Dismissed minister must be reinstated if President wants to sustain coalition: JP’s Alhan Fahmy

Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Alhan Fahmy has warned that dismissed Transport Minister Dr Ahmed Shamheed must be reinstated in order to retain the ruling coalition.

Dr Shamheed was removed from his cabinet post after he extended the Maamigili Airport lease to JP leader Gasim Ibrahim for 99 years.

In a press conference held on Tuesday (November 13) the JP stated it requested President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik reinstate Shamheed before Sunday.

Fahmy told Minivan News that he believes Shamheed should be reinstated if “Dr Waheed wants  to sustain the national unity government.”

“I don’t believe [Waheed] was unaware of the decision [to dismiss Dr Shamheed], and it is of his own irresponsibility if he says so,” Fahmy said.

“A minister shall not be dismissed under the existing political situation unless it is associated with proper reasoning.”

Speaking at the press conference on Tuesday, Fahmy said Waheed met Gasim on Monday night and what he had to say implied that the President was “not fully aware of how [the dismissal] happened.”

After looking into the dismissal, Alhan said the JP believed it was done “without a legal basis” as the JP minister had not breached any laws or official procedures but was sacked “as a result of what the minister did to implement a decision made by the government.”

“Therefore, as we believe that this happened because the President was somewhat confused or misinformed, and after making certain of all the processes that were followed with regard to [the dismissal], the Jumhoree Party has asked the President to reinstate Dr Shamheed to the cabinet before next Sunday,” Fahmy said.

The government’s actions in sacking the minister provided opportunity to level corruption allegations against the JP’s presidential candidate and were “highly damaging” to the party, the MP for Feydhoo added.

A statement from JP last week said the party would take “necessary action” following an inquiry, expressing “serious concern” with statements in the media by officials from the President’s Office regarding Shamheed’s dismissal.

Minivan tried to contact President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad, but he was not responding at time of press.

Controversy has surrounded the sacked minister following allegations that Shamheed was dismissed because of his opposition to the recent sale of a stake in the Addu International Airport Company Ltd (AIA).

The unnamed JP official, who made the allegations speaking to Villa TV, said that Shameed was removed to allow Champa Afeef – a tourism tycoon who recently bought a 30 percent stake in Addu airport – to control the airport project.

The JP official said the sacking of Shameed was intended to divert attention away from the Addu airport sale.

Following his sudden dismissal, Shamheed claimed he had been sacked following his criticism of some decisions made by the government.

“I continued to criticise President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik over the Nexbis issue. Attorney General insists that the project cannot go on. Home Minister has to be responsible for the Immigration Department. Home Minister had ordered to stop the project. But the project went on. I have voiced my discontent over several such issues. We have all seen the result of that,” Shamheed told Haveeru Online.

Shamheed refused to comment on the current situation when called by Minivan News.

Maamigili airport had originally been leased to Gasim’s Villa Group for 30 years, and according to JP, the decision to extend the lease by Shamheed had been unanimously approved by the government’s Economic Committee on November 1.

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.

Shamheed, in a quote from newspaper Haveeru, said: “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.”

More recently however, Haveeru Online learned that Shamheed had announced the extension of the airport’s lease before the ministerial cabinet had sanctioned it.

A tweet from government spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza on the day of Shamheed’s dismissal read: “Transport Minister Dr Shamheed has been relieved from his duties today. Defence Minister Nazim will be the care taker until replaced by JP.”

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.

Minivan News was informed by Riza that the decision to extend the lease has not yet been reversed.

Following Shamheed’s dismissal, Dr Shamheed told Sun Online he believed he was sacked for difference of opinion with the President on a number of issues, including his opposition to the sale of the AIA stake and the agreement with Nexbis to install a border control system.

On November 5, Dr Shamheed tweeted that there was “no justification” for the valuation of an asset worth US$150 million for US$13 million.


IFC responds to government’s allegations of negligence in airport bid

Additional reporting by Neil Merrett

A spokesperson for the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has defended the organisation against charges of negligence during the bidding process for the development of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

In a press conference last Thursday held by the Attorney General  Azima Shukoor, Economic Development Minister Ahmed Mohamed, Toursim Minister Ahmed Adheeb and Civil Aviations Minister Dr Ahmed Shamheed, it was alleged there were discrepancies in the bid awarding and concession process.

The cabinet members claimed that the IFC had been “irresponsible” and “negligent” in advising the former government of President Mohamed Nasheed in the concession of INIA by Indian infrastructure giant GMR.

“The current government believes that the IFC had not given the most appropriate legal, financial and economic advice to the Maldivian State,” Azima Shukoor said.

The IFC denied the accusations, stating that its advice was geared towards achieving the “objective of upgrading the airport and ensuring compliance with applicable international regulations” and providing the Maldives government “with the maximum possible revenue”.

“A competitive tender was organised with the objective of selecting a world-class, experienced airport operator, who would rehabilitate, develop, operate and maintain the airport,” said an IFC spoksperson.

