President Abdulla Yameen inaugurated the Maldives Investment Forum at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands today with assurances to potential investors of the government’s commitment to fostering a business-friendly environment.
In his keynote address at the event, President Yameen said his administration was “cognisant of the needs of our investors and the requirements to strengthen and redefine the legal and regulatory environment governing foreign investments.”
“To address investment climate and to facilitate mega investments with attractive incentive packages, a Special Economic Zone Bill will be tabled in the parliament soon. Additionally, the Foreign Investment Act and Companies Act are being revised to cater the ever increasing needs of the modern foreign investors,” he said.
“Investment registration and facilitation has also been strengthened recently, with structuring of Invest Maldives as a one-stop shop for investment promotion, registration and facilitation.”
Over 160 companies and close to 200 representatives from 16 countries were present at the first overseas investor forum organised by the Maldives, Yameen noted, expressing gratitude for the “overwhelming support received for this forum.”
The new government has “embarked on an ambitious economic agenda to transform the economy” with the goal of becoming “a resilient, diversified high income economy in the next decade,” the president said.
He added that the government was committed to exploring “openings for increasing foreign investment flows to non-traditional sectors to lift Maldives beyond the image of a picturesque postcard.”
Yameen suggested that the success of the tourism industry over the past 40 years was due to “ingenuity, private enterprise and a liberal policy environment for foreign investments”.
The projects for which the government was seeking investors were “designed to position Maldives to take advantage of its strategic location as a hub and gateway for commerce, innovation and creativity, linking rest of the globe with South Asia,” he explained.
Briefing participants on the five mega-projects envisioned by the government, Yameen said that the Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project or iHavan “provides immense potential to capture substantive share of the trade and commercial opportunities in the South Indian Ocean and capture the trade flows crossing the seven degree channel.”
The government hoped to “engage private investors in the delivery of key pieces of infrastructure,” he said.
The other mega-projects or infrastructure development plans were concentrated in the Greater Male’ region, Yameen noted, which included the Hulhumale’ Youth City with further land reclamation and a maritime seaport project.
“With these investments, we foresee the region surrounding the Male’ City emerging as a vibrant commercial hub in the region,” he said.
The other mega-projects include the expansion of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), relocation and expansion of the central port to Thilafushi, and exploration for oil and gas.
Concluding his remarks, Yameen thanked foreign investors and senior businessmen from the Maldives for their “support and presence” at the forum, which gave the government “comfort and confidence” in its economic and trade policies.
Yameen said he hoped the forum would serve as “an avenue for enhancing understanding of the investment environment and opportunities in Maldives.”
He went on to congratulate Economic Minister Mohamed Saeed and his team for organising the forum and expressed gratitude to the key sponsors.
“Yonder lies the greener pastures,” he concluded by saying.
Yameen’s remarks were followed by presentations on the five mega-projects, a question and answer session with government ministers and speeches by Stephen Ho, President of Starwood Asia Pacific, Akhil Gupta, Chairman of Blackstone India, and William Ellwood Heinecke, CEO of Minor International.
President Yameen also launched the new Invest Maldives website at the forum this morning.
In his speech at the inauguration ceremony, Economic Development Minister Saeed revealed that the government was planning to hold a second investor forum in Shanghai, “the commercial capital of China.”
Moreover, at a press conference held at the forum, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb reportedly revealed that the government has decided to lease islands for resort development for 99 years instead of the 50-year lease period at present.
Legislation will be submitted to parliament to authorise the extension, he said, which was intended to gain investor confidence.
Meanwhile, prior to departing for Singapore yesterday, President Yameen told the press that the government was certain it would have to compensate Indian infrastructure giant GMR for the premature termination of the concession agreement to develop and manage INIA.
Earlier this month, Yameen had said that the out-of-court settlement sought by GMR was too high, and that he would now await the outcome of arbitration proceedings in Singapore, which could take up to another two months.
The US$511 million contract awarded by the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed was the single largest foreign direct investment in the Maldives’ history.