Airport deal “will allow Israeli flights to stop over after bombing Arab countries”: Umar Naseer

Deputy Leader of the Maldives’ main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Umar Naseer, has said that the government’s decision to privatise Male’ International Airport is “ridiculous.”

”Privatisation is a good policy, but there should be limitations,” Umar said. ”There are many disadvantages that Maldivians will face in the long term future if Male’ International Airport is privatised.”

He claimed that if the airport was privatised, the Maldives would not have the authority to decide which flights would be permitted to land at the airport.

”That means, if [the operators] allowed it, an Israel flight can come and stop over after bombing Arab countries,” Umar claimed.

He also claimed that “more than 1500 jobs” would be lost.

”More than half the Maldivians working in the Airport will lose their jobs if a foreign company takes over it,” Umar predicted. ”There are currently more than 3000 Maldivians working there.”

He said that if foreigners replaced Maldivians working in the airport, “income which was earned by the Maldives would go to the hands of foreigners.”

”Retail shops in the airport will also belong to foreigners,” he said. ”So money coming into the county will flow out of the country because foreigners are earning it.”

Umar suggested that the airport could charge a US$25 airport development fee for each passenger, the same amount GMR has proposed to collect.

”If that US$25 charge is implemented it will generate an extra US$25 million annually, because more than 500,000 tourists come to the Maldives each year and could be charged upon arrival and departure – which means US$50 from each person could be collected.”

He claimed the government was pushing ahead with the privatisation deal because “there are no successful businessmen in the government.”

”President Nasheed did not even know how to run a carpentry business. In 1990 his father gave him the business, and the president bankrupted it,” Umar alleged.

He said that “any economist” would consider the privatisation deal “ridiculous”.

Today the parliament is voting on whether to amend a Financial Bill stating that any state asset can only be sold or rented by an imposed law approved by parliament.

The signing of the privatisation deal with GMR-KLIA was derailed at the last minute yesterday, in front of assembled press, when representatives of the Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) reportedly disagreed over who would sign the document.

Three MACL board members have now reportedly resigned after disputing the government’s decision to privatise the airport.

Press Secretary for the President, Mohamed Zuhair, said he had not officially received confirmation.

”I also heard something like that unofficially,” he said. ”I have asked for the minutes of the last MACL board meeting.”

Minister for Civil Aviation Mahmood Razee, also Chairman of the Privatisation Committee, said he had no information regarding the matter.

”All the board members agreed to privatise the airport,” said Razee. ”If they are having disputes, that might be an issue concerning individuals.”

MACL board members Shaz Waleed, Moosa Solih, and Chairperson Ibrahim Nooradeen, declined to comment.

The vote on the Financial Bill will go before parliament today.