Honourable Speaker, Distinguished Members of the People's Majlis;
I stand before this distinguished Majlis in order to fulfil the constitutional responsibility entrusted to me under Article 84 of the Constitution of the Maldives, to deliver a presidential statement commenting on the state of our nation and outlining the actions this Administration will take to improve its condition.
The world is ever changing in its fortunes. Today, the coronavirus casts its shadow across the globe, threatening the Maldives as well as others. In accordance with the guidelines of the World Health Organisation, all our Government institutions are bound by a united mission to safeguarding our population from this illness, God willing.
We understand the difficulty this poses to the Maldives’ economy. While recognising the effects this will have on our tourism industry, the Government has closed off several routes of air travel. Our highest responsibility is the safety of our citizens. The Government will take all necessary precautionary measures to contain the spread of this virus and to keep our citizens safe.
Last night, I was informed that, by the grace of Almighty Allah, all the Maldivian nationals suspected of being infected with the virus had tested negative. I pray upon Almighty Allah to protect us from this deadly outbreak.
In the past month or so, several tragic revelations have surfaced and blemished over our community. A vulnerable two-year-old girl was brutally assaulted by the very same individuals responsible for her care. This abuse was enabled by not holding suspects accountable, and by the negligence of some State institutions in fulfilling their duties. Even now there are cases relevant to child abuse that had been sent by prosecutors to courts, that have remained pending since 2012.
Every moment that justice is delayed for them on account of institutional and court negligence is a moment that prolongs the pain of victims, deprives them of their rights, and encourages perpetrators. The Child Rights Protection Act ratified by this Government will come into effect from the 20th of this month, and will strengthen the Government’s efforts to safeguard our children. I note that the aforementioned legislation was ratified by this Government following repeated failures by preceding governments to do so over the past 28 years.
Under the provisions of the legislation, parents will no longer have the discretion to deprive their children of proper birth certificates, vaccinations or schooling. The Government will be proactively investigating cases that contravene the law and will actively vaccinate children and enrol them in schools in the event that their guardians fail to do so.
Today, we all have much to celebrate. I share in the immense joy felt by the general public in reaction to the tranquillity that now prevails in this country. I note that 2019 was a successful year for the democratic journey we embarked on together.
The most important partner I have in this journey to align the strategic plan of the Government with the wishes of the people is this esteemed Majlis. The sincerity and seriousness of purpose evinced by the Majlis in bringing about the necessary positive changes to this country’s constitutional and legislative framework are the true underlying reasons for the country’s present peaceful condition.
Of the 49 bills this Government sent to the Parliament, the 19th Majlis in the previous year, passed 27. For that I thank the Honourable Speaker of Majlis, President Mohamed Nasheed, the Honourable Deputy Speaker of the People’s Majlis, Eva Abdulla, and all Honourable Members of Parliament, sincerely and from the bottom of my heart.
I take this opportunity to highlight the Government’s intention to submit 56 bills to the Majlis during the first half of this year. Of these, 32 bills propose amendments to existing laws and 24 bills are set to enact entirely new laws. I am confident that this esteemed Majlis will provide its unwavering support in our effort to pass these bills.
Within the course of the Government’s first year and the 8 months of this 19th Parliament, the Maldivian people have witnessed a commendable example of the three branches of our State functioning independently, extending support and holding each other accountable. The people reap the benefits of State institutions upholding democratic values. If indeed, the branches of our State exercise power within their constitutional prerogatives, the people of the Maldives will gain even more benefits.
The spread of religious extremism and the expression of values which contravene religion are considered threats to our national security. This year, the Government has disclosed the extent to which religious extremism has spread within our society and expended significant effort to counter it. These two issues, deep-rooted within our society over the course of many years, were never resolved due to the failure of successive governments to address them properly.
To resolve these issues, a national action plan authorising exchange of intelligence among relevant institutions will be formulated and implemented during this year. A central mechanism by which relevant stakeholder agencies can communicate, share information and work together to address terrorism and violent extremism, will also be implemented this year. In addition, the building work of the National Reintegration Centre, aimed at rehabilitating Foreign Terrorist Fighters who return from designated war zones, has been completed.
