Government refuses to disclose vaccine deal value

Minister of Health of Maldives Ahmed Naseem receiving the Covid-19 vaccine. | Photo: President's Office

Malé, Maldives – Ministry of Health has refused to disclose the value of a deal with Singaporean company to purchase 700,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines for Maldives.

Local news outlet “Mihaaru” has revealed that after they excersied their right to information and requested the Ministry of Health to provide financial details of the deal they made with AstraZeneca Singapore Pte Ltd to purchase 700,000 doses of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine.

However, Mihaaru has said that the Health Ministry has denied their request, adding that the ministry cited article of the Right to Information Act of Maldives, which states that where disclosing information which would result in irrevocable damage, the State Institute has the discretion of non-disclosure.

Where this applies is further elaborated in part (a) of this article, which states that where the information was gathered on an agreement of confidentiality and that information has any of the following attributes: (1) Trade secrets, and (2) Information, if disclosed would have a detrimental impact on the business or financial interest of the third party.

The Ministry explained that while the duration of the signed agreement is until all doses are supplied to the Maldives, some aspects of the agreement are to remain in effect even after this period.

The vaccine was procured after subjects 10.43, 10.52, 10.67 and 10.71 of the Public Finance Regulation were temporarily suspended under the powers vested in the Finance Minister. The Subjects in question concern the tendering process of procurement projects, awarding of contracts, advance payments, and liquidated damages, respectively and are are suspended only for the duration of the procurement agreement with AstraZeneca Singapore.

The Ministry of Health has a valid argument to not disclose the value of this specific deal. Nevertheless, the Ministry has previously been involved in a corruption scandal regarding international procurement of Covid-19 equipment – which should necessitate transparency in any further such contracts by the Ministry.

75 ventilators which were brought in by the Maldivian Health Ministry during the early pandemic for their Covid-19 response plan have been surrounded with much controversy. Following a joint investigation by the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) and Maldives Police Service, it was revealed that former Minister of Health Abdulla Ameen and 11 employees of the ministry were involved with the expenditure of over MVR 30 million in violation of the Public Finance Act.

However, since then, the Minister and various Health Ministry officials have been replaced, and efforts have been made to prevent a repeat of such a scandal at the Ministry and across the government.

Maldives has received 100,000 doses of the Covishield vaccine from India, which is currently in use, while additional 700,000 doses of Astrazeneca vaccine to be received within the March. The country is also expecting to receive the vaccine shipment from World Health Organization (WHO), which would be sufficient to vaccinate at least 20 percent of the population of the country, with in the upcoming two weeks.

While China has also decided to donate 100,000 vaccines to the country, Maldives already received 10,000 doses of the Chinese made Sinopharm vaccine via a donor Health Protection Agency has not yet named.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has been using their current stock of Covishield mainly for Health workers and individuals above the age of 60, and have revealed that more than 50,000 individuals have been vaccinated in the Maldives under the free nationwide immunization program “Dhifaau”.