During the meet the press session on December 27, the works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden made some clarifications on the ACC report on public road construction, which the media had written about. Her main concern was on the use of the word rampant corruption.
The minister said that the report was a research study carried out in collaboration with ministry, ministry of finance and royal university of Bhutan. It was aimed at enhancing efficiency, accountability and transparency through assessment of potential risks in policies, laws, and procedures and through the perception of the people.
“The report is not a revelation of corrupt practices taking place in road construction; if the corruption in public road construction are revealed and established, people are taken to task,” she said.
She added that there may be corrupt cases but expressed her concern on engineers and contractors being labeled corrupt in general based on doubts and perceptions. “This is not fair, as behind construction, lot of hard work is involved, it is risky, and it requires continuous commitment to accomplish the job successfully,” the minister said.
Meanwhile Anti Corruption Commission Commissioner, Jamtsho, said the research established existence of various forms of corruption such as abuse of functions, bribery, abuse of privileged information, bid rigging etc. Higher prevalence of abuse of function was confirmed as compared to other forms. “The report did not conclude that corruption is rampant but rather confirmed existence of various forms of corruption in road construction,” he said.
Lyonpo further clarified that the research looks at roads to be blacktopped in 12th Plan and not only roads constructed by the Department of Roads. She informed the meeting of the different category of roads and responsibilities with different agencies.
There are about 4,700km of roads nationwide, which is looked after by the department of roads, about 5,000km farm roads looked by dzongkhags, and 437km roads in the thromdes and 1,406km access roads.
The report has also made observations on transparency assessed through information accessibility, and 79 percent had responded as information accessible. On road condition, 69 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the highway, while satisfaction on all roads was only 56 percent.
Lyonpo Dorji Choden said that road construction is improving significantly and one cannot draw conclusions as rampant corruption when there is nothing well established. “This also does not give us comfort to say that there is no corruption. There will be and we have to act on it and not tolerate any corruption,” she said.
She added that the report has made several important recommendations, which are not totally new, and these issues are continuously discussed. The ministry had been continuously working on improving the evaluation procedures with regard to “lowest evaluated versus lowest bid”, fixing accountability and ensuring transparency, among many others. These are no easy tasks. “If you go for the lowest bid, bidders who feel they have better technical competence complain and if we go for the lowest evaluated bid, we also get complaints,” she said, “We face similarly issues of complaints related to the criteria for the requirement of experienced versus new bidders.”
“Nevertheless, we have made several reforms such as increasing the defect liability period from one year to three years (this is required by Economic Development Policy), involving both the engineers and the contractors on the issue of audit observation, and requiring audit clearance of all involved. These are measures for better accountability,” Lyonpo Dorji Choden said. “Ministry has also improved the evaluation criteria to get the most competent bidder.”
On increasing minimum wage the biggest challenge facing road construction today was recruiting casual labourers on existing minimum wage. “While increasing the minimum wage will help road construction it will also have implication in many other areas of development works and hence we will have to review holistically,” she said.
The report recommended community monitoring of roads. “This is happening to some degree by the local government. Ministry will have to review on how communities can monitor the road construction,” she said.
According to the report, the Public Road Construction Research was carried out with objectives such as to evaluate the processes where corruption and illegality are most likely to occur in the project life cycle of road construction, delineate the causes and effects of corruption and illegal activities in road construction and evaluate the costs of corruption and wrongdoings in road construction.
It also provides systemic recommendations to enhance efficiency, transparency and accountability. The research used mixed-method of desk research, qualitative and quantitative methods.