Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukoor has claimed that a loan guarantee provided by the former government to infrastructure group GMR would have allowed the company to obtain finance without limitation.
According to local media, the attorney general has alleged that such a loan agreement would have contravened the country’s financial regulations unless approved by parliament at the time.
However, her claims have been dismissed by former Attorney General Ahmed Ali Sawad, who claimed that the agreement was conducted within state laws. Sawad helped oversee the agreement between GMR and former President Mohamed Nasheed’s government back in 2010.
GMR’s concession agreement was terminated by the Maldives government late last month after it decided – citing legal advice – that the sovereign contract was invalid from the outset.
Speaking to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee yesterday (December 19), Shukoor revealed that the Maldivian state had agreed under the cancelled contract to act as a guarantor for all loans obtained by GMR under its agreement to develop Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).
According to the attorney general, this provision had been approved despite not being part of any senior finance agreement.
Shukoor added that under the primary agreement between the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) and GMR, should MACL fail to make any repayments, the Maldivian state would have to cover any resulting costs.
“[The state] is not part of the senior agreement, thus to act as guarantor for loans obtained by another group – whether this was done with approval or not – would be to give a ‘blanket’ guarantee. I don’t think this can be permitted. I don’t believe that even the Public Accounts Committee would do that,” local media reported Shukoor as saying.
The agreement, which states that the Maldivian government is responsible for all loans obtained by GMR, was made with the approval of former Attorney General Sawad, Shukoor said.
According to Shukoor, Sawad had permitted the agreement in writing, concluding at the time that the deal would not result in any legal problems.
She also claimed that approving the agreement without parliament’s approval was in violation of the Finance Act.
“Financial guarantees given by the state should have limits. We are signing an agreement allowing future groups to obtain as much money as they want under our guarantee – I don’t believe that this is a valid legal concept,” Shukoor was reported to have said.
Responding to Shukoor’s comments, Sawad today told Minivan News that he “did not believe” there had been a violation of any law whilst he held the position of attorney general.
“I deny her claims, although I’m not actually sure what her claim is. I don’t think she knows what her claim is,” he said.
“She [Shukoor] needs to figure out if it was a guarantee or not a guarantee, because in the meeting she said that it ‘was a guarantee’ and then said that it was like a guarantee’. Regardless of whether or not it was a guarantee, the whole thing is irrelevant as she has stated the GMR contract is void ab initio (invalid from the outset),” Sawad claimed.
GMR’s tender agreement to develop INIA was overseen at the time by legal and financial experts including the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – a World Bank entity. The deal also obtained the certified approval of former Attorney General Sawad.
Attorney General Shukoor was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.
Speaking to the committee yesterday, local media reported Shukoor as stating that Singapore’s Axis bank had permitted GMR to obtain loans worth $386 million, of which GMR had taken $165 million. Shukoor highlighted that should GMR fail to repay this loan, then the government would have been required to meet any resulting costs.
She stated that if the government found itself unable to pay back these loans, the image of the state will be damaged, leading to potential implications for securing future finance.
“When we think about taking legal action in relation to this matter, we see that the head state prosecutor has advised that signing that agreement should not cause any legal problems. So it becomes something the state has to honour,” she added.
Despite the former Attorney General approving the agreement, Shukoor stated that government has a strong legal argument over the loan issue, whereby under the Public Finance Act, the government cannot act as a guarantor without the parliament’s approval, which was allegedly not obtained.
“The State is acting as the guarantor to the loans taken based on the transactions between GMR and Axis Bank. I believe that is not something permitted under the Finance Act. It is like a blanket sovereign guarantee. We may not be able to classify it as a sovereign guarantee. But we are seeing an assurance given by the State,” Shukoor was quoted as saying by local newspaper Haveeru.
GMR bid qualification
Meanwhile, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of GMR Airports Sidharath Kapur today rejected comments made by President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad in Indian media alleging that the company did not originally qualify as a bidder to develop INIA in a technical evaluation process.
Masood was quoted in the Business Today publication as claiming that the technical evaluation committee during the bidding process acted under pressure from former President Mohamed Nasheed, who then qualified the GMR Group for the project.
In response, Kapur said that the company had won the project in an “open and transparent” bidding process, stating that GMR had qualified in the technical, financial and legal evaluations.
Kapur noted that the bidding process was supervised by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and that the IFC had successfully handled such public-private partnerships in the airport sector in many countries.
“While other bidders opted for the ‘earn and pay’ route, the GMR consortium adopted a ‘pay and earn’ strategy, and hence paid $78 million up front to the Government of Maldives,” he added.
Kapur also attacked the present government’s handling of the GMR issue, alleging that the resulting arbitration case to decide on compensation owed to the company from the contract cancellation could have serious financial ramifications for the nation.
“Compensation believed owed to GMR due to the illegitimate cancellation of the contract by the government of Maldives may put a significant and avoidable financial burden on the people of Maldives,” he stressed to Business Today.