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Maldives: People’s Majlis Passes Amendment to Constitution Allowing Foreign Ownership of Land

(July 30, 2015) On July 22, 2015, the People’s Majlis, the unicameral parliament of the Maldives, passed a bill amending the 2008 Constitution to allow foreign ownership of land. President Yamin Abdul Gayoom ratified the bill the next day. (Shan Anees, President Ratifies Land Ownership Bill, HAVEERU ONLINE (July 23, 2015).) The bill reportedly amends article 251 and adds a new chapter to the Constitution. (Constitutional Amendment on Foreign Land Ownership up for Debate Tonight, MINIVAN NEWS (July 21, 2015) [cut and paste url in browser window to view article].)

Article 251 of the Constitution, in its previous form, had prohibited foreign ownership of land. The article had stipulated:

(a) No foreign party, shall own or be given ownership of any part of the territory of the Maldives.

(b) A foreign party shall not receive a lease of, or be given in any other way, any part of the territory of the Maldives for a period exceeding ninety
nine years.

(c) No part of the territory of the Maldives shall be used for foreign military purposes without the approval of the majority of the total membership of the People’s Majlis. (Constitution of the Republic of Maldives 2008, art. 251, People’s Majlis website.)

Provisions in the amending bill stipulate that in order for foreigners to own freehold land, they must meet certain criteria, including that the project built on the land must be approved by Parliament, there must be a minimum investment of $1 billion “in the territory of the Maldives,” and upon the project’s reaching completion, “at least 70 percent of the land must have been reclaimed from the ocean and [be] visible at medium tide.” (Constitutional Amendment on Foreign Land Ownership up for Debate Tonight, supra; Anjana Pasricha, New Maldives Law Lets Foreigners Own Land, VOICE OF AMERICA (July 22, 2015).) An amended article also reportedly makes the declaration that allowing a foreign party to own land under these specific circumstances “does not undermine the Maldivian state’s sovereignty over its territory and does not amount to loss of territory.” (Constitutional Amendment on Foreign Land Ownership up for Debate Tonight, supra.)

The Maldives government has stated that the new law is meant to “attract mega development projects and generate jobs” in the country. (Pasricha, supra.) The opposition, however, has voiced its criticism that the law was adopted to facilitate China’s extending its influence and foothold in the Indian Ocean region, to enable Chinese investment in the Maldives, and even possibly to “pave the way for Chinese military facilities in the country.” (Id.)

Critics have also questioned the speed with which the amendment was passed without adequate consultation and parliamentary debate. (Sanjay Kumar, ‘This Will Make the Country a Chinese Colony,’ DIPLOMAT (July 25, 2015).) Indian government officials have also voiced concern that the law will be used by China to extend its military influence, but they were assured by the Government of the Maldives that the Indian Ocean will remain “a demilitarised zone.” (Suhasini Haidar, Will Not Allow Chinese Military Bases, Maldives Assures India, HINDU (July 24, 2015).)