Health Ministry’s top officials say audit report “far from fair”

Deputy Health Minister Abu Bakr Abul Kareem attends a meeting with the Parliament's Public Accounts Committee on August 25, 2020. (Sun Photo/Fayaz Moosa)

Senior officials from Health Ministry, on Tuesday, described the compliance audit report on Health Ministry’s COVID-19 related spending as unfair, and based on inaccurate information.

Senior officials from the Health Ministry were summoned for an inquiry initiated by the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee on the findings of a compliance audit on the institution’s COVID-19 related spending on Tuesday afternoon.

The biggest issues highlighted in the compliance audit report are linked with the contracts awarded to three private companies to procure ventilators needed to treat COVID-19 patients in critical condition, primarily the MVR 34.50 million contract to Dubai-based Executors General Trading to procure 75 ventilators.

Health Minister Abdulla Ameen said that the comments on the audit report that Health Ministry failed to obtain necessary permits as advised by the Attorney General were inaccurate. He said that the Health Ministry made the decision to award the contract to procure ventilators under single-source procurement and to transfer the advance payment to Executors General Trading after obtaining necessary written approvals from the Finance Ministry.

He said that the Health Ministry had also obtained necessary approval from Finance Ministry before transferring the second advance payment.

Ameen shared the referral numbers of the documents in question, and some of the contents of the documents with the Public Accounts Committee.

Ameen said the information had been shared with the Auditor General’s Office, but that they had not referred to the information in question in their report.

“The comment on Section 1.14 of the audit report is inaccurate. We obtained approvals from Finance [Ministry] for single-source procurement and to make the advance payment. This information was shared with the Audit[or General’s Office].  Based on the information at hand, I find it hard to accept the information on the audit report is completely accurate,” he said.

Deputy Health Minister Abu Bakr Abdul Kareem, too, said that auditors did not take into account many of the information shared by the Health Ministry in preparing the audit report. He alleged that auditors had instead, accepted information provided by other parties as truth, and had relied solely on that information.

“I find the report released by the Auditor General to be far from fair. They did not include the information provided by Health [Ministry]. I believe they instead relied on information provided by other parties. I say this report is far [from fair] because we can prove it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ameen, who has voluntarily stepped aside from his duties as Health Minister pending an investigation into the audit findings, voiced concern over how his communications with World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative to Maldives Dr. Arvind Mathur regarding the procurement of ventilators was portrayed on the audit report.

He insisted that his communication with Dr. Mathur had been official, and that Executors General Trading had been selected based on a contact he had provided.

 Ameen said that the Auditor General’s Office, though it had been provided with proof regarding the communication in question, had ruled that the communications had not been official, making it seem like the communications had not taken place, and that the payment had been made through fraudulent means to a company which did not exists.

He said that he refused to accept it, and that the audit failed to explain “why the communications should not be treated as official”.

Ameen insisted that the communications had been carried out under his official capacity as Health Minister, and that it was “the irrefutable truth.”

“This information is in the conclusion of the audit report. But on the audit report t states that this information is not an official communication. There’s no legal basis or reason on the audit why the communication should not be official,” he said.

When questioned by Thimarafushi MP Abdulla Riyaz whether the Auditor General’s Office requested   comment from the Health Ministry before releasing the report, Health Ministry’s Deputy Director General Ahmed Qasim said the Health Ministry had provide all necessary information when asked for a comment, but that none of the information was included in the audit report.

“Maybe they didn’t want to, or maybe they didn’t have the time. Because the report was released the day after we provided the information. Therefore, I expect this is most likely the reason why. It does not include the information which was provided by Health [Ministry] later,” he said.

Qasim said the Health Ministry had justified the seriousness of the situation at the time and the seriousness of the difficulty in procuring ventilators to the auditors. He said the biggest local supplier of medical equipment, STO had yet to be able to deliver the 25 ventilators contracted to them, and that none of the other companies contracted to supply ventilators, except for Medtech, had adequately delivered ventilators.

He said that none of the information was considered in the audit.

“Health [Ministry]’s employees, regardless of how tirelessly they were working at the operations center, provided information for the audit. To ACC too. But this information was not included. And it’s not because we failed to provide sufficient information that it wasn’t included in the report,” he said.