Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) has been officially taken over by Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) from its operator GMR Infrastructure Limited just past midnight on Friday.
A ceremony was held at the VIP lounge of INIA attended by Acting Transport Minister Mohamed Nazim, Attorney General (AG) Aishath Azima Shakoor, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb, Economic Minister Ahmed Mohamed and MACL Chairman.
Maldives government brought the 25 year contract with GMR to develop and run the airport signed during the former government in 2010 to abrupt end and given the Indian infrastructure giant seven days to hand over the airport to MACL which ended at midnight on Friday.
The present government has maintained that the contract was signed under "dubious" conditions and was "void", a charge hotly denied by the Indian firm.
It is believed that GMR had also been invited to participate in the ceremony, but at the last moment the company had informed that it is not able to do so.
An official of the government told Haveeru that once the seven day notice expired, the contract with GMR would be terminated and the company would have two days to return the aerodrome certificate to the government.
A statement by GMR revealed that GMAIL was currently valuing the compensation that would be owed to the company following the government's decision to annul the contract signed on June 28, 2010 and the Singapore Appeal Court's ruling that the Maldives government had the authority to terminate the contract and expropriate the airport. GMR also insisted that it will cooperate in the handover of the airport and relayed the assurances given by the government that the employees and other relevant parties will not suffer as a result of the change of management.
Speaking during the press conference Nazim hailed the night as monumental to the people of Maldives and congratulated the people, President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik and coalition parties for their part to win the airport back for its people.
The government's sudden decision had severely strained bilateral ties between India and Maldives, with the former warning of "adverse consequences" if the legal process is not fulfilled.
Nazim however expressed hope that the airport row would not affect long existing ties with India. He added that there was no need for the Indian government to get involved in the issue as it was a commercial contract.
“But all the necessary information had been provided to the Indian government by our foreign Ministry,” he said.
"We accept that GMR had worked towards the development of the airport. We thank GMR for that. This will be a model handover. Now the government will work towards the development of the airport. We will reconstitute the management of MACL and strengthen the company," Nazim said.
"Airport will be run without any political influence."
Economic Minister Ahmed Mohamed allayed fears the termination of the GMR contract would have on investor confidence in the Maldives.
“This is the only investment that had to be terminated in the Maldives. So I don’t believe that investor confidence would be undermined due to a single issue. I think it would enhance it. Investor confidence will only increase when they know that Maldives will do everything in accordance with the law,” Minister said.
Tourism Minister Adeeb highlighted the importance of the airport for Maldivian Tourism and insisted that the airport will not be privatized.
In response to questions over the compensation that would be payable to GMR with the termination of the contract, AG Azima said that the formation of the arbitration tribunal would take at least three months.
“So it is unlikely that we would have to cover the compensation even from next year’s budget,” Azima added.