China to fund Malé-Hulhulé bridge, says minister

An agreement was penned today during President Abdulla Yameen’s visit to China for carrying out the ongoing feasibility survey of the Malé-Hulhulé bridge project with Chinese grant aid.

The “agreement on the economic and technical cooperation of grant” was signed after a meeting between President Yameen and Chinese vice president Li Yuanchao, according to the president’s office.

Speaking to reporters prior to departing to China last night, president’s office minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef said “a large portion” of the bridge project will be financed through Chinese free aid and the rest through concessional and commercial loans.

Along with the feasibility report, Shareef said the Chinese government will present options for building the bridge as well as the estimated cost for each option.

The government has previously said the project will cost between US$100 million and US$150 million.

China has previously said it would ‘favorably consider financing’ the bridge if the design proves feasible. The economic council has said the six-mile bridge will have six lanes and will span from Malé’s eastern edge to the western corner of Hulhule, where the airport is located.

Last month, a team of Chinese technicians began drilling bore holes on the ocean floor to gather information for the feasibility survey.

Shareef said last night that in his meeting with the Chinese vice president, President Yameen will discuss financing for the bridge project, projects in the Maldives under the Chinese maritime ‘Silk Route’ initiative and expediting a US$40 million loan from the Chinese EXIM bank for developing the international airport.

The government has previously said a total of US$600million is needed for the project. Although the economic council first said they will borrow the funds from China and Japan, the fisheries minister in March said Saudi Arabia had assured loan assistance at a low interest rate for airport development.

Shareef is accompanying President Yameen during his visit to China along with economic development minister Mohamed Saeed and representatives from Maldivian businesses. The president departed on Wednesday morning to attend the 3rd China-South Asia Exposition, and the 23rd Kunming Import and Export Commodities Fair.

The president is due to deliver a keynote address at the joint opening of the fairs. The fairs will take place from June 12-16.

According to state broadcaster Television Maldives, a symposium was held at the Grand Park Hotel in Kunming today to share information with Chinese investors.

More than 80 companies from the Yunnan province participated in the ‘Invest Maldives Symposium,’ said economic development minister Saeed.

An ‘Invest Maldives’ page was launched on Chinese social media network Weibo during the symposium as part of “promotional efforts” for an investment forum to be held in Beijing, Saeed said.

Businesses in the Yunnan province expressed interest in carrying out renewable energy projects in the Maldives, he added.

Shareef meanwhile said the Chinese government will cover almost all of the expenses for organising the investment forum in October. While sponsors funded the first investment forum held in Singapore last year, Shareef said the government covered some costs.

Following an official state visit to China in August last year, President Yameen said the likelihood of the bridge project being awarded to a Chinese company was “99 percent” and that “a large portion” of the project would be financed through free or concessional aid from China.

In a historic visit the following month, Chinese President Xi Jinpeng said he hoped the government would call the bridge “the China-Maldives friendship bridge”.


Majlis approves reallocation of flats from southern atolls to Hulhumalé

The People’s Majlis voted 38-31 yesterday to grant a request by President Abdulla Yameen to reallocate 704 flats to Hulhumalé from a 1,500-housing unit project planned for four southern atolls.

MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) voted in favour while opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs and Jumhooree Party (JP) MPs voted against the proposal.

On June 11, President Yameen asked parliament to review a decision by the 17th People’s Majlis in December 2013 to deny the president’s request.

The year before, the previous parliament had also denied his predecessor President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s request to revise the housing project to shift 704 housing units to Hulhumalé.

In December 2012, parliament rejected the proposed change with former Speaker Abdulla Shahid casting a tie-breaking vote after the vote was tied 33-33.

An MVR2.5 billion (US$162 million) loan was secured during the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed in 2011 to construct 1,500 housing units in Gaaf Alif, Gaaf Dhaal, Fuvahmulah and Addu City.

In a letter seeking parliamentary approval for the revision – which was read out at the parliament sitting on July 2 – President Yameen stated that the government had conducted a “needs assessment” and determined that there was “no need at present” to build more than 796 housing units in the southern atolls.

Yameen also contended that “micro-level decisions regarding loans” should be made by the executive, adding that an affordable housing scheme was essential to develop Hulhumalé with a large enough population to provide education and healthcare services and create job opportunities.

Developing a ‘youth city’ in Hulhumalé with a population of 50,000 was a campaign pledge of President Yameen, whose vision for the artificial island includes the creation of light industries and a “technopolis” park as well as sports and entertainment facilities.

The president’s request was forwarded to the public accounts committee (PAC) earlier this month, which approved it over the objections of opposition MPs on the committee and sent a report (Dhivehi) to the Majlis floor for final approval. The report was compiled by the PAC of the previous parliament.

Pro-government MPs had rejected MDP MPs Ibrahim Shareef’s proposal to seek further information after summoning Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz and voted in favour of a proposal by PPM MP Riyaz Rasheed to pass the previous report.

Parliamentary approval for revising the terms of a loan is required under amendments approved to the Public Finance Act in 2010.

Regional disparity

During the final debate on the report at Tuesday’s sitting, MDP MP for the mid-Hithadhoo constituency in Addu City, Ibrahim Mohamed Didi, alleged that the contractors stood to gain an additional US$21 million by shifting the flats to the Malé region.

“Who on the committee looked into what happens to this US$21 million?” the retired brigadier general asked, characterising the move as a “betrayal” of the people of the southern atolls.

He explained that the cost of a flat decreases from US$150,000 to US$75,000 when it is built in Hulhumalé.

Due to the low value of land outside the central region, Didi said people in the outer atolls were unable to secure housing loans and appealed to pro-government MPs to vote against the proposal on behalf of their constituents.

JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim also alleged “serious corruption” in tendering the construction work to a contractor as the cost of building a flat should not exceed US$75,000 on average.

Flats for tsunami victims in the south were built with loan assistance from the Saudi Fund and elsewhere for about US$50,000, he added.

The JP MP for Maamigili called for investigations by the Auditor General’s Office and Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), questioning the US$150 million price tag for 1,500 flats.

Independent MP for Gaaf Dhaal Madaveli, Muaz Mohamed Rasheed, said his constituents were “very concerned” with the decision to reallocate the flats from the south.

If the flats are to be built in Hulhumalé, Muaz suggested that citizens of southern atolls should get preference in the awarding process.

However, despite the misgivings, Muaz said the government should be able to make revisions in the interests of loan repayment. While he attended yesterday’s sitting, Muaz did not participate in the vote.

PPM MP for Gaaf Alif Gemanafushi, Jameel Usman, noted that a large number of citizens from the atolls resided in the capital and were in need of housing, to whom President Yameen wished to provide low-cost housing.

MDA MP Ahmed Amir meanwhile cautioned that further delays caused by parliament could jeopardise the loan, which was secured on favourable terms at a “very low” interest rate.

The PPM-led government’s manifesto included land reclamation of several islands in the outer atolls, Amir said, where housing units would also be built.

UNDP Human Development Index released last month highlighted regional disparities and inequalities in the Maldives as a “major challenge” towards human development.

“Where one is born within the Maldives determines many of the opportunities and choices available to a person,” the report concluded.


President requests parliamentary approval to revise housing project

President Abdulla Yameen has asked parliament to review a previous decision to deny a request to revise a 1,500 housing unit project financed by a Chinese EXIM bank loan.

In December 2012, the previous parliament had denied President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s request to shift 704 housing units originally designated for the southern atolls to Hulhumalé.

An MVR2.5 billion (US$162 million) loan was secured during the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed in 2011 to construct 1,500 housing units in Gaaf Alif, Gaaf Dhaal, Fuvahmulah and Addu City.

In his letter requesting the change – which was read out at today’s sitting – President Yameen stated that the government had conducted a “need assessment” and determined that there was “no need at present” to build more than 796 housing units in the southern atolls.

Since election in November, Yameen has pushed for the development of a ‘youth city’ in Hulhumalé with a population of 50,000 people.

The president’s request was forwarded to the public accounts committee for review by Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed at today’s sitting of parliament.


Parliament rejects government’s proposed changes to housing project

Parliament yesterday (December 24) voted to reject government-proposed changes to a project to construct 1,500 housing units that is being funded through a loan from the Chinese EXIM bank.

Speaker Abdulla Shahid cast the tie-breaking vote after the vote on approving a Finance Committee report recommending the approval of changes proposed by the government was tied 33-33.

The government had proposed shifting 704 housing units to Hulhumale’ from four southern atolls as originally planned under the US$154.3 million project.

The loan was approved by parliament on December 29, 2011, but submitted for approval again by the new administration with the proposed changes.

During the debate on the committee report, government-aligned MPs representing constituencies in the southern atolls objected to scrapping planned housing units in Addu City and Fuvahmulah.

Meanwhile, parliament also rejected a motion submitted by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Abdulla Jabir accusing President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik of violating MPs’ privileges.

Jabir claimed that President Waheed had told islanders during a tour of Ghaaf Dhaal atoll that they should obstruct their MP from visiting the island.

The motion was defeated 39-25 with one abstention. Following the vote, Dr Waheed tweeted: “Appreciate the trust shown in me by the majority of Parliamentarians today. I thank you all.”