The latest in the 'time bomb' series of Auditor General's reports, this one on Presidential Palace Theemuge, confirms what we have known all along. Despite celebrating the diamond jubilee of constitutional rule in the Maldives, the concept of state property remains the same as it was during the era of absolute monarchy.
From time immemorial right up to this day, Maldivians believe that state property belongs to the ruler. Up to the dawn of 20th Century it was the King; afterwards it was the Prime Minister and finally now it's the President. The conviction runs so deep that despite the current Constitution requiring that presidential entitlements must be limited by law, such a law remains yet to be passed eight months into the Constitution.
Against this background, each year during the past 30 years, Presidential Palace budgets have been passed by the Majlis, each one larger than its predecessor. No member of the Majlis had ever dared to question the size of the budget or how it was spent. No wonder then that the Auditor General found what he found in Theemuge expenditure, some of the highlights of which are:
- $ 17 million spent on construction of Theemuge;
- Over 300 staff employed;
- Rf 45 million spent on staff out of a total budget of 187 million;
- 55 cars at the service of the Presidential Palace;
- 11 plots of land dedicated for Theemuge in various parts of Male;
- 4 houses in 4 regional airports for the President's personal use;
- Presidential suites in Colombo and London High Commissions.
Auditor General has recommended that former President Gayoom be asked to repay what he spent on his extended family from Theemuge budget. This is likely to take us back in time to the first half of 20th Century, when Abdul Majeed Rannabandeyri Kilegefaanu (former Prime Minister and Bodu Bandeyri) faced a similar predicament. He was supposed to have replied, "You know how these things are. We don't keep accounts here, so it's difficult to determine what's mine and what's the government's. Let's do one thing. I have three houses, Maabageechaage, Maafannuge and Athiree Maafannuge. I'll keep two; the government can have one, Athiree Maafannuge."
By a strange coincidence, the house that Kilegefaanu gave that day was today's Theemuge.