PDP claims only gewogs in Paro benefitted from GR 

MB Subba 

There is no basis to question the legality of the “technical adjustment” of Nu 19 million (M) provided to the five gewogs of Paro, according to Finance Minister Namgay Tshering.

He was responding to allegations of the People Democratic Party (PDP), questioning the finance minister’s moral and legal rights to allocate the General Reserve (GR) to meet the capital expenditure of Doteng, Dopshari, Shaba, Dogar, and Naja gewogs.

Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that GR refers to four to five percent of the annual budget apportioned and kept aside to meet expenses for ad-hoc activities and to mitigate unforeseen events like by-elections, disaster contingency, and monsoon restoration works.

“The GR as a part of the annual budget is approved by Parliament and that there is no separate reserve set aside outside of the normal budget except for the Trust Funds and Endowment Funds which are established for specific national priority and are governed by Royal Charters and executive orders,” he said.

Citing Article 14 Section 3 and 4 of the Constitution, Chapter 3, Section 15 to 19 of the Public Finance Act 2007 and Section 4.2.2 of the Financial Rules and Regulation 2016, Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said the Ministry of Finance carries out supplementary incorporation and technical adjustments from the overall budget ceiling approved by Parliament.

“I do not see a reason to question the legality of the ‘technical adjustment’ of Nu 19M provided to five gewogs of Paro,” he said.

He said that given the lack of foreign skilled workers, construction projects and the improvement of new farm roads were prioritised as one expansionary fiscal strategy. “Hence, the transfer of budget from GR to the new capital activity of improving farm roads in Paro dzongkhag was a part of the reprioritization initiatives.”

As part of the reprioritization initiatives of the government with all the budgetary agencies, the Paro dzongkhag tshogdu had submitted the gewogs consolidated request for an additional budget requirement to the tune of Nu 266.981M from eight gewogs in February 2021.

According to him, after accessing the implementation capacity and securing the commitment letters from the gewogs, the ministry formally approved Nu 19.386M, which was 7.26 percent of the proposed budget.

The process, he said, is in line with the Public Financial Management norms defined in the Financial Rules and Regulation 2016.

He said that other dzongkhags were also provided an additional budget as part of the reprioritisation initiatives to stimulate the economy. Dzongkhags such as Tsirang and Mongar were provided with an additional budget of Nu 217M and 197M, respectively.

“I am worried people are given the wrong perception of the General Reserve through the recent press release by the PDP. While I acknowledge the concerns raised by PDP, I am equally worried that their press release didn’t serve the intended purpose beyond political discourse,” he said.

The finance minister said that “perhaps” in absence of proper guidelines, the use of funds from GR was observed to be widely misappropriated deviating from the intended purpose.

However, he added that he would not question the legality and morality of past practices, rather look forward to learning from past mistakes.

“Holding on to my sacred duty, I will rededicate my commitment to remain true to my King, Country, and the People of Bhutan within the provision of the law of the Land; should there be any lapses and shortcomings in the management of Government Treasury, I will remain accountable and the buck should stop with me,” he said.


PDP’s response

The PDP, in a response to the finance minister’s clarification, stated that the party had not investigated to score a political point as was implied by the finance minister.

The party stated that it was the RAA who found the GR use in Paro inappropriate, requiring the attention of the DNT government.

“As a responsible political party, PDP is duty-bound to check and question the government in power. Democracy will only thrive when the government in power is criticised and questioned for its actions and inactions, which would have a far-reaching impact.”

The PDP stated that the GR “misuse” is a serious breach of good financial governance by the very authority who is the custodian of the nation’s financial asset and on whom the country has reposed its trust.

It added that the fact remains that Paro gewogs, which also comprise the constituency of the Finance Minister, are the only gewogs of the 205 that are the privileged beneficiaries of the GR fund.

“An important democratic tool of ‘questioning and criticising’ the government in power is consistently snubbed under the excuse of Covid-19 whenever the government is called out for its misactions,” PDP stated.

The party said that the DNT government should stop sweeping its wrongdoings and failures under the rug of Covid-19. “PDP only hopes that the concerned agencies will look into the matter and bring the matter to its logical conclusion.”

Edited by Tashi Dema