The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has called on the Government of Saudi Arabia to disavow any and all involvement in the Faafu project and clarify whether members of the Saudi Royal Family or Saudi businessmen are involved.
The Saudi Arabian embassy in Male’ recently released a statement denying the Government of Saudi Arabia was buying land in Faafu atoll. However, the statement stopped short of ruling out investments in the project from the Saudi Royal Family or Saudi government-linked businessmen.
While news of the project was unofficially circulated, early this year, President Yameen said Saudi Arabian government officials were particularly interested in investing in Faafu Atoll.
On 1 March, President Yameen confirmed that Saudi Arabia and the Saudi Royal Family would invest in a US$10 billion project planned for Faafu atoll. Yameen said the investment would resemble “mixed development projects in French Riviera” and would involve “international sea sports, mixed development, residential high-class development, many tourist resorts, many airports” and other industries.
The MDP is deeply concerned that President Yameen’s proposed ‘mega-investment’ in Faafu atoll could be a front for corruption, embezzlement and international money laundering and calls on the Saudi officials to refrain from engaging with a government that is openly involved in money laundering and corruption.
The project has, from the outset, been shrouded in secrecy and the Government has been persistently vague and evasive on details.
In March, Housing Minister Mohamed Muizz told foreign journalists, on a Government-sponsored tour, of plans for major Saudi investments in Faafu atoll, and even said the people of Faafu atoll would be relocated to make way for the development.
In an interview to local newspaper Mihaaru News, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture said the opposition should not call for details of the Faafu project to be released because they “are still being negotiated”.
The Minister of Defense Adam Shareef said Maldivians should “trust President Yameen with the [Faafu deal] and other matters, and trust that whatever outcome would be in the best interest of the people.”
The Government has refused to provide any information on the proposed deal to a Parliamentary Committee, or engage with public concerns other than to dismiss them. Given that the government of Maldives stands accused of unprecedented levels of corruption and mired in accusations of money laundering, the government’s behavior on Faafu project has only added to public consternation and suspicion.
The government’s knee-jerk reaction to stifle any form of opposing views on Faafu project is the worst crackdown on civil and political rights Maldives has seen in recent months.
The MDP’s Campaign Center has been raided by police multiples times, several journalists and social media activists have been summoned to the police and their phones confiscated, the police have warned of legal action on anything that may “offend foreign dignitaries.”
The MDP has announced intention to table an amendment to the Constitution, which would reverse the earlier land sale Constitutional amendment. It would also aim to legislate such an amendment cannot be made without a public referendum.
The MDP reiterates and reminds those entering such contracts that it considers such sales void abinitio. The MDP notes that public notice has been amply and indisputably given of the citizens’ objection to such a sale.
“Ahead of the forthcoming visit of the Saudi King to the Maldives, the MDP would ask the Saudi Embassy to side with the Maldivian people and allay public fears regarding the deal. Maldivian people view the sale of Faafu atoll as a threat to our very way of life and sovereignty. We would urge the Embassy of Saudi Arabia ensure that all and any representatives of the Saudi Kingdom or the King distance themselves from any deals surrounded by allegations of mass corruption and conducted against the wishes of the Maldivian people” the MDP said.