For a small nation striving to be free of corruption, it is worrying when systems put in place to enhance public finance management are exploited to embezzle or misappropriate public fund.
The electronic public expenditure management system (ePEMS) was launched to enhance public financial management and supposed to be a transparent record of expenditure. It instead facilitated misuse through the gaps it left in most drungkhags and gewogs, as one person prepares, verifies, approves and makes payments.
The Royal Audit Authority had detected huge misappropriation in Umling drungkhag and gewog where the accountant had the authority to handle huge amounts of public funds singlehandedly. Without proper checks and balances and monitoring, many cases could go undetected. There are already many unresolved corruption cases.
As a small society depending on aid to fund most developmental activities, the irregularities are of major concern. It shows we are failing to utilise public funds and resources appropriately.
Studies have already shown that the citizens’ perception of the prevalence of corruption in the country is already high. Many believe it is serious and has increased in recent years. Today, if an individual is promoted, people do not attribute it to the individual’s capability or competency. They question who he or she is related to. This breeds distrust in a small society like ours.
To make matters worse, there is a lack of uniformity in treatment of corruption cases, giving room for people to speculate if the law is only applicable to the poor. There is apathy towards corruption and accountability. If we are serious about rooting out corruption, we should not be tolerant to any levels of corruption, big or small.
Umling drungkhag’s swift response in recovering the misappropriated fund is exemplary. It now has to exercise due care and put in checks and balances and monitoring for proper use of public funds.
The finance ministry should also acknowledge the problems associated with ePEMS and rectify the lapses immediately. In the digital era, more than two or three people with financial background should be responsible for any payments, which could be done online. We cannot expect our local leaders, who lack financial and accountancy literacy, to detect any irregularities. Restructuring the system to make it safe should be the priority.
The government of the day also has a big role to play in fighting corruption and ensuring accountability. Rule of law must prevail. We cannot afford to ignore corruption. The Constitution mandates every Bhutanese to act against corruption.