Nasheed warns of “imminent sovereign debt crisis”

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has warned of a sovereign debt crisis if the Maldives is forced to pay US$1.4 billion in compensation to GMR over the abrupt termination of a concession agreement to develop Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

Nasheed also reiterated calls for the government to reverse the decision to cancel the contract in December 2012.

“The Maldives is now known around the world as a country that doesn’t keep its promises or honour the contracts. The airport fiasco will hit each and every Maldivian because banks won’t lend money and companies won’t invest in our country without demanding much higher rates of interest,” Nasheed was quoted as saying in a press release issued yesterday.

“By now, Maldivians should have been looking forward to a world-class, new airport, to rival Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Instead we have nothing but an abandoned building site. The actions of President [Abdulla] Yameen and [Dr Mohamed] Waheed have caused this crisis and Maldivians will be paying for their recklessness for decades to come” he added.

The press statement insisted that international best practices were followed in the bidding process – which was overseen by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) – while the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has since ruled out corruption in the airport deal.

Nasheed’s remarks comes on the heels of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – of which he was recently appointed acting president – threatening to terminate any new agreements concerning the airport should the party regain power.

Failure to reinstate the airport development contract would cause the Maldives to “suffer unforeseeable risk and irrevocable harm,” the party said in a statement yesterday.

Compensation owed “in any case”

Following President Abdulla Yameen publicly conceding that the Indian infrastructure company was owed compensation, GMR said it intends to stick to the US$1.4 billion compensation claim.

“The forceful takeover of the airport by Maldives government amounts to repudiation of a valid contract and therefore damages, including loss of future profit has to paid,” the company said in a statement on Friday (April 26).

Asked by reporters a day earlier if he was confident the outcome of the arbitration would be favourable for the Maldives, President Yameen said: “The reality we have to accept is that a government with full sovereign powers made an agreement with a foreign party and leased [the airport]. This is a government, and what preceded this was a government as well. So believe we have to pay them some kind of financial compensation.”

If the judges on the arbitration panel accept the government’s arguments for nationalisation or expropriation, Yameen said the compensation owed to GMR could be smaller.

“We’re going to have to provide compensation in any case,” he conceded.

Yameen however contended later that GMR was owed US$300 million as compensation for its investment as well as upgrades to the airport.

Yameen had previously said that the out-of-court settlement sought by GMR was too high, and that he would await the outcome of the arbitration proceedings, which could take up to another two months.

“Sovereign debt”

The US$1.4 billion sought by GMR at the Singapore Court of Appeal for “wrongful termination” of the 25-year contract exceeds the annual state budget whilst the national debt is expected to rise to MVR31 billion (US$2 billion) this year.

Nasheed meanwhile warned that “the consequences of the outcome of the arbitration will drive the Maldivian economy to the brink, leading to major sovereign debt crisis.”

The statement noted that estimated GDP for 2014 was US$2.5 billion with an external debt of US$868 billion while the Maldives presently “receives less than US$30 million in grant aid.”

“Coupled by the budget deficit and domestic debt crisis, we are looking at a heavy burden on our children and grandchildren. It would mean by the end of 2014, debt will increase from 25 percent of GDP to 88 percent of GDP,” it added.