The Maldives is facing financial ruin, the UK parliament heard Tuesday, as politicians debated the state of emergency in the troubled honeymoon destination.
Sir Hugo Swire MP told fellow lawmakers the tourism industry was losing $20 million a day since the start of the state emergency and warned of the consequences, citing the number of Maldivians fighting in Iraq and Syria and the easy access to jihadi websites.
“The Maldives economy remains a tourism driven economy in that it contributes more than 25 percent of the country’s GDP,” he said.
“While the tourism sector supplies more than 70 percent of the foreign exchange earnings to the country, one third of the government revenue is generated from this sector. Tourism is also known as the leading employment generator in the country. In 2016, tourism contributed 36.4 percent to the government revenue.
“But as a result of the current situation, if the trend continues, it will lead to unemployment and dissatisfaction, to my way of thinking both active recruiting sergeants for radicalisation, and with our tourists spread out over 115 square miles in 105 resorts it is almost impossible to guarantee their safety.”
President Abdulla Yameen imposed a state of emergency on February 5, claiming there was an attempt to overthrow his government. It came days after the Supreme Court ordered the immediate release of nine prisoners and the reinstatement of 12 lawmakers.
The prisoners include opposition leaders Gasim Ibrahim, Sheikh Imran Abdulla and former president Mohamed Nasheed. The ruling would have paved the way for Nasheed to run for office in this year’s elections. The reinstatement of the lawmakers, who were stripped of their seats, would have wiped out the ruling party’s majority in parliament.
Yameen has made a number of high-profile arrests since the state of emergency including former president Maumoon Gayoom and two top judges, alleging they were part of the coup plot, and the government has tightened its grip on the opposition and the media.
The government has said resorts are unaffected and that any turmoil is restricted to the capital, Malé, where there are protests and clashes between opposition supporters and riot police.
“I suspect that the majority of tourists do not go to Malé because it is only atoll in the entire Maldives that is dry,” said Swire. “My point is that many atolls are many miles away from Malé and would be difficult to get to in a crisis. Further, the fighters who have gone to Syria and Iraq do come from the remote areas because as I said they have been radicalised through the mosques, the internet and social media.
“Just because tourists are not in Malé, which is the centre of unrest, that does not mean that there are no problems elsewhere.”
He said Yameen was instigating a witch-hunt against his opponents including their families. He also accused the president of continuing to collude with radical Islamists suspected of carrying out murders, but gave no further details on this allegation during the brief debate.
Jim Shannon MP raised the issue of religious persecution in the Maldives, claiming one of his constituents had been imprisoned and deported because he took a Bible with him on holiday. Swire said holidaymakers to the Maldives should be free to practice their religion because the country depended on thousands of people from around the world.
“This is the great dilemma of the Maldives,” he said.
He asked the government minister present if the UK was prepared to take steps regarding the political situation, such as asking the opposition for a list of resorts owned by Yameen’s circle so they could be publicised and boycotted if the government continued with its crackdown and ignored the concerns of the international community.
The Minister for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field said he would be meeting the Maldives ambassador to the UK on Wednesday and that he would discuss the state of emergency with him.
Graphic: Moody’s Investors Service