President Abdulla Yameen on Sunday dismissed criticism of mounting foreign debt during a campaign trip to three islands in Malé atoll.
Speaking on the island of Thulusdhoo, Yameen said opposition leaders have confessed to the public that they lack the competence or capability to repay the country’s debt.
“My thinking is, I will still increase the debt. I will still increase the debt, I will deliver what the people want, I will do everything that the people have been lacking,” he declared.
External debt reached US$1.2 billion last year as global financial institutions warned that the Maldives was at risk of debt distress. The opposition contends failure to repay US$1.5 billion borrowed from China for the current administration’s flagship projects could facilitate “land grabs”.
But the government says the large-scale projects such as the upgrading of the international airport are necessary to exponentially increase arrivals and expand the lucrative tourism industry beyond the central atolls.
In his next stop on Maafushi island, Yameen insisted that his administration has only taken on new debt with the capacity for repayment. It did so after clearing an inherited debt of MVR29 billion (US$1.8 billion), he added.
“Years of development have come during a short period of four or five years. But if we didn’t take on debt as I said, and waited to do it with the income the Maldives earns, God willing we’re trying to do things that couldn’t have been done in 10 more years,” he said.
During the Kaafu atoll tour, Yameen opened new harbours in Thulusdhoo and Guraidhoo, marked the completion of a beach protection project in Maafushi, and inaugurated clean drinking water services in Guraidhoo.
In Maafushi – a guesthouse island hailed by the World Bank for pioneering mid-market tourism – Yameen announced that a large plot of beachfront land that houses the juvenile reformatory will be given back to the island council.
He also revealed plans to lease five lagoons in Malé atoll for resort development.
Aside from criticism over the jailing of opponents and curtailment of political freedoms, Yameen’s administration has also been under fire from environmentalists over the destruction caused by large-scale infrastructure projects.