A case filed with the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has cast a shadow of controversy over the massive land reclamation project known as “Ras Malé,” initiated in the Fushidhiggaru lagoon in Kaafu Atoll to create a new city on reclaimed land. The project, contracted to Sri Lanka’s Capital Marine and Civil Construction Company, commenced on 12 December, but it has already sparked concerns.

President Mohamed Muizzu, while providing limited project details, announced that Ras Malé aims to reclaim 1,153 hectares of land—an ambitious undertaking. However, the ACC has confirmed the receipt of a case related to this project but has not disclosed specific details.

Reports suggest that the case was filed with the ACC due to allegations that the project started without inclusion in the state budget and lacked the necessary announcement procedures for contractor selection. Despite an initial allocation of MVR 400 million in the state budget for Fushidhiggaru land reclamation, the opposition-controlled parliament removed the funding, reallocating it to other Public Sector Investment Programs (PSIP).

Furthermore, the project’s handling has raised questions. It was later awarded to a Sri Lankan company without transparent disclosure of how the funds were secured or the award process details. President Muizzu’s involvement in this process has faced criticism, with accusations of illegality.

Addressing the criticisms, President Muizzu announced that the Ras Malé project would proceed without state expenditures, reaffirming his commitment to the initiative. This announcement was made during the ‘Kangathi Awards 2023’ ceremony organised by the Local Government Authority (LGA).

The president highlighted the importance of addressing the housing crisis, which was a key concern during the presidential election. He pledged to complete the Ras Malé project as promised and asserted that additional reclaimed land from Ras Malé, Gulhi Falhu, and further land reclamation at Giraavaru Falhu and Hulhumalé would provide a long-term solution to the country’s housing problem.

The project’s scope is immense, with plans for an airstrip, 65,000 housing units, promotion as the “Maldives Eco City,” a modern high-speed ferry system, and an eco-friendly approach to energy generation and transportation services. The project’s ambitious nature has earned it recognition as the nation’s most extensive land reclamation endeavour, with the potential to reshape the urban landscape of the Maldives.

The controversy surrounding the Ras Male project underscores the importance of transparency, proper budgetary procedures, and adherence to legal requirements in major government initiatives. The project’s success and public trust will hinge on addressing these concerns moving forward.