Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen Good morning and welcome to the Maldives:
I have been given a speech to read and I was just thinking of going ahead with it and reading it, but I thought maybe if I can actually talk to you it would perhaps be a little bit better.
Sorry for inviting you to this gloomy party.
Yes we have problems, we have economic problems, we have social problems, drug abuse, we have juvenile delinquencies, we have gang violence, child abuse, wife beating, we have religious fundamentalism. We have a lot of problems.
On 28 October 2008, people of this country decided they want to change all that. So they voted for democracy.
Looking around here, I see many familiar faces. A lot of ambassadors, diplomats who have helped the reform process of this country, assisted the people to bring about this change.
Not very often you get home-grown democracy in a 100 percent Muslim country. The people of this country have been able to galvanize the public to political activism. They have been able to amend the constitution to reflect a more civilized society. They have been able to have a free and fair election. And above all they have been able to have a very smooth transfer of power. They did all this, in my mind, because they wanted to change all
the gloom and doom.
We are now, of course, in the process and we haven’t finished anything yet. We will continue to work along the process so that we can bring it to a more sustainable end.
Democracy is very fragile. We need to consolidate it. And to consolidate it, of course, it helps if you have favourable economic conditions. But, we are not blessed with it right now. Then again, we’ve always fought against odds. And we have been able to come out of it, and we have been able to succeed. None of you would have thought that this government would actually come into play in this country. Three years back or even six months before, you would have doubted that the people of this country would actually come out and change the autocratic system. But it has happened. The people have worked for it and we have been able to bring about this change.
Now, moving form here, we have to be very careful, vigilant. And we have to be able to deliver all the promises that we made. In delivering, we will be able to sustain democracy.
The Maldives stands at a very historic juncture. We can continue with the process of democratic reform or we can revert back to where we were before. We certainly are not going to let that happen. And I don’t believe the people of this country are willing to go back where they came from. And therefore, we should be able to come out with the changes and we should be able to deliver the promises to the people.
I am not worried. I don’t see that the road ahead is so blocked. I really do see many opportunities from the present economic climate, from the present climatic change issues. And also, from the social issues: of drug abuse and gang violence. I always see many opportunities from these tragedies.
I think if we try to address these in a more optimistic manner, we might be able to use them for our benefit. We might be able to use them to come up with totally new systems. If you take the economic conditions that we have, we need to build a fair amount of infrastructure.
The previous government, in their attempts to win the hearts and minds of the people, while continuing with autocratic rule, nepotism and corruption - while doing that if you were to win the people’s hearts and minds you are very often led to believe that if you go on spending and if you promise the people all sorts of goodies and all sorts of facilities, perhaps they might change. In my mind this was the thinking behind the previous government or at least for the last three years. The idea was that it was not possible to bring about the political changes, the democratic changes, the real changes; but because of that they had to go on promising the people many things that they couldn’t deliver. In the past, the government would come out with a budget of about 7- 8 billions. During the past 2 to 3 years we suddenly so that increase to 12 – 13 billion. Now, this is because they had to promise the people all the facilities that they thought the people wanted. So, they came out with a huge excess programme - building many, or attempting to build many harbours in a very short period of time. They started building a lot of drainages, sewerages, roads, harbours, airports. There was a huge public sector investment programme that the country, of course, cannot finance. But that had to be promised at that instance because this was the only way to win the vote.
Now, what we were selling was something totally different. What we were selling was freedom, human rights, free expression, a good life. And we didn’t, therefore, quite have to find all these material things to win. But now that we have won, or at least the people have won, we are now in a situation that they do remember all these promises: all the harbours, all the drainages, all the extra blocks of classrooms, the health centres. All these items have been budgeted, apparently, which means that they are included in the budget that was presented to the parliament. But of course, there never was any money behind it.
So, we are now in a situation where we cannot come out and say: ‘look, you know, we can’t do this, we can’t do this harbour, and we can’t do this sewerage’. Because in their mind was the sewerage, there was the talk of the sewerage, there might have perhaps been a demonstration on the sewerage, or in fact there might have been a few posters about the school. So we really now have to be able to do something with the infrastructure program - the PSIP program.
The government doesn’t have the money.
We decided that the best way to go forward would be to corporatize the infrastructure programme. We decided that there will be people who would want to invest in the Maldives.
