President reveals vision for foreign investment at Hulhumalé project launch

President Abdulla Yameen inaugurated a project yesterday for the construction of 3,000 housing units in Hulhumalé by a joint venture company, Sealife Global Inc – formed by two Dubai companies with a local partner.

Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony, President Yameen said his administration’s vision was to develop a “youth village” in Hulhumalé with a population of 50,000 people.

“The youth village will not involve only housing [projects]. It will also include other projects related to the youth village such as the creation of light industries to provide job opportunities, as well as arrangements for food and beverages required by modern youth and restaurant facilities for [fast food],” he said.

Yameen said he hoped the government would be able to realise this vision during its five-year term.

During the launch, Yameen also outlined his vision for “freeholds” for foreign investors who will feel the Maldives to be a “second home” in which to conduct long-term projects.

The vision for the youth city meanwhile includes a “technopolis park” as well as entertainment and sports facilities, he said, in addition to facilities for the tourism and fisheries industries.

The government would also prioritise the inclusion of housing projects in Malé and Hulhumalé as the corporate social responsibility (CSR) component when leasing islands for resort development, Yameen said.

Hulhumalé will become “a paradise on earth” for migrants from across the country, he said.

The construction of a bridge between Malé and Hulhumalé would further open up economic opportunities in the reclaimed island city, Yameen said.

In February, Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed pledged to complete the bridge project in two years.

Plans of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) for the second phase of Hulhumalé development were also being revised to achieve the new administration’s goals, Yameen said, which included providing affordable housing to residents of the capital without adequate shelter.

“Any government upon assuming office will attempt to make the best use of a country’s resources. Everything is subject to change. Charts will change when they are redrawn,” he said.

The 243 flats – ranging from one to four bedroom apartments – to be constructed in the first phase of the new project will be targeted to mid to high-income families, explained Sealife Global’s Managing Director Ahmed Moosa.

The six towers or 10 to 12-storey buildings will include other facilities and services such as a swimming pool and gymnasium, he added. The joint venture company would also construct a 12-storey office complex on the site.

“Adventurous path”

Addressing foreign guests in English, President Yameen said he was pleased to “see you actively engaged in our socio-economic development.”

“I hope this project is going to be rewarding in terms of both profitability as well as catering to the need of the Maldivian people,” he added.

The government was committed to “improving the well-being of Maldivian youth,” he continued, adding that youth were presently deprived of the “opportunity to be gainfully employed and also the opportunity of shelter.”

The government therefore welcomes any project that caters to these “dual needs,” he said.

“We are embarking on a very adventurous path at this point in time,” he said, noting that economic development was essential for maintaining the current environment of peace and stability.

“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,” he said, adding that “a landmark law” will be passed in the next Majlis to strengthen the foreign investment regime.

“We are going to open up the Maldives in a huge way to foreign investors. Our thirst cannot be quenched. The opportunity to foreign investors is going to be enormous. So have faith and trust in us,” Yameen said.

Legislation will also be proposed to the next parliament to create special economic zones, he continued, which would be “likened to cities in Dubai or the Emirates” and “the [business] environment we have in Singapore.”

The new laws would enable investors to have “freeholds” in the country and allow investors “to engage in really, really long gestative projects,” he said.

Yameen assured foreign investors that “your money is safe with us.”

“So I reach out to proprietors and investors in Dubai, in Abu Dhabi, in Qatar and also the Emirates – please, here you have an island, here you have a country where you can invest and where you can be content with your investments,” he said.

“We are embarking on an era of growth,” he said, adding that 52 percent of the country’s population was comprised of young people.

Yameen noted that Hulhumale’ was a vision of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

“He wanted to find breathing space for the overly congested people in Malé. Nobody at that time would have thought that Hulhumalé is going to be the city it is now. There is tremendous opportunity in Maldives and there is tremendous love in us for the Arab-Muslim entrepreneurs. So please come and invest in the Maldives,” he entreated.


State to appoint lawyer for Filipino woman charged with smuggling three kilos of cocaine

The Criminal Court has asked the state to appoint a defence lawyer for a Filipino woman arrested in Male airport after attempting to smuggle three kilograms of cocaine into the country, as she was not able to afford one.

According to local media present at the court today, the woman asked the court what would happen if a lawyer was not appointed and the Judge told her that the court was now working with the Attorney General (AG)’s office to appoint a lawyer.

The judge also said the court found it difficult to conduct such serious cases without the respondent having a defence lawyer.

The woman told the court that she would keep trying to make her family appoint her a lawyer.

On September 17 customs reported that its officers at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport had seized 3368 grams of drugs inside the suitcase of the 33 year-old woman.

The customs department said the woman came to Maldives from Rio de Janeiro after transiting in Dubai.

