MNDF training island of Thanburudhoo to be developed as resort

Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) has confirmed plans to develop a tourist resort on the island of Thanburudhoo, currently being used by the military for training and recreational purposes.

The confirmation comes just a week following the registration of the MNDF Welfare Company, created in a bid to generate income to fund welfare services for the armed forces by investing in various businesses, including the tourism sector.

Speaking to Minivan News on Sunday, Lieutenant Abdullah Ali explained that the MNDF is not going to play any direct role in the development of the resort, and that the island would be leased to a third party.

He claimed that the concept of developing the training island as a tourist resort was approved by the former government in 2010, but that work had stalled “for various reasons”.

“However, we have started that process again, and the discussions are continuing,” Lieutenant Ali said.

He also added that the MNDF Welfare Company is “going to be involved” in the project.

“MNDF Welfare Company is going to do tourism, real estate and other potentially lucrative businesses in the future. Our aim is to help reduce state expenditure by self-generating revenue to fund welfare services of the defense force.” Ali observed.

Former Tourism Minister Dr. Mariyam Zulfa confirmed to Minivan News that the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government endorsed the Thanburudhoo project back in 2010, but said the President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration had never decided to involve the Defense Ministry or MNDF’ in the project.

“MDP believes in a center right system where the government has little or no control over the economy and promote privatisation. Defense Ministry or MNDF – whichever name u call it – it is still the government. So we would of course never support them to be involved in the project.” Zulfa observed.

She added: “As you know during Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom several uninhabited islands were given to various ministries. So the only reason Defense Ministry’s name appeared in the documents was because the island was registered under the ministry.”

Dr. Zulfa stated that the proposal was initially submitted by individual named Dr Gunnar Lee-Miller, who proposed to develop Thanburudhoo as a surfing resort. The nearby waters host beautiful dive sites and a popular surf-break, which attract many local and foreign surfers.

“We though it was a good proposal and supported it at the time, but the lease transfer was not signed,” Former Tourism Minister contended. “However, I don’t have any details of what happened with the project, following the MDP’s ousting from power on February 7.”

Minivan News contacted Gunnar Lee-Miller seeking to verify whether he was still negotiating with the authorities to secure the island, however Lee-Miller said that it was “not a good time” and hung up the phone. Further attempts to seek comment were met with no response.

Lee-Miller is identified as the President of Telos Investment, a private investment holding firm based in Singapore. The firm is leading the Five Islands project, which involves the development of three integrated resorts over five islands and nine square kilometres of lagoon in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll. The project was contracted to the company under former government’s Corporate Social Responsibility(CRS) scheme, in return for establishing high-end sporting facilities in the country.

A speaker profile for Lee-Miller on the website of the Hotel Investment Conference Asia Pacific (HICAP) states that the developer “was recently appointed Senior Advisor to the Maldives National Sports Council assisting in all national sport and sport tourism development projects.”

Surfer controversy

Several local surfers have meanwhile raised concerns on social networks, claiming that the Thamburudhoo project involved dredging and reclaiming  the surrounding area of the island reef, which would destroy the popular surfing spot.

Banzai Bongo, a well-known local surfer, wrote on Facebook: “This is going to affect the natural current flow of the surrounding waves such as Jailbreaks, Honkies, Sultans and Pasta. Moreover, it will destroy dive spots around this area. So the government’s best interest is to annihilate our natural resources which includes world class surf sites and dive sites.”

Bongo called for surfers to “save these waves like we all stood against the state and saved the Trestles. Save it for or children, save it for the future.”

The Maldivian Surfing Association (MSA) said it would be issuing an official statement.