Health Ministry’s senior officials suspended

Combined file photos of (from L-R) State Minister for Health Dr. Shah Abdulla Mahir, Deputy Health Minister Shiyama Mohamed, and Deputy Health Minister Nishama Mohamed.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has suspended several senior officials from Health Ministry in response to corruption in COVID-19 related spending, uncovered in a recent compliance audit.

President’s spokesperson Ibrahim Hood confirmed the President ordered the suspensions on Monday.

Those who have been suspended include members of Health Ministry’s bid committee. The bid committee is composed of political appointees - Deputy Health Minister Nishama Mohamed, who serves as the committee’s chairperson, and State Minister for Health Dr. Shah Abdulla Mahir. Both are members of Jumhoory Party (JPA). The rest are five civil service employees.

Health Ministry’s Director (Finance Executive) Ahmed Aslam, and Deputy Health Minister Shiyama Mohamed, who signed the contact with Dubai-based Executors General Trading LLC for supply of 75 ventilators, a contract which the Auditor General’s Office believes involves fraud, have also been suspended. Shiyama is a member of Adhaalath Party (AP).

President’s spokesperson Hood said that they were suspended pending the outcome of the joint investigation ordered by the President from Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and Maldives Police Service on the findings of the compliance audit report on COVID-19 related spending by the Health Ministry.

He declined to disclose any further details.

The suspensions were announced shortly after Health Minister Abdulla Ameen informed the President of his decision to step aside from his duties at the Health Ministry pending the outcome of the investigation.

The report in question was released by the Auditor General's Office on Sunday, and states there is reason to believe the procurement of ventilators from overseas involves fraud.

Health Ministry contracted the import of ventilators – part of efforts to improve the capacity of Maldives’ health system to treat coronavirus patients who require intensive care - to three private companies; Medtech Maldives, Naadu Private Limited, and Dubai-based Executors General Trading.

While Health Minister Ameen and officials from National Emergency Operations Center (NEOC) previously stated that the Executors General Trading was contracted to supply 75 ventilators at the recommendation of World Health Organization (WHO), the Auditor General’s Office found the company had not been recommended by the organization.

The audit uncovered that 11 ventilators which were supplied by Executors General Trading were not the brand of ventilators they had been contracted to procure, and do not meet the requirements. Executors General Trading was also contracted to procure the ventilators at a higher price than other suppliers.

Health Ministry also did not obtain a performance guarantee, or an advance payment guarantee when it paid MVR 30 million (90 percent of the total payment) as an advance to the company.

The Auditor General instructed an investigation into the award of the contract to Executors General Trading.