Zero tolerance for honesty

The two recent issues of Bhutan Post’s controversial procurement process of city buses worth Nu 44 mn and the defunct domestic airports bring to light again the inherent flaws in our procurement system.

While the former is an alleged case of not following procurement rules to favor one party the latter is a case of poor monitoring and implementation after the tender has been awarded.

Another recent example is also the multibillion Road Network project where national highways are being built in the eastern and southern Dzongkhags. Here government appointed engineers who are supposed to monitor the quality of our highways have instead been threatening Bhutanese contractors with dire consequences if they don’t pay hefty bribes to them.

In return for bribes these engineers are willing to overlook the quality of roads and also inflate bills causing a loss to the exchequer as shown by an ongoing ACC investigation.

All of the above among many other cases have come after the reforms carried out in Bhutan’s procurement laws with a new tender document of 2009.

The tender reforms were brought in after huge loopholes were found in the tendering process with the Ministry of Health procurement scam, Ministry of Education procurement scam etc.

However, what is increasingly becoming clear is that it is not so much the tender laws and rules that are flawed but the implementation process and system which is the main problem. Despite the new tender rules evidence on the ground indicates that corruption in the procurement system both at the national and Dzongkhag level is rampant and increasing.

One of the main causes of the problems is a clear lack of political will at the higher levels either because there is a need felt to avoid negative press or that the bidders could be related to or have close links with influential political or business families. The government is also seen to be selective in its approach as evinced in the Trowa theater case where the National Council has asked for an ACC investigation.

The Prime Minister’s refusal to allow a question on the Bhutan Post city bus procurement and his dismissal of it as a ‘petty issue’ during meet the press demonstrates this very lack of political will.

Once it is clear that there is little or no action at the higher levels other agencies down the line follow suit and establish their own fiefdoms. This creates a pyramid structure of corruption where it starts at the top and then flows down the entire pyramid right down to the geog and chiwog level.

This is the similar path taken by corruption in India where it flowed from the top of the pyramid going down the system till corruption became virtually institutionalized in almost every system.

Procurement scams are still rampant and some civil servants concerned with procurement are still getting rich and are also promoted up the ranks. It is time we take a closer look at their assets and also who is protecting them.

Procurement issues are already having an impact on the quality and cost of many of the government’s key development projects like rural infrastructure. Ultimately the government will have to realize that corruption in the procurement system will harm the nation and its citizens at the cost of a few getting rich. The bigger danger is that a process of corruption will eventually become subsumed into governance until asking for or giving a bribe could become the norm rather than the exception.

The signs as of now are discouraging. Apart from a clear lack of political will, the Anti-Corruption Commission is facing heavy pressure and criticism for simply doing its job, the media is being muzzled from doing critical stories using various pressure tactics and the right to information law is still not in effect.

The ‘zero tolerance policy to corruption’ slogan should now be renamed as a ‘zero tolerance policy to honesty’ to reflect the current ground realities.

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6 comments

  1. I don’t need proof to believe that the road sector is corrupt through and through at the field level and to some degree in the officer level.

    It’s been going on for decades.

  2. Well said! Keep up the good work.

  3. How can a civil enginner working in dzongkhag just after working for 2 yrs buy a car costing over 6 lakhs that too without any loan. when others take ages to buy one. It’s food for thought,

  4. In one of the dzongkhags i worked, the procurement officer, had his house full of BPBL products. from bed to TV stand.Funny thing is all dzongkhag items were ordered from BPBL… HMMM nice nice… commission plus extra furniture, Open corruption. As the author rightly said, it is not the flaw in the rule or act but it is the flaw more at the stage of implementation and procedure.

    • We all know that both the CEO and Director General of Bhutan Posts and Civil Aviation respectively have been the blue eyed boys of the ruling Govt. and it was obvious that such corruptive practices were to take place . Despite the financial damages that two airports are now crippled with, the former DG of Civil Aviation is not even subject to disciplinary action for his failure to see that the airports once constructed should withstand its utilisation without any major problems for dacades. He was awarded only a warm chair transfer to CDCL. CEO of Bhutan Posts was appointed agaainst the public reservation thru the help of this gentlement who happened to be the acting Secretary of MoIC then and corruptions are bound to take place when favouritism and nepotism are so common for the near and dear ones of the upper rung ruling family.
      We have not forgotten Lottery Scam where the Director alongwith few others were let go simply because the office base was abolished without assigning any justifiable reasons. The much talked about MoH procurement scam is also yet to be made public and ACC is taking time more than required to come out with the results. What is pity is that there are senior civil servants who had to be made to resign/or awarded premature retirements because of no fault of theirs where as there are so many such cases where they have been made more indespensable retaining their seats of power or even succeeding timely promotions inspite of their serious involement in such corruptive practices. So let there be corruptions, corruptions every where and we are no worried from now onwards. In fact we are now more convinced that it is the right time for us to encourage more such indulgunce rather than being just honoust as Honousty doesn’t pay atleast in our system.

  5. I am 83 years old now, this has been a wish and may be last wish on forums like this. The wish is – unless you choose a government with candidates of new age i.e less than 45 years Bhutan wont be able to fight this battle of corruption.
    My 39 years of experience in civil service has taught me one thing- every civil servants will have taken some unfair advantage after ten years in job.
    My childrens please take this point seriously and energize the youth to be politicall active.
    I cant talk anything about corruption because i would have something i did behind curtain- how do you think i erected three buildings in Thimphu, so how can i talk about any level of corruption going on.
    Believe me and be sure- youth are clean when corruption is concerned- they are not corrupt, less corrupt are new age people.
    I you ever knew that some person is already employed when a vaccancy is announced, you probably got some hints of a form of corruption.
    This happens more often than not on our land. I have lived my life at peace, i fear my grand children will not have as peaceful life as i had.
    Since i am out of age, its for you out there to reshape our(in a way your) nation’s destiny. GNH is a good thing, it is used wrongly by people who administer it.
    To remain happy at my age, do correct things now- one of the top secret to make a heaven out of Bhutan is to throw away the old politicians and replace them with young energetic and clean people in their place.
    Dont worry about experience, i knew about DNA at the age of 68 today my grandson speaks volumes about it at the age of 17, world has a shared consciousness, what someone knows will be known by another person in a short while- remember milk starts to flow naturally when calf is born, more often than not we learn to do things right when responsibility is sworn.
    You may have a mango tree in your backyard, but it is only fruit you can eat, nibblingits bark is as good as not having the fruit tree- i mean you are given a chance to choose who can be best to do right thing, relying on his/her experience is a grave mistake.
    May the untold be known by analysis, the told is an opinion of a falling age.

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