Corruption allegations a political attempt at defamation, says Tourism Minister

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb has denounced corruption allegations publicised by local media as a “political attack” aimed to defame him.

A case filed at the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) last week alleged Adeeb abused his position of power to obtain MVR 77.1 million (US$5 million) from Maldives Ports Limited and US$1 million from Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC).

It is alleged that Adeeb subsequently loaned the funds to relatives and friends via state-owned tourism promotion company the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC).

The complainant claimed the MMPRC had obtained Maldivian Rufiyaa from the MPL in the guise of buying dollars with a promise to reimburse the amount four months later. However, two repayment cheques dated May 10 and 15 bounced due to insufficient funds.

The US$1 million reimbursement dated check for MTDC also bounced, they added.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Adeeb did not deny involvement in the transfer but said such transactions were routine between state owned companies in order to avoid purchasing dollars on the black market.

“The problem here is that I am being singled out and targeted,” he said, suggesting the unfair “defamation attempt” was linked to his refusal to support certain individuals for the position of speaker of the 18th People’s Majlis.

“There is absolutely no room for anyone to say that I fled with the MMPRC’s coffers,” he continued.

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

The ACC and the auditor general have confirmed they are investigating the case.

Suspicious transactions

Leaked documents filed at the ACC include an MMPRC letter to MPL CEO Mahdi Imad on February 24, in which the company’s Managing Director Abdulla Ziyath asked the MPL for the rufiyaa equivalent of US$5 million. The amount was to be paid back in dollars in four months through dated checks.

“Reference is made to the meeting held between the Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb and Maldives Ports Limited CEO Mahdi Imad,” the letter said

“An agreement is to be drafted by MPL for this transaction whose purpose is to provide foreign currency support to MPL through other government companies,” it read.

The complainant, however, questioned the justification, claiming: “The MMPRC is run on state funds, and as the company does not earn in dollars, it is highly questionable that the MPL gave the company money to buy dollars,”

MPL had also transferred rufiyaa to MMPRC at a time when the company had failed to pay dividends to the government. The company had argued it did not have money in its accounts, the complainant said.

They further alleged the MMPRC Managing Director Abdulla Ziyath personally went to MPL with the company’s seal to collect the cheques, demonstrating “the act was a planned act, for personal gain by the leaders of MPL and MMPRC.”

“When one company’s MD personally goes to receive funds from another company, it is evident this act is committed in secrecy, behind the company’s employees’ backs.”

The accuser also questioned why a company set up for tourism promotion was engaging in dollar sales. They also said it was against procedures for the MPL to release the money without any security measures.

In response, Adeeb said that as Tourism Minister he had also helped the state’s primary wholesaler State Trading Organisation (STO) obtain dollars to import goods.

He further pointed out the transactions took place between the companies via board resolutions and official letters, not through documents he had signed. He claimed the MPL needed dollars to buy equipment such as barges.

MPL’s Mahdi Imad was not responding at the time of press and an MMPRC official said Abdulla Ziyath was on leave today.

Loans to relatives

The complainant said as soon as the MMPRC obtained the money, it was transferred in two installments to a company owned by Adeeb’s friend called Millennium Capital Management without any bank checks or security procedures.

The US$1 million obtained from MTDC was loaned to a company owned by Adeeb’s father called Montillion International Pvt Ltd. Adeeb used to own majority of the shares in the company, but on becoming tourism minister in 2012, transferred all of his shares to his father Abdul Ghafoor Adam.

The complainant does not appear to have submitted any supporting evidence for the transfer of funds from MMPRC to the two companies.

When asked if the MMPRC had indeed transferred the funds to companies owned by his friends and relatives, Adeeb did not deny the claim and said he does not hold any business interests and is not a board member of any company.

“If you look at a 360 degrees, the case is very clear,” he said claiming the media was very “judgmental.”

Adeeb has previously been accused of involvement with an infamous pair of Armenian brothers linked with drug trafficking, money laundering, raids on media outlets and other serious crimes in Kenya.

Photos of the Arturs in the company of Adeeb and Minister of Defense Mohamed Nazim Maldivian ministers emerged on social media in April 2013, apparently taken during the Piston Motor Racing Challenge held on Hulhumalé between January 25 and 26.

One photo showed Artur Sargsyan next to Adeeb and Nazim, while another has him apparently starting one of the motorcycle races at the event, which was organised by the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF). Another image showed Sargsyan at the red carpet opening for the Olympus Cinema.

Adeeb acknowledged meeting the brothers during the event, but said he had no personal links with them, saying the brothers had come to see him over a business dispute with members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

He had asked the brothers to leave “for the good of the country.”

However, letter from the Tourism Ministry to immigration authorities requesting a residency visa for Margaryan and Sargayan Artur – dated January 27 and signed by Adeeb – was subsequently leaked on social media.


Q&A: Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb

Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Ghafoor speaks to Minivan News about his mandate, his aspirations for his five year term in the cabinet position, and his political career.

Adeeb served in the same cabinet post during the previous administration of former President Dr Mohamed Waheed. He is also currently the elected Deputy Leader of ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

Political Career

Mariyath Mohamed: What are the main things you hope to achieve in these five years as Tourism Minister?

Ahmed Adheeb: As you know, I initially became Tourism Minister in the last government, with the endorsement of PPM, with about two years left of the term when I assumed office. At the time, we worked to complete some of the then-existing work, for example completion of the Fourth Tourism Masterplan.

There were also many other legislative issues. As an example there is the case where tourist resorts were being formed under the old law on uninhabited islands. Then there were other resorts which had not been completed as agreed, and many islands from which the government was not receiving due payments. I believe that I was able to sort out a lot of issues like this.

