The Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has accused President Dr Mohamed Waheed of ignoring the advice of his coalition government by abruptly terminating the US$511 million airport development contract with Indian infrastructure group GMR last year.
PPM MP Ahmed Nihan said that while the PPM believed terminating the GMR contract had been the right decision, President Waheed had nonetheless personally taken an executive decision to cancel the agreement without listening to the party’s advice in seeking a compromise with the company and the Indian government.
However, the PPM’s coalition partners today accused the party of making “contradictory statements” regarding the decision to terminate GMR’s concession agreement, accusing its senior leadership of trying to terminate the deal at the time without discussion or following due process.
The allegations against President Waheed surfaced following the visit to India last week by former President and PPM founder, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who pledged his party would seek to restore relations with India damaged by the government’s summary eviction of the GMR.
While Gayoom ultimately blamed former President Mohamed Nasheed for not obtaining parliamentary approval and “consulting all political parties” before signing the deal with the GMR-Malaysian Airports consortium in 2010, he was also critical of the present administration’s handling of the termination.
“Had Nasheed consulted all political parties, the public would not have formed the impression that corruption had taken place. Then we told the next President Mr Waheed that he should hold discussions with the GMR Group and the Indian government to arrive at an acceptable solution, after which the government was free to act on its own,” he said. “Unfortunately, this was not done and suddenly there was this unhappy ending,” Gayoom was reported as saying in the Hindu.
MP Nihan said following a press conference held by the PPM in Male’ today that the party continued to believe the decision to terminate GMR’s concession agreement was in the best interest of the country.
However, amidst concerns about the subsequent negative impacts on bilateral relations from cancelling the deal, he stressed that the president could have handled the matter “better” in order to protect the relationship between the Maldives and India.
“We believe that the room was there to correct any negative relations with India,” Nihan claimed.
“This could have been much easier and perhaps a new approach could have been found to cancel the GMR contract,” he added.
Nihan said that as well as the GMR contract, President Waheed had on a number of occasions sought to take advantage of his position by making executive decisions against the wishes of his government coalition, all while trying to shift blame away from himself.
“We have seen [President Waheed] try to spin all good developments as being the result of his work, while anything that has gone wrong [in the government] is the PPM’s fault,” he said.
Following a PPM press conference today, Nihan added that the media has been shown two different letters sent from the party’s council to the government prior to the termination of the agreement last November that called to find a solution through dialogue.
Nihan also reiterated Gayoom’s comments that the manner in which the contract was not a “happy ending” in terms of its impact on bilateral relations with India.
“We are of the view that the agreement was only to be cancelled through due process of the law,” he said.
Nihan claimed that the contract dispute had also further exacerbated concerns held by the Indian government about treatment of Indian nationals in the country. He said this had in turn created difficulties for Maldivians in obtaining visas to travel to India for medical treatment.
Considering former President Gayoom’s 30 years spent in office, Nihan praised his efforts to try and strengthen bilateral relations with India.
The government’s sudden eviction of the Indian investor did not appear on a list of 11 grievances handed to all senior Maldivian reporters by the Indian High Commission in January. The list instead included concerns such as discrimination against Indian expatriates and the confiscation of passports by Maldivian employers.
The argument over responsibility for the GMR contract termination has comes amidst reports of increased tension within the present coalition government, with PPM presidential candidate Abdullah Yameen last month criticising President Waheed over his alleged use of state funds for campaigning.
The PPM has nonetheless pledged to continue supporting President Waheed’s government up until September’s election, despite concerns about the decision to dismiss former Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed after he decided to stand as MP Yameen’s running mate.
The PPM’s recent criticism of President Waheed’s handling of the GMR dispute was today slammed as being “contradictory” by government coalition partner the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).
The party added that its members had previously come under heavy criticism from the PPM for advocating at the time that any termination of the GMR airport deal should be made via the due process of the law.
DRP Parliamentary Group Leader Dr Abdulla Mausoom told Minivan News that it was in fact senior figures in the PPM that were among the most vocal supporters for terminating the GMR agreement.
“It is ironic that we are hearing these statements from the PPM, whose leader has been witnessed supporting rallies demanding the cancellation of the [GMR] agreement,” he said.
Dr Mausoom alleged that he had also been informed from “a reliable political source” present during government consultations last year over whether to terminate the GMR agreement that it had been PPM presidential candidate Yameen who personally advocated cancelling the deal without a need for discussion.
“Either there is no harmony within the [PPM], or this is all political talk to try and gain an advantage. Either was it is very irresponsible,” he said of the PPM’s recent comments about terminating the GMR concession agreement.
Mausoom alleged that contrary to the PPM’s claims, it had been the DRP which had advocated finding a legal means of terminating the GMR agreement at at time when fellow government-aligned parties had taken to the streets holding rallies demanding the airport be “reclaimed”.
Despite appeals by GMR that it was acting as a caretaker for running and improving Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), which would remain Maldivian-owned, efforts to cancel the concession agreement – which was vetted by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) – intensified up to November.
On November 13, just ahead of the contract termination, a seaborne armada of about 15 dhonis carrying flags and banners circled the airport seeking to increase pressure on the government to “reclaim” the site from GMR.