Tourist facilities to be developed on local picnic island Kuda Bandos

Additional reporting by Neil Merrett

Tourist facilities are to be developed on Kuda Bandos, the only picnic island located near Male’ accessible to for Maldivians, following the island’s owner Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen submitting the sole bid for its development.

Vice President Waheed Deen, also the owner of Bandos Island Resort, previously leased Kuda Bandos for US$6000 annually. However, the after the island was opened for bids on November 16, 2012  Deen submitted the sole proposal and won Kuda Bandos again for a rent of US $180,582, according to local media.

A joint venture company will be established with the Government of Maldives to develop the island, including “certain tourist facilities”, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb told local media.

The new facilities will “modernise the island” and increase government revenue, according to Adheeb.

“We don’t want to renew the agreement every two years. Now it is to be handed over through the Tourism Act and the rent will be paid just the same as the resorts,” said Adheeb.

Currently Maldivians have exclusive access to Kuda Bandos, which is located next to Bandos Island Resort, on Fridays, Saturdays and public holidays, when local families are able to travel to the picnic island for a day of relaxation on the beach.

Adheeb claimed that even after Kuda Bandos is developed Maldivians will have full, unrestricted access to the picnic island.

“After development, safari boats can go there with tourists. It will be developed so that everyone will have the opportunity,” said Adheeb. “The tourist facilities will be established to make it easier for the tourists who visit.”

Maldivian picnic island access

Despite Adheeb’s claims that Maldivians will have “unrestricted access” to Kuda Bandos, the former Secretary General of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim, believes that developing the picnic island for foreign tourists will still limit locals’ ability to enjoy the island.

“There are less places for Maldivians to go. The problem would be solved if Mr Deen created a small island in front of Kuda Bandos [for locals]. It’s not ideal but it should serve the purpose,” Ibrahim told Minivan News today (July 18).

Whether Maldivians will have unfettered access to the sole remaining picnic island near Male’ once it is developed remains to be seen, Ibrahim does not think Maldivians enjoying the island together with tourists should be an issue.

Specifically, safari boats coming to Kuda Bandos with alcohol or foreigners sunbathing in bikinis “is a grey area”, according to Ibrahim.

“It is up to a person to decide what he wants to do or not, I don’t understand why this would be a problem,” he said.

“The question of [drinking] alcohol is not a problem, the issue doesn’t arise, because Maldivians as Muslims don’t drink,” he continued.

“[And] why would there be a problem with foreigners sunbathing in bikinis, if a lot of Maldivians are working on and visiting resorts [every] day?” he asked.

“It happens on Bandos [Island Resort] or any other resort for that matter,” he added. “As it is there is nothing to prevent Maldivians from going to resorts or accessing their facilities.”

Picnic island development

A new tourism regulation entitled the “Procedure to Follow Where the Government Undertakes Joint Venture Investment in Islands or Land”, allows a company with at least a 10 percent share held by the state to develop a resort from land set aside for tourism use, such as a picnic island like Kuda Bandos.

Land used for water sports or diving would also be included once the lease for the area is acquired by a joint venture company.

Published in the Government Gazette Volume 42, number 17 – dated January 28, 2013 – the regulation requires any joint venture partner working with the state on a tourism projects to have a minimum financial worth of US$300 million and make a minimum initial capital investment of at least US$100 million.

Tourism Minister Adheeb told Minivan News in April that the regulations applied to land such picnic islands that were effectively being used “almost as a resort”, such as areas licensed to serve alcohol to tourists, something not allowed on islands designated as “inhabited”.

“The only difference [to these islands] is that tourists cannot sleep there for the night,” he said. “Now they can stay there the night, but [operators] have to pay land rent. It is to stop the concept from being abused.”

However, an island owner involved in the country’s burgeoning mid-market holiday sector has slammed new regulations imposing financial restrictions on tourism joint venture projects with the government, claiming the legislation outright excludes small and medium-scale investors.

