A former minister has been accused of corruption in the choosing of a caterer for the Golden Jubilee of Independence banquet attended by the Sri Lankan President and other foreign dignitaries.
Mohamed Hussain Shareef, who recently quit the government, had awarded a restaurant owned by activists of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives a MVR3.7million contract despite their lack of experience, an Anti Corruption Commission investigation has found.
The former president’s office minister also assisted Newport in hiring waiters for the banquet through the president’s office and used state funds to buy a sorbet machine for the restaurant, in addition to the contract.
A total of MVR7.9million was spent on the banquet, of which MVR3.9million has been disbursed already, the ACC said.
At the time, the poor quality of the food prompted several reporters to allege corruption. A diplomat told the Maldives Independent that the food was “inauthentic and tasteless.”
A senior manager at Newport said they had operated at a loss. “The dinner cost half a million more than the price we asked for,” he said.
Shareef quit in October in the wake of an explosion on President Abdulla Yameen’s speedboat, which led to a purge of former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb’s supporters from the government.
In awarding the contract, the former minister had claimed that it was President Abdulla Yameen who had chosen Newport. Shareef later admitted that he had lied, the ACC said.
Newport had submitted a proposal to serve 300 VIPs and a buffet for 500 dignitaries. The agreed cost was US$285 per head. It is not clear on whose orders Newport had submitted the proposal, the ACC said.
The president’s office had communicated with two other caterers, but they were not asked to submit complete quotations. According to the ACC, the price per head would have been much lower if quotations had been obtained from others.
Newport did not have the experience to cater for such an event, and the minister never checked if they had the capacity, the ACC said. Other employees of the president’s office complained to the ACC of the poor quality of the food and said it did not live up to the price.
Shareef had told the ACC that a coordination committee at the president’s office had advised Newport’s hire, but committee members have denied the claim.
Shareef, citing Yameen’s orders, went on to order the finance ministry to provide a 50 percent advance. He later admitted he had never sought such permission from the president.
The ACC has asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to file corruption charges against Shareef over abuse of authority to confer an undue advantage for a third party.
Although bribery was alleged in the awarding of the contract, the ACC said it had found no evidence to back the claim. The commission is also investigating other complaints over the banquet, including the hire of tables and chairs.
According to the finance ministry, a budget of MVR150million was allocated for the celebration. The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party says expenses were much higher than the allocated amount.
All of Malé was decked out in fairy lights for July 26, and a grant display of fireworks was held. Several parks and the presidential pier was renovated. Many other parks remain unfinished.