Govt. appeals ICO order to disclose UTF agreement in High Court

Uthuru Thilafalhu (UTF) Agreement signing; Maldives Defense Minister Mariya Didi and Minister of External Affairs of India Subrahmanyam Jaishankar | Photo: Coralglass

Malé, Maldives – The government of Maldives has appealed an order by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to disclose the Uthuru Thilafalhu (UTF) agreement in High Court.

The contents of this naval base harbour project development agreement between Maldives and India was initially requested from the Ministry of Defence by news agency ‘Dhiyares’. However, the Ministry refused to disclose the agreement, which led to Dhiyares appealing the matter at the ICO under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Based on hearings, the ICO ordered the Defence Ministry to disclose some information of the agreement, specifically those pertaining to the Joint Project Monitoring Group formulated under the agreement as well as any potential plans to develop a runway strip for aircraft landing.

This is not the first time the controversial agreement’s disclosure has been requested for by a government body. In October of 2021, the Parliament of Maldives also called upon the Ministry of Defence to disclose the agreement, with Speaker Nasheed saying that the UTF agreement is no secret.

The ICO order was appealed by the Defence Ministry in High Court sometime during the end of February. However, so far it is yet to be accepted by the court.

This comes at a time when the Supreme Court has ordered the High Court to resume accepting appeal requests regarding orders by the ICO, after the High Court decided that it cannot look into orders by the Office and stopped accepting ICO cases.

The public has grown a special interest in the UTF agreement after an alleged draft agreement of the UTF agreement was leaked by Former Home Minister, Umar Naseer, which the government claimed was fake.

Over the past few years, tension has been growing among the sectors of the public over strengthening bonds between India and Maldives, with the opposition leading an IndiaOut campaign calling for the removal of Indian military presence from the country.

The Maldivian government has taken action against India Out narratives on several occasions in the past, including the arrest of two individuals who plastered India Out graffiti on school walls, as well as via statements by the National Security Chair and the President of Maldives himself.