President Abdulla Yameen has dismissed concerns over rumoured plans to sell Faafu Atoll to the Saudi royal family, revealing that negotiations are ongoing for an unprecedented US$10 billion project.
“What’s being talked about the most today is, what will be the benefit to the Maldives from King Salman’s visit, is Faafu Atoll being sold. No, no place is being sold,” Yameen said, addressing concerns over the deal for the first time at a ceremony held Wednesday to welcome more than 1,000 new members to the ruling party.
The Faafu project would be similar to “mixed development projects in French Riviera” – the Mediterranean coastline of France that includes the microstate of Monaco – and would involve “international sea sports, mixed development, residential high-class development, many tourist resorts, many multiple airports” and other industries.
He suggested that the project would be awarded through the special economic zones policy, which offers regulatory and tax incentives for large-scale investments. Alternately, the parliament could pass a new law to authorise a Saudi-owned freehold if the investment exceeds US$1 billion and 70 percent of the project site is reclaimed land.
On the growing clamour to disclose information about the Saudi-funded project, Yameen said details will be revealed when the negotiations are complete and the deal is signed.
Yameen said negotiations are ongoing about the revenue the government would collect at the outset.
“The reason we haven’t been answerable to date is because this is such an important project, we don’t want to the investor to lose interest due to the quarrel between [the government and opposition],” he said.
On Wednesday night, the Maldivian Democratic Party’s national council approved a resolution vowing to reclaim land sold foreign party through “deals made in the dark”, which could cause “irreparable damage”.
The Maldives’ biggest corruption scandal, which involved the theft of nearly US$80 million, occurred under Yameen’s watch, MDP officials said at last night’s meeting, urging the party to do everything possible to stop the deal.
The main opposition party is also planning to submit a bill to repeal the constitutional amendments that allow foreign ownership of Maldivian land.
Yameen said questions over sovereignty and the possibility of anti-Islamic practices are being raised because former presidents – who now lead the opposition – failed when they had the opportunity to develop the Maldives.
If the project takes off, the Maldives will change from a tourist destination, he said.
He went on to appeal for cooperation from critics. “If there is corruption or illegality in this, then highlight that. That is what working on behalf of the people is,” he said.
Source URL: Maldives Independent