Half of workers in Maldives are foreigners: Economic Development Minister

Minister of Economic Development Mohamed Saeed has said that there are over 116,000 expatriates working in the Maldives, amounting 50 percent of the working population.

Speaking at an event held to celebrate the inauguration of a programme to train 2000 salespeople, Saeed said that 81,000 Maldivians are currently registered as employed at the pensions office – equal to 23 percent of the population.

The preliminary results of last year’s census officially recorded the number of foreign workers at 58,000, though the government has previously admitted the figure to be much higher, even after the removal of 8000 undocumented workers last year.

Saeed noted that while 81,000 expatriates in the Maldives worked with proper visa and documentation, approximately 35,000 were working illegally, reported Haveeru, costing the Maldivian economy MVR1.28 billion (US$83 million) annually.

The government’s drive to build the economy on ‘Maldivian work for Maldivians’ has seen a restriction on foreign photographers working in the country, while it will be illegal to hire expatriates as cashiers from April onwards.

Saeed is reported to have told those in attendance yesterday that Maldivians must be willing to work in all types of job.

“Maldivians need to make jobs a high priority. One can’t be a resort owner in one day,” he said.

“A road sweeper could become a manager of a big office tomorrow. You need courage to be successful,” said the waiter turned cabinet minister, sharing his personal story of success.

He stated that the economic growth for this year “stands at 10.4 percent”. Figures from the Maldives Monetary Authority estimate last year’s growth as 8.5 percent.

Youth employment has been a major focus of the Yameen administration, which has pledged to create 94,000 new jobs during its five year term.

Local youth-led NGO Democracy House states unemployment among the youth (aged 15-24) may be as high as 43 percent, with the group having highlighted a “disconnect” between the current school curriculum and life skills.

While the government has established a youth unemployment register with 13,000 individuals, youth minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal has reported complaints from businesses about individuals failing to attend interviews and quitting jobs within a few weeks.

Former Maldives Airports Company Ltd head Bandhu Ibrahim Saleem – dismissed last month – told a Majlis committee in December that difficulties with local staff had resulted in a dependence on foreign employees, to keep the international airport running.

Also speaking at yesterday’s ceremony, Minister of Finance and Treasury Abdulla Jihad suggested that the government’s Special Economics Zone (SEZ) Act would also create large numbers of jobs.

“36 percent of the Maldivian population is the youth,” Haveeru reported Jihad as saying. “The SEZs is an example of how much the government prioritises the youth’s welfare”.

The controversial legislation, which promises to deregulate as-yet unspecified areas of the country in order to attract foreign investors was passed in August last year.

Despite a lack of investments having resulted as yet, governing coalition leader Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam claimed last weekend that the government would bring investments, the likes of which the country had not seen before.

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Government pledges to train 2000 cashiers

The Ministry of Economic Development has announced it will train 2,000 Maldivians to work as cashiers in shops, cafes, and restaurants.

“I ask that the ministry be informed of any difficulties faced by those who want jobs in shops,” economic development minister Mohamed Saeed told Haveeru.

Saeed last month announced that it would be illegal for any expatriates to be hired for cashier work from April this year, as the government strives to provide ‘Maldivian work for Maldivians’.

President Abdulla Yameen – who has based much of his policy around the youth – hopes to strengthen the Maldivian economy by providing work for the large unemployed youth population, having pledged to create 94,000 jobs during his term.

Democracy House states youth unemployment to be as high as 43 percent, while the International Labor Organisation estimates the figure to be at 30 percent.

Last week the government announced it was to cease granting permits for foreign photographers in order to provide greater opportunities for young Maldivian photographers.

Other pro-youth policies by the Yameen administration have included pledges to turn Hulhumalé into a ‘Youth city’ and the introduction of the ‘Get Set – Maldives Youth Entrepreneurship Programme’, which aims to distribute MVR200 million (US$12.9 million) worth of loans for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Source: Haveeru