This country has produced better returns than any country. You ask the European investors who have invested in this country. Twenty years ago they came here with about three four hundred thousand dollars. They have got a very handsome return - ten, twenty fold, in billions of dollars exactly from this country. They are, therefore, quite aware of the kind of returns that this country gives.
Mind you, the only things that they are selling are not just the beach, the sun and the sand, but also water and electricity to the tourist. Money made in these resorts are also by selling utilities. And we have the expertise. Kulhudhuffushi sewerage plant, drainage system, apparently is going to cost the government 8 million dollars. Now if you ask Mr Dean how much the sewerage system here has cost him, he would tell you that not more than 5 hundred thousand dollars. It is amazing! It really is quite amazing how we can spend 7 million dollars for Kulhudhuffushi drainage and Mr Dean can’t spend more than a million dollars for the drainage system here.
I’m quite sure that there is scope for private investments in utilities in this country especially if we can network the resorts and the inhabited islands.
The Maldives has a very peculiar situation. This country has two countries in it. Right next to a third world, underdeveloped island we would have a European extremely rich island.
Now all what we’re saying is, if we can share the utilities - the production and distribution - of these two islands, we will be home and dry. There won’t be a problem. I think if banks, utility companies, and other investors can extend their imagination outside the narrow frameworks of business plans and all sorts of things, and just start believing, then I’m sure that we can make it happen. It is happening. Very soon in Thoddoo, an Italian tourism company who has invested in the Maldives for the last 20 years would invest in the utilities of that island.
We are seeking out resort owners who would be willing to stop producing utilities, and outsource that to a third party who would be willing to produce utilities for the resort and the inhabited island. If we can work this model out, I think we will be able to satisfy the infrastructure program. So I’m not really quite worried about the infrastructure promises that we have made. We can actually come out and do that.
This country has given a very good return to the European investors. Right now we have more than 5 billion dollars of European investments and we would be producing better returns than any other portfolio that they have.
So in a sense, in terms of providing utilities and facilities and roads and housing, and so on and so forth, we have a small plan, which we hope will work. We want to develop that plan.
The government also has huge expenses and we don’t have the money in the budget to go on with these expenses. Even after having been able to corporatize the public sector investment program, we are still left with huge government expenditure. So, we go into the government budget and try to find out corporate activities within the government. One very good example would be regional airports. Right now they are a burden on the state budget. But it need not be so.
If we can find joint venture partners who would run regional airports, ports and harbours, I’m sure they need not anymore be a burden on the budget. We can corporatize that. And we think, therefore, in two years we would be able to come out with a surplus.
We do two things. One is we privatize the former PSIP program. Two, we corporatize any corporate activity that is in government right now. Waste management for instance, municipal services for instance. And waste management apparently now is not waste. People want to buy it. People want to make electricity out of it. So we feel that if we can achieve these two goals, we would be able to balance the books. Maybe not by the end of this year; but by the end of next year.
The question is what do we do this year?
Well, we are hoping some of you would have a look at our books. Have a look and see what we are talking about. See if it makes sense. I believe that it will make sense, we are not talking about rocket science. If we can bridge this very short term gap, we would be able to make a very good success story out of this.
Now, the economics is really quite done. And this government, a lot of people in this government are at it. They are talking about it, and they are crunching numbers, and they are coming out with plans and models. Therefore, I think we can get economics going.
In terms of this social protection program; now, this is far more important. We have unemployment increasing among youth.
I can go on like this but please bear with me for a while, I will stop in minute.
This government was by and large brought to office by the young of this country. I have no doubt about that. People much younger than me - 18 to 35 years of age. And we haven’t done anything to them. I haven’t spoken to them. I haven’t met them. There is a reason for this. So I’ll have to talk about this smooth transfer of power business to coincide with this.
If I talk to them, it will be very difficult for me to go on with this smooth transfer of power business. They want, believe me they want - the cry is still the same: “off with the head”. A lot of youth have been very badly done. There had been a lot of injustices. Many have been badly tortured. There had been many human rights violations. People want justice. Especially when President Gayoom sees it fit to prosecute or press charges against Hassan Afeef, the leader of MDP Parliamentary group, it is getting almost impossible for me. I’m under so much pressure.
This is where I worry. Not the economy. To hold on to this thing. And everyday I have to come out, everyday I’m on the telephone, everyday I have to beg these people please don’t do this. Don’t go to court. Don’t go out on the streets. Don’t do that. Let the regime, let the past be past.
