Environment agency head demoted

Senior officials of the state environment regulator have been transferred in an apparent demotion.

Environment Protection Agency (EPA) director general Ibrahim Naeem was transferred to the Baa atoll biosphere reserve office while director Mohamed Musthafa was transferred to the water and sanitation department of the environment ministry.

The EPA functions under the ministry of environment and energy.

The move follows a government-aligned MP submitting amendments to the tourism law to transfer powers to authorise developments on resorts from the EPA to the tourism ministry.

If the amendments pass, resorts will have to seek authorisation from the tourism ministry for any development on a resort that could “permanently alter” the island, plot of land, or lagoon’s environment. The ministry must compile an environmental impact assessment before issuing permission.

The EPA currently conducts assessments and authorises projects such as land reclamation.

Following preliminary debate at yesterday’s sitting of parliament, the amendment bill was accepted for consideration and sent to committee for further review.


Maldives not the best habitat for crocodiles, says EPA

The Maldives’ climate and geography does not make it the best habitat for crocodiles, says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) following an increase in sightings.

Director General Ibrahim Naeem told Minivan News today that it is very unlikely crocodiles will be able to reproduce and populate the country.

“The crocodiles being sighted these days are most likely to have drifted with the currents from nearby countries,” said Naeem.

“If crocodiles were to populate this country, it would have happened thousands of years ago.”

Multiple crocodile sightings have been reported to the authorities in recent days after a 10ft creature was caught last month in Laamu Atoll Kalaidhoo.

The reptiles – which can grow up to 22 feet in length – are usually found  in mangrove swamps, rivers, estuaries, deltas, and lagoons. Saltwater crocodiles are known to live in the east coast of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Andaman and Nicobar islands in the Bay of Bengal.

Naeem speculated that all the reported sightings may have been a lone crocodile. He also denied quotes attributed to him in some media outlets suggesting that the Maldives hosts a habitable environment for crocodiles.

“Media should refrain from spreading false information which might incite fear in the hearts of the people living in the islands,” said Naeem.

Meanwhile, Vice President of the Nolhivaram Council Abdulla Shareef told Minivan News that something which is believed to be a dead crocodile carcass has washed up on the island’s shore today.

“We have found a severely decomposed remains of what is believed to be a big 10ft crocodile today,” said Shareef. “We have informed Maldives National Defense Force which is going to examine the carcass before burying it.”

Shareef also said that a crocodile fitting the same description was reported in the nearby Nolhivaramfaru Island two days ago.

Media reported two more crocodile sightings last night alone, with Vaguthu saying that two fishermen made a sighting in Haa Alif – the country’s northernmost atoll, while another was said to have been reported in Addu City – the country’s southernmost.

Yesterday, the MNDF urged the public to refrain from trying to catch crocodiles without assistance from relevant authorities as sightings around the country continue to rise.

“It is important to call the authorities as soon as you see the crocodile. Sometimes, MNDF have been contacted after the crocodile flees an unsuccessful attempt to capture it. It is then very hard to track and find the animal,” said a spokesman.

While crocodiles are not native to the Maldives, it is believed that the increased sightings coincide with the beginning of the Iruvai (North Eastern) monsoon.

The most famous of the Kinboos is housed in Malé’s children’s park, where it has grown to over 10ft in length since its capture in 2008.

Related to this story

Kalaidhoo islanders catch 10ft crocodile

Public urged not to try catching crocodiles as sightings increase


Garbage floats freely from “impatient” boats

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has blamed a surge of garbage floating in Thilafushi lagoon on “impatient” trash boats; trash which is now flowing into the sea.

In 2009, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that 330 tons of waste are transported in Thilafushi island for processing. Thilafushi is commonly known as ‘garbage island’.

Head of the EPA, Ibrahim Naeem, said a “huge amount of garbage” has been collecting in the ocean, due partly to a change in tides. Speaking to Minivan News today, Naeem did not want to say whether the trash was coming from resort boats, but did say the problem “involves everyone”.

“The mechanism for waste collection and disposal needs to be improved,” he said. “The EPA has to do some work on the matter, and the people who are bringing in the garbage and contributing to its buildup also need to take responsibility.”

Naeem said the EPA had photographs and names of several boats that had been dumping garbage into the sea. The agency is now investigating 10 cases.

Naeem said legal action will be taken against boats caught dumping garbage, which would affect fishing and tourism, two of the country’s largest economic contributors.

