President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has delivered the Presidential Address at the first sitting of the People's Majlis for the year 2020, highlighting past achievements and the Administration’s stance encompassing a wide range of topics.
Initiating his address, President Solih stressed that as the outbreak of Novel Coronavirus casts its shadow across the globe, threatening the Maldives as well as other countries, all Government institutions are bound together by a united mission to safeguard our people from this illness. He added that the Administration understands the measures required to ensure public safety and maintain a healthy national economy and that the administration had pursued effective precautionary measures according to international safety standards to ensure the safety of our people.
Child Rights Protection
Addressing the gathering of lawmakers representing the entire nation, the President stated that several tragic revelations have surfaced over our community within the past month or so, referring to the cases of paedophilia and rape which shed new light into the harrowing state of child abuse within the country. President Solih reiterated the Administration's commitment to the protection of child rights and enabling a safer environment for all children within the society. The President stressed that the newly enacted Child Protection Act will come into force on the 20th of this month, further assisting authorities in safeguarding children and holding perpetrators accountable for their heinous crimes.
President Solih noted 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 their basic rights such as proper birth certificates, vaccinations and schooling. He continued that the Administration would proactively investigate cases that contravene the law and actively take action such as vaccinating children and enrolling them in schools in the event that their guardians fail to do so.
Maldives' Democratic Journey
President Solih noted that overall, 2019 had been a successful year for the democratic journey that we have embarked on, highlighting that he shares in the immense joy felt by the entire population with the peace that now prevails in the Maldives. The President further stated that the Parliament is the most important partner in the journey to align the strategic plan of the Government with the wishes of the people. He added that the sincerity and resolve exhibited by the People's Majlis in bringing about the necessary positive changes to the Maldives' constitutional and legislative framework are the true underlying reasons for the country’s present peaceful condition. President Solih expressed gratitude to the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, and all Parliamentarians alike, for their collective role in efficiently striving towards success and progress.
Constitutional and Legislative Framework
Speaking further, President Solih highlighted that 27 of the 49 bills sent to the 19th sitting of the People's Majlis had been passed. He added that the Administration intends to submit 56 bills to the People's Majlis during the first half of this year, among which 32 are amendments to existing laws and 24 are to create entirely new laws. President Solih stated that the Maldivian people have witnessed a commendable example of the three branches of our State functioning independently, extending support and holding each other accountable, within the course of the administration's first year.
Religious Unity and Counterterrorism
Speaking at the gathering, President Solih stressed that the scourge of religious extremism and the expression of values which contravene Islam were considered a threat to national security. He further added that some of these issues were deep-rooted within our society over the course of many years and were never resolved due to the failure of successive previous governments to address them properly.
President Solih stated that this Administration disclosed the extent to which religious extremism had spread within our society and expended significant effort to counter it. He added that the creation and implementation of a national action plan authorising the exchange of intelligence among relevant institutions will take place this year. The national action plan is a comprehensive central mechanism by which relevant stakeholder agencies can communicate, share information and work together to address terrorism and violent extremism. The President noted that the building work of the National Reintegration Centre, aimed at rehabilitating Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs) who return from war zones, has been completed. Highlighting the high priority accorded by the Administration last year to strengthen people’s religious faith, President Solih added that work is currently ongoing to build 8 mosques and that 12 further mosques will be built in 8 different islands within this year.
Social Justice and legislative procedures
Speaking further, the President noted that social justice and stability cannot be established without protecting the rights of the people. President Solih stated that the rights of the people can only be fully realised through revisions to the current legislative framework and its mechanism to create an efficient judicial system that incites trust from the public. He added that bills to revise the legislation of the Judicial Service Commission and the Code of Civil Procedure were submitted to the Majlis last year. Furthermore, the President noted that work is underway to submit a bill that proposes revisions to the laws that govern courts and judges to this session of the Parliament.
The President stated that the Administration has provided an unprecedented amount of opportunities for prospective students in the past year, emphasizing that over 5,000 students benefited from the Administration’s free degree programme in the past year and 4,144 students benefited from this administration's loan and scholarships schemes.
