The Ministry of Tourism on has issued notices to five resorts warning that their lease agreements could potentially be terminated if the rent owed to the state is not paid.
Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adheeb told local newspaper Haveeru that rents paid by resorts constituted a large portion of national income, and said that only a few of the country’s 104 resorts were paying rent inconsistently.
This inconsistency, Adheeb said, was reflected in the national income and that therefore his ministry was giving these resorts one month to pay their dues or face being shut down by the government.
Zitahli Resorts and Spa Kuda-Funafaru, Kudarah Island resort and Alidhoo Island resort – owned by Yacht Tours Maldives and J Hotels and Resorts – both companies owned by government-aligned Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Abdulla Jabir, were also issued notices.
Jabir – the deputy leader of the JP – this week turned on the government following his arrest last week while on the inhabited island of Hodaidhoo, along with another fellow MP and senior opposition politicians.
The other arrestees were MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor – also the party’s international spokesperson – along with former SAARC Secretary General and Special Envoy to the former President, Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, former Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair and his wife Mariyam Faiz.
Police claimed they found large amounts of “suspected” drugs and alcohol upon searching the island with a court warrant. The arrests were made “based on information received by police intelligence,” police said.
The Tourism Minister meanwhile told Haveeru that the government could “immediately terminate” the lease agreements and take back the resorts if rents and fines for non-payment of rent were not paid, but had instead chose to be lenient on the issue and give the resorts 30 days to pay up.
Adhee added that the government would terminate the lease agreements and reclaim the islands if the rent was not paid during the time period.
“This decision is to those resorts which are currently under operation. Not those that are already being developed. Now we have sent the final notice and the resort owners should decide on paying the rent,” he said.
The Minister claimed the government would terminate the contracts in such a way as to avoid affecting tourists currently staying in the resorts, or the employees working there.
“Politically motivated” – MP Abdulla Jabir
Speaking to Minivan News, Jabir blasted the government claiming the motive behind sudden issuance of the “warning notice” was “purely political” and intending to influence the re-submitted amendment to parliamentary regulations to conduct impeachment votes via secret ballot.
Three days ago a similar amendment initiated by the opposition MDP MP Ahmed Shifaz was defeated in the parliament floor by 34 to 39 votes. However, MDP MP Ibrahim ‘Bondey’ Rasheed has again re-submitted the amendment to Parliament’s Privileges Committee.
“I have only heard about this from the media. I have tried contacting the tourism minister since last night but he had been ignoring my calls. Because of the interview he gave to media, now tour operators are cancelling bookings and the staff are not satisfied to continue working in the resorts,” Jabir said.
Jabir claimed that he had paid a settlement of US$2 million in rent during former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration, which was “agreed as a settlement” for the rent of two islands.
However, Jabir claimed that the current government had chosen not to honour the agreement which resulted in continued addition of fines for non-payment of rent, that now stood at about US$4 million.
“I know following the recent political developments and due to my new opposition to the current government, [President] Waheed has now ordered the tourism minister to issue the repayment notice so to threaten his political opponents,” declared Jabir.
“This is highly politically motivated. He knew I was the one behind the submitting of the amendment to parliamentary regulations to make the impeachment vote a secret ballot. It was I who in the first place drafted that amendment and gave it to MP Ahmed Amir. They know this but I will still continue to work for that,” he explained.
“Will do everything to inform international investors what the President is doing” : Jabir
Jabir said he had known for a long time that President Waheed had “the desire to operate a resort” and desperately wanted “to give a resort or two to one of his children”.
“Now I have decided to hand over the resorts, and I am trying to do the formalities in front of the media. But how can I even do that if tourism minister does not have the courage to answer his mobile phone?”
The JP MP questioned why it was that resorts belonging to opposition politicians were being “targeted” while there were many other resorts which had failed to pay rent.
“What I am saying is very clear. If you want to take the resorts, fine take them. But I promise that I will make sure that Waheed’s ‘scorched-earth politics’ and his failed economic policy is informed to all international investors. Who would really want to invest in a country ruled by such a government?” Jabir questioned.
“Even in the US where the economy is failing, the government takes steps to help businesses. But here it is the other way around. Owners and young businessmen are being beaten and forced to eat sand,” he said, referring to his earlier allegations of torture during the arrest in Hodaidhoo island.
Jabir stated that he was planning to sue the government for the “damages” he incurred following the decision.
“This notice has already costed me in millions,” he claimed.
MDP MP Ahmed Hamza was not available for a comment at time of press.
Statistics from the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) suggest that more than eight resorts are failing to pay rent, and the government is owed US$25 million.
According to Haveeru, Alidhoo Island Resort – operated by Yacht Tours Maldives owes the government a sum of US$4.7 million while Medhufushi Island Resort operated by J Hotels and Resorts owes the government US$ 5.9 million.
Meanwhile Filitheyo Island Resort owes the government a sum of US$ 5.2 million as both land rent and lease while Zithali Resorts and Spa Kuda-Funafaru owes US$395,859.