A systematic flaw?

The High Court yesterday upheld the lower court’s decision to sentence the Home Minister to two-month imprisonment term for claiming false vehicle insurance before he joined politics.

This is the latest development in the prolonged case that started two years ago. The curious public and those following the case have the same question—what will happen? Will the home minister be removed from office? Will the home minister appeal to higher courts, in this case, the larger bench of the High Court to the Supreme Court?

What is clear is that the appeal system is not exhausted and, if not happy with the judgment, the minister will appeal. It would mean a few months more or even a year before a final decision is reached. It would be by then, for the minister, the third in  year in governance with a criminal case hanging over his head.

The laws are clear. Should the home minister decide not to appeal, he would be disqualified. Section 179 of Election Act of Bhutan states that a person shall be disqualified as a candidate or a member holding an elective office under the Constitution, if he or she has been convicted for any criminal offence and sentenced to imprisonment.

The home minister is convicted for criminal offence and sentenced for imprisonment. The Constitution, the “mother of all laws” states the same. The length of the imprisonment term is immaterial. The provision in the Constitution is to protect the public from tainted candidates in all instances.

The home minister’s case started from a false insurance claim. He has knowingly or unknowingly become a victim of a system that is deep rooted in our society. The minister’s Toyota Prado met with an accident. He met with an official of the insurance company where his car was insured and they manipulated the claims. Had he not expressed political interest, not many would have dug into the loopholes or the flawed systems.

Some may say he is an unfortunate victim of the system. Others say it is a blatant case of collusion or corruption. The bigger problem lies in our system.  Let us be honest. If the collusion between the insurance company and the owner didn’t involve a political candidate, not many would have made an issue out of it.

We can surmise that if the owner of the car was an ordinary citizen, a civil servant or a businessman, it would have passed. If it was a lower staff like a clerk or taxi driver, it would not even raise an eyebrow of the insurance company or the antigraft body. A minister is involved, there is political interest. A system was taken for a ride by its own people.

The case is in the limelight because an elected leader, who is supposed to lead by example, is involved. Punishing the home minister by disqualifying him will not end the systematic fault lines. Whether it is with an insurance company, businesses or in the civil service, there are so many things that need cleansing. We have to get to the root of our systems. It is so well established that unless a reform is initiated, it will not go away.

Whether it is claiming a few days extra TA/DA, using connections, nepotism and favourtism, our systems from civil service to corporate bodies to the private sector are cursed by it. The so-called common man is angry against the system because it is not fair. When it comes to insurance claims, it is said that the inspectors call the shots.

Meanwhile, independent and autonomous body like the judiciary’s role becomes crucial in such cases. Could we take a case involving an elected minister in his second year in power as an urgent case? The public needs a verdict. 

There is public interest in such a case. One political party wanted to stop the candidate from contesting on valid grounds. When justice is delayed, suspicions start growing.

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