Bhutan is hard hit by the economic impact of the COVID-19 and the one thing that the government and country does not have much of is money.
This is why cut backs are being made in recurrent expenditure and belts are being tightened to ‘do more with less’ as said by the Finance Minister.
This is why it comes as a matter of grave surprise that while the Finance Wing of Punatsangchu-1 and the dispute resolution committee declared Nu 7.19 bn in claims by two contractors as bogus, efforts are still being made to review this decision.
The allegations are that pressure was put on the committee to entertain some of the claims at a loss to the national exchequer, and even after a final decision, there are attempts to backtrack it.
The P-1 project has a loan component of 60 percent for Bhutan which means that any such payments will have grave long term financial implications on Bhutan.
Whenever, we implement a big national project, it is always important to place trust in the officials and give them the space and flexibility to do well. However, it is also important to have controls and monitoring in place.
Audit reports in the past have highlighted various issues and omissions in the P-1 project, but unlike government audit reports in Bhutan, accountability is never fixed and action is never taken.
The various allegations around the Nu 7.19 bn bogus claims issue need not all be taken at face value, but there is enough substance in the arguments and facts so far to demand a thorough scrutiny of such claims.
Any project official has nothing to gain by quickly adjudicating and disposing of bogus claims based on sound evidences and laws.
However, questions have to asked of those project officials who sit on these claims for months and years with no decision and hence create an unhealthy situation where unhealthy practices can occur.
The P-1 project has hugely overshot its original cost and completion date. The last thing we need is bogus claims by contractors, and project officials not exercising good judgment.
“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters”