Excavating dirt

Dirty business

Two weeks ago, I accidentally telephoned Passang Dorji, the chief reporter at The Journalist. I’d meant to call someone else. But somehow, I dialed Passang’s number instead. So we made use of the unforeseen opportunity to catch up.

I asked how he was doing. And how their new company, The Journalist, was faring. He replied that the times were difficult; and that they weren’t making enough money; but that, with support from friends and relatives, they were pulling through.

Passang also confided in me. He told me that they were working on a scoop – a story about members of parliament and ministers buying excavators; and about them leasing the equipment to the Punatshangchu Hydropower Authority.

He asked me for my opinion. I told him that our laws forbid members of parliament from engaging in commercial activities. And I told him that, as far as I knew, no law prevented family members, including spouses, of parliamentarians from doing business. But I encouraged him to work on his “scoop”, especially to investigate for political corruption and conflicts of interest in the Punatshangchu case.

Then I told him that it might interest him to know that my wife also owns two excavators; that both of them were bought on loan; that one of them was working for a Bhutanese contractor involved in the Punatshangchu project; and that the other was lying idle.

I suggested that he should talk to my wife. I advised him that he might want to ask to see the business income tax returns that she would soon have to file.  And I informed him that my wife and daughter were accompanying me to my constituency in a few days.

Passang Dorji didn’t contact me. Nor did he contact my wife. And this is what The Journalist had written:

The opposition leader, Tshering Tobgay, also confessed to having two excavators in this wife’s name and that one was already deployed at the PHPA site. He could not be contacted for further details. He was in Haa and was unreachable through cell phone.

Yes, the excavators are in my wife’s name. And I cannot deny that they belong to our family. But to insinuate that I had tried to avoid detection; that I was made to confess; that my wife was just a front; and that I was actually doing the work is irresponsible.

So I telephoned Passang Dorji again. He confirmed that he didn’t know about my wife’s excavators before I volunteered that information. He claimed that he didn’t write the article. And he admitted that the part about the opposition leader could be misleading.

I’m not making excuses. I’m just setting the record straight.

My wife’s company is called GT Hiring. She owns two excavators, each worth about 47 lakhs, that she bought in September 209.  She owes the Bhutan National Bank about 90 lakhs. One machine works for Ringdol Construction, a local contractor. And the other is idle.

I encourage The Journalist to meet my wife. She will convince them that GT Hiring is her business; that she’s not fronting; and that her husband is forbidden from interfering in her company’s matters. But that said, it does not mean that I bear no accountability. I will accept full responsibility for my wife’s business, if what she does is illegal. Or if it interferes, in anyway, with my work as a parliamentarian and the opposition leader.

The Journalist promised to investigate the excavator stories in detail. I encourage them to do so. We must not allow MPs to use their influence to get into business. We must take conflicts of interest seriously. And we must not allow political corruption to breed.


Facebook Comments:


  1. well, personally i don’t find anything wrong in spouses doing business as long as one do it without misusing authority, corruption, influence and do it inline with the normal procedure(tendering, quotation etc) and law…..

  2. Sunny Side says

    What screamed out at me was the remark made by the Punakha MP who said something like; yes, I have one and I am going to buy 20 more.

    This is sheer arrogance and a defiance of the system, and disrespect for the people of Bhutan. I interpreted the statement as, “so what are you all going to do about it”.

    The DPT government needs to rein such crackpots in because we have about had enough. As if it isn’t enough that such stupid people were voted in – now we have to deal with them insulting our intelligence.

  3. I doubly endorse what Sunny Side says. I felt indignant when I read dim wit Tshering Penjor’s response. His statement is a challenge to the whole country. It is people like him that makes us regret having voted for DPT – a mistake I will never make again, and that is a promise.

