Clerical mistakes in asset declarations: Once a mistake, twice a pattern, thrice a habit!

Malé, Maldives – President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration came on to power in 2018 with pledges of transparency, eliminating corruption and encouraging reporting. Two years into the presidential term, the government has passed, ratified and abided by legislations which promote transparency, such as that of annually declaring assets.

While this is applaudable and a big win, since the country set out to seek a transparent and corruption free estate, there is undeniable room for improvement. One simple example is the record set by the administration when it comes to making clerical or administrative mistakes.

Looking at the past two or so years, at least three mistakes – as justified by the government – have come to light with regards to asset declarations of various political appointees within the government.

In 2019, State Minister at the Ministry of Communication, Science and Technology Ahmed Afzal was found to have mistakenly omitted his shares in the private company Freenet, of which he held 80 percent shares at the time.

In 2020, Speaker of the Parliament Mohamed Nasheed also was found to have missed out on declaring the status of his joint account in State Bank of India, Lloyds Bank UK and the land plot in K. Thulusdhoo of which he was stated to be a co-owner in the asset deceleration of Parliament Members for the period 28th May 2019 to 27 May 2020, published in the Parliament website.

A similar issue recently came up with regards to the Spokesperson of the President’s Office Mabrouq Azeez, who’s ownership of the infamous coffee shop Meraki was also not declared in his asset declaration , also due to a clerical mistake.

Prior to that, another clerical mistake was made in the asset declaration of Presidential Advisor Mohamed Shihab, who had a whopping MVR 362 million in his bank account, which was later rectified to MVR 362,015.22 after major public backlash, explained as a clerical error.

In the latest discrepancy noticed with assets declared by a senior member of the government, Presidential Secretariat and Protocol Fathimath Mohamed Solih was found to have her asset declaration abruptly amended.

Fathimath Solih, who works at the capacity of a State Minister, in her initial asset declaration dated 9th November 2020, had declared a building worth MVR 20 million to her name, and a total of MVR 700,000 to her name in the Bank of Maldives. However, this declaration has recently been replaced by another asset declaration, also dated 9th November 2020, from which the MVR 20 million worth building has disappeared, and the money to her name has also been changed to MVR 116,384.62 at the State Bank of India, and MVR 10,185.41 at the Bank of Maldives.

The President’s Office, in a statement released on 14th February 2020, explained that the change was brought due a mistake being noticed in the initial asset declaration published on the website, in which the assets – MVR 700,000 and the building worth MVR 20 million – were mistakenly declared as her own.

Speaking to ‘The Times of Addu’ regarding asset declarations, the Governance Manager of Transparency Maldives Ahid Rasheed spoke about the importance of transparency and how the lack of an independent verification mechanism does not make the current asset declaration mechanism effective. With this, Ahid revealed that Transparency Maldives is currently concluding the draft of an asset declaration bill, and that it would be forwarded to the Attorney General’s Office in the upcoming days.

While the errors in the asset declarations may very well have been honest clerical mistakes, the repetition of such inaccuracies in assets declared by individuals who hold office of a government elected by the people, to work for the people, with a salary paid by the money of the people only increases the requirement to have independently verified asset declarations, specially when a solution to prevent such administrative mistakes is yet to be implemented. As the saying goes, once a mistake, twice a pattern, but anything after that is a habit.