Malé pedestrianised zones to be piloted on February 15

A pilot project to establish vehicle-free zones in the capital Malé will be introduced on February 15, authorities have revealed.

Speaking at a joint press conference with the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure and the Transport Authority of Maldives, housing minister Dr Mohamed Muizzu said the scheme will see the closure of Heena Goalhi and Raiyvilla Magu in Henveiru ward to vehicles, including bicycles.

“We will also establish special parking zones for people from houses on these roads, special permits will be given to them to park in these parking zones”, Muizzu explained.

President Abdulla Yameen has previously pledged to ban traffic in narrow lanes in Malé in order to ease congestion in the densely crowded city of 130,000 people, allowing space for children to play.

Transport Authority chairman Abdul Rasheed Nafiz said that the measures would need to go hand-in-hand with a reduction in the number of vehicles in order to find long-term solutions to traffic congestion.

Although the government has not finalised the measures, Nafiz said that current proposals included the halting of vehicle registration renewal for vehicles older than 15 or 20 years, with new vehicle registration open only allowed as older vehicles are taken out of use.

“The new slots will go to the highest bidder. We think this is the most fair manner in which we can do this,” Nafiz said.

Muizz today noted that a ministry survey had shown that some areas involved in the pedestrianisation scheme have storage facilities and garages, but that those businesses will be required to load and unload goods by parking outside the pedestrianised areas.

People who park their two wheeled vehicles inside their homes will be allowed to walk their vehicles to the houses inside the no-vehicle areas.

“Physical obstructions will be put in place and traffic police will be monitoring the area to ensure vehicles do not enter. We will ensure there is enough space for wheelchairs and such,” said Muizzu.

According to the ministry, the pilot project will continue with the closure of more roads in all wards along with Henveiru – including Galolhu, Machchangoalhi and Maafannu – until June 8.

Nafiz explained that the stickers assigned to vehicle owners of the residences in the pedestrianized zones will be given free of charge and must be displayed.


Government announces completion of all tsunami housing units

The government has announced the completion of all housing units constructed by the state for people made homeless in the 2004 tsunami disaster.

In a joint press conference held today by the housing and finance ministries, Minister for Housing and Infrastructure Dr Mohamed Muizzu declared that 298 housing units in four islands in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, and 41 housing units in Thaa Madifushi have now been completed.

Muizzu stated that the government had taken direct control of the project last November on the decision of President Abdulla Yameen following numerous attempts to negotiate with the contractors regarding the delays in work.

On the ninth anniversary of the disaster in December 2013, Yameen had pledged to complete permanent housing for all the 427 families who remained homeless.

Muizzu did not reveal whether new private contractors had been brought in to complete the unfinished work, saying only that there would be no “legal problems in any of the work the government has directly been involved in”.

He also stated that the government took over the project after seeking legal advice from the attorney general and noted that the Anti Corruption Commission and the auditor general were invited to review the proceedings.

Finance minister Abdulla Jihad stated that Vimla Construction Pvt Ltd was awarded a US$20 million contract in October 2008 to build the housing units in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll for completion within 14 months. Jihad said that approximately US$16.6 million had been spent up to now.

He also noted that the delays and the need for the government to become directly involved in the completion of the housing units meant the projects were likely to cost more than expected, although the full amount has not yet been determined.

“STO has supplied substantial amounts, we estimate that the value (of supplies by STO) will be a significant sum,” Jihad said.

The finance ministry’s audit report of 2011 revealed that it had spent MVR17.5 million to transport materials for the construction of the tsunami housing units in Gaafu Dhaalu. The audit report noted that the expenses, which were not included in the finance ministry’s budget, should not have been paid.

Further, the audit report also recommended a specific audit be done and a report published on the tsunami housing units contracted to Vimla Construction.

The 2004 tsunami resulted in 82 deaths and 26 missing persons in the Maldives. Figures from the UN show that the disaster displaced nearly 10 percent of the Maldives’ population, severely damaging a quarter of inhabited islands with 14 completely evacuated.

Related to this story

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Housing Minister Muiz to be questioned at the People’s Majlis

Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Dr Mohamed Muiz will be questioned at tomorrow’s session of the People’s Majlis.

Muiz is being summoned to the Majlis upon a request from Addu-Meedhoo MP Rozaina Adam to clarify if the government has planned any development projects for Addu city.

Individual MP s can seek to question government ministers through the speaker of the Majlis with chosen minister having to be informed fourteen days prior to the questioning.

The Addu City Council has earlier stated that funds for a number of development projects in the city which were pre-approved by the Housing Ministry were not subsequently included in the 2014 national budget.

Addu is the Maldives’ second most populated area with over 30,000 inhabitants.


AG’s office refiles case to block West Harbour development deal

The Attorney General’s office has today re-filed a case seeking to block the private development of Male’s West Harbour area. The original case was dismissed by the Civil Court the day before, allegedly after the prosecutor general arrived ten minutes late for a hearing.

Local media report that the Attorney General’s office was seeking a fast-tracked procedure to prevent work beginning on the US$30 million project (MVR462million). Male’ City Council announced its intentions to turn the development over to private company West Gate Assets earlier this month, with work scheduled to begin on September 1.

The project is designed to include coffee shops, cafes, petrol sheds, shopping malls, and spacious parking zones intended to resolve severe congestion in Male’ City.

Despite the council’s insistence that the deal had been approved by both the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the Housing Ministry, Housing Minister Mohamed Muizz told Minivan News last week that no such approval had been given by his department.


Former President Nasheed calls on MDP to vacate ‘Usfasgandu’ in favour of meeting halls

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has called on Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters to vacate the ‘Usfasgandu’ protest area in favour of the various ‘jagaha’ (meeting halls) established across the capital ahead of September’s election.

Nasheed was quoted in local media as requesting that the opposition party’s supporters make use of the official meeting areas being set up by the MDP across Male’, rather than the protest site that has been the basis for many of the party’s activities since the controversial transfer of power last year.

“I will ask members of the MDP’s executive committee very sincerely to clear Usfasgandu. We are a party that wisely takes whatever steps are needed at the time,” he was quoted as saying by Haveeru.

Usfasgandu, which is presently being leased to the party, has been at the centre of an ongoing legal dispute over the last 12 months between the MDP-dominated Male City Council (MCC) and the government’s Housing Ministry, which is seeking to claim ownership of the site.

Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Dr Mohamed Muiz told Sun Online last week that a notice had been sent to the MCC requesting they clear and vacate the area by June 27 – or else police would be requested to assist in clearing the site.

Dr Muiz was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press, while Deputy Housing Ministers Abdulla Muththalib and Mohamed Faiz today declined to comment on the matter.

A police media official, who declined to be named, said it had also received no communications from the ministry requesting assistance to clear Usfasgandu by tomorrow’s supposed deadline.

Despite reports of the Housing Ministry’s intent to reclaim the Usfasgandu area, Mayor Ali Manik said no order had been received by the MCC requesting the land be returned. He added that any decision on whether to clear the are could only be made by the MDP.

The MDP told Minivan News today that while it has also not received any notice of attempts by the state to clear the site, the importance of the area to the party had “waned” as its campaigning spread across the capital and country ahead September’s election.

The opposition party said it intended to focus on local campaigning through the establishment of various jagaha across the Maldives.

Nasheed today opened the latest MDP jagaha adjacent to the country’s justice building – despite authorities contesting the legality of its location. The MDP contends that the jagaha was further than a distance of 50 feet from the building as demanded by law, and was therefore legally situated.


Addressing the future of Usfasgandu, MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said there was a “general feeling” within the party that Usfasgandu was believed to have served its purpose.

He added that the party had been considering vacating the area over the last week in order to limit the possibility of confrontations with authorities.

Ghafoor added that an official parade to commemorate eight years since the founding of the MDP would begin at Usfasgandu this evening, but its relevance as an area for campaigning was already waning with the establishment of jagaha areas.

“The general view of the party is that the area is not really useful anymore and is slightly irrelevant to our campaigning, though I understand there is nostalgia among many people for the area,” he said. “In time, I think we would have seen the site slowly die out.”

Intimidation allegations

Ghafoor alleged that reports of the Housing Ministry seeking to reclaim Usfasgandu reflected an attempt by the state to intimidate political rivals such as the MDP and its supporters ahead of an election.

He claimed that this intimidation was part of attempts by the state to destabilise the country ahead of September’s presidential election in order to cast doubt on whether the country was capable of holding a national vote.

Ghafoor said as a result the MDP was wary of any potential clashes with authorities, such as those seen during attempts to evict the party from Usfadsgandu in May last year. He said that many in the party believed that keeping the area was “not worth” the potential for unrest should police intervene.

Land dispute

Although Usfasgandu was later returned to the MDP after the clashes in May 2012, police once again moved to cordon off the area by January 2013 at the request of the High Court.

The court at the time ordered that Usfasgandu not be occupied by any party until it delivered a verdict over a dispute between the Housing Ministry and the MCC over ownership of the site.

In early February, the Civil Court ordered the MCC to clear the land plot and hand it over to the Housing Ministry, though the order was later overturned by the High Court. The High Court ruled that the Civil Court order had failed to follow legal procedures in its hearing of the case and was therefore unlawful.

Usfasgandu was handed back to the MDP by the MCC in March of this year, with the council claiming at the time that no other party had requested use of the land at the time.

A spokesperson for the High Court today said that no further rulings had been made concerning the legal ownership at present, with its previous order overturning the Civil Court still said to stand.

Despite now opting to vacate the site, Ghafoor claimed that the lack of notification from the Housing Ministry over its attempt to reclaim the Usfasgandu reflected a further breakdown in communication between state departments.

“The Housing Ministry had been completely isolated on this matter and no one seems to be taking it seriously,” he said.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad was not responding to calls at time of press from Minivan News.