At the time, it was not a PPM agenda that we were following, and the government was a rather large mix. Our aim at the time was to sustain tourism. As you know tourism is a sector which is very much connected to the country’s economy. When I assumed office, the political turbulence had caused the cancellation of many bookings, including charter flights from China. Maldives is a place which usually has bookings made two or three months ahead of the estimated date of arrival, and so booking cancellations mean that the rate of arrivals were dropping.

I came and made a set up to deal with the issue. The civil service team at the Tourism Ministry has a lot of experienced personnel with long term institutional memory. They have a lot of practical experience, for example in how they tackled the 2004 tsunami disaster and the effects of the Gulf War, and many other such incidences.

As I see it, I assumed office in the middle of a crisis too, so I pulled together the crisis management team and we made a cell to deal with the matter. We had the resorts report back to us on a daily basis with records of how many booking they had made and how many bookings had got cancelled every single day. We used this as a barometer at the time, and commenced work. I went to the ITB fair in Germany as well as the WTM in London and held press conferences.

I believe it is crucial to face press and respond to their enquiries. At that time, the opposition was raising its voice, accusing us of having come to power through a coup d’etat and we addressed those allegations. What I mean by that is, I pointed out that a Commission of National Inquiry had been established with Commonwealth intervention on mutual agreement and called on the opposition to not draw conclusions while the investigation was pending. I called on them to give us time until the investigation was completed. And in any case, I don’t believe tourism must come to an end regardless of the political volatility, as it is something closely knit with the livelihood of all Maldivian citizens and the country’s economy. We said that more than a political agenda, our focus is on marketing tourism. It was well accepted and if you check headlines from then you will find our interviews in the Telegraph and other such news agencies.

I believe we were able to sustain the tourism industry within those two years. In 2012, I worked hard to reach a target of 1 million tourist arrivals, but were able to reach 965,000. However, last year we reached the target. I am happy with the 1.2 million arrivals, I believe we were able to reach a good target.

This government has recently come into effect and as PPM’s deputy leader, I too did a lot of work on our manifesto, mainly on the economic sector. Our plan is to create three special economic zones, and to develop even the tourism sector through these. The model in mid-Maldives, of Malé and the atolls connected within the seaplane’s zone, is a very ideal one to be replicated in North and South of the country. This can only be achieved by building certain infrastructure in these zones. A law on economic zones needs to be drafted.

Additionally, we need to explore what needs to be done to implement what is in the Tourism Masterplan. Whether we should increase beds, and how to do that, and so on. As you know, the current bed capacity of the country is 25,000 and I believe this needs a fast-paced increase. During the new year season, there was a fall of about 2000 beds due to overbooking. There’s also the Chinese New Year. So I believe we need to very quickly increase bed capacity, whether it be in resorts, city hotels or other new products.

I especially want to also note that the real estate market in Maldives is also something we can promote through tourism.

MM: After having previously worked in the Maldives Customs Services, and then the Chamber of Commerce, how did you enter the political arena?

AA: I worked in the Air Cargo department of Maldives Customs Services for three years. During my time there, I became familiar with trade and import. All imports into Maldives, including even seafood, is usually brought in by air freight. I became familiarised with trade and at the time decided to go abroad for further studies.

After completion of my degree, I worked in stock exchange in Sri Lanka. I then completed my Masters programme, returned to the Maldives and worked in private consultations. In 2009, on invitation of the existing board of Chamber of Commerce, I contested for a post on its board of directors. I served as a board member then, and as its treasurer. I stayed there since about 2011.

I believe that as people who research the economy, we all have our views and certain set principles on everything, including privatisation, foreign exchange, and how an economy must be moulded. That, I believe, is our ideology. I believe in openness, Maldives is a very open country. Maldives cannot develop at its best unless it is opened up for investments and we need to bring about certain economical reforms.

If we look at the last five years, it is mostly political reforms that have been brought, and that too at a very fast pace. Meaning, for example, we can now say Maldives is one of the countries where press freedom is granted most openly. However, in an economical perspective, reforms have not been brought yet. Being a country with a low population and with low savings, foreign investments are very important.

In that sense, the Chamber of Commerce is a very political organisation internally, in that we fight for businessmen’s rights, and lobby for changes. I was involved in this, and was often invited to TV shows and other media programmes. I often did research for various businesses, and this always includes economic research of the Maldives. With these updates, I was always outspoken about any issues we may have with the policies of the government then in power. I have always given opinions on these matters to media in my own name. For example, when the government implemented the change in dollar rates, I revealed my view in my own name in the media. Our prediction proved more true than the estimates of the government’s policy makers at the time, for example they were unable to solve the foreign currency issue by the introduction of a dollar band. We said even then that it was a wrong step and called on them to reverse the decision.

Although I am junior by age, I have conducted a lot of research and work. For example, back when current President [Abdulla] Yameen was in People’s Alliance, I did a lot of technical work for the party, including budget reviews, analysis, and providing details of these to the party’s parliamentarians. I used to debate a lot on economical matters with Yameen at the time. He is a very academic and technical person in the field.

It then led to Yameen inviting me to take on the responsibilities of a cabinet minister during the change in government in 2012. I responded that I cannot take on responsibilities of a cabinet minister unless it is in my field of expertise, i.e in the business area. That I would not know how to handle something like the health or education sector. That if it was in the business sector, I would know well to take policy decisions. So I accepted the post of tourism minister and took it as a challenge. I was 29 years of age then.

Many friends and family members advised me to not take up the position, owing to the political atmosphere of the time. However, as I see it, it is very easy to stand outside and criticise matters. But when one has to actually implement things within the legal framework, it is a completely different experience.

Every decision we must make in a position like this is a tough one, but needs to be taken firmly. It is impossible to please everyone with any decision we make. We must also be able to digest criticism levied against us by media or other sources.

