JP MP Jabir raises Maldives investment fears over lack of resolution in GMR dispute

Jumhoree Party (JP) Deputy Leader Abdulla Jabir has criticised attempts to “politicise” the dispute between the government and India-based GMR over an agreement to develop Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) – fearing a negative impact on foreign investment.

The claims were made as the government-aligned Adhaalath Party (AP), which promotes religiously conservative values in the country, has continued to call on fellow coalition partners including the JP to take part in a series of “events” in the capital to protest against GMR’s development of the airport.

Speaking to Minivan News, Jabir, who is also a serving MP, highlighted the importance of maintaining an “investor friendly” atmosphere in the Maldives despite calls by some of the JP’s government coalition partners to re-nationalise the airport.

The MP said he instead advocated for sitting down and trying to find a compromise between the government and GMR, which is contracted to develop and run the airport for 25 years.

The dispute has centred, in part, over concerns like a disputed US$25 Airport Development Charge (ADC) that was to be levied on each passenger travelling through the site. GMR has maintained the the charge was contractually agreed, but later offered to exclude Maldivian nationals from paying it after the matter was contested in the country’s courts.

With the dispute unresolved, Jabir said he had sent a request to the Public Accounts Committee of the People’s Majlis for a review of the contract signed between GMR and the government of former President Mohamed Nasheed to “better understand” the agreement.

Several former opposition parties now serving in the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan have continued to raise allegations of possible corruption behind GMR’s bid to develop INIA – allegations refuted by the company and the former government.

Jabir maintained that discussion and analysis, rather than politicised rhetoric in the media and at public events, would be required to move forward with the issue in a manner that did not damage future investment opportunities.

“We need an investor friendly environment here. Politicians should be here to resolve issues not complicate them further,” he said. “Any allegations of misconduct should be investigated, but we should be able to sit down and discuss a resolution. Yet many people do not know about or even understand the deal that has been signed.”

Jabir claimed that the GMR contract should therefore be viewed as a business issue rather than a political problem, something that he claimed would require greater parliamentary understanding of the agreement signed by the former government.

Under the terms of the agreement – a US$511 million deal that represents the largest ever case of foreign investment in the Maldives – GMR agreed to a 25 year concession agreement to develop and manage the site, as well as to overhaul the existing terminal by the end of this year.

The document was overseen by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank group and the largest global institution focused on private sector projects in developing countries.

However, the Maldives government earlier this month accused the IFC of negligence during the bidding process for INIA – allegations there were rejected by the organisation.

Both the government and GMR are presently involved in an arbitration case in Singapore over the airport development.

Coalition response

The coalition parties making up the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan have at times appeared divided over how to proceed in regards to GMR the contract.  Some parties like the Adhaalath Party have advocated to gather in Male’ as part of a rally next month calling for the airport to be “returned” to the Maldivian people.

Speaking to local media earlier this month, Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla said that a ‘mass national gathering’ would be held at Male’s artificial beach area on November 3 at 4:00pm to coincide with Victory Day.  Victory Day is held in remembrance of a failed coup attempt that was thwarted in 1988.

Sheikh Imran told the Sun Online news service that the gathering was devised as part of ongoing attempts to try and “reclaim” the airport from GMR.  Imran was not responding to calls from Minivans News at the time of press.

Minivan News was also awaiting a response from Abdulla Ameen, Secretary General of the government-aligned Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) at the time of press concerning its response to the proposed gathering.  The DQP had previously published a 24-page book claiming that the former government’s lease of INIA to GMR was a threat to local industry that would serve to “enslave the nation and its economy”.

Meanwhile, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) claimed last month that while it held issues with the overall benefit to the Maldives from the GMR deal, “due process” had to be followed through proper legal channels in order to establish if any wrong doing had occurred with the airport contract.

Parliament review

JP Deputy Leader Jabir himself this week criticised certain high-profile political figures in the country over their response to the GMR contract.  He accused some of these figures of not “knowing what they are talking about” in regards to the deal, highlighting the need for a review of the agreement within the Public Accounts Committee.

Jabir was particularly critical of the Adhaalath Party’s response towards the GMR issue, which he claimed had complicated finding a resolution.

“Sometimes they are religious experts, sometimes they are financial experts. But everyone loves Islam here. Right now, foreign investors are finding it difficult to understand the climate here. This is not a perfect time for this issue to be happening with GMR,” he said. “I think these protests [against GMR] are unrealistic.”

Jabir claimed that from his experience as both a parliamentarian and business owner in the country, there was “no such thing” as a deal that cannot be renegotiated.

