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.