Millions in environmental fines owed to government

The government is owed at least MVR45 million (US$2.9 million) in unpaid fines for environmental damage, an official audit has revealed.

The owner of a Thai fishing vessel that ran aground on the reef near Shangri-La Villigili Island Resort in November 2011 has failed to pay an MVR42.1 million (US$2.7 million) fine, according to the audit report of the then-Ministry of Housing and Environment for 2011.

The State Electricity Company (STELCO) still owes R3.3 million (US$214,000) following an oil spill in which a pipe buried under Malé’s ring road Boduthakurufaanumagu burst in March 2011, the report said.

The pipe leaked large quantities of oil into the track swimming area, frequented by schoolchildren and the public.

normal_Emerald_Reefer,Pan,19960501,ROTThe Thai fishing vessel, Emerald Reefer, was meanwhile beached for two months in the Muli Kolhu reef. The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) said at the time that the reef was “destroyed” and was unlikely to recover in the near future.

Under environmental regulations, the boat’s owner was given 25 days to remove the boat before incurring a fine of RF700,000 (US$45,000) per day that the boat remained grounded.

EPA Director General Ibrahim Naeem told Minivan News today that both fines have not been collected to date, adding that the agency was coordinating with the relevant authorities.

The Emerald Reefer fine was “pending” due to legal issues, he said.

“Those are the just the fines from 2011. There are lot more fines that haven’t been collected,” he said.

The audit office meanwhile recommended taking action in accordance with public finance regulations to collect the outstanding fines.

The fines were imposed during the final months of the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed, who resigned in February 2012, later saying he had done so under duress in what amounted to a coup.

In 2012, the then-President Dr Mohamed Waheed shifted the departments dealing with the environment – including the EPA – to the newly formed Ministry of Environment and Energy.

Among other cases highlighted in the report, the auditor general noted that the ministry spent nearly MVR70 million (US$4.5 million) for three infrastructure projects despite the funds not being allocated in the 2011 budget.

The projects involved installing revetments in Shaviyani Feevah, road construction in Haa Dhaal Kulhudhufushi, and harbour construction for three islands in Addu City.

The ministry also paid a 30 percent advance payment to the contractor in the road construction project in violation of public finance regulations, the report said.

Aside from the flagged issues, the report stated that the ministry’s expenses in 2011 were legal and in line with public finance laws as well as the budget approved by parliament.

The new auditor general – appointed under controversial circumstances in November – has yet to release any reports on ministries under the current administration or the Waheed administration.