DRP Leader, Parliament Speaker dismiss bribery allegations

Opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid – also a DRP MP – have dismissed allegations republished in local media that they each accepted bribes of US$1 million from Indian infrastructure giant GMR to stall parliament sittings until the GMR-Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) consortium took over management of Male’ International Airport.

Parliament Majority Leader Thasmeen dismissed the rumours as “a total fabrication” linked to opposing political agendas while Speaker Shahid said he had “never met [GMR officials] and never been offered anything.”

“These allegations originated in an internet site called the Dhivehi Post,” Thasmeen told Minivan News today. “If you go through it you can make a reasonable guess as to who they support.”

He added that the party’s opposition to the GMR airport deal had not changed as DRP signed an agreement with four opposition parties in parliament to oppose the leasing of the international airport.

Managing Director of GMR Male International Airport Limited P Sripathy described the claims as “totally false and baseless, and very disappointing and damaging to our reputation. We have never met any members of the opposition to date.”

“The GMR Group is in Male’ on serious business – to build a world class, benchmark airport that people of Male’ and the Group will be very proud of,” he added.

The rumours of the senior DRP officias  accepting bribes from GMR surfaced in the Dhivehi Post blog earlier this month, a website that routinely refers to President Mohamed Nasheed as “bipolar” and “ganjabo” (marijuana smoker).

The DRP, DQP, JP and PA formed an opposition coalition in June to protest against the airport deal, on nationalistic grounds. Deputy Leader of the DRP Umar Naseer told Minivan News on June 28 that ” if [the operators] allowed it, an Israel flight can come and stop over after bombing Arab countries.”

The government has alleged that opposition to the airport deal stems from the “vested interests” of certain MPs, several of whom it arrested following the resignation of cabinet on June 29 in protest against the “scorched earth politics” of the opposition-majority parliament.

The fuel trade is the most immediately lucrative part of the airport deal, Minivan News understands, and is a key reason behind both GMR’s interest and the government’s decision to award the contract to the Indian infrastructure giant. GMR has told Minivan News it will amalgamate the trade under one umbrella, a decision that will likely affect current third party suppliers.


New hi-tech passport lab at Male’ International Airport

Amidst ongoing changes scheduled over the next few years at Male’ International Airport, authorities at the travel hub have introduced a new Forensic Document Laboratory they hope can step up detection of fake passports and other illegal documentation used to enter the the country.

As part of plans to strengthen border controls to the country, a source at the immigration department confirmed to Minivan News that the laboratory was now in place at the airport, but could not give any specifics on when it came into operation.

However, citing Immigration Controller, Sheik Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim, Haveeru yesterday reported that the system has already helped lead to the arrest of four Iraqi nationals that had allegedly tried to enter the country under forged passports following its introduction earlier this month.

The Immigration Department was unavailable for comment at time of going to press.

The lab system, which has been set up in collaboration with Australian experts, was unveiled late last month by the Maldives’ Department of Immigration and Emigration as the first technology of its kind to be used in the Maldives.

Ibrahim said during this unveiling back in October the issue of immigration within the secluded atolls of the Maldives has vitally needed addressing in order to better combat potential trafficking and people smuggling.

The new laboratory is seen as an important new tool in reducing such illegal border activities and was backed by a special training three day training session at male’s Holiday Inn. According to an immigration department statement, the training was intended to bring Immigration officers within the country further in line with both local and international security standards. Adoption of the system comes amidst growing concerns about the country’s ability to handle border control as well as the prevention of human trafficking.

Back in August, Minivan News reported how the exploitation of foreign workers is potentially rivaling the country’s fishing sector as the second most prolific source of income after tourism.

The claims, which were based on conservative estimates of Bangladeshi workers turning up at their respective commission in Male’ upon being abandoned upon arrival at the country’s main airport, came from experienced diplomat, Professor Selina Mohsin.

Mohsin, formerly Bangladeshi High Commissioner to the Maldives before finishing her assignment in July, stated that about 40 nationals would turn up every day at the Commission without the work many had been promised by certain employment brokers and working with Maldivian partners.

Most of the stranded workers are thought to have been recruited in rural areas of Bangladesh by local brokers, who would work alongside a Maldivian counterpart.

