His Excellency, President of the Maldives, Honorable Ibrahim Mohamed Solih
His Excellency, Vice President of the Maldives, Honorable Faisal Naseem
His Excellency, Speaker of Parliament and Former President, Honorable Mohamed Nasheed
Members of the Cabinet
Members of Local Councils
Assalam Alaikum and a very Good Afternoon to you all!
Thank you for inviting me today. I feel humbled and honored to address you at this very important forum for country – the Maldives which is undertaking a series of important reforms to its governing systems in order to improve people’s lives.
Since I arrived in Maldives in April for the first time, I have had opportunities to visit a few atolls outside Male. It was only then that I began really to appreciate the natural charm of Maldives, but also became aware of their vulnerabilities to both climate-induced and human-made damage to the island’s ecosystem.
Frequent droughts and floods, increased waste and plastics, constructions affecting mangroves and other ecosystems, lifestyles that depend on burning fossil fuels, releasing high carbon emissions, and so on, not only damage our own communities now but also those of future generations, if not managed properly. In Maldives, every year an average of 80 islands seek emergency water supply from central government due to longer dry periods. This has an adverse multiplier effect on all sectors from agriculture to health to education.
As we speak here, world leaders are meeting at the UN’s climate talks in Madrid (COP25) and have re-stressed the urgency for climate action. But I want to focus today on how hopeful and optimistic I am for Maldives’ local governments in your efforts towards local climate actions. As I witness the enacting of new amendments to the Decentralisation Act, I believe the solutions for sustainable and equitable island development are truly in your hands. Your roles and responsibilities as local leaders are so critical at this time of reform and should go beyond just maintaining roads and harbors. Your communities’ ambitions and expectations are high for bolder actions.
Just last week, UNDP published its latest Human Development Report. Maldives has made outstanding progress over the course of the last 30 years. Maldivian people now live 17 years longer, and have 3 years more education, and earn more than double what they did 30 years ago. In particular, Maldivians enjoy the highest average life expectancy out of all 9 South Asian countries covered in the Report.
However, these improvements are not evenly distributed across the national population. In particular, Maldivians living in the outer islands tend not to experience the same degree of improvement as those who live in the capital. Similarly, women do not enjoy the same socio-economic opportunities as men. As a result, when adjusted for such systemic inequalities, Maldives’ Human Development Index drops by over 20%.
Again, the new amendments to the Decentralisation Act represent a bold attempt to tackle some of these systemic inequalities.
First, it empowers you, members of local councils, with resources and means to carry out policies aimed at reducing the gap between the quality of life on the atolls and in Male.
And second, I am particularly encouraged by the decision to reserve 33% of local council seats for women. This system change can effectively tackle the democratic deficit, and will help to produce elected bodies which better reflect the composition of the societies they represent. Many other countries in the region and other small island states, including Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Pakistan, Mauritius and others have enacted similar measures, with very positive results. Congratulations on this historic milestone.
The journey to complete equality is long and must consider local conditions. Local governments are best placed to identify local solutions. Only you, as local representatives, are able to lead your people towards a more equal, fair and sustainable human development in the Maldives.
Once again, I thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts with you all today, and I hope you will have productive discussions.