The Ministry of Defence has stated that they would not disclose requested information regarding the Uthuru Thila Falhu agreement. The Uthuru Thila Falhu agreement, officially titled “Development, Support, and the Maintenance of the Maldives National Defence Force Harbour Sifavaru at Uthuru Thila Falhu”.
The Ministry of Defence had been ordered by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICOM) to disclose information requested by The Maldives Journal. The Ministry told the Information Commission that they would not comply.
The Maldives Journal had requested the Ministry of Defence for the information on October 2021. The Ministry’s refusal lead to an appeal at ICOM; a 17 January hearing was concluded with an order from ICOM that the Ministry disclose the requested information within 4 working days.
Three weeks on, the Ministry had still not disclosed the information. ICOM stated that the Ministry had explicitly refused to disclose the information. ICOM had responded that the Ministry should disclose the information by 7 February.
ICOM had decided to consider the Ministry’s refusal to comply with ICOM’s order as a separate issue.
The Ministry could have appealed ICOM’s decision at the High Court; however, they had failed to do so and had chosen to ignore the order.
The Maldives Journal had requested the following information from the Ministry:
1. Details on whether the Maldives could, without India's permission, permit another country to utilise the facilities developed at Uthuru Thila Falhu.
2. All of the powers of the Working Group established to supervise Uthuru Thila Falhu, as per the agreement; the Ministry is also requested to provide the relevant clause, verbatim.
3. The details and profiles of all members of the Joint Resident Team assigned to oversee the day-to-day management of Uthuru Thila Falhu; the powers of the Joint Resident Team; the Ministry if also requested to provide the relevant clause, verbatim.
4. Details on whether or not a runway for the landing and take-off of airplanes will be established at the base.
5. Details on if the Maldives may cancel the agreement without India's consent.
6. Details on if any member of the Indian military would be allowed to be present at Uthuru Thila Falhu for any reason and for any length of time. The Ministry is also requested to provide details on whether these Indian military personnel would be allowed to be armed.
Although the Ministry had provided answers to some of the above questions, some of the questions had been given incomplete answers.
Regarding the question on the Working Group and its powers, the Ministry claimed that there was no such group; there was a Joint Project Monitoring Group, instead. The Ministry said that disclosing more information about the Group would affect the ties between the Maldives and India and posed a threat to national security.
Despite this, the Ministry was unable to explain how disclosing that information could pose a threat to national security. The Information Commissioner ordered that the requested information be disclosed. The Information Commissioner also noted that the Ministry had failed to properly answer the question regarding the runway, as well. The ICO ordered the Ministry to provide a clear answer to those questions, as well.