There are certain things I have observed since I assumed this post. Cabinet ministers are policy makers. The policies we decide on must be implemented by the civil service, but it is the Permanent Secretary that will deal with the day to day management of civil servants. I will not engage in the hiring and firing of civil servants. I distinguish between the two.

The other thing is I believe every tourism minister must maintain good public relations. We cannot solve the existing issues without building rapport with all investors. I work to understand their concerns, and to get win-win results for the government through the understanding of these concerns. And in that way I gained their acceptance.

I also always ask elders and more experienced persons for advice, including policy makers and former presidents. I believe in treating them respectfully.

A lot of people were of the mindset that I would not be up for this challenge as I was appointed at such a young age. I took it up as a challenge and have been careful in my work. This is because I realise that if I fail, it will reflect not just on me alone, but there will be a reluctance to appoint young ministers in the future.

I do get a lot of criticism, but I believe getting criticism from the opposition is a success in its own right. I also strongly believe that criticism that comes for my decisions is not out of a dislike of me personally, but something that comes along with the cabinet position. So I take it all professionally, as it is an indication that I am doing something right. I have always been told that one will have enemies if they stand up for something.

I don’t differentiate between people of different political ideologies. I believe a person’s political affiliation is a very personal thing and we must be willing to work alike with everyone. I have been trained in politics through the democratic system, and so find it easy to handle the criticism and work through it all.

MM: How do you currently manage time between fulfilling the responsibilities of being both a cabinet minister, as well as the Deputy Leader of PPM?

AA: A deputy leader of a party is also a policy maker there. If the party’s president is unable to attend councils or larger committee meetings, I chair them. Council meetings are normally held once a month unless there is an election approaching. But in these we just decide on policies.

I always differentiate between policy making and implementation. Once we decide on policies to observe, and for example ways to obtain funds, it is the office staff and volunteers who will then work to implement these. I never micromanage things. So it is easy to manage time at a policy making level.

The difficulties arise because once you become a high level politician, either in state level or party level, a lot of individual citizens want to contact you directly. It is often difficult to respond to them in a timely manner, but I do attempt to call them back even if later. But I believe that this is something I need to improve on.

MM: Are you able to fulfill both responsibilities at your best capacity?

AA: I believe I do. If you ask other party members, or council members or parliamentarians, they too will tell you that since I adopted this position as deputy leader, I have taken up huge responsibilities within the party. Even if you ask the former president of other cabinet colleagues, they will tell you that I am a man who always stands up and remains firm even during difficult times and through chaotic times. As I see it, you have to be courageous in taking up responsibilities, and should not shy away from the repercussions that come your way.

MM: What are your future plans for your political career?

AA: A lot of people ask me that. I am only turning 32 this year. I am definitely not a presidential candidate. Even in 2013, a lot of people asked me if I was going to be a running mate or candidate of some party or other. I responded even then that I am not that ambitious. I only consider things as they come to me through given opportunity. I don’t proactively look for positions. My political career will be built on the next five years. Implementation of our economic policies is a huge dream of ours, and that is what will give me the most satisfaction. I see the achievement of this dream as far more important to me than attempting to get higher positions than the one I am in now. This is also the party president’s vision.

As I see it, we have only recently gained the opportunity to show our own results. It is through the results that we manage to show in these five years that my political career, too, will be shaped.

The country has a huge youth population. While there was a difference of opinions when I was appointed during the former administration, due to my young age. But Yameen well understands that with the huge youth population in this nation, it will be difficult to develop the country without youth inclusion.

What I have to say to youth is, if you have a dream, show your capacity and exploit your potential. Being a country with a small population, there is a lot of vast opportunity here.

Section Two: Tourism Policies

MM: The current cabinet is split into economic and social councils. What are your responsibilities on the Economic Council and which other colleagues sit on it?

AA: The economic council has five ministers, including the youth minister and is chaired by the President. I am the co-chair.

There is a Social Council and the Economic and Youth Council. Even in previous governments, there were separate committees, but the cabinet also met on a regular basis, which led to these committees meeting less frequently. But as the president wants to reach results at a fast speed, he holds the council meetings every single day. I believe that with about ten years of cabinet experience, this initiative by the president adds to added effectiveness and better time management. Now each cabinet minister can better focus on matters that directly involve them.

However, on major issues that involve the full cabinet, there are full cabinet meetings.

MM: What are the government’s plans for establishing guest islands? Are these to be on uninhabited islands alone? What then is the distinguishing factor between a guest island and a tourist resort?

AA: Yes, it is targeted mostly to uninhabited islands. The thing is, it is a huge infrastructure investment to build a tourist resort. It becomes an expensive place to go to when they invest in water set-ups, sewerage systems and all before building rooms. We at advanced stages of making a model where we are speaking with MWSC to make water set-ups, sewerage systems and electricity set ups in an island, after which we can give plots to individual businessmen. For example, common restaurants can be managed by one party, water sports by another party, twenty rooms by one company, another twenty rooms by another company and so on. In that way, we are creating numerous businesses there. We are planning to introduce this as a test model to see if many mid level businesses can co-exist and run a guest island in this manner. MWSC is already on board to set up the utilities, and the businesses will just need to pay monthly bills to them.

While it will be difficult for a small business to invest in a full resort, there are many small and midlevel businesses that can invest in small sections of an island. We can even replicate this in uninhabited areas of large inhabited islands. First we intend to test this on an uninhabited island. We plan to begin implementation around March this year.

MM: The government has also recently announced that permits to run guesthouses will only be given if the said guesthouse is to be built on an island with existing water and sewerage systems. Will this cause more income to islands which are already somewhat developed, while marginalising less developed islands which may perhaps even be better suited for tourism in other manners?

AA: There is a lot of confusion around this matter. There are four tourism sectors: tourist resorts, tourist hotels, guest houses, and yacht marinas. Under the Tourism Law, tourists are not allowed to spend nights at any place other than places registered under one of these sectors. This is not to say that one cannot invite a friend to stay over at their house, but it cannot be done commercially. This is also for the protection of tourists as well.

