At the lavish Ashoka Palace in the Indian capital New Delhi, visuals of clear turquoise water, white beaches, exciting under-water experience and boduberu dance set the mood for the delegates of over 400 companies who were here to attend the third edition of Maldives Investment Forum on Tuesday.
Government in its keynote address tried to recapture the confidence of Indian investors as apprehension was running high due to the abrupt termination of international contract with GMR Infrastructure Ltd.
Government said they were ready to promote a transparent, hassle-free and liberal trading and investment environment and will welcome investment from India with open arms. ” The government is committed to change its legal framework to allow trade and investment to diversify economy and there has been massive progress on the infrastructure front,” Vice President Abdulla Jihad said.
“I want to assure all potential investors that Maldives is open for business. It is open 24 hours,” he added.
Even though the delegates looked impressed and were confident about the potential of doing business in the Maldives, the GMR fiasco held them back from committing immediately.
“No doubt, the Maldives looks like a dream destination for doing business. But, I would like to know more about the legal and bilateral aspects before we move forward,” said a delegate while looking at his info kit on investing in the Maldives
Another delegate who was here to explore the possibilities of investing in telecom services said, “It is very important to have a set up where we can feel secure about investing money in a certain project. Let’s see how it rolls.”
The concern over providing a conductive environment to do business in the Maldives also appeared in Indian newspapers. A leading Indian business paper Mint wrote, “The memory of the Maldives government abruptly terminating a India-Malaysia joint venture for modernising the Male airport in 2012 saw Indian industry seeking greater predictability and protection for investments in the Maldives… The cancellation of the deal had soured ties between India and the Maldives.”
Last month, GMR won a lawsuit over the termination of contract to run Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA). In a major embarrassment, government was ordered to pay USD 250 million to Indian infrastructural company GMR by a 3-member Singaporean Arbitration Tribunal in its final order.
The third edition of the investment forum was held in partnership with Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) to seek investments in infrastructural development, airport expansion and various other sectors to boost job creation in the country.
Jihad also announced that the country will sign its first free trade agreement early next year to boost trade and cooperation with other countries.
“It is investment, both foreign and domestic that has transformed our economy and elevated to current position. On the strength of our past achievements, the government is looking into new investments and is actively seeking foreign direct investment as it is one of the fundamental driving forces of Government policies,” he added.
The annual Maldives Investment Forum was held in Singapore in 2014 and in Beijing last year. The next edition of the forum will be held in Doha, Qatar.
“President Yameen is a respected economist…,” this is how Minister of Economic Development Mohamed Saeed introduced his president at Maldives Investment Forum in the Indian capital New Delhi on Tuesday.
“President Abdulla Yameen is a respected economist under whose governance GDP and per capita income have improved, ” he went on to add while facing uncomfortable questions from reporters on the sidelines of the event.
However, the qualifications of Yameen – infamous as an increasingly autocratic President – are bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a master’s degree in Public Policy, not exactly good enough to hail him as an economist!
And off late, Yameen has been accused of large-scale money-laundering and muzzling political voices with his strong arm tactics and misuse of the local courts.
But Saeed insisted that “he (Yameen) is a well-informed leader who is focused on bringing social harmony through development and job creation” while avoiding pointed questions on eroded international image of his country.
The interaction with the reporters in New Delhi during the Maldives Investment forum came across as another embarrassment as ministers in the Yameen’s cabinet jump from one faux pax to another.
While asked about the corruption charges facing President Yameen, Saeed’s response came from a scripted note, which had no relation to the questions being asked to the minister.
Speaking on similar lines as his boss Yameen, Saeed also expressed the government’s collective desire to make the Maldives the next Singapore (interestingly something that Yameen’s half-brother and mentor Maumoon Gayoom does not approve!)
“We are not comparing the Maldives to Singapore… but it does translate into the desire to look up to Singapore,” Saeed said while he pitched for greater investment in the Maldivian tourism and infrastructure.
Contrary to the reports of World Bank that the Maldivian economy had slowed down in 2015 and figures on fiscal deficits and public debt were sobering, Saeed claimed that in Yameen’s three-year tenure there was a steady growth in GDP and public debt has been fixed.
