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One hundred days of Jazeera Raajje- Part II

Mariyam Malsa
02 May 2019, MVT 23:18
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. PHOTO: NISHAN ALI/ MIHAARU
Mariyam Malsa
02 May 2019, MVT 23:18

Continued from Part 1:

The following sections detail the government's efforts to vitalize the Maldivian economy, maximize social welfare and guarantee basic services.

Finance and economy

The Ministry of Finance led the government's drive to renegotiate loans and agreements that might threaten national sovereignty and potentially result in debt. On December 20, government officials held discussions regarding the terms of several Chinese loans in order to increase repayment periods and cut down interest rates.

The ministry also initiated necessary changes to the legislature to fulfil certain pledges. This resulted in the abolishment of taxes on menstrual hygiene products and clearance to utilize pension funds to finance pilgrimage cost. Additionally, an Anti-Trust Bill and a Consumer Protection Bill have been drafted. However, these have not yet been submitted to the parliament as pledged.

The Finance Ministry’s efforts to stimulate the activities of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have also been considerably successful. The SME Development Finance Corporation was created on March 18 and is now issuing four categories of loans. About 20 percent of the loan scheme is specialized for women, youth and people with disabilities. While a policy to create a conducive environment for SME’s was also formulated, work is underway to introduce 13 more online services to those provided by the Finance Ministry.

The Finance Ministry’s efforts to stimulate the activities of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have also been considerably successful. The SME Development Finance Corporation was created on March 18 and is now issuing four categories of loans. About 20 percent of the loan scheme is specialized for women, youth and people with disabilities. While a policy to create a conducive environment for SME’s was also formulated, work is underway to introduce 13 more online services to those provided by the Finance Ministry.

Additionally, several retail outlets and restaurants across the country now keep their doors open throughout, as the government has begun issuing permits to businesses who wish to operate around the clock.

The review and alteration of regulations that negatively affect businesses was also promised. In order to fulfil this, a business convention attended by 150 stakeholders was convened in February. In addition to challenges identified by the convention, a Tax Reform Committee was created and tasked with identifying solutions to barriers posed by the tax system. However, with this pledge, it must be noted that reviewing is only one side of the coin, and the state has yet to announce how the identified changes will be implemented.

The Finance Ministry’s efforts to lend a hand to agricultural and fisheries activities carried out by numerous Maldivians can also be considered a success.

The parliament slashed import duties on 158 agricultural supplies, and the amendment eliminating the five percent import duty on the diesel used aboard fishing vessels is in the process of being gazetted. Efforts to gazette a legal framework that regulates leasing of land for agricultural activities and animal farming is ongoing.

Notably, the SME Bank introduced loan schemes aimed to reduce financial burdens on farmers and fishermen alike. The SME bank introduced the ‘Dhanduveri Nafaa’ loan scheme for the former on March 18, and ‘Kandufalhuge Nafaa’, a loan scheme to fund systems aboard fishing vessels to freeze seawater on March 27.

To further alleviate financial difficulties for fishermen and provide an incentive for growth, fishing boat bank accounts were introduced in February. The "Mas Dhoni account", as it is known, already counts 201 users.

In order to create a system to ensure the safety of agricultural produce, the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) scheme was strengthened. Once the GAP is introduced, farms that meet set criteria will have their products certified. A Pesticide Law was also drafted and submitted to the Parliament.

Additional completed pledges in the category of fisheries include commencing Diamondback squid fishing in Maldivian waters and ceasing the issuance of licences to foreign fishing vessels, While the revision of the Fisheries Act is complete, it is yet to be submitted to parliament.

In a bid to ensure constructed ice plants are operational, the management of such establishments was handed over to island councils, and work to build further plants are underway.

Concerning the local travel industry, the state held a guesthouse symposium while the budget allocated for tourism promotion has also been increased triple-fold under the 2019 state budget.

Moving onto greener territory

Restoring Maldives’ status as an advocate for climate change in the global arena was a key pledge made to be fulfilled within the first 100 days of government. In December, Maldives participated in the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24) and advocated for urgent action to halt and mitigate the perilous impacts of climate change.

Another promising pledge was the empowerment of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and commencing conservation efforts with the involvement of experts and the public. In this regard, EPA was given authority to approve EIAs conducted on tourism establishments. Overall EIA evaluation is now the mandate of the Environment Ministry instead of the Tourism Ministry.

In order to fulfil the pledge to publicize how green tax revenue is utilized, the ‘Green Fund’ was created, tasked with managing revenue sourced from green tax. Income and expenditures of the Green Fund are published every month on the Finance ministry’s website.

An online listing of 624 research publications is now publicly visible on www.maldivesconservationportal.org, thus fulfilling the pledge to publish environmental studies online.

Additionally, the government vowed the conservation of at least one island, one reef and one wetland in each atoll as well as environmentally vulnerable areas in need of protection.

