as Gayoom’s Foreign Minister, I met him when I was running in opposition to Gayoom in the presidential elections, and I have met him as Nasheed’s minister. So he has seen me wearing three different hats, and I don’t think he has heard me say anything different along the way.

People from Reporters Without Borders (RWB) – such as [former Asia Pacific Director] Vincent Brossel – also saw me wearing those three hats. I had a consistent message which was that we needed these reforms.

I had differences with [current Science and Technology Envoy, and publisher of the Dhivehi Observer] Ahmed ‘Sappe’ Moosa, but we both recognised the need for change. My position was this – if the government had changed in 2005, the new government would not felt the pressure to bring in reforms. After 25 years people would have toppled a dictator, felt the euphoria, and that a change of heads would work. But you don’t bring in reforms that way – that was my fear.

I knew that Gayoom’s term was limited in any case under the Constitution, and if we could use that space to introduce reforms we could build a foundation for democracy.

A week after I resigned as a minister (in 2007) I chaired a meeting of the opposition groups here on democratisation and I spoke about Huntington’s four models of democracy. And I said the most stable democracy had come when the government and opposition worked together to phase out the old system. My belief was in a gradual, reconciliatory change.

I was speaking to [then opposition leader] Mohamed Nasheed, Ali Hashim, Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, Hassan Afeef, and they found me a like-minded person. The controversies around me arose because in Gayoom’s time whenever there was a public crisis, all his ministers would turn off their telephones except me. Only mine would ring.

So the only voice that was heard was mine, and people associated it with the actual action. For example when people were bashed on Fares-Mathoda in January 2006, only my phone rang. I tried to answer people’s concerns and I was the only person quoted, so if you search for the incident all the comments are mine.

When Hussein Solah was killed, was found dead in the lagoon in Male’ [in April 2007], all the Ministers turned off their phones. It was clearly the Home Minister’s charge, but he would not speak to the press. Families were looking for information and I gave all the information I had on the case. Whenever Nasheed was arrested, I was the only person who would speak to anybody, so my name gets thrown on everything.

JJ: The current government has dug up a number of receipts for the services of international public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, hired by the former government to assist with refreshing their image – a total of US$1.7 million. What was the true extent of H&K’s involvement in the Maldives and the reform movement?

AS: I do not know the motives of Gayoom in hiring Hill & Knowlton. But my links with them were on the basis that they would contribute to reform in the Maldives. So I agreed to be a liaison person with them, but only if they would work on a governance reform project.

Their first task was an audit of governance in the country: meeting various stake-holders, gauging public perception and making recommendations on what ought to be done. Their recommendation was that we needed to implement rapid political reforms, including political pluralism.

That was their report, and based on that Gayoom engaged them on a longer-term basis. this entailed assisting him with reforms internally, and projecting those reforms externally. It was not purely a PR function and it did entail real policy prescriptions for Gayoom.

JJ: So H&K was essentially writing policies for the previous government of the Maldives?

AS: Exactly. When you are in office for 30 years and your ministers and associates make recommendations to you, you don’t believe them. But if you have a posh firm from London making recommendations, you tend to believe them. And Gayoom did.

Things that Gayoom did on their recommendation included separating the army from the police, a whole raft of reforms on judicial function, prison reform, constitutional reform – all these things were done at their request.

The only H&K recommendations he left out – Hill & Knowlton wanted Yameen and the then Police Chief (Adam Zahir) sacked, and they also suggested that freedom of religion was something that was internationally demanded.

Of course, there’s no way any government here can introduce freedom of religion, and H&K’s usefulness ended when they recommended Yameen be removed – at that point Gayoom stopped listening to them.

H&K had a contract signed in April 2005, and their proposals were presented as a package. Their engagement was always positive and there was nothing covered up, and they came here only after speaking to the UK Foreign Office and US State Department. Of course, they are a commercial company and had their fees.

JJ: So you would say their role was positive in that they provided a voice of reform that Gayoom listened to?

AS: Yes.

JJ: What was behind Gayoom’s subsequent engagement of UK public relations firm the Campaign Company?

AS: The engagement of the Campaign Company was more for building his party and advice on how to manage and develop the DRP.

Of course, all these foreign advisors ended when they suggested to him that he or Yameen should go – the tracks end there.

JJ: A former H&K employee called Mark Limon continues to work for the government from the Geneva Mission. What does his work entail and is the expenditure justified?

AS: I think it is, because across three foreign ministers he has been retained. I hired him as a government agent in Geneva, and then after I left Abdulla Shahid retained him as a government agent, I retained him when I returned under Nasheed and now Naseem is retaining him.

I think his role has been very useful in projecting the Maldives as an active participant of the UN Human Rights Council, and linking up with other opportunities, such as the World Trade Organisation, the Climate Program, and a whole raft of others. The Geneva Mission is one of the best, if not the best mission that we have.

When this government came in there were calls to have the Geneva Mission closed down because not many were aware of what was going on. But I resisted, and many in the government are now convinced that Geneva is a very useful post.

JJ: What about some of these other receipts from UK security and private investigation firm Sion Resources in 2007, for a surveillance operation dubbed ‘Operation Druid’? The fact this took place in Salisbury suggests the former government had some concerns about the origins of the MDP. Were those justified?

AS: The government’s intelligence people got all sorts of reports from all sorts of sources, which any government is obligated to investigate. The range of reports included attempts to assassinate Gayoom, and they came from sometimes official and sometimes unofficial sources. The lesson after the November 3 incident [coup attempt in 1988] was that it was better to check on these to see whether they were reliable.

I’m not suggesting this applied to Salisbury, but in the summer of 2004, when there was emergency rule here, there were a number of concerns as to who was funding the MDP. The government wanted to know who was behind it, and whether it was a foreign government.

The government may have wanted to see what was going on. What these operations did was try to see who was who. And a lot of the operations the government felt were against it came from Salisbury, and I think the government of the day felt justified in engaging a firm to look into what was going on.

We’re talking about people who they had deported from the Maldives for proselytisation, people involved in all sort of activities. They felt they needed to check on that, and what came out was a clean bill of health. Nothing untoward was happening, and these people were by and large bone-fide.

There had also been an attempt to arrest Gayoom inside the UN building in Geneva. This happened in May 2005. If a head of state is stopped inside a UN building that is a breach of UN security. I was part of the delegation.

JJ: Was this an arrest by police or a group of activists?

AS: It was [Salisbury-based Friends of Maldives NGO founder] David Hardingham and Sarah Mahir.

They managed to walk inside the UN building and follow Gayoom. No head of state is going to accept that treatment by the UN – they are not supposed to be exposed to this type of harassment in the UN. There are areas for this kind of protest. I think Gayoom was quite shaken by that, and afterwards he was not as complacent over the security given to him by his hosts, be that by the UK or UN.

JJ: Salisbury came up again regarding accusations from the former government that Hardingham and Salisbury Cathedral were conspiring to blow up the Islamic Centre and build a church. The allegation still pops up occasionally. What was that about?

AS: It was just a mischievous suggestion, a very mischievous suggestion. [Former Attorney General] Hassan Saeed and I – the last election rally we had, October 7 2008 or thereabouts, the last rally in our campaign against Gayoom, at the time everyone was accusing each other of being non-Muslim, and this accusation that the MDP was non-Muslim was getting very loud.

So we came on stage and said we were former government ministers and that we were aware about this allegation against MDP and that Gayoom had hired a firm to look into this allegation, and that their report had confirmed there was no such connection to MDP. Both of us said this on record.

JJ: Gayoom hired a firm to look into those allegations concerning Salisbury Cathedral’s interest in transnational terrorism?

AS: No – all sorts of allegations about who was behind MDP. Was this a home-grown opposition, was a foreign government behind it? Who was the MDP?

Part of the concern at the time was that this might have been a religion-based opposition to Gayoom. There was paranoia about [protecting] Islam.

What we said was that various allegations about MDP were investigated, and it came out clean. It was a bone-fide political party. What I’m saying is: we said that, Gayoom knew that, and any suggestion that the MDP had links to a cathedral was just utter mischief.

