Honourable Speaker of the People’s Majlis:
It is a great pleasure and honour for me to present the Presidential Address at the first sitting of the first term of the People’s Majlis this year, as stipulated in the Constitution.
When I presented the first Presidential Address of this administration, the Government was in its infancy. Perhaps that day, some of us may have thought that the new Government would not last its lawful term of office. However, fate paved its way in accordance to our plans.
In my view, it would be everyone’s wish to sustain this competitive political system, which we all worked so hard to establish.
The consequences of measures that the Government may have to take to safeguard this system against actions based on unrealistic hopes would be borne not only by the Government, but also by the opposition. I don’t believe that anyone of us would want that to happen. The sensible way would indeed be to set aside such personal rivalry, to build national foundations.
Elections are to be held in 2013. I am not saying that it is any less important for political parties to prepare for then. However, if getting prepared means obstructing governance, the Government and many other parties would come out in the defence of such actions with great passion. If that happens, it would certainly trigger chain reactions, causing great damage – not only to individuals, but to the entire political system. I am sure none of us would wish such a disastrous situation. Therefore, our nation greatly needs the support of this esteemed Majlis.
The leaders of the strongest four to five political parties in the Maldives are members of this esteemed Majlis. I am confident that they would make genuine contributions of expertise, advice and participation at the very forefront in matters of state.
I assure you that this administration will do everything possible to maintain political collaboration. To achieve this cooperation, I also assure you that, with the grace of God, we will extend our full support, or move away from any position that may be necessary in the larger interests of the nation.
In my address at this esteemed Majlis last year, I stated that my administration was prepared to provide equitable services to all citizens and to be accountable to the people. As the new administration is passing a year and four months, I note that we have made satisfactory progress in these endeavours.
When the budget was submitted to the sixteenth session of People’s Majlis on December of 2008, the estimated deficit for 2009 was Rf 5.7 billion. But, when the supplementary budget was submitted in March, the deficit was reduced to Rf 2.2 billion. However, due to the global financial crisis of 2009 which also affected the Maldives, the estimated revenue of Rf 10.2 billion fell to Rf 6.2 billion. As a result, with the many austerity measures taken, the deficit stood at Rf 5.9 billion at the end of the year.
Debts in 2009 to foreign financial agencies and banks stood at 553.8 million dollars. This amount is 37.6% of our GDP.
Recurrent expenditure of Government as estimated in 2008 was Rf 8.7 billion. The 2009 supplementary (mid- term budget) estimated recurrent expenditure as Rf8.6 billion. However, expenditure at the end of 2009 was Rf7.9 billion, indicating successful achievement of efforts to reduce Government expenditure. The recurrent expenditure for 2010 was estimated at Rf8.3 billion. The Majlis approved Rf9.1 billion as estimated expenditure.
Addressing this esteemed Majlis last year, I assured you that our Government would strive continuously to find solutions to address the problem of dollar shortages faced by the country.
I am happy to note that the Government had taken significant steps to address this issue. In this regard, assistance from the United Nations was sought; the Government embraced the advice of international financial agencies and began the implementation of some of the measures suggested by these agencies. We have started enjoying the benefits of these measures. The rate of increase of the value of the dollar is presently at check and the Government hopes to eliminate dollar shortages, and normalise the value of the dollar by the middle of this year.
An important facet of accepting advice of international agencies I highlighted earlier is linked with reducing payroll expenditure, as well as general Government expenditure. The measures also included processes to increase revenues of the state. Government policies to free our nation from the current economic downturn, has now been made public. This has been explained to the Civil Service Commission through various interactions. I strongly believe that viewing such crises from a national perspective should be the responsibility of every individual citizen.
I make note of and thank the large number of Government and civil service employees who continue to bear with these difficulties with patience, in the interest of the nation. I appeal to them to implement Government policies to address the economic downturn, in a patient, strategic and intelligent manner. I assure all of you in this Majlis that the Government will continue to make every possible effort to bring about a positive change to the salaries of civil servants and Government employees.
