Malé, Maldives – While the President of Maldives Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has previously said that the incumbent government intends to establish the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) as an independent entity with autonomous decision-making powers, Environment Minister Shauna says that it is no longer the case.
An independent EPA is a part of the government’s Strategic Action Plan (SAP) set to come into effect by the end of 2020.
Minister Shauna said this while answering a question by journalists at the “Covering Environment” training program. The Environment Minister said that the initial discussions to set EPA independent was due to the previous government’s decision to amend the law giving authority to the Tourism Ministry to conduct Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA). The incumbent government has transferred the authority to Environment Ministry.
Minister Shauna said that she discussed ways to expand the role of EPA while at her previous position as a policymaker at the President’s Office, and more recently in her cabinet position with the EPA. Through these discussions, it was found that the EPA is low on human recourses and depends highly on departments of the Environment Ministry to do its job.
Therefore, now my and the EPA staffs thinking is to get operational independence. For evidence based decision making. EPA should not be reliant on the [Environment] Ministry and its staff to make EIA decisions.
Minister Shauna said that the appeal process of EPA decisions must be streamlined. The guidelines for creating EIA reports at present gives the authority to the government to override EPA, regardless of how destructive the project is.
The EIA Regulation states that (15, a) the Minister, will appoint a Registration Board responsible for evaluating applications for listing in the Register of Environmental Impact Assessment Consultants and (15,c) gives the registration board the final decision making power.
Minister Shauna says that under her leadership, she hopes to give EPA operational leadership while finding a way to make things more transparent. The priority is to do this instead of creating a new independent entity.
The government has now created a EPA governinig board to manage the EPA.
However, the Director of Ecocare Maldives, Maeed Zahir said that in a previous meeting with President Solih, an independent EPA was discussed, while in a later meeting with former Environment Minister Hussain Rasheed Hassan, the Minister said that there is no such thought for independence and instead focused on operational independence.
We want an independent body that will hold the Maldives government and private companies answerable… without anyone’s influence to protect the country’s economy and environment. This is very different [from what is being proposed].Maeed Zahir, Ecocare Maldives
Maeed said that the decisions of the incumbent government can protect from the decisions of the future governments. He added that is was a sincere hope of many that President Solih will provide independence for EPA.
Save Maldives researcher and volunteer Humaidha Abdul Gafoor also supported Maeed’s argument saying that an operational EPA is very different from an independent EPA.
Humaidha added that the destruction of the Kulhudhuffushi wetlands and the damage caused to N. Maafaru to build airports are environmental ecocides and that this was allowed to happen due to a lack of an independent governing body to assess the projects.