The Vice President of CII, past Presidents, Ambassadors, Entrepreneurs, Ladies and Gentlemen;
Thank you very much for having us here. As I mentioned earlier, we have during the course of last one year and two months, being able to develop a very intricate relationship with CII and Indian industries.
We first came to India during December 2008. We met some of your industry capitalists during that visit. We again invited CII to make a visit to the Maldives and they were able to interact with the main areas that we want them to focus upon.
Fortunately, I am happy, today, to say that 5 o’clock today Apollo Hospitals and the Government of the Maldives will sign a contract where by we will give the management of that hospital to the Apollo Group. So we would have concluded that today.
Few months back, we also concluded an agreement with Shri Educare to run one of the government schools in Malé. We have also signed the agreement with GMR to build an international airport in the North of the country.
We have a lot of interest in attracting contractors for our public sector investment programme mainly in utilities and other infrastructure projects. We have 200 inhabited islands and 1800 uninhabited islands. All these islands need adaptation measures. The sea is actually getting into the islands, and we need to build revetments, embankments and breakwaters around these islands. We need to understand how we may be able to save the islands from climate change and sea level rise. That, as we keep saying, for us it is not an issue in the distant future, but it is a phenomena that is happening right now, it’s a challenge to us.
We have number of islands where people have to move from place to place. So we need to fast track a fair amount of investments in construction – we need a lot of concrete, we need a lot of iron, we need a lot of gravel and we need to get these things built as quickly as possible.
The government feels that we need investments somewhere to the tune of US$ 200 million during the course of this year. To that we have allocated funds in the budget, but not to that extent, but we are looking at contractors who can give us contractor financing and we would be able to pay it back within a period of certain amount of years – may be 10 years, 5 years, or somewhere along there.
We will be able to sign the contracts even today. We have the details of what we require – we have a completely clear idea of what we are looking for. We come here with specific small points.
A revetment in an island, an embankment would cost around US$ 2 million. A water system again would cost about a million dollars. A harbour would cost US$ 2 million. So each island, at the end of the day will cost us about 3 to 4 million dollars of investments.
We do not think that we can delay this anymore – it’s very urgent. If we don’t do this now, what we lose is far more expensive – people’s homes, people’s livelihoods, our water tables, in fact the whole manner in which we live. We will very quickly lose it if we do not make these investments right now.
We’ve lost many years. We have neglected these works for many years. We have concentrated all government’s efforts only on the capital island Malé. So when you visit Malé it is very interesting, it is surrounded by a breakwater, it is safeguarded by a very strong revetment that has stood the challenges of tsunami. But we need to do that on other islands as well. So that is specifically what we are looking for.
In terms of, Hari has mentioned, I talk to you about what has happened to me, why this madness.
I used to be a journalist before, I used to write, and that is my trade. I used to be an editor of a small magazine in the Maldives. I started doing this in 1989. During the course of, not having been able to actually write the proper sentences to the government at that time, I was arrested 14 times. Actually had a very rough time - of the last 20 years, I spent 6 years in jail. But then we have just put that behind us and we want to move forward. We cannot be laden with or dragged by history and the past. We just have to keep moving forward.
I have been fortunate to be elected as our first democratic president. We had our first multi party elections in 2008 and we have been able to have a very smooth transfer of power. The former President is still very much active, he is very elderly now, but still challenging leadership of his own party and hoping for a come back which I think is a very good thing because that keeps the opposition alive. But others in the opposition might have other ideas, that the fact that the old man is still lingering on is hampering that party from becoming more vibrant and young. Of course, that is good for us, and the more he is around, I believe, politically it is better for us.
But anyway, there is good vibrant opposition. We just have a very slim majority in the parliament. Again, I am mostly being accused of engineering the loss of a major landslide victory for our party, which I thought would have been very bad for democracy, we would have been very complacent, we would certainly not have to be on our both toes, if we had that thumping majority in the parliament.
We are trying to build a country. We are trying to build a democracy. In the process of it we have to deliver. I come here to CII every time, on an on again because we know that democracy cannot survive without delivering. Now I have the Apollo Hospitals, whom we would soon be going into agreement. Hopefully, we would be, therefore, delivering quality health service in the Maldives. That would help cement, help us realising the country that we are seeking, the country that we are looking for.
When we started administration, we had huge budget deficits, mostly internal debt, not international debt but internal debt. This debt was accumulated by printing money. That had created a lot of stress on the exchange rate. That has also fuelled inflation. So last year we stopped that. We stopped printing money and simply had to bring down the government expenditure. We had to reduce civil service pay by 15 per cent. I understand no one in his right mind would actually go around reducing civil service pay. But we have done it and we are holding onto it and we will keep that reduced pay for the next year. I am confronted everyday because of this.
It is difficult. I don’t necessarily want to disturb anyone’s beautiful life or take money from anyone. But we have to look at the bigger picture of what we are trying to do and we will have to do the difficult things.
Our party and I, we have always worked against the odds. So we will continue to work against these odds. When you visit our country, you might be, at times, surprised by the level of discontent that the civil servants will have because of this.
But 44 per cent of our country is fishermen. And we cannot take all the money that we have and give it to 30,000 people, who are civil servants. That is really endangering and hampering a better life for the fishermen.
It is very often that the most vocal group, in this case civil servants are very vocal, are more refined, and they have better capacity to articulate their issues. So therefore, their issues will be heard more loudly than fishermen’s issues.
It is not the loudness of the message or a demand, but where it is coming from that we will be looking at. So we intend to go along with the reforms – there is no coming back. I will stick to it, as I keep telling my party and our people, that we will do it. There is no stopping it and we will do it.
Similarly, for us to be able to do that, we need the revetments, the sewerage systems, the embankments, all the concrete is so necessary. That is why we come to India. That is why we are grateful for the very good relationship and the very closeness that the Indian industries are entertaining with us.
I would again like to thank out dear Ambassador Kuldip Sadev. Kuldip has been a Maldive hand, a very experienced and a steady Maldive hand for a long time. I am sure I don’t need to tell Ambassador Kuldip what is happening in the Maldives. But very often I ask the Ambassador what is happening in the Maldives, and what he thinks would be a better course of action. Like a good diplomat, the Ambassador has been assisting us, not only in bringing contractors around, but also giving us or testing our vision in many instances.
We are grateful for many Indian institutions, not as diplomatic services or a foreign service, but the Indian civil society has been very helpful to us, the Indian press has been very engaging and they have always raised difficult Maldives issues in the past and they continue to raise difficult Maldives issues even now.
I should not keep you from your lunch. We politicians have a habit of going on and on in front of the mic especially when you kind of loose all structures to a speech.
I can see that everyone is pretending that they are listening to it but of course you are not. But then again as good listeners you are all seasoned to do that.
Thank you very much.