The Royal Audit Authority’s report on government’s vehicle and vehicle quota system establishes, in black and white, a system that has been robbing the state of millions, if not billions of ngultrums for years.
The report clearly indicates the loopholes, which had led to misuse of government fund and resources for individual benefits. The general public is aware of what is happening. They didn’t have the evidence or the power to question.
Now that the report is out, the system, procedure and legislation should be scrutinised. It should be because poor Bhutan is gripped by vehicle buying frenzy – Toyota Landis and Prados, privileges were misused and it is costing the national exchequer.
The audit report is a galore of what has not been done by successive governments even after knowing there is a lot rotting. The government in 2017-2018 bought vehicles worth Nu 444 million, up from Nu 66 million about three years ago. And about Nu 366M was spent on maintaining the unaccounted fleet of government vehicles. On top of the large fleet, Nu 31 million was spent on hiring private vehicles.
If purchasing and maintaining pool vehicles were expensive, most of the vehicles provided were used as designated vehicles or duty cars for exclusive use only. If pool vehicles are used to drop or pick children of ‘bosses’ at the cost of the government, it is a big problem.
Recognising the expenditure on the state, governments in the past have made rules to streamline and cut cost, but failed. One recent rule tried curbing by allowing purchase of new vehicles only through grant. But in the 2017-2018 fiscal year the government spent Nu 373M to buy vehicles. This was because the government didn’t formally endorse the rule – Strategies for Managing Government Vehicles, 2016.
If the expenditure is high, the government lost a substantial source of revenue from taxes. In four years, between 2014 and 2018, the government issued quotas to import 9,000 vehicles. This privilege to senior civil servants, member of parliamentarians and others at executive level post incurred a loss of more than Nu 3 billion.
The implication of the quota system also drained out foreign currency reserves besides inflating import of vehicle, spare parts and fuel.
The other problem of this privilege is misuse. It was extended to people not included in the list. Many, including lawmakers and policy implementers, violated the agreement they signed. The quota availed is not for sale. But the agreement is run over by greed. If it is sold secretly, it is also advertised on rate cards of vehicle dealers. Vehicle dealers are not eligible for import quota, yet they sell the quota on other’s behalf.
The list is long, as long as the number of vehicle on our busy roads. The RAA has done its part by pointing out lapses, plenty of it. How will decision makers tackle is a bigger problem?
Both purchasing pool vehicles and the quota system started as a noble initiative. But it is now relegated to who can make the most of it. Surely, the priorities are getting wrong.