MJA calls for investigation into release of Rf456,000 to defunct media association

The Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) and senior members of the now-defunct Maldives Media Association (MMA) have called on the Auditor General and Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to investigate an alleged Rf456,000 (US$31,000) released from the states contingency budget.

The MMA – not to be confused with the Maldives Media Council (MMC) which is currently facing legal action for paying members almost Rf 1 million in ‘living allowances’ -was registered as an NGO in 2007 and was active for a year. However the NGO ceased its activities and many of its board members resigned.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, MP Ahmed Nazim, told local media this week that a report submitted by the Finance Ministry showed that over Rf450,000 from the state budget was issued to the MMA.

“According to the NGOs Act, the Maldives Media Association was supposed to be dissolved for being inactive for a long time, but the Home Ministry has not yet announced it has been removed from the NGOs list,” the MJA said in a press release. “It is astonishing to hear that such a large sum of money has been given to the MMA from the state budget to pay their staff.”

The MJA said it understood that information on assistance given to the MMA was stored at the Information Department, and called for an investigation.

State Tourism Minister Mohamed Thoyyib was the last President of the NGO, and other figures such as Mohamed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir, who is the current editor of Sun Online and Maldives Media Council member, along with Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) Sub-Editor Ahmed Muhsin, were all senior members of the MMA.

Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz told Minivan News that he was not sure how the allegations surfaced.

“We are currently trying to determine whether it actually happened,” Inaz said, adding that the ministry would put out a press statement explaining the incident.

Hirigia, who was a senior member of the MMA, told Minivan News that the NGO had received no money from the government when it was active.

“We call on the Auditor General and Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to investigate this matter and we call on the government to tell everyone where the money really went,” Hiriga said. “It’s been almost 24 hours since the Public Accounts Committee told the media about this, and still the Finance Ministry has not said anything about it.”

The emergence of the issue indicated that the government may have been misusing funds out of the contingency budget, he said.

“There will be still more than Rf60,000 of the Maldives Media Association’s money stored in the Information Department, we want to know what happened to that as well,” Hiriga said.

The then-President of the Maldives Media Association, currently State Minister for Arts and Culture Thoyyib Mohamed, said that the association received no money from the government.

”We did not receive any money from the government, maybe there is confusion in the Finance Ministry,” Thoyyib said.