There is more to the recent and heated Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) meeting in Trashiyangtse, in which local government leaders expressed apprehensions against the Kholongchu project hiring outsiders instead of the locals who would be affected by the project.
The DT has raised objections saying that they heard that a labor commission agent had won a labor tender to employ 16 people from outside the Dzongkhag and had already supplied the manpower.
The labor agent Chorten Tshering also known as ‘master’ is in the center of yet another related controversy with local people complaining to SJVNL and the Ministry of Economic Affairs that the labor tender itself was not fair.
Minister of Economic Affairs Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk, who was in Trashiyangtse recently said, “There were complaints from the local people that they could not access the tender announcement for hiring 16 people in the 22nd July Kuensel issue, as Chorten Tshering, who won the tender, was also the sole distributor of Kuensel in the Dzongkhag. People said that he had not supplied that issue to the people.”
Lyonpo said, “As soon as the matter me and was brought to my notice I launched a review of the matter by asking the Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) and Kuensel to investigate.”
The Minister said there was ‘seemingly and attempt from his side’ as none of the Trashiyangtse people or local government leaders knew about the tender at the time.
He said that based on the complaints the project had decided not to hire all the 16 staff from Chorten except for the 13 who were already hired leaving out three staff.
Lyonpo said that the Kuensel investigation could not fully come to the conclusion on the issue. The minister said that he had requested Kuensel to hire more local agents to prevent such instances in the future.
The minister pointed out that that in the future there would be even bigger tenders and projects and it would be good to give a fair chance to all local contractors or people who were interested.
Lyonpo said, “It was good that this issue emerged, because we could use this instance to send out a strong message to all concerned stakeholders that things would be done very transparently and that corruption cannot be tolerated.”
He said this measure also sends out a strong message that there will be transparency in the way things are done in hydropower project construction.
The tender had been floated by Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SJVNL) which is a 50 percent joint venture partner with DGPC in the Kholongchu project.
SJVNL staff Rajendra who is an electrical engineer and Project Manager S.P Vidyarthi said that they had decline to hire the three people who were yet to be hired based on the complaints.
Kuensel’s Regional Kanglung Manager, Ugyen Wangdi said that he could not conduct a full investigation but he had gone to Trashiyangtse to find out about the issue.
Ugyen said that Kuensel would find it difficult to verify if the papers actually reached the clients since as long as Kuensel received money for the 30 copies from the agent it would be considered as sold by the agent.
“Around 30 copies of Kuensel went to the agent who claimed that he had sent out all copies and he had marked it as such in his register. When I went to check with one or two of the clients they told me that they were not sure and did not remember whether they got the issue or not. It was also not possible to get a hardcopy of the issue as even in normal circumstances none of the clients maintained a file of the newspapers,” said Ugyen.
Ugyen also explained that with the printing press in Trashigang nearby while the papers reached Trashiyangtse on the same day, the lack of reliable transport also meant the paper on occasions got delayed by a day or so.
He said that two members of the local business community also volunteered to be Kuensel agents and he welcomed their offer as it was difficult to find other agents in the Dzongkhag.
Meanwhile, Chorten Tshering, who is also the former DPT Dzongkhag coordinator, alleged a political conspiracy in the issue. He accused the complainants of being PDP supporters who were not happy that he won the tender.
Chorten denied that he had hidden the Kuensel issues and claimed that he was not even in the Dzongkhag on the day of the issue and his wife and daughter had faithfully supplied the newspapers. He said that as far as he was concerned he had already resigned from his post in DPT and was no longer engaged in politics.
Contradicting the observations of the Dzongkhag Tshogdu he also denied that he had supplied the labor for commission or profit but instead he said he was doing it as a ‘social cause’ and that he himself had paid the insurance costs too.
He also said that he had competed with other people who came for the tender from outside the Dzongkhag like Phuentsholing and Samdrup Jongkhar.