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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MDP parliamentary group issues three-line whip against proposed 2015 budget

The Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) parliamentary group has decided that it will not be supporting the budget oversight committee’s version of the 2015 budget.

The opposition has issued a three-line whip compelling all party members in the Majlis – currently numbering 23 of the 85 seat house – to oppose the current version of the record MVR24.3 billion (US$1.5 billion) state budget.

A report was approved by the budget oversight committee last week for consideration of the full house, recommending no changes to the spending plans.

MDP internal committees have branded the budget “aimless”, inadequate, and conducive to corruption since it was first submitted by Minister of Finance Abdulla Jihad last month.

“MDP MPs are not voting for the budget because it’s a discriminatory and unsustainable budget, ” explained MDP Spokesman Imthiyaz Fahmy. “It would also widen the gap between the rich and the lower income groups due to regressive taxation.”

The introduction of 10 percent import duties on oil and essential foodstuffs is part of the government’s plans to generate MVR3.4 billion (US$220 million) in new revenue – representing 14 percent of the 2015 budget.

The MDP’s budget committee has expressed concern that failure to meet the proposed revenue raising measures could see the budget deficit increase to MVR5 billion (US$330 million), from the estimated MVR1.3 billion (US$84 million).

Further plans included revisions to current electricity subsidies, as well as the introduction of a US$6 ‘Green Tax’ on tourism, which the MDP has suggested was originally budgeted for US$10.

While government officials have said that the new tax will be used to resolve the country’s waste management problems, pro-government MPs have refused to ring-fence the additional revenue.

The MDP’s parliamentary group’s decision to issue the three-line whip was made during a meeting on Sunday evening, although only 9 MPs attended the meeting.

Party discipline has been brought into question on numerous occasions during the MDP’s first year in opposition, most notably in the approval of all 15 of President Abdulla Yameen’s cabinet last December, after 6 MDP members ignored instructions to reject 8 nominees.

Fahmy also explained that the recent approval of Hassan Ziyath to the post of auditor general was against the spirit of the parliamentary group after it had strongly opposed amendments to the Auditor General’s Act. MDP members contributed 9 out of 59 votes in favour of Ziyath’s appointment.

“MDP MPs in the independent institutions committee boycotted the committee and walked out after making a statement there to say that reappointing an auditor general is unconstitutional,” said Fahmy.



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MDP criticises proposed 2015 state budget as “aimless”

Parliamentary budget debate concludes

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President Yameen’s anniversary – The economy in review

President Abdulla Yameen’s election campaign was focused heavily on the economy. The Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) candidate was sold to the public as the “foremost economist in the country,” a no-nonsense leader with a plan and the expertise to rescue the Maldives from its “deep economic pit.”

Indeed, during the Progressive Party of Maldives’ ‘Successful 365 Days’ event in Malé last week, fisheries minister Dr Mohamed Shainee noted that the secret of the economic policy’s successes was President Yameen’s intellect and background in economics.

Yameen had vowed to eliminate the persisting fiscal deficit, achieve a surplus in his third year in office, and double per capita income by the end of his five-year term.

At the launching ceremony of the PPM’s manifesto, Yameen pledged to save MVR4 billion (US$259 million) from the state budget, claiming the 2013 budget had included up to MVR2 billion (US$129 million) in unnecessary expenditure.

Despite these pledges, however, the incoming administration in December 2013 submitted a record MVR17.5 billion (US$ 1.1 billion) state budget for 2014 for parliamentary approval, including MVR1.1 billion (US$71 million) more in recurrent expenditure.

Moreover, proposed streamlining amendments to the Decentralisation Act were not submitted ahead of the second local council elections held on January 18.

After pledging to slash wages of political appointees by 30-50 percent, President Yameen instead imposed a pay cut of 12.5 percent for state ministers and deputy ministers in December, as well as taking only half of his own MVR100,000 (US$6500) salary.

The Yameen administration currently has five ministerial rank appointees – including two ministers at the President’s Office –  36 state minister rank appointees, and 72 deputy minister rank appointees.

Last week, former PPM MP Ahmed Shareef Adam became the 10th deputy minister at the education ministry.

Economic policy

While the government fulfilled a pledge to raise the monthly allowance for the elderly to MVR5,000 – reliant on a MVR1 billion investment scheme outside the budget – Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad admitted in August that the government had been forced to rely on the state budget for the handouts.

The government also planned to fulfil a pledge to provide MVR10,000 (US$650) a month for fishermen “regardless of catch” during lean months through a similar insurance scheme with a monthly premium of MVR500.