The IFC – a member of the World Bank Group – was established in 1956 to stimulate private investment in developing countries through investment, advisory, and asset management services.

The spokesperson stated that the bids were evaluated by a government appointed committee, comprising senior government officials, using two key criteria.

The first criterion required firms to meet all the technical requirements set out in the tender documents which, Seth stated, were designed to meet the objectives of the government, and ensure the airport becomes a world class airport with ‘Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’ certification (Silver).

The second criterion was financial, favouring the highest offer from firms that passed the technical stage. The financial criterion was a combination of a one-time up-front fee, and fixed and variable fees to be paid throughout, explained the spokesperson.

“The IFC’s advice complied with Maldivian laws and regulations and followed international best practices at each step of the bidding process to ensure the highest degree of competitiveness, transparency and credibility of the process,” the organisation stated.

“These processes have been followed globally in several Public-Private-Partnership projects in the airport and other infrastructure sectors,” it added.

Asked if the IFC was currently continuing assistance to GMR or the Maldivian government, it replied “We are currently not working in any capacity with the authorities on this project. We however remain available to address any issues or concerns that the government may have relating to the project.”

A GMR Spokesperson said that the company did not wish to comment on the remarks made by government ministers.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), which is currently investigating the GMR deal, said last week that continued work on the project may be delayed considerably whilst the investigations are completed.

ACC investigations began in June, although building work on the new terminal – due to open in July 2014 – was ordered to halt in early August after the government claimed that the company had not acquired the appropriate permits.

Government’s critique of bidding process

During Thursday’s press conference, Shukoor claimed that the role played by the IFC during the bid awarding process – as well as the technical, financial and legal advice given – was unacceptable and included “major inconsistencies” in the “loss-benefit assessment” carried out before awarding the project to GMR.

“The legal agreement also lacks equity between the state and GMR, and gives significant powers which have narrowed the government’s ability to manoeuvre within the agreement. For this reason, the state is facing a huge loss even in taking steps that have to be taken immediately,” she added.

Speaking about the prospective profit, Shukoor claimed the agreement made between GMR and the government would lose the country more than that it would earn, and a much more cost effective master plan had been made during the tenure of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

She said that as long as the agreement between GMR and the government is not invalidated, the agreement would be “legally binding” despite a “majority of the people” who wish to “terminate the agreement immediately”.

“The government must also consider how much money has to be paid back as compensation if terminating the agreement, and it is clear to all of you that the Maldives financial and economic situation is at a critical level, and in this situation it is not an easy thing to do,” she told the press.

Shukoor also expressed the government’s concern about the effect on investor confidence that may result if the agreement is terminated in addition to other “diplomatic issues” that may arise from such a decision.

The Economic Minister, Ahmed Mohamed, claimed that the Nasheed government had only considered the lump sum that it received as the upfront payment, rather than long term benefits that the government could have achieved.

“They awarded the bid to a party who proposed to pay US$76million, but if you look at the other bidders, their bids were more profitable in the long run. For example one of the bidders proposed to give a 31 percent share to all the businesses except that from oil trades until 2014, but GMR proposed only one percent,” he claimed.

He added that another bidder had proposed to share 16 percent of the profits gained from the oil trades with the government.

“It is clear that the government did not consider, when awarding the bid, the long term benefits of the people but rather an instant short term profit,” he argued.

Highlighting the already much disputed issue of the Airport Development Charge (ADC), Mohamed claimed the government had given up a lot of power to GMR in the contract, allowing them to dictate all the fees during the concession.

He stated that there were only two options left for the government: “Either find a solution within the concession agreement with GMR or terminate it.”

Civil Aviation Minister Dr Shamheed said the initial INIA master plan, made by British consultancy firm Scott Wilson, was considered too costly by the IFC.

“So we checked the truth of IFC’s report. The master plan by Scott Wilson is a phase based development. There were developments that were to be brought in the first phase, the second and other phases that followed were mentioned very much in detail,” he claimed.

Shamheed claimed that despite the fact that Wilson’s master plan was more cost effective the IFC made a new master plan, hiring another foreign Consultancy firm – Halcrow- which Dr Shamheed claimed was more costly.

“Scott Wilson’s phase one cost us US$390 million, and all the three phases summed up came to a figure around US$590 million. IFC did not provide this information to the government. We are talking about a development of 30 years,” he said.

Shamheed also alleged that the new master plan was made without even testing the status of the current runway at all and said they relied on a test that was made a long time ago.

“Even those tests showed that the runway needed significant repairs and some parts of the runway had to be removed,” he added.

“This is very irresponsible that the former government entered into a contract with a party who did not assess the situation of the existing runway,” he claimed.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb alleged that because of the new fees implemented by GMR following its take-over, the flight frequency from Europe had declined.

“Coming to Maldives is no longer feasible for most of the chartered flights.  Sri Lankan airlines’ Male to London direct flights have been pulled out following the decision. Even though the flight frequency from China has increased, the number of bed nights has declined,” Adheeb said.