ACC says fight against corruption is going strong but more support is needed

A slew of the latest reports from the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) including its 2012-2013 Annual Report submitted to the new Parliament showS that corruption is still a major challenge and more needs to be done to tackle it.

However, there is also good news as the perception of corruption is declining in Bhutan as people find that the ACC and other stakeholders like the media are doing a good job of fighting it.

From 2006 till 2013, within a span of 7 years, ACC received more than 3,000 complaints. In the year 2012 to 2013, ACC received 449 complaints compared to 458 cases in the previous year or 366 cases in 2008.

From 2006 to 2013, the misuse of authority is still a major type of corrupt act with 564 complaints, followed by embezzlement with 397 complaints and nepotism with 351 complaints.

Other major ones are collusion (331 cases), deception (297 cases), bribery (273 cases), misuse of government property (177 cases) and coercion (175 cases).

ACC also looked at the five major areas in which corruption complaints were received. The highest complaints were in misuse of resources like government property and funds followed by personnel, land, construction and procurement of goods and services.

In 2012 and 2013, in terms of agencies, the maximum complaints were against local government agencies at 84 complaints. These were followed by autonomous bodies with 58 complaints, private sector with 57 complaints, corporations with 56 complaints, dzongkhags with 41 complaints, Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs with 26 complaints, Ministry of Education with 25 complaints, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests with 19 complaints, and Judiciary with 16 complaints.

The ACC has also come up with its current institutional status or progress in fighting corruption.

“When we first initially started, it was an uphill task and it was very difficult situation for ACC with resistance from the systems and institutions to fight corruption. Fighting corruption was perceived to be the task of ACC only,” said an ACC official.

“However, with continued efforts, we gained control over corruption and today we can see the beginning of impact of corruption. But we are at a turning point, if we again do not receive support from institutions, we may fall back,” added the official.

The official said that with the continued pressure and support from the institutions and public we would see corruption declining.

“Our ideal situation is to reach a stage where corruption is suppressed at all times and ACC is there to monitor the anti-corruption programs of the agencies, not being involved in investigation,” said the ACC official.

The bad news

According to the ACC, a conservative estimate around 10 to 20 percent of the 10th  Plan budget meant for public procurement like construction was lost to theft and wastage.

This represents a loss of around Nu 7 bn to Nu 14 bn due to corruption and in-transparent practices.

The ACC estimated that of the Nu 160 bn spent in the 10th Plan around 45 percent was spent on public procurement budget.

In what may come as more bad news, an ACC survey in 91 schools with 2500 respondents involving 2000 students, 400 teachers and 100 heads of the schools threw up an unhealthy number.

As per the survey 54.4% of them will not hesitate to lie or cheat occasionally in order to become rich or to succeed financially in life.

49.25% of the students would lie in order to get out of a difficult situation, 49.15 % agreed that they would work only under supervision and not on their own initiative, 43% of them were willing to lie, bribe or go to somebody with influence for help to get admission in to a better school.

91% of the teachers surveyed felt that compared to the past, the values and integrity in the youth of today was degenerating.

The ACC study says, “These findings reconfirm the behavior of youth in schools that are willing to compromise values for their selfish gain. So there is a need for concerned agency to review the existing value education polices and strategies in schools.”

ACC, in its survey, also looked at the various reasons behind why people gave bribes though the survey found that bribery in Bhutan is not as common in other countries.

37.93 percent offered a bribe to speed up the process, 31.03 percent gave it as an appreciation for the service, 27.59 percent gave it as a customary practice, and 17.24 were forced to give it as it was requested by public officials.

The study also looked at the reasons for wrongful execution or misuse of government budget. 45.71 percent ascribed it to insufficient pay and allowances, 31.43 percent too poor leadership, 12.86 to customary practice going on for a long time, 7.14 percent to lack of ethics among individuals and 2.86 percent to external lobbying.

Here, an ACC official clarified that though pay was one of the main reasons, just increasing pays would not be enough and several other measures would have to be taken.

The good news

However, there is also some good news as the ACC survey found out that compared to its survey in 2007 people in 2013 felt that corruption has reduced.

ACC Chairperson Dasho Neten Zangmo said, “This perception that corruption has been going down is mainly due to the efforts of the ACC as an institution and also due critical and investigative journalists in the media in the last five years.”

She, however, said that ACC’s fear factor would not be sustainable in the long run and other measures should also be taken at various levels.

As per the survey in 2013, around 66 percent of the people felt that corruption had reduced compared to just 16 percent in 2007. In 2013, only 17 percent felt that corruption had increased compared to 43.8 percent in 2007.

In 2013, 17 percent felt that corruption remained the same while in 2007 around 16 percent felt it remained the same.

Interestingly in 2007, around 23.8 percent of the people fell in the ‘don’t know’ category.

In 2013, around 62 percent of the people felt that ACC was very effective in combating corruption compared to just 31 percent who felt the same in 2009. 34 percent in 2013 felt that ACC was somewhat effective compared to 53 percent in 2009. Only 4 percent in 2013 felt that ACC was not effective compared to 5 percent of the surveyed expressing the same sentiments in 2009.

Further, the National Integrity Assessment score has also increased from 7.44 in the 1st NIA conducted in 2009 to 8.37 in 2013. A score of 10 means a highly transparent system and a score of zero means a highly corrupt system.

The NIA survey covered 291 services provided by 97 different public agencies as compared to 43 services and 27 public agencies in the first survey, 2009.

“However, we cannot directly compare the score of 2013 and 2009 since methodology of the two slightly differs,” said an ACC official.

This is because the integrity score of 2013 is more comprehensive as it is assessed from the perspectives of both the service user and provider. External integrity had the indices of corruption, accountability and transparency where Bhutan scored at 8.50. The internal integrity assessed the work integrity and integrity culture index which scored at 7.98 percent.

The score, however, corroborates with the improved rating of Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International and corruption being reduced as shown by the trend of corruption.

The TI-CPI report 2012 had ranked Bhutan 33rd with an integrity score of 63. “While the ranking cannot be directly compared because of of changes in the methodology, as a proxy comparison, Bhutan’s ranking has improved in 2012. Bhutan is ranked 6th in Asia-pacific as against 7th in 2011,” said an ACC official. Bhutan has consistently improved in the TI CPI ranking.

Bhutan’s domestic corruption index remains more or less the same with 8.95 in 2013 and 8.59 in 2009.

Multiple systemic screening needed

According to ACC, the ideal situation is of multiple screening of corruption at different levels unlike the current situation, where ACC receives majority of corruption cases which are administrative nature.

ACC feels that corruption must be screened at three levels. The first being preventive controls to be exercised at the agency level.  The potential fraud must be detected and eliminated by the agency with its administrative system. Those which escaped the detection at the agency level should then be detected and eliminated at the Detection and Monitoring (D&M) level. Here the RAA performs the function of D&M. The final screening and detection is at the Investigation and Prosecution (I&P) level. The ACC performs this function.

In an ideal situation for ACC, 95%of the potential fraud or corruption can be detected at the agency and D&M level. This will mean that minimal cases will reach I&P level, whereby ACC will be able to create strong deterrence.

The current PDP government has pledged to fight and tackle corruption as one of its major promises.

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