A change in ministerial portfolio proposed

Home minister Damcho Dorji to be transferred as the foreign minister and Dawa Gyaltshen to be the home minister 

Cabinet: Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay has proposed Bongo-Chapcha constituency’s representative Dawa Gyaltshen as the home minister and home minister Damcho Dorji to be transferred as the foreign minister.

The proposal is subject to His Majesty The King’s approval. A press release from the cabinet secretariat stated that in accordance with Article 17, section 3 of the Constitution, the Prime Minister submitted the recommendation to His Majesty The King on July 20.

Article 17, section 3 of the Constitution states that His Majesty shall appoint ministers from among the members of the National Assembly, on the recommendation of the prime minister, or shall remove a minister on the advice of the prime minister.

With a Bachelors degree in education from Huddersfield University in UK, Dawa Gyaltshen, 60, is the chairperson of the National Assembly’s good governance committee and a member of the Parliamentary affairs and finance committee.

Dawa Gyaltshen refused to comment on the prime minister’s recommendation saying it would not be wise unless approved and confirmed.

Incumbent foreign minister Rinzin Dorje said he respects the prime minister’s decision. Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje was on authorised absence since January 23 this year. He was charged for alleged embezzlement of public property and misuse of functions in connection with the lhakhang Karpo case in Haa where he served as the former dzongda.

The Haa district court acquitted him of all the charges on June 23. The case is in now in the High Court.

Press secretary to the Prime Minister, Tshering Wangmo said the recommendation to remove the incumbent foreign minister from the Cabinet has been submitted to His Majesty The King. “Lyonchoen had already discussed the issue with the foreign minister,” she said.

Meanwhile, some Parliament members from the ruling party said the decision came as a surprise and that they were not consulted.

However, People’s Democratic Party spokesperson Ritu Raj Chhetri said that the issue was discussed in the executive committee that is chaired by the prime minister. “The executive committee is the highest decision making body in line with our party charter,” he said, adding that the parliament members were briefed by lyonchoen on the decision yesterday.

On the decision coming almost a month after the Haa court acquitted the minister, the ruling party’s spokesperson, Ritu Raj Chhetri said the decision had to be taken in “national interest over individual interest.”

Ritu Raj Chhetri said that the precedence in other countries is such that a parliamentarian or a Cabinet minister takes moral responsibility when involved in a corruption case. “In our case, it didn’t happen the way it should have happened, as no person is guilty unless proven,” he said.

“Even in the past government’s tenure, the foreign ministry has been without a minister for about three years,” he said. “Foreign ministry is a crucial ministry and to not have a minister for a longer period is not justified.”

Ritu Raj Chhetri also said that it was difficult for the prime minister to cope up with foreign affairs as he was already bogged down with other duties. Lyonchoen took charge of the foreign ministry since the foreign minister was granted authorised absence.

With the case already in the High Court, Ritu Raj Chhetri said it could take about two to three months for the High Court to pass its verdict and if any of the parties appeal further, it could take another three months or so. “This means that in a year almost 20 percent of our time is wasted, which is a lot of time,” he said.

Besides, he said the party’s stand is to not tolerate corruption. There had also been a lot of feedback from people on the case. “As a party, we don’t want to malign ourselves with corruption,” he said. “That’s why we had to come hard on the minister although we are fully aware that he is innocent.”

Meanwhile, while some see the government’s decision as a political move, it has also been commended.

Some parliamentarians said that the decision would have a lasting impact on future governments, as precedence has been set. Others said that the decision was timely as it was not fair for the people and country to have a foreign minister to be on authorised absence for an indefinite period.

“Earlier, it was the judiciary correcting the government, now it’s the government correcting the judiciary,” a parliamentarian said. “Whether or not the foreign minister is involved, the government has to protect its party image for which it took the moral responsibility.”

Meanwhile, before he joined politics in 2013, Dawa Gyaltshen served as the general manager of human resource department at the Tala Hydropower Project.

He started his career as an instructor with the then Royal Technical School, today known as the College of Science and Technology in Kharbandi, Phuentsholing. There he served as the vice principal and principal for about 15 years.

Dawa Gyaltshen then joined the National Technical Training Authority (NTTA) in Thimphu from 1999 to 2003. He continued to serve at NTTA until 2006 December even after it was merged with the labour ministry.

By Kinga Dema

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