Government must stop its public disinformation campaign
on Sh. Mathikomandoo reclamation project
on run-up to Komandoo bi-election
Joint Press Statement : 18 January 2022, Male’
The Maldives government’s sudden and unplanned decision announcing a major reclamation project costing millions, linking Shaviyani Atoll Komandoo and its neighbouring uninhabited island Mathikomandoo is yet another reckless and misleading declaration, undermining finite natural resources and climate resilience of the country during a climate crisis. The proposed reclamation goes against environmental laws and regulations of the Maldives, including Article 22 of the Constitution which requires the State to engage in sustainable development practises, not to waste public assets and to protect resources for present and future generations. Maldives must respect its international obligations to adhere to the sustainable development goals, recognise its climate vulnerable status and take responsible action to sustain its natural defences and resilience instead of recklessly destroying them.
President Solih’s announcement at an election rally in Sh. Komandoo (7 January 2022) raises multiple concerns, including the following:
- The proposed reclamation project is not in the approved government budget of 2022, which goes against fiscal regulations and is in direct contravention of Article 96(c) of the Constitution. The government’s actions flout multiple crises causing hardship to communities, including the national debt crisis, the current uncertainties of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic health crisis and associated economic and social protection crises.
- The announcement being made at a bi-election rally to kick-off his party MDP candidate’s campaign for the parliamentary seat for the Komandoo constituency indicates an abuse of public office using State resources for political campaigning, which are concerns already raised by Transparency Maldives.
- The complete absence of environmental considerations and due processes to reach the decision, which has not followed the regulatory processes specified by environmental protection laws and regulations is irresponsible. The namesake production of a “project concept” disseminated through media sources for campaign purposes is indicative of a failure of professional conduct by relevant State institutions. The key party in these multi-million-dollar reclamation projects is the State-owned company MTCC Plc which has no technical capacity, environmental knowledge or awareness to safeguard valuable ecosystems and their services during project implementation, endangering finite public assets. MTCC has inflicted irreversible loss and damage to several sensitive ecosystems in the country due to negligent practises and continues to operate with impunity, undermining natural resources as part of unsustainable business practises that threaten to destroy climate resilience of communities. This is an abuse of public trust in State institutions, facilitated by government negligence.
- The government’s campaign assertion that the project is required for land to provide housing is highly questionable with no data evidence to back this need. These kinds of assertions and declarations are often used for campaign purposes in the Maldives, which is tantamount to disinformation to mislead ill-informed communities about climate risks. This is a consistent flaw in government decision-making involving large, opaque contracts on which huge public debts are spent without due diligence for questionable purposes. These practises leave public institutions wide open to accusations of corruption, with the resulting loss of public confidence in them.
Available information shows that Sh. Komandoo has already been environmentally destroyed and inadequately protected after a major reclamation project allegedly “completed” in 2018, indicating the failure of that project which was also executed by MTCC. Komandoo has a projected population of 1301 residents in 2022 which is estimated to increase to 1383 by 2030, and the latest reclamation of the island in 2018 reportedly “doubled” its land area, although the new land is yet to be used! Sources inform there is no land-use plan for the island, which is inconsistent with information in the project’s rushed EIA. This raises serious questions about the government’s announcement to reclaim more land with the complete loss of ecosystem and biodiversity assets in Mathikomandoo, while Komandoo has long lost all semblance of nature and climate resilience. The fact that the Komandoo reclamation project has been a failed project, with the reclaimed land being unusable due to “flooding issues” caused by “overtopping of the revetments” according to the rushed EIA, is ample reason to stop repetition of more such unsustainable failures. The government’s focus should be on investigating the reasons why the reclaimed land has been unusable three years after the completion of the so-called development in October 2018.
As the constituency of Sh. Komandoo prepare to vote in a parliamentary bi-election scheduled for 05 February 2022, President Solih has made a flash announcement, releasing “a project concept” and what appears to be a scrambled and fast-tracked EIA produced within a matter of days, to support the project’s announcement. The Maldives has a notoriously weak EPA and environmental protection governance regime, with seriously flawed and skewed EIA processes and EIA reports found to have been “cut & pasted”, being much abused by various stakeholders including State institutions that fail to regulate these processes. This consistent negligent behaviour, combined with the use of a narrative that the government is delivering “a dream” for the Komandoo people is an irresponsible dereliction of public duty and legal mandate of the President to uphold the Constitution and laws in the public interest.
We therefore call on President Solih to :
- immediately cease the government’s ongoing political disinformation campaign relating to the upcoming Komandoo bi-election
- take urgent action and make responsible, evidence-based decisions to sustainably manage Komandoo and Mathikomandoo
- establish any need for housing using credible and verifiable evidence and publicise such information
- produce evidence of a land-use plan for the existing reclaimed land on the island and investigate the reasons why the land has remained unutilised for nearly three years, despite the alleged “land shortage”
- utilise the proposed MVR 249.9 million [USD 16 million] on planned and budgeted sustainable development programmes and activities included in the approved 2022 budget
- take immediate measures to protect and restore the damage to natural ecosystems, biodiversity and critical assets of Komandoo and Mathikomandoo to ensure recovery and resilience, and preserve the area’s natural reef defences for the security of present and future generations.
edited 18/01/22 @ 22:30h