… from supply and maintenance of EV charging stations and spare parts

Dechen Dolkar  

Not long ago, the government started the electronic Government Procurement (e-GP) system to curb tendering lapses and cut costs. The e-GP, however, is not fool-proof and is at the centre of a recent alleged case of embezzlement and collusion involving millions of Ngultrums.

Kuensel has information that  the Directorate of Services (DoS) of Ministry of Information and Communication (MoIC), Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA), and Cabinet Secretariat are trying to resolve irregularities  in the procurement of services and goods amounting to Nu 20.59M from the financial year 2019 to 2022.

The alleged misappropriation happened when the cost of operation, maintenance and software upgradation of electric vehicle charging machines, supply of UPS and battery, supply and installation of CCTV at the charging stations and installation of PTZ CCTV camera at the MoIC office was awarded to a private enterprise, Ms SPD Enterprise.

It was learnt that Nu 6.18M was misappropriated through inattentional double payment and payment made for items not supplied or work not done.  Nu 14.4M pertained to the  award of tender through creation of fake tender documents.


Tampering with e-GP

Officials are alleged collusion with the business firm, some whose existence are questionable,  created fake tender documents by using cancelled tender ID of other agencies, by falsifying the tender and awarding works to identified suppliers. The suppliers, it was learnt, claimed bills from different departments in the ministry and other agencies through the former MoIC Deputy Chief Finance Officer who single-handedly prepared the disbursement voucher, verified, approved and authorised the payment to SPD Enterprise and Link Unify taking undue advantage of the position.

Kuensel learnt that  SPD Enterprise in Thimphu was established specially to carry out the operational and maintenance work of EV charging machines and few supplies related to office equipment. The firm was licensed on August 14, 2019.   SPD Enterprise carried out business only with MoIC after its establishment. It is not certain if SPD Enterprise exists physically today.


Staged open tender

Tenders to operate and maintain EV charging stations and supply of spare parts worth Nu 13.9M was awarded to SPD Enterprise illegally without fulfilling the tendering norms and falsifying documents during the financial year 2019-20 to 2021-22.

The documents were falsified to indicate that it was done through open tender following the e-GP procurement process. This became  evident from the print copy of an individual tender report winning bidder. SPD Enterprise and ministry officials failed to provide user credentials of the procuring agency.

SPD had also claimed Nu 785,000 without supplying or doing the work. There were no records of maintenance work carried out or evidence that  parts in the charging machines were replaced to substantiate claims made to  SPD Enterprise.

The firm has also made a fictitious claim of Nu 1.68M from the cabinet secretariat on account of maintenance of charging stations stating that they had carried out maintenance and replacement of required parts of EV charging machines at Chunzom. They submitted two bills amounting to Nu 1.98M to MoIC’s former procurement officer. The former procurement officer verified and admitted Nu 1.68M out of the claim made for Nu 1.98M.

However, this was recovered.

SPD Enterprise  also made a fictitious claim of Nu 200,000  for work not carried out regarding supply and installation of  charging station above the Memorial Choeten. The work was already carried out by  Thunder Motors Private Limited at a negotiated rate of Nu 1M a month ago before the false claims. However, Nu 200,000 was again paid to SPD Enterprise.

It was also learnt that Nu 600,000 was paid for supply and replacement of EV spare parts at Chuzom when the work was not done at all. It was found that there was no record supporting the need for change of items as well as approval of competent authority permitting the repair to be carried out. SPD Enterprise told authorities that the work was carried out on the instruction of the former finance officer.


Double payment 

SPD Enterprise was paid double operation charges for the months of June, October and November, 2021 amounting to Nu 315,000, Nu 255,000 and Nu 255,000 respectively. However, Nu 255,000 was recovered.

Similarly, double payment amounting to Nu 510,000 was made for the purchase of 5KVA UPS and battery in the financial year 2019-20 and FY 2020-21. Double payment of Nu 583,800 was paid for the purchase of office equipment.

The EV project board awarded the work of supply and installation of CCTV  worth Nu 4M to SPD Enterprise. A limited tender where only three bidders took part was called. The department estimated a cost of Nu 300,000 as recorded in the e-GP. However, the tender was awarded at Nu 4.01M to SPD Enterprise, the  lowest bidder.

It was found that the SPD claimed the payment for the said work on June 16, 2020 before the opening of the tender. The tender was closed on June 18, 2020 and opened on June 19, 2020.

Meanwhile, the Secretary of MoIC, Phuntsho Tobgay, said that he didn’t want to comment when approached to verify the alleged misappropriation. An official from the ministry said that the Royal Audit Authority has issued its preliminary findings. However, the official said that in reviewing and investigating the audit findings, the ministry saw similar findings.

The former chief finance officer said that as the head of the division, it was his mandate to make payments and that he signed the documents.

The former chief procurement officer of MoIC is out of the country and the former chief administrative officer has resigned.

RAA officials declined to comment asking Kuensel to wait for the final report, but it was learnt that RAA is suspecting mismanagement of the e-GP system and possible collusion between MoIC officials involved in the project and private businesses.