بســم اللّـه الرّحمـن الرّحيــم
اَلحَمْـدُ لِلّـهِ رَبّ العَـالَمِـين، وَالصّـلاة وَالسّلام علـى محـمَّدٍ وَعلـى آلـه وَصَحْبِـهِ أجمـعـين
Hon. Deputy Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Dr Zahid; The Chairman of the Asia HRD Awards Committee, Exc. Fami; Founder of the Asia HRD Awards, Tan Sri Dato’ Palan; Distinguished Members of the Awards Committee; Ladies and Gentlemen.
السَّلاَمُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَرَحْمَةُ اللهِ وَبَرَكَاتُهُ
Honoured! Gratified! Humbled!
Thank you very much for including me in the ranks of distinguished previous recipients of the Asia HRD Lifetime Achievement Award. Any recognition of a lifetime’s achievement is truly special.
It is, indeed, an honour to learn that the Hon. Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dato’ Seri Dr. Zahid, is gracing this ceremony. Let me also convey my sincere appreciation to the Chairman and the Founder of the Asia HRD Awards, as well as the Members of the Awards Committee.
Had my work not necessitated my presence in the Maldives, I would surely have joined you in person to receive this Award, and thank each and everyone of you individually.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
In 2013, my people and I, as a collective team, embarked on an exciting and equally ambitious project. Our lofty vision was to transform our economy, to bring it up to speed with a rapidly changing global environment. To transcend our difficulties, tap into our advantages and recalibrate our development path.
We assessed our core strengths – a youthful, educated and enterprising population; a rich, pristine natural environment; and 50 years of bilateral and multilateral partnerships to support us in this national endeavour.
We, also, took stock of our relative weaknesses – a sparse population; geographic dispersal; and limited natural resources.
The blueprint, in the form of my presidential manifesto, was endorsed by the people. There were those who were sceptical. “This President is over-ambitious”, they would say! Decades of slow and steady socioeconomic advancement had, I argued, lulled even our brightest minds into accepting the status quo. I was convinced that we had set our bar too low! I set off with resolute faith in the abilities of our youth.
I was certain that, with the Grace of Almighty Allah, we had the potential to double our per capita income in 5 years. I firmly believe also that 90,000 new jobs can be created for our youth, to empower them in shouldering their onerous national responsibility. However, to achieve these targets, we had, firstly, to embrace change – in mind-set, in priorities and in approach.
Population consolidation had long been our greatest hurdle. Resident on nearly 200 islands, meeting our people’s aspirations and expectations, including essential services, had always been a Herculean task. Geographic dispersal had resulted in income disparity. Connectivity had emerged as a primary challenge for the introduction of fresh economic initiatives.
We have to take jobs to all corners of the archipelago, spanning 648 km from North to South and 130 km from East to West, with vast masses of water in between. So much needed changing. Standard improvements in education and healthcare had to be fast-tracked. The welfare system needed overhauling. The list, it would seem, was going on and on.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
50 years ago, when we joined the ranks of independent and sovereign countries at the United Nations, we were classed among the five poorest countries in the world.
Then, the per capita of the Maldives was under 200 US dollars. Life expectancy was still hovering below 50 years. Fishery, as it had done from the time of our forefathers, was still the primary economic activity and main source of income. We were importing almost all our essentials, and stockpiles of food and medicine, among others, were no more than a few weeks’ supply. We were highly susceptible to any external shocks.
Until 20 years or so back, large chunks of our population were still living without electricity. Numerous islands were in accessible during stormy weather.
As we neared the new Millennium, we were focusing on extending our telecommunications network to the more remote atolls.
A decade ago, after having faced the unexpected shock of the devastating 2004 Asian Tsunami, we were preparing for graduation from the list of LDCs. Knowing full well that the economic model of old would no longer sustain growth under the revised principles of lesser donor funding.
The Maldives today has the highest per capita GDP in South Asia, at nearly US $ 8000. Inflation is under 5%. Our Human Development Index has, in 20 years, increased by 35%. Today, we welcome nearly 1.5 million tourists annually. Our international reserves have doubled in 5 years. Our external debt, in the same period, had been reduced by 7%, in spite of the introduction of unprecedented mega infrastructure projects with foreign direct investment.
At the very heart of our economic transformation strategy is a wholesale modernisation and expansion of our International Airport – the gateway to the Maldives. Another runway, improved facilities, more parking bays and a brand new terminal building will collectively make the airport one of the best in our region, catering to no less than 7.5 million passengers.
This development is essential toward the realisation of another stated objective – the opening of 50 new resort hotels. Together, these projects will, Insha Allah quadruple our tourism arrivals in the coming few years.
The population consolidation conundrum, we believe, can be solved through the development of a brand new modern city – the Hulhumale’ Youth City. As you listen to this address in the heart of the magnificent Putrajaya, it is, indeed, fitting for me to introduce to you the Hulhumale’ Youth City. With every modern convenience, comfortable housing and amenities for nearly three quarters of our population, the new planned city will be the crown jewel of Greater Male’. Situated in the same lagoon as Velana International Airport, the new city will be connected to the capital Male’ by a bridge, hopefully operational mid next year.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are blessed with one of the highest youth bulges in the world. It is their creative energy that drives our economy. They are the focus of my presidency. To the youth of my country I say, OPPORTUNITY. YOUR DREAM, REALIZE IT.
Investing in young people is, a prerequisite for sustaining and enhancing economic resilience. To build reliable institutions, to implement major infrastructure projects, it is necessary to develop sound minds. We are moving towards a knowledge-based economy, where growth depends on the quantity, quality and accessibility to information; where there is increasingly greater reliance on intellectual capabilities than on depleting and stagnating natural resources.
A vision of a more prosperous and harmonious Maldives, with greater international leverage; a country where its people are empowered to live by their own means, as independent, proud and self-sufficient citizens. Is this asking for too much?
Today, in conferring this Award, you are, in fact, honouring my people, their resolve, their achievements.
May I receive this Award on their behalf. This is, very much, an acknowledgement of our collective success in recent years.
It is equally a tribute to the Maldivian spirit and the sacrifices we have made to attain a better future for our succeeding generations.
This Award is also a source of encouragement for us to forge ahead along this path. For a Leader to bring more innovative change. To set the trend for the future.
It is a demonstration of an axiom that my people associate with me more than any other – While There Is Life, There Is Hope.
Thank you for listening.
والسّـــلام عليــكم ورحمــة اللّـه وبـركاتـه