Investment in private sector to be worth US$1 billion over three years-President Nasheed

President Mohamed Nasheed has said in his weekly radio address on the Voice of Maldives last Friday that private sector investments in the Maldives will be worth an estimated US$1 billion over the next three years.

President Nasheed said this would be in addition to official development assistance, and discussed details of the investment areas and upcoming projects.

Some of the projects are the upgrade of Malé International Airport and Hanimandhoo airport, expanding Gan airport’s runway, establishing a waste management facility in Thilafushi, Apollo Hospitals taking over Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), the proposed national ferry system, and a project to build 10,000 housing units.

President Nasheed also spoke of the recent Donor’s Conference, saying it “was very successful.” He added that it showed the trust the international community has in the current government.

The president said the US$ 313 million in pledges that was announced at the Donor Conference will go toward developmental assistance and budget support.

President Nasheed added that the sports sector will be restructured, and there will be a national sports institute to oversee development of sports infrastructure.


Donor Conference pledges now US$487 million, says Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Aid commitments following the recent Maldives Donor Conference have reached US$487 million, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed and State Minister Ahmed Naseem took to the stage this morning to dismiss claims made by the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) that the donor conference had raised less US$20 million in pledges.

“That is their own number,” Dr Shaheed said.

“If you add up the money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the UN system, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) it’s almost US$200 million. That is 80 per cent of pledges coming from these big donors.”

Shaheed spoke about monitoring and implementation mechanisms, which would ensure the funds are used according to the donor’s wishes and the government’s pledges.

Coordinator for the UN in the Maldives Mansoor Ali said the donor conference had been very successful and it was “not the time to be negative” about the results.

Dr Shaheed also spoke of the recent climate change meeting held this week by the Progressive Group in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, where delegates from 23 countries met to advance negotiations before the next international climate change summit scheduled to take place in Cancun, Mexico in November this year.

The Progressive Group brings together the countries with a “forward-looking and constructive attitude to international climate change negotiations,” and played a key role in last year’s international climate change summit in Copenhagen.

Delegates from over twenty countries came together in Colombia to “exchange opinions and promote active participation towards the next climate change summit.”

The meeting focused mostly on creating ministerial-level communication between countries, in hopes to ease dialogue between nations and to advance on key issues such as fast-start financing, adaptation, low-carbon development and verification of emission cuts.

Maldives proposed a second ministerial-level meeting to take place in Malé in July this year.

Dr Shaheed also spoke of President Mohamed Nasheed’s recent visit to Europe, and confirmed that German Police officers will be arriving in Malé “very soon” to begin training Maldives Police Service (MPS) officers to work in a democracy.

“They are the ones who retrained the Stasi in East Germany after German reunification, as well as the police force in Kosovo,” Shaheed said. “They are the best in the world at what they do.”

He said the German team will stay in the Maldives from one year to eighteen months, depending on when they believe the MPS is ready, “all at the German government’s expense.”

Dr Shaheed added that Icelandic President, Ólafur Grímsson, will be visiting the Maldives soon to promote sustainable green energy alongside President Nasheed.

Dr Shaheed spoke of the recently signed agreement with the Rothschild banking dynasty, which has agreed to help the Maldives in the bid to become carbon neutral by 2020.

“There needs to be a study on where we have most carbon emissions,” Dr Shaheed said, adding that “they will also try to carbon-proof our current systems.”

The Rothschild group will secure international financing to fund a carbon audit of the Maldives. Dr Shaheed said the surveying will take approximately nine months.

Dr Shaheed ended the press conference with news of the UN Human Rights Council’s decision to draft a new international human rights treaty as an additional optional protocol to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), which was proposed by the Maldives.

Maldives was chosen to chair the core group discussing the CRC in Geneva, joined by Slovenia, Slovakia, Egypt, Kenya, France, Finland, Thailand, Uruguay and Chile.

The CRC, which is the most ratified treaty in the world, was lacking in allowing cases regarding abuse of the rights of children to be submitted to international UN mechanisms.

The new treaty proposes to allow cases to be sent to international protection mechanisms to intervene when domestic institutions fail to offer protection.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story Dr Shaheed was quoted as saying the visiting German police trainers were  responsible for retraining the Gestapo after the Second World War. This has been clarified as the Stasi, the East German secret police, who were retrained after the reunification of Germany post-1990.


