Transport Minister sacked after extending Maamigili airport lease for 99 years

Minister of Transport Dr Ahmed Shamheed has been removed from his cabinet post on Thursday after announcing the extension of the Maamigili airport lease for 99 years.

The private airport is owned by Chairman of Villa Group and Jumhoree Party (JP) MP for Maamigili, Gasim Ibrahim. The airport had initially been leased to the JP presidential candidate’s Villa company for 30 years.

Dr Shamheed was nominated to the post by the government-aligned JP and is a senior member of the party led by the business magnate MP.

Shamheed told local media today that the decision to extend the lease had been made in an Economic Committee meeting last week.

“Documents to extend the lease of Maamigili Airport for 99 years were sent to the transport ministry by [former President Mohamed] Nasheed’s government. But the current government delayed the matter. The present government only endorsed the decision. It was decided by the NPC [National Planning Council] during the former government,” he was quoted as saying by newspaper Haveeru.

In addition to Shamheed, the Economic Committee consists of Minister of Finance Abdulla Jihad and Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Ahmed Shafeeu, Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muizzu, Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela and Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb.

“Transport Minster Dr Shamheed has been relieved from his duties today. Defense Minister Nazim will be the care taker until replaced by JP,” government spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza tweeted today.

He added that the cabinet seat will be reserved for the JP, currently the third largest party in terms of membership in the ruling coalition.

Riza informed Minivan News that despite Shamheed’s dismissal, the decision to extend the lease had not yet been reversed.

Maamigili airport was opened in October 2011 with JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa ‘Flyme’ airline landing the first flight in the new airport at the Alif Dhaal atoll, which has a number of tourist resorts.

In recent weeks, Gasim Ibrahim has publicly alleged corruption in the sale of a 30 percent stake of the Addu International Airport Company Pvt Ltd (AIA) to business magnate ‘Champa’ Hussain Afeef’s Kasa Holdings.

In a letter to President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, Gasim insisted that the Addu airport should be developed by the Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) and went on to offer to reclaim land for the project free of charge “using my own dredger, employees and machinery with the government only providing oil.”