… DoFPS implements 66 percent of the recommendations

Choki Wangmo 

Out of the 21 recommendations provided by the Anti-Corruption Committee (ACC) on surface collection and riverbed materials (RBM) dredging, the Department of Forest and Park Services (DoFPS) was able to implement about 66 percent of them.

The commission conducted a systematic study on the issue last year and recommended the DoFPS, Regional Revenue and Customs Offices, and the Department of Geology and Mines to develop an action plan, known as the Organisational Integrity Plan (OIP), for effective implementation of the recommendations. 

The issue of surface collection and dredging of RBM came to light when the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) reported observations after the DoFPS allowed excavations with machines to dredge following the adoption of the Forest and Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations (FNCRR) in 2017. The RAA reported controversies and issues related to the allotment of dredging sites, regulatory corruption, abuse of function, conflict of interest, and favouritism in site allocation, among others.

Reportedly, the unprecedented operation of surface collection and RBM dredging since January 2017 resulted in a significant revenue loss for the government. In 2020, the failure to levy royalty based on metric tonnes for surface collection and dredging RBM in the divisional forest offices in Gedu and Samtse caused a loss of Nu 230.92 million to the government.

During discussions on the follow-up report on resolutions at the National Assembly (NA) yesterday, it was reported that the DoFPS was unable to review the current measurement unit for RBM and could not conduct a corruption risk assessment.

The department partially completed the development and implementation of guidelines for the site identification and assessment process. They also partially developed guidelines with clear procedures and criteria for site identification and assessment, which were major issues in surface collection and dredging.

The department also partially completed the rationalisation of the area for the site collection and reviewed the royalty and service charges for RBM export. According to the RAA report in 2019, the surface collection of RBM levied royalty on a truckload basis instead of per metric tonne, resulting in revenue loss.

Due to the lack of standardised carrying capacity for trucks, exporters earned a significant revenue ranging from a minimum of USD 14 to as high as USD 27 per metric tonne. The government received only Nu 40 per truckload as royalty.

ACC’s OIP assessment report revealed that there are still sites with large areas allocated to a single operator, indicating possible collusion between the government agencies and contractors.

Minister for Energy and Natural Resources, Loknath Sharma, stated that the lack of clear guidelines contributed to these issues. “Some Acts contradicted and created hassles in implementation.”

He further explained that the rates have now increased, and site allocation is based on open auctions compared to the previous lucky dip method.

In 2021, the Cabinet directed the then Ministry of Agriculture and Forests to assess and establish a fair reserve price for each of the already allotted sites to companies before applying for open auctions. After three years, the sites will be put up for open auction.

Last year, the DoFPS reassessed ongoing surface collection and RBM dredging sites for export, including RBM quantity, boulder mixture percentage, and other parameters, to determine the reserved price.

Under the Samtse divisional forest office, a total of 31 ongoing dredging sites were reassessed, and 17 of them were re-allotted to the same operators after 25 percent of the reserved price was realised. “The government will generate more than Nu 152 million after the completion of the three-year time frame,” stated the assessment report.

ACC highlighted the need to resolve challenges in trade routes and develop proper access road connections to the surface collection and dredging sites. In Homakhola, Lhamoidzingkha, despite having high-quality stones, there were no takers due to the distance from the road point.

The Good Governance Committee of the NA recommended that the agencies concerned submit a report to the Parliament on the implementation of the ACC’s recommendations in the next session.