Interview with H.E. Dr. Mohamed Muizzu, President of the Republic of Maldives

Interview with H.E. Dr. Mohamed Muizzu, President of the Republic of Maldives


As Maldives’ new President, you have committed to visiting all islands in the country twice during your five-year term. So far, you have already met with 121 local councils, inquiring into the wellbeing of your citizens and speaking about strategic development projects. Could you share with the readers of USA TODAY what you have learned so far visiting the different atolls and how this is influencing the objectives and plans you aim to accomplish during your current term?

We are able to facilitate policy in a more strategic and nuanced way, as we are able to hear directly from councils and communities about their specific challenges. For example, the majority of councils noted that essential servicessuch as water and sanitation, health services, waste management and electricity still need to be established or enhanced. Additional infrastructure development such as housing, harbors, roads and education is required to cater for the growing population.

Land scarcity is a major concern across the country. While this is the case, we experience the impact of climate change in the form of erosion and extreme weather events, such as flooding. We are in a unique position where we have to balance our development needs with addressing the impacts of climate change.

Although implementation of the Decentralization Act has been ongoing since 2010, significant work needs to be done to empower Women Development Committees (WDCs) and island and city councils. Some of the major concerns that were raised included lack of working space for WDCs and inadequate finances to fully implement themandates of councils and WDCs.

Necessary legislative reform is in the pipeline to address the budgetary concerns and empower the councils and WDCs. Most of the services are still centralized which ultimately results in migration to Male’ for basic services. Ourplan is to develop regional development hubs in the far north and far south of the country and an additional 7 urban hubs and to facilitate increasing socio-economic activities in these hubs.

Our goal is to implement strategic projects to address the issues raised by the councils within the five-year term.


Despite being an enchanting destination, the Maldives faces multifaceted challenges, particularly in the realms of climate change, environment, economy, and society. Can you elaborate on the most significant challenges the country is confronting and how you plan to address them?

The reality is that the sea level is rising, causing severe erosion, inundation and exacerbating the situation with stormsurges. As a small and low-lying island state, these vulnerabilities are inherent but we in the Maldives are resilient and we are adapting to the changes. Our recent reclamation projects, like Ras Malé, have taken these facts into account to raise the new land higher.

We are experiencing an increase in intensity and frequency of storms. The associated heavy rainfall and flooding cause damage to critical infrastructure, to our agricultural lands, and to our livelihoods. This directly affects food security and access to livelihood resources. Other threats such as the rise of sea surface temperature and El-Niño impacts cause coral bleaching episodes. Our coral reefs have protected our shorelines for centuries; they lay thefoundation of our livelihoods. It is a commodity we sell as a tourism product. Loss of reefs will have an impact on fisheries, marine biodiversity and tourism.

As a result, building the resilience of our islands is a high priority for my government. Recently we pledged to plant 5 million trees in the next 5 years. We spend a significant amount of our national budget on adaptation measures.These are immediate adaptation measures, such as coastal protection and provision of freshwater services. We are finding alternative technologies for agricultural farming to increase food security. Our long-term 20-year plan will haveclimate resiliency at the very core of planning.

However, it is important to address the efforts of the international community that have an impact on SIDS like the Maldives. The pace at which the international community works on climate action needs to increase significantly.Climate talks are too slow to catch up to the reality of climate impact. The climate is changing faster than that.

As I stated at COP28, we need adequate and predictable finance for ambitious climate action, with priority for adaptation.

Climate resilience is intricately linked to our economic growth, our social well-being and is one of the biggest challenges we face. We are hopeful and count on our friends in the international community to support us to ensure that the Maldives and other Small Island Developing States face up to this threat successfully.


The Maldives has exhibited robust economic growth, surpassing initial projections. Looking ahead, what are the key pillars of the State Budget, and what priority reforms and projects can we expect in the current fiscal year?

The main aim of the Budget 2024 is to ensure fiscal sustainability and address fiscal risks. The budget was initially formulated during the transition period of this government, and thus revisions were made to align with the policies and priorities of the new government.

The biggest challenge facing the Maldives at the moment is the reduction of external debt, which is at an unsustainable rate. By the end of 2022, the total public and publicly guaranteed debt (PPG) was USD 7 billion (113.5% of GDP).

Therefore, the budget is formulated with four fiscal anchors: to reduce public debt to less than 95% of GDP by 2026, reduce primary budget deficit to less than 5% of GDP, maintain public debt as a percentage of GDP on a downwardtrend and reduce recurrent expenditure to levels that do not exceed government revenue.

Structural reforms are envisaged in the 2024 Budget and the Government is committed to these reforms, working with our development partners to roll out these reforms quickly.

We are confident that the implementation of projects such as the expansion of Velana International Airport,Thilamale’ bridge and Thilafushi port, will produce immediate economic growth. We have also secured grant funding of approximately USD 130 million to build hospitals and roads.

We are implementing an SOE reform to rationalize the payroll of SOES with high fiscal risk. This has already been approved by the Cabinet. Subsidy reform plans and options are included in the budget and with technical assistance from development partners, we hope to roll out the plans soon.

