Ventilator Corruption: No wrongdoing on Finance Ministry's part

Auditor General Hassan Ziyath on Tuesday said the Finance Ministry was not involved in the Health Ministry’s alleged corruption in purchasing ventilators.

A compliance audit report on the Health Ministry’s COVID-19 related expenses noted misconduct in awarding the procurement of ventilators to the companies. The biggest issues were with handing over the procurement of 75 ventilators to Dubai company Executors General Trading for MVR 34 million. The ministry had implied that the company was a ‘WHO-recommended supplier’ while in reality, no such recommendations were made by the World Health Organization. The government also disbursed 90 percent of the project cost as advance payment.

The Parliament’s Public Finance Committee inquired from AG Ziyath if there was any wrongdoing on the part of the finance ministry in awarding the project to the company without a bid process.

In his response, Ziyath said the Finance Minister has the authority to forego some conditions of the public finance act under certain situations, and that the permission to forego the bid process was given to the HEalth Ministry according to the Public Finance Act. A letter sent to the Health Ministry signed by Finance Minister Ibrahim Ameer clearly states that the disbursement of the advance payment must follow the public finance Act. Therefore, there is no room to say the Finance Ministry had acted in violation of the laws, said Ziyath.

Ziyath further noted that the Health Ministry’s bid committee and financial head are responsible for the misconduct.

The audit report said the technical and financial capabilities of the company were not considered by the Health Ministry in awarding the project to Executors General Trading, nor had the ministry verified the information submitted by the company. However, the finance ministry should have better protocols in place to investigate large advance payment disbursements while the country faces an economical crisis with added pressure on the state budget, said Ziyahth.

The Health Minister Abdulla Ameen isolated himself from his duties in the wake of a probe on the ministry’s COVID-19 related spending. In a letter addressed to the President, Minister Ameen said he has chosen to step aside from his responsibilities as Health Minister until the investigation is completed, or until the President instructs otherwise. The ministry is being headed by Housing Minister Mohamed Aslam for the time being.

Meanwhile, health ministry officials involved in approving the agreement and signing official documentation have been suspended. The suspended officials include bid committee members and members of finance executives and the ministry’s state minister.