Acting Finance Secretary wrote to BDBL Board to accept candidate after last date

In the ongoing controversy over the selection process of the Bhutan Development Bank Limited’s (BDBL) Chief Executive Officer, the main issue is how a candidate, who did not even apply and had missed the last date for submission of application and documents, got shortlisted for the interview.

The Bhutanese has learnt that it was the current Acting Finance Secretary Leki Wangmo who wrote an email to the BDBL Board in late November 2022 saying that the ‘Transformation Office,’ wants the candidate Tshering Om to be listed in the list of shortlisted candidates for the interview.

The last date for application had been 31 October 2022, and Tshering Om had not even applied by then or even after that.

The Acting Finance Secretary had earlier served as the Director of the Investment Department in the National Pension and Provident Fund (NPPF). At the time, Tshering Om worked directly under her, and is currently the Chief of the Portfolio Investment Division.

While the email from the Secretary said the recommendation is from the ‘Transformation Office,’ there is no specific office per se, and her reference was actually to the recommendation of a group of three foreign experts who have been doing business reviews of all DHI Companies, Ministry of Finance SOEs, and the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA).

While the Acting Secretary said that she worked with the group, she denied taking part in the review of the candidate or making any recommendation for her.

The Acting Secretary confirmed that the group of same three foreign experts who reviewed the candidate in NPPF, and recommended she be in the BDBL shortlist, were also the three same experts sitting in on the BDBL CEO interview. The other two panelists were Bhutanese Board Directors of BDBL.

Initially, there were 6 candidates shortlisted for the interview, including with the late addition of Tshering Om, but when the others learnt of her inclusion and that the same experts would also be there in the CEO interview, then three candidates withdrew and did not come for the interview on the final day.

The late entry of Tshering Om was one of the main reasons why the General Manager of Research and Development in BDBL, Pema Wangdi, filed an official complaint with the Anti- Corruption Commission.

In his letter he says this is breaching section 63 of Anti Corruption Act of Bhutan, 2011 and section 3.2.11 on Model Guideline on Managing Conflict of Interest in the Public Sector, 2017, Anti-Corruption of Bhutan.

The Acting Finance Secretary Leki Wangmo said, “We have the transformation team who are a set of external experts who conduct various business reviews.  During the business review (of NPPF) the candidate that was recommended, was recognized as a potential candidate.”

 The Acting Secretary said the expert panel had seen competencies in her, and so they said that she be included in the interview list.

The Secretary said the candidate demonstrated capabilities and showed high potential, but they still wanted to bring her to the pool of candidates because she has to be tested vis-à-vis other candidates.

When the Acting Secretary was asked why the candidate was included when the last date had been missed, she said, “We raised the concern as the candidate, herself, raised the concern. In this one, what we were made clear is that they are a very independent review panel and they do not have any vested interests or any conflict of interest. They just wanted to bring her on board as she is more like a head hunted (potential candidate) as far as shortlisting is concerned.”

On why the Acting Secretary wrote the email to the BDBL Board asking the candidate to be put in, she said, “The ones who recommended her are all external experts. There is no one from inside the country. Because I am working with them and because BDBL is a SOE under the Ministry of Finance I was told to make that communication, and so I made that communication to the BDBL board.” 

When the reporter asked her if there was any conflict as the candidate had worked directly under her in NPPF, the Acting Secretary said, “I am aware of that she worked with me, but I had no influence in making a recommendation for her. I was not even there in the interview panel. As far as recommending her is concerned, I have no voice or no involvement, because it purely comes from the independent panel members.”

The Acting Secretary said Tshering Om was never identified as the main candidate. She said she was identified as a potential candidate, but needed to be further vetted through the interview process.

When asked on if laws, rules and corporate guidelines had been violated in the late insertion of the candidate, the Acting Secretary said she was never coming through the normal process of applying. She said the last date would only apply for the candidate if she was applying or interested in applying and did not meet the date, and if a special consideration was made.

“She has come through a completely different process,” said the Acting Secretary.

