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.


Government considering seeking compensation from GMR: Attorney General Azima Shukoor

Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukoor has said the Maldives government could opt to seek compensation from infrastructure group GMR after it decided to void the India-based company’s concession agreement to develop Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), according to local media.

GMR last week confirmed that it was seeking an estimated US$800 million in compensation in order to recover what it has claimed are investment and earnings after the government “wrongfully” terminated its contract.

In a press conference held yesterday (December 17), the attorney general maintained the government’s belief that the agreement with GMR to develop INIA was illegal.  She added that the government therefore intended to seek compensation for damages it “might” have incurred during the process of entering into the contract with GMR, local newspaper Haveeru reported.  The contract was signed during the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Highlighting the pending arbitration process in Singapore Court between the government and GMR, Shukoor said that efforts were being made to appoint arbitrators for the hearings. She added that the government and Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) had appointed a “member” of Singapore National University as their arbitrator.

Similarly, GMR will also be given a 30-day period to appoint an arbitrator on its behalf.

Shukoor suggested during the yesterday’s press conference that it may take a period of one year until the due procedures were completed before a decision was made in the courts.

“It will take about two months time to appoint the panel to overhear the arbitration case. After that, parties will exchange documents and affidavits and respond to it and only after that a proper hearing on the matter will be held and might take up a period of one year,” she suggested.

Indian media reported last week that GMR had sent a letter to the Finance Ministry stating that it would seek compensation worth US$800 million.  Shukoor denied such a communication had been sent, adding that she did not believe such a demand could even be made.

“We terminated the agreement on the grounds of void ab initio (void from the outset) , therefore we will begin the negotiation on the position that the government of Maldives do not require to pay back anything,” Shukoor explained.

However, she admitted that owing to the size of GMR’s investment, there remained a possibility that government might have to pay some amount that would be determined through the arbitration process.

“Even if we do require paying back as compensation, it would be based on the decisions reached during the arbitration process. If it is settled out of court, then it would be based on legal arguments raised by the parties to the contract,” she added.

Shukoor has also claimed that even before INIA was handed over to GMR, no asset valuation was carried out – a decision expected to cause problems for the government. She also said that it has not been yet decided how the asset valuation would be carried out or how the amount that the government might seek in compensation from GMR would be calculated.

Even with the arbitration process now proceeding, Shukoor told local media that if the government believed additional compensation was required, it would seek the additional amount through the same courts.

“A lot of work is being carried at the moment. However, we have not yet calculated the amount we might have to pay or the amount that had been invested and even the amount we expect to seek,” she explained.

GMR demands US$800 million in compensation

GMR is seeking US$800 million in compensation following the termination of its US$511 million concession agreement signed under the former government back in 2010.

The Indian infrastructure giant 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.

GMR’s chief Financial Officer (CFO) Sidharath Kapur previously told Minivan News 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.

He also added that on last 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.

Meanwhile according to Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad, no mechanism is 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.

He also played down fears that any potential fine could prove perilous for the country’s economy, as well as attempts to reduce the 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 at the time. “GMR cannot decide, it will be down to the court [hearing the arbitration].”

The INIA concession agreement

In 2010, the government of Maldives through its Finance Ministry, MACL and GMR-MAHB entered into a concession agreement with INIA whereby the Malaysian-Indian consortium were to develop and operate the airport for a period of 25 years.

According to the concession agreement a “project company” under the name GMR International Airport Limited (GMIAL) was to carry out the development project.

However, a lengthy dispute between the new government of President Dr  Mohamed Waheed Hassan and the GMR Group led to the eviction of the agreement.

On November 27, President Mohamed Waheed’s cabinet declared the agreement void, and gave the company a seven day ultimatum to leave the country.

Shukoor at the time stated the government reached the decision after considering “technical, financial and economic” issues surrounding the agreement.

She also claimed the government had obtained legal advice from “lawyers in both the UK and Singapore as well as prominent local lawyers – all who are in favour of the government’s legal grounds to terminate the contract.”

The INIA was handed over to the government on December 8, in an invitation-only press conference; Finance Minister Jihad presented the official handover documents to MACL Managing Director Mohamed Ibrahim, and said that the Maldives would pay whatever compensation was required “however difficult”.

With arbitration proceedings underway in Singapore over the contested airport development charge (ADC), GMR received a stay order on its eviction and appeared confident of its legal position even as the government declared that it would disregard the ruling and proceed with the eviction as planned.

On December 6, a day prior to its eviction, the government successfully appealed the injunction in the Supreme Court of Singapore. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon declared that “the Maldives government has the power to do what it wants, including expropriating the airport.”

That verdict, effectively legalising the sovereign eviction of foreign investors regardless of contractual termination clauses or pending arbitration proceedings, was “completely unexpected”, according to one GMR insider – “the lawyers are still in shock”, he said at the time.

A last ditch request for a review of the decision was rejected, as was a second attempt at an injunction filed by Axis Bank, GMR’s lender to the value of US$350 million.