Foreign minister pleads for acquittal from two charges

Update: In his last rebuttal submission yesterday, foreign minister Rinzin Dorje pleaded with the Haa district court to dismiss two charges against him and acquit him in the ongoing Lhakhang Karpo case.

Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje denied having taken a unilateral decision to award timber sawing work for the Lhakhang Karpo conservation project.   He was rebutting the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), which has accused him of awarding the contract work illegally to LD Sawmill without consulting the tender committee, and for paying the sawmill Nu 37.70 per cubic foot (cft), the rate, which the committee had initially rejected.

The foreign minister said he noted a remark on the paper proposing for the tender committee to re-tender, after finding that the lowest quoted rate of Nu 37.70 was 100 percent higher than the market rate.  He said that the tender committee didn’t inform the chairman of the lowest bidder’s rate being 100 percent above the market rate.

Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje said that, considering the cost benefit and escalating cost of constructions, a re-tender was not done, as it would have taken more time and delayed the project.  Moreover, the saw-miller, he said, had offered Nu 10 discount, which brought the rate to Nu 27.70 per cft. “I found the rate more reasonable and awarded to Tshewang Penjor as per section 4.2.5 of the procurement rules and regulations, 2009.”

But the cost later increased, due to setting up charges and location of his machine inside the project campus.  Lyonpo said the sawmill was located in the project premises to prevent wood from getting stolen.  He said the amount was raised to Nu 37, which was still the lowest bid.

Later, LD Sawmill’s owner submitted a letter, along with a financial statement incurring loss due to the discount rate.  Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje said that the letter was submitted to him through the project manager, requesting to reconsider his original quoted rate. “Before taking decision, I sought directions from the finance ministry on whether the project management could award the contract at the original quoted rate of Nu 37.70,” he said.

OAG’s prosecutor said that the ministry of finance asked the chairman to abide by the contractual terms and conditions. “However, lyonpo Rinzin Dorje, who was then the Haa dzongda, without consulting the tender committee, asked the project manager to award the work at the original quoted rate,” the prosecutor submitted.

Lyonpo said that the payment was made at the original quoted rate because the cost later increased. “It was also done to expedite the Lhakhang Karpo construction project and complete it with highest quality,” he said. “Therefore, I can’t accept the charge on omission amounting to abuse of function.”

On his second charge of embezzlement of public property, lyonpo said that he had paid for the fuel and the driver’s daily allowance when he used the dzongkhag DCM truck to transport his timber from Haa to Thimphu.  He also claimed that he had eight receipts for fuelling the DCM truck that would be submitted during the evidence hearings.

In the earlier submission, the prosecutor said that ACC, while verifying cash memos, found that the date of fuelling and vehicle movement did not match.  There were also some cash receipts for fuelling dzongkhag’s two Bolero pool vehicles and some receipts for petrol and kerosene but not for diesel.

Lyonpo said he submitted whatever receipts (all) he had when the investigation team demanded the documents.  He also said that he used the dzongkhag DCM truck as per the finance ministry’s circular of December 13, 2000, on amended government rules and regulations on pool vehicles, which allowed a civil servant to use pool vehicles under pressing and emergency situation.

OAG’s prosecutor will rebut lyonpo’s submission on March 24.  Meanwhile, lyonpo Rinzin Dorje abided by the Supreme Court’s order and drove his personal car to attend the court proceedings.

By Rinzin Wangchuk, Haa

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