That particular claim you refer to was on a flyer dumped on the street, claiming that David Hardingham wanted to blow up the Islamic Centre and build a cathedral. It was all rubbish – there was also a picture going around of Gayoom wearing a cross.

Those allegations were flying left and right, and then somebody got off at a station near Hardingham’s residence and saw a cathedral nearby.

JJ: Is there a sense that this religious paranoia – and the use of religion as a political weapon – has died down since then?

AS: I think we’ve been saturated by allegations. There is this very, very deep reaction to anything un-Islamic in this country, and you can use Islam as a political tool quite easily. Therefore these allegations become political charges.

But I think people are getting fed up with it – you can see the reactions in the press to my appointment as special rapporteur. DRP MP Mahlouf said it was a Zionist conspiracy and a trade-off for favours done to Israel on my part. These things ring hollow the more you say them. They become cliche.

JJ: Your comment last July about parliament engaging in “scorched earth” politics became the defining description for the cabinet resignation in July 2010. The government seems to have since toned down the rhetoric and deals with parliament much more diplomatically – but has anything changed significantly? Has parliament changed?

AS: I think parliament had a moment of hubris last year when the ministers resigned. I think they thought they had won the battle with the government, and therefore they went on and rejected the reappointment of seven ministers [including Shaheed]. But I think they learned that in politics you can use up your capital. Once you’ve used it, it’s finished. I think they are unlikely to act in such as arrogant manner subsequent to that.

They have come down a peg. But they still haven’t moved on. The single greatest factor restraining the parliament from moving forward is [DRP Leader] Ahmed Thasmeen Ali’s weakness as a leader.

Thasmeen isn’t Gayoom, he doesn’t carry Gayoom’s baggage, he is relatively young, and he needed to speak up against Gayoom – but he never did. And therefore he has failed to be the voice of the new generation, the voice of the future and the new age. Instead, he has been drowned out by the old guard, who are becoming louder and louder. Consequently, parliament has not really moved on from where it was a year back.

Your point about pragmatism – the MDP has become more pragmatic, and more willing to engage with parliament. I think the change of leadership in the Parliamentary Group will continue that trend. You will see a reinvigorated effort from MDP to engage the opposition and move ahead. But its success will be limited by what the opposition can match.

I don’t see Gasim or Yameen playing ball. I think Thasmeen is done for, but if anyone in the DRP can see beyond Gayoom I think you will see a better parliament.

JJ: You survived two governments and narrowly avoid a no-confidence motion regarding the government’s engagement with Israel (by one vote, after former DRP MP Alhan Fahmy voted against his own party).

AS: My feeling was that if [the Israel] accusation had been against me in person, I didn’t have the need to defend myself. If they had accused me of personal impropriety, I would not have gone to defend myself. The only reason I appeared in parliament was because the government’s policy was at stake.

I was defending the government and it was my duty to be there. I spoke to a number of MPs in the run up to it, and none of them knew the circumstances in which they could use that power to dismiss me. It’s a presidential system, so it’s an impeachment – it’s not a vote of no-confidence.

For impeachment you have to prove misconduct. But they weren’t – they were simply expressing anger over policy towards Israel. They did not charge me with misconduct, impropriety, or breach of trust. My feeling was: what a bunch of idiots.

JJ: You survived that – and later resigned after parliament refused to approve your reappointment following the cabinet resignation. Was it upsetting to ultimately lose the foreign minister’s position?

AS: No, it didn’t upset me. My view is that in a new government, a new order, you require a quick turnover of ministers. If a new democratic regime retains a minister for five years, then they are missing a beat. A rapid turnover of ministers will help the president move forward – although I’m not saying he should sacrifice experience.

Many politicians believed that if you laid low you’d survive the distance. But I wasn’t in a marathon – this was a sprint.

Two years in this government and I think I have done enough as required of me as a minister. I was not surprised by parliament’s decision, and I would have been happy to have lost that vote on Israel policy as well.

