Guesthouse island project relocated

The government has changed its guesthouse island project from Laamu Atoll Thumburi to Baresdhoo in the same atoll and renamed it the ‘Laamu Integrated Project.’

President Abdulla Yameen launched the project in June 2014 for the development of a 2,100-bed resort in Thumburi operated by multiple local small and medium-sized enterprises, describing the concept as  “communal tourism development” or “vertical tourism.”

Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) managing director Abdulla Ziyath told the press yesterday that Baresdhoo was chosen as the new location as it is 10 minutes by speedboat from Laamu Gan and significantly larger than Thumburi.

“As the island is 72 hectares, when we consider the project feasibility, more plots can be [sold],” he reportedly said.

Ziyath said 70 percent of land allocated for hotel development has been sold and that the 3,000-bed ‘integrated resort’ will open for business in 2017.

The 17-hectare Thumburi island and the linked 19-hectare Hulhiyandhoo island will be developed in latter phases, he said.

Baresdhoo was previously leased to Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group for agriculture. However, the agriculture ministry decided not to renew the lease when it expired in July 2014, saying Villa had not done any farming on the island.

Ziyath told the state broadcaster in March that the decision to change the island was made following consultations with potential investors.

Construction of a jetty and harbour on Baresdhoo would begin in about a month and conclude before the end of the year, Ziyath had said.

“So overall the project’s viability and progress is very good. There was a slight delay over changing the island,” he said.

The MMPRC was tasked with overseeing the project and engaging with investors. The corporation had said that the guesthouse island project is designed to “responsibly diversify the tourism product of the Maldives” without damaging the country’s image as an upmarket, high-end destination.

The project was also pledged in the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ manifesto with the aim of involving small and medium businesses in the lucrative tourism industry without encroaching on inhabited islands.

Following the introduction of guesthouses in inhabited islands in 2009, mid-market tourism grew substantially with the availability of a low cost accommodation option.

The number of registered establishments rose from 25 at the end of 2010 to more than 170 last year. However, despite the tripling of guesthouse bed capacity, the industry continues to be dominated by the ‘one island-one resort’ model.

The MMPRC meanwhile signed an agreement yesterday with Heavy Force to construct a causeway and harbour on Baresdhoo and contracted the state-owned Island Aviation company to provide transportation services.

Baresdhoo will be developed under phase one of the project, Ziyath said, and the MMPRC will invite bids for “support services” such as a diving centre, water sports facilities, and a shopping centre in a month.

Island Aviation managing director Abdul Haris said the company expects a twofold increase in the number of passengers to Laamu atoll when the project is complete and would facilitate seaplane operations to the island.


Maldives wins third best exhibitor award at ITB Berlin

The Maldives has been awarded the third best exhibitor in the Asia, Australia and Oceania category at the ITB Berlin Exhibition 2015, the world’s leading travel and tours show.

The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Company (MMPRC) explained a statement that the awards were handed out after bachelors and masters students at the Cologne Business School (CBS) evaluated all 11,000 booths during the first three days of the exhibition.

“These stands were assessed according to numerous criteria such as creativity, originality, service quality, sustainability and special effects,” MMPRC explained.

South Korea came in first place and India was placed second.

After accepting the award at a ceremony organised by CBS on Saturday night, MMPRC Managing Director Abdulla Ziyath thanked industry partners for their collaboration in making ITB 2015 a success.

Last week, the Maldives was named the official country partner for the 2016 ITB Berlin Convention. Egypt was this year’s country partner.

“Starting from 10th March 2015 till the beginning of ITB 2016, Maldives together with ITB will be promoting the event on different media platforms,” the MMPRC said.

The MMPRC also launched its ‘Visit Maldives 2016’ campaign at the trade show, which took place from March 4 to 8 in Berlin, Germany.

“There have recently been some negative reports about protests in Malé,” said Mohamed Khaleel, Chairman of the MMPRC.

“We are a growing nation, and everyone here knows how important tourism is for us. The problems must be resolved, and we shall do all we can to maintain security and to ensure that this sector, the backbone of our economy, is not put at risk in any way.”


