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Case to investigate damages caused by Gulhifalhu project lodged at Parliament

Ahmed Aiham
01 June 2020, MVT 15:24
Large plumes of sediment seen drifting towards Villimale's South West coast, causing environmentalist and Maldivians to raise concern over one of the last remaining natural habitats in the Greater Male' region. Industrial island Thilafush and Gulhifalhu are seen in the backdrop of the photograph. PHOTO: MOHAMED SHAM / SHARMBYE / INSTAGRAM
Ahmed Aiham
01 June 2020, MVT 15:24

In a letter addressed to the Parliament's Speaker Mohamed Nasheed, Villimale' MP Ahmed Usham, on Sunday, urged the Parliament to investigate damages to Vilimale' caused as a result of ongoing reclamation activities at neighbouring industrial island of Gulhifalhu, Kaafu Atoll.

High levels of sedimentation, which effectively blankets and smothers live coral, were reported by environmental groups and activists.

Upon examination, local NGO Save The Beach Maldives identified that mitigation measures such as silt nets to reduce sedimentation were not in place.

In his letter, Usham referenced Article 22 of the Maldives' Constitution noting that environmental degradation of Villimale' reefs was a result of contractors disregarding the governing law, whilst conducting such activities.

In Article 22, Maldives declares the protection and preservation of the country's natural environment, biodiversity, resources and beauty, for the benefit of present and future generations, as a fundamental duty of the state.

It also stipulates that the state undertake and promote economic and social goals by ensuring development is sustainable and that it should take all measures necessary to conserve and prevent the ecological degradation as well as the extinction of any species.

Maldives' Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently faced fire from the incumbent administration, over the Gulhifalhu project.

In light of increasing public concerns, EPA's Director-General Ibrahim Naeem had sanctioned the agency to conduct turbidity and plume monitoring at the project site.

Responding to a warning issued by the Ministry against him, Naeem claimed that the Ministry wished to control and reshape the narrative.

"With the sediment visible to our eyes, we're expected to claim that turbidity is at an acceptable level. We stated that EPA would not make a statement before conducting their own assessments", said the EPA Chief.

However, the ministry has maintained that the warning was issued over Naeem's refusal to publish the data, noting that Naeem must accept instructions of superiors.

Currently, Naeem faces possible termination if he repeats a violation of Civil Service regulations and/or the Comission's code of conduct.

Meanwhile, Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has launched an investigation into the government's decision to award the reclamation project of Gulhifalhu to Dutch dredging company Boskalis Westminster Contracting Ltd, exempt of the mandated bidding process, for the sum of USD 53 million (MVR 817 million).

Per the contract, Boskalis is to reclaim 16 million cubic metres and establish a 4-kilometre seawall at Gulhifalhu, which is being developed as an industrial island, within a period of 180 days.

The public has raised questions on the government's decision to handover a costly project without a bidding process. Overall, many have called for greater transparency from the government in contracting major projects.

Seeking to relocate the Male’ Commercial Port to Gulhifalhu, Maldives' 'Trade Facilitation and Transport network' involves the construction of multiple bridges to facilitate interconnectivity between the Greater Male’ region.

The project, which costs a whopping USD 480,000, involves the building of bridges connecting capital city Male' to Villimale', then stretching on from Villimale' to Gulhifalhu, finally linking Gulhifalhu with Thilafushi.

Additional concerns were brought forth by surfers, stating that the bridge to Villimale' would cause irreversible damages to the island's surf point.

The previous administration was responsible for the destruction of two waves in the Greater Male' region, including 'Airports' at airport island Hulhule' and 'Raalhugandu' in Male', due to the Sinamale' Bridge which connects the two islands.

Calling into account the 19th Parliament’s formation of an Environment and Climate Change Committee, and passing of a resolution to declare a climate emergency on February 12, local advocacy collective 'Save Maldives' has also criticised the Parliament’s "passive" approach.

We have not seen any action in connection with this declaration”, reads Save Maldives’ document.

Speaking to The Edition, Save Maldives reiterated its stance, stressing that, “Neither the policymakers nor the lawmakers are walking the talk on the climate crisis”.

Despite possessing knowledge of projects that may cause irreversible damage to a fragile environment, whilst the country faces negative impacts of global change, as well as the ability to assess economic impacts brought on by the pandemic, “Majlis is doing nothing to stop the major debt-funded projects continuing across the country at great speed”, said Save Maldives.

Although Maldives has been at the forefront of climate advocacy since 1987, Speaker Nasheed himself appealing to the international community at COP24 in 2019, a number of Maldivians hold the opinion that across administrations, government attitudes on the matter remain slack.