South Asia

Maldives Briefing: Housing Issues; Airport Renamed

A round-up of major happenings in the Maldives in the last week.

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen. Credit: Reuters

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen. Credit: Reuters

Housing issues 

Affordable housing – or the lack of it – dominated domestic politics in the Maldives last week. The Maldivian government found itself under pressure from a group of protesting citizens who won apartments as part of an affordable social housing programme that was initiated during the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) regime. The winners held a protest after they were told to pay $1,30,000 upfront for their flats or obtain loans to make a downpayment of $25,940. The future apartment owners insisted that the cost of each apartment was 1.1 million Malidivian rufiyaa or $71,500. Incidentally, the houses built under the Veshi Fahi Malé affordable housing programme were constructed by Apex Realty, an SPV of Tata Housing.

At a press conference, Maldives’ housing minister Mohamed Muiz claimed that the MDP government had assessed the value of the flats incorrectly. He also asserted that the previous president Mohamed Nasheed’s government had to “bear responsibility” for the “poor quality of fixtures” in the apartments. The MDP hit back by noting that since Muiz has been the housing minister for the last four years, his complaints are “proof as well that he has not overseen work under the project from 2012 to the present day”.

Airport renamed

On January 1, Maldives’ main international airport got a new name on – Ibrahim Nasir international airport will now be known as Velana International Airport. Maldivian Q2701 from Trivandrum, which was the first plane to land in the rebranded airport after its name officially changed at midnight, received a water salute for the memorable occasion.

The airport was packed with private jets as celebrities and businessmen flew into the islands in time to celebrate the new year. In total, 42 private jets were parked at the airport, as per Mihaaru. India’s GMR group had previously won a contract to develop and maintain the main airport, but the agreement was rescinded after Mohamed Nasheed was ousted as president in 2012. The Maldives had in mid-2016 unveiled an ambitious expansion plan for the airport.

Tension over sovereign bonds

To finance its big infrastructure projects, the Maldivian government announced that it will sell sovereign bonds in the international financial market to raise around $200 million. This was criticised by the Maldives president’s estranged half-brother and former dictator Abdul Yameen Gayoom, who termed it a “severe burden on the future well-being of Maldives”. The country’s finance ministry issued a statement last Wednesday defending the proposal, stating that it would pave the way for both private and state-owned companies to raise funds overseas.

In its report on the sovereign bond proposal, Maldives Independent noted the IMF warning that the Indian Ocean nation is facing a “high risk of external debt distress”. The report added that Moody’s, the credit rating agency, had assigned a local and foreign currency issuer rating of B2 to Maldives, which is considered “speculative and subject to high credit risk.”

Islamic TV channel

On December 29, President Abdulla Yameen inaugurated Maldives’ first Islamic television channel. The Islamic affairs minister Ahmed Ziyad Baqir announced that the TV channel will “eliminate the challenges faced in providing religious information to the atolls”. The Maldivian president has been slowly increasing his hold on Islamic matters. In November, the parliament amended the Religious Unity Act to give the president powers to make appointments to the Fatwa Majlis, the top religious body which has final say on religious affairs in Maldives. Then, in mid-December, he used these new powers to appoint a controversial preacher, who is known for “preaching against multi-party democracy, liberalism and for being a jihadist-sympathizer in the on going Syrian conflict”.