But when they see it fit to prosecute the leader of our parliamentary group it’s getting almost impossible. So this business of smooth transfer of power is the most difficult thing I have ever faced. I’m not an experienced man, but in my limited experience, this is the most difficult thing that I have has to do. I beg Gayoom to move back.
None of us want to go ahead with a witch hunt. None of us want to prosecute him or the former regime. I certainly don’t believe there will be any good. You can have a court case, you can have a defendant, you can have a plaintiff, you can have a judge and you can have the court drama. But will that dispense justice? We’ve had a country without rule of law, and therefore, no lawyers, no judges. And how are we expected to produce justice out of a hollow system?
In my mind, if we have the democratic process, we will probably be able to dispense better justice. But I’m a minority now. We are moving towards elections, parliamentary elections, and the man had the audacity to come out and say that he is going to win it all.
In the process of the transition of moving from autocracy to democracy, in establishing democracy in this country, this is the most delicate affair. Many of you might bankers, economists and so on and so forth. But I also see, there is a need to study or to give our attention to the issue of smooth transfer and to the issue of transitional justice. Some how, we would have to deal with that.
Now, I was talking about the young. I haven’t met the vote bank. I haven’t met the people who elected me. We have given a pension to those over 65. We have retained a whole civil service, who were actually a group of servants. We’ve retained the whole previous government’s power infrastructure and we haven’t dismantled it.
During the first hundred days of the previous government, when Ibrahim Nasir left, and Gayoom was installed in power, 432 people were arrested during a period of 100 days. All for political reasons. We haven’t arrested one and we will not, God willing, arrest even one.
Our target in youth employment is, we want to identify at least 5000 youth between 18 to 35 years of age, who hasn’t got a job. We want to train them and then give them a job. This is out target. Government’s target for this year is training and employing 5000 youth.
Now, of course, that won’t solve us any problem. The amount is too big. We have about, we think more than 25,000 youth on the street without a job and on the verge of serious criminal activity, including hard drugs. We really have to identify them. We have to talk to them. We have to do something with them. Drug rehabilitation is very important.
The police force is far more important for us not to talk about and not to discuss. We have to change the police force. We have to change or we have to, lets say, I don’t know a nice way of putting it, we have to train them. We have to have better imagination at the top brass. We have to able to deal with the criminal elements in the streets of Male’. And we can do it. It’s possible. This is one area where would be really requesting assistance - human resource assistance - for a group of people to come and stay in the police service for a few years and change the whole culture of policing, looking to community policing.
Part of the problem, part of the resentments and part of the reasons why people still want to go for this justice is because the police force for instance haven’t changed all that much. I’m, apparently, the chief of police or the man who is in charge of the police and I do spend my time in this police. I have confidence in police. I know that there are a lot of good people in there. We have a lot of expertise there - a lot of very qualified people. And they can do a very good job. And in fact we’ve only had one murder since we came whichs is good for the Maldives. Last year we had 8.
We are trying to understand gang violence. I told my government to start reading more on gang warfare than anything, Westside story would be a good start. That is the romance. You have to have blood on your hands to be a gang leader. The youth have this mentality now that to be a leader you have to have blood on your hands. That is why I keep saying, you know, Westside story is a good start. We have to be able to understand the young. We have to be able to understand the gangs and the violence that goes with that.
Drug dealing. Very sorry a lot of - apparently a lot of - very reputable people are at it. We have to be able to move in and address the issue.
Again all this is connected to the business of smooth transfer of power. Violence, drugs, all that is apparently connected to the smooth transfer of power and if we move too robustly on drugs that would affect the smooth transfer of power. I hope you know what I mean. If we move more robustly on gang violence, that would affect the smooth transfer of power. So it is a very delicate balance.
We are also trying to do a few more things in terms of health and education. Our aim is to have single session schools. Our aim is to have a good school, where the student can spend all his or her life in school. In the afternoon playing, morning studying, the night a little bit of mischief. You know, we want to build that school. As we stand now with so many constraints on resources, it’s difficult.
We want to privatize higher education, higher schools. We want to build a model - we want to able to establish about ten of these high schools and high national diploma level, where the government would give a grant and also the government would facilitate a student loan program to top up the grant. Therefore, schools would be commercially viable,. Dr Luthfee has drawn up this model and Luthfee has tested or at least we’ve launched one in Hinnavaru.
