Good afternoon Dr. Kumar, the State Minister for Industries, Dr Malhotra, Mr Bajoria and Mr Naruli. Thank you very much for gathering here. And thank you very much for the ladies and gentlemen, the leaders of Indian industries, for having come to listen to us.
As all the speakers have pointed out, of course, the Maldives is a small country. But we have big dreams. And we want to do good. For the last so many years, we haven’t had the good fortune of democracy and good governance. We haven’t had the good fortune of the open economy and private enterprise. But we are now here to tell our friends that Maldives is open for business. The country, during the last so many years, has bought a number of state owned industries and we now want to relinquish the state ownership of these, some would say white elephants. We want to see private partnership, private investments in these areas.
The only industry that is truly competitive in the Maldives is tourism. And this is the only industry that is actually giving us anything, that is contributing to the wealth of the nation. Recently the fisheries industry was, in a sense, privatized partly but divided into four zones. Therefore, not really to any extent that any of you would recognize it as free enterprise. But we want to open up the country. We want you, our good Indian friends, to take part in the development of our industries.
We have the main industrial leaders of our country here with us, and also a number of state-owned industry heads who are now willing to give up their hold on these industries: mainly energy, electricity, the harbours, airports, ports, sanitation, water facilities, and any other infrastructure. In a sense, actually I would like to tell you and assure you that we are willing to sell anything as long as both parties benefit from it.
We believe that it is not the function of the government to do business, its up to you, people to do it and give us the tax money. That’s all. This government has no interest, what’s so ever to have a hold on enterprises. You might have thought why for so many years, we have had to have this hold on enterprise, but then we all know that through enterprise, through state ownership of them, it is quite easy to control freedoms.
We believe that we can only be democratic and good governance could only set in through free movement of goods, factors of production and for industry to flourish. I really don’t want to go on and on about how we are going to do it. Basically, what we are here for is, that we say, ‘look we have many industries where the government hold 100 percent ownership of its shares’. Here you see people representing these government industries. We are looking for partners who would venture with us in developing these industries. We have one international airport. Recently we have opened that airport for people who have an interest in developing this airport with us. And we have had an amazing amount of interest in people who want to develop this airport. We also have a very good regional airport up in the north Hanimaadhoo, which is very close to India, and we want to find a partner who would run this airport with us.
Basically the thinking of the government is, try to find out any asset that our government has, parcel it up, and see who would want to have a share in it. The economic policy of our government is to try and seek partners to develop the infrastructure of our country.
We do have profit making industries. Our energy sector, rather the State Electric Company is very good. It has a lot of potential. And we want to see if any of you would be interested in going into partnership with us, similarly, in many other areas and many other industries as well.
We understand that there is financial crisis. But we like to believe that this has, in a sense, forced a lot of industries to downsize themselves to Maldives size. And we think, therefore, we are standing at a very advantageous position. I, of course, have no position here to dictate how you run your businesses. But I’m sure you are going through these sizing down and cutting down on any excesses. When you cut down and when you become small, you come to Maldives size. And Maldives is there for you to come to new realities of the size. And therefore, we believe that this is an excellent moment for Indian industries to come to the Maldives and start venturing into these enterprises.
I would like to stress that our most successful industry, which is the tourism industry, has been going on for the last 30-40 years. And as one of the speakers pointed out, this industry is very resilient to international shocks. We have gone through in 1987 a stock market crash, we have gone through two gulf wars we have gone through a tsunami. And we have come out extremely well. Very fit and verily.
With us here, we have leaders of the tourism industry who are seeking for opportunities. We have the State Bank of India. It is one of the oldest banks in the Maldives. Our entrepreneurs, of course would want the bank to lend a little bit more to them, to extend their terms and assist them and help them.
We are grateful for the Indian government for financial assistance in this very difficult time for us. The change of government wasn’t easy in any way. I’m really not going to go into details how the change of government happened. But I would like to point out if not for the Indian industries, if not for the Indian private sector and if not for the Indian non governmental organizations, Maldives wouldn’t have had a free and fair election. So we are extremely thankful. I just asked Dr. Malhotra if he was related to Jyoti Malhotra, the writer who has been extremely helpful and assisted us all through out these last four years, in fact twenty years when we have been trying to build up a democratic movement in the country.
All in all, today, what we really would want to point out is we have state owned assets and we are willing to relinquish it. We are willing to sell it. We are willing to sell majority shares of it. If you are interested in it please come up and buy it and run it and make good money out of it. There is good money that can be made through these assets. We have no doubt about it. I’m sure once you look into the portfolios, the books and the feasibilities, the business plans, you would very well understand that there is good business in the Maldives. We want to see more Indian involvement in Maldives’ trade. Right now Singapore stands as the biggest exporter to the Maldives. That could easily change, for Indian products are getting better and better every day. And there is no reason why we can’t gradually switch to Indian products and Indian imports.
I’m open for your questions. We have a question and answer session so I thought I would rather say as little as I can but again and again and again, I would like to stress that there is good business to be made in housing, in water and sanitation, in electricity, in transport, in tourism, in fisheries and in many other related industries. So please join up with our partners and see how both sides can benefit through mutual cooperation.
We are always thankful for India for the assistances, for the help, for having Maldives in your mind in most of your policies and issues. And I’m sure we would be able to continue with the good relations we have had in the past, and further build it up. Both sides need to secure ourselves. We need stable borders, we need peace. We do not need radicalisms of any form. We are not looking at any religious extremism. You will understand that Maldives is a hundred percent Muslim country. We would like to point out that we are the only hundred percent Muslim country who has come up with a home grown democratic movement to have a free and fair multi-party election and to come up with a democratic form of governance. If this can happen in the Maldives, there is no reason why it can’t happen in other Islamic countries. We would like ourselves to be an example to other Islamic countries and I’m sure that good governance can take root in all areas of the world and I’m sure you are aware that without good governance and democracy there is no peace, radicalism will always flourish when discourse has no room.
Again thank you very much and I will leave more time for your questions and I will try to answer as much as I can. If it is to do with the Maldives, I can assure you we can answer. Thank you very much.