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 calls for investigation into alleged unexplained wealth of PPM MP

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) branch in Haa Alif Dhidhoo has called for an investigation into the finances of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Abdul Latheef Mohamed over alleged unexplained wealth.

The ruling party lawmaker has has spent between MVR3 million (US$194,552) and MVR5 million (US$324,254) in the Dhidhoo constituency during the past year, the MDP claimed, but he does not have business interests or “any other legitimate [sources of] income” apart from the parliament.

An MP earns a monthly salary of MVR62,500 (US$4,050) in addition to a committee allowance of MVR20,000 (US$1,300).

Since winning the parliament seat in March last year, Latheef has funded an MVR100,000 (US$6,485) Quran competition, an MVR100,000 football tournament, and an MVR500,000 (US$32,425) music show in Dhidhoo with the Olympians band.

Latheef has also donated an MVR700,000 (US$45,395) laboratory machine to the Haa Alif atoll hospital, offered scholarships worth MVR2 million (US$129,701) for two constituents to study medicine overseas, and organised an MVR200,000 (US$12,970) Quran competition this Ramadan.

“As the above-mentioned expenses could not have been made from the one-year salary of a People’s Majlis member, many citizens of Dhidhoo have been asking the MDP Dhidhoo branch to find out how he is getting the money,” the party’s Dhidhoo branch said in a statement on Thursday.

The statement added that many Dhidhoo constituents allege that Latheef has amassed wealth through bribery and corruption.

The Dhidhoo branch called on the Anti-Corruption Commission, the auditor general’s office, and other relevant authorities to investigate Latheef’s finances.

The constitution requires MPs to submit “a statement of all property and monies owned by him, business interests and liabilities” annually to the parliament’s secretary general, but the financial statements are not publicly disclosed.

Latheef told Minivan News today that he did not wish to comment as he had “no interest” in the MDP Dhidhoo branch’s statement.

The MP previously told opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV that allegations of corruption should be filed with the relevant state institutions.

Government, private, and foreign companies have provided assistance for charitable activities in Dhidhoo, he said.

The MDP meanwhile noted that both domestic and international organisations have expressed concern with bribery and illicit enrichment in Maldivian politics.

Last week, anti-corruption NGO Transparency Maldives called for the criminalisation of illicit enrichment and urged the government put in place a comprehensive framework for identifying and prosecuting cases.

The United Nations Convention Against Corruption – which the Maldives acceded to in 2007 – defines illicit enrichment as a “significant increase in the assets of a public official that he or she cannot reasonably explain in relation to his or lawful income.”

Ahead of last year’s parliamentary polls, Transparency Maldives also noted a lack of transparency in political and campaign financing.

“When political parties and individual candidates do not fully disclose where they get their money from, it is not clear who funds them, what their potential conflict of interests are, and, thereby allows vested interests to override public interest when elected as MPs,” the NGO observed.

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Transparency Maldives call for criminalisation of Illicit enrichment

A local anti-corruption NGO has called for the criminalisation of illicit enrichment to effectively address the problem of high-level corruption in the Maldives.

Speaking at a press conference today, Transparency Maldives’ (TM) project coordinator Fazla Abdul Samad said that a comprehensive asset declaration system should also be put in place in order to identify and prosecute cases of illicit enrichment.

The United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) – which the Maldives acceded to in 2007 – defines illicit enrichment as a “significant increase in the assets of a public official that he or she cannot reasonably explain in relation to his or lawful income.”

“As a signatory state to the UNCAC, the Maldives is recommended to criminalise illicit enrichment as an anti-corruption measure,” said TM.

According to a corruption barometer survey conducted by TM in 2013, 83 percent of respondents believe that corruption is a problem at the public sector.

The parliament was perceived as the most corrupt institution in the country, followed by political parties and the judiciary.

