National Planning and Infrastructure Minister Mohamed Aslam on Sunday defended scrapping the previous administration’s plans to relocate warehouses to an industrial village in the southwest corner of Malé.
Warehousing in the congested capital has been banned after a fire devastated several buildings and caused the death of a 47-year-old woman on Friday night. But the government plans to relocate warehouse to Thilafushi island near the capital instead of the industrial village developed by the previous administration on about seven hectares of reclaimed land.
At a press conference by the opposition parties on Saturday night, former infrastructure minister Dr Mohamed Muizz said land was reclaimed for the purpose of relocating warehouses and industrial workshops. The state-owned Maldives Ports Limited was tasked with constructing warehouses, after which design work was completed, funds were allocated and a contractor was found before the government changed last November, Muizz said.
“Shouldn’t that work have been done when 10 months passed under this government?” he asked.
“We inherited a junk yard as an industrial village,” Aslam said.
There was documentation about a project discussed between the MPL and a Chinese company to construct a US$186 million building at the industrial zone. The project was scrapped as the cost was inflated, he said.
Aslam said the industrial village was not ideal for relocating warehouses as it would worsen traffic on the outer ring road. There would also be risk of fires as petrol sheds were shifted to the area, he suggested, referring to a fire accident at the southwest harbour that destroyed several boats.
“We’re talking about a congested area even though people don’t live there,” he added.
New plans include designating zones to park heavy-duty vehicles, developing sports grounds open to the public and shifting concrete mixing work to the reclaimed area.
At Saturday night’s press briefing, the opposition parties also condemned President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s departure to address the UN General Assembly a day after the tragic fire incident. The president should in the country to oversee relief efforts and ensure swift measures, MP Adam Shareef Adam told reporters.
“This is unacceptable to us. In our view, this shows that the government is not giving the most important attention needed for such an incident,” the former defence minister told reporters. The government’s response to the tragedy was more important to the public than addressing the UN, the MP for Raa Madduvvari added.
The fire should be thoroughly investigated as negligence was evident, Shareef said.
The lawmaker announced plans by the Progressive Party of Maldives-People’s National Congress coalition to organise a telethon to raise funds for victims of the fire.
On the night of the fire, the president attended the scene to observe firefighting efforts and visited the hospital as well as the relief centre set up at the Kalaafanu School to assist victims. Prior to departing for New York on Saturday afternoon, Solih convened the National Disaster Council and instructed the relevant authorities to immediately commence work on relocating warehouses with hazardous or flammable chemicals away from residential areas of Malé.
Former president Abdulla Yameen meanwhile cut short a campaign trip to Meemu atoll and returned to Malé on Saturday.