Today’s sitting of parliament was disrupted by ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MPs during minister’s question time after opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ali Azim suggested that the Tourism Ministry was widely perceived as corrupt.
In a followup question posed to Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb, MP Azim asked whether corruption at the ministry was stalling mid-market tourism development in Addu City, prompting yelling and screaming from pro-government MPs.
In the ensuing disorder, MPs sprang from their seats and acrimonious arguments broke out between pro-government and opposition MPs, forcing Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed to adjourn proceedings less than 15 minutes after they had begun.
However, unlike yesterday’s sitting – which was eventually cancelled after disruption forced a halt in the morning session – today’s sitting resumed at 11:30am and preliminary debate began on government-sponsored amendments to the Child Protection Act.
When the sitting resumed with Deputy Speaker Moosa Manik presiding, MDP MPs raised several points of order objecting to being denied the opportunity to question the minister.
As the ruling coalition had majorities on government oversight committees, MDP MP Rozaina Adam noted that the opposition party could not summon ministers for questioning at committee, leaving the 30-minute minister’s question time at sittings the only avenue to hold the executive accountable.
MDP MPs accused pro-government MPs of deliberately disrupting proceedings to prevent opposition MPs posing questions to the minister.
Deputy Speaker Moosa Manik, however, ruled that the minister’s question time had elapsed and urged MPs to allow the sitting to proceed.
Tourism in Addu City
Tourism Minister Adeeb was summoned to today’s sitting to answer a question tabled by MDP MP for Addu Maradhoo, Ibrahim Shareef, regarding plans for developing guest houses and infrastructure in the southernmost atoll.
In response, Adeeb said Addu City would have 5,000 tourist beds at the end of the current administration’s five-year term, which would ensure development of the whole atoll.
Addu City would be part of the first special economic zone (SEZ) created by the government’s flagship legislation currently before parliament, Adeeb added, which would also include Gaaf Alif, Gaaf Dhaal and Fuvahmulah.
“So when the development plan comes through [the SEZ], we see that Addu City will be the gateway for the whole [southern] region,” he said.
Adeeb argued that SEZs with tax exemptions and other incentives for investors were necessary to develop the Maldives, suggesting that policies were needed to make other regions of the country more attractive to potential investors.
Investors could not be drawn with the current rate of US$8 per square meter to lease state-owned land for tourism development, he added, noting that the area around the Equatorial Convention Centre also required foreign investment.
Investors “would surely come” if they were offered “tax breaks” for five or ten years to invest in SEZs, Adeeb suggested.
The tourism minister also declared support for the guest house tourism initiative undertaken by the opposition-controlled Addu City Council.
Development of resorts in uninhabited islands and plots of land “in the periphery” would provide sources of liquor and water sports to guests, he said.
The number of tourism beds in Addu City is currently 1,094.
Adeeb told Minivan News last month that contrary to criticism of the SEZ bill, one of the objectives of the legislation was to develop tourism outside the central atolls or the ‘seaplane zone’.
“Even you see even President Nasheed’s guest houses, it’s getting centralised in Malé because it’s more feasible here,” he explained.
“I believe that by doing the SEZ Act, we will bring the investment to these regions and this is the real decentralisation of investments.”