MDP MP Mariya Ahmed Didi calls for debate on sale of alcohol to tourists in local guest houses

Former Chairperson of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), MP Mariya Ahmed Didi, has called for debate over the sale of alcohol to tourists in local guest houses, in a bid to promote mid-market travel to local islands.

Didi made the remarks during the debate in parliament over the proposed bill calling for the blanket prohibition of pork and alcohol imports to the country, sponsored by fellow MDP MP Nazim Rashad.

During the debate, Didi raised several questions on the issue including whether alcohol should only be sold by wealthy business tycoons, such as leader of Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Gasim Ibrahim and Hussain ‘Champa’ Afeef.

“When we travel to several islands to prepare our election manifesto, and when we discuss about opening guest houses, the subject of allowing sale of alcohol in guest houses with provisions excluding sale to locals has to be discussed,” she said.

She further stated that before giving such a permit, views of the religious scholars in the country must also be sought. Didi added that it was important to know from religious perspective whether such sale could be carried out in the Maldives or whether the Maldives could consume the profits made by through sale of alcohol while remaining an Islamic country.

Didi called on parliament to accept the bill proposed by MP Nazim Rashad and have it sent to a parliamentary committee, to then seek the views of religious scholars.

Unlike many other Islamic nations such as Qatar, Dubai and Abu Dhabi where the sale of alcohol is licensed to hotels and foreign workers, the Maldives classifies alcohol as a restricted substance and bans its use and sale on ‘inhabited’ islands.

The resort islands are classified as ‘uninhabited’ under Maldivian law, although technically under the Constitution no law can be enacted against a tenet of Islam, which potentially affects those relevant to the import, sale and service of haram products such as pork and alcohol.

“Clarified and addressed”

Speaking to Minivan News, Didi said that the issue of alcohol needed to be “clarified” and “addressed”.

“If this is a religious issue, that is if Islam bans sale of alcohol, it should not be sold in the Maldives as we are a 100 percent Islamic nation. If the sale is allowed, then the question to ask is whether alcohol is needed for the tourist trade to flourish,” she said.

She added that if alcohol proved to be a vital element in the tourism sector, then the sale of alcohol should be allowed for “registered places” to which a permit is given to accommodate tourists including resorts, safari boats and guest houses.

“If the objection to the sale of alcohol is on [religious] grounds, it should not be sold in places where Maldivians reside. But Maldivians do reside on resorts as employees. If we deny Maldivians the employment opportunities in the resorts, then the income from resorts will be restricted to those who own resorts, that would give way to increase in expatriate workers and foreign currency drainage,” she explained.

Didi stressed that the bill must be admitted to a parliamentary committee and “clarify” from religious scholars the position of Islam that concerns the issue at hand.

“Every island I have travelled to, most locals who I come across want tourist guest houses on their islands and employment opportunities where they can work and still go back home to spend time with their families,” She added.

The bill calling to ban the sale of pork and alcohol was proposed in October.

Presenting the bill, Nazim argued that the import of these products violates article 10(b) of the constitution which states that “no law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.”

“We often hear rumours that people have alcohol at home in their fridge, available any time. We’ve heard that kids take alcohol to school to drink during their break. The issue is more serious than we think, it should not be ignored,” Nazim told the house.

Consumption of intoxicants or pork products is prohibited under Islamic law.

Previous attempts

When in charge, the MDP government announced that it was considering banning pork and alcohol products in response to the December 23 coalition’s campaign to protect Islam.

Then Press Secretary for the President, Mohamed Zuhair at the time said that trade of alcohol was not a business conducted by the government. He added that the government receives a relatively large amount of money through this trade from Goods and Services Tax (GST).

“The businessman running the trade of alcohol receives a huge amount of profit through this business as well,’’ he said. ‘’The government is now considering banning trade of alcohol and pork throughout the Maldives.’’

The decision was followed after a mass protest against the government held by the December 23 coalition, consisting of several religious NGOs and opposition political parties, called on the government to ban the sale of pork and alcohol among other demands.

After being asked in January for a consultative opinion over whether the Maldives could import pork and alcohol without violating the nation’s Shariah-based constitution, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the case on the grounds that the matter did not need to be addressed at the Supreme Court level.

The Court did note, however, that pork and alcohol have been imported under provisions of the Contraband Act and that there is a regulation in favor of the trade. As no law has declared the regulation unlawful, the import of pork and alcohol is indeed legal, the court claimed.

Meanwhile, Article 10 of the Constitution states that “No law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.”

The Constitution also states that any law not struck down by the courts is valid.

Since resorts first opened in the Maldives in the 1970s, tourism has been the core of the island nation’s economy. To accommodate the industry as well as the national Islamic faith, in 1975 the Ministry of Economic Development regulated the sale of pork and alcohol to tourist establishments (Act 4/75).

While there is no regulation or set of guidelines specific to spa operations in resorts, Article 15(a2) of the Goods and Services Tax Act stipulates that spas are legally accepted in the Maldives as tourism goods, and therefore may be operated in compliance with tourism regulations.

After its formation in 2009 the Parliament had nine months to reject any legislation which did not conform with the Constitution.

Parliament did not reject the regulation on the sale of pork and alcohol in 2009, thus allowing it to stand by default.