The opposition has expressed outrage at President Abdulla Yameen’s suggestion that corruption was part of human nature, condemning his comments as an attempt at normalising theft and fraud.
Yameen, who is mired in scandal over the theft of at least US$79million from state coffers, said Thursday that the opportunity for corruption existed in his administration because corruption was “a quality that is in human nature”.
However, he said he has ordered the president’s office to cooperate with the anti-graft watchdog’s investigations.
“When we attempt to do a lot of work, that could not be done previously, in a short period of time, what happens is the cost of goods and the cost of services increase. This is not at all because corruption is involved,” he told ruling party supporters at the Dharubaaruge convention centre.
“At the same time, I am not saying that there is no space for it [corruption] in this government. There is space for it,” he said. “I am not at all trying to justify it. However, a quality that is in human nature, will remain among Maldivians as well. That is what I am saying.”
The comments followed a week in which yet more scandals made national headlines, including the loss of some US$1.4million from state-owned utility companies in a foreign exchange scam.
The president went on to say that his government would “not hinder investigations” by the Anti Corruption Commission, a policy he claimed was not followed by his predecessors.
“After I took over the Presidency, I gave a standing instruction that if the Anti Corruption Commission wants any information about any thing the request should not even come to the president. That information should be given automatically,” he said.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party reacted furiously, labelling Yameen’s comments as “dangerous” and against Islamic values.
“When senior officials of Abdulla Yameen’s government could not put forth a reasonable defence against the theft and fraud they committed, [he] is now saying theft and corruption constitute human nature and attempting to portray theft and fraud as minor crimes that society should not be concerned by,” the MDP said in a statement on Saturday.
Hisaan Hussain, former President Mohamed Nasheed’s lawyer, meanwhile dismissed Yameen’s claim that previous governments had refused to cooperate with the ACC: “The MDP, when in government, had always been transparent and forthcoming to all independent institutions, including the ACC.”
Imthiyaz Fahmy, the MDP spokesman, reiterated that allegations against Yameen could not be investigated because of his hold over the watchdog bodies.
Referring to the sacking of Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim after he flagged corruption by the state-owned tourism promotion firm, Fahmy said: “Just look at how much control he has, he removed the auditor general against the law and appointed a loyalist to the post. His government has awarded luxury apartments to members of independent commissions, including the ACC.
“Transparency was always a priority for the MDP government. The finance ministry updated government expenditure on a weekly basis. The president himself met the press regularly and took critical questions.”
The ACC was not responding to calls for comment.
Home Minister Ahmed Azleen has meanwhile accused the opposition of twisting facts.
“The development brought in the past three years by our government is unlike anything the Maldives has seen in the past 40 years. The opposition twists and spins the president’s comments because they do not have any other criticisms,” he said.
The president had also stirred controversy in the past by saying he was unaware that cash hand outs to MPs and his supporters came from the millions embezzled from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.
“Who hasn’t benefitted from this money? We need money to help each other. And the receivers of charity, do they check if they got it justly? Who checks if the money they receive is legitimate?” he said in February.
He has also previously described money-laundering checks as a burden on small countries.