Comment: ‘Mega-loot’ – the murky and frightening sale of MACL

In my previous article in this column, I raised eight pertinent questions about the Waheed Government’s plan to sell 40 percent shares in MACL to Maldivian companies and individuals.

  1. Does the proposed sale maintain economic sovereignty or undermines it?
  2. Is the sale of MACL shares really an economic necessity in the current context?
  3. What is the reason why the sale has to be conducted within a span of 7 days?
  4. Why is there an absolute silence on the valuation of MACL shares?
  5. Does Waheed have any moral or constitutional authority to make this decision?
  6. Why is there absolute secrecy on issues such as the process to be followed for the sale?
  7. Is the timing of this transaction appropriate or is it designed to suit vested interests?
  8. Are we seeing a repeat of a series of shady transactions in the aviation space like Mamigili Airport lease extension and sale of Gan Airport to the Champa Group?

My conclusion based on a detailed review of each of these questions was that this proposed sale of MACL shares has all the elements of a big scam and that the Waheed government is going ahead with it brazenly.

Since then, the Privatisation Board has come out with a strongly-worded statement that the only prerogative to manage the privatisation process for government owned companies lies with itself.

Strangely, the board hasn’t even been contacted as yet for anything related to the proposed sale of MACL shares. Vice Chairperson of the Privatisation Board Mohamed Yasir quoted specific sections of the law that gives power to the privatisation board to decide on which companies to privatise, what should be the fair process, what should be the fair valuation as well as the process of establishing the same through an independent expert.

The above statements highlight the audacity of the attempt being made by Waheed government at this mega-loot. I have raised the question of Waheed’s moral and constitutional authority earlier. It now seems that that Waheed Government hasn’t even been acting within its legal authority on this issue. As per the process laid out in law, such privatisation of a government asset should be managed by the Privatization Board after getting Majlis approval for the same. I understand, based on discussions with people who are in the know of things that Waheed has set up a Special Committee headed by Azima Shakoor to manage the process for sale of MACL shares. In essence, rather than having the Privatisation Board and the Majlis take decisions and manage the process, it is the Special Committee headed by Azima Shakoor, Economic Committee of the cabinet and the MACL Board which have been asked to take decisions and manage the process. This is a constitutional transgression by an outgoing government, which certainly needs to be stopped in the tracks.

As a matter of fact, the ‘decision’ by Economic Committee of the cabinet is illegal to start with, since it is not authorised by law to make that decision and at best, they could have put forward a proposal to the board highlighting all the economic arguments and analysis in support of the proposal.

What is also most interesting to note here is the fact that an economic decision by the cabinet is not implemented by the Finance Minister but by the Attorney General, who is supposed to be the legal advisor to the government. So much so that the government’s Finance Minister doesn’t even have the authorisation to answer any questions related to this issue and he has been diverting all questions towards Azima Shakoor. It is not the Attorney General’s mandate to head committees which implement a major economic policy decision of the government. That the Attorney General is heading the committee also says a lot about what is going on – it clearly indicates that Waheed government’s focus is on ensuring that they get away with this sale without any legal hurdles rather than ensuring that government gets the right economic value for its asset.

It is difficult to understand the rush for selling MACL shares by a government that will have no constitutional validity three weeks from now. This level of urgency in selling off government assets may have been called for had we been in very severe economic trouble with an imminent risk of sovereign default or any other comparably dire situation. Fortunately for the Maldives, such a desperate situation hasn’t arisen as yet and this level of urgency behind the rushed sale process is certainly suspicious and needs to be investigated deeply.

Moreover, divesting a state asset is a significant economic policy decision. In most democratic countries across the world, and our democracy is modeled on principles from such stable democracies, there is a code of conduct put in place in light of a pending election. For example, as soon as the elections are announced in India, which is typically 6-8 weeks before the election date, a code of conduct comes in place which prohibits the government from making any new decisions or even undertaking activities such as laying foundation stones for projects! For these 6-8 weeks, the government in power is barred from making any new decisions and only has to focus on implementing the already ongoing initiatives. However, we have a case here where an out-going President is making and implementing a major economic policy decision one week before Presidential elections and only three weeks before he is certain to remit office.

As an unelected President, Waheed has made a number of significant economic decisions about our national assets in the last 1.5 years and has got them wrong, which will have a significant bearing on the country in the times to come. He allowed the sale of two seaplane operators to a single monopoly player but never cared to assess the implications of letting a critical part of Maldives’ tourism value chain be totally controlled by a single entity with now unchallenged power over the entire tourism sector. Much of the tourism industry has already highlighted how the sale of sea plane operations to a single monopoly player is posing an increasing threat to the viability of many resorts.

