Yacht Tours, a company owned by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Abdulla Jabir, has said it will take the government to court over the recent termination notice it has been sent in relation to unpaid rent.
At a press briefing held today, Yacht Tours Executive Director Ibrahim Rasheed explained that the company currently owed approximately US$5 million (MVR 77 million) to the state. According to Rasheed, one-third of this debt was actual rent payments, while the rest amounted to fines accumulated over recent years.
“We have previously paid USD 1.5 million dollars (MVR 23 million) to the state as an advance for our island Watavarreha. Just after we made the payment, a new law was passed and it came about that this was something our company did not really have to pay,” Rasheed explained.
“But then, keeping the financial status of this nation in mind, our company did not push too hard to get reimbursed. Instead, we requested the government to use this money for rent adjustment of our other resorts,” he said.
Rasheed also gave details of the company’s official communications with the government in regard to the request it had been sent, providing the media with copies of letters exchanged between the state and the company.
Yacht Tours had requested the then Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Dr Mariyam Zulfa, to arrange rent adjustment of the resorts Kudarah and Alidhoo from the Watavarreha advance, which the company said it was owed by the government.
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 (MVR 19.9 million) in charges for the three resorts to the state.
The former tourism minister had then sent a letter on August 21, 2011 to the Ministry of Finance and Treasury, asking the rent adjustment to be processed as was requested by the company.
In a letter dated 27 September, 2011, a letter exchanged between the President’s Office and the Ministry of Finance and Treasury stated that advance money paid by a company can be used as rent adjustments for another resort or tourist business owned by the same company.
Following the transfer of power in February, Yacht Tours had again approached the Tourism Ministry to settle the matter of rent. On 22 February 2012, Yacht Tours wrote to current Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb, once again detailing the issue and asking for rent adjustment.
According to the company, Adheeb has failed to respond to the letter.
At a press conference on held December 31, 2012, Adheeb said that Yacht Tours had been sent the termination notices for both the 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.
In response, Rasheed claimed he was deeply concerned about the comments, accusing the minister of making a false statement.
“We wrote to the ministry just after he was appointed. We still haven’t received a response to the letter sent back in February. We have also met him officially at a number of instances to discuss this matter. The last time, right after the termination notices were sent in late November, I personally went with Jabir to a meeting with the minister to discuss this issue. At the time, the Minister had said that he was working on it, to arrange rent adjustment,” Rasheed said.
“We are very saddened that the minister has gone and said there are no communications between Yacht Tours and the ministry. If, let’s say, the current government considers all the letters we have exchanged with the previous governments to be void, then we should be notified of that. Makes me wonder if Adheeb thinks he is the first minister of tourism of the country. With the current actions in mind, it is hard to see Adheeb as a capable minister,” he added.
Yacht Tours Managing Director Ibrahim Shiham spoke about the huge loss the company was facing due to the government’s actions.
“Many of the bookings are getting cancelled. We are also experiencing delays from business partners and financiers. Foreign investors are very concerned about the government’s actions. The market value of the islands are at US$100 million (MVR 1.5 billion) now. And they are trying to terminate this over a value of US$5 million (MVR 77 million).
“Our wish is to settle the matter through dialogue, but now that we have been given seven days to handover the resorts, our legal team will respond to it. We will be taking the matter to court,” Shiham said.
Yacht Tours Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mohamed Zuhair expressed concerns over the state’s treatment of companies in the tourism industry.
“It goes without saying that all companies in this same industry must be treated equitably and fairly. However, we deeply regret to say that today it is not how things are been carried on. Yacht Tours is not given the same treatment as other companies in the industry,” Zuhair said.
The company furthermore pointed out the silence on the matter of tourism related bodies like MATI and MATATO to be very concerning.
Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adheeb was not responding to calls at the time of press.
Abdulla Jabir is currently not in the country. Jabir had recently rejoined the MDP from the government-aligned Jumhoree Party (JP).
Last month, staff at Alidhoo Resort alleged both Maldivian and foreign workers had not received pay for several months, despite complaints made to management and various external government organisations. Minivan News understands some of these payments had since been made by the company.