Foreign investments worth MVR9.8 billion expected in five years, says President Yameen

A total of MVR9.8 billion (US$635.5 million) has been pledged to the Maldives by 24 foreign investments registered so far, President Abdulla Yameen said in his presidential address today.

In the address delivered at the opening of the People’s Majlis’ first session of 2015, Yameen said the 24 foreign investments registered under his administration were not tourism-related.

“Under these investments, a total of MVR9.8 billion has been proposed to be invested in the Maldives during the next five years,” Yameen said over loud protests from opposition MPs calling for the release of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The pledged foreign investments represent a 70 percent increase on the previous year, Yameen added.

President Yameen’s second presidential address was delivered amidst an ongoing political crisis sparked by the arrests and prosecution of former Defence Minister Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim and former President Mohamed Nasheed on charges of terrorism.

The newly formed Maldivian Democratic Party-Jumhooree Party (MDP-JP) alliance held a massive protest march in the capital last Friday (February 27) demanding the pair’s immediate release.

During last year’s budget debate, opposition MPs expressed skepticism of the government’s forecast of US$100 million expected as acquisition fees for Special Economic Zones (SEZ) by August 2015. The opposition has also criticised the lack of significant foreign investments despite assurances by President Yameen’s administration with the passage of the SEZ Act last year.

2014

Yameen began the address by assuring MPs that the current government would protect and uphold the constitution, adding that significant efforts were made during 2014 to “strengthen the civil justice justice and criminal justice system of the Maldives”.

Legislation on civil trial procedures would be submitted to parliament this year, Yameen said.

A ‘risk management framework’ to combat drug smuggling and abuse would also implemented during 2015, he continued, and privately operated rehabilitation centres would be opened with modern facilities.

While a bill on establishing an Islamic University has been submitted to parliament, Yameen said eight new government-funded mosques would be built during the year in addition to 10 new mosques funded by Saudi Arabia.

“Seven island harbours were constructed last year. And work is underway on constructing harbours on 32 islands. Additionally, land reclamation has been completed on four islands. And while land reclamation is ongoing in three islands, coastal protection work is ongoing in three islands,” he said.

Moreover, road construction projects have been contracted for 10 islands, Yameen said.

A project awarded to the Malé Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC) to resolve flooding in the capital was nearly complete, he continued, whilst US$100 million worth of foreign loans have been secured to provide safe drinking water and establish sewerage systems in inhabited islands.

Construction of 1,089 flats in Hulhumalé have now been completed, Yameen said, and work on a further 5,000 flats would begin this year.

Reclamation of 227 hectares of land in Hulhumalé would also be completed in March, he said.

A waste management project targeting four northern atolls is meanwhile expected to be completed during the year, Yameen added.

While a fishermen’s marina was established in Felivaru last year, Yameen said three more marinas would be set up in Kooddoo, Hulhumalé, and Addu City Feydhoo.

On the education sector, Yameen said a diploma certificate has been set as the minimum qualification for teachers and a new salary structure has been put in place.

The government’s health insurance scheme ‘Aasandha’ has been expanded to cover chronic illnesses and kidney transplants, he continued, whilst a programme was launched in November to provide “super-specialist” doctor’s service to the atolls.

Legislation is currently before parliament to protect women’s rights in divorce cases, Yameen said, which would provide temporary shelter to divorced women and establish rules for equitable division of property.

Moreover, the government is formulating rules to provide easy access to healthcare and prioritise employment for persons with special needs, he said.

Loans worth MVR200 million (US$12.9 million) would be issued in the near future under the ‘Get Set’ programme for youth entrepreneurs, he continued, and a bill on youth rights would be submitted to parliament this year.

Work was underway on building 36 sports pitches in islands with populations exceeding 2,000 people, he noted.

Economy

Yameen noted that the forecast for economic growth in 2015 was 10.5 percent, up from 8.5 percent last year, adding that in 2014 inflation was kept on average at 2.4 percent and the budget deficit brought down to MVR1.6 billion (US$103.7 million).