“However, despite the public perception and widespread media coverage of high profile public officials with allegations of illicit enrichment, it is not reflected in the number of investigation, prosecutions and convictions carried out by the relevant state bodies,” the NGO said.

According to information obtained by TM from the prosecutor general’s office, only three cases of bribery have been prosecuted between 2010 and 2014, of which one case ended in a conviction.

During the same period, 37 cases of undue advantage by government employees were prosecuted but only one case had been proved in the courts.

“Successful convictions are low and have not been forthcoming largely because ill-gotten wealth through bribery and other corrupt means is currently difficult in the Maldives as there is not legal provision criminalising illicit enrichment,” said TM.

A 2012 World Bank study showed that a number of countries with illicit enrichment legislation has been successful in recovering ill-gotten wealth.

TM has also started an online petition calling on high level state officials to declare their assets to the public.

In March this year, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) submitted 13 amendments to attorney general’s office for inclusion in the new penal code, including the criminalisation of illicit enrichment.

While the amendment was not submitted to the parliament, TM said discussions are underway between ACC and the attorney general’s office regarding the criminalisation of illicit enrichment.

The new penal code was due to come into effect in April, but the pro-government majority in parliament postponed its enactment to July 16, 2015.

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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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Opposition councilors barred from Dhiggaru office over PPM lunch

Two opposition councillors in Meemu atoll Dhiggaru say they were barred from the council office today because of a lunch set for the ruling party’s campaign team.

Former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, his son and ruling party candidate for the Dhiggaru by-election Ahmed Faris Maumoon, and senior party officials are on the island ahead of Saturday’s polls.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) councillor Ahmed Nishan said they were unable to work today as lunch had been set for the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) campaign team in their offices.

“When I came to the office I found out that a lunch was set up in the office where the councillors usually work. The lunch was for Faris Maumoon’s campaign team,” Nishan said.

Dhiggaru lunch

The five-member council consists of three PPM councillors and two MDP councillors.

Dhiggaru council president Imran Ismail denied that lunch had been set at the council office.

“I am not aware that any councillors are facing difficulties as of yet,” he added.

The council’s vice president, also a PPM member, declined to comment on the matter, while a staff at the council office hung up the phone when asked about the lunch.

Nishan said he believed the lunch was bought on PPM’s funds, as all council members must be informed of expenditure from public funds.

Former President Maumoon reportedly arrived at the council office in the island health centre’s ambulance.

Faris will contest against the MDP’s Ahmed Razee and independent candidate Moosa Naseer Ahmed in the June 6 poll.

The opposition has accused the PPM of vote-buying and bribery after PPM donated x-ray machines and air conditioning units to the constituency.

President Abdulla Yameen this week pledged to provide a 140 kilo-watt power generator for Dhiggaru and urged Dhiggaru constituents to vote for Faris to ensure development.

“If you do this, no doubt when the budget comes, under the principle where constituencies with our members are prioritised now, this constituency will be noted very early on,” he said.

The generator will arrive before Ramadan, and projects to establish water and sewerage systems in Dhiggaru will begin early next year.

An outer wall for the Dhiggaru football field will also be built in two months and a futsal pitch will be built during the year, he pledged.

The government has also signed an agreement with the state-owned Maldives Transport and Construction Company to build a harbour in Dhiggaru.

The by-election was triggered by the jailing of former MP Ahmed Nazim, also a PPM member. He was convicted of defrauding the former atolls ministry and imprisoned for life.

Dhiggaru is a PPM stronghold and a support base of the former president.

The ruling party was also accused of vote buying in April after handing over air-conditioners to a school in Raa Atoll Alifushi, shortly before an island council by-election.

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Minister faces corruption charges

The President’s Office minister Abdulla Ameen is facing corruption charges for writing off a fine issued on a company tasked with developing a domestic airport.

The opposition-aligned Raajje TV and the pro-government newspaper Avas said the Prosecutor General (PG) Muhthaz Muhsin will file charges against Ameen by next week.

