Yameen concedes that GMR is owed some compensation

With additional reporting by Ahmed Rilwan

President Abdulla Yameen has today said the government was sure it would have to pay some compensation for cancelling the agreement made with the Indian infrastructure giant GMR to lease Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

“The truth we should accept is that a government with all its sovereignty has given permission to a foreign party under an agreement,” said the president.

“So we believe some sort of financial compensation must be paid to them. A compensation must be given for taking the airport [from them]. What we are trying to make sure this compensation is not big but average.”

Yameen was speaking to the press before leaving for Singapore to take part in the Maldives Investment Forum – an event he described as “the first step taken towards a fresh start for the Maldives in today’s world economy”.

In November 2012, President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s cabinet declared the GMR agreement void ab initio – invalid from the outset – and ordered the developer to leave, just two years into its 25 year concession agreement.

President Yameen explained to the press today that his advisors believed that, if the arbitration panel could be persuaded that the deal had been anulled due to the airport’s national importance, the compensation would be small.

GMR had initially claimed US$1.4 billion – a figure greater than the Maldives’ annual state budget.

Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) formed part of the Waheed coalition government, though it’s leader – former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – has since accuse Waheed of going against his party’s advice by failing to reach an amicable agreement with GMR and the Indian government.

During his first official state visit to Indian in January, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh requested President Yameen to “amicably” settle the GMR airport issue.

Earlier this month, Yameen had said that the out-of-court amount sought by the infrastructure company was too great, and that he would now await the outcome of proceedings, which could take up to another two months.

The US$511 million concession agreement to manage and upgrade the airport – awarded under the former government of Mohamed Nasheed – was the single largest foreign investment in the Maldives’ history.

President Yameen will tomorrow give the keynote speak at the landmark investment forum, as he seeks to generate interest from foreign investors for five ‘mega-projects’ – one of which is the further development of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

As part of the president’s attempts to lure foreign investors back to the country, he has promised special economic zones which hopes will be “likened to cities in Dubai or the Emirates” and “the [business] environment we have in Singapore.”

Senior management of Singapore’s Changi International Airport visited the Maldives earlier this month, with Yameen explaining the purpose of the visit to press this afternoon.

“Changi’s management will be our final consultant with the terminal [project] and other consultancies required for the airport,” he explained. “We want to seek technical expertise and information on how to do things from Singapore Changi.”

“The project has progressed far now, Changi has expressed interest. So we believe all the supervisory and consultancy work of this terminal will be carried out by Changi.”


Government plans US$40 million stadium for Hulhumalé

The Ministry of Youth and Sports has announced plans to construct a US$40 million stadium in Hulhumalé, local media has reported.

“Several components of Hulhumale’ Youth City will be promoted at the forum in Singapore. The stadium being planned for Hulhumale’ will stand out in the region,” Minister for Youth and Sports Maleeh Jamal told Sun Online.

The minister revealed that the investment opportunity would be included in the Maldives Investment Forum, scheduled to be held in Singapore on April 25.

Haveeru has today learned that over 300 investors from 15 countries are set to attend the forum at the prestigious Marina Bay Sands hotel.

President Yameen’s plans for Hulhumalé include the development of ‘youth village’ with a population of 50,000 people, as well a bridge linking the reclaimed island with the capital, Malé.

The vision for the youth city meanwhile includes a “technopolis park” as well as entertainment and sports facilities, he said at the launch of a new housing project this month.

Hulhumalé will become “a paradise on earth” for migrants from across the country, said Yameen.


Arbitration proceedings in GMR case to begin within the week

Proceedings in the US$1.4 billion GMR arbitration case will begin this Thursday, local media has reported today.

Officials at the Attorney General’s Office told Minivan News that, while they could not confirm the precise dates, representatives of the office working on the case are currently in Singapore.

Citing sources within the government, media has reported that both the government of Maldives and the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) will be represented at the hearings which they have said will begin on Thursday (April 10) for six days.

The case was filed following the premature termination of the a 25-year concession agreement to develop Malé’s Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) by the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed in December 2012.

The Attorney General’s office has earlier stated that the Maldives will be represented by Singapore National University Professor M. Sonaraja, while former Chief Justice of the UK Lord Nicholas Addison Phillips will represent GMR.

The arbitrator – mutually agreed upon by both GMR and the Government of Maldives – is retired senior UK Judge Lord Leonard Hubert Hoffman. Both GMR and the government have earlier stated that arbitration proceedings will be concluded around May this year.

In 2010, GMR Male International Airport Pvt Ltd, owned by GMR-MAHB consortium, was awarded a concession contract to manage INIA in an investment worth US$511 million – the largest in the Maldives history.

In December 2013 President Waheed’s government prematurely terminated the concession agreement claiming that it was ‘void ab initio’, or invalid from the outset.

The management of INIA was returned to the state-owned MACL which at the time was still responsible for some aspects of airport operations.

After an injunction blocking the Maldivian government from voiding the agreement was overturned by the Supreme Court in Singapore in June 2013, GMR initiated the arbitration process claiming US$1.4 billion in compensation for “wrongful termination”.

During the second round of procedural hearings in August 2013, the tribunal acceded to GMR-MAHB’s request to split the proceedings in two – firstly determining liability, before quantifying the amount of compensation to be paid separately.

The proceedings will consider GMR’s claim is for compensation as per the termination clause of its concession agreement, a parallel claim for loss of profits over the lifespan of the agreement due to its termination, and the Maldives government’s counter-claim for restitution should the tribunal decide in its favour.

Indo-Maldivian relations appeared to have be strained following the termination of GMR contract, although bilateral relations have improved with the election of President Abdulla Yameen.

Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has since requested President  Yameen to “amicably” settle the GMR airport issue.

Speaking to local media, Attorney General Mohamed Anil has earlier suggested the government had a strong case in the arbitration proceedings.

In separate Singapore-based arbitration proceedings, one of the project’s lenders, Axis Bank, was said to have sought payment of US$160 million for a loan guaranteed by the Maldivian Finance Ministry. These reports were subsequently denied by the government.


Government to showcase five development projects at Singapore investment forum

The Ministry of Economic Development will be presenting five investment opportunities planned for the country’s development at the Maldives Investment Forum in Singapore this month.

The forum will aim to increase the interest of Asian-region investors, and will be the first forum of such a scale to be hosted by the Maldives in another country.

President Abdulla Yameen will also be attending the forum, which is scheduled for April 25 at the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore.

“It is a showcasing of the largest infrastructure projects, for company registration, to the international investment community. The keynote will be by the president and we are working on the details for the showcase,” said Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Economic Development Yusuf Riza.

“We have had forums of this sort before, but not at this level, not with the president there – this has been done at the ministerial level.”

Although Riza said the details of the projects were yet to be announced, local media outlet Haveeru has reported details of the developments to be presented to potential investors.

These are reported to be: the development of Ihavandhippolhu as an economic zone, a project to develop ‘I-Heaven’ and Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), the second phase of Hulhumalé’s development, a project to develop the current commercial harbour at Thilafushi, and a scheme to extract fuel and gas from the Maldivian region.


GMR chair expects arbitration proceedings to be concluded by May

GMR Group Chairman GM Rao expects arbitration proceedings in its dispute with the Government of Maldives to be concluded by May next year, India media has reported.

Rao was quoted whilst commenting on the infrastructure company’s bid to secure an airport development deal in the Phillipines.

A record-breaking US$5oo million deal to re-develop Malé’s Ibrahim Nasir International Airport was cancelled by the Maldives Government in late2012.

On November 27, then-President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s cabinet declared the agreement to be ‘void ab initio’ – invalid from the outset – ordering the developer to leave.

GMR subsequently took the case to a Singapore court of arbitration, claiming US$1.4billion in compensation – a figure that eclipses the Maldives’ state budget.

During the second round of procedural hearings in August this year, the tribunal acceded to GMR’s request to split the proceedings into firstly determining liability, before quantifying the amount of compensation to be paid separately.

Minivan News understands that the tribunal agreed this would simplify examination and quantification of what was effectively three claims being made in the hearing: GMR-MAHB’s claim for compensation as per the termination clause of its concession agreement, its parallel claim for loss of profits over the lifespan of the agreement due to its termination, and the government’s counter-claim for restitution should the tribunal decide in its favour.


Government targets public share sale in airport operator MACL over next seven days

The government has announced its intention to begin publicly selling shares in the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) – the current operator of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

Although the country’s Finance Ministry today told Minivan News that no timeline had been finalised for the sale owing to “legal process”, the President’s Office confirmed the state had planned to begin offering shares to the public within the next seven days.

India-based newspaper ‘The Hindu’ has meanwhile quoted an unnamed government source as claiming the administration of President Dr Mohamed Waheed was expected to hold most of the shares in the state-owned company on the back of such a sale.

The share sale has been announced despite arbitration hearings pending in Singapore into a US$1.4 billion compensation claim filed by India-based GMR, after a 25 year agreement to develop and manage a new terminal at INIA was declared void by the current government in November 2012.

The government maintains the decision to terminate the World Bank-approved GMR tender was made over allegations of corruption, claims ultimately rejected by the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) this year.

President Waheed’s administration last November gave the foreign investors seven days to hand over the unfinished airport to the government-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL), which later sought to transfer the assets to a newly-created, state-owned entity called Male’ International Airport Limited (MIAL).

The government later abandoned its intentions towards such a transfer by June this year, on the basis that the “the termination of the contract between the government of Maldives and GMR [is] currently in the arbitration stage.”

