Maldives - Tips

Maldives Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
July 2007

Background Note: Maldives

Boat at anchor after morning fishing,
Guraidoo Island, Maldives, January
16, 2005. [© AP Images]

Flag of Maldives is red with a large green rectangle in the center bearing a
vertical white crescent; the closed side of the crescent is on the hoist side
of the flag.


Republic of Maldives

Area: 298 sq. km. (115 sq. mi.), over 1,100 islands; twice the size of
Washington, DC.
Cities: Capital--Male' (pop. 70,000).
Terrain: Flat islands.
Climate: Hot and humid.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Maldivian(s).
Population (mid-year 2002): 280,000 (plus 31,000 expatriate laborers who are
not counted in the census).
Population growth rate: 1.66%. Population growth rate has dropped
dramatically in recent years.
Ethnic groups: South Indians, Sinhalese, Arabs.
Religion: Sunni Islam.
Languages: Dhivehi (official); many government officials speak English.
Education: Years compulsory--none. Attendance--primary (grades 1-5) 99%;
secondary: (grades 6-10) 51%, (grades 11-12) 5%. Literacy--98%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--18/1,000. Life expectancy--73 years male; 74
years female.
Resident work force: Community, social and personal services--21%;
manufacturing--13%; fishing--11%; tourism--11%; transport, storage, and
communication--9%; other--35%.

Type: Republic.
Independence: July 26, 1965 (formerly a British protectorate).
Constitution: November 11, 1968.
Branches: Executive--president, cabinet. Legislative--unicameral Majlis
(parliament). Judicial--High Court, Civil Court, Criminal Court, Family and
Juvenile Court, and 204 general courts.
Administrative subdivisions: 19 atolls and capital city.
Political parties: Adalath Party, Dhivehi Raiyyethunge Party, Islamic
Democratic Party, Maldivian Democratic Party.
Suffrage: Universal at age 21.

GDP (2006 est): $907 million.
GDP growth rate (2006 est.): 18.5%.
Per capita GDP (2006 est): $3,000.
Inflation (2006): 2.8%.
Percentages of GDP (2006 est): Tourism--28%; transport and communications
--17%; government--15%; manufacturing--7%; real estate--6%; fishing--7%;
construction--6%; agriculture--2%; other--12%.
Trade (2006 est): Exports--$147 million: fish products. Major markets--U.S.,
Thailand, EU, Sri Lanka, Japan (source: Maldives Customs Service). Imports
--$832 million: oil, construction material, prepared foodstuffs, vegetables,
animal products, electrical appliances, wood products, computers, transport
equipment. Major suppliers--Singapore, Sri Lanka, EU, India, Malaysia, U.A.E.

Maldives comprises 1,191 islands in the Indian Ocean. The earliest settlers
were probably from southern India. Indo-European speakers followed them from
Sri Lanka in the fourth and fifth centuries BC. In the 12th century AD,
sailors from East Africa and Arab countries came to the islands. Today, the
Maldivian ethnic identity is a blend of these cultures, reinforced by
religion and language.

Originally Buddhists, Maldivians were converted to Sunni Islam in the
mid-12th century. Islam is the official religion of the entire population.
Strict adherence to Islamic precepts and close community relationships have
helped keep crime low and under control.

The official and common language is Dhivehi, an Indo-European language
related to Sinhala, a language of Sri Lanka. The writing system is from right
to left. English is used widely in commerce and increasingly as the medium of
instruction in government schools.

Some social stratification exists on the islands. It is not rigid, since rank
is based on varied factors, including occupation, wealth, perceived Islamic
virtue, and family ties. Members of the social elite are concentrated in

The early history of the Maldives is obscure. According to Maldivian legend,
a Sinhalese prince named KoiMale was stranded with his bride--daughter of the
king of Sri Lanka--in a Maldivian lagoon and stayed on to rule as the first

Over the centuries, the islands have been visited and their development
influenced by sailors from countries on the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean
littorals. Mopla pirates from the Malabar Coast--present-day Kerala state in
India--harassed the islands. In the 16th century, the Portuguese subjugated
and ruled the islands for 15 years (1558-73) before being driven away by the
warrior-patriot Muhammad Thakurufar Al-Azam.

Although governed as an independent Islamic sultanate for most of its history
from 1153 to 1968, the Maldives was a British protectorate from 1887 until
July 25, 1965. In 1953, there was a brief, abortive attempt at a republican
form of government, after which the sultanate was re-imposed. Following
independence from Britain in 1965, the sultanate continued to operate for
another 3 years. On November 11, 1968, it was abolished and replaced by a
republic, and the country assumed its present name.

