An amendment was submitted to the Maldives Tourism Act on Wednesday, seeking to make bidding a requirement when leasing islands and lagoons for tourism purposes.
The bill lobbied by Maafannu South MP Abdulla Rifau to the parliament, states that all islands, land plots and lagoons leased for tourism purposes must be done so according to policies publicised by the Ministry of Tourism. It asserted that they should only be leased to the best bid.
The bill read that the current proceedings on island or lagoon leasing for tourism is not beneficial to the public, referring to the amendment brought to the Act in 2016. Initiated by the now opposition Progressive Party of Maldives, the amendment authorises leasing islands, land plots and lagoons for tourism purposes without bid.
According to MP Rifau, the current policy facilitates corruption, noting that many have raised concerns over the implications of leasing land without a bidding process.
Rifau further stated in the bill that, with this amendment, the tourism ministry must publicise a detailed list of islands, lands and lagoons to be leased for tourism development, based on discussions with the President's Office, similar to the current practice.
The amendment further authorises the tourism ministry to make changes to the list with permission from the President's Office.
The current Act states that the list must detail the lease fees and acquisition cost of the land or lagoon to be leased. The Act allows the ministry to lease them to any entity that settles the acquisition cost first.
The amendment to the Act in 2016 allowing island leases without bid, was passed by the parliament which, at the time, had a majority of PPM lawmakers. The top officials of former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom's administration had justified the amendment, stating that islands awarded via bidding remained undeveloped and that the model needed to be discarded.
The bill was met with harsh criticism from the main party of the current ruling coalition, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), as well as the public, which had deemed the amendment unconstitutional.