Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Rozaina Adam leaked invoices and bills through Twitter on Friday, exposing the extravagant expenses of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s family out of the former presidential palace Theemuge’s budget allocated for helping the poor.
Responding to allegations of corruption against her father by supporters of former President Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), which were backed by PPM MP Ahmed Mahloof, MP Rozaina claimed that Mahloof was given SGD$28,000 out of the Theemuge budget for a “nose job”.
After suggesting that the MP for Thulusdhoo was “possessed by jinns,” MP Mahloof replied that he received assistance from the Theemuge budget for “a serious surgery,” adding, “it was not theft.”
Rozaina however went on to post photos of invoices from Theemuge for purchases of jewelry and other items as well as hotel bills from Singapore for Gayoom’s family and associates, challenging the PPM MP to defend the lavish expenses.
According to Rozaina, the invoices were sent to parliament’s Finance Committee this year attached to the Theemuge audit report for 2007 and 2008. Reviewing audit reports of state institutions is part of the powerful public accounts oversight committee’s mandate.
Among the invoices made public by the DRP MP was a US$30,698 bill for tickets to London for former First Lady Nasreena Ibrahim and five others.
MP Rozaina alleged that the tickets were for “a shopping trip to London by Madam Nasreena and friends at the state’s expense.”
Other expenses included SGD$2,254 for the former President’s son’s spectacles and US$4,284 for fabrics bought in India.
An invoice dated March 31, 2008 showed SGD$14,977 spent for trouser material (polyester viscose), which was authorised and signed by former Executive Director of the Presidential Palace Ismail Faiz.
Yet another invoice showed over SGD$28,000 paid out of the Theemuge account to the Grand Hyatt in Singapore.
“Yumna’s [Abdul Gayoom] hotel bill from the funds allocated to the Theemuge budget to help impoverished citizens,” MP Rozaina explained.
MP Rozaina also uploaded a credit card statement amounting to US$12,456 dated July 31, 2008 of a shopping spree in London.
Pressed by Twitter users as to why she had not spoken about the Theemuge expenses before, Rozaina tweeted, “I thought auditor general was politicising. He sent all the bills this year.”
“Previously it was just a report,” she added. “Documentary evidence was sent to the Majlis only this year.”
The MP for Thulusdhoo revealed that parliament’s Finance Committee was reviewing the Theemuge audit report.
MP Rozaina’s husband and DRP MP for Raa Atoll Alifushi, Mohamed Nashiz, is the deputy chair of the committee.
Speaking in parliament last week, MP Rozaina alleged that the Maldivian embassy in the UK spent funds out of its budget to hold a birthday party for Gassan Maumoon, youngest son of former President Gayoom.
Replying to former Transport Minister Adhil Saleem on Twitter, who encouraged her to “tell the world” as there was “no going back,” Rozaina tweeted: “I would never even think of going back. These people are criminals. Specially MAG’s [Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s] good for nothing kids spending ppls [people’s] money.”
In September 2011, former President Gayoom left the DRP to form the PPM following an acrimonious split within the DRP and a public spat with his successor and former vice-presidential candidate, DRP Leader and MP for Baa Atoll Kendhoo Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, brother-in-law of MP Rozaina.
“In accordance with rules and regulations”
Meanwhile, the former President’s attorney, Ibrahim Waheed, released a press statement today countering Rozaina’s allegations. Waheed insisted that all expenditure out of Theemuge was “in accordance with the rules and regulations” and in line with the former presidential palace’s budget approved by parliament.
Waheed added that all records and documentation of expenditure were left at the palace files when the former president left office in November 2008. After President Mohamed Nasheed assumed the presidency, he moved the official presidential residence to Muleeage and relocated the Supreme Court and High Court to the former palace.
The statement from Gayoom’s lawyer went on to dismiss Rozaina’s allegations as “baseless” and “bald-faced lies.”
Waheed suggested that the DRP MPs’ accusations were motivated “out of jealousy” caused by the loss of support for her party and the growing strength of PPM, which was “as evident as the noon-day sun.”
The statement further claimed that the Presidential Commission formed by former President Nasheed to investigate corruption and misappropriation of funds – uncovered in over 30 audit reports – failed to find any wrongdoing by Gayoom.
Responding to the statement on Twitter today, Rozaina argued that although Gayoom was the highest authority in the land under the old “blue constitution,” public funds were “misused” when it was spent on the former President’s family and associates.
In April 2009, former Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem – the country’s first independent auditor general, who was appointed by Gayoom in January 2008 – released a damning audit report (English) of the presidential palace’s finances, revealing that over US$ 3 million earmarked for helping the poor was spent on “the president’s relatives, ministers and their families, senior government officials and some MPs.”
The report stated that 49 percent of the palace’s budget, equivalent to MVR 48.2 million (US$3,750,000 at the time), was diverted from the budget for the poor in 2007 and 52 percent, MVR 44.9 million (US$3,500,000), in 2008.
“We believe this is corruption and misappropriation of public funds,” the former Auditor General stated.
An examination of invoices revealed that funds intended for the poor were instead spent on medical trips to Singapore by “influential senior officials”.
This included their travel expenses, stay in expensive hotels, food, taxi fare, long-term apartment rental and medical check-ups.
More than SGD$ 2.3 million (US$1,500,000) was spent on one of Gayoom’s relatives and his family on trips to Singapore throughout 2007 and SGD$ 1.4 million (US$930,000) for another relative and his family for multiple trips to Singapore.
In March 2008, SGD$23,756 (US$16,000) was spent for a minister’s grandson to stay in a hotel in Singapore for 21 days; in April, SGD$50,022 (US$33,000) was spent on medical expenses for a friend of the president’s; and in July 2008, SGD$6,905 (US$4,600) was spent on two pairs of glasses for a minister and his wife.
US$13,000 in cash was given to the leader of an unnamed political party on different occasions throughout 2008.
The funds, spent by the Maldives Government Trade Centre (MGTC) in Singapore, were to be reimbursed by Theemuge.
Invoices and statements of the expenses revealed that most of the trips were arranged via a note or telephone call from Theemuge rather than through a formal procedure.
The invoices leaked by Rozaina showed that “verbal authorisation” was given by Theemuge senior officials.
“Therefore, as these expenses were made to gain the love, loyalty and support of the recipients, and since these expenses were not made for state purposes or for the benefit of all citizens, we note that these expenses were made unlawfully from the budget for personal benefit and gain,” the audit report stated.
The audit report further revealed that funds were unaccounted for in the construction of the presidential palace, which exceeded its budget by US$1.7 million. The total cost of the project amounted to MVR 207 million (US$17 million).
Moreover, an average of MVR 5,500 (US$430) a day was spent on food for the former President and his family – equivalent to one month’s wages for an employee working at the palace at the time.