Malé City Council helpless as housing ministry takes over all land, public services staff

The housing ministry has taken control of 13 plots of land belonging to the opposition dominated Malé City Council, and transferred the majority of the council’s public services division staff to the ministry.

According to a housing ministry announcement, all of Malé City’s streets, the Artificial Beach area, Plot 211, Usfasgandu, the T-Jetty area, Dharubaaruge Convention Center, Sultan Park, Maafannu round-about, Adi Park, Alimas Carnival, Fishermen’s Park and all other parks now belong to the ministry.

Any individual wishing to make use of these lands must now seek permits from the ministry. The State Electric Company (STELCO) and Maldives Police Services would not provide services for any events unless a housing ministry permit is obtained, the announcement said.

The move continues a steady removal of powers from the council, in what has been characterised by its officials as an attempt to destroy decentralisation in the country.

Malé City Mayor Mohamed Shihab has condemned the government’s systematic abrogation of the council’s powers and said it constituted a breach of the powers afforded to the council under the Constitution and the Decentralisation Act.

“We are now only in charge of facilitating construction in Malé, issuing death and birth certificates and cleaning mosques. But the constitution clearly states the Maldives must be administered through decentralised councils,” he said.

The government must respect Maldivian laws to attain development, he contended.

“The powerful are now abusing their powers in the Maldives. This is very sad. Ultimately, it is the ordinary Maldivian citizen who will suffer the most. Investors will not invest here. No one knows what will happen tomorrow or the day after. We have to uphold the law if we want to develop at the same levels as developing countries,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Shifa Mohamed said the council has challenged the transfer of council staff to the housing ministry at the Civil Court.

In addition to transferring council staff, the ministry had also illegally taken over the council’s assets, including dustbins and trees for a greening programme, in the public services section, she said.

Shifa has described the government’s actions as a plot “to destroy decentralization”.

On November 26, the council declared it was close to shut-down after the Maldives Police Services confiscated documents and computer systems at the Malé City Council offices under a court warrant on allegations of corruption.

The warrant, signed by the Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, said that “some council staff had shared and gained unlawful advantages from some PDF files sent to the council by Maldives Land and Survey Authority.”

The survey authority and the land registration project fall under the authority of the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure.

The council has denied receiving such files, stating that any surveys on Malé lands would have originated from the council.

The cabinet in early November announced it had removed the council’s jurisdiction over the city’s roads after disagreements over the replanting of vandalised trees.

Opposition leader and former President Mohamed Nasheed has said the trees were uprooted by masked policemen. Police have dismissed the claims.

Local media have since reported that the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives believes the trees were being used to curse President Abdulla Yameen.

The roads are now under the control of the housing ministry and the Maldives Road Development Corporation (MRDC) which has started cleaning the drains, bringing some alleviation to persistent flooding.

The government had suggested that the council had failed to adequately maintain both Dharubaaruge Convention Center and the roads of the capital, though the council has maintained that state funds allocated for the work was not released by the finance ministry.

The government in October also scrapped an agreement made with India–based Tatva Global Renewable Energy to provide waste management services in the capital Malé and nearby areas.

Related to this story

Malé City Council close to shut-down after police confiscate documents and server system

Newly planted areca palms uprooted on housing ministry orders

Government terminates Tatva waste management deal

Can decentralisation take root in the Maldives?


Malé City Council close to shut-down after police confiscate documents and server system

Nearly all services at Malé City Council have come to a halt after police confiscated important documents and several hard drives, including the server system necessary for daily operation.

Police searched and confiscated the council’s office last night (November 26) after a search warrant was issued by the Criminal Court on request from the Maldives Police Service regarding a corruption case against council staff members.

The warrant, signed by the Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, said that “some council staff had shared and gained unlawful advantages from some PDF files sent to the council by Maldives Land and Survey Authority.”

The survey authority and the land registration project fall under the authority of the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure.

The council has denied receiving any such files from the ministry or any other authority, stating that the council had previously provided information to the housing ministry and if any information had been sent back it would have originated from the council.

