Last year, on 29th September, I wrote that media reports about Bhutan’s role in the Indian lottery scam screamed for answers.
On 11th October 2010, I wrote that the government needed to answer certain pressing questions regarding its dealings with Bhutan’s lottery agent in India.
On 14th November 2010, I suggested that, instead of pulling out of the lottery business, the government should use lottery proceeds to fund public service broadcasting.
On 30th November 2010, during the National Assembly’s question hour, I asked the Finance Minister to explain what the government had done to investigate the alleged violations in the appointment of Bhutan’s lottery agent in India, and the alleged violations by that agent.
On 22nd June 2011, I observed that the government’s decision to close lottery operations in India and, thereby, forgo revenue estimated at Nu 200 million per year was not a good idea.
Sometime in June 2011, the Royal Audit Authority issued a special report on the lottery operations. I requested the RAA for a copy of that report, but was denied one, as the RAA was still waiting for the government’s responses to their observations.
Also in June 2011, a month after the government cancelled the contract with their lottery agent in India, the Directorate of Lottery approached that agent to sponsor a local golf tournament.
And on 23rd August 2011, the cabinet issued a press release announcing it decision that “moral responsibility and accountability must be fixed”, and that “… it will finally do away with the Lottery operations altogether.”
I welcome the government’s decision to fix moral responsibility and accountability. It means that the government has accepted that violations did take place in the way Bhutan’s lottery operations were handled.
But who will accept moral responsibility? And who will be held accountable for the alleged violations in the lottery business?
The lottery director has resigned. But not because he admitted doing any wrong. It appears he resigned because the government had announced that “… it is washing its hands off from the lottery business.”
The government has shut down the Directorate of Lottery. But it has done so because of its decision to halt lottery operations. That’s why the government has announced that the staff will be transferred to other agencies.
So as of now, no one has accepted moral responsibility for violations that seem to have taken place in the lottery business. And no one has been held accountable, in spite of the fact that the government apparently lost billions of Ngultrums in the way the lottery operations were handled. And in spite of the fact that, even after the contract with the government’s lottery agent in India was terminated, that agent was asked to sponsor a golf tournament in Bhutan.
To make matters worse, the government has decided to terminate all lottery operations because it now views the business as “no less than gambling”.
The lottery scam screamed for answers. But the government’s decision to terminate Bhutan’s lottery operations is the worst possible outcome – it provides no answers, while depriving the exchequer of much needed revenue.
While no answers have yet been provided, while no one has yet been implicated, and while no one has yet taken moral responsibility, the government has already terminated the lottery business, and in doing so, forfeited potentially billions of Ngultrums of national revenue, money which could have been used to finance kidu and relief, public service broadcasting, sports or the activities of NGOs.
So the government must reverse its decision to terminate lottery operations. Otherwise it will be held responsible for squandering millions – perhaps even billions – of Ngultrums that belong to the people of Bhutan.
And the government must, without further delay, fulfill its promise to fix moral responsibility and accountability on those involved in the lottery scam.