A high priority was accorded by the Government last year to strengthen people’s religious faith. Work is currently ongoing to build 8 mosques, and God willing, 12 further mosques will be built in 8 different islands within this year.
Social justice and stability cannot be established without protecting the rights of the people. The rights of the people can only be fully realised through revisions to our current legislative framework and its mechanism that will then ensure trust for the judicial system. Therefore, bills to revise the legislation of the Judicial Service Commission and the Code of Civil Procedure were submitted to the Majlis last year. Furthermore, work is underway to submit to this session of parliament, a bill that proposes revisions to the laws that govern courts and judges.
In the education field, the Government has provided an unprecedented amount of opportunities for prospective students in the past year. Over 5,000 students have availed themselves of the Government’s free degree programme in the past year and 4,144 students benefited from this Government’s loan and scholarships schemes.
In reviewing the developments within the education field, I note the newly inaugurated school breakfast programme as an extremely beneficial new initiative. The full benefits of this initiative can only be realized when all schools transition to single sessions. Based on the audit carried out to determine the resources needed to transition to single sessions in all schools, we are in the process of implementing an extensive 3-year plan to that effect. In an effort to expand TVET trainings country-wide, establishing high-quality TVET Centres in 3 locations throughout the country is budgeted for this year.
To ease the burden of travelling to Male’, and overseas for medical purposes, we have begun work on developing tertiary hospitals in 5 areas of the Maldives last year; H. Dh. Kulhudhuffushi Regional Hospital, R. Ungoofaaru Regional Hospital, L. Gan Regional Hospital, G. Dh. Thinadhoo Dr. Abdul Samad Memorial Hospital and Addu Equatorial Hospital.
We have projects planned for this year to strengthen specialised medical services in the Maldives. Chief among them are the Cancer Hospital to be built in Hulhumale’ with the generous assistance from India, and facilitating kidney transplant surgeries at Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH).
As of last year, over 6,160 individuals sought treatment at the Centre for Mental Health, which was established at IGMH last year to facilitate mental health treatment for the public. To further strengthen mental health treatment services, we will inaugurate the first ever Psychiatry Ward at IGMH and begin services this year.
The Government has designated this year as the Year of Public Health and Well-being. Under that theme, we will take extra measures to prevent the spread of non-communicable diseases among our citizens. A banner activity planned in that regard for this year is the establishment of a network of community health workers, and make accessible their full services to the public.
In order to further strengthen our social protection mechanisms, work on building a Home for the Elderly People will begin this year. We will also build a Remand Centre aimed at rehabilitating drug offenders during detention and to ease their re-entry into society.
Of the cases reported via the Whistleblower Portal, which was established last year to enable secure reporting of corruption, 120 cases have been forwarded to investigative authorities. And under the policy of complete fiscal transparency, the Government has been regularly publicizing the State’s financial statements and monetary figures since last year.
Last year, fundamental changes were brought to the administrative framework of our National Defence Force in order to ensure that the military is a trusted force that functions independent of political influence. The primary responsibility of our Defence Force shall be to remain steadfast in their constitutional duty to protect our national sovereignty, maintain peace and ensure the safety of our people.
The combined selfless efforts of our Defence Force, Police and citizens to protect the lives of people and property in the deadly fire incident in Male’ last year, showed us a resolute and admirable example of social unity.
The importance of ensuring that our policing services are provided in harmony with constitutional conventions, in consideration of fundamental human rights and within the law cannot be overstated. To re-establish the role of the Maldives Police Service within the law, a Police Service Bill has been submitted to this esteemed Majlis.
Under the policy of continuing to provide citizen-centric services, we will be introducing Neighbourhood Police Services to more atolls. I acknowledge that there is still a long way to go in earning the public’s trust and creating a positive outlook about our Police Force in the hearts of our people.
The overcrowding of our jails, together with the lack of a robust prisoner rehabilitation mechanism, presents a serious obstacle to societal harmony and peace. To solve the issue of overcrowding in prisons, the construction of a new prison will begin this year. As the current state of many units in Maafushi Prison restricts detainees’ ability to exercise, a new yard has been built on the prison grounds. Further to that, family visitation hours for detainees have been increased to 2 hours, along with the extension of conjugal visits to 24 hours.