With the transfer cancelled, Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad told Minivan News today that the cabinet had approved plans to sell shares in MACL to members of the public, although no date had yet been agreed to begin such a sale.

“There is a legal process we have to follow. We are working on the time frame,” he added.

Jihad request that all other questions over the legal implications of the share sale amidst ongoing arbitration should be directed to the office of Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukoor.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said he too was aware the government was looking to sell shares over the “coming week”, but said any further queries should be forwarded AG Shukoor or other members of special committee charged with overseeing the airport’s development.

AG Shukoor and Deputy AG Ahmed Usham were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Meanwhile, Maldives Airports Corporation Limited (MACL) CEO Ibrahim ‘Bandhu’ Saleem requested Minivan News contact the Ministry of Finance regarding all information on the MACL share sale.

Asset concerns

In May this year, a global body representing the world’s airports, issued a notice advising its members to exercise caution before making any investments relating to INIA, over concerns of the government’s intention of transferring MACL’s assets to MIAL.

In an email obtained by Minivan News dated May 8, Airports Council International (ACI) advised: “due diligence while considering any investment in the Maldives, considering the latest developments, uncertainty of outcome of elections, the legal and financial risks of the current arbitration and the nascent legal framework.”


Arbitration tribunal in GMR hearing agrees separate assessment of liability

The GMR-Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (GMR-MAHB) consortium has won an early legal skirmish in the Singapore-based arbitration hearings into its US$1.4 billion compensation claim for early termination of its contract by the Maldivian government.

GMR-MAHB won a concession agreement to manage and upgrade Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) under the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) administration, which was ousted from power on 7 February 2012 amid protests and a police mutiny.

The new government, comprising a coalition of former opposition parties under current President Mohamed Waheed, declared in late 2012 that GMR-MAHB’s agreement was ‘void ab initio’ (invalid from the outset) and gave the developer seven days’ notice to leave the country.

The US$511 million agreement was at the time the country’s single largest foreign investment. According to the government’s own engineering assessment, the development was 25 percent complete at the time GMR-MAHB was evicted.

The consortium has since lodged a US$1.4 billion claim with the Singapore Court of Arbitration, an amount eclipsing the Maldives’ annual state budget. The government is being represented by a Singapore National University Professor M. Sonarajam, while GMR-MAHB is being represented by former Chief Justice of the UK, Lord Nicholas Edison Phillips. The arbitrator is retired senior UK Judge, Lord Leonard Hubert Hoffman.

Latest hearings

During the second round of procedural hearings earlier this month, the tribunal acceded to GMR-MAHB’s request to split the proceedings into firstly determining liability, before quantifying the amount of compensation to be paid separately.

Minivan News understands that the tribunal agreed this would simplify examination and quantification of what was effectively three claims being made in the hearing: GMR-MAHB’s claim for compensation as per the termination clause of its concession agreement, its parallel claim for loss of profits over the lifespan of the agreement due to its termination, and the government’s counter-claim for restitution should the tribunal decide in its favour.

According to a source familiar with the matter, the government’s legal team opposed splitting the proceedings in such a fashion as they had not had access to GMR-MAHB’s documentation, and would therefore be unable to assess the scope of the claim at stake.

Minivan News understands that the tribunal rejected the government’s position on the grounds that it would be quicker, fairer and less costly to resolve the case by first determining liability for each of the claims, and then quantifying these.

Separate development paths

Local media has meanwhile reported that Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL), which took over management of the airport following the government’s eviction of the foreign investor, has sought a US$150 million loan from Thailand’s Exim Bank for the construction of a new runway.

Sun Online reported MACL Managing Director Bandhu Saleem as stating that MACL’s three-year development project, involving reclamation of land for the runway and development of a new terminal, would cost a total of US$380 million.

“The terminal is being designed. The funding will be available in the next six months or so. We are planning to start the construction of the terminal as soon as the runway is completed,” Saleem reportedly told Sun.

Future development of the airport and fallout from the arbitration proceedings is likely to be affected by the upcoming election.

Of the four presidential candidates contesting the presidential election on September 7, both resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim and incumbent President Mohamed Waheed have taken strongly nationalistic positions on MACL retaining full control (and responsibility for financing) the airport’s development.

Gasim’s running mate, Dr Hassan Saeed, was an early and emphatic proponent of GMR-MAHB’s eviction, previously issued a pamphlet calling for the cancellation of the agreement and likening it to “taking bitter medicine to cure a disease” or “amputating an organ to stop the spread of cancer.”

The Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), a major opponent of the MDP’s government’s signing of the concession agreement, has in recent months appeared to have taken a more conciliatory position, blaming the fallout of the agreement’s sudden cancellation on President Waheed.

“We told the next President Mr Waheed that he should hold discussions with the GMR Group and the Indian government to arrive at an acceptable solution, after which the government was free to act on its own,” PPM head and former Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom told Indian media in June. “Unfortunately, this was not done and suddenly there was this unhappy ending.”

The MDP has meanwhile signalled that if elected, it intends to negotiate the return of the developer. Construction of the new terminal was originally pegged for completion by 2014.

“The coup government nullified the agreement, and we will see how best to rectify it,” former Economic Development Minister Mahmoud Razee told Minivan News.

“If need be we will go to the Majlis. Our objective is to get work restarted as quickly as possible,” he said.


Elections Commission confirms ballot boxes in New Delhi and Singapore

The Elections Commission (EC) has confirmed that ballot boxes will be present in New Delhi and Singapore, after both venues received the minimum number of registrations, reports local media.

Expatriate Maldivians who have re-registered to vote in locations outside their home islands will be able to vote in New Delhi, Trivandrum, Colombo, Kuala Lumpur, London and Singapore.

The EC will deploy 480 ballot boxes in the election, including 122 in Male and 55 on resorts and prison islands.


Low voter registration by Maldivians abroad could mean no voting in London, New Delhi and Singapore

Not sure where you are registered to vote? Check here online

The Elections Commission has warned it may not be able to place ballot boxes in London, Singapore and New Delhi for the upcoming presidential elections September 7, as current figures from the commission suggest that the number of registered voters is trailing below the required minimum 100 registered voters.

Speaking to Minivan News on Thursday, Vice President of the Elections Commission Ahmed Fayaz said that with the deadline for voter registration expiring on August 7, the current rate of registration could mean Maldivians residing in London, New Delhi and Singapore may not be able to cast their vote in the elections.

“However, we can only say that for sure after the deadline expires,” he said.

Fayaz said other regions outside the country where large number of Maldivians currently reside are doing well in terms of registration. So far, the commission confirmed that it will be able to place ballot boxes in Trivandrum, Colombo and Malaysia.

According to Fayaz, 652 Maldivians have registered to vote in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 225 have registered to vote in Trivandrum, India and 302 people have registered to vote in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He also said the commission is currently working to get the figures from Singapore, London and Delhi.

Despite fears expatriate Maldivians would be unable to vote, the Chair of Elections Commission Fuwad Thowfeek – who is currently on the island of Fuahmulah conducting voter education programs – appeared confident that the commission could still place ballot boxes in the affected regions as past experience suggested Maldivians tend to register “at the last minute”.

“Even during the last elections, people registered to vote in the last week of registration. This is the last week. So I believe people will register and we will be able to place ballot boxes in all regions,” Thowfeek said.

Fuwad said the Elections Commission had been collaborating with respective Maldivian High Commissions in the regions to register voters for the upcoming elections.

“We have placed a focal point for the Elections Commission in all the High Commissions including Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, India and UK. This has been done on the recommendations of the High Commissions as well,” he explained.

Thowfeek said that High Commissions will help register votes during normal working hours of the respective countries, according to a  procedure is similar to that carried out in the Maldives.

“The process is similar to [registration in] Male. A person who is, say for example, living in Ahmedabad in India can register to vote at Trivandrum through a friend. All he would need to do is to send a copy of his national ID card via fax or email. Likewise, a person living abroad can even register to vote in Male, by doing the same process. It is very similar to the procedure going on in Male,” he explained.

As in the Maldives, Thowfeek also said that political parties can assist in the registration of voters abroad.

“They will have to submit the registration forms to our focal points in the respective High Commissions. Registration can then be done from the High Commissions,” he said.

The Elections Commission has meanwhile established an online mechanism through its website for people to check the ballot box where they are registered to vote.

By entering a national ID card number, the website will display the name of the voter, the permanent address of the voter and the ballot box and the location where the voter is eligible to vote.

For Maldivians residing abroad, details can also be checked at focal points established in the High Commissions, Thowfeek added.

The Elections Commission have previously announced that the Presidential Elections are scheduled to take place on September 7. If no candidate attains the required 50 percent plus one vote to secure a first round election victory a run-off election is to take place 20 days after the first election.

The commission has announced that four candidates will be competing in the elections.

The candidates are leader of the Jumhoree Party (JP) Gasim Ibrahim (running mate Dr Hassan Saeed), Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate former President Mohamed Nasheed (running mate Dr Musthafa Luthfy), incumbent President and independent candidate Dr Mohamed Waheed (running mate DRP leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali) and Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdulla Yameen (running mate Dr Mohamed Jameel.

Check the voter registry and registered place of voting

Download registration form (Dhivehi)

In the Maldives? Check your details via SMS

To check where/if you are registered to vote, SMS 1414 ‘VIS(space)(National ID#)’

To check political party registration, SMS 1414 ‘PPR(space)(National ID#)’

Elections Commission hotline: 1414