Also recommends the Phuentsholing Thromde management to take disciplinary action against the tender committee members

Rinzin Wangchuk

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has implicated the executive director (ED) of Rigsar Construction Private Limited (RCPL) and the former executive secretary (ES) of Phuentsholing Thromde in connection with the construction of gabion wall at Amochhu, Phuentsholing in 2017.

In its investigation report forwarded to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) last week for probable prosecution, ACC has recommended the OAG to charge RCPL’s ED for active bribery of public servant and former executive secretary for passive bribery for receiving Nu 0.25 million.

The former ES is also implicated for abuse of function. He allegedly did not follow due process in re-appropriating additional budget from the budget allocated to the construction of Khariphu road.

How the case came to ACC?

In 2017, Phuentsholing Thromde awarded the construction of gabion wall at Amochhu, popularly known as Toorsa, to RCPL at a cost of Nu 11.9M. There were controversial issues pertaining to the award of the work directly to RCPL, including the fund arrangement by the Phuentsholing Thromde.

Based on the intelligence report, the commission pursued the investigation which revealed that sometime in January 2017 soon after RCPL was awarded the dredging work, the former ES had improperly used his position of authority and influence to seek approval of Nu 4.502M for the construction of 250m long gabion wall at Amochhu to be awarded directly to RCPL.

In his personal effort to solicit the budget as well as steer the work to RCPL, the report stated that ES initiated on his own and took this proposal to higher authorities like secretary of Ministry of Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS) and former home minister without prior knowledge and discussion at the thromde. The MoWHS only recommended the proposal.

On February 9, a committee presided by ES decided to award the work to RCPL using “Urgency” clause in the Procurement Rules and Regulations, 2009. “The commission did not find any tenable circumstances to justify the application of the clause,” the report stated.

On  March 7,  RCPL proposed to increase the length of the gabion wall from 250m to 450m with an understanding that the additional cost incurred shall be compensated by allowing the contractor to own the stacked materials behind the wall.

However, ACC found that in contradiction to and without any reference to the earlier decision, on March 14, an overriding decision was made to construct a full stretch of 450m gabion wall with the additional funds to be met from the budget allocated for the river protection work at Omchhu.

The contractor executed the project for the full stretch of 423.2m gabion wall and was eventually paid Nu 11.232M out of which Nu 7M was appropriated from road construction to Khariphu. The report stated that Phuentsholing thrompon was not aware of such re-appropriation.

The investigation learned that, in the first place, the proposal to construct gabion wall as well as the technical design, including its cost estimates all came from RCPL.

“Without analyzing the rates and arranging the fund, the Thromde awarded the work based on the contractor’s submitted rate which included the cost of the boulders, the primary material, despite the fact that the boulders were readily available at the site,” ACC report stated.

The commission assessed the build-up rate and if the material coefficient of boulders is excluded. RCPL had been advantaged by Nu 3.252M and requested the OAG to reinstate the amount to the state from RCPL.

In his earlier interview, the Rigsar Construction ED said that in addition to the 423m gabion wall awarded by Thromde, Rigsar had constructed 1,550m which cost the company Nu 44.28M.

The investigation also revealed that between January 11 and 13, 2017 while pursuing his personal endeavor to steer the work in favour of RCPL, ES had allegedly solicited and received Nu 250,000 from the ED which he needed to purchase a piece of land in Gelephu. During ACC’s investigation, both accused gave false and misleading statements surrounding the payment.

The ED told Kuensel that he submitted a text message to ACC as evidence that the former ES was asking for cash loan. “Had it been bribed, we are not foolish to deposit the money in his account,” he said.

The ES sent sms to the ED stating that “Boss… I need financial assistance of 2.5 lakhs for three months as I owe to pay to one of my friends for having purchased a plot at Pekarshing recently. I will pay you with applicable interest after three months. Is it possible wai?” He further stated “you can transfer to my account. I will sms to you.”

The commission however concluded that after considering the relevant facts, the former ES had abused his official position and influence to unduly favour RCPL in directing the contract without tenable grounds, extending the scope of the work and reappropriating funds.

In return, ACC stated that he solicited and accepted pecuniary advantage from RCPL.

“Thus, in the light of these persuasive evidence, the commission has reached its opinion that consideration should be given by the OAG to prosecute the former ES and the private construction firm’s ED under offence of bribery and commission amounting to abuse of function.”