The Tentacles of Corruption

An overview of corruption in Bhutan based on interactions with people from different backgrounds
Despite advocacies, Acts, and several Rules and Regulations, corruption continues as one of the biggest challenges in Bhutan. While the scale of embezzlement and other corrupt practices may not be as huge compared to other countries, for a small and developing country like Bhutan, every act of corruption, irrespective of its nature is dangerous. 
Under the broad phrase “Irregularities by Categories,” The Public Accounts Committee Reports has categorized corruption into, Fraud and Corruption, Embezzlement, Mismanagement, Non-compliance to Laws and Rules and Shortfalls, Lapses and Deficiencies. Every year the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) presents its report, too. Due to the institutional structure, laws and regulations that are in place, ideally there should not be any cases of corruption at all. However, reports say otherwise. Further, people, especially private contractors, engineers and others say it is difficult to curb corruption and showcase how corruption flourishes in Bhutan. 
According to an engineer, the chain of corruption usually begins from a lower level, like an accountant to auditors of the RAA. “For private businessmen to get their payments, an accountant needs to punch a number. You may have all documents signed by higher authorities, but the accountant has the final say,” he underlined, adding accountants will keep the bills pending citing several reasons, while the main intention would be to get a share from the payment. “It is true. And we land up giving something to the accountants as we need cash as soon as possible,” a contractor said, adding that if in a office, an accountant keeps bills pending, he or she is definitely corrupt. “I heard a senior respected and retired civil servant telling one of the heads of an agency to ensure bills are not kept pending,” the engineer said.
Another engineer added that if organizations with huge mandates, involved in constructions etc are not issued audit memos, “there is definitely something fishy.” “When the real work is undertaken, circumstances change and with very little or no monitoring, contractors do not comply with the contract. So there is non-compliance to laws and rules. However, we see that audit memos are sometimes not issued at all in such cases, which means an understanding has been arrived at between the engineer, contractor and auditors,” he said. “I am not saying that all auditors make such understandings, but there are always some rotten apples. However, in the last few years, there has been drastic change in the auditor’s code of conduct and I also heard that those falling out of line have been transferred and placed in less important positions.” For instance, he mentioned that auditors are provided “VIP,” treatment. “What would the reasons be? To make them happy and it will be done by those who are guilty,” he said, adding once an auditor clears a paper, no one can do anything. “Similar to what I mentioned earlier, I heard the Auditor General has issued a letter stating auditors going to the field should refrain from receiving such treatment. Things are improving, “he mentioned.
While some speak about the need to audit auditors, a civil servant said that is the very reason why agencies have internal auditors. According to the Internal Auditor Charter 2014, internal auditors have several functions, especially to ensure rules are followed to prevent corruption. The Charter says that the Chief/Head Internal Auditor shall: Report directly to the Head of Administration and Finance of the respective agency for administrative logistics; Report directly to the Management on matter concerning audit findings through submission of clear, constructive and concise written reports in a manner prescribed in the Reporting Framework and Standard Operating Procedure and endorse a copy to CCA for reference; Report directly to the Management or to the Anti-Corruption Commission (which ever is appropriate) on matters concerning suspicious fraud or other corruption elements encountered during the course of auditing; Report directly to the Committee of Secretaries through the Central Coordinating Agency for Internal Audit Service on matters relating to disrespect or disregard of internal audit functions and its recommendations thereof. 
“I think in essence, Internal Auditors are there to audit respective agencies, whose findings would then be audited by the RAA. But this does not happen and as internal auditors need to report to the Management, there is conflict of interest as he or she is an employee of the agency,” the civil servant said, adding the question of auditing the auditors may not arise if internal auditors are autonomous. 
Corruption involving engineers in the filed range from not monitoring, providing extra/hidden measurement and others. “If incentives called bribes are not given, engineers will keep on rejecting the work done citing several reasons,” a contractor said. 
Meanwhile, government officials do not usually ask money directly. “They will always ask if they could borrow a certain sum of money which will be given back within a month or so. And we have to understand the message,” the contractor said, adding transaction are hardly done through mbob or cheques. “It is always through direct cash.”   
In procurement, syndicates are formed and the procurement rules provide individuals the opportunity to swindle state money. “A minimum of three bidders are required and private people can easily work out a way that helps all. One will take one work; while the other will be given to someone etc. This is also rampant in the consultancy and services sectors,” a businessman said.
A very reliable source requesting not to mention the ministry said a ministry was giving travel and daily allowances to villagers for participating in a workshop. “It was hilarious as the workshop was held in the village and for the people’s benefit. If there were 10 participants, the officer in charge would have added names and said 30 participants were there, thus pocketing the rest. The sum may not be huge, but corruption is corruption,” he said.