Foreign freeholds will not threaten Indian Ocean security, assures President Yameen

President Abdulla Yameen has assured the public that authorising foreign ownership of land or freeholds in the Maldives will not threat Indian Ocean security or lead to “enslavement” and shortage of land.

Addressing the nation this afternoon after ratifying amendments to the constitution passed by the parliament yesterday, Yameen insisted that the unprecedented changes will not adversely affect “friendly relations” with South Asian neighbours.

“The Maldivian government has given assurances to the Indian government and our neighbouring countries as well to keep the Indian Ocean a demilitarised zone,” he said.

The Maldives’ foreign policy will not change as a result of authorising freeholds, he added. The freeholds would not pose “any danger to either the Maldivian people or our neighbouring countries.”

The amendments will allow foreigners who invest more than US$1 billion to own plots of land within the project site. At least 70 percent of the project site must also be reclaimed land.

The second amendment to the 2008 constitution was approved yesterday with 70 votes in favour and 14 against. MPs opposed to the move expressed concern over possible Chinese military expansion in the Maldives and lack of time to debate the amendments.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said the party supports “free ownership of land and property” in principle, but expressed concern with the amendments facilitating “foreign non-commercial logistical installations in the Maldives.”

Speaking to the press after the president’s remarks, newly appointed vice president Ahmed Adeeb said: “We are not going to sell our lands to any country. We are trying to do business here. We want to bring in many corporate investments. We are not going to sell land to other countries, whether its China or Saudi Arabia. We are not gifting our land to other parties. We want to mobilize investments worth at least US$1 billion.”

Attorney General Mohamed Anil stressed that the government will conduct background checks on investors and review if proposed projects may affect geopolitics.

“No cause for concern” 

Yameen said there is “no cause for Maldivian citizens to be concerned” with the amendments. Land will only be offered for large-scale economic activities, he stressed, and not “for foreigners to settle in those areas.”

The amendments include “safeguards” such as a requirement for the parliament to approve the projects, Yameen said, and investors will not be able to carry out any other work apart from the authorised project.

The state will exercise complete sovereignty over the areas, he continued, which would also be subject to the Maldivian constitution and laws.

“If the Maldivian state’s sovereign authority is not lost, temples can’t be built there, casinos can’t be built there, and illegal activities cannot be carried out,” he said.

Anil meanwhile noted that the amendments state that the total land area of all project sites must not exceed 10 percent of naturally existing land in the Maldives. The projects will also be regulated by laws passed by the People’s Majlis, he added.

Anil said freehold zones were key in the economic transformation of Dubai, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia. He also said India has a threshold of US$5 million worth of investment.

“The government is not obliged to engage with investors who come with US$1 billion. Of the proposed projects, we will check how feasible they are, what the biggest investments are. And we will also check who the parties are, what their backgrounds are, for Maldives’ security and protection, if this will affect geopolitics,” he said.

“Economic transformation”

Yameen said the amendments will “speed up the pace” of realising the current administration’s goal of “transforming the economy,” which could not be achieved by continuing with “business as usual.”

The US$1 billion will not be spent entirely on land reclamation, Yameen said, but on infrastructure development such as new “townships,” airports, marinas, and seaports.

Adeeb meanwhile told the press that the amendments were in line with the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) economic agenda. It accompanies the government’s flagship special economic zones (SEZ) legislation and the introduction of corporate residence visas.

Responding to allegations that the SEZ legislation had failed, Adeeb said the government has received several SEZ proposals from potential investors, but the government could not accept some as some investors made demands such as complete exclusivity for 25 years.

The government is negotiating “the best deal” for the country and seeking “win-win situations”, Adeeb said, reiterating that one ‘mega project’ could transform the economy.

The government will not allow illegal activities such as weapons smuggling, money laundering, or gambling, he said.

“We do not want to bring in companies with bad reputations to launder money. We are talking about Fortune 500 companies,” he said.

Land reclamation 

Yameen meanwhile sought to allay fears of “running out of land for future generations.”

The government is not planning on offering all the islands and lagoons in the Maldives for sale, he said, adding that the government will only authorise “one or two projects” that would create jobs for youth and increase national wealth.

The Maldives has the capacity to significantly increase its territory by reclaiming land in large shallow lagoons, he said, and the cabinet’s economic council has approved funds for the state-owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) to procure a cutter dredger.

Yameen said 24 million square meters of land could be reclaimed from the lagoon of Laamu Maavah for about US$200 million, 45 million square meters could be reclaimed from the Vaavu Bodumohora lagoon for about US$160 million, and 16 million square meters could be reclaimed from the Thaa Hirilandhoo lagoon for US$50 million.

Once the MTCC dredger arrives next years, Yameen said the government will have the capacity and the financial means to carry out the projects.

There is no danger of running out of land in the next 50 or 100 years, he said.

Population consolidation is also a policy of the current administration, Yameen continued, urging youth from small islands to migrate to the capital.

Once phase two of the Hulhumalé development is complete and the government authorises high-rise buildings to 20 or 25 floors, Yameen said up to 70 percent of Maldivian population could be settled in the Malé region.

Yameen said the constitutional amendments were proposed following long deliberation, research, and consultation with foreign parties and legal experts.


Second amendment on foreign land ownership likely to pass

Key opposition MPs have expressed support for a ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) proposed constitutional amendment to authorise foreign ownership of land or freeholds in the Maldives. Some 62 MPs voted to consider the amendment and have sent it to a special committee for review.

A three-quarters majority or 64 votes will be needed to amend the constitution. The ruling coalition only controls 48 seats in the 85-member house.

With 62 MPs voting to consider the bill, it is likely to pass into law. The final vote is expected on Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking at tonight’s extraordinary sitting of parliament, MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the parliamentary group leader of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), expressed support for the amendment, but said the government must consider Indian Ocean security in awarding plots of land to foreign parties.

The bill comes amidst increased attempts by the government to woo Chinese and Middle-eastern investors.

The constitution currently prohibits foreign ownership of any part of Maldivian territory, but allows leasing of land for up to 99 years.

The proposed amendments will allow foreigners who invest in a project worth more than US$1 billion to purchase land. At least 70 percent of the area when the project is completed must also be reclaimed land.

Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim said the amendment was needed in an interconnected world. Land ownership by foreigners on a freehold basis was allowed in developed countries, he added.

The minimum threshold of US$1 billion worth investment will enable the government to develop the education and health sectors, he continued, and thanked President Abdulla Yameen for his “wisdom.”

Tonight’s sitting was scheduled after changes to the standing orders to fast-track the process of passing a bill into law was approved at this morning’s sitting. The legislative process includes three main stages and usually takes weeks or months. But under the new rules, a bill can be debated and passed into law on the same day.

The amendment comes amidst negotiations between the government and the MDP. The opposition has so far backed several unprecedented measures proposed by the government in hope of freedom for jailed opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed and other politicians.

The bill is the second amendment proposed to the constitution since it was ratified in 2008. MPs in June passed the first amendment to the constitution to set new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency. Subsequently, vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed was impeached today.


PPM MP Ahmed Nihan – who submitted the amendments (Dhivehi) on behalf of the government today –  said contrary to “misleading” media reports, the amendments would not allow the government to sell large islands or lose sovereignty over Maldivian territory.

The PPM parliamentary group leader said the purpose of the amendment is to attract “extremely large” foreign investment and spur economic growth and infrastructure development. Nihan said Singapore developed despite the lack of natural resources because the small island state “opened up” to foreign investment.

PPM MP Ali Arif emphatically stressed no land will be given for military purposes.

MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa backed the bill saying that the MDP’s policy is to create a real estate market and encourage home ownership. “We are very happy the ruling party now accepts our development policies. I know the government has an investor willing to invest US$1 billion. We must make use of that opportunity.”

Independent MP Ahmed Mahloof reminded ruling party MPs of their campaign to evict Indian airport developer GMR and said: “This bill amounts to selling off our land. If things continue like this, we might sell off our wives, children and the boxers we are wearing. As we celebrate 50 years of independence, our land must remain ours.”

The former ruling party MP suggested the JP and MDP had been coerced to support the amendment in exchange for freedom for Nasheed and a removal of a freeze on Gasim’s tourism companies.

Meanwhile, JP MP Ali Hussein said that Maldivians wanted clean water and sanitation instead of “mega projects.”

“They are worried about corruption. They want to divert funds wasted on corruption to development. They want tertiary hospitals,” he said. He said that the PPM wanted to award freeholds because it had failed to attract investment through the government’s flagship special economic zones (SEZ) legislation, which was passed in August last year. It gives investors tax breaks and relaxed laws.

He further warned of unchecked corruption and undue influence of large corporations if the amendment passed due to weak oversight institutions and lack of accountability.

Opposing the amendment, MDP MP Rozaina Adam said the government had failed to attract foreign investors because of a weak and politicized judiciary. MDP MP Fayyaz Ismail meanwhile said he supported the amendment in principle, but said extensive public consultations were necessary before he could back the bill.

Special economic zones

In April 2014, President Abdulla Yameen said he the SEZ law would enable investors to have “freeholds” in the country and allow investors “to engage in really, really long gestative projects.”

The opposition contended that the SEZ law would pave the way for money laundering and other criminal enterprises, undermine the decentralisation system, and authorise a board formed by the president to “openly sell off the country” without parliamentary oversight.

But the government maintained that the law was necessary to attract large-scale foreign investments and to launch ‘mega projects,’ which President Yameen has said would “transform” the economy through diversification and mitigate the reliance on the tourism industry.

The mega projects include the construction of a bridge connecting Malé to Hulhumalé and the development of a ‘Youth City’ in the reclaimed artificial island.

In January, President Yameen said 75 percent of the country’s population could be resettled in Hulhumalé and urged residents of islands with small populations to migrate to the new city. According to the 2014 census, the population of the Maldives stands at 341,256, of which 133,019 people resides in Malé.

Other mega projects envisioned by the government includes the development of a transhipment port in the Maldives’ northernmost atoll. The Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project (iHavan) also involves the development of an airport, offshore docking and bunkering facilities, an export processing zone, real estate businesses, and tourism facilities.

In June, a group of Saudi Arabian investors reportedly visited Ihavandhippolhu. The Saudi Arabian government has also provided US$1 million as grant aid to finance the feasibility project.

Additional reporting and writing by Zaheena Rasheed. 


Constitutional amendment on foreign land ownership up for debate tonight

A constitutional amendment to allow foreigners to own land in the Maldives will be up for debate at an extraordinary parliament sitting tonight, only hours after it was submitted to parliament.

The amendment allows foreign parties to own land for projects worth US$1 billion. Ownership is dependent on the parties reclaiming more than 70 percent of the plot.

The constitution at present prohibits foreigners from owning land under any circumstances, but allows the government to lease land to foreign parties for up to 99 years.

The amendment is the second amendment proposed to the constitution since it was ratified in 2008. It was proposed by Ahmed Nihan, MP of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and the majority leader.

Nihan said he has proposed the amendment to increase economic growth and to facilitate sustainable investment. It will allow foreigners free holds in the Maldives, and to transfer ownership or lease their plots.

The amendment comes amidst negotiations between the government and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). The opposition has so far backed several unprecedented measures proposed by the government in hope of freedom for jailed opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed and other politicians.

MPs in June passed the first amendment to the constitution to set new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency. Subsequently, vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed was impeached today. He is expected to be replaced by tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

The amendment may be put to a vote as early as tomorrow. Tonight’s sitting was scheduled after the parliament today approved changes to the standing orders to fast-track the process of passing a bill into law.

The legislative process includes three main stages: a preliminary debate on the floor, an extensive review by a committee involving consultations with stakeholders and experts, and a final debate on the committee’s report followed by a vote. However, under the new rules, all three legislative stages can be carried out consecutively and a final vote could be held on the same day as a bill is submitted.

The changes were approved with 56 votes in favour and 24 against.

The PPM in 2014 enacted a law on special economic zones with tax breaks and little regulation to incentivize foreign investment. The government previously said one SEZ project could transform the economy, but has so far failed to attract investment.

The amendment on foreign ownership comes amidst increased attempts by the government to woo Chinese and Middle-eastern investors.

The proposed change includes amending Article 251 of the constitution and adding a new chapter to the constitution. Below are some important provisions.

Article 302: If a project meets the set criteria, he Maldivian government may grant any party a freehold in the area designated for the project

Article 304: A project can only be approved if it meets the following criteria
(a) A project approved under a law passed by the People’s Majlis
(b) An investment of US$1billion in the territory of the Maldives
(c) When the project reaches completion, at least 70 percent of the land must have been reclaimed from the ocean and visible at medium tide

Article 305: The parliament can increase the threshold for investment by a law. However, such a change will not apply to projects approved before its enactment.

Article 251: No foreign party shall own land in the Maldives, except under the circumstances specified in Article 302. Allowing foreigners to own land under Article 302 does not undermine the Maldivian state’s sovereignty over its territory and does not amount to loss of territory.

Reporting by Hassan Mohamed, Ahmed Naish and Zaheena Rasheed. 


With Chinese grants and loans Malé-Hulhulé bridge inches closer to reality

The Chinese government has pledged to provide US$100 million as free grant aid to finance the construction of a US$300million bridge between capital Malé and airport island Hulhulé.

The Chinese and Maldivian governments today signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) related to financing the project and the construction stage.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, finance minister Abdulla Jihad said that the Chinese government will provide a US$170 million loan at an interest rate of two percent. The remaining US$30 million will be spent from the Maldivian state budget.

“This is an important step to make the bridge viable,” Jihad said.

The MoUs were signed following discussions between the cabinet’s economic council and a delegation from the Chinese government about finalising the design and other matters.

The director general of the department of foreign assistance at the Chinese commerce ministry, Wong Yong Puk, signed the MoUs on behalf of China.

Jihad said official agreements on finance will be signed within the next three months.

The economic council has previously said the six-mile bridge will have six lanes and will span from Malé’s eastern edge to the western corner of Hulhulé, where the airport is located.

According to the housing and infrastructure ministry, the bridge will be completed in two years.

Under the second MoU, the Chinese government agreed to find a contractor for the project and to help the government operate the finished bridge.

During a historic state visit in September, Chinese President Xi Jinping said he hoped the bridge will be called “the China-Maldives friendship bridge” and would ‘favorably consider financing’ the bridge if the design proves feasible.

An agreement was meanwhile penned during President Abdulla Yameen’s state visit to China last month for carrying out the ongoing feasibility survey of the Malé-Hulhulé bridge project with Chinese grant aid.

In May, a team of Chinese technicians began drilling bore holes on the ocean floor to gather information for the feasibility survey.

The feasibility study has since been completed and handed over to the Maldivian government.

In a keynote address delivered at the opening ceremony of the 10th China-South Asia Business Forum on June 12, President Abdulla Yameen declared that Sino-Maldives relations are at an “all-time high” with the establishment of a cooperative partnership between the countries last year.


Cause of seaplane crash remains uncertain

The civil aviation authority is yet to determine what caused a Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA) seaplane to crash land near the Kuredhu Island Resort last week.

The accident investigation coordination committee said in a statement last night that the investigation will continue once the seaplane is resurfaced. The coastguard, police, and TMA are assisting the investigation.

The Twin Otter seaplane sank within minutes of crash-landing around 5:30pm last Tuesday. A speedboat rescued the 11 tourist passengers and three crew members within minutes.

