The Nu 100 mn project of the MoE that bought laptops and desktops for around 3000 teachers comes under fire
The Ministry of Education’s (MoE) ‘Empowering Teachers’ project which was initiated in mid-2009 and ended in April this year has created loan repayment and miscommunication problems among three agencies – the ministry, the teachers and the dzongkhag administration.
Through this project, the Bank of Bhutan Ltd (BoBL) financed more than 3,000 interested teachers to avail a loan of Nu 39,000 each for one Sony VAIO laptop or Nu 28,800 for one desktop computer.
According to MoE officials, BoBL upon the request of MoE agreed to finance the project worth more than Nu 100mn. The bank then agreed with the ministry to recover the loan from the teachers’ monthly salaries.
The monthly payments on the loan, as per the initial agreement was to be deducted from the teacher’s salary starting February 2010 to be liquidated in one year or a maximum of two years.
However, many teachers on conditions of anonymity stated that they were not aware of the interest rates on the loan owing to which the loans that were to be paid off by February 2012 got extended by an additional two months.
A teacher from a remote school in Samdrup Jongkhar said, “Two years were completed in February but deductions of Nu 3,000 a month have been made till April. We don’t know about May as we have not received the salary yet.”
However, the project came to an end in April though BoBL is yet to recover a few millions from the MoE.
Confusion about the interest rates
A teacher from one of the high schools in the capital said that the agreement he signed while taking the laptop for Nu 39,000 has been violated because deducations has been increased by two months taking the “extra amount” to Nu 6,000.
Kinley Wangchuk, a teacher in the east said, “When they issued the laptops they made us sign an agreement but later on without our knowledge they increased the period of loan recovery from 24 months to 26 months. The project execution was not in keeping with the signed agreement”.
Kinley said he learnt of the ministry’s “clarification” through Facebook and that there were no official messages from dzongkhag.
Other teachers claimed that the ‘letter of undertaking’ signed by them authorizes monthly installments to be deducted from their salaries in favor of BoBL, Thimphu. However, it does not specify any interest rates which have caused confusion among teachers who thought the facility was a government ‘Kidu’.
MoE’s chief procurement officer Mindu Drukpa responding to these allegations said, “The interest rate was not reflected in the agreement signed between the teachers and the supplier but the teachers are aware of it”.
MoE issued a letter dated February 9, 2010 to all Dzongdas initially announcing the interest rate as 7.5% throughout the entire life of the loan. However, it was later clarified sometime in January 2011 that the interest rates were per annum, which made it 15% for two years.
Admitting the mistake, an official from MoE’s administration and finance division (AFD) who requested anonymity said MoE’s only error was the interest rates which was clarified through Dzongkhag finance officials and Dzongkhag education officers (DEO). However, a large number of the total teachers claimed to have not been informed.
Most of the Dzongkhag accounts officers The Bhutanese talked to said they did not receive the clarification letter sent by MoE.
A DEO in one of the western Dzongkhags also said that he has no idea at all about the rectification of interest rates nor the letters sent by MoE.
Officiating accounts officer of Pemagatshel Tashi Gyeltshen is one of the many who said, “there was no letter received regarding the correction in interest rates”.
But the MoE AFD official cited negligence on the part of DEOs and Dzongkhag accountants involved. “I am of the opinion that the clarification letters we sent were not delivered by the DEOs to the teachers”, he said.
Ngawang a former teacher in one of the schools in Wangduephodrang said, “Nothing came from the DEOs in our Dzongkhag and I am not aware of the per annum interest rate.”
Sonam Norbu from a school in Orong, Samdrup Jongkhar said an official from MoE sent a letter to him stating that March 2012 would be the last month for his loan payment but the accounts officers in his Dzongkhag failed to incorporate it.”They kept on deducting the amount from our salary”, he said.
“We don’t know the bank’s exact calculation and neither have we received the refund but the deductions stopped after we personally approached the Dzongkhag accounts section”, he added.
Mindu Drukpa said a lot of confusion was created because “there was no cooperation from some Dzongkhag officials”.
MoE’s chief of administration and finance division Karchung Tshering said that some confusion exists but there are teachers who have defaulted on their payments.
He said many genuine cases have been resolved by the ministry and noted that it is one’s responsibility to make monthly payments for a product one has taken.
Surplus payments made by some teachers
As per MoE records, while some have defaulted on the loans, many teachers have made extra payments.
A primary school teacher in Tsirang said, “The Dzongkhag has deducted double the amount at some point of time though I never defaulted on my loan and now I have no idea of what my monthly payment amount is”.
The AFD official of MoE who spoke to The Bhutanese admitted that there have been no deductions for some teachers while there were extra deductions made on some. He said letters, faxes and emails were sent to the Dzongkhag officials involved but he doubted if they reached the concerned people.
