The Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) final report submitted to the Office of the Attorney General has a host of charges against those involved in the Lhakhang Karpo construction.
ACC had done a two-year investigation from October 2012 to April 2014 after receiving an anonymous complaint.
The former Haa Dzongda, and now the Foreign Minister, Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje, has been charged with abuse of function in three cases by ACC.
The Project Manager, Wangchuk
Tshering, and the Lhapoen, Lhab Dorji, have been charged with embezzlement in separate cases. The Project Engineer, Tashi Gyeltshen, was charged with accepting bribes, doing other works, and embezzlement.
Abuse of function by the Foreign Minister as former Haa Dzongda
The ACC report says that on September 12, 2011, the Lhakhang Karpo Management had advertised a tender for sawmill and sawing of timber for which seven firms submitted their bids. In the bid, LD Sawmill was found to be the lowest evaluated bidder at Nu 37.70 per cubic feet.
The tender committee appraised the chairman or the Dzongda of the lowest bidder’s rate being 100% above the market rate, which was around Nu 18 per cubic feet. The report says the decision of the committee was to re-tender the contract.
Immediately after the decision, Tshewang Penjor submitted a letter to the Dzongda offering a discount till Nu 27.77 on October 31, 2011. The report says that without presenting the letter to the committee, Rinzin Dorje asked the project manager, Wangchuk Tshering, to negotiate and consider the rate at above 50% of the market rate which came to Nu 27.
Tshewang submitted another letter to Rinzin Dorje on April 3, 2012 requesting to reconsider his original quoted rate. The Dzongda then sought directions from the Finance Secretary on whether the project management could award the contract to Tshewang Penjore at his original quoted rate of Nu 37.70. The Secretary, without being specific, asked the Dzongda to abide by the contractual terms and conditions. The Dzongda without consulting with the tender committee then asked the project manager to award the work at original quoted rate.
The total sawn timber was 37,224.86 cubic feet and the payment made was Nu 1.403 mn which according to ACC has to be recovered from Tsewang Penjore.
The ACC has said that by going against the decision of the tender committee, it amounts to an abuse of function offence under Section 59(1) of the ACC Act. Wangchuk Tshering has also been charged with the same while Tsewang Penjore has been charged of passive trading in influence involving public officials under Section 56 (1) of the ACC Act.
Another case against Rinzin Dorje is using the Dzongkhag DCM truck to transfer some of his private timber he procured in Haa to his house construction site in Thimphu.
The ACC report says that the Dzongda had admitted that while his private timber had been transported by the vehicle, he had paid for the fuel and he produced some cash memos. ACC was not satisfied with the memos as they found that the date of the fuelling and vehicle movement did not match and there were some receipts of other vehicles too. Based on market rates, the minister has been asked to refund Nu 80,000 for the 10 trips. The ACC has charged him with abuse of function under Section 58(1) of the ACC Act 2011.
Finally the Minister, as former Dzongda, had taken 17 bags of cement from the project on May 18-23, 2013 to build a private Chukor Mani. The cement was returned to the project after a year on April 27, 2013 after the ACC had launched the investigation. Here too, the minister has been charged with abuse of function.
When contacted by this paper, the Foreign Minister said the tender was given to the lowest bidder at a reduced amount of Nu 27 per cubic feet, but the cost later increased due to setting up charges and location of his machine inside the project campus and not outside. He said the sawmill was located in the project premises to prevent wood from getting stolen. He said this was raised to Nu 37 which was still the lowest bid. He said that re-tender was not done as it would have taken more time and delayed the project, and with winter approaching many workers would have not been there to work at the site, further delaying the project.
On the issue of using a government DCM to transport to carry his private timber as the former Dzongda, the Minister said that it was used as an emergency transport as wood was needed for his home construction. He said that he had fueled the DCM and even paid the DSA to the driver from his own pocket. On the issue of the fuel memos not matching the movement days, he said that the driver was refueling at different times and the tank could have been empty or full on different days.
On the 17 bags of cement, the Minister said that it was only borrowed to build a Mani in Haa and he had even returned the bags. The Minister said that with the delay in construction, there was a danger of the cement getting spoilt so he had used it temporarily and only to give it back.
Bribery and Forgery by the Project Engineer
The ACC investigation found that Project Engineer, Tashi Gyeltshen, had solicited and acquired a bribe of Nu 100,000 from the owner of TNW Construction, Tshewang Rinzin.