We often get proposals to build city hotels. What we are saying is, how can you build a city hotel without an investor also building a sewerage and water system there. How can it be managed otherwise?

What we are encouraging is for people like those councils from large islands that ask for state land to be leased to build a city hotel to also condition investors to build utility systems there. The opposition is, however, often confusing this with the guesthouse licenses which we already do authorise.

Under a law, we have to authorise the opening of guesthouses on any private land as long as it fits in with the set guidelines. Former President Nasheed had released about twenty licenses, and even I have released about a 160 licenses since then. That is going steadily forward and we encourage it.

We even assist in solving any issues that may have. For example, to assist the guesthouse community in Hulhumalé, we authorised some cars to carry tourists from the airport to Hulhumalé over the connecting road. Even in Maafushi, we have addressed many issues.

The thing is, we just don’t talk about guesthouses so much. The thing is, from a marketing perspective, we have positioned the Maldives as a high-end destination. A-category guests will continue coming for as long as we market the country as an A-category destination. Guests for B,C,D and E categories are something we automatically get. Even guesthouses are able to get guests to stay for 80 or 90 dollars because Maldives is marketed as a high end destination and for guests it is a dream come true to be able to stay here for that price. If the government begins to market tourism at guest house level, this will drop down drastically. This is the strategy we employ.

Even locally, culturally, people get disheartened when we talk about guesthouses. So although I don’t much talk about it, guesthouse owners are aware that they have my full cooperation. The circular was meant to let investors know that it is feasible to run a 20 room hotel only if the utility services are also set in place.

MM: What is the implication of the cancellation of charging bed tax, which has been in effect from January 1? What is the government’s plan of action to make up for this loss in revenue?

AA: The bed tax is supposed to be cancelled from January 1 this year, but this is not considered when the budget is expanded. We are asking for an extension until June.

Normally, budget and government revenue earning bills are passed together. But here, the parliament goes into recess after passing the budget, leaving the income bills pending for after that. And even then, they often just fail.

This causes the budget to expand, but there’s no way for the government to earn enough to implement it. The T-GST [Tourist Goods and Services Tax] matters even more to the state income. The state keeps expanding, the allowances and salaries keep increasing, but the income for all of this still depends on the 25,000 tourist beds. Unless we expand this, how can we increase what we earn? We can’t keep expanding the state, and then squeezing the existing tourism sector without expanding it.

MM: As a low lying island state, do you think climate change is a serious threat to the Maldives, and may have large adverse effects on tourism? Does this ministry have any existing plans to deal with these effects?

AA: After the 2004 tsunami, the country now has a good response system to disaster. Each resort has a high rise shelter in case of such an emergency and evacuation plans for all guests to see. The tourism sector, in developing resorts, pays attention to sustainable development and prioritises the environment.

The current government does not believe Maldives needs to be a guinea pig for the climate change cause. I mean, it is not the Maldives that conducts activities which are harmful to the environment.

However, we cannot go around saying Maldives will sink in 20 years and then ask for investments of 50 years in the tourism sector. This causes investors to be reluctant to invest in the Maldives. We do not believe we are at risk of suddenly sinking and think in a perspective of protecting investments.

Although we don’t speak about this at a marketing level, we do want to make Maldives a model in sustainability. We do take action on the matter though we do not speak of it much at a marketing level. We do not want investors to lose confidence, so we cannot do both. Let us first develop to this stage.


Government requests bids for Hulhumale’ bridge project

The Economic Ministry has announced the opening of a bidding process for a bridge to be built between Male and Hulhumale at a press briefing held at the President’s Office today.

“We are looking for a party to design, operate and maintain [the bridge]. This means commercial components will have to come with this,” said Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb this afternoon.

“That is how this will become sustainable. As you know, a bridge will not be sustainable in the Maldives if it relies solely on the traffic. So, this will come with commercial components. It will become a very big investment.”

An announcement calling for expressions of interest has been placed in the government gazette today, with offers requested for the building, maintenance and operation of the bridge linking the two largest urban areas in the Greater Male’ area.

Bids from domestic and international parties will be accepted until December 29.

Minister of Economic Development Mohamed Saeed described the building of the bridge as a “challenge”, but said the task is one of the key pledges of the coalition government.

He wants bridge work to start as soon as possible, promising that when the concession is awarded, investors will not suffer damages, and that 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.

The country’s largest ever foreign direct investment deal – the US$500million lease to re-develop Ibrahim Nasir International Airport – was unilaterally terminated by the government late last year.

Arbitration proceedings are continuing in Singapore, with Indian infrastructure giant GMR claiming US$1.4billion for “wrongful termination”.

Similarly, Malaysian firm Nexbis was given just two weeks to leave the country after the government terminated its deal to install and operate a border control system after the government suggested the MDP-brokered deal was causing “major losses” to the state.

The idea of a bridge linking connecting the islands of Male’ and Hulhumale’ – an artificially reclaimed island built to combat the rising population of Male  – was proposed during the presidency of Mohamed Nasheed in 2011.

The building of a bridge was to accompany the Veshi Fahi Male’ de-congestion programme – a flagship project of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government under its manifesto pledge to provide affordable housing.

The project was launched on November 10, 2010 to ease congestion in the capital and develop the Greater Male’ Region, consisting of Hulhumale’, Vili-Male’, Thilafushi industrial island and Gulhifalhu.

Following the ousting of Nasheed’s administration in February 2012, his successor President Mohamed Waheed announced it had been trying to get a US$150 million loan (MVR 2.31 billion) from Turkey’s Exim bank to fund the project.


Maldives on course to meet million tourist target as political uncertainty dominates global headlines

“The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has said the Maldives will successfully welcome over one million tourists to the country this year, according to Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb.