‘Paint war’

The MDP’s political rivals have continued to criticise the MCC for providing a plot of land to the opposition party, expressing concern that their supporters had not been given similar opportunities in the capital.

Government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan alleged last week that it was this sense of disparity among political rivals that had led to a so-called ‘paint war’ across the capital resulting in private property and even plant-life painted in political colours.

Supporters of the PPM were accused of covering state property and government buildings, such as walls outside the new Supreme Court compound in Male’, in the party’s official colour of pink.

PPM MP Nihan meanwhile accused MDP supporters of instigating the painting throughout Male’ by covering entire areas of the capital such as Usfasdgandu in yellow, leading to reprisals from rival supporters.


Male’ City Council clashes with STELCO over permit issue

The State Electric Company (STELCO) has claimed it is facing difficulties in providing its services to certain parts of Male’ following the city council’s decision not to issue it with permits to carry out work, according to local media.

In a press conference held yesterday, STELCO Deputy Managing Director Mohamed Latheef said it had been informed by Male’ City Council (MCC) that the company was to temporarily cease providing services such as digging up roads in the capital as of December 5, Haveeru reported (Dhivehi).

Latheef said the company had since been facing difficulties in providing electricity services to parts of Male’ as a result of the MCC’s stance.

Disputes between STELCO and the MCC started after the state electricity provider began providing electricity to several locations in Male’ without the permission of the city council.

According to Latheef, the properties affected had been previously taken from the city council by the Housing Ministry.

“As the nature of the services provided by this company are such that we require the assistance and cooperation of the municipal service provider of the state, and because Male’ City Council has currently ceased providing its services, the subsequent result is that the company is now unable to provide certain public services,” he said.  “Some of the services that require the permission of the city council include digging street sides, laying cables and certain tasks that require the roads to be closed off.”

STELCO Engineer Ibrahim Naashid said during the same press conference said that the state-owned company was receiving about 15 requests per day to connect electricity, but was unable to do so as a result of the city council’s decision earlier this month.

“On an average, we were unable to provide electricity service to 15 parties in the last three to four days. However, not all premises require the digging of roads to provide electricity cables, so we have provided electricity to some premises through our distribution box that have been previously installed. But if digging the road is required to provide the service, it is impossible to give the service now,” Naashid said.

Nashid explained that the company was required to obtain a permit from the city council to lay cable even in an emergency power outage, resulting in huge difficulties for the company in the present situation.

“Earlier, it is possible for us not to immediately get a permit from the city council in an odd time like midnight hours, but we do inform their supervisors and those responsible in maintaining the roads. If it’s a difficult time like midnight hours, we carry out the work and inform them the next day,” he explained.

However, Naashid affirmed that the company would still carry out its work in providing their service to the people in case of emergencies regardless of the views that the city council may hold.

Latheef claimed the company had held several discussions with the MCC, the most recent of which took place Sunday (December 9).  However, the MCC was said to have remained unwilling to reverse their decision.

Latheef added that the company was in discussion with relevant government authorities and would be considering legal action against the MCC if deemed necessary.

Male’ City Council responds

In a response to STELCO’s claims, the MCC in a letter seen by local media, warned the state-owned electricity provider that it would take “harsh” action if any service was provided to the “people” without its permission.

The city council said STELCO was failing to abide by laws and regulations, as well ignoring two different letters sent to the company advising it to comply with such requests.  The MCC stated that it had not received any response to its letters.

The letter signed by Deputy Mayor Shamah Rasheed and addressed to Managing Director of STELCO Dr Mohamed Zaid stated that it was the responsibility of the MCC to enter into agreements with parties and carry out business transactions.  The MCC said such transactions were to be carried out in accordance with policies set by government authorities that outline the provision of basic services such as water, electricity and sewerage services to the people as stipulated under the Decentralization Act.

Deputy Mayor Shamah, MCC councillor Mohamed Abdul Kareem and STELCO’s Managing Director Dr Zaid were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Fallout with Housing Ministry

The MCC is also involved in an ongoing dispute with the Housing Ministry over the ownership of several areas in Male’, which have now been taken over by Housing Ministry.

In an announcement, the Housing Ministry has said that the city council’s opening of bidding for development projects of several areas of Male was against state regulations. The announcement was made after the city council open requests for bids to develop Male’ southern harbour and a part at Alimas Ufaa Carnival.

The Housing Ministry has contended that the MCC did not have any legal authority to open bidding process of the areas and that it would not be responsible for pecuniary or any other damage suffered by groups who submit bids for the development of the regions.

Despite the remarks made by the Home Ministry, MCC member Ibrahim Shujau told local media outlet Sun Online that the council believed that the Alimas Ufaa area was legally under the council’s jurisdiction.  He contended that efforts to develop a park in the area would go ahead.

The MCC on Sunday (December 9) took the matter to the parliament, where it had requested for assistance in resolving the matter.

Speaking to local media, Shujau said that the council had filed the issue with parliament after seeing that it could not carry out its work with Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muizz in the position. He added that the case had been filed with Parliament’s Government Oversight Committee.