He also unilaterally cancelled the GMR concession agreement without caring to understand the potential future costs of the decision on future generations and the available trade-offs. Early indications are that the GMR arbitration is not going too well for Waheed government and we may potentially be looking at a huge claim from GMR by next year, which will ultimately have to be paid for by taxpayers like you and me.

He may no longer be the President in three weeks but he is doing all he can to make one final and the most outrageous raid on the Maldives exchequer to satisfy his and his cronies’ insatiable thirst for our national resources. All the early warning signals are there and enough alarms have been raised well in time for all the relevant independent institutions such as ACC, Privatisation Board and the Judiciary to take note of this mega-scam-in-the-making. It will be a significant failure of Maldivian institutions and even the Maldivian people if an unelected head of government is allowed to get away with this significant a loot, bypassing all the regulations and laws laid out in our constitution.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: Eight reasons why MACL’s share sale either doesn’t make sense, or is a giant scam

Mohamed Waheed’s government has been eyeing Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) just like a hawk circles around its prey before going for the kill.

Ever since MACL took over the airport from GMR, Waheed has been coming up with one scheme after the other to somehow move assets and ownership of INIA. Whenever such changes in ownership of valuable assets occur, a number of people invariably end up making a lot of money during the process.

First, he changed the MACL board and filled it with his political cronies in order to gain total control over the goings-on at INIA. Then, he tried to move all the assets of MACL into another company created through a secret Presidential decree so that it became a shell company, with all the value pulled into the new company.

This failed due to a number of legal issues. But now Waheed has now decided to sell shares in MACL to ‘Maldivian individuals and companies’ directly.

I will count eight reasons why I believe this proposed sale of MACL shares to ‘Maldivian companies and Maldivian individuals’ makes no sense and may potentially be a big scam-in-the-making.

1. Maintaining economic sovereignty or undermining it?

One reason Waheed’s spokesperson gave for this action was to “prevent foreigners from owning the airport in the future and protect the sovereignty of the airport”.

Essentially, rather than keeping control of MACL’s shares with it and hence ensuring the stated objective, it wants to sell these shares to third parties who can then go ahead and sell their holdings to foreigners. You can see the irony in the very argument that Waheed government is making for selling shares in MACL and wants us to lap up. Clearly, they believe that an average Maldivian on the street is silly and will happily agree to anything thrown his way as long as its wrapped with terms like ‘foreigner’, ‘sovereignty’ or ‘enslavement’.

On the contrary, by selling shares to Maldivian individuals and companies Waheed’s government is in fact opening doors for foreigners to actually go ahead and own INIA in the future.

Currently, the secondary financial markets in the Maldives are practically non-existent and it is easy for shares to change hands in off-market transactions. The regulatory framework for share sale & purchase is rudimentary and fails to ensure that equity shares of a company are not effectively transferred to a foreign entity. In fact, Waheed hailed the sale of two sea plane operators to American investment firm Blackstone as a shining example of how he has been able to bring investments into the Maldives. However, these transactions were an equity share sale of two businesses that are at the centre of Maldivian tourism, to foreign companies.

As a result of this share sale, significant control over Maldivian air space as well as businesses that are central to the health of Maldives tourism was given to an American investor. We have already heard of the problems most resorts are facing with the two sea plane operators and how they are being arm-twisted into signing long term agreements on unfavourable terms.

What will stop a foreign investor like Blackstone buying equity shares in MACL from a bunch of individual or large investors, and ultimately becoming the owner of INIA? In reality, it is this proposed sale of shares in MACL that is the start of potential ‘economic enslavement’ rather than a measure to stop the same in the future!

2. An economic necessity?

One argument that could have possibly been put forward by more aware and informed politicians would have been that this share sale is intended to plug the huge gap in the country’s financial position.

All of us know very well about the grave financial situation that the country and the government is in right now. After exhausting all of the recurrent expenditure budget for the year in the first four months, Waheed’s government has been relying on rolling over T-bills to finance its day-to-day expenses. However, it has already ruled out a supplementary budget for finance these expenditures and stated that it would continue to roll-over these T-bills in the short term. In this context, such a significant decision on divestment of state asset to private individuals is clearly neither a part of the government’s strategy to finance its projects and daily expenditures, nor an economic necessity in the current context.