President meets with World Bank Country Director

President Mohamed Nasheed met with World Bank Country Director, Naoko Ishii, at the President’s Office yesterday morning.

Ishii congratulated the president on behalf of World Bank’s Vice President for the South Asia Region, Isabel Guerrero, on the Donor Conference held this week.

President Nasheed sought the advice of the World Bank on what course of action to take following the Donor Conference and to follow up on the pledges made during the conference.

The meeting focused on ways of strengthening the management and monitoring of development projects in Maldives.


Government slams DRP letter to donor delegates as “kids’ stuff”

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has said the letter written by Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) leader Ahmed Thasmeen, which he addressed to the participants of the Maldives Donor Conference, is nothing but “the ramblings of a delusional person.”

On 28 March Thasmeen wrote a letter criticising the current government’s economic policies, saying that the country was being “consumed in destructive politics,” and the opposition was constantly “intimidated and harassed.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed said the government had “invited DRP leaders and a number of opposition MPs” to the Donor Conference, but “none turned up.”

He said the letter was “devoid of any real substance” and was “a luke-warm attempt” to call for a ban on aid.

“We are in a democracy and we do not hide from criticism,” Dr Shaheed said. “They wrote this assuming we wouldn’t pass it on to the donors. We have passed it on to the donors to expose what kind of stuff the opposition are made of.”

Dr Shaheed said the “transition from autocracy to democracy” was not expected to be easy, and although “there is instability, we are not consumed by destruction. They wish we were consumed by destruction.”

He said the opposition was not being restrained or harassed, pointing out that this is “the only time in the history of this country that there has not been a political opponent in detention.”

“The DRP always see the law as a weapon. Now they have removed the Auditor General from his office by using the law as a weapon.”

Dr Shaheed acknowledged that the government had criticised independent commissions such as the Human Rights Commission for the Maldives (HRCM), saying “they are not doing their job. And I think people have a right to tell others when they are not doing their job.”

He reiterated that the DRP is “still living with a mentality where they think nothing can be said about anybody else.”

Dr Shaheed said the opposition was “against privatisation. They have no idea what liberal means, or what the government needs. They are not listening to what the president is saying.”

On the claims of the incompetence of newly appointed members of government companies, he said the DRP is not indicating any measure to judge competency.

“There is this claim that if you are a political activist you don’t qualify for a job, but this is wrong.”

Dr Shaheed said the government was working hard to fully implement democracy in the country, and “we are the most transparent government this country has had. The most open government this country has had.”

He said that the current government chose to address issues openly in parliament, and not with violence.

“Parliament is a place, not to punch people and call them names, but to work together. The parliament is where the opposition has the road to engage.”

He added “the opposition has so many opportunities to contribute to policies. They should learn to use them.”

None of the delegates of the conference had made any reference to the DRP’s letter, he said.

“DRP is calling this government irresponsible in fiscal policies, and you have the IMF giving us a grant based on our fiscal policies. Who are [the donors] going to believe?”

Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair said the “DRP leader wanted delegates to know they are not happy with the government’s economic policy.”

He said the IMF had been especially supportive of the government’s economic policies, and had issued a number of statements commending the government.

“So the question was whether the delegates should believe the IMF and their reports, or whether they are to believe the opposition party leader Thasmeen…about whom there have been comments that he and his family have outstanding debts to the tune of US$100 million to the Bank of Maldives.”

Zuhair said the letter was distributed to all the delegates and no one had made any response.

He added that DRP members and the Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid were invited to the opening session and “abstained from coming.”

Thasmeen told Minivan News today that as far as he knew, DRP members had been invited to the opening ceremony of the Donor Conference, but he did not attend because “as a member of Parliament, I had other engagements.”

He said the letter and dossier the DRP had produced for the delegates “was sent through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs” and had been distributed at the conference.

He added that since the letter was sent out, “we have been having discussions with members of some delegations, but it would not be appropriate for me to discuss what went on in the meetings.”

Thasmeen said “we value and appreciate and welcome any assistance in development, and hope [the pledges] are realised soon.”


Details of funds pledged at Donor Conference will only be available with donor’s consent

World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Naoko Ishii, said details of the pledges made at the Donor Conference would only be released with consent from the donors.

Speaking at a press conference after the closing session of the conference yesterday, Ishii said some countries did not want to publicly announce the exact figures of their pledges.