In a bid to encourage lending, Yameen said the minimum reserve requirement for banks would be reduced this year from 20 percent at present.

The forecast for the current account deficit in 2015 is US$214.7 million or 6 percent of GDP, he added, down from US$290 million or 10% of GDP last year.

“As a result of the increase in foreign currency the Maldives earned in 2014, serious difficulties faced by the public in obtaining dollars have been resolved, and with God’s will, the dollar shortage has been alleviated,” he said.

Referring to a decline in tourist arrivals from Russia and China in December and January, Yameen said the government has launched efforts to increase arrivals from both source markets.

“Despite the Maldives being seen as a high-end tourist destination, efforts are now underway to advertise the Maldives as an affordable luxury destination, expand the Maldivian guesthouse business, and expand the tourism industry to target mid-market [tourists] as well,” he added.

Yameen also said the government was taking back uninhabited islands leased for resort development due to contractual violations.

In the wake of former coalition partner JP’s alliance with the opposition MDP, the government seized several properties leased to JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group for alleged agreement violations. Last week, the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) gave a 30-day notice to Villa Group to pay US$100 million allegedly owed as unpaid rent and fines.

In 2015, Yameen said 22 islands would be leased for resort development both under normal bidding processes and as joint ventures.

Yameen added that development in the SEZs would create new jobs and spur economic growth as the minimum threshold for investments was US$150 million.

The government was in the process of formulating a master plan for the ‘iHavan’ project, Yameen said, which was among the mega projects envisioned in the SEZs.

A basic design for a new terminal at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) has been completed, he continued, and the government was seeking interested parties to repair and resurface the airport’s runway.

Foreign policy

Yameen said the Maldives achieved significant successes during 2014. The “Maldives’ name shined in the outside world” last year, he said.

The Maldives assumed the chairs of both the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) and World Health Organisation’s (WHO) executive board, Yameen noted.

Relationships with regional neighbours and Arab-Islamic nations were “brought back to its previous heights,” he continued.

In addition to state visits to friendly nations, Yameen said various agreements that would prove beneficial to the Maldives have been signed with India, Sri Lanka, China, and Japan.

Yameen also appealed for the participation of all Maldivian citizens in celebrating the country’s 50th independence day in July.

“God willing, this year will see new progress made in fulfilling the government’s pledges to the people,” he said.


Related to this story

Tourist arrivals decline in January as Chinese arrivals slow down

Parliament approves state budget for 2015 with 60 votes in favour

PPM celebrates SEZ bill with fireworks


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Tourism industry GDP growth flatlined in 2012, reveals Finance Ministry

The tourism industry’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in 2012 declined by 0.1 percent following 15.8 percent growth in 2010 and 9.2 percent in 2011, the Finance Ministry revealed in a “Fiscal and Economic Outlook: 2012 to 2016″ statement included in the 2014 budget (Dhivehi) submitted to parliament last week.

“The main reason for this was the political turmoil the country faced in February 2012 and the decline in the number of days tourists spent in the country,” the statement explained.

“The most important statistic used to measure productivity in the tourism sector is the total number of nights tourists spend in the country. As the most number of tourists to the country now come from China, we note that the low number of nights on average that a Chinese tourist spends in the Maldives has an adverse effect on the tourism sector’s GDP.”

However, despite negative growth in 2012, the tourism industry is expected to have grown by 5.5 percent in 2013, with a 5.2 percent growth rate forecast for 2014.

The Maldivian economy is largely dependent on tourism, which accounted for 28 percent of GDP on average in the past five years, and generated 38 percent of government revenue in 2012.

Tourism growth

According to the annual tourism yearbook published by the Tourism Ministry, the average occupancy rate of all tourist establishments in 2012 was 2.5 percent below the previous year – at 70.6 percent.

