Save the wave!

This article is by Isha Afeef

The government’s plan to build a bridge connecting the capital and the airport island may destroy the Maldives’ most consistent surf break at Malé’s Raalhugandu, surfers have said.

“These surf breaks cannot be built like football grounds. They are forces of nature, and a bridge in the area will destroy my hometown’s wave. This is disastrous for anyone who surfs,” local surfer Hassan ‘Zakitte’ Irfan said.

Housing minister Dr Mohamed Muizzu told Haveeru last week that the US$100 million Malé – Hulhulé Bridge will run from Malé’s south east corner at Raalhugandu to the end of the airport runway at Hulhulé. A second survey of the ocean basin is ongoing.

The government says the bridge will increase connectivity between Malé and its suburb Hulhumalé, where 20,000 people live. The bridge is to be completed by the end of 2017.

Over 90 percent of Maldives’ surf athletes practice at Raalhugandu, while a majority of local surfing competitions and several international competitions have been held there.

Although Raalhugandu has weathered through severe damage to Malé’s reef from the construction of a sea wall, and the reclamation of land from the ocean, the placement of the bridge’s pillars may affect the ocean currents that form waves suitable for surfing in the area, local surfers have said.

Ahmed ‘Karo’ Fauzan, who has surfed at Raalhugandu for the past 20 years, says the bridge is bad news for all of Malé City’s residents. Nearly one-third of the Maldives’ population lives in Malé, and the Raalhugandu area is one of the few public spaces were Malé city residents can go for a run or a swim. Many people, old and young alike, while away the evenings at the various food carts, sipping on coconuts and nibbling on local delicacies.

“The impact of this bridge is bigger than a wave. It is going to lead to a loss of culture. We’re not living the way Maldivians are supposed to be living. We have no access to the natural resources in this city. Yet we’re living,” he said.

All of the nearby islands and lagoons have now been sold off for tourism, industrial or military purposes, making the loss of the narrow beach at Raalhugandu even more devastating.

For Karo, surf breaks are a natural resource that must be protected, not only because of the foreign revenue surfers bring in, but also because surfing for him is an expression of love for the ocean.

Dhafy Hassan, a female surfer, agrees: “I am in love with my country because of the ocean and the beaches. I think every Maldivian is proud of our natural beauty no matter what. Surfers, divers and fishermen, we have this beautiful excuse to be in the water, this is what makes us who we are. But if the bridge is built, that will be taken away from us. Why destroy what makes us?”

The possible loss of Raalhugandu comes as a big blow for local surfers, especially since the government in 2011 sold off nearby Thamburudhoo island, home to the Maldives’ best waves. Tourism revenue from the island will go to military welfare.

“With no other spots nearby, this bridge will become a huge blow for our community. We treat her as our home. We don’t litter here or make her dirty.” Ahmed Aiham, 16, who has just recently started to surf, said.

Karo, who also worked on the “Save Thamburudhoo” campaign, said Maldivians must fight for the waves. He also said the bridge may also disrupt another wave at Hulhulé island.

He has urged the government to reveal details of the environmental impact assessment of the bridge, and said the government must factor in the loss of Raalhugandu wave before approving development.

Meanwhile, Hussein Fayani, at Malhu surf school, said funds allocated for the bridge should be invested to improve the ferry system between Malé and Hulhumalé. His school teaches 25 children, aged between four and six, how to surf every month.

“Building the bridge is not something that should be done at all,” he said.

Environmentalist Noorain Jaleel described the bridge as a “selfish and inconsiderate step in the name of development.”

“How far will we go till we understand how delicate our environment is? How vital its balance is, even to us mighty humans. The currents, surfs and tides have their roles. Selfish inconsiderate steps in the name of development will one day bring all of us to our knees. Better planning with serious consideration of the environment will take us a long way. For our future generations. You are answerable for them.”

The Maldives Surfing Association and the Maldives Body Boarding Association declined to comment on the issue, saying they are working on a plan for discussions with the government.


President Yameen defends nomination of Maumoon Hameed for prosecutor general post

President Abdulla Yameen has defended the nomination of his nephew Maumoon Hameed to the vacant post of prosecutor general (PG), announcing his intention to nominate the lawyer to parliament for a second time.

Parliament rejected Hameed – son of former Atolls Minister Abdulla Hameed – on April 14 after the nominee fell three votes short of securing parliamentary approval.

Addressing supporters in the Feydhoo ward of Addu City last night (May 18), President Yameen insisted that Hameed was chosen based on competence and qualification rather than family connection.

“I don’t want in any case for the People’s Majlis to appoint Maumoon Hameed to the post of Prosecutor General  because he is my brother or a member of my family,” Yameen said.

“But even tonight, I want to say proudly, standing before the public, that yes, it is true, there are educated and competent persons in my family. They want to serve the Maldivian government and the Maldivian people. They will be brought before the law when they violate the law. I am sending Maumoon Hameed’s name [to parliament] this time as well.”

He added that he wished for parliament to approve “approve a trustworthy and experienced person as prosecutor general.”

Opposition members of the Majlis involved in the previous approval process have suggested that he had failed to meet the oversight committee’s assessment criteria, suggesting that he had shown a poor understanding of current legal issues concerning the country’s legal system.

Yameen observed that the nomination of his nephew has been the subject of criticism in the media, noting that the names of other applicants would be forwarded to parliament as well.

Earlier this month, the President’s Office invited applications for the PG post for a third time after too few candidates put forward their names.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz revealed this week that the applicants included four judges in addition to former Tourism Minister Mariyam Zulfa and state prosecutor Aishath Fazna Ahmed.

The PG’s post has been vacant since November following the resignation of Ahmed Muiz ahead of a scheduled no-confidence motion in parliament.

The criminal justice system was meanwhile temporarily brought to a halt with the resignation on May 4 of Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem – who had been fulfilling the responsibilities of the PG – citing “obstruction” by the Criminal Court.

In the wake of Shameem’s resignation, state prosecutors refused to attend trials in the absence of both the PG and his deputy. However, the prosecutors resumed work after a week-long hiatus following a Supreme Court order last week.

18th People’s Majlis

Following parliament’s rejection of Hameed last month, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor suggested that the failure to secure a simple majority of 39 votes was down to either poor organisation on the part of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) or a sign of discord within the governing coalition.

“MP Gasim Ibrahim [Jumhooree Party leader] was openly lobbying against the PG nominee 30 minutes before vote but voted with PPM,” Hamid claimed, noting the conspicuous absence of a number of prominent government-aligned MPs for the vote.

Hamid predicted that Maumoon Hameed’s name would be resubmitted to the newly-elected parliament as the Progressive Coalition secured a comfortable majority in the March 22 polls.

Tension has however arisen between the PPM and coalition partner JP over the post of speaker. While Gasim announced his intention to stand for the post, President Yameen said the speaker should be a member of the ruling party as it won the most number of seats in the 18th People’s Majlis.

The Progressive Coalition won a combined total of 53 seats in the March 22 parliamentary polls, well above the simple majority of 43 required to approve presidential nominees and pass legislation.

In his speech last night, President Yameen strongly criticised the outgoing parliament, reiterating the importance of parliament’s cooperation for implementing the government’s policies and carrying out infrastructure projects.

“I want a member of our party to become speaker of the People’s Majlis in this term. I don’t want a member of another party to hijack our party,” he said.

Speaking at the function, former President Gayoom also said that the PPM needed to ensure public backing for the government.

“The government needs the sincere support of the Maldivian people at this time. We can provide that support to the government by increasing the number of members in our party,” he said.

The PPM leader launched a recruitment drive to increase party membership earlier this month.