Maldives participates in ITB Berlin fair

A total of 194 representatives from 75 tourism companies represented the Maldives this year at the InternationaleTourismus-Börse (ITB) travel trade show in Berlin.

The Maldives delegation was led by the Managing Director of Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) Mr. Abdulla Ziyath.

The MMPRC designed a new stand for the Maldives this year. The new design concept of the stand would allow for better business to business meetings in a modern setting with attractive imagery of the country.

“The stand has an interactive area for display of handicraft activity and cultural performances, and a more serene spa area to highlight on the relaxation and rejuvenation segment,” a statement by the MMPRC read.

“Furthermore, Maldivian gastronomy will be an added highlight at the stand through Maldivian made short eats.”


Romanian tourists increase by 32 percent in 2014

The number of tourist arrivals from Romania to the Maldives has increased by 32 percent in 2014.

According to Romania-Insider, 3204 Romanians traveled to the Maldives in 2014 – an increase of 781 arrivals compared to the 2423 arrivals 2013.

The increase in arrivals was attributed to the commencement of chartered flights from Bucharest, Romania to Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

“Most tourists went to the islands in December last year, namely about 678, almost double compared to December 2013, when only 371 traveled there,” read the Romanian insider.

Romanians only account for 0.3 percent of the market share of tourists arriving in Maldives.


Brother of official implicated in MMPRC corruption scandal nominated for Auditor General

President Abdulla Yameen has nominated a family member of a state official implicated in corrupt transactions worth US$6million for the post of Auditor General (AG).

Nominee Hassan Ziyath is the brother of Managing Director of state-owned Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), Abdullah Ziyath.

In a damning audit report on October 29, incumbent AG Niyaz Ibrahim accused Abdulla Ziyath of illegally pushing through a US$6million loan from state funds to two private companies.

The report was released a day after ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MPs brought a surprise amendment to the Audit Act requiring the reappointment of Auditor General within 30 days. The President’s Office opened up applications for the position immediately.

Niyaz has only served three years of his seven-year term.

The PPM holds a majority in parliament with 43 of the total 85 MPs, while coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance controls five seats.

Hassan Ziyath is currently the chairman of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC). He contested in March’s parliamentary elections for Malé’s Hulhuhenveiru constituency on the PPM ticket.

The MMPRC audit also implicated Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb of involvement in the corrupt transactions and said the loans were issued to companies owned by Adeeb’s family members.

Adeeb has condemned the report as politically motivated, and accused Niyaz of colluding with MP and former Deputy Speaker of Majlis Ahmed Nazim to discredit him after he refused to back Nazim for the Majlis Speakership in May.

In an interview with newspaper Haveeru, Niyaz dismissed Adeeb’s claims and accused Adeeb of threats and harassment following the Auditor General’s decision to look into the case.

The independent AG position was created in 2008 and vested with the power to audit all state offices, institutions funded by the state, and companies in which the state owns shares.

The auditor general’s position receives a salary equivalent to the president’s salary, currently MVR100,000.

The country’s first independent Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem was sacked by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s former party Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) in 2010 for allegedly using state funds to buy a tie and visit Baa Atoll Thulhadhoo Island. Gayoom currently heads the PPM.

During the multiparty elections of 2008, Naeem had published several audit reports revealing high levels of corruption within Gayoom’s government.


MMPRC believes Thumburi project will bring an additional 150,000 tourists per year

Managing Director of the Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) Abdulla Ziyath believes the government’s Thumburi integrated resort project will increase visitors to the Maldives by 150,000.

“The market had become quite stagnant, as there were not many new hotels on the way and we were becoming perceived as a place just for five-star tourists,” Ziyath told TTG while at the World Travel Market (WTM) in London.

“This addresses those issues and for the first time enables small businesses to invest; in fact we are actively discouraging the main existing resort owners from being a part of Thumburi”.

The government’s integrated resort project – or ‘vertical tourism’ – is designed to “responsibly diversify the tourism product of the Maldives”, says the MMPRC, after the rapid expansion of guest houses on inhabited islands under the presidency of Mohamed Nasheed between 2008 and 2012.