The major decline in occupancy rate was recorded from the resort/hotel sector, while the occupancy rate of guest houses and safari vessels remained constant at 23.4% in 2012,” the yearbook stated.

The average duration of stay fell from 8.6 days in 2009 to 6.7 days in 2012.

Moreover, following 20.7 percent growth in tourist arrivals in 2010 and 17.6 percent in 2011, the growth rate slowed to 2.9 percent in 2012, well below the annual average of 7.7 percent growth rate from 2008 to 2012.

The yearbook revealed that the overall positive was largely a result of the “outstanding performance” of the industry prior to the transfer of power in February.

“Fiscal discipline”

The outlook statement meanwhile observed that most economic and monetary problems facing the Maldives were “directly or indirectly related to the state’s ‘fiscal discipline.'”

The Finance Ministry noted that a fiscal responsibility law ratified in May stipulates that government debt must be brought below 60 percent of GDP within the next three years.

While public debt in 2012 stood at 78.6 percent of GDP in 2012, the outlook statement revealed that it had fallen to 72.6 percent this year.

However, the figure is expected to grow to 81 percent of GDP in 2014.

A budget surplus in the coming years would be necessary to reach the legally mandated target, the finance ministry stated.

Fiscal deficit (as a percentage of GDP)

While the estimated fiscal deficit in the 2013 budget was MVR1.4 billion (US$90 million) or 3.6 percent of GDP, the deficit at the end of the  year would stand at MVR1.7 billion (US$110 million) or 4.7 percent of GDP, the statement noted.

The main reason for the higher than expected deficit spending was failure to implement proposed revenue raising measures intended to generate MVR1.8 billion (US$116.7 million) in new income.

The measures included hiking the Tourism Goods and Services Tax (T-GST) to 15 percent, raising the airport service charge to US$30, leasing 14 islands for resort development, raising tariffs on oil, introducing GST for telecom services, and “selectively” reversing import duty reductions.

In April, parliament rejected government-sponsored legislation to raise the departure tax on outgoing passengers, prompting Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad to seek parliamentary approval to divert MVR 650 million (US$42 million) allocated for infrastructure projects in the budget to cover recurrent expenditure.

The move followed a cabinet decision to delay implementation of new development projects financed out of the budget due to shortfalls in revenue.

Meanwhile, Jihad reportedly told parliament’s Finance Committee last week that no foreign bank was willing to lend to the Maldives anymore because of instability.

When the new revenue did not materialise, Jihad said the finance ministry approached foreign banks to sell treasury bills, but was turned down. Some banks refused to roll-over previously sold T-bills, he added.

As a result, Jihad said, the government was forced to overdraw from the public bank account at the Maldives Monetary Authority.

Moreover, banks only agreed to buy T-bills at an 11 percent interest rate, Jihad said, which would not be sustainable for the government.

While MVR500 million (US$32 million) a month was needed to pay salaries and allowances for state employees, government income in some months was just MVR300 million (US$19 million), Jihad noted, leaving no option but to turn to the central bank.

Deficit and debt

The total public and publicly guaranteed external debt in 2012 stood at MVR11 billion (US$713 million) and was estimated to have reached MVR11.6 billion (US$752 million) this year, the outlook statement revealed.

A total of MVR2 billion (US$129 million) from foreign loans was disbursed in 2013 for development projects, with 7.44 percent from multilateral financial institutions, 34.5 percent from bilateral partners, and 51.8 percent from commercial banks.

The MVR839 million (US$54 million) estimated as budget support in 2013 meanwhile included US$25 million from a stand-by credit facility provided by India in 2011 and a US$29.4 million loan from the Bank of Ceylon.

External and domestic debt

The external public debt is projected to increase to MVR12.5 billion (US$810.6 million) next year, the finance ministry noted.

Domestic debt in 2012 was MVR13.8 billion (US$895 million) and MVR16 billion (US$1 billion) in 2013. This figure is projected to rise by 15 percent to MVR18.5 billion (US$1.19 billion) next year.

The state’s total debt in 2013 is therefore estimated to be MVR27.7 billion (US$1.79 billion) – expected to rise to MVR31 billion (US$2 billion) in 2014.

The government spent MVR2.7 billion (US$175 million) in 2012 and MVR3.5 billion (US$227 million) in 2013 for loan repayment and interest payments to service foreign and domestic debts.

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Tourism growth slowed to less than one percent in 2012: Finance Ministry

The government’s forecast for economic growth in 2013 is 4.3 percent, following a slowdown to a projected 3.4 percent in 2012, according to an economic and fiscal outlook by the Finance Ministry introducing the state budget (Dhivehi) proposed for next year.

Tourism was especially hard hit in 2012, with growth falling from 15.8 percent in 2010 and 9.1 percent in 2011, to an expected 0.7 percent in 2012.

The original forecast for economic growth in 2012 was 5.5 percent.

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission said in a statement earlier this month that economic growth slowed to three and a half percent this year on the back of “depressed tourist arrivals earlier in the year and weak global conditions,” which have been “only partially offset by strong performance in construction and fisheries-related manufacturing.”

The IMF mission forecast “a modest recovery” for 2013 and beyond.

The Finance Ministry’s statement on the economic outlook for the next three years meanwhile explained that the Maldivian economy dipped into recession in 2009 following the global financial crisis in the previous year.

However, the economy rebounded with 7.1 percent growth in 2010 and 7 percent in 2011.

“While [real GDP] was projected to increase in 2012, the main cause of the economic slowdown compared to 2011 was the weakening of the tourism sector during the year,” the Finance Ministry stated.

While the tourism industry grew by 15.8 percent in 2010 and 9.1 percent in 2011, the industry’s growth in 2012 was expected to be 0.7 percent.

The two main reasons cited by the Finance Ministry for the anaemic growth were “the political turmoil the country faced in February” and a decline in the average number of nights tourists spend in the country “as a result of a decline in the average number of days a tourist spent in the Maldives.”

On average, tourism accounted for 28 percent of GDP during the past 10 years.

The main drivers of growth in 2012 were a booming construction industry and growth in manufacturing and fisheries.

Fisheries, manufacturing and construction

The volume of fish catch has been steadily declining for the past seven years. While approximately 185,000 tonnes of fish were caught in 2006, the number dropped to about 70,000 tonnes in 2011.

During the past five years, the value of the fisheries industry declined from MVR 489 million (US$31.7 million) to MVR 321 million (US$20.8 million) with a corresponding fall of 3.3 percent of the economy to 1.1 percent in 2012.

As a result of opening up the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the industry’s productivity was expected to rise by 9.7 percent in 2012.

However, as fishing in the Indian Ocean was not expected to improve in coming years, the Finance Ministry has forecast the real GDP of the fisheries sector to decline by 1.3 percent in 2013.

Estimated real GDP for the manufacturing industry – fisheries products, foodstuff, furniture and cement – was meanwhile MVR 998 million (US$64.7 million) in 2012, up from MVR 850 million (US$55.1 million) the previous year.

Fisheries-related products accounted for the largest share of the manufacturing industry.

Following 19 percent growth in 2011, the construction industry was expected to have grown by 16 percent in 2012.

“The main reason for the large growth of the sector in 2011 and 2012 was the development of new resorts in 2011,” the Finance Ministry observed, adding that resort development accounted for 50 percent of construction in the Maldives.

Meanwhile, in the retail and import business sector, customs statistics for the first eight months of 2012 showed that the value of goods imported (adjusted for inflation) was 22 percent higher than the same period in 2011.

The real GDP of the business sector in 2012 was an estimated MVR 875 million (US$56.7 million).

Deficit and debt

The Finance Ministry also revealed that nominal GDP in 2011 was MVR31,447 million (US$2 billion) while the estimate for 2012 was MVR34,148 million (US$2.2 billion).

