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Maldives: On the road to democracy


Maldivian President M. Nasheed’s Political Advisor Hassan Afeef spoke to The Sunday Leader in Male last week. He elaborated the five major pledges President Nasheed has made to steer Maldives into a better and more prosperous future.

By Raisa Wickrematunge in Male 

Q: In light of President Nasheed’s election in October, what has he pledged to do to bring the country forward?

A: Well, according to the President’s manifesto, he has made five major pledges. He would like to address the problem of drugs, change transport networks, bring down inflation, introduce more affordable housing and implement a better health insurance scheme. We hope to achieve these goals.

Q: It’s been said that drug trafficking is a major problem in the Maldives. Would you agree?

A: It’s been suspected that the problem was high in the previous regime. We are not trying to eliminate the problem, because it can’t be completely stopped. However from the inception we have been working to curtail drug trafficking. There are six major drug traffickers operating here. Now, two of them are behind bars. So the people feel and see that this problem is being solved.

Q: What other schemes are being implemented?

A: The government has long term plans in dealing with congested schools. Currently there are three sets of children attending three different sessions. We are trying to make sure that the first session gets use of the school premises for the whole day. This will provide a more rounded education, since they get to spend the whole day at school. Extra curricular and academic calendars are being planned as well. Earlier, the Ministry of Education was in charge of policy-making, and this was not always very productive. Now we have a School Board which makes decisions.  

The President has also pledged to reduce congestion and increase affordability of housing in the Maldives. No previous government has tried to provide housing instead citizens have to construct their own houses. However, China is providing $200 million funding for this purpose.

There is also a need to improve the current infrastructure, such as hospitals and schools. We are a right-wing party, and operate on a commercial basis. In other words, we want to improve trade and industries and create more job opportunities. We are also going into public-private sector partnerships, entering into joint sector partnerships from abroad. With these partnerships we hope to develop other industries as well.

Q: Tourism is a major source of income for the Maldives. What is being done to develop the industry?

A: The key phrases we keep emphasising are carbon-neutral, eco-friendly and green tourism. Maldives is a destination which mostly caters to a wealthier market, because of the high prices of resorts. Charter flights have been reduced because of this, which is unfortunate. However, many international hotel chains have invested in the Maldives – respected and well known brands such as the Hilton, Conrad, Best Western, Carlton and the Regent. While this is very encouraging, it is important that we should not forget about budget travelers. Our aim is to build resorts to cater to them, and to ensure better returns for a hotel room.

Q: Do you have any comments on Maldivian- Sri Lankan relations?

A: Well, it’s always good for the Maldives when Sri Lanka is at peace. We have always followed a combined destination policy, tourism-wise. We encourage tourists to visit Sri Lanka for its historical riches, and the Maldives for the beautiful beaches and sea. Now that Sri Lanka is at peace we hope to continue this.

Q: President Nasheed has often been vocal about the human-rights situation in the Maldives prior to his election. Would you say there has been an improvement in the situation now?

A: Of course. Earlier if there were protests held, the police would beat protestors, detain them and threaten to jail them. Now, the people can voice their opinions. There are no political prisoners. One thing I’d like to emphasise is that the use of torture is over. There is rehabilitation available for drug offenders.

Recently, the Freedom House 2009 report (an annual survey of global political rights and civil liberties) upgraded the Maldives from ‘not free’ to ‘partially free,’ the biggest jump in a short period. The government has also appointed a person as Human Rights Ambassador, Mohammed Latheef.

Q: President Nasheed once said if sea-levels continue to rise, there would be a need for land reclamation to preserve the Maldives. Is this true?

A: What the President was referring to was the urgent need for nations to wake up to the dangers of global warming. There needs to be discussions about slashing greenhouse gasses, and more open forums between countries. The Maldives is only 1.5 meters above sea-level, which is rising. Now we are coming into the 22nd century, we have to tackle this issue, or we’ll become “environmental refugees.”


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