Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Khalifa Foundation funds distance medical services project in Maldives

H.H. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, attended today at the Presidential Palace in his capacity as Chairman of Khalifa Foundation for Humanitarian Works, a signing ceremony of a grant offered by the Foundation to the Maldives for Distance Medical Services.
The agreement was inked by Ahmed Juma Al Za'abi, Deputy Chairman of the Foundation and visiting Maldives Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem.

The agreement is part of the Foundation's humanitarian initiatives to fund sustainable projects that create job opportunities in aid recipient countries and raise standards of basic services particularly in health and education.

The Foundation will fund the Khalifa bin Zayed Distance Medical Services project which includes a network of 35 sites across the Maldives. Under the project the nursing department at the faculty of medicine will be named after Sheikh Khalifa.
The distance diagnostic and curative network will have a central nerve centre and peripheral kiosks. Doctors at the centre examine medical reports raised by nursing staff and prescribe treatment.
The project, the first of its kind to be funded by the Foundation, will offer health care services to more than 350,000 persons a year.
The grant calls for training of local doctors, technicians and biotechnology specialists abroad.
Before the signature of the agreement, Sheikh Mansour and the Maldives foreign minister explored ways of enhancing bilateral relations.
Sheikh Mansour said the development grant fits well into the Foundation's strategy which does not call for offering assistance only but also for building infrastructure projects in health and educational fields which improve living conditions and create jobs.

He added that the programme of distance treatment and medical kiosks would ease the logistics woes by delivering health services to remote areas in the scattered islands.

The Maldives minister said the grant would help improve living conditions of thousands of islanders living in far-flung regions that can not be accessed by health professionals due to their harsh terrains.
The project, he added, would train hundreds of medical and and nursing cadres who will operate these kiosks .



Pakistan for all-out support for development works in Maldives

Faisal Karim Kundi, acting Speaker National Assembly, has assured all-out support of Pakistan for education and infrastructure development in Maldives. Talking to Dr. Aishath Shehnaz, Ambassador of Maldives, who called on him here at the Parliament House, Kundi said Maldives holds an important position in SASRC and is a close partner of Pakistan.

Kundi said that Pakistan attaches great importance to its historic relations with Maldives which were bound in religion, culture and history.

He said that the existing ties between both the countries should be further cemented through people to people and parliamentary contacts.

He pointed out that more avenues of collaboration could be explored for mutual benefit of the both countries. He asked the Ambassador to persuade Maldivian entrepreneurs to avail the liberal investment and trade policies of Pakistan.

Kundi also apprised the Ambassador about the working of National Assembly and its Standing Committees.

Dr. Aishath Shehnaz expressed gratitude for the support to Maldives and said that her country also attaches great value to its historic ties with Pakistan.

She informed the Acting Speaker about the Pakistanis working in Maldives in fields of Education, Medical health care and tourism.

She said that Maldives has a strong desire to enhance its economic and parliamentary ties with Pakistan.

She said that a 6-member friendship group in Maldivian National Assembly had been constituted which was intending to visit Pakistan. She said that Maldives will welcome assistance from Pakistan in fields of education and medicine.

She informed the Acting Speaker that the Maldivian Foreign Minister would visit Pakistan in the current month who would meet President, Prime Minister his Pakistani counterpart and discuss measures to enhance the relations between both the brotherly countries.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Minister Alagiri's Maldives holiday had PMO approve

His "perpetual" absence from parliament may have pushed the government on the backfoot, but DMK leader and chemicals and fertilisers minister M.K. Alagiri's Maldives holiday during the budget session had approval from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

Replying to an RTI application, the ministry said Alagiri had sought permission from the PMO on April 12 for his 10-day vacation to Maldives beginning April 17.

Delhi-based RTI applicant Subhash Agrawal had asked if the minister had informed the prime minister or union cabinet secretary about his personal trip during Parliament session. Alagari's absence had the opposition up in the arms against the government.

"Prime Minister's Office was informed," the ministry said.

"Approval of the PMO is required," it said in reply to another query about the rules and norms to be followed by union ministers in regard to their responsibilities and duties towards parliament before going on private trips.