She added that many of them had internal procedures which prevented them from announcing the figures at this time, and they needed to discuss and approve the pledges in their home countries before announcements were made.

Senior government officials said many countries’ fiscal years did not begin in January, like Australia and Japan, for example, which meant their pledges would not come into force until the beginning of their new fiscal year.

President Mohamed Nasheed said this year’s pledges surmounted the amounts of previous years because the international donor community did not have faith in the previous government.

He added that donors are confident of the democratic system of the Maldives and the support from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), making this year the most successful Donor Conference to date.


Maldives announces US$313 million in pledges at Donor Conference

Speaking at the close of the 2010 Maldives Donor Conference, Vice President Dr Mohammed Waheed Hassan announced that the government has received pledges of support totalling US$313 million for a period of three years.

The crowded hall of donors at Bandos Island Resort and Spa included delegations from countries as diverse as Saudi Arabia, Australia, Japan and Norway, as well as international financial groups such as the International Monetary Fund, Islamic Development Bank and the sovereign wealth Abu Dhabi Fund. A breakdown of the pledges is not currently available, Minivan News was told, as several donor countries had requested time to consult their home agencies before solidifying the figure.

In the run-up to the donor conference the government identified key priority areas for investment, alongside budgetary support: macro economic reform, public sector reform, good governance, social development and climate change.

“I am grateful for the confidence you have shown in our country,” Dr Hassan told the donors. “This conference has been an opportunity for us to listen to donors’ views, and we have identified ways to up our coordination and cooperation with the donor community,” he said.

The government had been aiming for US$450 million, he said, although several senior government officials later told Minivan News that they considered “60-80 per cent of that target” a major success. Furthermore, they claimed, a great deal of ‘behind-the-scenes’ negotiations over the two day event would likely lead to further commitments.

There was, Dr Hassan said in his address, “an abundance of goodwill and more assistance will be forthcoming with more follow up from our side.”

He promised donors the government would “work with you to strengthen our management system”, and said the participation of donors was “a vote of confidence in this government and our strong democratic mandate.”

“You have heard about many of the challenges over the past two days. The fact that drug addiction is the biggest problem among our young. The fact that clean water is still a challenge on many islands. The fact that reducing the soaring budget deficit has been painful in an economy over-dependent on government expenditure,” Dr Hassan said.

Furthermore, he said, “democracy remains fragile in the Maldives. We must work to guard the civil society and protect the freedom of the press. We must work hard to consolidate our hard earned freedom. Much progress has been made. But more work needs to be carried out, and we cannot deliver this vital thing on our own.”

In his closing comments, Dr Hassan acknowledged that the Maldives was known around the world less for its social and economic challenges, “and more for our commitment to confronting the issue of climate change – our commitment to carbon neutrality is the strongest in the world.”

“Although we are a very vulnerable country to sea level rise I should make clear that we are not going anywhere. Not yet.”

The British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Dr Peter Hayes said he commended the Maldives “on the significant progress it has achieved as a young democracy working in a challenging economic climate.”

“In an era where international partnerships are vital, I welcome the proactive approach to international engagement the Maldives has taken,” Dr Hayes said.


Give us your “spoonful of sugar” Nasheed urges donors

President Mohamed Nasheed implored delegates at the Maldives Partnership Forum, also known as the 2010 Donor Conference, to give the Maldives “your spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.”

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Nasheed told the 60 representatives of foreign countries and financial institutions participating in this year’s conference, which aims to attract foreign investment to help the government’s decentralisation plan and aid in the economic recovery of the country.

Foreign and local delegates, government officials and media crowded the meeting room for the opening ceremony which began at 10am with a recitation from the Holy Qur’an.

A video was then played for the audience which showcased the Maldives’ transition to democracy and the hope to develop the country in a sustainable manner. Five Maldivians spoke in the video and told their stories.

They included a  farmer who hopes that sustainable practices will improve his crops; a woman who wants to run her own business; a man who moved his family to Malé to provide his children with better education and is having difficulty in adjusting to the problem of adequate housing; a girl who moved to Malé for her education and fell into heroin addiction; a boy who notices how the beach on his island gets smaller and how the water comes closer to his house each year.


Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed was the first to address the audience. He thanked the guests for participating in the conference, adding that “you have come to the Maldives at a crucial time” in the country’s history.

