Thimphu, Paro and Punakha civil servants claim Nu. 1.110mn on table tours: Audit report

The RAA reviewed records and interviewed relevant officials of Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) and Dzongkhag Aministration (Thimphu, Paro and Punakha) based on the travel expenditure trends incurred over the years 2012 to 2017.

The audit was conducted with the overall objective to ascertain if the travel claims were for bonafide purposes in respect of travels actually performed, duly authorized, approved, classified, paid and recorded accurately.

However, the RAA observed that civil servants  claimed Travel Allowance (TA) and Daily Allowance (DA) amounting to Nu. 1.110mn apparently without performing travels or undertaking travels for which no TA/DA are admissible. For the last five years, from the total current expenditure of Nu 104,079.9mn, an expenditure of Nu 8,453.66mn was incurred for in-country travel expenditure.

It is the third highest current expenditure item after pay and allowances and interest payment which accounted for 8.12% of the total current expenditure of the government.

Of the total in-country travel expenditures, 20 Dzongkhags incurred Nu 3,587.7mn during the period 2012-13 to 2016-17, representing 42.43%, followed by 10 ministries accounting for 38.49% and 38 autonomous agencies accounting for 19.07%.

Among the 10 ministries, MoAF incurred the maximum in-country travel expenditures, accounting for 45.18% of the total expenditure and among the Dzongkhags, Trashigang Dzongkhag incurred the highest, accounting for 8.83 % of the total during the period 2012-13 to 2016-17.

As per the Bhutan Civil Service Rules 2012 (BCSR, 2012) and Financial Rules and Regulation 2016 it indicated varying provisions related to submission of tour reports. Morever, the existing provision of requiring eight hours absence from the workstation to claim half DA and 12 hours absence or more to claim full DA encouraged manipulation of time for claiming TA/DA.

Some of the significant deficiencies and weaknesses observed were travel budgets were not used wisely. Most of the agencies exhausted travel budget much before the year-end. Frequent travel was found performed by officials and other staffs for activities not directly related to their job responsibilities.

It was also observed that lack of standardized route inventory leading to inconsistencies in the mileage claims by the agencies. There were instances of approving Dholam by the Dzongkhag Tshogdue despite places being connected by roads and availability of public transport.

Non-compliance to governing rules especially in the travel procedure and other required formalities and inadequate controls over processing and scrutiny of travel claims were observed.

Based on the audit findings, the RAA provided some recommendations that are aimed at improving the system with respect of travels actually performed, duly authorized, approved , classified, paid and accurately recording the expenditures.

RAA recommended that TA/DA rules should be rationalized and MoF and MoHCA should rationalize the “dholam” and porter-pony system. RAA also recommended MoF and MoHCA should standardize the distance between places and submission of tour report.

While many tours are fabricated with supporting documents, the RAA was informed during the audit that ‘table’ tours are usually entertained by the management during the close of financial year.

“Due to ineffective oversight roles performed by some controlling officers, the table tours are evident in the Dzongkhags and ministries. This was mainly due to systematic procedural lapses and inadequate controls instituted,” states the audit report.

TA/DA where distance travelled does not even exceed 10 km radius were claimed. Most of RNR staff and Gewog Administrative Officers in the Dzongkhags, were found claiming TA/DA every month for 10-20 working days. Upon RAA verification of the vouchers and actual distance of places travelled and claimed for and as discussed with the Gewog officials, it was found that most places were within the 10 km radius for which they were not entitled for TA/DA.

RAA view that absence of road maps of various places with actual distance from duty station, lack of awareness of travel rules and lack of adequate controls on the part of accounts personnel and approving authority had resulted in such claims.

“Thus, despite travel being the second highest current expenditure, after pay and allowances, most agencies have failed to institute the control mechanism to ensure that TA/DA are claimed as per the actual distance covered and performed.”

Tshering from Thimphu