The proposal currently in the Majlis to raise the tenure limit of tourist resorts to 50 years has raised a virtual storm mainly because of two reasons. One, resort islands comprise by far the most valuable economic resource in the Maldives. Two, many people fear the move will ultimately lead to transfer of full ownership of the islands. How real is this fear?
Increasing the lease period on resorts to 50 years could create a situation similar to what's called "lease hold" in Common Law countries like the United Kingdom. Leasehold is a form of property tenure where one party buys the right to occupy land or a building for a given length of time. As lease is a legal estate, leasehold estate can be bought and sold on the open market and differs from a tenancy where a property is let on a periodic basis such as weekly or monthly. Until the end of the lease period (often measured in decades; a 99 year lease is quite common) the leaseholder has the right to remain in occupation as an assured tenant paying an agreed rent to the owner.
In contrast to the above, full ownership of the land as well as buildings is called "free hold," where you own the land indefinitely and can do as you please with it. But this difference is mostly theory, and there is no real difference in practice between lease hold and free hold. In both cases you have full ownership of the land for all practical purposes.
Considering the above, many people believe that increasing the lease period is just one step from granting full ownership. Others however disagree. They believe that a lease situation can be maintained indefinitely; and as long as such a lease situation exists government will have control over the islands.
Now a fundamental question: What difference will it make if resorts are given on free hold basis? Opponents believe it will hamper the government's ability to regulate land use and levy taxes. Supporters believe it will help owners to raise finance to develop the properties.
Thus there are no clear-cut answers to the issue. But one thing is certain. Any decision People's Majlis takes on the matter could have the potential of haunting the Maldivian people for generations.