Council members told the media today that it was concerns it would be unable to prepare Friday prayer sermons, and that the waste management section might come to a halt as a direct result of the Police confiscating the server.

Deputy Mayor Shifa Mohamed said the council is now unable to receive any payments, expressing fears that human resources would be unable to pay the council’s 1000 employees this month.

Malé City Mayor Mohamed Shahib said that the MPS also confiscated information gathered by the council to write up a study on providing alternative methods to solve the housing issue faced by the city.

Council vs government

Maafannu Hulhangu constituency councillor Shamau Shareef said the incident is one of many intended to intimidate the council and to prevent it from providing the services to the people of Malé.

Shifa has previously suggested that the government was plotting to ‘destroy decentralisation’ after the housing ministry seized numerous plots of land from the council including two parks, artificial beach, carnival area, south harbour area, Usfasgandu, Dharubaaruge, and land near the T-Jetty.

Last month, she complained that poor allocation of funds for road development projects under the council as one of the main reasons behind the severe floodings on the western side of the capital island during heavy downpours.

Shamau said today that the council had no choice but to resort to “begging” the Maldives Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC) to assist it setting up flood control pumps which promise a temporary solution to the problem.

October also saw masked individuals wielding machetes uprooting over thirty council owned areca palm trees on the sides of the capital’s main thoroughfare road Majeedhee Magu.

Following a further disagreement over the replanting of the vandalised trees, the cabinet announced it had removed the council’s jurisdiction over the city’s roads.

The roads are now under the control of the housing ministry and the Maldives Road Development Corporation (MRDC) which has started cleaning the drains, bringing some alleviation to the flooding.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed alleged police involvement in the chopping down of the palm trees while naming several Special Operations (SO) officers after the MCC requested the public to submit any information about the issue.

Shamau also stressed the poor fund allocation towards the road development projects in Malé which only has a mere MVR 3.4 million (US$ 220,00) while pointing out that a new elevator at the president’s office has been budgeted MVR 3 million (US$ 200,000).

Related to this story

Government plotting to “destroy decentralization,” says Malé Deputy Mayor

City and Fini Park taken by Housing Ministry, council not informed

Newly planted areca palms uprooted on housing ministry orders

Can decentralisation take root in the Maldives?


Are efforts to keep Malé City clean going to waste?

Sunday (November 16) will mark 100 days since Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan disappeared. As friends and family continue to hope for his safe return, some of Rilwan’s best work will be re-published as a reminder of his talents and dedication to his profession.

This article was originally published on May 20, 2014. Since publication, the Tatva renewable waste management deal has been terminated by the government.

Malé City Mayor Mohamed Shihab – elected during the recent council elections – has quickly learned that keeping the streets of the Maldives’ capital clean will be be no easy task.

Dealing with the waste management issue of one of the world’s most densely packed islands is no small feat, he explains, with local politics furthering cluttering the issue.

However, keeping the streets free from litter is just the tip of the rubbish pile explains Shihab, revealing the difficulties the council continues to face in finding a sustainable way to manage the capital’s waste.

“As we increase our efforts to clean Malé, the amount of garbage dumped on to the street is also increasing,” said Shihab.

The purpose of cleaning Malé’s streets and providing public dustbins – for which 260 people are now employed – is not to collect household waste, but to clean up litter, the Mayor tells Minivan News.

It is important to cultivate a habit of keeping the streets clean and using trash bins in the community, he said, suggesting that the implementation of laws was also required to address the issue.


The waste management regulation which came into partial force on February 5 imposes an MVR100 (US$6.5) fine for littering and a fine between MVR10,000 (US$ 648.5) and MVR100,000 (US$6,485) if any authority in charge of public spaces fails to provide dustbins.

The regulations also require boat owners to place dustbins on sea vessels, imposing a maximum fine of MVR100 million (US$6.5 million) on boats that dump waste into the ocean.

Speaking to Minivan News, Ahmed Murthaza – assistant director at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – said that no one had yet been fined under the regulation.

