It is a great pleasure for me and my wife to be here with you this evening. Diplomats are of course very busy people, so it is an added privilege for us that so many of you have found time from your packed schedules to accept our invitation to attend this Reception.
Before proceeding any further, I would like to thank our very industrious High Commissioner to India, Lt. Gen (Ret.) Anbaree Abdul Sattar. He may have retired from the Maldives National Defence Force some years ago, but his ability to organize events such as these with military precision has not changed in the slightest.
General Sattar has been a very loyal servant of the Government of the Maldives for many, many years and he was my deputy as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces for many years and he has proven his merit in all spheres of work that he has done for the people of the Maldives. I congratulate and thank General Sattar.
As you know, the vast majority of diplomatic representatives accredited to the Maldives are non-resident. New Delhi is a special place for our foreign service, as there are more diplomatic representatives accredited to the Maldives residing here than anywhere else.
These are exciting times in the Maldives. We are presently undergoing a major transformation in many senses.
First, the democratic reform agenda that I initiated in June 2004 is now in its last and most important leg. Much has already been achieved. Some of the highlights over the past three-and-a-half years include the establishment of a Paris Principles-compliant National Human Rights Commission, the introduction, for the very first time in the country’s history, of political parties, complete media freedom and modernizing the criminal justice system.
The focus at present is on completing the drafting of a new Constitution that would facilitate our aspirations of ushering in a fully liberal democracy. I am pleased to say that the work of the Constitutional Assembly will be completed in a few weeks time. In fact, the drafting of all but one Chapter of the new Constitution has already been completed.
We are also laying the groundwork to hold the country’s first multiparty presidential election later this year. We are planning to table a host of reform bills before the Parliament during its coming session beginning next month. The bills are designed to ensure that the presidential election will be free and fair by international standards.
The draft legislation that will be tabled before the Parliament includes a bill on presidential elections, a bill on parliamentary elections, a bill on introducing a fully-autonomous Elections Commission and a bill on establishing a Supreme Court for the very first time in our history.
These and other reform measures in the pipeline for the coming months will form the bulk of pre-election preparations.
We have also invited a number of foreign stakeholders, including the European Union and the Commonwealth, to send observer missions for the elections.
The second transformation in the country is no less groundbreaking than the democratic reform agenda. As you know, the tsunami of 2004 inflicted severe damage on many of our islands. It set us back by nearly a decade of development. The cost of the damage was estimated at over 62% of our GDP.
Three years on, with strong support and assistance from bilateral friends and the donor community, we have successfully rehabilitated the lives of the vast majority of the 15,000 victims across the country.
All damaged schools and hospitals have been repaired or rebuilt. Many communities have been relocated to safer islands, where normalcy has once again returned to their lives. The damaged infrastructure such as harbours, jetties and causeways are being rebuilt. Damaged or destroyed homes too are being rebuilt to better standards, in compliance with the UN effort to “build back better”.
However, work still remains to be completed in a number of areas, including water and sanitation, environmental protection and housing. Progress in these areas is being hampered severely as a result of a shortfall in reconstruction funds of over US$ 75 million.
Strong stakeholder support and the partnership efforts of the Government and people of the Maldives have ensured the success of both the democratic reform agenda and the post-tsunami recovery programme. As many of our close bilateral friends are here today, I would like to sincerely thank you all for your crucial role in our social and economic development, and hope that our association will continue to strengthen in the time ahead.
The Maldives is today recognized as a beautiful location. Our tourism industry has developed at a rapid rate over the past quarter century, and, today, the Maldives ranks among the most popular holiday destinations in many countries in the East and the West.
The natural beauty of our islands and seas often masks the sheer vulnerability of the Maldives. With three-quarters of our islands rising no higher than a metre and a half above mean sea-level, ours is one of the lowest-lying countries in the world. The country is very much at the mercy of the elements, whether it is a tsunami, a sea swell or climate change.
For over twenty years, I have been alerting the international community to the urgent need to address global warming and climate change. While some progress has been achieved, our people continue to live in fear.
I urge all of you to appeal to policymakers in your respective countries to join hands with us in ensuring that we leave an environmentally secure planet for our future generations. Although the Maldives and other Small Island States will be the first to face the perils of the rising seas, it will eventually wreak havoc in many regions of the world. Some of the world’s most developed countries too will not be spared.
Diplomatic relations play an important role in the progress and prosperity of all nations. In recent years, the Maldives has invested heavily in advancing ties with many countries. We have opened many new diplomatic missions around the world, while strengthening existing ones.
Five years ago we had only three diplomatic missions abroad, but we now have eleven, including of course, our mission here in New Delhi. Our diplomatic presence has in fact exceeded the realms of reality! I am of course referring to our Virtual Embassy on Second Life.
I’m very happy to see this evening, many old friends, old in the sense that I have known them for a long time, not in terms of their age. Anyway, it’s very nice to re-unite with old friends and old associates and be able to spend some time with them and to thank them for their efforts in promoting relations between Maldives and their respective countries.
In conclusion, I wish to thank all of you for coming here this evening, and hope that relations between the Maldives and all our friends abroad will continue to flourish in the time ahead.