By Abdulla Ahmed
Picture yourself on a beach vacation. The perfect time to turn off from the stresses of modern day life. But for hundreds of tourists enjoying a Tunisian beach holiday at Port El Kantaoui, paradise morphed into tragedy. A mass shooting occurred at the tourist resort in June 2015, killing thirty-eight. As the inquest this week reminds us, an increasingly uncertain world means tourists cannot afford to ignore safety concerns.
Keeping tourists safe is at the top of the Maldives’ agenda. With 28% of our GDP coming from this industry, it has never been more vital that the Maldives is seen as a safe and secure place to forget your troubles. Yet the government understands that this cannot be achieved by insulating tourists from the Maldivian people. What keeps tourists coming back is peace and prosperity in the nation as a whole.
The Maldives has an extremely good record when it comes to preventing domestic terrorism. There has just been a single such instance – in 2007, 12 tourists sustained injuries when an IED exploded in the capital Malé’s Sultan Park, an area frequented by visitors. The response was swift, vigorous and timely. Those hurt were given immediate medical assistance, and attention, and consular access was facilitated with officials representing their countries. Immediate investigative action saw 12 arrests made within 48 hours with the perpetrators later tried, and convicted, to 15 years in prison. The incident prompted an even higher level of vigilance and preparedness from the security forces. No such incidents have occurred since.
But the government is not resting on its laurels: tangible progress is again being made by the administration of President Yameen. In order to deal with any potential domestic terror threat, the government has established the National Counter Terrorism Centre with the explicit purpose of combatting radicalisation and extremism, while the Ministry of Home Affairs is monitoring suspects through a process of tagging.
Terror is a transnational problem, and efforts are also being made to challenge terror abroad. The Maldives have made it a crime to attempt to join or fight in any conflict abroad, while recently appealing to the UN to accelerate its work on the Convention on Terrorism. The administration has also sought advice from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Convention on Suppression of Terrorism. Extremist groups respect no borders, an international effort is essential.
Terrorism may be a threat around the world, but we cannot forget about the menace of everyday crime. The tireless efforts of the Maldivian police force mean that organised crime has fallen 13% in the last few years. The Maldives is a world leader in terms of rallying a swift response to reports of wrongdoing. Among the islands, police guarantee that they will report to the scene within 20 minutes. In Male that falls to just five. Tackling lawlessness through a strong and effective police force is clearly necessary. But the Maldives knows that they must tackle the root causes of crime if they are to keep their people safe. In the past 3 years, a sniffer dog squad has been put into action and 250 kilogram of drugs have been seized, undermining a key source of funding for criminal gangs.
The war against crime cannot rely on punitive measures. Tackling poverty and deprivation is a weapon that cannot be ignored. The efforts made by the Ministry of Home Affairs to install street and jetty lights across the islands, renovate atoll houses and provide broadband to every island in the nation all work to undermine the causes of lawlessness. Forgiveness and support are equally crucial. The government has eclipsed its own targets for rehabilitating drug addicts, successfully treating 732 people this year and giving 100 reformed addicts jobs in Governmental agencies. They also initiated the “Ummeedhu-fahi Maadhamaa” (Hope for Tomorrow) programme, which helps rehabilitate under-18s who commit crimes back into society. These methods send a strong message the rest of the world – punishment alone will not suffice.
24,500 Maldivians took part in the Golden Jubilee of Maldivian Independence, designed to promote and celebrate peacefulness in the society. This is a symbol of the attitude of the nation as a whole. The Maldivian government has made a firm commitment to keeping Maldivians and the millions of visitors to these islands safe and peaceful for generations to come. The international community must join us in this effort.
Editor’s Note: Abdulla Ahmed, @AblhoMP on twitter, was a Former Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Board Director at Maldives Tourism Development Corporation; he currently represents the Thinadhoo South Constituency at the People’s Majlis where he is also a member of the National Security Committee.