Interview with Hon. Ali Ihusaan, Minister of Homeland Security and Technology, Maldives

Interview with Hon. Ali Ihusaan, Minister of Homeland Security and Technology, Maldives


What are the main factors that have led to the Maldives’ strong GDP growth in 2023, and how can it maintain this trend going forward?

Our economy has traditionally been driven by two major industries: tourism and fisheries. As a tourism destination, our country was hit hard by the Covid-19 Pandemic but bounced back in 2023. Our one-resort concept and the fact that our tourism offer is concentrated on one island made the outbreak easier to manage and meant that tourists had a lot of confidence in the Maldives.

We have a very healthy, secure, and safe tourism industry, so as soon as we opened our borders, we saw numbers starting to increase. This recovery was strengthened by the relationships that we have with industry leaders across the world, including travel agencies in Europe and Asia.

Our current priority is to keep increasing the number of beds in the country. The number of new guesthouses, safari offerings, and resorts becoming operational in recent years have driven the economy. Accordingly, the number of visitors to the Maldives has increased year-on-year, and we are expecting record numbers in 2024. Last month we received 12,000 visitors, the most we have ever had in a single month.

As tourism continues to pick up, the government’s focus is to develop new resources and infrastructure. However, many of these are stuck in the construction phase, and we need both investment and government support to realize them. The airport does not have the capacity to receive 10,000 tourists a day, but that is going to change soon. Within one year, we’re going to finish the construction of the additions to the airport, which will enable us to cater to current arrival numbers that we have now, who generally arrive after a 10 or 15-hour journey and do not want to deal with queues when they get here.

We have one fully-fledged international airport and a few others that are internationally accessible. Recently the president announced that two other major airports in the south will open to cater to major tourism areas.

We also recently opened the cargo terminal, which will help the government reach its goal of increasing fish exports for the private sector and government-owned factories that are producing canned tuna for the European market. However, the best way to increase export volumes would be to diversify and expand our production base. The president’s objective is to meet 50% of local food demand with local production, which will reduce dependence on imports and increase foreign currency reserves.

We are providing free zones to facilitate further investment, especially for reprocessing and re-exporting. The free zones in the north will also provide bunkering to support maritime trade, which will bring in huge economic activities within those areas.

We are also improving health facilities and planning to build a new healthcare industry to save our people having to fly aboard for treatment.


How will the Hafutha 14′ Roadmap reshape the police force, and what challenges need to be overcome to make that possible?

We still have about 53 islands that have no police presence. They also have very low crime rates, but we nevertheless want to nip any petty crime in the bud to safeguard future economic development and security. Investors and tourists want to know that their properties, their investments, and their livelihoods are safe. In the first 14 weeks of the initiative we opened 19 police stations on 19 different islands and our goal is to add another 19 by the end of 2024. By 2026 we aim to have established police stations on all remaining islands. In addition, we are also going to be bringing in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to monitor our exclusive economic zones and territorial waters.


How would you assess the level of digitization in the Maldives, and what further steps need to be taken to increase ICT infrastructure to create a digital public health system for citizens? 

Tourists who visit the Maldives appreciate that we provide very fast internet connectivity. Affordable sim cards are available at the airport and we have nation-wide 5G service coverage, even on remote islands through submarine cables that are directly connected to the international network. Government services are being digitized through the One Government initiative, which aims to provide on-line access to all government services using innovative solutions like facial recognition.

As of last month, over 100,000 citizens use the One Government system to acquire birth certificates and passports and to report crimes, eliminating manual processing and improving service delivery. The city of Malé has one of the highest rates of CCTV coverage in the world, and almost every city corner is currently monitored, presenting law enforcement with significant efficiencies. Real time CCTV imaging will come into effect in the next six months, which will alert authorities to robberies or street violence in real time, which will help eradicate gang violence and petty crime.


What measures are the government taking to protect citizens and state information from cyber criminals?

Recently, we have had a few intrusions and ´denial of service` attacks on government infrastructure. In response, the government is establishing the National Cybersecurity Agency to provide a single resource to guarantee cybersecurity in the Maldives for both the public and private sectors, and continuously evaluate and innovate to stay ahead of the curve and the cyber criminals. Our current level of infrastructure is, however, not yet up to the task. However, big steps have been taken in recent months and soon all key institutions will be secure. We are working with partner countries to strengthen our capacities and to assess future cybersecurity threats. Cyberbullying and on-line scams are key areas that we are currently focusing on by working closely with internet service providers.


How open is the Maldives to working with foreign partners, and what possibilities exist for collaboration with the US and others in the areas of security and technology?

The US has been a key ally for our security as well as the growth of our technology sector, and the US State Department’s advice and support is always appreciated. We as a nation would love to work together with the US to build a safe, sustainable, mutually beneficial environment. We are working very closely with India, Sri Lanka, and the US to ensure that the vast Indian Ocean Region is secure. China has also been a great friend and a partner for many years now and helped us with major development projects, particularly between 2013 and 2018. We would like to continue to do that in the years to come, as well as maintain the strong relationships that we also have with other countries.


What are the priorities of the Ministry of Homeland Security and Technology over the next five years?

Our citizens have high expectations of us. To meet these expectations the president and my ministry have identified three major focus areas. The first is to rid the Maldives of drugs, which have ravaged some communities and damaged the economic prospectus of young people and the broader economy. We have pledged to eradicate drugs from our country by the end of our five-year term. In the past two and a half months, we have seized over 50-million-rufiyaa ($3.25 million) worth of drugs from the streets of Malé and surrounding areas and have seized a total of 400 million rufiyaa ($26 million) to date.

Related to that, our second security priority is to tackle the scourge of organized crime and gangs. We want to turn gang members’ lives around and make them responsible members of the community and contributors to our economy and our future. We are planning to run extensive rehabilitation programs to show each of them a way forward, with the government guiding them every step of the way.

Our third priority is the issue of undocumented workers. In one year we want to have all residents biometrically recorded and fingerprinted to make sure they are here legally and accounted for in the system. If the company they are working for is willing to hire them, we will make sure it is done legally and transparently. If not, we will ensure safe passage for them to go back to their countries of origin.

We are also trying to reform our prison system. None of our facilities are currently designed to provide rehabilitation, and worse, some inmates are exposed to more criminal activity while they are serving their sentences. As such, the government is building one central prison facility with a focus on providing correctional services and programs tailored to individual needs. We are being supported by our partners in the UK and the US in this and are in the process of building the requisite infrastructure.

To better help minors who have been lured into a life of crime, we are seeking parliamentary approval for an amendment that will treat children as young as 13 differently from other criminals, and instead provide them with education, skills development, religious guidance, and sport, while allowing their families to come and spend time together with them. When they reach 18 years of age, we hope to recruit them directly into the police and the military forces.


What final message would you like to give the readers of USA TODAY?

The Maldives is an excellent investment destination. Our ministry is working to ensure and nurture a safe environment to gain and maintain the confidence of investors. Together with our partners we are developing our capacities. There is no better place to invest than the Maldives, be it tourism or other key areas outlined by the government. Whether you are a tourist or an investor, we welcome all of you and invite you to sample our hospitality.