Honourable Speaker, Distinguished Members of the People's Majlis;
The situation in our country has drastically changed since I addressed you a year ago. As fate would have it, the events that unfolded over the past year are very different from the ones we envisioned.
As the functions of our country came to a halt, our lives completely changed. Our economy has taken a deep descent. Honourable members, as you know, we are in this situation because of the Covid-19 global pandemic that began in early 2020.
Early last year, as soon as Covid-19 cast its shadow over the Maldives, the Government directed all of its energy and resources into protecting our citizens from this virus. Despite the repercussions that would follow, these steps were taken in the best interests of our citizens. To close our borders and to lockdown the country’s capital were not easy decisions.
In addition to these steps, we began increasing the capacity of our health services to meet the challenges of this virus. We ensured that this virus could be treated across all atolls of the country. We established a treatment system, trained a total of 362 health workers, and today, we are capable of carrying out more than 5,600 Covid-19 tests a day. By the Grace of Almighty Allah, we were able to ease the lockdown measures within a short period of time, open our borders and welcome tourists earlier than anticipated.
We were only able to reopen our borders within three months because of the cooperation and compliance extended by our beloved citizens towards the restrictive measures taken against Covid-19. The Government established the National Emergency Operation Centre to contain the virus, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the National Emergency Operation Centre for their hard work, the strong decisions taken by the technical advisory team, and the commitment of the frontline health workers and others.
Our key policy priority was to protect all Maldivians and residents when Covid-19 reached community spread in the Maldives. We began seeking procurement of sufficient vaccines from the time countries started work on developing a viable vaccine.
With the Grace of Almighty Allah, we now have guaranteed contracts for the procurement of sufficient supplies of vaccines. God willing, we will be administering vaccines free of charge to all Maldivians and residents.
To recover from the challenges posed by Covid-19, restart businesses and permanently reopen schools, we need as many people to get the vaccine and reach herd immunity. I therefore request everyone to take this opportunity and get vaccinated.
Maldives was relatively one of the worst affected economies due to Covid-19. I understand the grievances and anxiety faced by businesses and the average citizen struggling to pay wages, rent and bills during this economic downturn. Had the Government not intervened in aid of distressed citizens, and small and medium sized enterprises, I can very well estimate the destructive impact it would have had on the country.
From home-bakers to restaurateurs, it is indeed worth noting the strength and hard work that was shown by our citizens to navigate through these circumstances. Our aim was to prevent businesses going under, to help manage the daily affairs of those whose employment status had been affected and to ensure social protection for families.
As such, electricity and water bills were subsidized by more than MVR 117 million. Under the Government’s relief package, more than MVR 1 billion in loans were lent to small and medium enterprises, freelance workers, as well as for big businesses on the condition that they secured the jobs of their Maldivian employees.
Housing loan repayments were eased while a moratorium on student loan repayments was introduced. Similarly, rent on land and islands leased out by the Government for tourism purposes were deferred by six months. In addition, 2,421 Maldivians who were unable to return due to Covid-19 restrictions were repatriated from 15 countries.
To ease the financial burden of 17,147 people who became unemployed due to Covid-19, as of December 2020, the state disbursed more than MVR 221 million. With the Grace of Almighty Allah, we have allocated MVR 400 million for loans in the State’s budget to further continue our efforts to preserve small and medium enterprises.
The construction sector underwent irreversible damages due to the economic downturn caused by Covid-19. Many livelihoods depend on the construction sector. From the beginning of last year till today, 240 construction businesses have received MVR 95 million in loans to overcome their financial burdens.
The total expenditure from the national budget passed by this esteemed Parliament last year was MVR 37.9 billion. Austerity measures were taken in response to the halting of economic activities due to Covid-19. Along with Covid-19-related expenses, national expenditure stood at MVR 28.5 billion by the end of last year.
Despite fiscal restraints caused by the pandemic, we ensured that all civil servants were paid their wages and their jobs were secure. The assistance provided by the Government helped save many jobs, prevented many businesses from bankruptcy and brought relief to many families and households.
Looking at the measures underway to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, we project that it will take one to two years to revive our economy. Nevertheless, in order to recover as soon as possible, the Government has begun working on diversifying the economy and significantly boosting our economic activity.
As we work on reviving the tourism sector, the Government aims to ensure that the benefits of tourism are felt across the country from North to South. As a way to expand the industry, land on various islands were tendered at the end of last year to develop additional tourist hotels and guest houses.
Moreover, with new amendments to the law, resorts will be able to sublease their villas and rooms for longer durations. This new initiative will result in the diversification of our tourism sector. In addition, we estimate that 18 resorts will open this year with a capacity of 5,062 beds. This is expected to create 9,000 jobs this year in the tourism industry alone.
