US government pledges US$9.7 million for Maldives climate change adaptation, election preparations

The United States government has pledged US$9.7 million (MVR 149 million) to the Maldives as technical assistance for climate change adaptation and election preparations.

The memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the two nations was signed yesterday afternoon (July 7) by the Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ambassador-at-large Abdul Azeez Yoosuf and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Acting Mission Director Todd Sorenson.

The United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Michele J Sison highlighted the importance of the agreement during the American Embassy’s Independence Day reception held last night (July 7) in Male’.

“The MoU will allow us to expand and enhance our bilateral cooperation, it is a truly special day… [it is my] sincere hope that the many ties that bind our two nations will grow ever stronger,” Sison stated.

Under the MoU, USAID will provide US$7.2 million for a global climate change adaptation project, and US$2.5 million as technical assistance for election preparations.

The Ambassador highlighted the importance of consolidating democracy and promoting the integrity of the electoral process prior to the September 7 presidential elections as the impetus for the US working with Maldivian partners to prepare for elections. One of the new programs covered under the MOU, through USAID, was launched by the U.S.-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).

“These efforts will promote the integrity of the electoral process in Maldives in advance of the September 2013 presidential elections, but also support efforts aimed at the local council and parliamentary elections which are to follow [in 2014],” said Sison.

“The US has urged all parties all actors here to work together to chart a positive way forward that respects the Maldivian constitution, Maldivian democratic institutions, human rights and the will of the Maldivian people,” she continued.

“As such, we’ve called on all sides here to work closely together to ensure the elections in Maldives are free, fair, transparent, credible and inclusive and that the results are accepted by all stakeholders,” she added.

The US government in partnership with the UN is also “actively supporting” a small grants program for Maldivian civil society.

“Democracy – good governance – is not just about elections it’s about the process of governance and the interaction between the government and the people,” noted Sison. “Which is why… we are looking to support projects to enhance the democratic space and to effectively engage civil society organisations in promoting good governance.”

“The US is proud to be supporting Maldivian efforts to strengthen civil society and consolidate the democratic transition,” she added.

The Ambassador also reflected on the founding of the United States, the evolution of democracy within the country over the last 237 years, and the democratisation process in the Maldives. She noted the personal responsibility of citizens to strive toward a more perfect union by pushing forward, speaking out when there is injustice, and advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves, as President Barack Obama noted in a 2008 presidential campaign speech.

“I thought of those words – both of our founding fathers and of President Obama – as I thought about the Maldives, because in the coming weeks and months ahead, reflecting the vibrancy of Maldivian institutions, the Maldivian people will once again make their voices heard in a democratic process,” said Sison.

The American Embassy’s other current initiatives include “robust USAID projects” aimed at increasing Maldivian capacity to cope with the impact of climate change and improving water security. USAID is also working with the Maldivian government to identify additional areas of cooperation related to climate change adaptation.

The US is also becoming “increasingly active” in the Maldivian economic and commercial sector.

“I’m happy to report that a number of other US companies are looking to expand their operations here, their presence and investment in the Maldivian economy,” noted Sison.

Furthermore, US initiatives have also been extend to the education sector with the “Access English Language” teaching program – with programs in Male’, Addu City, and Kulhudhuffushi in Haa Dhaal Atoll – and “Access Microscholarship”.

“The goal of these english language enrichment microschoarlips is to enable Maldivian secondary school students to pursue higher education and to increase their employment opportunities – we hope – in the job market,” Sison explained.

She also noted that US is “very proud” that the cooperation, joint exercises, and training endeavours conducted with the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and the Maldives Police Service remain “very strong and robust”.

“The US knows that all of you are as committed as we are to the prosperity of Maldives, to the democracy of Maldives, and to the well being of Maldives. We hope to work together with you in a way that will inspire and benefit future generations of young Maldivians,” the ambassador concluded.

Maldives’ Minister of Defence Mohamed Nazim assured the attendees of the US Embassy’s independence day event – who included the Indian High Commissioner Rajeev Shahare, various UN agency officials, and Maldivian government ministers – that the government of Maldives was committed to ensuring elections were “free, fair and competitive”.

“Exactly two months from today maldives will vote in a historic election to elect a president,” said Nazim.

“Free and fair elections are the strongest and most visible manifestations of a country’s democratic development. The Maldives remains committed to moving forward to consolidating democracy,” he stated. “We are continuing to further strengthen our democratic institutions.”

“We are grateful to the United States for the Maldives election program 2013-14 which will contribute profoundly to strengthen the capacity of state institutions and civil society organisations in preparing for the presidential elections,” he added.

