STO owed MVR 1.45 billion in overdue bills from state institutions, government companies

A large portion of the national budget had been “managed through the cash flow” of the State Trading Organisation (STO), the Auditor General’s Office has said, revealing the state-owned enterprise is owed MVR 1.45 billion (US$94 million) in overdue bills from government companies and state institutions.

In his professional opinion (Dhivehi) on the proposed 2013 budget submitted to parliament’s Budget Review Committee and made public this week, Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim stated that the “state’s cash flow was being managed through STO”.

“This shows that state expenditure is managed outside of the state budget, that this is an ‘off balance sheet’ finance arrangement and that the actual deficit will be much higher than stated in the state budget,” the Auditor General’s report to parliament stated.

The Auditor General stated that the practice was “worrying” and recommended changes to current treasury management “to put an end to depending on a government-owned company to manage the state’s cash flow.”

STO is a public company with an 81.6 percent stake owned by the government. The company was set up in 1964 to import and supply staple foodstuffs and fuel at controlled prices.

In its report to parliament, the Auditor General’s Office revealed that STO was owed MVR 398 million (US$25.8 million) in overdue payments from state institutions and government companies for goods released on credit.

Of the outstanding amount for items purchased on credit, the Finance Ministry owed MVR 388.1 million (US$25.1 million), according to the findings.

In addition, the Male’ Health Corporation (MHC) owes MVR99.4 million (US$6.4 million), Gan Airport Company owes MVR 61.8 million (US$4 million), Southern Utilities Ltd owes MVR 75.6 million (US$4.9 million), the State Electricity Company (STELCO) owes MVR 53 million (US$3.4 million) and the Works Corporation owes MVR 10.1 million (US$654,993).

Moreover, Fuel Supply Maldives, a subsidiary of STO, was owed MVR 186.2 million (US$12 million) for oil released on credit, mainly from government utility companies, the report added.

As a consequence, STO was owed a total of MVR 1.45 billion (US$94 million) in overdue bills, including outstanding bills worth MVR 289 million (US$18 million) from 2011 and MVR 8.2 million (US$531,776) from 2010 and earlier.

A total of MVR 1.15 billion (US$74 million) is owed to STO from overdue bills in 2012, according to a statement shared by the Finance Ministry showing STO’s receivables.

The government’s health insurance company ‘Aasandha’ meanwhile owed STO MVR 18 million (US$1.1 million) in overdue bills, the report noted.

The figures also showed that state institutions and government companies were “heavily dependent on STO’s working capital” to function.

“And as a result of not receiving millions of rufiyaa owed to STO from the state, STO has not paid any dividends to the Ministry of Finance and Treasury since 2009,” the Auditor General revealed.

In November 2011, the government sold five plots of land measuring 87,155.2 square feet to STO for MVR 522.9 million (US$33.9 million) and deducted the amount from monies owed to STO.

“This was carried out by the Ministry of Finance and Treasury following deliberations by the cabinet and based on the advice of the cabinet,” the Auditor General noted.

The Auditor General contended that the sale was in violation of amendments brought to the Public Finance Act in 2010, which stipulated that state assets and property must be sold in accordance with a law passed by parliament.

The plots were sold to STO in the absence of a law governing the sale of state properties.

“Therefore, we note that it is important to further investigate how this transpired and that the Ministry of Finance and Treasury’s plans to settle payments owed to STO from the government must be clarified before the budget is passed,” the Auditor General recommended.