New Delhi, November 27: The new Maldivian Foreign Minister, Abdulla Shahid has asked the Indian government to give Maldives US$ 250-350 million immediately as budgetary support, to tide over the present financial crisis in the country.
In an interview with Amitabh P. Revi of the Strategic News International, prior to meeting the Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, Shahid said: “We have an immediate budgetary crisis. We need US$ 250-350 million in order to handle the difficult budgetary situation we’re in. We’re left in a situation where the country is facing real hardship.”
“ This information was shared with PM Modi immediately after the oath taking ceremony by President Solih. We’re hoping that we will once again be able to get the generous assistance of the Indian Government.”
Why Budgetary Support?
Shahid said that the Solih government has many election pledges to fulfill and these need money to implement.
To garner financial resources, he said, he would go to the UAE and Saudi Arabia. He was also hoping to travel to China for this purpose. Asked if he would be looking for grants rather than loans, the Minister replied in the affirmative.
Debt To China
On the quantum of debt to China, which according to former President Mohamed Nasheed could be a whopping US$ 3.2 billion looking at the invoices given by the Chinese, Shahid said that the Finance Minister has been getting different figures from different departments, ministries and the state owned enterprises. And these figures don’t tally with what the Finance Ministry has.
“Therefore, it is too early to put a definitive figure on how much the Maldives owes not only to China but also to other countries and other banks,” Shahid said.
“Without the exact figures and the clear picture of what President Yameen has done with the assistance that has been given by China, it will be unfair for me to say anything. Once we have a clear picture, the government will be in a much better position to respond to the question at hand.”
According to Shahid President Yameen had been very secretive.
“The Parliamentary Finance Committee, the Public Accounts Committee had no access to any of these government figures.”
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has established a Commission to look into financial crimes. Maldives is hoping to get expert assistance from other countries like the USA, India and Japan and also hire international auditors to assist the Maldivian authorities in investigations.
But Shahid made it a point to mention that the Solih government will not be on a witch hunt or be vindictive.
The Maldives is aware of the debt trap into which it can fall if Chinese aid is accepted indiscriminately, the Minister said.
“We are quite aware of the possibilities. It’s not something we can let happen. We will prevent it. We will find a way out of it. We will talk to the Chinese Government if need be. I have confidence that the Chinese Government will not try to run over the smallest of the small countries in the middle of the India Ocean. We will let sense prevail and generosity prevail,” Shahid said.
China’s Military Presence
On China’s military presence and role in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) which could be a security threat to the countries in the region, Shaid said: “ Our economy is based on tourism. They come to Maldives for peace of mind. We don’t want international disputes to be brought to our shores. We will do everything possible to avoid it.”
President Yameen tried to play India against China and China against India, Shahid charged and said that the new government will not follow this policy.
“He (Yameen) thought he was the puppet-master. What he forgot was that neither India nor China would be his puppet. They have better relations. There are high-level visits between the two countries. There are investments that was carrying on while Yameen was trying to do these things. Ultimately, it was Yameen and the Maldives which lost greatly. We will not play one country against the other,” Shahid said.
No Base For Foreign Navies
The Maldivian Foreign Minister ruled out giving a military port to any country.
“A military port is out of question. Our constitution doesn’t not allow for a military presence or to be in the country without parliamentary approval. It’s the intention of the Government of the Maldives , President Solih’s government to have any military port or any other facility to be in the country. We don’t want ourselves to be entangled in international tensions,” Shahid said.
Presence of Indian Naval Choppers
On the two Indian naval helicopters that the Indians had gifted, Shahid acknowledged that they had helped save many lives (over 200) but he added that the Maldives does not need more.
“ They have helped save many lives. It’s a humanitarian mission. I think the machines are adequate and together with more training to our personnel, I think we will be able to do the job in the foreseeable future,” he said.
“I am hoping India will, in the not too distant future, train our personnel on this venture and then it becomes like the Dosti exercises, a venture, a mission, where joint personnel will operate it.”
Shahid said that India had “very generously” agreed to “gift” a Dornier aircraft for surveillance, but President Yameen’s government had decided to ditch that proposal and buy one from Pakistan on a loan.
“Yameen’s government loved loans. There you can get a commission out of it. And the people involved can line their pockets. So we will not do that. We will rather go for the Dornier that has been gifted by India,” Shahid said.
Easier Visa Regime
Shahid said that the grant of visas by the countries is an important Indo-Maldivian issue.
“Maldivian nationals who come to India for educational, medical purposes should get more easy access to these institutions and establishments. In return Maldives would be ready to provide more easy access to Indian expatriate personnel, experts who are working in the Maldives who have immensely contributed to the development of the country,” he said.
(The photo featured at the top show Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj)