A 24-page book released by Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP) presents the government’s lease of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) to developer GMR as a threat to local industry that will “enslave the nation and its economy”.
In the book, titled “Handing the airport to GMR: The beginning of slavery”, the DQP claim that the government has not only leased INIA operations to GMR, but has allowed the company to open other businesses in the Maldives.
GMR Male’ Retail was recently registered at the Economic Ministry. It is the second GMR business registered in the Maldives.
Citing information available in the public domain, DQP alleges that all Hulhule island lagoon resources will become the property of GMR, including the Hulhule Island Hotel (HIH), in-flight catering services and the Maldivian Air Taxi service.
Because salaries paid to Maldivian employees are a burden, the book claims, GMR will bring in Indian employees and house them in Hulhumale, “creating a visa-free zone for Indians to come and go”, reads Haveeru’s translation.
DQP further alleges that the airport development budget covers the expense of building hotels, offices and apartments on Hulhule but claims that there is no official requirement for GMR to develop a runway – apparently a key benchmark of local benefits.
Meanwhile, GMR today held a ground-breaking ceremony at INIA today to celebrate the start of work on a new terminal.
When asked about the groundbreaking, DQP member Dr Mohamed Jameel commented that “any development is good as long as it benefits the people of the Maldives. But the main benefit would be a new runway, and we don’t see that GMR is contractually obligated to construct one. Our question is, who will do the runway?”
London Heathrow has two runways, and is the busiest airport in the world with over 65 million passengers annually. The new terminal in the Maldives will take the airport up to a capacity of five million.
Jameel said completed development projects are not contributing to national development.
Other claims in the book include that all foreign currency earned at the airport is being deposited abroad by GMR, leading to the current dollar shortage.
Jameel called the book “a responsible work in the sense that it highlights issues relating to overall economy. This issue is very close to the hearts of the Maldivian people since the work at the airport was originally done by the Maldivian people. And we don’t agree that the people have the best deal.”
Minivan News asked whether use of the word ‘slavery’ in the book’s title had a purpose.
“In modern times people don’t colonise by taking over other countries, they colonise through economic and business ventures. A small country like the Maldives is very vulnerable to its economic needs. We have a history of neighboring countries manipulating the Maldives through economy, and it has been difficult to break those ties,” said Jameel.
President’s Office Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said he felt the title’s wording was “very strong”, and drew a faulty comparison between international cooperation for mutual benefit and foreign occupation of a people and market for selfish purposes.
“The purpose of all this is to make Maldivians mistakenly feel like they are under occupation and the country is being sold out,” said Zuhair, who pointed out that the government “wouldn’t have gone out for an international bid [on the airport project] if there was a way to borrow money and do it internally.”
He explained that the airport now yields “a bulk” of the national revenue, in dollars: “If foreign visitors increase, income increases. It’s simple math.”
He added that the negative publicity could have a negative impact on relations with “a very friendly neighbor, India.”
Ultimately, Zuhair doubted that DQP’s book would deliver the desired outcome.
“Attempts to ferment nationalist sentiment against a profitable corporation are bound to fail because people are more aware of the issues. The income the government makes from the airport is already double what the previous government made.”
An informed source close to the former regime told Minivan News that the former government’s plans for airport development were not Male’ based, but instead re-routed growth and profits to Maamigili. The source suggested that individuals close to former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom were then in a position to “benefit significantly” from the plan.
“The opposition does not like that the current government is keeping the business in Male’,” said the source.
DQP plans to distribute 20,000 copies of the book.