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ADB halts single window project of Maldives' on suspicious grounds

In an unprecedented first in Maldives, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has halted the USD 6.7 million (MVR 100 million) National Single Window project of the Ministry of Economic Development, as it was handed over to an ineligible contractor on suspicious grounds.

Marking the first time that a major international organisation has stopped a project in Maldives, local media Mihaaru reported that ADB ordered local authorities to investigate the matter and re-open the project for bid.

Funded by ADB, the single window project, which aims to link the economic ministry with the services of other trade institutions across one network, was tendered by the Ministry of Finance and contracted to Webb Fontaine Asia Inc.

However, according to a case lodged at the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) by a private entity last year, the project’s contractor did not meet the requirements specified in the tender.

One of the key points highlighted in the case was that Webb Fontaine Group had submitted its project proposal and documents under Webb Fontaine Asia Inc, its branch in the Philippines. However, the project’s workings were to be undertaken by its main office headquartered in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is not among the 68 countries listed in the finance ministry's bid document, whereas the Philippines is included. Subject 4.2 of the bid document clearly states that firms from any countries not included in the list are not eligible.

After Mihaaru and The Edition brought the issue to light in March this year, ADB conducted a due diligence report and internal audit of the contractor, as per Mihaaru.

The bank identified violations of its anti-corruption policy in the project's handover, and subsequently ordered the Maldivian government to tender the project again.

The National Tender Board has since cancelled the current project.

ADB is notable for its strict policy and actions against deceit and corruption, which include rejection of proposals that win bids through duplicitous means, and banning such firms from bidding for any projects funded through ADB for certain periods of time.

Govt to cancel contract with Webb Fontaine

Following Mihaaru's written enquiries to the finance ministry and Tender Board regarding the project handover, the ministry revealed that the government has decided to terminate its contract with Webb Fontaine.

The ministry's reply in writing to Mihaaru, as verified by The Edition, reads that following the media reports in March, the finance ministry and ADB collaboratively carried out a procurement process assessment on the awarding of the National Single Window's turnkey contract.

Noting that the procurement assessment report has been finalised, the finance ministry stated that following consultations with ADB regarding the report findings, the government decided in August to terminate the contract with Webb Fontaine.

The ministry added that it was working with ADB on the process of ending the agreement, and that further information on the turnkey contract will be shared with the media soon.

However, the ministry did not detail how the project was contracted to Webb Fontaine in the first place nor how the government will proceed with it in the future.

It is of note that the economic ministry's project was awarded to Webb Fontaine by a technical committee which represented all the institutions relevant to the National Single Window. Reportedly, the committee includes representatives from the economic ministry, Maldives Customs Service, and the National Centre for Information Technology (NCIT).

It remains unclear whether the committee had conducted a due diligence assessment of Webb Fontaine prior to awarding the project.

The committee had contracted Webb Fontaine based on their documents -- documents which were found to be submitted on suspicious grounds facilitating corruption.

The due diligence undertaken by ADB following the media reports by Mihaaru and The Edition, found deception involved in Webb Fontaine's submission of documents, which was also acknowledged by the finance ministry.

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