My conduct as minister has always been to be active. “It’s better to burn out than to rust” – who said that? I think it was the guy from the Sex Pistols.


Q&A: Former UK MP for Salisbury Robert Key talks democracy in the Maldives

Robert Key was the UK’s MP for Salisbury between 1983 and 2010, and member of cabinet during Margaret Thatcher and John Major’s administration. He was responsible for bringing the Maldives to the attention of both the British parliament and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. He has supported the country’s path to democracy ever since current President Mohamed Nasheed walked into his constituency office and made his case.

Minivan News spoke to Key during his first visit to the Maldives.

JJ Robinson: Was it difficult to visit the Maldives while a serving MP, given its image as a holiday destination?

Robert Key: No it’s not difficult, because there are organisations that do it such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association – they all do organised visits, with a political purpose.

But to be completely free of politics and party and able to take a more academic interest in it – I was a teacher for 16 years before I was a politician – has been a great privilege.

In five days I have had a political reeducation. Because a lot of the aspirations I have taken for granted as a British politician do not necessarily apply in the culture of the Maldives.

JJ: What sort of aspirations?

RK: Aspirations towards human rights, for example. In my political life in the UK, human rights have always been an important issue on the political agenda, have has always been seen as virtuous and necessary, and have always been pressed for by the electorate.

I have to realise this is not the case for all people in the Maldives, who have come across human rights only in the last year or two. It’s a new and challenging idea for them, and they are not quite sure what it means. I’ve had to understand that. Even though I’ve been a British politician for 27 years, I certainly don’t have all the answers.

JJ: How did you originally become aware of the Maldives?

RK: Of course I have been aware of the Maldives for many years as a desirable holiday destination – islands in the sun. But it was really the arrival of President Mohamed Nasheed in my constituency office in Salisbury with an agenda of issues for which he needed the assistance of the local member of parliament.

He walked in through the door with his school-friend David Hardingham (Nasheed attended Dauntsey’s school with the founder of the Salisbury-based Friends of Maldives NGO), and said “I have problems. I have problems with visas, I have problems with police, I need some advice from police about how to protect my little office in Salisbury” – all these sorts of issues.

There were bigger problems: such as how to engage the British government ministers and the Commonwealth with what was happening in the Maldives. He quite rightly, as a good democrat, used the democratic system in the UK to pursue answers to his problems.

JJ: This was before the founding of [Nasheed’s] Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)?

RK: Absolutely. It was when he was setting up the party in a room above a shop in Millford street in Salisbury. That is where he was writing for Minivan News, that is where he was broadcasting on the Internet to Germany, and uplifting the shortwave to the Maldives.

JJ: Can you describe that first meeting?

RK: It was quite an extraordinary meeting. Over my many years I’ve realised you never knew what was going to hit you next as an issue. You never knew who was going to walk through your office door with what sort of problem. It might be a regular sort of problem – housing or taxation – but just sometimes there was an issue that really gripped me as really important. This was one of those.

I saw a young man with great vision and enormous energy and determination, who wanted to change his country. I’d had only one or two similar experiences in Salisbury, with other people who had equally great ambitions, interests and determination, but I recognised this particular young man as someone who I could not ignore, indeed who I wished to promote, because I believed he had all the right instincts as a democrat.

It was an extraordinary impression he made at first. He was very nervous, and very apprehensive. He didn’t know if he could trust me. Trust is the big issue in democratic politics, and I think he had one or two rebuffs from other politicians.

I took it at face value, and we took it from there. I met him a number of times in Salisbury, and I never ceased to believe in his own vision and his motives, and his motives appeared to me to be all correct.

I know nothing about all the party politics of the Maldives, but I do understand a good democrat when I see one.

JJ: What motivated you turn that meeting into a push for democracy in the Maldives? Wasn’t it a far-reaching project for the member for Salisbury?

RK: Not really, because I’d always believed in the Commonwealth and international development issues. I had worked for Chris Patten when he was Secretary of State for International Development, both as his parliamentary secretary and later as a minister, and I understood his view of the world. He left politics to become governor of Hong Kong where he oversaw the hand-over of Hong Kong back to the Chinese government, and I was close to that process.

