Disgruntled local architects have pointed out loopholes in the new Pemagatshel dzong’s evaluation and design. At the same time the inclusion of an unregistered foreign consultant Professor Christopher Charles Benninger in the tender process has further aggravated the situation.
The evaluation for the Nu 250mn project was conducted by the department of culture under the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs (MoHCA).
The group of architects who spoke to The Bhutanese said they were not happy with the shortlisted consultancy firm Christopher Charles Benninger Architect’s Pvt. Ltd, Pune, (CCBA) who would put up the request for proposal (RFP) to the department of culture in a month.
“Evaluation done for new Pemagatshel dzong is quite skeptical and we don’t know why the department of culture has gone against the rules,” said an architect from the Bhutan Institute of Architecture (BIA).
He said that short listing an unregistered firm is unlawful.
The Director General (DG) of Department of Culture, Dorji Tshering said that the main motive behind it was to get the best proposal from among the firms.
“The decision to select the consultancy firm depends on the strength of the proposal they submit,” he said.
The firm or rather person in question, Professor Christopher Benninger is no stranger to the controversy.
Benninger in the past has been at the center of controversies after being given many a government projects without tendering, violating procurement rules in spite of audit objections.
Benninger was involved in projects like the Thimphu structure plan, urban design of the Thimphu Dzong Precinct, Thimphu Tshechu Ground, the new UNDP building, and structure plans for Gelephu, Damphu, Samtse and the new Pemagatshel town of Denchi. .
In the ongoing Supreme Court construction the Department of Urban Development and Essential Services (DUDES) under the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement held up his firm’s payment and refused to renew his contract.
He was accused by DUDES of delaying the Supreme Court construction, having inaccurate estimates, drawing faulty traditional designs, non preparation of tender documents and asking for changes in contractual clauses in his favor.
“It is depressing to see a foreigner, not-even-registered with the Construction Development Board (CDB), allowed to participate in the tendering process,” said an Architect from the BIA.
According to CDB rules all consultants and architects must be registered with the board to participate in construction sectors in Bhutan.
Even in the ‘Notice Inviting Tender’, consultants or contractors were reminded to register with the CDB to participate in any consultancy services or construction works.
“Professor Christopher Benninger is not legally registered in the CDB and he is a non-national, who should not be allowed to participate in national bids” said an architect repeating the same charge but didn’t want to be named out of fear that his RFP will be rejected.
General requirements for CDB registration are original Citizenship ID card copy, police clearance certificate for valid trade license and CDB form filled-up with complete postal addresses.
The architects said as per rules only local or national architects should participate for the construction of Pemagatshel dzong because it is not an ‘international’ bid.
It is stated in the CDB rules that Non-Bhutanese firms operating or desiring to operate in Bhutan shall also be required to register. Further an architect or firm, who wishes to register with CDB, has to submit an application to the President of the BIA in a standard application form prescribed by BIA and CDB.
On the other hand, the DG of department of culture, Dorji Tshering said it is a Government of India (GoI) funded project.
“We would be giving opportunity to all the competent firms including Indian consultant also,” he said.
He said that Professor Christopher Benninger holds a license in India. In addition he said the department did not select him just for being a foreigner.
The Local consultancy firms who ridiculed the DG’s ‘licensed in India’ claim strongly stood by the CDB regulations where all the consultants should be a registered firm licensed by the economic affairs ministry ‘in Bhutan’ and not India.
“Even if that were true which it is not why is Beninger the only one who is being allowed to participate from India,” questioned an incredulous architect and member of BIA.
“It would be a pleasure if a competent professional like Professor Christopher Beninger would participate legally rather than fronting,” alleged another architect.
An architect from a local firm said tax payment was a big concern for her. She said her company pays Business Income tax (BIT) of 30% and employees pay Personal Income tax (PIT), health tax and other miscellaneous taxes annually.
“When a foreigner without a legal business in the country participates in the business, the question is how they will file these taxes (which are the country’s revenue) are very big concerns,” she said.
The Architects from the BIA said the local firms had submitted a letter to the MoHCA for this project and they are hopeful that there will be positive solutions and decisions from this submission from the ministry.
“For this project and for any project in Bhutan, we hope that all levels in the country will follow the regulations specified by the CDB,” said an architect from the BIA.
The Department of culture has already evaluated the expression of interest (EOI) from the firms and have requested for proposals.