Nazim also highlighted other “key global issues of mutual concern” both governments and working closely on, particularly in the areas of national defence, promoting democracy and the respect of fundamental human rights, as well as climate change adaptation.

“The Maldives-US defence cooperation which has been vital in enhancing our national defence capabilities,” he noted.

“Climate change is an existential threat to the Maldives. As a low-lying state, no country is more vulnerable and none is more committed to increasing investments in renewable energy,” said Nazim. “I salute President Obama for his recent initiative aimed at finding a global solution to the question of climate change.”

“Climate change is too critical an issue to be left unaddressed. We need to find solutions and be ready to make hard decisions and hard choices,” he added.

“The relationship is based on a solid foundation of friendship, shared beliefs, and mutual respect. The US continues to be a close partner of Maldives through diverse spheres and greatly contributes toward the socio-economic development of the country,” Nazim concluded.


Maldives’ political situation “very positive”: new US Ambassador

New US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Ambassador Michele J Sison, on Sunday presented her credentials to President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, and met with the Maldivian press.

Ambassador Sison replaces Ambassador Patricia A Butenis. She was previously US Deputy Ambassador in Iraq, as well as Deputy Ambassador in the United Arab Emirates.

She has also worked as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of South Asian Affairs, providing broad policy oversight of US relations with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

Ambassador Sison on Sunday morning met with President Waheed, Vice President Waheed Deen and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon, and said she looked forward to meeting the Foreign Minister at a later stage.

“I have been reading about the Maldives for quite some time and am impressed by the warm welcome I received this weekend,” she said.

Asked for her early impressions of the country’s political situation and stability, Sison said it was “very positive. You have democratic institutions in place, you have a vibrant and dynamic media, all of the ingredients are there.”

“What troubles me, and I’m sure troubles the Maldivian people at this point, is that recent events have contributed to a slowdown in the normal political life of the country – for example the vital work of the Majlis. I know we all want to see the political system able to proceed so that important legislative drafts can be discussed and debated and normal political life moves forward in a productive manner.”

Sison said she was encouraged by the work of the current leadership dialogues, “which have the potential for real progress as the country moves towards elections, and I hope will smooth the way for the Majlis to move forward.”

Sison confirmed that she had read the report produced by the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) into the circumstances surrounding February 7’s controversial transfer of power, and noted that the US had “very publicly welcomed the release of the report.”

“I did receive a copy and highlight the summary for my staff. It was a subject of intense interest in Washington,” she said.

Sison said the US had “publicly commended the commission’s co-chairs for their leadership and commitment to a thorough and what we feel was an inclusive review process.”

“We consistently called for all Maldivians to respect the findings of the report. Now we look forward to the implementation of the recommendations and call on all to respect the findings and exercise restraint, and continue the vibrant political expression in the Maldives and channel it in a productive and non-violent manner.”

Sison however refrained from stating whether this stance meant the US would back the Maldives’ government’s bid to be removed from the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), the Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy arm.

“I know that the issue is very topical right now, and I’ve [received] various views from political actors and will continue to seek input,” she said.

Asked whether the US was concerned about a broad shift in Maldivian foreign policy from Western allies towards China, Sison responded that “a very simple answer is that the US, as a friend of the Maldives, is encouraged that Maldivian foreign policy is growing in terms of representation and cooperation.”

In her address, Sison noted that key areas of bilateral cooperation would include “furthering the hopes and dreams of youth and women. I really do believe that the US has a useful role to play in the Maldives, particularly in the maritime security, economic and education sectors.”

She announced the imminent arrival of a senior US educator who would be working with the Ministry of Education “on curriculum development and the general professional development of Maldivian educators.”

Ambassador Sison also remarked on the US’s training of the Maldivian police, which she noted would be “very visible this month” as the trainers focused “on the importance of community policing and protection of human rights.”

The US is currently providing US$7.1 million towards an integrated water resource system on Lhaviyani Hinnavaru and Haa Alif Dhihdhoo islands.

It is also contributing US$20,000 in funding towards cultural preservation and the restoration of pre-Islamic artifacts in the National Museum, which were destroyed by a mob that broke into the building amid February 7′s political turmoil.


“Nasheed’s ouster Maldives’ historical equivalent of Tiananmen Square”: US Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies

One of the world’s leading scholars on non-violent conflict, Dr Mary King, has compared the resignation of former President Mohamed Nasheed with the ruthless crushing of democratic movements in Communist China and Soviet Russia.