“The Bangladeshi counterpart charges the worker a minimum of US$2000, but it goes up to $US4000. This money is collected by the counterpart and divided: typically three quarters to Maldivian broker and one quarter to the Bangladeshi counterpart,” Professor Mohsin explained, prior to her departure.

In its 2010 Human Trafficking report – published less than a month after the Maldives was given a seat on the UN Human Rights Council – the State Department estimated that half the Bangladeshis in the Maldives had arrived illegally “and most of these workers are probably victims of trafficking”.


Opposition coalition drafting bill on airport management

The opposition coalition against airport privatisation has announced the four opposition parties – including the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Jumhoree Party (JP), People’s Alliance (PA) and Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) – will draft a bill governing “operations and rules” at  Male’ International Airport.

A statement issued by the coalition said the draft bill would be presented to parliament this week.

“We will not hesitate to take action against those who violated the law in leasing Male’ International Airport, a state asset, to [Indian infrastructure firm] GMR for 25 years,” said the statement.

“We assure the people of the Maldives that we stand steady and go forward on this issue.’’

The opposition parties – which strongly oppose the government’s decision to upgrade the airport under a 25 year management contract to the GMR-Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) consortium – have not yet revealed whether the bill will oppose the deal outright, or restrict its operations in some way.

DRP MP Abdulla Mausoom said the contents of the bill would be disclosed on conclusion of the drafting process, but said he believed the bill’s object “is not to utterly obstruct the leasing of the international airport.”

Leader of the DQP Dr Hassan Saeed refused to comment to Minivan News on the issue.

According to a report in Haveeru, the DQP’s Deputy Leader Dr Mohamed Jameel told the newspaper in a statement that the bill’s objective was to ensure the airport was “managed by the government or a [Maldivian] company assigned by the government. The aim is to prevent [the government] from giving the airport to a foreign party. The bill will specify everything very clearly,” he said.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said opposition coalition had proved they had vested interests concerned concerning the lease of the airport, and “have shown they are not working not in the interests of the nation, but rather their own self-interest.”

”When the first announced the proposal and published it locally and internationally, no person expressed concern or protested against it,” said Zuhair. ”Because the government did not receive [acceptable bids], the government requested proposals a second time, this time with the assistance of the World Bank.”

Opposition parties were silent throughout, he said, and expressed disapproval “only when the transaction had reached its final stages.”

Zuhair queried the coalition’s claims that leasing the airport compromised the country’s nationalism: “It is only the management of the Airport that we are handing over to GMR – the water company is operated the same way, and so far no one has complained about that. It just shows how insincere the opposition are being.”

The GMR-MAHB consortium will spend US$373 million upgrading the international airport after winning the controversial bid. Last week it held workshops with airport staff and stakeholders to determine what would be required.

Speaking at the opening of the cavernous Delhi Terminal 3, GMR Manager P Sri Pathi told Maldivian journalists that physical work would begin on the airport towards the end of this year.


GMR and MACL hold workshop on upgrading airport

GMR and Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) have held a joint two-day workshop with senior staff at Male’ International Airport to collect ideas on how to improving the facilities and upgrade the airport, prior to the construction of the new terminal.

The Indian infrastructure giant won the management contract to upgrade the airport build the new terminal by 2014, following a bidding process that was criticised for its fast speed and alleged lack of transparency. Opposition parties also opposed the privatisation of the airport on nationalistic grounds.

Chairmen of MACL ‘Bandhu’ Ibrahim Saleem said that the workshop was very useful and that the two parties had managed to collect constructive opinions from customers and staff on how to improve the services and facilities provided by the airport.

‘’It is a necessary task to upgrade the international airport,” Saleem said. “We are very confident with GMR, we have witnessed three airports developed by them under public private partnerships.’’

GMR Manager P Sripathi said that the paperwork was almost concluded and that the company needed only final approval for some documents.

‘’We know there will be a lot of complaints from different areas of the airport, but one by one we will sort out all the issues eventually,’’ said Sripathi. ‘’We are just in the final stages of forming the airports company.’’

When journalists present at the meeting queried about the different issues being encountered, senior officials on the panel recommended focusing questions “only on the subject of the workshop.”

The GMR-Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) consortium won the controversial bid to develop Male’ International Airport and will spend US$373 million on the upgrade.

