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.


President sets US$150 million minimum on SEZ investment

President Abdulla Yameen has announced a minimum investment of US$150 million for any projects in the recently introduced special economic zones (SEZ).

Yameen announced the measure by presidential decree, publishing it in the government gazette today.

The Specials Economic Zones Act – the flagship policy of Yameen’s administration – was passed in August, being hailed by the president as a way to incentivise multi-million dollar investment in the country.

“We have now created the legal environment required to attract major investments. This creates such a framework,” he said following the passage of the act.

Tourism Minister and chair of the SEZ board of investment has suggested that just one ‘mega project’ attracted under the new scheme could transform the country’s economy.

Under the SEZ Act, each zone would be granted to a developer – following evaluation of a proposal – to take overall responsibility for management and operation. Once a permit is granted, finding and choosing investors is left to the developer.

Opposition MPs have contended the SEZ law would pave the way for money laundering and other criminal enterprises, undermine the decentralization system, and authorize a board formed by the president to “openly sell off the country” without parliamentary oversight.


Parliamentary debate begins on special economic zones bill

Preliminary debate on the government’s flagship special economic zones (SEZs) legislation began today with opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs warning that the envisaged law could turn the Maldives into a haven for “money laundering and washing black money.”

If the bill is passed into law, the government could hand out uninhabited islands or plots of land for periods, prices, and terms of its choosing without either parliamentary oversight or a role for local councils, contended MDP MP Ibrahim Shareef.

“The Maldives could become a machine for money laundering and turning black money white,” he added.

If the country becomes a money laundering destination for international criminal enterprises, Shareef warned that developed nations could impose sanctions on the Maldives.

Shareef also expressed concern with the impact of tax exemptions for investors in the SEZs on the local tourism industry.

Among other MDP MPs who spoke during the debate, MP Ahmed Nashid noted that the bill “supersedes” 14 other laws while MP Abdul Gafoor Moosa insisted that the legislation should be amended with the input of the main opposition party.

Speaking at an MDP gathering last week, former President Mohamed Nasheed had dubbed the SEZ legislation the “Artur Brothers bill,” referring to the infamous Armenians linked with money laundering and drug trafficking who made headlines in Maldivian media last year after they were photographed with cabinet ministers.

Nasheed claimed that the zones are intended for criminal activity, money laundering, gambling, and “other irreligious activities.”

The Maldivian government’s liaison officer in Addu during British occupation of Gan island had more authority and freedom than what the government would have in the SEZs, Nasheed contended.


Introducing the 70-page draft legislation (Dhivehi), MP Ahmed Nihan – parliamentary group leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – stressed that the bill includes provisions for terminating agreements with investors if an act of corruption specified in the International Convention against Corruption is proved.

The MP for Vilimale’ appealed for “cooperation and assistance” from opposition MPs in reviewing the legislation and addressing shortcomings at the committee stage.

In the ensuing debate, Jumhooree Party (JP) MP Ibrahim Hassan declared support for the legislation but suggested that the power to form a board of investment to oversee the zones should not be vested solely with the president.

JP MP Moosa Nizar Ibrahim suggested that environmental and national security concerns should be addressed, while JP Deputy Leader Ilham Ahmed said the bill contained “serious problems.”

While supporting the “concept” of SEZs, Ilham expressed concern with the bill offering tax exemptions to investors for a 10-year period and allowing uninhabited islands to be leased without advance payments.

The government would not receive any revenue from investors during the 10-year period, he noted, while investors would enjoy subsidised staple foodstuffs.


PPM MP Jameel Usman argued that the bill was intended to assure investor confidence and offer incentives to choose the Maldives over other developing economies in the region.

SEZs in the Dominican Republic and Philippines created thousands of jobs, noted PPM MP Abdulla Rifau, suggesting that new jobs for Maldivian youth would make up for lost tax revenue.

Moreover, the bill requires investors to carry out corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects, he added.

Incentives for investors offered in the bill include tax exemptions and relaxed regulations for employing foreign labour.

Investors would be exempted from paying either import duties for capital goods or business profit tax, goods and services tax and withholding tax.

Moreover, regulations on foreign workers would be relaxed while companies with foreign shareholders would be allowed to purchase land without paying privatisation fees or sales tax.

Geographical areas or regions declared an SEZ by the president would also be removed from the jurisdiction of local councils.