So I always believed that British politicians had a duty to other Commonwealth countries. And that was why I believed it was more than worthwhile – it was my duty – to assist in this process.

At that stage I knew nothing about the politics of the Maldives – I had no reason to. But if what [Mohamed Nasheed] said was true, he had a strong case.

That was why I needed to take the case to Ministers in the British government, to seek their involvement.

JJ: What was the reaction from British ministers when you presented this story to them?

RK: I think it was always positive, always open-minded, waiting for the evidence to emerge. I think the British government never sought to interfere with political processes, but it did wish to ensure democratic processes were possible in the Maldives.

That was why the Westminster Foundation for Democracy – which is an all-party Foundation – was willing to supply funds and people to advise.

JJ: When did the Westminster Foundation become involved and what support did they provide?

RK: In the year or so before the 2008 presidential election a number of people came out to the Maldives to give advice based on their experience from other parts of the world – the Commonwealth in particular – on what was going on and what was possible. It was completely even-handed and fair-minded, and it was not taking up a party political stance.

JJ: A version of the story told here is that Westminster Foundation funded and trained the MDP.

RK: No no, the Westminster Foundation is completely non party-political. That is why the leaders of all parties are trustees of the Westminster Foundation. It is absolutely not party political. It operates in a whole range of countries, for example Macedonia and other countries of the former Yugoslavia. It acts exactly the same way in any given circumstance anywhere in the world.

JJ: It often stated here that the MDP was strongly supported by the UK Conservative Party. What was the extent of that relationship beyond yourself?

RK: It simply started with me because I was the local MP and happened to be a Conservative. It may equally be true that if it was a Labour Party constituency it might have been the Labour Party that took up the cause. But that wasn’t the issue.

At no stage did I ever discuss party politics with President Mohamed Nasheed. He never asked me anything party-political and I didn’t offer it, any more than I have [during this visit]. I’ve seen both political parties, both party headquarters.

JJ: One of the accusations the former administration threw at both yourself and David Hardingham was that you were Christian missionaries out to subvert Islam in the Maldives. How did you deal with that?

RK: Well I recognised it as a political ploy. But we had to take it seriously as a threat because that was how it was presented – that Salisbury Cathedral might become a target for some kind of activity. It was very specific.

The actual threat was that Salisbury and Salisbury Cathedral were trying to convert the Maldives to Christianity. Which was absolute nonsense but had to be taken seriously, because quite obviously in the Maldives that would be seen as a significant threat in a country that is 100 percent Islamic. I understood that straight away.

It was not true, and therefore we had to say “It is not true.” The Dean of Salisbury Cathedral understood the issue, she took it at face value, and we sought security advice as necessary. But it was never a serious threat. It was a juvenile political ploy.

JJ: Were there any difficulties you faced with the cultural differences of the Maldives? What has your experience been like?

RK: This is my first visit. I was always very keen that people would see my concern for the Maldives as completely impartial and in the interest of good government in the Maldives. That is why I am here, and that is the message I have given to the civil servants I met [on Monday].

The turnout included 14 permanent secretaries – not bad for a retired backbencher. If they are prepared to take me seriously as an impartial supporter of the Maldives, I hope everyone else will.

JJ: What was your reaction when you heard that Mohamed Nasheed had won the 2008 Presidential election?

RK: Astonishment. And delight – in that order. But then I should have recognised that the people are right. As a good democrat I shouldn’t have been surprised. I should have been delighted that he has become President, for the right reasons, doing it the right way, playing it by the rulebook, to make sure his view of good government in the Maldives has prevailed.

He’s now finding out how difficult democracy really is. But that should not deflect him from his vision – of course its difficult, of course the issues are intractable. But, as long as his motives remain completely clear, then I think he will stand again as president, with honour. He clearly has the backing of his party and I wish him well. It’s up to the people of the Maldives.

JJ: Are you aware that when the cabinet resigned Nasheed came under a lot of international pressure for detaining one of the MPs, People’s Alliance (PA) leader Abdulla Yameen, allegedly outside what the constitution permitted?