Yet there are signs that both the garbage and a lack of regulation may already be affecting tourism. In a recent interview with Minivan News, French tourist Marie Kivers noted a lack of waste bins on Male and Guraidhoo.

It’s funny because we who live abroad think that Male’ will be an example for the world about pollution and everything, since global warming is important here. But when you see the inhabitants in the Maldives, they put anything into the sea,” she said.

Some boat captains have claimed that boats from islands, safaris and resorts dump garbage into the lagoon instead of anchoring near Thilafushi, reports Haveeru. An earlier rule stating that garbage had to be dumped before six in the evening likely contributed to the rushed habit.

Reports indicate that the waste exceeds the capacity of Thilafushi. Naeem says some boats are getting impatient.

“The facility at Thilafushi is designed so that only two or three boats can dock and dump at a time,” said Naeem. “If the waste is not removed from the area, however, or the boats take a while, other boats won’t be able to get in and dump their waste.”

The EPA has said that arrangements are being made to ensure that waste is only dumped on the island under the supervision of a council employee – a thing earlier practiced, reports Haveeru. An official also said that boats traveling to Thilafushi will be charged according to waste weight.

Thilafushi is currently the only island designed for waste disposal in the Maldives. Naeem told Minivan News that there are plans for a new site to be developed in Raa Atoll.


President reportedly announces second auditor general nominee

The serving internal auditor at the Maldives Ports Limited has been forwarded by President Mohamed Nasheed as a candidate for the post of auditor general in an attempt to fill a position that has remained vacant for over a year, according to news reports.

Haveeru has reported today that Niyaz Ibrahim is expected to be nominated to parliament for the position pending committee review after attempts in December to appoint the former Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) President Ali Rasheed Umar were rejected. The decision led to allegations from the government that Rasheed Umar was the victim of a partisan plot to hinder the appointment.

Opposition politicians, who form a majority in the Majlis, claimed at the time that the vote against the appointment was related to ethical concerns over the candidate and called for greater consultation from the president on finding a nominee for the auditor general position.

The auditor general position has remained vacant since March 2010 when Ibrahim Naeem lost a parliamentary no-confidence motion by 43 votes to 28.

While the governing Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) voted to retain Naeem in the role, opposition MPs and a number of independent members voted against him over allegations of corruption.

Naeem stood accused of corruption by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) for using the government’s money to buy a tie and fund a visit Thulhaidhu in Baa Atoll.

Naeem claimed the charges were an attempt to discredit his office and prevent him from reclaiming the government’s money stored in overseas bank accounts.


President Nasheed nominates Ali Rasheed Umar for Auditor General

The President’s Office has nominated former Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) President Ali Rasheed Umar as the new Auditor General.

A Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP)-led no-confidence motion in Parliament saw former Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem ousted from his post last month, shortly after he announced corruption allegations involving former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and senior members of both the former and current government.

Naeem was appointed as the first independent Auditor General in January 2008 by Gayoom, and his appointment was endorsed by the DRP-led Parliament. The post of Auditor General was created by Gayoom due to international pressure regarding the former government’s expenditure.

Umar was appointed president of the ACC in October 2008 and was head of the commission for eight months. Elections were then held for commission members, but he did not submit his name for the elections.

On 25 November 2008, Umar signed on behalf of the ACC, and Naeem as Auditor General, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for technical cooperation activities between the ACC and the Auditor General’s office. Both organisations were to exchange information and work together to eliminate corruption and promote good governance and accountability.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair confirmed Umar has been nominated by the president and his name has been forwarded to Parliament.

Zuhair said the Majlis should make their decision on whether or not they will endorse his nomination within the week.

“He is a qualified accountant and headed the ACC,” Zuhair said, adding that during the new government’s first week in office, Umar wanted to investigate the President’s Office’s financial records. “He performed very well [with the ACC].”

Zuhair added that Umar has no political affiliations to any party.

An on-going defamation case against Umar is in the Civil Court. Former member of the ACC Hassan Luthfee pressed charges against Umar for defamation, after Luthfee was accused of leaking ACC information for his personal gain.


Nominee for new Auditor General will be ready next week: Zuhair

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, confirmed the nomination for the post of Auditor General will be sent to Parliament next week, reports Miadhu.

According to the Constitution, the Auditor General must have the necessary academic qualifications to discharge his or her duties and shall not take any other job while posted as Auditor General.

