Parliamentary Committee on Public Finance decided Monday to order an audit, following allegations that operations of the new seaplane terminal being developed at Velana International Airport would be leased out solely to local seaplane operator, Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA), at a loss to the state.
Amidst the rumours and subsequent concerns raised by other seaplane operators, the issue was submitted to the committee by Dhaandhoo MP Yauqoob Abdulla. The committee reviewed the case and agreed Monday to task the Auditor General's Office with carrying out a special audit.
Seaplane operators had voiced that handing over the terminal operations solely to TMA would disrupt the competitiveness of the industry.
Amidst the allegations, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih faced inquiries by the media during a press conference last month. The president cryptically stated at the time that no decisions had been made to hand over the terminal to any specific party. Meanwhile, MACL's board members are yet to divulge any information regarding their stances on the issue.
Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL) revealed last week that 73 percent of the new terminal, which cost USD 40 million (MVR 616 million), have been completed.
TMA is the largest seaplane operator in the world. The majority share of the company was acquired in late December 2017 by US equity giant Bain Capital, in partnership with Chinese tourism conglomerate Tempus Group. According to foreign media, Bain Capital and Tempus Group proposed to buy 80 percent of TMA’s shares for USD 550 million (MVR 8.4 billion), thus marking the largest business acquisition to date in Maldives. TMA's majority share was previously held by Blackstone of US, one of the leading investment firms in the world, while local tycoon Champa Hussain Afeef’s Kasa Holdings Pvt Ltd holds the minority share.
Currently, the seaplane terminal is managed privately by seaplane operators with plots leased out separately to each. MACL charges USD 9 (MVR 138) per square foot. The new terminal was also developed by the operators.
Industry veterans have expressed that an efficient government policy as well as lack of a monopoly are required to ensure healthy competition in the industry. Hence, the control of the new terminal must remain under MACL, some experts also assert.