A report by the by the Auditor General has revealed that President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s administration violated finance laws in securing a domestic loan worth MVR300 million (US$ 19.45 million) from the Bank of Maldives (BML) as part of its budget-support program.
The report (dhivehi) – based on the audit published at the Auditor General’s (AG) website last Sunday – claimed then Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad had not obtained the required approval from the president and the parliament.
Jihad has hit back, claiming that the loan was taken to avoid financial disaster. He also suggested that the mandated processes for approving government loans had only been introduced to thwart the MDP government in 2010.
The audit was conducted following a request from the parliament’s Public Finance Committee, after opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Sameer filed the matter at the committee in July 2012.
Section 5 of the Public Finance Act 2006 (as amended in 2010) states that any loan or credit facility which either the government or a government-owned corporation wishes to obtain, can be taken only after presidential and parliamentary approval.
The audit report stated that despite the legal requirement, Jihad – recently reappointed to the same position by the recently elected President Abdulla Yameen – had signed the letter of sanction on May 28, 2012, one day before the request for approval of the loan was sent to President Waheed.
According to the report, Jihad signed the final loan agreement with BML a day later on May 29, 2012.
A measure taken to prevent a financial disaster
In his defense, the Finance Minister has told local media that the loan was taken out of necessity, to prevent the state from financial disaster.
Jihad claimed that during May 2012, the government faced enormous difficulties following a decline in cash flow. By the end of the month in question, the government had almost exhausted its finances, said Jihad.
Furthermore, the minister claimed that he had consulted with President Waheed and decided to take the loan, but that the parliament had gone to recess.
“At that critical time, we had no other option. That was a measure that had to be taken in order to keep the state running. Hadn’t we done that, the state employees would not have been paid the month’s wages. We ought to consider the situation at the time. At that time we weren’t even able to obtain a loan from the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA),” Jihad told Haveeru.
Blasting the current requirement of parliamentary approval before taking loans, Jihad claimed that no other modern democratic states followed such a practice. Because of the requirement, the government had lost several loans and had become a disgrace in front of most of the international financial organisations, Jihad added.
He also admitted that the amendment brought to the Public Finance Act in 2010 during the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed was intended to disrupt the government’s functioning.
President Nasheed at the time had no choice but to ratify the amendment as his party was outnumbered when the vote was taken in parliament. The then-opposition now comprises most of the current governing coalition.
Jihad also criticized the AG’s report itself: “I am the Minister. But when the report was compiled, [Auditor General] had asked nothing from me. Of what had happened? So how can this report be accurate?”
The report also revealed that although the government had formally sought parliamentary approval of the loan on June 13, 2012, by this date the Finance Ministry had already withdrawn the first tranche – MVR200 million (US$ 12.97 million) out of the MVR300 million.
The government withdrew the remainder on June 20, 2012, the report stated.
Furthermore, the report claimed that in the letter sent to the president by Jihad, approval was sought for the loan with a request that it be made part of the US$65 million (MVR 1 billion) overseas loan that gained parliamentary approval as part of the 2012 national budget.
The report claimed that the conditions for the domestic loan from BML, and that of the proposed US$65 million overseas loan differed significantly.
Among the significant differences highlighted in the report, parliament had approved the US$65 million overseas loan with an interest rate of 2 percent while the BML loan had an interest rate of 9 percent subject to annual reviews.
Furthermore, repayment of the US$65 million loan was to commence within 10 years, while the BML loan required the repayment within just two years.
“Therefore, the loan of MVR300 million taken from the Bank of Maldives in the year 2012 had been taken without the approval of the parliament and the president, disregarding the decisions made by the legislature and the Public Finance Act,” concluded the report.
The Auditor General furthermore requested the authorities to take action against those found responsible for the misconduct.
The current government meanwhile has sought for the approval of a US$29 million (MVR 447 million) budget-support loan that is to be taken from the Bank of Ceylon, for the 2014 state budget.