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On 17th November 2018 President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih began his term with promises of zero tolerance to corruption, transparency, and good governance,  pledging to empower the local councils. In an act of empowering the local councils, Male’ City Hall was granted full guardianship of the capital city and its “Greater Male’ City Area”. This marked the beginning of the development of the eastern waterfront park commonly known as Adi Park.

Initially hailed as a sign of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s green development, the park has since become a symbol of the current administration’s lackluster development efforts and its rampant corruption. MNN has compiled the events that led to the Adi Park corruption case involving over an alleged MVR 40,000,000.00 being frivolously squandered. The below account details how a portion of these fund were blatantly misappropriated, as illustrated by documentary evidence, in violation of established procedures, regulations and laws regarding the awarding of Government contracts.

The Construction Scandal

Following months of slow-moving development by the Male’ City Council on the Adi Park porject, on 16 September 2019 Mayor Shifa received a letter alleged to have been from  Ahmed Naseem (commonly known as Kerafa Naseem), then a Minister at President’s Office but having recently appointed as the Minsiter of Health. The letter stated that President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih had allegedly requested to the development of Adi Park to be completed by 11th November 2019. The letter pictured below noticeably lacks the President’s Office letter head, government motto and a letter identification number, all threeof which are usually present on correspondence from government offices. Nonetheless, the letter bears the seal of the Office of the President.

This letter allegedly by Minister Ahmed Naseem was used to order the procurement of MVR 2,197,461.92 worth project.

On 7th October 2019, Deputy Mayor Shamau Shareef sent letter (reference no.425-A2/13/2019/93) to the Ministry of Finance and Treasury requesting advice regarding the awarding of the unfinished development projects at Adi Park to a single contractor on Single Source Procurement basis, circumventing the established bidding process for Government projects, citing the urgency of the project with the above “letter” issued by President’s Office Minister Ahmed Naseem.

However, the Ministry of Finance and Treasury replied in a letter (reference no. 13-K/425/2019/82) addressed to Mayor Shifa on 08th October 2019 advising the Mayor that since the contract in question was valued below MVR2.5 million, the project should be handled by the Bid Committee of the Male’ City Council.

On 13th October 2019 Mayor Shifa sent a Memo number (MEMO)425-CB/425/2019/1731 to the procurement section, in direct contravention to the above directive from the Ministry of Finance, requesting that the council proceed with the project as a single source procurement, while also indicating that the Council had secured the necessary funds to complete the project. However, by this point both Mayor Shifa and former President’s Office Minister and current Health Minister Ahmed Naseem were allegedly already in talks with contractors. Against state financial regulations, then President’s Office Minister Ahmed Naseem had already sent out an invitation for proposals to selected contractors for one of the final components of the park project. The Three firms submitted  proposals of which the lowest proposal with the shortest project duration was submitted by local construction company Amin Construction. A week prior to Mayor Shifa sending her letter on 06th October 2019, Amin Construction submitted their proposal to then President’s Office Minister Ahmed Naseem with the component of the park project in question valued at valued at MVR 2,197,461.92.

Letter dated 06th October 2019 by Amin Construction sent to Minister Ahmed Naseem.

On 13 October 2019 Director of Procurement at the Male’ City Council, Usamath Umar sent memo number (MEMO)425-A2/425/2019/1737 to the Finance Section, inquiring as to whether the Male’ City Council had enough capital to complete the project. On 14 October Senior Accounts Officer Abdulla Rameez replied back to Director Usamath Umar with memo number (MEMO)425-C3/425/2019/1747 stating that under budget code “226008-other infrastructure repair” there was a total of MVR 3,503,986.00 remaining of which MVR 1,503,986.00 was designated to be used for the Adi Park development while the remaining MVR 2,000,000.00 was to be used for development of other parks within Male’ city area. This would mean that the City Council was MVR 693,475.92 short of the amount proposed by the smallest bidder, Amin Construction. This memo also directly contradicts the information previously provided by the Mayor, suggesting that they had the necessary capital to complete the project.

Memo by the Male’ City Council finance section which shows that the unfinished project value was above the available budget.

As stated above on 13th October 2019, Mayor Shifa sent a memo number (MEMO)425-CB/425/2019/1741 to the procurement section stating that the President’s Office had requested to finish the development of Adi Park before 11 November 2019 (referring to the former President’s Office Minister Ahmed Naseem’s “letter”). The memo also requests the procurement section to award the project to a contractor under a Single Source Procurement process.

In this memo, Mayor Shifa also falsely informs the procurement section that the budget for the project had been secured, contradicting the memo (MEMO)425-C3/425/2019/1747 by the Finance  Section of the Male’ City Council.

