High Court adjourns for investigation

Former project manager admitted to creating fake muster rolls for the sake of the Lhakhang Karpo project and not for his personal gain 

Update: The former Lhakhang Karpo project manager admitted to creating fake muster rolls to use the money for other activities of the project and not for his personal gain, while rebutting against the Office of the Attorney General’s appeal in the High Court yesterday.

The budget officer of Haa dzongkhag administration, Wangchuk Tshering served as the Lhakhang Karpo conservation project manager.

The OAG charged criminal liability against him for waiving off woola (labour contribution) for his relatives and neighbours after the Haa district court dismissed all three charges of embezzlement, commission and omission amounting to abuse of functions against him.

The budget officer, who has been suspended and is living with half his salary, said certain budget adjustments had to be done to other requirements of the project. “As a project manager I was given the task but there was no adequate budget to fulfill the job,” he said.

Admitting to creating fake muster rolls and then using the money for other activities of the project, he said, “That had been the practice before I was the project manager and I continued it for the sake of the project, not my personal gain,” Wangchuk Tshering said.

The money from the fake muster rolls was used to perform rituals at the construction site and treat workers on certain milestones of the construction such as installing windows, doors, and laying the foundation, among others.

“We’d performed lhabsang once every week, and three soelkha (propitiating rituals for the local deity Aap Chundu during the time,” he said.

The prosecutors submitted that the OAG was not satisfied and convinced by the lower court’s ruling for accepting adjustment made by the defendant by reflecting 12 names of his relatives and neighbours in the muster roll, without engaging them in the project as woolaps. “This was the main reason why OAG is appealing against the Haa court judgment,” prosecutor Ugyen Wangchuk submitted.

He said that the lower court summoned people whose names were reflected in the muster roll to testify and admitted that they didn’t work for the project although they were issued woola receipts for the work not done.

Performing each lhabgsang cost the project Nu 1,000 and the soelkha Nu 10,000. “There was no budget head for such activities but without performing them it would not be proper,” Wangchuk Tshering said.

Wangchuk Tshering gave names to the engineer who deducted the money and paid the rabdey monksfor the rituals.

OAG’s prosecutor Ugyen Wangchuk said that the issue was with the defendant waiving off gungda woola for 12 people for which he was liable for criminal sanction. The project issued a receipt to every household that contributed a month of labour to the project.

“These people had not worked, but were issued receipts, which means the government lost more than Nu 36,000,” Ugyen Wangchuk said.

Wangchuk Tshering said when he realised that it was in violation of financial rules the practice was discontinued. “What I had done was in ignorance and in the interest of the project,” he said.

The Haa court had exonerated the project manager justifying that it could not establish the project manager’s ‘criminal intent’ to embezzle funds.

Meanwhile, the High Court Bench II adjourned for judicial investigation and would summon the parties on its completion.

By Tshering Palden

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