''EPA mandate restricted to permit commission of environmental crimes''

A channel dug by the Gililankanfushi resort on a sandbank near K. Hinmafushi.

Civil organizations in the Maldives have condemned the fact that the mandate of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) is narrowed in relation to tourist activity, something that the organizations described was paving the way for environmental genocide and crime.

In a press release today, the organizations called to investigate and take legal action against those accused of crimes against the environment, in order to prevent such activity. 

The organizations stated that the environment of the Maldives was the most important asset of a nation such as the Maldives. It also noted that the environment of the Maldives was a particularly vulnerable one, which was being affected irrecoverably by climate change. 

The press release also read that reefs, and islands are to be conserved and expressed concern that the state was not prioritizing the prevention of environmental crimes. The statement also read that the environment of the Maldives was very much connected with the economic activity such as fishing and tourism of the Maldives. 

Just recently, a controversial incident where employees, including the General Manager of the Gili Lankanfushi resort, were stopped by a group of locals, as they attempted to allegedly destroy a sandbank made headlines. The sandbank was in the same lagoon as Gili Lankanfushi resort and the island of Hinmafushi. A group of locals from Hinmafushi stopped the attempts by the resort to dig a narrow channel on the sandbank. 

Expressing concern over the incident, the press release by the organizations condemned the actions of these businesses, and called on all state institutions to investigate and take action against those responsible in the most appropriate and transparent manner. 

The actions of the incident described as uncivilized and crimes against the environment, would have brought natural resources very much in the interest of the public peace and prosperity, to an end, read the statement. 

Moreover, the statement also read that the underpriced islands and lagoons awarded through the MMPRC scandal had prevented the public and local businesses from gaining benefits from these resources. Gaining benefits from these resources was something the organizations described as a fundamental right. 

The statement also expressed concern over statements made by Maldives Association for Tourism Industry (MATI) in the Parliament’s environment committee. The association had stated that resorts could not stop disposing of waste into the ocean, as granted under an old regulation of the Tourism Ministry, all of a sudden.

Resorts are permitted to dispose of perishable waste to the ocean, under special circumstances. However, complaints have been reported that resorts do not adhere to the regulation standards which lead to the deposition of this waste onto beaches. The statement by organizations also expressed concern over the lack of action over this. 

The statement read that limiting the mandate of the EPA regarding the tourism industry paved the way to commit such crimes. 

In a nation that has adopted sustainable development goals, taken part in a number of international human rights, natural life, and environmental conventions, providing a way for committing these crimes under laws and regulations in existence in the nation was an infringement of these conventions. 

The statement also expressed concern over the illegal export of shark fins recently busted in the nation and as to why insufficient information was being divulged regarding the case. 

The statement called to investigate and find those responsible for these crimes against the environment, before expressing dismay at the fact that the relevant bodies were incapable of handing out the punishments as set out by the law. It called to amend the legal framework, negate any loopholes related to environmental laws, heed more attention to bills to come soon such as the climate change bill, Binaaveshi plan bill. 

The organizations also reminded the state that it had come to power with the promise of empowering the EPA within the first 100 days of office, and called o the state to fulfill this pledge to make the EPA an independent body with powers.