The claims were made as the country’s ongoing political uncertainty comes under intense scrutiny by global media after the country’s judiciary – previously reported as being heavily politicised in a UN-sanctioned investigation – suspended polling scheduled for September 28,” reports Minivan News’ spin-off travel site, Dhonisaurus.

“Tourism Minister Adheeb, speaking after the country officially launched the international celebrations for World Tourism Day on September 27 from Kurumba Island Resort, said that current statistics – backed by the UNWTO – indicated that tourist arrivals would exceed one million visitors during 2013.

The Maldives narrowly missed out on its stated aim of bringing one million visitors to the country last year, citing the impacts of global media covering the controversial change of government, an event which followed a mutiny by sections of the police and military.

The UNWTO launch event was attended by Adheeb, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and President Dr Mohamed Waheed, who spoke of the potential dangers the Maldives faced as a result of climate change – not least in terms of issues of water supply.

However, the celebrations, attended by senior UNWTO figures, were overshadowed by international media reports of “political chaos” in the country, and talk of potential disruption to the lucrative resort industry as a result of a 5,000 strong workers’ union pledging prolonged strike action.

The action was pledged in response to a Supreme Court decision on September 23 to indefinitely suspend the ongoing presidential election over allegations of voter irregularity, a decision that sparked global concern from international actors that had praised the voting process earlier this month.

Despite the strike pledge, tourism industry operators speaking to Dhonisaurus – including properties directly linked to presidential candidates placed second and third during voting on September 7 – said it had nonetheless been business as usual for the country’s resorts this week.

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Maldives to unveil new tourism master plan with UNWTO on September 27

This story was first published on Maldives resort review site,

The Maldives government has announced its intention to unveil the country’s fourth official tourism master plan on September 27 to coincide with this year’s World Tourism Day, according to local media reports.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb last week declared that the final draft of the master plan would be unveiled by the president of the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) during a visit next month.

Adheeb said the five year scope of the plan was expected to emphasise strengthening tourism infrastructure across the country, while also implementing zones outlining specific types of development.

Existing aims outlined under previous master plans that were yet to be fully realised would also be included in the new document, the minister told local media.

Anticipated focus

Speaking previously to Minivan News, former Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal has said the master plan was anticipated to include developments such as the expansion of biospheres and other “value-adding” concepts.

“We are working on the fourth tourism master plan in line with groups like the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank to focus on a destination strategy,” he said late last year.

The former deputy minister – dismissed by the government in June after deciding to back a rival candidate to President Dr Mohamed Waheed in the upcoming election – had spoken in recent months of a number of key aims to be included in the plan, including event tourism and strengthening the fledgling guest house sector.

The potential for expanding mid-market tourism in the Maldives through the “niche” guesthouse segment emerged as an early election issue this year after senior opposition and government figures clashed over how best the country’s inhabited islands might profit from visitors.

While unable to outline the exact scope of the new master plan, Maleeh also previously pointed to President Waheed’s announcement to make the Maldives the world’s largest marine reserve within the next five years as a commitment that could prove particularly beneficial to tourism.

“Since the foundation of tourism 40 years ago, the environment has always been hugely important to the Maldives. After 40 years the country is still pristine making us very popular with tourists and we welcome any actions to encourage maintaining this,” he said.

Maleeh added that the foundation of marine parks and reserves in the country at destinations like Baa Atoll was already helping create a “premium destination within a destination”, adding further value to properties located in an area of strong natural interest.

Along with the potential benefits of operating as a marine reserve, he claimed that the country’s status of being a protected marine reserve would not itself impact on the type of tourism developments being sought in the Maldives.

These plans have included ambitious proposals such as the construction of five man-made islands to support leisure developments including a 19-hole golf course in the Maldives.

Maleeh claimed that he did not think these type of projects would be threatened by the Maldives protected reserve status, with developers still being required to work within existing environmental laws that impose several restrictions on the amount of development possible on each island.

The government meanwhile announced earlier this year that it would be moving ahead with plans to transform the Maldives into a biosphere reserve through the designation of zones across the country that would earmark land use for specific purposes such as tourism development or conservation.

Despite these commitments, the country’s first Marine National Park (MNP) in Noonu Atoll is yet to receive land that successive governments have agreed would be set aside for the project back in 2011.


Raajje TV forced to cancel art exhibition after Tourism Ministry refuses access to exhibition hall

Opposition-aligned local broadcaster Raajje Television has claimed that the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture forced it to cancel an art exhibition ‘Dhe Fiyavalhu Fahathah’ (Two steps back) organised by the station, after the Ministry refused to issue access to National Art Gallery over “security concerns”.

The theme of the exhibition of both local and international artists was the controversial ousting of former President Mohamed Nasheed in February 2012.

According to the events official Facebook page, it was to display a “collection of artwork where the artists express their opinion and ‘bigger picture’ of democracy in the Maldives”.

The station had opened the opportunity for artists aged over 18 to submit their work from June 20 to July 26.

Speaking to local media, Deputy CEO of the station Abdulla Yameen claimed it had sought all  necessary permissions and had even entered into an agreement with the National Center for Arts (NCA) to hold the exhibition.

He also said that in order to address any possible security concerns, the station had notified the police and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).

“However, until even to the last minute none of the authorities informed us of any security concerns. We had everything arranged for the exhibition and it was expected to kick off later on Friday evening. All our equipment was already inside the art gallery,” said the Deputy CEO.

According to Yameen, when the technical crew returned to the Art Gallery after breaking their fast, they were not allowed inside and were informed that access to the gallery had been restricted on the order of Toursim Minister Ahmed Adheeb.

Meanwhile, the Chief Executive Officer of the NCA Ali Waheed – President Mohamed Waheed’s brother – told local media that the keys to the gallery had been withheld on the orders of the Tourism Ministry over security concerns as the government’s Independence Day activities were to take place not far from the art gallery.

