Jumhoree Party (JP) Deputy Leader Abdulla Jabir has criticised attempts to “politicise” the dispute between the government and India-based GMR over an agreement to develop Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) – fearing a negative impact on foreign investment.
The claims were made as the government-aligned Adhaalath Party (AP), which promotes religiously conservative values in the country, has continued to call on fellow coalition partners including the JP to take part in a series of “events” in the capital to protest against GMR’s development of the airport.
Speaking to Minivan News, Jabir, who is also a serving MP, highlighted the importance of maintaining an “investor friendly” atmosphere in the Maldives despite calls by some of the JP’s government coalition partners to re-nationalise the airport.
The MP said he instead advocated for sitting down and trying to find a compromise between the government and GMR, which is contracted to develop and run the airport for 25 years.
The dispute has centred, in part, over concerns like a disputed US$25 Airport Development Charge (ADC) that was to be levied on each passenger travelling through the site. GMR has maintained the the charge was contractually agreed, but later offered to exclude Maldivian nationals from paying it after the matter was contested in the country’s courts.
With the dispute unresolved, Jabir said he had sent a request to the Public Accounts Committee of the People’s Majlis for a review of the contract signed between GMR and the government of former President Mohamed Nasheed to “better understand” the agreement.
Several former opposition parties now serving in the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan have continued to raise allegations of possible corruption behind GMR’s bid to develop INIA – allegations refuted by the company and the former government.
Jabir maintained that discussion and analysis, rather than politicised rhetoric in the media and at public events, would be required to move forward with the issue in a manner that did not damage future investment opportunities.
“We need an investor friendly environment here. Politicians should be here to resolve issues not complicate them further,” he said. “Any allegations of misconduct should be investigated, but we should be able to sit down and discuss a resolution. Yet many people do not know about or even understand the deal that has been signed.”
Jabir claimed that the GMR contract should therefore be viewed as a business issue rather than a political problem, something that he claimed would require greater parliamentary understanding of the agreement signed by the former government.
Under the terms of the agreement – a US$511 million deal that represents the largest ever case of foreign investment in the Maldives – GMR agreed to a 25 year concession agreement to develop and manage the site, as well as to overhaul the existing terminal by the end of this year.
The document was overseen by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank group and the largest global institution focused on private sector projects in developing countries.
However, the Maldives government earlier this month accused the IFC of negligence during the bidding process for INIA – allegations there were rejected by the organisation.
Both the government and GMR are presently involved in an arbitration case in Singapore over the airport development.
The coalition parties making up the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan have at times appeared divided over how to proceed in regards to GMR the contract. Some parties like the Adhaalath Party have advocated to gather in Male’ as part of a rally next month calling for the airport to be “returned” to the Maldivian people.
Speaking to local media earlier this month, Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla said that a ‘mass national gathering’ would be held at Male’s artificial beach area on November 3 at 4:00pm to coincide with Victory Day. Victory Day is held in remembrance of a failed coup attempt that was thwarted in 1988.
Sheikh Imran told the Sun Online news service that the gathering was devised as part of ongoing attempts to try and “reclaim” the airport from GMR. Imran was not responding to calls from Minivans News at the time of press.
Minivan News was also awaiting a response from Abdulla Ameen, Secretary General of the government-aligned Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) at the time of press concerning its response to the proposed gathering. The DQP had previously published a 24-page book claiming that the former government’s lease of INIA to GMR was a threat to local industry that would serve to “enslave the nation and its economy”.
Meanwhile, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) claimed last month that while it held issues with the overall benefit to the Maldives from the GMR deal, “due process” had to be followed through proper legal channels in order to establish if any wrong doing had occurred with the airport contract.
JP Deputy Leader Jabir himself this week criticised certain high-profile political figures in the country over their response to the GMR contract. He accused some of these figures of not “knowing what they are talking about” in regards to the deal, highlighting the need for a review of the agreement within the Public Accounts Committee.
Jabir was particularly critical of the Adhaalath Party’s response towards the GMR issue, which he claimed had complicated finding a resolution.
“Sometimes they are religious experts, sometimes they are financial experts. But everyone loves Islam here. Right now, foreign investors are finding it difficult to understand the climate here. This is not a perfect time for this issue to be happening with GMR,” he said. “I think these protests [against GMR] are unrealistic.”
Jabir claimed that from his experience as both a parliamentarian and business owner in the country, there was “no such thing” as a deal that cannot be renegotiated.
“However, if there is no talking then the country is only losing money whilst people take to the streets,” he added.
Earlier this month, INIA CEO Andrew Harrison told Indian media that the company had received no official word from the Maldivian government concerning a resolution to the dispute.
Yet despite MP Jabir’s concerns about the potential impacts the ongoing dispute over the airport development might have on future foreign investment, one national trade body recently played down fears that GMR’s case was proving to be economically detrimental to the Maldives.
The Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industries (MNCCI) claimed last month that legal wrangling between the government and GMR over the multi-million dollar airport development was not adversely harming confidence in the country’s “challenging” investment climate.
MNCCI Vice President Ishmael Asif contended that ongoing legal disputes linked to both the GMR agreement and another high-profile contract to manage a border control system with Malaysia-based Nexbis were not among concerns foreign investors had raised with the chamber.
“GMR has nothing to do with the investment climate here, at the end of the day it is a personal concern for the company and more a matter of local politics,” he claimed.