Environmental Concerns
There is growing concern about coral reef and marine life damage because of
coral mining (used for building and jewelry making), sand dredging, and solid
waste pollution. Mining of sand and coral have removed the natural coral reef
that protected several important islands, making them highly susceptible to
the erosive effects of the sea. The practices have recently been banned. In
April 1987, high tides swept over the Maldives, inundating much of Male' and
nearby islands. That event prompted high-level Maldivian interest in global
climatic changes, as its highest point is about 8 feet above sea level. The
Asian Brown Cloud, a U.S.-sized area of pollution over the Indian Ocean, has
the potential of wreaking havoc on the tourism- and fishery-based Maldivian

Investment in Education
The government expenditure for education was 20% of the budget in 2004. Both
formal and nonformal education have made remarkable strides in the last
decade. Unique to Maldives, modern and traditional schools exist side by
side. The traditional schools are staffed by community-paid teachers without
formal training and provide basic numeracy and literacy skills in addition to
religious instruction.

The modern schools, run by both the government and private sector, provide
primary and secondary education. As the modern English-medium school system
expands, the traditional system is gradually being upgraded. By early 2003,
every inhabited island was equipped to provide primary school education up
through grade seven. Secondary schools (grades 8 through 10) are available in
atoll capitals and on the islands with larger populations. Five schools have
higher secondary classes, two in Capital Male and in three atolls. Only
around 5% of students go to high school, but literacy is high at 98%.

Seven post-secondary technical training institutes provide opportunities for
youth to gain skills that are in demand. The World Bank provided $17 million
for education development from 2000-04. It plans to commit a further $1.5
million for education development, as well as $9 million for an
education-related component under an integrated human development project.
Over 2000-06, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) committed $7 million to
support post-secondary education development in Maldives. ADB has committed
$6.5 million for employment skills training over 2004-2009.

A 1968 referendum approved the constitution, making Maldives a republic with
executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The constitution
was amended in 1970, 1972, and 1975 and is again under revision.

Ibrahim Nasir, Prime Minister under the pre-1968 sultanate, became President
and held office from 1968 to 1978. He was succeeded by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom,
who was elected President in 1978 and reelected in 1983, 1988, 1993, 1998,
and again in October 2003. The president heads the executive branch and
appoints the cabinet. Nominated to a 5-year term by a secret ballot of the
Majlis (parliament), the president must be confirmed by a national

The unicameral Majlis is composed of 50 members serving 5-year terms. Two
members from each atoll and Male' are elected directly by universal suffrage.
Eight are appointed by the president. A special Majlis session began meeting
in mid-2004 to review constitutional reform issues. Regularly scheduled
Majlis elections took place in January 2005.

The Maldivian legal system--derived mainly from traditional Islamic law--is
administered by secular officials, a chief justice, and lesser judges on each
of the 19 atolls, who are appointed by the president and function under the
Ministry of Justice. There is also an attorney general. Each inhabited island
within an atoll has a chief who is responsible for law and order. Every atoll
chief, appointed by the president, functions as a district officer in the
British South Asian tradition.

On November 8, 1988, Sri Lankan Tamil mercenaries tried to overthrow the
Maldivian Government. At President Gayoom's request, the Indian military
suppressed the coup attempt within 24 hours. In September 2003, following the
death of an inmate, a brief prison riot broke out on an island near the
capital Male'. Three other inmates were killed during the incident. In
response to the killings of the inmates, brief rioting took place on the
streets of Male'. The government often prevents opposition rallies from
taking place. Throughout 2006, the opposition faced restrictions on freedom
of assembly, and the government continued to arrest opposition activists. The
government also keeps a tight rein on expressions of Islamic extremism.

President Gayoom's commitment to introduce political reforms in June 2004 was
widely welcomed. A human rights commission was established, and a special
Majlis, or parliament, was convened to consider changes in the constitution,
including the legalization of political parties. In August 2004, however, a
demonstration in the capital turned violent and the government declared an
emergency and arrested a large number said to be connected to the protest.
Some of those arrested were prominent in the reform movement, including
several members of the special Majlis. Most were released a few months later.

