Comment: Happy Independence Day

“The United Kingdom, which always wanted to colonise Maldives with the co-operation of the Athireege family, finally came to Malé in the form of the HMS Britain, on 22 Feb 1887. The captain of this ship was Rodney M Lloyd. As a representative of the Governor of Ceylon came Rear Admiral Fredrick W M Richard. Accompanying them were Athireege Annabeel Ahmed Didi, and Abdul Kareem Mudhuliar.

This delegation went upstairs in the Palace and asked Sultan Mohamed Mueenudheen III, the Prime Minister Sumuvvul Amir Mohamed Rannabandeyri Kilegefaan, and the Chief Justice Naibu Thuthu to write an agreement between the English and Maldivian governments which would provide ‘protection’ to the Maldives. According to this agreement Maldives would become a colony of the English.

The whole of Maldives opposed this. This proposal to become the protected servant of anyone other than the Great Allah was rejected by the Sultan, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice Naibu Thuthu, the military, and the people. About six days later the ship returned to Colombo.

There, in Ceylon, the British and their Maldivian friends arranged for Abdul Rahman Alim Sahib to write a letter of agreement in Arabic in which Maldives would become a full colony, or at the very least, a country which came under colonial authority. It was written in such a way that the Sultan seemingly requested British protection on his own initiative, and made the annual tribute ceremony the formal recognition of this new relationship. In the document, the Sultan was given a voice of abject humility, admitting weakness and an inability to stabilise the country.

The delegation, this time with the addition of Abdul Rahman Alim Sahib, then returned to Malé in two large warships. The British delegation went upstairs again to Mathige. This time the document, which the Chief Justice had refused to write, had already been written and only the signing remained. The Sultan, the Prime Minister, the military, and the people… all refused.

The delegation returned to their warships and the guns were aimed at Malé, and the people ran to the edge of the reef. The British and their friends came ashore once again and said if the agreement went unsigned, then Malé would be smashed to pieces. The Sultan and the prominent people agreed to sign the agreement to escape from death. The Chief Justice Naibu Thuthu said that Maldivians ‘should prefer to be martyred rather than accept that thing.” –Abdul Hakeem Hussein Manik

It was 78 years later, on 26 July 1965, that Maldives finally freed itself from the agreement signed, regardless of what the people wanted, on that day in February 1887. 26 July has since been marked as ‘Independence Day’. Sunday will be the 50th anniversary of the occasion. Much has changed since. At this moment in time, it is difficult to see a scenario in which, faced with a situation where parts [or whole] of the country is to be owned by a foreign party, ‘the president, the vice president, the military and the people…all refuse’.

On Tuesday night, PPM submitted a motion to the Majlis: add a clause to the Constitution to allow the sale of Maldivian territory to foreign parties. The proposal was accepted and passed within 24 hours, with minimal debate, with the consent of 70 MPs. President Abdulla Yameen ratified the amendment the very next day. Public consultation was never part of the momentous decision, which has the potential to change the very identity and culture of the Maldives.

Broadly speaking, there is nothing wrong with non-nationals owning land – it happens in most countries in the world. Where the Maldives is concerned, the problems are many: only two percent of its territory is land, the rest is sea; roughly 99 percent of Maldivians cannot afford to buy off the public land registered in their names; there is no independent judiciary or legal expertise to handle cases of such complexity; rule of law is emphatically absent; the corruption among government officials is unprecedented; and there is little room to expect any benefit from such sales to trickle down to the ordinary person.

The natural beauty of the islands has been to Maldives what diamonds were to Sierra Leone: a disaster for the ordinary men and women; an impediment to democracy; an obstacle to human development; and a pathway to massive corruption. Most owners of tourist resorts in the Maldives are rich beyond the ordinary person’s wildest dreams; many pour their money into the dirty pit of Maldivian politics to ensure the people elected are puppets whose strings they pull in whichever direction is more lucrative for them; they help block the opening up of the tourism industry in ways that would allow more even wealth distribution; all the money they earn from tourism are squirrelled away in foreign banks, little of it allowed to go through Maldivian economic system; and, in more recent times—as a way of appeasing their ‘Muslim guilt’ for benefitting from trading in services and goods considered haram—they have been funding extremist individuals and organisations that encourage people to hate ‘the infidel’, successfully ensuring the ordinary person would not want a share of the tourism wealth.

Who cares if large numbers of people are joining radical organisations like ISIS and dying in dozens? As long as they are not a threat to the tourism magnates’ personal wealth, it’s not a problem.