However, only one fishing vessel has reportedly registered in the scheme so far.

Meanwhile, in contrast to the intransigence faced by former President Dr Mohamed Waheed in obtaining parliamentary approval for his policies, the new administration was able to vote through numerous revenue raising measures in the outgoing 16th People’s Majlis.

The measures included raising the airport service charge from departing foreign passengers to US$25, hiking import duties, reintroducing the tourism bed tax until the end of November, raising the Tourism Goods and Services Tax (T-GST) to 12 percent, and introducing GST for telecommunications services from May 1.

The legislative successes came as the central bank warned that shortfalls in revenue or overruns in expenditure in 2014 “will undermine medium-term debt sustainability and will have adverse implications for exchange rate and prices.”

Subsequently, the parliamentary elections in March saw the PPM and coalition partner the Maldives Development Alliance secure a comfortable majority in the 17th People’s Majlis.

In the aftermath of the polls, four independent MPs, three opposition MDP MPs, and three Jumhooree Party MPs signed for the PPM, sealing a 43-seat simple majority for the ruling party.

The parliamentary majority subsequently allowed the government to fast-track its flagship special economic zone (SEZ) legislation – the cornerstone of President Yameen’s economic policy – in the face of vehement protests from opposition MPs.

The MDP contended that that the law would pave the way for money laundering and other criminal enterprises, undermine local councils, and authorise the president to “openly sell off the country” without parliamentary oversight.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed dubbed the legislation the ‘Artur Brothers bill’, referring to an infamous pair of Armenians linked with money laundering and drug trafficking who made headlines last year after they were photographed with cabinet ministers.

The government, however, maintained that SEZs with relaxed regulations and tax concessions were necessary to attract foreign investors.

President Yameen declared in April that the SEZ bill would become “a landmark law” that would strengthen the country’s foreign investment regime.

Attracting foreign investment

Hailing the passage of the bill in August, President Yameen said his administration has “created the legal environment required to attract major investments.”

At an investor forum held in Singapore in April – where the government sought investors for five ‘mega projects’ – Yameen committed to “exploring openings for increasing foreign investment flows to non-traditional sectors to lift Maldives beyond the image of a picturesque postcard.”

The mega projects include iHavan or ‘Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project,’ – which envisions a transhipment port to capitalise on trade and commercial opportunities in the South Indian Ocean – a ‘youth city’ in Hulhumalé, the expansion of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), relocation and expansion of the central port to Thilafushi, and exploration for oil and gas.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb – also chairman of the SEZ investment board, who was implicated in a US$6 million dollar corruption scandal last month –  has suggested that even if one project such as iHavan “takes off” with US$1.3 billion worth of investment, the economy would be “transformed.”

Meanwhile, following the historic visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in September, China announced it would “favorably consider” financing the iconic Malé-Hulhulé bridge should it prove feasible.

President Yameen recently announced that further land reclamation the second phase of the Hulhumalé development project would begin before the end of November.

During last week’s anniversary celebrations, Dr Shainee noted that 19 foreign investors have registered in the country, with a commitment of investing over US$600 million, although no further details were revealed.

While the government appears to be counting on large investments from China – with President Yameen recently slamming  “western colonialists” – the fate of foreign investments made during former President Mohamed Nasheed’s tenure is likely to make potential investors wary.

While the Tatva waste management deal terminated was in September, the GulhiFalhu Global Green City project was recently stalled.

More worringly, a Singapore arbitration tribunal in June found the government of Maldives and state-owned Maldives Airports Company Pvt Ltd (MACL) “jointly and severally liable in damages”to GMR for the termination of a “valid and binding” concession agreement.

The Indian infrastructure giant is currently claiming US$803 million in damages for the abrupt and wrongful termination of the airport development contract.



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MDP condemns government’s failure to fulfil promises to fishermen and farmers

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) hascondemned President Abdulla Yameen’s government for its lack of commitment to promises made towards the betterment of fishermen and farmers in the Maldives.

While speaking at a press conference, MDP Fisheries and Agriculture Committee’s Chair Ibrahim Rasheed said that the government’s lack of commitment is clearly illustrated by the fact that no funds are allocated towards the promised MVR10,000 (US$650) for fishermen.

“Even though President Yameen has promised on multiples podiums to provide fishermen with MVR10,000 and farmers with MVR8000, the budget does not have any allotted funds for this,” said Rasheed.

The committee also expressed concerns over the high recurrent expenditure budget allotted for the fisheries and agriculture ministry while there are only three new programmes to be added to the few ongoing in the upcoming year.

