ACC takes statements from Ameen, Nishama and other Health Ministry officials in ventilator probe

(From L-R) Deputy Health Minster Aishath Nisham, State Minister for Health Dr. Shah Abdulla Mahir, and Health Minister Abdulla Ameen attend a meeting with the Parliament's Public Accounts Committee on August 25, 2020. (Sun Photo/Fayaz Moosa)

Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has taken statements from Health Minister Abdulla Ameen, Deputy Health Minister Aishath Nishama and other top officials at the Health Ministry, who remain under suspension in the wake of irregularities uncovered in a compliance audit on COVID-19 related spending.

ACC is investigating irregularities in COVID-19 related spending highlighted in a compliance audit on COVID-19 related spending by the Health Ministry – primarily a MVR 34.50 million contract to Dubai-based Executors General Trading to procure 75 ventilators – released by the Auditor General’s Office in August.

Sun has been informed ACC’s investigators took a statement from Ameen on Sunday, September 27, and a statement from Nishama – the chairperson of Health Ministry’s Bid Committee – on September 20.

A reliable source told Sun the questioning session with Ameen took three hours.

An official from ACC told Sun the investigation into the case remains in progress, and is at its last stage.

ACC had launched an investigation into contracts for procurement of ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients who require intensive care back in May, long before the Auditor General’s Office released its report.

ACC’s investigation into the contracts had remained open when the contracts came under renewed scrutiny following the release of the audit report. And the President’s Office to order ACC and Maldives Police Service to conduct a joint investigation into the irregularities highlighted in the audit report on August 17.

Health Ministry contracted the procurement of ventilators to three private companies; Medtech Maldives, Naadu Private Limited, and Dubai-based Executors General Trading.

While Ameen and officials from National Emergency Operations Center (NEOC) previously stated that the contract for procurement of 75 ventilators was awarded to Executors General Trading at the recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO) office in Male’, the audit report states that no official recommendation was ever made – something that Ameen denies.

The audit report shows the Health Ministry paid MVR 30.91 million, which made for 90 percent of the total payment, to Executors General Trading as an advance, without obtaining an advance guarantee or a performance guarantee. It also shows that the ventilators provided by the company weren’t the same brand as was agreed, and that the company was contracted to procure the ventilators at a higher cost than other companies.

Both Ameen and Nishama have denied any deliberate wrongdoing, insisting that the procurement process was carried out in good faith.

Planning Minister Mohamed Aslam is serving as Acting Health Minister in Ameen’s absence.