  4. Hmm! There is foul smell in the air. Does being open mean being honest? Do sweet words mean truth? We have become more suspicious and doubtful as a result of our past experiences. How do we verify whether there is a conflict of interest? Is it worth the effort? What will be done if it comes as “Yes”? Sue or be used? I think all the escavators are in fact registered in the names of wives, children, grandchildren, nephew, and so on. It is said that people are not allowed to do business while one is serving in the govt. but what is the % of people who do not work outside office. There are people who do all sorts of private works. Every one is busy doing business. Buildings, cars, land plots, orchards,…. So is there a point to discuss at all? Do we need The Journalist to find these facts when it is seen in everyday life? Life is short and better mani jangshey and get prepared. Closing the ears and eyes might save from suffocation.

  5. A local contractor whose excavator was hired to l&t at punatshangchu was asked to take back immediately. l&t staff told the contractor that they could do nothing as it was being replaced by a minister’s excavater (may be it in the name of his spouse)

  6. Wow, now its becoming more interesting. Can’t wait to see the full story, and the reaction of the concerned authority.

    BTW, does anybody know The Journalist website? Or does it have one?

    Till then good luck with excavator business!!

  7. There are two pertinent issues we are dealing here.

    1. Yes, the spouses,relatives and friends of the MPs can do business and go about their own lives as everyone else do but WITHOUT any interference and favoritism from the MP. If anyone can prove with evidence, directly or indirectly, that the MP has done something for the family member while he/she is in the office, the
    MP can be sued at the Supreme Court and get impeached for breach of the Constitution. However,if the MP can prove that he/she is not at all involved in the accused family/friend’s business, he can sue back for defamation at any Civil Courts and ask for indemnity.

    2. Much of today’s failed democracy in many countries is partly due to the incorrect and incomplete reporting of news and information by the journalists. Most of what these journalists say is half-truths and that is not the whole truth. They need to be very careful in what they report because other people can be misguided by their information. Although he was more of a government mouthpiece all these years in Kuensel, Dasho Kinley Dorji was a praise worthy journalist in our country. I know how he writes and tells people what he can’t tell it openly black on white. Pasang Dorji should go and smell his shit sometimes just in case he realises what it takes to be a real journalist, a good one, of course!!

  8. Tough question! But it does not seem fair that just because a lady is the spouse of an MP, she should be denied a business opportunity.

  9. In the US, the suspicion of Scandal and Conflict of Interest in a situation like this is somewhat solved by placing the politician’s assets in a Blind Trust.
    Can this work in Bhutan too? (On a personal taste, I am not a big fan of this system. It sets the scandal deeper into the unknown and suddenly there are Blind Trusts funding political parties which is unhealthy).

    But what if the spouse of the politician is running an independent apolitical career? It can be anything from Excavator Machines to Employment as an Office Assistant. It is against Equality and Justice to subject the spouse to suspicion when S/he has the right to an independent career of their choice.

    “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion” – Julius Caesar

  10. Tangba, forget much of today’s failed democracies, name even one democracy that has failed because of incorrect or incomplete reporting by journalists? One must not make up blatant lies and stories to suit ones end. You are giving journalists too much power with your assertion that many democracies have failed because of journalists.

    Keep up the fantastic reporting Passang Dorji and reveal the truth, even though it may hurt people like Tangba and make them defensive and who probably is a MP or a relative of an MP and has a stake in the excavator business. We are behind you all the way Passang.

  11. mediwatch says

    The OL wrote: “Passang Dorji didn’t contact me. Nor did he contact my wife. And this is what The Journalist had written:

    “The opposition leader, Tshering Tobgay, also confessed to having two excavators in his wife’s name and that one was already deployed at the PHPA site. He could not be contacted for further details. He was in Haa and was unreachable through cell phone.”

    Going by your own explanation Mr OL, I think there is not much wrong the Journalist has committed. Passang did not know that your wife owned two excavators before you told him. If Passang ‘confided’ in you, i guess it was a cordial way of yours in return to ‘confide’in him by giving the information about your wife’s excavators. And well, when you confide in somebody else, basically you are trusting somebody with something. If you did not want Passang to publish the the part of your story, at the first place you should not have given him the piece of news.

