Gayoom’s call for referendum on foreign freeholds dismissed

Dismissing former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s call for a public referendum on foreign freeholds in the Maldives, vice president Ahmed Adeeb said today: “The former president has raised his personal concerns. But the president of Maldives today is President Abdulla Yameen.”

Gayoom, the leader of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and half brother to President Yameen, urged the president to seek public opinion on ratifying the constitutional amendment.

In a letter sent to President Yameen and shared with the media, Gayoom said previous governments had refrained from selling parts of Maldivian territory to prevent influence over the country’s independence, sovereignty, and resources.

This is the first time Gayoom has publicly opposed Yameen.

Addressing Gayoom’s concerns, newly appointed vice president Adeeb said: “How can we govern if we are to call referendums on every issue? We’ve only been in government for two years. We also have aims, hopes, and responsibilities. President Yameen has to be accountable and fulfill his pledges. Not everyone will agree on every step he takes for economic reform.”

People are resistant to change, but approving foreign freeholds is a change that must happen, Adeeb said at a press conference today. The decision had been difficult for President Yameen, he added.

President Yameen ratified the amendments today.

Meanwhile, the president’s office yesterday said President Yameen will not respond to any letters shared with the media before the president responds to the letter.

The unprecedented provisions will allow foreigners who invest more than US$1billion to purchase land. At least 70 percent of the project site must be reclaimed.

The constitution previously prohibited foreign ownership of any part of Maldivian territory, but allowed leasing of land for up to 99 years.

The amendments were approved within a day after they were submitted to the People’s Majlis. Parliamentary standing orders were changed beforehand to fast-track the process of passing a bill into law.

Some 70 MPs of the 85-member house voted in favor. Gayoom’s son, MP Ahmed Faris Maumoon, had voted for the amendment as well as Adeeb’s appointment as the new vice president yesterday.

Rumors had spread this week that Gayoom opposed Adeeb’s appointment. However, the PPM leader has repeatedly denied favouring a particular candidate, stating that the appointment of a deputy is the sole prerogative of the president.

Attorney General Mohamed Anil meanwhile said the president is not obliged to hold a referendum on foreign freeholds. Article 262 (b) of the constitution states the president is obliged to call referendums on changing provisions in the bill of rights or the presidential and parliamentary terms.

Ten MPs of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and nine MPs of the Jumhooree Party (JP) also voted in favour of the unprecedented changes.

MPs opposed to the move expressed concern over possible Chinese military expansion in the Maldives, and the lack of time to review the amendments.

Dismissing concerns over the establishment of military bases, Adeeb said today: “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$1billion.”

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STO cautions against panic buying as hundreds queue for petrol

The state wholesaler State Trading Organization (STO) has cautioned against panic-buying of fuel as hundreds  continue queuing up at petrol stations for a third day.

“There is absolutely no shortage. We are operating out petrol stations at normal hours, but only rationing petrol because some people are buying petrol in bulk,” an STO media official told Minivan News.

Malé’s waterfront is congested with cars, trucks and motor cycles on Boduthakurufaanu Magu where the two main fuel stations are located.

Many people in the queues said they had heard STO is running out of petrol. Today’s queues are shorter than Wednesday’s.

STO’s petrol stations – managed by subsidiary company Fuel Services Maldives – on Wednesday started rationing fuel, only providing each vehicle with five liters of petrol.

“Why else would they ration the petrol? Look at the big queue here. People would not panic so much unless there is a problem. Of course there is shortage,” said Shathir Ahmed, 21 years.

Some people said they had waited in queues for between an hour to two hours on Wednesday. The waiting time was approximately 20-30 minutes today.

STO said panic buying had been triggered by media reports of shortages.

“We appeal to the public to confirm with us if there is a shortage before stocking up,” the media official said.

Online newspaper CNM reported today that STO is suffering from a shortage because the petrol delivery ship was delayed due to bad weather, and is due to arrive on July 27.

However, several people at the queues continue to carry large bottles and tanks to stock up.

“I am collecting as much petrol as I can. I have already gone to the other two station and gotten 10 liters of petrol. If we run out, it would make life very difficult,” said a middle-aged man, back at the queues to get his 15th liter.

Additional reporting and writing by Zaheena Rasheed

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Nine hour power cut in Malé caused by damaged switch gear

The State Electricity Company (STELCO) has said that a power outage in the Galolhu ward of Malé around 1:00am last night was caused by a damaged switch gear at a distribution centre in Lily Magu.

The power cut lasted more than nine hours and followed STELCO warning of intermittent cuts in the capital after one of two main 8MW generators at the power plant suffered damage.

STELCO spokesperson Ibrahim Rauf told Minivan News that electricity services resumed around 11:00am this morning after the switch gear was replaced.

Contrary to rumours, Rauf said last night’s outage was not the result of an overload caused by LED lights placed at government buildings to mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of independence.

