Action cannot be taken on perceived corruption 

If corruption in public road construction are revealed and established, people are taken to task, but not when it is based on perceived corruption, Works and Human Settlement Minister Dorji Choden said.

The minister told the press on December 27, that the recent ACC report on public road construction was a research study that tried to find potential risks and perception of the people.

Lyonpo added that the report had also looked into number of complaints it had received. “A majority of complaints were from construction sector because it involved lot of money,” she said. “We make conclusions based on perception and doubts but we need to clarify that this research is a desk study.”

The research covers the entire road network in the country, the minister said, and not only the roads constructed by the roads department.

Lyonpo said according to different road categories, there are 2,700km of roads nation wide, which is looked after by the roads department, about 5,000km farm roads looked after by the dzongkhags, parent agencies and gewog administration in some cases, 437km urban roads in the thromdes, and about 1,406km access roads.

“If you go for the lowest bid, people who feel they have better technical competence complain and if we say the tender is too low and they cannot participate, they complain,” Lyonpo said. “If we go for an experienced bidder, the inexperienced complain.”

She said that although the report stated that there was a need to fix accountability, the ministry has always been taking engineers to task if they fail and the contractors are fixed through defect liability period.

“We’ve also now reformed the defect liability period to two years from one year and are also looking into requirement of audit clearance from the contractor if they have problems with previous work,” Lyonpo said. “We’re also reforming the tendering criteria to get competent contractors.”

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay agreed there are corrupt practices, but said the question is about how rampant it is. If it was rampant, he urged people to inform the government about any case that people come across so that government could take immediate action.

“If there is corruption, give us one case so that we can investigate, then move to second, third and root out corruption,” Lyonchhen said. “But to say rampant and then for us not to have any leads, where do we investigate? My only plea is lets tackle it by addressing corrupt cases rather than spreading perception.”

Lyonchhen said the government received a report of possible corruption in the Dagapela-Dalbari road construction, which has still not seen a closure, yet the government has managed to restart the work.

“The point is, this is the only report we have received in four years. Then how can corruption be rampant? Either the contractors and engineers don’t trust the government to take their complaints or we need to relook into how rampant it is.”

Meanwhile, Lyonpo Dorji Choden said one of the biggest challenges facing road construction today is recruiting casual labourers. The approved minimum wage rate of Nu 125 a day is considered too low.

Lyonpo said there is a need to review the wage rate in its totality and not only from the construction sector’s view.

“If it is reviewed only from the construction side, then it would definitely help recruit labourers,” Lyonpo said. “But it has a wide range of implications for all other kinds of work.”

Lyonpo said there were other recommendations in the report that the ministry had been working on.

“For instance, the report recommends community monitoring in the roads. This has always been happening, but we’ll have to review on how communities can monitor the road construction,” Lyonpo said. “Road construction is already monitored by too many people.”

Yangchen C Rinzin