Project manager submits documented evidence to back up foreign minister’s deposition

Update: The on-going Lhakhang Karpo case took a new turn with the project manager yesterday submitting a document as evidence, where eight of the 11 dzongkhag level tender committee (DLTC) members had signed on the comparative statement for setting up of a sawmill at the project site.

The re-tendering of sawing timber for the Lhakhang Karpo conservation project was the main issue that was contested in court since legal proceedings began in February this year.  Yesterday’s evidence hearing has now given the case a new twist.

Lhakhang Karpo’s conservation project manager, Wangchuk Tshering, submitted the statement, signed by the chairman of DLTC, Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje, who was then the Haa dzongdag, and seven other committee members.  Although they signed the undated document, it indicates that the committee members awarded the contract of sawing timber to LD Sawmill at the original quoted rate of Nu 37.70 per cubic foot (cft).

Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje has been defending before the court, from his opening statement until the last evidence submission on April 20, that he took the decision to re-tender the sawing of timber as the lowest bidder quoted rate of Nu 37.70 per cft was 100 percent higher than the market rate.  He also admitted to having negotiated with the proprietor of sawmill to bring down the rate at Nu 27.70 per cft, and then paid the sawmill the original quoted rate.

The court was under the impression that the chairman and two other committee members decided to re-tender after the dzongkhag engineer and project engineer apprised him of the lowest bidder’s rate being 100 percent above the market rate, which was about Nu 18 per cft.  Then, the chairman remarked on the statement that, as the amount quoted rate was more than 100 percent of the existing rate, there should be re-tender of the same.

However, the other committee members claimed that they were not aware of the decision to re-tender.  Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje was charged with favouring LD Sawmill by awarding timber sawing works worth Nu 1.403M (million) without re-tendering.

Proprietor Tshewang Penjore then submitted a letter to the dzongdag offering a discount of Nu 10 a cft on October 31, 2011.  Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje asked project manager Wangchuk Tshering to negotiate and consider the rate at 50 percent above the market rate.

Tshewang Penjore submitted another letter to the chairman on April 3, 2012 requesting to reconsider his original quoted rate.  He also threatened the project that he wanted to discontinue the sawing work if the originally quoted rate was not paid.  The chairman then sought directions from the finance secretary on whether the project management could award the contract to LD Sawmill at his original quoted rate.  The finance secretary had written to the Haa dzongdag to abide by the contractual terms and conditions.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) charged the foreign minister with awarding the work at the original quoted rate without consulting with the tender committee.  Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje accepted taking a unilateral decision, considering the cost benefit and escalating cost of constructions.  He said that re-tender was not done, as it would have taken more time and delayed the project.

While submitting his evidence Wangchuk Tshering, however, said that, after receiving directives from the finance secretary, the committee members agreed to pay the saw miller the original quoted rate, which was in line with the tender terms and conditions. “We had to go for the lowest evaluated bidder,” he said.

None of the tender committee members had submitted this issue before the court in previous hearings.  Drangpon Duba Dukpa said that, if it appears to be proven, the matter would be resolved. “We couldn’t establish the fact whether the re-tender was decided by the committee or the chairman alone,” he said.

However, the OAG’s prosecutor questioned the legality of the document, as the signed document doesn’t have a date.  He also said the document did not specify whether the committee endorsed the work to be awarded at the original quoted rate.

Based on the prosecutor’s submission, the court has decided to summon the committee members to testify how the decision was taken.

By Rinzin Wangchuk, Haa