The Bhutanese has found that buildings owned by some serving Cabinet Ministers and their wives house government offices and corporations paying large amounts of rent. In what is a case of conflict of interest and also violation of procurement norms these office spaces have been hired by the respective agencies and corporations from the ministers and their spouses without following any tendering norms or a transparent and competitive process.
These buildings include one owned by the Finance Minister Lyonpo Wangdi Norbu’s wife, a building in the name of the wife of Minister of Economic Affairs Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk, a bungalow which is the former residence of Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk and a two storied Bungalow owned by the Agriculture Minister Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho.
Though two of the buildings are legally in the name of the spouses of Lyonpo Wangdi Norbu’s and Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk’s , in both cases, tenants and neighbors referred to the buildings as ‘Lyonpo’s buildings’.
A giant six storied building in Changzamtok owned by the Finance Minister’s wife houses two government agencies in the building.
One of them is the Chiphen Rigphel Project(CRP) under the Ministry of Information and Communication (MoIC) occupying the entire ground floor, half the second floor, an additional flat in second floor and one residential flat room as a guest house for the project.
The CRP offices pay monthly rental charge of about Nu 30,000 for the entire ground floor, Nu 20,000 for half the second floor and 15,000 each for the two apartments which comes to a total of Nu 80,000 per month. The CRP office has occupied the office space for more than a year now.
Also in the same building is the Government to Citizen (G2C) project office which has occupied two flats and makes a monthly payment of Nu 8,500 each coming to Nu 17,000. The office was occupied from 2010.
Both the above organizations neither called for public tenders to house these government organizations nor put up any public notices in the media to this effect. Both the offices directly shifted to the current space.
Until recently the building also housed the Druk Green Power Cooperation office which occupied three flats from 2010 to 2013 February paying a monthly rent for about 17,000 per flat or a total of Nu 51,000 per month and which was increased by 10% a year later.
A brand new building in the name of the wife of the Minister of Economic Affairs, Khandu Wangchuk located in Changangkha provides office spaces for both government and private organizations with higher rents for government organizations compared to the private ones.
The office of DGPC, Department of Operation and Maintenance has occupied two flats and pay’s a monthly rent of Nu 20,000 each coming to about Nu 40,000 per month. The office has rented the flats for more than a year now.
However, a private company called NTT construction which has occupied two similar flats is paying a lower rent of Nu 16,000 per month for each flat.
Druk Green Power Corporation’s plans to construct its own office space was put on hold as the government did not allocate it adequate budget to do so.
Another government office called the Construction Development Cooperation Ltd (CDCL) under the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement has rented three units paying Nu 17,500 per month coming to a total of Nu 51,000 per month. The CDCL office which was once in the main town area was shifted to the current building as CDCL officials said that the previous private building lack parking space, office space and was expensive.
The CDCL also has its own land and construction plans to construct its own office but it has been unable to secure the Nu 50 mn budget from the government required for the office space.
The same building is also host to the Secretariat for the New Development Paradigm created by the government to build on Bhutan’s Happiness Resolution in the United Nations. It occupies two offices and pay’s Nu 30,000 per month in total.
Another duplex apartment which was the earlier residence of Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk now houses the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC). The entire duplex rental is Nu 50,000 per month.
Here too, in all the above cases the agencies taking the apartments did not call for public tenders and notifications to offer competitive prices for the lucrative rents being offered by them. The offices were directly shifted into the buildings.
The residence of Agriculture and Forest Minister Dr. Pema Gyamtsho is now an office of DHI-Infra which was rented on a contract basis for two years. The office occupied the residence from 2011 and pay’s Nu 50,000 per month for the entire duplex. The rent increased to 55,000 after the contract period was over from January this year.
Here too no public tenders and notices were made to allow for competitive bidding.
In stark contrast to the above the Department of Education under the Ministry of Education has not only put up public notices in the media but has also called for tenders from building and house owners to offer space for the department.
As per the governments own Procurement Rules and Regulations of 2009 the rules are there to ensure transparency of Government procurement through the application of standard procurement procedures, achieve uniformity of the procurement procedures, achieve economy and efficiency in the procurement of goods, works and services, and ensure fair and equal access to the suppliers, consultants and contractors for award of contracts for supply of goods, services or works.
The rules also make it very clear that all government agencies have to follow these rules in procuring of goods, services or works.
The rules also say that the government has to provide for open tendering whereby all potential contenders who can give the goods, works and services are sought and given a chance.
An official of one of the above agencies said, “even if we did not tender it out we could have at least put up a notice in the media or public forum and then we would have got the best rates and also the best picks of office space.” With increasing number of new buildings being completed and lesser apartment buyers there are frequent flat vacancy announcements in the media.
The above is also in the context of most building and house owners in Thimphu preferring to rent out space to offices as they offer higher rent and more stable payment than families, use less water and also cause much lesser damage to the utilities.
Currently for some of the government offices in the buildings managed by the spouses of Lyonpo Wangdi Norbu and Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk the only government oversight is the Government Procurement and Property Management Division (GPPM) which ensures that rents are not paid way above government rates which are fixed by the Ministry of Finance. The Bhutanese despite enquiring was not given the official government rates but was told that a 10 to 15% increase above the maximum rate was allowed.
A GPPM official, however, made it clear that their only job was to check the rent and measure the office premises once it was selected and it was entirely up to the respective agencies to transparently select them.
The head of the Public Procurement Policy Division, Karma Wangdi under the Ministry of Finance refused to answer or allow any of his officers to answer queries of The Bhutanese on why procurement rules were not followed in such cases.