Sunday, 6 July 2008 14:18

Minivan News

Tourism minister Dr Mahmoud Shaugee submitted his resignation to President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on Wednesday, sources close to the minister have confirmed.

Shaugee on Thursday refused to deny the reports, though he said he would not comment on the issue. He reportedly attended a late-night meeting with the President on Wednesday evening.

The minister told associates his resignation was prompted by government’s decision to lease 31 new islands for resort development, a decision Shaugee had admitted was prompted by a state budget shortfall.

But presidential spokesman Mohamed Hussein Shareef (Mundhu) appeared to launch a counter-attack, saying “serious allegations” against Shaugee had been under investigation for “a couple of days”.

He refused to reveal details, but said the public would be informed “if the President takes any action”.

In June 2007, local media accused Shaugee of irregularities in the leasing of the Kaafu atoll Vaadhoo resort to Sri Lankan firm Aitken Spence, but no evidence was produced against him and no action taken.

“As a rule we do not admit or deny resignation offers,” Mundhu said. “We had a similar problem with [former foreign minister Dr Ahmed] Shaheed, a similar problem with [former employment minister Abdullah] Yameen.”

Gayoom has previously refused to accept resignations from ministers. Notably, when the President’s brother Yameen and his associate Ahmed Nazim left government in April 2007, it emerged their resignations had been submitted two months before.

Formerly education minister, Shaugee became tourism minister in a 2005 cabinet reshuffle.

He has since promoted the idea of resorts on inhabited islands (a practice previously barred in the Maldives) to increase local employment and closer integration of resorts into local economies. In May year government announced 11 “reef resorts” would be built on reclaimed land close to population centres.

But in June the tourism ministry said a total of 31 islands would be leased for resort development this year.

Critics have since described the move as a short-term revenue-raising measure, pointing out the 33 resorts currently under construction are all behind schedule.

Describing it as a “joint government decision”, Shaugee told Minivan News last month: “Government needs the money for the budget, we do not want to run into a budget deficit...[but] it will it bring other benefits of course [such as] the opportunity to place more resorts closer to people.”

On Thursday Shaugee would not comment on whether he might join the fledgling Republican Party, which has already attracted five defectors from the government’s Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party (DRP) in parliament.


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