The record24.3 billion (US$ 1.5 billion) budget for 2015 has an allotted MVR134 million (US$8.7 million) as recurrent expenditure for the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary debate for the proposed budget concluded today with 79 out of 85 MPs sharing their thoughts on the budget during the process.

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MDP criticises 2015 housing budget

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has heavily criticised the proposed housing budget for the year 2015 for lacking clarity and new projects aimed at providing adequate housing.

While speaking at a press conference today, MDP housing committee chair and former environment and housing minister Mohamed Aslam said that the funds allotted towards housing projects for the upcoming year were for projects initiated by the MDP government elected in 2008.

The record MVR23.4 billion (US$ 1.58 billion) proposed budget – currently under discussion at the parliament’s budget committee – has MVR1.4 billion (US$90 million) allotted to the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure, of which MVR83 million (US$5.3 million) is recurrent expenditure.

The MDP housing committee noted issues in the 2015 budget such as the inclusion of a feasibility study of the proposed Malé-Hulhumalé bridge for the years 2015, 2016, and 2017.

The committee also brought up issues with a budgeted land reclamation project at Gaaf Dhaalu Thinadhoo, saying that the project has been ‘unnecessarily’ dragged on until 2017.

The land reclamation project in question has an allotted MVR9.8 million (US$635,000) for the years 2015 and 2016 while the actual MVR168 million (US$11 million) required for the land reclamation project has been delayed until 2017.

Previously, the MDP budget review committee described the overall 2015 budget as ‘aimless’ and as serving administrative purposes alone.

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MDP says 2015 state budget neglects transportation

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) transportation committee has said that the proposed 2015 state budget does not give adequate importance to transportation.

While speaking at an MDP press conference today, the Committee’s Chair Dr Ahmed Shamheed said that the government has failed in fulfilling its manifesto which states that providing cheap, effective, and speedy transportation as one its aims.

“Even though the government recently announced that it has achieved 90 percent of the goals outlined in its manifesto, not even 1 percent of the transportation related goals have been achieved,” said Shamheed.

Shamheed noted that the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) in its manifesto outlined that it would finish up the ongoing regional airport development projects. However, He said that no regional airports have been opened in the last year.

President Abdulla Yameen recently revealed plans of developing an airport in the north at Haa Dhaalu Kulhudhuhfushi in the upcoming year.

The government has secured a preliminary agreement for the development of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, with the cabinet revealing recently that  the Beijing Urban Group and Maldives Airports Corporation Limited had finished the drawings of the airport and were in the process of submitting the proposal to China’s Exim bank in order to finance the project.

Plans for the ambitious Malé-Hulhulé bridge project were also said to edging closer to realisation as a Chinese team visited the Maldives to conduct a preliminary survey this month.

While the record MVR24.3 billion (US$1.5 billion) proposed budget for the upcoming year allotted MVR63 million (US$5 million) for regional airports under the tourism ministry, it is unclear whether the amount is for recurrent or capital expenditure.

Also speaking at the press conference, MDP transport committee member Ahmed Zahir said that the atoll ferry system introduced during MDP’s government is currently in turmoil as the government does not prioritise development of the ferry system.

“The transportation systems in the atolls are being destroying and I am afraid that it might go back to the old days where the inter-atoll transportation was monopolised by individuals with boats,” said Zahir.

The MDP committee also slammed the government for budgeting expected revenues from increasing the import duty on vehicles and fuels, stating that the measures would have a significant impact on the guest house industry as travelling costs within the country would increase severely.

Previously, MDP’s education and training committee claimed that the funds allocated for education in the budget were poorly prioritised and would lead to corruption.

Additionally, the MDP budget review committee stated that the budget is ‘aimless’ and serves only administrative purposes, suggesting that programme budgets submitted during the MDP government were part of a strategic action plan aimed at fulfilling the party’s promises.

President Abdulla Yameen dissolved the Ministry of Transport and Communication in July, transferring regional airports to the Ministry of Tourism and the Transport Authority to the Ministry of Economic Development.

The move came shortly after the dismissal of Transport Minister Ameen Ibrahim following break down of the election-winning coalition of the Jumhooree Party – of which Ameen is a member – and the PPM.

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Finance minister presents record MVR24.3 billion state budget to parliament

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad submitted an estimated 2015 state budget of MVR24.3 billion (US$1.5 billion) for parliamentary approval today – 35 percent higher than this year’s record MVR17.96 billion (US$1.16 billion) budget.

“The estimated budget deficit for 2015 is MVR1.3 billion [US$84 million],” Jihad said in his budget speech at today’s sitting of parliament.