And now, it’s not sufficient that islands can be leased as tourist resorts for 99 years that are developed with all imaginable modern luxuries while locals live on islands often with no drinking water, waste disposal systems, electricity or proper sewerage systems. It is no longer enough to have Special Economic Zones where rich foreign investors will not be subject to any Maldivian laws, the proceeds of whatever they do on these islands of no benefit to Maldivians. Now lagoons and reefs are to be sold off to any billionaire with a dredger. They will own ‘for perpetuity’ 70 percent of the land they reclaim and, as freeholds, Maldives will have little or no control over whatever happens on this new land—dug up from the bottom of the sea destroying for the sake of its existence the life that thrives underwater, the life that sustains Maldives and Maldivians.

Life as Maldivians have known it for centuries is coming to an end.

Running parallel to the plan to sell the lagoons and its life to the highest bidders is the plan for forced migration of the people. 60-70 percent of Maldivians are to be moved from the 200 odd islands they occupy to around two or three islands in what is to be called ‘The Greater Male’ Area’. They are all to be housed on high-rise flats built on these designated islands, families crammed into tiny little spaces like hens in a battery farm. This is what has happened in Male’ already – once an idyllic island, now one of the most crowded—and often the dirtiest—cities in the world. Traditional ways of life are not just going to change as everything inevitably does; they will be forced to disappear. There have been no studies or analyses done of what the social and environmental impacts of such a migration of people will be. Such considerations are for wimps, not ‘a government with guts’, as this one describes itself to be.

The consequences will be dire, but work has already begun to seduce people into thinking it is a good idea, with computer generated 3D images of a city with sky scrapers and swimming pools, vast roads and theme parks. An urban artificial ‘utopia’ a-la Singapore or Dubai. Few are asking why, when we have 1200 islands, can we not find a solution that allows the Maldivian people to live on those islands, why there are no efforts being made to provide the services they need on the islands they have existed on for centuries. No one is asking why such damage is being done to our fragile environment by dredging holes in the reef, by moving sand from the bottom of the sea from here to there, when we already have enough islands for just 400,000 people to live comfortably on. In the 21st century, where eco-friendly solutions are being invented to accommodate living life with the environment, when sustainable development is trending, where innovative scientific minds are finding ways for man to adapt to their own environments rather than the other way around — Maldives is being forced to turn around and walk doggedly in the opposite direction.

Independence Day celebrations this year ring hollow. From the plastic palm trees that line the main street of Male’ (the capital island of a country where the coconut palm is the national tree!); the fairy lights tastelessly thrown onto every available surface of the city; the Majlis’ removal of the Vice President in a political deal reeking of vengeance and personal glory disguised as a democratic ‘impeachment’; the Majlis ‘debate’ on the same night to float the idea of selling off Maldivian territory; the earlier ‘Adeeb Amendment’ to the Constitution to allow a specific person to become Vice President — it all smells of oppression, not independence.

Where once state and people together resisted until left with no choice to sign agreements that would infringe on Maldivian sovereignty and identity, today only lone voices are raised even in the face of serious national security breaches—such as foreign submarines making incursions into our territorial waters for no apparent reason. Instead of guarding borders and boundaries, the Maldives National Defence is deployed to repair broken generators and, at all times, protect the president and his government. Individual freedoms have been taken away, the Maldives Police Service dispatched 24/7 to ensure the people cannot—at any time—freely exercise their rights to freedom of assembly or expression.

The People’s Majlis has been turned into a place to fast-track documents loosely called ‘legislation’ that allow rulers to act with impunity, but under the legitimising veil of ‘democracy’. On Tuesday, the Majlis changed its procedural rules to say it is no longer necessary to discuss, analyse or debate a Bill before putting it to vote. As long as the ruling party has a majority, it can make anything law, without the people having a clue about what the legislation is for or what the rationale behind it is.

There is no judiciary to right any wrong, to provide justice where it is required. In its place is a state apparatus designed and implemented to control society the way rulers want. All substantial opposition have been robbed of their liberty, incarcerated in jail, put into solitary confinement, or held under house arrest. Their freedom is nothing but a bargaining tool of those in control.

The Maldivian Democratic Party is at its weakest since inception: it voted for the Constitutional amendment that allowed Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb to become Vice President, and citing its position as a ‘centre right party’—a position which it has not relied on to justify much of anything to its members before—chose not to issue a three-line whip in the vote to amend the Constitution allowing sale of Maldivian property. Only a handful of MDP MPs voted against the amendment rushed through the parliament with such haste and absolutely no public consultation.

MDP’s weakness is the majority’s weakness. The party has led the Maldivian democracy movement for the last decade; for a majority of its supporters, the meaning of democracy itself is ‘MDP’s vision’. And when MDP’s vision is clouded—by force or not—followers are lost in the fog, directionless, unable to see the road ahead with any clarity.

As Maldives marks its 50th Independence Day, the Constitution, and the people, are both hostage to the whims and desires of the rulers. People are but mere spectators in games played among and between the rich, the elite, and the powerful. The future holds the prospects of foreign military bases on Maldivian territorial waters; becoming embroiled in Indian Ocean security issues and potential naval warfare; forced internal migration; living in slum cities; absolute loss of way of life and identity; and total subjugation to a ruthless dictatorship that will always put money before people.

We need to revive the spirit of collectively saying we’ll do anything but ‘accept that thing.’

Happy Independence Day.

This article was originally published on It has been republished with permission. 

Dr Azra Naseem is a former journalist who now works as a Research fellow in Dublin City University. 

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Second amendment on foreign land ownership likely to pass

Key opposition MPs have expressed support for a ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) proposed constitutional amendment to authorise foreign ownership of land or freeholds in the Maldives. Some 62 MPs voted to consider the amendment and have sent it to a special committee for review.

A three-quarters majority or 64 votes will be needed to amend the constitution. The ruling coalition only controls 48 seats in the 85-member house.

With 62 MPs voting to consider the bill, it is likely to pass into law. The final vote is expected on Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking at tonight’s extraordinary sitting of parliament, MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the parliamentary group leader of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), expressed support for the amendment, but said the government must consider Indian Ocean security in awarding plots of land to foreign parties.

The bill comes amidst increased attempts by the government to woo Chinese and Middle-eastern investors.

The constitution currently prohibits foreign ownership of any part of Maldivian territory, but allows leasing of land for up to 99 years.

The proposed amendments will allow foreigners who invest in a project worth more than US$1 billion to purchase land. At least 70 percent of the area when the project is completed must also be reclaimed land.

Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim said the amendment was needed in an interconnected world. Land ownership by foreigners on a freehold basis was allowed in developed countries, he added.

The minimum threshold of US$1 billion worth investment will enable the government to develop the education and health sectors, he continued, and thanked President Abdulla Yameen for his “wisdom.”

Tonight’s sitting was scheduled after changes to the standing orders to fast-track the process of passing a bill into law was approved at this morning’s sitting. The legislative process includes three main stages and usually takes weeks or months. But under the new rules, a bill can be debated and passed into law on the same day.

The amendment comes amidst negotiations between the government and the MDP. The opposition has so far backed several unprecedented measures proposed by the government in hope of freedom for jailed opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed and other politicians.

The bill is the second amendment proposed to the constitution since it was ratified in 2008. MPs in June passed the first amendment to the constitution to set new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency. Subsequently, vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed was impeached today.


PPM MP Ahmed Nihan – who submitted the amendments (Dhivehi) on behalf of the government today –  said contrary to “misleading” media reports, the amendments would not allow the government to sell large islands or lose sovereignty over Maldivian territory.

The PPM parliamentary group leader said the purpose of the amendment is to attract “extremely large” foreign investment and spur economic growth and infrastructure development. Nihan said Singapore developed despite the lack of natural resources because the small island state “opened up” to foreign investment.

PPM MP Ali Arif emphatically stressed no land will be given for military purposes.

MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa backed the bill saying that the MDP’s policy is to create a real estate market and encourage home ownership. “We are very happy the ruling party now accepts our development policies. I know the government has an investor willing to invest US$1 billion. We must make use of that opportunity.”

Independent MP Ahmed Mahloof reminded ruling party MPs of their campaign to evict Indian airport developer GMR and said: “This bill amounts to selling off our land. If things continue like this, we might sell off our wives, children and the boxers we are wearing. As we celebrate 50 years of independence, our land must remain ours.”

The former ruling party MP suggested the JP and MDP had been coerced to support the amendment in exchange for freedom for Nasheed and a removal of a freeze on Gasim’s tourism companies.

Meanwhile, JP MP Ali Hussein said that Maldivians wanted clean water and sanitation instead of “mega projects.”

“They are worried about corruption. They want to divert funds wasted on corruption to development. They want tertiary hospitals,” he said. He said that the PPM wanted to award freeholds because it had failed to attract investment through the government’s flagship special economic zones (SEZ) legislation, which was passed in August last year. It gives investors tax breaks and relaxed laws.

