بســم اللّـه الرّحمـن الرّحيــم
اَلحَمْـدُ لِلّـهِ رَبّ العَـالَمِـين، وَالصّـلاة وَالسّلام علـى سيدنا محـمَّدٍ، خاتم الأنبياء والمرسلين، وَعلـى آلـه وصحبـه أجمـعـين.
السّــلام عليــكم ورحـمــة اللّـه وبـركاتـه،
Hon. Speaker Mr. Abdulla Shahid, Speakers from the SAARC region, Fellow Parliamentarians, Distinguished Guests, Members of the Diplomatic Corp, Ladies and Gentlemen;
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you – the most prominent lawmakers from across our region – to my country the Maldives, to participate in this Seventh Conference of the Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians. May I, therefore take this opportunity to thank the Speaker of the People’s Majlis – our Paliament – Hon. Abdulla Shahid for giving me this honour of inaugurating this august Conference.
Until I assumed the office of the Presidency a month ago, I had the honour of serving as a Member of the People’s Majlis for almost two decades. I am, therefore, in a position to express a strong sense of kinship with you. I am also keenly aware of the huge responsibilities entrusted upon you by your people, as well as the special honour and privileges bestowed on parliamentarians from across the region.
This august gathering is the first international forum that the Maldives is hosting since the commencement of this new Government’s tenure. It is especially fitting that it should be a SAARC gathering, as we are the current Chair of the Association. Furthermore, it is also an opportunity for us to reiterate our strong and continued commitment to furthering regional cooperation.
Democracy has taken strong root across our region. In many cases, such reform efforts as well as democratic consolidation initiatives have been undertaken through our parliaments. With this differing levels of maturity of the parliaments of South Asia, it is now imperative that we focus on the relationships between our parliaments and executive branches, to ensure that the true and full benefits of democratic governance are realized by the people.
While checks and balances, and indeed oversight function, are the cornerstones of our democratic systems, the wide array of areas where cooperation and collaboration between the legislature and executives – even in a country such as the Maldives with full separation of powers – is an essential prerequisite for strong and good governance. I foresee tremendous benefits from more frequent exchanges between parliamentarians from countries with strong parliamentary traditions and practices in South Asia. Whether it is a parliamentary or a presidential system of government, there is much in the way of knowledge and experience that can be shared to ensure that democratic norms and principles are further strengthened across our region.
In this age of rapid globalisation, regional co-operation is a must. South Asian countries are seeking meaningful progress in deepening political, social, cultural and economic cooperation in the region. To keep abreast with the expectations of our peoples, we need to increase the relevance of SAARC, both as a tool for multilateral cooperation among our Member States, as well as in global politics and in international trade.
We need to be more responsive. We must be more relevant. As a regional bloc, we must be more substantive. After all, our region accounts for nearly a quarter of the world’s population.
The past decade was an exciting one for the Maldives, with the implementation of an ambitious package of constitutional, democratic reforms. At the heart of the reform programme was, of course, the drafting of the current Constitution of 2008, which established a number of new democratic institutions while strengthening numerous existing ones.
The two themes to be discussed during this Conference – “Strengthening Democracy in the South Asia Region through Institutional Development” and “Democracy and Inclusive Development – Achieving –SAARC MDGs” are both pertinent and of importance. The outcomes of this Conference will, undoubtedly, have a strong bearing on the future development of SAARC Member States.
May I take this opportunity to warmly welcome the meeting of women parliamentarians, and note the importance of increasing women’s participation in the political landscape across South Asia.
I am confident that the Speakers and Parliamentarians attending this Conference, with your wise leadership and wide experience, can and will deliberate on the themes of this Conference with rich knowledge, deep insight and consummate expertise.
The role of parliaments extends far beyond constitutional and legislative enactment and amendment, particularly in young democracies and small states. The parliament, in our part of the world, also serves as a safeguard against fundamental rights violations, oversight of independent ombudsman institutions and approving state budgets.
While parliamentarians deliberate on such varied discourse, we are also mindful of the plight of over a billion people. Reducing income disparity and poverty alleviation will feature for many more years to come. Governments must be encouraged and assisted to uplift the wellbeing of their citizens. No enterprise between the Elected and the Electorate can be complete without deliberating for greater connectivity between them. Indeed, the expectation of one fourth of mankind. So fellow parliamentarians. Let them have life and have it more abundantly.
Thank you very much.