These recently implemented amendments to the Tourism Act served to “shut the door” on small and medium-sized investors, alleged the island owner, speaking to Minivan News on condition of anonymity.

“The real issue here would be that only those with very high net worth can be venture partners with government. Very, very few tycoons are in that wealth bracket,” the source said.

“[Former President] Nasheed’s government tried to be inclusive in offering business opportunities. This regulation is exclusive and shuts the door for medium to small-size investors to partner with the government,” the source added.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture has announced a public tender to lease several other islands across the country for development as resort properties.

Through the tender, applicants will bid for a 50 year lease to develop one of several islands including, Kunnamala in Noonu Atoll, Kudafushi and Fasmendhoo in Raa Atoll, Vanabadhi and Kani in Thaa Atoll, Dhigudhoo in Gaafu Alifu, and Ismehela Hera in Seenu Atoll.

Additionally, seven parties have expressed interest to develop tourist resorts on the islands of Madifushi in Meemu Atoll, Keradhdhoo in Gaafu Alifu Atoll, and Ismehela Hera in Seenu Atoll.

While Ismehela Hera was also included as one of the three islands the Tourism Ministry invited bids for in April, the ministry did not clarify why the island was listed twice, according to local media.

Bidding documents will be made available to Maldivian nationals for a non-refundable payment of MVR 2000 (US$130) or US$300 for foreign nationals, until July 28.

All bids must then be submitted before 1:00pm on August 1, 2013 to the ministry, where they will be opened at a ceremony held later the same day.

Former MATI Secretary General Ibrahim said the process for tenders was “pretty much standard” for obtaining an island lease.

“The investment climate is better than a year ago and source markets are improving,” said Ibrahim.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb was not responding to calls at time of press.

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Political instability is key concern at Maldives renewable energy investment conference

Participants attending this week’s Maldives International Renewable Energy Investors Conference consider the event a “good beginning”, but claimed political instability was presently hampering foreign investors’ confidence in the sector.

The two day event, which concluded yesterday (June 17), aimed to facilitate long-term partnerships between international investors, project developers, energy companies and utilities groups in order to enable successful renewable energy projects throughout the Maldives.

The Ministry of Environment and Energy hosted conference at Bandos Island Resort and Spa in an effort to boost investor confidence and attract renewable energy financing.

Although Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela noted that the conference was successful, she also urged participants to “reflect on our mutual needs” and emphasised that investments will be “protected, facilitated, and supported by the government” during her concluding speech yesterday.

“Your need to promote your [renewable energy] products and our need to reduce energy costs – that of course is a huge issue as was mentioned here so many times – and also of course to combat climate change,” said Shakeela.

“We currently rely extensively on imported fossil fuels, as we have heard here over and over and over again these last few days. Yet paradoxically, many islands have ample but underutilized renewable energy resource potential,” she continued.

“The Ministry of Finance and Treasury is working to create an enabling environment for investments in general, which I believe is a concern of a lot of investors,” she added.

Meanwhile, Maldives-based representatives from the World Bank (WB) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) present at the conference pledged their continued support in an effort to attract renewable energy investors.

ADB Director Mr Yongping Zhai pledged to “go as far as it costs” to transform Maldives into a renewable energy dependent country, as opposed to oil dependent, according to the Environment Ministry.

However, he noted that although the Maldives has the commitment, market potential, resources, and willing investors for renewable energy, there is a “missing link to put these pieces together”.

“In theory things should work, but why things are not working so far is [the lack of] the right business model,” said Zhai. “That’s the purpose of this conference and of the ADB’s work.”

The WB considered the conference to be a “good initial first information gathering” event for facilitating renewable energy investments and emphasized that it was working very closely with the Maldives government to develop the energy sector and national financial institutions, said WB Senior Energy Specialist Abdulaziz Faghi.

In an effort to boost investor confidence, the Environment Ministry emphasised the WB would guarantee any investments made in the Maldives.

