Government uncertain over waste management future as Tatva negotiations continue

The government remains locked in negotiations to find a “permanent” waste management solution in the Maldives following concerns about a recent build up of garbage in Male’, State Environment Minister Abdul Matheen Mohamed has said.

Matheen told Minivan News that although immediate concerns about garbage levels in the capital had been dealt with by Male’ City Council (MCC), which was in the process of “clearing” waste disposal sites on a daily basis – uncertainty remained on a long-term solution to dealing with trash.

At present, waste from across the country is shipped over to the island of Thilafushi near Male’ – an island that serves as the country’s key site for processing and burning garbage.

Certain councillors and MPs from Male’ last week claimed that a failure to deal with a build up of waste in the capital in recent months had escalated into a “national disaster” that could have potential health and safety implications for the public if not addressed.

However, Matheen added that the Finance Ministry’s decision last month to provide an estimated MVR 7 million (US$454,000) in funding to the MCC to try and clear trash from waste sites in the capital had already shown positive results.

“The MCC is clearing waste daily, the crisis is over,” he said. “Right now I believe that trying to manage waste in Male’ is not the best solution. If this waste can be shifted to Thilafushi that may be for the best.”

State negotiations

Matheen said that the government was committed to seeking financing for alternative waste management schemes, while also renegotiating a deal signed by the former government with Tatva Global Renewable Energy.

The government of former President Mohamed Nasheed signed a contract with Tatva in 2011 to allow the India-based company to take over handling of waste in the capital – as well as from nearby inhabited islands and resorts properties.

The agreement also outlined a means of generating power from recycling waste products brought to Thilafushi in an attempt to cut down on trash being burned.

By December last year, President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s administration announced it was in the process of renegotiating Tatva’s agreement in a bid to replace the deal with what Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela at the time called a “mutually beneficial” agreement.

Just last week, Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad said that although the new agreement with Tatva was yet to be signed, a deal was expected to be finalised in the coming days.

However, Matheen today claimed that no agreement had been reached as yet over the negotiations, which he claimed appeared to be nearing some form of conclusion.

“The process has taken so much time. We will have to take a decision soon [on whether to sign the Tatva deal],” he said.

According to Matheen, the discussions with Tatva Global Renewable Energy had been complicated by having to find an agreement between a number of different parties; including the government, the MCC, service providers like the State Electric Company Limited (STELCO) and management at Thilafushi.

He alleged that another concern about the deal was the need for Tatva itself to find sufficient investment to back its own part of the proposed waste management scheme.

A spokesperson for Tatva was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Matheen said that the government was waiting to see if an agreement could be reached with Tatva over the deal, adding that authorities would otherwise seek to open discussions with other service providers to try and find an alternate means of waste management.

Male’ clean up

While the negotiations continue, Male’ Councillor Mohamed Abdul Kareem confirmed to Minivan News that despite difficulties earlier this month, the council had now almost dealt fully with waste build-up in the capital after receiving funding from the Finance Ministry.

“The only problem we have had with waste management has been the budgeting issues, other than that, we have the technical expertise to clean the waste,” he said.

Kareem claimed that upon receiving funds from the government, the MCC had been able to hire special dhonis (boats) to clear garbage from disposal sites in Male’ that had been allowed to build up over a period of several months. The build up of waste had led to disputes between the council and various state bodies over responsibility for clearing the waste.

Waste being cleared from Male' Saturday (June 1)

With a proportion of funding now having been received by the MCC from the Finance Minsitry, Kareem said the council had been able to clear waste yard number two in Male’ of rubbish.  The site was now being “treated” to try and reduce odours that had built up at the site as a result of recent wet weather, before it would again start receiving waste.

He added that the site was presently being cleared and would not be temporarily open for use until the council completed its treatment and renovation.

Kareem claimed that as long as the government continued to provide funding for the MCC to handle waste management in and around the capital, the MCC did not expect to have any similar problems cleaning waste in the future.

He alleged last month that following the initial signing of the Tatva waste management deal under the previous government in May 2011, the MCC had not been provided with a budget for waste management – even after the deal was stalled by the present administration.

Waste concerns

In April, divisions were reported to have arisen between different ministerial bodies and the private sector over who should take responsibility for garbage being dumped into the sea.

Earlier this year, Minivan News reported that government authorities were working on trying to create functional waste management projects that would serve as an alternative to shipping waste to Thilafushi, despite numerous failed attempts in the past.