Rauf suggested that the damage could have been caused by heavy rainfall last night, but said that the exact cause has not been determined.

The damage to one of the main engines earlier this month was caused by “technical problems” and will take time to repair, Rauf said. The generator’s parts will have to be brought from overseas and replaced, he added.

STELCO is yet to determine the cause of the generator failure.

The government-owned electricity provider in the atolls, Fenaka Corporation, is meanwhile transporting two 2MW engines to Malé from Addu City for temporary use during the independence day celebrations.

Rauf said one of the generators was shipped out last night and STELCO “will see when it arrives” whether it could be installed ahead of Independence Day. But he expressed confidence that STELCO will be able to handle the high demand for electricity on July 26 without power cuts.

Meanwhile, in a Facebook post on Sunday, Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodiq said electricity services provided by the central power station was disrupted last week while power outages have been common in recent weeks.

The transfer of the generator to Malé is regrettable, he said, calling on the government not to “deprive citizens of such basis services.”

The government’s policy of ensuring reliable, round-the-clock electricity across the country has “failed,” Sodiq contended.

“The question is if Addu faces an electricity problem tomorrow, will an engine be brought from Greater Malé?” he asked.

Rauf meanwhile told Minivan News last week that the LED lights strung for independence day celebrations will use around 2.5 MW of electricity from the STELCO grid.

“We are very concerned and saddened because the lights may also suffer due to the power cuts,” he said.

Malé uses 46MW of electricity on average, but the amount could go up to 52MW at peak hours or on dry and humid days.

“The demand for electricity depends a lot on the weather. If we have wet cold weather then people would not use air-conditioners and electricity demand will be reduced,” he said.

It has been raining heavily in Malé this week, but July 26 is expected to be dry, according to weather forecasts.

Power cuts will last only one hour at high demand periods, and will be spread out in different areas of Malé, Rauf said.

Maldives is celebrating 50 years of independence from the British on July 26.

The government is planning grand celebrations to mark Independence Day, including a parade by the army and school brass bands, reopening of public parks with water fountains, an official function at the Usfasgandu area with more than 100 foreign dignitaries, official games at the national stadium, and a football tournament in the atolls.

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Jailed ex-defense minister brought to Malé for medical treatment

Imprisoned former defence minister Mohamed Nazim was brought to the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in Malé for a doctor’s appointment this morning.

Rumors swirled in Malé that the retired colonel’s 11 year jail-term may be commuted to house arrest, as part of ongoing negotiations between the opposition and the government.

However, Nazim’s brother Adam Azim told Minivan News that Nazim was taken back to the low-security ‘Asseyri’ jail in Himmafaushi after his consultation at 10:30 with an eye doctor.

Azim said his brother had numerous rashes and damaged skins as his cell was infested with mosquitos.

The family had submitted complaint forms to the Maldives Correctional Services (MCS), Azim said, and the jail has since been fogged.

Nazim was found guilty of weapons smuggling and sentenced to 11 years in prison in March. The former defence minister maintains he was framed by rogue police officers who planted a pistol and three bullets in his apartment during a midnight raid.

MCS media official Moosa Rameez told Minivan News that complaints submitted on behalf of inmates will only be sent to the head office if it was “a concerning issue.”

Earlier this month, Nazim’s family requested his transfer from jail to house arrest. Nazim had also appealed the 11-year sentence at the High Court, but the appeal was was stalled after the Supreme Court suddenly transferred two judges on the five-judge-panel to a newly created appellate branch in the south.

Nazim’s trial at the criminal court was widely criticised over apparent lack of due process and coincided with the terrorism trial of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed. The opposition leader was sentenced to 13 years in jail over the military detention of a judge during his tenure.

The pair’s imprisonment sparked a six-month long political crisis with daily protests.

With mounting diplomatic pressure, Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June. The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has since been engaged in talks with the government and has expressed hope that jailed politicians could be released ahead of July 26 when the Maldives marks 50 years of independence.

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Majlis approves foreign freeholds in second amendment to constitution

The parliament has amended the constitution to authorise foreign ownership of land or freeholds in the Maldives with overwhelming support of 70 votes in favour, a day after the amendments were introduced to the People’s Majlis.

Ten MPs of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and nine MPs of the Jumhooree Party (JP) also voted in favour of the unprecedented changes. Some 14 MPs voted No.

MPs opposed to the move expressed concern over possible Chinese military expansion in the Maldives, and the lack of time to review the amendments. The bill was submitted on Monday, debated and sent to committee for review at an extraordinary sitting last night, and put to a vote today.

The opposition MPs’ backing was necessary as a three-quarters majority or 64 votes was required to amend the constitution. The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) controls 48 seats in the 85-member house.

