I should refrain from saying, rather I should refrain from appointing a kitchen cabinet and I should also refrain from saying that today. But today I just had to amongst all the chefs and food here.
We also are presently, I understand, I am sure, all of you’ll have this in mind that the country is going through some challenging times.
But that is not to say that we are down hearted. That is not to say that we have not believed that our goals and our ambitions may not be fulfilled. I have all the confidence that we can move forward and I am certain that the difficulty, political drama that we face today is just a hitch along, of course, a very challenging road that we are progressing through.
Thank you very much Ambassador; thank you very much Dharmadasa, the Exhibition Services; Amir Mansoor and Ismail Hilmy who have been so very generous to sponsor the event; Ajmal, who has always been promoting the event; and of course, Mr Palmer who is here as the chief chef judging the event.
Fortunately, Ajmal, we will be able to open up for a public private partnership exhibition centre in Gulhi Falhu. Hopefully that would start around July.
We have always had in mind that Dharubaaruge is no longer suitable for many events that are now happening in the country. We, of course, need to move forward and move up.
This government came into administration with a very firm belief and a policy of business friendly economic issues and policies. Our manifesto was written along those lines. We are a centre-right party – we represent a centre-right philosophy and therefore we are for business, good business. We believe it is in the interest of the people when the people flourish.
For the hotel industry to flourish in this country, the government has to be very mindful and very patient in how it deals with this industry.
This is one of the best industries of this country. In my mind one of the many reasons why this industry has flourished and has given so handsome returns to its investors is mainly because the government has stayed away from participating in this industry.
During the past 30 years, or past many years, the government of the Maldives has participated in every single industry physically and directly other than in the tourism industry. For this reason, because the government has stayed away from it, this industry has in fact grown and it is growing much faster than any other industry that we have ever seen, or any other industry in this region.
Tourism arrivals have this year peaked higher than any time in the history if this country. We are seeing more tourists coming to the Maldives not only from traditional destinations but from many new destinations.
The industry has in mind to develop a mid market. The government has mind to develop policies that will encourage a mid market. Very often I have been told, our ministers have been told, and former ministers have been told that the country is only accessible to very high end tourists. Therefore, for us to reach our targets and our objectives and our heights, it is important that we now start building a mid income or rather a mid market tourism.
For that end, the government has revised its taxation policies, tendering policies and all the other related issues that hinges upon the development of this industry.
I am also glad and I am also happy that we have, during the past few weeks, been able to successfully tender two of our airports and found appropriate international partners to partner with us in the development of these two airports.
We all understand that development of tourism hinges upon a good airport facility. And we all understand how badly our present airport needs renovations and improvement. And we also do understand how much money is required to do that.
The present partner that the government has identified is willing to invest to the amount of US$ 273 million within a period of three years. That would bring our airport back to the best standards that is available internationally or any where else near our region.
I am also glad that we are also able to find a successful partner to develop and manage our international airport in Gan and therefore, opening up seven islands for tourism development. The new company would hopefully start operation early next month and they would also be providing international facilities for international flights by the end of this year. So hopefully, we will by early next year, have a whole another area or another region of this country open for tourism and therefore, all the trade associated with this industry.
I would like to reiterate that the government’s economic policies will continue. The government’s programme with the IMF is strong and we are moving forward with the programme. The privatization policy will continue. The government will find assets that are used by government or government owned assets or government owned companies and we will tender these companies and we will seek out appropriate partners and we will manage along these lines.
I am also encouraged by the improvement, recent improvements, in our economic figures, mainly our budget deficit, our foreign exchange, international reserves. Therefore, I have all the hopes and I have all the expectations that we are moving along the path that we have initially plotted.
I do not see any reason why we should be on the back foot and I see every reason why this exhibition is again going to be a bigger success than it has ever been before.
Again thank you very much for organizing an excellent exhibition. I will not be able to have a good look at the exhibition. But I have told the third generation exhibitors that I will make a point of visiting their stalls.
Recently I went to Singapore and one of the two girls I met in Singapore were third generation traders with the Maldives. Their great grand father also had excellent trading relationships with the Maldives.
Again in this exhibition I see similar faces, I see third generation traders trading with the Maldives and having strong relationship with our traders. I would like to make it a point and extend to you that we take businessmen or yourself as development partners and we believe that together we can achieve our objectives.
Thank you very much.