President-elect Dr Mohamed Muizzu has returned to the Maldives after an unofficial one-day visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with a promise of significant investment in Maldivian infrastructure. 

The president-elect’s office announced an influx of MVR 1.2 billion from the UAE to expedite the completion of the new terminal at Velana International Airport (VIA), bolstering confidence in the nation’s expanding transport capabilities.

This generous pledge comes from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) and is earmarked for closing the financial gap required to finalise the long-delayed airport project, according to Muizzu’s spokesperson Mohamed Firuzul Abdulla Khaleel. However, it remains unclear whether the fund allocation is a grant or a loan. 

The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) committed the funds during the president-elect’s recent unofficial visit to the UAE, although Finance Minister Ibrahim Ameer clarified that the arrangements for the financial support were set in motion by the current administration and not exclusively tied to this visit. 

The project, which has been in the works since May 2016 with a budget of US$350 million (MVR 5.3 billion), is expected to increase the airport’s capacity significantly, enabling it to serve 7.5 million passengers with enhanced facilities including 40 departure gates and 38 immigration counters.

Adding to the UAE’s support, the Saudi Fund has also been a significant financier, recently committing an additional $100 million loan to expedite the project. The Saudi Bin Laden Group, awarded the construction contract, has partnered with the China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC) to fulfill this ambitious undertaking. The collaboration of these international partners aligns with the Muizzu’s objective to complete the airport by September 2024, which is eight months ahead of the initial schedule.

Outgoing finance minister Ameer pointed out the long-standing commitment from members of the Arab Coordination Group, which comprises the Saudi Fund, the Kuwait Fund, the Abu Dhabi Development Fund, and the OPEC Fund, highlighting the collective effort to bridge the funding gap for the VIA development. The timing of these investments is crucial, aiming to ensure that the airport is operational for the next year’s peak tourist season, a vital component of the Maldivian economy.

While President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih was invited to visit the UAE prior to the presidential elections, his commitments within the Maldives prevented him from doing so. Yet, the financial pledges signal the strength of bilateral relations that transcend politics.

Muizzu’s office has not yet disclosed if the UAE’s massive project proposal for Huvadhu Atoll, initially introduced to President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration, was discussed during the visit. However, local media reports suggest that the president-elect’s discussions in Abu Dhabi might pave the way for its realisation.

As Muizzu gears up for his inauguration on 17 November, the political canvas of the Maldives is being repainted with new alliances and prospective projects. The developments have also hinted that Muizzu’s first official visit as president will be to Saudi Arabia, further highlighting the Middle Eastern focus in his foreign policy outlook.