Mr. Dixit, Senior Managing Director of Blackstone group; Mr. Saldanha, Chairman of TMA; and of course my friend Mr. Fawzy, the CEO of TMA; distinguished Ministers; corporate leaders; youth entrepreneurs; all of you who are present here;
A very good evening all of you.
I wonder where I should begin my small talk. The journey of foreign investments in Maldives is pretty much the journey of my professional life or public life in Government. I started my career just after my first undergraduate programme, in ‘84, ’85. And that is the journey into foreign investment.
I was pretty much the regime manager. Foreign investment law at that time was clearly to inhabit foreign investment moving into Maldives. At that time, just after 1960s, Marxist theories, monopolistic profits, and all inhibitions against foreign investment, foreign investment was looked at as something that was punitive. Foreign investment in Maldives was not encouraged. There was at least one Minister who lost his cabinet portfolio due to some kind of involvement with a foreign partner.
So my task at the time was to convince the leaders, political leaders, the President, that foreign investment after all is not such a bad thing. It is only through foreign investment that small countries like Maldives could forge ahead. So it was a daunting task, an uphill battle really, for a few people who believed in foreign investments.
Much was done. A more liberal, but by far not the best foreign investment law we have. But remembering the times that we were at the time, I think one of the most liberal foreign investment laws we had. And that law was poised to entertain foreign investments into Maldives. The whole vision of Maldivian Government changed from inhibitive, punitive thinking on foreign investments towards a more favored, a more liberal, and a more hospitable attractor of foreign investments.
We have done quite a lot during this short stretch of time. 20 years; a lot of the times in vain. I have gone to Europe. I have gone to London. I have gone to Ireland. I have gone to Japan. And very lonely, very solitary talks I have had about foreign investment, investing in Maldives. But then again, what is there really to sell? What we are seeing today is not only the pristine waters, resplendent waters, beaches. We have a more important story to tell the world. We are a country, we are a population, we are a Government, determined to find salvation to our youth. So that was the talk, and therefore I relate very closely to whatever success we have in foreign investment to my public life at the time.
So those were 20, 30 years ago. Not a youth anymore but still I will tell you another experience. When we studied economics, when we studied business management, you open any textbook, you surf through the pages, you come up with concepts like land, labour, capital. Clearly the entrepreneur was missing at that time of day. But later on we learnt that however much capital your have, however resources you have at your avail, the most important person is the business brain. So comes the concept of entrepreneur.
And today, to all youth leaders, to all the scholars who have taken their awards this evening, my message to them really is, a company is a happy company only when the management is able to take care of its employees. Blackstone group, TMA group, they have assured me that this is indeed what they have in plan, and this is what they have in store for their employees.
I must also tell you from the very outset, I’m deeply moved by your words, your fond words when you met with me two years ago. To those who graduated, or to those who have achieved these scholarship awards this evening, I know how grueling your experience must have been, how grueling that has been said just a while ago, by my previous speaker.
I had a tough time, at length I think it was slightly over an hour and 45 minutes, trying to convince the risk managers, Mr. Dixit was leading the team, to engage them in discussion and tell them that this is the best place for them to invest. It took me a very long time. But I’m deeply happy, deeply moved that in fact, they believed and they decided to invest in Maldives. From your own words, your decision to invest in Maldives has paid off.
But to all my foreign investors, I also caution you. When you assess risk, it is not only about assessing financial risk. It is also about assessing political risk. Political risk is very important. Whenever we hear about GMR, the issue that comes right to the limelight is their lack or their inability to assess political risk at the time. We are opening our doors to modern government. Democracy is at interplay. Peoples’ representatives working their way in their chambers are at crossroads, with intrusion with the political administration of any country. That is modern governance. That is the only way that powers can be kept in balance. You may have the best leader, you may have a person who is committed in economics. But it is also at the same time important that you are able to convince your deputies that this man’s policies should be carried out if you want to bring peace, prosperity and also settlement to the people.
So at a time when you have a very heightened political environment in Maldives, at a time when the parliament was polarized, it was a pity that political risk assessment was not undertaken by GMR. I am not finding fault with GMR, absolutely not. But all I am saying is that, that was the message I was trying to convince Mr. Dixit even that day. Political risk is absolutely crucial when you invest in a small country like Maldives. It’s an open economy. So is our open brains. There is intrusion into political lives of everyone of our leaders. Us politicians, some of us are in the business of being politicians. Some of us are in the business of improving the country.
My preoccupation is not with politics. But on the contrary, my preoccupation is improving the livelihood of these people. It is often said that to the people you often say that you live in the comfort or misery provided by politicians. I certainly hope that my people will live in the comfort that is provided by politicians like me. So my preoccupation really is to improve the livelihood of these people. And if you talk about a country as young as the Maldives, what is life without youth? What is life without trying to provide for youth aspirations and dreams? I tell the five scholars, your aspirations, your dreams, could waiver from being a doctor, to a pilot, and finally ending up as a president of a country. When I was young my aspiration was really to become a good doctor. And then suddenly it wavered from being a good practitioner to a pilot. So seaplane experience or aviation sector, at least in my dreams was not new to me. But from then again, from avionics, from aviator, I moved on in public life to be a politician.
