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PG decides not to press charges over ventilator controversy

Mariyam Malsa
20 October 2020, MVT 11:03
Health Minister Ameen speaking at the parliamentary finance committee. PHOTO: NISHAN ALI/ MIHAARU
Mariyam Malsa
20 October 2020, MVT 11:03

The Prosecutor General's Office, on Tuesday, rejected the charges against Minister of Health Abdulla Ameen, as well as 10 other individuals, regarding the fraudulent procurement of 149 ventilators.

On October 14, the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) requested the PG Office to press charges against Minister Ameen, Financial Controller Ahmed Aslam, two individuals that had reviewed and signed off on documents, in addition to several senior officials sitting on the health ministry's bid committee.

The corruption watchdog had sought a total of four charges against Minister Ameen under Section 511(a), Section 512(a), Section 513(c) and Section 313(a) of the Maldives Penal Code.

After submitting the matter to the PG Office, ACC announced its conclusion that State Minister of Health Dr Shah Abdulla Mahir did not participate in any acts of corruption whilst procuring ventilators and decided not to seek charges against him.

Three other members of the Health Ministry's bid committee - Deputy Minister Nishama Mohamed, Director Naushad Ali and Legal Officer Mohamed Abdul Ghani, were similarly absolved from acts of corruption.

ACC launched a joint investigation with the Maldives Police Service in August, after the Auditor General's Office published a compliance audit on the Ministry of Health's COVID-19 expenditure, revealing that the ministry had spent over MVR 30 million in violation of the Public Finance Act.

As part of the government's COVID-19 response efforts, the health ministry had signed agreements with Naadu Pvt Ltd to procure 24 ventilators and MedTech Maldives Pvt Ltd to secure 50 ventilators, in addition to the 75 ventilators from Dubai-based Executors General Trading LLC.

Per the audit, the health ministry's negotiations with Executors were rife with corruption, including false claims that the order was placed following a recommendation by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The state has already paid MVR 30.9 million in advance for the 75 ventilators, covering 90 percent of the total cost of MVR 34 million.

The report compiled by ACC alleged that the bid committee did not conduct due diligence concerning Executors General Trading since Minister Ameen had presented the company as having been recommended by WHO. The report added that advance payment was made to the Dubai-based company using false documentation concerning the receipt of 65 mechanical ventilators and 10 portable ventilators, despite the fact that the goods were not sent to Maldives.

The audit report also revealed that agreements with local companies Naadu Pvt Ltd and MedTech Maldives were formulated in a manner damaging to the state and seemingly, deliberately steered towards enriching certain entities.

Furthermore, while all three companies failed to procure the equipment before the specified deadline, 10 ventilators provided by Executors did not meet standards stipulated in the agreements and subsequently could not be used to treat COVID-19 patients.

However, in the document sent to the bid committee members following the conclusion of the investigation, ACC stated that the suppliers were provided extensions on reasonable grounds, considering the situation at the time.

Noting that the Health Ministry had provided extensions on many of the procurement deals signed during that time period, ACC added that Maldives' borders were closed when the extensions were granted to the suppliers, although the initial agreements were signed before border closing.

Naadu Pvt Ltd and MedTech Maldives have now delivered all the ventilators the government procured from them.

After being summoned to the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, the minister and other staff maintained that they had operated in line with the Public Finance Act and relevant procedures to procure the ventilators, asserting that nothing was done to facilitate corruption or illicit enrichment for any entities.

While Minister Ameen had recused himself from all official duties until the conclusion of the investigation on August 17, the Financial Controller and members of the bid committee were suspended by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

The President's Office recently lifted the suspension on State Minister Shah and ordered him to resume his duties after ACC absolved him of participating in corruption.

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