Real GDP in 2011 was MVR20,461 million (US$1.3 billion). Nominal GDP per capita in 2012 was estimated to be MVR 80,260 (US$5,206) per annum.

Real GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced in a country expressed in the prices of a base year – 2003 in the Maldives.

According to the Finance Ministry, the medium term target of the government was meanwhile reducing the fiscal deficit “to pave the way to conduct social and economic programmes” and regain the confidence of international financial institutions.

While a budget deficit of 9.7 percent was forecast 2012, the Finance Ministry said the figure was expected to reach 12.6 percent of GDP by the end of the year.

“The projected deficit in the estimated budget proposed for 2013 is 6.1 percent of GDP,” the Finance Ministry stated. “In the medium term, the budget deficit can be lowered to 1.9 percent of GDP in 2015.”

The Finance Ministry proposed MVR 1.1 billion (US$71.3 million) as foreign loans and MVR 1.1 billion (US$71.3 million) as domestic finance to plug the budget deficit in 2013.

While tax revenue from T-GST, GST and import duties collected in 2012 was lower than forecast, the Finance Ministry revealed that income from Business Profit Tax (BPT) was 80 percent higher than expected.

At the end of 2012, the government would have received MVR 1.3 billion (US$84 million) as BPT while the forecast was MVR763.6 million (US$49.5 million).

Presenting the 2013 budget to parliament on Monday, Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad said revenue forecast for 2013 was MVR 12.9 billion (US$836 million), including MVR 1.8 billion (US$116 million) expected as a result of implementing proposed revenue raising measures.

However, most of the proposed measures – such as hiking T-GST and introducing GST for telecom services – would have to be approved by parliament through amendments to the relevant laws.

More than MVR 200 million (US$12.9 million) was estimated as GST receipts from telecom services in 2013.

The Finance Ministry also revealed that the ‘total external public and public guaranteed debt’ was estimated to reach MVR 13.7 billion (US$888 million) in 2012.

Of the MVR 4.1 billion (US$330 million) of the loan assistance spent in 2012, more than 50 percent was from multilateral financial institutions and 28 percent from bilateral donors.

A total of MVR 1.9 billion (US$123 million) from loan assistance has been spent for various projects in 2012 while the rest was spent for budget support.

As of September 2012, MVR 561 million (US$36.4 million) has been received as budget support – US$16 million from the Asian Development Bank and US$20 million from a standby credit facility extended by the Indian government.

Moreover, the government spent more than MVR 1 billion (US$64.8 million) in 2011 and MVR 1.1 billion (US$71.3 million) in 2012 to service foreign debts as interest and repayments.

The figure was expected to remain the same in 2013.

In addition, the government spent MVR 660.5 million (US$42.8 million) in 2011 and MVR 2 billion (US$129.7 million) in 2012 to service domestic debts.

The figure for domestic debt was expected to decline to MVR 1.1 billion (US$71.3 million) in 2013 as payment for US$ 100 million of government bonds sold to the State Bank of India in Male’ – amounting to MVR 771 million (US$50 million) as repayment for a second tranche – has been pushed back to 2014.

Similarly, repayment of three ways and means treasury bonds to the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) or central bank amounting to MVR 951 million (US$61.6 million) has also been pushed back.

Government spending on loan repayment and interest payments was expected to reach MVR 3.1 billion (US$201 million) in 2012.

Including an estimated MVR 13 billion (US$843 million) in domestic debt, the total public debt is expected to reach MVR 27 billion (US$1.7 billion) in 2012 and MVR 31 billion (US$2 billion) in 2013 – 82 percent of GDP.

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Half of Rf12.37 billion state budget to be spent on employees

The Finance Ministry has unveiled a state budget of Rf12.37 billion (US$962.6 million) for 2011 with a target of reducing the deficit to 15.3 percent of GDP in the coming year, down from 26.25 percent in 2009.