'Naasthaa' Breakfast Programme
In reviewing developments within the education sector, President Solih noted the newly inaugurated school breakfast 'Naasthaa' programme had been an extremely beneficial new initiative. He said that the full benefits of the 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 at all schools, President Solih noted that the Government is in the process of implementing an extensive 3-year plan to that effect.
Speaking further on the Administration’s ambitious project to expand Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) training country-wide, President Solih stated that this year’s budget will finance the establishment of high-quality TVET Centres in 3 locations across the country.
Under the effort of the administration to streamline healthcare across the island nation, President Solih stated that several notable achievements have been accomplished by the Government over the past year to ease the burden of travelling to Male' and overseas for medical purposes.
Speaking on the topic, President Solih highlighted the 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 had begun and that there are additional projects planned for this year to strengthen specialised medical services in the Maldives.
President Solih added that a dedicated Cancer Hospital for oncology treatment has been proposed for establishment in Hulhumale’ with the generous assistance from India and that facilitating kidney transplant surgeries at Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) is underway.
The President said that 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. He noted that the Government has proposed the first-ever Psychiatry Ward at IGMH and will commence its service within the year, stating that it is among several effort by the Administration to further ensure good health and safety within the country.
Year of Public Health and Well-being
Speaking at the inaugural sitting of the Parliament, President Solih said that the Administration has designated this year as a Year of Public Health and Well-being. He added that the Government will take extra measures in reference to the theme of the year to prevent the spread of non-communicable diseases among our citizens.
The President expressed joy in announcing that work to establish a Home for Elderly People will commence within the year under the Administration’s effort to further strengthen social protection mechanisms in the country.
Noting that the Administration attaches high precedence to the improvement of mechanisms to enable rehabilitation, President Solih said that work to build a Remand Centre aimed at rehabilitating drug offenders and easing healthy re-entry into society is underway.
The President said that 120 cases of corruption, gathered through the Whistleblower Portal established under the Administration’s effort to curb corruption and encourage reporting corruption, had been forwarded to investigative authorities.
President Solih further added that establishing transparency and accountability in governance under the policy of complete fiscal transparency, the Government has been regularly publicizing the State’s financial statements and monetary figures since last year.
Armed Forces and Policing
The President highlighted that fundamental changes have been brought to the administrative framework of the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) in order to ensure that the military is a trusted force that functions independent of political influence.
President Solih noted the importance of ensuring that our Police services are provided in harmony with constitutional conventions, in consideration of fundamental human rights and within the Law. he added that a Police Service Bill has been submitted to this esteemed Majlis seeking to re-establish the role of the Maldives Police Service within the law.
Acknowledging that there is still a long way to go in earning the public’s complete trust and creating a brighter outlook about the police force in the hearts of the people, President Solih praised the effort in establishing community policing to provide a more citizen-centric service. He added that the administration will continue to expand neighbourhood police services to more atolls.
Speaking about the effort to improve the situation of jails and remand facilities, President Solih stated that overcrowding of jails, together with the lack of a robust prisoner rehabilitation mechanisms, presents a serious obstacle to societal peace and contentment. He noted that the construction of a new prison will begin within the year in an effort to resolve the issue of overcrowding in prisons. He said that the newly proposed prison will relieve issues relating to facilities for the convicts. The President also noted 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 to improve the livelihoods of the people was the resumption of a truly decentralised system of governance. Speaking on the topic, President Solih said that local councils are now fiscally empowered, and through the newly allocated budget, the stewardship of local island development projects now resides with local councils.
The President emphasized that the most notable amendment to the Decentralisation Act was the authorisation of an electoral quota to island and city councils to be filled by women.
Noting that the Maldives marked re-entry into the international community last year in regards to its foreign policy, the President stated that 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, financial assistance and ease of travel.
President Solih highlighted that the administration has 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. He also added that effort to ease the burden of citizens in obtaining Schengen Visas, in collaboration with the German Government, to facilitate this service from the Visa Application Centre due to be set up in Malé in March 2020.
