Newly-appointed Maldives Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb Abdhul Gafoor, who took office last February, has made it clear that the former president of Maldives, Mohammed Nasheed, resigned from pressures because of âunfavorable decisionsâ and not as a result of his plans to expand luxury tourism, as it has been widely reported.
MInister Gafoor said: âI can assure you that it has nothing to do with the tourism plans. But if you monitor not only the international, but if you are aware of locally, he was losing a lot of support on the local side. In three years since he won [the presidency], he lost a little bit of focus locally, but he focused on international. He made some unfavorable decisions not related to tourism.â
For Minister Gafoor, former President Nasheed made some unfavorable economic decisions. He cited President Nasheed's decision to "give out the major share of the telecom companies" and "giving out the airport to an Indian company" as major issues that led to the former president stepping down from office. "I can assure you that it was not [related] to tourism," the minister added.
According to the minister, the protests that are now going on in Maldives âbuilt slowly.â He, however, admitted that a key turning point in the recent protests was arresting a top court judge on corruption charges. âBeing a human rights supporter and democratic activist, former President Nasheed [made] a very unfavorable decision because it shows that the freedom he brought in 2008 - that no one can be arrested against his will or without proper documentation from the court - everyone's freedom was on the line, so that played a key role in the fall of President Nasheed.â
The minister added that tourism is being conducted as usual. "It is business as usual," he said, "but [the protests] are triggering a lot of unfavorable messages." According to him: "Maldives is still safe for tourism. Even this time, and historically, no tourists have ever been harmed in Maldives. It is totally safe to travel to Maldives.â
The minister called governments issuing travel advisories on Maldives a "natural" process. However, the minister feels that the "right information" needs to be communicated. "The case of Maldives [protests] is totally different, and it is totally peaceful, so we are communicating with those governments to tell the real picture."
In response to the travel warning issued by UK-based Friends of Maldives, which called for boycotting of specific establishments (including Bandos Island Resort and Spa, Sun Island Resort and Spa, Paradise Island Resort and Spa, Royal Island Resort and Spa, and Holiday Island Resort and Spa), Minister Gafoor said: "It is totally very irresponsible. If you look at the history, the same association [Friends of Maldives] tried to target another group [of] resorts after the tsunami, saying that it was funding the previous government. Our advice is don't jump into conclusions. Allow an independent investigation to go on, and those responsible will be brought to justice."
He added: âBandos, for example, if Mr. Dean accepted the vice presidency in the newly-formed government, it doesn't mean that his resort should be boycotted. Mr. Dean has contributed so much into our democratic institutions. He is even a close friend of the VP [Muhammad Waheed Hassan, who is now the president] and [former] President Nasheed. As a tourism minister, I would never differentiate between political party affiliations to this industry or to resort owners."
What democracy means for Maldives
âOur constitution is well written. With this constitution, President Nasheed was the first democratically elected. According to the constitution, President Nasheed made it very clear he resigned, and we are continuing with the Vice President [to become the new President]. And we are very committed to it. The separation of powers - the judiciary, the parliament, and the executive power - is well-written. Democracy will continue and flourish in Maldives. As you can see, in many countries, [there are] a lot of difficult phases in bringing democracy. We are also going through the same. Growing pains, but I believe we are very peaceful people. No political death or political attack; they are very peaceful, and we hope to get out of these processes and move forward as a nation.â
The way forward
âWe will go ahead with our vision for tourism, making this year [our] 40th year [of] celebrations and work towards repairing the damages that have been done from the spa closure, from the political situation. We are on the verge of launching groundbreaking promotions, because we want to be known as a tourism destination, not as a political destination,â Minister Gafoor closed.