Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic started to spread in Maldives, the government announced that ventilators would be acquired to increase the preparedness of the country to combat the virus. With the facilities being built and an overwhelming expenditure on getting medical equipment, people had started to question the transparency of the whole process very early on.
Accusations of corruption and mismanagement of taxpayers money from the public was finally proven to be true by the Covid-19 compliance audits done by the Auditor-Generals Office in August. The first of which was the Covid-19 Compliance Audit Report Ministry of Tourism released on August 13 of this year.
The report highlighted that the Ministry had spent over MVR 26 million on expenditures outside the Ministry’s mandate, from January 2020 till the end of June out of which 99 percent was spent on expenses which were out of the Ministry’s mandate.
Three days after the Tourism Ministry’s audit report came out, the Covid -19 Compliance Audit Report for the Ministry of Health was published with findings no one would have imagined a government Ministry would have carried out, while the whole country was facing such a dire situation such as the Covid-19 pandemic which has crippled the nation’s economy.
A total of 142 ventilators were contracted to be procured, where agreements were made between Executors General Trading LLC for 75 ventilators, MedTech Maldives Pvt Ltd for 50 ventilators and with Naadu Pvt Ltd to acquire 24 ventilators. However, the audit report had suggested foul play in all three contracts.
Following this, Minister Ameen had recused himself from the duties as Minister on 17th August, however, his remuneration is still being paid by the government as his employment is not terminated.
The most surprising disclosure was that Executors General Trading LLC was not a recommendation from WHO country office but that it was Minister Ameen who introduced the owner of Executors General Dr. Ali Al Thakhumathee to the Ministry. The Ministry had attempted to show that Executors General Trading LLC was a recommendation from WHO country office in Maldives through false documents and paid 90 percent (MVR 30 million) of the total cost of MVR 34 million of the ventilators against the Public Finance Act. The Health Ministry also failed to obtain a performance guarantee, or an advance payment guarantee when they paid the advance.
“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,” Minister Ameen had said during the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee meeting held in August.
“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 also said on the same day.
After the audit report, Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) also investigated the matter and sent the case to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) on October 14, to have charges raised against the Minister of Health Abdullah Ameen and 10 other members of the ministry. However, much to the dismay of the public, The Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) decided not to prosecute anyone of the 11 people which ACC requested to prosecute stating that there was insufficient evidence against any of the 11 Health Ministry officials, and hence, declining the case on October 20.
So far only 10 of the ventilators have been sent by Executors General Trading LLC and no date has been given for the delivery of the remaining ventilators.
What is the value of ACC reports?
ACC has recently been under a lot of criticism from the parliament over the Commission’s work relating to such cases. Members of Parliament such as Deputy Speaker MP Eva Abdulla, MP Moosa Siraj and MP Imthiyas Fahmy had swung critical blows on the Commission over their work speed during parliament sittings as well. Other members had also pointed out that the Commission was not doing sufficient work to investigate corruption cases and Galolhu-South MP Mikail Naseem had stated that the investigations of the Commission were of poor quality. Over the past few months, members have also called to remove all the current members of ACC highlighting such accusations.
Members also accused that the Commission’s actions were causing the public to lose trust in the commission and that the ACC had been unsuccessful in investigating major cases of corruption such as the MMPRC scandal and the Covid-19 expenditures that have caused great losses to the government. Members had stated that ACC was enthusiastically investigating only minor issues, leaving out the major cases.
Regarding the Covid -19 Compliance Audit Report Ministry of Health, ACC had revealed that the matter was investigated as an urgent case and that the investigative team was assisted by Maldives Police Service (MPS) as well. ACC revealed that a total of 1,600 documents, 500 email backups, and 36 testimonials were collected and analyzed for the purpose of this investigation.
ACC had send the case file to Prosecutor General’s Office to prosecute Minister of Health, Abdullah Ameen and 10 others of the ministry under part (a)(2) of section 511, part (a) of section 512, part (b) of section 513 and part (a)(1) of section 313 of the Penal Code. ACC’s investigation revealed that the Minister was aware of the procurement and payment request processes carried out by the Ministry and that the Minister was personally involved in providing guidance with regards to the matter. The ACC report also pointed out that Minister Ameen had ordered two members of the bid committee to partake in the meeting which decided on the matter of contracting Executors General, after the required quorum was initially not met. It was further highlighted that the Minister also urged to hasten the handing over of 90 percent of the total payment (MVR 34 million), which accounts to MVR 30 million to the company as soon as possible.
Considering all this, the question begs, what was the point of Anti Corruption Commission to collect and analyze 1,600 documents, 500 email backups and 36 testimonials if all this could not provide ‘sufficient’ evidence for prosecution?
Ameen was never suspended – Still being paid!
The government revealed on October 12 that despite Minister Abdullah Ameen having have recused himself from the responsibilities as Health Minister, he is still receiving his full salary and would remain eligible for his remuneration as long has he is not removed from office. Spokesperson of the President’s Office, Ibrahim Hoodh said that the government did not have any policies within the government to place anyone in such a position on a no-pay suspension.
Hoodh said that as long as Minister Ameen remains on the payroll of the government as an employee, he will receive his remuneration as there is no policy to place him on a no-pay suspension. So far the government has not justified it’s stand on not asking Minister Ameen to resign nor has MDP, the ruling party with a super majority in the Maldives Parliament filed a motion of no-confidence even though their members have been criticizing Minister Ameen since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Why hasn’t Minister Ameen resigned?
Minister Ameen has been holding on to his justification that he had only used shortcuts within the legal boundary and had not done anything wrongful in ensuring the health of the citizens.
Speaking at the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee in August Minister Ameen held his ground and stated that that the ministry had not worked with the intention of stealing public funds, and instead that they worked to ensure that all necessary action was taken to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic on a national level.
Minister Ameen had previously said the communications made between the ministry and WHO office in Maldives regarding the ventilators had not been carried out in secrecy, and that information regarding the communications were 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 during the Public Accounts Committee session.
However, all of this has been proven wrong by both Covid -19 Compliance Audit Report Ministry of Health by Auditor General’s Office and the Anti Corruption Commissions report but Minister Ameen has still not resigned from his position.
Even though he has not been prosecuted, it is the best practice followed around the world for someone to resign from such a position of authority when such accusations have been brought forward. Minister Ameen, for sure has lost the public trust and would not be accepted by the taxpayers any longer. For sure, Minister Ameen would not be the only health minister around the world who would be resigning allegations over medical procurement allegations. The Polish Health Minister had also resigned from his positions before such allegations were brought upon him.
Resignation, being one of the most foreign concepts to the Maldivian politicians, remains one of the basic moral resources for individuals of integrity. Resignations following such accusations generally reinforces integrity, buttresses responsibility and supports accountability as individuals in public offices have taken an oath to live up to the obligation of the office which they hold.
Taking the above in to account, to save face and to save the taxpayers money among other reasons, it is long due since Minister Ameen should have resigned from the position without taking MVR 66,000 without doing any work since August 17 onward. It’s time for Minister Ameen to accept that he has not been able to honorably serve his country as the Minister of Health and step down.