Corruption alleged in use of MVR150m budget for independence day

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is investigating corruption in the home ministry’s use of an MVR150million (US$9.7million) budget allotted for independence day activities. The ministry is accused of awarding lucrative projects to private companies without a bidding process.

The Maldives will mark 50 years of independence from the British on July 26.

An office set up under the home ministry has awarded a restaurant New Port with a MVR1million catering contract and a British company called The Projection Studio with a contract to manage sound, light and projection at the official celebrations.

Several monuments, public parks and the official jetty are also under renovation. A civil society group has been given a professional fee of MVR1million to make a replica of a historic boat.

President Abdulla Yameen has meanwhile bought a brand new luxury yacht worth US$4million for the independence day celebrations.

“The ACC formed a special committee to investigate the office on its own initiative after receiving complaints,” said assistant director Hassan Manik.

However, the head of the Minivan 50 (independence 50) office and deputy home minister Ahmed ‘Maaz’ Saleem denied corruption and said: “Instead of opening a public bidding process we are approaching local and foreign companies with relevant expertise and awarding the contract to the cheapest option with a special permit from the finance ministry.”

He also told Minivan News the ACC was overseeing the office’s transactions on their invitation.

Minister of Finance and Treasury Abdulla Jihad confirmed the provision of a special permit for the Minivan 50 office to “hand out some of the projects.”

While Saleem had refused to disclose the budget of allocated to independence day celebrations, Jihad confirmed to Minivan News that the figure amounted to MVR150 million.

Saleem insisted that the private companies were not profiting off of independence day activities, but that they were only charging a “professional fee.”

The deputy minister said the activities had been planned after a public consultation. The home ministry had called for proposals in 2014 and held a public forum this year to discuss proposals. “The celebration activities were decided by the public,” he said.

The home ministry has held a mandatory parade for all students, a swim between capital Malé and suburb Villingili and slaughtered 150 goats for the golden jubilee of independence.

 

 

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Police officer in charge of Dhoonidhoo put detainees to work

A police officer, who was in charge of the Dhoonidhoo Island remand center, has been accused of putting several detainees to work, pocketing funds and giving special treatment to several suspects arrested in serious crimes.

Sub- Inspector of police Mujathaba Zahir is accused of letting several suspects out of their cells and letting them roam around the island, the Anti- Corruption Commission (ACC) has said.

He accommodated several in special barracks with a television, and allowed them to eat with police officers at the mess room.

Some suspects were let out of their cells even though the police had not completed investigations.

Some detainees were made to work on a warehouse for the Police Cooperative Society (Polco). Mujthaba also had detainees extract toddy from coconut palms and made coconut sugar, which he then sold on the market.

The sales were not documented, the ACC said.

Mujthaba also obtained money and gifts from several companies contracted for work on Dhoonidhoo, including a catering company, in the guise of improving services on the island. But there is no account of how funds were spent, the ACC said.

He is also accused of providing unlawful benefits to those he put to work. But he is also accused of taking MVR10,000 (US$645) earned by some detainees in the guise of buying a fishing net from India. He never returned the money.

The anti- corruption watchdog’s investigation revealed five other officers at Dhoonidhoo had assisted Mujathaba with the unlawful activities. The ACC has also recommended disciplinary action against two more senior officers for failing to put a stop Mujathaba’s activities.

Mujathaba is also accused of listing several contract workers on Dhoonidhoo as police officers and billing the police for their food.

During the ACC investigation, Mujthaba claimed he acted with the blessings of his superiors and for the benefit of the remand center. But the police have denied authorizing any of Mujthaba’s actions.

The ACC has recommend the Prosecutor General’s Office charge Mujthaba with three counts of abuse of authority and one count of depriving the state of monetary benefit.

The watchdog has recommended that Mujthaba’s accomplices – chief station inspector Abu Bakr Ali, station inspector Abdulla Waheed, superintendent Hussein Rasheed, Sargent Athif Naeem and chief station inspector Maumoon Jaufar – be prosecuted for abusing their powers.

The ACC has also advised the police to take disciplinary action against two officers in charge of POLCO – chief superintendent Abul Rahman Yusuf and Inspector Ilyas Rasheed.

In November last year, the Maldives Police Service revealed that 23 officers were deemed unsuitable to perform their job as officers of the law and fired.

