Row over security arrangements at PM’s residence continues

While Prime Minister Dasho Tshering Tobgay maintained that the entire expenses of the security arrangements at his residence in Taba were already reimbursed, the opposition party lashed out at the government for its earlier justifications.

In a two-page press release Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) issued yesterday, it asked if the PM had voluntarily refunded, then why Lyonchhen in the first place use public resources.

“This is the height of cynicisms and hypocrisy. The question of refunding does not arise if the use of the public money was permissible by the law. Further, if we are to go by the PM’s logic, whoever is caught misusing public funds should be condoned upon reimbursement. This will set a highly dangerous precedent,” the opposition stated.

On the PM indicating that the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) report did not question the legality or appropriateness of the government’s expenditure on the development of his residence, the opposition maintained that none other than the head of government expounding such blatantly wrong notion of financial propriety was indeed deeply worrying.

“This clearly underlies his belief that there is nothing unlawful or inappropriateness in spending public resources for his personal purposes. Where and how do we start talking of accountability then? The RAA had made the illegality of the PM’s action amply clear when it had stated “The development of the security related infrastructure in the private residential building at the cost of the Government exchequer was not within of the budgetary programmes and activity”. It means that this expenditure was not approved by the Parliament in keeping with the relevant laws such as the Public Finance Act and therefore, it is not only inappropriate but totally unlawful,” the opposition stated.

And the on the PM’s claim of having voluntarily refunded the cost of the infrastructures, the opposition maintained of having learnt that PM refunded the amount only upon the RAA’s objections.

It was also stated that the misuse amount for the construction of PM’s security system amounts more than Nu 3mn. “However, the total amount appears to be far more than this. The above amount pertains only to compound wall and security guard house including additional works; safe drinking water supply works; and automated sliding gate including additional works,” the opposition stated.

According to the opposition, going by RAA report the following works were also carried out like installation of flood light at the four corners of the compound wall to provide adequate lighting at night; installation of CCTV cameras in the four corners of the compound wall to reinforce security surveillance and for monitoring movements of potential intruders.

“Further, the opposition also learnt that the development and blacktopping of the access road to the PM’s new residence was carried out with public fund. The costs of the above works remain still unaccounted,” the press release stated, requesting the PM and the government to clarify on the issue and urging RAA to look into these expenditures.

The opposition maintained that it was also worthwhile to recollect that the current government hyped and broadcast to the nation the issue of reduction of security arrangements for PM and ministers at the beginning of their tenure.

“The PM is indeed occasionally seen driving around alone on his private car. If so, on the other hand, why talk of the high importance on security arrangements?” the press release stated.

The press release also mentioned that the PM receives 30 percent (approximately Nu 57,000) as housing allowance and PM had declared in the Parliament that his salary was high and that he would donate Nu 50,000 monthly to NGOs for charitable works.

“Against this backdrop, why does the issue of the use of public fund for private residence security arise? The PM has also justified that the Security Protocol of 2014 allows him to reside in his private residence. This in fact raises the issue of conflict of interest since the PM is the only beneficiary of this arrangement,” the press release stated.

The opposition also stated that the PM had the audacity to call upon former ministers to follow his example and refund the expenses after having had alleged on the issue of compound security walls of past government from 2003 -2005 amounting to Nu 4.546mn and directing the RAA to investigate them, and also bringing out the construction of compound wall, kitchen, toilet and quarter for security personnel of the former PM amounting to Nu 2.244mn and road construction.

“The current and past scenario and the need for security arrangements are completely different and non-comparable. In the period 2003-2005 and actually till July 2010, there was no such a thing called Lhengye Dhensa (Ministers’ Enclave). Prime Minister and Ministers used to reside either in government quarter or private residence. Owing to this and in the aftermath of 2003, some security coverage was commanded to be provided to Ministers. Therefore, the question of pre-democracy cabinet ministers having to refund the expenses should never arise,” the press release stated.

According to the opposition, in July 2010, after the SAARC Summit, ministers of the first elected government moved into the Minister’s Enclave. However, the PM could not move because the house earmarked for the PM was used as the State Guest House owing to Supreme Court being housed at Kuegacholing State Guest House. On the other hand, when the second government came in, PM’s house was vacant and there was no excuse for him to not move there. But he did not for reasons best known only to himself. The PM’s residence at the Ministers Enclave remains unoccupied to this day.

On PM stating that the opposition party should have raised its concerns over the government-funded infrastructure development at his house earlier but not as a response to the government’s accusation of “policy corruption” and “conflict of interest “against former Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, the opposition party stated that it was another false statement from the PM.

“The Opposition Party had raised the question on this issue during the Question and Answer Hour on 10th June 2016 at the 7th session of the National Assembly expressing serious concerns over the misuse of government funds. At the 9th Assembly session, opposition party had submitted a follow-up question on the issue but was rejected by the Speaker,” the press release stated.

Chencho Dema from Thimphu