“There is a lot of work to be done to build a better future together,” Shaheed said, noting the Maldives has “transformed from a repressive society to an open society.”

“It is tempting to think that the hard work is done,” he said, “but truly, it is just beginning.”

Dr Shaheed spoke of the importance of implementing human rights and democracy in the daily lives of every Maldivian, as well as in government practices.

He also hoped that democracy would not be linked to hardship and want in the country’s memory, as he acknowledged it has been a difficult transition.

Dr Shaheed wished to “bequeath our successors a country that is…. free.” He also hoped the conference would help the government in consolidating democracy through the five key areas being addressed as part of the economic reform of the country: macro-economic stability, public reform, governance and democratisation, climate change adaptation and social development.

World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Naoko Ishii, was second to speak. She said she felt “privileged to have witnessed your journey, your very tough journey, into democracy” and made special reference to the importance of donor cooperation.

Ishii noted that many challenges still remain for the government and the people, but assured that the conference was a positive step in finding the right international partners to “shape the future of the Maldives.”

She mentioned waste disposal as an especially worrying issue, but said “there are numerous actions being taken by the government and the donors. [They] are making every effort.”

Ishii added the “Maldives can continue to take many positive steps” and mentioned that she would have liked to sign a contract under water on behalf of the World Bank.

Next to speak was Coordinator for the UN in the Maldives, Mansoor Ali. He said “we stand at a very historic juncture. Maldives is a success story of political transition.”

He wanted to present a different side of development, saying “the other side of this island paradise remains unknown for many.”

Ali focused on human rights, violence against girls and women, and the challenges being faced by Maldivian people: food shortages, rising fuel prices, the financial downturn and rising unemployment, which he said was up to 14.4%, with youth unemployment being a high concern.

He said the conference was “an unprecedented opportunity” to address these issues and to find solutions.

“The UN system is proud to have worked with [the government] in the Strategic Action Plan…which becomes a good vehicle for the sustainable development of the Maldives.”

Ali said the Maldives needs to be assisted through a comprehensive plan and thanked the donors for their vast support to the UN and the Maldivian government.

president nasheed
President Nasheed speaking to media

Democratic progress

President Mohamed Nasheed delivered the closing speech for the ceremony, saying Maldivians “are a diverse collection of people” who are “brought together by a common goal: we all want to see a peaceful and prosperous Maldives.”

President Nasheed said despite the “considerable progress” the country has made in the last 18 months, “there is so much work to do” since the country is still in “the infancy of democracy.”

He spoke of the transition to democracy and the issues that still need to be addressed to assure equal rights to every Maldivian.

“I don’t make a secret of my concern over the capacity of the judiciary to expend justice. Nevertheless, we respect their independence and hope that…it will grow to be a respected institution.”

He spoke of freedom of the press, noting that although the press could now “report and comment as they see fit,” he urged “certain sections of the media to be more responsible.”

He said journalists should be mindful of the consequences of their actions, and asked journalists “to try to the best of their ability to report the truth.”

He noted that the Maldives had climbed 53 places in the Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, and warned that the government would take action against anyone who tried to undermine press freedom.

President Nasheed said “Maldivians enjoy more freedom today than at any other point in history,” and added that the government believes “people need liberty to progress.”

The president spoke of civil servants and the need to cut down on government expenditure, saying he is working with the international community “to assure we don’t spend more than we can afford.”


President Nasheed said according to the World Bank, the Maldives was facing the worst economic situation of all countries going through a democratic transition, attributing this to the fact that “we inherited an economy in crisis. We inherited a huge national debt and millions of dollars of unpaid bills.”

He said the way it worked in the past was “when international diplomats and observers come to this country, we try to patch everything up and try our best to show a clear, clean picture. But I think otherwise.”

The president said he wanted to show the donors “the worst of what we have” to give them a clear view of the situation the country is in.

“There are a lot of people who do not like the things that we are doing. But most members of the opposition are sensible and respectable politicians.”

But he criticised some members of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) who this weekend were “doing their best to get arrested” and disrupt the donor conference, saying that in his mind, “violence only creates violence.”

He said he did not believe arresting DRP leaders was the solution to the recent political unrest, or to past violations of rights, adding “if we took everyone implicated in corruption and torture, we would end up arresting most of the opposition.”

“It’s time that certain politicians left the nursery and learn to grow up.”