“Since it would be difficult to inform [the organisers of the exhibition] in writing, we verbally informed them that the art gallery would only be available after July 27. We even got the instruction from the Ministry on Friday. They said it was for security reasons,” Waheed said.

Meanwhile Defence Minister Ahmed Nazim was quoted in local media as saying it was not advisable to hold such an exhibition in a venue near the Independence Day activities, and said he had notified the Tourism Minister.

Nazim however denied giving any orders to restrict access to the art gallery, claiming the decision to block access to the art gallery was made solely by the Tourism Ministry.


Civil Court injunction prevents government takeover of Alidhoo, Kudarah resorts

The Tourism Ministry has been prevented from taking control of resort properties operated by Yacht Tours Maldives under a Civil Court injunction issued yesterday (June 4), pending a final ruling on a long-running dispute over unpaid rent.

J Hotels and Resorts, a company owned by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Abdulla Jabir, went to the Civil Court yesterday to contest the government’s right to reclaim the two resorts over allegations the company had failed to settle rent payments and fines totalling some US$7 million (MVR 107 million).

The company has claimed that the vast majority of the outstanding payment is the result of fines issued by the state during the ongoing payment dispute.

The government has sought to revoke the lease for Alidhoo Resort in Haa Alif Atoll and Kudarah Island Resort in South Alifu Atoll from J Hotels and Resorts’ parent company Yacht Tours Maldives since late last year.  The state had previously provided the operator a seven day period to hand over the properties.

However, Yacht Tours Maldives has continued to contest the government’s right to reclaim the land.

“Unlawful cancellation”

Yacht Tours Director Ibrahim Shiham said that the Civil Court injunction issued last night suspended what he alleged was the government’s “unlawful cancellation” of its lease for the two resorts until a ruling was made on the company’s dispute over rent payments.

Speaking to Minivan News, Shiham accused the government of trying to come on to the Kudarah resort property on Monday (June 3) without a court warrant to take back the property, alleging authorities had sought to create a “political drama” out of the case.

He claimed that authorities were refused entry by around “three or four people” on the island, despite local media reports citing a ministry source as claiming that around 50 people had attempted to block their arrival at the resort’s jetty area.

The Tourism Ministry has alleged to Sun Online that Yacht Tours had continuously failed to pay back the rent and fines in installments as previously agreed following the first termination notice.

Yacht Tours meanwhile claimed that uncertainty as a result of the Tourism Ministry’s actions had seen occupancy rates at Alidhoo Resort fall from over 60 per cent in recent weeks to just 11 percent yesterday due to cancelled bookings.

Shiham has alleged that company was being unfairly punished as a result of an “internal argument” between the Ministry of Tourism and the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) over whether to accept an advance payment previously paid by Yacht Tours to cover rent owed to authorities.

He added that under amendments made to tourism regulations back in 2011, a long-term US$1.5 million dollars (MVR 23 million) rent advance for the island of Watavarreha was no longer required to be paid all at once, making the company eligible for a repayment.

Earlier this year, Yacht Tours released documents and transcripts of official letters to media showing it had requested then Minister of Tourism Dr Mariyam Zulfa to transfer a refundable payment from the Watavarreha advance to cover payments owed for Kudarah and Alidhoo.

A follow-up letter, dated August 21, 2011, stated that according to the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA), the government owed the company US$1,115,374 (MVR 17,176,760).  At the same time, the company was said to owe a total amount of US$1,300,418 (MVR19.9 million) in charges for the three resorts to the state.

Shiham said that the Tourism Ministry under the previous government of former President Mohamed Nasheed had requested MIRA process the payment accordingly.

“However, MIRA did not wish to do this. This has become an internal argument that is nothing to do with us,” he said. “We believe the Tourism Ministry has the authority on this matter.”

Shiham added that as the payments were not related to service taxes that were required to be paid directly to MIRA, the matter of rent should be decided by the Tourism Ministry itself.

With the controversial change of government overnight on February 7, 2012, Yacht Tours has claimed that its agreement was further complicated, leading to MIRA filing a court case against the company.

Speaking to Minivan News this week, former Tourism Minister Dr Zulfa confirmed that Yacht Tours had previously requested the Finance Ministry use the advance payment for Watawarreha Island to cover rent payments for its other properties that were in arrears.

“As a matter of law, I advised the then Finance Minister Mr [Ahmed] Inaz that there was nothing barring such as adjustment since all the resort properties were under the same company name,” she said.

Dr Zulfa added that the company separately requested a refund on the funds paid for Watawarreha, despite the land tax legislation at the time being collected correctly by the government.  She added that the advance payment was designed to have been deducted by the government from payable rent.

“I did advise Mr Jabir to submit the matter to court for a legal determination if he felt that the advance payment was rendered unfair and I think he duly did,” she said. “I hope it is clear that the government of President Nasheed did not agree to the refund, but merely advised that an adjustment in rent across all resort-properties leased to Yacht Tours regardless of what island such advance was paid for was possible, because of course they were leased to the same company.”

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb was not responding to calls from the Minivan News at  time of press. Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal was out of the country.

Termination notice

Minister Adheeb earlier this year rejected allegations that the Tourism Ministry was singling out certain resort operators in terms of treatment, adding that each property was required to pay rent or face receiving a termination notice.

Adheeb claimed that when he first took up his position following February’s controversial transfer of power, there were 12 resorts found to be not paying rent at the time.

“We are not tolerating resorts who do not pay rent, any operating resort has to pay. Those who are not paying already have the termination notice. This culture has to go, by the end of this year all resorts will be paying and it will become a more stable industry,” he said at the time.

At a press conference held on December 31, 2012, Adheeb said that resort operator Yacht Tours had been sent termination notices for both Alidhoo and Kudarah resorts, with a seven day period for handover.