Speaking at the opening of the cavernous Delhi Terminal 3 recently, GMR Manager P Sripathi told Maldivian journalists that physical work would begin on the airport towards the end of this year.

“The first phase is organising the finances and transitioning the airport from a government-run enterprise to a privately-run enterprise,” he explained.

“The transition will be a new thing [for the Maldives] and we will be there to help with that. We have done such things in other places, and we know how to go about it,” he said.

Male International Airport will remain as a property of the Maldivian people under the leasing agreement with GMR, said the former minister of civil aviation and communications Mahmood Razee recently in a local news paper Miadhu report.

Opposition political parties has repeatedly expressed concern and called on the government not to lease the Male’ Inernational Airport to a foreign company, claiming it could disrupt the national securit and harm the peace and harmony of the country. However, the government dismissed the claims, alleging vested interests on behalf of certain opposition leaders.


Letter on treatment of visitors

Dear Sir

Wake up – this is no way to treat your visitors! As a regular visitor to your beautiful country, I feel it’s time to let you know what many international visitors to the Maldives feel about your poor airport service.

Should foreign visitors to the Maldives be treated to such poor service at the important time of arriving and leaving the country – especially when there are many other equally beautiful island countries around the world where they can spend their holidays?

Passport Control – here there are often long and unpleasant delays and queues on arrival. To make matters worse the guest has to go through the gauntlet of the impolite passport control staff. How difficult is it for them to offer a greeting to the guest as they arrive at the passport counter? “Good afternoon” – “thank you” – “goodbye…” It’s so easy and so simple. The passport control staff need a lesson in basic manners and why it is important for the benefit of their country that guests are treated with basic courtesy.

Food – There is a self-service cafeteria at the International Terminal – (apparently owned by a Maldivian – Mr Hassan Bagir), where there are no pricing notices and where a cup of coffee will cost the same as the most expensive cities in the world, London or Paris.

The service in this cafe is poor and unpleasant, and one has to ask for change! No wonder there were no Maldivians eating or drinking at the tables of this cafeteria – it’s only the ignorant foreigner who is foolish enough to order food and drinks here.

Souvenir shop – where the Hindi Film is so loud you cannot think clearly and the staff have no other interest than to watch the Hindi film. The badly displayed stock includes Sharks Heads (I thought Shark Fishing in Maldives is meant to be banned?)

Customs and immigration – It’s still unbelievable that visitors coming to the Maldives from somewhere like Sri Lanka or Thailand will have any Buddhist statues in their possession confiscated. This is crazy when you have an excellent museum in Male’ displaying Buddhist statues – representing a period of Maldives history!

I would like to suggest to the Airport Authorities and the Ministry of Tourism: Wake up, this is no way to treat your visitors!

I hear a new airport is going to be built in the Maldives – there is little point unless there is an understanding why customer service and basic manners are important in the competitive business of tourism.

Concerned Visitor

All letters are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to submit a letter, please send it to [email protected]


Comment: Cancer in our heart

With my own ears, I’ve heard more than one Maldivian long for death’s release. And the chills that ran down my spine the first time I heard it reside in me still, slowly corroding my hope for a better national future.

Recently – amidst the political turmoil that has dominated everyone’s consciousness – there was a spectacular suicide that captured us for the briefest of moments. A wayward youth, giving in to his inner turmoil, flung himself from the air traffic control tower – departing this world, not by meeting the ground below, but rather by meeting a hangman’s noose. His body left dangling, silently screaming his frustration and his surrender.

Did the abuse he endured in life end with his death? Was the respect and dignity he so desired afforded him after he passed from this world? No.

Accused of apostasy, people have called him a showoff for his ever-so-public last testament. A lunatic. Someone unworthy of sympathy. They have taunted him and scarred his memory and even gone to such as extent as to suggest that he should not be given his due burial rights. That he was not God’s creature and that his alleged disbelief in God meant he is somehow less than human.

With this poor soul, we have failed. Failed in offering alternatives to troubled youth. Failed in addressing the intolerance in our society. And we have failed in our duties as human beings.

Social Negligence

As a nation we have developed a culture of neglect. While being among the nosiest of peoples, constantly sticking our noses where they don’t belong, we have not taken the next step: actually caring about those around us and the plight of others.