“One of the issues facing the private sector investing in any sector is the payment guarantee and their concern with the return on investment,” State Minister for Environment and Energy Abdul Matheen Mohamed told Minivan News yesterday.

He explained that the government of Maldives has allocated US$5 million from the International Development Association (IDA) financing though the World Bank, which will be leveraged up to US$ 25 million.

“So basically the World Bank will be issuing a guarantee for this amount to give guarantees to the investors investing [funds] under the scaling-up renewable energy program (SREP) investment plan,” said Matheen.

He noted that conference participants concerns have “been resolved though the guarantee facilities introduced by the World Bank”.

Foreign investors lacking

Following the conference yesterday, Renewable Energy Maldives Managing Director Dr Ibrahim Nashid told Minivan News that he believed banks and foreign investors crucial to revitalising the national energy “didn’t turn up” at the event.

“The main idea was to bring investors here, but I don’t think that has happened,” said Nashid.

He explained that while Maldives-based institutional representatives from the WB, ADB, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and various other Maldivian institutions attended the conference, individuals with authority to authorize lending and/or donor funds were not present.

“Basically there wasn’t any financial institution that could give the finance or lend the money,” said Nashid. “No international banks came and what is very noticeable there wasn’t Indian investors. Not a single Indian company was represented.”

“ADB was saying they have earmarked funds for the Maldives, but their idea was also to leverage that with some other lending institution and that was not there,” he added.

Nashid noted that none of the Maldivian banks were present at the conference.

“The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) was there, but not the Islamic Bank in Male’, even the Bank of Maldives didn’t attend,” said Nashid.

“It shows the confidence that everybody has, [which is] the reason the World Bank is talking about giving a bank guarantee,” he continued.

Although Minister Shakeela was asked many times about what the government would do to guarantee investments “she skirted the question saying the ADB and WB is giving the guarantee,” according to Nashid.

“That was not the issue, the issue is what happens to our investments,” he said. “The GMR case is very very open and obvious to everyone. The issue of political instability was very much skirted, [but] everybody knew.”

Nashid claimed that most conference participants who discussed renewable energy investments said a decision would not happen until after the presidential election scheduled for September.

“We need political stability here, without political stability I don’t think any project is going to take off,” said Nashid.

“We can do the preparation of paperwork, etc. but money will not be put on the table. That’s the message we get from abroad,” he added.

These sentiments were echoed by conference participants representing various private sector businesses.

“It was a good start, but this is really just a beginning. There were not very many investors present,” an infrastructure company representative told Minivan News on condition of anonymity.

“The three things investors are looking for are credibility, stability, and return on the investment,” a telecommunications company representative told Minivan News on condition of anonymity.

The source explained that political instability was the main concern preventing investors from committing to renewable energy development. He also agreed with another conference participant’s observation that political instability in the Maldives was the ‘elephant in the room’ at the event.

“There were very few investors present, which is not surprising. No one is going to be eager to invest [in developing renewable energy] until after elections,” he added.

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MNDF divers retrieve body of missing Korean tourist

Police have confirmed that the body of a Korean tourist reported missing yesterday (December 17) from Meedhuhparu resort in Raa Atoll has been discovered today in a joint operation conducted with staff at the property and a Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) dive team.

Authorities have said that the body of the deceased, identified as 32 year-old Korean national Dohwan Oh, has been transported to Male’ and is now awaiting repatriation.

In a statement issued today, the Maldives Police Service has said that the deceased was discovered 20 metres underwater in the area where he was first reported missing following a snorkelling excursion with his wife.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef could not confirm when exactly the body would be repatriated at the time of press.

Tourist safety

Addressing the growing influx of tourists from Asian destinations coming to the Maldives, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Gafoor today pledged in local media to enforce stricter safety measures across the industry to try and cut down potential snorkelling incidents.

Adheeb stated that the industry must evolve and adapt to the changing market geared increasingly towards Asian visitors who were generally not as adept at swimming as tourists from more established markets.  According to the tourism minister, this evolution includes increasing ocean awareness for tourists while monitoring and strengthening existing regulations.