Rejoining the Commonwealth
The President stated that the administration's effort to rejoin the Commonwealth had borne fruit this year with the unanimous support from the international community, and as of the 1st of February, the Maldives is once again part of the Commonwealth family.
Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s)
President Solih stated that the newly established SME Development Finance Corporation (SDFC), created to benefit SME’s and enable them to thrive, has assisted 301 SME's to receive finances adding up to MVR 335 million. He added this year, the Administration had allocated MVR 450 million to SDFC in order to assist even more SMEs through loans.
The President also spoke about the Fund Management Corporation (FMC), "SME Innovation Fund”, 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 the business world. Speaking in this regard, the President announced that the National Single Window entailing import-export transactions in a single portal for the ease of Government stakeholders will launch in April. The portal will assist authorities with documentation and approval services.
Gulhifalhu Bridge and Port Construction
Speaking on the Administration’s plan to develop an international standard port at Gulhifalhu, the President stated that the masterplan is nearing completion and that physical work is expected to commence within the year. The port will feature state of the art facilities equipped to cater to 400,000 shipping containers on average.
The President also stated that the necessary surveys to bridge Malé and Thilafushi are currently underway with proposed designs currently under consideration. Physical work of the bridge development project is set to commence this year.
Income Tax and Minimum Wage
The President highlighted that the Administration had streamlined taxation through the introduction of the Income Tax Act which will come into force from April 2020 onwards to accelerate national development. In the same regard, President Solih said that the minimum wage bill will be sent to Parliament during this session.
Despite the record budget allocation for the year, the President highlighted that the Government budget for next year will also be comparable to this year while trying to accommodate development pledges and incur lower debt in subsequent years.
President Solih said that careful planning has gone into the formulation of attainable targets for budget management. The President added that the State gained a total of MVR 23.1 billion in revenue and development aid last year, while the government expenditure stood at MVR 28.3 billion and budget deficit at MVR 5.2 billion.
President Solih also highlighted that this year, a credit sum of MVR 29.9 billion in revenue and development aid is estimated; an increment of 30 per cent from 2019. With the State expected to earn MVR 24.7 billion in total revenue, President Solih said that this would mark an increase of 12 per cent from 2019. He added that the inflow of development aid worth MVR 5.2 billion is estimated for the course of this year.
Noting that the tourism sector was able to attain the targets for 2019 successfully surpassing the target of 1.5 million to 1.7 million tourists, President Solih said that the country is set to welcome 2.15 million tourists before the end of 2021 and to expand tourist visits to 2.5 million per year thereon, before the end of his tenure.
As many tourists have cancelled bookings due to the worldwide global medical emergency posed by the Novel Coronavirus, which has proliferated into a global epidemic with potentially debilitating implications on the tourism sector of the Maldives. President Solih highlighted the need for further marketing of the Maldives tourism industry to remedy the loss.
Transport and Interconnectivity
The President stated that the Administration attaches high priority to establishing a reliable sea and air transport network. Speaking on the matter, President Solih said that the Government is working towards the completion of airport development projects in Haa Alifu Hoarafushi, Meemu Muli and Gaafu Dhaalu Faresmaadhodaa, adding that in the 4 years ahead, airports will be developed in a further 6 islands in the Maldives. He also detailed the development of a maritime connectivity network to ensure the introduction of new transport services between the islands in Haa Alifu, Haa Dhaalu and Shaviyani atolls.
President Solih said that the services will be convened during this year and will utilize fast and environmentally friendly vessels.
Speaking about the sustenance of the fisheries sector of the country, President Solih reiterated the Administration’s commitment to introducing progressive measures and steady policies to enable the fisheries sector to achieve its full potential. The President highlighted individual projects set for the development of fisheries around the country, including the upgrade of Kooddoo Cold Storage capacity from 2,000 to 6000 tonnes, and the upgrade of Felivaru capacity to 4,000 tonnes this year to acquire and store all fish caught by our fishermen. Detailing several other measures placed to assist fishing communities, President Solih noted that import duty exemptions are applicable for vessels, engines, fibre, resin, and other equipment imported for fishing purposes from this year onwards.