The social ills we face are greater than I have seen in any other non-war-torn nation. Soaring sexual and drug abuse rates have become the widely accepted bane of our society. And those who are left with significant psychological damage are left without avenues for help. Those who have entered into depression, who feel their very soul being eaten away, and who no longer believe in the value of their lives, have no avenue for help. While physical abuses have only just started to be addressed, mental abuses of all denominations have been forgotten.

This culture of neglect must end. We have to encourage more therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists to come to this country. We have to convince government and private institutions that we cannot heal our nation if the souls of our nation remain in tatters. And we cannot continue to pretend that the local Imam is all knowing and qualified to deal with all manner of mental problems.

Ideologies of Intolerance

We especially have to stop pretending that neo-salafi ideologies based in the Hanbali school of Islamic Jurisprudence are competent enough to deal with this world’s problems and issues. I believe Islamic counseling has a place in our society; that it helps bring people fulfillment and that it is an integral (not primary) part of efforts such as drug counseling. However, the recent global trend towards the propagation of neo-salafi ideologies is something I cannot accept.

Not only is neo-salafism fundamentally against Maldivian culture and heritage, it is also the most intolerant of all the classical Islamic schools of jurisprudence. It does not allow the scholars of this ideology to relate to victims of mental abuse. It does not allow for varying thoughts to exist, which is necessary to help in the process of healing. Instead, this ideology calls for the strict imposition of their beliefs, wiping out whatever was there before – removing all traces of the person who once existed.

Would be Saviors

They see all the world as sinners, and themselves as the would be saviors of our nation. The salafis and all their ilk would save our society from all of our ills. They will bring us to heaven’s gate and lead us hand and foot into the Creator’s embrace, with never a moment’s consideration that such action would leave ours meaningless.

“We can talk about there being no compulsion in religion till we lose our voices, but conservatives will not care, and this will not lessen the number women being abused, or the number of atrocities being committed in our religion’s name,” Tariq Ramadan, Islamic scholar at Oxford University and grandson of the Islamic Brotherhood founder Hassan Al-Bana, told me at a conference on Islam and democracy in April.

I do not believe in secularism in the Maldives. But I do not accept neo-salafism as the only answer to it.

The Result of Conservatism

This poor soul, Ismail Mohamed Didi, was pushed to the edge as a result of the conservative ideologies present in our society. Those who knew him well have all attested that he was “a nice guy” who did not impose his atheism in others. The problem was that some who knew of his beliefs were offended by the fact that he had them to begin with, hence the official complaint and investigation. It is pure and simple: blatant intolerance is surpassing our need to have love for our fellow Maldivians.

Maldivians are becoming fanatical in their beliefs and the world has started to notice. We are importing Saudi-based neo-salafi ideologies rooted in the Hanbali School of Islamic jurisprudence. Out of the 1.5 billion Muslims on earth, only 10 percent of the Islamic world agrees with this interpretation. An interpretation, mind you, which refuses to accept the validity of any of the other classical forms of Islamic jurisprudence.

Religion is not something you wear on your sleeve, or with a long beard or Arabian dress. The growing norm in Maldivian culture is a complete eradication of it, because today in Maldives to be a better Muslim, you need to be a better Arab. Forget Indonesia, Malaysia, and even Egypt, because those are apparently not real Muslims. They are not educated enough. And even though many of their scholars have a lifetime of learning behind them, they do not see the truth.


Our Choice

Social negligence, which has existed for time immemorial, mixed with the newly institutionalised ideologies of intolerance have proven to be in this instance a fatal concoction. And this darkness has spread through our nation.

We all have a choice to make. We either chose to stand in the light, or to recede further into darkness. We each need to take responsibility for our actions and inaction. We each need to take responsibility for our society and the ills we see in it. We need to stand up for what is right; turning away from ignorance, hatred, intolerance and complete societal degradation. It starts with each and every one of us.


All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Hanged air traffic controller sought asylum for fear of religious persecution

Ismail Mohamed Didi, the 25 year-old air traffic controller who was found hanged from the control tower of Male International Airport at 4:00am on Tuesday morning in an apparent suicide, was seeking asylum in the UK for fear of persecution over his lack of religious belief.

Islamic website Raajjeislam reported yesterday that Ismail “was a person inclined to atheism” and had “declared his atheism to his friends.”

The website alleged that Ismail had refused to follow religious sermons.