“However, if there is no talking then the country is only losing money whilst people take to the streets,” he added.

Earlier this month, INIA CEO Andrew Harrison told Indian media that the company had received no official word from the Maldivian government concerning a resolution to the dispute.

Yet despite MP Jabir’s concerns about the potential impacts the ongoing dispute over the airport development might have on future foreign investment, one national trade body recently played down fears that GMR’s case was proving to be economically detrimental to the Maldives.

The Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industries (MNCCI) claimed last month that legal wrangling between the government and GMR over the multi-million dollar airport development was not adversely harming confidence in the country’s “challenging” investment climate.

MNCCI Vice President Ishmael Asif contended that ongoing legal disputes linked to both the GMR agreement and another high-profile contract to manage a border control system with Malaysia-based Nexbis were not among concerns foreign investors had raised with the chamber.

“GMR has nothing to do with the investment climate here, at the end of the day it is a personal concern for the company and more a matter of local politics,” he claimed.


Waheed to visit China to enhance trade

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan has revealed his plans to visit China on an official state visit next week, highlighting the continued significance of the nation to Maldivian interests.

“China is a fast developing nation and most products are being made there. Both small and larger countries are trying to establish trade ties with China. Hence we should also follow suit,” Waheed told local media upon his return yesterday from a state visit to Sri Lanka.

The last official state visit by a Maldivian President to China came in May 2010 when Mohamed Nasheed visited the Shanghai World Expo.

Nasheed met Chinese President Hu Jintao during his trip, Dr Waheed is himself reportedly expecting to meet Prime Minister Wen Jiabao next week.

The Foreign Ministry has said that more information about the visit would be released to the media in the coming days.

Ministry of Economic Development’s figures show that imports from China have more than doubled between 2010 and 2011, reaching US$68.9 million dollars.

Maldivian exports to China were reported to total just $26,000 last year, consisting largely of fisheries products.

Vice President of the Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industries (MNCCI) Ishmael Asif explained that the potential of Sino-Maldivian ties could be better realised through increased awareness of nature of the island nation.

“The Chinese are yet to understand logistics in the Maldives, including its politics,” he said. “We are trying to educate them on these things.”

He added that efforts were already being made in the field of education in order to “help us understand one another’s culture.”

In addition to trade ties, China has become increasingly important to the Maldives’ in terms of interest from tourists.

China leapfrogged the United Kingdom in 2010 to become the number one source of arrivals for the country’s travel industry.

Official figures reveal that China has provided 22.2 percent of all arrivals to the Indian Ocean nation this year – up 14.5 percent from last year.

“Most tourist arrivals to the Maldives are from China. More than 200,000 tourists come to the Maldives from China. Hence we must establish a close relationship with the country,” Waheed told reporters yesterday.

Asif added that there were great possibilities for Chinese investment in the Maldives’ tourism sector.

“For example, we have no Chinese hotel in the Maldives,” he said. “They are very interested in investment.”

The MNCCI  – whose remit is to promote trade and business in the Maldives – has had an office in Chengdu for two years. Chengdu, in Szechuan province, is the departure point for most Chinese visiting the Maldives, explained Asif.

In the wake of the rapid expansion in tourism links, closer ties have developed in the fields of aviation and diplomacy.

The rise of Mega Maldives Airlines has been particularly notable in recent years. The company, started in 2010, has more than doubled in size in the last year – operating charter flights between the Maldives and five Chinese destinations, as well as Hong Kong.

In April, the company conducted a travel road show in partnership with the Maldives Ministry of Tourism.

The company reported the cancellation of some flights after the political unrest in the Maldives in February. Although arrivals figures bounced back, the Maldives still remains on the Hong Kong Security Bureau’s travel alert system.

Disturbances in the capital at the time included the destruction of the National Museum’s pre-Islamic display. The Museum itself was a gift from China in 2010.

A Chinese embassy opened in Male’ in time for the opening of the SAARC summit last November, reciprocating the opening of a Maldivian mission in Beijing in 2007.

Indian officials were reported at the time as having concern that the move was part of China’s “string of pearls” policy which supposedly involves Chinese attempts at naval expansion into the Indian Ocean.

When asked by a reporter what the Maldives’ policy was regarding Sino-Indian competition in the region, President Waheed is said to have responded that the policy of a small nation like the Maldives ought to be to avoid too great an involvement in geopolitics.

Waheed’s first official state visit after becoming president saw him travel to India in May. The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) conducted joint naval operations with India in the same month.