So dreams are for us to behold. But pragmatism, or what is really in store for us sometimes could be crucial, or sometimes could be very rewarding. All those scholars who have taken Zuvana awards today I wish them all very well. And to the TMA and Blackstone group, I wish you well while you stay here in Maldives. And I am very glad that you are finally trying to help me out in my endeavor, which is to bring prosperity to this country, more importantly through the avenue of finding ways to the youth.
When you talk about youth enhancement here, in Maldives today, here you are talking about youth, a very motivated youth, a very highly intelligent youth, an easily trainable youth in Maldives. The difference during the time we studied 30 years ago and today, is everything is at your fingertips. When you do your research like the candidate who was speaking before me, his whole preoccupation has been about becoming an aviator. I’m sure he must have had sleepless nights but finally here it is for him to be taking.
As ambassadors of this country, as ambassadors of this Zuvana youth programme, and also as ambassadors of seaplane company, I wish you all very well. Whatever you do, by way of discharge of your studies, by way of your personalities, whatever experience you share with youth, is for the youth to enjoy.
This country after all is all about providing employment, empowering youth, and finding a settled life for the youth. That is whole of my manifesto. But having said that also I would like to tell this distinguished crowd, distinguished audience, that our programme is not only about sandy beaches, the sun, the sand, the sea. Maldives is more subtle. That is the message we are trying to give the international world now. My Economic Development Minister is here with me. So is my Youth Minister. What we are trying to tell the world is that Maldives is not only about the sunny side of Maldives. We have more subtle stories to tell.
We are trying to diversify our economy. Of course in this expansion tourism is going to be the beneficiary, single most benefactorial. We are going to expand our international airport. Hopefully we will be able to build a new international airport. But then we are trying to move away from the subtleties of tourism, not to say that we don’t desire tourism. Certainly tourism is going to be our main stake. But then we are moving into other areas of investments. That is clearly to reduce the dependency on tourism. That is the only way forward. Any risk manager will tell you your scope for diversification, whether it is in government, or whether it is in private business, that’s the way forward.
So that is the message we are trying to tell the world. Industrial zones are established world over. But easily trainable workforce, plus a highly educated workforce, a committed workforce, and a strong government who is committed to improving the livelihood of people through economics, and not through politics, I think are the essential ingredients to the success of Maldives. That is my dream. I always say, where there is life there is hope.
So this is my message to the youth of Maldives. It is about time that youth come to senses with what they are dreaming. Maldives is not a country that is infested with stabbing. Maldives is not a country that is infested with these kinds of juvenile delinquencies or crime. These are isolated incidents. Whatever foreign media writes about Maldives, what can clearly be said about the Maldives today is that, after the political difficulties we have had in the past, and thanks to some of the foreign interventions in these, that certainly did not make our lives easier, but that is a story of the past.
Today we have a strong government. We have the support of the public. And we also have a strong support in the parliament. This team is dedicated to improving the economic livelihood of the people. So this team is going to stay. So whatever we do in terms of expanding our economy is there for the taking. Investors should be coming.
In a month, or in two weeks’ time, we are going to introduce the concept of corporate resident. We are going to host a similar launching event to, by way of saying our thanks to the corporate leaders who are in Maldives. I’m sure TMA group, the Blackstone, all of you will be present in a gala function like this. That is our way of saying thank you to your services in Maldives. And that is also our way of saying that we believe that you are partners in development.
So companies to be socially responsible, companies to be responsible in making profits, I think the society is not to be neglected. The management should always take care of their staff. A happy staff is a happy company. So for the four S’s, if I remember correctly, sun, sand, sea, and the seaplane, I would like to add a fifth “S”: smiles. Any company which has a contented, which has a happy staff, is going to be a happy company. So the fifth “S” is what is most important.
All of these people who are working in your company, you have said very clearly, 60% of your pilots are Maldivians. Almost 50% of your work force is Maldivian. And I would like this number to be increasing. We have a very viable, very trainable, educated, young workforce. And there is absolutely no reason to my mind why you cannot engage Maldivians in your workforce. And this is really my plea to all the corporate investors in the Maldives. I would be a much happier person if everybody followed suit in what Blackstone and TMA is doing.
And to you all I wish you a very pleasant evening. And let us all live, and let us all live happily ever after in Maldives; investors as well as the Maldivian community. I think the relationship we have I think the partnering, the partnership we have, is for the good of all of us for the foreign investors as well as the Maldivians. We have huge projects right around the horizons. And nothing is going to withhold Maldivian Government embarking on those projects.
There may be isolated criminal activity here in Maldives. There may be talk about Maldives as a country that is perhaps soliciting some kind of terrorism activity. But let me tell you. Whenever you have youth population that is disgruntled, that is unsettled, that is dispassionate, you will have all of these things. But that is not symptomatic of Maldivian population. As a small country we have all these vices of the world, in bigger countries. But unfortunately we seem to be on the map ever since last 5 years or so. We seem to be continuing being on the map.
But I assure you all foreign investors, there may be vices. But Maldivian government is bent on providing these kinds of investment opportunities, and also to providing Maldivian people a better livelihood through economics first, and politics as a secondary matter.
Thank you all.