If we can come up with a few that would really quite ease the pressure on grade 11 and 12 and higher education, it would ease the pressure on the state. We have to be able to make room for some amount of private schools. Not only because they would ease the pressure on the state system, but also because we need to give a better choice to the parents.
If we consider what is happening now, the government is subsidising even very wealthy children, very affluent children, as much as the government is subsidizing the malnourished and children below poverty line. There is no point why we should go ahead subsiding for instance, about 20 percent of the student enrolment. If we can make room for a private education system, we believe that, about 20 percent of the students would opt out of the state system and, therefore reduce pressure on the education budget.
Patrice mentioned it was 1.4 million – strange it was. It was 1.4 billion! Actually in the speech, I know, by thinking back, I did say 1.4 million but it was a slip. It was 1.4 billion – the budget deficit of last year. This has no relationship with the school.
One of our model for higher education is to have a private or public private partnership so that we can come up with high schools.
In terms of secondary and other schoolings, Dr. Luthfee is trying to give out about 4 to 5 of the state schools and make them private schools. But that involves a handout to the existing students in these schools. So the government should be able to give a scholarship to these students until they finish and therefore, we are working on the financial models of these things.
In health care, again, we have introduced a health insurance scheme. In fact, we haven’t yet actually introduced a good insurance scheme. The previous administration had a health insurance scheme that we thought we had to follow. But then we had a closer look at it and there was no insurance in it at all. And we are trying to find out where the insurance bit is. There is a scheme, but we are unable to find out and then finally cabinet has decided that there were more to ‘madhana’ than just setting out an insurance scheme. Some of you might have heard that in the previous administration there was an attempt to introduce an insurance firm. And now the exact firm is in court in Malaysia or Singapore. And therefore, you know, that’s where the insurance scheme affairs is. Now we have had to untangle that and see where the insurance is and hopefully, come out with an insurance scheme. The idea is for the hospitals to charge and the insurance companies to pay and the government to pay the premium and the government to ask for a contribution from the people.
Now, we would be asking for contributions from the people all the time. In every single instance - in water, in sewerage, in everything. And I am very confident that the people would understand this. I am very confident that the people will understand the fact that we can’t deliver all these things.
I know expectations are high. Everyone keeps telling me that it’s a new government and people would have high expectations. But please understand, I have visited more than 20 islands since last November. I have had very close range consultations with these people and told them “no we can’t do this, it’s not possible. We can’t do all these things instantly. We have a plan and this is how we do it”. If we they can understand the plan, they are happy. If we involve them in the plan they are fine. So we have to tell them “ok, this is how we are going to do the drainage. Don’t ask me for the date of the drainage, but please ask me how we are going to deliver the drainage”. And once we start explaining to them “look, what we are going to do is, there is this resort island right next to you and what we are trying to do is connect these two islands by one grid”. Of course, it is leap on their imagination. But, looking back, it’s a leap on many imaginations.
My point is, if are able to tell the people that this is how we are going to do it and if they can understand that they can take part in the process, then you are therefore dealing with reassured expectations.
Now, you can only do that through decentralization. You can involve them by decentralizing power. This again is a huge hurdle.
Male’, throughout history has consolidated so much power. In a sense, this wasn’t one country, the atolls had autonomy. Some bright fellow unified the country in the sense, and then throughout the last I, 000 years, Male’ had gradually consolidated all the power in the seat in Male’. Now, I sit there, and try to give it back to them. I’m finding that its now only me who is sitting here. There are all sorts of Male’ interest. I’m fortunate that I am one of them and I’m also fortunate that I used to be their MP. And I’m also fortunate that I visited each and every single of their homes more than twice during the last year. Every single home in Male’! Therefore, I can be a little bit difficult with them and say “look, you have to relinquish power; you have to give it up. It’s theirs”.
We are going through the process. But some would say it’s not exactly so very well defined in the laws or in legislature now. But today, there is a bill in the parliament. Hopefully the legislation would continue. But we have established through the existing legislations - through the existing frameworks - we have established seven regional centres. And we want desks and chairs. The State Ministers here always ring me up about infrastructure, about homes, about offices, about transport. And, you know, we are working it out, and we hope that you will have a look at this programme – the decentralization programme. I’m sure, that you will be able to contribute towards this programme.