Leader of the opposition DRP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali meanwhile wrote an open letter to delegates of the donor conference claiming that under Nasheed’s leadership, the Maldives was “sliding into political chaos and instability”.

“It is my humble request that you may please exercise the powers of your good offices to address the issues of democratic deficit in the current administration,” Thasmeen wrote. “Counsel against the efforts of the government to consolidate absolute power in their hands, and advocate for the discontinuation of their endeavors to eliminate an effective political opposition.

Climate change

As a major platform of his campaign and presidency, President Nasheed spoke to the participants of the conference on the reality of climate change and the need to take action.

“Climate change is real,” he said, “and time is of the essence and it seems we are falling behind. The world needs to go carbon neutral by mid century.”

President Nasheed said his government wants “to break the link between carbon and development,” noting that “carbon neutral development is not just possible but profitable.”

The president said donors were investing in the Maldives, despite the challenges of climate change and highly-publicised threat of submersion, “because they want to maintain, adapt, protect and uplift the country. If you want to protect something… then of course you will come and donate and you will help.”

“This is a crucial period in time. We can actually introduce adaptation and litigation measures quickly enough to save the Maldives, so I think that’s why the donors are investing,” Nasheed said.

Participants of the Donor Conference
Participants at the Donor Conference

Donor Conference

President Nasheed thanked the donors for their participation, saying it is “so important and deeply appreciated.”

He said that thanks to the transition to democracy, “I believe the Maldives is becoming a better and fairer place,” and added that “with your assistance, we can help ensure the long term survival of this country and this land.”

World Bank aid

After the opening ceremony, Minister of Finance Ali Hashim and Naoko Ishii signed an agreement, on behalf of the Maldivian government and the World bank respectively, for an additional US$13.7 million in aid.


Letter from DRP to donor conference delegates

Dear Participant [of the donor conference],

I welcome you to the Maldives and extend good wishes for a pleasant stay in our country. Your visit to the Maldives to take part in the Maldives Donor Conference 2010 is testimony that you wish our country and its people well. I thank you for your kind interest in the Maldives and its well being.

Maldives has experienced some challenging milestones in the recent few years. A new constitution was enacted in August 2008. A new government was formed in November 2008. A new parliament was elected in May 2009.

All of these are fruits of an ambitious and extensive agenda for democratic reform that was put into motion by the government that preceded the current administration. All of these provided faith for the Maldivian people that the country would usher in a modern and liberal multiparty democracy that was inclusive, participatory, open and transparent.

However, with sixteen months into the current administration, we have been confronted with some sharp realities which are of concern to a people who are anxious to embrace a modern and liberal democracy based on human rights, rule of law and good governance.

The country is consumed in destructive politics. The political opposition continues to be intimidated and harassed. The political actors in the opposition are being subjected to undue restraint and control in the exercise of their conscience.

The parliament continues to be disrupted and prevented from the conduct of its constitutionally empowered mandate of holding public officials and government responsible. Every act to ensure accountability is being viewed as an obstruction to government and an attempt to oust it from power.

The private media is at the receiving end of sharp criticism and unequivocal objection from government officials and politicians associated with the government. Officials and owners of certain private media are being subjected to unnecessary harassment and public ridicule.

The judiciary continues to meet with harsh political rhetoric from politicians associated with the government and certain public officials. Independence of the judiciary, although guaranteed by the constitution, is increasingly becoming an untenable reality in the current climate.

The independent institutions of the state are also being controlled through restrictions put on their expenditure and budget. Additionally, those institutions such as the Human Rights Commission, Anti-Corruption Commission and the Civil Service Commission are being subject to unnecessary and harsh rhetoric from politicians associated with the government.

The shift in the economic policy has seen the creation of some twenty over government companies within the last one year where activists and sympathizers of the current government and the political parties associated with it, are being rewarded with directorial and other positions even though they are far from being competent for those positions.

The economic policy of the government is also seen as a roller coaster ride of privatization of various government undertakings including sale of profit making state assets and enterprises, without any transparent public bidding or credible policy or process.

The reduction of the civil service by a third is being achieved not through proper laws on redundancy or lay off, but through a backdoor approach of converting civil service outfits into government corporations and taking those outfits outside the ambit of civil service thereby throwing the security of tenure otherwise available to a civil servant into oblivion.