The investigation committee said it has retrieved the seaplane’s records, recovered some of the seaplane’s parts with help from the army, and interviewed passengers and crew.

The MNDF and TMA have made a plan to recover the submerged seaplane, the committee said.

Seaplane accidents are rare in the Maldives. In February 2012, an Maldivian Air Taxi aircraft crash-landed on the water runway at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport with nine passengers due to poor weather conditions. None of the passengers or crew sustained injuries.

A TMA flight crash-landed near Biyadhoo Island resort in February 2011.


Tax authority removes freeze on Villa Group accounts

The tax authority has removed a freeze on Jumhooree Party leader and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group accounts in yet another indication of a thaw in relations between the opposition and the government.

A senior government official told Minivan News that the Villa Group had submitted a plan to pay the US$90.4million claim within two years.

“The Villa Group initially denied that had to make any payments. But now Villa Shipping has agreed to pay the government. That’s why MIRA [Maldives Inland Revenue Authority] has removed the freeze,” they said.

MIRA froze the accounts of Villa Shipping and Trading in May after the Tourism Ministry annulled several agreements on properties leased for tourism development and claimed the company had failed to pay rents on some of the properties since 2006.

The 90.4million claim includes US$75.5million as a fine.

The opposition says the move was an act of reprisal after Gasim’s JP split from the ruling coalition and allied with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in an anti-government campaign.

Several opposition politicians including ex-president Mohamed Nasheed was arrested and sentenced to jail shortly after the formation of the new alliance.

After months of street protests, historic anti-government marches, and mounting diplomatic pressure, Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June and preparations are now underway for talks.

Speaking to Haveeru today, Gasim maintained that his company did not owe any money to the state, but said he had no choice but to make the payment.

“We are having to do this this because our cases at the courts are still pending. We had no choice to do this until the court reaches a decision. If there is any justice in Maldives, I am sure I would not have to make the payment,” Gasim said.

The Villa conglomerate – which operates businesses in shipping, import and export, retail, tourism, fishing, media, communications, transport and education – previously said the claim is unlawful and is contesting it at the civil court.

The civil court had rejected a request for a stay order on paying the fine until the courts uphold the claim.

Villa Group says the claim has cost the company a US$80million loan. It had struggled to pay the salaries of some 5000 employees following the accounts freeze.

In mid-June, Gasim announced that he will retire from politics once his term as Maamigili MP expires in 2019. The long-time presidential hopeful also said he will no longer contest in presidential elections. The government with opposition backing has now amended the constitution to set new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency, meaning Gasim will be ineligible for the 2018 presidential elections. He will be 66 then.

The JP is in disarray. Two senior party officials fled the country after they were charged with terrorism over a historic anti-government protest on May 1.


Government revenue declines in May

Government revenue declined by MVR19.2 million (US$1.2 million) in May compared to the same period last year and reached MVR1.2 billion (US$77.8 million), the central bank has revealed in its monthly economic review.

Total expenditure during the month meanwhile rose by MVR104.9 million (US$6.8 million) and amounted to MVR1.5 billion (US$97 million).

“The decline in total revenue during May 2015 was mainly due to the decline in both tax and non-tax revenue which fell by MVR9.5 million and MVR1.7 million, respectively,” the review stated.

“The fall in tax revenue was mainly contributed by the decline in revenue from business profit tax and tourism tax, while non-tax revenues declined owing to a significant fall in revenue from resort lease rent. Meanwhile, the increase in expenditure was largely due to a growth in recurrent expenditure.”

In May, the government obtained US$20 million from Saudi Arabia for budget support. Finance minister Abdulla Jihad told Minivan News at the time that the funds were to be used to “manage cash flow” as revenue was lower than expected.

A large portion of forecast revenue is expected later in the year, he said, adding that shortfalls are currently plugged through sale of treasury bills (T-bills).

