GMR is only owed reimbursement, not compensation, says AG

Indian infrastructure giant GMR is only owed reimbursement for expenses, not compensation for the abrupt termination of the concession agreement to develop Malé International Airport (INIA), Attorney General Mohamed Anil has said.

Clarifying President Abdulla Yameen’s previous statement that GMR is owed a payment, Anil said the government believes the company is only owed reimbursement for a US$ 78 million upfront concession fee and any other expenses.

“When the agreement was first signed, US$78 million was given to the Maldivian government. In addition to that, we can see that they have spent some amount. So in the worst case scenario, if we are to revert to the state before the agreement was signed, everyone believes that they are owed [what they spent]. That is not as compensation for losses caused by the cancellation of the agreement,” he said.

GMR has said it will stick to a US$ 1.4 billion compensation claim – an amount that exceeds the annual state budget.

“The forceful takeover of the airport by Maldives government amounts to repudiation of a valid contract and therefore damages, including loss of future profit has to paid,” the company said in a statement on April 26.

Anil said GMR’s claim is unclear, as the company had not submitted documents detailing the assertion.

In response, GMR’s legal team member Uz. Fayyaz Ismail told Minivan News details of how GMR arrived at the figure will only be revealed in the second part of the arbitration process.

The arbitration tribunal in August 2013 had acceded to GMR’s request to split the proceedings in two – firstly determining liability, before quantifying the amount of compensation to be paid separately.

“GMR is claiming it to be a wrongful termination, and if the tribunal awards a verdict for that during the first part of this bifurcation arbitration [two part arbitration process] only then would the [compensation] amount be decided through second part of the arbitration. We are very confident the rightful compensation would be received,” Ismail said, adding that the figure may be subject to minor variations.

Yameen in early April said the Maldives government will not be able to pay GMR’s claim, but conceded “some sort of financial compensation must be paid.” He estimates the figure to be a “manageable” US$ 300 million.

The GMR in consortium with Malaysia Airports (MAHB) narrowly won the International Finance Corporation (IFC)-managed bid for the airport in 2010, and signed the agreement with MACL under the former government of Mohamed Nasheed. The opposition at the time, including Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), then began a vitriolic nationalist campaign to evict GMR.

Following Nasheed’s ouster in 2012, President Mohamed Waheed’s administration terminated the agreement claiming it was ‘void ab initio’- invalid from the outset.

When the Singaporean High Court’s injunction blocking the Maldivian government from voiding the agreement was overturned by the Supreme Court in Singapore in June 2013, GMR initiated an arbitration process.

The first part of the arbitration took place in Singapore from April 10 – 16. Minivan News understands the arbitration tribunal considered GMR’s claim of wrongful termination, parallel claim for loss of profits over the lifespan of the agreement, and the Maldive’s counter-claim for restitution.

A verdict is expected soon, at the latest by mid- June. Depending on the verdict, the second process of arbitration will begin on a mutually agreed upon date.

Although Anil said the second half could take months to begin or even year for a ruling, Ismail has refuted the claim.

Despite the pending arbitration decision, expansion and development of INIA was among the five mega-projects for which the government was seeking investors at the Maldives Investment Forum held in Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands in late April.

Meanwhile, Nasheed has warned of a sovereign debt crisis if the Maldives is forced to pay the full US$ 1.4 billion and reiterated his Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) call to reverse the decision to cancel the contract.

In a press release last week, Nasheed insisted that international best practices were followed in the bidding process – which was overseen by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) – while the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has since ruled out corruption in the airport deal.

“The Maldives is now known around the world as a country that doesn’t keep its promises or honour the contracts. The airport fiasco will hit each and every Maldivian because banks won’t lend money and companies won’t invest in our country without demanding much higher rates of interest,” Nasheed said.

“By now, Maldivians should have been looking forward to a world-class, new airport, to rival Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Instead we have nothing but an abandoned building site. The actions of President [Abdulla] Yameen and [Dr Mohamed] Waheed have caused this crisis and Maldivians will be paying for their recklessness for decades to come” he added.


Adhaalath Party head accused of attempting to influence ACC investigation into GMR

Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla attempted to influence the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC)’s investigation into alleged corruption in the previous government’s aborted airport privatisation deal, a commission member alleged to local media outlet CNM.