However, a PG office spokesperson said the office is still reviewing the case.

The anti-corruption watchdog completed the inquiry into the Thaa Atoll Thimarafushi airport last year and forwarded charges to the PG office in December.

Ameen has previously said the charges were a “character assassination attempt.”

President Abdulla Yameen last week said he will enforce court verdicts, even if they are issued against his ministers.

“I am obligated, and I will happily enforce any sentence, even if they are against my own ministers,” he said.

He also urged the judiciary to expedite cases.

In April, the president said he would enforce verdicts in corruption cases. “Corruption is present in the Maldivian government and in other foreign governments. But work is done to stop such acts. I will enforce verdicts, no matter who it is that is tried and sentenced for corruption.”

The opposition has accused the president of turning a blind eye to corruption within his government.

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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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Judicial watchdog criticised over 12-member trip to Thinadhoo

A former member of the judicial watchdog has called a 12-member trip to the south for training purposes “unnecessary and for personal interests.”

The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) team, which includes six commission members and a criminal court, Judge Abdulla Didi, left to Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo on Wednesday for a training session for magistrates and to investigate several cases, a JSC official said.

The total number of people in the delegation is nine, the JSC has said. But the Thinadhoo council confirmed that a total of 12 people with the JSC delegation met with the council yesterday.

A former JSC member, Shuaib Abdul Rahman, said the commission’s decision to leave Malé with a 12-member delegation despite hundreds of pending cases was “unacceptable.”

“A substantive number of people are saying the criminal court has handed out unfair verdicts [against ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim],” he said.

“The commission has the power to investigate issues on their own initiative. So ignoring what is important and leaving with a 12 member team to an atoll is unacceptable.”

The criminal court has been criticised for lack of due process in the sentencing of Nasheed to 13 years in jail and Nazim to 11 years in jail on terrorism and illegal weapons charges, respectively.

In 2014, the JSC conducted four trips to the atolls to present appointment letters to magistrates. Members also went on two international trips to Zambia and China.

Shuaib said only one or two members were sent to the atolls for investigation during his term at the JSC.

“It is totally unnecessary to put together a team that large. This probably includes personal interests,” he said.

JSC’s media officer Hassan Zaheen dismissed the criticism and said: “The commission is conducting training programs to magistrates about some criminal proceedings.”

He also defended Judge Didi’s presence on the training trip, saying “Judge Didi was a former member and a Criminal Court Judge. I see him to be fit for the purpose and there are no legal barriers.”

Didi was the presiding judge in Nasheed’s trial, and sat on the three-member panel in Nazim’s trial.

The judicial watchdog, formed in 2008, has 111 cases pending, a majority of which relates to the integrity of judges. Complaints over criminal court Judge Abdulla Mohamed’s misconduct and an alleged sex scandal of Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed are still pending.

Hameed was recently appointed as the president of the JSC.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has accused the JSC of failing to fulfil its mandate of ensuring ethical conduct among judges.

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Dhiggaru by-election brought forward to June 6

The Elections Commission has brought forward the by-election for the vacant parliament seat for the Dhiggaru constituency to June 6.

The commission previously scheduled the election for June 13 after ruling party MP Ahmed Nazim was found guilty of defrauding the state of MVR1.4 million (US$91,400).

The Supreme Court sentenced Nazim to 25 years in prison on April 6, overturning lower court rulings that dismissed the corruption charges against the former deputy speaker of parliament.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) has invited interested candidates to seek the party’s ticket while the opposition alliance has said it will field a single candidate.

The opposition Maldivians Against Brutality coalition, made up of Adhaalath Party, Maldivian Democratic Party, and members of the Jumhooree Party, said they are holding discussions on fielding a single candidate against the PPM.

Adhaalath spokesperson Ali Zahir and a PPM member on the Meemu atoll council, Moosa Naseer, have expressed interest in standing for the vacant seat.

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