3. All in the course of seven days

When Nasheed’s government privatised the airport, it put up the airport through an international bidding process managed by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC). Work on the privatisation started in July 2009 and finished through announcement of the winning bidder in June 2010. Hence, it took 11 months for the previous government to complete a financial transaction related to the airport.

There were many allegations of corruption around the way the process was managed, which were later ridiculed by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). Now, we have a situation where those who alleged financial irregularities in an 11-month long international bid process are looking to sell shares in the same company over the course of one week!

Even if one were to not compare this plan of share sale to local companies and individuals with the previous bidding process, a share sale like this typically takes more than a year for most companies to complete. Planning and execution of a public offering in most cases is a 6 to 12 month process at the minimum in most countries with well-developed regulations and mature financial markets.

However, here we have a case where an outgoing government wants to complete a public sale of shares of the most valuable national asset in a week. Quite clearly, there is much more to this share sale than meets the eye, which is why it may be important to finish the whole process in the blink of an eye.

4. Eerie silence on the valuation of shares or lack of it

Waheed’s government has given no indication at all of the proposed valuation of MACL and the price at which it is planning to sell the shares. Fair valuation of a share is a matter of opinion and a matter of sound professional judgement of bankers who typically assist with share sales. There are no investment banks in the Maldives who could assist with the sale of shares and no research houses which could come out with an investment report for the public to determine whether the determined price of MACL shares is fair value or not. If a share sale has to be conducted, such experts would typically have to be brought in from other countries such as India, Singapore and Malaysia which have developed financial markets.

GMR made a claim of US$1.4 billion for the loss of profits that it would have earned in the next 10 years, which it couldn’t due to the alleged illegal termination of its contract by Waheed government. Equity shares in MACL would entitle one to profits from INIA for the course of eternity. Hence, what we are looking at is a multi-billion dollar financial transaction – 40 percent of this is also going to represent hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions.

In this context, the fact that no one in the government has made any statement about engaging an international bank or an expert to help determine the fair value of MACL shares is a clear giveaway. There has been no attempt to find out what would be the fair value of MACL shares, and the intention is to sell these to Maldivian companies and individuals in the matter of a week. One can only deduce from all this that the price (likely to be peanuts) and the buyers of MACL shares have already been decided, and what is proposed to be undertaken over the course of next is a likely to be big sham.

5. Waheed’s moral and constitutional authority to make this decision

Waheed’s term is coming to an end on  November 11 and as this column goes to press, efforts are still ongoing to ensure that a new President is put in power by then. Clearly, this is a significant economic policy decision which must be taken by the new President in line with his announced economic policy, based on which he would have been voted into power. Waheed was never voted into power and his manifesto was given a big thumbs-down in the first round election where he received only 5.13 percent of the votes. Clearly, he doesn’t have the moral authority to make such a significant economic policy decision one month before he is scheduled to hand over power to his successor.

As far as constitutional authority is concerned, your guess is as good as mine. With much larger constitutional questions open for debate today, I wouldn’t dare comment on this but I would certainly be surprised if it allows an outgoing President to make such significant economic decisions that have long term economic impact on the state of the nation.

6. A thick cloud of secrecy

What is most important is to understand whether he plans to bypass the Majlis for undertaking this transaction. It was Waheed and his current and former allies who raised their voices against how the GMR concession was awarded without Majlis approval. In fact, this is the legal reason that Azima Shakoor cited as the basis for declaring the GMR contract void ab-initio.

Now that the Waheed government wants to go ahead with share sale in MACL, has he sought or planned to seek Majlis approval for this? He doesn’t have majority in the Majlis now since DRP and MDP have joined hands and this proposal is likely to be shot down given the lack of any ground work as well as his own unpopularity with majority of the Majlis.

Leaving aside Majlis approval, it is not even clear if the majority of the MACL board has passed a resolution authorising any such sale or shares. There are only two statements made by members of the government till now in this regard – by Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad confirming that “40 percent of the shares will be sold to Maldivian public and Maldivian companies as soon as possible” and by the President’s Office confirming the intent of this sale in the next seven days.

MACL CEO Bandhu Saleem has deflected all questions to the Minister of Finance, who has in turn deflected all the detail related questions to the Attorney General. The Attorney General has not spoken on this in public till date, let alone answered any questions in this regard.