Citing economic difficulty, the government has unilaterally withheld percentages of salary for public officials and civil servants even though there are laws guaranteeing their pay and benefits. The situation is exacerbated with the creation of hosts of political posts totally unnecessary to discharge the functions of the president, but seen beneficial to reward associates and activists of the president and his party.

Although the current president came to power on a platform of democracy, good governance, human rights and rule of law, there has not been a single policy or project or program that has been unveiled in the past one and half years of his administration that could spell out the vision and strategies of the president to consolidate a democratic culture in the Maldives.

Quite conversely, we are seeing the country sliding into political chaos and resultant instability.

The president has often remained a president for the men and women of his party, and has failed miserably to reach out to the rest of the people of this country by becoming a leader of the nation.

He has failed to institute any mechanisms for participation and inclusion of the political opposition in matters of national importance, or develop a framework for consultation and dialogue with the opposition in the conduct of the affairs of the nation.

That is brief and incomplete overview of the state of affairs in the Maldives under the leadership of the current administration.

Therefore, it is my humble request that you may please exercise the powers of your good offices to address the issues of democratic deficit in the current administration – counsel against the efforts of the government to consolidate absolute power in their hands, and advocate for the discontinuation of their endeavors to eliminate an effective political opposition.

It is also my appeal to you that you may please consider linking of aid or assistance or investment to clear cut standards or processes of democratic consolidation, fair play, good governance, and rule of law in the Maldives.

While thanking you, I remain,

Yours faithfully

Ahmed Thasmeen Ali

Leader Elect, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP)


Comment: We need help to make the medicine go down

Extract from a speech given by President Mohamed Nasheed to the Maldives Donors Conference 2010.

We have come here today from many different parts of the world. Some of you are based in the Maldives. Some of you have visited many times. For others, it may be your first visit to our country. We are a diverse collection of people.

Some of you are from government, some from multilateral institutions, some from grant giving organisations. Although we are many different people, we are brought together by a common goal: We all want to see a peaceful Maldives, and we all want to see a prosperous Maldives.

And so, I welcome you here as friends. And I hope we can work together towards our common vision. The Maldives has made considerable progress over the past eighteen months. This administration was voted in because people wanted political change. There is much work to do.


The separation of powers enshrined under the new constitution has been respected. Last year, we held this country’s first democratic parliamentary elections, which were judged free and fair by international observers.
We now have a Majlis that is democratically elected, doing away with the old system where 20 per cent of MPs were appointed by the President.

The judiciary is independent of the executive and legislature. I have made no secret of my concerns over the capacity of the judiciary to dispense justice. Nevertheless, we respect its independence and I hope that with training and capacity support, the judiciary will grow into a respected institution.

This administration respects fundamental rights and liberties. People are now free to join political parties, and participation in politics is very high. Over 80 per cent of the voting public took part in the presidential and parliamentary elections.

Almost 10 per cent of the population has joined the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party; and a further 10 per cent of people have signed up for the main opposition [Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party]. Free, open and competitive politics is now part and parcel of people’s daily lives.


Press freedom also goes from strength to strength. We have dozens of newspapers, TV and radio stations, websites and blogs all free to report and comment as they see fit. Newspapers frequently criticise the government; in fact many newspapers lean heavily towards opposition parties.

We don’t mind criticism; indeed we welcome it. I would, however, call on certain sections of the media to be more responsible. Journalists should be mindful of the consequences of their actions. It is not OK to spread rumours or unsubstantiated allegations against anyone, whether they are in government or opposition.

To be honest, I don’t really care what people say about me. But in a small society, false allegations can be very hurtful. So I appeal to the media to act responsibly. And I ask journalists to try, to the best of their abilities, to report the truth. Of course, humans will always make mistakes. When the media makes a mistake, people who have been wronged should be allowed redress.

At the same time, we don’t want defamation laws to create a chilling effect on press freedom. For these reasons, this administration has decriminalised defamation, so journalists no longer have to fear jail for anything they write.

And with the help of the press freedom watchdog, Article 19, we have submitted a new broadcasting bill to the Majlis. The broadcasting bill will improve the integrity and independence of the broadcast media, and I urge all MPs to support it.

Last year the Maldives climbed 53 places in Reporters Without Borders’ global press freedom index. We are now ranked six places behind France for freedom of the press. This is a remarkable improvement.

But I do not want to sound complacent. Earlier this month, a gang of youths threatened and attacked journalists from DhiTV and Haveeru newspaper. This was a disgraceful attack on the press. The police swiftly arrested the suspects.

