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Nasheed terms government xenophobic, GMR says not leaving

Posted on Nov 29, 10:02AM | IANS

Indian infrastructure giant GMR has described as "illegitimate" an order by the Maldives government to hand over the Male airport within seven days after its contract was annulled, and insisted the company will not leave the Indian Ocean archipelago nation.

Former president Mohamed Nasheed Wednesday said the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik used xenophobia, nationalism and religious extremism to attack GMR and annul the agreement.

Reacting to the government's decision to annul the agreement to manage the Ibrahim Nasir international airport, Nasheed told Haveeru online: "This decision is bad for tourism, bad for the economy and bad for the Maldivian people."

The government Tuesday decided to terminate the agreement signed in June 2010 between GMR-MAHB Consortium, Maldives Airports Company Ltd., and the government of the Maldives, to lease the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport in Male to GMR for 25 years.

On the cabinet's decision to annul the agreement, GMR head of communication Arun Baghad told Haveeru Online he refused to accept that the government can terminate the agreement after just two years into the 25-year contract.

Despite the seven-day notice given by the government to hand over the airport, GMR would look to honour the agreement and stay in the Maldives till the end of the 25-year contract, Baghad said.

"We are going nowhere. A solution to the matter will be sought out," he was quoted as saying.

Baghad said the decision to annul the agreement was conveyed to GMR during a press conference held by Attorney General Aishath Azima Shakoor Tuesday evening.

He alleged that the government had failed to give a hint of its decision or hold discussions to find an amicable solution to the issue.

"We received the document after the press conference. We will hold talks in relation to this matter. We hope that a solution beneficial to GMR will be found," Baghad said.

India Tuesday said the Maldives government's decision to cancel the GMR contract would send "a very negative signal to foreign investors and the international community".

It also asked the Indian Ocean archipelago nation to ensure that Indian interests in the Maldives and the security of Indian nationals in that country "are fully protected".

The agreement was signed during the regime of then president Mohamed Nasheed. The USD 500-million project was hanging in balance ever since the regime change in the Maldives earlier this year.

After a civil court in the Maldives ruled that GMR cannot claim USD 27 from passengers as Airport Development Charge and insurance surcharge, the Indian firm had taken the case to Singapore for arbitration.

GMR was deducting USD 27 from each passenger since January.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has called on GMR to ignore the decision taken by the government to annul the agreement.

Former president Nasheed accused the government of using xenophobia against the country's largest foreign investor.

"This will put off potential investors for decades. Waheed is leading the Maldives down the path to economic ruin," Nasheed told Haveeru Online.

The MDP issued a statement in which it refused to accept the decision taken by the cabinet to declare the contract as void. The MDP warned of repercussions to the state, people and the economy if the agreement is terminated without arbitration.

"This party calls on GMR to remain within the contours of the contract until the agreement is terminated on the terms stipulated in the contract. GMR must remain steadfast in running of the airport. MDP is calling on GMR to ignore an order made by an illegitimate government," the MDP statement read.