7. An ill-timed transaction that suits vested interests

The Maldives is burning today – literally so with Monday morning’s arson attack on the pro-opposition media house Raajje TV. Protests are taking place every day and every night on the streets of Male’ calling for elections as scheduled and for restoration of the basic constitutional right to vote. Credibility of the Supreme Court and other state institutions is under the scanner and the country is almost in a state of constitutional void.

Whichever way one looks, the political environment couldn’t have been more ill-suited for carrying out one of the most significant multi-million dollar economic transaction, of a public asset, in the history of the Maldives.

However, this is also the reason why it is the most suited for a malafide transaction since the national agenda is dominated by fears for the future of democracy. This provides the perfect opportunity for undertaking the most outrageous looting of a national asset and sweeping it under the carpet. Public memory is too short to remember this for long and too preoccupied right now to notice anything else.

8. More of the same game that has been played a few times over the last one and a half years

During Waheed’s tenure over the last 1.5 years, his Transport Minister signed a 99-year lease extension for Mamigili Airport in favour of his political boss Gasim Ibrahim. On the face of it, the minister was fired but the decision was never reversed. The loss that this ad-hoc extension may have caused to the exchequer was never quantified and never spoken about in public.

Under Waheed’s tenure, KASA Holdings owned by ‘Champa’ Afeef bought 30 percent of Addu International Airport for ~US$4 million, thereby valuing Gan Airport at close to US$13 million. This was a private transaction of a public asset and was done under utmost secrecy with news of the sale  given only afterwards in a press briefing by STO’s Managing Director Shahid Ali. There was no justification, no clarification and no questions asked or answered with respect to this private sale of a public asset. It is not even known till date whether the company was even valued higher than the scrap value of its assets.

A very rushed-up transaction, no discussion or record of economic merit, bypassing the Majlis and an eerie silence about the transaction until it is completed have all been fundamental to the modus-operandi till date.

Clearly, this sale of shares in MACL is more of the same game that has been played again and again under Waheed government.

Summing up, this is about to be the biggest looting ever done in the Maldives and it is happening right now in front our very own eyes, orchestrated by a man  none of us ever elected and 95 percent have rejected less than a month ago.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: A case for more mature defamation laws in the Maldives

“Reputation, reputation, reputation! O! I have lost my reputation. I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!” said Cassio in Act II of Shakespeare’s Othello.

So did Maumoon Abdul Gayoom almost every day whenever before 2008 whenever his government wanted to stymie any criticism from anyone that he didn’t count as a supporter.

So did Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in June 2010, when the New York Times published the now (in)famous “looters” article and when Miadhu decided to reprint it.

So did Mohamed Nasheed in January 2012, when DQP’s Dr Mohamed Jameel alleged Nasheed was working under the influence of “Jews and Christian priests”.

These three moments/phases define the journey of defamation laws in our country and reflect three aspects of the maturity and adequacy of these laws. They reflect “the good, the bad and the ugly” of defamation laws in the Maldives and underlie the case for further refinements in these laws for us to have a stable, progressive and a coherent Islamic society.

Evolution of defamation laws in our country has come a long way from the times where it was a criminal offence punishable with up to six months of jail under Gayoom’s era. However, they seemed to have been too weak and toothless under Nasheed, and this in some sense led to his downfall that ushered in a volatile political environment for the last one and a half years.

The purpose of laws is to not just to punish actions that are undesirable for the peace of society but to also deter actions that can potentially harm such peace and harmony. This is especially true of defamation laws, which must create the fine balance between promoting responsible freedom of expression and providing enough deterrents against slander that can do unreasonable harm to reputation of individuals and to the cohesion of societies.

It is worthwhile to look back at how the defamation laws have evolved over time in the Maldives and reflect on whether we need to revisit these laws going forward, in order to make them more effective in serving the purpose that these laws are supposed to serve.

Before defamation was decriminalised in November 2009, defamation was one of the most abused laws in the Maldives. Section 125 was invoked by Gayoom administration every now and then to put their opponents under arrest and stymie any criticism of the government. Section 125 stated that “Where a person makes a fabricated statement or repeats a statement whose basis cannot be proven, he shall be punished with house detention for a period between one to six months or fined between Rf25 and Rf200”.

This of course reflected “the ugly” of our defamation laws and was dropped by the newly elected democratic government of Mohamed Nasheed. Such decriminalisation was hailed as a key democratic reform of the previous government and was appreciated by global rights watch bodies such as Article 19 and Freedom House as well as the United Nations itself. This was a significant movement for a society that was used to being under the shackles of the government and was enjoying its now-found ‘democratic society’ status.