Capacity building is crucial to keep up with the expansion of our economic activities. Training programs targeting a minimum of 1,200 youth have already started. This ongoing program will focus on training our youth, specializing in the tourism sector and related areas such as construction and ICT.
We have carried out important work last year, even during the lockdown, under the Government’s policy to develop sports facilities and promote healthy living. As sports infrastructure in Male’ and other islands continue to develop, we are on track to develop the field of sports to an extent previously unseen.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, while our tourism industry and economy were at a standstill, our fisheries kept going. To continue developing a sustainable fisheries industry, the Government carried out essential work. Last year, the exclusivity given to certain fish purchasing companies was nullified, and this market was declared open.
At the same time, MVR 55.3 million in relief loans were lent to six companies that export yellowfin tuna.
Last year Mifco purchased 49,000 metric tonnes of fish equalling to MVR 879 million in returns to fishers - the most number of fish bought by Mifco annually in the last 14 years. God willing, the cold storage capacity in Felivaru, Kooddoo and Kanduoiygiri will be increased by an extra 8,200 metric tonnes this year. This will increase the daily fish purchases of Mifco by 61 percent. The Government is working on starting the construction work of a cold storage facility with a capacity of 500 tonnes in M. Mulaku and another in G.Dh. Thinadhoo with a capacity of 1,000 tonnes.
The main challenge for Maldivian farmers to further expand their business is the lack of marketing and promotion for their products at fair prices, and the uncertainty in getting their products to consumers. In order to resolve this, we established a 100 percent government-owned company, Agro National Corporation. During the lockdown, AgroNat assisted farmers in getting their products out into the market.
With the introduction of contract farming in 45 islands, agreements will be made by AgroNat with local farmers within the next 2 months, to begin environmentally friendly, technology-driven farming. The purpose will be to boost food production, reduce food imports and ensure food security.
The foundation of our nationality rests upon the fundamental beliefs of Islam. The Government took key steps last year to strengthen our faith in Almighty Allah and uphold the exemplary principles of Islam.
Among these, one of the most noteworthy points I would like to highlight are the counter-measures taken to keep extremism at bay. The societal values of Islam emphasize kindness towards children, being helpful and maintaining good relations with one another. Thus, sexual abuse of children and women, depriving them of basic rights and forming divisions within the community in the name of Islam will not be tolerated.
I believe that safeguarding victims from abuse and ensuring that they live in safety and peace is a fundamental aspect of good governance. When my administration came into government, there were children under state care housed in vulnerable conditions at the shelters located in Kudakudhinge Hiyaa, Villimale’ and Fiyavathi, Hulhumale’. Some of these children have endured physical and psychological abuse at the hands of their caretakers. These cases are currently under investigation.
Last year we began working on developing the conditions for these children to be brought up in social and familial settings. 51 children have now been relocated to safe facilities in Baa. Eydhafushi, Sh. Funadhoo and Fuvahmulah. With this transition, these children will have the opportunity to grow up in familial conditions.
God willing, this year, we shall convene work on establishing a Disability Management and Rehabilitation Centre to integrate services offered for people with disabilities under one roof. At the same time, we are working on setting up a Child Development Centre in Hulhumale’ Hospital to provide therapy for children with special needs. In order to enable dignified lives for our senior citizens, we aim to begin work on the new Elderly Village in Addu Atoll this year.
The fundamental basis of our foreign policy is to protect and ensure the safety of our country and its people, and to maintain our national interests in every situation. Protecting human rights, upholding democratic values and taking measures to protect Maldives from climate change are other pillars of our foreign policy.
Our current foreign policy gives the utmost precedence to reinvigorate weakened diplomatic ties between the Maldives and other countries. The generous assistance we have received from friendly nations and international organizations during the difficult times of Covid-19 is proof of these improving relations.
To further strengthen our foreign commitments, we are working on appointing non-resident ambassadors to additional countries. This year, I intend to appoint a Non-Resident Ambassador to Palestine.
As the Head of State, one of my top responsibilities is protecting our independence and sovereignty, and providing Maldivian citizens with a safe and peaceful place to live. Those who play a crucial role in guaranteeing us of this safety are the Maldives National Defence Force and Maldives Police Service.
In order to strengthen these two institutions and secure peoples’ trust, last year, we saw the amendment of laws and efforts were carried out to procure modern technology and equipment. This year, special attention will be given to expanding the surveillance capacity of the Coast Guard to enable them to protect our territory and our fishing grounds.
A lot of work was undertaken last year to enhance the professional capacity of the Maldives Police Service and enable them to operationalize their services in line with neighbourhood policing. The results were very good. I am happy to note that with the Grace of Almighty Allah no lives were lost last year due to gang violence.
