The government has announced its intention to begin publicly selling shares in the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) – the current operator of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).
Although the country’s Finance Ministry today told Minivan News that no timeline had been finalised for the sale owing to “legal process”, the President’s Office confirmed the state had planned to begin offering shares to the public within the next seven days.
India-based newspaper ‘The Hindu’ has meanwhile quoted an unnamed government source as claiming the administration of President Dr Mohamed Waheed was expected to hold most of the shares in the state-owned company on the back of such a sale.
The share sale has been announced despite arbitration hearings pending in Singapore into a US$1.4 billion compensation claim filed by India-based GMR, after a 25 year agreement to develop and manage a new terminal at INIA was declared void by the current government in November 2012.
The government maintains the decision to terminate the World Bank-approved GMR tender was made over allegations of corruption, claims ultimately rejected by the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) this year.
President Waheed’s administration last November gave the foreign investors seven days to hand over the unfinished airport to the government-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL), which later sought to transfer the assets to a newly-created, state-owned entity called Male’ International Airport Limited (MIAL).
The government later abandoned its intentions towards such a transfer by June this year, on the basis that the “the termination of the contract between the government of Maldives and GMR [is] currently in the arbitration stage.”
With the transfer cancelled, Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad told Minivan News today that the cabinet had approved plans to sell shares in MACL to members of the public, although no date had yet been agreed to begin such a sale.
“There is a legal process we have to follow. We are working on the time frame,” he added.
Jihad request that all other questions over the legal implications of the share sale amidst ongoing arbitration should be directed to the office of Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukoor.
President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said he too was aware the government was looking to sell shares over the “coming week”, but said any further queries should be forwarded AG Shukoor or other members of special committee charged with overseeing the airport’s development.
AG Shukoor and Deputy AG Ahmed Usham were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.
Meanwhile, Maldives Airports Corporation Limited (MACL) CEO Ibrahim ‘Bandhu’ Saleem requested Minivan News contact the Ministry of Finance regarding all information on the MACL share sale.
In May this year, a global body representing the world’s airports, issued a notice advising its members to exercise caution before making any investments relating to INIA, over concerns of the government’s intention of transferring MACL’s assets to MIAL.
In an email obtained by Minivan News dated May 8, Airports Council International (ACI) advised: “due diligence while considering any investment in the Maldives, considering the latest developments, uncertainty of outcome of elections, the legal and financial risks of the current arbitration and the nascent legal framework.”