Most of the State revenue from taxes in the Maldives is through indirect taxation. This creates problems in managing finances and the economy, in line with international standards. This esteemed Majlis has also continuously highlighted this issue and the Government has submitted two Bills last year to reform the tax system. They are the Bill on Administration of Taxation and the Bill on Business Profit Tax. I am confident that this Majlis will work to ensure that these two bills are passed as soon as possible. In addition to the two bills mentioned above, the Government has submitted the Bill on Taxing from Sales of Tourism Service Providers. Also, the Government will submit a bill proposing amendments to the Tourism Act – Act number 2/99. If income from tourism is taxed in accordance with the proposed bill, current taxing on tourism will change to island rent; and there will be a change in lease period of islands allocated for tourism.
These changes proposed by the Government have been discussed with all stakeholders. The advice of international financial agencies has also been sought. The Government is confident that these changes will positively impact on the tourism industry.
In order to generate solutions for the lack of financial resources, which is the greatest challenge faced by small and medium enterprises, work of establishing a bank specialized in granting loans for small and medium enterprises has been initiated. The business plan for this venture as well as related administrative work has been completed and it is planned to establish this bank by mid 2010. The Ministry of Economic Development conducted a Rf18.8 million Fund to issue soft loans for small and medium enterprises. I am happy to announce that this scheme allocated 40% of loans specifically for women. The Ministry of Economic Development plans to issue additional loans in 2010.
The Government is making great efforts within and outside the country, to expand trade and investment, and create a business environment that facilitates exports. 18 approvals for foreign investments were granted in 2009, and 11 of these investments have been registered. The total amount of registered foreign investment in 2009 was US Dollar 22 million.
An important measure implemented in 2009, with regard to developing the education system was the formulation of reliable school indicators, and implementation of new standards for the assessment of schools. 101 schools were changed to single session schools. 1817 teachers were trained. School boards have been established and schools are being managed with direct input from the people. As a result of the efforts to improve the quality of education in 2009, the number of school leavers who obtained passes in 5 subjects increased from 27 percent to 32 percent.
The main target of 2010 is to increase the number of school leavers who obtain passes in 5 subjects from the 32 percent achieved last year to 41 percent; and minimise the U grades to a total of 5%. The Government will continue its efforts to change schools with higher student populations into single session schools.
Loan-schemes for students facing financial difficulties to continue their higher studies have been formulated. Including loan assistance provided for students as accommodation stipends, the Government has introduced thee main loan schemes.
Ensuring affordable and quality healthcare, services offered through the Madhana insurance scheme have been expanded from covering only government employees to include all citizens. Those without the means to participate in the scheme will be subsidised by the Government. In addition, Madhana Plus has been introduced to facilitate medical treatments abroad for those illnesses for which the Maldives currently do not have facilities. As a result, a quarter of the Maldivian population now enjoy some form of health insurance scheme.
More than 29000 people obtained services from Madhana in 2009. This amounts to over Rf78 million in healthcare expenses.
The Government signed an agreement with Apollo Group of India to develop and broaden the services offered by the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital. Up to 20 million dollars will be invested in the hospital, according to the agreement. This investment includes infrastructure development, investment in machinery and training of Maldivians.
The Dhivehi Red Crescent has been established, by law, as an organization that will respond to natural disasters and medical emergencies.
In collaboration with Khalifa Foundation of Abu Dhabi, the Ministry of Health will commence a program to upgrade 38 island health centres to the highest quality standards. As a result of this project the quality of services of some island health centres may be better than some of the existing hospitals. Despite this progress, the Government does not plan to elevate the categorization of these centres from health centres to hospitals.
Health service corporations will be formed in Male’ and all the provinces within this year; and opportunities to manage additional hospitals as public private partnerships (PPP) with the Government will be opened.
Establishment of Health and Family Directorates and signing of contracts between the Province Offices and the Ministry of Health will take place in the near future. This will enable decentralization of services of the Ministry, and to enable closer access to these services for the people.
Bills will be drafted and submitted to this Majlis to establish a system for health insurance; and ensure easy access to basic healthcare by the citizens.
I stated last year that my Government would work tirelessly to solve problems faced due to the lengthy waiting period to obtain justice, even after arrests and investigations. Our efforts in this regard have increased the proportion of people who were sentenced and their sentences executed by 69.7% last year, as compared to 2008. The percentage of people prosecuted increased by 88.2%.
The Government has achieved notable progress in fulfilling its pledge of preventing entry of illicit drugs to the country. There was an increase of 41.4% in the number of people arrested for drug abuse, when compared with 2008 figures.
I assure you, that this Government will continue and strengthen its efforts to free our families from the grief resulting from drug abuse, and to protect youth and future generations from the addiction to drugs.
I stated last year that the Government will make great efforts to provide affordable housing, and strengthen family ties.
Affordable housing for the people is the most important of the Government’s five key pledges. Projects to construct 10,000 housing units have now been formulated and the Government decided, in 2008, that 7000 of these units will be constructed in the seven provinces.
Under these housing projects, several islands have been identified to build 1000 housing units in each of the seven provinces. Since submission of expression of interest to undertake this project was opened on 18 March 2009, three international companies have started negotiations with the Government. Out of the three companies, two are Indian companies while the other is a Thai company. Through these three companies, we will be able to build 4000 housing units, and out of which, the Government estimates 800 units to be completed within this year.
Under the programme to assist tsunami affected families, 309 houses that have been built in Thaa Villifushi, have now been occupied; 240 houses have been constructed in Laamu Gan; tender process is underway for the houses to be built in Meem Kolhufushi; work has begun for the houses that will be built in Thaa Madifushi; construction work of 45 houses in Laam Maabaidhoo is underway; work for 298 houses in Gaaf Alif Villingili, Nilandhoo, Maamendhoo and Dhaandhoo is going on; 78% work has been completed for the 134 houses in Haa Dhaal Nolhivaranfaru, while building of 47 houses is underway; 59 houses for the people of Dhaal Rinbudhoo who were relocated to Kaaf Thulusdhoo have now completed; and, construction work of 27 houses are soon to be completed in Gaaf Alif Gemanafushi.
The Government has taken several measures to reduce the cost for producing electricity and to run powerhouses through their own revenue. In this regard, last year, STELCO was corporatized. The Government is providing subsidies to the households whose standard of living has been affected and whose life might have become much harder because of corporatizing STELCO.
Other projects are being planned and implemented, to reduce electricity tariffs for the common people in the future. In this regard, last November, STELCO singed an agreement with an overseas company, who has already begun survey work, to establish a 75MW wind energy project. In addition, Upper-South Utilities Company is doing feasibility studies with two investors. Last November, the Southern Utilities Company signed an MoU with Suzlon of India to undertake a 25MW wind energy project, and micro-sighting for this project has begun already. Besides these two projects, the Government believes that more such energy projects could begin this year.
Last year, I stated that the people of the Maldives were in need of basic utilities such as water, sewerages, harbours, electricity and roads, and that those services would be provided in an affordable and sustainable manner through corporatisation.
To improve the sewerage systems, sewer systems have been established in 13 islands. Out of those 13 islands, sewerage systems in 6 islands were completed after November 2008. Ground work is underway in 11 islands. Bidding stage is complete for the construction work in two islands.
In 27 islands, designing work of sewerage systems is complete and opened for expression of interest. Submission for expression of interest to design and build sewerage and water system has been opened for 10 islands. Further, MWSC has been selected to provide safe drinking water for the people of Haa Dhaal Kulhudhuffushi and Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo.
In 2009, 20 harbours were completed and groundwork is underway in 22 islands. Agreements have been signed for land reclamation in 4 islands. In addition, in M. Maduvvari and Naalaafushi where erosion is a major problem, embankments and revetments have been built.
Last year in my address to this esteemed Majlis, I mentioned that the worry-free life aspired to by the people was based on the fulfilment of all necessary conditions of decentralized administration of the regions.
Today I note with pleasure that the Government, over the past year, undertook very satisfactory work to achieve those targets.
To facilitate decentralized administration, the Government abolished the Ministry of Atolls Administration and its work was transferred to the Ministry of Home Affairs. And, the work that was transferred to the Ministry of Home Affairs has been re-assigned under the State Ministers appointed to the seven regions.
Last January, the positions of State Ministers were re-designated in line with their respective provinces.
Last year, three separate MNDF area commands were established and MNDF personnel transferred their living quarters or homes to their respective areas of service.
Under management contracts signed between the Ministry of Education and the seven province offices this January, some of the functions of the Ministry have been transferred to province offices.
Utilities Boards have now been established in each of the seven provinces. To speed up the judicial process, desks of the Prosecutor General’s Office are placed at the islands. In this regard, functions of the Prosecutor General’s Office have started in Seenu Hithadhoo, Haa Dhaal Kulhudhuffushi, Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo, Gaaf Alif Villingili and Fuamulah.
Appealing for positive consideration and support from Honourable members, I would like to state that the Government will resubmit the Decentralisation Bill that was submitted to the Majlis last year, with some amendments made after consultations with political parties and others sources.
As I said earlier, the support of this esteemed Majlis is paramount for the Government. The Government desires to advance the principle of resolving matters through dialogue and deliberation with all political parties. At the moment, we must embark on many endeavours for this nation. In the coming 2 to 4 months, several projects are on course to be started. Therefore, in my mind, if a framework to resolve issues through dialogue among the different political parties represented at this esteemed Majlis could be constituted, that would provide many benefits for the people. Hence, I appeal to this esteemed Majlis that those members among you who have disagreements, to talk to the Government so that the bills submitted by the Government are speedily passed, even if it should be with amendments they want.
As you would know, the Government is making several efforts to protect our delicate environment and to promote tourism.
In this regard, a number of relevant meetings have taken place to promote the protection of coral reefs, diving sites and to safeguard protected marine zones. Discussions have been held with the collaboration of Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that due attention is given to this matter in the projects undertaken by Government institutions.
Forecast projections for job requirements for the newly established resorts have been done, and a study has been done to identify the difficulties faced by newcomers to the industry after training, and on possible ways to overcome those difficulties. Also, last year, measures to improve training facilities were identified and undertaken. In addition, several work were done last year to ensure sustainable diversification of the tourism industry, and to pave the way for the industry’s benefits to be equitably shared by the people.
The Tourism industry is now returning to previous levels, and tourist arrivals are now picking up. Tourist arrivals in last January were the highest in any given month of January. This is a good omen; it is a sign that revenue from tourism will increase this year.
In the third Tourism Master Plan 36,659 beds are planned to be developed by 2012. To make this Plan successful, instead of making available only a single category of rooms, we need to pave the way for cheaper holidays. This year, we will begin establishing mid-market tourism in the Maldives. The Government has now submitted a bill to this esteemed Majlis to bring changes to tourism taxation.
I estimate that several more projects will be carried out to expand the services of Maldivian airports. As you would know, the Government signed an MoU with GMR Company of India to upgrade Hanimaadhoo Airport to an international airport.
