Japan gifts 100 million yen to government, Hitachi MVR1 million to water crisis fund

Japan has today gifted the Maldives ¥100,000,000 (US$840,000) in grant aid, while Japanese company Hitachi has pledged MVR1 million (US$64,800) to the ‘Malé Water Crisis fund’.

During an official ceremony held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs this morning, Maldives foreign minister Dunya Maumoon and Japanese Ambassador Nobuhito Hobo signed the grant agreement.

Both Hobo and Hitachi Executive Vice President Junzo Najazima also visited President Abdulla Yameen to inform him of the company’s contribution to the relief fund established during this month’s water crisis in the Maldives’ capital.

The President’s Office reported that Junzo was in Malé as part of a team sent to inspect the fire damage to the Malé Water and Sewerage Company’s (MWSC) desalination plants – which left 130,000 people without running water earlier this month.

Hitachi purchased 20 percent of MWSC’s shares in 2010, with its corporate website explaining that it has since played a role in improving the company’s operations. The Maldives government still retains 80 percent of the company.

President Yameen is said to have discussed the recovery efforts with his visitors, which the controversial US$20 million fund is said to be contributing towards.

“President Yameen underscored the ‎‎Government’s commitment to find a total solution to the issue, and to ‎establish a fallback system for future emergencies,” reported the President’s Office today.

After being announced by Minister of Defence Colonel (retired) Mohamed Nazim, the fund was criticised by civil society groups as well as the political opposition for a perceived lack of transparency, with the government’s task force stating that the use of the fund had not yet been determined.

Details of a 20,000 tonnes storage facility as well as reimbursement for relief efforts later emerged. 24 hour running water was resumed, and relief efforts halted, last weekend.

The Chinese government as well as private donors from the Maldives and Saudi Arabia have already contributed to the fund, while naval ships from India, China, and Bangladesh delivered fresh water during the crisis.

During his state visit to Japan in April this year, Yameen met with the president of Hitachi, thanking the company for its for its cooperation with the State Trading Organisation and for its interest in energy-related projects in the Maldives.

The Japan International Cooperation (JICA) – Japan’s overseas development assistance, oversaw projects worth US$450 million to the Maldives in development assistance between 2004 and 2010.

Projects benefiting from Japanese aid have included the first mechanisation of fishing vessels between 1973-76, the development of Malé’s seawall between 1987-2003, and the extension of loans amounting to US$34 million for post-tsunami reconstruction.

In May, JICA completed the ‘Project for Clean Energy Promotion in Malé’ with the installation of the last of 740 solar panels which were installed in 12 government buildings under the US$11.1 million (MVR141.5 million) grant aid solar energy project launched in December 2011.

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Both Transparency Maldives and MDP call for greater transparency in water crisis fund

Transparency Maldives has called on the government to display more transparency in order to avoid “economic and political repercussions stemming from the water crisis”.

“The Government must publicly provide a breakdown of the estimated US$20 million (more than MVR300 million) needed to overcome the crisis, and how the government intends to spend it,” read a press release from the anti-corruption NGO.

Transparency’s statement follows the announcement this week that the government is seeking donations in order to meet the costs of the fire that crippled Malé’s sole desalination plant on December 4.

“Furthermore, the decision to seek donations from the public raises questions given that MWSC is a private, profit-making corporation with 80 per cent government shares,” said Transparency.

Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb said today that the fund – which has already received support from both foreign and domestic donors – was not intended for the MWSC, but would be utilised by the government.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has also criticised the fund, stating that the government should only be able to demand US$20 million after they have decided how it is going to be spent.

“The MDP along with the people of the Maldives demands answers from the government regarding the US$ 20 million fund,” said party Vice Chairperson Ali Niyaz at a press conference today.

“Where is the money going to go to? Why have not seen a breakdown on how the money is going to be spent? Will this be a new ring in the chain of corruption of the government?” he asked.

Additionally, party lawyer Hassan Latheef expressed concern that unnamed donors were giving large amounts of money to the fund.

“Relevant details should be provided as per the law on money laundering and corruption prevention law. Money laundering and financing for terrorism through donors is something which exists in the Maldives.”

Transparency has also called for an independent technical investigation to be conducted, and results to be made public before effective and preventative mechanisms are put in place.

“The investigation must scrutinise MWSC’s risk mitigation policy and asset management plan,” said the NGO.

With 130,000 citizens of the capital left without water, the government has said it could take up to two weeks to fully repair the extensive damage. President Abdulla Yameen has said that there could have been no back up plan for a “disaster of this magnitude”.

Former President and opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed has also called for an inquiry into the fire, suggesting that the Danish government previously recommended keeping 21 days of reserves in the capital.

Transparency noted that the crisis had demonstrated “the interminable relationship between good governance and citizens’ right to essential human needs,” calling for greater regulation of state-owned enterprises.

“Transparency Maldives believes that it is the responsibility of the government to hold accountable and to ensure that MWSC and other companies that provide essential services, such as the State Electric Company Limited (STELCO) and FENAKA Corporation  Limited, have mechanisms in place to review their working procedures so that similar incidents can be avoided in the future.”

MDP lawyer Latheef also criticised what he perceived to be the government’s attempts to pass the constitutional responsibility for water provision to the MWSC.

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