Niyaz challenges auditor general reappointment clause at High Court

Former Auditor General (AG) Niyaz Ibrahim has requested the High Court to declare the People’s Majlis’ decision to reappoint the AG as unconstitutional.

President Abdulla Yameen yesterday approved Hassan Ziyath as the new AG hours after 59 MPs voted in his favor. The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) had pushed through a surprise amendment to the Audit Act on October 29 requiring the AG be reappointed within 30 days.

Speaking to Minivan News, Niyaz’s lawyer Ibrahim Riffath said Niyaz could not be dismissed half way through his seven year term through an amendment to the Audit Act.

“Article 215 of the Constitution clearly sets the AG’s term to seven years. Niyaz was appointed in May 2011. Further, Article 218 states the AG’s position only becomes vacant if the incumbent resigns or through a no confidence vote by the People’s Majlis,” he explained.

“The Majlis will have to amend the constitution to dismiss him by any other means.”

Niyaz has also requested that the High Court issue an injunction on the enforcement of the new amendment.

According to Riffath, the High Court is yet to make a decision on accepting the case as the matter had been lodged at the Supreme Court as a public interest litigation matter.

The Supreme Court this evening rejected the case. The High Court now has no legal barriers in examining the case, Riffath said.

“This is a very sensitive issue. I hope the High Court expedites a verdict. If the amendment is unconstitutional, as we believe it to be, then the legality of the current auditor general’s actions are questionable.”

Yameen’s appointment of Ziyath for the post has raised controversy as his brother, Abdulla Ziyath was recently implicated in a US$6million corruption scandal alongside tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

Niyaz had revealed the corrupt transactions in a special audit report a day after PPM MPs pushed through the Audit Act amendment.

The audit report accused Abdulla Ziyath, the Managing Director of state owned Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) of illegally pushing through loans worth US$6million from state funds to two private companies owned by Adeeb’s family members.

Adeeb has denied allegations, and accused Niyaz of colluding with MP and former Deputy Speaker of parliament Ahmed Nazim in releasing the audit report. Adeeb suggested Nazim had a personal vendetta against him following his refusal to support Nazim for the Majlis Speakership in May.

The Criminal Court on October 26 withheld Nazim’s passport on allegations of blackmail.

Hassan Ziyath yesterday received cross party support from ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), its allies the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) and Jumhooree Party, as well as the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

MDP MPs including ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, Ahmed Marzooq, ‘Rukuma’ Mohamed Abdul Kareem and Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef voted in favor despite the party previously claiming the amendment was unconstitutional.


Auditor general alleges several inconsistencies in Ministry of Human Resources 2010 audit report

Auditor General (AG) Niyaz Ibrahim has alleged that several inconsistencies in spending have been identified in the Ministry of Human Resources, Youth and Sports’ 2010 audit report.

The discrepancies highlighted in the report (Dhivehi) include a failure to prepare the ministry’s financial statements in accordance to legal standards, as well as certain spending on a number of projects and events.

Speaking to Minivan News today, former Minister of Human Resources, Youth and Sports Hassan Latheef questioned how complete the AG’s research had been, adding that the documents identified as missing in the audit report would have been available.

Latheef who was in charge of the ministry until the controversial transfer of power in February last year, claimed that the AG’s report was misleading.  Although he did not dismiss the report’s conclusions outright, Latheef maintained that the AG’s findings were incomplete and would have been more accurate if it had consulted with staff working at the ministry during his tenure.

Copies of the AG’s report are to be sent to President Waheed and parliament, as well as other relevant authorities. The AG has also called on to the authorities to investigate the findings of the report and take action against those who are found responsible.

In the report, which was released on Thursday (January 3), the AG’s office stated that it did not believe the Human Resources Ministry had spent its budget in compliance with the Public Finance Act (Act No. 3/2006) and Public Finance Regulation.  The findings therefore included recommendations to reclaim the sum of money believed to have been spent outside of the regulations.


Amidst the AG’s findings, the report claimed that the Human Resources Ministry had failed to prepare its financial statement for 2010 as stipulated in the Public Finance Regulation.

“The Ministry of Human Resources, Youth and Sports’ financial statements were not prepared in accordance with the standards set by the International Public Sector Standards (IPSAS) board,” the report stated.

