The government has formally requested the Indian government expedite the completion of the Malé-Thilafushi Bridge, a critical component of the Greater Malé Connectivity Project (GMCP), President Mohamed Muizzu has revealed. The request was made during bilateral discussions on the sidelines of the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Muizzu said during an appearance on Dhivehi Raajjeyge Addu (DRA)’s ‘Baajjaveri Hendhuneh’ show on Friday.

The GMCP, one of the most ambitious infrastructure initiatives in the Maldives, envisages a 6.7-kilometre bridge and causeway network connecting the islands of Malé, Villimalé, Gulhifalhu, and Thilafushi. The project is being executed under a US$100 million grant and a US$400 million line of credit extended by India.

The project, contracted to India’s Afcons Infrastructure Ltd., has encountered significant delays. The Muizzu administration attributes these delays to the contractor’s lack of experience and capacity and an underestimation of the project requirements. The project, initially slated for completion by 17 May 2024, saw its deadline extended to 30 September 2026, during the final days of the previous administration.

President Muizzu made the request to expedite the project directly to the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, during a meeting on 1 December. He expressed his belief that an expedited completion of the project would be mutually beneficial for both countries.

A joint committee was also proposed to address technical and other significant issues and collaboratively seek solutions to any challenges that arise, Muizzu said while providing details about the project on DRA’s morning show. He expressed his belief that the project should take less time than currently projected and requested that India expedite the project to end in 2024 or 2025.

Muizzu stated it would be a “significant achievement” if Malé and Villimalé were connected by the end of 2024 or early 2025. He also expressed his desire to modify the project concept, similar to the approach employed during the construction of the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge while he was the housing minister.

Despite the extension of the project deadline by the previous administration, the project’s financial terms remain unchanged, with the total cost standing at US$500 million, excluding taxes, according to the Minister of Construction and Infrastructure, Dr Abdulla Muththalib.

He cited several factors contributing to the delay, including Afcons’ inexperience in deep-sea bridge construction, an underestimation of the project’s complexity, and inadequate preparation. The delay in reclaiming and handing over land from Gulhifalhu for the project was also noted as a significant factor.

Afcons Infrastructure Ltd., a subsidiary of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group, has completed significant infrastructure development projects in India. It was awarded the Transgabonaise road project, which connects Gabon from east to west. Afcons has also been awarded the contract for the Volta Railway Bridge in Ghana, which is being developed under a loan of more than US$100 million from the Japanese government.