The Information Commissioner's Office has demanded that the Ministry of Defence disclose the information requested by Dhiyares newspaper regarding the Uthuru Thila Falhu (UTF) agreement made between the Maldivian and Indian governments.
Information Commissioner Ahid Rasheed said that he did not accept the Ministry of Defence's claims that disclosing the requested information about the agreement posed a threat to national security. He said that despite the Ministry's claims; based on the general practice of such international bilateral agreements, he did not believe that the requested information posed such a danger.
Dhiyares had also requested for information pertaining to a USD$50 million loan granted by the Indian EXIM bank with regards to the development of the UTF facilities. The Ministry had claimed that no such loan agreement had been made. The Information Commissioner ruled that the Ministry's response regarding the loan information contravened the Right to Information Act.
The Information Commissioner had said that the Ministry was legally obliged to retrieve the requested information from the specific department or office and to disclose it.
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".
The Ministry had said that it would be a military offence to disclose any of the information requested,except for the information pertaining to the loan. The Information Commissioner responded that the Ministry of Defence had failed to establish that such disclosure posed any threat to national security.
The Information Commissioner said that a threat to national security was constitutionally defined as a danger or threat to national sovereignty, independence, life, and property; he said that international principles had already defined information that could not be disclosed to safeguard national security.
If information were to not be disclosed for security reasons, the law should specify the reasons for it, he said. He pointed out that the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) had already chosen to disclose some information about the UTF agreement during a press conference. Particularly, the MNDF had disclosed the stationing of technicians for a period of 15 years.
Therefore, the Information Commissioner had decided that the information requested by Dhiyares could not pose a threat to national security. He required the information be disclosed to Dhiyares within a period of 7 days.