GAB calls allegations baseless
An anonymous complaint has been lodged with the Anti-Corruption Commission of Bhutan (ACC) against the Guide Association of Bhutan (GAB), requesting the ACC to investigate and intervene for better accountability and transparency of the association to the members and guides.
ACC confirmed that it did receive a complaint letter against GAB and they are reviewing the case as of now. No further details have been shared.
The complaint letter has, meanwhile, accused the association for appointing the executive director (ED) without following the Terms of Reference (TOR) and has questioned the appointment.
The association is accused of not abiding by the mission and vision of GAB as registered with the Civil Society Organization Authority (CSOA), which has not benefited guides, instead pocketed money for their own benefits and misused GAB office for private purpose.
The letter alleged that the association has never conducted audit and that the accountability and transparency of the association was highly questionable and the complainant believes that the money collected from regional tourists is used for the association’s staffs and chairman’s personal use.
The accountability of the membership fees and regional tourist services collections from the dzongkhags like Paro, Punakha and Thimphu have also been questioned. While the entrance fee collection from Punakha Dzong, Paro Taktshang, Thimphu Dzong, Memorial Chorten, Paro Dzong and Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro have also been reflected for investigation.
The letter also mentions the possible misuse of membership fund and training license. It is also alleged that the staffs of the association are the only ones provided with the trainings.
Despite paying Nu 300 for the guide license, it is complained that they are provided with low quality license. The association is also accused of nepotism whereby the same board members are selected, depriving guides as nominee to sit for board meetings.
The complain letter has requested the ACC to investigate and make the staffs and the chairman to declare their asset following the asset declaration rule and regulation of ACC as the complainant believes that there might be possible means of corruption for the wealth acquired by the accused.
It also mentions that there are around more than 4,000 guides, but only a few of them are the members of the association who are given the opportunity as a guide for regional tourists, while others are deprived as they are not the members of the association.
Responding to the allegations, GAB’s ED Sonam Tashi said the allegations against them do not hold any water and called them not only baseless, but also an ill-intended taunt with a sole objective to tarnish the reputation of GAB and its members.
According to Sonam Tashi, the appointment of the ED was done after vacancy for the post was announced through Kuensel, followed by posts on GAB’s website and other official social media pages. Accordingly, two candidates turned up and one was barred from the final interview because the candidate did not match the set criteria. The interview was conducted on 25th May, 2018, by five officials from GAB and Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) in the presence of three external observers.
Sonam Tashi added that GAB has never moved an inch away from their mandates and in the bid to achieve their goals the association has conducted several trainings and workshops in the last one year, which have directly benefitted the member guides in upgrading professionalism.
On allegation of siphoning off of budget, the ED said they too wish that the association had a colossal budget.
“There are scores of plans and works to be done to uplift the professionalism of our tour guides. Because the tour guides are known as the goodwill ambassadors of the country. We would like to help train them well so that they go on to render exemplary services. But the fact is we are a cash-strapped organization sustaining on meager budget that we get through membership fees, license printing and some amount from TCB as financial aid. In fact, very often, we struggle to clear our bills on time,” he said.
“With regards to accountability and transparency, the association has been doing timely auditing since the time of our inception and has all the evidences. In fact, GAB was the first amongst CSOs to request the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) to carry out auditing in the office. Thus, to question our accountability and transparency is beyond legit,” Sonam Tashi said.
Further, the ED said GAB has no authority over the money collected from Dzongs and monuments and the amounts GAB collect from the ticket counters are deposited in bank accounts of the respective Dzongkhag every week and are audited on time.
“The guide licenses are printed in high quality PVC printing machine and therefore there has been no issue about its quality till date,” he added.
Sonam Tashi said they have never resorted to unethical means in selecting executive board members and that they were elected in accordance to the Article of Association after going through election process in the AGMs.
And as mandated, Sonam Tashi said GAB’s office bearers have been filing their asset declaration form annually with the ACC. “There is nothing to hide,” he added.
Chencho Dema from Thimphu