Former President Mr Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Chief Justice of the Maldives, Cabinet Ministers, Members of the People’s Majlis, beloved citizens of Maldives,
Assalaam ‘Alaikum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakaatuh.
On this momentous occasion, our proud Independence Day, I would like to extend my heartfelt greetings to all Maldivians. As I stand here, amidst the red, green and white decorations, my heart is brimming with nationalistic pride.
My first and foremost duty tonight is to congratulate the nine individuals who received the Honour of the State Award. I thank them for their services to this country. Among the recipients, I wish to recognise the services of one particular dignitary.
One of the Honour of the State Awards given tonight was the Nishann Ghazeege Izzaitheri Verikamuge Izzai.
This is the highest award of the State, which was given to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The Award, Nishaan Ghazeege Izzaitheri Verikamuge Izzai, is given in the honour of this country’s most brave warrior, our most beloved national hero, Al-Sultan-al-Ghazee Mohamed Thakurufaanu Al-Auzam Siri Savaadhee’tha Mahaaradhun.
This award’s first recipient was the hero of our national independence, the former President of the Maldives Sumuvul Ameer Ibrahim Nasir Rannabandeyri Kilegefaanu. He was awarded this honour 46 years ago, on 9 February 1967. The other recipient of this award was Queen Elizabeth II, who was given this award 41 years ago, on 15 March 1972.
I am aware of divergent views about the Government’s decision to award President Gayoom this honour, in different ways. Some people interpret this as a political decision. I however differ with such interpretations. I believe that those who have served the country in a multitude of manners and for many years are national treasures. The service of those individuals should be recognised and they should be awarded deservingly. Such distinguished individuals should be allowed to live a quiet and peaceful life, away from politics. They should not be demeaned because of different political persuasions. And they should not be disregarded because of personal grudges.
The Government decided to give this award to President Gayoom in recognition of his invaluable contributions to the betterment of this country, and to accord him the status that he truly deserves. I thank him for his service to this country. I wish you, Mr President, good health and happiness.
My fellow citizens,
Today is our independence day. Today we are remembering the battle fought by the Three Brothers from Utheemu and Dhandhehelu for this country; the courage and talent shown by Dhonbandaarain; how Ali Rasgefaanu sacrificed his life for this country; the resourcefulness shown by Ibrahim Nasir and Abdul Sattar Moosa Didi in their efforts to secure Maldives’ independence from the United Kingdom, and become a member of the UN; the resolve shown by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and our defence forces on 3rd November 1988 as they fought foreign aggressors. Each of these individuals played a large part in securing and safeguarding the independence of this country. Their service is invaluable. And without their service, our country would not have survived. We will be eternally grateful for their service.
My fellow citizens:
When I became the President of this country on 7 February 2012, the country was in a dire state. 2012 was the very tumultuous successor to a series of tumultuous years. It had been nearly a month since a Maldivian national had been arrested extra judicially and held hostage by the Government.
The Government had declared that the rulings of the Supreme Court would not be enforced, and that the Constitution was placed on abeyance. There was unrest on the streets. February 6 was the day that the government had decided to lock up the courts and establish a separate judiciary.
The day ended with no peace in sight. By the next morning, the situation had escalated. The defence force and the police, who are tasked by law to protect the peace, had turned on each other. Some members of the defence force, possibly under pressure, fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the police. The command and control within the defence forces was lost. While the defence forces and the police confronted each other, ordinary citizens started attacking each other; some were using tear gas, bullets and shields, while others used spears and clubs. The country was embroiled in confrontation; on the brink of a civil unrest. It was a frightening and critical time; a time when the country’s sovereignty and the safety of its citizens were at risk.
Moments after the resignation of the President was announced on media, the Speaker of the People’s Majlis called and asked me to come to the People’s Majlis to take the oath of office of President. The Speaker informed me that he had received the resignation of the President and constitutionally the Vice-President shall succeed to the office of the President in that instance, the Speaker had arranged the swearing ceremony to take place at 3 pm at the Majlis House.
As the elected Vice President of the country I felt that it was my constitutional obligation to take up the responsibilities of governing the country during that time of unrest; take over the wheel of a country in such a precarious situation and establish peace and stability, and to steer the country to safety. In doing so, my focus was on engaging as many people as possible in the spirit of reconciliation, leaving aside personal differences and try to make everyone come together.
The days that followed were not easy. The institutions that were tasked with safeguarding the priorities and policies of the government were not functioning effectively. Political differences had nearly resulted in creating deep cleavages within the society. While cooling down the heat within the country was difficult, the challenges posed from external sources were much bigger.