The most prominent path of change that the Maldives embarked on last year, was the resumption of a true decentralised system of governance. Local councils are more empowered, and through the newly allocated budget, the stewardship of local island development projects now resides with local councils. The most notable amendment to the Decentralisation Act was the authorisation of an electoral quota to island and city councils, which is to be filled by women.
With regard to foreign policy, last year marked the Maldives’ re-entry into the international community after many years of distance. We have now re-engaged with the international community and made agreements with our neighbours and partner countries in multiple fields, including, among many others, higher education opportunities, financial assistance, and ease of travel.
We have secured visa-free travel to India, Russia, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates with hopeful developments to the ease of current travel conditions to Morocco and China in the coming months. Our efforts to ease the burden of citizens in obtaining Schengen visas have resulted in the collaboration with the German Government to facilitate this service from the Visa Application Centre due to be set up in Malé, this March.
Finally, with the unanimous support from the international community, as of the 1st of February, the Maldives is once again part of the Commonwealth family.
By the end of 2019, 301 Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) received a total of MVR 335 million in financial assistance through the newly established SME Development Finance Corporation (SDFC). This year, we will allocate an additional amount of MVR 450 million as loans in financial assistance for even more SME’s.
The premier Fund Management Corporation (FMC), "SME Innovation Fund”, is aimed at enhancing the viability of business ideas shared by young entrepreneurs to help them establish partnerships to engage in business - a first-ever initiative to give a start for young people in business.
Our current efforts to ease and digitise the import-export transactions by way of a National Single Window will launch this April. Once operational, all Government stakeholders will be connected via an online portal, where necessary documentation and approval services will be provided online.
The masterplan to develop Gulhifalhu Habour in line with international standards will be completed and God willing, we shall start its physical work this year. It will feature state-of-the-art facilities, equipped to cater to 400,000 shipping containers on average. The necessary surveys to bridge Malé and Thilafushi are currently underway with proposed designs currently under consideration. The physical works of this project will also commence this year.
In the review of our policy to accelerate national development, the Income Tax Act, introduced to streamline the taxation of all incomes, will come into effect from April 2020 onwards. I also hope to submit the bill establishing a minimum wage during this session of parliament.
The Government budget allocated for this year is by far one of the largest on record. We will begin the implementation phase of our development pledges this year and the next. As such, the Government budget for next year is expected to be of comparable volume to this year’s. We will aim for a budget that would incur a relatively lower debt in the subsequent years after next. Careful planning has gone into the formulation of attainable targets for budget management.
Last year, the State gained a total of MVR 23.1 billion in revenue and development aid. The government expenditure stood at MVR 28.3 billion last year, while the budget deficit was MVR 5.2 billion.
For the present year of 2020, a credit sum of MVR 29.9 billion in revenue and development aid is estimated; an increment of 30 percent from 2019. The State is expected to earn a total revenue of MVR 24.7 billion. This would mark an increase of 12 percent from 2019. At the same time, the inflow of development aid worth MVR 5.2 billion is estimated for the course of this year.
Considering the current economic growth rate of the Maldives and the projected direction of the world economy, our economy is expected to grow at a rate of 7.5 percent this year. The estimated average inflation rate on the other hand is 1 percent.
At the end of last year, official records showed a total of USD 753 million in national foreign exchange reserves. Current estimates indicate that the official foreign exchange reserves accumulated by the end of this year would stand at USD 818 million. The total usable reserves at the end of last year was USD 315 million.
I am pleased to note that by the grace of Almighty Allah, we were able to attain the targets set for the tourism sector last year. We were in fact able to successfully surpass the target of 1.5 million tourists to reach 1.7 million.
This is an increment of 14.7 percent relative to the year before last. The Government is currently working on attracting 2.15 million tourists before the end of 2021, and expand the number of incoming tourists to 2.5 million per year thereon, before the end of this term in office.