He added that while the ministry had come to a payment system agreement with a number of other companies, Yacht Tours had sent no official written communication in regard to the payment of outstanding rents.

The claims were later rejected by Yacht Tours, which in turn alleged that the ministry had failed to respond to its correspondence on the matter of rent payments, leading it to take legal action to resolve the dispute.


State, private sector divided over responsibility for Maldives garbage dumping

Divisions have arisen between different ministerial bodies and the private sector over who should take the majority of blame for garbage being dumped into the sea.

While the Environment Ministry this month raised fears about increased levels of garbage in the sea as a result of resort waste not being properly disposed of, the Tourism Ministry responded that the more likely culprits were boat operators.

Meanwhile, the country’s safari boat industry has rejected allegations that a large number of liveaboard operators were responsible for dumping trash into the country’s waters, claiming the main problem lay with boats hired by resorts to transport waste to landfill.

Mounting complaints

Minister of Environment and Energy Dr Mariyam Shakeela told local media earlier this month that the majority of waste being produced by resorts was not reaching land set aside for disposal on the island of Thilafushi.  She claimed it was instead being dumped in the sea.

Dr Shakeela stated that complaints about resorts dumping their trash were mounting and that “close inspection of waste accumulating in the sea near the capital Male’ has proved that it had been dumped by resorts”.

“The reason I say this is because most of the photos sent in by EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] and other such authorities show large quantities of orange peel. Bits of apples and tomatoes amount to most of the waste. Where does it come from? It comes from the resorts,” Shakeela said.

She added the amount of waste produced by resorts amounted to 7.5 kg per head.

Environmental authorities have nonetheless pledged to “try to establish a focal point on each resort” and conduct a waste study.

Responding to Dr Shakeela’s comments, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb told Minivan News this month that resorts had their own waste management facilities, adding that dhonis (boats) were more likely to be behind dumping the garbage.  He mantained that the matter was presently under investigation.

Addressing concerns about the levels of trash found in the sea, Adheeb also highlighted the lack of a nationwide waste management system.

He said that while the previous government of former President Mohamed Nasheed had proposed generating energy from incinerators – referring to ongoing uncertainty over a previous waste management project – it first needed to have incinerators in place and working.

The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture has previously pledged to take the “lead” in addressing waste management issues in Male’ should the city’s council and the Ministry of Environment and Energy fail to effectively deal with concerns about garbage.

In early January, Adheeb said the issue of waste management posed an immense threat to tourism in the country.  He added at the time that his department would “take the lead” to actively address the problem should other authorities fail to resolve ongoing concerns by February 2013.

However, opinion about levels of trash being dumped in the sea appears further divided among boat operators in the country – particularly within the safari boat industry, which provides trips and cruises for both tourists and Maldivians.

Safari boat waste dumping

A source with over 16 years experience in the safari boat industry has alleged that approximately 75 percent of safari (liveaboard) boats were responsible for prolific waste dumping.

“Every night when all the guests go to sleep around 12:00am to 1:00am, the liveaboard staff throws everything into the sea. This includes basically everything, all the trashcans [bags], plastic bottles, foods, lube oil, for example,” the source said.

The source further explained that the practice of dumping waste depended often on the company operating the boat, their hiring practices, and staff regulations.  He alleged that the worst practices were often committed “by the ones in charge of the Liveaboard Association”.

“When you have a proper establishment they won’t let staff do that. Very good local and foreign companies strictly forbid staff to throw even cigarette butts into the ocean,” the source said.

“However, there are no regulations or requirements to work on a liveaboard and it’s all about [securing] cheap labour.  This is a very big issue in the dive industry. They do not go for the qualified people,” he added.

The source claimed that with the number of foreign workers on liveaboards increasing, their work status was often illegal – making them unaware and sometimes careless regarding issues concerning waste dumping.

“It’s all about awareness and getting the right people to do the right job. At least to keep a responsible person on each liveaboard to make sure no one is illegally dumping garbage,” the source declared.

He further explained that dumping waste into the ocean was very harmful to the local ecosystem.

“The big, huge, messy black garbage bags can drift with the current and then trap healthy table coral. Harm also comes to mantas and whale sharks which stay near the surface, while sea turtles ingest plastic bags mistaking them for jellyfish,” the source said.

“If things continue like this we won’t have any healthy reefs in the next 10 to 15 years. The Maldives won’t be the same,” he claimed.

The source believed that the government in recent years – both the current and former administrations – has not taken any proper actions to try to combat the problem.

“The tourism ministry doesn’t do anything aside from talking. Actions speak louder than words and there has been no enforcement of the laws.”

In regard to the allegations of safari boats dumping waste, Tourism Minister Adheeb told Minivan News that a proper place was needed for the liveaboards to moor so the vessels can be monitored.

Liveaboard Association response

Meanwhile, the Liveaboard Association of Maldives (LAM) Secretary General Ismail Hameed told Minivan News that the allegations of safari boat waste dumping applied only to a limited number of operators.  Hameed claimed that some companies would always try to flout the rules.

“Many liveaboards are following regulations [and not dumping waste into the sea], but there will be some vessels that do,” he said.

Hameed alleged that dhonis carrying resort waste are responsible for illegal waste dumping.

“Resorts send their garbage to Thilafushi on dhonis. The dhonis cut the trip short and dump the waste in the ocean. I’ve seen boxes labeled with resort names,” explained Hameed.

“Not all resorts are guilty of improperly dumping waste, just as not all liveaboards are guilty either,” he added.

Hameed additionally complained that the liveaboard industry has been neglected for 40 years “under every government administration”, further complicating efforts to monitor operators.

“Our main concern is there are no proper mooring and harbour system for liveaboards. There needs to be a local marina patrolled to ensure safety, proper garbage disposal, and refueling for these vessels,” he said.

