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OAG defends charges against foreign minister

Court: Foreign minister Rinzin Dorje’s unilateral decision to award timber sawing works for the Lhakhang Karpo conservation project in Haa had illegitimately benefited a saw-miller, according to the Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) prosecutors.

In their rebuttal statement submitted to the Haa district court yesterday, prosecutors explained why Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje was charged for omission amounting to abuse of function.

One prosecutor said that Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje, who was then the Haa dzongda and chairman of the tender committee, awarded the contract work illegally to LD Sawmill, which was leased to the former Katsho gup, Tshewang Penjor, without consulting the tender committee, and the payment was made based on Nu 37.70 per cubic feet, which the committee initially rejected.

The open tender for establishment of sawmill for sawing logs for lhakhang Karpo project was floated on September 13, 2011. Tshewang Penjor, who was the lowest bidder, quoted Nu 37.70 per cft although the prevailing market rate was Nu 18.

The tender committee informed the chairman of the lowest bidder’s rate being 100 percent above the market rate. The chairman, had then asked the committee to re-tender.

After the decision, Tshewang Penjor submitted a letter to the Dzongda offering Nu 27.77 per cft. “However, instead of presenting the letter to the committee, the chairman asked the project manager, Wangchuk Tshering, to negotiate and consider the rate at above 50 percent of the market rate which came to Nu 27,” the OAG prosecutor said.

Tshewang Penjor submitted another letter to the chairman on April 3, 2012 requesting him to reconsider his original quoted rate. The chairman without consulting the committee then asked the project manager to award the work at the original rate.

In his opening statement on February 27, Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje said that the sawing timber works was awarded to the lowest bidder since the committee wanted the work done at the lowest possible cost given the increased cost of construction materials.

Tshewang Penjor had also set up the sawmill near the site and work had already begun.  “Seeing all these cost and time benefits, I awarded the work to LD Sawmill because as a chairman, I had some discretion in choosing the bidder as per section 4.2.5 of the procurement rules and regulations, 2009,” Lyonpo submitted.

The prosecutor yesterday said that this method of procurement allows the procuring agency to negotiate the terms and conditions directly with one or more bidder/s. “Hence, there is no authority for the chairman to negotiate the terms and conditions of its procurement except the procuring agency,” the prosecutor rebutted.  “In this case, the procuring agency is the dzongkhag tender committee.”

On his second charge of embezzlement of public property, Lyonpo had said that government rules and regulations on pool vehicles allowed a civil servant to use pool vehicles under certain conditions. He was charged for transporting private timber from Haa to Thimphu through the dzongkhag DCM truck.  He submitted that he had paid for the fuel (diesel) and the driver’s daily allowance.

The prosecutor, however, said that ACC while verifying cash memos found that the date of fuelling and vehicle movement did not match.  There were also some cash receipts for fuelling dzongkhag’s two bolero pool vehicles and some receipts for petrol and kerosene but not for diesel. Lyonpo was asked to refund Nu 80,000 for the transportation of his private timber for 10 trips.

In response to Lyonpo’s request to bifurcate the two charges, as the second charge on embezzlement of public property has no link to the Lhakhang Karpo case, the prosecutor said that the civil and criminal procedure code allows a joinder of charges.

Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje, who was accompanied by MP Ritu Raj Chhetri at the court yesterday, will rebut OAG’s submission on March 17.

By Rinzin Wangchuck, Haa

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