President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza confirmed that he stands by his controversial comments made against Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay last week.
Speaking at a rally on November 9 calling for the government to “reclaim” Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) from Indian infrastructure giant GMR, Riza described Mulay as a “traitor and enemy of the Maldives and the Maldivian people”.
The remarks have since been widely reported by Indian media, sparking a diplomatic row and forcing the President’s Office to issue a statement distancing itself from the comments.
Riza also spoke at a rally last Friday, characterising the Indian media coverage of his remarks as a “success” and urging participants to persevere “until GMR leaves this country.”
Riza told Minivan News that the comments were made in his “personal capacity” rather than his “official capacity”, adding: “The comments were my personal opinion and I still stand by them.”
Members of parliament expressed concern over the remarks made by Riza, leading to a debate on the matter last Tuesday (November 13).
During the debate, MPs of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) condemned the comments claiming they were made against diplomatic protocol and could affect bilateral relations with India.
Meanwhile, MDP MP Eva Abdulla alleged that the remarks made by Riza were not those of his own but were rather under “direct orders” from President Mohamed Waheed Hassan.
The majority of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MPs attempted to defend Riza, and tried to switch the focus to High Commissioner Mulay.
In an apparent contradiction to its comments in parliament, the PPM on November 12 issued a statement dissociating the party from the “slanderous” allegations made against Mulay.
Meanwhile, PPM MP Abdul Azeez Jamaal Aboobakr defended Riza, stating that a person’s freedom cannot be limited because of his employment, and that Riza too had his freedom of speech.
Aboobakr also highlighted that Riza had at the beginning of Friday’s speech said that he was going to make the remarks not in his official capacity as the spokesperson, but in an individual capacity.
More recently the Indian Government has expressed concern over the “continuing political instability” of the Maldives.
A statement released by the Indian Government on November 17 also showed concern about the “anti-Indian protests” being staged in the country.
President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik yesterday told Indian News Agency, Press Trust of India (PTI) that India need not be concerned with affairs in the Maldives.
Speaking about the GMR contract signed under the previous government, Waheed told PTI: “The agreement [to lease INIA to GMR] was signed by the previous government, and the circumstances leading to the stamping of the deal were questionable. Hence, this is not a problem that we have with GMR, but with a bad agreement.
“We have to pay GMR 1.5 million US dollars per month under the current arrangement of the agreement in operation, and that is beyond our capacity.”
The government’s financial liability in the airport deal – its most recent bill for the third quarter was US$2.2 million – is the result a of a civil court case filed by the now ruling-coalition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), during the Nasheed administration, which blocked GMR from levying an airport development charge (ADC) as stipulated in its concession agreement.
The Civil Court ruled in the DQP’s favour. Opting to honour the contract, the Nasheed administration instructed the company to deduct the ADC from its concession fees while it sought to appeal the matter.
The new government – which includes the DQP – inherited the problem following the downfall of Nasheed’s government on February 7. In the first quarter of 2012 the government received US$525,355 of an expected US$8.7 million, after the deduction of the ADC. That was followed by a US$1.5 million bill for the second quarter, after the ADC payable eclipsed the revenue due the government.
Combined with the third quarter payment due, the government now owes the airport developer US$3.7 million.
GMR has previously offered to compromise by exempting Maldivian nationals from paying the ADC, but claimed not to have received a response from the new government.
Meanwhile political groups in the Maldives continue to stage protests against the GMR contract. The Indian infrastructure giant hasa said it is flexible about discussing issues within the framework of the agreement with the Maldives government.
A senior official of GMR told the Hindu Business Line: “We remain flexible within the framework of concession agreement…If they want to scrap the agreement, [in that case] we are finished.
“We have already invested more than $200 million. Our banks are watching. It is impossible for us to scrap and sit back.”
Meanwhile, the Maldives government has been asked by India to ensure the safety and security of its nationals in Maldives and “Indian interests” in the country in view of the ongoing anti-India demonstrations.
The anti-GMR campaign, from which Riza’s comments stem from, has been increasing pressure on the government to annul the agreement.
Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla – a leading figure in the anti-GMR activities – gave the government a six-day ultimatum to cancel the contract.
Despite the initial date having passed without any official conclusion, Sheikh Imran, speaking at the artificial beach on Friday (November 16) night, said: “The Maldivian President has heard our plea, [He] has said that he heeds and respects it, [He] needs some time to arrange a few things.
“Hence to give [him] some time even if the previously issued ultimatum is up. The work is being done in this manner. Hence to give some space and stay put.”
In light of this information, Sheikh Imran has said that the ultimatum has now been extended to November 30, adding: “Our patience will wear out at some point, after that point we will go for direct action. After November 30, we will go for direct action. We will not stay still.”