The main focus of the EPA up to now has been to create awareness and to advise offenders to correct their actions, although he warned that the agency would start imposing the fines beginning on World Environment Day (5 June 2014).

The EPA will be working with councils and the Environmental Police Unit in implementing the regulation – all of whom are authorised to issues fines.

Waste management

Mayor Shihab has suggested a long term solution for the issue would be the door to door collection of household waste.

“This is is how it is done everywhere around the world. And in all countries, they charge a fee for the service.”

“So in the future the council will be collecting and disposing the garbage. This will be discussed. Even now each house is spending money, 100 or 200 rufiyaa, monthly for this purpose.”

Most households in Malé currently employ garbage collectors – usually migrant workers – who carry the garbage on their bicycles or private pick-up trucks. This garbage is then carried dumped on a barge in the island’s south-west harbor, which then transports it to the landfill ‘garbage island’ of Thilafushi.

This arrangement, however, was intended to be a temporary one initiated in 2013 after garbage piled up in Malé’s two primary waste yards following damage to the collection vehicles.

While the industrial junk yard is once again in use today, the household waste yard remains abandoned as its foundation structure is damaged to a point that it would be harmful for the environment to utilise the place without funding from a reluctant Finance Ministry, explained Shihab

According to the council, the current arrangement will remain in place during the Islamic month of Ramadan – beginning on June 30 – when the household waste produced can be expected to double.

According to shipping industry sources, an estimated 15- 20 percent increase in imported goods is expected during Ramadan.

Environment Ministry data from 2007 put daily food waste produced in Malé at approximately 25 tonnes, while 2012 statistics indicated that 89,797 tonnes of domestic waste was dumped on Thilafushi annually.

“Dumping waste on to the barge was a temporary measure, but this operation will continue in Ramadan with more barges. Instead of keeping a huge pile of waste in Malé, we will work to transport it as soon as possible,”  explained councillor Shamau Shareef.

Tatva solution

For the council, the immediate hope for a solution to Malé waste management is in India-based Tatva Global Renewable Energy.

The Tatva agreement has faced delays after the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed renegotiated the agreement signed by his predecessor Mohamed Nasheed in 2011.

The new agreement, which will not include collection of garbage from household in its first phase, now requires the final approval of the Finance Ministry to begin operations.

Under the Tatva agreement, the council’s equipment – including trucks and excavators – has to be to handed over to Tatva in working condition. However, as the council’s equipment has been damaged for over a year, funds are needed for repairs before the handover.

“Our concern is that the government is spending MVR7 million [monthly] to rent this equipment, such as excavators, landing craft, and the barge. This money belongs to the people,” said Shihab.

Suggesting that the council could get the same results for just MVR2-3million, he said that the ministry had repeatedly ignored requests for repair funds.

The existing arrangement must be replaced with permanent and sustainable solution, said the mayor, noting that the smell alone from the garbage barge was becoming unpleasant for people living in the vicinity.


Police tell Malé City Council removal of replanted trees was lawful

Police have informed Malé City Council that no action will be taken against the Maldives Road Development Corporation (MRDC) in relation to the removal of trees planted by the council last week.

A letter given to the council explained that the state-owned company had acted on the orders of the housing ministry, which was the highest authority in the country for environmental matters.

Around 25 areca palm trees – donated by the Indian government in 2011 – were cut down late last month by men alleged to have been off-duty Special Operations police officers, although police have denied this.

Opposition politicians have told local media the trees had been used by the Maldivian Democratic Party – which holds a majority of seats on the council – to curse President Abdulla Yameen.

Subsequent efforts to replace the trees were stopped by the MRDC last week, before the cabinet announced it was to remove control of the city’s streets from the council’s jurisdiction.

Council members have suggested that the government is infringing on services designated to the council under the 2010 Decentralisation Act.


Can decentralisation take root in the Maldives?

The uprooted trees and flooded streets of Malé in recent days seem to have laid bare the continuing tensions between local and central government in the Maldives.

After the central authorities last week removed the city council’s jurisdiction over the roads of the capital, senior figures from both the government and opposition have made the legal case for and against the decision.

