Both the hopefuls in the Presidential race in Maldives said that they would welcome and encourage foreign direct investment, but differed on the issue of the ousted Male airport operator GMR.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed and another former President Maumoon Gayoom’s half-brother, Yaameen Abdulla, are pitted against each other in a second round run-off, scheduled for September 28. The first round, held on September 7, did not throw up a clear winner. To win, a candidate has to garner over 50 per cent of the votes.

Asked if he would invite GMR to come back to manage the Ibrahim Nasir International airport, Nasheed said: “We have always been saying that the contract has to be reinstated. Of course it has to go through procedures.” The Nasheed Government had earlier granted the contract to GMR–MAHB (Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad) to operate the airport. After he resigned under controversial circumstances on February 7, 2012, the next government, headed by Mohamed Waheed, terminated the contract, claiming it was invalid from the beginning. GMR had slapped a $1.4-billion compensation claim against the Maldives Government in an arbitration that is now underway in Singapore.

Yaameen said that the contract was not done properly. “Foreign investment and GMR are two different issues. We welcome foreign investment. In the case of GMR, the law was not followed,” he said, when asked about FDI in general and GMR in particular.

President Mohamed Waheed’s secretary Masood Imad too was of the view that the airport issue should be treated as closed. “GMR can come into Maldives with some other project. The Male airport is too much an emotional issue,” he said.

Asked if his party, the Progressive Party of Maldives, was against Tata’s high-end housing-cum-commercial project, Yaameen expressed surprise that Tata had any problem. He said that his party was not against the project. Work at the site of Tata’s project on the main commercial street, Majeedhee Magu, has come to standstill. Locals told this correspondent that work had stopped several months ago. The two listed phone numbers provided were not working.

Imad too said that he had no knowledge of the problem with Tata’s housing project. But Government of India’s representatives have taken up the issue of all Indian projects here, after the transfer of power. As late as August, Joint Secretary (BSM) in the Ministry of External Affairs Harsh Vardhan Shringla had reportedly met representatives from all formations and discussed a host of issues, including Indian investments in Maldives. There was broad agreement on the way forward, one source said.

(This article was published on September 10, 2013)
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