By Shakir Husain
NEW DELHI, Feb 5 (Bernama) — Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu asserted his country’s independence and sovereignty in an address to parliament on Monday.
A major part of his speech in the People’s Majlis covered the steps being taken to improve the economy, healthcare services, infrastructure projects, housing, education and welfare schemes.
On foreign policy, the president said he will develop relations and cooperation with countries that respect Maldivian sovereignty and independence.
“We will further strengthen our relations with our neighbouring countries, and with our trade and development partners, especially Islamic countries,” he said.
Muizzu, who became president on November 17, said his trips to Turkiye and China since then have opened opportunities for major investments in the Maldives.
“I would like to extend my gratitude to the leaders of both countries, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chinese President Xi Jinping,” he said.
While he did not mention India by name, Muizzu referred to the ongoing talks with the close neighbour for the removal of dozens of Indian military personnel who operate two helicopters and a Dornier aircraft.
“These discussions are still ongoing. As agreed in the latest negotiations, the military personnel in 1 of the 3 aviation platforms will be withdrawn before 10 March 2024. And the military personnel on the remaining 2 platforms will be withdrawn before 10 May 2024,” Muizzu said.
He also indirectly referred to an agreement with India on conducting hydrographic surveys in Maldivian waters.
The agreement is expiring in June this year.
“We have officially communicated that the Maldivian government will not renew the agreement which gives a foreign nation the power to measure and map the Maldivian oceans and coastlines. We will not give in to any pressure that can quiver the sovereign state of the country,” he said.
Muizzu spelled out various initiatives to support Islamic identity and values and the Dhivehi language of the Maldivian people.
“To prevent the brainwashing of youth, and being caught up in the changing world trends, a special ministry has now been created that will utilise modern technology to preserve the Maldivian nationalism, Maldivian identity, and protect the culture and heritage,” he said.
The president raised concerns over the widening fiscal deficit and government debt, which had risen to 115.9 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) at the end of 2023.
“The fiscal and debt situation has proven to be more challenging than anticipated upon assuming office,” Muizzu said, adding that his government will take measures “to enhance the fiscal landscape and gradually reduce debt to a sustainable level.”
He said in the last five years, MVR 8 billion (US$519 million) was printed “in the name of meeting government expenditure”.
The amount was larger than the money printed in the previous 40 years, he said.
“One of the first things we did as government, was to end irresponsible monetisation,” he added.
Talking about the key tourism sector, the president said Maldives is expected to receive two million arrivals this year and efforts are under way to expand long-haul routes and establish direct flights to emerging markets.
Maldivian, the national airline, plans to introduce larger aircraft to facilitate flights to many international destinations.
The government aims to open 20 new resorts this year and promote the Maldives as a destination for major international conferences and events.