An ongoing dispute between Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) developer GMR and the incumbent Maldivian government concerning a US$25 Airport Development Charge (ADC) has been referred to a court of arbitration in Singapore.
The government-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) faces a US$1.5 million shortfall in concession fees owed to the airport developer for the second quarter of 2012; the legacy of an opposition-sponsored Civil Court case in late 2011 that scuttled the airport’s ability to charge the ADC as stipulated in its concession agreement.
GMR signed a 25 year concession agreement with former President Mohamed Nasheed’s government to upgrade and manage Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA). Under the concession agreement, a US$25 Airport Development Charge (ADC) was to be levied on all outgoing passengers to part-fund the US$400 million development – the country’s single largest private investment.
However, while in opposition, the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), led by Dr Hassan Saeed, now President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s special advisor, and Dr Mohamed Jameel, now Home Minister, filed a successful case in the Civil Court in December 2011 blocking payment of the ADC on the grounds that it was effectively a tax not approved by parliament.
Nasheed’s government as a stopgap measure agreed to deduct the ADC from the concession fees payable by GMR, while it sought to appeal to verdict.
As a result, Dr Waheed’s government received only US$525,355 from the airport for the first quarter of 2012, compared to the US$8.7 million it was expecting, at time the country is facing a crippling budget deficit, a foreign currency shortage, plummeting investor confidence, spiraling expenditure, and a drop off in foreign aid.
According to financial statements sent to MACL and released to local media, in the second quarter of 2012, GMR deducted the ADC revenue of US$7.1 million from total revenues of US$5.6 million, leaving the government with a bill for US$1.5 million.
Managing Director of MACL Mohamed Ibrahim told local newspaper Haveeru that the government would not pay the amount, alleging that GMR’s deduction of the ADC from the revenue was illegal.
In its defence, MACL has said that its board of directors had been reformed with the arrival of the new government, and a decision made to annul the old board’s agreement to deduct the ADC revenue.
The government meanwhile sought to invalidate the GMR contract – and the clause invoking arbitration – by challenging the handling of the bidding process by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank group and the largest global institution focused on private development sector in developing countries.
“The advisory work was supported by AusAid (Australia), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, and DevCo. DevCo is a multi-donor program affiliated with the Private Infrastructure Development Group and funded by the UK’s Department for International Development, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, the Swedish International Development Agency, and the Austrian Development Agency,” the IFC explained, following a visit by the delegation in June to address the government’s concerns.
Following the first quarter deduction, GMR announced an employee benefits scheme converting 50 percent of employee salaries to US dollars from July onwards, and a one-percent profit-share.
Around the same time, the company sought to compromise with government by offering to exempt Maldivian citizens from paying the ADC. However, the Transport Ministry continued to demand that the infrastructure giant repay the US$8.2 million deducted.
Several pro-government parties – including the Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP), Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), People’s Alliance (PA) and Jumhoree Party (JP) – meanwhile advised President Waheed that they continued to endorse an agreement signed in June 2010 calling for the airport to be taken back from GMR and nationalised.
The relationship between the airport developer and the government soured further last week after the government temporarily called for a halt to work on the new airport terminal, alleging it had “violated rules and regulations” by not acquiring certain permissions from the Civil Aviation Authority.
“When the government decides that a project be stopped, we will make sure this happens,” President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza previously told Minivan News. “GMR have not discussed the construction with relevant authorities.”
Following the second quarter deduction, the airport developer declined to comment, as the matter “has been referred for arbitration by the parties.”
“GMR Male’ International Airport Pvt Ltd has made the said adjustment as per the concession agreement,” a spokesperson said.
The concession agreement includes an option for the government to buy out the contract from the developer, however the cost is likely to reach upwards of several hundred million dollars.
President’s Office Spokespersons Abbas Adil Riza and Masood Imad had not responded at time of press.