Government “indifference” to Addu ferry services discriminatory, says Meedhoo MP Rozaina

The government’s “indifference” to providing regular ferry services in Addu City has been described as discrimination towards smaller islands by Addu Meedhoo MP Rozaina Adam.

“If a ferry service in Malé is interrupted, the government rushes to reestablish it. But if it is the islands they it is allowed to go on for long periods. This is a huge discrimination,” she said.

There have been no regular ferries in Addu City for the past two years and the service is frequently on complete halt at times, said Addu City Mayor Mayor Abdulla ‘Soabe’ Sodiq.

Many are forced to take expensive private boats, while in medical emergencies people usually hire a speed boat for approximately MVR 2500 – double that rate at night.

Hulhumeedhoo, with an estimated population of over six thousand, is disconnected from the rest of the inhabited islands of the city which are joined by the 14km Addu Link Road causeway.

The Hulhumeedhoo-Feydhoo public ferry system had been established in 2009 as part of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government’s campaign to connect the Maldives through a public transport network.

The service is provided by MVK Maldives Pvt Ltd under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) contract. Many inhabitants of Hulhumeedhoo travel to Feydhoo for work and to visit Hithadhoo Regional Hospital.

Rozaina Adam also expressed concern that inconsistent services were damaging both the health and the finances of locals.

“It is very hard for them, sometimes appointments at the Hithadhoo hospital get cancelled because the ferry does not show up without any prior notice,” she said.

On 26 July, Rozaina held a press conference expressing concern over the failure to provide a sea ambulance for the area. She accused Minister of Health Mariyam Shakeela of reneging on a promise made before the Majlis to provide the service.

The Addu Meedhoo MP has described the speedboat allocated for Addu as unfit, noting that the cover is ripped, the floor cracked, and that the vessel is without GPS, and a compass, among other equipment.


Mayor Sodig noted that the government had awarded MVK the Dhoogas Guest House in Gan as an incentive for providing the ferry service.The guest house “which was functioning well when handed over”, said the mayor, is now mostly vacant and ignored.

“It was utilised to some extent during the SAARC Summit, but they are not running the place at all,” he said.

The handing of Dhoogas to MVK was investigated by the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) in 2010 which found the guest house was awarded in contravention of relevant laws and regulations. The then-MDP government denied these allegations.

Management of the guest house, with approximately fifty rooms, was in handed over to former MP Abdulla Jabir’s ‘J Hotels’ in February this year, and was renamed ‘J Palace’.

While the city council is tasked with monitoring the service, mayor Sodig said today that they were unable to contact MVK to discuss the issues.

Addu council have been discussing the issue with the government since 2012 with no action being taken, the mayor said.

“We have brought this issue to the attention of all past transport ministers. And the Dhoogas guest house is given to MVK to provide public transport service here, but we are seeing that they are unable to do so,” he said.

MP Rozaina also said attempts to communicate the issue with the government have been in vain, mainly due to confusions regarding the institution responsible following the recent abolition of the Ministry of Transport.

“They told me I should contact home ministry, but they told the council to contact economic ministry. The parliament was not informed of these changes in the ministry, so it will be very difficult for MPs to inquire,” said Rozaina.

Minivan News was also unable to reach MVK, or the Ministry of Economic Development regarding the issue. The listed official numbers of MVK were out of service.

While the Addu city council is still working on resolving the issue, Rozaina has pledged to raise the issue in the Majlis if a solution is not found within a week.


Development projects speed up in central atolls

The government has this week signed contracts with Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) for the reclamation of Guraidhoo and Madifushi islands, both in Thaa atoll.

In Guraidhoo, MVR75.2 million (US$4.8 million) will be spent on reclamation of 27.5 hectares of land, while 45 hectares will be reclaimed from Madifushi with a budget of MVR126 million (US$8.1 million).

Meanwhile, the mayor of Addu has said that the city – the country’s second most populated area with over 30,000 inhabitants – is being hit hard by government budget cuts.

Development projects have to be approved by the Ministry of Environment through an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA)  -which is reviewed by the EPA. Minivan News has learned that the EIA for the Guraidhoo land reclamation was approved within four working days.

Earlier this month the government signed contracts with Boskalis International for the reclamation of four islands – Eydhafushi, Thulusdhoo, Dhaalu Meedhoo, and Kudahuvadhoo.

The combined projects will cost MVR572 million (US$37 million). The work is expected to begin within a month of signing, and to be completed within 540 days.

Abdulla Sodig has said that the MVR700 million that was approved by the Housing Ministry to be included in the budget for Addu City later disappeared when the government sent the budget to parliament for approval.

“Hithadhoo harbor project that started in 2011 is on halt now, we still need another MVR3.5 million for that. But only MVR1.5million was allocated for that. Similarly, Hulhumeedhoo harbor project is also on halt now,” Sodig said today.

Other projects budgeted for Addu City development include road construction with MVR10 million and MVR25 million for water and sewerage, an amount Sodig claims is insufficient.

Compared to Addu’s large urban population, the average population of the six islands involved in the proposed reclamation projects is approximately 1,300.

Addu City has long been a stronghold of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party – a fact reinforced in recent local council elections, while the six islands involved in the proposed reclamation projects, with the exception of Meedhoo, all gave majority votes to President Abdulla Yameen in the 2013 elections.


Addu grows roots with SAARC preparations

“This is the foundation of Addu’s development,” said Addu’s mayor Abdullah Sodiq, referring to the city’s SAARC preparations during a press conference held in Hithadhoo yesterday. He said the projects had been supported by “99 percent” of Addu residents.

