New Delhi: Maldives has ruled out any possibility of return of Indian infrastructure giant GMR in the over USD 500-million Male airport project but said it was welcome to participate in other ventures in the island nation.
Asserting that Maldives has nothing against GMR, newly- elected Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen said his administration was committed to resolve the dispute with the Indian firm amicably.
The President has already talked about a out-of-court settlement in the matter.
"I am not saying we are saying no to GMR. What I am saying is total management of the airport is far too important for Maldivian Government (to hand over). We have nothing against GMR or any Indian company. It is just that the international airport is far too important for us, commercially and also from security point of view," Yameen said in a recent interview here.
He added that "the total operation of our airport will probably not go to any foreign party. Probably not even go to a Maldivian company. It will be undertaken by the Maldives Airport Company, a 100 percent government company."
The President, who was recently here and held a series of meeting with the top leadership, said the Indian firm was free to participate in other projects in Maldives.
"I have assured the Indian authorities and GMR that while this issue is pending issue in arbitration, there is no reason why we cannot try to mutually resolve it outside the court system. GMR has kindly agreed to look into it. My administration is committed to resolve this amicably outside arbitration," he said.
Asked when the process for out of court settlement of the dispute will begin, he said, "It has started already started".
Under the contract signed in 2010, GMR was to modernise and operate the Male International Airport for 25 years but the contract was unilaterally terminated 14 months back by the then President Mohamed Waheed following political and domestic pressure.
The President said the contract with GMR was signed against the laid down norms for such projects and that it was a "unilateral decision" by the then government headed by President Mohamed Nasheed to approve the deal.
He said as per provision of the Constitution, Parliament's approval was necessary for privatising or leasing out of such government investments which was not followed in case of the deal with the GMR.
In June last year, GMR had sought a compensation of USD 1.4 billion from Maldives for the "wrongful termination" of the contract. The claim was filed before an Arbitration Court in Singapore.
The airport was taken over by Maldives Airports Company after a high-voltage legal tussle in which GMR had initially got a stay order on the termination from the Singapore High Court.
During talks here last week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had taken up with Yameen scrapping of the GMR project by the previous Maldivian government and requested him to soon resolve the issue which had strained the ties between the two countries.
Terming scrapping of the contract as an "unfortunate commercial incident", Yameen admitted that that it was "source of some amount of worry".
"It is an unfortunate incident in recent commercial history. We have had Indian investments. We have had bigger investments like by the SBI for example which has been a very healthy partner in development for Maldives. We have investments from Europe.
"We have had investments from first world countries and we also have had investments from China. None of these have been impacted or none of these have been in difficult spotlight the way GMR has been," he said.
First Published: Sunday, January 12, 2014, 15:03