“This is 2.5 percent of GDP. The deficit is to be financed by MVR1.1 billion [US$71 million] estimated from foreign parties and MVR223 million [US$14 million] estimated from domestic finance.”

After expressing fears in August that the deficit for this year would spiral to MVR4 billion – or 10 percent of GDP, Jihad told MPs today that the 2014 deficit was expected to be just MVR1.6 billion (US$103 million) as a result of compromises by parliament to the government’s revenue raising measures.

Recurrent expenditure in 2015 is expected to be MVR15.8 billion (US$1 billion) or 65 percent of the budget, he explained.

Salaries and allowances for state employees accounts for 26 percent of the total budget, Jihad noted, followed by social security and welfare (13 percent) and administrative costs (8 percent).

Capital expenditure meanwhile accounts for 30 percent of the budget, Jihad continued, which includes MVR6.3 billion (US$408 million) for the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) and loan repayment.

The forecast for government income or revenue is MVR21.5 billion (US$1.3 billion), Jihad said, including MVR13 billion (US$843 million) in tax revenue, MVR6.8 billion (US$440 million) in non-tax revenue, and MVR1.7 billion (US$110 million) in free aid.

Jihad noted that MVR3.4 billion (US$220 million) is anticipated from new revenue raising measures, which includes revisions of import duty rates from July onward, the introduction of a ‘green tax’, fees from investments to special economic zones, income from the home ownership programme, and leasing 10 islands for resort development.

Fund allocations

The MVR2.9 billion (US$188 million) allocated for the education sector is 32 percent higher than 2014, Jihad continued, which includes higher expenditure on scholarships, student loans, training programmes, financial assistance for pre-schools, and the cost of implementing the new national education curriculum.

The MVR2.1 billion (US$136 million) allocated for the health sector is 21 percent higher than 2014, Jihad noted, while MVR3.2 billion (US$207 million) was allocated for social security and subsidies provided by the National Social Protection Agency, including MVR1 billion (US$65 million) earmarked for the MVR5,000 (US$324) a month pension for the elderly and MVR750 million (US$48 million) for the unlimited Aasandha health insurance programme.

Some 52 programmes would be conducted to upgrade three hospitals to tertiary level and develop infrastructure in regional hospitals and island health centres, he noted.

While MVR90 million (US$5.8 million) was allocated for fisheries and agriculture, Jihad said MVR50 million (US$3.2 million) was allocated for providing financial assistance for small and medium-sized enterprises.

“As development of Maldivian youth is one of the most important pledges of this government, MVR300 million [US$19.4 million] has been budgeted to conduct different programmes aimed at youth,” Jihad said, which was 55 percent higher than 2014.

Funds have also been earmarked for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of independence, Jihad noted.

Notable PSIP projects include the development of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), the Malé-Hulhulé bridge project, the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) renovation project, water and sewerage projects for 66 islands, coastal protection for 22 islands, 23 new harbour construction projects and 38 ongoing harbour projects, and waste management projects in 105 islands.

Funds have also been allocated in the budget for a renewable energy project expected to commence next year, he added.

A total of MVR695 million (US$45 million) was earmarked for housing programmes, Jihad continued, which includes the construction 1,985 housing units in Hulhumalé.

In addition to a project to resolve flooding in the capital, Jihad said 15 road construction projects in other islands were included in the budget.

2014

While the projected deficit for 2014 was MVR1.3 billion, Jihad said the deficit at the end of the year would be MVR1.6 billion (US$103 million) as a result of compromises by parliament to the government’s revenue raising measures.

A proposed Tourism Goods and Services Tax hike was delayed from July to November while the reintroduction of the US$8 bed tax was delayed by a month.

While the finance ministry anticipated payments for resort lease extension fees in full, parliament revised the budget for the fees to be paid in instalments over 18 months.

Jihad meanwhile noted that the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) global economic outlook released in October predicted economic growth in 2014 and 2015 after the recovering from the global financial crisis and recession of 2007 to 2012.

Accordingly, domestic economic growth in 2014 was expected to be 8.5 percent, Jihad said, while the forecast for 2015 is 10.5 percent – driven by tourism, telecommunications, and transport.

The tourism industry is expected to grow by 8 percent with 1.5 million tourist arrivals, he added, while the inflation rate has meanwhile remained steady at 1.4 percent as of September.

On the balance of payments, Jihad revealed that the current account deficit would reach US$290 million or 10 percent of GDP, although it is projected to decrease to US$215 in 2015.