Maldivian media was flown to Addu yesterday to observe preparations for the upcoming 17th annual SAARC Summit, scheduled for November 10-12. Festivities will be held in the area starting on the first of the month, in conjunction with the Muslim holiday of Eid.

“We are expecting a lot of traffic through here, and are confident that everything will be ready in time,” Sodiq said. “But this is only the beginning, and we have many more plans for development.”

Addu’s SAARC projects have been underway for six months, officials report. As the deadline approaches, construction teams are working round the clock to finish two harbors, a VVIP lounge, roads and the country’s largest convention center.

Sodiq said the harbors will renovate Addu’s commercial prospects, while the convention center provides new opportunities for locals, officials and foreigners alike.

Construction of Feydhoo harbor continues as the first deadline passes and another approaches.

“The harbor is a central place for Addu, there is demand for it even after SAARC and we have plans to generate more industry and shipping using these new resources,” said Sodiq.

New roads constructed around the convention center have made future road development less expensive for the council’s budget, he added.

Addu’s council also plans to use the Rf115 million convention center, a two-story building of glass, wood and marble with a capacity of 3000, to transform the atoll from a quiet place to a hub of business and tourism.

“We have some representatives talking to businesses in Singapore and Malaysia about hosting events here,” Sodiq told Minivan News. “We will be soliciting bids to find the right event manager to look after the convention center as well. I think there are people interested in what Addu has to offer, and I’m sure we can get a market for it.”

Officials and locals interviewed also hinted at hopes for musical events, theatrical performances, art exhibitions and holiday celebrations.

Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Assistant Director Ahmed Abeer Ismail said the centre’s origins were a sign of Addu’s potential. “That area began as a swamp, now it’s the biggest convention center in the country.” The swamp was heavily landscaped by MNDF and police forces, and now features a few scenic islands.

One of the Maldives’ most strategic atolls, Addu has been largely left to seed since the British withdrew its forces and influence in 1975. City councilor Ahmed Mirzad called SAARC the beginning of a new Addu.

“For 30 years we had Gayoom, and nothing was done in Addu. Then there was a new president, and unlike Gayoom he didn’t just look after Male’, he looked after the entire Maldives. For 30 years we didn’t even have one harbor that was working for Addu, but in the past six months, we have gotten everything,” said Mirzad.

Addu’s councilors were elected for the first time six months ago. Mirzad said the next three years will be a difficult but critical time for the council to prove itself to Addu’s people. Still, the timing is ideal.

“I don’t think, I know that this summit is the right starting point. Now, we will only keep going with our plans to grow,” he said.

Workers cross a newly-constructed road to continue landscaping across from the convention center.

One particular operation illustrates the grassroots motives behind the SAARC preparations. Selected from Maldives National University (MNU) Addu first-year students in hospitality, 24 Media Liaison Officers greeted Male’s press pack yesterday.

One young woman said the event was as much for the liaisons as for Male’ press.

“It’ll be challenging to handle foreigners and media personnel,” a group of students concurred. “But we are so happy to have this opportunity.”

“I was shocked to be asked to take part in SAARC, I never thought that I would get to work at something I’d heard so much about,” said another student. “And the certificate of reference that I’ll get afterwards will be really helpful for me when I’m looking for a job after graduation,” she added.

Liaisons have just completed a six-month management course and are attending seminars and briefings for SAARC. They will be divided into 11 teams of two to three officers and assigned to press pooles from different countries.

“The ministry was going to get people from Male’, but I suggested we use the local energy. They are good, they can do the job, and this is a key event, so why shouldn’t these students take part?” said Abeer.

Addu’s development isn’t only tailored to foreigners; Sodiq said part of the development plan is to bring Addu residents home.

“Unlike other islands, we have historical places to visit and our islands are connected, so tourists can actually see more than the sun, sand and sea. We will be constructing more lodgings as well, and our hospital and airport are going to be expanded. More business means more jobs, and part of the purpose of all this is to bring Addu citizens back after their migrations to Male’,” he said.

In Addu, infrastructure is a priority for community growth. Noting that education was key to development, Sodiq said that a Kangaroo school is scheduled to open next year, and a Billabong school is being considered.

For the moment, however, Addu’s mind is on SAARC.

With teams working around the clock to complete harbors in Gan and Feydhoo, and MNDF motorcades practicing their moves late into the night, Addu is a bustle of construction and security.

Both harbors were originally due for completion on October 25, yet concrete foundations have not yet been laid. However officials assure that they are 90 percent complete. When asked about setbacks, National Security Advisor Ameen Faisal said, “The weather. Due to heavy rains, many projects were delayed. It was unexpected and beyond our control, but we managed and we are on target.”

Inquiries of Addu’s appearance for SAARC yielded few details. “It’s a secret, we want it to be a surprise,” Faisal and Sodiq concurred.

Security, however, is highly detailed.

MNDF has delegated security teams to specific event components including media, medical, resort transport, and the airport. “Right now we are very confident in our security personnel and do not anticipate any problems during the SAARC summit,” said International Media Coordinator Ahmed Ibrahim.

Ibrahim added that “it will be helpful to have the extra security forces that other countries are providing because Addu is very big.” In addition to ground security, MNDF will be supported by the coast guard, which will establish multiple security layers around Addu’s marine perimeter, special task forces from Sri Lanka, and surveillance equipment from China, among others.

Summit guests include three of the world’s most controversial heads of state from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their reputations do not appear to cause anxiety to SAARC officials.

“They will not receive any special treatment, unless requested of course,” said MNDF Commander of SAARC Airport Security, Ahmed Shafeeq.

“There is no risk at all,” said Faisal. “We aren’t even bothered about it.”