A hearing has been scheduled at the Information Commissioner's Office tomorrow about the request for information submitted to the Ministry of Defence by Dhiyares newspaper regarding the agreement signed between the Maldivian and Indian governments to develop a harbour at Uthuru Thila Falhu. The bilateral agreement is titled "Development, Support, and the Maintenance of the Maldives National Defence Force Harbour Sifavaru at Uthuru Thila Falhu".
The hearing scheduled for 8:45am tomorrow will conclude with the Information Commissioner's decision regarding Dhiyares' request for information. If the Information Commissioner decides that the information should be disclosed, the Ministry of Defence is legally obliged to comply within a period of time decided by the Information Commissioner. The Ministry of Defence may also appeal the Information Commissioner's decision at the High Court.
The last hearing had taken place on October 4; the Ministry of Defence had argued that disclosing any part of the agreement posed a threat to national security.
Dhiyares had requested the Ministry for the following information:
1. The organization or institution to which the Indian "technicians" to be stationed in the Maldives would belong,
2. The duration of time for which Indian personnel would be allowed to stay in the Maldives. (The text of the clause in the agreement that specifies this agreement is also requested for disclosure).
3. The number of Indian "technicians" to be stationed in the Maldives,
4. The interest rate and the repayment date of the USD$50 million loan granted by the Indian government as per the loan,
5. Details on any diplomatic immunity that may be granted to the Indian "technicians",
6. The costs of accommodation, food, and other costs associated with the stationing of the Indian "technicians".
During the hearing that day, Information Commissioner Ahid Rashid had asked the Ministry of Defence representative if disclosing details about the costs of accommodation and food of Indian technicians as per the agreement did indeed pose a threat to national security.
The Ministry of Defence representative responded in the affirmative; that disclosing any part of the agreement posed a threat to national security.
Information Commissioner Ahid responded that the constitutional definition of a threat to national security signified danger to national sovereignty, independence, or to life or property. The Information Commissioner asked if disclosing any of the requested information could lead to such a situation.
Avoiding a straight answer, the representative replied that the decision to keep the information confidential had been made by the Military Advisory Committee and that the Ministry of Defence's Information Officer had no power over that decision.
Ahmed Azan, the Dhiyares reporter who had lodged the request for information on behalf of Dhiyares, responded that he wished to read the decision made by the Military Advisory Committee to classify the entirety of the UTF agreement. He had also requested that the matter be clarified, even if it meant summoning members of the Military Advisory Committee to a hearing.