MNCCI waits on Adeeb parliamentary backing before appointing new president

The Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI) will wait for current president Ahmed Adeeb to receive parliamentary approval for his appointment as Minister of Tourism Arts and Culture before replacing him in the organisation.

Speaking to Haveeru, current MNCCI Vice President Ismail Asif said the organisation was in the process of setting out an election process to appoint a new president.

However, Asif stressed that no decision would be taken until Adheeb received parliamentary approval to become the country’s new tourism minister – a decision requiring him to step down from holding the chamber of commerce’s presidency.

Should parliamentary backing be obtained for Adheeb to succeed Dr Mariyam Zulfa as the nation’s tourism head, Asif was quoted as saying that a general meeting would then be held to find a new MNCCI head.


Chamber of Commerce VP stabbed by two men on motorcycle

A pair of men have stabbed the Vice President of the Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industries (MNCCI),  Ismail Asif, near private Radio Station SunFM.

Speaking to Minivan News from ADK Hospital, Asif said the two men came up on a motorbike and stabbed him twice in the back.

‘’They were two very young persons, they just stopped and stabbed me. I was shocked to see there was no fear on their face, they were not covering their faces or anything, I mean it was broad daylight,’’ Asif said. ‘’They did not say anything to me and I have not received any threats or warnings, so I do not what it is about.’’

Asif said the two men must have been following him for a long time, because he said he was not stabbed at a place he goes to regularly.

‘’I came out from a meeting at the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) and went to drop this friend and right before I turned to leave they came up and stabbed me,’’ he said, adding that it was a “complete shock”.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News that the incident was reported to police at about 3:25pm.

‘’We have information that Asif was attacked with a sharp object and that he is currently at the hospital,’’ he said, adding that investigation was ongoing and declining to provide further information.


Foreign investors need “one-stop shop” to navigate Maldives bureaucracy: MNCCI

Local trade authorities must do more to simplify foreign investment procedures in the country as they attempt to increase income of dollar revenue, the Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industries (MNCCI) has claimed.

Ahmed Adheeb, an MNCCI member and Chief Operating Officer of the Millennium Capital Management (MCM) investment group, said he believed the country was failing to follow in the footsteps of markets like Sri Lanka by establishing a board of investment to help foreign companies navigate the complexities of local business culture.

“In order for the Maldives to build investor confidence I believe that firstly we need a board of investment like they have in Sri Lanka,” he said. “The Maldives has many different ministries that must be navigated to get licenses [to operate businesses]. We need a one-stop shop [for foreign business] if we are to bring international investors into different areas.”

Adheeb’s comments were made after members of the MNCCI recently met with their Pakistani counterparts in Male’ to discuss business and investment opportunities across the Maldives. Although no specific areas of interest for local investment were raised as yet during the meetings, Adheeb claimed that recommendations were made regarding potential opportunities for putting money into smaller and medium size tourism developments like guesthouses and safari boats.

The MNCCI said that it also acknowledged requests from the Pakistani representatives to host a single country forum here in Maldives to promote bringing certain food and pharmaceutical products to local markets.

With growing fears over the lack US dollars currently being circulated in the Maldives, generating additional foreign currency revenues has been identified as a key part of the government’s economic stabilisation strategy.

While calling for simplified investment procedures for businesses coming to the Maldives, Adheeb claimed that he hoped to see protection measures for local small and medium enterprises in the country.   One such example was in potentially setting caps on the minimum size of investments that could be made by foreign parties in the country.

“We should try to ensure that we are not endangering existing local small and medium enterprises,” he added.

However, amidst ongoing attempts by the government to try and devalue the rufiya to try and stabilise the Maldivian economy – under pressure from bodies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – Economic Development Minister Mahmoud Razee claimed that recent financial uncertainties has not significantly impacted potential foreign investment in the Maldives.

“Generally the interest is still there. In the development of Hanimaadhoo for example we have seen 19 groups expressing interest in the project. Ten of these [parties] were foreign investors,” he said.

Razee claimed that he did not believe that recent financial upheaval in the country including fears over a shortage of US dollars finding their way into the local economy had not led to cases of “specific hesitation” from enterprises looking to invest in the country.

“Obviously [the country’s finances] are something investors will be looking into, but we believe this is not a significant setback as a result,” he added.

Razee said that the government had expressed interest in working with foreign business to develop national agriculture and aquaculture, as well as transport infrastructure.

President Mohamed Nasheed had stated last year that private sector investment was expected to bring US$1 billion to the local economy between 2010 and 2013.