On 14th October 2019, while the issue of the availability of funds was being clarified, the Bid Committee of Male’ City Council requests Legal Officer Naseer Gasim to provide counsel on the legality of handing out the project on Single Source Procurement basis.

Male’ City Council Bid Committee letter requesting legal counsel.

 The next day, on 15 October 2019 the Male’ City Council  Bid Committee sent a memo number (MEMO)425-A2/425/2019/1777 to Mayor Shifa. In the memo the bid committee cited State Financial Act 2017 Article 10.27 (H) which states that “A government project may only be awarded to a contractor without a bid only if the contractor is either a government majority company, a company listed on Maldives stock exchange with government shares or a national organization approved by the government. However, the project may only be awarded after the details of the project are submitted to the National Tender Board and the Finance Minister’s written approval is received.”. The bid committee advised Mayor Shifa to proceed with the project in line with State Financial Act.

Male’ City Council Bid Committee advices Mayor Shifa to proceed with the projects according to the law.

Following the Bid Committee’s clear objection, and the numerous internal memos sent by officials of the Malé City Council documenting the impropriety of awarding the contract without going through a bidding process, as mandated by the law, Mayor Shifa apparently realized the impropriety of the actions taken by the both Minister Naseem and herself, and allegedly took steps to conceal that impropriety.

On the morning of 20th October 2019, the Director of Procurement Usamath Umar left with the box folder containing all the Bid Committee documents on the Adi Park project and allegedly handed it over to Mayor Shifa. Upon returning teh box file, Bid Committee member, Procurement Officer Zubaidha Mohamed notice that memo number (MEMO)425-A2/425/2019/1777  Finance Ministry letter number 13-K/425/2019/82 advising the City Council to follow the Bid Committee’s advice along with the attached “letter” by Minister Ahmed Naseem was missing from the box folder.

Followng this incident, an ivestigation was held by the Bid Committee of Male’ City Council. Upon inquiry by the Bid Committee, the Director of Procurement Usamath Umar stated that the missing documents were with mayor Shifa. The missing documents are yet to be recovered.

Male’ City Council Bid Committee Inquiry.

According to the documents from the City Council, it was determined that Mayor Shifa seized both (MEMO)425-A2/425/2019/1777 and Finance Ministry letter number 13-K/425/2019/82 and the attached “letter” by  then President’s Office Minister Ahmed Naseem in an effort to conceal both hers and Minister Naseem’s involvement in misappropriation.

In order to justify her actions, Mayor Shifa stated that if the Park were to open with unfinished areas, it would pose a hazard to the public. Moreover, several irregularities were noticed in the procurement order issued  by Mayor Shifa and Male’ City Council Director of Procurement Usamath Umar.

Irregularities were noted in the procurement order.

It is noted that in the procurement order, the numerical and alphabetical value stated for the total budget does not match. The numerical value stated is MVR1,000,000.00 while the alphabetical value states MVR Ten million. Furthermore, the remaining budget for the project is stated as MVR 4,000,000.00. This contradicts the memo (MEMO)425-C3/425/2019/1747 issued by the City Council’s Finance Section, which states that the remaining funds for the project was only MVR 1,503,986.00.

Following the issuance of the procurement order, on 21st October 2019, Mayor Shifa sent memo number (MEMO)425-CB/425/2019/1839 to the Bid Committee, requesting  that they facilitate the procurement of the project, apparently finally complying with the numerous guidelines given.

The project however, had already been illegally awarded to Amin Construction Pvt Ltd and was even nearing its completion. Mayor Shifa needed the bid committee to “officially” award the project to Amin Construction so that she could secure the remaining MVR 693,475.92 from an unsanctioned supplementary budget.

After realizing what had transpired, on 23 October 2019, the Bid Committee sent memo (MEMO)425-CB/425/2019/1868 to Mayor Shifa advising her that it is against Article 99 of the Decentralization act to conduct any work outside of the sanctioned budget without the Council passing a supplementary budget. Furthermore, they once again advised against awarding the contract without the necessary bidding process, stating that it is against Article 87 of the Decentralization Act to award the project on single source procurement.

Before the project had even been opened for the bidding process, and before it was even awarded through the designated processes, Mayor Shifa in collaboration with then President’s Office Minister Ahmed Naseem, had “awarded” the project to Amin Construction Pvt Ltd, with the majority of the construction project having been finished as seen in the below picture dated 26th October 2019.

The project had been illegally awarded before even a procurement order had been given.

The procurement of the project to construct the two restrooms at the park shows the clear violations of Article 49,87,99,  and 112 of the Decentralization Act which formed and empowers the city council.