At a time when 197 representatives — including the Maldives– have gathered at 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) in Morocco to discuss climate change, government’s decision to blast coral reef of Addu City using dynamite has received flak from the opposition and people of the country triggering online campaign against it.
The Environment Protect Agency on Wednesday asked the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to approve the use of dynamite to blast the reef project to dredge the channel between the islands of Meedhoo and Ismahelahera states.
The EIA had earlier recommended the government to seek alternatives saying the use dynamite can be dangerous and should not be used.
The main-opposition Maldivian Democratic Party criticising government for “reneging” on its international commitments said that the action will cause “irreversible damage”. The party also urged government to respect its international commitments.
“Disregarding the EIA recommendations, it is deeply worrying the Minister of Environment has instructed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to approve the use of dynamite to blast the reef in Meedhoo…. It is deeply troubling the Maldives government is engaged in activities that will further cause irreversible damage.”” MDP said in the statement issued on Saturday.
Ahmed Saleem at COP22
Maldivians took Twitter to run an online campaign to bring the attention of the ongoing COP22 where Ahmed Saleem is currently representing the Maldives and Alliance of Small Island States (AIOSIS).
According to Act on Environment Protection using dynamite for blasting coral reefs is an offence punishable by huge fees.
The practice of blasting coral reefs was discontinued by former President Maumoon Gayoom in the Maldives due to its negative impact on the environment.
More than 60% of coral in reefs in the Maldives has been hit by “bleaching” as the world is gripped by record temperatures in 2016 due a strong “El Nino” phenomenon, the Guardian reported in August. The Maldives which is just 4 feet above sea level contains around 3% of the world’s coral reefs and is considered particularly at risk due climate change and sea level rises.
Shoko Noda, UNDP Representative of Maldives had also tweeted asking for action on climate change ahead of COP22.
Former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb had a contact saved in his now infamous gold iPhone as ‘Lord P’. The same gold iPhone that exposed how Adeeb and his mentor-tuned-boss turned-antagonist President Abdulla Yameen were not only involved in high-level corruption but also in wiping off anyone and everyone who did not fall in line — media, politicians, activists and even its own ministers; now has another story to tell: How the two cracked a deal with ‘Lord P’ to shroud the autocratic nature of the government with a well-crafted image of the Maldives’ economic development.
But it was not the first time when Yameen agreed to spend a fortune to negate the banana republic impression. Last summer, Yameen signed a lucrative deal with Cherie Blair- wife of former Prime Minister and Labour Party chief Tony Blair- after she was rejected by the first democratically elected President Mohamed Nasheed who had Amal Clooney by his side.
Cherie who was earlier ready to represent Nasheed calling his trial ‘an extraordinary farce’, then agreed to revive Yameen’s image for £ 210,000 (MVR 4,128,292).
Back In 2012 too, right after the coup that toppled Nasheed’s government, another Labour Party member, former Labour Cabinet Minister and former attorney general Baroness Scotland took £ 75,000 (MVR 1,457,366) to advise the then government on avoiding action by Commonwealth in a two-week work contract.
On August 12, 2015, a few days before Yameen got Cherie on board, Adeeb broke a deal ‘Lord P’, who is a professional lobbyist and political adviser, to revamp the image of Yameen’s regime.
‘Lord P’ is no one else but the man who has not only been a Member of Parliament (MP) for Hartlepool for Labour Party but also held a number of Cabinet positions under Prime Ministers Tony Blair.
The man who rebuilt the Labour Party as New Labour before its subsequent victory in the 1997 election.
‘Lord P’ is Peter Mandelson – The Prince of Darkness.
A report by Daily Mail says that 62-year-old Mandelson held meetings with Adeeb and Yameen to counsel the government on how to “rebuild its public image”.
The British Daily quoting a four-page memo says that Mandelson’s strategic advisory firm Global Counsel suggested the government to deal with the PR crisis by projecting “your vision for the country’s future”.
The memo was dated August 18, four days after the meeting took place between Adeeb and Mandelson at the resort of Gili Lankanfushi.
