Losing the billions

In 2011, based on investigative reports by the Editor of this paper a special RAA report said that in 2007 the actual legal Bhutan Lottery turnover in India was Nu 263.6 bn but Bhutan was only getting a fractional Nu 210 mn of this.

Bhutan being taken for such a ride would not have been possible without the collusion of government officials in Bhutan.

However, there was no accountability as the then government closed down Bhutan Lottery in 2011 itself. ACC did not investigate given the cross border challenges. 

Since then, many companies have sprung up in India claiming to be Bhutan Lottery and are doing billions in business in Bhutan’s name without the country seeing a cent.

10 years later, we face allegations of another multi-billion scam this time involving the Gypsum mines being managed by the SMCL.

The Gypsum mines under the SMCL have broadly done better compared to Druk Satair in part due to a system and infrastructure left behind by the private mining company.

However, the same system and some individuals connected to the past are alleged to have facilitated this alleged multi-billion scam. 

It is early days, but prima-facie this stinks to the high heavens.

The issue at hand is not about private versus government ownership, but it once again exposes a clear lack of systemic check and balances, how badly we manage national resources, be it under private or government hands, and how vulnerable we are to possible scams.

The ACC is taking a preliminary look at this case before deciding to investigate or not but if it goes by the Bhutan Lottery playbook and throws up its hands at the cross-border nature of this alleged mega scam then things will continue as it is.

Again such infractions are not possible without cooperation or the active indulgence of our officials, whoever they are.

Given the huge resources and sums of money at stake the least that must be done is a comprehensive investigation of the issue ad not just by the ACC, but also by other relevant agencies to find out what exactly happened and how we can prevent it from happening again.

While Bhutan needs a strong and reliable private sector and not crony capitalists, those government officials entrusted with important national resources must not only be vigilant but also not treat these resources as their personal property.

If you let other people do it for you, they will do it to you.
Robert Anthony

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