The President also announced that a new training programme for safe diving to ensure safety and reduce risks for baitfish divers will commence this year and that works are underway on establishing a decompression chamber in Addu City this March.
Noting the importance of incorporating sustainable farming practices in the country and facilitating farming communities to adopt sustainable methods, President Solih announced that the Government will establish a state-owned Agri-company tasked with shaping farming communities with sustainable farming practices and assist in promoting and selling local products in the market.
Highlighting the notable achievements made in sports last year, President Solih has said that Maldives will undertake a significant urban and infrastructural development plan to cater to the 2023 Indian Ocean Island Games (IOIG) which will be hosted here in the Maldives. Last year was very successful in the sporting history of Maldives; local athletes won a total of 46 medals, including 13 gold medals from international sporting events, and the first-ever gold medal in the South Asian Games was obtained by the Maldives in the 100 meters running event.
President Solih also announced the introduction of a loan scheme for athletes retiring after serving five years for any national sporting team. The loan scheme assists athletes to help develop their capacities for alternative employment. The President also announced an insurance scheme to help athletes with sports injuries.
Water and Sewerage Services
Speaking about Government's pledge on the provision of clean water supply and adequate sewerage services to every Maldivian citizen, President Solih said that 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. He further noted that the Islands that have not yet commenced physical work on the projects will do so at the latest by the year 2021.
Noting the importance of lessening national dependency on fossil fuels as an energy source, President Solih said that the Government has been investing in alternative sources to provide electricity in the country through renewable energy. He detailed that solar photovoltaic systems were installed on 40 islands last year, resulting 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, which is a 7.5 per cent increase.
Several other projects were undertaken to strengthen electricity services within the Male’ region, including the establishment of a 50-megawatt powerhouse in Hulhumalé last year and the project to integrate electricity services of Hulhumalé, Hulhulé and Malé within one grid. He noted that the ongoing electricity cable project is expected to be completed within the year and services are expected to initiate soon.
President Solih highlighted the challenges in establishing effective means for safe and efficient waste management, safe disposal and pollution control.
He added that the Government is currently working on establishing waste management mechanisms in 3 regions of the Maldives. He added that the waste management policies also seek to monetize waste. 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 current will be linked to the central powerhouse in Addu.
Furthermore, the President said that today, every Maldivian citizen will agree that plastic is a major enemy to our ocean and reefs. He added that in order to protect our fragile environment, the Maldives will start to implement the plastics phase-out plan towards a nationwide ban on single-use plastics.
Culture and Heritage
Speaking about the protection and preservation of historical monuments, President Solih said that the formulation and implementation of the Maldives Heritage Law is one of the most prominent actions taken thus far in this area. The President also acknowledged that the audit conducted to enlist Maldives’ cultural heritage with the support from the Oxford Islamic Center has now been completed in 108 islands of 4 Atolls.
President Solih noted that the inability of families to own homes where they can lead dignified lives is a key concern for many people. He said that there are more than 20,000 families in Male’ region alone who need affordable housing. He added that surveys and screening are currently underway to assess the living conditions of eligible candidates.
President Solih also said that that the work on a total of 5 categories has been completed, with the list of eligible candidates ready to be announced. He also announced that 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 awarded land from Hulhumale’ with the process commencing this year.
During his Presidential Address, President Solih highlighted the work of "The Presidential Commission on Deaths and Disappearances" which 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 and is now in the process of sending the cases for prosecution.
Furthermore, the President revealed that investigations by the Presidential Commission on Corruption and Asset Recovery are also coming to a close and is currently in the process of concluding its final report.
In conclusion, President Solih reiterated the administration's commitment to relentlessly give precedence to national interests under all circumstances in order to realise the people’s vision of a “Jazeera Raajje.”
He reassured that despite the numerous adversities and challenges faced over the past year, every single decision the administration made and every step it had taken has been in the best interest of the nation and the people with extensive thought into what is best for the country and its people, and accepting that our core duty lies in serving all Maldivians.