This has resulted in the protection of Keylakunu in Haa Dhaalu Atoll, along with its surrounding reef and lagoon. The mangrove and wetlands of Neykurendhoo and Baarah in Haa Alifu are also legally conserved. Certain reef areas in 13 resorts are also protected under Environment Laws. However, conservation efforts are concentrated in the north and have yet to make impacts in the south of the country.

A training programme on environmental protection was conducted for the cabinet, parliamentarians and 80 councillors from three atolls. Further training for councillors and employees of state administrations are also scheduled.

The establishment of a system to clean and maintain roads in islands was pledged; however, progress seems to have stalled at the formulation of a ‘Road Maintenance Manual’. A decision on the roles of relevant stakeholders in this aspect has not been reached and subsequently, the system remains unestablished.

The Fuvahmulah Shoreline Protection project was similarly delayed despite securing needed approval from funding agencies. The Environment Ministry is currently working to find an international contractor to commence physical work.

The tree planting initiative, named ‘Island Green’ project, will contribute more than 4,000 trees across all islands, out of which 250 trees are already planted in the Greater Male’ area.

A nation-wide clean-up programme carried out in all islands with 7,000 individuals yielded 195 tonnes of waste and 20 tonnes of plastic in the Greater Male’ area, while 21,000 garbage bags of waste were collected from other islands.

The national campaign to reduce plastic bags and plastic bottles involved the distribution of 9,000 reusable “Super Water Bottles” to first graders. Additionally, 1,530 out of 5,000 bags donated by UNICEF were distributed to four islands.

Overall, all government efforts with regards to the environment, having attained an 83 percent success rate, are all highly commendable. Nevertheless, several crucial pledges are yet to reach completion. On that note, it would be true to state that Maldives, as an environmentally vulnerable nation, requires further dedicated work. The extent to which the aforementioned pledges met the goal of providing adequate environmental protection is up for debate.

Necessities for all islanders

Guaranteeing the provision of all basic facilities is one of the cornerstones of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration. Therefore, his 100-day agenda extensively covers fundamental needs including education, transport, health and personal safety.

As per housing, an online portal under the name ‘Magey Hiyaavehi’ was launched to facilitate convenient application of social housing schemes, eliminating the need for prolonged queues. The site currently boasts 1,500 registered members.

The ruling government pledged to hand over completed flats to their owners and in this regard, temporarily gave 307 units across six islands to the owners. Permanent settlement will commence following the instalment of electricity and sewage facilities.

Efforts to complete the vowed housing needs assessment are facing delays as island councils have only been able to compile 87 percent of the information on leasing land and housing units in each island.

The bulk of achievements with regards to transport were made in the Greater Male’ region which experiences heavy traffic flow. This involved towing unused parked vehicles, designating four parking zones in Male’, and creating 700 additional parking spaces at Velana International Airport for airport employees. The promised analysis of traffic flow of Malé streets is also complete.

Additionally, closed harbour areas in the Malé lagoon were reopened and the Male’ ring road was expanded by reopening the section of Boduthakurufaanu Magu cordoned off to construct the Coral Boulevard housing complex.

Measures to increase the efficiency of existing transport methods include terminating fees for taxi boards and establishing bus stops for MPL’s Hulhumalé bus services in Malé and Hulhumalé. Hulhulé-Malé ferry services are now offered from the Malé- Hulhumalé ferry terminal, facilitating convenient loading and unloading of goods. However, the Transport Ministry has not yet been able to designate loading and unloading areas for goods in Malé roads or introduce mini-bus services.

Perhaps the most successful measure to increase mobility on a national level is the reduction of domestic airfares averaging at 25-30 percent.

Several other pledges with nation-wide impacts were also placed on the agenda although these are yet to be fulfilled. For instance, the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation is charged with drafting a Transport Masterplan for the entire country and creating an app to show the national transport network. Discussions with stakeholders to amend the Land Transportation Act Regulation have also not come to a close.

President Solih’s reforms for the crucial sector of education consisted of eleven pledges, all of which were accomplished.

The government revised the high-achievers scholarship scheme and made it applicable for renowned universities in OECD countries, and ensured that undergraduate scholarships awarded to top achievers in A’ Levels can be utilized at the student’s university of choice.

Introducing free initial undergraduate degrees for all local government schools, the administration also reduced interest rates on student loans by three percent and extended the payback period by 25 percent.

President Solih’s administration compiled several plans regarding the education sector. They include the plan to revert the school system to single-sessions, the assessment to determine the resources necessary to strengthen special needs education, and a comprehensive plan to stop bullying and help victims.

Additionally, the government successfully launched a pilot program to provide free breakfast for school children and conducted a symposium to revise the school curriculum.

Granting of increased powers to the Maldives Qualification Authority (MQA) was drafted and submitted to the parliament as well.

Editor's Note: To read the last portion of the ‘100 days pledges’ feature, which will cover pledges under health, social welfare and provide an overall analytical summation, please visit our website on 4th May 2018, Saturday.

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