Ministry threatens to reclaim leased uninhabited islands

Uninhabited islands leased for agriculture, fisheries or research purposes will be reclaimed if work is not being done in accordance with agreements, the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has warned in a circular (Dhivehi) yesterday (August 17).

The ministry explained that the islands were leased after evaluating proposals and accompanying work plans while agreements signed with the lease holders are treated in line with the Contracts Act of 1991.

Work was not being conducted in most leased islands in accordance with the work plans, the circular stated, adding that reports were also not being submitted regularly as stipulated by the agreements.

Moreover, the ministry often faced difficulties sending documents to lease holders as some no longer resided in the given addresses, the circular noted.

If corrective measures were not taken within a 3-month period to carry out work in accordance with the submitted plan, the ministry warned that legal action would be taken under contract law.

Last week, the ministry decided not to renew the lease of Laamu Baresdhoo, an uninhabited island leased to Jumhooree Party Leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa company for agriculture.

Moreover, the fisheries ministry gave a 30-day notice to reclaim a plot of land in Gaaf Dhaal Hoadehdhoo leased to Gasim’s Horizons Fisheries.

According to the ministry, more than 60 islands were leased in the past for a period of 20 or 21 years.

At a press briefing yesterday, Deputy Minister Khursheed Thowfeek revealed that the ministry was in the process of formulating new rules for leasing uninhabited islands.

Khursheed also revealed that the decision not to renew the lease for Baresdhoo was made after the President’s Office informed the ministry that island has been designated for tourism development.

The ministry was in talks with Villa over extending the lease when a letter from the President’s Office was sent, he noted.

“So what we do? In truth, islands are only in our care for a very short period. When the Maldivian government decides that a particular ministry wants islands for a particular purpose, we have to hand over the islands,” he said.


Government plans to launch new scheme to empower local councils

Fifty percent of rent from atoll shops in Male’ and lease rent on uninhabited islands is to be given to atoll councils, the government has decided.

Speaking at a function marking the decentralisation of administration in the Maldives, President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik announced strategies for providing financial support to local councils, local media reported.

As of July this year, the government plans to give 50 percent of rent from atoll shops and uninhabited island lease rent to atoll councils.

The president noted that for the decentralisation system to work there would need to be equal assistance and opportunities for the people. To do this, Waheed said it would take local councils to set aside their political differences.


Cabinet leases two uninhabited islands for resort development

The Cabinet has decided to lease two uninhabited islands for resort development to the party currently operating Kolhumadulu Thimarafushi Domestic Airport.

During today’s discussion, the Cabinet noted that leasing uninhabited islands for resort development would help recover the cost of developing the airport last year.

The government last year reclaimed 31 hectares of land for airport construction.

Cabinet members also concluded that opening new resorts is also expected to promote industrial growth and increase job opportunities for locals.


Government plans to sell alcohol at Fuvahmulah city hotel, claims Adhaalath

The government has declared two areas of Fuvahmulah uninhabited islands for airport and tourism development in order to allow the sale of alcohol at a city hotel, yet to be opened on the island, the religiously conservative Adhaalath party has alleged.

President Mohamed Nasheed signed decrees on Friday declaring the “Bilhifeyshi” and “Thoon’du” areas of Fuvahmulah – two strips on opposite ends of the island – as uninhabited islands to be utilised for tourism purposes.

At a press conference yesterday, Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, Adhaalath Party spokesperson, said that the decrees were part of a “Satanic plot” to sidestep legal prohibitions to selling alcohol in inhabited islands.

“We are not opposed at all to building a city hotel for the development of Fuvahmulah,” he said. “But you don’t have to sell alcohol at every city hotel. Adhaalath party sees the declaration of uninhabited islands within Fuvahmulah as an absurd move, as an act of madness.”

The decision was “disrespectful” in light of the public’s opposition to the sale of alcohol in inhabited islands, Shaheem continued, referring to a large demonstration in February 2010 that forced the government to withdraw controversial new regulations that would have allowed sale of alcohol to non-Muslims from city hotels.

Fuvahmulah“If the government wants us to let them hear the voice of the people again, we are ready to do it,” Shaheem said, calling on citizens of Fuvahmulah and the public to “raise your voices against this decision by the government.”

President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair however dismissed Adhaalath’s allegations today as intended to “seek political recognition and cast the government in a bad light.”

Zuhair said the Adhaalath’s claims were “very insincere” as the party did not make any inquiries, request a meeting with the President to express concerns or “even sent a letter to relevant authorities before giving a press conference and making these claims in the media.”

The remarks by Adhaalath leaders were “regrettable,” Zuhair added, as the party remains a coalition partner of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and its senior members included the Minister and State Minister for Islamic Affairs.

Meanwhile at yesterday’s press conference, Adhaalath Party Vice President Dr Mauroof Hussein claimed President Nasheed “pressured” Fuvahmulah councillors to approve a resolution for developing the city hotel.

Dr Mauroof argued that the President’s decree set a disturbing precedent: “Tomorrow they can announce that President Nasheed has decreed the inner walls of Holiday Inn [now Trader’s Hotel] is an uninhabited island. Or the plot west of the army headquarters is an uninhabited island and demolish the Islamic Centre to build a bar there,” he said.

The government was pursuing an agenda to “spread irreligious activities” in the Maldives, Dr Mauroof warned.

Economies of scale

Speaking at a function in Fuvahmulah on Friday, President Nasheed expressed confidence that the construction of an airport in the island would be completed by November 10.

Nasheed said that the government understood the people’s longstanding desire for an airport but insisted that the investment should be sustainable.

In addition to operating costs, said Nasheed, about Rf500,000 would have to be spent “on interest [payments] alone.”

“It is not clear to me that we can recover this money with about 30 people flying to Fuvahmulah from Male’ every week,” he explained. “With development, especially national development, we have to consider that every project has to be sustainable, well-rounded and feasible.”

In order to ensure financial sustainability for the airport, he continued, the government intends to build a tourist hotel in Fuvahmulah in collaboration with a business partner.

“We don’t want to criticise, meddle and try to profit [from the hotel] in Male’,” he said. “When the facilities are used for your development, the whole population of the Maldives will benefit from it. A number of things that can be done to ensure feasibility of the airport can be seen in the environment of Fuvahmulah, in its natural resources.”

President Nasheed said the decision to declare the two areas non-inhabited was made following deliberations by the cabinet and consultation with Fuvahmulah councillors.