Projects and price cuts ahead of local council elections

Projects and price cuts ahead of local council elections
May 02 20:58 2017

Ahead of Saturday’s local council elections, ministers and lawmakers have been travelling across the country to launch infrastructure projects, urging voters to choose ruling coalition candidate to ensure the development of their constituencies.

During the weekend, Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim attended groundbreaking ceremonies for sewerage projects in six islands of the southernmost atoll.

With a campaign poster of President Abdulla Yameen in the backdrop, Thoriq suggested that a city council comprised of Progressive Party of Maldives members would work with the government to develop Addu City.

The current administration will deliver on pledges to develop the country’s second city, he vowed.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party won all six seats in the Addu City in both the January 2014 and February 2011 local council elections. The Malé city council, which was stripped of its powers and responsibilities, is also opposition-dominated.

In three separate ceremonies, Thoriq inaugurated an MVR114 million (US$7.4 million) sewage project in Hulhudhoo and Meedhoo, an MVR109 million (US$7 million) project in Hithadhoo and MVR131 million (US$8.4 million) project in Maradhoo-Feydhoo, Maradhoo and Feydhoo.

The sewage project in Hulhudhoo and Meedhoo was awarded to Sri Lankan company Sierra Construction to be completed by March 2018, according to the environment and energy ministry.

The Malé Water and Sewage Company was enlisted for the project in Hithadhoo, the most populous island or ward of Addu City, with a completion date of January 2018, and the state-owned Maldives Transport and Construction Company was awarded the project in MaradhooFeydhoo, Maradhoo and Feydhoo.

Speaking to the Maldives Independent, Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodiq dismissed the groundbreaking ceremonies as a “campaign show”.

Sodiq said: “If they were really sincerely doing it for the development of the city, they would have discussed it with the elected councillors. But you can even see from the photos, it is not the councillors but their candidates for the election they have with them.”

Sewage and water projects for all the islands of Addu City were inaugurated by the deposed MDP government ahead of the November 2011 SAARC summit, Sodiq said.

“How do you inaugurate a project that has already been inaugurated? Water and sewerage projects were started in Addu City islands back in 2010. The water plants have been set up, overhead tanks have been put, meters were put in houses,” he said.

But the projects stalled after the transfer of presidential power in February 2012, Sodiq continued, with successive administrations relaunching the projects ahead of elections.

“[Former] President  [Dr Mohamed] Waheed also came here before the election, launched it again and it was stalled later again,” he said.

“A large part of the sewage infrastructure in Hithadhoo is already done, with vacuum systems and high-pressure pipes. But yesterday, they put in normal PVC pipes. There is no plan how it relates to the current design and system in place.”

“It’s been six or seven years now and they come here a week before the election and put in PVC pipes and expect people to believe it. I don’t think people would believe this and it would affect [the vote]. People know full well that this was something started back in 2010 and it’s been stalled for seven years. I haven’t met anyone who accepts what they did yesterday.”

On Monday, Finance Minister Ahmed Munawar inaugurated a project to build a jetty on the island of Fulidhoo in Vaavu atoll. The three-month project was awarded to local company Inner Trade.

Other infrastructure projects have also been launched in recent weeks and foundation stones laid for new mosques.

In late April, a town hall meeting was held on the island of Kulhudhufushi in Haa Dhaal atoll for public consultation for an environment impact assessment of proposed plans to build a domestic airport.

But islanders who attended the meeting dismissed the event as an attempt to deceive the public with false promises, the community news website Kulhudhufushi Online reported.

“You are talking about doing EIA for a second time now. What happened to the first?” one resident reportedly demanded from the environmental consultants.

Developing an airport on Kulhudhufushi, a population hub in the north, is a campaign pledge of President Yameen.

Over the weekend, the opposition-dominated Kulhudhufushi island council was also asked by the government to organise a drawing of lots to hand over forty row houses built on the island.

Ali Hashim, a council member, contended that the EIA meeting and the lottery draw were timed to win support for ruling party candidates.

“This was done just in time for the election. Definitely because of the election,” he said.

“It has been nine months since the row houses were completed. We were asked to hold the lot draws six months ago, but they cancelled at the last minute saying there were issues with the sewage system.”

No work has been done to date to fix the problems with the sewage system, Hashim added.

State-owned companies meanwhile reduced the price of staple foods, oil and electricity in late April.

The State Trading Organisation, the state-owned wholesaler, reduced the price of rice and sugar prices by 15 percent and wheat flour by 12 percent.

STO Managing Director Ahmed Shaheer told the press on April 20 that the change was made possible after the government made arrangements for fast-tracking payments for the company, lowering logistics costs, and better sourcing.

With the change in staple food prices, a kilo of rice now cost MVR6.76, a kilo of sugar MVR6.8 and a kilo of flour will cost MVR5.26.

The new prices are, however, still higher than October when the government decided to target food subsidies to the poor. 

Opposition Adhaalath Party spokesman Ali Zahir called the move a “deliberate attempt to influence the election”.

“It’s also noticeable that they did not really reduce the prices. They hiked the prices and cut a bit from the hike and is now trying to show that they have brought down prices,” Zahir told the Maldives Independent.

“The governments should not try to deceive people so much.”

STO also reduced the price of petrol and diesel last month. The behemoth’s subsidiary, Fuel Supply Maldives, is the main importer of petroleum products to the country.

The price of a litre of petrol was reduced by 20 laari and a litre of diesel was reduced by 10 laari, prompting the state-owned utility companies to reduce electricity charges.

The State Electric Company, which provides electricity in the Malé region, and Fenaka, the main service provider in the atolls, reduced the fuel surcharge. 

According to the companies, MVR0.03 will be cut from every unit of electricity usage. The fuel surcharge per electricity unit now stands at MVR0.35 compared to MVR 0.38 before STO reduced the diesel prices.

According to rules introduced by the energy authority in February last year, fuel surcharges would be imposed if the price of diesel exceeds a base rate set by the authority.

The base rate for the Greater Malé region is MVR8 per litre and the rate for the atolls is MVR8.10.

For every MVR0.10 increase in a diesel litre above the base rate, a fuel surcharge of MVR0.3 would be imposed on every unit of electricity usage.

The recent changes in diesel prices would only affect bills of domestic households using above 400 units of electricity. A fuel surcharge will only be applied to households that use 400 units of electricity if the price of diesel exceeds MVR10 in the atolls.