Businesses welcome ban on foreigners in photography, souvenir trades

The government has banned foreigners from providing photography-related services as well as operating souvenir shops and customs bonded warehouses in a bid to boost youth employment.

Registrar of companies Mariyam Visam told the press yesterday that the ministry will not register foreign investments in the selected fields.

Foreign investments in passenger transfer services and water sports will also be restricted to partnerships with companies with at least a 51 percent stake owned by Maldivians.

“If Maldivians can’t enter these ancillary services in the tourism industry, the economy and standard of living will be adversely affected,” she said.

“Even if we provide many opportunities for foreigners to invest in the Maldives, our main objective is economic development and increasing economic means for Maldivians.”

Most local photographers and souvenir businesses have welcomed the ban. But some have said foreign investments are crucial for small and medium enterprises to thrive.

Some 26.5 per cent of Maldivians aged 15 to 24 are unemployed, according to World Bank statistics from 2013, the most recent figures available.

“Good move”

The secretary general of the Maldives Photography Association, Ahmed Ishan, said the ban would create more opportunities for local photographers.

“There are about 1,500 Maldivian professional photographers in the industry. But Maldivians aren’t allowed on some resorts due to the influence of some [foreign] companies,” he said.

The foreign companies were established in 2012 and primarily employed photographers from Philippines and China, he said. They were often “stationed” at resorts as resident photographers.

“So all the work goes to them,” he added.

He also claimed that some of the photographers had fraudulent work permits.

In January, the economic development ministry ceased issuing work permits for foreign photographers while a ban on foreigners working as cashiers took effect in April.

Last week, the immigration department instructed local businesses to send back migrant workers hired as photographers and cashiers before June 7 and apply for cancellation of employment approvals. The department warned that employers who do not comply will be penalised.

The economic ministry has meanwhile penalised 88 businesses found to employ foreign cashiers.

The ministry will conduct inspections on the new rules and offer a period for foreigners involved in restricted business to leave, Visam said yesterday. Agreements with foreign parties will not be renewed and the ministry will take action against businesses registered under Maldivians but operated by foreigners, she warned.

The souvenir trade

Hassan Zahir, the manager of the Misraab souvenir shop, welcomed the move as a positive step as many Maldivians were involved in the souvenir trade.

“This is an ordinary or medium-sized business, so it’s not good when foreigners come in. Not everyone can be resort owners,” he said.

The restrictions will create job opportunities for young Maldivians in the absence of competition from foreign businesses who have more resources and more capital, Zahir suggested.

However, officials from another souvenir business, who wished to remain anonymous, questioned the effectiveness of the move, noting that foreigners operate the souvenir shops in resorts run by foreign companies.

Maldivians should be allowed the opportunity to run souvenir shops in all resorts, they said.

Meanwhile, Saudhulla Ahmed, secretary general of the Maldives Trade Union, an NGO set up last year for advocacy on behalf of small and medium-sized businesses, told Minivan News that foreign investment was crucial for small businesses to thrive.

Foreign investors had set up enterprises almost exclusively in partnership with Maldivians in the restricted fields, he said

Saudhullah also said the government has impeded small businesses by cutting electricity subsidies and reducing business hours with a 10:00pm closing time.

Local businesses are”living in fear” and lacked security for their investments due to arbitrary measures from the government, he continued.

“We have had complaints from businesses about the customs saying they mistakenly charged too little as duties for goods imported two years ago, and so customs is now asking for MVR230,000 in fines,” he said.

The ministry was imposing restrictions on foreign investments “because they know for sure that investors won’t come to such a frightening place,” he said.


Economic development ministry creates ‘enterprise development’ unit

The ministry of economic development has created an “enterprise development” unit to assist youth entrepreneurs set up businesses.

Speaking at a function held at the Hotel Jen last night, economic development minister Mohamed Saeed said the unit will facilitate loans, provide information and offer other services to startups.

The government will help youth with constructive ideas set up successful enterprises, he said.

The MVR200 million (US$12.9 million) ‘Get Set’ loan scheme is also intended to achieve the government’s goal of creating youth entrepreneurs, Saeed said.


Government fines shops with foreign cashiers

The economic development ministry has fined 22 businesses for employing foreigners as cashiers against new rules enforced on April 1, reports Haveeru.

