Dechen Dolkar

The People’s Democratic Party yesterday wrote to the Auditor General requesting for an opportunity to clarify and justify the audit findings against two of its former ministers in the alleged direct award of East-West highway construction contract package to Empire Construction.

The party’s Secretary General, Kuenga Tashi, on behalf of the former finance and works and human settlement ministers, stated, “the audit memos were not brought to the knowledge of the individuals involved.”

The former ministers, Dasho Dorji Choden and Namgay Dorji claimed that they have not received an audit memo from the Royal Audit Authority (RAA).

It was learnt the widening of Northern East-west Highway Project was audited in 2017.

The RAA issued the final audit report, which also included response from auditees, to the ministries concerned in 2019.

The former ministers said that the ministry should have contacted them after receiving audit memo since they were fixed direct accountability. “We didn’t know about it until the recent report in the media.”

“It would also give us an opportunity to explain to the auditors on how and why it happened, and it would have already been resolved,” former finance minister Namgay Dorji said.

The ministers also said that they were hopeful the agencies would give them an opportunity to explain their side of the stories before the case is prosecuted.

The rules and regulation also state that the audited entity will discuss, deliberate and agree on the list of individuals on whom the accountabilities are being fixed.  “All the accountable individuals will be given sufficient opportunity for the presentation of their defence in the audit exit meeting. 

Namgay Dorji said that some ministries have also received audit memos, and they were dropped after the accountable person, who were informed by the agency, gave explanations. 

Reason for awarding direct contract 

Dasho Dorji Choden said that Empire Construction was awarded widening of 2.5km of the highyway in Dzongkhalum area, Trongsa in April 2015 for a duration of 15 months.

The former minister said that the MPHA needed the formation cutting to complete by end of December 2015 to allow them to bring electromechanical machines or equipment for the power plant. The location was rugged terrain and work was hampered by monsoon, which caused difficulties for the contractors to expedite progress.

“After five months, MHPA did not want the contractor to continue the work and it had to be terminated as it was not going to complete by end of December 2015,” she said.

Dasho Dorji Choden said that it was not possible to terminate the work since the contractor had around 10 months on his contract. Otherwise, the contractor could take up the litigation, it would have taken another one to three years for arbitration of the case. “In the mean time, the work could come to complete halt as litigation is underway hampering the progress of MHPA construction and also pose a risk to the lives of the commuters.”

The ministry negotiated with the contractor and department of Roads handed the work to MHPA which contracted it to a bigger contractor as urgent work.

The work was assessed by a team comprising of the contractor, DoR and MHPA officials and payment to the contractor was determined by the department since the BOQ rates for the contract estimated by MHPA were too low and the contractor had claimed three times. Considering that the contractor had done three times the work in that 30 percent of the highway, the DoR calculated a reasonable rate, the minister said.

Dasho Dorji Choden said that as to compensate the lost opportunity for the contractor a 2.75km of the last contract package for the pavement construction from Nobding-Dungdungnyelsa which was not yet tendered out was given to the firm. 

The ministers said that since the Empire Construction still had the timeline, and the contractor had the legal right to participate in another contract package, with the joint committees, the contract was directly awarded.

They said that the contract was awarded directly due to a national emergency issue, which posed risks to the lives of commuters; two bridges over Dzongkhalum were damaged by falling boulders from the widening works, and if the decision was delayed it could have caused huge economic loss to the Mangdechhu hydropower project (MHPA).

Namgay Dorji said, “In an emergency situation like this the procuring agency can directly award a contract. An emergency is a sudden unforeseen event which can result in injury, loss of life or critical damage to property or Infrastructure or economic loss.”

Kuensel learnt that the two ministers were summoned by the Anti-Corruption Commission in March to give their statement regarding the matter.