The nine SEZs envisioned in the bill includes an industrial estate zone, export processing zone, free trade zone, enterprise zone, free port zone, single factory export processing zone, offshore banking unit zone, offshore financial services centre zone, and a high technology park zone.

President Abdulla Yameen had declared in April that the SEZ bill would become “a landmark law” that would strengthen the country’s foreign investment regime.


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

President Abdulla Yameen inaugurated the Maldives Investment Forum at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands today with assurances to potential investors of the government’s commitment to fostering a business-friendly environment.

In his keynote address at the event, President Yameen said his administration was “cognisant of the needs of our investors and the requirements to strengthen and redefine the legal and regulatory environment governing foreign investments.”

“To address investment climate and to facilitate mega investments with attractive incentive packages, a Special Economic Zone Bill will be tabled in the parliament soon. Additionally, the Foreign Investment Act and Companies Act are being revised to cater the ever increasing needs of the modern foreign investors,” he said.

“Investment registration and facilitation has also been strengthened recently, with structuring of Invest Maldives as a one-stop shop for investment promotion, registration and facilitation.”

Over 160 companies and close to 200 representatives from 16 countries were present at the first overseas investor forum organised by the Maldives, Yameen noted, expressing gratitude for the “overwhelming support received for this forum.”

The new government has “embarked on an ambitious economic agenda to transform the economy” with the goal of becoming “a resilient, diversified high income economy in the next decade,” the president said.

He added that the government was committed to exploring “openings for increasing foreign investment flows to non-traditional sectors to lift Maldives beyond the image of a picturesque postcard.”

Yameen suggested that the success of the tourism industry over the past 40 years was due to “ingenuity, private enterprise and a liberal policy environment for foreign investments”.


The projects for which the government was seeking investors were “designed to position Maldives to take advantage of its strategic location as a hub and gateway for commerce, innovation and creativity, linking rest of the globe with South Asia,” he explained.

Briefing participants on the five mega-projects envisioned by the government, Yameen said that the Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project or iHavan “provides immense potential to capture substantive share of the trade and commercial opportunities in the South Indian Ocean and capture the trade flows crossing the seven degree channel.”

The government hoped to “engage private investors in the delivery of key pieces of infrastructure,” he said.

The other mega-projects or infrastructure development plans were concentrated in the Greater Male’ region, Yameen noted, which included the Hulhumale’ Youth City with further land reclamation and a maritime seaport project.

“With these investments, we foresee the region surrounding the Male’ City emerging as a vibrant commercial hub in the region,” he said.

The other mega-projects include the expansion of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), relocation and expansion of the central port to Thilafushi, and exploration for oil and gas.

Concluding his remarks, Yameen thanked foreign investors and senior businessmen from the Maldives for their “support and presence” at the forum, which gave the government “comfort and confidence” in its economic and trade policies.

Yameen said he hoped the forum would serve as “an avenue for enhancing understanding of the investment environment and opportunities in Maldives.”

He went on to congratulate Economic Minister Mohamed Saeed and his team for organising the forum and expressed gratitude to the key sponsors.

“Yonder lies the greener pastures,” he concluded by saying.

Yameen’s remarks were followed by presentations on the five mega-projects, a question and answer session with government ministers and speeches by Stephen Ho, President of Starwood Asia Pacific, Akhil Gupta, Chairman of Blackstone India, and William Ellwood Heinecke, CEO of Minor International.

President Yameen also launched the new Invest Maldives website at the forum this morning.

In his speech at the inauguration ceremony, Economic Development Minister Saeed revealed that the government was planning to hold a second investor forum in Shanghai, “the commercial capital of China.”

Moreover, at a press conference held at the forum, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb reportedly revealed that the government has decided to lease islands for resort development for 99 years instead of the 50-year lease period at present.

Legislation will be submitted to parliament to authorise the extension, he said, which was intended to gain investor confidence.

Meanwhile, prior to departing for Singapore yesterday, President Yameen told the press that the government was certain it would have to compensate Indian infrastructure giant GMR for the premature termination of the concession agreement to develop and manage INIA.

Earlier this month, Yameen had said that the out-of-court settlement sought by GMR was too high, and that he would now await the outcome of arbitration proceedings in Singapore, which could take up to another two months.

The US$511 million contract awarded by the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed was the single largest foreign direct investment in the Maldives’ history.