Singapore firm to advise on airport expansion

A Singapore-based consultancy is to advise the Maldives Airports Company on the long-awaited expansion of the country’s main international airport.

Surbana International Consultants will provide management consultancy services and a design and engineering review for the proposed redesign of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport on Hulhule’ island near Male’.

Plans for the renovations include a new international terminal building, runway, cargo terminal and taxiway expansions and new fuel firm.

Airport capacity will increase to 7 million international passengers and 1.5 million domestic passenger movements from the current 2.3 million after the renovations, said a joint statement from the two companies.

The government had previously signed a separate consultancy agreement with Singapore’s Changi International Airport to advise on the renewal and expansion of the airport terminal.

President Abdulla Yameen last month held talks with Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Fund about low-interest loans for the project, appearing to have scrapped previous plans to seek aUS$600million loan from China and Japan.

The expansion project is estimated to cost US$ 845 million, including improvements to shore protection of the airport island, new seaplane facilities and existing runway re-surfacing.

Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed previously said the runway expansion project had been awarded to Chinese Beijing Urban Construction Group, while the development of the airport terminal was awarded to Japanese Taisei Corporation.

The airport redevelopment project has been beset by problems and delays. In 2012, the government abruptly cancelled a concession agreement with the GMR-Malaysia Airports (GMR-MAHB) consortium to manage and upgrade the airport.



Shanghai Airlines starts direct flights to INIA

Shanghai Airlines, a subsidiary of China Eastern Airlines, has started direct flights from Shanghai to Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

According to a statement released by Maldives Airports Company the B767 aircraft which has capacity for 200 passengers is scheduled to fly three times weekly until the end of the winter season.

With the Chinese tourist market the fastest growing in the world, Chinese travellers now make up 30 percent of all visitors to the Maldives.

MACL reported that the Shangahi Airlines had in previous years flown to the Maldives for this period, but only on a schedule of two flights per week.

While British Airways has decided to suspend summer flights to the Maldives, German national carrier Lufthansa is to start scheduled flights to the country from December 2015.


Yameen bring changes to state institutions following Nazim dismissal

President Abdulla Yameen has brought changes to a number of ministries and state institutions in the aftermath of Colonel (ret.) Mohamed Nazim’s dismissal as defence minister.

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Mohamed Shainee was today appointed to the vacated acting health minister’s position, while Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer has been appointed president of the Local Government Association (LGA).

Additionally, the Department of Immigration and Emigration – under Nazim’s remit as part of the defence ministry since December 2012 – has been reallocated to the Ministry of Economic Development.

Meanwhile, the President’s Office has revealed that Ibrahim ‘Bandhu’ Saleem has been removed from the post of Maldives Airports Company Limited’s managing director. Saleem confirmed this to Minivan News stating that no reason had been given for his dismissal.

President’s Office Spokesman Ibrahim Muaz explained that the president has the power and authority to appoint and dismiss political appointees and that specific reasons for a decision would be shared with the media when they were available.

Yesterday’s dismissal of Nazim came as a result of a police investigation into illegal weapons being kept in the minister’s home. He had been in the position since February 2012 – one of the first appointments made by President Dr Mohamed Waheed following the controversial resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed.

Nazim had been given the health portfolio after pro-government MPs blocked the renomination of Dr Mariyam Shakeela to the cabinet in August last year. Shakeela later alleged a conspiracy and smear campaign to remove her from office.

At the time of his dismissal, Nazim was also facing challenges from within the Local Government Authority, to which President Yameen had appointed him in November 2013. Last week fellow board members voted to remove him from the position of president following a contested vote of no-confidence.

Meanwhile, Haveeru has published corruption allegations against Nazim’s brother, State Trading Organisation Managing Director Adam Azim.

The paper reported that it has obtained a copy of an Anti-Corruption Commission report which says Azim attempted to use the state-owned company’s money to influence the Football Association of Maldives’ congress.

Haveeru suggested the report revealed attempts to have a relative appointed to the post of FAM president through sponsorship money given to football clubs with voting rights in the congress.

Elsewhere, the Judicial Services Commission today elected Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed as its chair.

Hameed was appointed to the judicial watchdog by President Abdulla Yameen yesterday after the commissions Supreme Court representative Adam Mohamed resigned from the commission on Sunday (January 18) citing personal reasons.

Related to this story

Nazim dismissed as defence minister, replaced by Moosa Ali Jaleel


MACL chief says airport dependent on foreign workers

The managing director of the Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL) has told a Majlis committee that difficulties with local staff have resulted in a dependence on foreign employees, and even military assistance, to keep the airport running.

Bandhu Ibrahim Saleem told the government oversight committee yesterday that over 500 employees were currently on leave, and that 199 had been dismissed, reported Haveeru.