    Passang had mentioned the bare facts that you gave him. And the Journalist also mentioned that you could not be contacted as you were out in Haa.

    If you think the Journalist had tried to insinuate meanings other than what was intended, i think you did too much reading between the lines.

  12. mediawatch says

    There is a thin line between the issue of MP’s wives and the MP’s owning the excavators. The business venture could be a family business while it’s on the name of the spouse. And there is definitely a vested interest. MP’s would want his/her spouse do good business which means more money for the family and more money for the MP.
    I don’t say MP’s spouses cannot do business. As individual citizens they have the right to do any kind of rightful business. However, what is possibly rotten about Punatshangchhu Project and MP’s excavators is that there is a probable chance of authority being misused. Perhaps intentionally or unintentionally.
    The facts are:
    1) The project is a massive undertaking and huge money is involved
    2) There are MP’s wives’ excavators and other business competing for work
    3) There must be a process of selection based on tender and quotation of price

    The possibility here is that MP’s wives’ excavators may be given preference while normal businessmen may not. The subtle underbelly of the issue is not a blatant act of corruption but a craftier, ingeniously done business. And that the Journalist should dig out.

    All of us know how this kind of arrangements can be easily made. Period.

    Nepotism and favoritism are not new to the Bhutanese society. In a more simpler phrase, they call it “pull the strings”. And this can be easily done when you are in a position of power.

    The bottom line is, while leaving the debate of “should MP’s wives own excavators” aside, the probability of corruption is there.

  13. ShantiVajra says

    By the way, how many wives/family members of MPs own such excavators?

    The point I’m trying to make here is, if most of them owned such machinery, then there is something wrong. Why must most of them go for investing in excavators and not undertake other business? How did they come to consensus that they must invest in excavators? On what basis did the bank approve 90 lakhs of loan? How many of the wives/family members of MPs availed such loans? How can/did the banks approve loans amounting to such huge figures? Has it ‘not’ got to do with their husband/family member being the MP? If the fish is smelly, then there is something fishy…

  14. where is this site

  15. Mr. Viewer says

    Dear readers,
    It is true with what Tangba said about the 1st phrase but if our honorable MP was at the BNB processing for loan I guess it is obvious that it is his and more over when is there doing his personal work where we could be of adhere for his due responsibilities for the public.
    any way as we say seeing is believing, we look forward for a clear story

  16. Mr Viewer, yes, you are getting the point. If anyone has any evidence of our Honorable OL involved in his wife’s buying of the excavators such as accompanying his wife to the Bank and do the talking with the manager “for her”, or he signed some papers “on behalf of her”, or he called someone to do something “for her”,or even has some indirect evidence which can implicate him doing something “for her”, then, sorry honorable OL I admire you but I love my country more, charges should be filed against OL at the Supreme Court and get his dirty ass kicked out of the National Assembly. That’s it. That’s how it should be. Nobody should be above the law, NO ONE.

  17. Absolutley nothing wrong in anybody doing business, we are now a democracy and it is a free world. Only thing is how do you get a loan of 90 lacs when the two excavators cost 94 lacs, I thought the banks give only 50% or 40% of the cost of the items.

  18. OL,
    If the excavators were bought after your election and appointment, then I suspect you have no moral authority to questiont the government.

  19. Dear OL,
    I am sorry that i have to link the ‘Controlling Influence’ and ‘Excavating Dirt’ as one.
    Since TR has explained his stand for helping BT in Bhutan Times Sunday issue (14.3.2010), you as OL ought to explain to the Nation that your wife owning Excavators does not in anyway affect the sacred duty as OL in the slightest thought of Conscience.
    If it were for Amartya K. Sen and Jeane Dritz, its a question of who plucks the bigger fruit from the tree given a choice. A choice termed RATIONAL BEHAVIOR…
    OL ought to explain the nation of your non-involvement with your wife’s business…..
    Cheers Ol

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