Former Transport Minister Dr Ahmed Shamheed has said criticism leveled at the government by Adhaalath Party (AP) President Sheikh Imran Abdulla over a lack of development at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) was justified considering the “bad shape” of the site.
Dr Shamheed, who served under the current government before being dismissed in November 2012, has warned that failure to outline a development plan for INIA after the government evicted the foreign investor renovating the site could be disastrous for the country.
Late last year President Waheed’s government declared void an agreement with Indian infrastructure group GMR to upgrade and develop the airport, and gave them seven days to leave the country. The deal was the Maldives’ largest single foreign investment project, valued at US$511 million.
The Adhaalath Party was a key opponent of foreign development of the airport, demanding it be reclaimed on nationalistic grounds.
However speaking to private broadcaster DhiTV yesterday (January 28) the party’s President Sheikh Imran Abdulla claimed that there had been a worrying lack of progress in developing the site after it had been handed to the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL).
Sheikh Imran, an outspoken supporter of attempts to “reclaim” the management of INIA from GMR, raised concerns that the airport was returning to the “bad condition” it was previously in, criticising MACL for lacking a vision to manage and develop the site,” according to Sun Online.
“Maldivian people had great hopes when the airport was reclaimed from GMR. It was been two months since and still, there is no vision for the airport. There is no proper plan for how it will be managed,” he was quoted as saying.
Former Transport Minister Shamheed told Minivan News today that he believed Sheikh Imran’s criticisms were fair, adding that if the government did have a plan for development, they had not demonstrated it so far.
“I haven’t heard what the government is planning. They seem to be managing the airport as if everything is perfect. Yet they may have to close down the site in future without further development. If [the government] has a plan they haven’t revealed it yet. All they have talked about is setting up a company to manage the site.”
According to Dr Shamheed, following the decision to terminate the GMR contract last year the government has been facing two key challenges with regard to the airport.
The first of these challenges is securing sufficient financing for completing renovation of the existing terminal and runway. The second key issue, Dr Shamheed said, obtaining expertise and skilled developers to bring the airport in line with international standards as expected of a destination like the Maldives.
“To get the airport to the right level, they will need to bring in outside help,” he claimed. “The airport is in very bad shape right now and work is needed on the runway, all of which cannot be done without finance.”
Minivan News was awaiting a response from MACL at the time of press. Meanwhile, both current Minister of State for Transport and Communications Mohamed Ibrahim and President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad were not responding to calls.
Despite the criticisms, President Dr Mohamed Waheed today asserted that “shockingly big investments” would be coming to the Maldives in unspecified areas.
Speaking at the opening of the MACI BuildExpo 2012/2013 show at the Dharubaaruge convention hall in Male’, President Waheed claimed that despite the decision to void a sovereign agreement with GMR – a decision backed by Singapore’s Supreme Court – investor trust in the Maldives had not been diminished.
Just last month, Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adheeb stated that the government was not planning to hand over full control of operations at INIA, but might sublease specific development projects to international parties through a “transparent” bidding process.
Adheeb told Minivan News that privatising the only international airport allowed it to become a monopoly which was not in the best interests of the country.
The Maldives cabinet also last month recommended forming a government-owned company to operate INIA through a special contract with the Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL).