'Acted in good faith,' says Maldives' Health Minister on ventilator issue

Health Minister Abdulla Ameen has responded to allegations that the ministry acted wrongfully in procuring ventilators in its COVID-19 response.

A compliance audit report showed that the ministry had not acted according to regulations in awarding a project to procure 75 ventilators for the Maldives. The report revealed that the company that was tasked with the procurement is not a WHO-recommended supplier, as previously reported by the government.

The report, signed by Auditor General Ahmed Ziyath, said Dubai company, Executors General Trading’s financial and technical capacity was not taken into consideration when awarding the project to the party. While the procurement of 75 ventilators was tasked to the company for MVR 4,502,250, and while the Health Ministry in its documents implied that the company is a WHO recommended company, the organization has confirmed that it did not at any point shared a list of recommended suppliers with the ministry, said the report. The Audit report also noted in detail that neither a performance guarantee nor an advance payment guarantee was provided despite 90 percent of the agreement amount being disbursed to the company.

Ameen, who isolated himself from his duties until the investigation into the issue is concluded, on Tuesday spoke out regarding the issue for the first time at a meeting held with the Parliament’s Public Finance Committee. Members of the bid committee were present at the meeting along with the minister.

Ameen said the Maldives was in a state of a public health emergency, and all staff at the ministry had worked to ensure that no lives are lost due to the pandemic. The audit report does not mention the state of panic at the time, and the shortage of ventilators across the globe, said Ameen.

“Although there are procedural and administrative issues, I do not believe any employees at the ministry worked with the intention of providing undue benefits to any party,” said Ameen.

The minister also responded to the allegations that the project was awarded to a non-WHO-recommended company. Ameen said that while local companies were facing difficulties in procuring ventilators, discussions took place with the WHO representative in the Maldives on how to obtain the equipment at the earliest. After the discussion, an email that listed companies that can provide the service was received, said Ameen.

“I do not believe the discussions [with the WHO representative] was carried out at a personal capacity. The discussions were informal during the first stages, but the emails sent through WHO’s Country Office makes the exchanges that followed official in capacity,” said Ameen.

The Chair of the bid committee and Deputy Health Minister, Nishama Mohamed also insisted that the ministry had acted in good faith and had not sought to obtain any undue benefits. The transaction was carried out with the Finance Ministry’s permission, asserted Nishama.