The DMK leader went to the Maldives soon after the second half of the budget session began April 15. In the Lok Sabha, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, of which the DMK is an ally, had a tough time convincing the opposition that queries related to the chemicals ministry would be suitably answered by Alagiri's junior minister Srikant Jena.

The trouble began when a question about the overpricing of medicines came up and the opposition, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was up on its feet, complaining about the cabinet minister's absence.

Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj argued that Alagiri had remained "perpetually" absent from the House and had failed to attend even cabinet meetings.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Saarc's Snarky Politics

Launched in Bangladesh in 1985, the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation was supposed to mimic the success of another trading bloc, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. At its 25-year anniversary last week, it's clear that politics—pure and simple—has gotten in the way.

Like Asean, Saarc was meant to spark cross-border trade and investment that would raise living standards in one of the poorest regions of the world and help bridge the political chasms created by India's 1947 partition. But Saarc soon became a victim of political infighting and mutual mistrust. India-Pakistan's continuing disputes over Kashmir and terrorism presented the biggest hurdle. In 1998, both countries went nuclear; the next year, they fought a limited war. Then in 2008, Pakistani militants held Mumbai ransom for three days, killing over 170 innocents.

Saarc has been in political deep freeze ever since. But even before that, the group has done little to realize its grand vision for trade sans politics. India remains reluctant to commit to binding tariff cuts. The other nations, such as Nepal, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, are economic minnows. Sri Lanka was mired in a costly civil war that consumed almost all of its government's energies until recently.

These political spats have also sometimes directly interfered with what should be private business dealings. For instance, when the Tata Group, one of India's foremost conglomerates, wanted to drill for natural gas in Bangladesh some years ago, then Bangladeshi prime minister Khaleda Zia refused. She was reportedly close to the Pakistan leadership, which didn't want Dhaka to create economic linkages with New Delhi.

The result is that with an estimated 1.5 billion people, or 23% of the world's population, Saarc's eight member states—from Afghanistan to Bangladesh, via India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan and Sri Lanka—remain extremely rich in natural resources, but mired in poverty. Average per-capita incomes are a measly $880. In contrast with Asean, where internal trade averages 25%, intra-Saarc trade is, at $687 million annually, less than 3% of the members' total trade.

Breaking the India-Pakistan political logjam is the key to any hope for progress. New Delhi has long been unwilling to sustain an economic relationship with Islamabad so long as Pakistan-sponsored intelligence forces attack India. At last week's meetings, Saarc's other members finally showed some irritation. The Maldives' president, Mohamed Nasheed, told the two to "compartmentalize" their problems. (In Saarc-speak, that's the equivalent of a dressing down.)

There's reason for hope. India's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and Pakistan's Yousef Raza Gilani took a walk together and agreed to get bilateral talks back on track, which also bodes well for Saarc. Last week in an interview in Thimphu, Bangladesh foreign minister Dipu Moni said he not only welcomed the Tata investment back, but said that Dhaka was seriously interested in a free trade treaty with India. Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa may also consider an India trade deal.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has often talked of an economic union of South Asia, of how the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 destroyed many natural political and economic connections across the region. If Saarc has any hope of achieving its mission, India and Pakistan must set aside politics in favor of the economics. After all, isn't that what a trade bloc is for?


Monday, May 3, 2010

China to encourage its tourists to visit Maldives

Promising to provide a boost to tourism-dependent Maldives, China today said it would encourage its cash-rich citizens to visit the Indian Ocean archipelago and facilitate more Maldivian students to study in Chinese institutions.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, who met his Maldivian counterpart Mohamed Nasheed said China would further encourage citizens to visit Maldives, advance China-Maldives cooperation in tourism and help more students from that country to study in China.

According to official estimates, about 54 million Chinese were expected to visit abroad this year and many countries including India are trying to woo a substantial number of them to boost tourism.

Maldives with its exotic islands is mainly dependent on tourism.

Hu also said the two countries would benefit by increased economic and trade cooperation as Nasheed called on him in Shanghai.