The government has terminated an agreement with Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Air to develop and manage the regional airport on Gaaf Dhaal Kaadehdhoo.
Director of Regional Airports Sami Aqeel told newspaper Haveeru that the agreement was terminated today because Villa breached its terms. Further details would be revealed to the press in a statement, he added.
Local media also reported today that the government has decided to reclaim the island of Baresdhoo in Laamu atoll from Villa. The uninhabited island had been leased to Gasim’s company for agriculture.
An official from the fisheries ministry told the local daily that the lease period had expired last month. He explained that the ministry has decided not to renew the lease because Villa had not done any farming on the island.
The ministry has decided to hand over the island to the tourism ministry to be leased for resort development, the official revealed.
The moves by the government comes on the heels of the business tycoon’s stringent criticism of the government’s flagship special economic zone (SEZ) legislation at yesterday’s sitting of parliament.
After boycotting the committee reviewing the legislation, Gasim warned that an SEZ law would facilitate massive corruption, threaten independence, and authorise a board formed by the president “to sell off the entire country in the name of economic zones.”
Gasim’s Villa Group is one of the largest companies in the Maldives with the holding company Villa Shipping and Trading Pvt Ltd conglomerate operating businesses in shipping, import and export, retail, tourism, fishing, media, communications, transport and education.
The agreement with Villa Air to operate the airport for a period of 50 years was signed during the final days of former President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s administration.
Former Transport Minister Dr Ahmed Shamheed – filling a JP slot in cabinet at the time – was sacked in November 2012 after extending the lease of the privately-owned airport in Maamigili for 99 years.
In March 2013, Dr Shamheed told Minivan News that President Waheed wanted “credit” for extending the Maamigili airport lease.
Despite the dismissal, the decision was not reversed and Shamheed was replaced by JP Deputy Leader Ameen Ibrahim, who signed the Kaadehdhoo agreement on behalf of the government on November 6.
Following his third-place finish with 23.37 percent of the vote in the November 2013 presidential election, Gasim initially announced that the JP would remain neutral.
After the contesting the parliamentary polls in March jointly through the Progressive Coalition, the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) severed its coalition agreement with the JP after Gasim stood for post of Majlis speaker despite the PPM fielding its senior MP Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed.
In the wake of the coalition’s breakup, President Abdulla Yameen sacked Transport Minister Ameen and other JP political appointees, whilst cabinet ministers on slots assigned for the JP – Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim and Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed – joined the PPM.
Home Minister Umar Naseer – appointed as part of the coalition agreement with the JP – is meanwhile facing criminal prosecution on charges of disobedience to order.
Following the loss of two JP MPs last month, Gasim claimed at a press conference that the MPs had told him that the government had threatened to cease development of islands in their constituencies.
Gasim said he had heard that the pair were offered MVR10 million (US$648,508) each for the transfer. The PPM has denied offering any incentives to the MPs.
Gasim also claimed to have provided MVR20 million (US$1.2 million) as financial assistance to the PPM’s parliamentary campaign.
In July, the JP meanwhile announced its intention to sue two MPs who switched to the ruling PPM.