He further warned of unchecked corruption and undue influence of large corporations if the amendment passed due to weak oversight institutions and lack of accountability.

Opposing the amendment, MDP MP Rozaina Adam said the government had failed to attract foreign investors because of a weak and politicized judiciary. MDP MP Fayyaz Ismail meanwhile said he supported the amendment in principle, but said extensive public consultations were necessary before he could back the bill.

Special economic zones

In April 2014, President Abdulla Yameen said he the SEZ law would enable investors to have “freeholds” in the country and allow investors “to engage in really, really long gestative projects.”

The opposition contended that the SEZ law would pave the way for money laundering and other criminal enterprises, undermine the decentralisation system, and authorise a board formed by the president to “openly sell off the country” without parliamentary oversight.

But the government maintained that the law was necessary to attract large-scale foreign investments and to launch ‘mega projects,’ which President Yameen has said would “transform” the economy through diversification and mitigate the reliance on the tourism industry.

The mega projects include the construction of a bridge connecting Malé to Hulhumalé and the development of a ‘Youth City’ in the reclaimed artificial island.

In January, President Yameen said 75 percent of the country’s population could be resettled in Hulhumalé and urged residents of islands with small populations to migrate to the new city. According to the 2014 census, the population of the Maldives stands at 341,256, of which 133,019 people resides in Malé.

Other mega projects envisioned by the government includes the development of a transhipment port in the Maldives’ northernmost atoll. The Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project (iHavan) also involves the development of an airport, offshore docking and bunkering facilities, an export processing zone, real estate businesses, and tourism facilities.

In June, a group of Saudi Arabian investors reportedly visited Ihavandhippolhu. The Saudi Arabian government has also provided US$1 million as grant aid to finance the feasibility project.

Additional reporting and writing by Zaheena Rasheed. 


Constitutional amendment on foreign land ownership up for debate tonight

A constitutional amendment to allow foreigners to own land in the Maldives will be up for debate at an extraordinary parliament sitting tonight, only hours after it was submitted to parliament.

The amendment allows foreign parties to own land for projects worth US$1 billion. Ownership is dependent on the parties reclaiming more than 70 percent of the plot.

The constitution at present prohibits foreigners from owning land under any circumstances, but allows the government to lease land to foreign parties for up to 99 years.

The amendment is the second amendment proposed to the constitution since it was ratified in 2008. It was proposed by Ahmed Nihan, MP of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and the majority leader.

Nihan said he has proposed the amendment to increase economic growth and to facilitate sustainable investment. It will allow foreigners free holds in the Maldives, and to transfer ownership or lease their plots.

The amendment comes amidst negotiations between the government and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). The opposition has so far backed several unprecedented measures proposed by the government in hope of freedom for jailed opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed and other politicians.

MPs in June passed the first amendment to the constitution to set new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency. Subsequently, vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed was impeached today. He is expected to be replaced by tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

The amendment may be put to a vote as early as tomorrow. Tonight’s sitting was scheduled after the parliament today approved changes to the standing orders to fast-track the process of passing a bill into law.

The legislative process includes three main stages: a preliminary debate on the floor, an extensive review by a committee involving consultations with stakeholders and experts, and a final debate on the committee’s report followed by a vote. However, under the new rules, all three legislative stages can be carried out consecutively and a final vote could be held on the same day as a bill is submitted.

The changes were approved with 56 votes in favour and 24 against.

The PPM in 2014 enacted a law on special economic zones with tax breaks and little regulation to incentivize foreign investment. The government previously said one SEZ project could transform the economy, but has so far failed to attract investment.

The amendment on foreign ownership comes amidst increased attempts by the government to woo Chinese and Middle-eastern investors.

The proposed change includes amending Article 251 of the constitution and adding a new chapter to the constitution. Below are some important provisions.

Article 302: If a project meets the set criteria, he Maldivian government may grant any party a freehold in the area designated for the project

Article 304: A project can only be approved if it meets the following criteria
(a) A project approved under a law passed by the People’s Majlis
(b) An investment of US$1billion in the territory of the Maldives
(c) When the project reaches completion, at least 70 percent of the land must have been reclaimed from the ocean and visible at medium tide

Article 305: The parliament can increase the threshold for investment by a law. However, such a change will not apply to projects approved before its enactment.

Article 251: No foreign party shall own land in the Maldives, except under the circumstances specified in Article 302. Allowing foreigners to own land under Article 302 does not undermine the Maldivian state’s sovereignty over its territory and does not amount to loss of territory.

Reporting by Hassan Mohamed, Ahmed Naish and Zaheena Rasheed. 


