An investigation is warranted

The government’s stand that it will look into the BHEL and BVT commission issue is a welcome move.

The question that some people may ask is if the government has any business looking into a commission paid by one Indian company to a private Bhutanese company, in a mutually agreed arrangement between them.

One important thing to remember is that in hydropower construction 70 percent of the construction cost is loan money taken by Bhutan from India at 10 percent per annum that Bhutanese tax payers will be liable and responsible for many years to come.

So any unnecessary and avoidable increase in costs will mean that the Bhutanese public will have to be liable for a bigger portion of the loan and hence pay more interest.

Even the 30 percent grant from India is meant as assistance for the people of Bhutan and it is not up to any agency from either country to spend it the way its likes.

Therefore, a generous commission being paid to a private individual on the total value of a monopoly tender being awarded to an Indian government company is of public interest and concern.

The government in its probe or investigation must explore several angles and questions in this highly controversial issue.

The first, will be to see if it is legal to give such a generous commission to a private party in a monopoly supply granted by the two governments to a nominated Indian government company.

Going by the norm so far our government has not recognized agents and even in the recent past has take pains to keep them out of major government tenders to the extent of issuing official letters.

The other aspect to look at is what was the exact reason the commission was given for and who were the beneficiaries. Here it would be important to follow the money trail in both India and Bhutan.

One aspect that the government has to look at is also why the agent and the agreement were kept hidden from the government and its various agencies. It must also asked if the government agencies bothered to even do due diligence on the issue to avoid additional costs to the project.

Laws in both India and Bhutan dictate that government agencies must publicly give adequate public notice for hiring any private company to procure services or goods. BHEL

being a government company has clearly violated a universal financial and procurement rules in not giving any public announcements in Bhutan to hire any agent (if it is legal) at competitive rates.

The government must also do a complete and exhaustive review and if necessary investigation of the entire tendering process in the two works for which the commissions were paid for to ensure that all proper procedures were followed.

The BVT and BHEL have claimed that BVT provides services to BHEL in return for which BVT is compensated. However, given that fact that the local BHEL office and staff here already do all the work, the nature of the services must be thoroughly investigated to see what are the exact services being provided if any and even if so if they are legally permissible.

Given the huge financial nature of this commission it must also be seen if the beneficiary or beneficiaries of this commission has bothered to file taxes or even report such payments.

The government of the day must also see if any public officials, both serving and in the past, had anything improper to do with such a deal.

Though this matter occurred under the previous government, the government of the day should not be sole authority to look into the issue for political, conflict of interest and technical reasons.

If the government of the day does its own report and finds something wrong then allegations of politicization will inevitably fly. On the other hand since many of the public officials are still in office it would be an inherent conflict of interest to let the same officials to investigate themselves.

Also government ministries, bureaucrats and agencies are ill suited to investigate themselves and the tendency may be more to cover up issues and cut backroom deals of mutual convenience.

The two best legal and technical agencies to look after such an issue are the Anti Corruption Commission to look for any acts of corruption and the Royal Audit Authority to study the financial figures in greater detail.

Given that it is a bilateral project respective agencies in India like the Central Vigilance Commission and Comptroller and Auditor General should also look into the issue. They should look at the role of BHEL in such a controversial deal and hold any of the guilty there accountable.

The larger aim in the end apart from bringing out all facts into the open would be to ensure transparency, economy and quality in our 10,000 MW hydro projects.

A basic tenet of a healthy democracy is open dialogue and transparency.
Peter Fenn

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