The Island President producer rubbishes claims of state expenditure for film crew

San Francisco based Actual Films has rubbished suggestions that its travel and accommodation expenses were paid for by the President’s Office when filming ‘The Island President’ in 2009.

Producer Richard Berge said the claims were “completely and categorically untrue”, describing them as “a thinly-veiled attempt to discredit the Island President”.

“Actual Films demands that President Yameen’s office makes a full and public apology for misleading the Maldivian and wider public,” he continued, in press statement from the film company.

The award-winning film was based around Nasheed’s presidency and his efforts to garner diplomatic support to combat climate change during the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference at Copenhagen.

In an article titled ‘Excessive government spending on President Nasheed’s film and media crew!’ published on January 14, Haveeru said it had obtained documents showing that the President’s Office had borne some expenses of the Actual Film crew during filming.

The paper claimed that the crew was included in the presidential delegation for three of Nasheed’s trips: a UN meeting at New York in February 2009, a high level climate change conference at New Dehli in October 2009, and the Copenhagen conference itself in December 2009.

The paper noted that the documents obtained did not reveal the amount spent on the crew.

The claims, in numerous media outlets, emerged shortly after Nasheed had demanded details regarding the expenses of President Abdulla Yameen’s frequent visits to Singapore, stating that the details were a public right under the Information Act.

Speaking to Minivan News last week, President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz said that he would gladly comply with the spirit of the Information Act: “even if President Nasheed’s travel expenses and information on how many foreigners he employed, by the state, was requested.”

The President’s Office was not responding to calls at the time of publication.

Revealing details of the New York trip in February 2009, the company said that it had not entered into an understanding with Nasheed at the time of the New York trip in February 2009, and that the company did not meet Nasheed until late June that year.

Regarding the New Delhi trip in October 2009, Actual Films said that the plane was provided and paid for by the Indian Prime Minister’s Office, and that two Actual Film employees accompanied the delegation in seats that were otherwise empty, saying: “there was no cost to the Maldives government”.

Turning to the Copenhagen trip, the film company said its records showed it had paid approximately US$12,000 for all crew to travel to and from Copenhagen.

Furthermore, the film company said it had spent close to US$18,000 for hotel expenses during the trips. It also dismissed claims that Nasheed had travelled to the US on the Maldivian state’s budget to check and edit the documentary, adding that Nasheed first saw the film at its premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2011.

Haveeru also reported that Nasheed’s government had spent excessively on PR during his term, claiming the President’s Office had spent MVR2.86 million (US$185,000) on three British employees.

However, members of the team defended the expenses, saying that during Nasheed’s term the Maldives had enjoyed an enviable international reputation on democracy, human rights and the environment.

Related to this story

Former Nasheed employees deny media claims of excessive PR spending

Details of President’s trips to Singapore a public right, says Nasheed

MDP requests details on President Yameen’s health, visits to Singapore

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MVR 312,928 on phone expenses “not unreasonable”: former Environment Minister

Former Minister of Housing and Environment Mohamed Aslam has claimed the MVR 312,928 (US$ 20,254) spent from the Ministry’s budget on his mobile phone expenses between June 2009 and August 2011 was not “unreasonable”.

The findings, part of an audit report on the Housing and Environment Ministry for 2011, also show that MVR 25,200 was spent by the ministry on a staff breakfast function held during Ramadan in 2010, local media reported.

Aslan’s phone expenses, as revealed by the audit report, equate to MVR 12,035 (US$ 779) per month for the 26 months between June 2009 and August 2011.

The former Minister told Minivan News today (January 17) that his phone bills were so high due to his position requiring him to “frequently” leave the country.

“I happened to be the minister who travelled most frequently and there have been times where I have been out of the country for weeks at a time.

“On those occasions I had to take calls from overseas, I had to answer them and roaming is very expensive. In that regard, the total cost was not unreasonable,” Aslan claimed.

The former minister alleged that the foreign minister, who was the person who travelled “almost” as much, would have similar phone bills.

Aslan claimed that ministry staff had “told” him to change his billing address and kept on paying the phone bills.

“It was never brought to anyone’s attention that it was illegal. When the bill is to be paid the ministry sends a voucher to the Ministry of Finance and they pay it.

“There is a budget for phone expenses. When it came to my attention [that the phone bills were high] I tried to reduce the amount of calls I would take,” Aslan said.

When asked whether he used a different phone for personal calls, the former minister stated: “I only ever carried one phone.”

Audit report

The audit report of the housing and environment ministry for 2011 further states that the amount of MVR 25,200 (US$1364) was spent on a staff break-fast function held during Ramadan of 2010, local media reported.

The money spent on the function came from budgets allocated to ministry meetings and seminars, the audit report noted.

“We advise that no expense be made in contradiction to the State Financial Regulation. We also advise that that authorisation from the Ministry of Finance be sought, as stated in the State Financial Regulation point 4.06 (c), prior to making an expense that will directly benefit the staff,” the report stated according to local media.

The audit report further highlights that the ministry had spent a total of MVR 501 million (US$32.4 million) in loans for projects not included in the parliament-approved budget.

The auditor general said that expenses not stated in the parliament-approved budget is a violation of the constitution, public finance act and the state financial regulation, recommending that action should be taken against parties responsible for the violations, local media reported.


Funds for essential state projects “trapped” in parliament

Essential state projects are suffering from a lack of funds due to an excessive annual budget assigned for parliament, a 2011 audit report has revealed.

The audit report of the parliament states that MVR 35.4 million and MVR 20.7 million from the parliament budget was unused at the end of 2010 and 2009 respectively.

In 2010, MVR 89.2 million out of MVR 124.5 million was spent from the budget assigned for parliament.

The report states that: “Lack of proper studies in this regard results in money necessary for other state projects being trapped in the parliament.”

In 2009, only MVR 68.5 million out of MVR 241.6 million was spent from the budget assigned for parliament.

MVR 70.1 million and MVR 54.3 million went on the salaries of parliament employees in 2010 and 2009 respectively, and parliament travel expenses took up MVR 3.3 million and MVR 2.1 million in 2010 and 2009 respectively.

The parliament spent MVR 302,169 on phone bills, MVR 1.5 million on electricity, and MVR 3.8 million on insurance.

The audit report recommended the parliament to conduct proper studies, and determine planned activities when preparing the budget.