The ACC member, on condition of anonymity, reportedly alleged that the commission during its investigation came under heavy criticism from Sheikh Imran over its refusal to tailor the report to his liking.

The ACC’s findings, which were published last week, concluded that there was no corruption in the airport privatisation deal, days prior to GMR claiming US$1.4 billion in compensation for “wrongful termination” of its 25 year concession agreement.

“He met with me on two occasions. The first meeting happened just a day before they were to have a big night of protests. He requested that the ACC help the national movement’s efforts to drive GMR away and to speed up our investigation and conclude it in such a fashion that would assist their efforts,” CNM quoted the commission member as saying.

The second meeting took place a day before the national movement’s protests concluded, he claimed.

According to the unnamed commission member, Imran requested a five-minute meeting.

“On the second night he told me that he hoped the ACC would include at least one phrase that would be helpful to the national movement,” he said.

ACC President Hassan Luthfee had his phone switched off when contacted regarding the allegations today.

Sheikh Imran and national movement steering committee member and spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Last Monday, the ACC ruled out corruption in the awarding of a concession agreement in June 2010 to a consortium of Indian infrastructure giant GMR and Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhard (MAHB) to develop and manage INIA.

In a 61-page investigative report (Dhivehi), the ACC concluded that the bidding process was conducted fairly by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) and that the GMR-MAHB consortium won the contract by proposing the highest net present value of the concession fee.

The ACC further concluded that the awarding of the contract did not contravene amendments brought to the Public Finance Act requiring parliamentary approval for such agreements.

The amendments were published in the government gazette after the concession agreement was signed, the ACC noted.

In December 2012, shortly after the protests led by Sheikh Imran Abdulla under the self-titled ‘national movement’ against GMR concluded, the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan abruptly terminated the agreement and gave GMR a seven day ultimatum to leave the country.

“The government has given a seven day notice to GMR to leave the airport. The agreement states that GMR should be given a 30 day notice but the government believes that since the contract is void, it need not be followed,” then-Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukoor said in a press conference announcing the decision.

Shukoor claimed that the government reached the decision after considering “technical, financial and economic” issues surrounding the agreement.


Responding to the ACC report in local media, Sheikh Imran Abdulla described the findings as a “slap in the peoples’ face.”

He claimed that the public now resented the ACC due to its findings and that the commission had lost credibility as a result of the report.

Imran contended that the report would facilitate the return of GMR should the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) win the September presidential election.

Responding to the ACC’s findings, the government of President Waheed insisted that the report would have no impact on its legal position to declare the GMR concession agreement void, contending that President Waheed’s decision had nothing to do with corruption allegations levelled by “some people”.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad told Minivan News following the release of the report that the contract was declared void from the beginning due to the negative impact on state finances in 2012.

“Back before the government took back control of the airport from GMR, the reason we gave was that the deal was bleeding the country’s economy. We were paying GMR to keep them here,” he told Minivan News at the time.

Masood said that despite “speculation from some people” concerning corruption by the former administration in signing the deal, the present government was not responsible for filing a case with the ACC.

He added that the government’s concerns over the deal had been in relation to the imposition of a US$25 Airport Development Charge (ADC) by GMR that was blocked by the Civil Court in 2011 after the then-opposition DQP filed a case on the matter.

The DQP, now part of President Waheed’s coalition government, attempted to block payment of the charge on the grounds that it was effectively a tax not approved by parliament.

In response, then MDP government agreed to deduct the ADC from the concession fees payable, while GMR later offered to exempt Maldives nationals from paying the ADC as it moved to appeal the verdict.

However, former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned under controversial circumstances on February 7, 2012 amidst a violent mutiny by elements of the police and military before the Civil Court verdict was appealed at the High Court.

Consequently, in the first quarter of 2012, Dr Waheed’s 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.


Former President Nasheed calls for reinstatement of GMR agreement

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has called on the government to reinstate the concession agreement with Indian infrastructure giant GMR to develop and manage Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

In 2010, GMR-Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) consortium, the government of former President Mohamed Nasheed and Maldives Airport Company Limited (MACL) entered into a 25 year concession agreement worth US$511 million (MVR 7.787 billion).

The agreement charged the GMR-MAHB consortium with the management and upgrading of INIA within the 25 year contract period.

However in November 2012, the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed declared the developer’s concession agreement void and ordered it to leave the country within seven days.

