Statement by H.E. Mr. Ahmed Sareer, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Maldive

at the Midterm Review of the Istanbul Programme of Action on LDCs

27 May 2016

President of the Mid-term Review, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Five years ago, headlines declared "Maldives no longer on UN poorest nation list". Indeed, on 1 January 2011, we had graduated from the UN List of Least Developed Countries – 14 years after it was first recommended.

Five months since that date, here in Turkey, we came to participate in what we believed was our last meeting on LDCs. But clearly this is not the case – our desire to make things better, to share our experiences, to allow others to have a smoother time with graduation, is the reason we are taking part in this meeting. And we thank our host, the Government of Turkey, for the lovely arrangements for our deliberations.

Mr. President,

For many years, the Maldives sought to delay our graduation – we felt we weren't ready to take on the challenges without the protective cover that the LDC status brought us. But this should not be the case – graduation ought to be seen as an achievement, a cause for celebration. And that is how we saw it.

Yet it also did not mean we went forward with our eyes wide shut, hoping for the best. We worked on understanding our challenges better, especially how we will face them with the loss of LDC benefits. We worked on investing in our young, dynamic, competitive economy, driven by a world-class tourism sector, and a robust fisheries sector. We relied on public investments and focused on creating a national enabling environment for private sector to flourish.

That being said, Maldives has, before and after our own graduation, spoke frequently about the need for graduation to be "smooth". We have spoken about the need for the well-known and well-documented vulnerabilities of Small Island Developing States. The status of SIDS does not disappear post-graduation. Therefore, we have spoken about this factor, that need to be taken into account in assessing development, and ultimately in any consideration for graduation.

Five years later since our graduation, our belief in these fundamental truths have been further reinforced. While the graduation criteria does consist a component on the economic vulnerability of countries, meeting the threshold is never a must. Being economically or environmentally vulnerable does not make a country an LDC automatically – that's not our point. Vulnerability must be assessed alongside other indicators of development. It is the ability of countries to overcome those vulnerabilities, their resilience to economic and environmental shocks that must be the determinant of their status. And this is why we continue to advocate for a revisit of the graduation criteria.

In 1997, the Maldives first met two of the three criteria measuring LDC status, thereby qualifying it for graduation. These three criteria are 1) gross national income per capita, 2) the human asset index determined by 4 measures; undernourishment, child mortality rates, secondary school enrolment, and adult literacy, and finally 3) the economic vulnerability index (EVI). The Maldives continued to meet the first two criteria for the next two triennial reviews conducted by the Committee for Development Policy (CDP). But to date, it hasn't met the threshold for the EVI.

On 20 December 2004, the ECOSOC and General Assembly took note of the latest CDP report thereby beginning the Maldives' three-year preparatory period before graduation in the New Year. Just six days later, the Indian Ocean Tsunami hit the country.

The economy, which had grown at an average of eight percent per annum was devastated: 62 percent of the GDP was destroyed; over seven percent of the population was internally displaced; social and economic infrastructure was damaged or destroyed in over one quarter of the country's inhabited islands; 12 inhabited islands were reduced to complete rubble - all in less than an hour. It took us ten years to physically recover from that disaster.  But with that tragic experience, we may never stop feeling vulnerable to the slightest natural disaster occurring anywhere within the bounds of the Indian Ocean rim.

The Maldives is a classic example of the "island paradox". Where a small island developing country, though an LDC for over 30 years, may demonstrate relative prosperity in terms of its gross national income, but at the same time, may be highly vulnerable to a range of external shocks and faced with exorbitant structural costs due to its geographical characteristics, which might be detrimental to sustained development.

This is why we believe that the time is ripe for a revisit of the graduation criteria. The criteria used by the UN continue to be, in our opinion, inadequate. They do not pay attention to the inherent and extreme vulnerability of graduating countries due to geographical and structural limitations. While one of the three criteria used by the CDP is an economic vulnerability index, meeting all three criteria are not required to graduate, and so this criterion can be overridden if the other two are met.

It should be also noted that similar to the inability of the first two criteria in accurately measuring the economic and social progress in the context of a widely dispersed small population, the EVI is in itself flawed, as this assessment ignores key vulnerability considerations such as environmental vulnerability, import dependency (for essential commodities), and geographic dispersion and isolation. Taking into account the adverse impacts on LDCs due to climate change and other environmental hazards, the reconsideration of how a country is assessed for graduation becomes even more important.

It should be noted that the CDP has made some revisions over the years to the criteria, with the most recent one being on 2011. Yet for many reasons, more significant and robust action has not been taken.

Mr. President,

When we graduated, we were left to fend for ourselves – to press, cajole and negotiate with our international partners to ensure gradual phasing out of LDC related benefits. It was a process rife with difficulties.

Although the concept of smooth transition has been endorsed by the UN, in resolutions 46/206 in 1991 and 59/209 thirteen years later in 2004, the implementation still needs improvement. While countries should take the lead in determining the smooth transition plans, and in identifying their partners, it is important to acknowledge the lack of capacity, experience and structural weaknesses that prevail in graduating LDCs.

Surely graduation is not meant to punish or penalize the rather volatile success of LDCs, nor to threaten the investments directed towards them by the international community, assurance that transition plans are effective is in the best interest of the identified country, its development partners, and the UN-system.

This is why we have been strong advocates of the smooth transition strategies and the continued implementation of these measures.

Mr. President,

The extremely ambitious sustainable development agendas we have set for ourselves demand that we invest in building the resilience of our countries to withstand economic and ecological shocks. This is ever more important in the case of LDCs – as structural weakness, lesser developed economic and industrial sectors and economies, associated with limited human capacity continue to hamper efforts of LDCs to reach the universal targets.

Graduation is not an end – but a beginning. It should be embraced – not feared. But it can only be so, with the continued support of the international community. It can only become sustainable, when we begin to consider the structural flaws within the system of graduation. It can only be realised when political ambition of LDCs to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development, is met with political commitment and to make this journey one of hope and promise.

I thank you.