AG Niyaz also alleged that the ministry had failed to recover funds owed to the state by different parties from several outsourced projects, including a project to set up and run a canteen at the Maafannu Cricket Stadium.

The AG claimed that a sum of MVR 487,875 (US$ 31,639.15) was owed to the state as a result of the project, which included rent and fines.  The report added that the Human Resources Ministry had failed to take adequate measures to recover the outstanding sum of money.

In an another claim, the AG alleged that the ministry had failed to recover a sum of MVR 237,000 (US$ 15,369.65) owed to the state as both rent and fines from “Ekuveni Canteen”.  The report recommended the ministry recover money from the parties, calling on authorities to take action against those found to have failed to comply with the laws and regulations.

Illegal transfer of funds

The report also highlighted several cases where funds were transferred by the Human Resources Ministry to projects that the AG claimed were carried out in contradiction to national laws. Included among the highlighted cases was a transfer of MVR 130,000 (US$ 8,430.60) to the Cricket Control Board as a payment for work carried and payment of MVR 14,500 (US$ 940.33) for another company.

The report also raised concerns over sums of MVR 75,000 (US$ 4,863.81) and MVR 50,000 (US$ 3,242.54) transferred to two NGO’s said to have close ties with an unidentified senior ministerial figure. Another issue was a sum of MVR 153,274.80 (US$ 9,940.00) that had been provided to a music band who had not even requested for the money “according to the documents”.

Spending on travel expenses of a parliament member

The AG’s report stated that the Human Resources Ministry budget had also been used to cover an MP’s travel expenses during a trip with then Minister Hassan Latheef to watch the finals of 2010 AFC Challenge Cup held in Sri Lanka.

According to the report, the Ministry spent a total of MVR 15,280.60 (US$ 990.96), which  included a sum of MVR 12,057.60 (US$ 781.95) for pocket money, incidental allowance, accommodation and meals.  The remaining MVR 3,223 (US$ 209.01) was used to cover the MP’s air ticket to watch the football match.

The AG’s office recommended that the ministry bring its budget spending in accordance with the Public Finance Regulations. The report also raised questions as to what capacity the MP had travelled with the minister, as well as the grounds for the government to cover the subsequent travelling expenses.

According to the report, the ministry was advised to retrieve all monies spent by the MP, referring again to measures within public finance laws and regulations.

Former Minister’s response

Responding to the AG’s Office report today, former Human Resources Minister Hassan Latheef said that the MP who travelled with him, as mentioned in the report, was Hamid Abdul Ghafoor of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).  According to Latheef,  Ghafoor – formerly a state minister in the ministry prior to his election to parliament – was accompanying him as a “technical consultant” on the trip.

“Actually it was not just simply a final match. I went there to meet the President of Asian Football Association (AFC) Mohammed bin Hammam. I had sent a letter to Hamid Abdul Ghafoor to accompany me as a technical consultant because I do not possess the technical knowledge of football. So I had requested Ghafoor in official capacity. I even can assure you that a copy of the letter would also be there,” he explained.

Latheef contended that after looking at the numbers, it would be clear that the ministry had spent the minimum required amount for travel expenses and had not intended to “award [MP Ghafoor] a stack of cash”.

“It was neither carried out in a politically motived way nor as a friend. He went as a technical consultant. Now people would ask why Ghafoor was selected. I believe the minister would have the discretion to decide who he would take,” he added.

“This is not something new. For instance, a person who is not even in the government or even in politics went as a chief guest to attend the SAARC Youth Camp held in Addu City in 2011. But it will be our ministry who would be giving his accommodation and travel expenses. How can that be called corruption or politically motivated?”

According to Latheef, the AG had been requested to audit the Human Resources Ministry’s operations back in 2008 shortly after he assumed his position under the government of former President Mohamed Nasheed. According to Latheef, the AG had at the time said that it had already audited the former Employment Ministry and could therefore only look at the youth and sports operations.

“When it was getting delayed, I even sent a letter in 2009 as well asking the AG to audit the ministry” he said.

