Manal S. Khaleedh
On 12th May 2020, the spokesperson for the National Emergency Operation Center (NEOC) announced that 814 million rufiyaa had been exhausted in its battle against COVID 19. Given the severity of the current socioeconomic status of this country, it is easy to assume and overlook this as a simple necessity. But before we can conclude on that, let’s look at our current numbers. According to the latest release by HPA, a total of 904 cases has been identified with 29 recoveries, 3 deaths with 11,775 tests conducted and over 2400 quarantined and isolated individuals. But does this expenditure tally with the operations by NEOC?.
According to leading doctors at the NEOC, there is a delay in procuring medical consumables due to this being a worldwide pandemic and as such the state stock of consumables such as PPE are being exhausted with them having to rely on the generous donations of foreign parties. But this only accounts for a small portion of this expenses while the majority of it being spent on quarantine facilities.
As of date, all quarantine and isolation facilities are either existing fully built facilities or, buildings with structural works finished requiring only partitioning and ceiling works. But based on current costs involved in construction it is estimated that with 814 million rufiyaa, a 16 story building with a GFA of 325,600sqft with high end finishing could be constructed without budget constraints.
If we are to compare the total expenditure of NEOC to the amount allocated for the health sector in the state budget, we would see the absolute scale of this expenditure in question. A total of 4.41 billion rufiyaa was allocated for the health sector of which 3.558 billion rufiyaa was allocated for recurrent costs. For the year of 2020, it is estimated that for all the medical consumables needed by the 25 state operated hospitals in Maldives a total of 747 million rufiyaa would be sufficient.
Not only is the cost of medical consumables needed for the current year 67 million rufiyaa cheaper than the running cost of NEOC, the medical consumables currently in use are being imported import tax free of which, the majority are foreign donations. This begs the question, is there any accountability to this rising bill of expenditure?
Allegations of Corruption
Opposition Parliamentarians have accused the government of abusing the national health emergency status to embezzle state funds. This came following the governments revelation of the high cost of operation of the NEOC along with its proposal to borrow 4.2 billion rufiyaa from the central bank against the advice of prominent financial bodies such as the IMF and WB. Veteran parliamentarians of the ruling party even criticized the governments lack of transparency on how they intend to utilize the funds along with the absence of any plans on how recover and repay the funds.
This lack of transparency is just the tip of the iceberg as ruling party parliamentarians have accused government ministers of embezzling state funds and procuring essential medical equipment’s through corruption. This came after the Health Ministry announced the procurement of ventilators from 3 companies. Questions were raised when it was discovered that 2 of the companies got the procurement order with a bid higher than that of the state owned trading company STO and when they failed to deliver on time. Moreover the third company involved was discovered to be a paper company registered in Dubai, which did not have a trade license.
Though it is apparent that massive acts of corruption are involved, the anti-corruption watchdog ACC has been silent on the matter so far. According to the recently released “Report on Independent Institutions” by the Parliament Committee on Independent Institutions, ACC has thus far only taken some interviews and the case has been on halt till the Attorney General, Prosecutor General and the Maldives Police can settle on the legality of using Video interviews from the ACC as a base to build a case in corruption cases. But till then, are we to turn a blind eye to the blatant acts of corruption by government ministers? Has this National Health Emergency become an all-access get-away card for corruption?