Invest Maldives has announced for Expression of Interest to upgrade and develop Gan Airport in Addu Atoll. We estimate to receive an investment of US Dollar 30 million for this project. To date, Government is in discussion with three overseas parties.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) is the transition advisor for the Government and the Airports Company Limited, to invest over US Dollar 250 million for the development of Male’ International Airport and to find a joint venture partner in making the company a profitable one. After reviewing the different transaction structures proposed by IFC, the Government has now selected six eligible parties. The six parties include companies from India, Canada, Turkey, Switzerland and France. With the grace of God, a partner will soon be chosen to upgrade the Male’ International Airport and work will begin soon.
The Government had decided to establish a Fisheries Training Institution to improve and broaden the fisheries sector in the Maldives and to train fishermen on how to exploit modern technology. Moreover, the Government has decided to open the skipjack tuna industry for more investors.
The Government accords a high priority to introduce mari-culture in the Maldives. With the grace of God, two such projects will begin this year.
Also, last year, under the Fisheries Sector Development Project, efforts to provide loan assistance were taken. Similarly, work to standardize quality of fish exported to EU was done last year.
Today my appeal to Maldivian fishermen is to find a new method for fishing. Those massive fishing vessels that we built yesterday, that are now anchored in the lagoons as they are not suitable for pole-and-line fishing, are causing us immense loss. What we have been hearing is that it is not feasible to burn fuel and engage in pole-and-line fishing in those vessels. Hence, finding a feasible alternative for fishing is the new thinking that I am talking about. Experts have advised me that it would be more profitable to use these bigger vessels for group long-line fishing. Financial and technical support for fishermen adopting this method will be provided through the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture. I urge fishermen to take to the seas once again.
As you would know, some foreign fishing vessels were issued licences to do long-line fishing within 75 miles of our fishing zone. As a result of the cabinet decision made last year to halt issuing such licences, starting from April this year, foreign vessels will not fish in our fishing zone. Fishing in those areas will, henceforth, be carried out by Maldivian vessels.
Last year, much work were also done to develop agriculture in the Maldives. In this regard, establishing new agricultural training centres, upgrading established centres and long-term leasing of uninhabited islands are notable.
Last year, under the Agriculture Development Programme and with the collaboration of the Bank of Maldives, applications for soft loans were opened. The agreement signed between the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture and the Bank of Maldives will pave the way for Maldivian farmers to reap the benefits of these soft loans.
Under activities targeted for youth, in 2009 a number of youth were active as volunteers. Likewise, with the grace of God, a legal framework for youth development will be designed and its implementation will start this year.
In order to develop youth, Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) was established. The TVET system was strengthened and a number of training programmes were carried out under this system. This project is intended to play an important role in reintegrating disenfranchised youth back into the society and encouraging their positive engagement.
The Government gives priority to protecting the rights of employees and employers, and is attempting to create awareness on the ILO Convention among the Government ranks, employers and employees with the assistance of the ILO, as is required for the signing of the ILO Convention.
In the area of sports development in the year 2010, sports centres will be decentralized under the National Sports Council. Preparations to host a water-sports festival in the Maldives by the year 2012 will be initiated this year. Plans are also underway to establish a National Sports Institute in the Maldives. Liaising with the Ministry of Education, the ‘Sports for All’ program will enable every student in all single session schools to participate in a sport early this year. With the formulation of a national sports policy, a National Sports Council has now been established. A sports framework at the provincial level has also been formulated.
Following a cabinet decision taken on 29 December 2009, ‘temporary special measures’ were introduced in areas where gender inequality and discrimination based on gender prevailed. This initiative will be a component of the gender mainstreaming process in the Maldives. Gender mainstreaming is expected to reduce the damage and harm brought on by cultural and societal gender discrimination.
In January this year, a ‘Forum of the Role of Women in Development’ was held with the participation of members of women’s committees of all the islands of the Maldives and the Province Offices. The recommendations and propositions of the forum were incorporated into the bill on Decentralization, and it is my ardent hope that this bill is passed in the People’s Majlis.
