Minister of Finance Ibrahim Ameer has said that there is hope to recover the MVR 31 million given to Dubai-based Executors General Trading after arbitration.
During a parliament sitting on Monday, Minister Ameer said the Maldives government has filed a lawsuit at the Maldives International Arbitration Center to recover money lost due to Dubai-based Executors General Trading failing to deliver ventilators for the treatment of Covid-19 patients. The hope is that the arbitration will rule in favour of the Maldives government and reclaim the lost funds, he said.
“God willing, we are very hopeful that the arbitration will conclude the case in our favour,” Ameer said.
During the pandemic, the government gave the company MVR 34 million without a bank guarantee so that it could buy 75 ventilators. While such a large amount was released at once, the capacity of the company to provide medical equipment such as ventilators was not considered.
According to the audit report and the Anti Corruption Commission's (ACC) investigation report, no details about the company were obtained. The company did not provide ventilators as per the agreement.
While the state has faced criticism regarding the ventilator issue, Minister Ameer renewed hope to reclaim the funds in response to questions raised by Vilufushi MP Hassan Afeef.
MP Afeef asked why funds worth MVR 31 million had been released under the guise of procuring ventilators from Dubai's Executors General Trading. He also asked about the actions taken against those who had violated the Financial Regulations by issuing funds without an advance guarantee and without checking whether the company was capable of providing the ventilators.
Minister Ameer said the investigative agencies found no fault in the Ministry of Finance when they looked into whether unlawful activities occurred during the purchase of the ventilators. No reports have stated that the ministry was in violation of the financial regulations, he said.
The Auditor General's Office's report on the ventilator case does not state that the Ministry of Finance has done anything illegal, Minister Ameer said.
"In this instance, the ACC has directed the ministry to further strengthen the procurement system, which has already been implemented."
He said the Finance Committee of Parliament had explained in detail how the Ministry of Finance had acted. He said no investigative agency has ordered actions against any employee of the ministry in the ventilator case.
In order to strengthen the state procurement system, Ameer said, strong measures have been taken after the ventilator case emerged. Among them, the Finance Regulations have been amended.
MP Afeef asked whether the Minister had ordered the funds to be released to the account of the Executors' company after the ministry's system rejected the deposit to a personal account.
In response to this question, the minister reiterated that no agency had reported any negligence by any employee of the Ministry of Finance. Minister Ameer said that he was not aware of any attempts to deposit the funds into a private account.
Dissatisfaction with withholding answers, connecting them with arbitration!
When Kudahuvadhoo MP Ahmed Amir asked whether the money was released in accordance with the Finance Regulation, Minister Ameer said he could not give details as the case is currently in arbitration.
Some members expressed dissatisfaction when the Minister said he was maintaining the confidentiality of the case on the advice of Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath.
Finance Minister Ameer saying that he cannot answer a question raised by a member of parliament because the case is in arbitration indicated an issue in the regulations, according to North Maafannu MP Imthiyaz Fahmy.
MP Imthiyaz has questioned whether the current administration would consider the failure to recover the funds and the ventilators not being delivered during the pandemic as a failure of the administration as it is coming to an end. He also raised a question as to why the money had been released without conducting due diligence, even after the Ministry of Finance became aware of the attempt to deposit funds into a personal account.
In response to MP Imthiyaz's question, Minister Ameer said again that his ministry had not been found culpable in the ventilator case.
When he pointed out that the case was in arbitration and refused to give a direct reply, the Parliament Speaker Mohamed Nasheed said that that was not a deterring factor to provide information that the Minister was supposed to give to the parliament.
"There is no declaration that states that arbitration is a judicial court. Here, a barrier to discussing, answering, and questioning would be if the case was being heard in a judicial court. The minister will be asked to give a clear answer in this matter," Speaker Nasheed said.
However, obtaining a statement of confession from the Minister would be an unjust abuse, Speaker Nasheed said.
Minister Ameer has stated that summoning him to the parliament and repeatedly questioning him about the permission granted for the release of funds, despite having already given detailed information about the ventilator issue to the parliamentary committee, can be seen as "political activity" by the parliament members.
Minister Ameer clarified that while permission was granted to release funds for the advance payment, there was no instruction to release funds without a bank guarantee.
The Ministry of Health signed an agreement with Executors General Trading on February 2, 2020, to deliver the ventilators at a cost of MVR 34 million. Of this, MVR 30 million was paid to the Dubai-based company as an advance payment without a bank guarantee. According to the audit report, this is a violation of the Finance Regulation.
In the audit report, the Ministry of Health said that the amount for 90 percent of the project was released in advance to Executors General Trading as it would take time to get the advance payment guarantee, and if the ventilators are not reserved within a certain period of time, they will not be available. The company said that Executors General had to pay USD 25,000 per day as a warehouse charge.
While ventilator machines are not normally kept in stock at such warehouses for long periods of time, despite Executor's General Trading's claiming so, the audit questioned the Ministry of Health for releasing funds without verifying the presence of at least one ventilator in the warehouse.