The multiple violations of laws to embezzle MVR 2,197,461.92 to construct just two restrooms is testament to the impunity with which Mayor Shifa, Minister Ahmed Naseem and their allies currently enjoy.

Acquisition of Palms Trees and Greenery Scandal

Upon further examination of the Adi Park development, further irregularities caught our attention, most notably with the procurement of palm trees and other greenery for the park. Our sources indicate that it was decided from within the President’s Office that the palm trees and the greenery required for the park was to be procured from Sri Lanka. However, since the Male’ City Council does not have a legal mandate to procure the greenery from abroad, the palm trees and the greenery were procured and billed through the State Trading Organization (STO) with Housing Ministry acting as its consultant in the procurement.

Allegedly under former President’s Office Minister Ahmed Naseem’s direct order, Housing Ministry staff was ordered to stay at Minister Ahmed Naseem’s very own residence in Sri Lanka on their trip to procure the plants. During this trip they were then introduced to an old associate of Minister Ahmed Naseem known as Mr. Trevor Nugawela, a former rugby player who now provides sports ground development consultancy service in Sri Lanka.

Mr.Trevor Nugewala, an old associate of Minister Ahmed Naseem.

Apprently under Naseem’s guidance, STO procured all the plants and greenery needed for the park on behalf of Male’ City Council from Mr. Trevor Nugewala at the Pokunumulla Gardens located in Pannipitiya Sri Lanka.

Mr.Trevor Nugewala provided consultancy to the procurement team dispatched by Housing Ministry.

Suspicions rose about the procurement and the exact nature of the consultancy provided by Mr. Trevor Nugawela after the palm trees bought by the Male’ City council died within days of implantation. It was noted that the City Council’s local consultant on the subject had repeatedly advised against procuring and planting those particular palm trees, citing that the species being procured was not suitable for the high saline environment of the park.

However, Mayor Shifa chose to repeatedly ignore the consultant’s professional advice and gave the procurement order again. After each shipment of palm trees died, another shipment was billed to STO and imported. A total of four shipments were made, due to the inviability of the trees procured, incurring massive bills for STO before another more saline friendly species was chosen.

Given the obscure source from which the trees were procured, MNN decided to dig deeper. Our sources in Sri Lanka approached the proprietor, Mr C.S.P Abeysinghe who unknowingly made the startling revelation that he was a business partner of Fazna Ahmed, the First Lady of the Republic of Maldives.

The proprietor revealed that his business partner is First Lady Fazna Ahmed.

The proprietor also stated that he was promised spacious lands plots in Gulhifalhu to operate Warehouses for the Gulhifalhu port planned by the current administration, which according to the proprietor who cited First lady Fazna Ahmed, she allegedly stated that the port would be operated by India’s Gangavaram Port Limited.

Flaunting his wealth and partnership with First Lady Fazna Ahmed, the proprietor also revealed that the First Lady had recently transferred a significant amount of assets to offshore accounts in Mauritius to avoid taxes in the Maldives and that she operates business at Port Louis, Mauritius.

MNN has also received information that the prices of the palm trees and greenery bought from this business was billed more than twice the market rates.

Moreover, based on the documentations available, the Adi Park Project has incurred the various State bodies expenses of over MVR 40,000,000.00 of which only a very minor amount accounts for the work conducted in the park.

Moreover, according to our sources the Prosecutor General’s refusal to press charges against Mayor Shifa allegedly lies with her key role in enabling and embezzling State funds for top executives, through several projects initiated by the Male’ City Council. The sudden decision by ruling party MDP’s Parliamentary Group to remove the sitting members of the Anti-Corruption Commission in part lies with the commission’s decision to send Mayor Shifa’s corruption case to the Prosecutor General’s Office, which if a proper investigation were to be conducted, could potentially indict the First Lady of Maldives Fazna Ahmed along with the top officials of the current administration.

MNN has not been able to independently verify the claims made by the proprietor of the Pokunumulla Gardens, regarding either his partnership with First Lady Fazna Ibrahim, nor her alleged offshore accounts. MNN has not been able to independently verify a business under her name in Port Louis, Mauritius

However, MNN has also uncovered startling information on an alleged corruption involving a mega project initiated by STELCO Limited with the newly appointed Health Minister Ahmed Naseem and Speaker of the Parliament Mohamed Nasheed playing a key role. MNN will investigate and blow the whistle on this matter in the future.

A representative of First Lady Fazna Ahmed has categorically denied involvement in the transaction above, in any involvement with the proprietor of Pokunumulla Gardens, or in having transferred any assets to offshore accounts in Mauritius.

Note of the Editorial Board: In consultation with the legal representation of the above-mentioned individuals, clarifications have been made. The original article can be found HERE.

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