“I know the AG would only base his report on documents, but if he had asked our collaboration, we would have helped. Things get confusing when you wake up the next morning to see a new government has taken over through a coup. Had we been there when the auditing took place, I am sure the documents which the AG had noted missing would have been found,” he explained.

Amidst other concerns identified in the report, Latheef dismissed claims he had failed to try and retrieve funds spent by the ministry. He added that the ministry, during his tenure, was working on retrieving funds from the said parties and some of the cases were being investigated by police in cases where the ministry had filed for non-payment of rent.

Responding additionally to concerns about providing payment to the band identified in the AG’s findings, Latheef claimed that the report had said it was the responsibility of the National Sports Council to set the procedures for which performers can be paid. Latheef however dismissed the claim, stating that it was the ministry’s responsibility.

“The sports council does not do that. It is the responsibility of the [Human Resources] Ministry.  The Sports Council can set the mechanism on how the sports associations are given money. They don’t have to do that for music bands,” he said.


New policies to recover president’s political trip expenses

The Auditor General has begun to establish policies ensuring that expenses for both campaign and unofficial trips made by the president are repaid to the state.

Auditor General Ibrahim Niyaz said that in developed countries, criteria are established to distinguish the president’s official and unofficial visits.

“We have experienced it before, and are experiencing it now as well, that State funds are used for the wife and children to accompany the President when he travels abroad. As a rule, unless it’s a state visit, it would not be acceptable that State funds are used even for the wife. So it’s important that these policies are established in detail, which is why we are doing this,” he told Sun Online.

He stated that studies are currently being carried out by taking similar policies in countries like the USA as examples. After the study has been concluded, it can be decided as to why a trip is categorised as a political trip.

“For example, we see multiple visits being made to the atolls as we approach local elections. Promises are made during these trips. That shows that they are campaign trips. We will establish policies on how to act under those circumstances,” he said.

According to the Auditor General, the policies will be sent to parliament and the president’s office, both of whom will be recommended to execute them.

“These policies will not obstruct the President’s trips. He will be able to travel with full security and such. The purpose of these policies is that the political trip expenses are recovered,” he said.

Niyaz said that Ministers should also pay for their campaign trips.


ACC paid members’ phone bills illegally, finds audit report

Mobile phone bills of Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) members were paid out of the commission’s budget illegally, according to the independent institution’s audit report for 2010 made public yesterday.

The audit report published on the website of the Auditor General’s Office found that the bills of mobile phones given for office use were paid by the commission from April 2010 onwards if the amount did not exceed Rf 650 per month.

“Since according to article 16(a) of the Anti-Corruption Act salaries and allowances for commission members shall be determined by the People’s Majlis (parliament), we note that following the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) response on March 30, 2011 to the Anti-Corruption Commission’s letter on March 16, 2011, [the commission] stopped paying the phone bills of members,” reads the audit report.

“The [PAC] letter told the commission to cease paying phone bills until the Public Accounts Committee reviews phone allowances of institutions whose salaries are determined by the People’s Majlis and informs [the commission of a decision].”

In addition, the audit report noted that unused funds left over after ACC trips were not properly recorded under the applicable budget code.

Moreover, reports of such trips were not filed within three working days of the end of the trip as stipulated by clause 5.13 of the state financial regulations.

An ACC spokesperson had not responded to Minivan News at time of press. However ACC Deputy Chair Muaviz Rasheed told newspaper Haveeru today that the mobile phones were used for office work and the ACC received authorisation to pay the phone bills from the Finance Ministry.

While a monthly limit of Rf 650 was set, Muaviz said that the amounts paid were below the limit for most months.

The audit report meanwhile noted that the ACC’s financial statement was prepared in accordance with international public sector accounting standards and “shows the commission’s financial status truthfully and accurately.”

Out of the Rf16.5 million (US$1 million) annual budget released to the ACC in 2010, the report noted that Rf12.4 million (US$800,000) was spent on salaries and allowances for employees. Over Rf778,000 (US$50,400) was meanwhile spent on training staff.

The ACC audit report for 2010 is the first report released by the Audit Office since 2009 following former Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem’s contentious dismissal by parliament in March 2010 over corruption allegations. After rejecting the President’s first nominee, Naeem’s replacement – current Auditor General Ibrahim Niyaz – was eventually approved in May this year.