The Maldives were badly hit by the Asian tsunami of December 26, 2004, which
killed 82 and caused substantial damage to Maldives tourism, housing, and
fishing infrastructure. The U.S. provided $1.6 million in immediate relief
assistance. Despite the disaster, the Government of the Maldives held
parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for December 31, on January 22,
2005. Reform candidates performed strongly. Following the poll, President
Gayoom announced plans to establish multiparty democracy within a year.

In June 2005, the members of the People's Majlis unanimously voted to legally
recognize political parties. In order of registration the parties are the
opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, the government's Dhivehi Raiyyethunge
Party, the Adalath (Justice) Party, and the Islamic Democratic Party.
Although no elections have been held since the party system was implemented,
members of parliament have declared their political affiliations.

In March 2006, the government introduced a "Roadmap for Reform" and
subsequently introduced several bills in parliament. However, as of January
2007, parliament had not yet enacted any of the reform legislation.

Principal Government Officials
President--Maumoon Abdul Gayoom
Minister of Defense and National Security--Ismail Shafeeu
Minister of Economic Development and Trade--Mohamed Jaleel
Minister of Finance and Treasury--Qasim Ibrahim
Minister of Home Affairs--Ahmed Thasmeen Ali
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Ahmed Shaheed

The Maldivian economy is based on tourism and fishing. Of the Maldives' 1,191
islands, only 200 are inhabited. The population is scattered throughout the
country, with the greatest concentration on the capital island, Male'.
Limitations on potable water and arable land constrain expansion.

Development has been centered upon the tourism industry and its complementary
service sectors, transport, distribution, real estate, construction, and
government. Taxes on the tourist industry have been plowed into
infrastructure and used to improve technology in the agricultural sector.

GDP in 2006 totaled $907 million, or about $3,000 per capita. The Maldivian
economy has made a remarkable recovery from the tsunami, which inflicted
damages of about $375 million, excluding $100 million in damages to resorts,
the bulk of which was covered by private insurance. A rebound in tourism,
post-tsunami reconstruction, and new resort construction helped increase GDP
by nearly 18% in 2006 from a contraction of 4.5% in 2005. Inflation has
moderated to about 3%. As tourism staged a speedy recovery and government
borrowing increased, the balance of payments recorded a surplus of about $40
million in 2006 from a deficit of $17 million in 2005. Fiscal control has
deteriorated due to tsunami reconstruction as well as an increase in
non-tsunami-related government expenditure. Government expenditure was
estimated at 74.5% of GDP in 2006, compared to 36% of GDP in 2004 before the
tsunami. The budget deficit was 18% of GDP in 2006. While reconstruction is
ongoing, the recovery process remains underfunded.

The Maldives has been running a merchandise trade deficit in the range of
$200 to $260 million annually since 1997. The trade deficit ballooned to $386
million in 2004, $493 million in 2005, and reached an estimated $618 million
in 2006, largely the result of increased oil prices and increased imports of
construction material.

International shipping to and from the Maldives is mainly operated by the
private sector with only a small fraction of the tonnage carried on vessels
operated by the national carrier, Maldives Shipping Management Ltd. Over the
years, the Maldives has received economic assistance from multilateral
development organizations, including the UN Development Program (UNDP), Asian
Development Bank, and the World Bank. Individual donors--including Japan,
India, Australia, and European and Arab countries (including Islamic
Development Bank and the Kuwaiti Fund)--also have contributed.

A 1956 bilateral agreement gave the United Kingdom the use of Gan--in Addu
Atoll in the far south--for 20 years as an air facility in return for British
aid. The agreement ended in 1976, shortly after the British closed the Gan
air station.

Economic Sectors
Tourism. In recent years, Maldives has successfully marketed its natural
assets for tourism--beautiful, unpolluted beaches on small coral islands,
diving in blue waters abundant with tropical fish, and glorious sunsets.
Tourism now brings in about $400 million a year. Tourism and related services
contributed 28% of GDP in 2006.

