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Dr Muththalib: Being Minister, and life beyond

This is The Edition's Portrait of Minister of Construction and Infrastructure Dr Abdulla Muththalib, offering a more personal look at who he is, his path till now, his companions along the way, and his future direction.

Mariyath Mohamed
03 March 2024, MVT 08:40
Dr Muhthalib.
Mariyath Mohamed
03 March 2024, MVT 08:40

It is nearly sunset. You would think the workday would have come to an end by now. But not for Dr Abdulla Muththalib, Minister of Construction and Infrastructure.

Rushing back from yet another meeting, he sits down to share some insight into himself over a cup of coffee, and perhaps a few minutes of respite from the continued demands his position makes of him, and which he more than happily dedicates.

Everyone knows Dr Abdulla Muththalib as the technical expert, the man who gets the work done, the professional with extensive experience in the field where he is currently serving as Minister.

But there is more to every man, and The Edition’s Profile of Dr Muththalib aims to delve deeper into who he is as a person, with his own ambitions, thoughts, preferences, and hidden skills.

Dr Muththalib, wife Shaina and son

Known to friends and family as Muththo, he describes his life as being blessed with good fortune, playing a large part in leading him to where he is in life now.

The first determined steps of an uphill climb

Hailing from the island of Fiyoari in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, Muththalib took two formative trips of his life simultaneously: from childhood to teenage years, and from his birth island to capital Male’ City.

His first school experience in Male’ was at the Male’ English School (MES), which he joined from Grade 6.

Muththalib shared that he had little grasp of English at the time, but on the other hand, was active in Dhivehi literary activities, especially shining in speech and debate. By the end of his time at MES, he had served as the school’s Vice President.

Although scoring As in all other O’level subjects, his struggle with the English language remained an issue, making him face a failing grade in the subject and thus losing a spot in the Top Tens.

Unfazed, he moved on to the next phase. A’levels at CHSE, with the majority of students coming from government schools like Aminiya and Majeedhiya, which he found intimidating.

“I harboured a lot of insecurities back then, I felt inferior compared to these students from government schools, especially with my struggles with English. But I persisted,” he said.

And persist, he did. For he ended up being School Captain at CHSE, scoring straight As in the A’levels, going on to win the Best All Around Award and the President’s Scholarship.

Exploring who to be

With achievements like this comes expectations, from friends, family, even people you hardly know.

However, Muththalib was lucky in that his family did not force him to opt for any specific career. Sure, they tried to guide him in directions they thought would be best (like his attempt at working at IGMH, with loved ones hoping he would choose the field of medicine, or the time he thought he might be cut out for police, but found out that it wasn’t really for him), but they did not insist, and let him decide his career path for himself.

Civil engineering – this is the field that ultimately grabbed Muththalib’s interest. Today he holds a PhD in the field, and is a qualified geotechnical engineer.

He shared tales of his first time abroad, struggling to adapt to the culture shock of being in the UK, being taken under the wings of the Maldivian community there, and slowly finding his footing.

He was held back due to his lack of confidence in his fluency in spoken English, but, through time and practice, overcame his hesitation. Soon, he was amongst the most outspoken students in class, strongly opinionated and knowledgeable on the areas being discussed. He finished as one of only five students in his batch who achieved First Class Honours.

Graduation photo of Dr Abdulla Muththalib

Finding politics, and love, and the feat of balancing both

In 2012, when current President Dr Mohamed Muizzu was appointed as a Minister in then cabinet, Muththalib was the Projects Department Head of HDC.

Having made his acquaintance during university days, he was not surprised to get a call from Dr Muizzu, but the offer he made was definitely unexpected.

I did not really enter politics through being involved in political activity

After much soul searching, Muththalib decided to take the jump. He accepted the position of Deputy Minister at the Construction Ministry. And there began his political career at just 28 years of age.

“So I did not really enter politics through being involved in political activity,” he explained.