Some within the industry have expressed fears over the guest house’s impact on the Maldives image as a luxury travel destination, although critics of the new scheme say the multi-ownership guest house island concept will not bring the same benefit to local communities.

Ziyath spoke during the WTM, at which it unveiled the Thumburi project. The event features 146 representatives from 54 countries and is to conclude tomorrow.


MDP may challenge constitutionality of amendment to Audit Act

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) parliamentary group has decided to make a recommendation to the party’s national executive committee (NEC) to challenge the constitutionality of amendments brought to the Audit Act last week.

“The NEC will make a decision tomorrow,” MP Rozaina Adam said at a press conference this morning.

Under Article 143 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court and High Court has the jurisdiction “to enquire into and rule on the constitutional validity of any statute or part thereof enacted by the People’s Majlis.”

Rozaina argued that the amendment stipulating that the president shall reappoint an auditor general within 30 days was unconstitutional.

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Thoriq had proposed adding a clause to the audit law stating that the president shall nominate for parliamentary approval an individual or individuals to the post of auditor general within 30 days of ratifying the amendments.

The amendment was passed with 36 votes in favour and 22 against at Wednesday’s (October 29) sitting of parliament.

At today’s press conference, MP Imthiyaz Fahmy meanwhile stressed the importance of the public protesting the unconstitutional move.

Imthiyaz said he had learned that parliament’s Counselor General Fathmath Filza had also advised Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed that the amendment was unconstitutional.

President Abdulla Yameen ratified the amendments less than 24 hours after it was passed, he noted.

Imthiyaz said the haste with which the amendment was passed and ratified shows the PPM government’s eagerness to replace the auditor general following allegations of corruption made against the party’s deputy leader – Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb – in a special audit report of the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Company (MMPRC).

Meanwhile, Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim told newspaper Haveeru last night that he would also contest the constitutionality of the amendment at the Supreme Court.

The amendment contravenes the process specified in the Constitution for the appointment and removal of the auditor general, Niyaz contended.

Article 218 of the Constitution states that the auditor general could be removed from office “(a) on the ground of misconduct, incapacity or incompetence; and (b) a finding to that effect by a committee of the People’s Majlis, pursuant to article (a) and upon the approval of such finding by the People’s Majlis by a majority of those present and voting, calling for the Auditor General’s removal from office”.

Niyaz told the local daily that he does not intend to remain in the post even if the Supreme Court strikes down the amendment.

Following the release of the MMPRC special audit report, Niyaz revealed that death threats were sent to both himself and his family. Niyaz is currently on leave.

During last week’s parliamentary debate, PPM MP Thoriq said he proposed the amendment with reference to Article 211(b) of the Constitution, which states, “A statute shall specify the responsibilities, powers, mandate, qualifications, and ethical standards of the Auditor General.”

Thoriq noted that the Audit Act was passed in 2007 before the ratification of the Constitution the following year and did not specify the responsibilities, mandate, qualification and ethical standards of the auditor general.

PPM MP Ibrahim Waheed has meanwhile told local media that the post of auditor general became vacant with the president’s ratification of the amendments.

Waheed contended that as Niyaz was appointed under the 2007 audit law, a new auditor general must be appointed in accordance with the Constitution following the amendments to the Audit Act.

Article 210 of the Constitutions states, “The President shall appoint as Auditor General a person approved by a majority of the total membership of the People’s Majlis from the names submitted to the People’s Majlis as provided for in law.”

Waheed argued that Niyaz was appointed in the absence of a law passed after the adoption of the Constitution in August 2008.

“So the legal obligations and responsibilities of the present Auditor General will stop. And if he is willing to go ahead, he also has to apply to the post just like others. An Auditor General will be appointed under this constitution after the parliament approves the name sent by the president,” he was quoted as saying by Sun Online.

The 17th People’s Majlis had unanimously approved former President Mohamed Nasheed’s nomination of Niyaz Ibrahim to the post of auditor general in May 2011.


