Addu City Council refutes Kooddoo claims over stalled fish cannery project

The Addu City Council has denied claims by Kooddoo Fisheries Maldives Ltd (KFML) that the company is waiting for the council to grant a plot of land to build a fish processing centre and a cold storage unit.

The government-owned company claimed in a press statement earlier this week that the council has not officially responded to a request for a plot of land in the Hithadhoo harbour area and that a dispute between the council and the Fisheries Ministry over ownership of the land was stalling the project.

Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainy had also claimed during minister’s question at a parliament sitting on June 30 that the council had refused to grant a plot of land.

However, the city council claimed in a counter statement on Monday (July 14) that an 861,113 square foot land north of the regional harbour was leased to Kooddoo on November 1, 2013 for a period of 50 years with no rent to be charged for the first two years.

Moreover, the council stated that Kooddoo obtained a US$4.4 million letter of credit and US$2 million overdraft demand loan from the Bank of Maldives after mortgaging the plot, which was registered under the council’s mortgage registry on November 7, 2013.

The council accused the company of attempting to mislead the public and create division and strife amongst the city’s “fraternal and united community”.

The stated purpose of the planned cold storage facility and fish cannery is to reduce the cost of purchasing fish from Addu City as the fish catch from the southernmost atoll had to be transported to Kooddoo’s main operation base in Gaaf Dhaal atoll.

In its statement, Kooddoo noted that the city council had leased a plot of land to a private company for a similar fisheries-related project, suggesting that fishermen in Addu City would benefit more if only one of the companies was allowed to make the investment.

Responding to the objection, the city council noted that a lease agreement for a 20,000 square feet plot of land with Sea Dynamics SUL was signed on October 10, 2013 – prior to leasing a different plot to Kooddoo – following a competitive bidding process.

The council noted that it did not have the legal authority or jurisdiction to reclaim the land after terminating the agreement and compensating the company.

Moreover, the council accused Kooddoo of being both “reluctant to work in a competitive environment” and “attempting to increase influence and power in business”.

Obstruction of the council’s efforts to create a competitive business environment for the benefit of Addu City fishermen was “unacceptable,” the council statement read.

Kooddoo’s objections also suggested that the company did not wish to conduct any business enterprise in Addu City, the statement added, accusing the company of exerting influence over the Fisheries Ministry to block approval for Sea Dynamics to begin its fisheries business.

“This council has always been working, and will continue to work, to provide broad opportunity for all businesses in an open and competitive environment and to ensure security and protection for entrepreneurs in various sectors,” the statement read.

The Addu City Council also attached copies of the lease agreements with Sea Dynamics and Kooddoo, letters exchanged with the Fisheries Ministry, and copies of mortgage agreements with the Bank of Maldives.

The Addu City Council is comprised exclusively of councillors from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Meanwhile, the audit report of Kooddoo for the financial year 2013 – made public earlier this month by the Auditor General’s Office – noted that the company was “not proceeding further with the cannery project.”

“Accordingly, the total capital work-in-progress shown as that of Addu cold storage facilities and cannery project amounting MVR20,121,839 are overstated by an undetermined amount and the results for the year overstated by the unrecognised impairment, respectively,” the report stated.


Addu City Councillor dies of a heart attack

Addu City councillor for Feydhoo constituency Abdulla Aswan suffered a heart attack and died in the early hours of Tuesday morning (July 8).

According to the Addu City Council, they were notified of his death by the widow on Tuesday morning. They noted that Aswan was a passionate and active member of the team.

Aswan was a member of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party.


Equatorial Convention Centre’s unpaid bills approach MVR8 million

The unpaid electricity bills for Addu City’s Equatorial Convention Centre (ECC) have reached MVR 7.9 million (US$512,000) local media has reported.

Local director for the state-owned FENAKA utilities company told Sun Online that the constant supply of electricity needed for the three-year-old facility had not been paid since its construction.

Built on reclaimed marsh land for the for the hosting of the 17th SAARC summit in 2011, the ECC has become somewhat of a white elephant, with current responsibility for its upkeep falling to the Housing Ministry.

Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodig has previously expressed concern that the neglect of the convention centre could cause irreparable damage to the premises.

Earlier this year the Housing Ministry also reclaimed oversight of the country’s other major convention centre, Dharubaaruge in Malé. On this occasion the ministry accused Malé City Council of failing to maintain the facility, to which the council responded that it had not been granted the promised funds.

Both Malé City and Addu City councils are heavily dominated by the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party.

Zuhair told Sun today that requests to secure payment for the ECC’s bills had been unsuccessful.

Previous plans to lease the centre to private companies were shelved after the fall of the MDP government in February 2012, the same month the winning bidder was to take over operations.


Shihab elected mayor, Shifa deputy mayor

Former Home Minister Mohamed Shihab has been elected mayor of the capital by fellow councillors on the newly-elected Malé City Council.

Former Education Minister Shifa Mohamed was elected deputy mayor. Both were elected with unanimous consent of the 11-member council following its swearing-in ceremony last night.

In the January 18 local council elections, eight candidates from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and three candidates from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives were elected to the council.

Abdulla Sodig was meanwhile elected mayor by the six-member Addu City Council while Abdulla Thoyyib was elected deputy mayor. All six councillors were elected on opposition MDP tickets.


Party members contesting as independents cost seats: President Yameen

Members of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) who contested the local council elections as independents cost the government coalition a number of seats, President Abdulla Yameen has said.

Speaking to reporters this morning prior to his departure to Sri Lanka on an official state visit, President Yameen said more than 85 percent of independent candidates were PPM members.

“We lost seats in large constituencies – Malé and Addu City – we lost seats from these two cities. But that is how things will happen inside a coalition, not just our present coalition,” he said.

PPM members decided to contest as independent candidates in constituencies reserved for coalition partner Jumhooree Party (JP), Yameen explained, despite instructions from the party.

“Similarly, a JP member contested as an independent for the Addu atoll mid-constituency where our candidate got the ticket and contested,” he added.

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidates won in such cases where the vote was split among government-aligned candidates, Yameen said.

As voters considered family connections more than party affiliation in choosing candidates for councils, Yameen said government supporters contested as independents despite the best efforts of the party leadership to field single candidates representing the ruling ‘Progressive Coalition’.

Preliminary results show that the MDP has won eight out of 11 seats on the Malé City Council and all six seats of the Addu City Council.

Complete preliminary results are expected within the next two days.

President Yameen noted that the three seats won by PPM candidates in the capital was an improvement on the February 2011 local council elections, in which the then-opposition took two seats to the MDP’s nine.

Yameen further contended that the results of the council elections showed “huge support for our coalition” as the majority of independent candidates were from the PPM.

“So I am satisfied. [But] we could have put in a better effort,” he said.

Discussions were meanwhile underway among leaders of the PPM, JP, Maldives Development Alliance and the Adhaalath Party to avoid similar issues in the upcoming parliamentary elections and to decide how to divide the 84 constituencies among the coalition partners, Yameen said.

Party leaders would meet the press together and give joint interviews to explain the situation to government supporters in constituencies where there were disputes over choosing candidates, he added.

“I believe party spirit will be stronger in the parliamentary elections than the local council election,” he said.

At a press conference hours after polls closed, former President Mohamed Nasheed meanwhile predicted victory for the MDP in the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 22, based on the outcome of Saturday’s local government elections.

Nasheed was narrowly defeated by PPM candidate Yameen in November’s controversial presidential election, winning 48.61 percent of the vote (105,181) to Yameen’s 51.39 percent (111,203) – a difference of just 6,022 votes.


“Right now decentralisation in this country is just for show”: Addu City mayor

Mayor of Addu City Abdulla Sodig has suggested the financial difficulties facing his council are a result of the failure to implement the decentralisation act properly.

“Right now decentralisation in this country is just for show,” Sodig told Minivan News.

“The government and Majlis need to resolve these issues if the citizens are to benefit from decentralisation in a meaningful way.”

Addu City will be hit hard by the government’s proposed budget cuts, said Sodig, expressing concerns that the proposed budget for the city is insufficient to adequately provide essential services.

From the MVR421.4million budget requested by the council for 2014, only MVR45.6million was allocated in the budget proposed by Ministry of Finance to the People’s Majlis.

According to the mayor, the initial amount proposed in July 2013 was MVR54.8 million, in response to which the council informed the ministry that MVR123.1 million would be required for recurrent and capital expenditure – excluding Public Sector Investment Programmes (PSIPs).

When the council again requested a minimum of MVR85 million, the ministry proposed a reduced amount of MVR45.6 million. Of this amount, MVR35.2 million was allocated for salaries, MVR5.7 million for pre-schools, and MVR3.7 million for council office administrative costs.

Sodig says this amount would not cover the expenses of repairing mosques and roads.

“Addu City roads are badly in need of repair, whenever it rains most roads are flooded” he said. No funds were allocated for road reconstruction and repair in 2012 or 2013, he added.

Funds for some services in the council’s mandate, such as maintenance of roads and mosques, are included in the budgets of the relevant state departments, Sodig noted.

“It is very difficult, time consuming and costly to carry out our obligations like this.”

The MVR45.6 million budget currently proposed by the ministry does not include any additional projects, for which the council had requested MVR291.9 million.

“The amount we requested includes money needed for land reclamation projects in Hithadhoo, Maradhoo, Maradhoo-Feydhoo and Feydhoo. It was initially included in the budget, but has been removed now” Sodig explained.

In 2013 MVR6 million was proposed for PSIP projects, but the council received no money when the budget was finalised. The land reclamation projects were first proposed in 2008 but have been repeatedly delayed.

The actual budget allocation for the council in 2013 was MVR33.7 million, though it reached MVR55 million by the end of the year. The council still has pending electricity bills and up to MVR3 million and MVR186,000 in phone bills.

“At the budget committee we requested at least MVR25 million to pay our pending bills and for other existing contracts such as security and legal services, and they said anything that is absolutely essential will be included” Sodig said.

In 2014 the Council will earn an estimated MVR12.9 million in land lease payments and other fees collected for services provided by the council. A number of issues with financial independence of local councils, however, makes it difficult for the money to be properly utilised.

In 2012, the Finance Ministry requested all local councils to deposit all their revenues with Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) – a decision which Sodiq believes has discouraged local councils from investing in income generating programmes. Fees collected for public services provided with the council’s own resources are also collected by the central ministries.

Sodig blamed laws contravening the ‘Decentralisation Act’ as a primary cause for these issues.

Article 81 of the act requires national authorities to allocate an amount (decided by Ministry of Finance) from state facilities in which the council does not have any participation but are within it’s administrative area.

The mayor noted that no such payments have been made so far, and that some of the natural resources currently utilised by the state were sources of income for locals through traditional economic activity prior to their development for other purposes.


Eight arrested following clashes with Special Operations police in Addu City

Additional reporting by Neil Merrett.

Police arrested eight individuals in the island of Maradhoo in Addu City yesterday (May 15) following clashes with Special Operations (SO) officers near a campaign office of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

Police said in a statement that SO officers were dispatched upon receiving information that two rival groups were preparing for a gang fight.

“When police went to the scene at around 3:15pm [yesterday] and attempted to search the people there [for weapons], a group of people in the area threw rocks, inflicted varying degrees of injury to police officers and caused unrest,” the press release stated.

The eight men arrested during the disturbance for allegedly obstructing police duties included a 19 year-old, two 20 year-olds, a 21 year-old, a 22 year-old and two 27 year-olds, police said.

PPM MP Ahmed Nihan tweeted shortly after the arrests that clashes occurred with police following a complaint of loud music from the party’s youth office.

He today told Minivan News that although the PPM was in the process of collecting information on the incident, the party would not rule out the possibility that gang violence was behind yesterday’s clashes, playing down the possibility of political motivation behind the police action.

Nihan claimed that street fights between rival gangs from different neighbourhoods were common in Addu City, while also being symptomatic of growing “friction” between different political supporters ahead of this year’s presidential election.

“We can only rely on police accounts of the matter so far that this was a group of people fighting each other,” he said.

The clashes occurred in an area recently established by the PPM for young supporters, a policy that Nihan explained was designed to encourage youth engagement with its election campaign.

“We never thought anything like this would happen though,” he said.  “We believe that the rule of law must be upheld regardless of political colour.”

Nihan said older supporters had noted a “scattered group” of young people around the area where clashes later occurred.

PPM officials told Minivan News that a party supporters and another eyewitness had alleged police had attempted to raid the campaign area to perform a search, resulting in confrontations with some PPM members present in the area.

MP Nihan told Minivan News yesterday that party supporters and other witnesses had alleged that officers had arbitrarily detained party members.

“There is some confusion as to what has gone on, even in the party. Sources tell me many people were taken into custody for no reason,” he said at the time.

The PPM today also slammed supporters of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) over what it claimed were attempts to accuse the Maldives Police Service of using excessive force against members of the government-aligned party.

Special Operations (SO)

Former President Mohamed Nasheed also took to twitter to condemn “the actions of a few policemen who’ve arrested members of pol parties, used excessive force, violated the sanctity of their premises.”

Nasheed resigned on February 7, 2012 in the wake of a mutiny by SO officers, who have since been accused of using excessive force against demonstrators.

The police press release meanwhile stated that a group of people attempted to block the link road and had thrown rocks at police vehicles following the arrests.

Police also denied allegations in social media of brutality against women and children by SO officers.

Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodiq said yesterday that he was aware of “confrontations” between police officers and a group of young people in Maradhoo, though he was awaiting exact details on the matter.

Sodig said that Maradhoo was traditionally a close knit community, with residents often standing by each other.

Newspaper Haveeru reported eyewitnesses as claiming that police beat people who chased them after rocks were thrown.

Photo from Addu Online

A resident of the house where the PPM office is located told the newspaper that police entered both the office and adjoining house, used pepper spray and threw people to the ground before taking them into custody.

He claimed that the situation turned violent when police asked a young man to lower his boxer shorts while searching him.

“He refused, started yelling and people gathered. Then verbal attacks were exchanged between the people and police and they started throwing rocks,” he was quoted as saying.

Community website Addu Online meanwhile reported that a crowd gathered in the area in the wake of the arrest to protest police brutality.

The demonstration was reportedly dispersed when SO officers returned to the area.

Local media reported later in the day that rocks were thrown at two police officers near the Hithadhoo regional hospital. The pair were however not hit by the projectiles.

Police also arrested an individual in Addu City last week for allegedly threatening to kill an officer.

Mayor Sodig told Minivan News earlier this month that 50 people were arrested in advance of a visit by President Mohamed Waheed on May 8, “and about 90 percent of those taken in were MDP [Maldivian Democratic Party] supporters”.

Police however denied making the arrests.

As part of an ongoing police operation in Addu to “keep the peace”, “lots of people were taken into custody and were released after their information was collected”, a police media official who spoke with Minivan News initially stated.

The official then refuted the statement, claiming that only one person was arrested in Addu City on May 7.

Mayor Sodig explained that the city council had requested the police “provide extra strength to increase numbers to about 30 per station.”

“The special operations team [responded by] sending their ‘star force’, but they don’t have their commander here. He’s not in control of this group or operations. Instead they are directly overseen by Male’ command,” said Sodig.

“That’s the reason why we don’t want them to continue,” he declared.

The task force consisting of 50 special operations police was started in January 17, 2013 and was supposed to end April 17, according to Sodig. However, the entire special operations force has remained in Addu City, targeting those allegedly involved in drug and gang issues.


Addu International Airport Company outsources dredging and reclamation of Gan International Airport

Addu International Airport Company (AIA) has contracted a Dubai-based group to undertake the dredging and reclamation component of developing Gan International Airport, Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodig said today.

He confirmed a company called Gulf Cobla had been awarded the $11.7 million (MVR 180 million) project, which will include land reclamation to build seaplane terminals.  The contract will also include work on constructing revetments on the reclaimed land.  Revetments are barricades used to prevent aircraft from overshooting a runway.

“I had a word with [AIA and the State Trading Organisation (STO)] Managing Director Shahid Ali this morning and he said the project is going well. However, some people have misinterpreted the situation because a contract was given to Lagan and another was awarded to Gulf Cobla,” Mayor Sodig told Minivan News.

AIA is itself a joint venture formed by the Gan Airport Company Ltd (GACL), Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL) and the STO.

Sodig explained that a UK company called Lagan had won the main contract to develop the airport, but added that it was AIA who had outsourced additional dredging work that was required to be completed before the main runway expansion could begin.

AIA and STO Managing Director Shahid Ali confirmed to Minivan News today that: “AIA contracted directly with Gulf Cobla to conduct the dredging and land reclamation components.”

