The Anti-Corruption has ordered the Islamic ministry to re-evaluate bids submitted by local Hajj groups for taking Maldivian pilgrims to Mecca.
The ACC concluded after an inquiry that the unfairness of the evaluation process used to select five groups raised “suspicion that this was done to provide undue benefit to a particular party,” according to a statement released Tuesday.
The anti-graft watchdog found that the criteria used to evaluate proposals were different from the one shared with interested parties at a pre-bid meeting. The ministry failed to inform bidders about sub-categories in the service and quality of service categories, which accounted for 50 percent of the marks.
Some Hajj groups scored lower because they did not include information about the sub-categories, the ACC noted, stressing that the process was rendered unfair due to the ministry’s failure to explain how points would be awarded.
Based on the bid information booklet, the ACC also found that six out of nine disqualified parties were ruled out unfairly.
The watchdog instructed the Islamic ministry to re-evaluate all the proposals, reconstitute the evaluation committee without any of the ministry’s staff, abolish the previous evaluation criteria and assess proposals in line with an information paper shared after the bid announcement.
The instructions come after the ACC ordered the Islamic ministry last week to halt the process of awarding Hajj quotas to the five companies that submitted winning bids.
The watchdog also urged the public not to make any payments to the private Hajj groups as formal agreements have yet to be signed.
Of the 1,000 quotas provided to the Maldives by Saudi Arabia, 500 is reserved for the state-owned Hajj Corporation and the rest is awarded to private Hajj groups.
Some 16 groups submitted proposals to the ministry this year. The ACC inquiry was reportedly prompted by a complaint from an unsuccessful bidder.
This year’s Hajj pilgrimage is expected to begin on August 30. Performing the pilgrimage at least once is obligatory upon all able Muslims.
The ACC also halted the bidding process for selecting Hajj groups in 2014. The commission at the time instructed the Islamic ministry to revise the criteria for awarding quotas.
The bidding process for Hajj groups was marred by controversy in 2013 as well. In May that year, the high court overturned a civil court ruling that ordered the Islamic ministry to reevaluate several unsuccessful bids from Hajj groups.