In order to investigate matters concerning juvenile delinquency, child abuse, as well as domestic violence and sexual abuse against children, a special wing within the police force was established. Moreover, a special department within the police force for investigating cases concerning cybercrime will be established within this year. 42 more police stations will be established this year under our local policing priority.
With the Grace of Almighty Allah, the National College of Policing and Law Enforcement being developed in Addu will be officially opened this year. In addition to that, the amendments to the Maldives Police Act will improve the police services and build the trust and confidence of the people in the Maldives Police Service.
The Covid-19 pandemic adversely impacted our foreign currency reserves needed for imports and caused dollar shortages, resulting in great difficulties to our businesses. To remedy this, the Maldives Monetary Authority increased the amount of US dollars issued to banks three times last year.
Although we have managed to mobilize sufficient amounts of US dollars for the Maldives, businesses and individuals still face hurdles in getting US dollars as needed. It is imperative for the Government to take the necessary measures to control the currency exchange rate and enable the smooth flow of foreign currency within the Maldivian economy. The Government is working on revising policies to ensure there are no shortages of US dollars for Maldivians.
Last year we undertook many important initiatives to address several social issues. One important issue we aimed to tackle was that of undocumented and irregular immigration into the country, which contributes to human trafficking. Often this is the result of deliberate actions taken by unscrupulous individuals. We have taken steps to address and prevent the further occurrence of this issue.
We initiated a regularization programme under which 41,000 previously undocumented expatriates have voluntarily registered. Additionally, 8,775 undocumented expatriates and 8,000 documented expatriates have been voluntarily repatriated to their country of origin. This repatriation programme is still ongoing.
The implementation phase of the National Anti-Human Trafficking Action Plan is currently underway in efforts to strengthen our anti-human trafficking policies. This year, we will initiate the establishment of an office dedicated to anti-trafficking in persons.
A key aspect of our decentralization policy is increasing the ease of travel between atolls and islands. It was in the spirit of accomplishing this goal that we opened HA. Hoarafushi Airport last year. This year we aim to develop an additional five airports. Among these, we aim to hand over responsibility to develop an airport in M. Muli within the month, God willing. We have now opened bids for interested parties to develop airports in H.Dh. Makunudhoo, Sh. Bilehfahi, B. Thulhaadu and Th. Villufushi.
Last year we had intended to begin work on a national high-speed ferry network to cater to both passenger and cargo transportation. We had to halt work on this project due to the Covid-19 pandemic. On the 17th of January 2021, we handed over responsibility to complete this project to Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC).
The bidding process for the project to modernize the roads of Addu City will be completed this month and contracted during this year. Various other projects in the plans for Addu City will also be initiated during the first six months of this year.
Last year we finished the first phase of the land reclamation projects necessary to enable us to accomplish our goal of changing the country’s main commercial port from Male’ to Gulhifalhu. In addition to further land reclamation work, we are now preparing to begin physical construction of the new commercial port this year, God willing. This year we will also begin physical construction of the bridge linking Male’, Villimale’ and Gulhifalhu. God willing, within the next six months.
The Government considers the housing crisis in Male’ and some of the other islands a matter of urgency and is working on finding an expeditious solution. Construction work on housing units in Lh. Naifaru, B. Thulhaadhoo and Th. Thimarafushi is going smoothly. We are also preparing to convene a project to build housing units in M. Kolhufushi. 100 housing units will be built in each of these islands.
Some projects to resolve the housing crisis in Male’ that had been stalled for various reasons have now been resumed. Among these, the construction of 1,000 housing units have begun, and another 2,000 affordable-range housing units in Hulhumale’ have been contracted this week. The construction work of the housing units in Hulhumale’ will begin in May. These housing units will be more spacious and more affordable compared to the units previously built under the same category.
Along with 2,000 additional housing units, the construction of at least 5,000 units in total will begin in the Male’ area before the end of this year. We are also working on formulating plans to provide housing for people from Male’.
Although water and sewerage are basic services, when we first took the reins of government, over 70 percent of islands in the Maldives lacked water supply and sewerage facilities. In the last two years, water and sanitation projects have been established in many islands. Except for 20 islands, construction work will begin in the rest of the islands where these systems have not yet been installed by the end of this month. The construction work in the other 20 islands will also be contracted by the end of this year. With the Grace of Almighty Allah, we will have started the construction of water and sewerage systems in all inhabited islands during this term.
While undertaking development projects and economic activities, the Government aims to harmonize sustainable development with environmental protection. Last year, solar PV systems of 2.86 megawatts were installed in 26 islands in our efforts to transition towards renewable energy production. This year, we will begin the installation of these systems in another 61 islands. These systems have the capacity to generate 36 megawatts of power in total. Power generation from renewable energy sources have increased threefold in the past two years. This is the highest increase to date.
