The Information Commissioner's Office, on Tuesday, issued a fine to an information officer employed at the Ministry of Tourism, over the administration's failure to attend a hearing on February 11.
Maldives Trade Union lodged a case with the Information Commissioner in July 2019 over the Tourism Ministry's refusal to disclose lease-hold agreements between the ministry and the islands given away in the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) corruption scandal.
As per local NGO Transparency Maldives, the Information Officer reported to ICOM on time and left without joining the hearing. The NGO described the action as being a "deliberate disregard for the spirit of the constitutionally enshrined democratic principles".
The Tourism Ministry declined to release the information citing section 24 (a) of the Right to Information Act, asserting that the ministry was exempt from providing the requested documents as they were part of an ongoing investigation by the Presidential Committee on Corruption and Asset Recovery.
However, the legal team of the Information Commissioner's Office unanimously decided that there was no reasonable cause to withhold the documents under any clause of Chapter 7 of the RTI Act.
The decision to fine the information officer was finalised at the same hearing after the ministry representative failed to attend the proceedings. ICOM also decided to investigate claims that the individual arrived and left without attending the hearing.
Transparency Maldives called on the public to urge respective parliamentarians to summon Minister of Tourism Ali Waheed and hold the ministry accountable for "violating a constitutionally guaranteed right, perpetuating a culture of secrecy and completely disregarding the attempt of the public to attain justice".
Meanwhile, some members of the public have expressed concern that a civil servant was penalized for the ministry's systemic failure to maintain transparency as pledged by the incumbent administration.
The MMPRC case is the largest corruption scandal recorded in the country, which involved the embezzlement of MVR 3.3 billion as acquisition costs for islands leased through the tourism promotion company.