The Rt. Hon. The Lord Naseby, Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I wish to thank Lord Naseby for inviting me and the members of my delegation to this important gathering.
I wish also to congratulate the distinguished members of the UK-Maldives All Party Parliamentary Group, which has been extremely active since its inception, in furthering ties between our two countries and peoples.
The visit to the Maldives in January of Lord Naseby, and the visit last year by MPs David Amess and Brian Binley were followed by the historic first parliamentary debate on the Maldives in the British Parliament. I thank you for the wonderful initiative.
I, of course, had the pleasure of meeting with many of you at the House of Lords during my visit to the UK in July 2007. The sentiments that many of you had expressed during that enjoyable reception assured me of the high priority that you attach to forging closer relations with the Maldives.
The friendship between the Maldives and the UK dates back many centuries. Indeed, the bilateral ties between our two countries are wide-ranging.
The warmth in our official ties is matched by the dynamism in people-to-people contact between our two countries. This, too, has grown in pace and scale in recent years. Many Maldivians benefit from Britain’s fine educational institutions. Upon their return to the Maldives, they continue to make a vital contribution to our economic, social and political development. Bilateral trade and tourism between the two countries have been increasing rapidly in recent decades.
My current visit to the UK is to attend the two-day Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting on Reform of International Institutions. I was part of a Representative Group of 11 Commonwealth Heads. Our discussions, which were chaired by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, centred on three important themes – reform of international environmental governance, international financial institutions and the UN.
Earlier today, I also had very fruitful discussions on important issues of bilateral interest with Lord Mark Malloch Brown, the Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN and Mr. John Ashton, the Foreign Secretary’s Representative for Climate Change.
Britain’s continued interest in and engagement with our democratic reform agenda has brought the two countries even closer together. It has, indeed, been a continued source of encouragement for us, as we forge ahead towards the final stages of its implementation. Indeed, I am very pleased to say that the work on drafting the new Constitution is very close to completion, and I intend to make the ratification process a speedy one.
The new Constitution represents a quantum leap for democracy and rule of law in the Maldives; providing, as it does, for a full and clear separation of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the State; the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms; and the creation of independent State institutions such as a Supreme Court, an Elections Commission, a Judicial Services Commission and an Anti-Corruption Commission, and key independent oversight bodies such as a national Human Rights Commission.
The work on drafting the necessary reform bills to make the constitution effective and functional is already under way. The 47 bills mentioned in the Legislative Agenda for 2008 are linked to laws under the new Constitution. They include bills on electoral and judicial reform, the creation of independent institutions, and strengthening of fundamental liberties and administration.
Based on the new Constitution, together with a raft of secondary legislation covering, inter alia, criminal justice, party politics, freedom of assembly, press freedom, and electoral reform; the Maldives is looking forward, at the end of the year, to its first ever multi-party presidential elections.
In order to make the upcoming presidential elections free and fair, the Government has invited the Commonwealth, the European Union, and the United Nations to send election monitors. The UN last month sent a six-member fact-finding mission to the Maldives to assess the current political environment and make recommendations to ensure that the poll is held in a free and fair manner. The EU has already provided the services of a consultant to support the Commissioner of Elections.
Efforts are underway to ensure fair and equal coverage for political parties in the State media. A US consultants’ team will guide and monitor journalists and reporters of the state television during the campaign and elections period. Needless to say, all these changes are going to transform our society in ways that we had so far not experienced.
Indeed, the coming months are going to be the most crucial and challenging in the democratization process that I began exactly four years ago. The Government is fully committed to completing the process, and is convinced that our friends in the UK and the international community at large will continue to help us achieve this goal. My goal is to make the Maldives a representative model for democracy in the region.