The Fiscal and Economic Outlook 2009 to 2013 published alongside the budget on the Ministry’s website this week states that the main objective of the government’s fiscal policy is to bring expenditure in line with revenue and maintain the deficit within a sustainable range.

The Finance Ministry reveals that while capital investment amounts to 21 percent of the budget, 49 percent of expenditure in 2011 will be on salaries and allowances for government employees.

“If the cost of health insurance to employees is included, half of the state budget is spent on employees,” reads the budget summary.

Foreign loan assistance along with Rf1.4 million (US$108,949) in income from privatisation and Rf1.3 million (US$101,167) expected from the sale of treasury bills was proposed to plug the budget deficit.

In November, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) delayed its third disbursement under a US$92.5 million program pending the approval by parliament of significant austerity measures in the budget.

In its Country Report for the Maldives published in June, the IMF warned that as a result of the failure to enforce pay cuts and the injection of an additional US$62.2 million in spending by parliament, “the annual deficit targets for 2010 and 2011 will be missed on current policies.”

An internal World Bank report produced for the donor conference in May identified dramatic growth in the public sector wage bill as the source of the ballooning budget deficit.

A 66 percent increase to salaries and allowances for government employees between 2006 and 2008 was “by far the highest increase in compensation over a three year period to government employees of any country in the world,” the report noted.

The deficit in 2010 is now expected to be at 16.4 percent of GDP, above forecasts of 14.8 percent in the 2010 budget.

While the economy grew by 4.8 percent in 2010 after a 2.3 percent contraction in 2009, nominal GDP, which accounts for a 5.5 percent inflation rate, grew by 12.2 percent this year.

Revenue and expenditure

Government income fell by 23 percent in 2009 in the wake of the global financial crisis, which saw tourist arrivals decline by 4 percent and revenue from import duties down by 25 percent over the previous year.

Offering resorts under development that were facing difficulties with financing an additional year to pay rent contributed to the decline in government income, resulting in a 36 percent decrease in revenue from resort rent in 2009.

While Rf6.8 billion (US$529 million) in revenue in 2010 was forecast at the end of last year, current estimates place the figure at Rf6 billion (US$467 million)  – an 11 percent  shortfall the Finance Ministry attributes to parliament’s failure to pass legislation on corporate profit taxation as well as delays in implementing a goods and services tax (GST).

Moreover, as only three out of 13 resorts expected to open in 2010 began operations this year, estimates of Rf1.7 billion (US$132 million) in revenue have been lowered to Rf1.1 billion (US$85 million).

However, income from state-owned enterprises is now expected to be higher than originally forecast at over Rf1 billion (US$77.8 million) by the end of the year.

Revenue in 2011 is projected to be Rf8.7 billion (US$677 million), a 44 percent increase from 2010 expected to be driven by the introduction on business profit taxes, GST and extension of resort leases.

Income from taxation is projected to account for 59 percent of government income in 2011, with Rf612.5 million expected from business profit taxes.

The Finance Ministry notes that delays in passing taxation legislation is “the biggest obstacle” to continued assistance from international agencies.

Main industries

The seven-year trend of decline in fisheries is expected to continue in 2011, with the industry expected to have contracted by 5.8 percent by the end of 2010.

After a 29 percent decrease in the construction industry in 2009, the industry is expected to have registered growth of 2.6 percent in 2010.

With nine new resorts under development next year, the industry is projected to grow by 9.7 percent in 2011.

A strong rebound by the tourism industry – which accounts for 27 percent of GDP – saw revenue in 2010 14 percent higher than projected in 2009.

While tourist arrivals increased by 13 percent in the first nine months of 2010 compared to the same period last year, arrivals are expected to have increased 20 percent by the end of the year.

Moreover, a 70 percent decline in occupancy in 2009 was followed by a 74 percent increase in 2010 – with 131,107 more visitors than 2009 recorded in 2010.

Nominal GDP per capita in 2010 is calculated to be at US$4,628 and is projected to climb to US$5,114 in 2011.

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