My fellow citizens:
It was the period in which the independence and sovereignty of the country was challenged most profoundly. External forces had infiltrated into our domestic affairs to the extent that such forces started dictating what should be taught in our schools. The government had become so weak that the leader of this country could be easily forced to sign agreements that directly affected the sovereignty of the country. Foreigners were deciding when our Constitution should be amended and when Elections should be held. Today, because of the patience and hard work of the past months, these things have slowly turned around for the better. We should ensure that they remain so.
The Maldives is a responsible member of the international community. We have certain obligations and we will fulfill them. Yet, if that means surrendering our responsibility to govern the country to someone else, then it is a problem. We may be a small country. We may be in need of foreign aid for education, training, financial and technical assistance. Our economy may be dependent on catering to tourists from around the world. But our independence should not be the price we pay to meet these needs. We have a proud and illustrious history. This land has been enriched with the blood of those who sacrificed their lives for this country.
With Allah’s will, two years from today, we will celebrate our 50th Independence Day. After 78 years of being a British protectorate, we earned the right to conduct our own foreign relations in 1965. The right to decide the objectives and priorities of our foreign relations in ways that best meet the needs of our country. Forty-Eight years later, what we should be asking ourselves is whether we are able to make full use of that independence.
Today, a country does not have to be invaded, or occupied for it to lose its independence and sovereignty. A country might not enjoy independence and sovereignty even though it might still be a full member of the UN. We should be mindful of situations like this. Independence is something that needs to be safeguarded from within and from outside. Today, it is hard to separate internal and external independence.
My fellow citizens:
In today’s globalised world, economic independence is one of the most important elements of a country’s independence. In many instances, external and internal independence depend on economic independence.
When I took over the leadership of this country, government debt was at 23 billion rufiya. Total amount of unpaid bills amounted to 2 billion Rufiyaa. The State’s expenses were not being managed with the revenues being generated monthly. Public companies had been weakened. After unrelenting work, by Allah’s grace, things are slowly improving. Public companies are recovering. Now we have paid 1.7 billion of the outstanding bills.
This money came at the expense of services to the Government had to provide to the people. It was at the expense of recruiting highly trained teachers and doctors. At the expense of developing our schools. And at the expense of building homes and offering family services.
My fellow citizens:
In an interdependent world, external and internal independence can only be achieved with economic independence. When the State can pay wages with its own money. When basic services can be provided to the people with revenues generated by the State. If the Government’s revenue is 9 or 12 billion rufiya, and our expenditure is 22 billion, we cannot sustain our national independence.
The government is able to relieve the people from begging for money to buy medicine. Yet, if the Government could do that only by begging for money itself from other countries, could we call that an independent country? If the country depends on the goodwill of someone else for paying salaries, fuel, food, and subsidies, would country be able to protect its independence? Sovereignty in this case, might become something that is only written in the constitution.
With lots of hard work, the economy has now begun to recover. Yet, more remains to be done. Businesses need to be expanded and jobs created. Investment must be increased and massive efforts need to be put into developing various industries. Foreign investors provide the most important boost to the economy. We must all accept that Maldives’ economy lacks sufficient drive to attract big investment. Yet, we, Maldivians must decide how much foreign investment we want. We must be in charge of driving our economy.
This is our country. We will safeguard our independence. No one else will do that for us. And I have no doubt that we can do that. It was us who sent away the Borah Merchants. We were in a much more dire state then. Maldivians were much poorer when we gained independence from Britain. Yet, Maldivians took charge that day, and took on the development of this country: we were capable and courageous Maldivians. So, why wouldn’t we be able to develop a key component of our economy, our main gateway, our airport?
My fellow citizens:
There are lessons to be learnt from this celebration. Just like there are two sides for almost every event, there are two sides whenever we lose our independence. A fellow Maldivian takes part in every such incident: every time our nationalism was threatened; every time we fought battle for independence; every time a Maldivian was widowed in such battles, and every time a child was orphaned in such battles.
In today’s world, attacks on countries are not limited to guns and swords. We must be vigilant to attacks in various manners, and from outside and within the country. We must be aware of the efforts being made by certain factions to dominate our economy. We must be vigilant of the efforts being made to destroy our religious unity.
