Members demand better management and transparency

Dairy: The formation of dairy groups in Trashigang started off well with farmers earning good cash income, but all is not going well today.

Instances of the group funds being misused, mismanagement, members starting to leave, disharmony within the groups, lack of transportation and suspension of milk collections are some issues dairy groups are grappling with.

Recently, the chairman of Khaptoe Bikhar dairy group and five members were dragged to the court for defaulting several monthly installments for a group loan availed from Bhutan Development Bank Limited (BDBL).

Kuensel learnt that the dairy group had availed a loan of Nu 1.1 million from BDBL. While Nu 500,000 was invested in buying Jersey cows, the chairman, in the name of five group members, spent Nu 600,000 for buying a single cabin Bolero camper to transport milk.

The chairman, Kencho Gyeltshen, said the decision was taken after collection of milk became difficult despite having resorted to hiring vehicles. Members were also consulted, he claimed.

“In the interest of the group and to solve transportation issues, we decided to buy a vehicle. But I was later charged for corrupt practice,” he said. The group defaulted on the loan installments after some members didn’t contribute milk on grounds that the vehicle should be sold.

“I have been paying the vehicle loan installment for the past four years. If we are to be harassed for un-substantiated accusations, concerned authority should put in place auditing mechanisms,” he said.

About 12 members have already left the group. The case is no different with other dairy groups.

According to the bylaws of dairy group, members opting to leave must ensure that the equipment provided by the government be returned. Members are not  abiding by it.

Few members of the Udzorong dairy group have violated their bylaws for more than a year. The dzongkhag livestock office is currently handling the case.

“We heard that the chairman had loaned money from our group savings to people who are not even members. We were never informed,” Norbu, a member said. “At times, milk collections and supplies are suspended for no reason. Still, we have to keep contributing cash every month.”

Few members of Kanglung dairy group opted to leave the group because collection of milk from scattered locations became challenging. Milk collection were suspended for over three months recently. A member, on the condition of anonymity, said that there were lapses in the book of accounts.

“The system is not organised and people are ignorant of the bylaws. If we observe carefully, formation of dairy groups have benefitted only a few,” the member said.

Although Pam Dairy Cooperative is doing well in terms of business, members say the group lacks transparency.

“During our monthly zomdus (meeting), the chairman only reads out the financial updates. We don’t get the details of the financial statements or the book of accounts,” a member who didn’t want to be named said. “Only the chairman, secretary and the accountant have access to the group savings with the bank; we are skeptical if funds are being misused.”

Members suggested that if an official from the livestock department could monitor the groups, corrupt practices by few members at the top could be prevented.

Members also recommended support from the dzongkhag or gewog administration in monitoring activities for at least two to three years until villagers are familiar with the system.

“Or, somebody from the gewog administration could also sit as an observer when we carry out zomdus, “ Kencho Gyeltshen said.

Dzongkhag livestock officer, NS Tamang said that the department could only provide technical assistance. Groups are expected to function according to the bylaws they framed.

“Transparency is the biggest problem. Members should be informed on the financial aspects during their meetings, which it seems doesn’t happen,” he said. “Although we have our extension agents to help, the gewog administration is supposed to monitor the groups.”

There are 30 dairy groups in Trashigang of which 12 are registered with the livestock department.

By Tshering Wangdi, Trashigang