The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) suspended contract licenses of two construction firms on May 7 in connection with alleged corrupt practices involved in constructing the new sewer lines in Thimphu Thromde.

The commission suspended the business operations or activities of Chime Phagma  Construction, Mongar and Sonam Yangdak Construction of Thimphu after finding a prima facie case of corruption in sewerage networking work in Motithang, Langjuphaka, Taba and Yangchenphug areas.

The commission’s suspension order prohibited the individual or business entity from entering into any business activity directly or indirectly using the license after suspenson until pending the outcome of the case. “Non-compliance to the commission’s lawful demand constitutes an offence under section 113 (1) (c) of the Anti-Corruption Act of Bhutan 2011,”ACC stated in the suspension order.

The Anti-Corruption Act 2011 empowers the commission upon finding of a prima facie case of corruption to suspend a license, or prohibit an individual or entity whether national or foreign from participating in contractual relations with public agencies until pending the outcome of the case.

Kuensel learnt that the commission began investigation into the alleged corrupt practices after the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) forwarded its observation to the ACC for further investigation.

According to sources, the RAA, after auditing the thromde, issued a memo stating that about 47 manholes were not constructed as reflected in the report. It was suspected that the payments might have been made for work not done. The placement of manhole at various sites was one of the major components of the contracts involving different contractors.

Kuensel also learnt that the ACC, based on the RAA findings, wrote to RAA if the two institutions could verify it together since the thromde officials claimed that the manholes were buried under the road’s blacktopping. Accordingly, both officials from RAA and ACC officials, over the past month, physically verified if the number of manholes constructed along the sewer lines within the thromde area were proportionate to the actual payment made.

ACC officials refused to comment on the outcome of the verification. Sources, however, said that the commission suspended the licenses of duo contractors upon finding a prima facie of corruption.

The last physical verification took place in Taba on April 19. Motithang, Langjuphaka and Yangchenphug areas were also dug up for verification on April 17 and 18.

The manholes are not supposed to be buried under the blacktop. It should be at the level of the road’s surface to carrying out inspection, cleaning and removing obstruction in the sewer line.

The sewerage networking project was divided into two phases in Motithang, Langjuphaka and Taba which was carried out by Chime Phagma Construction in 2017 and 2018 and sewerage networking in Yangchenphu was done by Sonam Yangak Construction in 2016 and 2017.

Sonam Yangdak Construction’s site engineer Shacha Dorji said the firm is yet to understand the reason for suspending its contract license. “We had already completed the sewer line work and handed over to the Thromde in 2017,” Shacha Dorji told Kuensel. “But we don’t understand why ACC suspended the business operations or activities of Sonam Yangdak Construction.”

“If it is related to audit observations it was already resolved with the concerned authority with physical verification,” he said.

The former site engineer of Chime Phagma Construction, Dorji Phuntsho, said he has no clue about the ACC’s investigation although he supervised the sewerage networking work in Langjuphaka and Taba in 2017 and 2018. “I resigned from the firm in 2018 and don’t know anything about the issue,” Dorji Phuntsho said.

Rinzin Wangchuk