Male’, Maldives – Health Minister of Maldives Abdullah Ameen – who has voluntarily stepped aside from his duties as the Minister of Health, due to an audit report by the Auditor General Office (AGO) which accused the Ministry of Health of corruption and misconduct – said that the expenses of the Ministry relating to the Covid-19 pandemic were not acts of theft, but in fact, sincerity.
Speaking at the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee meeting held on Tuesday, where top officials of the Ministry were summoned for an inquiry per the request of the committee members after the AGO audit report came to light, Ameen insisted that that the ministry had not worked with the intention of stealing public funds, and instead, worked to ensure that all necessary action was taken to overcome the ongoing global pandemic on a national level.
While the audit report alleged serious issues of fraud and corruption, Ameen said, “From the information that I have available, I have been briefed that the officials of the ministry did not work with the intention of obtaining undue benefits, to facilitate corruption, or to steal. I, therefore, do not believe they worked to obtain an undue benefit, or had any such intention,”
However, Ameen did highlight that although he believes that the officials of the ministry did not act in bad faith, he is unsure whether all necessary protocols and procedures were followed accordingly. “I cannot say with certainty that there weren’t any administrative or procedural issues over the course of this work,” he said.
Addressing the biggest controversy brought to light by the AGO audit report, minister Ameen said that, although the procurement of the ventilators has initially been contracted to two local companies, the delivery challenges faced by both parties defeated the purpose of the requirement of the government, which was to make use of the ventilators as soon as possible, as the country was facing a life or death situation.
“I spoke directly with a representative from the WHO’s country office in Maldives. I said we were facing immense challenges in procuring ventilators. And asked that he share any information he may have which will aid in the effort,” he said.
Ameen continued, saying that the representative got back to him with “a name and contact number” a few days later – a conversation he insists was of official capacity as Health Minister.
“At this point, I passed on the information to the ministry’s financial executive and asked him to look into it. I continue to refuse to believe the communication between myself and the WHO representative were private, and I never will,” he added.
Ameen said the communications hadn’t been carried out in secrecy, and that information regarding the communications was shared with the financial executive and the bid committee as well. He went on to explain that the ministry even received approval from the Finance Ministry as well as the Attorney General, to award the contract under single source-procurement, as a means of expediting the process.
While Ameen explained the Ministry’s defense to the committee, it is noteworthy that the audit report suggested misconduct and corruption, in awarding the contracts to three private companies, one out of which was highlighted the most, being a Dubai based company named Executors General Trading, to procure 75 ventilators at a cost of MVR 34.50 million.
Health Ministry had previously stated that the contract to Executors General Trading was awarded at the recommendation of World Health Organization (WHO) office in Male’. However, the audit report shows there is no evidence of official communications between WHO and Health Ministry regarding the procurement of ventilators, where in fact, WHO plainly denied any involvement in the recommendation beyond the provision of a contact number.
The audit report shows the Health Ministry paid MVR 30.91 million, which made for 90 percent of the total payment, to Executors General Trading as an advance, without obtaining an advance guarantee.
Top officials from Health Ministry told the Public Accounts Committee on Tuesday that they do not believe the audit report to be fair, and that certain information had been omitted from the report.