President Abdulla Yameen has asked for forgiveness for the Maldives’ biggest ever corruption scandal, which saw the theft of nearly US$80million from the state-owned tourism firm, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.
The president, however, did not take responsibility for the historic theft.
“Even tonight, I want to apologise that the MMPRC corruption occurred during my presidency. For that I ask forgiveness from the people,” he said Monday on the southern city of Fuvahmulah.
He added: “But no matter how vigilant we are, criminals will continue to commit crimes. The only means to deter crime is harsher penalties.”
Yameen has sought to shift the blame to his former deputy, Ahmed Adeeb, insisting that he was not aware that his vice president was stealing from the state. A former auditor general, however, claims the president refused to take action when he was alerted to graft within the MMPRC in 2014.
Yameen’s trip to Fuvahmulah, to kick off a work on a US$15million water and sanitation project on the island city, marks his first public appearance since early August, when rumours of a removal plot renewed tensions within the country.
On his arrival, the president was met with protests over a recent hike in food prices. Some 30 opposition supporters gathered on the city’s main road with banners calling for a reversal in the hike, and the president’s resignation.
The president did not speak on the food subsidy cuts in his half-hour long speech, but asked Fuvahmulah islanders to re-elect him for a second term so that he could pay off the government’s record external debt, borrowed to finance an infrastructure scale up in the capital Malé.
“When they register such serious concerns over the repayment of this debt, it is clear that there in no one in their ranks who is capable of repayment,” he said. “This is why I believe I should get a second term so that we can pay off our debt.”
Debt to GDP ratios have risen under the Yameen administration, with the International Monetary Fund warning of high risk of external debt distress. The government announced Thursday that it has sought a US$150million loan from Saudi Arabia to tackle its balance of payment problem.
He also spoke on growing opposition from PPM MPs as the struggle for the control of the ruling party with his half brother and the former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom continues.
“It is not easy for me to take criticism from within our ranks. Each MP took up their job saying they supported the manifesto of the president, and [promising] to abide by the party’s disciplinary code. MPs who obtain the people’s trust on this position must work to proceed with the government,” he said.
Lawmakers have a duty to “re-orient a government that has gone astray,” but otherwise they must accept government policy and allow him to rule for his five-year term, he said.
The president went on to slam what he called irresponsible journalism for “destroying the country” and, denouncing criticism from human rights groups, reiterated his plans to reintroduce the death penalty.
“With the will of Allah, Maldives will implement the death penalty under my presidency,” he said.