Of the 18 companies, TNW Construction quoted the lowest at Nu 27 per cubic feet in May 2011 to supply sand for Lhakhang Karpo, but the company supplied poor quality sand from the IMTRAT helipad area with wooden and boulder debris and silt. The investigation found that TNW Construction did not transport the sand as required.
The project engineer did not object or test the sand, but instead cleared a bill of Nu 705,839 in August 2012. Tsewang had offered Nu 100,000 to Tashi to accept the poor quality sand and the amount was deposited in the project engineer’s bank account. The ACC said this is an act of bribery that comes under Section 43(1) of the ACC Act 2011.
The project engineer has also been charged for accepting a Samsung phone worth Nu 33,500 from Nima of Pema Tshongkhang in Paro, in return for allowing forged bids and clearing an amount of Nu 624,720 in payments for repairing the existing water supply system at Lhakhang Karpo and purchase of construction tools. He has been charged with bribery. Nima has been charged with Section 296 (a) under the Penal Code of Bhutan for forgery.
The project engineer has also been charged with forging three fictional bids in purchasing GI wire for Lhakhang Karpo, where the engineer, himself, won the bid and supplied the GI wire buying it at Nu 118 per meter from Jaigoan and supplying it at Nu 230 per meter. He has been charged for forgery under Section 296 (a) of the Penal Code of Bhutan, and also charged for abuse of function.
The project engineer had also done some private engineering work outside the Lhakhang Karpo earning Nu 150,000 for helping construct a gabion wall in Haa and a HP laptop worth Nu 46,000 for helping build a nunnery in Thimphu for contractor Kuenzang Rinzin. He has been charged for abuse of function.
The project engineer, using other’s licenses bid, did four different works outside his job getting a profit of around Nu 600,000. The ACC has charged him with official misconduct under Section 294 (a) of the Penal Code of Bhutan.
Embezzlement by Lhapoen, Project Manager, and Project Engineer
The ACC found that Lhapoen, Lhab Dorji, collected Nu 3,000 each in cash from around 30 household in lieu of woola. The households had requested the Lhapoen to find people to do the woola for them. But the Lhapoen could not account for the money of 19 households as he tried to justify by reflecting fake names on the muster roll embezzling Nu 126,305 in the process. He has been charged with embezzlement under Section 52 (1) of the ACC Act.
Similarly, the project engineer and project manager have also been charged for embezzlement of Nu 74,985 through ghost names on muster rolls.
The project had hired a head carpenter and head mason, and due to scarcity of labour, the project management agreed to pay Nu 450 and Nu 400 per day respectively. The government rates were lower at Nu 370 and Nu 340. During the investigation, it was found that the additional wages of Nu 80 and Nu 60 per day were adjusted using ghost laborers. The project engineer, on the instruction of the project manager, had adjusted Nu 105,645. Upon scrutiny, the amount owed to the head carpenter and head mason was only Nu 30,660 which meant that the rest Nu 74,985 had been embezzled by the project engineer and project manager.
The project manager is accused by the ACC of waving off Nu 55,380 worth of woola for his relatives and neighbors. The total amount waived off came to Nu 100,380 for which he is held accountable. This is considered as embezzlement of funds and securities by a public servant under Section 52(1) of the ACC Act.
Misuse of properties
Tshering Penjor who owned Druk Penjor Construction in consultation with the project engineer had lifted Nu 35,088 worth of iron rods from the project site for his private construction. The material was taken on the pretext of returning within a week, but no issue record or relevant transcript was maintained.
The material was only returned by Tshering Penjor on October 27, 2012 after launch of the ACC investigation.
The Dzongkhag Tshogdu Secretary of Haa, Penjor, lifted Nu 3,784 worth of rods in June 2012 and returned it only in March 2013 after being questioned by the ACC. He also lifted 10 cement bags worth Nu 3,575 which was returned only in March 2013.
Former Katsho Gup, Tshewang Penjor, had lifted Nu 19,840 worth of rods on August 3, 2012 and returned them only on March 6, 2013 after the launch of investigation.
All of them have been charged under Section 56(1) of the ACC Act for passive trading of influence.
Both the project manager and engineer have been held accountable under abuse of function for the above to happen.