Agriculture – we have spent so much on research on agriculture. There are many facilities that we have many research islands and many very good hydroponics projects and very hot chillies, very good in fact. But we want to see if these projects can be handed over to a commercial interest.
There is noting called the ‘island community’. There is nothing called that. There is, however, an individual who is an entrepreneur, who is excellent at it. And there are people who work. This is a feudalistic society. And you know, moving from feudalism to pluralism, is quite interesting actually. There is an individual, an entrepreneur on the island. If we can bring in a foreign investor as a joint venture partner to many of the government projects - agriculture and aqua-culture projects, all these projects would be viable. And we can make these projects in to investment opportunities.
So thank you very much Patrice, for all the UN projects. If we start looking at these projects not as projects but as investment opportunities, if we can parcel them to say some fisheries corporation or Fuvahmulaku Banana Plantation Pvt Ltd, or something like that, and if we can ask an investor ‘look, the government has invested so many millions in it; and it is there; all the infrastructure and things are there’, then I’m sure we are attracting people who are willing to come and invest in these areas. So we want to transform agriculture from the present play-house projects to more hardball economic corporate entities.
Same thing in fisheries, but a little bit more than that. This country has, or at least the government fishery of this country has relied very much upon tuna. And the government fishery company owns a fair amount of tuna concerns here. The government now wants to privatize tuna and MIFCO to go towards some big investments in aqua-culture. In a sense, we now want to stop hunting and start farming.
We fish one by one. Our fishermen are convinced that they can fish more this way. There is no point in discouraging them. But, we fish one by one and we will continue to fish one by one.
But we want to see areas where we can invest in aqua-culture and therefore, more in fish farming. They think they want to move from being a hunter-gatherer society to a more settlement people. There are 20,000 people going hunting everyday, going fishing everyday. 20,000 of them go everyday and come back with their catch everyday. Of course the catch apparently is depleting a little bit. Its coming down. So its time that we start thinking and we start investing more in aqua-culture.
Now, I hope I have touched upon most of the areas that we are concentrating upon. And I’m sure that this gathering would very fruitful.
Thank you very much, the UN Resident Coordinator, and Dr Shaheed and everyone who have been very instrumental in organizing this forum. If I may single out the honourable German Ambassador and thank him for all the engagements and the strength that he had in believing the reform process, like all the other diplomats who were engaged so well in trying to bring out the changes, the peaceful changes in this country.
As I said we have problems but we are confident that we can overcome that. We are a formidable government. It would be very, very difficult to shake us off. We will, hopefully, continue winning. We will win a majority in the parliamentary elections. We will, hopefully, win a majority in the local elections coming soon.
But, before I finish, let me tell you that we are funding only the opposition newspapers. We are not funding the pro-government news papers. We are funding Haveeru, Miadhu and Aafathis. And we will continue to do that. We want to see a more formative opposition. We want to see process in internal party democracies, in the parties themselves. We want to see transparent and active political parties. And, we will encourage that.
But very sadly I have to say, before I just finish, in ten years, all the papers of this country will disintegrate because they are already more that 250 years old. I have inherited a lot of manuscripts in very bad state. By trade I am a historian and I would beg some one to please fumigate these and preserve them. It’s very important for this country.
I should finish. But there is my main crunch, my fundamental issue – carbon neutrality. It’s very simple again. We are having to start from scratch and there is no point to going to yesterday’s technology. We can invest in tomorrow’s technology. There is no point, especially, in investing on diesel machines. Because we are starting from scratch. We want to build a good grid. Therefore, I think it’s quite possible to invest in renewable energy and I don’t think it would be that difficult to achieve our goal of carbon neutrality. I really think this is also quite possible.
So, thank you again. I hope I finish it this time. We will have a more two side engagement later on. This is just me talking. And, please have a good time in the Maldives and enjoy the night. I have been told by Deen that he will throw a party tonight in Kuda Bandos. So we will have a barbeque in Kuda Bandos.
And I hope to come and I hope everyone who is staying around will stay. Those who have decided to leave tomorrow would also cancel their travel arrangements and have this party tonight. I think it’s very important to have this party – far more important than sitting here. Without closer engagements it’s going to be very difficult, I haven’t spoken about Islamic fundamentalism. I think you can ask me later on and I will touch upon it. If I did go into my speech, I probably would have touched all these things but then it didn’t happen.
Thank you very much and have a lovely time.