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.