The government awarded Thursday a project to build a platform for the public to view the ongoing construction of the China-Maldives Friendship bridge in Malé’s southeastern corner.
The local company chosen after a bidding process, Strada Pvt Ltd, will bear the MVR8 million (US$518,800) cost, according to the housing ministry.
Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz, who signed the agreement on behalf of the government, told the press that the public should be able to observe the progress of the largest infrastructure project in the country’s history.
“The government believes it is a right of each Maldivian citizen for an arrangement to view up close how this is proceeding,” he said.
The platform will seat 350 people. It will also include a restaurant, a parking zone, and a children’s area, to be developed on a plot of about 10,000 square feet at the former surf point.
Muiz said Strada will pay rent on the plot, but refused to specify a figure.
Strada, which describes itself on Facebook as a “multifaceted investment company” with holdings in food and beverage, brand franchising and event management, operates the Newport restaurant. Last year, the anti-corruption watchdog investigated allegations of corruption in an MVR3.7 million (US$240,00) catering deal awarded to the restaurant by the president’s office.
Strada’s Director Zahid Rameez, who signed the platform agreement on behalf of the company, is a member of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ executive council.
Zahid told the press that the platform will be built overseas and brought to the Maldives. Two binoculars will also be attached for public viewing.
According to the government, work on the “superstructure” of the bridge will begin on April 23, 2017. The bridge is estimated to be completed by mid-2018.
Concreting for the first pile foundation of the approach bridge began last night, the housing ministry said.
The 1.39km-long and 20.3m-wide bridge will span from Malé’s eastern edge to the western corner of the island of Hulhulé, where the airport is located, and connect the capital to the suburb Hulhumalé.
The US$210 million bridge is a key campaign pledge of President Abdulla Yameen. His administration plans to relocate 70 percent of the Maldives population, presently scattered across 188 islands, to a new ‘Youth City’ in Hulhumalé.
The project is to be financed with US$126 million in grant aid and a concessionary loan from China along with US$12.6 million from the Maldivian state budget, Muiz previously said.
Earlier this month, the minister held a press conference to dismiss rumours that the government was facing difficulties in financing the bridge and that construction work on the bridge had come to a halt.
“Work is ongoing day and night. It is now not possible to see progress when you are on land,” he said, adding: “Some media outlets are claiming that there are issues with financing the bridge. But this is not true.”
The government has paid the amount it owes to the contractor, he said.
“There is no issue with financing. The project is ongoing with financing from Chinese grant and loan aid. There are no obstacles to the ongoing work on the China-Maldives friendship bridge. And it is on schedule. The bridge will be completed by September 2018. The contractor has pledged to finish the bridge two months beforehand, by July 26, 2018.”
The contractor chosen for the project, CCCC Second Harbour Engineering, was blacklisted by the World Bank over fraudulent practices during a road improvement project in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, the ministry’s decision to award the bridge-viewing platform project to Strada has drawn allegations of corruption online.
In July last year, Mohamed Hussain Shareef, former presidential affairs minister, was accused of graft in awarding the lucrative contract to the Newport restaurant for the official Independence Day banquet.
But the Prosecutor General’s office declined to prosecute Shareef after the Anti-Corruption Commission forwarded charges of abuse of power to unlawfully benefit a third party.
Newport did not have the experience to cater for such an event, and the minister never checked if they had the capacity, the ACC said. Other employees of the president’s office complained to the ACC of the poor quality of the food and said it did not live up to the price.
A total of MVR7.9 million was spent on the banquet, of which MVR3.9 million was disbursed by December, the ACC said.
Despite the controversy, the president’s office awarded the catering contract to Newport again for this year’s Independence Day reception.
Local media reported that Newport charged MVR80 (US$5) per head for this year’s banquet. The restaurant charged MVR3,000 (US$195) per head last year.