The spend on media by the President’s Office in the past three years and six months has passed MVR 4 million (US$ 260,588.12), released documentations show.
Dhiyares, TMJ’s sister paper, had requested disclosure of media spend by the Office under the Right to Information act. The disclosure shows that since 17th November 2018, the Office had spent MVR 4,678,891 (US$ 304,815.85) on several media houses.
Massive amounts for positive press
Diving into specifics, from 2019 onwards, the Government had spent massive amounts for positive coverage on their wins. As such, MVR 606,000 (US$ 39,479.10) was spent on positive coverage to mark 100 days to the administration.
The same year, MVR 568,400 (US$ 37,029.57) was forked out to media for coverage on key government projects. An additional MVR 231,758 (US$ 15,098.35) was spent on creating video spots and campaign materials for the decentralization campaign.
The total media spend for 2019, was MVR 1,406,158.08 (US$ 91,607.02).
Spending continued during covid
Covid and the resultant economic collapse of 2020, did not hamper the government spending on media.
In 2020, media spend was at MVR 1,216,012.69 (US$ 79,219.62). Out of this, MVR 225,000 (US$ 14,658.08) was spent on The Press, alone. Notably, the paper has a very low readership.
Avas was given MVR 175,000 (US$ 11,400.73), while CNM was given MVR 195,000 (US$ 12,703.67), and One Online was given MVR 250,000 (US$ 16,286.76).
2021: record year for media spend - MVR 1.8 million
2021 was a record year for media spend. Total media spend for the year topped MVR 1,845,820 (US$ 120,249.69).
This included MVR 550,000 (US$ 35,830.87) carried forth from the pervious year. President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s United Nation’s visit was heavily covered – with the Office spending MVR 346,000 (US$ 22,540.87). The President’s COP26 summit was also covered under this expenditure – PO spent a cool MVR 320,000 (US$ 20,847.05).
Various media also received MVR 629,800 (US$ 41,029.60) to cover various government projects in the year.
So far this year, the largest amount had gone to cover the President’s decree – at MVR 210,000 (US$ 13,680.88).
Media houses strikes it big
The disclosure also broke down on how much had gone to individual media houses. Based on the disclosure, we can see that Sun Media had netted MVR 616,400 (US$ 40,156.63) in the period. The group is owned by Meedho Constituency Member of Parliament and resort tycoon Ahmed Siyam.
One Online and One Media Group is the second highest earner. MVR 530,000 (US$ 34,527.93) was given to the media. Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) Board Member Sinan has shares in the group. Similar webs’ statistics show that the paper had hits of 232,000 for the month of May.
Vaguthu, one of the most widely read papers in the country, received MVR 145,000 (US$ 9,446.32). Adhadhu and Dhauru, formed in 2021, received MVR 130,000 (US$ 8,469.11) and MVR 155,000 (US$ 10,097.79) respectively.
Mihaaru received MVR 338,020 (US$ 22,0q .00), while MVPlus received MVR 380,000 (US$ 24,755.87).
As for TV channels, RaajjeTV got MVR 231,000 (US$ 15,048.96) – the channel is owned by Hoarafushi Constituency Member of Parliament Ahmed Saleem. SanguTV got MVR 156,200 (US$ 10,175.97) from the President’s Office.
Completely decimates Public Finance regulations
It is unclear how the disbursement of public finances was green lit. Public Finance Regulations of the country is very clear on how any government agency is to act, when the procurement of a service or a good cost more than MVR 35,000 (US$ 2,280.15). Unless extenuating circumstances are provided, if the prices pass the MVR 35,000 (US$ 2,280.15) mark, then a public bid must be started.
However, the President’s Office expenditure on media is seemingly exempt from this very key law on Public Finances. Previously, Dhiyares had questioned President’s Office Spokesperson Mabrook Azeez on this issue. Azeez said that this was done under the set guidelines, without specifying what these guidelines are.
A lawyer speaking to Dhiyares said that there are no extenuating circumstances that would green light such expenses from the state to private businesses. He said that this was very likely an act of corruption.
This disclosure only concerns the amounts spent directly by the President’s Office. State Owned Enterprises, such as nearly bankrupt Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company (MIFCO), are also notorious for their spend on media.