We must be attentive to the efforts being made to damage the tourism sector of the Maldives. We should know the people responsible for these campaigns, and what they have to gain from these efforts. Whether it is trying to dominate our economy, or to destroy our religious unity, we must be concerned about their intentions. And we must not give these people any opportunity to do so.
It is not those that are in decision-making roles that will feel the pain of direct attacks to our economy. The money lost because of every tourist that boycotts the country is not only a loss to the resort owners. It is a loss to the tax revenues generated by the government from tourists. It is loss from the education and healthcare provided by those taxes. It is a loss for the workers at those resorts and the families they support: it is a loss to their children’s tuition and their parent’s healthcare costs.
My fellow citizens:
The new Constitution we ratified in 2008, was a step towards becoming a modern democracy. In this Constitution, we wrote a lot about freedom. Freedom of speech and expression: freedom of assembly and movement; judges and a judiciary free from the influence of the Government: an Elections Commission and a People’s Majlis free from the influence of the President: civil servants who cannot be removed by the President: a free and unrestricted media. All the things accepted by the most mature democracies and developed countries of the world.
Yet, we need to ask ourselves whether we have reached the necessary democratic maturity to sustain these values. We must also ask ourselves whether the objectives of the Constitution have been achieved. If our freedom encroaches on the rights of others, it is not the objective of the Constitution. If our shared spaces and parks have no space for our children, but are arenas used for political purposes all day long, we are not protecting the rights of the children as envisioned in the Constitution. It is not upholding the value and spirit of democracy if people accused of serious offences occupy senior positions of the State.
Freedom is something much more sacred. It has boundaries. It has limits. It does not protect only the most vocal and the most powerful people. But protects the weakest and the most vulnerable as well.
Such disregard to democratic values takes place not because of an inherent problem with the Constitution: or because of the weakness of the legal framework. Our thinking and actions must be more mature and developed than today.
Today, we are seeing people taking advantage of a nascent constitutional system with several loopholes: people flippantly widening those loopholes, if it is in their interest.
In a pluralist society, there will always be differences of opinion. An open society will think differently. But now we are seeing people being killed because of differences in political opinion. We do not seem to hesitate to invite outside influences into our domestic issues when our opinions differ. We do not seem to hesitate to sell our national assets for political power. This is not only sad, but also highly dangerous. If these are allowed to continue, the State would fail, and we would lose control of our own affairs. The repercussions of such a failure will not only be felt by some of us: but every single one of us.
Much work needs to be done to correct the situation. The Constitution has to be amended. But does the State have sufficient strength to carry out these big reforms? Not only is there lack of human and financial resources. But can decisions be made for the common good despite all the different ideas and ideologies? Can public interest triumph personal interest? Can we answer the distress call of our nation?
My fellow citizens:
Encroaching on other people’s rights is not freedom. Inviting outside forces into our domestic issues is not freedom either. This is not something that any Maldivian should be allowed to do. Nor should any foreigner be allowed to do that on our land. For, the freedom and independence that we enjoy have been handed to us for safekeeping. Handed down from our forefathers to be passed down to future generations. Our independence is something that every person born to these white sand beaches, has worked for.
One of the most important statesmen produced by the Maldives, the late Ibrahim Shihab once said that there is a lesson in the fact that the national flag that represents our independence is tethered on two ends. If it is allowed to flutter without any restrictions, it will fall to the ground and get muddied. Thus, there are limits to freedom as well. There are limits to competition. And there are limits to feuds as well. There are things we are not allowed to do, even in anger or jealousy. That is because we are Maldivians. That is because we are the children of this beloved land.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today is our country’s independence day. Tonight is the 19th day of the Holy month of Ramadan. At this moment, in all manner of speaking, I am standing in front of the national flag. Behind the national emblem. We are all gathered near the spot where Shaheed Hussein Adam sacrificed his life for this country. Where I can see the Islamic Centre, which is the symbol of the country’s Islamic identity.
As I stand here tonight, my heart is trying to comprehend the thoughts of young Shaheed Hussain Adam, the twenty-year old soldier, as he lay breathing his last breadth, having tried with his own life to defend his country’s independence. What he must have willed to the people who came after him, who are now responsible for defending this country’s independence. The hope he must have had for the country he had just sacrificed his life for. It is our responsibility to fulfil his wishes. To let the light of independence shine bright. Take care of these responsibilities. Because we are Maldivians. Because we are the children of this beloved land.
May Allah, the Almighty, bring you all happiness and prosperity. May this beloved nation remain as an independent and free country forever. Aameen.
Wassalaam ‘Alaikum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakaatuh.