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PM may sue Opposition for defamation

…should the alleged charges on misuse of public resource prove untrue

The Prime Minister may charge the Opposition for defamation, should the corrupt practice as alleged prove fallacious.

After the Opposition accused the Prime Minister for misusing public resources to develop his private residence at Taba, Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay at a press conference yesterday, asked the Opposition to report the matter to Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) for immediate investigation.

In a press conference on February 7, Opposition Leader, Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said that a thorough investigation needs to be carried out into the alleged misuse of public resources by the PM to develop his private residence. The misuse of public resources for private benefits, he said, was a serious form of corruption.

A memo signed by the works and human settlement secretary, Phuntsho Wangdi, states that the ministry carried out the construction works worth Nu 2.959M for a security system at the PrimeMinister’s residence in Taba.

The work included the construction of a guard house, a compound wall, electrification works, works related to water supply, construction of an electric sliding gate and carving and painting works. The memo stated that the work was carried out as per the instruction received from the Cabinet Secretariat through letter No S-11/410, dated July 22, 2015.

“The Opposition should have alerted ACC as soon as it came to  their notice. Doing so now is an attempt to divert the attention of the public from the government’s charge of alleged corruption on a senior opposition member,” a press release from the Prime Minister’s Office stated.

Lyonchhen clarified that the Nu 3M was incurred for making security arrangements in and around the Prime Minister’s residence.

“On a small parental inherited land, I built a small house,” Lyonchhen said. “I built walls to prevent animals not enemies.” “It was inconvenient for a Prime Minister to invite guests and visitors alike.”

As the Prime Minister was building a compound wall own his own, he said, the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) on their investigation found that the wall being built privately was inadequate. The RBP reported that without the compound wall and a well-protected water supply system, the safety and security of the Prime Minister was compromised.

“Since it was RBP’s responsibility to arrange the security of the Prime Minister, they wrote to the Cabinet Secretary,” Lyonchhen said. “In a country like Bhutan, security should not be a concern. This was what I said and denied the state intervention.”

The RBP, on July 2015 wrote to the cabinet secretary stating that the security of the Prime Minister is the top priority and that the police will not compromise this aspect.

The letter states that the security protocol 2014 sanctions the Prime Minister to reside outside the Lhyengye Densa and mandates the security division to provide residential coverage. “It is the responsibility of security division to identify the security threat and risk assessments based upon actual and perceived threat against His Excellency,” the letter stated.

Construction of concrete perimeter wall protection with minimum 8-9ft on east, west and south of the residence is one of the requisites. The northern boundary has already been constructed and the RBP recommended raising the height of the wall.

The construction also included a security duty room with attached bathroom at the entrance gate. Installation of flood light at the four corners, installation of CCTV in four corners and secure water source was recommended. A map of Prime Minister’s residence and design of the security system was attached with the letter that was undersigned by Thrimdag Wogma, Superintendent of Police, Security division of Lyengye Densa, Phub Gyaltshen.

The press release from the PMO stated that the Prime Minister was compelled to agree because of the RBP’s insistence and precedence set by the former cabinet ministers “When I declined the RBP’s proposal, they said that they would not be able to guarantee the safety and security of the Prime Minister,” Lyonchhen said.

Lyonchhen claimed that he and his family had not intervened in the works undertaken by the works and human settlement ministry through a contractor.

 

Audit observations

The works for compound wall was awarded to the Samkhar Deki Construction while M/s Norlha Trading was awarded works for the water supply.

“The development of infrastructure in private residence on the grounds of perceived security threats may create precedent and become recurrent cost to the government in respect of Prime Minster and Cabinet Ministers residing in private residences in future. Thus, the issue is brought to the notice of government for appropriate decisions and actions,” the audit authority stated.

The Cabinet secretariat responded that works are being carried out as deposit works, which is not included in the budget and in the Plan.

The audit authority stated that the finance ministry should take the matter with the Cabinet Secretariat for appropriate decision to resolve the issue.

The issue, Lyonchhen said was not to reimburse the amount but to deliberate on disposing such fund after the end of the government’s tenure.

 

What next?

Since the Opposition has charged the Prime Minster for misusing the public resources, the government said that it would now direct the RAA to undertake thorough investigation on security arrangements of the Prime Minster and ministers, present and past.

This is not limited to the compound security walls built for ministers from 2003 to 2005 amounting to Nu 4.546M.

The press release highlighted that the former Prime Minster had built kitchen and toilet amounting to Nu 1M, quarter for security personnel at Nu 0.899M, carried out electrification works worth Nu 0.345M and that the access road to his residence has been built by DANTAK.

“The government invites the former Prime Minister and former ministers to reimburse the funds even as the RAA conducts their investigation,” Lyonchhen said.

“We support the opposition’s concern that public resources are being misused,” Lyonchhen said. “The Prime Minister has already reimbursed the entire expenses of the security arrangements in his residence even without being asked to do so by the RAA, the Opposition or any other person. Now, it is the moral responsibility of former ministers to follow suit and reimburse the money spent.”

Tshering Dorji

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