The official reserve at the end of 2014 is expected to be US$445 million – projected to rise to US$460 million next year.

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Finance Minister sends 2015 estimated budget to parliament for approval

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad has sent the 2015 projected  annual state budget to the People’s Majlis for approval.

While speaking to local media outlet Sun Online, Jihad said that the budget was sent to the parliament last Thursday and that it would be higher than the budget for the year 2013.

The estimated budget for the current year was set at a record MVR 19.95 billion (US$ 1.16 billion). At the time the budget deficit stood at MVR 1.3 billion (US$ 84.3 million).

Jihad revealed in August that the government’s spiralling deficit could leave it unable to pay the salaries of civil servants.

The World Bank warned the government in late 2013 that it was spending well beyond its means noting that some of the biggest expenses were high civil service wages bill, healthcare, and electricity subsidies and transfers to state owned enterprises.

A report released by the World Bank stated that the budget deficit at the time at 81 percent of the GDP was unsustainable and predicted that the deficit could rise to about 96 percent by the year 2015.

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President’s Office spent MVR30 million in excess of approved budget in 2011, audit reveals

The President’s Office (PO) spent MVR30.6 million (US$1.9 million) in excess of the approved budget in 2011 while MVR2.8 million (US$181,582) was used to cover expenses that were not directly related to the office’s mandate, the PO’s audit report (Dhivehi) has revealed.

Among the unrelated expenses were MVR1.8 million (US$116,731) spent on trips by former President Mohamed Nasheed to 88 islands ahead of the February 2011 local council elections, MVR904,855 (US$58,680) spent for then-Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed to stopover in Singapore after attending the “Third Symposium on the European Academic Space” in Italy, and MVR139,676 (US$9,058) spent on a trip by the PO to check progress on the editing of ‘The Island President’ documentary.

While MVR526,454 (US$34,140) was spent for two trips to the United States by the vice president and his family, the report made public yesterday noted that there were no details of expenditure for MVR364,267 (US$23,623) of that amount.

Moreover, MVR235,556 (US$15,276) was spent out of the vice presidential residence’s budget for the vice president, his wife, child, and father to make the Hajj pilgrimage, but there were no details of expenditure for MVR60,524 (US$3,925) spent on food and accommodation.

“And while MVR69,112 (US$4,481) was spent for medical treatment during a trip by the vice president and his wife to Singapore in 2011, no documentation concerning the medical treatment was submitted,” the report stated.

Similarly, the report noted that MVR462,326 (US$29,982) was spent to cover the medical expenses of the president’s family in 2011, but were no documents related to the medical expenses.

A total of MVR677,369  (US$43,927) was meanwhile spent in 2011 on holidays for the president’s family, the report revealed.

Auditors also found that the PO paid mobile phone bills for political appointees out of the office’s budget in the absence of either a ceiling limit or rules to determine whether the calls were made for official purposes.

While MVR187,397 (US$12,152) was loaned from the PO budget to political appointees for personal expenses, auditors found that MVR184,191 (US$11,944) had not been repaid.

Moreover, MVR51,669 (US$3,350) was spent out of the vice presidential residence’s budget to pay mobile bills of the vice president’s wife, Madam Ilham Hussain, in contravention of the law governing privileges and state benefits for the vice president.

While the law stipulates that security for the vice president and his family must be arranged by the Ministry of Defence and National Security, auditors found that travel expenses for bodyguards during unofficial overseas trips by the vice president and his wife were settled out of the vice presidential residence, Hilaaleege’s budget.

Among other cases flagged in the report, auditors found that the PO had to pay MVR555,808 (US$36,044) as compensation to Shady Cabin after screws and sponges from 170 rented chairs went missing. The chairs were rented for the SAARC summit held in Addu City in November 2011.

The PO also covered expenses for foreign dignitaries out of its budget in the absence of rules for hospitality, the report noted.

Auditors found that MVR294,037 (US$19,068) was spent out of the presidential residence Muleeage’s budget for the stay of two British citizens from February 16 to 23.

Moreover, MVR29,058 (US$1,884) was spent out of the Muleeage budget for the “son of the president of a neighbouring country” to stay in a resort.

Auditors also discovered that there were 25 cable TV decoders in Muleeage and 12 decoders in Hilaaleege, for which MVR174,080 (US$11,289) and MVR81,917 (US$5,312) respectively was spent in 2011.

Lastly, auditors found that the PO did not maintain inventory records in accordance with public finance regulations. Plots of land and buildings under the care of the official residences of the president and vice president as well as fittings, furniture, and vehicles were not valued and included in the asset register.

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