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Central bank governor steps down

Dr Azeema Adam has stepped down as governor of the central bank to relocate with her husband who recently took up the double post of permanent representative to the United Nations and ambassador to the United States.



Dr Azeema Adam has stepped down as governor of the central bank to relocate to New York with her husband, who recently took up the posts of permanent representative to the United Nations and ambassador to the United States.

President Abdulla Yameen has nominated Assistant Governor Neeza Imad as Azeema’s replacement, subject to parliamentary approval.

Announcing her resignation to the press Wednesday morning, Azeema said she did not want to stay on as governor while spending long periods out of the country.

“The governor’s position is the job that I have most wanted in my life. I have worked at MMA since I was 19 years old. This job has been the most honourable, the proudest and the most satisfying job I have done,” she said.

“I am leaving this job with the belief that I have done some service, provided some benefit, no matter how small, for the MMA, for the Maldives government and for the Maldivian people.”

Azeema expressed satisfaction with her achievements, including stabilising the foreign exchange regime, maintaining the value of the Rufiyaa, and introducing a credit guarantee scheme for small businesses.

In February this year, it emerged that a powerful lobby group representing Maldivian resort owners used its influence to scuttle new rules proposed by the central bank to ban resorts from selling dollars.

The move was reportedly aimed at alleviating a persisting dollar shortage and tackling an entrenched black market. The Maldives has a de facto fixed exchange rate of MVR15.42 per dollar but the black market rate exceeded MVR17.50 in late 2016, leaving small businesses scrambling to buy dollars to pay for imports and forcing the central bank to temporarily take over dollar sales to travellers.

Azeema went on to list strengthening the policy framework to stabilise the financial system, running financial inclusion programmes, and lowering the interest rate to be paid from the treasury among her achievements.

She thanked MMA staff, bankers, and the finance minister for their cooperation during her tenure.

“I thank President Yameen Abdul Gayoom for his advice and confidence and most importantly his respect for the independence of MMA,” she added.

“I thank the president for all the work he is doing to develop our economy. I wish for the stability and progress of our economy.”

Azeema became the first female governor of the Maldives Monetary Authority with her appointment in April 2014. She holds a PhD in Economics from the Australian University of Canberra and a Master’s Degree in International Development and Finance from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom.

During her three-year tenure, Azeema faced criticism over the failure to take action over the theft of nearly US$80 million from the state-owned tourism promotion firm, which was funnelled into private bank accounts in large amounts.

Following the parliament’s approval of Azeema’s husband, former Foreign Secretary Dr Ali Naseer Mohamed, as the new permanent representative to UN in June 2016, the opposition alleged that the president nominated him to allow the couple to flee the country.

The governor was also accused of involvement in money laundering and facilitating the embezzlement from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation, allegations that she strongly denied.

The anti-money laundering law requires the MMA’s Financial Intelligence Unit to look into unusually large transactions and all unusual patterns of transactions. But the MMPRC case went unreported until former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb’s arrest in October 2015.

Since the MMPRC corruption scandal was laid bare in a damning audit report in February 2016, Yameen has maintained that his former deputy was solely responsible for the unprecedented theft from state coffers.

In September last year, Al Jazeera’s award-winning investigative unit meanwhile uncovered a plot to launder US$1.5 billion in cash through the MMA.

The Qatari network’s Stealing Paradise documentary showed a conversation between Adeeb and Azeema, who expressed misgivings but suggested that it could be done with evidence showing the source of the funds and legitimacy of earnings.

A day after the exposé was aired, the central bank rejected the allegations as lacking “any credible foundation” and denied being contacted for comment. The MMA insisted that cash cannot be stored in the state vault without the presence and approval of senior officials from four government institutions.

The alleged money laundering scheme is “palpably untrue and cannot be substantiated,” it added, urging the media to refrain from “spreading baseless allegations which can damage public trust that is crucial in maintaining confidence in the country’s financial sector.”

Following the governor’s resignation today, exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed urged her to “volunteer a statement to an independent investigation.”