Parliament has narrowly voted to accept a bill that would potentially ban pork and alcohol completely from the Maldives, requiring resorts to cease serving haram (prohibited) products to foreign tourists.
The proposed amendment to the Contraband Act was initially submitted by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Nazim Rashad, who after the vote praised MPs’ “willingness to serve Islam”.
When presenting the bill, Nazim argued that the import of these products violated article 10(b) of the constitution which states that “no law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.”
“We often hear rumours that people have alcohol at home in their fridge, available any time. We’ve heard that kids take alcohol to school to drink during their break. The issue is more serious than we think, it should not be ignored,” Nazim told the media, presenting the bill last week.
The vote was level with 24 MPs voting to accept the bill, and 24 to reject it, while 11 MPs abstained. Speaker Abdulla Shahid cast the deciding vote, in favour of accepting the bill.
The bill will now be sent to Parliament’s National Security Committee, which will assess it and potentially forward the proposal to parliament for a final vote on the matter.
Regulation permitting the sale of pork and alcohol in tourism establishments was passed by the Ministry of Economic Development in 1975. Parliament did not reject the regulation on the sale of pork and alcohol in 2009 following the introduction of the new constitution, thus allowing it to stand by default.
However the 2008 constitution explicitly states that no regulations against a tenet of Islam may be passed in the Maldives, in apparent contradiction of those laws allowing the import and sale of haram commodities.
After being asked in January for a consultative opinion over whether the Maldives could import pork and alcohol without violating the nation’s Shariah-based constitution, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the case on the grounds that the matter did not need to be addressed at the Supreme Court level.
Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mariya Ahmed Didi this week told Minivan News that the issue of alcohol needed to be “clarified” and “addressed”.
“If this is a religious issue, that is if Islam bans sale of alcohol, it should not be sold in the Maldives as we are a 100 percent Islamic nation. If the sale is allowed, then the question to ask is whether alcohol is needed for the tourist trade to flourish,” she said.
She added that if alcohol proved to be a vital element in the tourism sector, then the sale of alcohol should be allowed for “registered places” to which a permit is given to accommodate tourists including resorts, safari boats and guest houses.
“If the objection to the sale of alcohol is on [religious] grounds, it should not be sold in places where Maldivians reside. But Maldivians do reside on resorts as employees. If we deny Maldivians the employment opportunities in the resorts, then the income from resorts will be restricted to those who own resorts, that would give way to increase in expatriate workers and foreign currency drainage,” she explained.
Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Abdulla Abdul Raheem – who voted in favour of accepting the bill – was reported by Sun as stating that as alcohol was banned under Islam, it was illegal in the Maldives to create laws and regulations concerning it.
The JP is headed by local resort tycoon, Gasim Ibrahim, who owns the Villa Hotels chain. According to customs records for 2011, those properties – including the Royal, Paradise, Sun, and Holiday Island resorts, in 2011 imported approximately 121,234.51 litres of beer, 2048 litres of whiskey, 3684 litres of vodka and 219.96 kilograms of pork sausages.
Gasim abstained on the vote, as did fellow resort owners Abdulla Jabir and Ahmed Hamza. Resort owner ‘Sun’ Shiyam voted in favour of accepting the bill.
Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali voted against accepting the bill, as did Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed and Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) Parliamentary Group Leader, Abdulla Yameen.