Deputy minister Adam Thowfeek told the local daily that the ministry inspected 295 shops, cafés, and restaurants in Malé and found 49 with foreigners working as cashiers.

The ministry has imposed a fine of MVR2,000 (US$130) on 22 establishments.

Thowfeek said the ministry will check businesses in other islands through councils and warned that operating licenses could be revoked for repeated violations.

The government banned foreigners working as cashiers in in an attempt to boost employment among local young people. Some 26.5 per cent of Maldivians aged 15 to 24 are unemployed, according to World Bank figures from 2013, the most recent figures available.


Economic ministry takes over approving night market from city council

The Ministry of Economic Development has taken over authorising the annual night market from the opposition-dominated Malé City Council.

The ministry announced today that permission or approval for holding carnivals, fun fairs, promotional fairs, and night markets should henceforth be sought from the ministry.

Application forms would be available from the ministry’s website.

The move follows the cabinet’s decision to take over maintenance of the capital’s roads from the city council.

Earlier this week, the housing ministry signed an agreement with the Maldives Road Development Corporation (MRDC) for maintenance of drains of the capital’s roads and resolve persistence flooding during heavy rain.

The project involves cleaning the pavement drains as well as cleaning and repairing water pipes.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party-majority city council has been at loggerheads with the executive since the controversial transfer of presidential power in February 2012.

Earlier this year, the Anti-Corruption Commission alleged corruption in the awarding of a contract by the city council to Go Media for the organisation of the annual night market.


MVK agrees to resume ferry services in Addu City

MVK has agreed to resume stalled ferry services in Addu City following discussions with the Addu City Council and the Ministry of Economic Development this week.

MVK Maldives Pvt Ltd was contracted to provide ferry services in the southernmost atoll under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) agreement signed by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government in 2009.

Officials from the company has previously told parliament’s government oversight committee that plots of land awarded under the agreement have not been handed over.

Addu City Deputy Mayor Abdulla Thoyyib told online news outlet CNM that the company has agreed to resume ferry services next week while the city council agreed to hand over the plots of land within a month.

However, the company requested until December to start ferry services to nearby Fuvahmulah, he said.

Last month, MDP MP for Addu Meedhoo, Rozaina Adam, described the government’s “indifference” to providing regular ferry services in Addu City as discriminatory.

While there have been no regular service for the past two years, Addu City Mayor Mayor Abdulla ‘Soabe’ Sodiq said at the time that many are forced to take expensive private boats, while in medical emergencies people usually hire a speed boat for approximately MVR2,500 – double that rate at night.

Hulhumeedhoo, with an estimated population of over six thousand, is disconnected from the rest of the inhabited islands of the city which are joined by the 14km Addu Link Road causeway.


49 apply for MVR23 million loan scheme

Some 49 entrepreneurs have applied for the government’s MVR23 million (US$1.4 million) loan scheme for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), local media reports.

An official from the Economic Development Ministry told the press yesterday (January 12) that the Bank of Maldives was currently processing application forms.

While loans are provided with a nine percent interest rate and a one-year grace period to be repaid within eight years, 40 percent of the total amount is reserved for companies, partnerships and cooperative societies with a majority stake owned by youth aged 18 to 25, and female entrepreneurs.


Prices must be public: Economic Development Ministry

Shops are required to publicly identify items exempt from the Goods and Services Tax (GST), the Economic Development Ministry has ordered.

The ministry also requires businesses that charge GST on their goods and services to display their Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) registration certificate.

Unregistered businesses may not charge GST and wholesale and retail prices should also be viewable.

Businesses that violate these regulations will be fined between Rf500-10,000. A second offense will incur a fine between Rf5,000-10,000.


Transport vehicles need renewable energy plan: Blue Peace

“Solar power is not the only source, and it is not enough. We have to pursue other sources as well,” said BluePeace founder Ali Rilwan about the Maldives’ recently proposed mission to cut emissions by 60 percent, using solar energy primarily.

The government’s plan was approved by the Cabinet last month, and a recent proposal from the Renewable Energy Investment Office (REIO) was submitted for crowdsourcing on the internet last week.

