…𝑩𝒚 𝒂𝒈𝒆𝒏𝒄𝒚, 𝒎𝒊𝒏𝒊𝒔𝒕𝒓𝒊𝒆𝒔 𝒓𝒆𝒄𝒆𝒊𝒗𝒆𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒉𝒊𝒈𝒉𝒆𝒔𝒕 𝒏𝒖𝒎𝒃𝒆𝒓 𝒐𝒇 𝒄𝒐𝒓𝒓𝒖𝒑𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏 𝒓𝒆𝒑𝒐𝒓𝒕𝒔, 𝒇𝒐𝒍𝒍𝒐𝒘𝒆𝒅 𝒃𝒚 𝒈𝒆𝒘𝒐𝒈 𝒂𝒅𝒎𝒊𝒏𝒊𝒔𝒕𝒓𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏 (26) 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒅𝒛𝒐𝒏𝒈𝒌𝒉𝒂𝒈 𝒂𝒅𝒎𝒊𝒏𝒊𝒔𝒕𝒓𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏
By Phurpa Wangmo
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) disclosed a significant reduction in corruption reports for the year 2022-23 compared to the previous year. Despite this achievement, the report highlights persisting challenges faced by the ACC in its anti-corruption efforts.
The ACC received a total of 342 corruption reports during the reporting year 2022-23, marking a noteworthy decrease of 21.4% from the 435 reports filed in the year 2021-22. Among the various reporting methods, webmail remained the most favored mode with 122 reports, followed by walk-in submissions with 108, and postal reports with 96. Notably, there has been a shift since 2021-22, with more corruption reports coming from known sources, indicating increased awareness and trust in the ACC. Out of the 342 reports received, 203, accounting for 59.3%, originated from known sources.
According to the Anti-Corruption Commission’s Annual Report 2022-2023, introduced in the National Council on Thursday, the majority of the reported corruption cases pertained to public revenue (47 reports), followed by issues related to resources (28 reports) and contracts (20 reports), signifying the areas most susceptible to corruption. By agency, ministries received the highest number of corruption reports (39), followed by gewog administration (26) and dzongkhag administration (20). In terms of the nature of offenses, abuse of functions (106 reports) was the most commonly alleged crime, followed by bribery (26) and embezzlement (18). The report also highlighted that ministries showed a higher proportion of these offenses.
Out of the 342 corruption reports, 203 warranted further action, while 139 (40.6%) were dropped. Among the reports necessitating action, 53 qualified for investigation, 76 were shared for action, 43 were designated for sensitization efforts, and 31 reports were marked for information enrichment (IE). During the year, the number of reports qualified for IE increased to 35, of which 15 were closed, six were upgraded for investigation, and six were shared for action.
Likewise, the reports qualified for investigation increased to 62, with 25 involving bribery, 17 abuse of functions, and 12 embezzlement cases. Ministries had the highest number of corruption reports qualified for investigation, followed by financial institutions. Remarkably, 64.5% of these cases were assigned for investigation during the year. Nevertheless, there remains a backlog of 110 corruption reports pending investigation since 2016 to 2022.
Regarding corruption reports shared for action, concerned agencies are required to submit an Action Taken Report (ATR) within 30 days. In the reporting year, the ATR rate stood at 57.3% (47 out of 82), compared to 54.2% (58 out of 107) in the previous year. Notably, the highest number of pending ATRs generally pertained to the Royal Audit Authority (RAA), which was resolved through biannual meetings between the two institutions. There are currently 81 pending ATRs from 2017 to 2022, involving 18 agencies.
ACC opened 38 new investigations during the reporting year, in addition to 39 spillover cases, bringing the total caseload to 77. This marks a 23.4% increase from the previous year’s 59 cases. The caseload has been steadily rising, and of the 77 caseload, 41 cases were referred to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) for prosecution, five to relevant agencies for administrative actions, nine were dropped due to a lack of evidence, and one remains under review. This represents a clearance rate of 72.7%, a significant improvement from the previous year’s 51%, despite a high attrition rate of 15%, compared to only 4.8% in 2019. The average time around time (TAT) to complete one case was reduced to 65.5 working days, compared to 70.9 working days in the previous year. Notably, the 41 cases referred for prosecution is substantially higher than the eight and six cases reported for the years 2021-22 and 2020-21, respectively.
Out of the 56 cases closed during the reporting year, a total of 270 individuals were implicated for prosecution or administrative actions. Public servants accounted for 45.6% of the total individuals implicated, followed by business persons (26.7%) and corporate employees (10.7%). The total financial restitution attached to probable charges and disciplinary actions for all cases referred during the year amounted to Nu. 105.15 million. ACC conducted eight search and seizure operations during the year, compared to 17 in the previous year. Additionally, 17 individuals were arrested and detained in police custody, compared to 24 in the previous year. Likewise, 17 cases are under trial in different courts.
ACC has been actively implementing preventive measures through its Anti-Corruption Strategy 2019-2023. This includes the implementation of an Organizational Integrity Plan (OIP) in the public sector, which encompasses a code of conduct, integrity vetting, asset declaration, and corruption risk management. Out of 101 agencies implementing the OIP, eight achieved an ‘excellent’ rating, while 42 agencies fell into the ‘poor’ category based on standard means of verification. Constitutional Bodies scored the highest, with an overall implementation rate of 76.8%. However, deeper evaluation revealed that the implementation of grievance redressal mechanisms and integrity vetting lagged behind other activities. In the reporting year, ACC issued 8,847 integrity vetting results to 84 agencies, primarily for recruitment (4,391) and promotion (3,710).
ACC undertook proactive systemic studies in critical areas, evaluating processes, procedures, and internal control mechanisms in the Department of Tourism, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, and Bhutan Food and Drugs Authority. Specific recommendations were shared with relevant agencies to address potential systemic vulnerabilities, with the aim of contributing to systemic improvement and corruption deterrence. For instance, the implementation of a reserve price and open auction in the management of surface collection and dredging of riverbed materials resulted in substantial revenue generation for the government, amounting to Nu. 69.5 million annually, which otherwise was forgone in the past. ACC has also engaged with the private sector to integrate the Business Integrity Initiative of Bhutan (BIIB) to promote ethical businesses. However, an independent external review rated the overall implementation of BIIB as ‘fair,’ citing limited awareness and a lack of incentives and coordination.
As per the report, ACC conducted 35 interactive sessions for 10,924 participants from various institutions and agencies. Thematic sessions were held for 327 participants from vulnerable target groups, including regulatory officials (259), finance and procurement officials (47), and local government leaders (21), aimed at educating them on the corruption risks associated with their professions.
The National Council’s Good Governance Committee has made four key recommendations based on the report. These include the need for ACC to enhance its public education efforts by reaching out to grassroots communities to improve awareness and inclusiveness. Additionally, there is a call for a thorough review of the potential risks associated with clustering initiatives that could affect ACC’s operational autonomy and core mandates, with collaboration between ACC, the Royal Civil Service Commission, and Lead Cluster agencies. Furthermore, addressing budgetary constraints is crucial to sustaining ACC’s efforts in tackling the increasing corruption caseload, necessitating exploration of alternative budget allocation mechanisms in partnership with the Ministry of Finance. Lastly, addressing delays in resolving corruption cases is vital for the criminal justice system, and a collaborative effort involving Parliament’s relevant Standing Committees is recommended to scrutinize and address institutional challenges in this regard.