“For 300,000 Maldivians, President Nasheed’s ouster was the historical equivalent of Tiananmen Square in 1989 or the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968: the sensation of new freedom one day, its threatened disappearance the next,” said Dr King.

Dr King’s comments were included in a statement from the International Centre on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), which will today award Nasheed with the James Lawson Award for Achievement in the Practice of Nonviolent Action. The ceremony will take place at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

The press release stated that the award is in recognition of Nasheed’s “leadership during many years of the nonviolent opposition to dictatorship in his country, his courage in the face of an armed coup earlier this year which forced him from power, and his renewed nonviolent action on behalf of restoring genuine democracy in his country.”

Dr King, a professor of Peace and Conflict studies at the UN-affiliated University for Peace in Costa Rica, is a former recipient of the James Lawson award herself.

The award is to be presented by Dr James Lawson himself, a leading activist in the American civil rights movement who is best known for devising the Nashville lunch-counter sit ins of the 1960s.

President and founder of the ICNC, Jack Du Vall, said that nonviolent action can be the only basis for a ruler’s legitimacy.

“The question for the Maldives is whether it will have a real democracy or not, and whether it will be led by a person who was elected to that office by the people and whose elevation to power was based solely on nonviolent action,” he added.

President’s Office Spokesman Abbas Adil Riza said that he was not aware of the statements, saying that the ICNC was “free to say whatever it wished.”

Asked for a government response to such opinions, Abbas said: “The Maldives is a free society and has a free media. Only the courts will decide if it was a legal change of government.”

The Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) mandated to investigate the circumstances surrounding the February transfer of power was recently reformed in order to enhance its credibility.

The group began its investigations on June 21 and is scheduled to have completed its work by July 31.

The CNI is not a criminal investigation and will hand its findings over to the President, the Attorney General (AG) and the Prosecutor General (PG).

Nasheed’s US visit has included a speech at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), a briefing given to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a follow up meeting with the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia Committee on Foreign Affairs after it had sent a team to the Maldives earlier in the year.

Nasheed is also said to have met with State Department Assistant Secretary Robert Blake as well as having briefed the International Republic Institute on the political situation in the Maldives.


US “working closely” with India to resolve political crisis

The US has said it is “working closely with India” to resolve the political crisis in the Maldives.

“Our understanding is that we are pretty well in lockstep with India in terms of calling for unity and calling for a democratic, peaceful path forward,” said State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland.

“We welcome the efforts that all sides appear to be making to find a peaceful way forward,” she said.

“We also welcome the ongoing dialogue among Maldivians regarding the role of a unity government in addressing these issues and possibly creating the conditions for early elections. We’re continuing to urge all parties to work together to find a way through this,” she added.

Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake recently travelled to the Maldives to assess the situation.


Newsweek labels Nasheed ‘Green Guru’ for climate change work

The second largest weekly magazine in the United States, ‘Newsweek’, has awarded President Mohamed Nasheed the title of ‘green guru’ and placed him second among nine other world leaders who have ‘’won serious respect’’ in different global fields.

“As president of an island nation imperiled by rising sea levels, Mohamed Nasheed has become a hero among environmentalists,’’ said Newsweek. “In the run-up to last year’s United Nations climate-change meeting, Nasheed attracted global attention by hosting a cabinet meeting underwater.’’

The paper said that former Vice President of the US, Al Gore, who is also an environment activist, had taken to quoting President Nasheed on matters relating to the human cost of climate change.

‘’In April, the UN elected [Nasheed] one of six “2010 Champions of the Earth,’’ said the magazine.

Achim Steiner, director of the UN Environment Program, praised Nasheed as a politician who is “showcasing to the rest of the world how a transition to climate neutrality can be achieved and how all nations, no matter how big or small, can contribute.”

Britain’s new Prime Minister, David Cameron, tops the list of ‘best world leaders’ in the political magazine, which has a global circulation of 1.5 million.

Newsweek also names President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, President Lula da Silva of Brazil and President Lee of South Korea in its list of top world leaders.

Image: Newsweek magazine


New Ambassador of Sudan to the Maldives

New Sudanese Ambassador to the Maldives, Khidir Haroun Ahmed, presented his credentials to President Mohamed Nasheed yesterday.

President Nasheed and Ambassador Ahmed discussed possible areas of cooperation between the two countries, and focused on how the Maldives and Sudan could strengthen cooperation to combat climate change.

Ambassador Ahmed is also serving as ambassador to Sri Lanka and was former ambassador to the United States.