“If such incidents keep repeating it is a major concern. It will adversely affect our tourism. We need to change the services being provided with the market,” Adheeb told local media.

Missing Chinese national

Meanwhile, Police Spokesperson Haneef said today he was unable to comment over whether the case of another tourist who went missing from the Bandos Island Resort and Spa earlier this month – initially suspected to be a snorkelling incident – was presently being treated as a criminal investigation.

Immigration authorities confirmed Saturday (december 15) that a Chinese national allegedly linked to the disappearance of a tourist staying at a Maldives holiday resort had fled the country, defying a court-mandated travel ban issued Wednesday (December 12).

Local media had previously reported that the husband of Chinese tourist Song Yapin,who went missing from the Bandos Island Resort and Spa on December 6, had accused a fellow Chinese national staying at the property of murdering his wife.

Haneef said that as police investigations were ongoing into the incident, no details on the nature of its work could be given at present.

The MNDF confirmed on Saturday that the search to locate the missing Chinese national was continuing.  However, MNDF Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem said that the country’s coastguard had presently ceased sending out dive teams to explore local waters.

“We will not be calling off our operation until the person is found, but we will be amending our operation on a daily basis,” Colonel Raheem said at the time.

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Blacklisted Chinese national flees Maldives as “murder” allegations circulate in media

Immigration authorities have confirmed that a Chinese national allegedly linked to the disappearance of a tourist staying at a Maldives holiday resort has fled the country, defying a court-mandated travel ban issued Wednesday (December 12).

Local media has reported that the husband of Chinese tourist Song Yapin, who went missing from the Bandos Island Resort and Spa on December 6, has accused another Chinese national staying at the property of murdering his wife.

Immigration Controller Dr Muhamed Ali today confirmed to Minivan News that a court order had been issued against an unidentified Chinese national banning him from travelling from the country.  However, despite being blacklisted, local newspaper Haveeru today reported that the Chinese national was still able to leave the country on Wednesday evening after the travel ban was issued against him earlier the same day.

Dr Ali declined to comment further on the issue when contacted by Minivan News today.

“That has been covered enough now,” he said by SMS.

The immigration chief previously told local media that a situation where a blacklisted person was then able to leave the country reflected “major issues” within his department.

“The court had sent us a fax. It was sent during unofficial hours and went unnoticed. However it was brought to our attention by the lawyer of the husband of the missing woman,” Dr Ali was quoted as telling media, adding that an investigation into the matter would be held.

Search ongoing

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) today confirmed that the search to locate the missing tourist was continuing.  However, MNDF Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem said that the country’s coastguard had presently ceased sending out dive teams to explore local waters.

“We have checked the area, but were not able to find anything when we sent our dive teams out over a number of days,” MNDF spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem told Minivan News today. “We will not be calling off our operation until the person is found, but we will be amending our operation on a daily basis.”

Colonel Raheem was unable to confirm the manner of search the MNDF was presently conducting in its hunt for the missing woman at the time of press.

Bandos Island Resort and Spa was also unable to comment on the matter at the time of press due to the unavailability of a senior spokesperson outside of office hours.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef was not responding to calls from Minivan News today.

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Robbery targets offices of senior politicians and Six Senses group

Police are investigating a robbery that yesterday targeted a building containing offices belonging to Vice-President designate Waheed Deen, luxury resort operator Six Senses, and the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) Interim Chairperson Reeko Moosa Manik.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed that police teams were currently investigating the thefts at the offices, which are all based in the Jazeera Building on Boduthakurufaanu Magu in Male’. However, Haneef was unable to confirm what had been taken during the raids or if anyone had been hurt as a result, adding that it was “too early” to establish whether there was a political motive to the crimes.

According to the local media, a large sum of money is reported to have been taken from the office of Bandos Island Resort, owned by Waheed Deen, whilst significant damage was said to have been caused to the properties targeted during the alleged break in.

Local media reported that a sum of around Rf 1 million was taken from the Bandos office, whilst two safes at the Six Senses office said to contain Rf 200,000 (US$13,000) and US$5000, were also emptied during the raid. Six Senses operates several of the country’s more upmarket properties, including Soneva Fushi.

News agencies said that no money was believed to have been taken from the offices of Reeko Moosa Manik’s Heavy Load company. However, electronic equipment including computers and fax machines were reportedly destroyed as well as official documents, including staff passports.

The intruders also reportedly left several messages for Moosa Manik including, “Moosa, you may have escaped this time but you will be killed,” and “We will vote for you next time if you put some cash next time”.

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Give us your “spoonful of sugar” Nasheed urges donors

President Mohamed Nasheed implored delegates at the Maldives Partnership Forum, also known as the 2010 Donor Conference, to give the Maldives “your spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.”

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Nasheed told the 60 representatives of foreign countries and financial institutions participating in this year’s conference, which aims to attract foreign investment to help the government’s decentralisation plan and aid in the economic recovery of the country.

Foreign and local delegates, government officials and media crowded the meeting room for the opening ceremony which began at 10am with a recitation from the Holy Qur’an.

A video was then played for the audience which showcased the Maldives’ transition to democracy and the hope to develop the country in a sustainable manner. Five Maldivians spoke in the video and told their stories.

They included a  farmer who hopes that sustainable practices will improve his crops; a woman who wants to run her own business; a man who moved his family to Malé to provide his children with better education and is having difficulty in adjusting to the problem of adequate housing; a girl who moved to Malé for her education and fell into heroin addiction; a boy who notices how the beach on his island gets smaller and how the water comes closer to his house each year.

Speakers

Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed was the first to address the audience. He thanked the guests for participating in the conference, adding that “you have come to the Maldives at a crucial time” in the country’s history.

“There is a lot of work to be done to build a better future together,” Shaheed said, noting the Maldives has “transformed from a repressive society to an open society.”

“It is tempting to think that the hard work is done,” he said, “but truly, it is just beginning.”

Dr Shaheed spoke of the importance of implementing human rights and democracy in the daily lives of every Maldivian, as well as in government practices.

He also hoped that democracy would not be linked to hardship and want in the country’s memory, as he acknowledged it has been a difficult transition.

Dr Shaheed wished to “bequeath our successors a country that is…. free.” He also hoped the conference would help the government in consolidating democracy through the five key areas being addressed as part of the economic reform of the country: macro-economic stability, public reform, governance and democratisation, climate change adaptation and social development.

World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Naoko Ishii, was second to speak. She said she felt “privileged to have witnessed your journey, your very tough journey, into democracy” and made special reference to the importance of donor cooperation.

Ishii noted that many challenges still remain for the government and the people, but assured that the conference was a positive step in finding the right international partners to “shape the future of the Maldives.”

She mentioned waste disposal as an especially worrying issue, but said “there are numerous actions being taken by the government and the donors. [They] are making every effort.”

Ishii added the “Maldives can continue to take many positive steps” and mentioned that she would have liked to sign a contract under water on behalf of the World Bank.

Next to speak was Coordinator for the UN in the Maldives, Mansoor Ali. He said “we stand at a very historic juncture. Maldives is a success story of political transition.”

He wanted to present a different side of development, saying “the other side of this island paradise remains unknown for many.”

Ali focused on human rights, violence against girls and women, and the challenges being faced by Maldivian people: food shortages, rising fuel prices, the financial downturn and rising unemployment, which he said was up to 14.4%, with youth unemployment being a high concern.

He said the conference was “an unprecedented opportunity” to address these issues and to find solutions.

“The UN system is proud to have worked with [the government] in the Strategic Action Plan…which becomes a good vehicle for the sustainable development of the Maldives.”

