Majlis disrupted over Tourism Ministry corruption allegations

Today’s sitting of parliament was disrupted by ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MPs during minister’s question time after opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ali Azim suggested that the Tourism Ministry was widely perceived as corrupt.

In a followup question posed to Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb, MP Azim asked whether corruption at the ministry was stalling mid-market tourism development in Addu City, prompting yelling and screaming from pro-government MPs.

In the ensuing disorder, MPs sprang from their seats and acrimonious arguments broke out between pro-government and opposition MPs, forcing Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed to adjourn proceedings less than 15 minutes after they had begun.

However, unlike yesterday’s sitting – which was eventually cancelled after disruption forced a halt in the morning session – today’s sitting resumed at 11:30am and preliminary debate began on government-sponsored amendments to the Child Protection Act.

When the sitting resumed with Deputy Speaker Moosa Manik presiding, MDP MPs raised several points of order objecting to being denied the opportunity to question the minister.

As the ruling coalition had majorities on government oversight committees, MDP MP Rozaina Adam noted that the opposition party could not summon ministers for questioning at committee, leaving the 30-minute minister’s question time at sittings the only avenue to hold the executive accountable.

MDP MPs accused pro-government MPs of deliberately disrupting proceedings to prevent opposition MPs posing questions to the minister.

Deputy Speaker Moosa Manik, however, ruled that the minister’s question time had elapsed and urged MPs to allow the sitting to proceed.

Tourism in Addu City

Tourism Minister Adeeb was summoned to today’s sitting to answer a question tabled by MDP MP for Addu Maradhoo, Ibrahim Shareef, regarding plans for developing guest houses and infrastructure in the southernmost atoll.

In response, Adeeb said Addu City would have 5,000 tourist beds at the end of the current administration’s five-year term, which would ensure development of the whole atoll.

Addu City would be part of the first special economic zone (SEZ) created by the government’s flagship legislation currently before parliament, Adeeb added, which would also include Gaaf Alif, Gaaf Dhaal and Fuvahmulah.

“So when the development plan comes through [the SEZ], we see that Addu City will be the gateway for the whole [southern] region,” he said.

Adeeb argued that SEZs with tax exemptions and other incentives for investors were necessary to develop the Maldives, suggesting that policies were needed to make other regions of the country more attractive to potential investors.

Investors could not be drawn with the current rate of US$8 per square meter to lease state-owned land for tourism development, he added, noting that the area around the Equatorial Convention Centre also required foreign investment.

Investors “would surely come” if they were offered “tax breaks” for five or ten years to invest in SEZs, Adeeb suggested.

The tourism minister also declared support for the guest house tourism initiative undertaken by the opposition-controlled Addu City Council.

Development of resorts in uninhabited islands and plots of land “in the periphery” would provide sources of liquor and water sports to guests, he said.

The number of tourism beds in Addu City is currently 1,094.

Adeeb told Minivan News last month that contrary to criticism of the SEZ bill, one of the objectives of the legislation was to develop tourism outside the central atolls or the ‘seaplane zone’.

“Even you see even President Nasheed’s guest houses, it’s getting centralised in Malé because it’s more feasible here,” he explained.

“I believe that by doing the SEZ Act, we will bring the investment to these regions and this is the real decentralisation of investments.”


Government says “iconic” Malé-Hulhulé bridge can be finished in two years

Describing the project as “iconic for the whole region”, the Economic Development Minister last night pledged that the Malé – Hulhulé bridge project would take two years to complete.

“Looking at the bridge project, out of the 19 companies that had expressed interest, 7 were international parties,” Mohamed Saeed is reported to have said during a ceremony held to celebrate 100 days of President Abdulla Yameen’s government.

Deputy Minister of Housing Abdulla Ziyadh – whose ministry will become actively involved as soon as a contractor is selected – explained that the government is currently evaluating the received bids.

First touted as a campaign pledge of thirty-year President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 2008, the idea of a bridge connecting the congested island of Malé with its relatively spacious suburbs was also an aim of Gayoom’s successor Mohamed Nasheed.

The Nasheed government had put to contract out to tender in late 2011 shortly before its ousting in February 2012.

The current government called for expressions of interest in the project in early December 2013, with the window for interested parties to come forward closing on January 14.

The public private partnership contract will require a company to engage in the design, build, financing, maintenance and operation of the bridge.

“Primary objective of the Government is to bring a relief to the socio-economic issues arising from the urban congestion that is present in Malé,” the Ministry of Economic Development has explained.

Former Minister of Economic Development Mahmoud Razee – a member of Nasheed’s cabinet – told Minivan News today that a bridge would improve local commerce as well as reducing traffic congestion in Malé.

“There will be a mediation of the traffic because what happens in Malé – in the afternoons and evenings – a lot of the traffic is leisure traffic as motorcycles are out on the road, not to go to any particular place but for the sake of having a ride. If these are connected, the area they are able to mill around is increased by several kilometers,” he explained.

The former minister noted that an extension of the bridge westward to connect with Gulhi Falhi and the industrial island of Thilifushi would bring down the cost of warehouse space in the capital.

The final location of the bridge has yet to be announced by the government. Options considered in the past involved connecting Hulhulé with Malé at the tsunami monument area, or from the northern harbour via Funadhoo island.

Razee also echoed the comments of the current Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb who has acknowledged that the project is not viable without commercial components.

Mohamed Saeed was reported as suggesting last night that the bridge would be equipped with facilities to generate between 4 and  6 megawatts of renewable energy.

While Razee was skeptical of this proposal, he suggested that bridge could be used to lay cables between islands, reducing the need for expensive undersea cables to transfer production capacity across the Greater Malé area.

Saeed has previously described the building of the bridge as a “challenge”, but said the task is one of the pledges of the coalition government.

When the concession is awarded, Saeed has pledged, investors will not suffer damages, and the project will receive “protection” from the Maldives constitution.

Investor confidence in the Maldives had been negatively impacted under the Presidency of Dr Mohamed Waheed, with the Yameen presidency targeting its restoration as a key foreign policy aim.

During last night’s ceremony, Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed launched a book detailing the key elements included in the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ ‎manifesto, and the government’s achievements in its first 100 days.