At a time when austerity and rupee crisis are the catchwords, the RAA’s draft report on the construction of Domestic Airports by the Ministry of Information and Communication comes as a major disappointment. The report highlights how more than 50 percent of the Nu 435 mn project was either lost in illegal overpayments or wasted in avoidable expenditures.
Apart from improper use of funds there are serious legal and ethical issues with ineligible bidders being given tenders, fake bills being honoured and documents going ‘missing’.
To top it up the resultant quality of work was substandard and a lot of planned infrastructure essential to an airport are incomplete.
Sadly, the majority of the funds allocated for the airports were our own government funds.
However, this is not an isolated incident. Earlier the Anti Corruption Commission in an extensive investigation caught some officials red handed in the governments extensive and multi-billion highway building program in Eastern and Southern Bhutan called the Road Network Project. The ACC also found huge misuse of budgets in building the roads and overestimation in the actual works to be done.
Prior to that the Labour Ministry’s huge multi-million VTI building program came in for particular focus for huge overpayments, missing funds and irregularities.
There are already concerns coming in from various parts of the country on the quality of roads and buildings built by the government.
The gigantic 10th plan comprised mainly of construction projects in rural areas in the form of farm roads, schools, BHU’s, water supply connections, electricity connections and etc.
However, even if the above have been built the current system does not really encourage economy, efficiency and quality of constructions.
Though the government must be appreciated for coming up with such infrastructure the government must also be held accountable for lapses in quality of construction.
There is no doubt that construction companies must be held accountable as it is they who are doing the poor quality construction.
However, for the contractor to do something illegal he must have the close cooperation of the tender committee members, site engineers and other officials.
To know how serious the government is about doing away with corruption in the construction sector, one must see the gap between plans and action.
The government early in its term came out with a revised tender document called the Standard Bidding Document designed to fall in line with best international practices and also reduce corruption.
However, agencies either did not follow it at all or did not adhere fully to its provisions.
In the MoIC case, the tendering practices and bidding norms were not in line with several provisions of the procurement rules.
Another example is the Ministry of Health Procurement scam where tender committee members did not even follow the most basic rules and many decisions were taken in an ad hoc manner to favor a few up until 2009.
The situation will even be equally stark at the Local government or Dzongkhag level where rules are bent and misinterpreted to allow a few to enrich themselves.
Corruption and irregularities in the Construction sector are not new and have existed well before this government came into power.
However, one of the key promises of this government was to zero tolerance to corruption and this also meant government procurement including the construction sector. The above examples show that the government has failed to do this and in fact collusion and corruption seems to be thriving.
In more than a few instances government officials involved in irregularities and corruption have been let off lightly by the government despite ACC and the RAA asking for strong action.
Though the intention may be to save skilled manpower the logic is flawed because there are plenty of talented graduates looking for jobs who can replace them and moreover light action sends the signal that it is okay to fool the system.
Things are not well at the higher levels of our leadership who are supposed to crackdown on all this.
The ad hoc hiring of the buildings of the influential and powerful for office space without going for open tenders is just a small example of a culture that exists at even the higher levels of our leadership that allows corruption to thrive and prosper in our system.
Those who still think that corruption is not a major issue should think twice the next time they use highways, bridges, consume drugs, land on domestic airways or even find water not coming to their houses.
With elections coming soon any new government that comes into power should take strict action against corrupt officials, insure implementation of rules strictly, strengthen the system to ensure quality procurement and construction and most important of all lead by example.
“Corruption has its own motivations, and one has to thoroughly study that phenomenon and eliminate the foundations that allow corruption to exist”