The Prime Minister has written to the Office of the Attorney General to investigate the Tsirang Cooperative issue and to prosecute it if anything is found.
Around 400 villagers in Tsirang have been raising the issue of Nu 300 each collected from them to form an Agro Cooperative to avail REDCL loans. The villagers say that they neither received the loans nor the refund.
Meanwhile the Opposition Leader submitted a covering letter and report to the ACC on the issue on Friday informing the ACC about the money collected from the people and asking the ACC to do an investigation.
Lyonchhen said that on reading news reports about villagers complaining about the issue the PM first met with the ACC on Friday morning and asked them about it.
The PM said that the ACC informed him that in their knowledge so far an ACC investigation team had been sent last year to investigate allegations of a ‘fake REDCL company’ and the possible involvement of a PDP MP Novin Darlami.
The ACC had dropped the investigation in April 2017 after it found that the walk in complaint was baseless and that neither the MP was involved nor was any fake REDCL company set up to take Nu 300 each for the loans.
The PM after that had got in touch with the OAG and written to them asking them to look into it and prosecute any wrongdoing if found.
In the mean time the Opposition Party around 12 to 12.30 pm before lunch on Friday submitted their letter and report to the ACC on the issue.
In a 3 pm regular Friday press meeting between editors and the PM, the PM was asked about his reaction to the OL’s letter to the ACC.
The PM said that he was unaware of the OL’s letter until then and he then informed the fathering of his morning meeting with the ACC and and also the subsequent directive to the OAG.
The PM said that Gopal Lama who was mentioned as a party member in the case had given up his membership in 2014 and had only recently registered to take part in the 2017 party convention.
Since the OL’s letter itself was submitted around 12 to 12.30 pm the ACC in its morning meeting with the PM would not have been aware of the OL’s letter.
The OL’s letter which was shared with all media houses said that PDP party workers were allegedly involved in operating a fake REDCL agent in Tsirang town and duping the people by promising loans and illegally collecting fees.
He said the report is based on the concerns raised by the people during his recent visit to Tsirang from 21st to 27th December where out of the 12 Gewogs around 10 Gewogs brought up the issue for the Opposition party’s intervention and follow up.
“After listening to repeated accounts of the people we are given to believe that the issue merits thorough investigation for alleged impersonation of a government organization and swindling the people of 10 Gewogs,” said the letter.
The OL in his report said that the modus operandi as narrated to them was that local coordinators of PDP claimed to be operating as a branch of REDCL opened the office in the local PDP office in Damphu town. The OL’s report said that people were told that they could avail low interest rates and so they had to fill up forms to process the loan with a minimum fee of nu 300 each. The report alleged that some applicants paid as high as Nu 3,000 as loan processing fee depending on the amount they applied for. The report says that the applicants were told that they would receive their loans within six months but even after two years none of them got loans and instead the agent closed shop and people who operated the office cannot be traced.
The report said that people gave harrowing accounts of of how they underwent a great deal of hardship by repeatedly travelling to Damphu town, collecting information, and submitting documents and thus wasting their resources and time.
The OL said that based on written statement from the applicants of Mendregang and Phuentenchu Gewogs they have mentioned the names of PDP Dagana Dzongkhag coordinator Gopal Lama, Tsirang Dzongkhag coordinator Rangdoj Subba and party workers Dawa Darji Tamang and Chewang Rinzin as being involved in running the said agent in Damphu town.
The OL asked whether such an office can be formed without any license, how such fees can be collected without guidelines, why the PM and Agriculture minister did not take action though the matter was raised with them too and if there was any collusion with government agencies as the agency office was housed in the PDP office.
The report has two letters with 11 signing from Mendregang gewog and 14 signing from Phuentenchu Gewog talking about paying Nu 300 for filing of forms and awaiting the BoIC loans which they did not get. They asked for a refund from the party workers for their expenditure back or the loans or justice under the law.
Gopal Lama said that there has been a lot of misconception about the issue. He said that when the government came up with then BoIC and now REDCL he really wanted to genuinely help farmers to form cooperatives so that they can avails loans as groups to do their own projects which would be more secure, instead of taking loans as individuals which would be more difficult.
He said that he and a few elders got together and advised the people to either form farmers groups of at least five people or cooperatives of up to 15 people as per the Cooperatives Act. He said that they were then advised to get project proposals written for REDCL or even other banks if necessary for these groups.
Gopal said for this purpose of writing the project proposals the farmers agreed to collect Nu 300 each so that some unemployed graduates could be hired to write their proposals as well as expenditure for stationery and other incidentals. He said the project proposals were written and the unemployed graduates paid.
Gopal said that his role was advisory at best and the accounts for the Nu 300 is with a local Rangdoj Subba. Gopal said that Subba can show the accounts of how the Nu 300 was spent.
He said that the REDCL at the time did not have Dzongkhag level fund councilors to advise the people on how to access the funds.
Gopal said that the problem first arose when they approached the REDCL which in spite of the Cooperatives Act said that they cannot give loans to cooperatives and groups but to only individual farmers.
The REDCL however said that individual cooperative members can take loans.
He said that held up the process but he claimed that even then he recently got the REDCL forms at his own expenses and asked the people associated with the the endeavor to reformat the information from the earlier project proposals into the REDCL form whereby cooperative members would guarantee each other and avail individual loans for the larger group as a whole.
He accused the Opposition party of politicizing the issue and said that despite their efforts an ACC investigation last year had not found any wrong doing.
The ACC investigation in early 2017 on the same issue found that forms and Nu 300 were not for the loans but to be a member of a Cooperative.
This was because the forms were not claiming to be REDCL forms but for formation of the cooperatives.
The ACC found the aim was to get a lot of members to form the cooperative and then after forming the cooperative to apply for funding from the REDCL. The Nu 300 was thus found to be a membership fee for the cooperative and not for a loan form as alleged by a then complainant.