Since the first resort was established in 1972, more than 87 islands have
been developed, with a total capacity of some 17,000 beds. Maldives has
embarked on a rapid tourism expansion plan. The government has awarded
tenders for the development of 41 resorts. Over 650,000 tourists (mainly from
Europe) visited Maldives in 2006. The average occupancy rate is over 80%, and
reaches over 95% in the peak winter tourist season. Average tourist stay is 8

Fishing. This sector employs about 11% of the labor force and contributes 7%
of GDP, including fish preparation. The use of nets is illegal, so all
fishing is done by line. Production was about 183,000 metric tons in 2005,
most of which was skipjack tuna. About 50% is exported, largely to Sri Lanka,
Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, and the European Union. Fresh, chilled, frozen,
dried, salted, and canned tuna exports accounted for 94% of all marine
product exports. Total export proceeds from fish were about $84 million in

Agriculture. Poor soil and scarce arable land have historically limited
agriculture to a few subsistence crops, such as coconut, banana, breadfruit,
papayas, mangoes, taro, betel, chilies, sweet potatoes, and onions. Almost
all food, including staples, has to be imported. The December 2004 tsunami
inundated several agricultural islands, which could take a significant amount
of time to recover. Agriculture provides about 2% of GDP.

Manufacturing. The manufacturing sector provides only about 7% of GDP.
Traditional industry consists of boat building and handicrafts, while modern
industry is limited to a few tuna canneries, a bottling plant, and a few
enterprises in the capital producing PVC pipe, soap, furniture, and food
products. Five garment factories that had exported principally to the United
States closed in 2005, following the expiration of the Multi-Fiber
Arrangement (MFA) that had set quotas on developing country garment exports
to developed countries. The loss of these factories has not proven an
insurmountable hurdle, however, as most of the profits were repatriated and
most of the labor was expatriate.

Maldives follows a nonaligned policy and is committed to maintaining friendly
relations with all countries. The country has a UN Mission in New York, with
the Permanent Representative to the UN in New York also accredited as
Ambassador to the United States, an embassy in Sri Lanka and in the United
Kingdom, a trade representative in Singapore, and a Tourist Information
Bureau in Germany. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka maintain
resident embassies in Male'. Denmark, Norway, the U.K., Germany, Turkey, and
Sweden have consular agencies in Male' under the supervision of their
embassies in Sri Lanka and India. The UNDP has a representative resident in
Male', as do the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health
Organization (WHO). Like the United States, many countries have nonresident
ambassadors accredited to the Maldives, most of them based in Sri Lanka or
India. The Maldives is a member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference
(OIC) and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

The United States has friendly relations with the Republic of Maldives. The
U.S. Ambassador and some Embassy staff in Sri Lanka are accredited to the
Maldives and make periodic visits. The United States supports Maldivian
independence and territorial integrity and publicly endorsed India's timely
intervention on behalf of the Maldivian Government during the November 1988
coup attempt. U.S. Naval vessels have regularly called at Male' in recent
years. The Maldives extended strong support to U.S. efforts to combat
terrorism and terrorist financing in 2001-02.

U.S. contributions to economic development in the Maldives have been made
principally through international organization programs. Following the
December 2004 tsunami, the U.S. and Maldives signed a bilateral assistance
agreement for $8.6 million in reconstruction assistance. This assistance will
help in the rebuilding of harbors, sewerage systems, electrical generation
facilities and in the development of aid absorption capacity in the Ministry
of Finance. The United States has directly funded training in airport
management and narcotics interdiction and provided desktop computers for
Maldivian customs, immigration, and drug-control efforts in recent years. The
United States also trains a small number of Maldivian military personnel
annually. About 10 U.S. citizens are resident in the Maldives; some 5,000
Americans visit the Maldives annually. The Maldives welcomes foreign
investment, although the ambiguity of codified law acts as somewhat of a
damper. Areas of opportunity for U.S. businesses include tourism,
construction, and simple export-oriented manufacturing, such as garments and
electrical appliance assembly. There is a shortage of local skilled labor,
and most industrial labor has to be imported from Sri Lanka or elsewhere.

Principal U.S. Embassy Official
Ambassador--Robert O. Blake

The U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka is at 210 Galle Road, Colombo 3; tel: +94 (1)
244-8007; fax: +94 (1) 2437-345.

The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans
traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public
Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency
regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political
disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about
terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that
pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings
are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad
should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet
web site at, where the current Worldwide Caution,
Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs
Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, are also available at For
additional information on international travel, see

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens who traveling or residing
abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or
at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your
presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an
emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained
by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular
toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of
State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport
information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service
representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00
a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP
(877-394-8747) and a web site at give the
most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements,
and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A
booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS
publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://, the Department of State web site provides timely, global
access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background
Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of
Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies
working abroad through its website provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market
information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free
export counseling, help with the export process, and more.
STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides
authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from
the Federal government. The site includes current and historical
trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities,
and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank. ***********************************************************
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