Maldives president elect wants private investment

Maldives president elect wants private investment

The Maldives' president-elect said on Monday he will open up public enterprises to foreign investors to help create more sustainable revenue for the tourism-dependent Indian Ocean archipelago.

Mohamed Nasheed, 41, a longtime political prisoner of the man he defeated, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, said he would also conduct a review of people in prison to decide whether they should stay behind bars.

Nasheed unseated Gayoom, Asia's longest-serving ruler with three decades in power, at the island's first multiparty presidential election by winning a second-round runoff with 54.2 percent of the votes.

He takes power on Nov. 11.

Gayoom conceded defeat last Wednesday and pledged to hand over power to a man he repeatedly jailed and charged in cases rights groups said were trumped up to stop Nasheed's campaign for greater democracy in the nation of 300,000 Sunni Muslims.

Nasheed inherits a country with South Asia's highest per capita income but which is facing a downturn in its tourism industry because of the global financial crisis.

"We want to see how we can open up state enterprises for international and local investments. So that would be a very big priority," Nasheed told Reuters in an interview.

Key goods and services are now provided by state enterprises, while foreign investment is limited to tourism, which contributes 28 percent of GDP directly and up to 70 percent indirectly.

Nasheed also said the two main state hospitals would be privatised next year.

While Gayoom's government has said it is working with companies keen to prospect for oil, Nasheed says his government "wants to export solar cells instead of oil".

Gayoom brought international notice to the low-lying country by highlighting the risks of climate change, but Nasheed aims to make environmentalism a reality at home by introducing solar, wind and other alternative energy sources to the islands.

"We are talking to a number of international companies, who are very excited about the prospects of using the Maldives as a solar power showcase. This is where the sun is," he said.


The International Monetary Fund warned earlier this year that the Maldives needed to create more sustainable revenues and trim its government wage bill, while cutting costly energy subsidies.

The country's foreign currency reserves presently are standing at $116 million.

Gayoom's government this year faced a $200 million hole in its budget after a transshipment port in the north and a port complex in the capital Male fell behind schedule.

Nasheed said those two plans would be scrapped.

He has also asked Amnesty International, which declared him a prisoner of conscience in the 1990s, to help review prison terms.

Gayoom was accused by rights groups and Nasheed of jailing opponents or banishing them to remote atolls, until he finally succumbed to pressure to create democratic reforms.

Nasheed said prison stints gave him time to dream of how he would lead the country.

"I've imagined this in so much detail, because I've spent time in solitary," he said. "You had to live another moment, another life elsewhere. So the elsewhere life is the other Maldives we've all envisaged." (Writing by Bryson Hull; Editing by Paul Tait)


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