ACC requests charges against Health Minister regarding scandal

Health Minister Abdulla Ameen gestures as he speaks during a meeting with the Parliament's Public Accounts Committee on August 25, 2020. (Sun Photo/Fayaz Moosa)

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has requested the Prosecutor General’s Office to bring charges against Health Minister Abdulla Ameen regarding the ventilator scandal within the Health Ministry. 

A PG Office official said to Sun that the case was forwarded late last night. The ACC requested charges against Minister Ameen and some other senior officials within the Ministry accused of involvement in the scandal. 

Minister Ameen has sidelined himself from official duties following the scandal and has maintained his innocence regarding the serious issues noted in the audit report into the scandal. The remaining Health Ministry officials including Deputy Minister Nishaama, who chaired the bid committee of the Ministry and is alleged to have heavy involvement in the scandal, were all suspended.  

The PG official also said that the ACC had previously discussed the case with the PG Office during the duty prosecution process. The official said that the case was forwarded last night abruptly, through the official portal without any further discussions and requested for official charges to be brought forward.

What is the scandal?

A compliance report by the Auditor General’s Office found that the Health Ministry did not contract Dubai-based Executors General Trading LLC, to import 75 ventilators at the recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO), as was previously claimed by Minister Ameen and officials of the Health Ministry. Minister Ameen has maintained that the communication was on an official capacity. 

The findings were revealed in a compliance audit report on COVID-19 related expenditure of the Health Ministry.

Executors General Trading was awarded a contract of MVR 34 million to import ventilators as part of an initiative to strengthen the capacity of the Maldivian health system to treat COVID-19 patients who require intensive care.

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

However, Executors General Trading delivered only 11 ventilators, which were rejected by the Health Ministry as they did not meet standards.

Health Minister Abdulla Ameen and officials from the National Emergency Operations Center (NEOC) previously stated that the Executors General Trading was contracted at the recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO).

However, the compliance audit report shows WHO did engage in official communications with Executors General Trading at any time, and neither did it provide a list of companies that supply medical equipment as was claimed by Health Ministry officials.

The Health Ministry, in a letter to the Finance Ministry and the Parliament, implied that Executors General Trading was on a list of recommended medical equipment suppliers provided by WHO. And the Auditor General’s Office found that the Health Ministry’s Finance Executive had also stated as such in a memo sent to the Health Ministry’s bid committee.

The Auditor General’s Office, following a review of the bid committee’s minutes, found that it was stated during a meeting that the committee’s chair had called WHO’s national professional officer and that the officer too confirmed WHO had provided such a list and informed the committee chair that WHO procures ventilators and other medical equipment from Executors General Trading.

However, the officer, when questioned by the Auditor General’s Office, denied having stated that and said that the officer had told the committee that the officer wasn’t the best person to provide the information in question, and that the officer was not privy to any information regarding the party [Executors General Trading] on the email forwarded by the Health Ministry’s finance executive, and that the contract wasn’t awarded at the recommendation of WHO.

Health Ministry, in a memo to the bid committee, said that Executors General Trading was recommended by WHO’s country representative to the Maldives, Dr. Arvind Mathur and that the ministry has received a list of the brands of ventilators supplied by the company.

The Auditor General’s Office found that Dr. Mathur never provided any official recommendation to Health Ministry, but provided the information he received when asked for assistance in an unofficial capacity.

However, the Auditor General’s Office found no evidence of a list of recommended suppliers as claimed by Minister Ameen, or any documents showing WHO had recommended Executors General Trading.

Health Ministry also did not obtain a performance guarantee, or an advance payment guarantee when it paid MVR 30.9 million (90 percent of the total payment) as an advance.