Mr. Prime Minister:
May I begin by thanking you, Mr. Prime Minister, for your thought-provoking opening statement, and the warm welcome that you have extended to all of us.
May I also congratulate Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma and his dedicated staff for organizing this important meeting.
The importance of this meeting cannot be overstated. The three broad issues on our discussion agenda are, undoubtedly, of great relevance to the Maldives and all other small island developing countries.
The sheer vulnerability of our islands to global environmental threats such as climate change dictates the high priority that we continue to attach to the current framework on global environmental governance. Indeed, we have been highlighting the urgent need to reform this framework to ensure that the voices of the smallest and most environmentally vulnerable members of the international community are heard at decision-making forums.
This year, my country began its three-year smooth transition period for graduation from LDC status. What has immediately become evident to us is that current international financial institutions lack the flexibility to amply support those countries that are in transition from least developing to developing country status, especially in a country such as ours in which the economic base is extremely narrow.
Also, the UN itself is in need of reform to ensure that its relevance and effectiveness is sustained. For countries like Maldives, the UN continues to be at the heart of all our multilateral development efforts, and, at times, the UN is unable to effectively address our unique circumstances and challenges. The Maldives was among the co-sponsors of the initial drive to reform the current UN system, but a lack of agreement on its form and extent has meant that implementation has indeed very slow. I believe that Commonwealth, with its wide membership spectrum is an ideal platform to inject much-needed impetus to this important initiative.
Over the past three decades, the Maldives has experienced promising social and economic growth. However, to sustain the momentum of our socioeconomic development, it is of paramount importance to develop the national political governance framework. It is for this reason that I prioritise the reform of political governance institutions for my current term of presidential office, which began in November 2003. One of the hallmarks of the democratic reform agenda has been the wide stakeholder role of our friendly countries and multilateral organisations.
It is important that the international community do not judge us during this transition period, but rather understand local realities and assist us in reaching our political reform objectives.
The Commonwealth has played a very important role in being a constant source of assistance in the Agenda for Reform and Democratisation initiated by my Government in 2004.
As well as being a vital year for international efforts to stabilise the world’s climate, 2008 is also a landmark year in the democratic history of the Maldives. Indeed, I am very pleased to announce at this august gathering that work on the new Constitution is very near complete.
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 government; the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms; and the creation of independent organs such as a Supreme Court and an independent Elections Commissions, as well as key independent oversight bodies such as a national Human rights Commissions and an Anti-Corruption Board. However, this is only the beginning of a historic journey of which many challenges have been overcome while many more lie ahead.
Based on the new Constitution, the Maldives is looking forward, later this year, to its first ever multi-party presidential elections. My Government, with the support and assistance of the Commonwealth and other international stakeholders, is firmly committed to ensuring that the presidential elections are free, fair and peaceful.
It is indeed a pleasant coincidence that today marks the fourth anniversary of the Democratic Reform Agenda, which I announced on 9 June 2004. I would like to thank the Commonwealth Secretariat for its pivotal role in advancing the Reform Agenda.
This meeting has been convened at a very crucial time not only to larger democracies, but also to small island developing states such as the Maldives. The meeting has been convened at a time of inevitable challenges in the global world order.
Today, our world communities are confronting the worst food crisis in 45 years. The dramatic escalation of food prices worldwide has evolved into an unprecedented challenge of global proportions that has become a crisis for the most vulnerable. This crisis has multiple effects, with its most serious impact on the most vulnerable in the poorest countries of the world.
The three main areas outlined for discussion at the forum encompass and highlight many of the issues that need to be addressed urgently by the international community. The Commonwealth is well placed to assume a leadership role in addressing these issues, by taking a collective stand and projecting a unified voice. This very gathering itself is testament to it.
We would like to thank the Commonwealth for their dedicated efforts in ensuring that the voices of small island countries such as ours are heard loudly and clearly at important discussions.