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e-PEMS responsible for ambulance without fuel?

The process of implementing the electronic public expenditure management system (e-PEMS) was questioned when an ambulance in Dagana ran out of fuel and couldn’t cater to an emergency condition where a baby died.

The baby, six-weeks-old, was brought to Lajab BHU in Dagana on August 26 and died the next day on the way to Tsirang. Lajab BHU called an ambulance from Drujeygang BHU, but the ambulance didn’t have fuel to make the trip. An ambulance was called from Tsirang, which is 70 Kms away. Lajab is 40 Kms away from Drujeygang.

E-PEMS was at the receiving end with people blaming the system for hindering budget release.

However, following the incident, the Public Accounts Department, through a post on social media, clarified that there was no delay in fuel budget release. It was stated that the request for budget was made on August 12 and that there were no pending payments.

The last request was made on August 28, two days after the incident.

An official from Department of Public Accounts said they had verified all the transactions that occurred in the system. “There were no pending payments,” he said.

In fact, he said that the budget has been released by July end. 

He said that budget for salaries and fuel are not segregated but released as recurrent expenditure together. “If fuel budget was pending, there is no way salaries were deposited,” he said.

However, there are certain formalities, which the dealing officials have to fulfil with the dzongkhags and lapses were spotted there. “But it is very unfortunate,” he said.

However, the Dzongkhag media focal person, Sonam Jamtsho said that while the system was launched in mid-July, data migration was not complete. Without completing the data migration, transactions could not be performed.

The data migration, he said was completed only at the end of July and this is why salaries, DSAs and other travel claims were also deposited on July 31. However, the payment for bills, including the fuel budget was only done on August 8.

In absence of budget and to cater to emergencies, he said that the ambulance was fueled on credit around the end of July. This, he said is as per the report prepared by the health sector in the dzongkhag. When the first release in first week of August came through, half the amount was deducted for credit. The remaining half was exhausted in plying between Thimphu and Damphu for emergency patients.

All government vehicles have to pay in advance for fuel and the amount would be deducted as and when the vehicles fuel up.

The e-PEMS also requires all vehicles to be registered with the registration numbers to ensure budget release for fuel and maintenance. This, according to the Dagana dzongdag, Phintsho Choeden was also an issue initially.

However, it was completed by the end of July. “Even with the registration completed, transaction cannot happen because data migration was not completed,” an official said.

Dzongdag Phintsho Choeden said that a detailed report has been submitted to the health ministry and that the Bhutan Medical Council is also conducting an investigation. “It was an unfortunate incident. We have full sympathy for the bereaved family.”

The investigation would find whether the baby could have been saved, if the ambulance arrived on time.

However, the dzongkhag planning officer said that it was a big lesson for the dzongkhag and that a meeting was immediately called.

The dzongkhag decided to settle all the bills soon as a  scanned copy is submitted, without the need to submit original receipt. The dzongkhag will also maintain a minimum 15 litres of fuel in all the ambulances and that all the hospitals and BHUs will keep a fuel reserve of 25 litres.

“While it is very unfortunate that a baby died, it is important of us to prevent such incidents in future,” Sonam Jamtsho said.

Tshering Dorji

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