GMR offers to exempt Maldivian nationals from airport development charge

GMR has offered to exempt Maldivian nationals from paying the contentious Airport Development Charge (ADC), in a bid to end a legal and contractual stalemate that threatens to bankrupt the Maldives Airport Company Limited (MACL) and deprive the government of the majority of all airport revenue.

The Indian infrastructure giant signed a 25 year concession agreement with former President Mohamed Nasheed’s government to upgrade and manage Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA). Under the concession agreement, a US$25 charge was to be levied on all outgoing passengers to part-fund the US$400 million upgrade.

However while in opposition the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), led by Dr Hassan Saeed, now President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s special advisor, filed a successful case in the Civil Court in December 2011 to block the payment of the charge, on the grounds that it was effectively a tax not approved by parliament.

Nasheed’s government had agreed to deduct the ADC from the concession fees payable by GMR while it sought to appeal to verdict. As a result, Dr Waheed’s government received only US$525,355 from the airport for the quarter, compared to the US$8.7 million it was expecting.

In a statement today, GMR said the government had “expressed a desire to exempt Maldivian citizens from the ADC”, as “the majority of Maldivians travel abroad for the purposes for healthcare and education.”

“The ADC was conceptualised and incorporated into the concession agreement by the government to yield a maximum return to the Maldives while ensuring development of the airport and a reasonable return to the successful bidder,” GMR stated.

“We are sensitive to the apprehensions expressed regarding ADC; and would like to assure all concerned that the management of GMR Male International Airport is doing everything possible by offering viable options to reduce the impact on the Maldivians, thereby helping the government for the ADC implementation.”

GMR presented the government with two options:

  • Option 1: No Maldivian passport holder will have to pay ADC. Every departing foreign passenger will pay an ADC of US$28.00; or
  • Option 2: Maldivians travelling to SAARC countries will not have to pay any ADC. Every Maldivian Passport holder departing to countries other than SAARC and every foreign passenger will pay an ADC of US$27.00.

No fee would be charged to either Maldivians or foreigners using the domestic terminal, the company noted.

In the statement, GMR noted that the government received US$33 million in 2011 from airport concession fees, “three times the money the government ever made in a year [from the airport] before privatisation.”

Following construction of the new terminal in 2015 – including “a state-of-the-art 600,000 square foot integrated Passenger Terminal and a 20,000 square foot VIP terminal, and various other airside and landside developments,” expected revenue from the airport to the government was expected to reach US$50 million per year, GMR observed, and almost US$100 million from 2021 as passenger numbers increased.

“In effect, GMIAL’s contribution to the government would be over US$2 billion over the concession period of 25 years, which will make a very significant contribution to the economy of the Maldives.”

President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said the government had not yet officially received details of the offer, but said that such an offer would be evaluated by the Attorney General’s office “to see whether it is in line with the Financial Regulation Act.”

Attorney General Azima Shakoor was yesterday reported as expressing concern that settling the issue would be “quite difficult”, but vowed that “the government would settle the issue for the benefit of the country.”

On May 2 President Dr Mohamed Waheed told media at the inauguration of the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO): “I do not believe [the ADC] can be charged in the current situation because of the court’s decision.”