According to the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA), the total outstanding stock of government securities, including T-bills and treasury bonds (T-bonds), reached MVR18.4 billion (US$1.1 billion) at the end of May, representing an annual increase of 36 percent.

The forecast for government income in this year’s record MVR24.3 billion (US$1.5 billion) budget is MVR21.5 billion (US$1.3 billion).

The projected revenue includes MVR3.4 billion (US$220 million) anticipated from new revenue raising measures, including revisions of import duty rates, the introduction of a “green tax”, acquisition fees from investments in special economic zones (SEZs), and leasing 10 islands for resort development.

The MMA’s monthly economic review meanwhile revealed that gross international reserves increased by 65 percent in May compared to the corresponding period in 2014 and stood at US$703.7 million, “of which usable reserves amounted to US$229.7 million.”

“During the review month usable reserves also registered increases in both monthly and annual terms by 12 percent and 41 percent, respectively. As for gross reserves in terms of months of imports, it rose both in monthly and annual terms and stood at 4.2 months at the end of May 2015.

Tourism and fisheries

The economic review noted that tourist arrivals declined by three percent in April compared to the same period in 2014, reaching a total of 102,242 guests.

“The annual decline in arrivals was contributed by the significant decline in tourist arrivals from Europe,” the MMA observed.

“In April 2015, total bednights registered a decline of 7 percent in annual terms, as the average duration of stay declined from 6.2 to 5.9 days. Partly reflecting the decrease in bednights, the occupancy rate of the industry declined to 73 percent in April 2015 from 80 percent in April 2014.”

In its quarterly economic bulletin, the central bank noted that despite a three percent growth in tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2014, tourist bednights declined by three percent “owing to the fall in average stay of tourists from 6.3 days in Q1-2014 to 6.0 in the review quarter.”

Tourism receipts also decreased by four percent in the first quarter compared to the corresponding period in 2014.

“On the supply side, the operational capacity of the tourism industry increased by 3% when compared with Q1-2014 to reach an average of 27,827 beds. Reflecting this and the decline in tourist bednights, the occupancy rate of the industry fell to 79 percent in Q1- 2015 from 84 percent in Q1-2014,” the bulletin stated.

The volume of fish purchases meanwhile decreased to 6,134.6 metric tonnes in April, registering an annual decline of 11 percent.

“In May 2015, both the volume and earnings on fish exports declined in annual terms by 35 percent and 12 percent, respectively. This was mainly owing to the decrease in the volume and earnings of frozen skipjack and yellowfin tuna exports,” the economic review revealed.

In other sectors, the MMA noted that construction activity “continued to expand and remained robust as indicated by the annual increase in construction-related imports and increased bank credit to the sector during Q1-2015.”

“Activity in the wholesale and retail trade also grew, as indicated by increased imports by the private sector (excluding tourism) and bank credit to the sector.”

The rate of inflation in Malé meanwhile accelerated to 1.7 percent in April from 1.1 percent in March.

“The pick-up in inflation during the month was mostly contributed by the growth in fish prices and prices charged for housing rent,” the central ban explained.

“The monthly percentage change in the [Consumer Price Index] increased in April 2015. This was mainly due to the rise in fish and cigarett e prices. Cigarette prices rose during the month due to the increase in the import duty levied in April 2015.”


Nasandhura to be developed as a 15-storey luxury hotel

The government has revealed plans to develop the recently closed Nasandhura Palace Hotel on the waterfront of Malé as a 15-storey luxury hotel with apartments and a convention centre.

Speaking to Minivan News today, deputy tourism minister Ibrahim Lirar said Nasandhura will be re-developed as a five-star city hotel by Galaxy Enterprises – a company owned by President Abdulla Yameen’s brother-in-law Mohamed Manik.

“The company is going through all the design phases, which then has to be approved from the tourism ministry before they can start construction,” said Lirar.

Nasandhura Palace Hotel, located in front of the airport ferry terminal, first opened in 1981 and was managed by the government.

