Honourable Ministers, the UN Resident Coordinator, Distinguished Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Let me extend a very warm welcome to all of you to this second meeting of the Maldives Partnership Forum. Following the success of last year’s first meeting of the Forum, I am confident that this meeting, too, will be a very fruitful one.
I would like to thank you, and all our development partners, for their continued interest in the progress of the Maldives and the welfare and advancement of our people. Your continued engagement and support is an important part of our development efforts.
The challenges facing a small island nation, such as the Maldives, are numerous. While some of these challenges could be overcome by national action, others require a high degree of international support and assistance. As you are all aware, the Maldives is well on track to achieving most of the Millennium Development Goals. But, there remain some very challenging areas that need a collective effort.
Climate change is one such area. It is, in fact, a global issue affecting all human beings across all borders. Environmental protection is a cause that the Maldives has long championed. Our focus has been on alerting the international community to the dangers that climate change and its devastating effects, including sea level rise, pose to the Maldives, and to the other low-lying countries and regions.
The high tidal swells and flooding that affected nearly 50% of all our populated islands two weeks ago, and even yesterday and today, are yet another harrowing reminder that the Maldives remains highly vulnerable to the elements and to the effects of climate change. Without timely international action, the dangers for the Maldives could very well be doubled.
There is no alternative but for the whole world to fight climate change. We on our part are doing what we can, but that would never be enough. Action on a global scale is a must. Indeed, this is what the Millennium Declaration calls for. Goal 7 of the MDGs recognizes that environmental sustainability is part of global economic and social well-being.
Global warming is not a result of the activities of Maldivian fishermen or farmers, nor is it caused by our small industries. Nevertheless, global warming impacts on the Maldives directly and drastically, more than on, perhaps, any other nation. It is our hope, therefore, that you would convey to your governments the need for urgent action on implementing the Kyoto Protocol, as a good first step, to be followed by others on the climb towards more concrete emissions cuts.
The country is still recovering from the devastating effects of the 2004 tsunami. Needless to say, the current high swells and flooding have placed additional burdens on the enormous task of post-tsunami recovery and reconstruction.
More than two years on, we still have a funding shortfall of over US$ 75 million for the tsunami recovery. On top of that, we now face the cost of rebuilding the livelihoods and infrastructure washed out by the recent and current tidal waves.
More than 50 of our islands need harbours, simply to make them accessible. Many more need repairs and enlargement. Clean water and sewerage systems are required for basic hygiene of the population. Housing is currently a critical sector in need of funding. Extending quality healthcare and education facilities to all our people remains a high priority. Projects in tourism and other economic and social areas also need investment. Strong support to build the human capital is a must to make such investments feasible and effective. Your constructive engagement in all these areas would help the development of the Maldives economically, socially and politically.
The Maldives is in the midst of an important democratic reform programme. The People’s Special Majlis is engaged in the process of revising the Constitution. New laws are being passed to modernise the democratic foundations of the country, and to strengthen human rights protection. Independent institutions are being established to increase accountability and transparency in governance.
We now have five political parties registered and operating in the country. A national Human Rights Commission has been established and granted statutory powers. Legislative and institutional reforms have been implemented to introduce a free press. The criminal justice system is being reformed, and important measures are being introduced to strengthen judicial independence.
As soon as the drafting committee of the People’s Special Majlis completes the work of drafting the new Constitution, the Government will hold a Constitutional Conference, with the participation of all political parties, to ensure that the new Constitution is acceptable to all sections of the people. International observers will be invited to the Conference. We are determined to complete the process of revising the Constitution as soon as possible, and to put in place the necessary mechanisms to hold the country’s very first multiparty elections before November 2008.
The Maldives is a nation in transition from a least developed to a middle income country. Our GDP, which was less than US$ 300 in 1978, is now the highest in the region, at over US$ 2,800. During the same period, life expectancy increased from 48 to 72 years. Infant mortality decreased from 120 per thousand to just 12.
To achieve further economic growth, we have embarked on several major projects. Thirty five islands have been ear-marked for resort development, one of which is expected to open in November this year. Ten islands are packaged to be developed as domestic airports cum-transit hotel facilities. The first five of these will be announced this June. The bidding process to build transit hotels at regional airports have already begun. Eleven islands are already in the bidding process for agricultural development.
Three mega foreign investment ventures are expected to start this year, for which the memorandums of understanding have already been signed. These include a transhipment port project in the north of the country, phase-2 of Hulhumale’ Development, and the Gulhifalhu Development Project, near Male’. The heads of agreement of the latter two ventures are expected to be signed by the end of this month. The feasibility study for the transhipment port project has been completed, and discussions on it will take place soon.
The upcoming graduation from the LDC status is a testament to our transformation. We do indeed want to become a prosperous middle income country. We wish to be a modern liberal democracy with strong human rights safeguards.
We want security from environmental and natural disasters. We want peace and harmony. To fulfil these hopes and aspirations, we need to form new partnerships and strengthen the existing ones.
Investing in the Maldives is about investing in growth, in the future, in ensuring environmental sustainability. It is about investing for the benefit of an entire nation. Indeed, the Maldives offers promising investment opportunities for foreign direct investments in many areas.
The tourism industry, as the main locomotive for our economic development, is rapidly expanding. With the expected increase in the number of resorts by about 50% in the coming 3-5 years, and the opening of a second international airport in November this year, we are putting in place the necessary infrastructure to support this growth.
This growth is needed if we are to ensure a sustainable transition to a middle income country by 2011. Despite the tsunami and the setback caused by it, we firmly believe that this goal is attainable. We are, therefore, reaching out to the international community, seeking renewed partnerships to sustain our current development trends and ensure their success.
Dialogue is undoubtedly among the pinnacles of a partnership. However, dialogue must be followed by concrete action.
Change cannot be achieved by words.
It can be achieved only by action.
Change is not only desirable, but it is certainly attainable with your cooperation and support.