The Acting Secretary said the team of external experts don’t know any one of the candidates personally and don’t have any vested interests.

When asked if it was not strange that a person who had not even applied for the BDBL CEO post was inserted in, the Acting Secretary said the candidate was never interested because if she was interested and applying and if she missed the deadline then that is another story, but she was picked by the external experts for the interview.

The Acting Secretary said that finally there were only two candidates who sat for the interview and that interview has been recorded because it was on Zoom.

When asked on if the Acting Secretary was aware that many candidates withdrew after knowing about Tshering Om, she said, “People assume all kinds of things and so a lot of candidates withdrew on assumptions on this one. As far as the team was concerned, they were very clear that she showed potential but she has to be tested vis-à-vis the other candidates.”

“If people act on assumptions what can you do. Until and unless you go for the interview and you have proven you are a better candidate, but did not get selected then that is another point.  If you back out based on hearsay and rumors then what can one say,” she added.

She said the external experts don’t have a fixed office or anything like that because most of them are functioning from offshore. She said they are a part of the transformation team, but when they are doing the review they call them the ‘external review panel’ as well.

On concerns by people over why the foreign experts did not follow the local laws and rules in this case, the Acting Secretary said, “I think they are very clear because as far as Good Governance is concerned, it is not only about the process but it has to be about the outcome as well.”

 She said these people are also experts in the banking sector.

Reducing qualifications

In the original CEO vacancy posted on the BDBL website on 4 August, apart from 15 years work experience one required 5 years in the P 1 level which is a Chief level. The last date to apply was 20 August.

At the time, candidates applied. However, in between, the Finance Ministry stepped in and asked the P 5 criteria to be reduced from five to three years when the vacancy was refloated on 21 October with the last date as 31 October.

An official said that the MoF was not happy with the number and quality of candidates, and so reduced this requirement to enable others to apply too. The official claimed there was no conflict here. The official said that the RCSC had allowed people with even two years P 1 experience to apply for executive levels and so it did not make sense for corporations to have such stringent qualifications.

However, here Pema Wangdi’s complaint to the ACC asks that if the MoF is empowered to make changes in the selection criteria after the criteria was approved by the Board and put in the media.

The Bhutanese found that the change in criteria from 5 to 3 years was not done by the Board, but had been done on the instructions of the Finance Ministry.

After the changes, two officials from MoF also applied, though one of them withdrew later when Tshering Om entered the picture.

GM challenges disqualification 

GM Pema Wangdi was one of the last three candidates on the interview day on 2 December, and his interview was at 10.15 am in the morning, but at around 9.30 am he was informed he was disqualified as he did not pass the fit and proper test from RMA, as the RMA said there was a 2017 reprimand letter against him by the Board in 2017 in the action taken report by BDBL board to ACC.

He also found that RMA had used the same letter to prevent him from competing for the FITI CEO post in mid 2022.

The GM also pointed to this issue in his letter to ACC saying that a reprimand letter issued to him in September 2017 for management lapses should be revisited as the BDBL investigation team had two members involved in the lapses, his explanation letter to the Board (that implicated members of the BDBL team) was hidden from the Board, and while direct and supervisory accountability should be fixed it should not have reached his level as he was not involved.

In his letter he questioned the validity or the time frame of the reprimand letter as even in the court judgments there are time frame on the penalties imposed.

In his letter to the ACC, he said that going by the current practice even in the recent ACC investigated fraud cases in Wamrong branch and Tsirang branch, the management team at head office and the branch managers of these branch offices were not implicated, and so he does not know why he is being implicated for Mr Nidup’s fraud case in the main branch by the Board.

GM Pema Wangdi wrote after the reprimand letter was issued to him, he made it clear to the former CEO, Chairman, ACC and RMA that he cannot accept it, but he was advised to not file a court case by a former Chairman to protect the company’s image.

 He wrote that an ACC official also informed him that the reprimand letter is a trivial matter and will not impact him seriously.

“However, given the consequences I am facing now, I feel it is not a trivial matter anymore,” wrote GM Pema Wangdi to the ACC.

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