“This is an issue that a Muslim government should consider,” the website said. “Because when these types of people die, they are buried in the same [cemetery] where Muslims are buried. Their funeral prayers and body washing are also conducted as for Muslims. It is questionable as to whether this is allowed according to Islam.”

Over two emails sent to an international humanitarian organisation on June 23 and 25, obtained by Minivan News, Ismail admits he is an atheist and desperately requests assistance for his asylum application, after claiming to have received several anonymous threats on June  22.

In the emails, he says he “foolishly admitted my stance on religion” to work colleagues, word of which had “spread like wildfire.”

“A lot of my close friends and girlfriend have been prohibited from seeing me by their parents. I have even received a couple of anonymous phone calls threatening violence if I do not repent and start practising Islam,” he said.

“Maldivians are proud of their religious homogeneity and I am learning the hard way that there is no place for non-Muslim Maldivians in this society.”

Ismail claimed he had been “trying for some time to seek employment abroad, but have not yet succeeded. I would already have left the country if I was sure I could meet the required burden of proof in an asylum claim.”

“I cannot bring myself to pretend to be I am something I am not, as I am a staunch believer in human rights. I am afraid for my life here and know no one inside the country who can help me.”

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: ismail mohamed <[email protected]>
Date: 25 June 2010 09:30
Subject: a plea for help

Dear sir,

I’m a 25 year-old Maldivian living in Male’. I have been working as an Air Traffic Controller at Male’ International Airport for almost 7 years now.

I started becoming disenchanted with Islam around 5 years ago and am now an atheist. During my transformation, and even now, I am quite the idealist, and when i was confronted about two years back by a couple of my colleagues about my aversion from the daily practices of Islam, i somewhat foolishly admitted my stance on religion.

I had asked them to keep it a secret from the rest of our workforce at ATC, although i now realize i should have known better. It did not take long for everybody at work to find out and since then, i have faced constant harassment in my work environment.

An atheist is not a common feature at all among Maldivians and the word has spread like wildfire since then. It has now come to the point where everyone I know, including my family, have become aware of my lack of belief.

In a society that has always been proud of their religious homogeneity, you can imagine what i am being put through. I have been subjected to numerous consultations with religious scholars and even my closest friends are not allowed to see me.

My company has already begun investigating a complaint regarding me, collecting testimony from fellow workers about my apostasy.

Just 3 days ago, i received two anonymous phone calls threatening violence if i do not start openly practicing Islam.

I am at my wit’s end now. I have been trying for sometime to secure employment abroad, but have not yet succeeded.

The only other alternative i can think of is to flee the country to seek asylum elsewhere. I have already written an e-mail to your organization, and am anxiously waiting for a reply. I found your e-mail address on facebook. I am in dire need of assistance and know of no one inside the country who can guide me.

I would have already left the country if i was sure i could meet the required burden of proof in an asylum claim. I would like to know if you would be able to help me in anyway should i travel to the U.K to seek asylum and what my chances are of making a successful claim.

Thank you for your consideration
Ismail Mohamed Didi

Mohamed Ibrahim, Managing Director of the Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL), confirmed that Ismail was  the subject of an internal investigation last month regarding his professed apostasy.

“I believe his family were also concerned, and tried to give him counselling through religious leaders,” Ibrahim said.

“Management decided it was outside our mandate and referred the matter to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs – we haven’t got a reply. Professionally we took no action – he was a good worker.”

A colleague of Ismail’s told Minivan News on condition of anonymity that his colleagues had learned he was an atheist “more than a year ago”, and while they did not care whether or not he believed in God, “some became irritated at the way he openly insulted God.”

“A complaint was made to the airport company’s human resources department. Based on their report – I saw a copy of the final version a month ago – they found that although he was an atheist, he was not propagating his belief in the workplace and so no action would be taken.”

The source insisted that Ismail was never mistreated by his colleagues about his religious position, “although they were sometimes irritated by the way he addressed God. He was treated as a normal controller and suffered no discrimination,” the source said, explaining that the air traffic controllers were a close-knit bunch who “lived and played together. Everybody was crying and misses him.”

Ismail was part of a large family from the island of Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, the source explained.

“The family is very humble and religious. His mother tried sending him to religious classes and a couple of months back he said he went to see Sheikh Illyas, but just argued with him about religion and stormed out. That’s what he said – I don’t know what was said in person. But it is possible his friends may have distanced themselves.”

