The beneficiary was his Social Secretary who is a mid level protocol officer in the Foreign Ministry
The Bhutanese has found that the Prime Minister using his own prerogatives allotted a Prado as a ‘special case’ to his former Social Secretary Ugyen Wangchuk.
The year 2000 model Prado was allotted by the PM to Ugyen Wangchuk at the depreciated value of Nu 350,000 calculated by the Department of National Properties. The Prado had been used as the duty vehicle of previous Cabinet Secretaries like, Dasho Neten Zangmo, Dasho Sherub Gyaltshen, and Dasho Tashi Phuntsho.
The Prado which was purchased in the early 2000’s was worth around Nu 1.3 to 1.4 mn including taxes.
The letter dated on April 15, 2013 is addressed from the Cabinet Secretariat to the Finance Secretary and says, “Mr. Ugyen Wangchuk Social Secretary to Honorable Prime Minister has appealed to the Honorable Prime Minister for allotment of the government vehicle BG-1-0985 (Toyota Prado) currently on his duty.”
The letter further states, “The vehicle is of the year 2000 model and has already run a total of about 200,000 km. In this regard, the Honorable Prime Minister has approved, as a special case, the allotment of the aforementioned vehicle to Ugyen Wangchuk at the depreciated value calculated by the Department of National Properties. The Ministry of Finance is therefore directed to take necessary action.”
This move by the Prime Minister is a violation of the Constitution, and also a violation of His Majesty the King’s sole prerogative to grant Kidu in the Constitution.
Under Article 2 titled ‘The Institution of the Monarchy’,Section 16 (b) says that The Druk Gyalpo, in exercise of His Royal Prerogatives, may grant citizenship, land kidus and other kidus.
In the past and only on rare cases, His Majesty the King granted some vehicles to very senior officials as Soelra, either without any payment or as Soelra with payment where the senior official would only have to pay the depreciated value of the vehicle.
There is no provision, either in the Constitution or any other laws, where the Prime Minister can legally allot vehicles to officials.
The allotment is also in violation of the Ministry of Finance rule on ‘Financial Rules and Regulations –Property Management Manual 2001’. According to this rule, the disposal of all Government properties are to be carried out through public auctions.
The practice in Department of National Properties is that after getting a vehicle that has been surrendered, the advertisements are put in media outlets a month in advance of the auction date, only after which the auction happens and the car is sold to the highest bidder.
The rule also says that surplus, obsolete and unserviceable properties are to be handed over to DNP. However, even though the Prado was of an older model, it was in much demand among other government agencies, especially after the 2008 rule restricting new Prados to only cabinet rank ministers, and the 2012 vehicle import ban.
The allotment comes at a time when government agencies are fighting to retain even barely functional and much older vehicles, and when private individuals cannot buy private vehicles due to the vehicle import ban.
What will also raise eyebrows is that while a Grade P 2 (Grade 5) officer has a Prado as his duty vehicle, many senior government secretaries and officials at the Ex 1 level, Ex 2 and Ex 3 levels are unable to get a Prado as their duty vehicles. In some cases, secretaries have to make do with cheaper vehicles like the Hyundai Santa Fe.
Soelras, given on rare occasions, were made to very senior officials like Secretaries on the verge of retirement. However, in this case Ugyen Wangchuk, a P2 officer, is far from being on the verge of retirement.
Ugyen Wangchuk in his position as the Social Secretary to the PM had been deputed from the Protocol Section where he was an officer. His responsibility as the PM’s Social Secretary was mainly protocol in nature like, PM’s visit for national and social functions.
He was deputed in around the same time in 2008, when the PM had appointed several political and contract appointees to the Cabinet Secretariat, some of whom still continue to serve there.
When contacted, the Cabinet Secretary Dasho Penden Wangchuk confirmed that such an order had been issued to the Finance Ministry after Ugyen Wangchuk had appealed to the PM. He said, “The vehicle was already around 12 –years- old, and had done around 200,000 km, and was allotted at a depreciated value.”
The Cabinet Secretary in reply to a question said that in the past, before democracy came in, there was at one point, a practice of applying to the Finance Ministry and taking old vehicles at a depreciated value.
However, The Bhutanese found that in 2000 the Cabinet, at the time, which included the current PM had allowed for senior officials to apply for and take old vehicles by paying a depreciated value. However, this rule was overruled by the same Cabinet in 2001, when it was found that the best quality vehicles were being taken by senior officials, leaving government agencies with only the poor quality vehicles. It was also around this time that the Financial Rules were framed covering such issues.
The Constitution which was adopted in 2008 was even clearer on the issue authorizing only His Majesty the King to grant Kidus and Soelras of any kind.
Ugyen Wangchuk, in all probability, would be the first officer since the start of democracy, if not since 2001 to be allotted a vehicle by the Prime Minister.
According to a Toyota STCBL officer, standing in an empty Toyota showroom, the market price of second hand prados has gone up by o 30 percent, and more after the increase in taxes on Toyota Prado’s in 2009. She said that a Prado which had been bought three years ago at Nu 1.7 mn could easily fetch Nu 2 mn and more.
In 2010, the Toyota Prado tax was increased from 35 to 50 percent and 2012 saw a 20 percent green tax imposed, taking the tax up to 70 percent. In 2012, the import of such vehicles was banned due to the Rupee shortage.
In 2008, the government had banned any Secretaries and Director from importing new Prados as duty vehicles.
Ugyen Wangchuk said that he had appealed for the vehicle to the Prime Minister as it was very old and was in the list to be surrendered to DNP. He also claimed that he had given up his vehicle quota to get the Prado.
However, when contacted, the Cabinet Secretary said that the Secretariat had not put up any list of vehicles to be surrendered to the DNP, and in fact was in need of vehicles.
Also, when this paper checked with the Finance Ministry, there was no official record of Ugyen Wangchuk giving up his quota.
Earlier, the Prime Minister had approached His Majesty the King and requested to be granted the duty Prados of the Ministers, Speaker, NC Thrizin and Opposition Leader after, which His Majesty granted it as Soelra.
The former Opposition Leader recently returned his Prado to the Interim Government, citing the state of the economy and also on the fact that he was not consulted by the PM.
Tenzing Lamsang / Thimphu