To reduce the financial burden and assist in overcoming difficulties and disparities faced by the less fortunate families and senior citizens, the Pensions Act was adopted, a fundamental pension for senior citizens and, a retirement pension scheme for employees were introduced and is currently in operation. A gender mainstreaming framework based on the Government’s policies was formulated, and this framework has been adopted. The law on special measures in dealing with paedophiles is now enforced.
Special programs will be conducted this year with technical expertise to improve the quality of services provided to children and adults under the state’s protection. In order to put in place essential laws and regulations to protect the most vulnerable of society, a bill proposing revisions to the existing Children’s Act, and a bill on domestic violence will be submitted to this esteemed Majlis within this year. In addition, the recommendations presented at the National Forum on Women’s Role in Development held in January this year, have been incorporated into the decentralization bill, with the aim of attaining legal status for women’s development committees.
To ease the burden on financially disadvantaged persons and to support them directly, some subsidies are now being issued. The Government initiated the program of subsidies to all citizens over 65 with the intention of improving the quality of life of senior citizens.
As an austerity measure to reduce wasteful spending, and to ensure fair distribution without discrimination, it was decided to dispense all welfare assistance under a comprehensive state social protection system overseen by a single administrative office.
Work will also be initiated to establish a social security fund in order to provide welfare assistance to the less fortunate in a sustainable manner. God willing, this Government will not be reticent or take a single step backward in ensuring that we fulfil our promise of prosperity and happiness for all citizens through good Governance and a benevolent state.
Major policies have been formulated to achieve the pledge of establishing a nation-wide transport system. Under this policy, agreements have been signed with various parties to establish the systems. The chosen parties will begin their services within this year.
There have been favourable outcomes following increased efforts to improve bilateral diplomatic relations and attract foreign aid and assistance. Within the past couple of months, approximately US Dollars 16 million worth of foreign grant aid has been directed to the Maldives. These include the 10 million US dollars pledged by the EU and the 5.8 million dollars pledged by the Abu Dhabi Khalifa Foundation.
In order to improve bilateral ties, diplomatic relations have been established with Republic of Uruguay, Trinidad and Tobago, Montenegro and Republic of Kosovo. In addition, I have undertaken trips to friendly countries as India, Sri Lanka, the UK, Italy, and Sweden, UAE, Qatar and Bahrain to further enhance bilateral relations. Consular services provided by Maldivian missions and embassies abroad have been greatly diversified. Also the Maldives was represented at the United Nations General Assembly, Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and the UN Climate Summit at the Copenhagen. As you would know, the Maldivian delegation played a central role at the Copenhagen Summit.
Although the Maldives is not yet a full member of the UN Human Rights Council, the role of the Maldives within the council has been greatly strengthened. Moreover, the Maldives has this year submitted its candidature for the membership of the Council.
Under a new system, National Awards of honour and Awards of Recognition were given last year.
An independent National Awards Committee, of members from different areas, was established.
In recognition of their services to the nation, the Government had decided to provide opportunities for the conferees of National Awards to participate as guests of honour at functions organised by the Government.
In light of these points, as the Maldives passes the milestones and stages of consolidating democracy, our prospects and the times ahead appear clear, bright and prosperous. People are content and their lives are flourishing. With the grace of God, the Government’s continued efforts to provide even more fulfilment and prosperity for the people will result in easing and enriching their lives further this year.
As I also stated at the beginning, this address to the esteemed Majlis will be centred on the message that all endeavours of the Government are constant efforts aimed at bringing about benefits and prosperity to all. Therefore, I call again for the cooperation and support of the honourable Members of the People’s Majlis and to transcend political turmoil and differences of thought and ideology. I call for those beloved citizens who might harbour what might be considered extremist ideas and opinions to be moderate and soften their ways of thinking. I call for all citizens to prioritize friendship and understanding for the harmony and progress of society.
May Allah bestow His bountiful blessings forever on the Maldives and its people. May the work of this esteemed Majlis be more productive and successful. Aameen.
Thank you very much. Praise be to God.