Foreign ministry officials questioned on children education allowance

Audit: The Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday questioned foreign ministry officials on unresolved accounts reflected in the audit report during a public hearing conducted at the National Assembly conference hall.

The total unresolved significant irregularities reflected in the audit report 2014 amounted to Nu 12.856 million (M). This includes inadmissible payment of children’s education allowance to diplomats posted abroad amounting to Nu 405,000, non-deduction of tax at source from local recruits’ salaries of Nu 11.769M and outstanding advances of Nu 682,000.

However, foreign ministry officials clarified that the tax deducted at source (TDS) issue was resolved. Officials said that diplomats have been receiving children’s education allowance since 1999 as entitlement. But the audit report raises objections saying it is not allowed.

The payment in account of children’s education allowance was made by Bhutanese consulate in Kolkota, Bhutanese embassy in Brussels and Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva.

Foreign secretary Tshering Dorji said the allowance was required as diplomats had to maintain two households, one in Bhutan and another abroad. He also said their children usually stayed back in Bhutan for study.

PAC chairperson Pema Dakpa told Kuensel the public hearing was held to clear miscommunications and provide platform for agencies to clarify their stand. The proceedings of the public hearings, he said have been recorded and that a report will be presented in the Parliament.

Pema Dakpa said legal actions should be taken if an issue remains unresolved even after a year, but added that it was yet to be implemented. “Now we want to push for implementation of this,” he said. “Otherwise, unresolved accounts will keep increasing.”

Pema Dakpa said some issues reflected in the audit report were already resolved and that some of them remained because of lack of communication among agencies.

The RAA had issued eight audit reports of the foreign ministry during the auditing period. The audit states it had repetitively raised the issue of inadmissible payment of children’s education allowance and non-deduction of TDS in the audit reports of all the embassies. The status of the issue remained same as the ministry was supposed to take it up with the finance ministry and the civil service commission and intimate the outcome of the meeting, the report stated.

Further, the audit authority had also written to the ministries of foreign affairs and finance for review and amendment of the Foreign Service Rules and Regulation 2002.

The report found that children education allowances were paid for those children who were studying in various government schools in Bhutan. Citing the Foreign Service Rules and Regulations, the audit report stated such allowances are payable if the children are not in receipt of free education either in Bhutan or abroad.

The Bhutanese embassy in Bangkok had overdue outstanding advances of Nu 148,000 against the officials. The Permanent Mission of Bhutan to the United Nations, New York had overdue outstanding advances of Nu 534,000M against the officials.

MB Subba

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