For instance, MoE had instructed Zhemgang Dzongkhag officials not to deduct the monthly payments after the loan was recovered from each teacher but payments were deducted even after instructions.
To this the Accounts Officer of Zhemgang, Samdrup Dargay said, “The concerned offices in our Dzongkhag haven’t received any letter or circular of that sort”.
He said when the installments are made for loans, the bank is supposed to provide a clearance certificate upon liquidation or complete recovery of the amount but MoE and the bank have not provided any.
“The teachers who kept personal records of their own did not have any documentary evidence and we have no idea about what would be the total amount for each teacher because of the interest rates and other fees”.
But he requested the procurement officials in MoE to send a confirmed detail on all the accounts which the dzongkhag received recently.
Meanwhile, MoE is refunding the surplus amounts deducted.
“We have refunded about Nu 0.5 to 0.6 mn as of now”, said Mindu Drukpa.
A teacher from one of the schools in Samdrup Jongkhar who claims to have made extra payments said she cannot avail any leaves nor have the time to travel all the way to the ministry to resolve the issue. She said the BoBL branch in her Dzongkhag wouldn’t entertain her and the Dzongkhag officials involved have asked her to get a clearance from the MoE. “I am confused but I am sure someone has profited from our money”, she said.
A science teacher from one of the schools in rural Samtse also said, “I don’t have the time and I don’t get leave from the school to come to the ministry to settle the issue”.
Paro DEO Ugyen Tshering said he saw only a few such cases and they were already resolved by the ministry.
But MoE has no records of the whereabouts of some teachers who have paid in excess.
Transfer of teachers to other Dzongkhags and other factors added to the confusion
MoE cited transfer of teachers as one reason which added to the complications in collections
The AFD official with MoE said, “Some teachers were transferred to schools in another dzongkhag, some resigned, some were away on studies, some died and some just disappeared” adding that it was the responsibility of the Dzongkhag administration to update the ministry.
He said the difficulty in tracking the teachers have led to mismatch in the payment records. For instance, a teacher who was transferred from Thimphu to Gasa would have continued making the payments from his salary in Gasa. However, the ministry will have no records of his payments unless complete information is provided by concerned officials from both the Dzongkhags.
Ngawang, a teacher who has been transferred from a remote school in Wangduephodrang to Choden Lower Secondary School in Thimphu is one of many who is facing difficulty in resolving the issue even after approaching all the concerned authorities.
He claimed to have never defaulted on the loan and has the pay slips to support the fact but it did not show on the records of concerned offices like the ministry and the bank’s loan account.
“The payments for some seven months are not reflecting on the records and it’s been more than three months since I have been trying to resolve the issue and nothing has materialized so far”, he said.
Dawa Gyeltshen, another teacher who was recently transferred to Namgay Choling community primary school in Samtse said, “They just wouldn’t stop the deductions from my salary even after the 24 months period and I can’t make it to the capital since I have been transferred to a remote place”.
The DEO of Haa, Sonam Tenzin feels that the project has benefitted many teachers and the miscommunication in his opinion is because the teachers were unaware of the deductable amount.
“I think it is the responsibility of the teacher to inform the accounts officers regarding the deductions,” he added.
Teachers face difficulty in availing other loans because of the credit history
Three teachers from Trashigang and Haa said the negative credit history against their name for which they are not responsible has caused much problems in availing other loans for emergencies in addition to the already imposed restriction on loans because of the Rupee crunch.
Ngawang also said it’s a hindrance for him to get additional loans because of the current issue and at the same time he is liable for interest on the loan which impacts his salary.
“Account officers say I have some Nu 28,000 balance to be cleared which is not true”, he said.
Quality of the product and credibility of the supplier questioned
Some teachers have raised issues regarding the quality of the product. While many said the laptop had a lot of technical flaws like the battery and software, some said it just would not function after a few months.
A year’s warranty was provided by the supplier, Kee Pee Bee Distributors in Thimphu. However, some teachers in the rural areas couldn’t make it to the supplier’s office. Jigme Choden, a teacher with Phuntshothang middle secondary school in rural Samdrup Jongkhar said, “I bought the laptop in 2010 along with some colleagues here but our laptops are already suffering cracks and malfunctions”.
“We are in a remote school, about 70 kilometres away from the Dzongkhag office, so we couldn’t complain in person regarding the loan and the laptop”, she said.
Mindu said the products were checked by MoE’s IT personnel. “Quality wise, it has been checked before distributing and the items specified by the ministry have gone to the teachers.”
He also said that durability of the product can depend on the users as well. “We observed that some laptops that came back for repair or replacement to the supplier had crumbs of eatables inside the laptop,” he said.
He said the project closed by April 30 but MoE still owes few millions as balance debts to be cleared with the bank. “We may have to pay penalties but we cannot levy that on the teachers”, he said.
The teacher’s strength in Bhutan stands at 7,553 as of 2011.