President Abdulla Yameen has formed a new 100 percent state-owned company to advertise and promote the Maldives globally as a premier tourist destination.
The ‘Maldives Tourism Development Board Ltd’ was formed by an executive decree published in the government gazette on Thursday. The company will also monitor developments in the tourism industry and conduct market research to improve the Maldives’ brand, according to the decree.
Tourism promotional activities are presently carried out by the state-owned Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation, which was formed by the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed to replace a tourism promotion board that functioned under the tourism ministry.
The MMPRC was at the centre of a historic corruption scandal involving the theft of nearly US$80 million from state coffers since the current administration came to power in November 2013.
It is unclear whether the government intends to dissolve the MMPRC. The tourism ministry’s media official said he was unaware of the decree and officials at the tourism promotion corporation were unavailable for comment.
Asked if the MMPRC will be dissolved, Ibrahim Muaz Ali, the president’s spokesman, declined to comment.
The government will inform the public and the media in due course, he told the Maldives Independent.
Former Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim, who lost his job in 2014 after uncovering corruption in the MMPRC, has meanwhile suggested that the government is planning to abolish the corporation in an attempt to “bury” the corruption scandal.
“Trying to bury MMPRC with all its crimes? Aren’t they trying to destroy the company and all traces of evidence that may be used against them in future?” Niyaz wrote on Facebook last week.
“Whenever a [state-owned enterprise] is looted, it is buried without holding criminals involved accountable. Then a new one is planted on its grave. [The public] suffers,” he later tweeted.
A damning audit report released in February 2016 exposed how millions of dollars from resort lease payments were funnelled to private companies linked to former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb.
Adeeb has since been jailed for 33 years on multiple charges of terrorism and corruption, including one count of graft involving the embezzlement of US$5 million paid by Kuredu Holdings for the island of Maabinhuraa in Lhaviyani Atoll.
He is also facing more than 50 counts of graft over US$65 million collected as acquisition costs by the MMPRC that was diverted into private bank accounts.
The bulk of the stolen funds was deposited into the account of SOF Pvt Ltd, a local company owned by Mohamed Allam Latheef ‘Moho,’ who later claimed that he provided a “brokerage” service and diverted the funds to the first couple and ruling party members.
But Yameen denied any wrongdoing, claiming the unprecedented corruption scandal did not reach higher than his former right-hand man.