The government is owed MVR256.9 million (US$16.6 million) in unpaid dividends from state-owned enterprises, the audit report of the Ministry of Finance and Treasury for 2012 has revealed.
In the report (Dhivehi) made public yesterday, Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim recommended collecting the dividends within a period of one month.
The unpaid dividends include MVR5.1 million (US$330,739) owed by Island Aviation Services, MVR78.9 million (US$5.1 million) owed by the Malé Water and Sewerage Company, MVR167.8 million (US$10.8 million) owed by the State Trading Organisation (STO), and MVR5 million (US$324,24) owed by the Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC).
The auditor general also recommended regularly monitoring the finances of government-owned companies, seeking audited financial statements within six months of the end of the financial year, and collecting dividends without delay.
While the ministry was required to submit a consolidated financial statement for 2012 inclusive of the departments operating under its remit, the report noted that the ministry prepared separate statements for itself and the departments.
Moreover, the annual financial statements did not include details of loans and foreign aid, the report stated.
As the auditor general was therefore unable to offer his professional opinion on the financial statements for 2012, he recommended taking action against the responsible financial officer under articles 47 and 48 of the Public Finance Act for the lapse.
Among other issues flagged in the report, auditors found that the Finance Ministry spent MVR858.5 million (US$55.6 million) out of the budget code assigned for providing capital to government-owned corporations.
The funds were released in violation of the constitution, the Public Finance Act, and regulations under the law, the report stated.
Article 96(c) of the constitution states, “No supplementary expenditures shall be added to an approved budget without further approval by the People’s Majlis. Expenditures included in the budget shall be applied solely for the specified purpose.”
The funds earmarked for capital expenditures of government-owned corporations in the 2012 state budget was MVR30.4 million (US$1.9 million), the report noted.
Of the funds released as capital for government-owned companies, auditors discovered that MVR840.6 million (US$54.5 million) was used to pay salaries for board members and staff and to cover other recurrent expenditures.
The ministry’s actions defeated the purpose of allocating funds for specified expenditures in the budget, the report stated.
As state-owned enterprises were not required to comply with public finance regulations, the report warned that releasing the funds could be “wasteful” or “facilitate corruption” in the absence of a mechanism for holding senior officials of the companies accountable for expenses.
Moreover, falsely including such a large amount of money as capital expenditures in the annual financial statement was “a serious deception,” which casts doubt on validity of the statement, the report noted.
The auditor general recommended taking legal action against the officials responsible for authorising the release of funds to the state-owned enterprises, which included health corporations, utility companies, regional airport companies, the Bank of Maldives, the State Electricity Company, STO, MTCC, Aasandha, and Fuel Supply Maldives.
The auditor general also cautioned against corporatisation of government services without assessing feasibility and determining financial and administrative challenges.
Abuse of authority
In another case highlighted in the report, auditors were unable to verify whether MVR254,898 (US$16,530) worth of expenses for overseas trips by senior officials were made for state purposes.
The Finance Ministry refused to share documents related to the trips “despite repeated requests,” the report stated.
The auditor general recommended that the expenses should be further investigated by the Anti-Corruption Commission.
Auditors also discovered that the Finance Ministry purchased a number of items without a bidding process in violation of public finance regulations, which requires a public tender for procurement of items worth MVR25,000 (US$1,621) or higher.
The items included a Macbook Air, two coffee machines, an air-conditioner, eight computer systems, and one iPad.
Meanwhile, in November 2012, a senior project officer at the Ministry of Home Affairs was hired as a consultant for the Finance Ministry to formulate projects for a period of two months.
While an announcement seeking a consultant was made on November 18 and an employment contract was signed on November 21, auditors found that the consultant began working at the ministry on November 12.
Auditors could not find any documents showing that the consultant worked on the projects during the contract period.
Moreover, in December 2012, Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad asked the ministry’s human resource committee to create a post for a project designer at the minister’s bureau.
The Civil Service Commission (CSC) was requested to create the post on December 24 despite misgivings of members on the human resource committee, the report stated.
When the job announcement for the ‘director project designing’ was made on December 27, the report noted that only one person applied for the post.
The interested candidate was the same individual previously hired as a consultant, the report revealed.
The unnamed individual was appointed to the post on January 28.
The auditor general recommended that the case should be investigated by the ACC as the hiring of the consultant constituted abuse of authority to benefit a third party.
Finance Minister Jihad – who was appointed to the post in February 2012 following the controversial transfer of presidential power – has meanwhile denied the allegations in local media.
Jihad told newspaper Haveeru that the project director post in question was a civil service job, over which he did not have hiring or firing powers.
“It is done in accordance with the rules by the relevant officials at the ministry. I don’t get involved in such matters. The auditor general releasing such a report is very irresponsible,” he was quoted as saying.
Jihad has also previously criticised the auditor general over a report released in December which concluded that an MVR300 million loan was secured in 2012 from the Bank of Maldives in violation of public finance laws.