Maldives without budgetary provisions to cover GMR’s US$800m compensation claim

Financial authorities in the Maldives have said no budgetary provisions presently exist to cover an estimated US$800 million in compensation being sought by Indian infrastructure group GMR after the government abruptly terminated its agreement to develop Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad told Minivan News today that no mechanism was currently budgeted should the Maldives face a multi-million US dollar bill for evicting GMR, but stressed it was not for the company to decide on any eventual payment.

GMR has said that the proposed US$800 million claim was based on its “provisional estimates” and that the company had also taken into account the Maldives’ ability to cover such payments if compensation was awarded by the Singaporean courts overseeing arbitration.

However, Jihad today played down fears that any potential fine could prove perilous for the Maldives’ economy, as well as attempts to reduce its spiralling budget deficit, stating that any possible fines would be set by the Singaporean arbitration court hearing the dispute.

“We will deal with the matter when we know the amount of compensation to be paid,” he said. “GMR cannot decide, it will be down to the court [hearing the arbitration].”

Jihad also claimed that there had been no communication between GMR and the Maldives government over compensation as the matter was presently being dealt with through arbitration.

“There has been no communication [with GMR] over the levels of compensation,” he said.

Budget battle

With the compensation case pending, the Maldives government is this month attempting to reduce its spending as it also faces calls to cover debts from its neighbours and pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reduce a ballooning fiscal deficit and protect dwindling state reserves.

The Indian government last month requested that the Maldives repay US$100 million in treasury bond funds by February 2013 – a matter it claimed was not related to a diplomatic row over the airport dispute at the time. Local media has previously reported that state reserves could fall to just US$140 million (MVR2.2 billion) once the payments are settled.

It is amidst these budgetary challenges that GMR has said it was seeking up to US$800 million in compensation following the termination of its US$511 million concession agreement signed under the former government back in 2010.

“Preliminary estimate”

GMR’s chief Financial Officer (CFO) Sidharath Kapur told Minivan News today that the sum was a “preliminary estimate” based on a number of factors including investments made by the company, debt equity and loss of profits as a result of the contract termination.

Kapur added that on Tuesday (December 11) the company had communicated with Maldives Ministry of Finance by sending an official letter outlining its concerns that the contract had been “wrongfully” terminated without respect for the agreed procedures.

Speaking to the India-based Economic Times newspaper today, Government Spokesperson Masood Imad suggested GMR had been a victim of failing to perform proper due diligence before signing a contract with the former government – which was ousted following a police and military mutiny in February 2012.

A particular point of contention for GMR during the contract’s lifetime was an Airport Development Charge (ADC) – a US$25 fee for outgoing passengers stipulated in the concession agreement – which was blocked by the then-opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) in the Civil Court on the grounds that it was a tax not authorised by parliament.

Former President Nasheed’s administration chose to honour the original contract, and instructed GMR to deduct the ADC revenues from the concession fees due the government, while it sought to appeal the Civil Court ruling.

However, the Nasheed government fell in February 2012 and the opposition inherited the result of its court victory, receiving a succession of bills from the airport developer throughout 2012, despite the government’s insistence that the January 5 letter from MACL outlining the arrangement was no longer valid.

Government spokesperson Imad alleged that the ADC dispute has resulted from a lack of transparency by the former administration. “We feel the former government should have been transparent with GMR on the ADC issue,” he was quoted as telling the Economic Times today.

However, Kapur rejected the governments’ claims, stressing that its tender agreement to develop INIA had been overseen by legal and financial experts including the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a World Bank entity, as well as the certified approval from the former Attorney General Ahmed Ali Sawad.

“The IFC had clearly said that there are no further approvals required for the ADC. We were in compliance with all laws and all approvals had been taken as backed by the then attorney general of the Maldives,” he said. “Beyond that, what further due diligence could we do? Any international bidder would have taken comfort in that level of due diligence.”

With GMR’s calls for compensation currently being heard by the Singaporean judiciary, Kapur said the company believed there was a high probability it would be awarded financial remuneration to be paid by the Maldivian government.

Pointing to the verdict given by the Supreme Court in Singapore earlier this month, Kapur said that in allowing the Maldives government to expropriate the airport, the provision of compensation was required to be given to the company.

“What the appellate court has said is that appropriate compensation must be paid.  [The Maldives government] have the right to do as they wish as long as compensation is paid, this is binding on the Maldivian government,” he said.

