Guesthouse island project relocated

The government has changed its guesthouse island project from Laamu Atoll Thumburi to Baresdhoo in the same atoll and renamed it the ‘Laamu Integrated Project.’

President Abdulla Yameen launched the project in June 2014 for the development of a 2,100-bed resort in Thumburi operated by multiple local small and medium-sized enterprises, describing the concept as  “communal tourism development” or “vertical tourism.”

Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) managing director Abdulla Ziyath told the press yesterday that Baresdhoo was chosen as the new location as it is 10 minutes by speedboat from Laamu Gan and significantly larger than Thumburi.

“As the island is 72 hectares, when we consider the project feasibility, more plots can be [sold],” he reportedly said.

Ziyath said 70 percent of land allocated for hotel development has been sold and that the 3,000-bed ‘integrated resort’ will open for business in 2017.

The 17-hectare Thumburi island and the linked 19-hectare Hulhiyandhoo island will be developed in latter phases, he said.

Baresdhoo was previously leased to Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group for agriculture. However, the agriculture ministry decided not to renew the lease when it expired in July 2014, saying Villa had not done any farming on the island.

Ziyath told the state broadcaster in March that the decision to change the island was made following consultations with potential investors.

Construction of a jetty and harbour on Baresdhoo would begin in about a month and conclude before the end of the year, Ziyath had said.

“So overall the project’s viability and progress is very good. There was a slight delay over changing the island,” he said.

The MMPRC was tasked with overseeing the project and engaging with investors. The corporation had said that the guesthouse island project is designed to “responsibly diversify the tourism product of the Maldives” without damaging the country’s image as an upmarket, high-end destination.

The project was also pledged in the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ manifesto with the aim of involving small and medium businesses in the lucrative tourism industry without encroaching on inhabited islands.

Following the introduction of guesthouses in inhabited islands in 2009, mid-market tourism grew substantially with the availability of a low cost accommodation option.

The number of registered establishments rose from 25 at the end of 2010 to more than 170 last year. However, despite the tripling of guesthouse bed capacity, the industry continues to be dominated by the ‘one island-one resort’ model.

The MMPRC meanwhile signed an agreement yesterday with Heavy Force to construct a causeway and harbour on Baresdhoo and contracted the state-owned Island Aviation company to provide transportation services.

Baresdhoo will be developed under phase one of the project, Ziyath said, and the MMPRC will invite bids for “support services” such as a diving centre, water sports facilities, and a shopping centre in a month.

Island Aviation managing director Abdul Haris said the company expects a twofold increase in the number of passengers to Laamu atoll when the project is complete and would facilitate seaplane operations to the island.


Brother of official implicated in MMPRC corruption scandal nominated for Auditor General

President Abdulla Yameen has nominated a family member of a state official implicated in corrupt transactions worth US$6million for the post of Auditor General (AG).

Nominee Hassan Ziyath is the brother of Managing Director of state-owned Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), Abdullah Ziyath.

In a damning audit report on October 29, incumbent AG Niyaz Ibrahim accused Abdulla Ziyath of illegally pushing through a US$6million loan from state funds to two private companies.

The report was released a day after ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MPs brought a surprise amendment to the Audit Act requiring the reappointment of Auditor General within 30 days. The President’s Office opened up applications for the position immediately.

Niyaz has only served three years of his seven-year term.

The PPM holds a majority in parliament with 43 of the total 85 MPs, while coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance controls five seats.

Hassan Ziyath is currently the chairman of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC). He contested in March’s parliamentary elections for Malé’s Hulhuhenveiru constituency on the PPM ticket.

The MMPRC audit also implicated Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb of involvement in the corrupt transactions and said the loans were issued to companies owned by Adeeb’s family members.

Adeeb has condemned the report as politically motivated, and accused Niyaz of colluding with MP and former Deputy Speaker of Majlis Ahmed Nazim to discredit him after he refused to back Nazim for the Majlis Speakership in May.

In an interview with newspaper Haveeru, Niyaz dismissed Adeeb’s claims and accused Adeeb of threats and harassment following the Auditor General’s decision to look into the case.

The independent AG position was created in 2008 and vested with the power to audit all state offices, institutions funded by the state, and companies in which the state owns shares.

The auditor general’s position receives a salary equivalent to the president’s salary, currently MVR100,000.

The country’s first independent Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem was sacked by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s former party Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) in 2010 for allegedly using state funds to buy a tie and visit Baa Atoll Thulhadhoo Island. Gayoom currently heads the PPM.

During the multiparty elections of 2008, Naeem had published several audit reports revealing high levels of corruption within Gayoom’s government.