RK: I’m not aware of that at all. I had just retired [in July 2010], I was away on holiday.

JJ: Have you followed the Maldives since Nasheed’s election? What is your assessment now you’ve seen it first-hand?

RK: I haven’t seen everything, I’ve seen a sample. It’s extremely interesting. I have an agenda of things to go back and do in the UK and contacts to make. I compared notes with the new High commissioner to the Maldives (John Rankin).

I had a fascinating meeting about the importance of statistics to good government. I pointed out that even the British government has only for one year had an independent office of national statistics that everyone can trust – journalists, taxpayers and politicians. And no-one can say “You’re massaging the figures minister” because they are independent.

JJ: Why did this meeting jump out at you?

RK: Because of their anxiety to maintain independence, and their sense of the collective wisdom of the government of the Maldives. In other words, the mark of any good civil service. That was hugely encouraging – their desire not to be party political, or be seen to be party political. All of these are virtuous aspirations on behalf of a civil service determined to serve the people well.

They were asking questions like ‘How do you educate ministers?’ A very important question.

I explained how it worked for me, and how influential civil servants ulitimately are in shaping a government and having limits beyond which they will not go – at which point the cabinet secretary has to see the prime minister to talk about it.

JJ: One of the major economic issues here is that the Maldivian civil service employs a substantial percentage of the population. How do you pare down a civil service while maintaining its integrity and keeping it clear of party politics?

RK: I was asked directly what happens when a government comes in committed to cutting the size of the civil service, and what difference did that make.

I pointed out that is exactly what I had to do during Margaret Thatcher’s government, when as Local Government Minister I was charged with introducing policy that took delivery of public service out of the hands of political and civil servants, and put it in the hands of agencies and contractors, while maintaining services to the public.

It was a painful process – and by and large it worked – but sometimes you had to admit you were wrong. To be able to say, “No, this has failed, stop it and don’t waste any more money. Change the policy.” And that was the advice I gave.

JJ: What reaction did you get whenever you did that?

RK: Huge relief, not least from the Treasury. Because if a policy is not working, it’s wasting money. For example the [UK] poll tax – it was generally recognised politically, but it didn’t work. It was massively expensive, and every time there was another protest, the government had to spend more money to get themselves out of a hole. The only sensible thing to do was put your hands up and say “It hasn’t worked”, and change it. We abolished the poll tax and introduced the council tax in the UK, which is still going strong. Now I can say, “Hey, I got it right.”

JJ: There’s a sense in the Maldives that while everyone agrees on the constitution, not everyone is working in the spirit of it. If you have a situation where the international community is piling on pressure to respect the constitution, how, as a leader and a President, can you work within the boundaries of the constitution when you are dealing with people who may not have its best interests at heart?

RK: I don’t know, because Britain doesn’t have a written constitution. Which is why Britain works!

I have read the Maldivian constitution online, and I recognise some very, very very difficult issues in the constitution which are at loggerheads with the expressed policy of the government over, for example, human rights. Which is very difficult to handle. I don’t know the answer and I’m certainly not going to tell the government how to do it.

But I recognise, and I’m sure they do, that if you have a written constitution, you ought to either abide by it, or change it. But you shouldn’t try to do either too quickly. As I said today, don’t do too much too quickly. Some things you have to do quickly – you have to tell the truth – you have to tell the electorate what your intentions are. But you can’t do it all at once.

It took Margaret Thatcher 11 years to get anywhere near where she wanted to be, before she resigned – or was forced to resign, to be honest.

JJ: In your reading of the Maldivian constitution, what were some of the things that jumped out at you as contradictory to government policy?

RK: I think the clash between human rights and 100 percent Islam is a really difficult issue. I’m a religious person – I therefore respect the Islamic tradition very much, and I’m certainly not trying to convert anyone in the Maldives to Christianity.

But that would be difficult for any government when they are signing up to the UN declarations, which are all about religious freedom and liberty, while at the same time trying to respect a constitution which says “Absolutely not. 100 percent Islam.”

