President Yameen urges Saudis to invest in Maldives and “get warmed up for” heaven

President Abdulla Yameen has urged a visiting Saudi Arabian trade delegation to invest in the Maldives “to get warmed up” for paradise in the afterlife.

“As Muslim brothers, we all strive to go to Jannathul Firdous [paradise]. While we have a paradise in the heavenly Maldives, I urge all Saudi business people, if you are seeking to go to Jannathul-paradise in your afterlife, why don’t you get warmed up for that? Paradise is here in the Maldives,” Yameen said at a briefing this morning at Traders Hotel.

The 16 member contingent is the first Saudi business delegation to visit the Maldives. It consists of seven Saudi government officials and representatives from the private sector .

Noting existing Middle-Eastern investments in the telecoms, transport and tourism sector, Yameen invited Saudi Arabia to further invest in the energy sector, including renewable energy, real estate sectors and in developing an Islamic Financial Center in the Maldives.

The government’s landmark Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act provides a modern legal framework to engage with investors on strategic projects, the president said.

The SEZ Act ensures investment guarantees and protection in line with international best practices, he claimed.

Since the SEZ Act’s enactment, the government has attracted substantive investor interest in several mega projects including the development of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, the development and relocation of Malé port and the youth city in Hulhumalé, he continued.

“With a positive outlook for economic growth, coupled with assured political stability and a liberal investment regime, there is no better time to invest here in the Maldives than now.”

Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed noted Saudi Arabia’s aid to the Maldives in the construction of an Islamic college and mosques, but said closer trade ties are essential to further strengthen relations.

“Maldives does not just want Islamic projects, but wants investment from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries,” he said.

The trade delegation arrived in the Maldives on Wednesday after a request made to the Saudi King by President Yameen.

Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Trade at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Dr Abdullah A. Al-Obaid, yesterday said the visit signifies his country’s intention to enhance the bilateral relationship through trade, investment, and Islamic affairs.

“We are so proud to hear that Maldives is keeping with its Aqeeda [faith], its religion and trying to stick with it even though we have globalism effecting all countries,” he said.

In October, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud donated US$1.2 million to a mosque project, with further plans to build 10 new mosques in the islands.

He had visited the Maldives in February to discuss potential investments and partnerships in energy, tourism, transport, and Islamic affairs, as well the provision of a soft loan facility of US$300 million for the Indian Ocean nation.

During the recent Malé water crisis – caused by a fire at the capital’s only desalination plant, unnamed Saudi donor pledged to assist the Maldives by providing US$1 million to the government’s water crisis fund.

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Bollywood film island “just a concept”: Thoyyib

Reports that Bollywood has been invited to establish a film studio in the Maldives were erroneous, according to Minister of State for Tourism Arts and Culture Thoyyib Waheed, “as the idea is just a concept.”

Newspaper Miadhu reported Thoyyib as claiming during a press conference that the Maldives had “already proposed that one of the islands could be turned into a studio to shoot movies”, and that Bollywood industry could be solicited in the Maldives – “hopefully, it will materialise by next year.”

The prolific Mumbai-based Hindi-film studios eclipse Hollywood in terms of box-office receipts, churning out productions with budgets of up to US$20 million. The films are a strong cultural influence in the Maldives and visiting film stars like Salman Khan are given state receptions.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Thoyyib said he was referring to a call for expressions of interest (EOI) by Invest Maldives and the 100 percent government-owned Maldives Entertainment Company (MEC) in February, to develop the country’s entertainment infrastructure.

“It was a development concept – 6-7 parties put forward proposals but none were successful,” Thoyyib said.

According to the EOI statement, proposals sought by the government included entertainment complexes, “a theme park/amusement island”, multiplex cinema complexes, musical facilities and “a film-friendly island, dedicated to film shoots providing resources, state of the art equipment, resort style accommodation and other amenities for production teams, cast and crews producing feature films, documentaries, telemovies, mini-series, TV series, commercials, and music videos.”

The EOI statement predicted that “this new concept in full spectrum shoots will have strong appeal to Hollywood, Bollywood and beyond.”

Thoyyib commented that if a collaboration with Bollywood was achieved, the currently fledgling Indian sector of the Maldives tourism market “will definitely increase.”

Despite the proximity of the Maldives, Bollywood producers were shooting in Mauritius and the Seychelles “because we just don’t have the infrastructure in Maldives. We would need to provide an island with both low budget accommodation for the crew and upmarket accommodation blocks or villas [for the stars].”

No island had yet been earmarked for such an endeavor, he said.