While expecting a favourable outcome in its calls for compensation, Kapur added that the company was aware of the Maldives’ present financial vulnerabilities as well as its ability to cover any such payments.

“The possibility of getting compensation is high, but [the Maldives government’s] ability to pay is unknown,” he said.

Kapur added that in other international tribunal cases such as this, there were a number of methods that a court can use to ensure compensation is implemented. However, he said it was still too early to speculate on what form these methods may take in the case of the INIA dispute.

“Specific mechanisms”

Meanwhile, in a letter sent to the Maldives’ Ministry of Finance and Treasury, Andrew Harrison, CEO of the GMR Male International Airport Limited (GMIAL) that ran INIA under the agreement, reiterated the company’s argument that there had been “specific mechanisms” established to terminate the contract under specified circumstances.

“There is no suggestion that any of the circumstances arose,” the letter was reported to have read, according to the Economic Times.

Harrison was also said to have claimed that despite the present government’s stand that the contract was “void ab initio” or invalid from the beginning, the government “also warranted and specifically represented that the Concession Agreement was valid, legal and binding.”

“Further, as part of the closing of the financial transaction on 28 December 2010, the then Attorney General of the Maldives rendered a formal legal opinion confirming that the Concession Agreement was lawful,” the letter was said to state.

Minivan News was trying to obtain a copy of the letter at the time of press.

Smooth takeover

Management of INIA was taken over by the state-owned  Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL) on Saturday (December 8 ) after the Singaporean Supreme Court had overturned an injunction blocking the Maldivian government from voiding its concession agreement with GMR.

Both GMR and the MACL have this week praised the management handover as “going smoothly” as the government began planning for the future of INIA beyond the aborted privatisation plan. The termination of GMR’s contract officially ended the largest single foreign investment project in the country’s history.

On Tuesday (December 11), the Maldives cabinet recommended the formation of a government-owned company to run Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA)

Looking towards the future of the airport, the cabinet recommended that Male’ International Airport Ltd be formed with 100 percent government shares, while claiming full authority to operate and develop INIA through a special contract with the Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL).

Speaking to Indian media earlier this week, President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has dismissed suggestions that China urged the Maldives to push out the Indian company.

“The only significant cooperation we have with China at this time is through development assistance… like building the museum, housing projects. I don’t think India should worry about it at all,” Waheed was quoted as saying in the Hindu newspaper.

The claims were made as Maldives Defence Minister Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim departed to China for a five-day official visit said to be focused on securing its assistance in developing the Maldivian military.

The President had claimed that the Maldives was presently “not looking for a foreign investor” to develop the international airport, with the government announcing that it was undecided on whether any new privatisation agreement would be sought in future.


DRP favours court resolution to GMR dispute as coalition partners prepare to “take to the streets”

The Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) will not join its fellow government coalition partners at a gathering in Male’ to oppose an airport privatisation contract with India-based infrastructure group GMR, claiming any resolution to the dispute must be made through the courts.

DRP Spokesperson Ibrahim Shareef has told Minivan News that while the party itself questioned if the GMR deal was in the best interest of the public, “due process” had to be followed through proper legal channels in order to establish if any wrong doing had occurred with the airport contract.

“Right now we do not feel that the best option is to take to the streets on this matter. We do not know what the purpose of this [coalition] gathering is, so we will not be taking part,” he said.

Shareef added that the party’s position remained that the government was bound to the agreement should it fail to prove through due process that the contract to develop and manage Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) was invalid.

The comments were made as key financial figures within the former government maintained this week that the deal was vital to not only modernise and boost efficiency at the airport, but also to address concerns over present state expenditure through a focus on privatisation.

Under the terms of the agreement – a US$511 million deal representing the largest ever case of foreign investment in the Maldives’ history – GMR agreed to a 25 year concession agreement to develop and manage the site, as well as redevelop 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 amidst continued calls from government-aligned parties to renationalise the airport.

Both the government and GMR are presently involved in an arbitration case in Singapore over the airport development.

Coalition gathering

With the arbitration ongoing, six government-aligned parties are set to hold a gathering from 9:00pm on Thursday night at the Artificial Beach area of Male’ calling for INIA, as the country’s main airport, to be “returned to Maldivians”.

Through a movement called “Maldivians’ airport back to Maldivians”, the coalition – excluding the DRP – told local media this week that the gathering represents the first in a series of activities aimed at regaining management of the airport.