Shortly before the vote was called, former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, leader of the PPM and half-brother of President Abdulla Yameen, urged the president to seek public opinion before ratifying the amendments. This is the first time Gayoom has publicly opposed president Yameen’s actions.

The amendments will allow foreigners who invest more than US$1 billion to purchase land within the project site. At least 70 percent of the area when the project is completed must also be reclaimed land. The constitution previously prohibited foreign ownership of any part of Maldivian territory, but allowed leasing of land for up to 99 years.

New Cold War

Speaking during the final debate on the amendments today, MDP MP Eva Abdulla said that a Chinese Yuan class 335 submarine passed through Maldivian waters and docked at the Karachi port on May 22, adding that Indian media called it “China’s deadliest attack submarine.”

Maldivian foreign and domestic policies should be based on ensuring Indian Ocean regional security as “Maldives is not in the South China Sea,” she said.

The Maldives is “a front line state” in the new Cold War and should not be a catalyst for conflict, the MP for Galolhu North added.

The MDP as a “centre-right party” supports free market policies and the principle of private land ownership, but could not support “selling land for China to build military bases” in the Maldives.

Eva said the MDP could support foreign ownership of land in the Maldives under a more transparent government and independent judiciary.

PPM MP Ali Arif conceded that the Maldives as a small nation is always vulnerable to influence from powerful nations. He said the committee addressed the concerns over sovereignty during its review process and added a clause to the bill stating that the Maldivian state will exercise complete authority over the territory designated for projects.

He added that 80 or 90 percent of the Maldives’ 112 luxury resorts are operated by foreign businesses and multinational hotel chains have invested millions of dollars in the lucrative tourism industry.

Majority leader Ahmed Nihan, who had submitted the bill, meanwhile assured the public that the ruling party would not compromise Islam or Maldivian traditions and sovereignty. He stressed that the amendments only apply to newly reclaimed land and that the government was not planning to sell existing natural islands or reclaimed land.

No public debate

Adhaalath Party MP Anara Naeem said she had proposed amending the bill to allow lease of Maldivian territory for up to 150 years, but the parliament secretariat did not accept her amendment as it was submitted after 12pm.

Anara said a single day was too short a period to approve such changes to the constitution without consulting stakeholders or experts.

Gayoom raised the same issue in a letter sent to President Yameen and shared with the media by the former president’s office. He urged his brother to hold a public referendum on the issue, noting the amendments were proposed without public debate.

Gayoom also stated that previous governments did not sell any part of Maldivian territory to prevent foreign influence over the country’s independence, sovereignty, and resources.

MDP MP Ahmed ‘ADK’ Nashid also expressed concern with passing the amendments without a debate among the public or an assessment of the pros and cons of the proposed changes.

Despite the economic benefits of attracting foreign investors, Nashid warned that the amendments could pose dangers to Maldivian sovereignty with foreign powers encouraging secessionist movements in a situation similar to Crimea breaking away from the Ukraine.

MPs Eva, Nashid, and Anara were among those who cast dissenting votes along with MDP MPs Rozaina Adam, Mohamed Rasheed Hussain, Mohamed Falah, Mohamed Aslam, Mariya Ahmed Didi, Imthiyaz Fahmy, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, and Fayyaz Ismail.

JP MPs Ali Hussain, Abdulla Riyaz, and Independent MP Ahmed Mahloof also voted against the proposed changes.

MDP MPs Abdul Bari Abdulla, Abdul Ghafoor Moosa, Abdulla Shahid, Ahmed Marzooq, Ali Azim, Ali Nizar, Ibrahim Shareef, Ibrahim Naseer, Mohamed Nazim, and Mohamed Abdul Kareem voted in favour of the bill along with nine JP MPs and Independent MP Hussain Areef.

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Amendments raise fear of Chinese military expansion in the Maldives

Proposed constitutional amendments to allow foreign ownership of land in the Maldives will allow China to establish military facilities in the Maldives and destabilise the Indian Ocean, a source within the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has said.

The amendments will allow foreigners who invest in a project worth more than US$1 billion to purchase land, meaning it can facilitate “foreign non-commercial logistical facilities” on such plots.

Since the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) holds a majority in the parliament, the government can allow and regulate military activity on such land through other legislation, the source who wished to remain anonymous said.

In a more carefully worded statement shared with the media, the MDP said: “Being a center right political party, the Maldivian Democratic Party in principle believes in free ownership of land and property. Nevertheless, the amendments can facilitate foreign non-commercial logistical installations in the Maldives.

“The MDP Parliamentary Group Leader Hon. Ibrahim Mohamed Solih speaking on the bill on Tuesday night reiterated MDP’s call to guarantee national security, safeguard stability, peace and security of the Indian Ocean. This therefore forms the MDP position.”

The amendment will be put up for a vote today.

A three-fourths majority or 64 votes is required to amend the constitution. A total of 62 MPs voted to accept the amendment at midnight on Tuesday at an extraordinary parliamentary session. Parliamentary standing orders have been amended to fast-track the process of passing a bill into law.

