The Disastrous Legacy of President Muizzu’s Administration in the Maldives

Amidst the fallout of the International Tribunal on Law of the Sea’s ruling, President Muizzu swiftly shifted blame onto the previous administration, vehemently accusing them of treacherously “selling off” Maldivian maritime territory to Mauritius. Asserting Maldives’ rightful ownership of the entire 95,563 square kilometers, Muizzu launched into nationalist rhetoric promising the reclamation of what was purportedly ‘lost’.[1] However, despite holding the reins of power for months, Muizzu’s administration has conspicuously failed to take any meaningful steps towards recovering this allegedly forfeited Maldivian territory. This glaring inaction casts a dark shadow over Muizzu’s leadership, raising serious doubts about his dedication to safeguarding the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

During his presidential campaign, Muizzu painted a picture of a substantial Indian military presence in the Maldives, only to be confronted with the reality of a minuscule contingent comprising mostly medical and technical personnel.[2] This revelation, coupled with the involvement of Indian forces in crucial operations under the Maldivian flag, has exposed the administration’s penchant for misinformation and exaggeration. Moreover, the silence of pro-Muizzu media following the disclosure hints at a deliberate attempt to downplay the discrepancy and avoid accountability.

The Maldives’ ‘India first’ foreign policy, touted as essential for long-term stability and regional cooperation, has come under scrutiny amidst Muizzu’s tenure. While emphasizing the strategic partnership with India, Muizzu’s administration has failed to translate rhetoric into action, leaving critical promises unfulfilled. The recent protests by fishermen demanding overdue payments underscore the administration’s failure to prioritize the welfare of its citizens, further eroding trust and credibility. Muizzu has yet to honor several key promises made during his election campaign, notably the pledge to increase salaries for the Police and Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF), as well as the commitment to settle outstanding dues owed to fishermen.[3] In a recent demonstration of discontent, members of the fishing community staged protests demanding the government to address unpaid dues totaling MVR 190 million. This failure to fulfill campaign promises underscores a growing disillusionment among the populace with Muizzu’s administration.

Despite facing economic strain, Muizzu’s administration has embarked on a spree of projects with foreign investors, raising questions about the nation’s financial sustainability and sovereignty. Despite the economic stress, Muizzu government has announced 18 projects to foreign investors.[4] The lack of transparency surrounding agreements with China and Thailand has fueled suspicions of ulterior motives, with the administration prioritizing short-term gains over long-term stability. The awarding of crucial development projects to foreign companies over local ones not only undermines national interests but also highlights the administration’s disregard for local entrepreneurship and economic empowerment.

Moreover, Muizzu’s administration has been marred by allegations of criminal nexus and deteriorating law and order, with gang members reportedly involved in protests outside the Parliament. The resurgence of Islamic extremism under Muizzu’s rule raises further concerns about the nation’s security and stability, underscoring the administration’s failure to address pressing social issues. Maldives government signed an agreement with Thailand’s Pan Pacific Corp for the development of an international airport in Thinadhoo and 12 resorts in uninhabited islands.[5] The Thailand company is a proxy to the Chinese companies to avoid the allegations of buying strategic assets in return for investments.

Furthermore, Muizzu’s healthcare policies, characterized by a reliance on less qualified foreign medical professionals, compromise the well-being of Maldivian citizens. The expansion of health services abroad strains public finances and undermines the quality of care available to locals, exposing yet another area of neglect and mismanagement.

Muizzu’s purportedly pro-Maldives stance has been severely undermined by his administration’s decision to prioritize foreign companies over local Maldivian enterprises in development projects. The Ras Male’ Reclamation Project, touted as the flagship initiative of Muizzu’s tenure, exemplifies this trend. Shockingly, the project was awarded to Sri Lanka’s Capital Marine and Civil Construction Company (CMC) without undergoing any competitive bidding process.[6] As a result, CMC stands to gain a significant 70-hectare land lease as compensation for their reclamation efforts. This blatant disregard for local businesses raises alarming questions about the administration’s allegiance to the nation’s interests. By favoring foreign entities, Muizzu’s government appears to be sacrificing the country’s assets for the benefit of outsiders, casting doubts on its commitment to fostering domestic growth and prosperity.

The Maldives Police Service’s revelation regarding the involvement of gang members in protests outside the Parliament exposes a disturbing connection between government officials and criminal elements. Under President Muizzu’s leadership, law and order have deteriorated, paving the way for an alarming rise in Islamic extremism. This stands in stark contrast to the previous administration under President Solih, during which gang activity remained largely dormant.

Furthermore, the Maldives is teetering on the brink of a healthcare crisis, exacerbated by Muizzu’s misguided attempts to reduce reliance on India by recruiting less qualified medical professionals from countries like Nepal and Bangladesh. This reckless strategy not only jeopardizes the health of Maldivians but also threatens to strain public finances further, especially with the proposed expansion of the Asandha scheme to other countries.

Muizzu’s decision to implement the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, made during his visit to the country, is yet another misstep that will exacerbate the nation’s economic woes.[7] The FTA is poised to worsen the trade imbalance, draining already scarce foreign exchange reserves. Additionally, it opens the floodgates for Chinese investors to dominate key sectors such as construction, tourism, and education, further eroding economic diversification and sovereignty.

The lack of economic diversification remains a glaring weakness in the Maldivian economy, exacerbated by Muizzu’s continuation of his predecessor Yameen’s tourism-centric policies. Instead of pursuing sustainable development strategies, Muizzu’s administration is blindly focusing on tourism-related projects, potentially saddling the nation with crippling debts and further entrenching reliance on foreign companies.

China’s emergence as the primary source of tourist arrivals in the Maldives is cause for concern, particularly considering that Chinese tourists spend less than their Western counterparts. Relying heavily on Chinese tourism at the expense of traditional sources like India poses significant risks to the country’s tourism sector and overall economic stability.

Moreover, the Maldives faces unprecedented fiscal and external vulnerabilities, with meager reserves barely sufficient to cover imports for a month and a half. A further decline in foreign exchange reserves could spell disaster for the government’s ability to service external debts and meet essential needs such as food and energy imports.

The Muizzu government’s apparent bias towards China, exemplified by its defense deal with the country, warrants scrutiny and condemnation.[8] Highlighting this bias in the media is crucial to informing the public about the administration’s questionable allegiances and its overreliance on China, raising pertinent questions about the government’s priorities and motivations.

Muizzu’s administration has left the Maldives grappling with a myriad of challenges, from territorial disputes to economic mismanagement and social unrest. It is imperative for the citizens and international community to hold his administration accountable for its failures and work towards a brighter, more prosperous future for the Maldives. Only through transparency, accountability, and genuine commitment to the nation’s interests can the Maldives hope to overcome the challenges that lie ahead and reclaim its status as a beacon of hope in the Indian Ocean.