MP Mohamed Shiyam (Naifaru) has said that the main gateway to the Maldives, Velana International Airport, is as closely connected to Maldivian sovereignty as it is to the economy.
MP Shiyam said this in response to a tweet posted by Minister of Finance, Ibrahim Ameer, defending the Nasheed administration's decision to hand the airport over to the GMR Group, an Indian conglomerate. MP Shiyam had said that the move had been motivated by the short-sighted desire to put the nation in debt to "get a few coins" by handing over the Maldives' main gateway to an Indian company.
MP Shiyam had also addressed President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih; he asked what reactions was he expecting by making his Minister of Finance post such tweets.
Minister Ameer had said that taking the aiport back from GMR was the single biggest obstacle to the country's progress, and that it was the greatest economic crime committed in the country. Minister Ameer had claimed that the government had had to pay USD$ 270 million to GMR to get the aiport back, and that the government had to take on the burden of developing the aiport itself by taking on a USD$1 billion loan. The weight of the massive loan prevented the government from including essential costs in the National Budget.
Minister Ameer claimed that had GMR still had the aiport, the work would of developing the airport that is still ongoing would have ended in 2014 and the Maldives would have had received 6.7 million more tourists before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minister Ameer further complained about the lost job opportunities, and shared his speculation that had GMR had the opportunity to finish developing the airport by 2014: the Maldives would have become a USD$ 10 billion economy.
Minister Ameer's comments have garnered much controversy; the latter months of the short-lived Nasheed administration had seen several protests due to the government's policy of privatisation.
Despite Minister Ameer's optimistic claims, GMR had not planned to build the 3.4km runway that had been opened in 2018. Likewise, the GMR management had not begun work on developing the airport's infrastructure when the airport was handed back to the Maldivian government. Former management-level employees of Velana International Airport opined that "no major project" would have been completed by GMR by 2014.
The airport, under the Yameen administration, was developed with the construction of a new 3.4km runway; launched with the landing of an A380 in the Maldives for the first time; and a sea-plane terminal. The 3.4km runway has not been used during the Solih administration.