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PPM, PNC deny ordering MACL to handover seaplane terminal to TMA

Ahmed Aiham
20 February 2020, MVT 15:02
A Trans Maldivian Airways flight. PHOTO: HUSSAIN WAHEED / MIHAARU
Ahmed Aiham
20 February 2020, MVT 15:02

Opposition coalition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and People's National Congress (PNC) on Wednesday, denied instructing Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL) to handover the newly built seaplane terminal to any particular party, at any particular rate.

In a press statement, the coalition responded to Minister of Finance Ibrahim Ameer's accusations that former president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom's government ordered MACL to lease 31,000 square meters of the terminal to Trans Maldives Airways (TMA) well below the market rate, at a rate of USD 10.35 per square meter, for a period of 15 years.

The joint statement also referred to the ruling government's allegations as a ploy to sway public opinion and influence the upcoming Local Council Elections (LCE) scheduled for April

During the ongoing investigation by the parliamentary Public Finance Committee over the contentious deal, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's administration made a case to go forward with their earlier directive to MACL to lease 6,400 square meters at the rate of $10.35 per square meter for a period of two years to TMA, while MACL prepares for a full takeover of the terminal operations.

According to TMA, citing an exchange of emails and letters, and a draft contract sent for comments, which they claim to be a "commitment", MACL had agreed to lease a plot 31,000 square meters at $10.35 per square meter, for a period of 15 years.

However, MACL denied their board's involvement—nor knowledge—in the decisions stated in the aforementioned correspondences.

At the Committee meeting, MACL board member Dr Ibrahim Mahfooz asserted that although the board authorized discussions with TMA, it did not greenlight any decisions, adding that the signee in these letters, acted on his own volition, unbeknown to the board.

The letters were signed by MACL General Manager, Hussain Fazeel, who remains employed with the company. When questioned by the Committee, he revealed that all communications regarding the terminal were shared with the company's board and that Yameen's government did not direct the company to implement a particular deal.

He also noted no such directives other than the former goverment's directive in 2015, to develop the new seaplane terminal as a common facility, under MACL management.

Seaplane operator TMA maintains that MACL's letters entailed a "commitment" to hand over a large plot from the terminal to the seaplane operator.

Champa Hussain Afeef, one of the biggest tourism tycoons and TMA's majority shareholder when Blackstone acquired the company in 2013, remains a member of TMA’s board of directors to date.

His business partner, Ibrahim Noordeen, with whom he runs Meeru Island Resort, sits on MACL’s board of directors.

Besides Noordeen, MACL’s board consists of Moosa Solih, Ibrahim Mahfooz, Mohamed Abdul Sattar and Chairman Umar Manik (MU). Manik is also a renowned tourism tycoon, and a shareholder of Universal Enterprises.

Meanwhile, Anti-corruption Commission (ACC) has launched a criminal investigation into the controversial deal, on grounds that handing over the seaplane terminal to TMA under current terms would cost the State an annual loss of USD 55 million.

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