Minivan News was unable to confirm whether Ismail visited Sheikh Illyas prior to his death, as the Sheikh was not responding to calls. However Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari said he was aware that Ismail’s parents had sought religious counselling for their son “because of some problems he was facing in his religious beliefs.”

“They asked for counselling but I think they met a scholar while they were in our office. I was not at the Ministry – this was during the period of [Cabinet’s] resignation. I heard he was not a ministry scholar – I don’t think it was Sheikh Illyas this time. I think he saw [Sheikh Hassan] Moosa Fikry,” Dr Bari said.

Sheikh Fikry, who is the Vice-President of religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf, was not responding to calls at time of press. Salaf’s President, Sheikh Abdulla Bin Mohamed Ibrahim, also could not be contacted.

Last moments

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said Ismail’s body showed no sign of physical injuries.

“Police have taken samples for forensic investigation, we are seeking more information about him to try and determine how this happened,” Shiyam said.

Ismail’s colleague said the 25-year-old had returned from leave shortly before the day he died.

“It seemed like he came to work fully prepared to die,” he said. “Ismail normally took the 6:00am-8:00am shift, but on this day he requested the supervisor give him the 3:00am-5:00am shift.”

“During this time there are no air traffic movements and the tower can be staffed by one person, before operations begin at 5:30am. It seems he wanted the quiet time alone,” he said.

“His mother said she called him in the morning at 5:30am to tell him to pray, but there was no answer. They found his cigarette lighter on the balcony.”


50 acre business development at Hulhule: GMR

A 50 acre business centre is proposed for Hulhule, north of the present Male International Airport, reports Haveeru.

“Our idea is to make that land a business centre of the Maldives. It was proposed based on our experience and the recommendations of US experts. If the government and the public want it, we are ready to do it,” said P Sripathy, CEO of GMR Hyderabad International Airport Limited.

There are many business opportunities in that area, he said. “For instance, people would be surprised if we say it is a mini transhipment hub. Many international flights, including large aircraft, land there. So cargo is being transited through Maldives from Colombo and other places. There are noticeable aspects there. The place holds value.”

The new terminal would be constructed north of the runway, according to Sripathy. “First phase of the new terminal will commence on a 45,000 square-metre area of land. The number of aircraft that can use the terminal per hour will increase once the runway is developed and the parking and taxi areas are expanded,” he added.


Government signs Male International Airport to GMR-Malaysia Airports consortium

The government today signed a 25 year lease agreement with the GMR-Malaysia Airport Holdings consortium to develop and manage Male’ International Airport, hours after parliament voted in favour of a bill requiring parliamentary approval of lease transactions with overseas parties.

Chairman of the Privatisation Committee, Mahmoud Razee, claimed parliament’s decision today would not impact the signing “as it yet to be ratified by the president.”

The signing ceremony was scheduled for yesterday but was derailed at the eleventh hour after reported disagreements between board members of the Maldives Airport Company Limited (MACL), the organisation which currently manages the airport.

Minivan News understands the four MACL board positions were reshuffled by the government last night in an effort to proceed with the signing today, although this has yet to be officially confirmed – new chairman Ibrahim Saleem, also Chairman of the Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC), signed the contract today in place of former chairman Ibrahim Nooradeen.

An official of the President’s Office observed to Minivan News that as the MACL is a public company with 100 percent of its shares owned by the government, “it is the duty of the board to act in the interests of the major shareholder.”

Minivan News is currently seeking comment from the board members.

Under the new agreement, the consortium will establish a new local company to manage the airport which will be operated by Malaysia Airlines Holdings. The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) will remain in charge of security, and immigration will remain under government control. A briefing document obtained by Minivan News also indicates that the agreement comes with a clause that no staff can be made redundant for two years unless for “disciplinary or performance related reasons.”

The deal has proved controversial with four opposition parties signing a statement on Saturday evening condemning the decision on nationalistic grounds, arguing that handing management of the airport to a foreign company compromised the sovereignty of the Maldives.

Deputy Leader of the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Ibrahim Shareef, said last week that the DRP would not honour “shady deals of this type” if it came to power in the next election, unless they were approved by parliament, while today another of the party’s deputy leaders, Umar Naseer, said the deal was “ridiculous” and would result in the dismissal of half the airport’s 3000 staff.

