The Supreme Court in Singapore has overturned an injunction blocking the Maldivian government from voiding its concession agreement with GMR and evicting the airport developer by midnight tomorrow.
“The Maldives government has the power to do what it wants, including expropriating the airport,” declared Chief Justice of Singapore, Sundaresh Menon.
The Maldives appealed the stay order which was granted after cabinet on November 27 declared the country’s concession agreement with the developer ‘void ab initio’, or invalid from the outset, and gave the company seven days to hand over the airport to the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL).
The government rejected the injunction, with President Mohamed Waheed’s Special Advisor telling reporters: “I believe that the Singapore court interpreted the law wrong. We cannot wait for a hearing of the appeal. What I am saying is there is no damage to GMR but we face damages by not terminating the agreement.”
GMR dug in its heels, clinging to the injunction, with the backing of the Indian government, which urged the government to take “no arbitrary and coercive measures pending the outcome of the legal process underway.”
CEO of GMR Male International Airport, Andrew Harrison, told Minivan News on Thursday afternoon that it was “too early to say” whether the withdrawal of the injunction meant company was now obliged to hand the airport over to MACL before the deadline on Friday.
“We are waiting to review the full judgement, which is currently being written up. We’ve always been advocates of following the law. We will have a staff briefing tomorrow afternoon,” he said.
MACL meanwhile released two statements claiming that it had met with airlines operating at the airport and advised them that it would be taking over the airport from midnight at December 7. Details of the meeting were not provided.
MACL’s website remains inaccessible a week after it was targeted by Indian hackers, who replaced it with the slogan: “If you don’t know how to secure a website, can you run an Airport securely, MACL?”
GMR held a press briefing for journalists in Delhi yesterday.
Asked about whether GMR had felt the involvement of another country such as China in the development of the Male’ airport, the company’s CFO Sidharth Kapur said “I can’t say that for sure. But, looking at the political situation and political framework in Maldives, I can’t rule out anything.”
GMR had received no response from any attempt to communicate with President Mohamed Waheed, he said.
President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad meanwhile told Indian newspaper The Hindu today that after reclaiming the airport, the government would again float a tender for its modernisation “and get more parties in to take the work forward.”
“The tender will be floated by the Maldives government in a transparent manner and after consulting investors. The mistakes made during the float of the tender which has been cancelled will not be repeated,” Imad told the paper.
The Waheed government has previously accused the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a World Bank entity, of being “irresponsible” and “negligent” in advising the former government of President Mohamed Nasheed in the concession of INIA
The IFC has denied the accusations, stating that its advice was geared towards achieving the “objective of upgrading the airport and ensuring compliance with applicable international regulations” and providing the Maldives government “with the maximum possible revenue”.
“A competitive tender was organised with the objective of selecting a world-class, experienced airport operator, who would rehabilitate, develop, operate and maintain the airport,” said an IFC spokesperson, in September.
Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela has separately appealed to China for financial and technical support, telling journalists from the Chinese government’s authorised web portal China.org.cn that the Maldives “needs funds for infrastructure building.”
“We are obviously in need of funds and technical assistance as we do not have the financial means, the technical know-how or the capacity to address these huge climate change issues,” said Mariyam, in an appeal for assistance with climate adaptation.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed, under whose administration the concession agreement with GMR was signed, called on the government to reconsider its decision to take over the airport and “pull back from the brink and cease its counter-productive behaviour, which is damaging the nation’s economy and bilateral relations.”
Nasheed said the Maldives was “rapidly developing a reputation among foreign investors akin to Zimbabwe, where government might is right and contract law counts for nothing.”