While 257 complaints were lodged against police officers, disciplinary actions were taken against 115 officers.

In May last year, a police officer was arrested while attempting to smuggle drugs into Malé custodial detention center.

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Transparency Maldives urges state officials not to accept ‘arbitrary gratuities’

Transparency Maldives (TM) has urged the heads of independent institutions to refrain from accepting “arbitrary gratuities” from the government.

The government awarded luxury flats at discounted prices last month to Supreme Court justices and four heads of independent bodies, including the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), in what it called an attempt to “ensure their integrity.”

The anti-corruption NGO won the inaugural ‘National Integrity Award’ introduced by the ACC and handed out at a ceremony held last night to mark the first national anti-corruption day. The auditor general’s office was the other recipient of the award.

“While Transparency Maldives appreciates the efforts to acknowledge our core values and community services, we reiterate that upholding the integrity of independent institutions is an integral mandate of high ranking public posts in these independent institutions,” the NGO said in a statement today.

“As such, we call upon the heads of independent institutions to refrain from accepting arbitrary gratuities from the government.”

TM also urged independent bodies to “safeguard from undue influence and allegations of bribery and corruption in order to uphold the value of integrity and increase public confidence in independent institutions.”

TM said the organisation is “honoured” to have the received the award and “appreciates the acknowledgement of integrity as a fundamental premise to a healthy society”.

Speaking at last night’s ceremony held on the island of Kulhudhufushi in Haa Dhaal atoll, ACC president Hassan Luthfy reportedly said that loopholes in the law posed difficulties in investigating corruption allegations and securing convictions.

He called on MPs to pass a criminal procedures code and an evidence law and include ‘illicit enrichment’ as an offence in the new penal code.

In 2014, the commission concluded 783 investigations and forwarded 35 cases for prosecution, seeking to recover MVR1.4 million (US$90,791) owed to the state.

“Gratuities”

Luthfy confirmed to Minivan News last month that he had signed a contract to buy one of the apartments at the discounted price.

Flats were also awarded to all five Supreme Court justices, the prosecutor general, the commissioner general of customs, and the information commissioner.

While the state can provide privileges to state officials “based on need and limited to the duration of employment of individuals”, TM noted at the time that the flats are “permanently contracted by the executive to public officials holding time-bound positions of the state”.

“The offering of arbitrary privileges to public officials holding high-ranking positions and the acceptance of such privileges will undermine public trust in these institutions,” the NGO warned.

“TM also notes that upholding integrity in the performance of high-ranking public posts is an integral and core mandate of such positions, and should not be incentivised through handouts of property or other forms of personal enrichment.”

However, the government has defended its decision to offer discounts on the flats.

Tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb told the press that the apartments were awarded to “ensure the integrity of independent institutions”.

“The flats were not handed out. The recipients have to pay for them. This will result in ensured integrity of independent institutions and, moreover, it will strengthen the state,” he said.

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ACC orders re-evaluation of ‘Get Set’ programme applications

The anti-corruption watchdog has ordered the government to re-evaluate applications submitted for the ‘Get Set’ youth entrepreneurship loan scheme.

According to local media, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) told the youth ministry that it has flagged corruption in the evaluation process.

The commission found that two youth ministry staff were among the recipients chosen by a technical committee.

Of 597 applications, the committee chose 107 recipients based on a selection criteria.

The management of the programme was transferred from the youth ministry to the economic development ministry last week.

The government plans to offer MVR200 million (US$12.9 million) to encourage entrepreneurship among youth and assist the development of small and medium-sized enterprises.

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Anti-corruption body seeks criminal offence of ‘illicit enrichment’

The anti-corruption watchdog has proposed including ‘illicit enrichment’ as a criminal offence in the new penal code to combat what is seen as endemic corruption in the public sector.

The absence of a legal framework to investigate claims against state employees and probe sources of income amounts to “completely ignoring and not criminalising one of the main acts of corruption,” the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) said.

An overwhelming majority of Maldivians believe corruption is a major problem among public officials, according to Transparency International surveys, while the opposition accuses the government of making little progress on the issue.

The watchdog on March 31 submitted 13 amendments to the Attorney General’s Office for inclusion in the penal code, which is due to come into force on April 13.

The commission said the UN Convention Against Corruption encourages the criminalisation of illicit enrichment, which is an offence in some 42 countries, including China, Argentina, Bhutan, Malaysia, and India.

