Indonesia joins Maldives in withdrawing from New7Wonders competition

Following in the footsteps of the Maldives, Indonesia has officially withdrawn the Komodo National Park from the New7Wonders competition citing doubts about the credibility of the organisers.

During a press conference last week, Indonesia’s Tourism Minister Jero Wacik announced that the decision was taken “because the organisers – the New7Wonders Foundation – have taken actions that are not professional, consistent and transparent.”

According to reports in the Jakarta Post, Wacik said the New7Wonders Foundation was“unprofessional”, “unaccountable” and were “not credible”.

“We have spent around Rp 10 billion (US$1.1 million) on campaign activities over the past three years,” Wacik told the newspaper, claiming that the foundation had subsequently demanded a US$10 million licensing fee and a US$35 million fee to host a ceremony celebrating the competition’s winners.

Also speaking during the press conference, Indonesia’s tourism marketing director Sapta Nirwandar claimed that the New7Wonders foundation did not have an office.

“We sent a letter to the office address in Zurich, but the letter came back to us because the address was not clear,” the Post reported Nirwandar as saying, adding that it was “very strange” for an international organisation involved in million-dollar transactions “not to have a real office”.

New7Wonders has meanwhile announced the launch of a text voting service in Indonesia, allowing locals to vote for Komodo at US$0.12 per text.

The Maldives cabinet withdrew the country from the New7Wonders campaign in May, claiming similar demands for increasingly high fees in order for the Maldives to compete meaningfully for the remainder of the competition.

State Minister for Tourism Thoyyib Mohamed said at the time that the Maldives was withdrawing from the competition “because of the unexpected demands for large sums of money from the New7Wonders organisers. We no longer feel that continued participation is in the economic interests of the Maldives.”

The Maldives had invested substantially less in the campaign than Indonesia – a total of US$12,000 on banners and voting terminals – before the company behind New7Wonders, the ‘New Open World Corporation’ (NOWC), began requesting ‘sponsorship fees’ (‘platinum’ at US$350,000, or two ‘gold’ at US$210,000 each), and the funding of a ‘World Tour’ event whereby the Maldives would pay for a delegation of people to visit the country, provide hot air balloon rides, press trips, flights, accommodation and communications, at a predicted cost of US$500,000.

NOWC had initially levied a US$199 participation fee upon signing of the initial contract in early 2009, and no further costs were explicitly detailed in the contract.

Investigating the company in May, Minivan News confirmed that a ‘New7Wonders Foundation’ was registered in the Swiss canton of Zurich as a charitable foundation, however the contract signed with the Maldives gave NOWC’s address as a law firm in the Republic of Panama.

In response to this story, New7Wonders Spokesperson Eamonn Fitzgerald said the foundation had transferred the commercial operations to its licensing company, New Open World Corporation, “which then runs the commercial aspects.”

In a letter to Minivan News, Fitzgerald insisted that the the Maldives remained in the competition despite the government’s decision.

“The authority to withdraw a participant from the campaign is a decision for New7Wonders alone, not for any government agency. In this respect, New7Wonders adheres to the same principles as FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), organisations that do not tolerate any government interference so as to ensure their independence,” Fitzgerald wrote.

The government responded that “the democratically elected Government of the Maldives is the only legitimate authority to act in the name of the Maldives and its people”, and that its continued use of the Maldives brand by NOWC was “infringing the sovereign rights of the Maldives”.

Following the Indonesian announcement, Minivan News understands from a source familiar with the matter that the tourism authorities of 6-7 other countries have “expressed doubts” about the competition, “but are concerned about losing face.”

Three of Indonesia’s ministers – fisheries, forestry and tourism – acknowledged that the Maldives had led the way, the source said.