Shahid previously told local media that Gulf Cobla’s segment of the project would be completed within eight months and that it will facilitate seaplane services being provided from Gan International Airport.

“Dredging will take about eight months. We predict that the physical work can begin within one month of signing this contract,” he said.

Shahid said he expected the overall airport development project to be complete by September 2014.

AIA is also conducting negotiations with Sri Lankan Airlines, Bangkok Airways, and Air Asia to increase the number of international flights from the airport,” he added.

Gulf Cobla’s Managing Director Joost Post has also made assurances to media that the project would be completed within eight months, noting that the company had previously conducted four projects in the Maldives.

“Southern gateway to the world”

Mayor Sodig today said that the airport development would provide a huge boost to  transport links in the country.

“The airport will start seaplane operations to resorts in the Southern Atolls. Once the Gan Airport is developed, it will be the southern gateway to other parts of the world,” Sodig declared.

Gan Airport’s main runway needs a one kilometre extension toward the northwest and it will also be resurfaced with asphalt, Sodig explained.

“The seaplane base will be developed on the western side of the island,” he added.

“The shallow lagoon across from the western beach will be dredged and the sand will then be used to develop the seaplane strip and reclaim land for the main runway.  The area of the former Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Commander’s residence will be used to develop the seaplane terminal.”

Airport development controversy

Thirty percent of the AIA was sold in November 2012 to tourism pioneer ‘Champa’ Hussain Afeef’s Kasa Holdings to raise finances to develop the Gan airport in Addu City.

Goverment-aligned Jumhoree Party (JP) Leader MP Gasim Ibrahim previously denied in parliament that he had spoken against the sale of shares of AIA with the intention of buying shares himself. He claimed he had done so “in the best interests of Addu and the country.”

JP MP Alhan Fahmy added that he also wished to see the Addu airport developed, but was concerned with how the sale of shares had been carried out. Fahmy said that 30 percent of shares being sold off for MVR 60 million (US$3.89 million) was “nothing but daylight robbery”.

Meanwhile, a number of MPs from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) stated at the time that the party supported the concept of privatisation, adding that the development of the Addu airport was originally an MDP initiated plan.  However, the opposition MPs also expressed concern over how the bidding process had been carried out.

During a November 2012 press briefing, STO Shahid Ali stated that contrary to general speculation, the airport had not been “sold”, but rather shares from the company AIA that had been sold to KASA Holdings.

He also refuted allegations of corruption, saying that KASA Holdings had been given higher priority since it was a local company and that all proceedings had gone through the bidding process in a matter which was completely free of any corruption.

Addu City Council previously released a statement welcoming the signing of the contract which they said would lead to the development of the Addu airport.

The statement further noted “the importance of leaving politics aside and for the good of citizens in letting the venture bring positive changes to Addu’s economy.”

The MDP also released a statement in November urging “not to let political feuds, political needs and power play interfere in important work directly related to the development of Addu City citizens, and generally all Maldivian citizens.”

The statement also condemned Gasim’s threats to sack Shahid Ali, stating “This party calls on political leaders to refrain from making unlawful threats through the greed for power and political wants.”


Construction of 250 new homes in Addu to begin next year

Construction work on 250 new flats is to begin at the start of next year, Addu City Council has revealed.

The first flats are to be built at the Hitadhoo Maakilhi area, and will be part of a bigger government housing project that will eventually see a total of 700 flats in the area.

Councillor Abdulla Thoyyib said that eight high ranking officials from the Chinese National Machinery and Equipment, Import and Export Corporation (CMEC), along with the Deputy Housing Minister, had visited Addu on a survey trip to gather information and explore the site location.

Thoyyib added that the CMEC has completed its initial assessment and finished preparations for the start of the project and CMEC has informed that machinery and equipment will be transported to Addu in January.

“We have designated the area for this purpose as the area is suitable to accommodate a large population and as the flats are populated, other services can be developed.” Thoyyib said speaking to Haveeru.

“They are also extremely happy with the location. Even if 250 flats are initially developed, the ministry has informed that the work on the rest of the flats will also follow. However we haven’t received any details of it yet,” he added.

Only 25 housing units out of 700 have been built so far by the Housing Development Finance Corporation (HDFC), despite the project being announced on April 22, 2009 during former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration.