The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), on Wednesday, held an emergency press conference to address the issues raised in the compliance audit published by the Auditor General's Office on Tuesday.
One of the issues highlighted by the audit report, which examined NDMA's spending of state funds for the COVID-19 response, was the establishment of a medical facility in a land plot in reclaimed suburb Hulhumale' that is not under government ownership.
However, NDMA maintained that the state would not suffer any losses due to the establishment of the facility, for which MVR 24 million was spent from the state budget.
According to the audit report, the Hulhumale' Medical Facility, built to treat COVID-19 patients in the Greater Male' area, was established on land that was mortgaged to the Mauritius Commercial Bank (MCB) in Maldives over an unpaid loan.
Moreover, the audit noted that the three-month agreement signed between MCB and Housing Development Corporation (HDC) on March 24 stipulated that no changes can be made to the land plot.
In the report, Auditor General Hassan Ziyath had suggested solutions for legal issues that may arise due to the situation.
During NDMA's press conference, the authority's Chief Executive Hisan Hassan stated that the agreement can be extended beyond three months.
"The state does not have to pay rent for the land plot even now", he noted, adding that NDMA does not believe the circumstances are disadvantageous to the government.
Hisan further explained that the location for the medical facility was decided based on research and counsel by doctors and other relevant experts, focusing on five key points.
As per Hisan, the plot in Hulhumale' was chosen because it could be developed to have a bed capacity of 300, the facility could be set up in a short period of time as most of the construction work on the building was completed, it provided feasibility to healthcare professionals residing in capital Male' that were employed at the facility, it was located at close proximity to Tree Top Hospital which was first designated for COVID-19 treatment, and the facility's location could cut down on logistic costs.
Expressing distress over the rumours concerning the Hulhumale' Medical Facility, Hisan underlined that many COVID-19 patients would be on the streets if the facility was not established.
Additional violations highlighted in the compliance audit also included a lack of documentation and paperwork in making payments, which poses challenges in ensuring that millions of funds, which are unaccounted for, were indeed spent on goods and services received by NDMA.
Referring to the aforementioned issue, Hisan stated that the full details and documentation required for all the areas were submitted to the audit office while the audit process was ongoing, accusing the Auditor General's Office of failing to conduct a thorough audit.
Dubbing the audit report "incomplete", Hisan also asserted that NDMA had already recovered the excess funds spent in securing accommodation for quarantined and isolated cases and frontline workers as well as food and beverage procurement.
The audit report noted that guesthouse payments were made above the standard rate, resulting in paying 12 percent of funds in excess.
Moreover, the audit revealed that NDMA had paid above-market prices for goods purchased with state funds, such as paying as much as thrice the amount for some cost-controlled staple foods such as rice, flour and sugar.
The report also highlighted that other items, such as smoked fish, fish cans, dried chilli, milk powder, raw fish, tuna paste (rihaakuru) and soft drinks were purchased at above-market prices.
During Wednesday's press conference, Hisan asserted that the authority was aware of the issues in purchasing the items at above-market prices and had rectified the error already.
"The funds were collected a long time before the audit report was published. Therefore, this issue should not even have been raised in the report", he said.
He further noted that providing food and beverages to facilities was closely monitored after identifying the error in purchasing the goods.
Amidst public uproar following the publication of the compliance audit, NDMA rejected the report, which "failed to mention important information".
NDMA also stated that the Auditor General's Office was formally invited to visit and examine the workings of the authority prior to completing the audit, but the office did not follow through.
The compliance audit stated that NDMA had illegitimately squandered millions, mainly highlighting issues in securing accommodation for quarantined and isolated cases and frontline workers, providing food for accommodation facilities, failure to maintain the stock records of aid supplies and other items, establishing a medical facility on land which was not under state ownership, and purchasing items for above-market prices.