The site was previously handed to Shangri-la in May 2008 to develop a 15-storey hotel, before a crack in the coral reef outside the area doomed the project.

Shangri-la was provided land near Dharubaaruge to develop the hotel, but the project has since been stalled.

The hotel development project on the Nasandhuraa plot was awarded to Galaxy Enterprises five years ago.

The large plot of land also accommodates the state-owned Island Aviation Services’ head office, which has now been provided new premises to move its operations, said Lirar.

Island Aviation’s head of administration Ali Nashaath told Minivan News that the airline will be moving its headquarters to the vacant Raiveriyaa restaurant in the western end of Malé.

“We never had our own land to operate from for the past 15 or so years. So we are planning to develop the Raiveriyaa site as our permanent headquarters,” said Nashaath.

Haveeru reported that the cabinet’s economic council last month had requested Island Aviation to move out from Nasandhura, after transferring ownership of the plot of land from the housing ministry to the tourism ministry.

Asked about the bidding process in the hotel development project, Lirar said the tourism ministry followed all due procedures.

“The government will decide what happens to the land as it is government-owned. We will employ it in ways which would provide the maximum benefit to the government,” said Lirar.


Resort workers dismissed on drug abuse charges were ‘key unionists’

Four resort workers were dismissed on June 6 from Alif Alif Atoll Kandholu resort on bogus drug abuse charges because of their work on a petition demanding a minimum wage, the Tourism Employees Association of the Madives (TEAM) has said.

“All four of the dismissed staff were key figures in gaining signatures for the TEAM petition. The resort wanted to dismiss them with any excuse they could find,” said the organization’s secretary general Mauroof Zaki.

The TEAM petition – signed by more than 5000 Maldivian resort workers – demands a US$600 minimum wage, the implementation of an eight percent quota for Maldivians in the resort sector and the equal distribution of service charge to all employees.

Police raided Kandholhu resort – owned by Universal Enterprises – after the management complained of staff using drugs on the island.

A police spokesperson said the four were taken to Rasdhoo Island for a urine test. Two of the staff tested positive on a drug screening. But the police said they were released the next day because the substance they had used was not illegal.

The dismissed staff told Minivan News they were using medication.

Speaking to Minivan News, 21-year-old Ibrahim Sameen said he was “targeted by the management for working with TEAM to gain signatures for the petition.”

“The police started checking our belongings and doing body checks of the people singled out by the management. They checked me and said I was clear of any problems,” he said.

Resident manager Ahmed Jaleel told Sameen to accompany the police to Rasdhoo.

“I immediately asked Jaleel whether he would re-instate my position at the resort if I was did not test positive and he promised me and gave his word.”

When the drug test came out negative, Sameen said he was taken to Kuramathi resort, also owned by Universal Enterprises, and informed of his dismissal.

The letter of termination obtained by Minivan News, accused Sameen of gross misconduct for appearing as if he was not his “full senses” and “disrupting the peave in the resort.”

The letter was signed by Jaleel.

Jaleel told Minivan News that he had did not made any promises to reinstate staff and said he was not aware of their work gaining signatures for the petition.

Meanwhile, a staff at the human resources department refused to comment and said: “the decision to terminate the staff came from the top management.”

Jaleel and the Kandholhu general manager were not responding to further calls despite repeated attempts.

Over the past few years, resort workers have occasionally tried to launch protests.

Workers who had been fired from Sheraton’s Maldives luxury resort for allegedly demanding union recognition protested near the Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort and Spa in February, according to the website of the International Union Federation.

Carrying banners with slogans such as “Sheraton fully booked — no room for human rights”, the dismissed workers carried out a boat picket around the resort, while employees came to the beach and waved in support.

Three staff at Palm Beach were dismissed in July 2014 after 50 staff staged a strike over alleged discriminatory polices at the resort.

In February 2013, an employee strike in Vaavu Atoll Alimathaa resort resulted in 27 employees being fired by management.