Speaking briefly to the media following the signing, Managing Director of GMR Infrastructure Sri Pathi hinted acknowledgement of the controversy, stating that “airports always belong to the people – never to us.”

“Please don’t think we came here to take over the airport,” he said. “We perhaps become the trustees – but emotionally in terms of ownership it belongs to the people. We are of course here to invest our money and make a business deal on the best terms possible – but the airport still belongs to the people. We make a commitment that we will operate the airport to the best international standards that we can, and prove to you that the trust you place in us will never be betrayed.”

Managing Director of Malaysia Airports Holdings, Basheer Ahmed, noted that the majority Malaysian-government owned company managed 39 airports in Malaysia and several overseas, including airports in Hyderbad and Delhi.

“Every country needs an excellent airport because it is the visitor’s first impression,” he said.

The briefing document obtained by Minivan News contains forecasts of the government’s expected earnings (reportedly provided by GMR) from the airport over the lifespan of the contract. It reveals that a majority of the predicted revenue, a major factor in calculating the NPV (net present value) used to determine the successful bid, derives from the 27 percent fuel revenue share once the airport is completed in 2014:

  • 2015-2020: 12.8m gross + 74.25m fuel = US$87.05m per year
  • 2020-2025- 17.02m gross + 90.99m fuel = US$108.01m per year
  • 2025-2035 – 20.43 gross + 108.27m fuel = US$128.7 m per year

The document contrasted this with the dividends paid to the government by MACL over the last three years, noting that the majority of the dividends paid in 2008-2009 were achieved “by taking a loan.”

  • 2007 – 2.3 million
  • 2008 – 13.3 million
  • 2009 – 5.05 million

On the suggestion that MACL should be allowed to raise finance and invest in the upgrade itself, a predicted US$300-400 million, the document noted that MACL “already has debts of Rf 600 million (US$46.69 million)” and would be unable to obtain further leverage “without a sovereign guarantee – simply not allowed due to the IMF measures.”

The airport was signed to GMR-MAH late this afternoon.

Meanwhile, daily newspaper Haveeru featured an interview with the Turkish-French consortium TAV-ADPM, who have reportedly expressed dissatisfaction of the bid evaluation process “and urged for a re-evaluation of the bids.”

“The newspapers started reporting that GMR won the bid even though we were not told the party who won the bid. We faced many problems, since the two companies in our consortium are also listed in stock exchange,” Haveerru reported head of the consortium, Gusiloo Betkin, as saying. “It cannot be said that a certain party won the bid without signing the concession agreement.”

Betkin expressed disbelief to Haveeru that the GMR-MAH bid could offer the government 27 percent of fuel trade “without facing any loss. We are a party that provides services to 170 million passengers annually in 39 airports. We also have experience in fuel trade,” Betkin told the newspaper.

TAV-ADPM had offered 16.5 percent of fuel trade to the government, he noted, the highest deemed feasible, and that at 27 percent, flight arrivals to the Maldives would be affected by rising fuel prices.

“The main thing is the fuel. If the fuel prices are high, no one will take in fuel from there – Maldives will lose that income. The airlines will also focus to other destinations,” Betkin told Haveeru.

The government’s Net Present Value calculations:

    Upfront fee: US$7m
    Variable concession fees share – non fuel – 2011-2014: 31%
    Variable concession fees – fuel – 2011-2014: 16.5%
    Variable concession fees share – non fuel – 2015-2025: 29.5%
    Variable concession fees – fuel – 2015-2025: 16.5%
    NPV: 454.04
    Upfront fee: US$78m
    Variable concession fees share – non fuel – 2011-2014: 1%
    Variable concession fees – fuel – 2011-2014: 15%
    Variable concession fees share – non fuel – 2015-2025: 10%
    Variable concession fees – fuel – 2015-2025: 27%
    NPV: 495.18
  • Unique-GVK
    Upfront fee: US$27m
    Variable concession fees share – non fuel – 2011-2014: 27%
    Variable concession fees – fuel – 2011-2014: 9%
    Variable concession fees share – non fuel – 2015-2025: 9%
    Variable concession fees – fuel – 2015-2025: 9%
    NPV: 266.94