The Director of the International Telecommunications Union, our fellow SAARC Ministers, Delegates from SAARC countries and all those who are present here this morning: a very good morning

We have no doubt in our mind, the importance of information technology or of communication. We are a much dispersed nation. We have a number of islands that stretch 800miles.

Communications stand at the heart of our development effort. Transport logistics are difficult because of the sea and therefore to overcome that, it is so important for us to realise and recognise the importance of telecommunication in our development.

Recently, we have started three major telecommunication projects. One of them is in health; that is to build kiosks, health centres. We have decided that it would be prudent for us to start with seventeen health centres, all linked to regional hospitals and all manned and operated through communications technologies. It is very difficult for us to get doctors to be stationed in all of our islands. I’m sure this will be the case in most of our neighbours in South Asia.

Although Maldives is just dispersed and separated by sea, in other countries, communities are separated by land. Transport has not always been very well developed. Transport infrastructure is far more expensive than telecommunications infrastructure. Therefore, we decided that it would be the best interest of our development efforts to start with this new technology and to see how we may be able to deliver health services to our people through telecommunication. And we hope that this would come into being by the end of the year. The project is already in its full form and it is moving.

We have also with the help of the World Bank, started a project on internet banking. Our fishermen need to deposit their money. Also at the same time they need to send money from place to place. For instance, when you stay here in Paradise, you will find that there are about 500-600 Maldivians working here. They are very far from their homes, from their families, their wives and loved ones. And they will have to be able to send funds to home and to do that they do not have a bank at home and they don’t have a bank here either. We believe that this technology can be used to render a very good service to the people, for instance here, and to the whole banking community and the financial institutions.

We have also started linking schools. Again, qualified teachers in every school are very expensive. And therefore we found that linking schools through telecommunications makes better sense than attempting at or trying to see if we can have the best and most qualified teachers in every school. Of course, it is best to have very qualified teachers in every school. We have no doubt about that. But, in the absence of that, the next best option would be to rely very heavily upon smart boards and classroom communications connected to central schools.

We have also two months back changed our government communication to e-communication and therefore, we are no longer sending letters from one Ministry to another. We are now relying upon broadband to communicate between one Ministry and another. We hope to expand that to the outer islands so that we again would be more able to communicate with, administrative communications with the outer islands.

I just mentioned these areas simply as an example of what we are trying to do. And I believe that if we are able to coordinate our efforts in South Asia to develop these areas, it would not only benefit us, but I think it will also benefit us all.

And therefore, today I take this opportunity to ask our South Asian colleagues to see if we can cooperate and coordinate these projects so that we may not only have links between schools in Maldives, but also we can link schools in Bangladesh to the Maldives. We can link hospitals in India to the Maldives, to Sri Lanka to Bhutan, to wherever we want to and we can expand this network.

By the end of this year, hopefully, we will have our network. And we would want to see how it works and therefore we would have to rely very much upon the International Telecommunication Union to see how we may be able to proceed with these programmes.

For development this is one of the most important tools. Without communications it will just simply be impossible for us to achieve the standards that we are aiming at.

We are very grateful that you are all here in the Maldives. And we are pleased that we are able to provide some hospitality. I hope that everything is fine, that you are nicely lodged, well kept and properly fed. I hope the whether and everything else is treating you well. We try our best. We understand our means are very modest but we will work hard. We believe we can fight against the odds.

We are a very old nation. We have been here in the middle of the Indian Ocean for the last 2,000 years and we have a written history that goes back to more than 1,000 years. And therefore, we have to be able to understand a few things about life.

Recently, our people have galvanised themselves to political activism. They have formed political parties. They have had free and fair elections. They have also been able to transfer power very smoothly and peacefully. They are now in the process of consolidating democracy and of course that has its growing pains, its teething problems. And therefore, they are going through these growing pains. But I believe that they are confident that they can achieve the goals, the imaginations, the expectations that they want.

We, therefore, welcome you to the Maldives with bright hopes and at a very dynamic time in the history of our nation. Again, we take every opportunity to tap upon whatever knowledge and whatever technology that is available within our region, internationally, at home and wherever.

I must say I am sorry that I was late in coming. I will have to explain to you that this is not my habit. But I was unfortunately held and I am a bit late. I do sincerely hope that, that has not disturbed your morning or your timetable of things.

Again, I would like to thank our Acting Communications Minister Mahmood Razi who is also the Economic Minister. I would also like to thank the Director of the International Telecommunications Union for holding the meeting here in the Maldives and we hope to again hold any more such meetings and we hope to give whatever assistance that we can give.

Thank you very much.