President Abdulla Yameen set up today a new state-owned enterprise to open up the Maldives’ lucrative tourism sector to small and medium businesses.
The Maldives Integrated Tourism Development Corporation is “aimed at enhancing tourism sector gains and promoting participation of small and medium sized businesses in the sector,” according to a statement by the president’s office.
Ibrahim Muaz Ali, the president’s spokesman, had no further details.
Previous government-led attempts at opening up the US$2.5billion industry to the public and other businesses has had little success so far.
Yameen in 2014 inaugurated a guesthouse island project that envisioned multiple small and medium sized enterprises operating guesthouses and hotels on an uninhabited island.
The project appears to be at a halt.
The government in 2006 had also set up the Maldives Tourism Development Corporation, a public company, to sell shares to the public with a cap of 100 shares per person. It was quickly taken over by tourism tycoons who bought up shares using proxies.
Meanwhile, the dust is yet to settle on a historic corruption scandal involving the theft of some US$80million from resort leases through the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation, the state tourism promotion firm.
The scandal, dubbed the Maldives’ biggest ever case of corruption, saw the auctioning off of some 53 islands, lagoons and plots of land without an open bidding process. Tens of millions of dollars collected as fees were diverted to private accounts and siphoned off.
Yameen’s former deputy, Ahmed Adeeb, is now serving an eight-year prison sentence on a graft conviction relating to the lease of a single property. He is serving an additional 25 years on two terrorism convictions. The opposition has publicized documents that show Yameen benefited from the stolen funds, but he has dismissed claims of involvement.
Muaz did not comment on whether the MITDC would be authorised to lease properties for tourism.
The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives has meanwhile approved changes to the Tourism Act to allow the government to rent out islands without an open bidding process, a measure the opposition has claimed would legalise corruption, and one the independent auditor general’s office had recommended against in its report revealing the MMPRC theft.
The anti-graft watchdog is yet to publish the findings of its investigation into the scandal.