Maldives seeks ally in Malaysia to avoid ‘unfair punishment’ from Commonwealth

Maldives seeks ally in Malaysia to avoid ‘unfair punishment’ from Commonwealth
March 29 18:29 2016

President Abdulla Yameen has sought Malaysia’s help for the Maldives to avoid action by the Commonwealth over widely condemned human rights abuses, including the imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed and other opposition leaders.

At a joint press conference with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak following official talks between the pair Tuesday morning, Yameen said the two countries have agreed to “work closely on the international front”.

The Maldives “as a small country” is facing “lots of challenges in the international community,” he said.

“Malaysia is a respected and esteemed country in the Commonwealth. I’ve requested Prime Minister to offer his good offices in making sure that small countries in the Commonwealth and other international organisations need not be unfairly punished,” he added.

Following a meeting in late February, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group – the inter-governmental organisation’s human rights and democracy arm – issued a list of demands for the Maldivian government, including initiating all-party talks, releasing jailed politicians and enabling the return of exiles.

CMAG also pledged to review the Maldives’ progress in April.

Earlier this month, Yameen said the Maldives avoided action after India and Pakistan “spoke in our defence.”

According to the president’s office, Yameen also “expressed interest in working with the Government of Malaysia on combating transnational terrorism and giving smaller nations a more representative voice.”

Yameen and First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim concluded a two-day official visit to Malaysia today. The first couple’s maiden official visit to Malaysia comes at a time when both leaders are embroiled in massive corruption scandals.

The Malaysian prime minister is accused of embezzling more than a billion dollars from a struggling state fund. Yameen’s former deputy is meanwhile on trial in connection with the theft of nearly US$80 million from the state-owned tourism promotion company – a corruption scandal of unprecedented scale in Maldivian history.

Both men have dismissed allegations of wrongdoing.

Prime Minister Najib Razak meanwhile announced yesterday that the Malaysian government is considering selling refined oil products to the Maldives from the state-owned Petronas company.

Najib said Yameen had expressed interest in resuscitating a contract to buy petroleum products from the Malaysian oil and gas giant.

“This matter is actually under consideration by Petronas,” he was quoted as saying.

“We are grateful to the Maldives government for giving Malaysian companies the opportunity to take part in business and construction ventures in Maldives.”

Yameen said that the Malaysian PM has “kindly agreed to this transaction” between the Maldives and Petronas.

“We traded with Petronas several years back but unfortunately it has been interrupted for few years. We would like to resume our trading with Malaysia,” he said.

Following a visit to Saudi Arabia in September last year, Yameen said the kingdom has agreed to provide cheap crude oil to the Maldives, which is to be refined in Singapore.

Since assuming office in November 2013, Yameen’s administration has fostered closer ties with Saudi Arabia and China. Amid persisting criticism in the wake of former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim’s imprisonment in March 2015, Yameen has repeatedly slammed alleged interference in Maldivian domestic affairs by Western powers.

Najib meanwhile said that Malaysia will also consider extending on-arrival visas for Maldivians from 30 to 90 days, noting that “a significant number” of Maldivian students were living in Malaysia.

Yameen said many prominent lawyers in the Maldives had studied in Malaysian universities.

“We encourage more Maldivians to study here,” he said.

Malaysia and Maldives also agreed to a proposal to set up a Maldives cultural centre in Kuala Lumpur to promote cultural exchanges between the two countries.

Najib, who is also finance minister, said the discussions also focused on “opportunities for Malaysian companies to continue participating in the development of Maldives.”

Malaysian property developer, WZR Group of Companies, was recently awarded a US$122 million contract to build a 25-storey office tower in Malé.

In August last year, Malaysian conglomerate Sime Darby Bhd was enlisted to manage a multi-specialty tertiary hospital under construction in the capital’s suburb Hulhumalé.

The first couple meanwhile hosted a reception for Maldivian students and families living in Malaysia at the Grand Hyatt in Kuala Lumpur last night.

“During the function the President spoke candidly about his administration’s aspirations and the transformative agenda towards creating opportunity and creating greater wealth and stability within the nation,” the president’s office said.

“Critical thinking, and judging situations and people by merit, and not hearsay, should be a key component of studies and education, the president said.”

High Court Judge Abdulla Didi was photographed at the reception.

Maldivian High Commissioner to Malaysia, Mohamed Fahmy Hassan, also spoke at the function. The former chair of the civil service was removed by the parliament in 2012 after an inquiry into an allegation of sexual harassment.

Earlier today, First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim visited the PERMATA Negara in Malaysia, an institute carrying out educational programmes specifically designed for the physical and intellectual development of children below four years of age.

Prior to bilateral talks at the prime minister’s office this morning, the first couple was officially welcomed with a ceremonial guard of honour mounted by 106 officers and men from the 1st Battalion Royal Malay Regiment.

Najib and his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, also hosted an official luncheon for the president and first lady at Seri Perdana.

According to the president’s office, Najib accepted the president’s invitation to visit the Maldives at a mutually convenient date.