Friction between the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) dominated Malé City Council and successive governments has left the local authority with just 5 of the 22 public areas granted to it after its establishment in 2010.

Attempts to replace the trees – allegedly cut down by off-duty police officers – were thwarted by the state-owned Malé Road Development Corporation last Wednesday, who police allowed to continue despite councillors’ calls to uphold the Decentralisation Act.

While the former Speaker Abdulla Shahid has suggested the cabinet has violated the law in taking over maintenance of the capital’s roads, Attorney General Mohamed Anil suggested that the move was compliant with both the Decentralisation Act and the Land Act.

The President’s Office have said the council had failed to deal with the recent floods, although the council continues to point out that it has received less than half the funds allocated to it from the 2014 budget.

“We don’t even have an account in which to put money,” explained Deputy Mayor Shifa Mohamed.

After his ministry gave orders to tear down the areca palms planted along Malé’s main thoroughfare last week, the housing minister added to the confusion today by suggesting the council would be irresponsible to challenge efforts to make the capital greener.

Others suggest that the real roots of the issue lie with a government unwilling to cede power to local authorities, resulting in what some have described as decentralisation in name only.


“They don’t believe in the concept,” suggested Shifa. “Instead of facilitating decentralisation, they are trying to show that it can’t function.”

Defending the government’s action, President’s Office Spokesman Ibrahim Muaz has said that the decision regarding street maintenance was consistent with its policy of utilising state land for social purposes.

Authority over the city’s mosques will soon revert to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, leaving the council with control over only Malé’s burial grounds – completing the steady removal of land since the fall of the MDP government in 2012.

While the current administration has previously called on local authorities to cooperate in order to bring development to the people of the country, the provisions of the flagship Special Economic Zones Act appears to make such acquiescence redundant.

The yet-to-be-specified SEZs – designed to attract foreign investors with deregulated territory – will render local authorities powerless

“There will be consultations with the local councils, but the decision making power will be here because we want to take decisions very fast and we want development as soon as possible,” tourism minister and Chairman of the SEZ investment board Ahmed Adeeb has previously explained.

In the same interview, Adeeb made clear that his government does not feel decentralised authorities are currently suited to aid the country’s development.

“Land, labour, and capital – the central government and the regional governments are fighting for it as we don’t have enough resources even for the existing government to cover the budget deficits,” he explained.

“I believe when there’s enough economic activity we can give more powers to the councils.”

The ‘begging system’

The MDP’s claims that its political opponents are attempting to sabotage the decentralisation project in favour of maintaining a Malé-centric ‘begging system’ began before the ink had dried on the 2010 Decentralisation Act.

Following its failure to win a majority in the 2008 parliamentary elections, the MDP government had to accept a version of its decentralisation bill without the structural and fiscal provisions it had originally planned for.

The rejection of over 300 proposed amendments by the opposition-controlled house – including attempts to restore the provincial model on which the scheme was based – prompted MDP MPs to walk out of the Majlis prior to the bill’s passage in April 2010.

Subsequent amendments increasing the number of councillors were described by the party as “economic sabotage”, leaving the country with a system the UNDP has described as a “major barrier to fiscal consolidation”.

Since assuming power, the same political groups have moved to reduce the recurrent costs of a system that had grown to an estimated US$64 million per three year term.

Meanwhile, the 2014 UNDP Human Development Report pointed out that harmonising laws – a problem typified by the legal wrangling in/over the streets of Malé – remains a key challenge facing the decentralisation transition.

[T]he Decentralization Act identified land management as a core responsibility of the councils. However, this contradicts the Land Act, which provides that the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure manage land distribution. Similarly, the Decentralization Act and the Constitution make provision for fiscal decentralization, revenue generation and management of own revenues by councils. This contradicts the Finance Act, which mandates all revenues collected from any Government body be deposited in the Government’s central public account.

Maldives Human Development Report 2014


Among the objectives envisioned in the Decentralisation Act are the empowerment of people and the creation of an environment conducive for peace and prosperity.

