Says ambiguity poses risk of abusing power

Rinzin Wangchuk

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has called on the government and relevant authorities to review guidelines of providing residential security to VVIPs and VIP.

This is one of the issues the ACC had recommended in its annual report 2019, which was distributed to relevant committees of the Parliament last month.

The report stated that given the ambiguities in the protocols of residential security and the absence of clearly established standard and appropriate mechanism to rationalise security related infrastructure expenditure at private residences, the issue merits the attention of the government and relevant stakeholders.

Though not relevant to the incumbent prime minister and cabinet ministers as all are residing in Lhengye Densa (ministers’ enclave), Section 10 (ii) of Security Protocol for VVIPs/VIPs 2014 states that “An appropriate strength of residential security as determined by the concerned security agencies of the country shall be provided to former prime ministers.”

The report stated: “It poses the risk of abuse of power if the security protocol or guidelines are kept ambiguous and such matters are left to be decided on a case-by-case basis in future.”

The commission also recommended the Prime Minister in November 2019 to revisit the relevant provisions of the protocol and guidelines in the interest of promoting transparency and accountability.

The commission also requested to include in the deliberation the matter of the principle of incurring state resources on private residential property when the state has already put on adequate security personnel and infrastructure at Lhengye Densa.

The anti graft’s recommendation comes after an issue where the former prime minister, Dasho Tshering Tobgay was alleged of misusing government budget amounting to Nu 3 million (M) for the construction of fencing, water supply and security wall at his private residence in Taba in March 2018.

ACC received a complaint and after its investigation found that the Security Division of the Royal Bhutan Police had initiated the proposal based on Security Protocol for VVIPs/VIPs 2014. The division proposed construction of a security wall, security duty room with attached bathroom at the entrance gate, and installation of floodlight and CCTV cameras in the four corners of the compound wall to strengthen the security at the PM’s residence. Also proposed was securing water source by deeply embedding the water tank and pipes into the ground to prevent it from being tampered.

The then Cabinet Secretary in the same month, July 2015, wrote a letter to the works and human settlement (MoWHS) secretary to execute the work as a deposit work with a copy to the Ministry of Finance, requesting to release the required budget.

The work was executed at a cost of Nu 2.99M.


Audit memo and ACC’s conclusion

RAA in June 2017 issued an audit memo against the work executed by the Department of Engineering Services, MoWHS stating that the department in consultation with the finance ministry may comment on the course of action to be taken to dispose of the cost of the infrastructures after the tenure of the PM.

The memo also stated that it could create precedence and become a recurrent cost to the government in respect of prime minister and Cabinet ministers residing in private residence in future.

The former PM offered to pay back the money even though the RAA did not require him to do so.  The Cabinet secretary on September 8, 2017 forwarded the cheque for Nu 2.99M to the RAA.

However, RAA after almost 11 months, returned the money to the PM on July 31, 2018. The letter stated: “RAA did not anticipate recovery besides recommending institution of recurring cost implication in future.”

ACC ruled out criminal wrongdoing to merit further investigation.

The ACC’s report also stated that the RAA’s explanation that it returned the money because the memo that was only recommendatory in nature was found to be coherent with the substance of the memo it raised to the MoWHS and the subsequent letter returning the cheque to the PM.

“The initial suspicion that the RAA may have altered the memo later, the basis on which the inquiry started in the first place, stands logically dispelled,” the ACC’s annual report stated.