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Opposition criticizes PG Shameem over ventilator controversy

Mariyam Malsa
21 October 2020, MVT 11:05
Adam Shareef speaking at a PPM?PNC rally in 2019. PHOTO: HUSSAIN WAHEED/ MIHAARU
Mariyam Malsa
21 October 2020, MVT 11:05

The opposition coalition, on Tuesday, criticized Prosecutor General Shameem's decision against pressing charges over the controversial procurement of 149 ventilators.

Speaking at a press conference held jointly by the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the People's National Congress (PNC), parliamentary representative for Raa Atoll's Madduvari constituency Adam Shareef Umar expressed concern that the Prosecutor General's Office was attempting to suppress a case despite the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) requesting that charges be pressed.

He went on to accuse the incumbent government of working to protect some individuals implicated in the ventilator controversy despite being elected on pledges of stamping out corruption.

Adam Shareef further highlighted that Minister of Finance Ibrahim Ameer was also culpable in the case for approving and releasing funds, even though Minister of Health Abdulla Ameen was the only cabinet member named in ACC's post-investigation report.

The MP asserted that President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's failure to voice concern over this omission indicated the incumbent administration's failure to adequately address corruption.

He also claimed that the government expedited cases and swiftly pressed charges against opposition aligned individuals while PG provided excuses when it involved a pro-government official.

Overall, Adam Shareef condemned the lack of accountability concerning a large scale corruption case that had cost the state millions, describing the lack of charges as failure on the part of the government to curb corruption.

The aforementioned criticisms were expressed by the opposition swiftly after the PG Office concluded that the evidence was not sufficient enough to press criminal charges against any individuals involved in the Ministry of Health's controversial procurement of 149 ventilators.

On October 14, 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.

Later the same day, ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) submitted a no-confidence motion against Health Minister Ameen, accusing him of "robbed state funds".

Health Minister Ameen, who had recused himself from duties on on August 17, tendered his resignation during the early hours of Wednesday amid considerable public pressure.

The corruption watchdog had initiated 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.

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.

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