The cases against the then Haa dzongdag are looking increasingly untenable

Update: The Haa district court was not convinced with the rebuttal submission of evidence by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) against foreign minister Rinzin Dorje, who has been charged on omission, amounting to abuse of function and embezzlement of public property.

The OAG representative submitted yesterday that Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje, who was then the Haa dzongdag and the chairman of the tender committee for the Lhakhang Karpo conservation project, had taken a unilateral decision to award timber sawing work to LD Sawmill in October 2011 even before the finalisation of the contract. “Such decision had led to the illegal award of contract work and breaching the procurement rules and regulations, 2009,” he submitted.

The OAG has charged the foreign minister for his unilateral decision in awarding the contract work to LD Sawmill and for paying the sawmill with original quoted rate of Nu 37.70 per cubic foot (cft).

Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje, who initially decided to retender, as the lowest bidder’s rate was 100 percent above the market rate, said that he had to take a risk to make a decision that would avoid delaying the project and incur huge cost.  He also claimed that, before taking the decision, he sought directions from the finance ministry on whether the project management could award the contract at the original quoted rate of Nu 37.70.

In his letter to the finance secretary on April 4, 2012, he said that, since there was no other option, they had to negotiate with the winning bidder, based on which they arrived at a maximum of 50 percent increase over the market price of Nu 18, which works out to Nu 27 excluding the re-sawing charges.

He stated in the letter that the proprietor had appealed that the existing rate of Nu 27 was far less and inadequate to even meet the running cost. “In view of this, the dzongkhag administration has no option but to approach the ministry to kindly look into this matter and advise whether or not we could consider some increase as the negotiated rate is no longer acceptable and there is already reluctance on the part of the proprietor to discontinue the sawing works if the dzongkhag is unable to reconsider the rates as requested,” the letter stated.  “Should this happen, it is likely that the on-going works of Lhakhang Karpo reconstruction would be definitely affected and this will be viewed as a serious lapse on our part, as the project is undertaken under the royal command.”

Finance secretary Lam Dorji on April 12, 2012 clarified through writing that there was no specific document developed for the hiring purpose, and therefore all issues arising from contract implementation should be guided and based on the terms and conditions executed between the dzongkhag and contractor. “In view of the important matter of this project, the dzongkhag administration is advised to ensure that there are no controversies in tendering matters, right from the beginning,” the letter stated.

Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje said that the payment was made on initially quoted rate for the benefit of the project.

OAG’s representative, however, objected, arguing that the decision was not taken based on the terms and conditions of tender documents.

Drangpon Duba Dukpa said that, while studying the existing market rate for sawing and re-sawing timber, the court found that the prevailing market rate was Nu 36, Nu 18 for sawing and another Nu 18 for re-sawing. “So the rate was only four percent higher than the quoted rate,” he said.

He also questioned how the rate was said to be 100 percent higher than the market rate. “Since the chairman had sought directives from the finance ministry, I see no intent of corruption,” drangpon Duba Dukpa said. “However, the prosecutor has failed to justify lyonpo’s criminal intent. This is a criminal case and you have to prove every bit beyond reasonable doubt,” the judge said.

On his second charge of embezzlement of public property, lyonpo had said that he had used the dzongkhag DCM truck to transport his timber from Haa to Thimphu, as per the government rules and regulations on pool vehicles.  Lyonpo was asked to refund Nu 80,000 for the transportation of his private timber for 10 trips.  In absence of any official basis, the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) worked out the prevailing market cost for hiring a DCM truck from Haa to Thimphu and back to Haa was found a minimum of Nu 8,000 a trip.

The court also questioned the basis of the transportation cost. “Without solid basis, the court would not entertain such assumed figures,” the drangpon said.

By Rinzin Wangchuk, Haa