Irregularities remain unabated: Public Accounts Committee 

MB Subba

Corruption cases and irregularities have been on the rise despite several recommendations that Parliament has passed towards uprooting the social ill, Members of Parliament said during the deliberation of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report yesterday.

Overall, the total unresolved irregularities amounted to more than Nu 1.4 billion (B) as on March 31 this year, the PAC reported in the joint sitting. This is an increase by 134 percent compared with irregularities worth Nu 604.5 million (M) in of 2018.

Members of both Houses said that the inability to reduce corruption cases and irregularities indicated lack of strict compliance on audit observations and Parliament’s recommendations. The respective heads of departments and agencies, members said, must take the responsibility of implementing the recommendations.

National Council (NC) member from Chukha, Sangay Dorji, said that corruption cases had increased although there were more anti-corruption rules and regulations today than in the past.

“In comparison with the past, we have more qualified and experienced people in our departments and agencies,” he said, suggesting the need to incorporate an anti-corruption syllabus in education.

Expressing his concerns on the increasing cases of corruption, Opposition Leader (OL) Dorji Wangdi said that officials from both the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) had confirmed to members that corruption cases had increased in recent years.

“As part of our committee meetings with relevant agencies, I asked both RAA and ACC officials on separate occasions whether or not corruption had decreased. They said that corruption had been increasing by the year,” he said.

Citing the officials, OL Dorji Wangdi said that ministries, departments, agencies and dzongkhag administrations were not cooperating whole-heartedly with audit officials. “The officials said that ministries and agencies paid only lip service when it came to importance to auditing culture and providing wholehearted cooperation to audit officials,” he said.

Dramitse-Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi said that the same names alleged in the irregularity and the same departments had been featuring in the subsequent audit reports. This, he said, was an indication that relevant departments and agencies were not keen on implementing the recommendations.

The PAC attributed the significant increase in irregularitiess mainly to the Gyalpoizhing-Nganglam road project, which is executed by the works and human settlement ministry, overdue loans and advances under Bhutan National Bank Limited and embezzlement of funds reported under the Samdrupcholing drungkhag administration in Samdrupjongkhar.

PAC member and Eminent Member Phuntsho Rapten attributed the increase in corruption and irregularities to lack of implementation of recommendations on part of the agencies as desired. He also said that more development activities were taking place.

He said that an engineer in a dzongkhag looked after about 25 projects and that such a situation could lead to increased chances of irregularities and corruption.

Agriculture Minister Yesehy Penjor denied that ministries and departments did not cooperate with audit officials. He said that the ministries and departments equally felt that corruption and irregularities needed to be uprooted.

 

PAC’s recommendations

The committee made 11 recommendations to address the unresolved irregularities and prevent corruption.

The PAC committee noted that a number of observations pointed above were recurrent lapses reflected across different budgetary and non-budgetary agencies, year after year. The irregularities occurred not because of a lack of rules and regulations, procedures or systems, but failure on compliance.

The committee also observed that in many cases, agencies have not taken seriously to learn from past audit observations and put in place the recommendations of RAA and PAC.

The PAC recommended a review of the practice of granting advance to contractors. As per the Procurement Rules and Regulations 2019, the mobilisation advance of 10 percent of the contract price and the secured advances against the construction materials brought at site by the contractor subject to a maximum of 75 percent of the cost of materials delivered at site must be granted, as per the rules.

The committee also recommended that to safeguard and protect the interests of both contractors and the government, relevant authorities must make it mandatory for contractors to comply with the insurance requirement as per the standard bidding documents. 

The RAA carried out a compliance review of the Government Property Management System covering areas of acquisition and record-keeping, utilisation and management and disposal of government properties for the select government agencies including the Department of National Properties (DNP).

The RAA noted several lapses mainly with the recording and inventory of properties apparently due to inadequate monitoring and reporting process.

The PAC recommended that as a Central Agency, the DNP must spearhead the development of appropriate information systems to facilitate centralised inventories of properties maintained at all government agencies and also ensure compliance to property management manuals through a continuous monitoring system.

The joint sitting unanimously passed the PAC report.

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