Then, in June 2010, Gayoom decided to take Miadhu to court for reprinting an article published in New York Times. This article, which spoke of how money from the exchequer was inappropriately used for personal consumption under Gayoom’s regime, was based on the Nasheed government’s audit reports of Gayoom regime’s expenditure. This defamation suit was to be a watershed moment in democratic evolution of the country where a newspaper carried a story, which they believed to be credible, fearlessly. This was also a landmark moment with respect to freedom of expression and media in the Maldives; it was also the first case that Gayoom had lost in 32 years in the country! It showed Maldives to be on the right path of socio-judicial democratic reforms where some of the key tenets of globally accepted defamation regulations were shown to be working in our system.

However, this was soon followed by how ‘the bad’ of our defamation laws were exposed after ex-DQP leader and now-running-mate of Abdulla Yameen, Dr Mohammed Jameel Ahmed decided to slander against the then-President Mohamed Nasheed. In a closely knit Islamic society such as ours, an accusation of working against the nation’s religion, which is what binds us together, is a matter of supreme importance – more so, if such an accusation is made against the nation’s President.

If backed by proof, then it is a matter of strategic importance for the nation’s institutions to investigate but if it is unsubstantiated, it is slander of the most deplorable nature and must be handled with utmost urgency. In this case, it was interesting to note that while Dr Jameel made these allegations, they came from the political leader of a party whose other major leader, Dr Hassan Saeed, had declared during many election rallies in 2008 that as Gayoom’s Attorney General, he was aware that Nasheed was investigated for his association with western churches.

He had declared during these rallies that Nasheed had come totally clean after detailed investigations. Moreover, Nasheed’s government was accused of voting in favour of Israel at the United Nations, whereas Maldives’ voting in any UN resolution is public knowledge and clearly this accusation was untrue as well. However, despite these issues being common knowledge, a political leader could believe that he could make the most serious and slanderous allegations against the President of the nation and could expect to be let off the hook easily for such slander.

It’s another matter that there are a number of structural issues with respect to the judiciary in the Maldives which also played their part in how this case snowballed into significant political turmoil for the country. While I do not intend to comment on or discuss the issue of judicial reforms through this article, the core issue that I want to highlight is that even the laws must have had loopholes for which a political leader such as Dr Jameel had hoped to get away with slander. I say this because, had the laws been specific and if they had enough teeth to be deterrents by themselves, scope of judicial manipulation would have been limited in this case. For instance, while slander and libel were decriminalised in 2009, the maximum penalty for civil action against slander was set at MVR 5000 (US$325). That’s hardly a deterrent for a man who is known for his panache for Hugo Boss suits! He may as well have deposited MVR 5,000 in the President’s office in advance for every time he got a set of these ‘slanderous’ booklets printed!

This saga that set off arguably the biggest political turmoil in Maldivian history was not the end of it, as for the woes against weak defamation laws. Foreign investors like Nexbis and GMR complained of continuous undermining of their business reputation through unsubstantiated and irresponsible corruption allegations by local politicians such as Sheikh Imran and Hassan Saeed. For instance, in the case of GMR, while the likes of Sheikh Imran and various ministers in Dr Waheed’s cabinet made corruption allegations against the GMR deal, the Anti-Corruption Commission later gave a clean chit to the deal.

The impact that these experiences, with respect to the safety of investment climate and investor protection against local political interests, of these two foreign companies will have on future investment flows only remains to be seen in the times to come. What is very clear is that re-looking at defamation laws is not only important from a socio-political perspective but from an economic development and foreign investor protection perspective as well.

In essence, we have come a long way from pre-2009 days when criminal defamation was widely abused but are now at a place where anyone can make any sort of irresponsible allegations without worrying about the consequences. This is not only limited to the domain of politics but to our economy as well as everyday life. It is clear that defamation cannot go back to being a criminal offence but it is also important for us to consider if the current civil defamation laws reflect the desired balance that is important to maintain order in our society.

Clearly, the current laws are unable to make this balance and need to be strengthened – how, though, is a matter of broader socio-politico-legal debate.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: The unfortunate reality of an island airport

Milton Friedman, one of the most influential economists of 20th century, once said “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there’d be a shortage of sand”.

While it has been proved time and again that Governments have no business being in business, the issue is still widely debated and will probably linger on in eternity. However, in the Maldives, this issue of state ownership of businesses takes a totally different dimension. When Mr Friedman made this, now legendary, comment he referred to only the inefficiencies in decision making and economic management that most governments and politicians are riddled with. In the Maldivian context, one has to take into account the mala fide intent as well as narrow self-interests of people in the government as well.

