No corruption in GMR airport deal, concludes ACC

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has 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 the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

In a 61-page investigative report (Dhivehi) made public yesterday (June 17), 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.

The concession agreement was signed on June 28, 2010, while the amendments were gazetted on December 13, 2010, following a Supreme Court ruling. The amendments were voted through for a second time in August 2010 following a presidential veto.

On the previous administration’s decision to replace the board of directors at the 100 percent government-owned Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL) – after they refused to sign the concession agreement claiming insufficient information – the ACC observed that there was “no legal obstacle” for the move.

The ACC report also concluded that the government would benefit more from privatising the airport.

“Considering the situation (2008, 2009 and 2010) when the decision was made to privatise the Male’ International Airport,” the ACC’s calculations showed that MACL would make a profit of about US$254 million in 25 years if the airport was operated by the government-owned company.

Conversely, the government would receive about US$534 million in the same period from the GMR consortium if the airport was privatised, the ACC found.

The privatisation of the airport by the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government in June 2010 was strongly condemned by opposition parties on nationalistic grounds.

The Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Peoples Alliance (PA), Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) signed an agreement to work against the privatisation process and launched a media offensive alleging “massive corruption” in the awarding of the contract.

The ACC report this week meanwhile followed a special audit conducted by the Auditor General’s Office with the assistance of a British consultant concerning the airport privatisation deal.

The AG’s report stated that evidence to back allegations of “improper interference” during the technical bidding process “is not conclusive on this point” and deferred the matter to the ACC.

The AG’s report also noted that the IFC’s terms of reference involved “securing the best deal for the government in terms of the concession fee paid to the government and MACL, and did not consider impacts on the Maldivian economy.”

Government stance

In November 2012, the current government – made up of a coalition of parties opposed to the MDP government’s privatisation policy – declared the concession agreement with the GMR-led consortium “void ab initio” (invalid from the outset) and abruptly terminated the contract.

In April this year, the Attorney General’s Office confirmed that arbitration proceedings resulting from the contract cancellation would begin by mid-2014.

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

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad told Minivan News 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 explained.

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, the 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.