PM asks OAG to carry out a separate investigation on the case

The Opposition Leader (OL) Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) on January 4 wrote to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) asking for a thorough investigation on the alleged loan scam involving People’s Democratic Party (PDP) workers.

It is alleged that PDP workers are involved in operating a fake Rural Enterprise Development Corporation (REDCL) agent in Tsirang and duping the people by promising loan and illegally collecting fees.

The government established REDCL after closing the Business Opportunity and Information Centre (BOiC). REDCL continues to provide credit to people in rural areas through the revolving fund II of the Economic Stimulus Plan.

The issue resurfaced during the OL’s recent gewog visits to Tsirang from December 21 to 27. Of the 12 gewogs that he visited and held consultative meetings, the people of 10 gewogs brought up the issue for the opposition party’s intervention and follow up.

Earlier last year, the ACC dropped its investigation on the alleged involvement of Tsirangtoe MP Novin Darlami in a fake REDCL office in Tsirang.

ACC commissioner Jamtsho, in an earlier interview with Kuensel, said the case did not merit further investigation and cleared the MP of any wrongdoing.

OL’s letter to the ACC stated, “After listening to a repeated account of the people, we are given to believe that the issue merits thorough investigation for alleged impersonation of a government organisation and swindling the people of 10 gewogs.”

According to a report the opposition leader submitted along with the letter to the ACC chairperson, people of the 10 gewogs claimed that they have neither received the loan nor the refund of money collected from them to process the loans with REDCL.

The alleged perpetrators consist of local coordinators of PDP claiming to be operating as a branch of REDCL was opened at the PDP office in Damphu.

People were asked to form groups to be eligible to avail the loan when they approached the office after they were informed that the low-interest loan would be available to the public through the office.

Mita Bdr Subba, 60, from Phuentenchu gewog in Tsirang said he applied for the loan because he wants to start a piggery farm.

He said the applicants were made to fill up a form to process the loan and a minimum processing fee of Nu 300 were collected from them.

“I last visited the office two months ago. I have submitted all the documents they asked for and I was told that my loan will be processed within a month,” he said. “They said they will call me when my loan is ready. I am waiting for his call.”

OL’s report states that some of the applicants reported that they had to pay as high as Nu 3,000 as loan processing fee, depending on the amount of loan they applied for.

It has been nearly two years that the applicants signed forms and paid registration fees to avail ‘agro-cooperative’ loan from the office.

A total of 73 groups, comprising of 407 farmers, became members of the ‘Agro-cooperative’. All groups applied for loans.

None of the applicants claims to have received the loans they applied for while they were told that they would receive their loans not later than six months after submitting the application forms.

The report stated that the office has now been closed and the people who operated the office could not be traced. “People narrated harrowing accounts of how they underwent a great deal of hardship by repeatedly travelling to Damphu, collecting information, and submitting documents, wasting their resources and time.”

Mita Bdr Subba said he visited the office about six times last year and incurred an expense of Nu 4,000.

Another applicant, Pem Zangmo, 34, from Phuentenchu hopes to get the refund of Nu 300 even if her loan doesn’t get through. “We have been repeatedly reminding our tshogpa to follow up on this.”

The opposition leader received written statements from the applicants of Mendrelgang and Phuentenchu gewogs alleging that PDP’s Dagana dzongkhag coordinator Gopal Lama, Tsirang dzongkhag coordinator, Rangdoj Subbha, and party workers Dawa Darji Tamang and Chewang Rinzin were involved in running the office in Damphu.

The Opposition Leader raised five questions concerning the legitimacy of operating such an office.

“Can an individual or a group operate a commercial office without proper license or permission from the concerned authorities, including the dzongkhag and gewog administrations, and can an agent remain indifferent and oblivious to his or her client’s request and complaints with apparent impunity,” the letter stated.

He asked, if an individual(s) can engage in collecting fees randomly without any guidelines, would it not be the responsibility of the authorities approached by the loan applicants to address the issue and take appropriate legal actions, and are they in collusion with the government agencies and functionaries and used their connection and influence to draw legitimacy of their operation as the said office of the agent was housed in the PDP office.

The opposition party seeks the indulgence of the ACC to carry out further investigations since the earlier one, in their opinion and according to their assessment on the ground, was incomplete and inadequate to determine the truth.

The report stated that the agent and the individuals involved have breached Sections 66, 67 and 68 of the Anti-Corruption Act of Bhutan 2011, dealing with commercial bribery and embezzlement of the fund by a private individual.

“We are deeply concerned about the undesirable precedence that such an operation sets should it be left unaddressed,” the report stated.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said he spoke with ACC on this particular case and asked them about the investigation. “They have verified that they have completed their investigation and they have found that it wasn’t related to the party or a member of the parliament.”

He said that given that people have complained to the OL, he has asked the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) for a separate investigation if any laws were broken. “I have authorized the attorney general to charge sheet any person who may have broken any law regardless of any party they belong to without consulting me.”

Lyonchhen, however, said he was unaware that the OL wrote to the ACC when he spoke with the commission and the OAG.

Dechen Tshomo