Using the renewable energy systems in place, we will be able to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 72,871 tonnes annually. At the same time, 31.5 megawatt solar PV systems across the country will help save MVR 147.8 million in oil costs incurred to run power plants.
Our conservation efforts will not be fully realized unless we cease the import and use of single-use plastic products in the Maldives. A list of banned single-use plastic imports was announced on 30th December of last year. This was part of our overall plan to phase out the import, production and sale of single-use plastics. The import of nine of the plastic products in the list will be banned from June this year.
Safe and sustainable waste management is a pressing environmental issue faced by many islands. Many islands have over time accumulated waste pending proper disposal. We have assigned Waste Management Corporation Limited (WAMCO) the task of disposing of the accumulated waste in 20 of these islands within the next seven months.
The Maldives is actively involved in international climate action efforts. We aim to become net-zero by 2030. This is contingent on the required international financial and technical support to aid us in implementing our action plan to mitigate the impact of climate change, drafted in line with the Paris Accord.
Our development strategy is to empower a generation of educated youth with the will and conviction to carry forth national development. I believe our free first degree and student loan schemes are significant investments to this end. 9,430 opportunities have so far been created under the free first degree programme.
It is the reason why, despite the economic repercussions of Covid-19, we continued our higher education scholarships, and financing higher education and training. Though we faced the suspension of in-person schooling due to the pandemic, we continued to teach our children through online resources, as we consider educating our children fundamental to nation-building. I want to praise the teachers and management of schools, and parents, for their hard work and dedication.
Last year, we introduced 550 new higher education and training opportunities. We have since increased this to 770. The new additions were opportunities in much-needed fields, and essential to overcoming the current situation and challenges, and reviving our economy.
I want to add we have introduced new opportunities for persons with disabilities to finance their higher education at home and abroad. This decision will provide equal opportunities for them to contribute to youth empowerment and our nation-building efforts.
Our most significant undertaking is reimagining and developing the healthcare sector, and establishing medical services closer to home. With the will of God, our work on the development of tertiary hospitals in five regions across the country, as part of our decentralisation policy, will continue this year. Each hospital will offer a speciality service. As development of these tertiary hospitals continues, the number of people having to travel to Male’ to seek healthcare has minimized.
History shows us that the best means to ensure our people's health and wellbeing is to heighten primary healthcare services in the islands. This was a service that was previously very strong in the Maldives. After years of neglect to this vital area of public health, we have, last year, taken up the task of restoring it. This year, we will continue to develop the sector and increase the role of community health workers further.
Over the past year, the situation had revealed the stark reality and severity of social issues due to years of inaction. Domestic violence and drug abuse are issues which require immediate attention and solutions.
Special consideration is given to implement our action plan under which an all round treatment mechanism will be developed across the country that will facilitate social reintegration of recovering addicts. Academic and skill-building programmes are planned to be conducted in the centre to be set up in L.Kalhaidhoo.
Establishment of a Drug Offenders Remand Centre to treat addicts was legally required under the Maldives Drug Act that was implemented in 2011. Ten years later, we have opened this centre in Male’ Atoll Gulhifalhu and started treatment services. With the Grace of Almighty Allah the Centre will help to address the issue of these youth in need.
When my Government assumed office, the people lacked confidence in the judicial system. We are beginning to see the results of our efforts in the last two years to reform the judiciary. The judicial system, from the lower courts to the Supreme Court is now free of influence from other State bodies. I intend to submit to this honourable Parliament this year, the bill on introducing a circuit court system in the Maldives.
I want to gratefully note that you, esteemed Members of Parliament, are the most significant help and benefactors in the work of my Government and I in serving our people. I must thank you all, representatives of my party, members of the parties in the ruling coalition, those in the opposition, all other members, Honourable Speaker, Honourable Deputy Speaker and Parliamentary Group Leaders for your resolute work on the floor and parliamentary committees.
Last year, I ratified the 35 bills that were forwarded following passage from the Parliament. God willing, this year, my Government will submit to this esteemed Parliament bills on national development in line with upholding democratic values and good governance. I do not doubt that the bills will be richly deliberated on, debated and passed by the people’s representatives.
As the new term for the People’s Majlis begins today, I wish the esteemed People’s Majlis and its honourable members continued prosperity and progress. May your efforts in goodwill as representatives of the people be blessed by Almighty Allah.
I pray to Almighty Allah that we stand strong on the foundation of Islam, that our efforts to build our beloved country is successful, and for the good fortune of moving forward from the pandemic together with solidarity.