Parliament has intensified its scrutiny of the government’s flagship Ras Malé project, referring an emergency motion seeking comprehensive details about the project to a joint committee for review. This committee is a collaboration between the Public Accounts Committee and the Committee on State-Owned Enterprises, which play pivotal roles in maintaining transparency and accountability in government operations.

The motion was tabled by Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Saleem, a prominent member of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). The motion underscores the opposition’s commitment to ensuring governmental transparency and accountability.

The decision to refer the motion to the joint committee was made during the final parliamentary sitting of this year. The motion received an overwhelming endorsement from the parliamentarians present, with 30 out of 32 voting in favour.

The motion aims to address several concerns regarding governance and fiscal transparency. After submitting the motion to Parliament, Saleem highlighted that the project commenced without public disclosure of the total costs and was awarded to a company outside the standard tender process.

A significant point of contention raised by Saleem is the lack of a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). He pointed out that while the plan is to reclaim 1,153 hectares of the 1,280-hectare Fushidhiggaru lagoon, the existing EIA covers only 29 hectares, a mere 2.26% of the total area. This discrepancy, according to Saleem, indicates that the project was initiated with special privileges, bypassing laws governing environmental protection.

The project is already under scrutiny for its financial terms with Sri Lanka’s Capital Marine and Civil Construction Company (CMC). The company has been promised 70 hectares of land on a long-term lease as compensation for the reclamation work. This agreement, while potentially beneficial in terms of immediate financial impact, raises questions about the long-term economic consequences and the valuation of the land involved.

In his motion, Saleem questions the valuation process of Maldivian sovereign property leased to a foreign company for 99 years. He seeks clarification on the economic benefits of this lease agreement.

Additionally, Saleem criticised the government for initiating the project despite parliamentary opposition. He noted that the MVR 400 million proposed for the project in the 2023 state budget was rejected by the parliament. He described this action as a direct challenge to the principles of democracy and good governance, highlighting concerns over the separation of powers within the state.

Additional reporting by Mohamed A. Haleem