Adeeb denies corruption allegations as MDP calls for prosecution

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb has denied allegations of corruption in a special audit report of the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Company (MMPRC) while the opposition has called on the prosecutor general to press charges.

The report (Dhivehi) – made public on Thursday (October 30) – implicated Adeeb in corrupt transactions worth US$6 million between the MMPRC and the Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) and the Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC).

The MMPRC obtained MVR77 million (US$5 million) from MPL to be paid back in dollars and US$1 million from MTDC as a loan, which was immediately transferred to two companies – Millenium Capital Management Pvt Ltd and Montillion International Private Ltd, both with ties to Adeeb.

Speaking at a press conference at private broadcaster DhiTV’s studio last night (October 31), Adeeb insisted that the MVR77 million was not a financial loss to the state, noting that US$3 million has been repaid to MPL with the remainder due in December.

“Under my [tenure] as tourism ministry, in order to avoid state companies going into the dollar black market, I have obtained dollars for the state from one state company to another, the tourism industry, and various private parties,” Adeeb said.

Adeeb claimed to have arranged for local businessmen to purchase treasury bills worth MVR800 to 900 million as of October 2013 to ease the government’s cash flow problems.

The agreement between MMPRC and MPL was approved by the respective boards of the state-owned enterprises, the ruling Progressive of Party of Maldives’ (PPM) deputy leader stressed.

The MVR77 million from MPL was not embezzled or misappropriated, he insisted, claiming that the government routinely converts rufiyaa into dollars through private parties.

On the allegation that the tourism ministry awarded an italian-owned company an island for resort development to pay back US$2.25million of the US$6million MMPRC owed to MPL and MTDC, Adeeb claimed that Dhaalu Maagau was used as a picnic island by PPM MP Ahmed Nazim’s friends.

The former deputy speaker of parliament had repeatedly sought to secure the island, Adeeb said, dismissing the allegation that the Italian paid the lease rent for the island through Adeeb’s father’s Montillion company.

Adeeb also pledged to release his financial statement to the media on Sunday (November 2) and denied failing to declare assets.

According to the audit report, Adeeb has failed to declare assets as stipulated by Article 138 of the Constitution since he was appointed tourism minister in 2012.


When the US$6 million corruption scandal first surfaced in May, Adeeb told Minivan News that the “defamation attempt” was linked to his refusal to support certain individuals for speaker and deputy speaker of the 18th People’s Majlis.

Minivan News understands MP Ahmed Nazim was involved in leaking documents related to the case to online news outlet CNM, which first broke the story of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) investigating the transactions.

Nazim’s passport was withheld last week, but he left the country on the date the court order was issued.

In May, Adeeb confirmed to Minivan News that two repayment cheques dated May 10 and 15 bounced due to insufficient funds.

The MTDC’s US$1 million had been reimbursed, Adeeb said, while MPL had been paid one-third of the owed amount in dollars. The remaining two thirds are due in June, he added.

At last night’s press briefing, Adeeb alleged “extraordinary ties” between Nazim and Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim.

Following his refusal to support Nazim for the deputy speaker’s post, Adeeb said Nazim threatened to put out audit reports implicating him as well as family members in corrupt dealings.

Moreover, the auditor general’s office neither sought a statement from him nor posed any questions regarding the transactions, Adeeb said.

“I am most saddened that professionals, specialised people, are brought in between our political rivalry in the political arena,” he said.


The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) meanwhile released a press statement yesterday condemning the government’s “unconstitutional” and “unlawful” attempts to replace the auditor general before the end of his seven-year term.

Last week, parliament passed amendments to the Audit Act requiring the president to reappoint an auditor general within 30 days of ratifying the amendments.

President Abdulla Yameen ratified the amendments on Thursday.

The MDP contended that the auditor general could only be removed from office through the process specified in the Constitution, which was “(a) on the ground of misconduct, incapacity or incompetence; and (b) a finding to that effect by a committee of the People’s Majlis, pursuant to article (a) and upon the approval of such finding by the People’s Majlis by a majority of those present and voting, calling for the Auditor General’s removal from office”.

The attempt to remove the auditor general shows the level of corruption in the current administration, the press release stated, adding that the government was undermining independent institutions.