There is a difference in my mind, in my understanding as a Western democrat, that there’s a difference between saying that as a citizen of a country you must belong to a particular faith and, as in Britain, saying: “This is a broadly Christian country, but any other religion is tolerated.”

How you square that circle politically is going to be really difficult to carry out by any government of any complexion, and it’s more likely to take 50 years than five.

JJ: A recurrent observation from the liberal side of debate here is there is a conflict between human rights and Islam. Do you think this then is more a conflict between human rights and the constitution?

RK: No – I think the Maldives will find that it goes through an age of Enlightenment, just as Europe did in the 18th century, when the certainty of a particular interpretation of a particular faith is questioned.

It is not denigrated, it is not abandoned – it is simply talked about. People ask questions. That was the great break in European civilisation – the age of Enlightenment. When science became respectable, when creationism was abandoned, by all but a few.

It didn’t shake the faith, it didn’t abandon the faith, it learned how to question it, and live with the consequences of being a mature democracy. I think the Maldives will go through a similar process.

It will take a long time – if you have a culture which has not been questioning, for hundreds of years, hasn’t seen the need to, and then suddenly the world moves on, that is a big challenge for any government.

JJ: If many of the issues in an emerging democracy will take time to resolve, is there a risk of losing perspective when you are dealing with five year political terms?

RK: Some of the consequential policy changes are going to be difficult if they are done too quickly. But one of the most interesting features of my visit to the Maldives this week has been what is going on in the Middle East and North Africa – and the sense that if the Maldives hadn’t come as far and as fast as it has since the last presidential elections, they may well have found themselves in the situation of one of the North African or Middle Eastern states. Where younger people in particular decided that enough is enough of a particular regime.

The Maldives can hold its head high, and say “We have led the way. We have blazed a trail here in promoting democracy and empowerment of the citizen, with all the difficulties that presents.”

There will be leaders in North Africa who will be wishing they had listened to the Maldives, had done what the Maldives chose to do in 2008.

JJ: What role do think international community can continue to play to ensure the Maldives does see the benefits of democracy?

RK: There is an enormous international role and responsbility. For example in strategic defense planning. The head of military told me about the reorganisation of the military into different heads and commands, and that was an important strategic review that needed to be carried out. It does need to be said that the Maldives’ neighbours, not only India – which is currently providing a helicopter, but the wider international community – should take some responsibility. For example: over this issue of the 37 Somali pirates currently in the Maldives, presenting a huge legal problem for such a small country.

The UN should take the lead in this, and I think there’s a way through this to resolve it internationally. There are other issues of security in the Indian Ocean in terms of everyone’s safety – surveillance of the seas, but also in terms of environmental conservation. I would also like to see the Maldives one day able to lead other emerging democracies down the path of democracy.

JJ: One of the problems civil society organisations have faced here is that because the MDP campaigned strongly on a platform of democracy, freedom of speech, independent media and so forth, suddenly these values and organsiations promoting them have been politicised by association. How does a country separate these values from politics?

RK: It’s not easy, and it takes time, and it’s not the first time this issue has arisen. 10 years ago the Labour Defence Minister asked me to go with him and stand with him in Slovenia in the aftermath of the break-up of Yugoslavia, to convince them that democracy needs an opposition as well as a government – because they were inclined to shoot the opposition.

The Minister took me with him to Slovenia and I sat beside him in a meeting with the group that had obtained the greatest number of votes, and said “Don’t shoot the opposition. You need them to work with you in a democracy.”

Here it is not as extreme. There is not a war in the Malidves. But having talked to both parties I have noticed that there is a very young shoot of democracy here, and it’s going to need time to mature. The political parties are going to both have to see the best in each other and their leaders as well as the worst.

There is no love lost between the political parties here, and in my judgement things that should not be politicised are being politicised. That is the mark of the new democracy. It is a strange idea, it is difficult to handle. But as political thought matures, as the electors get used to democracy, they will encourage their leaders to be more constructive over policy differences. I am not dispirited by this – I think it is competely normal and natural, and part of growing up in a democracy.

