Beloved citizens of the Maldives;
Today we celebrate the 53rd Republic day of the Maldives. On this auspicious occasion, I extend my warm felicitations to all the citizens of the Maldives from the bottom of my heart. I pray to Almighty Allah to grant eternal blessings of paradise to the heroes of Maldivian republicanism, the late President Mohamed Ameen Dhoshimeyna Kileygefaanu and the late President Ibrahim Nasir Rannabandeyri Kileygefaanu.
As we mark Republic Day this year, we are six days away from marking the second year of the seventh presidency of the Maldivian Republic. With the confidence and trust the people placed in us, we took the oath of office and began work on fulfilling our pledges with meticulous planning.
However, the shadow of Covid-19 that cast itself across the world, encroached on the Maldives in March this year, disrupting everything. We face Covid-19 not only as a pandemic but as an economic crisis the world has never experienced before.
As a result, we have had to revise our national development priorities. However, even if we had to reduce expenditure, the Government’s aim has been to provide care and essential services without compromising the safety of our people.
We have been tackling Covid-19 while providing basic services, without dismissing government employees or deducting government salaries. We also continue to provide assistance to struggling businesses and those who have lost their jobs.
During this pandemic, the blessings of Almighty Allah upon us have been great. We have not faced shortages of food nor essential commodities; neither were there life-threatening obstacles to our efforts to secure healthcare equipment and supplies.
We are among the few countries who have managed to contain Covid-19. This is due to the hard work of our healthcare workers and the support of our people in implementing protective measures. I express my gratitude to the whole team working to prevent Covid-19.
However, the only way we can eliminate this virus completely and maintain the decline in the number of cases, is by aligning our lifestyles to the rules and regulations of the Health Protection Agency.
Despite the economic strains Covid-19 has caused on the state budget, the Government of Maldives remains focused on continuing with development schemes. While 372 country development projects have started, 154 projects are already in progress. In addition to this, 156 of these projects are expected to start soon. No other government has initiated this many projects within their first two years of administration.
While we attempt to emerge from the negative impacts Covid-19 has wrought on our economy, one of the main focuses of the Government will be human development. As such, the 2021 education development scheme prioritizes building infrastructure that would provide high-quality education across five selected regions of the Maldives.
Furthermore, with the blessings of Almighty Allah, the Government plans to expand the services provided by polytechnics, establish junior colleges as well as modern, state of the art TVET institutes across several regions of the Maldives next year.
The free-degree programme - introduced during the first year of our administration, is one of the biggest achievements I am most proud of in the educational sector. This programme has granted 8,200 students access to a free, first degree-level education. Moreover, the reforms brought to issuing of the student loan scheme, designed by the current Government, has allowed 1,082 students to study abroad in 23 countries.
It is important to note the progress Maldives has made in the field of diplomacy and international relations during the past two years. Efforts to renew severed diplomatic ties have been successful, resulting in more support from the international community as well as foreign aid.
If we look at the society two years ago, the people of Maldives existed in a state of anxiety when crime rates, gang violence and political disputes were at a high rate. Social stability was lost. What the people requested from us was a return to calm, an establishment of a safe and stable environment.
The most notable development in terms of human rights in the past two years, in my view, has been securing a stable and peaceful environment for our people.
I note the pivotal role of the Maldives National Defence Force and the Maldives Police Service in this regard and thank them for their efforts.
We have started recognizing and debating long-term societal issues in our society. We strongly condemn exploitation of children and domestic violence against women. We have begun to address corruption.
The reason for this has been the establishment of a credible system and reporting mechanism for complaints. I want to assure the people that the Government will establish a proper investigative mechanism free of influence.
We confront the start of the third year of this Government with the hopes and aspirations of our people and the knowledge that we face major economic challenges. By the will of Almighty Allah, we have incorporated in the next year’s budget several developmental projects which encompass all sectors of national development.
As such, in our efforts to decentralize the health sector, we plan to carry out 56 projects in various atolls across the Maldives. Among them, the Government places a high priority on the development of five tertiary hospitals. Work on the completion of these hospitals will commence soon. Hopefully, people can begin to utilize these hospitals within the next year.
Covid-19 made us realize that our economy cannot solely depend on tourism. This is something we have always debated on, and yet have failed to adequately address with our actions.
As part of our wider vision to diversify the economy, key fisheries and agricultural projects are in the plans for the following year. We have secured major investments to develop the fish processing facilities in Kooddoo, Felivaru and Kanduohgiri. We have already begun leasing land to expand the agriculture sector. The land allocated for agricultural activities will be rent-free for the next three years. Financial schemes will at the same time be introduced to support farmers.
In line with my pledge to provide potable water and reliable sewerage systems, the Government aims to begin the construction phase of these systems next year in those islands where practical work has not yet begun. All islands will have fully functional water and sewerage systems by the end of 2023.
By the will of Almighty Allah, the nation-wide mental health and well-being initiative that commenced last year will be further expanded in the following year to ensure mental health care facilities are available in the atolls. Our commitment to support mental health and well-being requires sharper focus in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic as mental health-related issues have spiralled globally.
The Government’s main policy to develop sports skills in youth is to expand sporting facilities in the Maldives that are congruent with international sporting events. We have spearheaded unprecedented efforts to widen new facilities and opportunities for our sportspeople.
Our development policies hinged on decentralization will not disregard Male’. One of the most important government projects planned for next year is to provide for individuals from Male’ who do not have access to their own housing.
The people’s trust in the judiciary is vital to strengthening our democracy in a republic. We have executed rigorous measures from the very first day in government to reform our judiciary. Our efforts have led to an increase in the people’s confidence and satisfaction in the judicial system, but we still have a lot more work to do in this regard.
The greatest accomplishment a country can attain in its development trajectory is ensuring that future generations are born to a nation in better shape. This most crucial responsibility befalls on existing generations. We must therefore strive to conserve our vulnerable environment and build protection against the damages caused by climate change.
In terms of protecting the environment the Government’s most important priority in the upcoming year is implementing its plans to phase out single-use plastic in the Maldives. It aims for the country to have eliminated single-use plastic by the year 2023. I call on the proactive support of all Maldivian citizens to help accomplish this goal.
In light of Covid-19 and all that we have experienced because of it, the next year might also prove to be a challenging one. The economic repercussions resulting from this pandemic defy quick and easy solutions. By the grace of Almighty Allah we will prioritize rebuilding our economy and overcoming the challenges we face.
To increase individuals’ financial self-sufficiency and help businesses recover, the upcoming year’s budget has made space for projects that directly benefit communities and increase economic resilience, whilst streamlining government expenditure. The Government will also inaugurate new schemes to financially assist citizens.
When this Administration was sworn into office the basic rights of our citizens were severely restricted. Since assuming the presidency I sought to restore those basic rights, including freedom of expression, a free press, and the right to information.
In my view a true democratic republic must allow for free speech and a free media. A free press in particular can be a powerful medium that can profoundly influence the country’s direction. It can lead the country to either strife and discord or peace and prosperity.
That is why a responsible free media should strive to uphold honesty and integrity, and refrain from spreading misinformation and falsehoods.
Today, on this happy occasion there are two things I assure citizens I will prioritize during my presidency: protecting the country’s religious unity, and protecting the country’s independence and sovereignty.
In closing, I wish to again convey my sincere felicitations on the occasion of the country’s Republic Day. I pray to Almighty Allah to always grant us that which benefits us and to increase in our hearts our love for our country; I pray also that Almighty Allah will bless our efforts to bring prosperity to our country, and grants us success.