An unfortunate example of how the Government of the day not only destroys value but systematically works against the interest of the people is our prized national asset – Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

Caught in the middle of political wriggling and costly lawsuits, politicisation of the airport by everyone across the political spectrum and the mullahs typifies all that is wrong with our economy, our businesses and our government.

Ever since the ousting of GMR, whatever progress that had been made at the airport is now being undone – reversal of employees benefits such as employee insurance which was given by GMR to stalling of development works at the airport are just a few examples.

I have been told of way too many stories of flight delays due to systems outages, long unmanageable queues and leaking roofs to be convinced all over again of the Government’s inefficiencies in managing enterprises.

But I do not intend to focus on Government’s inefficiency in managing our national airport in this article. I would rather highlight the systematic manner in which the current Government seems to have taken control of the airport to serves its and its cronies’ own narrow self-interests rather than let it be run in a professional manner that is best for the passengers as well as the nation.

First, Dr Waheed’s government wanted to create a new airport company (MIAL) to take over management of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport with a new MD and a new Board of Directors with the intent of setting up tight control on the airport management. When the AG advised them of legal impossibilities related to this action, he appointed the same set of cronies to the MACL board to ensure he controls the board and all important commercial decisions at the airport.

Of course, at the time of cancelling the agreement, Government did say that new and professional management will be brought to manage the airport within 3 months and there will be no political influence in managing it going forward. Whatever happened to Dr Waheed’s ideas of ‘professional management’, Dr Hassan Saeed’s idea of ‘internationally experienced  foreign CEO and CFO’ and Sheikh Imran’s ‘national consultations for deciding the future of the airport’.

On political appointees and lack of professional management, it is interesting to note that Dr. Waheed’s political appointee as the MD of MACL– Bandhu Saleem has at least started making some noises around what are all the challenges that are facing the airport – lack of funds, no master plan and hardships & sacrifices for 3-4 years in each phase of airport’s development. He said these things in an interview to a local daily and what is most painful is that whatever he said only highlights the stupidity of the decision to oust GMR.

If it was that easy for a government company to get US$350 million funding for the airport, then why would anyone anywhere across the world privatise airports in the first place?

And by that logic, even Dr Waheed would have got his US$500 million loans from China and US$350 million grant from Saudi Arabia for budgetary support by now surely? As for the master plan for development, it was to be announced within 3 months of GMR’s ouster and we haven’t heard a word from anyone on this yet. There are bigger battles for all the politicians to fight, within themselves, in two months.

It’s clear by now that all these lofty promises always sound good to the general public and Bandhu Saleem’s game plan seems to be the same for now, even though reality it is most important to first take care of the basics. I have been told by sources that in one of the first meetings that he called after moving to his office at the airport, his authority was challenged and thwarted directly by the attendees. He intended to undertake frivolous discussions on the “Vision & Mission” for the airport when all the other attendees didn’t even have permanent contracts or medical insurance covers, something that they enjoyed under GMR management.

While airport’s development by MACL is an elusive dream that may never see the light of day, the fear really is that since it is back under MACL (effectively government) control, systematic corruption will rise like never before. What is most interesting for us to note is that all of these moves to take control of the airport operations come at a time when the Presidential elections race is heating up by the day.

Campaign funding is the need of the hour and we know that most elections are won or lost on the level of funding that is available to a candidate. With his allies deserting him thick and fast, what may still keep Dr Waheed in the hunt for the election is the money that his cronies are willing to bet on him while he is still in power.

It is well known that the likes of MVK Shafeeg and Najah have their eyes set on more airport concessions. MVK Shafeeg has been funding most of the anti-GMR protests and has been providing campaign funding aggressively to Dr. Waheed’s coalition.

So, I’ll not be surprised if we see MVK shops coming up in duty free section of the airport soon. A refurbished and world class duty free offering was one of the best things that GMR had done at the airport. MACL’s previous MD Mafooz had publicly stated that duty free is one of the best profit earners for the airport. It will only be in return for securing his campaign funding that Dr. Waheed’s government will allow MVK to get duty free shops at the airport for peanuts.

After all, securing massive amount of funds may be half the battle won in the presidential race of September 2013.  Whatever happens to the airport and its development after that can be put on the backburner like it had been for each of the last 25 years – except for the two when GMR managed it!

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]