For a party that coined the famous slogan of ‘Zero Tolerance to Corruption’ the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) is under attack from political parties and critics for the candidature of Dasho Dr Gado Tshering, the former health secretary who resigned over moral grounds in the Ministry of Health procurement scam.
Critics have pointed out that on numerous occasions the government and the former Health Minister Lyonpo Zangley Drukpa had directly and indirectly held the Health Secretary responsible for the procurement mess in the MoH.
In an interview with a newspaper earlier the former Health Minister in response to a question on corruption in the MoH procurement had said, “These practices in the MoH has been going on for a long time before I joined. As a minister I am not the member of the tender committee which is chaired by the health secretary as an ex-officio member.”
In response to a question on the ACC and RAA investigation reports on MoH the health minister in February 2011 had said, “Tender committee member have to be accountable and that was why I insisted that the health secretary Dr Gado Tshering and Director General Dr Dorji Wangchuk who are tender committee members should be present at the exit meeting with RAA on their special audit report on the procurement of drugs. The tendering process has been a problem. The tender committee members must thoroughly read the terms of reference and the contract conditions. The committee members should be administratively responsible and also be held responsible if there are irregularities.”
The ACC investigation into the MoH procurement was triggered off after a news report of tender committee members in the middle of a tender accepting a 10 day trip abroad from one of the bidders to places like Bangkok and Amsterdam. The trip had been authorized by a committee chaired by the former Health Secretary.
The ACC and RAA report had damning indictments of the MoH procurement system that overpaid for essential drugs and medical equipments and also compromised on their quality. Many MoH employees were also booked on corruption charges by ACC and audit memos were issued by the RAA.
The former health secretary was a member of the tender committees over the years and even chaired it for many years since his tenure as health secretary from 2005 to 2011 though he was himself directly was never booked by ACC or RAA.
The ACC investigations uncovered a massive system of collusion where medical suppliers paid off MoH staff to influence tenders and even the price of items. ACC found overpayments, defective and non functional equipment, flawed tendering process, excessive ordering etc. In one instance ACC found that a plastic bucket worth Nu 600 was bought for Nu 7,500 by the tender committee while in another case a treadmill that could be obtained for Nu 93,000 was got for Nu 1.3 mn. Even key equipment like baby incubators that provide life support system to weak babies was found to be defective.
The RAA report on drugs also had strong findings where it was found that the procurement committee overpaid for drugs and bought poor quality drugs that would pose a risk to the life of patients. For a period of from July 2008 to June 2009 when the incumbent government was in office the RAA found around Nu 88 mn worth of irregularities in the procurement of drugs.
The ACC investigation who had covered millions in defective equipment and overpayments was inflated by around 21 times when on the ACC’s recommendations the MoH did a checklist of its medical equipments.
In the last five years from 2005 to 2010, the procurement budget was Nu 1.231bn worth of medicines and equipments with equipments taking up around 60% of the pie.
Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa spokesperson Dr Tandi Dorji said, “There may not be any legal issues as he resigned accepting moral responsibility for the MoH procurement scam and got all necessary clearances but there is still a moral issue.”
He said, “The moral issue is that the DPT government who accepted his resignation for the MoH corruption issue has now got him in the party and so we have to presume the two of them must have had something going on from before.”
The PDP Vice President Damcho Dorji said, “first and foremost we must appreciate the fact that he, as far as I know, is the first civil servant to take moral responsibility and resign.”
He said, “Having said that to join the ruling party from whose government he resigned on moral grounds does not look good. If he has genuinely resigned on moral grounds over the MoH corruption scam and the ruling party had accepted it as such, it does not make sense for him to come back in the probable ministerial post of the Health Minister.”
He said that the Health Minister had openly put the blame on the Health Secretary and the existing senior MoH bureaucracy in the Parliament by saying that the procurement scam had been going on for years before his time.
Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party President Sonam Tobgye said, “The Health secretary resigned on moral grounds over corruption in MoH. Such engagement of the former health secretary says a lot about DPT.”
He said that in the general rounds of the elections the ECB should be very stringent in terms of requirements like NOC, PIT form, asset declaration and others.
Druk Chirwang Tshogpa President Lily Wangchuk said that for any person to be eligible to contest they should have clean track record.
Dasho Dr Gado Tshering in his defense said that he had in fact been approached by various political parties to join as their candidate.
To this both BKP and DCT issued flat denials. However, DNT’s Dr Tandin Dorji said that while initially some of his party members approached Dr Gado the idea was dropped as the majority did not want to have him due to his past. PDP President Tshering Tobgay said that while a few party workers may have approached Dr Gado the party did not approach him. Earlier there were reports of the now defunct DMNT approaching Dr Gado.
Dasho Dr Gado Tshering, “The main reason why I resigned was that I realized that as per the Royal Kasho appointing secretaries I would become a secretary for 11 years as I had already served for six years from 2005 to 2011 and so I wanted to give opportunity to new talent and experiences. Apart from this was the issue of embezzlement and corruption the MoH Ministry for which I had resigned taking moral responsibility.”
He said that as the secretary he had provided cooperation to the ACC and the RAA at all times. He said he also resigned because he did not want to be seen influencing the investigations that were ongoing at various levels in the MoH.
“If I was really guilty then I should have stayed on in MoH and fought the battle from inside,” said Dasho Dr Gado.
He said that after leaving he had set up a low cost diagnostics center for the benefit of ordinary people where services were available at much cheaper rates that compared to other countries.
He also clarified that despite many parties approaching him he had not chosen DPT but he went with the decisions of the people of his constituency of Bji-Kartshog in Haa.
He said, “I respect all the parties as everybody is coming to serve the nation and the people.”
Tenzing Lamsang / Thimphu