At the time customs said the case was also being investigated by Dubai police and relevant authorities, concerning the case’s possible connections to drug lords around the world.

The customs also said that the street value of the drugs would be over US$400,000.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Criminal Court spokesperson Ahmed Mohamed Manik said the court had given the woman the opportunity to appoint a lawyer previously, but she had not.

According to Manik this was the second chance the court had given her the chance to appoint a lawyer.


Addu International Airport Company outsources dredging and reclamation of Gan International Airport

Addu International Airport Company (AIA) has contracted a Dubai-based group to undertake the dredging and reclamation component of developing Gan International Airport, Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodig said today.

He confirmed a company called Gulf Cobla had been awarded the $11.7 million (MVR 180 million) project, which will include land reclamation to build seaplane terminals.  The contract will also include work on constructing revetments on the reclaimed land.  Revetments are barricades used to prevent aircraft from overshooting a runway.

“I had a word with [AIA and the State Trading Organisation (STO)] Managing Director Shahid Ali this morning and he said the project is going well. However, some people have misinterpreted the situation because a contract was given to Lagan and another was awarded to Gulf Cobla,” Mayor Sodig told Minivan News.

AIA is itself a joint venture formed by the Gan Airport Company Ltd (GACL), Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL) and the STO.

Sodig explained that a UK company called Lagan had won the main contract to develop the airport, but added that it was AIA who had outsourced additional dredging work that was required to be completed before the main runway expansion could begin.

AIA and STO Managing Director Shahid Ali confirmed to Minivan News today that: “AIA contracted directly with Gulf Cobla to conduct the dredging and land reclamation components.”

Shahid previously told local media that Gulf Cobla’s segment of the project would be completed within eight months and that it will facilitate seaplane services being provided from Gan International Airport.

“Dredging will take about eight months. We predict that the physical work can begin within one month of signing this contract,” he said.

Shahid said he expected the overall airport development project to be complete by September 2014.

AIA is also conducting negotiations with Sri Lankan Airlines, Bangkok Airways, and Air Asia to increase the number of international flights from the airport,” he added.

Gulf Cobla’s Managing Director Joost Post has also made assurances to media that the project would be completed within eight months, noting that the company had previously conducted four projects in the Maldives.

“Southern gateway to the world”

Mayor Sodig today said that the airport development would provide a huge boost to  transport links in the country.

“The airport will start seaplane operations to resorts in the Southern Atolls. Once the Gan Airport is developed, it will be the southern gateway to other parts of the world,” Sodig declared.

Gan Airport’s main runway needs a one kilometre extension toward the northwest and it will also be resurfaced with asphalt, Sodig explained.

“The seaplane base will be developed on the western side of the island,” he added.

“The shallow lagoon across from the western beach will be dredged and the sand will then be used to develop the seaplane strip and reclaim land for the main runway.  The area of the former Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Commander’s residence will be used to develop the seaplane terminal.”

Airport development controversy

Thirty percent of the AIA was sold in November 2012 to tourism pioneer ‘Champa’ Hussain Afeef’s Kasa Holdings to raise finances to develop the Gan airport in Addu City.

Goverment-aligned Jumhoree Party (JP) Leader MP Gasim Ibrahim previously denied in parliament that he had spoken against the sale of shares of AIA with the intention of buying shares himself. He claimed he had done so “in the best interests of Addu and the country.”

JP MP Alhan Fahmy added that he also wished to see the Addu airport developed, but was concerned with how the sale of shares had been carried out. Fahmy said that 30 percent of shares being sold off for MVR 60 million (US$3.89 million) was “nothing but daylight robbery”.

Meanwhile, a number of MPs from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) stated at the time that the party supported the concept of privatisation, adding that the development of the Addu airport was originally an MDP initiated plan.  However, the opposition MPs also expressed concern over how the bidding process had been carried out.

During a November 2012 press briefing, STO Shahid Ali stated that contrary to general speculation, the airport had not been “sold”, but rather shares from the company AIA that had been sold to KASA Holdings.

He also refuted allegations of corruption, saying that KASA Holdings had been given higher priority since it was a local company and that all proceedings had gone through the bidding process in a matter which was completely free of any corruption.

Addu City Council previously released a statement welcoming the signing of the contract which they said would lead to the development of the Addu airport.

The statement further noted “the importance of leaving politics aside and for the good of citizens in letting the venture bring positive changes to Addu’s economy.”

The MDP also released a statement in November urging “not to let political feuds, political needs and power play interfere in important work directly related to the development of Addu City citizens, and generally all Maldivian citizens.”

The statement also condemned Gasim’s threats to sack Shahid Ali, stating “This party calls on political leaders to refrain from making unlawful threats through the greed for power and political wants.”