President Abdulla Yameen has said he will be seeking solutions to the difficulties Maldivians face in getting travel visas to India, and obtaining construction materials during his official visit to the country.
Yameen, however, claimed that the government does not intend to re-establish the contract with the Indian Company GMR to develop the country’s only international airport.
“One of the biggest obstacles faced by Maldivians travelling to India, especially those travelling for medical purposes, as well as students, is the difficulty in getting visa approval. That is something I will discuss during this trip,” Yameen told the press prior to his departure.
“The Foreign Ministry and the Immigration Department has already conducted a lot of work on this manner and we have hopes that there will soon be a solution to this,” said the president.
Yameen will be accompanied by the first lady on the official trip, taken after an invitation from Indian President Shri Pranab Mukherjee.
“In the context of businesses and general conditions, these are days when the country is facing trouble in getting construction material like building rocks and rock boulders. We have even previously talked about this,” he continued.
Yameen stated that, in addition to his own discussions, the government delegation travelling with him will also be conducting deliberations with their Indian counterparts, adding that he hoped the discussions would pave way for prospects beneficial to the Maldivian people.
He revealed that the main focus of the trip will explore ways in which India can assist in dealing with the difficulties currently faced by the Maldivian business and health sectors.
“Among the agreements, prospects for the health sector is included. Otherwise, we are generally going towards some agreements to seek assistance for the business sector. I believe that through discussions, there are numerous ways in which we can move forward together,” he stated.
“Similar to the Maldives, India too needs some time to make arrangements. Since our requests are large scale, it will take time for them to get approval from their parliament. However, the Indian government’s responses to us are very positive,” Yameen said.
Besides the Indian government, the Maldivian delegation will also be meeting key members of India’s business sector, Yameen said.
Also taking part in these meetings will be the leaders of ruling coalition parties, Gasim Ibrahim -Jumhooree Party – and Ahmed Siyam – Maldives Development Alliance. The two also chair the business groups Villa Enterprises and Sun Travels, respectively.
This is the president’s first official trip abroad since assuming office in November 2013.
Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon, President’s Office Minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef, Health Minister Mariyam Shakeela, Economic Minister Mohamed Saeed, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb, State Minister for Youth and Sports Gassan Maumoon and Foreign Secretary Dr Ali Naseer Mohamed will also be accompanying Yameen.
“No intention to bring back GMR”
Yameen said that the GMR issue is currently in the arbitration stage and has dismissed claims that the government may renew the airport development contract with the company.
“This government does not intend to give the whole airport back to GMR. I do not anticipate that the Indian government will discuss the GMR issue with us, it has not done so before. The GMR issue is not one which concerns the government of India,” Yameen stated.
“The matter is between two companies, albeit the companies being ones important to both governments. Why the airport is important to us is because it is one of the major earning sources for us, and because the company is a 100 percent state owned enterprise. In the same manner, GMR might be important to the current government in power in India,” he explained.
Yameen said representatives from GMR may be present in meetings with the business sector, but denied that the government would be meeting specifically with the company to discuss the airport issue.
“GMR representatives have not even requested to meet them separately. Thus, the GMR matter is not a notable focus in this trip of mine,” he said.
Yameen said that instead of renewing the GMR contract, the government is currently focusing on how the state can pay the compensation fee to the company, and that the matter was being dealt with in the official arbitration.
GMR Chair G M Rao told Indian media last month that he expected the US$1.4 billion wrongful termination claim to be resolved by May.
However, India’s Economic Times has reported that “the Manmohan Singh government will seek the creation of a climate conducive to Indian investment in the Maldives when president Abdulla Yameen arrives in Delhi on January 1 on his maiden visit abroad after being elected head of state.”
“This includes the resolution of disputes relating to GMR’s airport project and the allocation of a site for a Tata housing project,” continued the paper.