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.


Maldives Trade Union joins opposition’s defence of Constitution

The Maldives Trade Union (MTU) has joined with opposition parties in defence of the Constitution, suggesting that persistent violations have “eroded crucial checks and balances and accountability mechanisms”.

“The government’s actions have undermined the Constitution, allegations of corruption are left un-investigated, the auditor general has been removed along with two Supreme Court judges,” said MTU President Fuad Zahir.

“All of this is ruining the business confidence and is eroding the guarantees for justice and order.”

The MTU was inaugurated in May 2014, with 180 members aiming to provide an independent voice for the protection of small and medium-sized businesses.

Zahir formed the group after clashing with authorities over the new tax regime – introduced by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government. He was investigated the the Prosecutor General’s Office last year for tax evasion.

The opposition MDP and the Jumhooree Party (JP) held a third round of discussions at Maafannu Kunooz last night, agreeing to officially sign a document concerning their joint efforts to defend the Constitution.

Speaking to press after the discussions, JP deputy leader Ibrahim Ameen said an official agreement would be signed by the two parties on Thursday (January 5) at a special ceremony, while a joint public rally will be held that night.

He also thanked MTU for its council’s decision to join the parties in the “cause of defending the constitution”, inviting all individuals, NGOs, and political parties “willing to sincerely work for the cause”.

Ameen also thanked the Adhaalath Party for “expressing willingness” to join the MDP and JP and expressed hope that the party would join the “all-party talks”.

“Adhaalath Party has always played a crucial role in all national issues that this country has faced”, Ameen said.

Adhaalath’s council this week announced it had decided against joining discussions, claiming “no such talks were found to be of use for the time being”.

The party, which has just one MP in the 85-seat Majlis has been considered an unofficial partner in the ruling Progressive Coalition, which now directly controls 49 seats in the house after MDP MP Yamin Rasheed defected to Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

Last night MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed stated that the activities that would be carried out under the new agreement which would be revealed to the public next week, while the agreement itself would be accessible to the public.

“This is the point at which Maldivian people should cross the border of fear and come out,” said the MDP chairperson, claiming that this government’s intention was to narrow civil liberties like the freedom of speech and expression.

He also condemned the arrest of the editor of the MDP’s ‘Moonlight’ newsletter editor, Lucas Jalyl, who was arrested by police near Kunooz yesterday.

Jalyl was released earlier today after having allegedly obstructed police officers from carrying out their duties.

Meanwhile, the Maldives Development Alliance MP Mohamed Ismail has released a statement calling on the JP and its leader MP Gasim Ibrahim to “save yourselves from President [Mohamed] Nasheed’s deceitful web of lies”.

The 2008 alliance between Nasheed’s MDP and the JP lasted less than one month, while the JP’s involvement in the ruling Progressive Coalition lasted around six months.

Related to this story

Adhaalath Party decides against participation in opposition talks

MDP and JP reach agreement on defence of Constitution

Nasheed urges President Yameen to convene all-party talks

MDP holds street rally in front of Gasim’s residence


Maldives Trade Union set up to advocate for SME rights

A trade union to protect the rights of small and medium businesses has been established in the Maldives.

The Maldives Trade Union (MTU) held a meeting on May 5 to select members to its governing board. Founder Fuad Zahir was automatically appointed as MTU’s president. An estimated 180 businesses have joined the union, local media reports.

Zahir, who heads Treasure Biz International, called the Maldives’ nascent tax system “failed” and said there was a culture of increasing taxes in the country.

Zahir and the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) had previously clashed over his company’s refusal to register for the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

On receiving an audit notice in 2012, Zahir told the MIRA over the phone that it could not conduct an audit of the company and claimed the law authorizing MIRA to conduct audits were against the constitution, a 2013 statement from MIRA said.

MIRA then sent in auditors to seize documents from Treasure Biz in December, 2012. Zahir filed a case to retrieve the documents at the Civil Court, but MIRA returned the documents in January 2013 before a ruling was issued.

An official from the authority told Minivan News today said they had asked the Prosecutor General to file tax evasion charges against Treasure Biz.

The two Vice Presidents of MTU are Shamha Trader’s owner Abdul Rasheed, and Venus pvt ltd’s owner Ali Hussein.