Muththalib shared the challenges he took on in this new position, swimming against the tide in a pool of fairly older professionals to bring about changes and lead several major projects, key amongst which the SinaMale’ Bridge must be counted.

While engaged in what was effectively a 24 hour job, juggling a multitude of projects and responsibilities, Muththalib met Shaina and, for a moment, the world stopped for long enough to let them fall in love and start a life together. Today, they have three happy children and a life of contentment built on love and mutual respect.

Dr Abdulla Muththalib with family

By 2017, things started fraying at the edges, politically and personally. Politics started becoming too volatile and hostile for Muththalib’s tastes, the time he could dedicate to family dwindled almost to nothing, and everything simply became too much.

His good fortune stepped in again, whisking away him and his family once again to the UK, this time to complete his doctorate. While there, he was able to mend friendships, self-belief and, most important of all, the bonds weaving his family together.

Dr Muththalib

Dr Muththalib, Honourable Minister

As always, at the end of his studies, he wished to return to his own nation. Back in the Maldives, he found that his past political career made it impossible to land a job at any government or related institution despite his immense experience and education.

Ultimately, he joined up in forming a private consultancy firm, conducting soil investigation and geotechnical work.

When asked to join the cabinet, he took up the offer despite it being less lucrative than the private sector for one reason alone: to bring positive change.

“I saw it like this: there are two options, one is to make use of the opportunity I have been presented with and make a difference. The other is to reject the offer, and ignore, regardless of how things may go, and I will not do that. I opted to work for positive change,” the Minister stated.

Goals of Minister Muththalib?

Accepting that it would prove challenging to accomplish, Muththalib nevertheless expressed determination to achieve two key things within his tenure as Minister.

One is to orient PSIP initiatives with social and economic development, in a responsible manner conducive to the economy and feasible for the country, while at the same time offering maximum benefit to the people. He voiced regrets that many governments have tended to initiate politically driven projects rather than well planned, responsibly chosen ones, which may in the end cause disadvantages to the people.

The other is to conduct better regulation of construction industry related professionals and consultancies, and wherever possible, create more opportunities in the field for locals.

Words from Muththo – son, husband, father

“My biggest inspiration, I would have to say, is my mother.”

“It’s hard to put it into words. She was very independent, remarkably intelligent. She was the family figurehead. Strong, decisive, caring,” Muththalib said about his late mother.

He then spoke about his immediate family, lamenting the struggles of not being able to spend as much time as he would like with his children, although he now makes every effort to.

My biggest inspiration, I would have to say, is my mother.

He shared that Shaina is now a stay at home mum, taking full responsibility of caring for their children.

Dr Abdulla Muththalib with his children

“Sometimes it feels like she works even harder than I do,” he said with a smile.

He was absolutely serious, offering some wise words.

“I think one thing many people still don’t understand is that taking care of children is actually very hard work. If a woman chooses to stay home and care for the children, the least a man must do is ensure she has absolute financial independence. This is something I learned along the way, and it is extremely important. Everyone needs that autonomy.”

What’s next?

If I go ahead in politics, I think this is where I want to go: a path forward with social justice at its core.

Asked about how he is seldom seen in rallies or speaking from podiums, Muththalib first responded with a telling shake of his head.

“I do not like being involved in hostile politics. I tend to work in the background, where technical work is needed. Of course, I do speak at events and shows about relevant projects, but not politics in general,” he said.

This may no longer remain the case though, he admitted.

“I was previously just a Deputy Minister, my role was different then. As a Minister, I believe things will have to change, and I must accept that. What I can assure you of, though, is that even when I do, there are my principles that I will always abide by,” he asserted.

Saying that he is generally more left leaning politically, Muththalib named British politician Jeremy Corbyn as someone he found politically sound during his time studying in the UK.

“Social justice is something that I am driven by. I understand it isn’t directly relevant to the position I hold right now, but if I go ahead in politics, I think this is where I want to go: a path forward with social justice at its core.”