A milestone in Bhutan’s democracy

Terms of the first constitutional post holders and commissioners end

Tenure: The past week has been one of the busiest for the holders and commissioners of democratic Bhutan’s constitutional offices.

On July 21, the chairpersons of the Anti Corruption Commission, the Election Commission of Bhutan and the Royal Audit Authority, complete their five-year term in office after His Majesty The King assigned them with a responsibility to spearhead the institutions that are vital in establishing the country’s democratic transition.

With local government elections around the corner, the office of the Election Commission of Bhutan in Olakha, Thimphu is on its toes.

Chief Election Commissioner, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi and his team, has just declared the final Delimitation Order for the 15 dzongkhag thromdes and 18 dzongkhag yenlag thromdes, a significant process that clears the road for the upcoming thromde elections.

After conducting two parliamentary elections and a local government election, the declaration of the delimitation order was the commission’s most important task before they leave office, as the Constitution mandates.

“The delimitation exercise for me was the last major work and I thought it would be good opportunity for me to complete it,” Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said. “I would feel something missing if it hadn’t been completed and I am happy to look back and see that it’s completed now.”

Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said he is pleased that the commission could also start the Bhutan Children’s Parliament, which he believes could make a big difference in the future of democracy.

“As I leave, I can say that I am happy and well contented and that I probably didn’t let down anybody,” he said. “Having had the privilege to fulfill the vision of His Majesties the Kings of starting the democratic process, my family and I would cherish the small role I played.”

Dasho Kunzang Wangdi was serving as the Auditor General when through a Royal Decree, he was appointed as one of the three interim appointments made in preparation for the general elections in 2008.

During an audience after the interim appointments, His Majesty had said that the office of the Election Commission was imperative for the building of a strong foundation in the process of establishing democratic practices and norms.

As his term comes to an end, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said, “ I hope we have left a system, a working one and the rest, let history comment on it.”

ACC

Away from the expressway, in Kawangjangsa, the Office of the Anti-Corruption Commission is quite. Chairperson Dasho Neten Zangmo has just returned from Phuentsholing, where an investigation, the commission’s biggest to date, is underway.

The investigation in Phuenstholing, she said is kind of locking horns. “That’s an area where everybody knows what’s happening but no body has dared do anything,” Dasho Neten Zangmo said. “Even if they have done, its very superficial and getting into that is complicated.”

Investigations into the entrenched corrupt practices in the country’s commercial hub will continue even after the commissioners leave office.

After nine and half years, Dasho Neten Zangmo describes the completion of her term in one word – happy. “It’s been very rewarding and I feel happy,” she said. “I am happy that I will be out of Thimphu where I am suffering from a lot of hypocrisy sickness.”

Dasho Neten Zangmo was serving as the foreign secretary when she was appointed as one of the interim constitutional post holders. The Anti-Corruption Commission was given the responsibility to curb and root out corruption through timely and effective checking on the use of public funds and resources.

As she looks back, she said her term, as the chairperson of the ACC and the team being able to bring corruption in the national agenda, has been one of her most enriching experiences. “I can’t ask for a better opportunity,” she said.

“I am highly satisfied that I have earned my monthly salary, every chheltrum of it,” Dasho Neten Zangmo said. “That’s the message I would like to send to everybody because we take for granted that we are supposed to get our salary at the end of the day, regardless of whether you perform or not.”

Despite the level of corruption the commission has unearthed since its establishment, Dasho Neten Zangmo believes that the country still hasn’t reached that level of beyond redemption.

“I keep saying that a majority are good but the problem with the large majority is that they are passive onlookers,” she said. “They will refuse to lift their little finger until they are affected; that is the bigger problem. However, it is still manageable but we should better act before it is too late.”

Dasho Neten Zangmo said she would not miss working in the commission because if one is a concerned citizen, there are a lot opportunities one could seize to make a little difference.

“My conviction is people are not bad but lets not be romantic about this Shangrila business and GNH,” she said. “Lets have our feet on the ground and really do some soul searching; we can bluff everybody but not ourselves and our conscience.”

RAA

A little further from the commission, stands the towering structure of the Royal Audit Authority. One of the oldest structures in the premises, the authority has been around for a longer time than the other two constitutional offices.

Auditor General Dasho Ugen Chewang is about to leave for the adoption of international standards on auditing, which he believes would enhance credibility and accountability.

As his term nears completion, Dasho Ugen Chewang admits that he has not thought about what he would do next.  “I will take it as it comes,” he said quickly asking, “Should you be continuing all the time?”

The completion of a constitutional post holder’s tenure, he said, is about change. “Because to be fair, people give their best to some extent, but after some time, you become obsolete and redundant,” he said. “What ever best you are.”

Dasho Ugen Chewang who completes nine year and seven months in office next week, said he has fairly succeeded in bringing up an institution that completes accountability process in a democratic system.

“Our audit report for instance is the process we have established properly,” he said. “The accountability process is complete and now when our reports are being deliberated elaborately in the Parliament we promote accountability and good governance.”

In preparation for the country’s transition, the former Director of the National Pension and Provident Fund, Dasho Ugen Chewang, was appointed as the Auditor General to lead the authority in conducting proper and timely audits of public funds and to check the wastage and misuse of funds.

While the authority has achieved much in terms of recoveries and highlighting misuse of public funds, Dasho Ugen Chewang said that the same issues are repeatedly occurring.

“The reason is our whole system has apathy towards this and that needs to be addressed,” he said. “We’ve named and shamed the involved but now some sort of apathy has developed; is the society ready to hold them accountable? This is the question I don’t have an answer to.”

What Dasho Ugen Chewang does have an answer to, as does Dasho Neten Zangmo and Dasho Kunzang Wangdi is that the system they have helped establish will not lose momentum in their pursuits of fulfilling the constitutional mandate after they leave.

“Ugen Chewangs will come and go but the system must prevail and that’s why I believe that RAA will rise,” Dasho Ugen Chewang said.

The momentum must continue, Dasho Neten Zangmo said. “At the end of the day, it is not about personalities, it is all about reasoning and being rational.”

Dasho Kungzang Wangdi said that every individual in the election commission is well groomed in their respective task. “We have a system in place built over almost a decade, which we can say now is well tested,” he said. “It would not be difficult for the new Election Commissioners to see through it.”

Article 31, Section 4 of the Constitution states that, “the holders of the constitutional offices shall not be eligible for re-appointment.”

In his book, the Constitution of Bhutan- Principles and philosophies, the former Chief Justice Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye states that security of tenure ensures independence and reappointment may threaten impartiality.

“The possibility of re-appointment could drive a constitutional office holder to take actions motivated by the hope of furthering their chances for reappointment,” he states. “This could weaken and erode their independence, undermine their integrity ad cloud their objectivity.”

Sonam Pelden

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