However, a report into the process by UNICEF in 2013 suggested that the political wranglings at the center of Maldivian government have left the islands worse off than before decentralisation was introduced.

“Local Councils are now less empowered than they were in 2008 which was when they officially had even less functions and revenue raising powers,” concluded the UNICEF report.

“More importantly the above arrangements mean that Council finances are micro-managed from the centre. So Councils have almost no autonomy to prioritise and manage their resources. There is, thus, basically no fiscal decentralisation.”

Decentralisation advocate Salma Fikry argues that the central government has little interest in genuine devolution of powers, preferring ‘deconcentration’ which allows for dispersed administrative powers without real financial autonomy.

“I do agree that Island Development Committees were doing better work, but the underlying truth was that the government could choose who to support and who not to support,” said Salma.

She suggested that the desire for decentralised government stemmed from the realisation in the atolls of disparities in regional service provision – another issue highlighted recently by the UNDP.

The central government will not allow for revenue raising measures at the local level as this would reduce political leverage, she explained.

The UNICEF report further noted that political partisanship and overstaffed local authorities had resulted in “political bickering” between council members, “stalemates”, and “no decision making”.

Malé Deputy Mayor Shifa also suggested that the problems with the current government stemmed from political rather than practical reasoning.

“Just because it is done by the MDP, they will destroy it.”

UNICEF concluded that the decentralisation process in the Maldives had been “rushed”, noting that such far-reaching changes can take decades to implement successfully.

During the time it took to compile the 2013 report  a new level of provincial government was introduced and subsequently abolished within two years, with UNICEF noting the subsequent “confusion at all levels of government”.

Observing recent events in the capital, it appears that the Maldives decentralisation experiment will continue to struggle to take root and may well be washed away in the next political downpour.


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.


MCC laying pipes to prevent further flooding

Malé City Council (MCC) began laying underground pipes in the capital to prevent the persisent flooding of certain areas of the capital during rain showers.

Malé City Deputy Mayor Shifa Mohamed told Minivan News that the pipes are being laid with assistance from Malé Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC) at the areas worst affected by floods during bad weather.

“This is not permanent solution, but we believe that the pipes which are being laid underground will temporarily prevent severe flooding,” said Shifa.

Many major roads in the capital were severely flooded last Thursday (October 30) after a heavy downpour, disrupting transportation with much of the south-west of the 6km sq island left under water – a foot high in many places.

Shifa blamed poor planning and lack of maintenance as the lead cause in the flooding while stating that the drains on the sides of the roads have not been emptied in over 25 years.


Palm trees used by MDP to curse President Yameen, alleges senior government official

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) were using areca palm trees planted in Malé by the city council for black magic to curse President Abdulla Yameen with ill health, an anonymous senior government official has alleged.

“The palm trees were planted with black magic,” the unnamed official told newspaper Haveeru today, claiming that the sorcery or black magic was the reason for the main opposition party’s concern and preoccupation with the felling of the trees in the early hours of October 24.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed alleged that masked Specialist Operations (SO) police officers in plainclothes chopped down the palm trees with machetes.

Patrolling police officers from the Maafanu police station arrested two of the perpetrators, Nasheed told the press on Tuesday (October 28), 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 on an SO vehicle, he claimed.

Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed held a press conference yesterday and denied police involvement in the incident, dismissing the opposition leader’s allegations as “baseless”.

Haveeru meanwhile claimed to have learned that the palm trees were cut down because senior government officials believed the MDP was using the trees to practice black magic.

The local daily claimed that senior members of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) believe that the trees were planted for use in black magic or sorcery, noting that several areca palm trees were uprooted during anti-government protests in January 2012.

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

President’s health

Haveeru also referred to rumours of President Yameen undergoing brain surgery in Singapore to remove a tumour following his most recent unofficial trip to the country.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz had dismissed the rumours as false and assured that the president and first lady were in good health, after MDP leader Nasheed had questioned Yameen’s absence from the country.

A close associate of President Yameen told the newspaper that the president did not seek treatment for a brain tumour.

