ACC implicates three former local government leaders
The former Dangchu gup, Pemba, 37, was all set to re-contest for the same post in the upcoming local government elections. He was the only aspiring gup candidate from Tashidingkha-Zami chiwog, Dangchu gewog.
Pemba submitted all the relevant documents to the returning officer (RO) on November 22, the last day for document submissions.
Pemba’s aspirations to contest for the gup post, however, were abruptly dashed by the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) soon after his submission of documents. RAA revoked his audit clearance and the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) disqualified his gup candidature on the same day.
RAA revoked Pemba’s audit clearance issued on November 12 following a report from the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) that he was being implicated for abuse of functions in connection with the awarding of a work contract while he was the gup.
The ACC’s investigation into allegations against Pemba, when he was serving as Dangchu gup, revealed that he allegedly awarded work to his relatives for the construction of Saphugang Lhakhang, his involvement in the work for developing the gewog archery ground instead of awarding it as a community contract, and misuse of a subsidised rural timber permit. The commission began its investigation on May 17 of this year.
Involvement of three former local leaders
The renovation of Saphugang Lhakhang at Tomla-Tokaling chiwog was funded by the government and public donations. The work was a planned project for the fiscal years 2019-2020 and 2020-2021.
The work was awarded to Pema Dorji at an agreed amount of Nu 1.56 million (M), through the drawing of an agreement on April 20, 2020 on the pretext that no person came forward from gewog to take up the work. The ACC, however, found that no Gewog Tshogde (GT) members made official decisions on it.
Later, on March 1 of this year, GT members came to a decision and awarded the work to Ugyen Rinzin, nephew of Pema Dorji, at a lump sum rate Nu 0.9M. In between these two decisions, GT members decided to execute the work departmentally.
ACC’s investigation found that former gup Pemba, former mangmi Sonam Dorji, and gewog administrative officer (GAO) Sonam Zangmo had drawn an agreement with Pema Dorji (a relative of Pemba and Sonam Dorji) long before an official decision was made to award the work to Ugyen Rinzin. Both gup Pemba and mangmi Sonam Dorji were serving as local leaders when the ACC was investigating the allegations.
The investigation also confirmed that the gup, mangmi, and GAO have drawn an agreement and awarded the lhakhang construction work to Pema Dorji without the official consent of all GT members. The investigation determined that Pema Dorji was awarded work worth Nu 1.56M. The total cost of the work was Nu 3.39M.
The construction of the gewog archery ground was executed departmentally in 2020-2021. Owing to the complex system involved in taking up the work departmentally, the gewog had used community contracting protocol (CCP) to avail the budget from Dzongkhag’s finance section based on the decisions taken by GT members.
The ACC found that the gewog had neither followed departmental procedures, nor the CCP while executing the work. While the total cost of the work was within the initial estimate of Nu 0.842M, there were no proper records of expenditures made by the gup amounting to Nu 0.387M against the procurement of materials and making labour payments.
The subsidized rural timber permit of Dophu, 88, from Rida chiwog, was allegedly misused by former Tshogpa Namgay Dorji of Godrang-Taktshar chiwog and Pemba when he was serving as mangmi in 2014.
The investigation established that Dophu had not applied for subsidized rural timber in 2014 and was not aware of this until early 2019 while applying for his timber permit. It was found that the application form for Dophu’s timber permit was filled out and approved by gup Pemba when he served as a mangmi, and was officiated by the then-gup.
The other gewog officials: a livestock extension officer, the GAO, and the beneficiary of the timber, former Tshogpa Namgay Dorji, were also found to have signed the timber allotment form without exercising proper due diligence and conducting proper verification.
In its investigation report submitted to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) on October 12, the commission recommended that the state prosecutor to charge and prosecute former gup Pemba and former Tshogpa Namgay Dorji for the offence of commission amounting to abuse of functions, based on its findings, the strength of the evidence, and the public interest element.
The ACC also recommended that Pemba and former mangmi Sonam Dorji be prosecuted for the offence of omission amounting to abuse of functions and participation in an offence under the Anti-Corruption Act (AC Act) of Bhutan 2011.
Commission amounting to abuse of functions, according to the AC Act, means a public servant who knowingly abuses functions or his or her position by performing an act amounting to favouritism, nepotism, or patronage, in violation of laws, in discharge of his or her functions, to obtain advantage for himself or herself or for another person shall be guilty of an offence.
OAG officials said that they are reviewing the report to see whether it merits prosecution.
Talking over the phone, Pemba said the construction work of Saphugang Lhakhang was awarded as per the community’s decision. “I followed due process while awarding the work,” he said. “I don’t have any conflict of interest with Pema Dorji, who is from Mongar.”