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Govt warns MACL over controversial seaplane terminal deal

Fathmath Shaahunaz
18 February 2020, MVT 11:45
Minister of Finance Ibrahim Ameer speaks at parliamentary Public Finance Committee meeting on February 17, 2020, regarding the MACL-TMA seaplane terminal deal. PHOTO: NISHAN ALI / MIHAARU
Fathmath Shaahunaz
18 February 2020, MVT 11:45

Minister of Finance Ibrahim Ameer warned late Monday that the board of Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL) could be shuffled if it did not execute the main airport's new seaplane terminal deal as per the administration's directive.

Speaking at the parliamentary Public Finance Committee meeting regarding MACL's controversial seaplane terminal deal with Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA), Ameer asserted that the plots from the new terminal would be leased to entities as per the government's decision.

Amidst the ongoing debate over MACL's prickly decision to lease 31,000 square meters of the terminal to TMA well below the market rate, at a rate of USD 10.35 per square meter, for a period of 15 years, the administration has directed the former's board to lease 6,400 square meters for a period of two years to TMA instead.

The government's directive added that MACL must complete all preparations to take over the terminal operations within this period, and that the rest of the plots should be leased under bid at market rates.

Reiterating these directives, which were also backed by Auditor General Hassan Ziyath, Minister Ameer expressed confidence that TMA would accept this decision, since the proposed terms do not pose a loss for the seaplane operator.

"We, a 100 percent government shareholder, have directed [MACL] to implement this, and I'm certain it will be done as such. Companies followed government directives during previous administrations as well. If the MACL board cannot execute this, then the government also has the option of changing the board", he warned.

The finance minister went on to say that the current administration halted the handover of 31,000 square meters to TMA, a decision made by the previous government, in February 2019 in order to ensure the best revenue generation for the state as well as smooth seaplane sector operations.

He reiterated that the current administration's proposal would exponentially increase seaplane terminal profits from the previous estimation of USD 5.5 million to USD 33 million per year.

"Later, the amount would rise to USD 41 million [annually] as per the Auditor General's projection".

Despite the finance minister's assurance, Dhaandhoo MP Yauqoob Abdulla expressed scepticism that MACL would implement the government's proposal for the seaplane terminal leasings, accusing the company of providing false information to the parliament.

MP Yauqoob highlighted that MACL's board recently denied any involvement in the letters exchanged between MACL and TMA, which the seaplane operator has declared indicated MACL's "commitment" to leasing the majority of the terminal to TMA.

However, the lawmaker declared that the minutes of MACL board's 255th meeting held December 28, 2017, indicate that such discussions had been held. Two members from then-board, Dr Ibrahim Mahfooz and Mohamed Abdul Sattar, remain on the current board. The former spoke at the first committee meeting held Monday afternoon, during which he had maintained that the board was not involved in the letters, which were signed by General Manager Hussain Fazeel, on his own volition.

Slamming the board for perjury at the parliament, MP Yauqoob argued that there was no guarantee that MACL would execute the administration's directives on the seaplane terminal deal.

Meanwhile, TMA has also objected to the government's terms, with company representatives fervently seeking for the initial deal, leasing the majority of the terminal to TMA, to be implemented. TMA is also accused of providing false information to the Public Finance Committee in order to secure their demands.

Although fears have been raised that the issue could lead to an arbitration scenario, Finance Minister Ameer on Monday night reiterated MACL lawyer Mazlaan Rasheed's stance on the issue, stating that there was no formal agreement between MACL and TMA, and thus no grounds for arbitration. He assured that the government's terms were just and fair, and that it would increase investor trust in Maldives as well.

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