Ali said the Maldives needs to be assisted through a comprehensive plan and thanked the donors for their vast support to the UN and the Maldivian government.

president nasheed
President Nasheed speaking to media

Democratic progress

President Mohamed Nasheed delivered the closing speech for the ceremony, saying Maldivians “are a diverse collection of people” who are “brought together by a common goal: we all want to see a peaceful and prosperous Maldives.”

President Nasheed said despite the “considerable progress” the country has made in the last 18 months, “there is so much work to do” since the country is still in “the infancy of democracy.”

He spoke of the transition to democracy and the issues that still need to be addressed to assure equal rights to every Maldivian.

“I don’t make a secret of my concern over the capacity of the judiciary to expend justice. Nevertheless, we respect their independence and hope that…it will grow to be a respected institution.”

He spoke of freedom of the press, noting that although the press could now “report and comment as they see fit,” he urged “certain sections of the media to be more responsible.”

He said journalists should be mindful of the consequences of their actions, and asked journalists “to try to the best of their ability to report the truth.”

He noted that the Maldives had climbed 53 places in the Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, and warned that the government would take action against anyone who tried to undermine press freedom.

President Nasheed said “Maldivians enjoy more freedom today than at any other point in history,” and added that the government believes “people need liberty to progress.”

The president spoke of civil servants and the need to cut down on government expenditure, saying he is working with the international community “to assure we don’t spend more than we can afford.”

Politics

President Nasheed said according to the World Bank, the Maldives was facing the worst economic situation of all countries going through a democratic transition, attributing this to the fact that “we inherited an economy in crisis. We inherited a huge national debt and millions of dollars of unpaid bills.”

He said the way it worked in the past was “when international diplomats and observers come to this country, we try to patch everything up and try our best to show a clear, clean picture. But I think otherwise.”

The president said he wanted to show the donors “the worst of what we have” to give them a clear view of the situation the country is in.

“There are a lot of people who do not like the things that we are doing. But most members of the opposition are sensible and respectable politicians.”

But he criticised some members of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) who this weekend were “doing their best to get arrested” and disrupt the donor conference, saying that in his mind, “violence only creates violence.”

He said he did not believe arresting DRP leaders was the solution to the recent political unrest, or to past violations of rights, adding “if we took everyone implicated in corruption and torture, we would end up arresting most of the opposition.”

“It’s time that certain politicians left the nursery and learn to grow up.”

Leader of the opposition DRP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali meanwhile wrote an open letter to delegates of the donor conference claiming that under Nasheed’s leadership, the Maldives was “sliding into political chaos and instability”.

“It is my humble request that you may please exercise the powers of your good offices to address the issues of democratic deficit in the current administration,” Thasmeen wrote. “Counsel against the efforts of the government to consolidate absolute power in their hands, and advocate for the discontinuation of their endeavors to eliminate an effective political opposition.

Climate change

As a major platform of his campaign and presidency, President Nasheed spoke to the participants of the conference on the reality of climate change and the need to take action.

“Climate change is real,” he said, “and time is of the essence and it seems we are falling behind. The world needs to go carbon neutral by mid century.”

President Nasheed said his government wants “to break the link between carbon and development,” noting that “carbon neutral development is not just possible but profitable.”

The president said donors were investing in the Maldives, despite the challenges of climate change and highly-publicised threat of submersion, “because they want to maintain, adapt, protect and uplift the country. If you want to protect something… then of course you will come and donate and you will help.”

“This is a crucial period in time. We can actually introduce adaptation and litigation measures quickly enough to save the Maldives, so I think that’s why the donors are investing,” Nasheed said.

Participants of the Donor Conference
Participants at the Donor Conference

Donor Conference

President Nasheed thanked the donors for their participation, saying it is “so important and deeply appreciated.”

He said that thanks to the transition to democracy, “I believe the Maldives is becoming a better and fairer place,” and added that “with your assistance, we can help ensure the long term survival of this country and this land.”

World Bank aid

After the opening ceremony, Minister of Finance Ali Hashim and Naoko Ishii signed an agreement, on behalf of the Maldivian government and the World bank respectively, for an additional US$13.7 million in aid.

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