Robbing the system

Not long ago, many Bhutanese, especially in the construction and business sector suffered because of the measures put in to curb the outflow of the Indian Rupee (INR). Among them were the private individuals who were building homes.

Banks wouldn’t release the precious Rupee and businesses across the border, especially in Jaigaon, wouldn’t release construction materials unless they were paid in Rupee. The economy almost came to a gridlock.

But with the Anti Corruption Commission digging out old dung in Phuentsholing, the air is filled with odour foul and filthy. While many had been bearing the brunt of the economic situation, it is now clear that some Bhutanese in collusion with Indian nationals had been robbing the national exchequer of the scarce INR.

Millions of INR were lost to the black market when the nation was going through rough economic times. And all this happened when the INR situation was being closely monitored both by the central bank and the elected government. Those involved in the crime resorted to simple techniques and exploited the loopholes in our rules and regulations and banking system itself.

It is appalling how easily one Indian can take advantage of the whole system. He has been cashing in on Bhutanese automatic teller machines. While INR became dear to the Bhutanese, the Ngultrum was used to divert more INR out of the country. More Indians are believed to have been involved in this “business”.

Millions of INR were also diverted without actual trade. And the worst was through taking advantage of a system that was to benefit a bigger section of the population. For instance, many wouldn’t be able to afford rice three times a day if the staple diet is taxed. More trees would be felled to roof houses in rural Bhutan if corrugated galvanised iron sheets were taxed.

Given the volume of import entering the country through Phuentsholing, it would be unfair to expect officials to physically verify every item that enters the country. But when a small paan shop that does not sell rice imports hundreds of tonnes of rice, something was well out of the order to have raised a few eyebrows.

It would also be difficult to check every invoice and to verify every business licence, but what is more damaging is that people entrusted to prevent them are now found to be linked to the crime themselves. If officials collude with those wanting to cheat the system, strictest of laws will not prevent them.

Everything boils down to what we call tha damtse. There is a call form the highest of authorities to root out not only corruption, but also complacency. As along as we allow complacency to reign tall, we will continue to be exploited.

The Rupee crunch now has eased by much, but that will not prevent what has happened; surely not by imposing tax on zero tax items. A good start will be made by each one of us being a little more responsible.

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