Tension grows in Maldives over economic zones

Tension grows in Maldives over economic zones

MALE, Aug. 26 (Xinhua) -- Tension is brewing between the Maldives ruling party headed by the president and the opposition over a proposed bill to establish special economic zones in the Indian Ocean group of islands, local media reported on Tuesday.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has submitted more than 300 amendments to the government's flagship special economic zone (SEZ) legislation, currently before parliament.

The MDP has appealed for the public and local councils to urge pro-government members of parliament to vote for the amendments.

The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) headed by President Abdulla Yameen and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) have 48 seats in the 85-member People's Majlis.

The MDP contends new zones could pave the way for money laundering and other criminal enterprises, undermine the decentralization system, and authorize a board formed by the president to "openly sell off the country" without parliamentary oversight, local newspaper Minivan reported.

The party also objects to exempting investors from paying import duties or taxes for 10 years as well as allowing companies with foreign shareholders to purchase land without paying sales tax.

The government, however, maintains that SEZs with relaxed regulations and tax incentives were necessary both for foreign investors to choose the Maldives over other developing nations and to launch "mega projects," which President Abdulla Yameen has said would "transform" the economy through diversification and mitigate the reliance on the tourism industry.

"It is not of any concern the authority president has to build bridges, and undertake other development project. But it is of concern if the president receives powers through the Economic Zones bill. This is out vision. Give us the opportunity," Yameen said at an event on Monday.

He insists that the zones will move forward and has proposed new measures be taken to hold the government responsible for any detriments in the proposed legislation.