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Sunday February 25th, 2024

The Maldives, a honeymoon haven in peril

AFP – Famed as an upmarket tourist destination of white beaches and turquoise waters, the island nation of the Maldives is troubled by political turmoil and rising sea levels.

– Indian Ocean paradise –

The country is a collection of 26 atolls made up of 1,192 tiny islands scattered 800 kilometres (550 miles) across the equator.

Only 200 islands are inhabited with the country’s population put at 340,000 in the last census but estimated at around 417,000 in 2016 by the World Bank.

Its 298 square kilometres (115 square miles) are home to about three percent of the world’s coral reefs.

Tourism is the principal income earner, providing 41 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016 and nearly 20 percent of jobs, the World Travel and Tourism Council says.

The archipelago’s beauty drew around 1.28 million tourists in 2016, a four-percent rise over the previous year, according to UN’s World Tourism Organization data.

It is a destination especially prized among honeymooners, such as Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes who visited in 2006.

– Politically tense –

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ruled with an iron fist for 30 years until 2008, when he lost the first multi-party polls to human rights activist Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed was forced to resign in 2012 after a police mutiny and demonstrations that he said were part of a coup plot.

In disputed elections the following year, he was defeated by Gayoom’s half brother, Abdulla Yameen, the current president.

In 2015 Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail on a terrorism charge widely criticised as politically motivated.

In 2016 he was granted prison leave for medical treatment in London, where he secured political asylum with the help of high-profile human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.

While Nasheed continues to push for change from exile, Yameen declared a state of emergency on February 6 after judges ordered the release of his opponents.

– Threatened by rising seas –

Eighty percent of the Maldives is less than a metre above sea level, making it one of the countries most threatened by rising sea levels linked to climate warming.

In 2009 Nasheed held a cabinet meeting underwater to raise awareness of the risk, also warning his people could become climate refugees.

– Buddhist turned Muslim –

Situated along Indian Ocean trading routes and about 650 kilometres southwest of Sri Lanka, the Maldives has been colonised several times.

Once a Buddhist kingdom, it converted to Islam around the 12th century.

Portuguese explorers occupied the main island of Mahe in the 16th century. The territory then became protectorates of the Dutch and the British before complete independence on 1965.

Sunni Islam today remains the state religion, all other religions being banned.

– Radicalisation? –

The Maldives follows a moderate version of Islam while banning alcohol, except in tourist hotels, and homosexuality.

It also flogs women found guilty of "fornication", says Amnesty International, which is critical of the human rights situation that it says includes restrictions on peaceful protests and expression.

The Maldives left the Commonwealth in 2016 in a row over criticism of its rights record.

There are fears of radicalisation with the arrival of Middle East preachers and via radical websites.

Nearly 60 Maldivians are known to have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight with foreign jihadists, and some are believed to have returned.

In travel advice issued this year, the United States urged increased caution due to the possibility of a terror attack.

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Sri Lanka could get US$500mn from ADB in 2024

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka could receive 500 million US dollars in support from the Asian Development Bank in 2024 based on the progress of policy reforms, Country Director of the Manila-based lender, Takafumi Kadono said.

The ADB expect to go to its Board around March or April with a 100 million US dollar power sector loan subject to the cabinet of ministers of approving a revised electricity reform bill.

A 100 million dollar loan to support SMEs could also be approved in the early part of the year. Sri Lanka is setting up a credit guarantee agency to support credit for small firms.

A 200 million dollar credit for financial sector was also slated for the year. The ADB gave the first tranche of the financial sector policy loan late last year.

A $100mn for the water sector could also be approved later in the year.

Sri Lanka could get around 200 to 300 million US dollars a year at the lowest rate, or concessional ordinary capital resources (COL) rate of 2 percent.

The balance of would come at the ordinary capital resource rate linked to SOFR.

The ADB has also started work on a ‘Country Partnership Strategy’ for Sri Lanka covering the 2024-2028 period, Kadodo said. (Colombo/Feb25/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s multi-aligned foreign policy based on friendship: Min

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s multi-aligned foreign policy is based on friendship to all and enmity to none, its Minister of Foreign Affairs has said.

“Non-alignment means not becoming a bystander. Non-alignment means you are not forced or coerced into a camp to take sovereign decisions… you make your own choices. Whether it is commercial, security, regional or otherwise,” M U M Ali Sabry said on X (twitter).

“I have repeatedly stressed that sovereignty is the right to have your own opinion on what’s right and wrong, and to stand by your principles. Our multi-aligned foreign policy is based on friendship to all and enmity to none,” Sabry was quoting from his speech at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKI) Foreign Policy Forum, on the theme ‘Reassessing Non-Alignment in a Polarised World’.

Sri Lanka is one of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The strategically located island has been increasingly walking a fine line between opposing global factions as it seeks to come out of a financial crisis. (Colombo/Feb24/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s Commercial Bank Dec net down on tax provisions

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Commercial Bank of Ceylon reported profits of 6.9 billion rupees from the December 2023 quarter down 21 percent, despite an improvement in net interest income and lower provisions, amid a change in tax provisions.

Pre-tax profits were 8.89 billion rupees up from 2.4 billion rupees. There was a 6.4 billion tax reversal last year compared to a 1.7 billion rupee tax charge this year.

Commercial Bank reported earnings of 5.26 rupees for the quarter. For the year to December 2023 earnings were 16.07 rupees per share on total profits of 21.1 billion rupees, down 11.3 percent.

Net fee and commission income was down 1.2 percent to 6.1 billion rupees.

Net interest income went up 16.8 percent to 25.5 billion rupees, with interest income rising marginally by 1.3 percent to 73.0 billion rupees and interest expense falling 5.45 percent to 47.5 billion rupees.

Loans and advances to customers grew 4.06 percent to 1.17 billion rupees in the year to December. Debt and other financial instruments fell 10.5 percent to 649 billion rupees.

Financial assets measured and fair value through other comprehensive income was at 287 billion rupees, up from 117 billion rupees.

Impairment charges were 13.1 billion rupees, down from 19.6 billion rupees last year.

Gross assets were up 6.45 percent to 2.36 billion rupees. Net assets were up 5.51 percent to 214 billion rupees. (Colombo/Feb24/2024)

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