Instead, the associate claimed, the president sought treatment for infections caught during his Hajj pilgrimage and had to be admitted at a Singapore hospital.

The anonymous government official said the president’s close associates believe that black magic or sorcery using the palm trees were responsible for the president’s ill health.

The associates advised President Yameen that the palm trees were the cause of his health problems, the senior official said.

“[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,” the anonymous official was quoted as saying.

The official further claimed that the housing ministry had sent a letter to the home ministry requesting the trees be taken down.

“Those who [chopped down the trees] did it because the home ministry wouldn’t,” the president’s close associate told the local daily.

“This has to be done for the sake of national security as well. That is the palm trees can be taken down when the head of state’s life is in danger,” he was quoted as saying.

“President Yameen got relief when the palm trees were cut down. And the black magic is being exposed by the MDP’s actions, isn’t it? Less than 24 hours after the palm trees were cut down, [MDP MP Reeko] Moosa [Manik] announced he would contest in the [MDP’s presidential] primary.”

Allegations supported

Police officers have also told Haveeru on condition of anonymity that former President Nasheed’s allegations were true.

“We were on duty that night. The police command said masked men were cutting down the trees,” a police officer claimed.

A second police source alleged that the two or three groups of officers from the SO SWAT who cut down the trees were wearing SO balaclavas or masks.

“The Maafanu police caught two groups. They caught one on Lily Magu and he fell when they struck him on the back,” the police source alleged.

Credible sources have corroborated the claims to Minivan News, revealing that the incident has caused a rift between the SO and capital police commands.

In May 2012, police raided the MDP’s Usfasgadu protest camp over “suspected black magic performed in the area.”

The search warrant obtained from the Criminal Court alleged that on May 25 “MDP protesters threw a cursed rooster at MNDF officers.”


Masked men chop down city council’s areca palm trees

A group of masked men wielding machetes cut down areca nut palm trees across Malé in the early hours of Friday morning.

Eyewitnesses told local media that the group felled about 25 palm trees planted by the city council in late 2011 on both sides of the capital’s main thoroughfare Majeedhee Magu.

On the previous night, (October 22), two trees in front of the Prosecutor General’s Office and one near the Amity shop were also chopped down.

Credible sources have suggested that the trees were felled by Specialist Operations (SO) police officers in plain clothes, with the incident causing a rift between the SO and capital divisions of the service.

Police have said the incident was reported around 3:30am on Friday morning and that no arrests have been made yet.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party-majority (MDP) city council has since called on the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“This revolting, abhorrent and unlawful act was an injury caused to all citizens of the Maldives and especially the beloved people of Malé,” reads a press release issued by Mayor Mohamed Shihab yesterday.

Such acts would not deter either the council’s efforts to beautify the capital or calls to ensure peace and security, the statement added.

The Indian High Commission had donated the areca palm trees in October 2011.

Former Police Commissioner and sitting Jumhoree Party MP Abdulla Riyaz told local media yesterday that the police should have stopped the group in the act.

If not, he added, police have the competence and the technology to find and arrest the perpetrators, referring to an extensive network of security cameras in the capital.

Rumours of police involvement in the vandalism have circulated online, with a photo purportedly of one of the perpetrators in the act being shared on social media.

Patrolling officers from the capital police command allegedly followed the group, intercepted one cycle and baton charged two suspects.

However, the men fled and were seen entering the police Iskandhar Koshi barracks.

The group allegedly used police radios to verbally abuse the duty officer at the command centre and the SO SWAT team has since been transferred to the training island Feydhoo Finolhu.

The police media official has, however, dismissed the allegations today as baseless and intended to bring the Maldives Police Service into disrepute.

Anti-government protesters cut down the areca palm trees during demonstrations in January 2012 against the MDP government’s decision to detain Criminal Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

Speaking to reporters last night, former President Mohamed Nasheed criticised the failure of police to apprehend the perpetrators despite video and photographic evidence.

“The safety and security of the public have been lost today to an unprecedented extent. This is something we are all very concerned about,” he said.