Former President Mohamed Nasheed on Sunday slammed a pamphlet released by the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) which claims to detail the financial loss caused to the country through leasing the international airport to Indian infrastructure giant company, GMR.
“I assure you that no loss at all would be caused to the Maldivian people through having a foreign company manage the airport,” Nasheed assured the crowds of over 1500 supporters gathered at Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s rally grounds Usfasgandu on Sunday night.
During his speech, Nasheed broke down the figures published in the book titled “Loss and Challenges of the long-term leasing of Male’ International Airport to GMR” written by current Special Advisor to the President, Dr Hassan Saeed. He further emphasised the inconsistencies that those figures held in comparison with the values he put forth with reference to external sources and the GMR contract.
“I am inclined to think that these people who have written this book must have studied their mathematics in an opium field in Afghanistan’s Kandahar. There is no other way that they could have gotten their arithmetic so completely wrong,” Nasheed said.
Nasheed said that while the book cites the MDP government’s estimation of a profit of MVR 45 billion in the next 25 years if GMR managed the airport, it went on to state that if the government took over management, they stood to receive a profit of MVR 60 billion (US$3.9 billion).
Elaborating on what the book had provided as backing for the said claim, Nasheed said “The first estimate they’ve made is that airport growth will increase by 25 percent every year. However, the IFC, World Bank, and other relevant international entities tell us that the rate of growth will be between 3.5 and 4.5 percent.”
“What is being said here is that the number of people coming to our airport far exceeds the number of tourist beds in the country. Even taking this to account, I see that they have sneaked in MVR 12 billion (US$778 million) to reach this 60 billion,” Nasheed said.
Nasheed added that the book had failed to consider the expenses that the Duty Free shops would pose, instead noting only estimated earnings.
“Usually expenses add up to 75 percent of earnings. Therefore, MVR 19.5 billion (US$1.26 billion) has been sneaked in to reach that 60 billion figure,” Nasheed stated.
“They also say that GMR is to invest MVR 4.8 billion (US$311 million) [over the lifespan of the contract] but I can without a doubt tell you that in accordance with the contract, GMR is to invest MVR 8.9 billion (US$577 million),” he further said.
Nasheed also pointed out that while the book claimed the government would finance the airport through a direct loan, they had omitted payment of any interest on the loan.
“In their accounting, they have not put down any expenses for the Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL). These expenses are at least a MVR 110 million (US$7.14 million) per year, so again MVR 2.7 billion (US$175 million) needs to be taken out from this said MVR 60 billion.”
“In conclusion, the actual figures show that if MACL manages the airport, the government will receive MVR 18 billion (US$1.16 billion) over the next 25 years. Whereas if GMR manages it, the government will receive MVR 45 billion (US$2.92 billion) – that is MVR 1.6 billion (US$103.7 million) per year,” stated Nasheed.
Nasheed further claimed that under the contract, the Passenger Service Tax (US$18 US from foreigners and US$12 from locals) which used to be paid to MACL was now paid directly to the government.
“Thus in addition to the figures I’ve just shared, an additional MVR 324 million (US$21 million) will go into the government budget,” Nasheed claimed.
“No truth in government’s claims to nationalise airport”: Nasheed
Nasheed said that statements regarding “reclaiming” the airport from GMR were “highly irresponsible”, stating that such words from a government could cause irreparable damage to the country.
“Most of us citizens will doubtless understand that putting up banners with slogans all over the streets of Male’ and raising voices against India holds no benefits at all for the country,” Nasheed said, criticising the current ‘Airport Week’ being marked by the unity government parties.
Nasheed further alleged that airport nationalisation was a topic currently being used by political actors for their own personal interests .
“They are talking about the airport, and the religion of Islam, nationalism, national heritage and patriotism for the sole purpose of pulling the wool over people’s eyes and to orchestrate the coup,” Nasheed continued. “Even today they are not really trying to take the airport back from the GMR. This talk about the Adhaalath Party and Waheed’s government nationalising the airport has no amount of truth in it,” he said.
“I remember one mutinying officer on February 7 saying that he was there because the MDP government had sold the airport his father and grandfather had built. I want to say that the airport is still there. The only difference is that it roof is no longer leaking,” Nasheed said.
Nasheed ended his speech sharing his wish that the airport was developed by a capable company and that it would in future become the best of its kind across Asia.
Minivan News tried contacting Hassan Saeed, but he was not responding to calls at time of press.
DQP Secretary General Abdulla Ameen, President of the Adhaalath Party (AP) Sheikh Imran Abdulla, and Minister of Islamic Affairs and AP Member Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed were also not responding to calls.
The Adhaalath Party has previously called on President Mohamed Waheed Hassan and other coalition parties to not conduct any communication with GMR which might disrupt the government’s push for airport nationalisation, a push it praised as “national jihad”.