But let me be absolutely explicit about this; let me make this crystal clear: I don’t care whether you are a gangster, or whether you are a senior politician controlling the gangsters. If you attack, or orchestrate attacks on the media, this government will take appropriate legal action to protect the media.

Despite some setbacks, freedoms are improving. We still have much work to do. But I can say with conviction, that Maldivians enjoy more freedom today than at any other point in history. That, I believe, is something in which we can be proud.

Economic liberation

Through political change, we have managed to emancipate people, so they can play a full and active role in society. And just as people need liberty to progress, we believe business also needs freedom to prosper. We are therefore implementing reforms to liberate the economy.

Our economic reforms involve three crucial parts:

Firstly, we are committed to financial prudence and long-term stability. We have scrapped the reckless policies of the past, which saw money printed to finance a growing budget deficit. Instead, we are working with international multilateral organisations, to ensure we do not spend more than we can afford. And we are reducing our budget deficit to sensible and sustainable levels.

The second plank of our economic reforms is a far-reaching policy of privatisation and public-private partnerships. We do not believe that the state can, or should, play the role of business. Privately run firms tend to be more efficient, more profitable and provide better customer service and job satisfaction. We are therefore offering private parties the chance to invest in a wide range of state run enterprises.

The third part of our economic reforms involves cutting red tape and reducing government bureaucracy. In the past, the government offered people jobs not because there was work that needed doing. The government offered people jobs as bribes; to get their allegiance to a repressive regime. Almost 10 per cent of the population works for the government – a staggering amount.

And there are more civil servants than there is work to be done. Many government employees are under worked; chained to demoralising jobs. Our administration will therefore dramatically reduce the number of civil servants. But we must provide loans for outgoing civil servants, to help them set up businesses or acquire new skills.

We make these changes because we believe in the rights of the individual, over the regulation of government. We implement these reforms because we believe in the dynamism of the market, over the indecision of the state. We make this shift because we believe in business over bureaucracy. I believe that a free economy is the path to success in the Maldives.

Economic Crisis

Of course, we face many challenges. When we came into office, we inherited an economy in crisis. In the years leading up to the 2008 presidential elections, the former regime went on a spending spree that almost bankrupted the country. Our administration inherited a huge national debt from the former regime.

We took over a budget where 70 per cent of government revenue is spent on civil servant’s salaries. We were bequeathed millions of dollars of unpaid bills. And we inherited this situation, just as the global economy faltered.

According to World Bank statistics, the Maldives faced the worst economic situation of any country undergoing democratic transition, since records began in 1956. It has not been an easy 18 months, and we continue to face serious budgetary shortfalls.

As I mentioned earlier, we are embarking on major fiscal and economic reforms, overseen by the IMF. These reforms will see the size of government radically reduced. And reforms will enhance the government’s tax revenues. When fully implemented, the changes will ensure fiscal responsibility and macro economic stability.

Some reforms will be painful and costly. And the economy is still vulnerable. We are not out of the woods yet. We still require significant budgetary and developmental help, to see us through this transitional phase.

We must not falter. We must swallow the bitter economic medicine, to ensure our long-term health. But we need your help. We need your spoonful of sugar, to help the medicine go down. We need the assistance to foster people’s confidence in the changes we are bringing during this turbulent transitional stage of our budding democracy.

Violent opposition

Already, we see the warning signs. There are elements in the opposition determined to block progress in the Majlis. And some opposition figures are flirting with violence in the streets.

This weekend, some members of the main opposition party, the DRP, have been doing their best to get arrested. They are starting fistfights and goading the police to arrest them. Why do they behave in this fashion? Well, it may have something to do with this conference.

I must stress that most members of the opposition are sensible and respectable politicians. But the DRP, I fear, is in danger of being hijacked by radical elements, that the new party president appears incapable of controlling. These radicals call for revolution – disregarding the democratic mandate the electorate gave our administration.

DRP radicals are trying to obstruct this conference from being a success. They are hurting the Maldivian people, just to score a cheap political point.

I understand that the Maldives is in the infant stages of democracy. But it’s time that certain politicians left the nursery, and learnt to grow up.

There are also vested interests in the country trying to prevent economic reform. Many people made huge profits from the closed and corrupt economy of the past. They are trying to prevent a clean, open and transparent economy from being created.

