Full text of interview with Maldives Vice President Ahmed Adeeb

Updated - July 31, 2015 08:58 am IST

Published - July 24, 2015 12:45 am IST

India has raised strong concerns over the Maldives government’s decision to pass a constitutional amendment allowing foreign ownership of islands, a move that could give China a stranglehold in the Indian ocean region. Speaking exclusively toThe Hindu, Maldives’ new Vice PresidentAhmed Adeebdefends the decision, insisting that the move was a commercial one not a strategic one.

How do you respond to India’s concerns that the constitutional amendment your government has passed could have ‘national security’ implications?

This constitutional amendment is purely a corporate, commercial decision, as we want to do this for investments of more than a billion dollars. There are many Maldives atolls that need reclamation done. We have already reclaimed two islands near the Male airport, and there are now people living there. There are many hotels there as well. We need much more by way of multinational’s investment for this. It is just a political play by the opposition to try and create a problem between the Maldives and India, to try and say that we would sell off land to China, but there is no such idea or communication in the government. We are open for business, but not open to give up our sovereignty to any country including China.

We have opened for SEZs and we have requests from many companies to be able to own lands in perpetuity. So far we have given leases for 99 years to them, for investments of around $200 million. But now we want to build big projects, like IT parks, like townships, so we need to give them more. Maldives is a great place for them as we have year-round good weather, environment, so this amendment is to help them invest in the Maldives. Even in India, investments over $5 million get several concessions.

In addition we have put into place many safeguards. First, it is only for investments over $1 billion, then parliament has to pass the project, it has to be transparent, and then they have to reclaim land up to 70 per cent to do the project. The opposition wants to say they will come and run military bases, but that is not the reality. We are looking at projects like Singapore Marina Bay Sands or Dubai’s Palm islands. We are not looking at strategic projects.

You speak of Singapore and Dubai type of projects, but some would argue that given the stipulations, only China can actually benefit from the new law: as it has the money, the desire, and the technology for reclamation…

Firstly China has never shown an interest in this kind of project. They would like to partner with us in infrastructure projects, like the airport, give us concessional loans etc. We are seeing much more interest from the Middle East (West Asia), especially from royal families there. Maldives can be like Bahrain is for them. Please remember that President Yameen is a person who declined the American offer for a base under the SOFA agreement. Because our sovereignty is not on offer. And we don’t want to give any of our neighbours, India....any cause for concern. We don’t want to be in a position when we become a threat to our neighbours.

Have there been tensions with India over this? How did India raise its concerns?

The President’s statement today was to communicate to India in particular that what is our intent. We are hoping for a visit to the Indian Foreign Secretary, and we have given assurances to the Indian government about this. It is very strange that the opposition should have caused these concerns with their comments. Let me ask about the opposition party MDP of Mr. Nasheed… is there any hope of a reconciliation now, given that the MDP supported the government on the votes in parliament?

Yes, we are trying to reconcile politically. There are two processes for appeal in the High Court and the Supreme Court. Those are independent, but the prosecutor general has announced that the State will appeal to the High Court to help finish Mr. Nasheed’s appeal process. So we are now supporting Mr. Nasheed’s request for a proper appeals process in court. We have also allowed international observers to come and they can study the whole process, even the Indian media should come.

Relations with India have been under strain over the government’s treatment of Mr. Nasheed, and PM Modi cancelled his visit. Are you hopeful relations can improve?

The PM’s visit was cancelled because of the opposition’s uproar here, as they had planned a protest to overthrow the government in Male. We understood why PM Modi didn’t want to come in the middle of political turmoil, and India didn’t want to be seen as interfering. We are trying to ensure the right environment so Mr. Modi can visit us soon. People in the Maldives are pro-India, we would not like any tensions in our relations with India. This weekend marks our 50th year of independence, and you can see, we have invited Indian bands to perform, and stars like Bipasha Basu who are very popular here will come to. So I hope this is all taken positively and we build on our relations.

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