Newly planted areca palms uprooted on housing ministry orders

Reporting by Ismail Humaam Hamid

The Maldives Road Development Corporation (MRDC) has uprooted three newly planted areca palms in Malé today on the Housing Ministry’s orders.

The opposition dominated Malé City Council (MCC) replanted three trees this morning after masked men – believed to be police officers – chopped down 30 palm trees in the early hours of October 24.

“Today we planted three trees near the Malé City Council. However, workers from MRDC uprooted the trees moments later. They said they were acting on orders from the Housing Ministry,” Malé City Mayor Mohamed Shihab told the press today.

The police refused to help despite repeated requests, but watched the trees being removed, the mayor said.

“We requested assistance from the police as per rights afforded to local councils in the Decentralisation Act. But the police on the scene refused to help us. We have decided to lodge a complaint at the Police Integrity Commission (PIC).”

The MCC will also file a court case against MRDC for its illegal actions, the council said, arguing that the MRDC must defer to the MCC and obtain permission from the council in matters concerning Malé City.

According to newspaper Haveeru, senior members of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) believe the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) use the areca palm trees for black magic to curse President Abdulla Yameen with ill health.

“[They] believe that [President Yameen’s] health worsens with every palm frond that falls off the areca palm trees. And that his health would worsen further with every tree that blossoms,” an anonymous government official was quoted as saying.

The MDP-dominated city council had planted the palm trees – donated by the Indian High Commission – in October 2011 as part of efforts to make the capital greener.

Meanwhile, former President Mohamed Nasheed alleged that masked Special Operations (SO) police officers in plain clothes chopped down the palm trees with machetes.

Patrolling police officers from the Maafanu police station arrested two of the perpetrators, Nasheed told the press last week, claiming that the suspects were handed over to the SO on the orders of a senior official from the SO command.

The pair were taken to the police Iskandhar Koshi barracks in an SO vehicle, he claimed.

Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed held a press conference last week during which he denied police involvement in the incident, dismissing the opposition leader’s allegations as “baseless”.

Speaking to the press today, Deputy Mayor Shifa Mohamed accused the government of chopping down the areca palms.

“The government is involved in the chopping down of the trees. There were a lot of SO police officers in Malé that night. However, it is unclear whether they were trying to stop the vandalism or assisting in the crime,” she said.

The council said it will lodge a complaint over MRDC’s actions with the Local Government Authority, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, and international organisations.

Several areca palm trees were also uprooted during protests against the MDP government in January 2012.


Road Development Corporation contracted to build two roads in Feydhoo

The Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure has contracted the Maldives Road Development Corporation to build two roads in Feydhoo, Addu City.

At an event held at the ministry for signing of the contract today, Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Mohamed Muiz revealed that the project is worth MVR7.9 million.

According to Muiz, the corporation will be building Rahdhebai Magu and Bandharu Mathee Magu, with work commencing as soon as the environmental impact analysis of the project is completed.


MRDC fined for constructing roads without conducting EIAs

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has fined the Maldives Road Development Corporation (MRDC) by an amount of MVR739,500 for constructing roads in Addu without conducting the prerequisite Environment Impact Assessment (EIA).

The EPA said that it has ordered the MRDC to pay the fine within a period of 30 days.


Road Development Corporation purchased goods worth MVR2.2 million without bidding process, audit reveals

The Maldives Road Development Corporation (MRDC) purchased material worth MVR2.2 million (US$142,671) without a bidding process, the 2011 audit report (Dhivehi) of the 100 percent government-owned company made public last week has revealed.

Noting that the MRDC has not formulated procurement rules to date, Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim recommended drafting regulations in consultation with the Finance Ministry within a period of one month.

“As a large amount of the company’s money had been spent for various purpose without establishing sound rules, and as we believe the company’s board members have been negligent in carrying out their responsibility of protecting the company’s resources, action should be taken against [the board members] to hold them accountable,” the auditor general recommended.

The MRDC was formed in August 2010 by the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed to facilitate road construction under a sustainable business model.

As the company failed to compile its financial statement for 2011, the audit was based on a review of a sample of the MRDC’s business transactions as well as “problems related to performance and governance.”

In the absence of the financial statement, the report stated that the auditor general’s office was unable to assess the company’s financial health, assets, and the results achieved during the year.

The report further noted the lack of a mechanism to collect information required to compile the financial statement, adding that “basic documentation” of business transactions was not properly maintained.

The audit office recommended legal action against the officials responsible for failing to submit the financial statement for auditing as mandated by the company’s charter and the Company’s Act.

Moreover, as the MRDC had not maintained an updated registry of its assets, the report stated that auditors could not verify whether all assets purchased for the company’s purposes remained in its inventory.

The absence of an updated registry leaves open the opportunity to sell off the MRDC’s assets, the report noted.

The auditor general also recommended establishing a sound accounting system to record daily financial transactions.

While MVR175,039 (US$11,351) was spent in 2011 as overtime payments for staff, the report noted that auditors could not verify whether the payments were made for services received.

Moreover, upon scrutinising available financial records, auditors discovered that bills and invoices of materials sold by MRDC did not include purchase orders from customers while quotations sent to businesses were not authorised by senior officials.

The MRDC audit came on the heels of a damning report on the Works Corporations, which concluded that the government-owned corporation was mismanaged and had not served its purpose.

Of the 34 infrastructure projects awarded to the company, the report noted that only one had been completed.

Meanwhile, the audit report of the state-owned Waste Management Company released in December revealed that a board member had embezzled MVR610,000 (US$ 39,354) by doctoring cheques.