River boulder exporters to Bangladesh have formed a syndicate of corruption across the border, according to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).
ACC has discovered that there is an elaborate and systematic bribery and kickback schemes, referred to as MVI (Motor Vehicle Inspector) payments that Bhutanese exporters and transporters pay at various checkpoints across the Indian border through intermediaries.
ACC is currently investigating suspected corruption issues surrounding the dredging of river boulders and their export to Bangladesh from Ammochhu river in Phuntsholing which started in 2017.
According to the ACC, it is evident that such practices started with the transporters subjecting to corrupt inducement or gratification to dodge from being stopped or fined for overloaded deliveries. It has been learnt that this illegal payments system has consequently made exporters devise devious schemes to conceal income and evade statutory tax.
ACC stated that bribing foreign public officials, whether through intermediary or otherwise, is a corruption offence under Section 44 and Section 45 of the Anti-Corruption Act of Bhutan 2011. As a result, various players also end up breaching the Income Tax Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2001and Road Safety and Transport Act 1999.
The ACC urged all the exporters to strictly comply with Section 68 of the RSTA Act 1999. Further, the relevant agencies are required to be vigilant and take stringent actions in accordance with applicable laws.
The act states that a person must not drive or allow a motor vehicle to be driven on a highway if the vehicle is carrying a load which is in excess of the manufacturers’ specifications (overloaded) for that type of vehicle or it exceeds the gross vehicle weight for the vehicle.
To determine the load a vehicle is carrying, an authorized person or Police officer maydirect the driver of the vehicle to go to the nearest weigh bridge to weigh the vehicle and its load; or use a portable weighing device provided for in the Regulations to determine the load the vehicle is carrying or the gross vehicle weight.
ACC mentioned that the commission has discovered that ever since the export of dredged boulders had started almost one and a half year now, a group of Indians across the border has devised an elaborate and systematic bribery and kickback scheme reportedly in collusion with their own public officials. Bhutanese exporters and transporters are required to pay every month a fixed sum of money against each truck to certain intermediaries for onward payment as bribes to law enforcement officials across the borders.
The commission learnt that as of March 2019, these individuals were collecting Nu 9,000 for every ten wheeler truck and Nu 7,000 to Nu 8,000 for every six wheeler truck and estimated that every month the collection crossed over Nu 10mn.
ACC also stated that the investigations revealed that these bribes which they referred to as MVI payments were made as a corrupt inducement or gratification to numerous public officials at various checkpoints across the borders to avoid being stopped and fined for over loaded consignment while passing through Indian territory. This illegal payments system had also evidently driven exporters and contractors to devise devious scheme to conceal income and evade statutory tax (Breach of Income Tax Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan) depriving the state of its lawful revenue in millions.
ACC stated that they may conduct surprise checks at any point of time and responsible public officials shall be held accountable and due course of action shall be taken as per the Anti-Corruption Act of Bhutan 2011.
The ACC has also sent a letter to the Royal Bhutan Police and Road Safety and Transport Authority.
Dechen Dolkar from Thimphu