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Consider us development partners, not donors: UNDP

Please don’t see us as a source of funding, please don’t see United Nations Development Program as a donor, we are a development partner to you, an equal partner, said UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director for the Regional Bureau for Asia and Pacific Haoliang Xu.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Haveeru on Monday, Mr Xu spoke about the change in dynamics in the relationship between UNDP and Maldives with the country’s transition into a middle income country.

Mr Xu said the transition had a huge impact on development cooperation with Maldives given the income level and population of the country – two deciding factors when allocating resources.

“Now we practically cannot allocate any meaningful resources for Maldives. So our core contribution to Maldives is negligible. At this time we spend about an average of USD 7, 8 million a year in Maldives. But this money financially is not important to Maldives. Not significant to the economy. Even to the government budget, overall, it is not significant,” he said.

According to Mr Xu it was one of the major points of discussion during his meetings with various top government officials.

“…our objective is to add value to this partnership. We cannot provide funding as our strength. But we can provide a lot of other things as our strengths,” he said noting that UNDP was impartial and solely focused on development issues.

“We can bring a lot of experts from different countries, different parts of the world and from UNDP itself.”

Mr Xu believes that overall, Maldives has achieved a good level of development and noted that the country had developed steadily and rapidly within the last 10 years.

“Your GDP per capita is now at almost at USD 600 and your human development ranking puts you at 104 out of 189 countries. So it’s a good state of development generally speaking, compared to many developing countries. Your human development index for example is higher than average for South Asia,” he said.

Mr Xu was however quick to note some of the developmental issues that still posed challenges to the island nation despite its new status as a middle income country. He noted issues such as youth unemployment, waste management in islands and vulnerability to climate change as well as governance – “the growing pains of democracy” as some major challenges.

“So being a middle income country doesn’t mean development is done. You actually have more difficult development challenges to deal with.”

He said that the transition from a least developed country to a middle income country meant that Maldives had lost a lot of privileges and benefits in trade and investment.

However, at the same time the nature of development is changing, said Mr Xu, noting that Maldives had quite a number of large investments – namely airport expansion, special economic zones, Male-Hulhule bridge – that hadn’t been there before – which he credited to the state of development in the country attracting investors.

He said that such major projects had the power to transform the economy of the country.

“So being middle income I think means that the country has different capacity. The nature of development will transform,” said Mr Xu, noting that the growth prospect of Maldivian economy was good in light of growing tourist arrivals.

Since UNDP was impartial and had the trust of governments across the world, they were ideal partners in working together on sensitive issues such as human rights and governance – topics of major discussion in the country at the moment.

UNDP has a lot if can offer, but please don’t see us as donors, said Mr Xu.

Mr Xu believes that Maldives should not only see UNDP as donors, but actually co-finance joint projects between Maldives and UNDP because the country had the capability to do so.

He took examples from successful co-financed projects in the region including the project to reform civil service in Pakistan and an urban poverty reduction program in Bangladesh – which is to be expanded to include the entire slump population due to its success.

The challenge remains for UNDP to prove to the government and all parties in Maldives the value UNDP brings in to projects is worth the co-financing, but Mr Xu believes that Maldives was a much richer country in many ways and could do it.

“So we have to change the relationship, change the mentality. We can do a lot of things together. I’m very confident. We can bring innovation to develop Maldives, we can engage young people in the process and we can do good prototype of individual ideas. And government can use funding to scale it up across the country. So I’m very positive.”

This article first appeared in Haveeru Online on 15 April 2015. 

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