Headlined as ‘Next Steps’, the memo asking to set up a strategic communication to fix the international image of the Maldives as quoted by Daily Mail read:
The taskforce will benefit from start-up training and development from an external source. This is something we could guide you on as part of our current work with international investors in the Maldives
It also offered to lobby United Nations General Assembly and Commonwealth by “telling an effective story about the Maldives to international audiences”. The advisory firm also said that it would get confidence of the international investors “everywhere from New York and London to Berlin, Paris and Beijing”.
The Memo By Global Counsel
The discussion in Gili Lankanfushi was very useful in scoping out the next steps. What follows in this note assumes that the situation regarding Nasheed can be resolved amicably from the perspective of all relevant stakeholders. The Maldives is a young democracy and recognises it has further to go in order to create the institutions and space to enable democracy to flourish… Reforms to the penal code and judicial system, as well as strengthening the rule of law, are prerequisites to a healthy democracy, and the government is in the process of designing and implementing reforms in these areas that will deliver immediate benefits as well as building the foundations for a stronger democracy in the longer term.
The firm suggested that government can rebuild its image by giving an ‘accurate account’ of the government’s ‘accomplishments’ in the fields of economic stewardship, social reform and environmental protection.
It is unclear if the two went ahead with the big revival plan as Adeeb – in less than two months – was jailed for plotting to assassinate his boss Yameen.
On October 13, when Ying Staton, Global Counsel’s ‘Asia Director’ wrote to Adeeb to figure out when Mandelson and Yameen could speak on phone, he was already in middle of speed boat blast allegations and days ahead only led to his impeachment, arrest and sentencing.
Flamboyant Adeeb, one of the richest politicians, also seen as Yameen’s loyal, also got implicated in one of the country’s biggest corruption scandal with Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC).
An audit report of MMPRC revealed that money as huge as USD 80 million received from leasing islands and resorts meant for the state was siphoned off to private accounts which benefited Adeeb, Yameen, his wife and other politicians.
And it also benefitted Cherie Blair. Omnia had billed Abdulla Ziyath, former managing director of the MMPRC for £ 210,000 (MVR 4,081,265) – the half amount of total fee charged by the firm for a six-month contract.
According to Maldives Independent, government also spent USD 19,293 (MVR 297,510) on visits of Omnia’s barrister Toby Cadman, between June and September.
My work is not yet complete. My work will be completed once the airport and the country is the preferred destination. When my work is done, I want to compare the difference between the services given in the Maldives and Singapore, Dubai – Yameen
Omnia, on the allegation of receiving the money from a company implicated in corruption, said that it terminated six-month contract early due to unpredictable domestic events and is no longer instructed by either the government or the MMPRC.
The whistleblower, Bank of Maldives former manager Gasim Abdul Kareem, who leaked the account details of Score of Flairs (S.O.F) Private Limited which facilitated the transaction between MMPRC and Omnia is now in jail on the charges of unauthorised disclosure customer information.
Adeeb was sentenced to eight years in prison for stealing USD 5,000,000 (MVR 76,850,000) from state coffers besides 15 year jail term for plotting to assassinate Yameen.
Government also hired Washington based lobbyist firm, Podesta Group in September for a sum of USD 300,000 (MVR 4,611,000) and London-based PR firm BTP Advisers in November.
Even after massive PR exercise Yameen is now isolated by his party men. Though, he is often witnessed talking about economic development and policies as ambitious as making the Maldives the next Singapore and Dubai. At an event in May this year, Yameen said:
My work is not yet complete. My work will be completed once the airport and the country is the preferred destination. When my work is done, I want to compare the difference between the services given in the Maldives and Singapore, Dubai
Battered by its international image, Yameen-led government even launched a programme ‘Visit Maldives Year 2016’ to promote tourism and also enhanced their budget but soon abandoned the ambitious 1.5 million tourist target this year alleging opposition of tarnishing the image of the country.
The government functioning on PR machinery of the west in a bid to revive the image of the country often blames opposition and its leader Nasheed for destroying country’s economy, ironically, calling them the agents of the west. Meanwhile, Nasheed continue to enjoy the support of international rights’ group, journalists and rival of the Labour Party, Conservative Party’s former leader and former Prime Minister David Cameron.
The Maldives United Opposition, the rainbow coalition or the coalition-in-exile- which has come together to against the “dictatorial” regime of President Abdulla Yameen spent their first day in the Indian capital to make their point to the media.
