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Fraught with fraudulence: The Case of Maafaru International Airport

Ahmed Aiham
05 December 2018, MVT 17:39
Maafaru International Airport Located in Noonu Atoll. PHOTO:MIHAARU
Ahmed Aiham
05 December 2018, MVT 17:39

The International airport in Maafaru, Noonu Atoll, initially was a dream come true for many citizens in the region, with a multitude of development projects alongside the establishment of the airport.

However, to the dismay of the public, the project seems to be concluding in a matter that was unforeseen, particularly with the recent surfacing og many previously unknown facts.

Maafaru International Airport is developed by Singaporean Tuff Infrastructure Pvt Ltd. One of the major accusations currently faced by the Singaporean company is the failure to pay the companies that were subcontracted for the development of the airport.

According to local media Mihaaru, the subcontractors are furious as they await payments that cost the Singaporean company millions in Maldivian Rufiyaa. Documents reveal that Tuff Pvt Ltd had received USD 40 million (MVR 616 million) for the project.

The airport is being funded by United Arab Emirates as a gift; the nation handed over a sum of USD 52 million (MVR 801 million) with the cost of a V.I.P terminal and a city hotel included.

Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) advanced to remove the extra facilities citing that the cost of the Singaporean company was too expensive. Regional Airports has confirmed ADFD's decision to remove the facilities from the project.

Tuff Pvt Ltd cited the airport development, exempt of the additional facilities, as costing approximately USD 48 million (MVR 740 million).

So far, the 2.2 kilometre runway is the only aspect of the project that has been completed.

The deadline for the project was slated for August 2018 but was later pushed back for February 2019 upon request by the company.

Furthermore, Mihaaru news reports failing to get a response for the emails and phone calls to Tuff Pvt Ltd for the allegations made against the company.

According to the documents, the company accumulated benefits amounting to millions of US dollars.

Prior to this, it is understood that Tuff Pvt Ltd was never contracted to construct an airport by any other parties.

While ADFD had agreed to give USD 52 million, the company had requested an additional USD 18 million (MVR 277 million).

Invoice for the Maafaru International Airport in Noonu Atoll by Tuff Infrastructure Pvt Ltd.

The government had originally awarded development of Maafaru airport to Millennium Capital Management Pvt Ltd, which belongs to local entrepreneur Hamid Ismail who is currently convicted of embezzlement. However, the government later terminated the agreement over contract violations.

The government then awarded the project to Sun Siyam Resorts but later retracted the contract. Afterwards, Tuff Pvt Ltd won the bid when the project was put up for the bidding procedure.

The project was awarded to Tuff on December 24, 2017.

Completed by deceptive means

According to the documents by Tuff, the company has had previous experiences in the development of airports. Tuff had stated that the company has previously completed 6 airports but it has been exposed that these airports have no connection with the company.

Then ruling government had failed to notice some of the non-existing projects that Tuff had cited in their bid.

The previously completed projects in the bid Proposal for Maafaru International Airport in Noonu Atoll by Tuff Infrastructure Pvt Ltd.

Sham projects within the bid;

- Project management services under the project EPSO AVANT, costing USD 32 million.

- Development of an International Airport at Kushinagar, India, costing USD 54 million.

- The development of the State Perspective Civil Aviation Plan 2012 in Chhattisghar, India, costing USD 85 million.

- House supply and installation services under the project EPSO AVANT, costing USD 92 million.

- Consulting services to modernize and upgrade the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar International Airport in Nagpur, India, costing USD nine million.

- Offshore installation under the project EPSO AVANT, costing USD 19 million.

Contract violations

According to the contract, Tuff is unable to hire subtractors to conduct the "whole works" of the airport, however, the subcontractors revealed that Tuff had failed to remove "a single particle of sand" from the Island.

Contract clause stating that the contractor may not subcontract the whole of the works

Some subcontractors have since departed the island due to failure by Tuff to provide payments for the subcontracted companies.

An official of the local company GKD, which worked on the airport runway, stated that Tuff owes the company USD 1.4 million, adding that the company is delaying the payments. Additionally, the official revealed that 80-90 percent of the runway has been completed.

"According to the information we received, ADFD has deposited the funds to Tuff company. Tuff says that they have not received the money," said the official.

GDK further expressed their difficulties in providing the salaries for over 100 employees who worked on the project.

Tuff had previously deposited USD 5 million owed to GDK.

Experts in the field have stated that USD 48 million for an international airport without a VVIP lounge and a city hotel is too expensive but that the price is the best figure available for an airport with these facilities.

It is approximated that an international airport with a 2.2 Kilometre runway and essential facilities will cost upwards of USD 30 million. "With the city hotel included, the project may incur USD 48 million," said a senior official at Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) during former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom's reign, under anonymity.

Project costs by Tuff

- Ground levelling and strengthening, costing USD 10 million.

- Runway tarring, light system installation and safety system costing USD 6 million.

- Land reclamation costing USD 4 million.

- Airport transit hotel costing USD 3 million.

- VVIP terminal and passenger jetty costing USD 500,000.

Furthermore, Tuff had cited additional costs for the establishment of a Reverse Osmosis (RO) plant and the removal of trees on Maafaru.

Out of the 20 employees from Tuff who came for the project, only one of them had a work permit, while most of the workers had tourist VISAs.

There were over 400 employees from the subcontractors working on the island.

The company is currently working on the two ends of the runway, constructing a standard terminal and erecting a control tower at the Island.

Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) is investigating the corruption case of the Maafaru International Airport by looking into Tuff's failure to hand over the money owed to the subcontractors and embezzlement of funds.

ACC has additionally revealed that the commission had requested to temporarily withhold depositing money to the company. Under President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's administration, an additional USD 1 million to the company was deposited.

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