Face to Face Interview with His Excellency Ahmed Mohamed, High Commissioner of the Republic of Maldives to India
The Diplomatic Society, Global Editor Srimal Fernando (l), interviews the Maldivian High Commissioner to India, His Excellency Ahmed Mohamed (r).
Srimal Fernando (SF): Give us a brief background about yourself?
High Commissioner (HC): I was born in Male’in the Maldives. I did my undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the University of Hull in the UK. I hold a Master of Science degree in Public Policy Economics and have been working for the Government of Maldives since October 1989. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, I served the Government of Maldives for a period of 18 years as a development planner at the Ministry of Planning and National Development. From 2005 to 2007, I served as the Chairman and then from 2008 as the Chief Executive Officer of the State Trading Organisation (STO) PLC, with the prime responsibility of leading the largest company in the Maldives and to ensure fuel, food security, and medical supply requirements for the country. In February 2012, I was appointed as the Minister of Economic Development of the Government of Maldives. My last posting was from November 2013 to September 2014 as the Commissioner General of Customs of the Maldives Custom Service, before embarking on a diplomatic career as the Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
I was appointed as High Commissioner of the Maldives to India by President H.E. Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom in January 2015.
SF: As the Maldivian High Commissioner in India, what is your impression about India, the most interesting place you visited in India.
HC: India is my fist posting and. I had always heard about the diversity of this country. Having witnessed it first-hand, I am truly amazed at the plethora of cultures and knowledge that this country has to offer. I have enjoyed my road trips to Himachal Pradesh and have been mesmerized by the early morning views at Kufri. I look forward to visiting Kashmir because so many of my Indian friends have said ‘If there is paradise on earth it is here!’
SF: Bilateral trade between India and the Maldives has seen a marked improvement in recent years. What role does the High Commission of Maldives in India play to improve these trade relations further?
HC: There has been a sea of changes in the role that diplomatic missions play. Today the emphasis is on commercial and economic diplomacy. I have been involved in the sixth and seventh National Development Plans of the Maldives in my capacity as the Executive Director in the Ministry of Planning and National Development (MPND). I also served as the Minister of Economic Development and developed the Maldives Economic Diversification Strategy. This has given me an understanding of the country’s economic requirements. I have thus been able to nurture bilateral relations between the two countries towards these goals. As a High Commissioner I have been responsible for initiating trade agreements as well as facilitating trade delegations and investor meets.
India and Maldives commemorated fifty years of diplomatic relations last year. Historically both countries have a close relationship, as neighbours and friends in the Indian Ocean region. Ancient ties of trade, culture, linguistic and religious interfaces have provided the foundation for the relations at present times. On the occasion of the swearing-in ceremony of India's new prime minister. Narendra Modi, the Maldivian President H.E Abdulla Yameen made his first state visit to India. Over the past two years there has been an extensive amount of exchange of visits that showcased the growing warmth in relation between the two nations. Maldives Minister of Foreign Affairs H.E. Ms. Dunya Maumoon has visited New Delhi on several occasions. In April 2016 the Foreign Secretary of Maldives H.E. Dr Ali Naseer Mohamed visited India. Previously, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had visited Maldives in November 2014 and again in October 2015. After a fifteen year a gap the India-Maldives Joint Commission was held in October 2015. The official visit to India by H.E. Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom was a milestone that further strengthened bilateral ties between New Delhi and Male’. During April 2016 President Yameen visited India. The two countries signed a number of important agreements. On this visit to Delhi President Yameen was accompanied by H.E. Dr. Mohamed Shainee, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture and three Members of the Maldivian Parliament.
The first agreement between India and Maldives was on avoidance of double taxation of income derived from International Air Transport. The second agreement was on Maldives for the Exchange of Information with respect to taxes. The third was related to Orbit Frequency Coordination of "South Asia Satellite” proposed at 48oE. The other three documents were Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) to undertake conservation and restoration of ancient mosques and other historical monuments in Maldives, cooperation in the area of conservation and restoration of ancient mosques and joint research and exploratory surveys in Maldives, cooperation in the field of tourism and Action Plan is in the context of defence cooperation. In fact, it's now become a tradition that the first foreign visit by a Maldivian President, Foreign Minister and Defence Minister is to India. In 2016 the Maldivian Foreign Minister’s visit was followed by stopovers by the new Defence and Tourism Ministers of Maldives.
SF: There have been new trends in tourist arrivals to Maldives. What are your thoughts of selling Maldives to the Indian tourism market?
HC: One of the tasks that I have before me is to promote the Maldives as a destination of choice. The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Company has held roadshows in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata last year; and currently one is taking place in Lucknow and in Chandigarh.
The Maldives offers various types of holiday packages: honeymoon, luxury, diving, surfing, cruise, wellness & spa, family and budget holidays. Most recently affordable guest houses have come up in many of the islands in the Maldives giving the budget traveler an opportunity to experience the sunny side of life.
The tourism industry is one of the pillars of the Maldivian economy. In 2015, the island saw the arrival of more than1.2 million tourists from around all parts of the world .The Maldives continues its popularity as a tourist destination for the Indian tourist with a record number of visitors totaling 52,368 visiting in 2015. A total of 18,790 Indian tourists visited Maldives between January and April 2016. Arrivals from India show a commendable increase between the same period this year, a rise of 20.8 per cent as compared to the same period last year.
SF: What are the challenges the Maldives is facing at present?
HC: One of the major challenges that Maldives faces is to broad-base its economy. The country is actively engaged in promoting fisheries, manufacturing, ports logistics services, lifestyle and shopping so as to lessen the current dependence on tourism. Being a country comprising many islands, climate change and sustainable development is of concern as it is protecting the country from geopolitical shocks.
SF: One sentence describing a lesson that you have learnt from being a diplomat
HC: One lesson that I have learnt as a diplomat is to respect the sensitivities of both the host and parent country. This is more so the case when dealing with diplomatic issues.