One of the most important areas is healthcare and welfare reforms, where we are formulating policies to reduce high-cost drugs and consumables and reduce health insurance expenditure, by procuring medicine through pooled procurement being implemented with UNDP. My aim is to reduce expenditure whilst at the same time improving the quality of the services we provide to our citizens.


In terms of attracting investments, do you have an estimate of the financial requirements for the next decade? Could you highlight the sectors or projects that will demand significant private and public-private investments? Additionally, do you foresee any changes needed to enhance the Maldives’ appeal to foreign direct investment (FDI)? 

As a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), Maldives faces unique challenges in securing external financing for our development.

We are currently actively working on a long-term National Development Plan, which will outline the total financialrequirements. For the short and medium term, we estimate a financing need of approximately USD 2.5 billion. Ourgovernment’s priority areas include climate change adaptation, infrastructure development, technology andinnovation, capacity building, human development, trade diversification and debt sustainability. Renewable energy,tourism, fisheries, housing, and transport are all integral to our development strategy.

There is an inherent need to prioritize innovation and technology; a necessity for technological advancement,including integration of artificial intelligence, to bolster the efficiency of the financial sector for heightened foreign investments. We are modernizing our regulations to foster an investment-friendly environment for conductingbusiness in the Maldives.

Our financial investment appeal is based on several ongoing and new projects that we have in the pipeline. Theseinclude the Ras Male’ Development project, which represents a billion-dollar investment. In addition, with the development of VIA, we are looking at increasing the number of passengers by millions with our ultimate target being 25 million passengers. This project is estimated to require an investment of approximately $1 billion. We are implementing various strategies to attract investment. For instance, we are introducing eco-tourism, sports tourism, education tourism and wellness tourism, under the Visitor Economy Concept.

Financial centers and SEZ projects will attract further investments and bring diversified economic growth to the country. Sustainable and renewable energy targets are also in line with each of these developments. Our Focus is on the thriving tourism industry by maintaining our leading destination status. We also aim to increase the gross domestic product (GDP) to MVR 150 billion by 2028.

To enhance the Maldives’ appeal to foreign direct investment (FDI), the Maldives Economic Gateway is an importantinitiative in Ihavandhippolhu Atoll. This project will involve developing ports, bunkering, warehousing, ship repair,health, entertainment, real estate, tourism, export processing, and logistics. These developments will create opportunities for foreign direct investment and contribute to the growth of the Maldivian economy.

Sustainability is key. We are committed to striking a balance between development and social responsibilitywhile preserving our natural resources. I want to make sure we leave a better Maldives for our future generations.


Reflecting on the historical and current relations between the Maldives and the U.S., what key milestonesstand out to you, and how do you envision elevating or further developing this relationship over the next five to ten years? 

The Government’s foreign policy will seek to expand the space for developing and implementing our own initiatives that promote and protect the interests of the Maldives.

The Maldives – U.S. partnership is built on our shared interests and core values, based on the strengthening of democratic institutions, the advancement of human rights and our joint advocacy for climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Next year, we will mark sixty years since establishment of diplomatic relations. We have benefitted immensely from this partnership.

I was extremely pleased that President Biden sent a high-level delegation, led by the USAID Administrator for my inauguration. This signifies the importance the United States attaches to revitalizing our partnership. In the past few months we have already had a significant quantity of high-level visits to discuss and shape our future partnership.We are hoping to expand our cooperation through USAID and other development initiatives.

One of the significant milestones was the opening of a US Embassy in Male’ recently. We also re-opened a residentEmbassy in Washington, D.C. last year. This provides a clear path, paving the way for the enhancement of relations, including people-to-people relations and economic and trade relations.

Security cooperation is also one of our priority areas for cooperation. The Maldives recognises and respects the key role played by the US in maintaining the security and safety of the Indian Ocean Region. I am confident that the US recognises and supports the Maldives´ role in ensuring the strategic balance and regional order. We also hope to expand the on-going cooperation between our countries to counter non-traditional security threats, including terrorism, piracy, and organised crime.


Considering the U.S. market, how crucial is U.S. investment for the Maldives, specifically in trade and tourism? 

Our policy is to build relationships and foster partnerships that are mutually beneficial. Our relationship with anycountry will be premised on these interests – building our economic and political resilience, safeguarding our independence and national sovereignty and addressing the needs of our people.

I am extremely pleased that the tourist arrivals from the US have seen an exponential rise in the past few years. The US is among our top markets now, and we are hoping to increase the numbers even further in the next few years.

The Government is in the process of implementing several initiatives to increase our tourist numbers. This year our target is to increase tourist arrivals to two million and. as the current figures suggest, we are on course to achievingthis. We will be implementing measures to increase the arrivals from the US.

We have already signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) to examine ways to enhance bilateraltrade and investments. There are existing US investments in the Maldives, and both Governments are exploring avenues to collaborate further.

As I said, we are in the process of modernizing and revising regulations to further attract foreign direct investment,including from the US. During recent high-level visits, we had discussions to enhance investments from the US and I am hopeful we will see progress on this soon.