Tourism Minister implicated in US$6million corruption scandal

An audit report has implicated Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb in a corruption scandal involving US$6million, a day after ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) amended the Audit Law to reappoint the Auditor General (AG).

AG Niyaz Ibrahim, in today’s special audit report, said the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Company (MMPRC) obtained a US$1million loan from Maldives Tourism Development Corporation in the guise of making an urgent payment to a foreign party and subsequently loaned the money to a company owned by Adeeb’s father.

Adeeb owned a 35 percent share in Montillion International Private Ltd, but transferred his shares to his father in March 2012 when he assumed the post of Tourism Minister.

The company only made MVR 70,100 in 2011 through trade, but in the period between 2012 and 2014, US$ 6.8 million and MVR 3.6 million from tourism related business rolled through the company’s accounts, the report noted.

In a separate case, the MMPRC also asked the Maldives Ports Ltd (MPL) to hand over MVR 77.1million to pay the company US$5million at a later date. MPL agreed to transaction despite demonstrating no need for dollars.

MMPRC immediately transferred MVR 77.1million to a private company Millenium Capital Management Pvt Ltd. Only US$ 3 million of the pledged US$5million has been paid back. The audit report said Adeeb helped MMPRC push the deal through.

It also suggested the Tourism Ministry awarded a company owned by an Italian an island for resort development to pay back US$2.25million of the US$6million MMPRC owed to MPL and MTDC.

According to the report, Adeeb has failed to declare assets as per Article 138 of the Constitution since he took up the post of Tourism Minister.

The Tourism Ministry and Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) refused to cooperate with the investigation, the report noted.

In a tweet Adeeb has condemned the report as politically motivated.

Channel News Maldives (CNM) broke the story of the US$6million corruption scandal in May. Its reporter Abdulla Haseen was charged with disobedience to order in August, but the Prosecutor General withdrew the charges a few weeks later.

Minivan News understands former deputy Speaker of Majlis Mohamed Nazim was involved in leaking documents to CNM. His passport was withheld last week, but Nazim left the country on the date the warrant was issued.

Millenium, Montillion, New Mood

Niyaz said MMPRC had obtained MVR77.1million from MPL and US$1million from MTDC to provide illegal loans to private companies.

Although MPL approved the MVR 77.1million payment in exchange for US$5 million, the company had no need of dollars and the transaction was made on MMPRC’s initiation, not MPL’s.

Further, MPL’s 2014 budget shows it required only US$2.2million for machinery in 2014, but the bidding process had not been opened at the time of transaction. MPL also had US$800,000 in treasury bonds and a large amount of dollars in its accounts.

Moreover, MMPRC is not authorized to engage in dollar trade and does not have the capacity to buy or sell US$5 million, as its working capital at the end of 2013 stood at US$4.5million and assets were only worth MVR 324,485.

MPL authorized the “risky” transfer after MMPRC issued two dated checks. When MMPRC failed to make its second payment of US$2.5 million on July 8, the agreement was amended to allow the company to pay back the money by December 1. The report said the amendment was made because Millennium failed to repay MMPRC on time.

In the second case, MMPRC on April 9 asked MTDC for an urgent loan of US$1million to make an urgent payment to a foreign party for tourism promotion. The loan was to be paid back by May 15.

The money was transferred to Adeeb’s father’s company Montillion on April 15.

But MMPRC made no payment to any foreign party in the period. The loan was paid back by New Mood Resort Pvt Ltd, which was given Dhaalu Atoll Maagau Island, at a head lease rent of US$2.25 million.

Toursim Ministry and MIRA refused to reveal details of the Maagau deal despite repeated requests, the audit report said.

Montillion is also accused of bribing a senior tourism ministry official with US$450,000 in February in a separate resort development deal.

Neither the Finance Ministry nor the MMPRC board were involved in either case. The MMPRC’s Managing Director Abdullah Ziyath personally handled all of the transactions, including picking up checks, against the company’s procedures.

Niyaz has recommended all individuals involved in the two cases be investigated for corruption and charged with abuse of power.