Progressive Party of Maldives MPs had called Saleem to the committee, suggesting that the company had ignored requests for further information regarding the replacement of Maldivian staff with foreigners.

“We loaded and unloaded cargo three times with assistance of army personnel. I don’t think any of you know this. Our employee attendance is low. The process of letting go an employee, so complicated. The foreigners are there to bridge all this,” explained Saleem.

He noted that Maldivians were difficult to recruit, and were often unwilling to carry out the work required.

“Maldives yellowfin tuna export now stand between 20-25 tons per day. These are packed in one ton containers. The youth of today don’t want to load and unload those containers. They will not do it,” he is reported to have told the committee.

“Now when you get older, you can’t do it at 40. Therefore we are forced to bring in people from Nepal,” he said.

The MD said that 3000 passengers and 500 tonnes of cargo were passing through the airport every day.

Additionally, MACL Human Resource Manager Ali Huzeim is reported to have told the committee that foreigners were significantly cheaper and more efficient than local staff.

Source: Haveeru


MACL head called to Majlis over expatriate worker issue

Managing Director of the Maldives Airport Company Ltd (MACL) Bandhu Ibrahim Saleem has been summoned to appear before the Majlis regarding the number of expatriate workers at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

Saleem has been asked to appear before the government oversight committee with human resources personnel from the company on Wednesday (December 17), writes Haveeru.

The paper reported a Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) member of the committee as saying that the company had ignored requests for further information regarding the replacement of Maldivian staff, after the issue was raised by party members.

“It is one of the current government’s vows to provide Maldivians with job opportunities. But we have learnt that MACL isn’t acting in accordance with this. We have the incriminating information,” the PPM member told Haveeru.

Last December, the Ministry of Youth and Sport said it would attempt to resolve the large youth unemployment issue by replacing expatriate workers with locals.

However, angry staff at the airport soon launched a Facebook page titled ‘Say NO to foreign staffs in MACL INI Airport’, which singled out individual expatriate workers for abuse.

Source: Haveeru


MACL ordered to pay nearly MVR1 million in pay discrimination damages

The Employment Tribunal has ordered Maldives Airports Company Ltd. (MACL) to pay nearly MVR1 million (US $65,000) in damages over discrimination in salaries.

The case lodged in 2012 by 40 air traffic controllers alleged MACL had failed to provide adequate training, changed the company’s policy on salaries without prior notice, and forced employees to work without leave.

The Employment Tribunal however dismissed these claims, but said MACL had allocated different salaries to employees doing the same work, contravening Article 4 of the Employment Act.

The three member tribunal ordered MACL to pay the 40 air traffic controllers MVR987,000 in damages by October 27.

Lawyer Ibrahim Riffath hailed the verdict as “historic and significant victory” and noted the case was the first class action suit of its kind in the Maldives.

He applauded the 40 staff for their bravery in raising the issues in court while continuing to work at MACL.

“The compensation claim is significant especially since MACL is a major company in charge of the country’s most important airport. This case highlights the importance of workers fighting for their rights regardless of the company they work for,” he said.

An air traffic controller who wished to remain anonymous told Minivan News that MACL had resolved several issues raised in the tribunal case, such as work without leave, after the case was lodged.

“We had to go far this far because MACL refused to acknowledge its shortcomings,” he said.

“I call on other workers to raise any issue they may have with the Employment Tribunal. Do not remain frustrated at work. Use your rights,” he said.

During the presidential elections in October 2013, over 95 percent of air traffic controllers called in sick en masse over pay grievances, safety concerns at the airport and the Supreme Court’s delay of the presidential run-off election.

Several flights were delayed and MACL had to call in officers from Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) to operate the air traffic control tower.

They had demanded the reinstatement of a professional grading system, adherence to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), and the holding of the presidential run-off election which had been suspended by the Supreme Court.

“This was not a political issue,” an air traffic controller said at the time. “But now because we’ve lost trust in and cannot negotiate with the current government, [the strike has taken a political direction].”

In March, hundreds of MACL employees went on a four hour strike over the poor quality of food and cuts to annual company bonuses.


Airport runway resumes operations after fuel leakage shutdown

Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) has resumed runway operations early Sunday morning after a shut down on Saturday night due to a fuel leakage.

Maldives Airports Company Limited officials told local media the runway had been closed down to a hydraulic fuel leakage from a Singapore Airlines flight that had landed on Saturday night.

Operations resumed at about 12.45am on Sunday.

The airport’s runway was closed on September 6 due to a leakage from a Singapore Airlines flight.


GMR surprised with decision to give airport development to Chinese firm

Indian infrastructure company GMR has told media of its surprise that the development of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) has been given to a Chinese firm.

“Sources in the GMR expressed surprise at the move by the Maldives government as it has entered in a new contract for construction work at airport without paying damages as suggested by the tribunal,” wrote the Economic Times today.