Government to charge US$25,000 for SEZ applications

The government will charge a US$25,000 application fee from potential investors in its flagship Special Economic Zones.

Accepted applicants are also required to pay a US $1 million guarantee to a bank account of the board’s choice within 15 days of receiving the initial permit, under the new SEZ investment board regulations.

The regulations, published on April 2, set out the terms for a programme that the government hopes will bring in $100m by August. It has so far signed one memorandum of understanding for an SEZ.

The regulations give the President the authority to appoint the board’s chair, vice-chair and to dismiss board members at any time.

They also give the board the power to freeze potential investors’ local assets if the permit is terminated and the investor has any outstanding debt. The board will have the discretion to cancel all visas to migrant workers if a permit is terminated.

Speaking to Minivan News, Economic Council co-Chair and Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb said the government is “looking for serious investors”, pointing out that the minimum investment for a SEZ stands at US$ 150 million.

Adeeb said the application fee was set after consulting with investors, and that processing these proposals is hard work.

President Abdulla Yameen has previously declared that the SEZ act would become “a landmark law” that would strengthen the country’s foreign investment regime.

The only SEZ activity since the act was ratified by President Yameen in August 2014 has been a memorandum of understanding for a Dubai Ports World free trade port.

Adeeb said, however, that there is a lot of support for the SEZs, pointing out that Indian investors have shown interest in building a gold refinery after Maldives granted duty free status to gold.

The government estimates that it will be able to acquire over US $100 million in acquisition fees from the SEZs by August 2015.

The US$100 million figure has been included as one of three revenue-raising measures in the 2015 annual state budget, alongside increasing import duties and taxes.

“I think we will meet budget targets. Some investors are prepared to pay a US $100 million acquisition fee on a single project,” said the tourism minister.

The first SEZ project is likely to be the Dubai Ports World free trade port in Thilafushi in Male’ atoll, followed by the mega I-haven port project in the north, Adeeb added.

The government signed an MoU with the Dubai company on the port on March 19, while it is still seeking investors for the I-haven project on the northernmost Ihavandhihpolhu (Haa Alif) atoll.

During parliamentary proceedings, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) submitted more than 300 amendments to the SEZ bill.

The MDP claimed that the law would pave the way for money laundering and other criminal enterprises, while authorizing the president to “openly sell off the country” without parliamentary oversight.

The government, however, maintained that SEZs with relaxed regulations and tax concessions were necessary to attract foreign investors.


Government signs MoU with Dubai Ports World

The Maldivian government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Dubai Ports (DP) World on Thursday (March 19) to develop a port at Thilafushi as a free trade zone.

In a press statement on Sunday (March 22), DP World said the MoU was signed for the development of the Maldives’ “ports and logistics industry” by DP World Chairman Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem and Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb.

“The Maldives has been growing rapidly, driven largely by its tourism development. We are working with them to help diversify the economy through building infrastructure, logistics and transport links needed to make this happen,” said Bin Sulayem.

“The UAE has much experience and expertise in this area thanks to the vision of our leaders to explore new growth strategies. We are proud to share our expertise with the Maldives as they develop their capabilities in the global supply chain industry.”

The press release added that the MoU was the outcome of several meetings between DP World and Maldivian government officials over the past few months, including discussions between Bin Sulayem and President Abdulla Yameen in July and September 2014.

Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed and Youth and Sports Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal also attended the signing ceremony along with key DP World company officials

The global marine terminal operator said the meeting “provided an opportunity to highlight DP World’s global portfolio and expertise in assisting partners with the development of their infrastructure and transport networks.”

After signing the MoU in Dubai, Adeeb told local media that DP World has agreed to complete the new Thilafushi port with a free trade zone within two years of signing a joint venture agreement with the Maldives Ports Limited (MPL).

A timeline for the project has been agreed upon and the MoU was signed with a view to signing the joint venture agreement in a month, he said.

“The fiDP Worldrst phase would also include a big cargo container terminal. First the port service, then a free trade zone for the imported cargo which will be isolated with a fence. Import and export cargo will be kept there,” the co-chair of the cabinet’s economic council was quoted as saying by Sun Online.

Adeeb – also chairman of the Special Economic Zones investment board – told the press last week that the central commercial port would be relocated from Malé to the industrial island of Thilafushi.

The envisioned free zone at Thilafushi port would include facilities for bulk breaking and transhipment cargo handling, he said, adding that the project would be divided into three phases with an estimated investment of between US$250 and US$300 million.

A larger port was essential logistically if 50 new resorts were to be developed, he continued, noting difficulties at present in importing and clearing resort supplies through the central port.

Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed said the Maldives was ripe for “an ocean economy” and the current administration has undertaken unprecedented efforts to diversify the economy with a focus of maritime businesses.

Congestion was a serious problem at the Malé commercial port, which has space for about 60,000 containers, Saeed explained.

“Due to the efficiency of the ports in Singapore and Dubai with an established efficient free trade zone, cargo from all over the world is being brought to these ports. It’s collected and then go to their destination. So merchants can get items even if they didn’t produce the cargo and it’s cheaper to bring things in bulk and redistribute,” Adeeb told local media after signing the MoU.

Photos by Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed 


Government to sign MoU with Dubai Ports World to develop port at Thilafushi

The government is planning to relocate the central commercial port from Malé to Thilafushi and sign a joint venture agreement with Dubai Ports (DP) World to develop the port as a free zone, the cabinet’s economic council has revealed.

Speaking at a press conference at the President’s Office yesterday, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb said “advance discussions” have taken place with DP World about a joint venture with the government.

“In my view, such progress shows the confidence in the Maldives,” the co-chair of the economic council said.

Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed and Youth Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal would depart for Dubai on Wednesday night to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), Adeeb said.

DP World is one of the largest marine terminal operators in the world and currently manages more than 60 terminals across six continents.

The envisioned free zone at Thilafushi port would include facilities for bulk breaking and transhipment cargo handling, Adeeb said.

DP World has expressed interest in investing in the port project, he continued, and negotiations were ongoing concerning details of the joint venture between the Emirati company and the Maldives Ports Limited (MPL).

DP World would be required to keep existing local staff at MPL, bring Maldivians to the top management and provide training, Adeeb said.

The project would be divided into three phases with an estimated investment of between US$250 and US$300 million, he said.

Adeeb explained that DP World would be offered incentives under the government’s flagship Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act with “a free trade zone area” and relaxed regulations.

A larger port was essential logistically if 50 new resorts were to be developed, he continued, noting difficulties at present in importing and clearing resort supplies through the central port.

The government would also hire a port expert for the negotiations to ensure the “best deal” for the Maldives, he added.

Economic Development Minister Saeed said the Maldives was ripe for “an ocean economy” and the current administration has undertaken unprecedented efforts to diversify the economy with a focus of maritime businesses.

Congestion was a serious problem at the Malé commercial port, which has space for about 60,000 containers, Saeed explained.

The SEZ investment board was in the process of finalising plans for establishing “a free zone or dedicated free trade zone” at the port, Saeed revealed.

During last year’s budget debate, opposition MPs expressed skepticism of the government’s forecast of US$100 million expected as acquisition fees for SEZs by August 2015.

The opposition has also criticised the lack of significant foreign investments despite assurances by President Abdulla Yameen’s administration with the passage of the SEZ law last year.

Saeed meanwhile noted that the seaport project was announced in April last year at an investor forum in Singapore.

“So in a very short period of time, we have steadied the economy, stabilised the currency, increased the gross reserve, increased investor confidence, and while solving issues in the domestic environment or arena, we are seeing today that what this government is doing is real governance,” he said.

“So citizens should rejoice. And I believe that the progress we are making is unprecedented in recent history.”

Adeeb also said projects to construct a new terminal and second runway at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) as well as a bridge connecting the capital to Hulhumalé would begin before the end of the year.

Related to this story

Economic growth relatively strong, but public debt ratio high: IMF

Foreign investments worth MVR9.8 billion expected in five years, says President Yameen

Tourism Minister Adeeb appointed chairman of SEZ investment board

PPM celebrates SEZ bill with fireworks

“Yonder lies the greener pastures”: President Yameen inaugurates investor forum in Singapore


Businesses need an “economic tsar” or a “tyrant” to succeed, says President Yameen

An “economic tsar” or a “tyrant” is essential for a business to succeed, President Abdulla Yameen said at a ceremony held last night to celebrate local investment company Alia’s 50th anniversary.

While business decisions are made in boardrooms after considering social factors, President Yameen said economic decisions should be taken by “someone with an economic mindset.”

“Success for a business is to have an economic tsar or an economic tyrant leading it,” said Yameen, addressing Alia’s senior management.

Alia Group has remained successful for so long because it is a “strong family business,” Yameen suggested.

“There cannot be many owners in a business. Businesses will get suggestions from the board, but when it comes to decisions, if there is one person who makes the decisions, it is more efficient,” he added.

Alia – founded by the late Ali Abdulla, father of former first lady Laila Ibrahim – started out in the early 1960s as Alia carpentry, before expanding into the construction industry.

Ten years later, the company reached an agreement with Yamaha, and introduced the Yamaha outboard engine to the Maldives, still being widely used in the transportation industry.

President Yameen praised Ali Abdulla for his vision and forward thinking, adding that under his management Alia had transformed the construction industry whilst revolutionising sea transportation with the introduction of the Yamaha engine.

Economy and investments

Yameen went on to say that the government is aiming toward increasing the rate of economic growth in the Maldives.

“The GDP growth this year is estimated at eight percent or higher,” he said.

“This growth, when compared to other countries and our close neighbour’s sluggish two to three percent growth, is a very vibrant economic situation.”

Last year, the government enacted its its flagship Special Economic Zones (SEZs) Act, which President Yameen’s administration insists would attract large scale foreign direct investments.

While the government forecasts it will receive US$ 100 million as acquisition fees for the SEZs by August 2015, the opposition has criticised the lack of significant foreign investments despite assurances from the government.

Last night, Yameen said peace and stability in the Maldives together with the government’s policies would spark interest from potential foreign investors.

“If we are able to grab the attention of the investors, and with the current direction of the economy, there will be big infrastructure projects in the future,” said Yameen.

Such investments would provide opportunities for local construction companies and create employment opportunities for the youth, he said.

“Sovereign guarantee”

President Yameen last night reiterated the government’s pledge to provide sovereign guarantees on loans to develop new resorts, noting that that the tourism industry offers “lucrative” employment opportunities for youth.

The economy does not benefit if resort development on islands leased by the government remains stalled for eight or 12 years, Yameen said.

“The rent for the islands might go into MIRA [Maldives Inland Revenue Authority],” he continued.

“However, the opportunity cost of the eight years is much higher. Imagine the amount of dollars which would cumulate and roll through the resort if it had been developed.”

Last year, the cabinet’s economic council announced plans to remove import duty on construction material needed for the refurbishments of resorts, in order to stimulate resort development.

Correction: This article previously identified Alia’s founder as Ali Ibrahim. This is incorrect. Alia was founded by Ali Abdulla.

Related to this story

Foreign investments worth MVR9.8 billion expected in five years, says President Yameen

Parliament approves state budget for 2015 with 60 votes in favour

PPM celebrates SEZ bill with fireworks

INIA capacity will increase threefold with new runway and terminal, says economic council


Foreign investments worth MVR9.8 billion expected in five years, says President Yameen

A total of MVR9.8 billion (US$635.5 million) has been pledged to the Maldives by 24 foreign investments registered so far, President Abdulla Yameen said in his presidential address today.

In the address delivered at the opening of the People’s Majlis’ first session of 2015, Yameen said the 24 foreign investments registered under his administration were not tourism-related.

“Under these investments, a total of MVR9.8 billion has been proposed to be invested in the Maldives during the next five years,” Yameen said over loud protests from opposition MPs calling for the release of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The pledged foreign investments represent a 70 percent increase on the previous year, Yameen added.

President Yameen’s second presidential address was delivered amidst an ongoing political crisis sparked by the arrests and prosecution of former Defence Minister Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim and former President Mohamed Nasheed on charges of terrorism.

The newly formed Maldivian Democratic Party-Jumhooree Party (MDP-JP) alliance held a massive protest march in the capital last Friday (February 27) demanding the pair’s immediate release.

During last year’s budget debate, opposition MPs expressed skepticism of the government’s forecast of US$100 million expected as acquisition fees for Special Economic Zones (SEZ) by August 2015. The opposition has also criticised the lack of significant foreign investments despite assurances by President Yameen’s administration with the passage of the SEZ Act last year.


Yameen began the address by assuring MPs that the current government would protect and uphold the constitution, adding that significant efforts were made during 2014 to “strengthen the civil justice justice and criminal justice system of the Maldives”.

Legislation on civil trial procedures would be submitted to parliament this year, Yameen said.

A ‘risk management framework’ to combat drug smuggling and abuse would also implemented during 2015, he continued, and privately operated rehabilitation centres would be opened with modern facilities.

While a bill on establishing an Islamic University has been submitted to parliament, Yameen said eight new government-funded mosques would be built during the year in addition to 10 new mosques funded by Saudi Arabia.

“Seven island harbours were constructed last year. And work is underway on constructing harbours on 32 islands. Additionally, land reclamation has been completed on four islands. And while land reclamation is ongoing in three islands, coastal protection work is ongoing in three islands,” he said.

