The PAC proposed the allowance for diplomats’ children be discontinued until the Foreign Service Rules and Regulations are revised

Parliament: Payment of children’s education allowance to the staff of Royal Bhutan Embassies dominated the discussions of the audit report that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) presented at a joint sitting of the Parliament yesterday.

The PAC recommended that the foreign and finance ministries along with the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) immediately revise the Foreign Service Rules and Regulations (FSRR).

“The payment of children’s education allowance either in Bhutan or abroad should be stopped until the FSRR is revised,” the recommendation states.

Children’s education allowance

The Royal Audit Authority (RAA) report states that the Royal Bhutan Consulate, Kolkata, Royal Bhutan Embassy, Brussels and Permanent Mission of Bhutan (PMB) to the US and Geneva had an inadmissible payment of Nu 0.405M (million) in 2014.

Similarly, the 2013 audit report also highlighted that Embassies in New Delhi and Dhaka, PMB in Geneva and the Royal Consulate, Kolkata had made an inadmissible payment of Nu 1.933M. In 2011, the Royal Bhutanese Embassy in Bangkok made an inadmissible payment of Nu 1.443M.  

The report states that the total amount of Nu 3.781M was inadmissible as per FSRR 2000 since such allowance is payable only if the children are not in receipt of free education either in Bhutan or abroad.

In evaluating the discrepancies, the PAC observed that although the FSRR is clear, the RAA also observed a problem in implementation as some expenditure is still incurred even though children of diplomats working abroad were availing free education in Bhutan. The committee also observed that the third session of the second Parliament recommended that the concerned embassies repay the allowances immediately and take necessary administrative action against the officials concerned.

“However, neither recovery nor has any administrative action been taken against the concerned officials,” the committee observed.

Presenting the report, PAC chairman Pema Dakpa said that embassies of Bangkok, PMB New York and Geneva have stopped paying children’s education allowance to diplomats’ children studying in government schools in Bhutan. The embassies of Kuwait, Dhaka and Brussels are still paying children’s education allowance but it will be stopped from this month while Brussels would follow suit from next month.

Pema Dakpa reported that the consulate office in Kolkata was still paying the allowance and has no mention of stopping the payment.

The PAC also observed that the FSRR was not revised since 2002 although the Bhutan Civil Service Regulations mandates that the foreign ministry in consultation with the finance ministry and RCSC conduct a periodic review every three years.

While some members argued that the officials should be held liable for violation of the regulations, most said that the children’s education allowance should not be discontinued as proposed.

Citing the issues of having to manage two households when an official is posted abroad, foreign minister Damcho Dorji said that the education allowance of USD 70 to 150 a month should be continued.

The education allowance of USD 750 a year, lyonpo Damcho Dorji said translates to about Nu 50,000 a month, which is not enough for private schools in Bhutan.

“Its not fair that children of diplomats studying in government schools are not entitled the education allowance as expenses incur even when enrolled in government schools,” he said.

Lyonpo also said that the salaries of officials posted abroad have not been revised for the past 13 years.

Lamgong-Wangchang representative Khandu Wangchuk also said that those working in the Bhutanese embassies are the lowest paid among the diplomats.

Rather than making officials against whom the irregularities were found to refund, it would be more sensible to revise the FSRR immediately, he said.

“Some officials could have resigned and making them refund would only lead to more issues,” Khandu Wangchuk said, adding that the way forward would be to implement the rules henceforth and not retroactively.

Dagana’s councilor Sonam Dorji said that all people should be governed by the same regulations reasoning that the FSRR would have been drafted in a similar manner like that of the Parliamentary Entitlement and the Local Government entitlement Acts.

“The posting abroad itself is an incentive at a time when young graduates struggle for opportunities abroad,” he said.

Other irregularities 

Among others, the audit report also highlights findings on the government payroll and review of the 10th Plan activities.

The total unresolved irregularity stands at Nu 634.313M with Nu 131.762M pertaining to seven ministries; Nu 27.587M for 13 dzongkhags, Nu 2.326M for 12 gewogs in seven dzongkhags and Nu 239.491M for eight autonomous agencies. Irregularities for seven corporations amount to Nu 202.25M, while for five financial institutions its Nu 30.676M. Irregularities for the lone political party, the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa stands at Nu 0.221M.

Among the budgetary agencies, the highest amount of irregularities is reported under autonomous agencies with Nu 239.491M followed by the information and communications ministry at Nu 85.66M and the dzongkhags with Nu 27.587M. Under non-budgetary agencies, Dungsam Cement Corporation Ltd has the highest at Nu 179.726M followed by Bhutan National Bank at Nu 29.927M.

Among the resolved irregularities, 55.12 percent of the irregularities were resolved by the autonomous agencies followed by 16.06 percent by the corporations and 11.42 percent by the ministries.

Autonomous agencies such as Bhutan Education City and National Land Commission have resolved all or most of the irregularities.

Proposed recommendations 

Other proposed recommendations of the PAC state that agencies strictly follow the financial rules and regulations and RAA should enforce fixing accountability on immediate supervisors. “The government should strictly monitor the implementation of planned activities in the dzongkhags and ensure that such lapses are not repeated,” the recommendation states.

It also states that the head of the agency has to take legal action on officials if the audit irregularities are not resolved within 12 months from the date of issue of audit report.

The PAC further recommended that the head of agency report the legal action taken on the irregularities from 2009 – 2013 to the RAA by March 30 next year. RAA should also report the implementation status in the 2015 annual audit report as a separate chapter.

“The finance ministry has to issue a circular to all agencies for implementation of the resolution,” the proposed recommendation states.

The committee also reported that the standardization of suspending officials involved in corrupt practices after qualifying for investigation by the ACC be maintained for reasons such as risk of tampering documents, tutoring witnesses and risks of flight.

Highlighting that manipulation and tampering of document resulting to inadmissible payment by one of the deputy governors of Royal Monitory Authority was a serious concern, it has been recommended that such a high profile case require immediate attention of Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate.

The deliberations will continue today.

By Kinga Dema