Parliament began debate today on amendments proposed to the Land Act of 2002 to allow citizens to use land as a commercial asset.
Presenting the draft legislation on behalf of the government, MP Abdul Gafoor Moosa explained that the amendments would allow land to be bought and sold as privately-owned assets.
“In our long history, land was used as a gift given by the government to its supporters,” he said. “After [years of] distributing land like this in Male’, the new generation gets a plot the size of a bed. There is nothing left for tomorrow’s generation.”
The amendments would create a Land and Survey Authority to draw territorial charts, conduct surveys of land use and valuate property, he added, as well as a Registrar of Land to maintain a national registry.
“So those who want to mortgage land will know the value of their land and be able to mortgage it easily,” he said, adding that the new authority would be part of the civil service and answerable to a cabinet minister.
The proposed law would introduce procedures for individuals and married couples to register state-owned land as personal property, Gafoor continued, which would provide “necessary security and protection for everyone.”
The government would also be legally empowered to seize plots that remain unused for five years, said Gafoor, while the current 15 percent tax on estate sales would be abolished.
Speaking in his weekly radio address on June 10, President Mohamed Nasheed argued that the proposed reforms to land transactions would increase the country’s wealth.
The government’s aim was to transfer land titles traditionally held by the state to individuals, said Nasheed, who would be encouraged to use the land as capital to increase their wealth.
Together with the amendments to the Land Act, the government has also proposed a bill on condominiums to create a legal framework to allow individual ownership of real estate or apartments in a single building. An additional bill on mortgages would meanwhile allow apartments to be mortgaged at the bank to obtain loans.
In the parliamentary debate today, MP Ibrahim Rasheed of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) observed that 80 percent of land in the Maldives was state-owned.
Rasheed urged MPs to pass the bill into as quickly as possible “to ensure for the Maldivian people their birth-rights.”
MPs of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), People’s Alliance (PA), Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) as well as some Independents however argued that some provisions in the law conflicted with the Decentralisation Act by divesting authority from local councils.
DQP MP Riyaz Rasheed said that articles 86 through 89 of the bill were intended to “steal all the powers [afforded to local councils] in the Decentralisation Act.”
“What they’re trying to do is gift all the land in the country to these MDP people and their supporters,” he said.
Riyaz alleged that the government recently awarded a plot in Male’ to India for a new embassy building in exchange for “buying a few MPs for MDP.”
“I will dare to say this, what can you do about it, you can’t do anything,” he said. “The Maldives will soon become a small province of India, a small town. Our own identity is being taken from us and the whole country is going to become enslaved to them.”
The new administration has “sold all our assets” to India, he added.
PA MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur meanwhile concurred that the law would disenfranchise councils, recommending that experts be consulted during committee stage before the law is passed.
DRP MP Hassan Latheef suggested that the law should stipulate that councils must be consulted by the Land and Survey Authority before making decisions on land use in the islands.