These words were written at a time of confusion and second-hand embarrassment, with a tinge of irritation, at the political stunt that has taken place this week in the Maldives.
As per the internet jokes, the reality that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Maldives is the same person as the President of the United Nations General Assembly does raise some eyebrows. When President/Minister Abdhullah Shahid was nominated by President Solih for the post of UNGA President, until the moment the ballots were cast, the people of the Maldives held their collective breath in anticipation of making history. Being the sixth ever President hailing from a Small Island Developing State, Mr. Shahid indeed was making history.
The fact that he managed to wear two hats, metaphorically speaking, is history made as well, yet the charade needs to end. The fact that he holds two very powerful positions in the field of diplomacy actually means a lot more than the administration lets the people know. The fact that news agencies report with sarcasm how President Solih invited his own minister back home to the Maldives on an official visit shows that the people are notably unsettled by this situation.
On a legal note, the ambiguity needs to be addressed as well.
Article 136 (a) of the Maldivian Constitution states the following: A member of the Cabinet shall not hold any other public office or office of profit, actively engage in a business or in the practice of any profession, or any other income generating employment, be employed by any person, buy or lease any property belonging to the State, or have a financial interest in any transaction between the State and another party.
The position of the President of the General Assembly is a possibly salaried position, paid for by the party that nominates the candidate, in this case President Solih. The fact that the information on this is not transparently available is one issue. The presidency cannot, however, be considered an employment under the UN, as he does not receive a salary from the UN, with his objectives and responsibilities clear cut and described in the “PGA Handbook”, which was published by the 65th PGA of the UN in cooperation with the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations, the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM) and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).
However, the discrepancy may be excused as appointing another, equally effective person to the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs would take time. Yet, the shuffling and replacing of other ministers seemed not to have taken much time either, during this administration, so the balance tips against their favour. Furthermore, there is some question on the issue of the incumbent Foreign Minister receiving the same treatment as foreign leaders of state during his return (rather than visit) home. Full military detail, national honours and the like are all sponsored by the tax payers, and the tax payers are concerned.
Mr. Shahid’s achievement is truly an achievement for all Maldivians. President Solih officially discusses with Shahid the need for reform in the UN and to expedite the process during his tenure, while also bringing up the issues of climate change and how to get the rest of the world involved in the fight for sustainability. He is further reported to have raised the issues of gender inequality, affordability of Covid-19 vaccines.
All is well and good yet while he holds the post of Minister, he is beholden to his leader’s instructions within the executive, so how this convolutes the relationship between Shahid and his nation is yet to be seen. While they state together that the position would help bolster peace and equality around the world, the powers he would wield do not allow him to play that part as strongly as would be preferable.
He would be the one organising debates and conversations and moderating the sessions. Only through constant lobbying and travel (sponsored by the nominating party) would these goals be achieved, and the added expectations of the Maldivian population would also be carried on his shoulders.
President/Minister Shahid, carrying with him the legacies of previous administrations and decades of diplomatic work, is setting off on his journey as the President of the UNGA. He deserves the praise and prayers of all his countrymen, and faith in his Presidency of Hope. However, the Maldivian administration needs to redraw their lines and also be a lot more transparent with the people, rather than make this monumental achievement look like a PR stunt. The administration owes this to Shahid, and the people.