Parties interested in leasing islands for tourism development need not knock on the tourism minister’s door should the state’s recent amendment to the Tourism Act, which authorises bypassing the bidding process for island leases, be approved by the parliament, stated tourism minister Moosa Zameer on Thursday.
The proposed amendment to the Tourism Act stipulates that islands for resort development be listed on a register adopted by the President’s Office. The islands will be leased to parties that pay the acquisition fee specified by the government.
Discussing the amendment with the parliament’s Economic Affairs Committee, Minister Zameer said the amendment was suggested during discussions following the auditor general’s report on the islands leased by the Maldives Marketing & Public Relations Corporation and police investigations into the mass embezzlement of state funds through the tourism promotion company.
“With the amendment, there will be no need to knock on the minister’s door to acquire islands. After paying [the acquisition fee] to MIRA (Maldives Inland Revenue Authority), lessees only need approach the minister to sign the head lease agreement,” stated Zameer.
Noting the lack of policies on leasing islands when he had first assumed office, Zameer asserted that the current policy is very “transparent”.
“Every year we announce one large bid, which is the registry compiled by the President’s Office. It specifies the names of the islands and their acquisition costs. That amount should be paid to MIRA,” he explained.
“After signing the agreements on the islands, we will share that information with the ACC (Anti-Corruption Commission) and the auditor general. They will have the opportunity to look into the islands prior to receiving complaints, then.”
Zameer also declared that the bidding policy for leasing islands is not very successful, citing the islands of Laamu atoll recently put up for bid which did not receive any interested parties as an example.
“When you consider the option for bidding, its results aren’t very good. Several islands won by large bids remain undeveloped,” he said.
According to Zameer, 3o of 88 islands awarded for resort development have not been completed.
The minister also reiterated that the state had received a record revenue of USD 42 million as acquisition from islands leased since February.
In response to an inquiry by Galolhu North MP Eva Abdulla, the minister stated that the amendment to the Act had been proposed after discussions on ways to increase revenue for the supplementary budget, which will be submitted soon.
“The government has decided to submit a supplementary budget for which we want to minimise balance and deficit,” said the minister.