PPM MPs were not responding to calls at the time of going to press.

Majority leader Ahmed Nihan said last night that the amendments will not affect the Maldives’ sovereignty, while MP Ali Arif said no land will be given for military purposes. The ruling party says the amendment would increase economic growth and facilitate sustainable investment in the Maldives.

President Abdulla Yameen has declared a foreign policy shift to the East last year. Chinese president Xi Jingping was the first head of state since Yameen assumed power and the first Chinese president to visit the Maldives.

During the visit, the Maldives agreed to become a partner in China’s maritime silk route, a trade route from China’s Fujian province to the Mediterranean Sea via South Asia and East Africa.

China is providing grant and loan assistance to the Maldives to build a bridge between the capital and the airport. Chinese companies are involved in airport development and have now been handed islands for resort development.

In January, the MDP alleged the government was making plans to award parts of south central Laamu Atoll to China for a military base. The Chinese embassy promptly dismissed the allegations as “completely false.”

“It is a common knowledge that China pursues a national defense policy that is defensive in nature,” read the press release. “China does not maintain any military in any foreign country.”

Several independent and opposition MPs voted against the amendment last night, contending it will allow the government to sell the Maldives off as it gives unprecedented access to foreign parties to operate in the Maldives, especially with the enactment of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act last year.

The SEZ Act gives investors and developers major tax breaks and exemption from regulatory provisions in financial, environmental and labour laws.

At the time, 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.

The government and the MDP are currently negotiating for the release of opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed and other jailed politicians.

The opposition has backed several government proposals including the impeachment of vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed on Tuesday and a constitutional amendment setting new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency.

President Abdulla Yameen has now appointed the influential tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb as the new vice president. His nomination will be approved by the People’s Majlis today.

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Majlis votes overwhelming ‘Yes’ to Adeeb

Ahmed Adeeb, the influential tourism minister, has been sworn in as the Maldives’ new vice president at a ceremony at the President’s Office this afternoon. The People’s Majlis has approved his nomination with 70 votes in favor.

Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed administered the oath of office before the Majlis vote.

The new vice president thanked President Abdulla Yameen for his nomination.

He told local media he will only take half of his MVR75,000 salary and will reside at his home instead of the official vice presidential palace.

Adeeb will continue to handle the cabinet portfolio on tourism.

The seven No votes include opposition MPs Eva Abdulla, Mariya Ahmed Didi, Imthiyaz Mohamed Falah, Mohamed Aslam, Rozaina Adam, and Ahmed Mahloof.

The minority leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, MDP MP Fayyaz Ismail, Jumhooree Party’s Ali Hussein, and Adhaalath Party’s Anara Naeem abstained from the vote.

Adeeb’s appointment comes after the parliament impeached Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel with multi-party support yesterday.

The impeachment process was initiated by the PPM-MDA coalition. Pro-government MPs accused Jameel of incompetence, dereliction of duty, links with the opposition, failure to defend the government, and excessive expenditure from the state budget.

Last week, the parliament also approved changes to its standing orders to fast-track the process of voting on a president’s nominee to fill a vacancy in the vice president’s post. The rules were changed to allow the speaker to call for a vote on the day a committee’s evaluation report is sent to MPs. Items are normally tabled in the agenda three days after the committee report is sent out.

In late June, the parliament approved a first amendment to the constitution to set age limits of 30 to 65 years for the presidency and vice presidency. Adeeb is 33 years old and was previously ineligible for the post as the constitution required candidates to be above 35 years of age.

Opposition MPs’ backing for the amendment was widely perceived as part of a deal in exchange for transferring imprisoned former President Mohamed Nasheed to house arrest.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is currently engaged in talks with the government and has expressed hope that the opposition leader could be freed ahead of July 26 when the Maldives marks 50 years of independence.

Adeeb’s supporters meanwhile launched a social media campaign backing Adeeb for the vice presidency whilst rumours spread about former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s opposition to appointing the tourism minister to the post.

However, the PPM leader has repeatedly denied favouring a particular candidate, stating that the appointment of a deputy is the sole prerogative of the president.

Minivan News understands that senior members of the ruling party were split over Adeeb’s appointment. Several PPM MPs had, however, publicly declared that Adeeb would be sworn in before July 26.

Shortly after the constitutional amendment lowering the age limit for the vice presidency was passed, the tourism minister reprimanded Gayoom’s son, newly elected MP Ahmed Faris, for his absence from the vote.

Accusing Faris of letting Yameen down, Adeeb said in a text message in English: “You cannot differentiate youth or any segment with educated, non educated, poor and rich, beyfulhu [aristocrat] or non beyfulhu [non-aristocrat] etc.”

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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.

Coerced

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. 

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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. 

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