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Terrorist groups designated and US$220m lost to corruption: President Solih meets the press

Translated excerpts from the president’s press briefing.



President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih met the press on Thursday and spoke on a range of issues. The following are translated excerpts.

On the MMPRC embezzlement scheme,

I met the asset recovery committee yesterday. That committee has also carried out a lot of work to date. About 60 islands were leased at cut prices to various parties, the report has revealed so far. As you know, the audit report previously concluded that US$91 million was lost. However, according to investigations so far, the acquisition costs of the islands reach about US$220 million when the cost is calculated at present rates. This is without including the leased lagoons.

Therefore, when the US$91 million said to have been paid by parties who got the islands is deducted, they still have to pay the government US$128 million. This is the true price. Most of the islands were not leased at the right price. When the asset recovery committee’s report is finalised, we will carry out the work of getting the right price from those islands.

Along with that, if there is an island where the agreement could be cancelled immediately, we will do that as well. So far, two days ago, I have cancelled one of those agreements.

Of the leased islands, 12 islands are now operating [as resorts]. On islands where work is ongoing, 50 percent has been completed for three islands, and between 21 percent and 49 percent is complete for three islands. Therefore, we have to consider a lot when action is taken about this. I’ve mentioned islands rented and under development or in operation. So I believe the government has to find a solution in a manner that does not cause loss of investor confidence in the Maldives.

[…] I learned yesterday that the committee will send cases to the Prosecutor General’s office to charge more people [apart from former president Abdulla Yameen] during the last week of this month. And the committee is now looking into the the list of people who received [stolen] money and trying to find the truth.

On the apparent rift with Speaker Mohamed Nasheed,

There are no problems between myself and president Nasheed. We talked even today about some things. So that’s not an issue at all. That is not a problem, it’s just deliberately misleading talk from some people. There won’t be anything that could become a problem between myself and president Nasheed. That is for sure.

On publishing a list of 17 terrorist organisations as required by the 2015 anti-terrorism law,

As a result of [making the list public later on Thursday], this will become an important power to stop acts of terrorism committed by various Maldivians in collaboration with foreign terrorist organisations. As you know, we have submitted to parliament significant changes to the terrorism law. With the proposed changes, once the amendments are brought, I believe we will have the opportunity to locate and identify religious extremists joining terrorist wars and [committing terrorist] acts and legally bring them to justice.

On bringing back Maldivian war widows and orphans from Syria,

In the final week of this month, [officials] from two foreign countries will be visiting us to start this process. Along with that, we have started physical work on building a place to keep them temporarily. We have targeted completing it in the next two months and carrying out the work of bringing them back. Before that the people in camps in Syria will be taken out and taken to another country, and from there, when the work on this setup in the Maldives is complete, we will start the work of bringing them back.

As you know, there are some children among them whose nationalities are unknown. So we need to make identity [documents] for some children. You’ll know that these are people who have been in a terrorist war. It would not be best to just bring them back and release them into society. The nations and organisations that are helping us are cooperating with us to give the required treatment and rehabilitation before releasing them. So with these efforts, I’m expecting to bring the people among them who want to return to the Maldives within the next two months at the latest.

On the abduction and murder of journalist Ahmed Rilwan,

I have been informed that the presidential commission on deaths and disappearances will be able to send Rilwan’s cases to the [Prosecutor General’s office] next week.

On tourism and fisheries,

Our target was to bring 1.5 million tourists to the Maldives this year. We are now sure that we will reach and exceed the figure.

Looking at the next two to three months, it is likely to be become the year that [the state-owned Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company] bought the most fish. But the work of MIFCO’s Felivaru [fish canning factory], Kooddoo and the factory built in Addu has not been made ready for such a thing. So first we have to find a temporary solution.

The government has to arrange ways to buy fish. As such, firstly we are deciding to give a temporary permit to buy fish from SME companies in various regions. After that, we will start the work of upgrading and using the Felivaru factory, Kooddoo and the factory in Hulhumeedhoo.

One of the reasons Maldivian fisheries progressed in the Indian Ocean is believed to have been the agreement to use a quota system for trawling. Because of that no one can fish by trawling beyond a limit. Fisheries experts say as a result more fish will come from the Arabian sea towards the Maldives and Maldives fisheries will improve in the future.

On the health sector,

God willing you will see a big change in the health sector at the end of our five years. Big changes will come to [the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital] and tertiary hospitals will be opened in different regions across the country. In addition, a cancer hospital project will begin very soon in Hulhumalé. We are hoping work can be completed in about 18 months.

On key pieces of legislation to be submitted to parliament,

A decentralisation bill with significant amendments will be submitted to Majlis in the upcoming session. A draft for the income tax law has now been completed. The income tax bill will be submitted to the upcoming session after consultation with stakeholders. Likewise, God willing we will submit the minimum wage bill to Majlis and pass it during this year.

On infrastructure projects launched by the current administration,

Work on harbours have started on six islands. We will start harbours of 21 islands before the end of November. Work is ongoing on four mosques. Road construction work is ongoing on six islands. Contracts have been awarded for two more islands. For water and sewerage, contracts have been awarded for 20 islands, contracts have been readied to sign for a further 14 islands, and work will begin on at least 20 islands during November.

Work on building classrooms in 12 schools will start this year. In addition, contracts have been awarded for four schools. A total of 35 projects for schools will begin in November. Looking at electricity service, Fenaka has so far provided 53 generators to various islands, that is at a cost of about MVR150 million. Relocating powerhouses is ongoing on 14 islands.

In total, 77 new developments projects are ongoing on 67 islands.

The president is due to depart for the United States on Saturday to address the UN General Assembly. He is also scheduled to participate in the Climate Summit and five other meetings.