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People’s Debt Bridge

Sinamale bridge
Part of the “Belt and Road Initiative,” the Chinese-financed SinaMale’ Bridge project was officially launched during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the Maldives in 2014. The 2 kilometer bridge links the Maldives’ capital Malé to the artificial island city Hulhumale.

The opening of the bridge is indeed a reason for great joy for many people living in Male’ and Hulhumale. But that same joy comes at an agonizing cost for the Maldivian people. President Abdulla Yameen had pushed us deeper into a Chinese “debt trap” with a costly $200 million bridge opened just ahead of the country’s election. For some, the bridge is an iconic landmark, but for many, it is a symbol of Yameen’s corruption.

The cost of the Sinamale Bridge is wildly inflated and is nothing but misuse of public funds. The government claims the cost is $198 million. Of this $113mln is a free aid. Aside from the grant aid, the project is funded with a US$71 million loan from the Chinese Exim Bank and US$12 million from the Maldives state budget.

Chinese lending is putting the Maldives at risk of debt distress. With debt distress, there is a liquidity issue and a solvency issue. “Liquidity is: ‘I can’t pay you today but I think I can pay you tomorrow.’ Solvency is much more serious. ‘There’s no way I can pay you without having to cut back to the bone.’ Debt distress means you can’t pay the debt normally.” says John Hurley at Center for Global Development.

Ordinary Maldivians will struggle most to repay China. There could be a drastic increase in tax or services because eventually, we will have to use these funds to service the debt. If we fail to do so we will be redirecting the debt to China and lose our sovereignty. This bridge is not a miracle, nor it is a reason for us to be happy. This is a debt trap and we will end up being its collateral damage.

Everybody seems to be taking credit for this historic project, but no one is willing to take the responsibility for the greater damage caused by this project.

Former Vice Ahmed Abeed came out with a statement claiming he deserves credit for the project.” I have been jailed unfairly to cover up all corruption and atrocities committed by President Yaameen and to take credit for my hard work and service to the nation. The resorts and big infrastructural projects that have been completed are all my hard work. President Yameen failed to either chair or participate in any of the 172 meetings held by the Economic Council in one year. He was busy exchanging dollar cheques or counting money. The link bridge between Male’ and Hulhule Island is something envisioned in President Ibrahim Nasir’s era. President Maumoon towards the end of his presidency further took it up by developing a concept called “Moonbay Arena”. It was under President Nasheed that the idea was translated into its engineering and options not just for Male’ Hulhule but linking Thilafushi and ViliMale’ as well. I travelled with President Waheed to China to further negotiate a deal on the construction of this bridge. We secured the deal. “

Yes everybody secured the deal. China funded it. Yameen opened it. But at the end who will have to bear the burden of repaying this debt? The people.

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Source URL: Medium

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