A last minute injunction from the Singapore High Court during arbitration proceedings was overturned on December 6, after Singapore’s Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon declared that “the Maldives government has the power to do what it wants, including expropriating the airport.”

GMR is now seeking upwards of US$1 billion in compensation for the sudden termination, while at least one of the project’s lenders has called in loans that were guaranteed by the Finance Ministry at the time the contract was signed.

The Maldivian government is contending in court that it owes nothing as the contract was void ab initio –  invalid from the outset – and therefore clauses relating to termination and compensation did not apply.

Should the argument of void ab initio fail, the government has claimed the second legal grounds on which it would argue in favour of termination of the contract would be that the contract had been ‘frustrated’ – an English contract law doctrine which acts as a device to set aside contracts where an unforeseen event either renders contractual obligations impossible, or radically changes the party’s principle purpose for entering into the contract.

The case is currently in the arbitration and is set to take place in Singapore with using Maldives Airport Co Ltd v GMR Malé International Airport Pte Ltd as a reference point.

The Attorney General’s Office has previously stated that the Maldives will be represented by Singapore National University Professor M Sonaraja, while former Chief Justice of the UK, Lord Nicholas Addison Phillips, will represent GMR.

The arbitrator mutually agreed by both GMR and the government is retired senior UK Judge, Lord Leonard Hubert Hoffman.

Deal was “highly beneficial to the Maldives”: Nasheed

Nasheed in the statement released by his office on Monday said the agreement would have been highly beneficial to the country’s economy and would have boosted investor confidence in the Maldives.

“The agreement was entered into after a transparent international bidding process and under the consultation from the International Finance Corporation (IFC).  The agreement also gave confidence to foreign investors who had been interested in investing in the Maldives,” read the statement.

Nasheed said the concession agreement had been the single largest foreign investment in the country’s history, and noted that it had been terminated for political reasons.

The statement also alleged the current government gave little consideration to the repercussions of terminating such an agreement, which included worsening bilateral ties, hindering development, and lowering investor confidence in the country.

The statement also acknowledged recent remarks by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – whom Nasheed defeated in the 2008 presidential elections.

Gayoom blamed Nasheed for not obtaining parliamentary approval and “consulting all political parties” before signing the deal with the GMR-Malaysian Airports consortium.

“This was a mistake. Had he consulted all political parties, the public would not have formed the impression that corruption had taken place,” Gayoom was reported as saying in the Hindu.

“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. Unfortunately, this was not done and suddenly there was this unhappy ending.”

Nasheed’s office however emphasised that the government was legally able to enter into such an agreement and that this was in line with the section 6 of the Public Finance Act.

Gayoom had told Indian media that former President Mohamed Nasheed – whose government was controversially replaced in February last year – had to take the majority of blame for the GMR contract dispute, despite not being in office at the time of its cancellation.

“The GMR experience was not a very good one for us. It began badly with [Nasheed] not informing parliament,” Gayoom was reported as saying in the Indian Express.

Nasheed meanwhile condemned President Waheed’s “negligent” decision to evict GMR for political gain without giving due consideration to bilateral ties with India.

Waheed’s Special Advisor Dr Hassan Saeed – who was a fierce critic of the GMR deal before its cancellation – in November last year appealed to Prime Minister Singh to terminate the GMR deal, writing that “GMR and India ‘bashing’ is becoming popular politics”.

While in opposition in December 2011, the DQP also released a 24 page pamphlet alleging that allowing GMR to develop Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) was “paving the way for the enslavement of Maldivians in our beloved land”, and warning that “Indian people are especially devious”.

Former Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, the DQP’s Deputy Leader at the time of the pamphlet’s publication, was recently unveiled as the running mate of Gayoom’s party Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen – Gayoom’s half brother.

Nasheed meanwhile called on parliament to take prompt action and said that it was important for it to seek a quick remedy to the issue.

“The decision [to cancel] was made without consulting the views of major political parties and resulted in incalculable damage to the country and its economy,” Nasheed’s statement read.


Preliminary hearing on GMR-Maldives arbitration case scheduled for April 10 in London

The preliminary hearing of the arbitration case concerning the government’s voiding of its concession agreement with Indian Infrastructure giant GMR is scheduled to take place on April 10 in London, reports local media.

On February 3, the parties announced the appointment of arbitrators for the case.  According to the Attorney General’s office, the Maldives will be represented by Singapore National University Professor M Sonaraja, while former Chief Justice of the UK, Lord Nicholas Addison Phillips, will represent GMR.

The arbitrator mutually agreed by both GMR and the government is retired senior UK Judge, Lord Leonard Hubert Hoffman.

Speaking to the newspaper, Deputy Solicitor General Ahmed Usham said that the meeting will take place at the presence of three arbitrators appointed to hear the case along with lawyers representing the government of Maldives, Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) and GMR.

“It is not an official hearing of the arbitration case. It is a hearing in which a date for the commencement of the hearings would be agreed and to agree as to how the case should proceed. Decisions concerning how the proceedings should take place will be agreed,” Usham told Haveeru.

He also said that although the preliminary hearing was to take place in London, the official hearings of the case will be heard in Singapore.

In 2010, GMR-Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) consortium, government of former President Mohamed Nasheed and Maldives Airport Company Limited (MACL) entered into a 25-year concession agreement worth US$511 million (MVR 7.787 billion) – in which the GMR-MAHB Consortium was contracted with the management and upgrading of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) within the 25 year contract period.

However in November 2012, the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik declared the developer’s concession agreement void and ordered it to leave the country within seven days.

A last minute injunction from the Singapore High Court during arbitration proceedings was overturned on December 6, after Singapore’s Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon declared that “the Maldives government has the power to do what it wants, including expropriating the airport.”

GMR is seeking US$800 million in compensation for the sudden termination, while the Maldivian government is contending that it owes nothing as the contract was void ab initio – meaning the contract was invalid from the outset.

Should the argument of void ab initio fail, the government have claimed that its second legal ground on which it would argue in favour of termination of the contract would be that the contract had been ‘frustrated’.

‘Frustration of a contract’ is an English contract law doctrine which acts as a device to set aside contracts where an unforeseen event either renders contractual obligations impossible, or radically changes the party’s principle purpose for entering into the contract.

“The government has given a seven day notice to GMR to leave the airport. The agreement states that GMR should be given a 30 day notice but the government believes that since the contract is void, it need not be followed,” said Attorney General Azima Shukoor at the time of announcement of the contract.

The awarding of the bid in 2010 was overseen by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC), which the Waheed government has accused of being “negligent” and “irresponsible”.

Should the matter be decided in the government’s favour, uncertainty remains as to the potential impact on foreign investor sentiment given the prospect of sudden asset seizure under the ‘void ab initio’ precedent.

If decided in GMR’s favour, the outcome of the case could potentially see the Maldives facing sovereign bankruptcy, with millions of dollars in additional debt emptying the state’s already dwindling reserves, crippling the country’s ability to obtain further credit, and potentially sparking an economic or currency crisis.

In December 2012, the Maldives government paid back US$50 million to the State Bank of India, after it refused to extend the period of the treasury bonds issued by the bank during the previous government. India has called in further installments of US$50 million, forcing the government to draw on the state reserves.

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad has said the government is yet to come to an arrangement to pay the next US$50 million installment to SBI, explaining that the money will have to come from the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA).

“The US$50 million due in February will have to be paid from the reserve. We have been ordered to pay the amount. There has been no change to the order so far. So it must be paid,” Jihad told local media at the time.

At the start of 2013, state reserves had shrunk to MVR 4.9 billion (US$317.7 million), according to the MMA.

“Gross international reserves at the MMA have been declining slowly, and now account for just one and half months of imports, and could be more substantially pressured if major borrowings maturing in the next few months are not rolled over,” an International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation observed during a mission to the Maldives in November last year.

Moreover, one of GMR’s lenders, Axis Bank, is also seeking the repayment of loans for the airport project, which were guaranteed by the Ministry of Finance and approved by the Attorney General’s Office under the former government.

Attorney General’s office was not available for a comment at time of press.


DQP, PPM MPs defend government spokesperson in debate over Friday’s diplomatic incident

Members of parliament have expressed concern over recent remarks against Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives, D M Mulay, by President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza.

MPs debated the matter on Tuesday after a motion submitted by MDP MP Ibrahim ‘Bondey’ Rasheed, condemning government’s failure to take action against the spokesperson’s remarks.

Following criticism from the High Commission and the Indian government, the President’s Office published a statement distancing the government from Riza’s remarks.

During a rally organised by parties of the ruling coalition calling for the seizure and nationalisation of 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”, accusing him of taking bribes and threatening the government.

During the debate, MPs of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) condemned the remarks claiming they were made against diplomatic protocol and could affect bilateral relations with India.

Presenting the motion, MP Rasheed highlighted that GMR operates airports in New Delhi, Hyderabad and in Turkey.  He added that Turkey also has a strong Muslim majority but the people there do not go out on to the streets calling to take back the airport in the name of protecting Islam.

Rasheed added that tourists would obviously see protesters hollering around the airport on boats, and that this could potentially harm foreign investment in the country.

He also added that after talking “nonsense” in front of the general public, a president’s spokesperson cannot later claim that he was expressing his “personal opinions”, and that a repeat of such actions could inflict irreparable damage to the economy.

“Act of terrorism”

Speaking on the motion, Deputy Parliamentary Group Leader of MDP MP Ali Waheed described the anti-GMR armada as an “act of terrorism”.

“What we saw yesterday was an act of terrorism. If the government wishes to terminate the contract with GMR that was entered into during the former government, then do it, instead of nonsense like this,” Waheed said.

He further added that Spokesperson Riza had made a huge blunder by speaking “so lowly” of the high commissioner, and the best thing for him to do was apologise or resign from his position as spokesperson.

Deputy leader of the government-aligned Jumhoree Party (JP)  MP Abdulla Jabir echoed similar sentiments during the debate.

“What I saw was a group of terrorists who went to stop the businesses of this country and to take over those businesses in the international airport illegitimately. I condemn these actions and this is not something that should be repeated in this country ever again,” said Jabir.

MDP Spokesperson and MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that during the MDP’s three year democratic government, the country saw a large number of foreign investors investing in the Maldives because of the trust those investors had in the government.

He added that India alone had contributed nearly a billion dollars to the Maldivian economy, and that GMR was one of the many that came through a transparent international bidding process with the technical assistance of International Finance Corporation (IFC), a group under the World Bank.

He expressed concern that if similar blunders were seen from the government, the Maldives risked losing the investor confidence gained over the last three years.

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.

“Indian government is involved in this conspiracy”: DQP MP Riyaz Rasheed

During the debate, 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 on to High Commissioner Mulay.

In an apparent contradiction to its comments in parliament, the PPM on November 12 issued a statement dissociating the the party from the “slanderous” allegations made against Mulay.

Deputy leader and the only MP from the government-aligned Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), MP Riyaz Rasheed made strong allegations against the Indian government, repeating Riza’s allegations against Mulay.

“[Mulay] is trying to declare the airport a property of the Indian government or the GMR group, and it is a fact that the Indian government working on the agenda as well,” he claimed.

Riyaz alleged that GMR and the Indian government were “eyeing” the MPs who spoke against them and that if those MPs travelled to India, he had information that GMR was “intending to plant drugs in their baggage.”

He also said it was saddening to see that a High Commissioner from the world’s largest democracy could not digest remarks made by the spokesperson, and added that there was a great difference between speaking in an official capacity and in an individual capacity.

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.

Another PPM MP, Ahmed Mahloof, said the current government of President Waheed had all the needed powers to terminate the GMR agreement.

“This is something that could be done even sitting inside a luxurious air-conditioned room. All President Waheed has to do is decide on the matter,” Mahloof said.

He added that it was unnecessary to make a fuss out of the issue, referring to the anti-GMR boat armada, and that those who really wanted to terminate the GMR contract should have protested in front of the president’s office.

He also admitted that he could be subjected to allegations of taking bribes from his fellow MPs after making a remark in favour of GMR.

During the debate, MPs from the second largest political party Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) followed the opposition MDP in condemning the remarks made by Riza.

DRP MP Ahmed Mohamed during the debate stated that he condemned the remarks made by Riza and Deputy Home Minister Ahmed ‘Boafan’ Abdulla during Friday’s rally.

“I call upon the government to settle this issue as soon as possible. I urge the government to finish the this issue before the political figures of this country begin to take advantage and politicise it,” he warned.

DRP MP Hussain Mohamed stated that the local party to the agreement was a 100 percent government owned company and therefore it was up to the government to make a decision.

Hussain Mohamed added that it was “utter nonsense” for political parties in government to come out and protest against the government.

Indian High Commissioner “traitor and enemy of the Maldives and the Maldivian people”: Riza

The debate stirred up in parliament followed remarks made by Riza during an anti-GMR rally held on Friday, calling the government to terminate the agreement with GMR – a 25-year concession agreement to develop and manage the airport, and overhaul the existing terminal while a new one is constructed on the other side of the island. The agreement represents the largest case of foreign investment in the Maldives.

“Trade between the Maldives and India reaches billions. Indian tycoons have the biggest share in Maldives tourism.  Indian people are deepest in Maldivian business.  We have to protect the businesses of those who import and sell potatoes and onions from India. We also have to protect the businesses of those who import gravel and sand from India. It should not be GMR that [Mulay] should take into account,” Riza declared during the rally.

“Today, like someone who has chilli smoke on his eyes, like someone who has ants at his feet who is threatening us Maldivians, the Indian ambassador here has forgotten what his job here in Maldives is. We are not in the mood to allow him to commit the crimes he is committing in our country,” he told as the crowd roared in support.

“A diplomat’s job is to work for his country and people and not to protect the interests of one private company… He is a traitor and enemy of Maldives and Maldivian people. We don’t want these kind of diplomats on our soil,

“Today we are also calling on for something else. On the day when we get GMR out of the Maldives, Mulay must also get out of here!” Riza said.

Riza’s comments were widely reported in Indian media.

Television channel Times Now described the “vicious targeting of the Indian envoy as leaving “a bitter taste”, and sparking a “huge diplomatic row”. The story had also been picked up by the Hindu and the Indian Express.

The remarks were quickly met with concern and condemnation by the Indian High Commission, which issued a statement dismissing the Presidential spokesperson’s allegations as being “against the diplomatic protocol”.

“We have told the government of Maldives that settling issues of huge mutual interest cannot be done on public space or on stage. This has to be done through discussion,” the High Commission said in a statement.

The Indian High Commission also made it clear that India would safeguard its interests including the investments of Indian companies.

Anti-GMR armada

On Monday afternoon, three days following Riza’s remarks, the anti-GMR campaign took to the seas in an effort to increase pressure on the government to “reclaim” INIA from the Indian infrastructure giant.

A seaborne armada of about 15 dhonis carrying flags and banners circled the airport as part of an ongoing campaign to annul the contract signed between the former government and GMR to manage and develop a new terminal at INIA.

Deputy Home Minister Abdulla told Haveeru that 50,000 people have signed the petition put together by a group of NGOs seeking to annul the agreement and nationalise the airport.

In response to the large number of boats circling the airport, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) increased its seaborne presence to counter the rally, using coastguard vessels to block the entrance to the airport harbour.

MNDF Colonel Abdul Raheem told Minivan News: We had no major concern yesterday, we did not increase our military presence at the airport itself, instead we wanted to make sure that no one [from the protest] could enter the airport area from the sea.”

Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla told Haveeru the protesters had no intention of disembarking at the airport and that the purpose of the rally was to “observe airport operations in the area”.

Last week Sheikh Imran gave the government a six-day ultimatum to annul the GMR agreement (by November 15).

Former President Mohamed Nasheed, whose government approved the deal in 2010, this month slammed statements over the “reclaiming” of the airport from GMR. Nasheed claimed such comments were “highly irresponsible”, stating that such words from the government could cause irreparable damage to the country.

The present government has continued to press to “re-nationalise” the airport, with the country’s Deputy Tourism Minister confirming to Indian media in September that the administration would not “rule out the possibility of cancelling the award [to GMR]”.


Cabinet briefed on Hanimaadhoo international airport

Cabinet has been briefed briefed by the Privatisation Committee on additional proposals submitted by GMR Group of India to develop Hanimaadhoo airport as an international airport.

Chairman of the Privatisation Committee and Minister of Civil Aviation and Communication Mahmood Razee briefed the Cabinet on the issue.

Razee informed the Cabinet that GMR has proposed to develop the airport in two phases; the first phase overseeing the construction of a 2.8 km runway. The second phase would be started when there is sufficient air traffic.

Razzee said the international airport at Hanimadhoo could see 2.5 million passengers by 2025, provided that 12,000 beds in the tourism industry are operated in the region.