However, aside from issues of financial stability, a former Australian Supreme Court Justice who spent several weeks in the Maldives this year analysing the functioning and impartiality of the country’s judiciary said that he believed legal reform had a key impact on economic performance.

After reporting that the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) – designed to serve as a legal watchdog – was compromising its accountability and obstructing the creation of an independent judiciary, Murray Kellam claimed that an impartial judicial system was a key factor in encouraging foreign investment.

Kellam said that Singapore was a perfect example of the long-term financial transformations possible with focused and impartial legal reform.

“[Singapore] understood the value of a civil system that is incorruptible and competent. They spent a lot of money on their judiciary and Transparency International now rates their civil legal system as one of the best in the world,” he told Minivan News in March this year.

“Singapore realised that one of the best ways to attract investment was to have a system whereby international investors knew they would get a fair go in domestic courts. If you look at the circumstances in other parts of the world where investors have no confidence in the judiciary, that deters investment and takes it offshore. They’ll go somewhere else.”


Rise in blackmarket exchange rate no setback for currency stability aims, claims Economic Development Minister

Two months after the government announced plans for greater economic stability by devaluing its currency against the US dollar, the Maldives’ Economic Development Minister has said increases in black market exchange rates are no setback to the country’s long-term financial aims.

Amidst local media reports that the value of the Maldivian rufiyaa – capped until April this year at Rf12.85 against the US dollar – was trading at Rf16.5 on the black market, Minister Mahmood Razee said that authorities would likely wait for an allotted three month-period to pass before considering any additional financial support measures.

Despite this approach, the Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI) has claimed that local enterprise is not being supported by financial institutions like banks in terms its needs – particularly for importers reliant on foreign currency to bring in goods to the market.

However, sticking to earlier estimates that the managed float of the rufiyaa within 20 percent of the 12.85 exchange would require about three months to begin to bring stability, Razee claimed that it remained too early to say if additional support measures were needed from the government to bridge the dollar supply.

“I don’t see the black-market exchange rate as a setback as it is low [tourism] season right now, meaning we are earning fewer dollars,” he said. “Now it has been a couple of months since we changed the dollar rate. When [the currency float] was announced in April we said it will take around three months to see if the rate will stabilize. We do not know yet whether there is just a dip in [dollar] supply or something else.”

When addressing potential changes already bought about to the exchange rate since the dollar float was introduced, Razee said he believed it remained too early to speculate on what longer term impacts had taken place in regards to the availability of dollars.

The Economic Development Minister added that if there were no signs of stabilisation by next month, then he expected the Ministry of Finance to begin looking at additional measures to try and bring some market stability to the economy.

“I’m not privy to the exact information on what these measures could be right now,” he said. “What we have been doing is working with national authorities in markets like India to see what means of assistance there might be.”

The rufiyaa has sat at the maximum limit of Rf15.42 following the government’s managed float of the rufiyaa within a 20 percent band.

Treasurer of the Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI), Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Gafoor, told Minivan News that he believed that the managed currency float had served only to exacerbate the difficulties facing local businesses that were being given little choice other than to rely on black market exchange rates.

“The banks are not providing dollars to businesses, especially for importer and traders who are the backbone of the economy and vital to distributing goods,” he claimed. “With Ramazan ahead, we have been told that the State Trading Organisation (STO) will be providing 27 goods and commodities at stable prices, but we will have to see if this is possible.”

Adheeb claimed that in the immediate term, banks had simply not been providing additional credit lines for businesses requiring foreign currency exchanges, a demand he said that was having to be satisfied through additional financial channels.

“The solution I believe is that banks will have to provide,” he said. “Credit card payments are being settled in rifuyaa, yet many importers are not being satisfied when it comes to their own needs.”

Speaking as a private citizen Adheeb said that more changes were needed in how banks dealt with business as well as how government were looking to encourage sustainable foreign finance.

“We have seen no encouraging signs [from the float] and I don’t think this is a good policy at this time,” he said.

The MNCCI treasurer said that he believed that alongside government talk of minimum wages, it would be wise to discuss maximum wages in certain cases to try and balance national; budget more effectively.

“I don’t understand why this is a policy not being discussed,” he added.


MNCCI and CCTE sign agreement to develop retail sector

The Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industries (MNCCI) has signed an agreement with the Centre for Career and Technical Education (CCTE) which will allow the CCTE to develop courses, training programmes, workshops and seminars to develop the retail sector, reports Miadhu.

The agreement was signed at a ceremony held yesterday at MNCCI. It was signed by Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Gafoor on behalf of the MNCCI and Mohamed Siraj Haleem, for the CCTE.