J Hotels and Resorts to sue government

J Hotels and Resorts intends to sue the government “at length” over the Cabinet’s decision to terminate the contract for Laamu Gan Asseyri Project, which was awarded in October.

Company chairman and former ruling party MP Abdulla Jabir said no explanation for the termination was given, and claimed it was not the first time that the Cabinet had retracted a decision.  He said he had “strong suspicions” of corrupt dealings.

“There are ruling party members who decided that they want the project, so they forced the President to terminate my contract through the Cabinet. The Cabinet is unfit to operate, it is just playing games on its high chair in the Maldives,” Jabir said.

The project was won via bidding and awarded on October 12 of this year. It includes a 50-year lease of 25 hectares for the development of hotels and 79 guest houses containing a total of 1,500 beds. Restaurants, spas and sports facilities were also included in the project plan.

Originally, a joint venture company was to be created with the government, which would earn a five percent share, and J Hotels and Resorts. State Minister for Tourism Thoyyib Mohamed was previously reported saying the government preferred a private party to develop and manage the whole project, but the ministry had a ‘Plan B’ to lease out separate components of the project to different parties.

According to the government gazette the Cabinet decided to terminate the contract on November 29, and has lately decided to re-open the bidding process.

Minister of Tourism Mariyam Zulfa was unavailable for comment, however Permanent Secretary Ahmed Solih said the ministry had sent its reply to J Hotels and emphasised that the issue now lies between the Ministry and the company.

Jabir warned that the Cabinet’s decision was one of several factors that was causing a dip in investor confidence.

“These are expensive games, for the investors and for the Maldivian people,” he said. “The government is losing credibility doing this. I am disappointed that the Maldivian government is dishonoring its agreement.”

According to Jabir, the contract between J Hotels and the Ministry of Tourism was valid under Maldivian contract law.

“We have incurred losses of income and opportunity, and our lawyer is assessing those losses now,” Jabir said, reiterating that the company plans to sue the government.

He further claims that a contract cannot be terminated unilaterally, as the Cabinet has done, and that the government cannot accept bids for a project which is the active subject of a lawsuit.

Jabir was unable to provide further details regarding losses incurred.

Last week, the Cabinet instructed the Attorney General’s Office to monitor allegations of corruption made against the government, and file defamation lawsuits where such allegations were proven unfounded.

The Cabinet’s request follows growing concern that some such allegations are being made for political purposes. Meanwhile, the acrobatics of local politics could have a detrimental effect on foreign investment.

At the same time, the government has been tasked with improving its latest ratings in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), which were less than favorable.