A bill on establishing special economic zones (SEZ) to attract foreign investment has been submitted to parliament on behalf of the government by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan.
The SEZ bill becomes the first piece of legislation to be proposed by President Abdulla Yameen’s administration to the 18th People’s Majlis, the newly-elected PPM parliamentary group leader tweeted on Thursday (June 5).
Speaking to reporters prior to departing to China on Wednesday night (June 4) to attend the Kunming Trade Fair, Economic Minister Mohamed Saeed explained that special economic zones would be established in the north, south and other “strategic locations.”
The SEZ bill is intended to expand the economy and could “bring an end to the dependence on tourism,” he said.
In addition to ports and light industries, Saeed said financial services and bunkering facilities would be made available at the zones.
“So the result of this would be the introduction of different industries to the Maldivian economy in addition to tourism,” he said, adding that the new enterprises could be more lucrative and beneficial than tourism.
Referring to the impact on the Maldives from the 2004 tsunami and the spread of the SARS virus, Saeed stressed the importance of diversification, as the Maldivian economy was vulnerable to external shocks due to the extreme dependence on the tourism industry.
He noted that economic development and job creation was the key focus of President Yameen’s election campaign.
The government conducted “a wide research” in drafting the bill, Saeed continued, and studied the practices of countries such as Dubai, South Korea, Mauritius, Cyprus, China, and Singapore.
The bill would “completely ensure investor protection,” he asserted.
Business-friendly laws were essential for attracting investors for mega-projects planned by the government, Saeed noted, such as the ‘iHavan’ transhipment port project.
The minister also expressed confidence that parliament would pass the bill without delay.
Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed meanwhile observed that the ruling party had a clear majority in parliament with a team of young MPs committed to the government’s economic agenda.
President Yameen had declared in April that the SEZ bill would become “a landmark law” that would strengthen the country’s foreign investment regime.
“What we would like to confirm for the foreign investors who come to the Maldives is that foreign investors should feel that Maldives is your second home here,” Yameen had said at a function in Hulhumale’.
The special economic zones would be “likened to cities in Dubai or the Emirates” and “the [business] environment we have in Singapore.”
The new law would enable investors to have “freeholds” in the country and allow investors “to engage in really, really long gestative projects,” Yameen said.
“We are embarking on an era of growth,” he said.
Other economic bills in the government’s legislative agenda include bills on foreign investment, insurance, consumer protection, corporate social responsibility and small claims as well as amendments to the Maldives Monetary Authority Act and the Pensions Act.