According to local newspaper Haveeru, Sheikh Imran Abdulla of the government-aligned religious Adhaalath Party (AP) said the gathering was aimed at showing the coalition would take a “united stand” on opposing the GMR deal until the airport was “liberated”.

“Our hope is on the night the true feeling of the Maldivian people would be revealed on the airport issue,” he was quoted as saying by Haveeru.

The coalition movement is also expected to detail what it has claimed are losses sustained to the local economy from the awarding of the company to the Indian infrastructure group.

Sheik Imran was not responding to calls at the time of press. However, fellow AP member and Maldives’ Islamic Affairs Minister, Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, said he had “no idea” about any such gathering being held.

Meanwhile Dr Hassan Saeed, head of fellow coalition member the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), referred a query by Minivan News about the gathering to the party’s Secretary General, Abdulla Ameen. Ameen was not returning calls at the time of press.

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Parliamentary Group Leader Abdulla Yameen meanwhile referred enquiries about the gathering to Secretary General Yumna Maumoon – daughter of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Yumna was not responding to calls at the time of press.

DRP Spokesperson Shareef claimed that even should the validity of the agreement between GMR and the former government be found to be questionable, it remained for the courts to decide on such a matter.  Shareef added that senior members of his party had been penalised for holding such views by political opponents.

“Both [DRP Leader] Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid have been accused of taking bribes on this matter and trying to obstruct efforts to take the airport,” he said.

Shareef claimed the allegations had been devised by a faction formed in the DRP by members loyal to former party head and national President Gayoom, which later branched off to form the PPM party last year.

“Gayoom’s supporters had wished to take the airport back by force,” he said. “I’m not saying the deal is fair, but first we can look to renegotiate terms and get a new agreement. Also the government has the resources to investigate the deal and make the best decision on how to move forward to benefit the Maldivian people.”

Shareef added that the party had therefore decided against “taking to the streets” with other parties in President Waheed’s coalition government.

“We are not saying that the former government were not involved in something improper with the agreement,” he claimed. “But we do not see the previous government as an MDP government, or the current government as a DRP or PPM government, it is always the government of the Maldives, so if an agreement made by the government is found to be valid, than it must be honoured under the law.”

Privatisation pursuit

Speaking yesterday on private broadcaster Raaje TV, former Economic Development Minister Mahmoud Razee said the GMR deal reflected a commitment by the former government to pursue privatisation as outlined in the MDP’s manifesto.

“Firstly, if or when anything is run like a business, private people are more skilled and efficient. They are far more competent and they work for profit unlike the government,” he claimed.  “This means it requires less cost for the government, but needs more outside investment or capital. Private people are more skilled and efficient in terms of managing. The end product thus is more beneficial.”

Addressing criticisms from some local politicians that privatisation provided no benefits to the nation, Razee conceded there was an element of truth to the assumption, but stressed it did not reflect longer-term economic benefits.

“Because the investment is huge, the project is big; the first beneficiaries are always the investors. True. The benefits go to the foreigners,” he said. “In foreign countries, they make a consortium, which means the profits are being shared within multiple parties. For example, if a Turkish company is investing here, it doesn’t mean they do everything themselves. If they are developing a property, the construction, or other necessary work is done through local companies.”

Also speaking during the programme was MDP member and former Minister of Finance and Treasury Mohamed Shihab. Shihab claimed that in cases where there was limited national budgets such as in the development of a new airport terminal, then finance should be sought from outside sources.

He added that as within the case of technology and other expertise, and pointed to local resort groups such as Universal Resorts Maldives as examples in the country’s past where foreign partnerships had benefited the country’s economy.

“Resort owners do [private partnerships] because they profit from it. Let’s conduct a survey among resorts. Definitely the salaries and service charges are higher in foreign managed companies. It is a fact that, countries where foreign investment has been made are far more developed.”

Speaking earlier this year, INIA Chief Executive Officer Andrew Harrison claimed that INIA would remain a Maldivian owned enterprise that would be continuously developed by the company for the duration of the tender.

“We are just the caretakers here,” he said.  ”The airport remains and has always been owned by Maldivians.”

Harrison contended that to ensure profitability for its investment in the airport, GMR was itself committed to strengthening the wider Maldivian economy by working with local businesses, industry and contractors.


Attorney General asks for Supreme Court to decide jurisdiction on GMR

The Attorney General Azima Shukoor has said she will ask the Supreme Court to rule on whether the laws of the Maldives can be applied to the government’s agreement with GMR concerning the development of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), local media has reported.

