International

Climate vulnerable nations will go to COP 26 with a view to restructuring debt: Mohammed Nasheed

Mohamed Nasheed, Parliamentary Speaker and former President of the Maldives, who survived an explosion just outside his residence in capital Male on May 6, is back in the country following medical treatment abroad for grave injuries. He spoke on the lingering threat of religious extremism, his political plans amid differences with President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Maldives-India ties, and the coming COP 26 summit where he will make a strong case for climate vulnerable nations. Excerpts:

You had vowed to come back stronger. How are you feeling you now?

I am much better. I am very fortunate to be back at home. Of course, cautious. The government is conducting the investigation. They have already charged about a dozen people. But the investigation is not yet over. We are hopeful that we will be able to find all the perpetrators, including those who might have schemed it, funded it, or had other links with terrorism. We are hopeful that we will be able to find the perpetrators.

Are you concerned about your safety?

Well, yes, my security detail has got bigger and bigger and bigger. Of course, I am very concerned about my safety. But we all have to have normal lives and see that our way of life is defended, and that we proceed with the work that we are entrusted to do by our people. I hope to keep on doing that as long as I can.

You have openly criticised the government’s response to religious extremism and asked President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to “course correct before it is too late”. Has that happened?

The government is trying to see if they can come to a ground where safety and security become the most important issues; where terrorism is not at all tolerated. And any acts or missions to encourage terrorism is also legislated against. I think the government will find avenues and ways to correct its path and to see that they maintain the MDP [Maldivian Democratic Party] policies of progressive development, and to see that the people of the country have a prosperous life. I am confident that the government will be able to do that with the parliament and with other political parties.

You sound more hopeful than you did in July. What has changed in this time?

Well, I am back. I am able to now therefore have discussions and conversations with the people on the ground. I think we all understand where we stand. I think we all are very clear on what will happen if we are unable to find amicable solutions. I believe we must all have the interest of the country first, the interest of our people first. I think therefore, it is possible for us to resolve differences and move forward.

You have been pushing for a switch to a parliamentary system from the current presidential rule, while also indicating that you might run for the MDP’s presidential primaries. Which of these do you see happening first, realistically?

We had the new Constitution in 2008. And this Constitution had created two power centers. The bulk of the Constitution was largely drafted for a parliamentary form of government. But at the very last stage, President [Maumoon Abdul] Gayoom, decided to have a referendum, and prescribe a presidential form of government. We have run this Constitution for the last 12, 13 years now, and it is obvious that it has contradictions. What I am suggesting is a manner in which we can share power with the Parliament and the Executive. And to see that there are no two power centers. And that governance is streamlined and smooth.

I will have discussions with the President. The President has suggested that we should have these discussions and see how we can amicably find a solution and where we can make amendments to the Constitution. I think it should go forward.

Now, will I seek election as a presidential candidate? Even if I do that would be to change to a parliamentary system. My rationale for any political contest would be to get a mandate to change. It might be the referendum, it might be the presidential elections, whatever I do, it would be an attempt to get a mandate to change.

So you are keeping all options open in terms of your own future political steps?

I am not thinking of my political steps in future. So much has happened, I have done so many things. And so much more needs to be done as well. But I think we are on a very sustainable trajectory. Governance is getting better and better in the Maldives. I believe that once we have the fundamentals laid, it is not so much about my political future, but the political future of this country.

 

The government’s close ties with India are under growing scrutiny. Is there a domestic political cost for the Solih government’s close relationship with India?

Well, sections of the political society in the Maldives has always thought that xenophobic ideas would win them acceptance from the people. The MDP has never had that view. We still don’t have that.

We are very, very convinced that the people at the Maldives do understand the political realities of the Indian Ocean, the geopolitical situation in the Indian Ocean, and the part that the Maldives has to play in these conditions. This is nothing new to the people at the Maldives, they had always understood that whoever is powerful in the Indian Ocean must be assisted by the Maldives. And that should be in the interest of both the Maldives, the Indian Ocean, and our neighboring countries, including India.

Our people are asking a basic question -- how do we ensure safety and security for our people? What is the best way of going about that? Would it be better to remain neutral in the Indian Ocean? Or should we take a side. We have clearly taken a side. We have decided that our foreign policy should be ‘India first’. And we have very close economic and development programmes with India.

I think we must all work and see that foreign policy decisions and policies are bipartisan, and accepted by all political groups. I will not stop my conversation with the Opposition in this regard. And as I keep on saying to President [Abdulla] Yameen, and the PPM [Progressive Party of Maldives], ‘drop this, drop these xenophobic ideas’. And let us try to build a progressive Maldives and a progressive Indian Ocean. I think the vast majority of the people of the Maldives understands this very simple issue.

Speaking of foreign policy, you were commenting on Afghanistan in a recent television interview, where you asked India to be far more active, observing it was “wishful thinking” that Taliban would be any different this time. You wanted the international community to strengthen political pluralism in that country. Many countries including India have reached out to the Taliban administration since. How do you read that, because you have held had a very strong view on developments in Afghanistan?

Well, we have all started seeing how the situation is unfolding. It is now necessary for a lot of countries to have a conversation with the Taliban. And when you have to do that, you have to do that. The export of a narrow ideology would not benefit any one of us. And whoever engages with the government in Afghanistan, we are hopeful, would impress upon the government in Afghanistan, the need to contain the export of violent ideas and ideologies.

You are headed for the COP 26 summit at Glasgow. You have been calling for an urgent restructuring of debt owed by climate vulnerable nations. Are you expecting some good news?

Of the 48 CVF [Climate Vulnerable Forum] countries, a number of countries already pay 20% of our budget for debt repayment, and another 30% on adaptation. The first impact of climate change, the very quick impact of climate change, would be a default on debt by country after country. All the vulnerable countries will default on their debt. That would not be in the interests of anyone.

If you do not have a Maldives, Maldives cannot pay their debt back. We owe a whole lot of money to China, for instance. If we are not here, we cannot pay it back. So, let us first try and see that we are also around to meet our monetary and financial obligations.

Two things have happened. One, when we took the money, the IPCC said that the impact of climate change will be in the future. But the last IPCC report has clearly suggested that bad weather is upon us, and it is upon us now.

And the bad weather is linked to carbon emissions. We took the loan, not knowing that there will be bad weather. And now the bad weather is upon us, we are having to protect the exact asset that was created by the loan with another adaptation measure. We have to protect the road that we built, we have to protect the house that we built, we have to protect the school that we built, we have to protect the airport that we built and we can’t do all of this together.

At the same time, countries with historic emission records, and those who have done most of the damage to the climate, and to the planet, are asking us to pay back the money to them. This is extremely unfair, we had nothing to do with damaging the planet.  And then again, we are having to pay for that twice -- in debt repayment, and also because the development constraints that the bad weather is placing upon us.

The international community needs to understand what the climate vulnerable countries are saying -- that we took a debt, we took it not knowing that this situation would be upon us. So, there is a force majeure situation. Also, the assets that were created by the debt are stranded, and therefore we cannot pay back.

We are asking for the possibility of swapping debt repayment to a climate resilienct project. So instead of having to pay the 5 million or 10 million dollars this month, if the Maldives can have a nature-based adaptation programme, a resilient adaptation programme, then I think it is a win-win for both sides. The Maldives might survive, and therefore we might be able to pay back the debt. If we are not around, we won’t be able to pay the debt. I am expecting good news.

Are big countries and lenders receptive?

I think the COP Presidency and a number of other countries understand what I am saying. Look, we can’t pay it back, let us sort it out. The bad weather is upon us. The assets created by the loans are stranded. This is the case in Sri Lanka, this is the case in Fiji, in the Maldives, in Bhutan, Nepal, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Congo, the Caribbean islands, all over. It is the same situation.

We are heavily debt ridden, with a huge percentage of our budget going to debt re-servicing. Meanwhile, we have to spend another 30% for adaptation, it is just not possible. Even if bigger countries agree or not, there is a historical inevitability to all this. It is not a question of whether they agree or not. It is a question of the existing reality.

I hope that the COP Presidency would understand that these 48 countries have had their internal discussions, regional discussions, and we will go to the COP with a singular view. And that singular view would very definitely include restructuring debt.


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