The second day, though, is where the real political dialogue begins, and where else to make a start but for the ruling party in power in India. So, they have a date with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Friday where they meet General Secretary and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) point person Ram Madhav with a hope to enlighten the current government on the increasing Islamic radicalisation in the Maldives and the overt Chinese engagement with the present regime in the Indian Ocean archipelago.
The eight-member delegation of the shadow cabinet of Maldives United Opposition (MUO), which is on a three-day visit, will also brief the BJP leader the abuse of human rights in the country. “We are meeting Ram Madhav and other leaders of the BJP to seek greater Indian engagement on the current political scenario,” Hamid Abdul Gafoor, Maldivian Democratic Party spokesperson said.
The MUO said that they are hopeful that they will be able to cash the friendship with Madhav and get India “intervene” to overthrow the “authoritarian” rule of President Abdulla Yameen’s government.
“We met Ram Madhav in Columbo in February this year, when BJP formally joined the International Democratic Union (IDU) and we connected well during that meeting. Now that we are in Delhi, we are meeting him and hopefully few other leaders to seek more support,” Gafoor said expressing the wish to meet the Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj later in the day.
The delegation is most likely to highlight the issue of radicalisation and alleged involvement of President Yameen in funding the extremism in the meeting- which remains one of the major concerns for India.
The MUO has alleged that besides the obvious collapse of democracy and judicial system in the country, President Yameen is also involved in funding the radical groups in the country.
“Extremists are being funded by Sun Siyam who is a leader of Maldives Development Alliance, He is also a big time resort businessman. He owns the Sun Group. Yameen’s closest coalition partner and extreme radical activities are taking place in some of the atolls of the Maldives,” said Ahmed Naseem, former Foreign Affairs Minister of the Indian Ocean nation.
Shadow minister of Defence and National Security Abdullah Ameen said, “If India and the members of international community neglects us on this critical time, the results could be dangerous beyond imagination. The Indian Ocean might fall under unforeseen perils.”
“Today the friends of the Maldivian government are not its neighbours. Neither are they the close friends of India. For the safety and security of the region, we look for the support of India to rectify the course of Maldives,” Ameen said.
Without mincing words, he said, “We ask India to support the hard work of the Maldivians to bring back democracy to the Maldives.”
Shadow minister of Health, Social Protection and Gender, Shidhatha Shareef, said the Maldivian economy has become the “second worst in the South Asia region, next to Afghanistan, with only 1.9 per cent growth”. She said while 40 per cent of the population of the Maldives is youth, 12 per cent of them are unemployed, according to a World Bank report.
The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on several occasions, has urged the countries around the world to stop advocating the concept of “good terrorism” or “bad terrorism” and come forward to unite against any kind of radicalisation.
Interestingly, Indian had also negotiated a counter-terrorism agreement with President Yameen to deal with the issue of Maldivians leaving for Syria and other countries to join the biggest terror group ISIS.
However, the MUO insists that the policies will remain just policies as President Yameen is not sincere in eliminating radical elements in the country and highly undermining the numbers.
“We believe in Narendra Modi’s ‘region first’ policy without reservation and we want to uphold the traditional friendship with India,” Naseem said.
The government officially announced that 49 Maldivians have left the country to fight foreign wars while the opposition claims the numbers to be more than 300. The MUO also urged the need to have a detailed profiling of the radicalised youth to ensure that it is stopped at first step.
The MUO is also likely to meet other stakeholders in the country before heading to the United States early next month.
The Maldives government has fined 20 businesses in the first five months of 2016 for violations.
Mariyam Visam, the Company Registrar of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure, Police and Immigration told reporters on Thursday, that 750 businesses were inspected within the first five months of this year, and 20 of them in Male’ have been fined an average MVR 10,000.
The businesses fined include those that do not close down within the stipulated time, conducting business transactions without permit, and employing expatriates as cashiers.
“We will collaborate and run such inspections in the future as well,” Visam said, adding that expatriate photographers and businessmen were still operating in Maldives even as they conduct their inspection.
Head of Immigration Monitoring Division, Mohamed Waheed said that 56 expatriates working as cashiers had been deported and the ministry had made the process of deporting such expatriates more efficient.
It is because these initiatives more Maldivians were being employed in businesses, he said.