Maldives couples wanting to marry on a US$200 million bridge had their hopes lifted then dashed after a government ministry Sunday backtracked on wedding sponsorship offers.
The Housing Ministry said the government would cover most costs for people wanting to tie the knot on the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, officially called the Sinamalé Bridge, which will connect the capital to the airport island of Hulhulé and the suburb island of Hulhumalé.
There were incentives of MVR15,000 (US$973) for the bridal dress, MVR7,000 for the groom’s outfit and MVR5,000 for the bride and groom’s makeup. There would also be sponsorship for photography and catering.
But by midday the ministry had stopped handing out the forms and a receptionist said a minor change was being made.
Before office closing hours a new form was uploaded to the website – with the sponsorship parts omitted.
Ministry spokesman Ahmed Fazal told the Maldives Independent the outfit and makeup costs were being cut to allow more people to participate.
Sponsorship for catering, photography and reception costs was “under review,” he said.
“We didn’t anticipate this much support. So we wanted to reduce the costs so that we can give the chance for as many couples to get married on the bridge. We are operating on a budget.”
The form gives couples five different wedding themes to choose from: Maldivian, Chinese, floral, sunset and vintage.
Applications for bridge weddings are open until August 13. Couples are asked to submit a completed marriage application form with their bridge wedding form.
Only couples on their first wedding can have their big day on the bridge, a tall order given the country’s divorce rate. There were 5,488 marriages in 2016 and 3,471 divorces that year.
– ‘Wall of China’ –
Fazal said weddings would be held after the bridge was opened later this month and that it would be closed to vehicles during this time. The nuptials were part of a “celebration.”
“We are doing this because President (Abdulla) Yameen made a promise,” he added.
The government says the only work remaining in the bridge project is laying tar and putting up lights. The outer ring road of the capital’s eastern side has been closed off for construction.
The project was launched in December 2015 with concessional financing and grant aid from the Chinese government, and work started in July 2017.
The 1.39 kilometre-long and 20.3 metre-wide bridge will have two lanes for vehicles and separate lanes for bicycles, motorcycles, and pedestrians.
It will span from Malé’s eastern edge to the western corner of the island of Hulhulé.
While videos of the bridge project feature rousing music and impressive camerawork – and the structure itself promises panoramic vistas – the view from the ground is rather more rustic.
Machinery and building materials lie unattended. There is trash and graffiti, with “Wall of China” daubed onto a surface.
The contractor enlisted for the bridge project, CCCC Second Harbour Engineering, was blacklisted by the World Bank over fraudulent practices during a road improvement project in the Philippines.
The bidding process was conducted by the Chinese government.
Both the opposition and international financial institutions have warned the Maldives is accumulating dangerous levels of debt to finance an infrastructure scale-up.
Photos: Hassan Moosa