Gup refutes the allegations claiming it an administrative lapse

Chimi Dema | Punakha

Punakha dzongkhag’s internal audit is investigating Dochula-Menchuna tshogpa in Toebisa for allegedly embezzling contributions made for a fire victim of Begana chiwog.

The complaint was initially lodged to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the commission asked the dzongkhag administration to investigate and report.

It was learnt that the gewog collected some money from gewog residents and business people of Thinleygang after a woman, Pem, from Begana lost her two-storey traditional house on November 3, 2018, but she never received it.

Pem said she was not aware the gewog officials collected the money for her.

She said she remains grateful to the gewog officials for the help they rendered when she lost her house. “I was in the field, preparing for winter crop when a friend staying at the other side of our village saw thick smokes from my house. I rushed home but couldn’t save anything.”

According to Pem, villagers and gewog officials helped her in containing the fire, making temporary shed and providing rations, utensils and clothes. “Some neighbors also helped in cultivating my winter crops.”

She also received her house insurance of Nu 200,000 and semso from Gyalpoi Zimpon’s office. She didn’t know gewog officials collected money from shopowners in Thinleygang and villagers from other chiwogs until recently.

“I never expected monetary contribution and didn’t even bother about it after I heard it,” Pem said.

Shop owners in Thinleygang said gewog officials collected Nu 500 each from them as a semso to the fire victim. “We were also called for a meeting by the gewog officials before making the contribution,” a shop owner said. “Now we hear the money never reached the victim.”

There are about 14 shops in the Thinleygang town today.

Meanwhile, the dzongkhag internal audit said they do not see misuse of the cash as of now but an administrative issue.

He, however, said it would be confirmed once the investigation is completed. “We are waiting for our team to return from Gujarat, India, to conduct a thorough investigation.”

Gup Namgay Tenzin, who spoke on behalf of the tshogpa  also claimed that it was an administrative lapse and not misuse of the cash.

He agreed that about Nu 12,000 was donated by shopowners and villagers from five chiwogs as a semso to the fire victim.

However, the money was kept with the tshogpa because they wanted to buy things for the victim and give instead of cash, as villagers supported in kind including rations. “We thought we will buy utensil and other necessary things.”

He claimed he was engaged in training and other official works in the meantime and forgot about the money. “The tshogpa also thought the budget was taken care of by other tshogpas.”

Gup Namgay Tenzin said the Dochula-Menchuna tshogpa, who was assigned as in-charge of painting the gewog office roof used the fund when he was out of station. “The gewog did not receive gewog development grant during that time and the initial allocated budget of Nu 22,000 wasn’t enough. The tshogpa unknowingly used the contribution, which was found in a cupboard.”

He said both he and the tshogpa were reminded of the money when the issue surfaced recently after people lodged the complaint to the ACC. “As the money was utilised for maintenance of gewog infrastructure, we decided to reimburse the cash from the gewog budget.”

He also claimed people complained because the local government election was nearing.

According to the gewog administrative officer, discussion to reimbursing the cash was held during the last gewog tshogde. “But we don’t know when to restitute the money.”