Shukoor, who was not responding to calls at the time of press today, said a request was sent following the release of a Supreme Court statement yesterday.

“It is against the International laws and the United Nations Charter that any action that undermines any sovereign right of a sovereign state, it is clear that courts of a sovereign nation has the jurisdiction to look into any matter that takes place within the boundaries of that state as according to the constitution and laws of that state,” read the statement.

“Even though a contract has an arbitration clause giving right to arbitrate in a foreign court does not limit a local courts jurisdiction to look into the formed contract, and it is clear that such limitations are in violation of UN Charters principles of sovereign equality, principle of sovereign non intervention within domestic jurisdiction, principle of self determination rights,” read the statement.

Shukoor told Haveeru that if the case could be dealt with by the Maldivian courts, the process would become much easier.

However, she also expressed her confidence that government would be successful in the arbitration case regarding the Airport Development Charge, which was file by GMR in Singapore.

“We can win the case at the Singapore Arbitration even by biding our time. It is quite certain,” she told Haveeru.

The original agreement, argued Azima, was drafted under UK law although both sides agreed to settle any disputes through third party arbitration.


Third party arbitration is often used in order to gain impartial decisions from international experts whilst avoiding the uncertainties and potential limitations of local courts.

One of the world’s leading arbitration companies, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) gives a number of examples of why Singapore is frequently chosen for international arbitration.

Number one in its list is the country’s strong reputation for neutrality, currently placed fifth in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, behind New Zealand, Denmark, Finland and Sweden

The Maldives is currently placed 134th in this list alongside Eritrea, Pakistan, and Sierra Leone.

The Maldives judicial system has also faced issues regarding its political independence since the adoption of the 2008 constitution.

A recent report by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said that “different sections of the judiciary have failed to become fully independent and still lack adequate expertise.”

“According to testimonies from members of the judiciary met by the FIDH team in Male’, under the successive administrations, no political party has actually ever shown any willingness to establish an independent judiciary since each seems to benefit from the existing system,” said the report.

“Moreover, the judiciary is allegedly under the influence of the business sector. For instance, the member of the JSC appointed by the Majlis is also one of the main business tycoon of the country. His presence in the body overseeing the conduct of judges, as well as the general pressure imposed upon the business sector on the judiciary, has therefore been subjected to controversy,” it concluded.

Both civil society groups as well as the current government have acknowledged the need for stronger independent institutions in the country.

President of the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) Hassan Luthfee told local media yesterday that one of its three cases regarding the GMR deal was nearing completion.

Luthfee, who has recently questioned the ability of the ACC to fulfil its mandate, told Minivan News last week that a high profile case such as this was not easy for the institution to finish which was likely to result in delays.

“Even an international organization such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC) had provided expertise in this case. So when such an allegation of a major criminal offence has been made we must probe the matter quite extensively. This is by far the most high profile and sensitive case. So we must be certain,” he told Haveeru yesterday.

The IFC was forced to defend itself this week after being described by senior cabinet figures as “irresponsible and negligent” during the INIA bidding process.

Shukoor had said last week that as long as the agreement between GMR and the government is not invalidated, the agreement would be “legally binding” despite a “majority of the people” who wish to “terminate the agreement immediately”.

She also expressed the government’s concern about the effect on investor confidence that may result if the agreement was terminated.

Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed today told local media that, despite indicating its willingness to do so, the Majlis had not at present become a party to the 1958 New York Arbitration Convention which deals with the recognition and enforcement of arbitration awards.

Nasheed argued that the Maldivian constitution requires citizens to act in accordance with international conventions which have been backed by domestic legislation.

He added, however, that the Maldives’ Arbitration Act was still in the committee stage.

Nasheed was not responding to calls at the time of press.


Cabinet accedes to New York Convention

It was decided yesterday in the Cabinet meeting that the Maldives should accede to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, also known as the New York Convention.

The New York Convention was adopted by the UN in 1958 which deals with international arbitration; a means of alternative dispute resolution in the areas of international trade and commercial transactions.

According to the Constitution, the Cabinet must send the matter to Parliament. The treaty will only come into force if and when it is approved by the People’s Majlis.

Cabinet members noted that the Convention would provide legislative standards for the recognition of arbitration agreements.

It was also suggested that accession to the Convention would create an “investor-friendly environment” in the Maldives.