Lhakhang Karpo: The project manager of Lhakhang Karpo conservation project, Wangchuk Tshering, pleaded not guilty, saying the fund that he is charged with having embezzled was utilised legally.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has accused him with two embezzlement charges, involving sums of Nu 74,985 and Nu 55,380, for using ghost labourers in the muster roll.

Wangchuk Tshering, however, rebutted last week that he hadn’t misused the money. “Therefore, I’m not liable for legal action for the charges framed on me as per section 52 (1) (a) of the Anti Corruption Act, 2011,” he said.

OAG’s prosecutor submitted that the accused, along with project engineer Tashi Gyeltshen, had embezzled Nu 74,985, for which both defendants failed to provide any evidence or justification when the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) interrogated them.

The management of Lhakhang Karpo project hired head carpenter Tshering and head mason Bhim Kumar Rai from Chukha dzong construction, and agreed to pay them Nu 450 and Nu 400 respectively a day.  The existing government rates were Nu 370 for the head carpenter and Nu 340 for the head mason.

OAG’s prosecutor said that the ACC, while investigating, found that the additional wages of Nu 80 a day for Tshering and Nu 60 for Bhim Kumar Rai were adjusted, using eight ghost labourers in the muster roll.

They adjusted the total amount of Nu 105,645 starting October 13, 2010, and the approval for such adjustments from the competent authority was not accorded until November 26, 2012.  The ACC, on enquiry from the persons, whose names were forged, established that they did not work at the Lhakhang Karpo project site.

The prosecutor said that the head carpenter and head mason worked only from February and April 2012 respectively.  The actual requirement for covering up the additional wages of Nu 80 and Nu 60 a day was only Nu 30,660.  However, ghost labourers in the muster roll were reflected since October 2010.  The ACC found that wages from the muster roll were collected using thumbprints or fake signatures, and Nu 74,985 embezzled.

In the second embezzlement charge, OAG’s prosecutor said, Wangchuk Tshering had instructed or given a series of name lists at the end of the months to project office assistants and site supervisor (lapon) Lhab Dorji, who prepared muster roll for labourers.  They were instructed to include those names in the muster roll and embezzled Nu 55,380.

Some project assistants, during interrogation, had admitted reflecting the names of 14 people in the muster roll on the instruction of Wangchuk Tshering.  Damcho Zam, whose name was registered in the muster roll, told the ACC that she didn’t attend the woola, instead she was made to work at Wangchuk Tshering’s field for eight days and acknowledged her with the labour receipt.  Others also said they did not attend the woola.

The OAG representative said the project manager also waived off 456 man-days for 15 households, including his relatives and neighbours.  Households, which could not contribute labour, had hired their representatives, paying Nu 3,000 each for a month, in addition to the wages entitled from the project.

“Therefore, Wangchuk Tshering has to contribute the woola waived for those 15 households, or else he needs to account a minimum of Nu 3,000 each, amounting to Nu 45,000,” the prosecutor submitted. “Hence, he is also liable for an offense of commission amounting to abuse of function.”

The accused said he had not violated the provisions of section 58 (1) and (2) of the Anti Corruption Act, 2011 and cannot be construed as guilty of an offence.

The OAG also charged the project manager with omission amounting to abuse of function, for not informing the tender committee about the chairman’s decision to award the sawing timber contract to LD Sawmill without re-tendering.

Based on the instruction of the chairman, who was then the Haa dzongda and now the foreign minister, Wangchuk Tshering awarded the work to Tshewang Penjor at the original quoted rate of Nu 37.70 per cubic feet.

Wangchuk Tshering will rebut OAG’s submission on March 17.

By Rinzin Wangchuk