Rilwan called the mission admirable but incomplete. “Proposals have been made, but we haven’t seen anything in the Maldives in years,” he said. According to Rilwan, the Maldives is overlooking one of the most significant energy-consuming functions in the country: water transport.

Over 25 percent of the Maldives’ GDP is spent on diesel used for boats.

“Wetlands and vegetation absorb carbon dioxide, and the oceans are being affected by boats’ daily diesel use. But nobody has studied the specifics of carbon sinking, to calculate that 60 percent emissions reduction we need to evaluate how much needs to be done,” he elaborated. “We don’t know, we might be carbon neutral already.”

When diesel was first introduced to boats in the Maldives in the 1970s, law required that sails be kept on boats, said Rilwan. Not only was this method energy efficient, it also had cultural value.

“The sail wasn’t just carbon-neutral, it was a cultural tradition. We also used to have sailing competitions as part of our tradition. But now the sails are no longer required, although you’d think they would be a good idea for a tourist destination like the Maldives.”

Rilwan said the Ministry for Human Resources and Sports last year supported a “not so carbon friendly” motorcycle competition last year, allegedly on Hulhumale.

In January 2010, the Maldives joined 137 countries in signing the Copenhagen Accord declaring their intention to go carbon neutral by 2020. The document is not legally binding but it recognises climate change as a leading issue worldwide.

A government official said the Maldives has since focused on decarbonising the electricity sector, which accounts for over 31 percent of industrial project expenses.

Decarbonising the Maldives over the next 10 years is expected to cost the Maldives US$3-5 million.

Earlier this week, the Maldives signed the Renewable Energy through Feed-In Tariff.

The tariff is expected to reduce electricity costs by promoting a shift from oil fuel to renewable energy sources.

Rilwan praised the government’s “political will and efforts to negotiate” renewable energy in the Maldives. But he said investment in renewable energy was expensive, and that the Maldives lacks expertise.

REIO’s crowdsourcing initiative aims to improve that shortfall.

“While we are working now on the initial production planning and development we will also be looking to use local and international expertise to develop storage capacity,” said Minister for Economic Development Mahmoud Razee.

The initial plan, which is up for debate on an on-line forum, does not account for night time energy and energy storage due to its high cost. A government official said today that limiting use of solar energy to the daytime would still reduce costs significantly. Meanwhile, storage costs are expected to drop to an affordable rate in the next five to ten years.

The official added that plans addressing land transport vehicles’ energy emissions will be announced in the coming months. He noted that not only are electricity-based motorcycles and cars affordable, but Male’s small size negates the concern of going too far from a recharge station.

Although water transport energy reductions have not yet been addressed at the government level, Renewable Energy Maldives (REM) Director Hudah Ahmed said today that the company will soon be testing one of the first hybrid dhonis.

“Solar power is a viable option for the Maldives,” said Ahmed. “But we always say that energy efficiency comes before renewable energy. Consider how to do the best with what you have and what you need before you try to reinvent the system with a whole new resource.”

The REM hybrid dhoni uses a converter, and could reduce diesel consumption by 30 percent. Ahmed said the big idea is to replace current ferries and fishing boats with hybrid dhonis.

Ahmed suggested the Maldives investigate ocean thermal energy conversation (OTEC), a method of generating energy from the temperature differences between deep and shallow waters. “It isn’t commercial yet, but REM says it shouldn’t be ruled out. I think there are some areas in this country where OTEC could be useful,” said Ahmed.


‘Market Harbour’ project amended, bids re-open

The Economic Development Ministry has announced that the ‘Market Harbour’ project, designed to develop island harbours, has been reopened bidding, Haveeru News reports.

The project was first announced on March 24, 2011. The Ministry has since amended the proposal to suit amendments proposed by island councils.

The ‘Market Harbour’ projects intends harbours to be developed along regional, atoll and local standards. The projects will take effect in Dhaal atoll Kuda Huvadhoo, Gaaf Dhaal atoll Gahdhoo, Thinadhoo and Ihavandhoo, Haa Dhaal atoll Kulhudhufushi, Haa Alif atoll Hoarafushi, Meemu atoll Mulah and Raa Dhuvaafaru.

Haveeru News reports that project bidding is open to local and international companies. The report adds that facilities such as warehouses, banks, and guesthouses will be available.