The Auditor General must be nominated by the President and approved by Parliament. Zuhair said the government was giving the issue priority.

The post of Auditor General is vacant after a no confidence motion in Parliament against former Auditor General, Ibrahim Naeem.


PG’s office sends corruption cases back to Auditor General’s office

The Prosecutor General’s office has returned cases against former government ministers forwarded several weeks ago by former Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem.

Naeem claimed that former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, together with many of his cabinet ministers and several members of the current government, had failed to declare details of their financial assets as required by the Constitution.

Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem said the cases was returned to the Auditor General’s Office “because they were not investigated sufficiently.”

Shameem said they should have been “properly investigated” by the Auditor General’s Office before being sent to the PG’s Office.

“People who were named in this report were not asked to submit their forms,” Shameem said. “[In addition] they were not informed about the criminal charges. It is unfair they had to hear about it from the media.”

He said the PG’s Office believed “they should be given an opportunity” to declare their assets and to further investigate the claims.

He added that the cases have not been dropped by his office, and “if they are sent back, we will proceed.”

Assistant Executive Director and interim head of the Auditor General’s office Mohamed Hussein said he could not give any information about the case.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair said the former Auditor General “did not make up this case on his own or without collecting information. He would have sent these cases to the PG after working with a team.”

Zuhair said parliament’s no-confidence decision on Naeem did not mean that the whole Audit office was corrupt.


New Auditor General to be appointed next week, government hopes

The government hopes appoint a new Auditor General by next week, after outgoing AG Ibrahim Naeem was dismissed from his post by parliament earlier this week.

Assistant executive director and interim head of the Auditor General’s office, Mohamed Hussein, said according to the law Ibrahim Naeem was no longer the Auditor General and was not attending the office.

Hussein said he did want to reveal whether staff at the audit office were disheartened by parliament’s decision.

”We always work according to the policy of Auditor General at the time,” Hussein said.

The President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said the government was “seeking a capable and educated man for the position,” and hoped to fill the position next week.

“President Mohamed Nasheed has promised to appoint someone as capable and as educated as the former Auditor General,” Zuhair said.

Naeem was formally dismissed by parliament in a DRP-PA coalition-led no-confidence motion on Sunday, after corruption allegations were sent by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in a letter to a parliamentary sub-committee chaired by Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim.

The ACC also sent the case to the Prosecutor General’s office, seeking to initiate court proceedings.

Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem confirmed the office had received “a huge file of documents.”

“I don’t think [the case will be influenced by Parliament’s decision] as we look it from at a completely different angle,” Shameem said.

“It’s a different process to Parliament. We have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt whether or not he is guilty. Parliament decides on the basis of whether or not he was doing his job.”

Shameem said it would take “weeks” to decide whether the case would be forwarded to the court.

Meanwhile DRP Vice President and MP Ali Waheed said he wished Naeem “a bright future.”

Waheed said the 43-28 vote in favour of dismissal was successful due to votes from the Qaumee Party, Peoples Alliance and many independent MPs.

”This shows that even if a dictator tries to go against the law, the politicians of the country will not allow him do it,” Waheed said.

DRP held a ceremony at the DRP office following to the vote, to celebrate its victory in the no-confidence motion.

”We celebrated the victory as we had tried very hard for this,” Waheed said. ”We were arrested and police took us to Dhoonidhu and people tried for this so much.”

He said all the demonstrations over the weekend were because the MDP MPs “tried to deadlock the parliament.”

”We do not want parliament to be cancelled for even one day,” Waheed said.

He called on people to show the same effort when the parliament begins debate over the controversial decentralisation bill.

He said he do not want to say anything about accusations the Auditor General made against senior DRP officials in his audit reports.

”That will be decided by the court, whether they are true or not,” he said.

Zuhair claimed that the vote against the Auditor General proved the DRP had “the best interest of their political party in mind and not the best interest of the country.”

He said Naeem’s reports contained accusations against former government ministersare now independent MPs.

”That’s why they voted the way they did in the no-confidence motion,” Zuhair said.

He added that the audit report was not only the work of the Auditor General, “but a big team in the Audit Office.”

Minister for Home affairs Mohamed Shihab is another government official facing a potential no-confidence motion from the DRP, in response to a police decision to detain Waheed and several other senior DRP leaders.

Shihab said he would not comment on prospect of a no-confidence motion against him “until I receive notice of it from parliament.”

Spokesperson for Maldivian Democratic Party Ahmed Haleem did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.