The preliminary contract agreement for the development of the airport was one of eight MoUs signed between the Chinese and Maldivian governments during the recent presidential visit by the Chinese President Xi Jinpeng.

The terms of the agreements have not yet been released to the media, though it was revealed that the new contract to develop the airport was given to Beijing Urban Construction Company Limited.

President Xi’s visit to the Maldives – part of his South Asia – tour was reported to have added to Indian concerns regarding Chinese ambitions in the region.

India’s GMR recently won the arbitration case filed against the Maldivian government claiming compensation for the premature termination of its airport development agreement made in 2012 during former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration.

The company’s significant development plans included the construction of a new terminal and investment plans in excess of US$500 million.

The two phase arbitration case will now focus on determining the compensation owed by the government, with GMR claiming US$1.4 billion, a figure which amounts to around half the Maldives’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Arbitration relations

Speaking about the arbitration case, Attorney General (AG) Mohamed Anil said that the compensation has been limited by a clause inserted during the original agreement, suggesting that the amount will not go up to the full amount being claimed.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb has since assured that the government has the capacity to pay the compensation.

“Our economy will grow with the special economic zone bill, and our government will become rich, we will overcome our budget deficit and god willing we will be able to pay any amount we have to,” he said shortly after the ruling in June.

GMR initiated the tribunal at a Singaporean Court after former President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s administration concluded that the GMR contract was void, giving the company seven days to leave the airport.

Speaking at a press conference, then AG Azima Shukoor stated that the decision to terminate the contract was reached after considering “technical, financial and economic” issues surrounding the agreement.

In response, GMR released a statement saying that the cabinet’s decision was “unilateral and completely irrational.”

The GMR case also appeared to prompt a cooling in diplomatic relations between India and the Maldives, with India tightening visa regulations for Maldivian travelers claiming that that decision had been made to draw attention to the treatment of expatriate workers within the Maldives.

While relations have improved during the presidency of Abdulla Yameen, Indian officials were reported to have expressed concern over President Xi’s visit this week – the first by a Chinese head of state to the Maldives.

“We’ve been off the ball a bit on the Maldives, and things are tricky again,” an official told the Telegraph. “The Chinese President’s visit to the Maldives is emblematic of that simmering unease.”

During his visit President Xi urged the Maldives to become part of his 21st century maritime silk road project, as well as signing an MoU for the promotion of a bridge between Malé and Hulhulé islands. Xi expressed his hope that the bridge would be named the ‘China-Maldives Friendship Bridge’


MACL staff protest discrimination in annual bonus

An estimated 150 employees of the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) demonstrated over discrimination in bonus payouts today.

The protests started on Tuesday morning after leaked documents indicated senior management and an estimated 200 staff members working at the duty free shops were to receive a percentage of profits while other employees were only to receive an amount equivalent to their basic salaries.

Speaking to Minivan News, a staff members who took part in the protests said senior staff and duty free staff were to receive up to MVR80,000 (US$5188) while most staff members were to receive between MVR6000 (US$389) and MVR15000 (US$972).

“Around 1900 employees are to receive an amount equivalent to their basic salaries, which comparatively is a very low amount. Their [management] justification is that duty free employees reached a profit target. But there are others who work as hard, and earn the company as much money in other departments,” she said.

A handful of senior level employees in some departments would receive between MVR25,000 and MVR50,000 (US$1621 – US$3242), she said.

“This is a huge difference, a huge discrimination which is against the company’s general human resource policy. Most of us are giving our hundred percent to the company, and our work brings in as much money as the duty free staff,” the protesting staff member said.

The demonstrations were peaceful and not intended to obstruct airport operations in the airport, she continued.

“We stood up for our rights, we are not against the management nor did we have any intention to obstruct the operations here. We were demanding an explanation.”

Managing Director of MACL, Ibrahim ‘Bandhu’ Saleem, met the protesters yesterday and told them the company board will hold discussions and reach a decision on the matter as soon as possible.

In response, protesters today demanded a deadline for the decision. Subsequently, the company issued a circular stating that bonus payouts will be revised and a decision will be made before August 31. The circular was changed a second time to specifically mention that the issue will be resolved in an equitable manner on the protesters’ demands.

An MACL spokesman told Minivan News today that the leaked document was not an official one and no decisions have been made yet over the distribution of bonuses.

“The management have discussed the issue with the protesting staff members now and it is settled. Everyone has gone back to work. It all started with a leaked document, which is not final in anyway. The bonus amounts would be announced before August 31,” he said.

The decision to grant annual bonus to employees was made after a staff members protested its discontinuation in March. At the time the employees also raised the issue of the poor quality of food provided at the staff cafeteria.