The Maldives is a signatory to the convention, which defines the offence as “a significant increase in the assets of a public official that he or she cannot reasonably explain in relation to his or her lawful income.”

A penal provision for illicit enrichment would “encourage the implementation of the system for wealth declaration in its fullest sense,” the commission said.

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy told Minivan News the party believes strengthening the asset disclosure system is important as there is no mechanism at present “to check how a person suddenly becomes rich”.

“There are ministers in this government who did not have anything when they were appointed to the cabinet but suddenly became billionaires,” he alleged.

However, the MP for Maafanu North questioned whether the government would submit the amendments to parliament.

“We don’t believe this government would do anything sincerely,” he said, adding that this was based on its record of moves such as a law barring prisoners from political party leadership, widely seen as aimed at ex-president Mohamed Nasheed.

Asset disclosure

Anti-corruption NGO Transparency Maldives suggested in December that an effective asset disclosure regime would improve public trust in state officials.

In TM’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer Survey for the Maldives, 97 percent of respondents believed corruption was a serious problem in the public sector.

“Asset declaration generally requires a certain category of public officials – also identified as ‘politically exposed persons’ to describe individuals entrusted with prominent public functions – to disclose their financial and business interests,” TM said in a position paper.

An asset disclosure system can detect corruption, demonstrate the government’s commitment to fight corruption, and help make officials accountable, the NGO said.

The constitution requires the president, ministers, MPs, and judges to submit annual declarations to the auditor general, the People’s Majlis, and the Judicial Services Commission, respectively. However, the information is not available to the public.

While MPs annually declare property, business interests, and liabilities to the Majlis secretary-general, the financial statements are not made public.

The former auditor general told TM that a lack of punitive measures for those failing to submit information rendered the system ineffective.

TM noted that the current system does not require the submission of assets for spouses and children of public officials “which makes cases of illicit enrichment and conflicts of interest invisible and harder to detect.”

“Moreover, the disclosure of business and activities outside the jurisdiction of Maldives, and details of substantial gifts or benefits are also not a requirement in the current system,” stated the paper.

The report suggested that measures for non-compliance would also enhance public trust in democratic institutions.

“Implementing a strong asset disclosure regime would show the state’s commitment to fight corruption and would give a strong message to public servants, a message of zero tolerance to corruption,” said TM.

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Government hands discounted flats to judges, commission heads

The government has awarded luxury flats at discount prices to Supreme Court judges and four heads of independent bodies including the Anti-Corruption Commission in what it calls an attempt to “ensure their integrity”.

However, the opposition has condemned the distribution as a “government effort to enslave independent institutions”.

The government was handed 10 flats in the newly built Rehendi Residency, constructed by FW Construction in Male’. The housing ministry then offered the semi-finished apartments for MVR 1.6m (US $103,761), much lower than the market price, to the chosen individuals.

Hassan Lutfee, president of the Anti-Corruption Commission, confirmed to Minivan News he had signed a contract to buy one of the apartments at the discounted price.

A former owner of one of the apartments not awarded to the government told Haveeru he had bought his apartment for MVR 2m (US $129,000).

The government also waived the six per cent interest charged to other flat buyers on their loans, though the prosecutor general said he had requested to pay the normal rate.

According to the local media, the flats were awarded to Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, Supreme Court judges Ahmed Abdulla Didi, Adam Mohamed Abdulla, Abdulla Areef and Ali Hameed, Criminal Court Judge Abdul Bari Yoosuf and Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin.

Apartments were also allotted to Commissioner General of Taxation Yazeed Mohamed and Information Commissioner Abdul Azeez Jamal Abu-Bakr. Not all the recipients have yet signed contracts to buy the flats.

Co-chair of the Economic Council Ahmed Adeeb told a press conference on Wednesday that the apartments were awarded to “ensure the integrity of independent institutions”.

“The flats were not handed out. The recipients have to pay for them. This will result in ensured integrity of independent institutions and moreover it will strengthen the state,” he said.

However, the opposition parties accused the government of trying to “enslave” the judiciary and independent institutions.

“This clearly is corruption. The constitution clearly states that no benefits can be given to members of independent institutions without parliament’s approval,” said MP Ali Hussain of the opposition Jumhoory Party.

“The fact that the flats were given personally to the heads of the institution and not [linked to] the post is outrageous.”

Article 102 of the constitution states that members of the judiciary and independent commissions “shall be paid such salary and allowances as determined by the People’s Majlis [parliament]”. However, parliament was not involved in allotting the apartments.

Muhathaz, the prosecutor general, told Minivan News he does not think the awards involve corruption.

“In my opinion the awarding of the flats is not unconstitutional. But I personally believe that it would have been better if it was awarded to the prosecutor general and not to me,” he said.

Information Commissioner Jamal said the flats were given to help the judges and institution heads live in a secure building, and dismissed any idea of government influence.

“I assure the people that I will always act professionally and within the bounds of the constitution and the laws,” he said.

The prosecutor general receives a monthly salary and allowances of MVR 57,500 (US $3,741), while the anti-corruption commission chief receives MVR 45,000 (US $2,927). Supreme court justices are paid MVR 71,000 ($4,619) and the chief justice MVR 73,125 ($4,757). They also receive extra benefits such as insurance.

A majority of civil servants are paid less than MVR 5,000 (US $325) a month.

The Supreme Court declined to comment on the issue, while the Housing Ministry refused to give information beyond what was discussed in the Economic Council press conference.

Judge Bari and Taxation Commissioner Yazeed were unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.

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ACC investigates corruption in teacher training bid

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) will investigate corruption allegations made against the Ministry of Education by a private individual regarding the announcement of degree-level education for 2000 new teachers.

Speaking to Minivan News, ACC Information Officer Hassan Manik confirmed that an individual had filed a case, but refused to comment further on the ongoing investigation.

State Minister at the Education Ministry Dr Abdulla Nazeer, however, said that he was unaware of the case against the ministry, but that there was “some urgency” regarding the initiation of the degree programme.

After its president last week accused the ministry of intimidation following his criticism of recent changes to the sector, the Teacher’s Association of Maldives’ (TAM) has expressed concern over the ministry’s decisions, saying that a lot of teachers are concerned about job security.

“The association is concerned these abrupt decisions might have an impact on the education of the students as well. We sincerely request [the ministry] to refrain from making decisions which might weaken the profession, and cause some teachers to lose their jobs,” read a TAM press statement.

TAM President Athif Abdul Hakeem has publicly accused the government of going back on pledges to improve teachers’ salaries – the result of negotiations following a series of strikes last year.

The opposition has suggested that the qualification-based salary changes have resulted in 1,200 teachers applying for diplomas at Malé’s Mandhu College. The college has since been given an eviction notice by the ministry for an alleged breach of its lease – claims the college denies.

The complaint to the ACC regarding the teacher training claims the January 22 announcement was constructed in a way which unlawfully favours certain bidders, reports Raajje.mv.

The individual claimed that, with a deadline of February 5, prospective bidders effectively had only 12 days to prepare their offers, which was not enough to provide a detailed financial plan for a programme involving such a number of students spanning five years.

While claiming that some elements included in the bidding process contravened accreditation regulations set out by the Maldives Qualifications Authority, the individual is said to have alleged that the ministry was colluding with a Malaysian university.

Meanwhile, the ministry has published the new regulations on the provision of additional training for workers in the education sector, alongside a matching allowance to the 2015 salary, opening up the application for additional training.

A ministry press statement outlined the selection criteria for the programme and the points system for applicants, while giving a deadline of March 2 for applications.

State Minister Nazeer explained that the 2000 students to participate in the degree programme are not to be confused with the 2000 teachers who are to undergo further studies in order to bring them up-to-date with new minimum qualifications for teachers set out by the education ministry.



Related to this story

TAM President accuses Education Ministry of intimidation

Government had no choice but to increase teachers’ salary: MDP

Education Ministry hikes teachers’ pay by 35 and 15 percent

Teachers’ Black Sunday protest prompts government talks, strike decision pending

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ACC sends Rathafandhoo Island Council corruption case to PG

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has submitted a case against Gaaf Dhaal Rathafandhoo council President Ahmed Fauzee and three others to the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Haveeru reported that the commission has accused Fauzee and three others of using the influence of their positions while assigning security work, suggesting that the members of the proposal evaluation committee had allocated points in violation of set standards.

According to the paper, an ACC statement explained that documents and testimonies collected during investigations proved the accused had acted in violation of the State Finance Act to provide unlawful benefit to a third party.

