'Will take action in case of negligence in putting down birds': Minister

Fisheries Minister Dr. Hussain Rasheed Hassan has said legal action will be taken if there is any negligence on the part of a ministry employee in putting down illegally imported birds.

Authorities put down one hundred and twenty exotic birds that were imported to the Maldives as the specific species was not listed under the list of birds permitted for import. While the decision to put down the birds met with massive criticism from the public, the Fisheries Ministry said they had acted as per the advice given on the matter by the Attorney General.

Speaking to AVAS, Minister Hussain Rasheed said written communication took place between the Fisheries Ministry and the Attorney General's Office regarding the birds. He said he could only comment on the matter after reviewing the documents exchanged between the two offices.

'When we said something regarding this, the AG Office has also made a comment. We are seeing updates on this issue via the media. As the minister heading the Fisheries Ministry, I will review all documents [exchanged between the ministry and the AG Office]. I can make an informed comment only after that,' he said.

The minister said he would take action accordingly if there is any negligence on the part of a ministry employee. Even if he himself is liable, he must be held accountable by other authorities, he said.

Speaking to AVAS, the Communications Director at the Attorney General's Office, Hussain Hassain, said the Fisheries Ministry had the option to send back the birds instead of putting them down. The relevant regulations also allow confiscated birds to be returned instead of being put down. As per the regulations, the importer must bear the expense of sending back the birds or putting them down. The regulation states that offenders may be fined.

Hussain said the documents sent to the Attorney General's Office show the bird shipments were held in September, October, and November last year. However, other than placing the birds in quarantine, the ministry took no action in holding the importers accountable. Instead, the birds were added to the list of birds permitted for import, and the ministry publicized the revised list on September 13. Following that, the Fisheres Minisry sought the AG's opinion on releasing the birds to the importers.

'The legal opinion of the AG Office was to act according to the regulations that were in effect when the birds were imported and in quarantine. While no action had been taken for a significant duration regarding the quarantined birds, we advised the ministry to identify any negligence and take action accordingly against any person who had been negligent in the matter,' Hussain said.

The importers, Pet Masters, have filed a case with the Civil Court and lodged an issue with the Parliament regarding the matter. Speaking to some media agencies, a manager from Pet Masters said the birds were not allowed for import at the time of import. However, the regulations were later amended, due to which the import of the birds became permissible. The pet shop said the value of the birds is over MVR 800,000 and said they would seek compensation for the loss incurred through legal courts.