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ACC requests PGO to review ventilator controversy

Mariyam Malsa
26 October 2020, MVT 11:41
President of the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) Mariyam Shiuna (R-2) speaking at a parliament committee meeting in attendance of three other members of the commission. PHOTO: NISHAN ALI/ MIHAARU
Mariyam Malsa
26 October 2020, MVT 11:41

The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), on Sunday, requested the Prosecutor General's Office to review their decision not to press charges over the Ministry of Health's controversial procurement of 149 ventilators.

Following the completion of a joint investigation with the Maldives Police Service, the corruption watchdog forwarded the case to the PG Office on October 14. ACC sought charges against Minister of Health Abdulla Ameen, Financial Controller Ahmed Aslam, and two individuals that had reviewed and signed off on documents, in addition to several senior officials sitting on the health ministry's bid committee.

However, Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem asserted that the evidence collected was not sufficient enough to press criminal charges against any of the named individuals.

Shameem highlighted that ACC had found no evidence of the individuals receiving payouts from the companies contracted for ventilator procurement or related companies, during the watchdog's review of their individual financial records between January 2019 and September 2020.

He added that the Attorney General's Office expressed an opinion on April 2 that the bid committee had contracted and procured ventilators under Article 10.03 of the Public Finance Act which permits certain regulations to be forgone during a state of emergency.

Overall, the Prosecutor General stated that the issues involved in the procurement process were most likely related to negligence and administrative inefficiency.

ACC refuted the PG Office's stance, asserting that enough evidence was collected to prove violations of the Public Finance Act and that the bid committee's actions were intended to secure illicit enrichment for certain entities.

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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