Enough entertainment

The Royal Audit Authority seems to have recently submitted their report on hospitality and entertainment expenses to the government. Their findings have caused widespread alarm in the country.

I have not responded to the report for a simple reason: I have not yet received a copy of the report. I have not seen it, and I don’t know if they expect a response from me.

The media, on the other hand, have already obtained (or were given) copies of the report. And they have run with it. Kuensel alone has written six pieces on the RAA’s findings and has convinced a very concerned nation that the previous government wasted huge amounts of money on lavish chagoep and nyendar, followed by soelra, contributions and semso.”

I have not responded to the media, also for a simple reason: they have not contacted me. Not a single journalist has tried to contact me (or any of my colleagues in the former cabinet) for my thoughts or views or comments on this important matter. So I’m forced to conclude that Kuensel has made no attempt to tell the news objectively. They have relied on a single source and have purposely excluded the views and concerns of people who may be directly affected by their stories. Why? So that they could cherry pick sensational bits from the RAA report, combine it with their personal biases and produce inflammatory stories. That’s why their viral stories has everyone convinced that the entertainment expenses were excessive and that they were used solely for “nyenda and soelra”. No need to plough through their stories for evidence; just look at their cartoon at the start of this post.

I now owe the people an explanation.

In the middle of 2017, RAA issued a draft report on hospitality and entertainment expenses of the government. The former cabinet agreed with their main recommendation that proper guidelines needed to be established, and promptly directed the Ministry of Finance to prepare the guidelines.

In the absence of clear guidelines, cabinet ministers (and the chief justice, speaker, NC chairman and opposition leader) had blindly followed precedence. And according to precedence, expenses related to the travel of ministers and their teams, travel of government guests and expenses for unplanned national events were also booked under “hospitality and entertainment”. In fact, this practice was not just entrenched, it was accepted practice. That’s why, until their 2017 draft report, the RAA cleared the “hospitality and entertainment” expenses of all ministers, each year, every year without any comment. Not once did they ask any question or raise any objection. And I’m referring to the annual audits going back to 2008 and beyond.

So based on the RAA’s draft report, the Ministry of Finance was instructed to develop clear guidelines. In addition, all ministers were directed to review their individual expenses and submit segregated accounts. My office at that time (the PMO) also studied and segregated the expenses of the former prime minister (that’s me) and conveyed their findings to RAA .

For the period 2013 to 2018, Nu 39,662,234 was spent on “hospitality and entertainment”. Incidentally, my predecessor spent Nu 51,684,107 during his tenure. This is according to the report generated by the Finance Ministry’s public expenditure and management system (PEMS).

If you look at the third-last row of the table (the one for the year 2017-2018), you’ll see that while Nu 1,962,758 was booked under “hospitality and entertainment”, more was spent on “national events”, “government guests” and “local government visits”. These activities are outside the scope of entertainment and hospitality, and, as such, were booked separately.

The PMO carried out the same exercise for 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, and determined that actual “hospitality and entertainment” expenses for those years were Nu 926,840 and Nu 903,583 respectively and not Nu 14,450,176 and Nu 8,401,220 as reflected in the report. The actual expenses were calculated by segregating “hospitality and entertainment” from other allowable expenses, most of which consisted of in-country travel. So if the revised figures for 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 are used, the total expenditure for “hospitality and entertainment expenditure” would fall to Nu 18,641,261. And if the correct expenses for 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 are incorporated, the total “hospitality and entertainment” expenditure would fall further still.

This is a far cry from the Nu 55 million per year that Kuensel has misled people to believe I spent on entertainment, and that too mainly for chagoep, nyendar, soelra and semso

But why was travel booked under “hospitality and entertainment”? Because that was past practice, one that had always been accepted by the Ministry of Finance and RAA.

And why was so much money spent on travel? Because I travelled a lot. I visited each and every one of our 205 gewogs, with some, like Lunana, taking many days to cover. In addition, I visited all 20 dzongkhags on six different occasions — to report on the 11th Five Year Plan, to sign annual performance agreements, to coordinate the mid-term review of the 11th Plan, to discuss the draft 12th Five Year Plan and to report on the completion of the 11th Plan.

The travel expenses, including for hotels and food, for the entire team traveling with me was booked under “hospitality and entertainment”, but they were allowed to claim only 20% of their DSA. (In the past, civil servants accompanying the prime minister were also provided food and board, and they could claim full DSA).

It’s not for me to say whether the actual expenditure on “hospitality and entertainment” was excessive or not, but I agree with RAA that proper guidelines, including expenditure ceilings, are required. All expenses should not be lumped together as “hospitality and entertainment”. However, I object to the fact that they have issued this report after clearing these expenditures each year and every year, during their annual audits misleading the respective finance officers that everything was in order.

More importantly, I strongly object to the fact that the whole exercise seems to have been carried out so that the report could have been released just before the elections. Why so? Probably to influence the elections. But why do I say so?  Because sources have informed me that RAA had planned to release two other reports (on the East-West Highway and on central schools) just as we were wrapping up our tenure as the former government.

I don’t know what eventually held them back. But if there’s even a hint of truth in this, then, I’m afraid, we have real cause for widespread alarm.

 

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Comments

  1. Bhim Raj Acharya Sharma says:

    Dasho
    Thank you alot for your clarification.

  2. Kelzang tenzin says:

    Your Excellency I would say these are all came up from their personal point of view who have grash on PDP by kuensel .I would say that no party will perform like PDP in future and hereafter too ,in terms of development . So I would say PDP did best in the history of Bhutan.
    I am hoping that in next election ,Dasho might have planned well for the king ,country and people wishes la .
    You are best President la.

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  4. Tshering says:

    Dasho,
    To be honest I was really disturbed and angry with your government when the report first came in, which underscored wives make up expenses, neyenders etc met from the EH budget. But your crystal clear clarification on the issue swept away all my doubts and ill feelings. In fact you have displayed a character of true leader by coming forward with this counter facts against all odds. Thank you Dasho.

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