We have been at it for a thousand years in England – we take too much for granted. We have politicians slagging each other off, and we yawn. I’m quite sure that is a position people will reach in the Maldives when they want their politicians to get serious about policy issues, and not keep blaming each other for what has happened in the past – and above all, not to seek revenge.

JJ: There is an almost post-apartheid dichotomy between revenge and reconciliation in the Maldives, and a ‘head in the sand’ approach in the hope it will go away. Do you think that is a reasonable position to take, or do old wounds fester and contaminate this discourse you are encouraging?

RK: I think the Maldives should probably seek the advice of Nelson Mandela, who post-apartheid set up the truth commission as a way of learning and forgiving, rather than seeking political revenge. But that is a decision for the Maldivian people – not for me.


Former Salisbury MP Robert Key lecturing in Maldives

Former UK Conservative Party MP for Salisbury Robert Key is visiting the Maldives this week to present a series of lectures on subjects including democracy, civil service and the importance of an independent judiciary.

Key will be presenting a public lecture at Mandhu College on Tuesday night at 8:00pm, on the Magna Carta.

During his tenure as an MP, Key was instrumental in bringing the Maldives to the attention of British Parliament in March 2005, following representations made to him by the now-ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Current President Mohamed Nasheed attended school near Salisbury. The area is also home to the Friends of Maldives NGO, and the Maldives Consulate.

Key entered parliament in 1983 and retired in April 2010, during which time he variously served as Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities in the Department of the Environment, Minister for Roads and Traffic, junior minister at the Department of National Heritage, and in opposition, shadow minister for Science and Energy, and shadow minister for International Development. He was succeeded as Salisbury MP by John Glen, also a Conservative Party MP.

Key’s entry on UK government’s ‘They Work for You’ website


President of the Maldives visits Salisbury: Salisbury Journal

President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed visited Salisbury over the weekend prior to his return to the island nation yesterday, the Salisbury Journal newspaper has reported.

He was welcomed by UK Conservative Party MP John Glen and founder of the Friends of Maldives NGO, David Hardingham.

Salisbury was home to a group of Maldivian exiles for five years from 2003, and became the launch pad for their campaign for democracy, the newspaper reported.

Hardingham’s cottage in Friary Lane is now the Maldives’ Honorary Consulate.

Mr Glen was sent out to the island nation in 2007 and 2008 by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to help the then-opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) draw up its manifesto.


Maldives opens Consulate in Salisbury

A Maldives consulate has been inaugurated in Salisbury, UK.

The High Commissioner for the Maldives, Dr Farah Faizal, and MP for Salisbury John Glen were present at the inauguration along with a delegation from the High Commission in London including Deputy High Commissioner Naushad Waheed, Political Affairs Officer Sarah Mahir and Attache Ahmed Imran.

John Glen the MP for Salisbury maintains close links to the Maldives and has visited the Maldives with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the UK Conservative Party.

Salisbury was used as a base by political refugees from the Maldives between 2003-2008, where activists – including the current President – lobbied the UK government, UN, Commonwealth and Human Rights NGOs. ‘Minivan Radio’ was also broadcast on shortwave from Salisbury to the Maldives.

Opening of Salisbury Consulate
Opening of the Salisbury Consulate

President Nasheed sent a message to the inauguration, stating that “When I left the Maldives and became a political refugee, it was Salisbury that provided me, and fellow Maldivians, refuge. For over a year, Salisbury was the home of the Maldivian democracy struggle. It is such a beautiful town and the people were so hospitable to us Maldivians. Salisbury will always have a special place in our hearts.”

Friends of Maldives (FoM) founder David Hardingham was appointed as Honorary Consul of the Maldives in Salisbury in 2009. The former government had blacklisted Hardingham after alleging he was both a Christian missionary and part of an extremist islamic conspiracy to bomb important building in Male’.

Hardingham said he saw his role as Honorary Consul “to maintain strong links between the people of Maldives and Salisbury and to improve and promote good relations between the Maldives and the UK and to support the work of the High Commission in London.”