Recommended to review VIPs/VVIPs protocol 2014

Yangchen C Rinzin 

Without any evidence, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) following its investigation has cleared the former Prime Minister (PM) Dasho Tshering Tobgay of misusing government fund amounting to Nu 3 million in installing security infrastructure at his private residence in Taba.

The case is now closed, based on the facts and evidences collected during the investigation, according to the ACC. ACC found that the former PM had not initiated or instructed the construction of the compound wall at his private residence in Taba.

According to dorector of investigation division, Gyeltshen, the Commission received an anonymous complaint on March 12 2018. The complaint alleged the former prime minister of misusing government budget to construct fencing, water supply and security wall at his residence.   “The complaint had also mentioned that former PM refunded the cost only after Royal Audit Authority (RAA) issued an audit memo,” he said. “Then after four days the then Cabinet Secretariat, on recommendation of the former PM, requested ACC to investigate the complaint.”

The director said that the ACC commenced investigation only in September this year because of concerns over the appropriateness of timing as the election was around.

“The primary objective of our investigation was to determine whether or not former PM abused his power in obtaining personal advantage at the expense of public fund in the pretext of VIP security measures and entitlement,” he said. “Another objective was to find out all relevant facts and evidence on the money refunded to RAA, as alleged.”


RBP proposed strengthening security

The investigation found that the security division with the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) initiated a proposal to the Cabinet Secretariat to reinforce and strengthen the security of the PM based on the security protocol for VIPs/VVIPs 2014.

“It was learnt that superintended of police (SP) of security division and then ADC to PM was informed about former PM shifting to his private residence. A team comprising of the SP Phub Gyeltshen, Major Yeshey T Phuntsho and private secretary to the PM, Sonam Tobgay visited the residential premises to conduct security assessment,” the director said.

The work included construction of concrete perimeter wall protection, security duty room with attached bathroom at the entrance gate, installation of floodlight to provide adequate lighting, installation of CCTV cameras to reinforce security surveillance, and secure water source by embedding the water tank and pipes into the ground.

Following the proposal, former Cabinet Secretary Kinzang Wangdi on July 22 2015 wrote to the ministry of works and human settlement (MoWHS) to execute the work as deposit work.

The letter was also copied to finance ministry for budget.

The work was then executed at the cost of Nu 2,999,964.

“However, after a year of completion, on June 20 2017, during the auditing of MoWHS, the RAA discovered certain expenditure was incurred on PM’s private house. So, based on this finding RAA issued an audit memo against the works executed by the department of engineering services, MoWHS,” the director said.

The audit memo warned of creating precedence and costing the government in respect of PM and cabinet ministers residing in private residence in future.

“The memo did not ask to deposit or recover the fund from the PM,” Gyeltshen said. “It only raised the concern that if we continue similar practice, it might set a precedence.”

The investigation established that after the audit memo was issued, the then MoWHS secretary wrote to Cabinet Secretary and MoF seeking comments on the memo that pointed out on the action to be taken after the PM completes his tenure.

“During the investigation, the former Cabinet Secretary Kinzang Wangdi in his statement to the Commission told that he informed the former PM about the memo,” the director said. The former PM voluntarily decided to pay back even if RAA did not require him to do so.

The Cabinet Secretary wrote a letter to refund the amount to the auditor general and also handed over the cheque amounting to Nu 2.9M. The receipt was accordingly acknowledged by the RAA on September 15 2017.

However, the director said the investigation found that after 10 months 24 days, the RAA refunded the Nu 2.9M to the PM. A letter was also addressed to the PM, which stated, “RAA did not anticipate recovery besides recommending institution of appropriate mechanism to regulate such expenditure in private residences considering likely recurring cost implication in future.”

The ACC found out from RAA that the memo did not require the PM to refund the money. “However, there was no reasonable explanation on why the refund was accepted in the first place and retained the money for almost a year,” said the director.

But, he added, ACC did not find any illegality in this, as memo did not ask for recovery.

The money was refunded to former PM nine days before the dissolution of the People’s Democratic Party’s government on August 9, 2018. ACC claimed the timing was also coincidental.

Director Gyeltshen said that this is why the investigation established that the proposal originated from the security division, who as a part of its duty, proposed the security measures. “That’s why we didn’t find any compelling ground to implicate the former PM of any criminal wrongdoings.”

Meanwhile, ACC found out that there is no clarity over VIPs/VVIPs protocol. “Unless this is clear, ACC feels that it may set wrong precedence and take advantage in the name of security in future and the protocol must be reviewed. We’ve decided that incumbent government and relevant authorities to review to avoid such reoccurrence in future.”