MNDF instructed to disclose UTF agreement

The Information Commissioner's Office has instructed Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) to disclose the agreement between MNDF and the Indian military to develop the Uthuru Thilafalhu (UTF) military base.

ICOM made the request at MNDF after local newspaper, Dhiyares news filed a request with ICOM to obtain the report following MNDF's refusal to share information on the agreement with the newspaper.

During a hearing held Thursday at the Information Comissioner's Office, Commissioner Ahid Rasheed said MNDF refused to disclose information on the agreement citing national security. However, as the commission does not believe the disclosure of the agreement could pose a security risk, the commission has asked MNDF to disclose the document within seven working days.

The information being sought are:
The institutions which Indian technical personnel at UTF base represent
Details of diplomatic immunity given to technical personnel
Details of any expenses of technical personnel borne by the Maldivian government, if applicable
The number of technical personnel
The duration of their stay in the Maldives
Information on the USD 50 million loan given to the Maldives under the agreement

The Defense Ministry has said since the loan agreement was not signed by the ministry, it does not have information on the agreement. However, the commissioner said if the ministry does not have the necessary information, it is the responsibility of the ministry to obtain the information from relevant authorities and present the information. The commissioner further said although the Defense Ministry claims disclosing some information sought by Dhiyares News would violate MNDF laws, MNDF failed to prove why it would be against the law.

An agreement was signed to develop a dockyard and port in Uthuru Thilafalhu with Indian assistance last February. Political parties have expressed concern, stating that the agreement allows foreign military personnel to remain in the Maldives for long periods. Although a document said to be a draft copy of the UTF agreement was leaked on social media a while back, the government has said the document is not genuine.

The parliament has also requested MNDF to share the UTF agreement with the parliament.