At the stroke of midnight, Maldives minister of finance and Tourism Abdulla Jihad handed over a letter from the government to MACL CEO and managing director Mohammed Ibrahim, authorizing Maldives Airport Company (MACL) to take over the operations of the Male Airport. The simple ceremony held at the VIP Lounge of the airport, saw attendance of top government officials, scores of Maldivian journalists.
The venue was cordoned off at least an hour before the event and the military controlled entry and exit. GMR officials were conspicuous by their absence in the ceremony. “It’s not a handover. It’s a takeover,” a dismayed GMR official would say. He then explained how the company did not have any role in the ceremony as it was between the government and the new operator.
“They need some authority to take over the operations. It would also be imperative that they have the authority in case of any emergency and insurance purposes,” the official added.
Col Mohammed Nazim, acting minister for transport and communications, who presided over the ceremony said that the transfer was cordial. “we had discussions with senior GMR officials. They have assured to help us with the smooth transition,” Nazim said. On future of foreign investments, he said, "The move was not against foreign investments. We are always open to foreign investors."
Anxious local media hounded the ministers with a volley of queries in Dhivehi, the local language much of it revolving around the future of the airport, foreign investments and the stress that the Maldivian economy may face as a result of the move.
Ministers and officials allayed all these concerns. Ibrahim of MACL, who first joined the airport as a junior employee in 1972 said, “We had run it for forty years. We can run it now.”
Ibrahim Faisal, the chief of Maldivian civil aviation authority said he did not foresee any operational issues due to the transition. “All the staff are same. They were with MACL before. Then they became GMR employees. Now, they are back. Only the management has changed. Nothing changes operationally.
Even as the handing over was taking place, the staff of GMR are busy packing their files and equipment from their sprawling first floor office at the GMIAL administrative building.
“We will be moving to a smaller space in the adjacent building. They want to move in here,” an official stacking the box files neatly for transfer said.
By Saturday morning, the office was pretty much deserted. Blue T-shirts carrying the MACL logo had already replaced white GMR ones in the airport premises.
Hassan Simah, a twenty something official at the check-in counter, joined work after GMR took over. He says not much has changed in his day-to day activities immediately. “Work has to move on. I am not sure about how the employment terms will change. Let us see.”