By S. Chandrasekharan
“Let us Change the Region for the better. Let us Change the World” –President Nasheed in his inaugural address in the SAARC Summit at Addu City.
Addu City as Venue for the SAARC Summit:
Whoever decided to have the seventeenth SAARC Summit at Addu ( now called Addu City) and in the neighbouring Fuamulah island this year should be congratulated for this thoughtful selection.
Addu City has the second largest concentration of population next to Male. It is quite remote from Maldivian standards, jutting beyond the equator and 478 Km south of Male.
Ever since the British vacated the RAF base in Gan Island in 1976, this part of Maldives had been neglected. Those who were working in the base lost their jobs and except for a few tourist resorts no real development had taken place.
For the seventeenth summit, new buildings, a new convention centre (biggest in Maldives) and feeder roads have been developed. The Gan international airport has since been renovated and upgraded for international flights. It is expected that with all these improvements, the Addu Area will develop further as more tourist resorts will come up and it could also be developed further as a transhipment centre for the southern part of the country.
One critic made an unfair remark that President Nasheed had selected Addu to ensure that he gets the 30,000 votes in the next presidential elections.
Selection of Addu City is in keeping with the philosophy of decentralisation which Nasheed had set his heart. This move will certainly please the southerners, who speaking a different dialect of Divehi have been complaining of being “ignored”
Though a small country but with a vast geographic stretch, it would not have been easy for Maldives to complete all the arrangements in time. President Nasheed was rightly proud of this fact when he declared that the “accomplishment of the project within a short period showed the skills and capability of the Maldivian people.”
Indian Prime Minister Visits Male:
While I do not propose to go into the proceedings of the SAARC or the Addu Declaration of November 11, what is significant is prime Minister Manmohan Singh made it a point to stop at Male on his return journey to sign six agreements with Maldives. One of them was a historic framework accord on development cooperation with a standby credit facility of 100 million dollars to help stabilise the Maldivian fiscal position.
More important- one of the agreements related to the facility given to Maldivians to travel to Minicoy Islands without a visa. The inhabitants of Minicoy islands, 9000 in number speak a common language and have religious and cultural similarities with those in Maldives. That the Indian government readily agreed to give a visa free regime to visit Minicoy, showed the “comfort level” of Indian Government with Maldives.
The Prime Minister offered full support for the democratic transformation of Maldives and stressed on a joint approach to counter terrorism and piracy in the region.
Some Ugly Incidents:
There were a few disturbing incidents created by some extremists when the Pakistani exhibits of Mohanjadero idols were set ablaze, on the ground that Maldives being a hundred percent Sunni community cannot accept the “the exhibition of polytheistic idols.” The official Sri Lankan figure of the lion statue was also vandalised for the same reason.
The Maldivian government officially regretted the incidents and arrested three of the miscreants. They were subsequently released by the court.
It was not the incidents that were troubling but the way these incidents were justified by the newly created party of PPM headed by the former president Gayoom was really disturbing. I had all along maintained that if there was one achievement of Gayoom in his thirty years of rule it was that he kept the Islamic extremists at bay in the country. Gayoom has apparently realised that to come back to power ( not satisfied with his 30 years of absolute rule) with the trappings that go with it, one has to mix religion with politics!
Coming as it is from Gayoom this is a dangerous trend and will pose a major challenge to President Nasheed. He cannot afford to have another Pakistan in Maldives!
Only last month we came across an incident where the Adhalath party accused the local science association of Maldives of going astray by claiming that human beings originated from monkeys as this was against the tenets of Islam!
Yameen and the Oil Trading Scandal:
The National Security Committee summoned Yameen Abdul Gayoom on 2nd November to question him on the allegations of his involvement of illegal oil trade worth over US $ 800 million with Myanmar.
This was a straightforward case where the oil meant for Maldives was purchased at subsidised rates and sold at exorbitant rates to the military junta in Myanmar and other countries by the Singapore subsidiary of the State Trading Organisation, Maldives through a front company of Singapore by name “Mocom Trading Company.”
Yameen was the chairman of the STO Maldives and the subsidiary at Singapore was headed by one Mohamed Hussein Manik.
Yameen claimed during the questioning that he was not an executive chairman to micro manage the affairs of the STO or the Mocom at Singapore and absolved himself of any role in the scandal. The fact of the matter is that oil that was loaded onto the ships meant for export to Maldives never reached Maldivian shores and were diverted. Money was made illegally and shared.
It looks, that the investigation is being carried on in a very amateurish manner and the National security Committee is not equipped to make a detailed investigation. The Myanmar government will not help but Singapore would certainly do. If they are keen to follow the “money trail” and the beneficiaries, they will have to seek the help of outside professionals which I hope they will.