By the end of last year, tourists had stayed in 158 resorts, 607 guest houses, 12 tourist hotels and 156 safaris, bringing the total number of beds to 50,591. With an additional 1,300 beds, 13 resorts and 74 guest houses are estimated to be opened this year.
The novel coronavirus syndrome has proliferated into a global epidemic with potentially debilitating implications on the tourism sector of the Maldives. Ever since the gravity of the syndrome surfaced, 13,287 tourists have cancelled their bookings to date. I believe that a lot of work needs to go into marketing our tourism industry to remedy this loss. Last year, we participated in a wide range of activities to promote the Maldives globally.
A smooth-functioning inter-island connectivity system is a necessary requisite for national development. The Government attaches high priority to establishing a reliable sea and air transport network. We are working towards the completion of airport development projects in H. A. Hoarafushi, M. Muli and G. Dh. Faresmaathodaa. In the 4 years ahead, airports will be developed in 6 islands in the Maldives.
Under phase one of developing a maritime connectivity network, we are gearing to introduce new transport services between the islands in Haa Alifu, Haa Dhaalu and Shaviyani Atolls. These services will be convened during this year and will utilize fast and environmentally friendly vessels.
Much work is needed to develop the fisheries sector. While our hardworking fishermen have brought much progress and development to the fisheries sector, the sector has been unable to realize its full potential due to the failure of previous administrations to meet the development efforts of our fishermen with sound policies.
To resolve this, investments will be focused this year to increase the cold storage capacity of Kooddoo from 2,000 tonnes to 6,000 tonnes. Additionally, the cold storage capacity of Felivaru will be upgraded to store up to 4,000 tonnes this year. We have been addressing several other challenges that confront our fishing community including imposing a ban on longlining, a practice that has relied heavily on expatriate labour. Likewise, import duty will be waived for vessels, engines, fiber, resin, and other equipment imported for fishing purposes from this year onwards.
To reduce risks and ensure the safety of baitfish divers, a new training program for safe diving will commence this year, and we are currently working on opening the decompression chamber in Addu City this March.
In terms of agriculture, the principle request of our farming communities has been for sustainable means to promote and sell their products in the market and an easily accessible income flow. Therefore, a State-owned agribusiness will be established this year to help our farmers efficiently market and sell their produce.
The latest technology is much needed to reach our development goals and to overcome our challenges. It is crucial to acclimatise our students and youth to modern technology and science to keep pace with the global economy and secure the benefits of the digital future.
As such, STEM subjects will be further integrated into the national curriculum, and coding will be taught starting from primary grades. According to the new National Identification Roadmap, Maldives’ national identity cards will be digitalised this year.
Last year was very successful in our sporting history. Maldivian athletes won a total of 46 medals, including 13 gold medals from international sporting events. Also, our first-ever gold medal in the South Asian Games was won in the 100 meters running event. Additionally, by the grace of Almighty Allah, we shall undertake a significant urban and infrastructural development project to cater to the 2023 Indian Ocean Island Games which will be hosted here in the Maldives.
For athletes who retire after five years of service to any national sporting team, we will be introducing a loan scheme this year to help develop their capacities for alternative employment. We will also be introducing an insurance scheme to help our athletes with sports-related injuries this year.
I would like to take this opportunity to note that under our policy to build international athletes, we shall also be providing sports scholarships for our athletes.
Clean water along with adequate sewerage systems for all Maldivians is a key pledge of the Government. Under this pledge, the establishment of clean water and proper sewerage systems in all the islands in the Maldives have been included in the budget for this year. Islands that have not yet commenced physical work on the projects will do so at the latest by the year 2021. Before the end of this term in office, this service will be fully provided to all the islands in the Maldives.
The effects of global warming and climate change on the Maldivian islands are an immense reality faced by the Maldivian people. This year, storm surges have increased in intensity during the North-East Monsoon. Many inhabited and uninhabited islands have been severely eroded. To lessen the damage, immediate measures are being undertaken by the Government.