The Auditor-General has compiled evidence implicating senior members of the former regime in corruption and embezzlement of state funds. The opposition is now trying to remove the Auditor-General – even though it was Former President Gayoom who appointed him.

I am under tremendous pressure to act against members of the former regime, who stand accused of corruption and human rights abuses. But I am loath to take this action. If we took action against everyone implicated in corruption and torture, we would end up arresting most of the opposition.

I do not believe that arresting the opposition, is the best way to build a healthy democracy. But you can understand the pressure I am under, during this period of democratic consolidation.

There are also religious extremists attempting to undermine the core values of our democracy.

On the issue of extremism, allow me to go back four or five years ago. Back then, the ruling regime did not allow political parties, and opposing voices were brutally crushed. The only avenue for dissent was underground religious groups.

When the MDP was formed, first in exile and then in the Maldives, a lot of people left these underground groups and joined the opposition. Organised political activity helped to keep fundamentalism in check. As society has opened up, the remnants of the underground, extremist movement have legitimately come into the open. These groups have moved quickly to fill a large space in civil society.

Dealing with fundamentalism

I am often criticised by liberal Maldivians because I refuse to censor religious groups. I am criticised because I won’t crack down on the fundamentalists.

But my point is this: the ends do not justify the means. You cannot arrest and imprison people just because you disagree with their views. Moreover, the battle between liberalism and fundamentalism is a battle of ideas.

Liberally-minded Maldivians must organise, and reclaim civil society if they want to win this battle of ideas. People with broader viewpoints must become more active, to create a tolerant society.

A few nights back, 32 young people came to see me. They were furious about the rise in extremism. To my mind, these are just the sort of people who need to reclaim civil society, if they want to foster a more open-minded society.

We must defeat the rejectionists, who hanker for a return to authoritarian rule. We must overcome the vested interests that want to stymie economic progress. And we must win the battle of ideas against extremists who want to replace democracy with theocracy.

I believe we will not win by going for a crack-down, or a witch-hunt or mass arrests. To my mind, violence only begets violence. Instead, for democracy to flourish, the government must show that people’s lives are improving. We must be able to say, that things will get a little better. We must be able to highlight a brighter future. We must use hope, to overcome fear.

Helping Maldivians

I believe the Maldives is becoming a better and fairer place. Aside from political and economic reforms, we have been able to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable people in society.

We’ve introduced an old age pension for over 65s, to free elderly citizens from the bondage of begging for basic needs.

We’ve started universal health insurance, so every Maldivian can work freely without having to fear the cost of falling sick.

And we’re developing a national ferry network, so people, goods and services can move around the country cheaply and quickly.

But we need help to ensure our economic reforms are successful. We ask for assistance to help the government fulfil its modest election pledges. And we need you to support our vibrant democracy, to safeguard hard-won freedoms.

Climate change

Climate change is real, it is happening and it is getting worse. I know many people are bitterly disappointed with the Copenhagen Accord. The Accord, in its current format, falls well short of a planet saving deal. But it does provide a foundation on which we can build.

Time is of the essence. Sadly, we are falling behind. Climate deniers seem to have gained the upper hand, and vested interests are using leaked emails, and minor errors in the IPCCC reports, to undermine the case for action.

The talk now is of waiting another two years, for Cancun and then South Africa, and perhaps then we’ll have a deal. But we cannot wait for ever.

The scale of our challenge is immense. To solve the climate crisis, the world needs to go carbon neutral by mid-century. This is why the Maldives is pushing ahead with its carbon neutral goal.

We want to break the link between carbon and development. We want to show that carbon neutral development is not just possible; it is profitable.


In the Maldives, we know how costly fossil fuels can be. Fossil fuels damage the environment and the economy. On some islands, people pay over 80 US cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity. This is obscenely expensive. High prices dampen demand for energy, which in turn hinders economic growth.

The Maldives cannot develop, unless we have a plentiful supply of cheap energy. And the Maldives cannot survive, unless we persuade the world to abandon carbon.

For both these reasons, renewable energy and carbon neutral development makes sense. There is so much at stake for the Maldives. The threats to our democracy, our economy and our environment are real and deadly.

We are walking on a razor’s edge. But I remain optimistic. With your help, we can consolidate democracy. With your support, we can maintain economic stability. With your assistance, we can help ensure the long-term survival of this country and this planet.