Ex-technology minister's office renovated against regulations: audit

An audit has found that former Communication, Science, and Technology Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamaal's office and the ministry's B block were renovated against regulations.

The Communication Ministry's audit report for 2019 stated that the renovation of the minister's office and the building's B block was handed over to a private contractor for MVR 795,000. However, the report said some aspects of the project were carried out against the Public Finance Regulation.

Maleeh had wished to renovate and re-design the interior of his office to resemble the Oval Office of the White House in the US. The work was contracted to a private party on September 15, 2019, to be completed within 25 days. However, the work was completed a year after the agreed completion date.

As per the Public Finance Regulation, if any work contracted to a party under an agreement gets delayed, liquidated damages must be obtained from the contractor. In this regard, the contractor must pay not more than 15 percent of the total project cost.

The audit report showed that although MVR 119,250 should have been deducted as liquidated damages from the payment made to the contractor, only MVR 9,834 was deducted. The audit report said if the cost of a work contracted to a party exceeds MVR 250,000, five percent must be deducted from each bill as retention. However, the amount was not deducted as per the regulation.

The report further said while the office renovation was ongoing, another work that was not announced was given to the same contractor. The work was handed over to the contractor for MVR 103,880 after the completion date for the first project had passed. Contracting any work without seeking contractors through announcements is against the rules.

Other points raised in the audit report

The report prepared by the Auditor General's Office said the Communications Ministry hired consultants against regulations in 2019. Although the announcements issued by the ministry sought employees for IT work, some consultants were hired to do administrative work. It said that their wages and remunerations were arranged under the same structure as civil servants, and they received performance allowances.

'Consultants are hired to give technical advice and opinion on specific topics and do particular work. It is not an acceptable policy that they are given a performance allowance to enhance their performance further,' the report said.

The audit further said the Finance Ministry gave the Communications Ministry the go-ahead to hire contract employees. Even before 2019, the approval was given to hire contract employees, it said.

The audit also stated that the ministry was keeping accounts of its assets against the regulations. In this regard, the registry of the ministry's assets did not include details and cost of each asset separately, unlike what the Public Finance Regulation states. A large quantity of Microsoft licenses purchased by the National Centre for Information Technology (NCIT) was not listed in the registry as assets. As a result, it is questionable whether the MVR 164.4 million declared as assets in the ministry's financial statements for 2019 is the actual correct amount, the report noted.