The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has ordered Thilafushi Corporation Limited (TCL) to halt the dredging of Thilafushi lagoon, because of issues that “could lead” to corruption in its contract with Heavy Load Maldives.
ACC Commissioner Hassan Luthfee told newspaper Haveeru that details of an investigation into TCL’s selection of Heavy Load for the 130 hectare dredging project would be released tomorrow.
Heavy Load was awarded the US$21 million project on September 30 last year, and inaugurated the project on February 4.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also expressed concern over the project, which it claimed had “started work” prior to being issued an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
The EPA’s Director of Environmental Protection and Research, Ibrahim Naeem, confirmed to Minivan News that a license was granted to Heavy Load on Feburary 10, while work started on the Feburary 4th.
He could not clarify if this meant the company had begun actually dredging prior to being issued the license.
“Dredging has a large impact on the environment, which is why licenses are issued to ensure mitigation measures are in place,” he explained.
Heavy Load is a family business interest of ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s parliamentary group leader.
Speaking from Colombo, Moosa told Minivan News that Heavy Load had spent 2-3 months mobilising resources for the project. The February 4 inugration attended by President Mohamed Nasheed was symbolic, and did not necessarily mean the company had started dredging work, he said.
As for the ACC’s allegations it was, he said, “not a coincidence” that the announcement had been made a day after allegations broke in the Indian press that People’s Alliance (PA) leader Abdulla Yameen – also former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s half-brother – sold blackmarket oil to the Burmese miliary junta.
“There is a part of the ACC that is not free and fair,” Moosa said, alleging that the commission was subject to misuse for political purposes.
“PA’s Deputy Leader [Ahmed] Nazim is very close with one of the commission members, [Abdulla] Hilmy, which needs closer investigation,” Moosa said.
“I am a strong part of this government and I think this is a political trick. I haven’t even been into the Heavy Load office in one and a half months because of my campaigning [in the local council elections]. It is run by my family, my children.
“I had shipping company in 1981 when [former President] Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and his brother-in-law took me to prison and destroyed my business and my life. I spent four years in prison and they have not answered for this,” Moosa contended, questioning why the ACC was not investigating audit reports concerning prominent ministers in the former administration.
Moosa further claimed that Heavy Load had already deployed dredger for the work and was unlikely to halt on the ACC’s orders – “they have to go to the court and provide evidence of corruption,” he said.
In late January the ACC ordered a halt on another government contract, between the Department of Immigration and Malaysian mobile security firm Nexbis, claiming that there were instances where corruption may have occurred.
Facing political pressure ahead of the local council elections, President Mohamed Nasheed upheld the ACC’s request that the roll-out of the technology be postponed.
Nexbis responded that it would be taking legal action against parties in the Maldives, claiming that speculation over corruption was “politically motivated” in nature and had “wrought irreparable damage to Nexbis’ reputation and brand name.”
Moosa told Minivan News that it was unlikely the Heavy Load project would be similarly held: “We are not a foreign company,” he said.
The dredging is part of TCL’s development of a new port catering to 15,000 ton cargo ships and container terminal, on 3.8 million square foot of land. The project is partly intended to free up land currently occupied by the port in Male’, one of the most densely populated cities in the world at over 100,000 people per square kilometre.