To lessen our reliance on fossil fuels in electricity production, photovoltaic systems were installed on 40 islands last year which will result in the production of 5.2 megawatts of electricity. Thus, within the national electricity grid, the level of renewable energy has increased to 21.5 megawatts, a 7.5 percent increase. Additional projects to produce a further 51 megawatts of electricity using solar energy will be commenced this year.
To strengthen electricity services within the Male’ region, last year, the 50 megawatt powerhouse established in Hulhumale’ has commenced service. To integrate the electricity services of Hulhumale’, Hulhule’ and Male’ within one grid, the ongoing electricity cable project shall be completed within the year and services are expected to be initiated then.
A significant complaint from the islands pertain to the lack of effective means for solid waste disposal. This year, one of my main aims is to find a proper solution to this problem. Consequently, constructing a reliable waste management system at the national level, is currently underway in 3 regions in the Maldives.
Our waste management policies also seek to monetise waste with the potential to generate livelihoods. Under this policy, the completion of the USD 168 million waste energy project in Thilafushi would enable 8 megawatts of electricity to be integrated into the central grid in Male’. And once the installation of the USD 28 million waste energy plant in Addu is completed, 1 megawatt electricity will be linked to the central powerhouse in Addu.
Today, every Maldivian citizen will agree that plastic is a major enemy to our reefs and other marine life. To protect our fragile environment, the Maldives will start to implement the plastics phase out plan which aims to ban single-use plastics.
To protect and preserve historical monuments, and all buildings and objects related to history, one of the most prominent actions that was taken last year was formulating and implementing the Maldives Heritage Law. To enlist Maldives’ cultural heritage with the help of modern technology, an audit conducted with the support of the Oxford Islamic Centre has now been completed in 108 islands of 4 Atolls.
A key concern of the people is the inability of families to own homes where they can lead dignified lives. Based on information from forms submitted to Hiya Mashroou, in Male’ alone, there are more than 20,000 families in need of affordable housing. So far, 17,189 forms from the Hiya Masharoou have been screened, with surveys on living conditions of eligible candidates currently undergoing. The work on a total of 5 categories has been completed, with the list of eligible candidates ready to be announced. God willing, 7,000 flats of Hiya Mashroou will be given to the deserving people within this year.
Construction work on 4,000 housing units in Hulhumale’, allocated for the residents of Male’, will convene this year. Under the Veshifahi Program those residents that have not yet been allocated land in Male’ will be given a land from Hulhumale’ with the process commencing this year.
Several families of Maavaidhoo, Faridhoo and Kumburudhoo Islands of Haa Dhaalu Atoll, who were relocated to Nolhivaramfaru Island in 2011, are yet to receive permanent housing solutions. Sixty housing units currently being developed for them are expected to be completed this year, and we hope to have those families settled into new homes by May of this year.
The Presidential Commission on Investigation of Murders and Enforced Disappearances is currently in the process of wrapping up its final reports on the murder of Yameen Rasheed and disappearance of Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla. Concurrently, it has successfully concluded investigations into the murder of Dr Afrasheem Ali and custodial death of Hassan Zareer; it is now in the process of sending the cases for prosecution.
Investigations by the Presidential Commission on Corruption and Asset Recovery, too, are coming to a close; it is currently in the process of concluding its final report. All necessary actions will be duly taken once I receive the reports.
We should, relentlessly and under all circumstances, advance national interests above everything else, to realise the people’s vision of a Jazeera Raajje. It is my utmost priority, a policy I have embraced and a duty I have been discharging since my first day in office. Despite the numerous adversities and challenges we had to face over the past year, every single decision the Administration made and every step it took has been in the best interest of the nation and the people; putting extensive thought into what is best for the country and its people, and accepting that our core duty lies in serving all Maldivians.
It gives me immense pleasure to see, by the grace of Almighty Allah, the triumphs of our efforts in realising the pledges I made to my people, who bestowed upon me their trust and acceptance. I assure the people that, the Government they elected remains strong and committed in our efforts to deliver on our pledges to the people.
May the Almighty Allah grant peace and stability to our beloved nation. May He bless us every step of the way on our road towards development, and give us sound minds and the capacity to move forward. May He strengthen our unity and kinship, and enlighten us with the will to work together in our endeavours. Amen!