A business registration bill proposed by the government as part of its economic reform package is “a deceptive ploy” to “open up the country to foreigners”, warns MP Ibrahim Muttalib.
During today’s parliamentary debate, the Jumhooree Party (JP) MP argued that provisions in the legislation allowing foreign businesses to establish branches in the Maldives and requiring at least US$1 million as capital “proves that this bill was drafted to allow foreigners to easily do business in the Maldives.”
“Under this law, a person with US$1 million would be able to easily register a business in this country,” he explained. “Considering the state of the Maldivian people, there won’t be any businessman who has US$1 million at hand. [Foreign businesses] will be able to conduct wholesale business and sell day-to-day necessities.”
Muttalib added that local businesses that trade in footwear and garments “would not have US$1 million, except for a very few people.”
He urged MPs to consider the consequence of foreign businesses entering the footwear, garment and wholesale industry: “What is being done today is part of a neighbouring country’s efforts to open up this country for its citizens,” he said.
“The Indian government proposed opening up the service industry, tourism, travel agencies, construction, health industry, social security, financial industry, maritime travel, air travel and airplane repair under a SAFTA [South Asian Free Trade Association] agreement,” he claimed. “But because all our local industries opposed it the government has decided to do it under a law.”
While the bill specified businesses that could not be conducted by expatriates – such as fisheries, agriculture and selling commodities out of a private residence – all other kinds of businesses were “opened to foreigners” under the proposed law.
“Honourable Speaker, I do not want to live in this country as a third-class citizen,” he said.
Foreign businesses understood that a relatively small amount of capital was enough to “easily bribe officials” and secure investments such as uninhabited islands, Muttalib claimed.
According to the draft legislation, the purpose of the bill is to ensure that businesses, partnerships and cooperative societies operating in the Maldives are registered; specify what kind of businesses must be registered along with procedures for registration; and oblige businesses to submit information to the Registrar of Businesses.
MP Abdulla Mausoom of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) meanwhile expressed concern that allowing foreign businesses to establish branches in the Maldives could pose challenges to local industries.
Mausoom argued that the US$1 million stipulated as a minimum capital investment for foreign businesses was too low: “All around us, whether it’s India, Celyon [Sri Lanka], Singapore, Malaysia or Africa, are looking at the Maldives; [because] their countries are saturated they are ready to do business in Maldives.
“If we open up too easily like this, [foreign] businesses will pose serious challenges to our small businesses,” he said, suggesting more restrictions to protect local industries.
MP “Reeko” Moosa Manik, acting chairperson of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), noted that there were numerous unregistered businesses operating in the Maldives by foreign parties.
“In the woods in some islands, especially [Laamu Atoll], there’s even an immigration department,” he said, adding that he has learned of work visas approved for ten people under the name of one person. “There’s no particular business done by these people, in sum they’re involved in all business.”