“There has not been a proper mechanism for waste management implemented by the [national] government or island societies.”

Hameed claimed that the LAM has been communicating these issues to the government for “a couple of years”, explaining that the cabinet had recently approved work on a harbour for safari vessels in the Male’ area.

LAM aims to “find solutions to difficulties, issues and other things involved in liveaboard operations, including environmental issues and staff development”,


President “unaware of any illegal activities” as Artur brothers investigation continues

President Dr Mohamed Waheed has told local media he was not aware of any danger posed by the presence in the Maldives of two Armenian nationals identified as the Artur brothers, as police continue to investigate the duo’s operations locally.

Controversy has surrounded the presence of Margaryan and Sargayan Artur in the Maldives, primarily based around concerns over their alleged links to criminal activities in Kenya.

On Tuesday (April 2), parliament passed an extraordinary motion concerning the presence of the two foreign nationals in the Maldives, expressing concern that an alleged connection between certain cabinet ministers and the two men posed a “direct threat to national security”.

The President’s Office has maintained there is little information about the nature of the two foreign nationals’ business interests in the Maldives, claiming that the uncertainty about them extended to the exact pronunciation of the Artur name.

Asked about the controversy today, President Waheed told reporters he received no intelligence so far linking the Artur brothers to any criminal activity in the country, adding that much of his knowledge on them was based on local media reports.

“I know that they are in Maldives. I’m also looking into it,” he was quoted he told local media after returning to Male’ from an official visit to Kuwait.

“I didn’t know that they were engaged in any illegal activities,” President Waheed stated, after admitting the government were told by authorities of the brother’s presence in the country earlier this year.


President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad said that while police were currently in the process of investigating the activities of the Artur brothers in the Maldives, there was no information linking the two foreign nationals to any criminal operations in the country.

Police spokesperson Hassan Haneef told Minivan News that police investigations were continuing to determine if the two foreign nationals had been conducting any illegal activities in the country.  He added that no details into a “critical” ongoing case could be given at present.

However, a BMW car belonging to a company called ‘Artur Brother World Connection’ and registered for use in the Gaafu Dhaalu area was reportedly seized by authorities in Male’ today.

Haneef previously confirmed that police were aware of the Artur brothers presence in the Maldives back in January. He said authorities had contacted “relevant government authorities” at the time to inform them of the Artur brothers’ alleged links to drug trafficking, money laundering, raids on media outlets, dealings with senior government officials and other serious crimes in Kenya.

Minivan News understands that relevant authorities, including the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF), Ministry of Home Affairs, and the President’s Office were officially informed in January of the presence of the Artur brothers, even as Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb signed a letter seeking residency permits for the pair.

Import business

Local media reported that a company registered locally as the “Artur Brothers World Connection” has secured an import license and brought goods into the country after the tourism ministry had granted both men a foreign investment permit.

“We have learned that they had imported some goods under that license. We haven’t been able to determine what those items are. It is not something the Ministry keeps track of. We have to find that out from the customs,” Finance Minister Ahmed Mohamed told Haveeru.

Immigration Controller Mohamed Ali has previously told local media that Artur Sargasyan left the Maldives on Sunday (March 31). Sargasyan first entered the Maldives on a tourist visa in August 2012 and returned again in October, Dr Ali said.

Meanwhile, photos of the Arturs in the company of Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb and Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim emerged on social media last weekend, apparently taken during the Piston Motor Racing Challenge held on Hulhumale’ between January 25 and 26.

One photo showed Artur Sargsyan next to Adheeb and Nazim, while another has him apparently starting one of the motorcycle races at the event, which was organised by the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF).

Another image showed Sargsyan at the red carpet opening for the Olympus Cinema.


Defense Minister Nazim and Tourism Minister Adheeb have denied any involvement with the pair.

Speaking to Minivan News this week, Adheeb reiterated that he had no personal links with the Artur brothers, whom he said had now left the country on his recommendation.

According to Adheeb, the Artur brothers had previously invested in the country through a registered joint venture company with members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Adheeb said he “advised them to leave peacefully and they agreed to sort out their visa and leave. They have now left.”

Parliamentary motion

Submitting a motion to parliament on Tuesday about the Artur’s presence in the Maldives, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz Fahmy raised concerns about their alleged connections with ministers Nazim and Adheeb.

“The Artur brothers are a direct threat to national security since they are – true to their old style and from the experiences of other countries – directly linked to the top government officials including Mr Mohamed Nazim who is both the Defense Minister and the acting Transport Minister, as well as Mr Ahmed Adheeb who is the Tourism Minister,” Fahmy told Minivan News.

Fahmy said the Artur brothers were believed to have carried out “all sorts of serious illegal activities internationally” and that the Maldives “is incapable of handling these notorious conmen from Armenia. They are capable of taking local criminal gangs to different heights.”

Fahmy explained that immigration laws do not permit entry into the Maldives if the visitor is “even suspected” of being involved in human smuggling or trafficking; may be [considered] a national threat, or otherwise may commit crimes against the state.”

“Given all these facts – and that the Artur brothers are  world-infamous for carrying out criminal activities of this sort – they were allowed into the country and seen publicly with top government officials,” Fahmy added, alleging that the pair have three meetings with Adheeb and Nazim on Hulhumale’ and on Club Faru.

The extraordinary motion passed with 27 votes in favour to 10 against.

Meanwhile, Kenyan media has this week media reported that the brothers’ practice of publicly ingratiating themselves with senior government officials appeared not to have changed.

“The Arturs’ mode of operation where they show up in the company of top and well-connected government leaders appears to have been replicated in the Maldives. Their presence in the Maldives comes days after ousted leader Mohammed Nasheed expressed fear over his life,” reported Kenya’s Daily Nation publication.