Moreover, road construction projects have been contracted for 10 islands, Yameen said.

A project awarded to the Malé Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC) to resolve flooding in the capital was nearly complete, he continued, whilst US$100 million worth of foreign loans have been secured to provide safe drinking water and establish sewerage systems in inhabited islands.

Construction of 1,089 flats in Hulhumalé have now been completed, Yameen said, and work on a further 5,000 flats would begin this year.

Reclamation of 227 hectares of land in Hulhumalé would also be completed in March, he said.

A waste management project targeting four northern atolls is meanwhile expected to be completed during the year, Yameen added.

While a fishermen’s marina was established in Felivaru last year, Yameen said three more marinas would be set up in Kooddoo, Hulhumalé, and Addu City Feydhoo.

On the education sector, Yameen said a diploma certificate has been set as the minimum qualification for teachers and a new salary structure has been put in place.

The government’s health insurance scheme ‘Aasandha’ has been expanded to cover chronic illnesses and kidney transplants, he continued, whilst a programme was launched in November to provide “super-specialist” doctor’s service to the atolls.

Legislation is currently before parliament to protect women’s rights in divorce cases, Yameen said, which would provide temporary shelter to divorced women and establish rules for equitable division of property.

Moreover, the government is formulating rules to provide easy access to healthcare and prioritise employment for persons with special needs, he said.

Loans worth MVR200 million (US$12.9 million) would be issued in the near future under the ‘Get Set’ programme for youth entrepreneurs, he continued, and a bill on youth rights would be submitted to parliament this year.

Work was underway on building 36 sports pitches in islands with populations exceeding 2,000 people, he noted.


Yameen noted that the forecast for economic growth in 2015 was 10.5 percent, up from 8.5 percent last year, adding that in 2014 inflation was kept on average at 2.4 percent and the budget deficit brought down to MVR1.6 billion (US$103.7 million).

In a bid to encourage lending, Yameen said the minimum reserve requirement for banks would be reduced this year from 20 percent at present.

The forecast for the current account deficit in 2015 is US$214.7 million or 6 percent of GDP, he added, down from US$290 million or 10% of GDP last year.

“As a result of the increase in foreign currency the Maldives earned in 2014, serious difficulties faced by the public in obtaining dollars have been resolved, and with God’s will, the dollar shortage has been alleviated,” he said.

Referring to a decline in tourist arrivals from Russia and China in December and January, Yameen said the government has launched efforts to increase arrivals from both source markets.

“Despite the Maldives being seen as a high-end tourist destination, efforts are now underway to advertise the Maldives as an affordable luxury destination, expand the Maldivian guesthouse business, and expand the tourism industry to target mid-market [tourists] as well,” he added.

Yameen also said the government was taking back uninhabited islands leased for resort development due to contractual violations.

In the wake of former coalition partner JP’s alliance with the opposition MDP, the government seized several properties leased to JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group for alleged agreement violations. Last week, the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) gave a 30-day notice to Villa Group to pay US$100 million allegedly owed as unpaid rent and fines.

In 2015, Yameen said 22 islands would be leased for resort development both under normal bidding processes and as joint ventures.

Yameen added that development in the SEZs would create new jobs and spur economic growth as the minimum threshold for investments was US$150 million.

The government was in the process of formulating a master plan for the ‘iHavan’ project, Yameen said, which was among the mega projects envisioned in the SEZs.

A basic design for a new terminal at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) has been completed, he continued, and the government was seeking interested parties to repair and resurface the airport’s runway.

Foreign policy

Yameen said the Maldives achieved significant successes during 2014. The “Maldives’ name shined in the outside world” last year, he said.

The Maldives assumed the chairs of both the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) and World Health Organisation’s (WHO) executive board, Yameen noted.

Relationships with regional neighbours and Arab-Islamic nations were “brought back to its previous heights,” he continued.

In addition to state visits to friendly nations, Yameen said various agreements that would prove beneficial to the Maldives have been signed with India, Sri Lanka, China, and Japan.

Yameen also appealed for the participation of all Maldivian citizens in celebrating the country’s 50th independence day in July.

“God willing, this year will see new progress made in fulfilling the government’s pledges to the people,” he said.

Related to this story

Tourist arrivals decline in January as Chinese arrivals slow down

Parliament approves state budget for 2015 with 60 votes in favour

PPM celebrates SEZ bill with fireworks


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.

Related to this story

Saudi delegation visit Maldives to assess investment opportunities

Saudi Prince donates MVR18.4 million to build mosques in the Maldives

Saudi prince’s Maldives visit makes global headlines