Indian infrastructure giant GMR has said it “categorically refutes” claims made by the government to international media today that it had agreed to vacate Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).
The government yesterday dismissed an injunction on GMR’s seven day eviction notice granted by the High Court of Singapore, and vowed that the airport would be run by the state-owned Maldives Airport Company Limited (MACL) by December 7.
A Finance Ministry official said on condition of anonymity that GMR had agreed to vacate following “informal communication.”
“It’s unofficial. They are even selling off their items at a cheaper price. They have given 40-60 percent discounts. They are selling off whatever they can sell off from here including iron bars, concrete, and cement. So I think there won’t be any confrontation or any such nature. All the department heads and senior staff will start working for the Maldives Airports Company Limited MACL from December 7,” the official claimed. “Even though they maintain in public they are not going to vacate, they are going to vacate.”
President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad meanwhile told reporters that “Whatever the financial implications on their investments, we have already filed a case in Singapore court for arbitration. We will pay the compensation, what we have to pay.”
However CEO of GMR Male International Airport Limited (GMIAL), Andrew Harrison, said that while GMR had met with a delegation from the government at 11:45am this morning, “we did not agree nor state our willingness to hand over Male’ airport.”
Harrison told Minivan News that he had been advised by a Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Colonel at 11:03am that Defence Minister and Acting Transport Minister Mohamed Nazim wished to meet him personally.
“The meeting was attended by the Acting Transport Minister, the Chairman of the Maldives Civil Aviation Authority, our lawyer in the Maldives and three members of the MNDF,” Harrison said, in an emailed account of the meeting.
“The meeting was cordial and the Acting Transport Minister outlined the following: that MACL would be operating the airport from Saturday morning in line with the Government of Maldives communication to GMR-MAHB; that the Minister would like a smooth transition as the airport operations should not be affected or suffer in any way; that passengers should not be inconvenienced and therefore all activities including Duty Free would be allowed to continue as is.”
According to Harrison, Nazim informed GMR that “According to their legal advisors the injunction issued by Singapore High Court does not prevent them from taking over the airport and the injunction cannot be applied to a sovereign state.”
Nazim had furthermore proposed offering “100 percent employment in MACL to all staff currently working for GMIAL and an announcement to that effect made tomorrow by the MACL Board .The offer includes both local and foreign staff at their existing terms and conditions including salary,” Harrison stated.
“Our position, which I communicated to them, remains crystal clear. The Singapore High Court has issued an injunction which clearly prevents MACL or the Government of Maldives or any of its agents from taking any action that interferes with GMIAL operating the airport. The injunction clearly prevents them from taking the action outlined in their notice issued to us stating that the airport would be taken over at the end of the seven day period. We remain resolute in our position and there is no question of an offer being made and certainly no question of any alleged offer being accepted as we will simply not agree to our rights nor the injunction being undermined in any way.”
GMR’s lawyer had advised that the injunction was to be was to be honoured “as their representatives and the Attorney General [Azima Shukoor] were party to those proceedings and were present during the proceedings in the Singapore High Court.”
“Further to this we have issued a communication to their lawyers to confirm that their client (MACL/GoM) will not ignore the injunction and outlining the consequences as well as the disturbing media reports that they will ignore the injunction and take over the airport as planned,” Harrison stated.
Nazim had explained that “as he was not a legal person” he would arrange for a legal team to meet GMR’s representatives tomorrow, and pledged to “maintain dialogue”, Harrison said.
“We will always maintain dialogue but our legal position is very clear and we will not compromise on our legal position which is clearly supported by the injunction.”
Moreover, “any version of the meeting being described any differently to my response is categorically untrue and we maintain that we have been granted the right to continue operating the airport in line with the injunction. There is and has never been any change in our position.”
Harrison added that Nazim had also said that “no force used to take over the airport” and that “media reports that the MNDF would take over the airport are untrue.”
Claims that the company was discounting were true – “in the duty free shop”.
“We have a 40 percent sale in duty free because we are trying to minimise our stock holding,” said Harrison. “It is delighting passengers. But I can categorically state we have no intention of going anywhere.”
Indian industry groups back GMR
The 400,000-member Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) has meanwhile issued a statement today in support of GMR, warning that “the attitude of Male’ Government, despite the rulings of Singapore High Court, will shake the confidence of the investors and will jeopardise the spirit behind the cooperation of the SAARC nations.”
The industry group appealed to the government to respecting the Singapore judgement, and said it “conveys its displeasure against any unilateral termination of economic agreements, that will be determent to the growth of the nations and might even sow seeds of suspicion amongst the potential investors in all times to come.”
A second industry group, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), also issued a statement in support of GMR.
“It is extremely important for all the concerned parties to respect the sanctity of the concession agreement and abide by the provisions provided therein to resolve any dispute within the stipulated legal framework”, said the CII’s Director General, Chandrajit Banerjee.