Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen and a very happy new year for everyone and for the people of Sri Lanka.

Standing here today, I’m blessed with many familiar faces. All through out the last so many years when we had been advocating for a more fairer and freer Maldives, the people of Sri Lanka and its business community has assisted us immensely and we thank you all today for all the good work that you had done. Especially I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Eastern Allies. Mr Ranjit has passed away while we were in the midst of all (the work), but they have not only engaged themselves in good trade with the Maldives but they have also upheld good governance principles and have always assisted us in coming to where we are today. So we are thankful for the Sri Lankan business community.

Trade and investment relations between both our countries go very much far than we ourselves can comprehend. Maldives as a nation are cousins to the Sinhala people. We have, therefore, so much trade contacts between both our countries. Maldivian traders have always found good markets, good refuge, and good havens here in Sri Lanka - not only in Colombo but also in Galle. We have during the past years been able to develop that relationship to a very fruitful joint beneficial relation.

We would like to take the next step. The government of Maldives during the last so many years have accumulated a number of state owned industries. We, as a government, would like to relinquish ownership of these industries to the private sector. In that regard, we are seeking for joint venture partners who would venture with the government in providing infrastructure and other facilities in the Maldives.

If I may work this out with an example, I suppose it would be easier. Owners of Galle Face Hotel, are developing a hotel in one of the islands which has a regional airport and an airstrip. We want to open up the ownership of the airstrip or the management of the airstrip to private investors. And therefore, we would like to talk to those who are going to benefit from this airstrip and to those who will use the airstrip, to see if we can work together a joint venture operation exercise in the airstrip. Now, the airstrip is just one example. There are many areas: the ports, there is also providing all the utilities, housing and transport. So, we will be looking at interested parties who would want to venture with us in the joint venture operation. We presently have, I think, about ten resorts owned by Sri Lankan concerns and we would request them to diversify their portfolios to other areas other than tourism. In transport, in electricity, in sewerage, in water, ports and harbours, and so on and so forth.

I can go on and on but the message is very simple –Maldives is open for business and you can very safely come and invest in it. We have with us
Mr. Hilmy a hotelier who is heading the business delegation for us. He is also a former cabinet minister, a very competent businessman who would be able to advise most of you. But I believe most of you do not need any more advise on what the Maldives is. Most of you here, I understand, are already investing in the Maldives. So basically we are just asking or requesting you to diversify your portfolios from tourism to other areas of life in the Maldives.

I think we should make room for private engagements and talks, be able to interact more unofficially and see how best we can work out these arrangements. We are very confident that the government can work these arrangements with the private sector.

We have just had a visit to India. The Indian industries are very interested in investing in the Maldives. We are also seeking European investments. We do understand that they are also very interested in investing in the Maldives.
So please let us know how as a government we may be able to assist you. Here is a government where you can come and talk. This is a government that wants to get rid of red tape. This is a government that wants to have openness and transparency. The only thing that this government cannot tolerate is corruption. There is no need to do anything irregular. All you have to just simply do is be in touch with the government. There won’t be any need, what’s so ever, to do anything irregular to get anything done in the present Maldives.

I just want to assure you, that the government would be receptive to whatever ideas that you have. Many Sri Lankan companies had started many of the industries in the Maldives. As I mentioned earlier, our trade relations go many years back. And we still have a very healthy balance of payment account with the Sri Lankan industries and the Sri Lankan public.

With us here we have our Minister of Finance Mr. Ali Hashim, our Minister of Housing, Transport and Environment, Mr Aslam is also here. We are also embarking on a very ambitious decentralisation programme where we want to relinquish both political and administrative powers from the centre to the Atolls. In that regard we have our State Minister for Home Affairs Mr Mujthaba who is peer-heading this decentralising programme. We also have the social sectors represented by the Health Minister Dr Aminath Jameel and the Education Minister Dr Luthfee. We are looking for investments in the social sectors both in education and in health.

So, I’m not going to take much of your time. I believe we are going to have a cup of tea and then we could talk more unofficially and try to exactly understand your requirements. We will also try to exactly see how we may be able to assist you.

Thank you very much and a very happy new year!