The environment ministry ignored concerns about the ring road expansion project in Malé, sources told the Maldives Independent on Wednesday.
Local media reported there was no environmental impact report for the expansion of the capital’s main outer road, Boduthakurufaanu Magu. Work began on the project two weeks ago, with decade-old trees on the outskirts of Malé felled to make room.
Top Environment Protection Agency officials said they were prevented from warning the housing ministry to stop the ongoing ring road work.
The officials who talked to the Maldives Independent wished to remain anonymous.
“There are several concerns, especially with the cutting down of age old trees around Malé. Regulations stipulate that any work that is to be carried out on this scale needs an EPA-approved environmental impact assessment.”
The sources said EPA bosses drafted a three-page letter to the housing ministry ordering it to stop all work on the project immediately, warning of fines if it pressed ahead without following regulations.
“But under new rules, letters from the EPA need approval from the environment ministry before they can be sent out,” said the sources. “When the letter got approved it was cut down to one page with just a general warning asking the housing ministry to be mindful of environmental concerns as they continue the project.”
The road, which is being widened in preparation for the opening of the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, will connect Malé to Hulhumalé.
EPA director general Ibrahim Naeem told the Maldives Independent that all questions about the agency’s work should be directed to the environment ministry.
Environment ministry spokesman Mohamed Saeed Moosa Wajudhee said he was unable to comment on the allegations because he was waiting on information from the EPA.
The cutting down of trees around Malé has attracted attention from environmental activists, with the government accused of destroying natural resources for concrete development.
The thwarting of the EPA’s efforts comes as the government is criticized for systematically dismantling environmental protection measures.
The EPA’s powers to evaluate environmental impact assessments and authorise projects, such as land reclamation for tourism developments, were seized by the tourism ministry in 2015.
NGO EcoCare warned that the move conflicted with the environment protection law – which requires the EPA to evaluate assessments – and could “pave the way for corruption.”