This paper, so far, has been exposing the harassment and extortion faced by those involved in exporting and importing Bhutanese products across the border by Indian customs, SSB, local journalists and others.
However, it now appears that our officials on our side of the border are no better with prima facie cases of customs officials facilitating tax evasion and smuggling, and our bank officials facilitating an illegal INR and Ngultrum exchange racket.
There are also various other illegalities linked to the above that have mushroomed up on both sides of the border.
Corruption being present in the border town of Phuentsholing has always been our worst kept secret, however, the scale and size to what it has grown is mindboggling with active coordination across the border.
If this corruption is not checked then it will not only impact our economic sovereignty, but in the long term these same networks could be used by those who seek to harm Bhutan’s national security.
The tax avoidance scheme by the customs department will mean hundreds of millions if not billions in losses to the country’s exchequer. This at a time when the nation is desperately short of revenue.
The smuggling facilitated into Bhutan not only violates our borders and rule of law, but it is mainly in products that are not good for Bhutanese consumption from insecticide laden chillies to certain drugs.
The banking scam will drain our valuable INR reserves mainly to pay for smuggling or other illegal activities like tax avoidance. It will also devalue our currency since it is meant to facilitate the currency exchange business in Jaigaon.
The ‘Hawala’ racket will facilitate the flow of illegal currency across border and the proxy bank accounts of Indians in Bhutan may lead to international regulatory issues for Bhutan in the future.
The theft of goods from the MDP and such high and illegal costs is also impacting inflation in Bhutan.
The above are all like a multi-headed snake, but the heads are linked and from the same body.
There can be no doubt that such activities at the border are a grave threat to Bhutan’s well being and must be tackled urgently.
Apart from the immediate economic threat and the potential long term security threats from such activities, there is an even deeper threat coming from all this.
This deeper threat is that such activities unchecked will corrupt and impact the character of our people and nation.
Bhutan may not have much by way of resources, but as a nation we pride our selves in our ethics and also far lower levels of corruption compared to other countries.
These activities may start at the border, but given the money involved they have already reached Thimphu and other parts, and if left unchecked can lead to the flourishing of corruption by agencies and eventually ordinary people.
It is good that the ACC has got into the act, but it will neither be fair or adequate to leave it just to the ACC. Other agencies must also help and if there are whistleblowers then this is their chance to come forward.
“People’s indifference is the best breeding ground for corruption to grow” — Delia Ferreira