The reclamation work in the Ras Malé project, one of the administration’s largest projects, began without initially banking enough sand, Minister of Construction and Infrastructure Abdulla Muththalib said at a press conference on Wednesday. Muthalib said the work began without a proper study of the area for sand extraction.

The plan was to start reclamation and get sand, he said.

“However, the information they are giving now is that there is not enough sand to continue the reclamation work and they want to conduct a more extensive sand search,” he said.

The minister said that although the practical work of reclamation is not yet underway, it would not be right to say that the work has stopped. He said the dredging and land reclamation is underway and the construction of the bund wall is underway.

In addition to the lack of sand, land reclamation for the Ras Malé project can only begin after work at Gulhifalhu is complete as Royal Boskalis and Van Oord of the Netherlands, which are carrying out the reclamation work on both projects, are currently in the process of completing work at Gulhifalhu and only one dredger has been brought to the Maldives for the work, he said.

“The dredger currently used by Boskalis to dredge Gulhifalhu, it is only one dredger. They have the intention to reclaim land at Gulhifalhu and move it. It is not a state-funded project and bringing in a new dredger will be expensive,” he said.

Muthalib said the contractor was brought on without any advance payment to start the project as soon as possible. As such, the project is funded by the proceeds from the sale of the land given to the contractor.

“Therefore, I believe that they are thinking of using the dredger here to reduce costs. That is the main reason why the reclamation work is not going [at Ras Malé],” Muthalib said.

MVR 400 million was included in the budget for the project’s initial work, however, the administration, through Housing Development Corporation (HDC), chose to go forward with the project even after Parliament excluded it from the budget — HDC had, in an earlier statement, also denied that work had stopped at the site.

Work to reclaim 1,153 hectares from the 1,280-hectare Fushidhiggarufalhu area, south of Malé, was planned to be completed within eight months and began even before a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was conducted. An EIA was conducted only for the 29-hectare area known as ‘Site J’.

President Mohamed Muizzu has said that Ras Malé will be reclaimed in eight months and instead of a monetary payment, contractor remuneration will take the form of 70 hectares of land to Sri Lanka’s Capital Marine and Construction Company (CMCC). The company is to receive 10 hectares in Hulhumalé and 60 hectares in Fushidhiggarufalhu.

Meanwhile, 127.9 hectares of land has been reclaimed at Gulhifalhu as of Tuesday, the minister said, adding that the project, which was contracted by the previous administration, will be completed within the next month.

“The president later announced the dredging of [another] 85 hectares of land. It is not part of the current contract. Therefore, we will make necessary preparations to start dredging the remaining part after the completion of the current contract,” he said.

The minister said the work of laying rock boulders at the reclaimed area will start next month and will be completed within six months.

“The Thilamalé Bridge work is also connected to this project. There will be a stretch of road from east to west of Gulhifalhu. We have to hand over that part to the contractor. The land will be handed over after the shore protection is completed,” he said.

The land for the road will be handed over to India’s Afcons Infrastructure this year, he said.

Practical work at Gulhifalhu began 2 July last year with the work awarded to Boskalis for a total of US$130.4 million (MVR 2.01 billion).

While the previous administration had intended to provide social housing at Gulhifalhu for residents of Malé, President Muizzu announced his decision to expand reclamation at Gulhifalhu during the inauguration of the Ras Malé project.