The others implicated alongside Fauzee are Fathuhulla Basheer, Abbas Haneef, and Fathuhulla Ahmed – all members of the proposal evaluation committee.

Source: Haveeru

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Six senior government officials abused power in drug kingpin’s temporary release, says ACC

The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) has recommended charges be filed against six senior government officials for the temporary release of convicted drug kingpin Ibrahim Shafaz Abdul Razzak in February.

Former Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Mohamed Hanim personally paid a visit to a doctor at their home to obtain a signature claiming Shafaz required urgent medical care abroad.

However, the ACC found no evidence to suggest Shafaz required urgent treatment or care unavailable in the Maldives. Shafaz had not consulted a doctor at all in the week before his release.

Hanim, who is now the deputy minister of environment, also oversaw the illegal preparation of Shafaz’s travel documents and allowed him to leave the country without obtaining approval from the Maldives Correctional Service’s (MCS) medical board.

The investigations also revealed former Commissioner of Prisons Moosa Azim lobbied the medical board to approve Shafaz’s release despite knowing his paperwork was incomplete.

In addition to Hanim and Azim, the ACC has recommended corruption charges be filed against two members of the medical board, a technical officer at Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) and a staff of the MCS.

Shafaz was caught in Sri Lanka in May in a joint operation by the Maldivian and Sri Lankan security forces when he failed to return to the Maldives in the three-month period he had been given.

The Criminal Court had in November 2013 sentenced the 30-year-old to 18 years in prison and had levied a fine of MVR75,000 (US$4,860) for drug trafficking.

Deputy Minister’s abuse of power

According to the MCS’s regulations, an inmate can only be allowed abroad for medical treatment if two doctors attest that the inmate requires urgent care that is not available in the Maldives.

The MCS’ medical board must then review the doctors’ referrals before endorsing the release.

According to the ACC, Chief Superintendent of Malé Prisons Mohamed Thaufeeg, on Hanim’s request, illegally entered the medical section and printed the forms required for Shafaz’s release.

Thaufeeq had entered the medical section’s premises in the absence of the officer in charge.

Hanim and Thaufeeq then paid a personal visit to a doctor at their home on February 2 to obtain signatures. Local media have identified the doctor to be Indian national Dr Ganga Raju.

The forms require signatures of two doctors, but a senior technical officer at IGMH, Abdulla Rafiu, filled in the second slot.

Hanim sent a letter to the Department of Immigration ordering Shafaz’s travel documents be prepared although such letters must in fact be sent by the individual who heads the Home Ministry’s Implementation Section.

The letter was prepared and dispatched before the medical board and the Commissioner of Prison’s approved Shafaz’s release.

When the head of the Implementation Section refused to allow Shafaz to leave Maafushi Jail on February 5, Hanim himself authorized the release.

According to the ACC, Hanim attempted to complete the paperwork only after Shafaz left the country.

Medical board’s role

The medical board met on February 4 to review Shafaz’s request for temporary release.

The board noticed only one doctor had signed his forms and that the forms did not provide details on Shafaz’s medical conditions or the type of treatment he was to receive abroad.

However, Azim assured the board that the proper paperwork would be submitted at the next meeting. Board members, Maldives Police Services Chief Inspector of Police Dr Mohamed Fazneen Latheef and Home Ministry’s Deputy Director General Ishaq Ahmed, supported the inmate’s release.

Fazneen admitted to the ACC that the medical board had not released any inmate without complete paperwork in the past, and said he believed he had failed to uphold the board’s stringent standards in supporting Shafaz’s leaving the country.

Azim only signed the medical board’s final approval after Shafaz had left.

Shafaz was arrested on June 24, 2011, with 896 grams of heroin from a rented apartment in a building owned by ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives MP Ahmed ‘Redwave’ Saleem.

Former head of the Drug Enforcement Department, Superintendent Mohamed Jinah, told the press at the time that police had raided Henveiru Fashan based on intelligence information gathered in the two-year long ‘Operation Challenge’.

Jinah labeled Shafaz a high-profile drug dealer suspected of smuggling and supplying drugs since 2006.

He claimed that the network had smuggled drugs worth MVR1.3 million (US$84,306) to the Maldives between February and April 2011.



Related to this story

Convicted drug kingpin Shafa caught in Colombo

Doctor’s passport held as drug kingpin’s medical release investigated

Police arrest suspected drug kingpin after months of investigations

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