The Honourable keynote speaker Mr Farooq Sobhan; Her Excellency High Commissioner of Bangladesh Dr Selina Mohsin, Honourable Special Envoy of the President Mr Ibrahim Hussain Zaki; Acting Resident Coordinator of the United Nations; Distinguished guests; Ladies and gentlemen.
My first duty today is to congratulate the High Commissioner for organizing this important seminar which is part of the series of activities planned during the cultural exchange programme.
We are very honoured today that we have amongst us a very distinguished scholar and a former diplomat from Bangladesh, Mr Farooq Sobhan. You are most welcome, Your Excellency.
The topic for today’s seminar is extremely wide and consists of diverse and important issues – all of them are critical issues for the Maldives’ development. You will remember that we embarked on the journey of democracy not very long ago. The first phase of this journey has been successfully completed with the holding of the first multi party elections, and change of a 30 year old regime.
But the journey continues and much remains to be done in terms of defining and consolidating democracy in the country. Obviously this will take time. The kind of democracy we will have will be determined by the values and determination we bring to the process of developing it.
The foundations on which we embarked on this journey are determination, courage and hope of a better society. These remain intact. For most part it is these foundations that will drive us to achieve the goals of democratic change.
What are these goals? They are human rights, good governance, and development – no democracy without human rights. The most fundamental of those is freedom of speech, and expression. It was Descartes who said “I think, therefore I exist”. But ability to think is no longer sufficient to exist in a modern society. One must be able to express one’s thoughts and communicate freely.
A plural political system is one in which diverse ideas, peoples, cultures and values coexist. If truth is the prerogative of a particular group, politics becomes the process by which the truth is imposed on everyone else. In a liberal democratic society truth is the result of discourse and debate.
It is true that democracy is never the same in every society. But the kind of democracy we will have depends on the quality of our engagement in the democratic process. That process will not be always smooth because those who engage in them have competing and sometimes conflicting interests and above all different levels of consciousness.
It is precisely for these reasons that all freedom loving people in our society must engage and struggle to shape the nature of our democracy. If we leave that process to agents of material interests, social control and autocratic rule, we will fail to achieve a free and democratic society for all.
The values and interest we bring to the process are of utmost importance. The values of competition and profit maximization should be balanced with the values of caring and peaceful coexistence.
This is why it is important to empower and engage civil society organizations in the democratic process whose experience in social development and whose humanistic values can inform and enrich the formation of democratic structures.
Today, our civil society organizations are weak. They are primarily dependent on state for their resources, few wealthy individuals and CSR programmes support non-governmental organizations. Their ability to influence public policy is weak if not nonexistent. Aside from few religious organizations, NGOs do not lobby for positions to change legislations or to influence public policy.
The government and its international development partners must assist NGOs to build capacity and become independent. Lessons from Bangladesh will be most helpful in this regard.
Similarly, worker and employers organizations are also very new in the Maldives. For that matter we are participating in the international Labour Conference for the very first time this year. A tripartite delegation of the government, employers’ organizations and workers are representing the Maldives delegation to the ILO.
Decent work for decent pay is clearly an essential part of a democratic society. This applies to all, irrespective of whether they are Moldavians or expatriates because it is a matter of human rights.
The private sector, more bluntly capitalists are always important actors in the political process. Among the different actors, they are usually the most powerful. But it is also in their interest to create a democratic, peaceful and prosperous society.
Today, we are creating a number of private enterprises through the transformation of hitherto state owned enterprises. It is important that the public hold the growing share of the work in these private companies whose funding assets were created with the resources of the people.
I understand that Mr Sobhan is an expert in the development of private enterprises. I hope that our privatization committee of the government will benefit from your presence in the country.
Ladies and gentlemen, the upholding of democracy cannot be left only to the forces of narrow economic and political interests. It must be guided by the vision of the society we desire for our children, it must a vision that continues to be supported by the people.
Perhaps the new challenge of leadership is not the vision; it is our ability to keep that vision alive.
With these few words it is my privilege to declare this seminar open.