Complaints on abuse of functions by public servants continue to be prevalent. It comprised nearly half (42.6 percent) of the total complaints received last year, according to the Anti Corruption Commission’s (ACC) annual report.

The largest number of 153 complaints received in the reporting period pertains to complaints that were either grievances or those that did not constitute a corruption offence particularly but were the means to corrupt acts such as deception, coercion, forgery and collusion.

The ACC report stated that substantial resources are spent on dealing with such complaints, which affect the efficiency and effectiveness of ACC.

Allegations of embezzlement comprised 12.9 percent of the total complaints. As in the past, allegation of bribery is the least with only 0.9 percent.

“Complaints pertaining to bribery is the least every year given that bribery is perpetrated in secrecy between two parties and very difficult to detect,” the report stated.

From the 352 complaints received  last year, 58.2 percent were from anonymous sources, and 41.8 percent from known sources. For three consecutive years, the number of complaints from known sources has been declining.

This trend, according to the report, may be largely due to the fear of reprisal.

Agency-wise, complaints lodged against local governments continue to be the highest with 119 complaints, constituting 33.8 percent of the total complaints. No complaints were received against the Legislature and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA).

“With greater devolution of powers, responsibilities and resources to the local level from the central government, there can also be corresponding transfer of corruption opportunities,” the report stated.

Weak internal governance systems, passive citizens, lack of civic oversight and poor transparency and accountability are some of the factors that could expose local government to corruption with decentralisation.

“When corruption occurs locally, the impact on citizens’ lives can be the most damaging, with the poorest being hit the hardest,” the report stated.

Office of ombudsman

Since most of the complaints relate to grievances arising from lack of transparency and maladministration, 47.5 percent were referred to the agencies.

When such complaints are shared with respective agencies, they are required to conduct inquiry into the matter and report to ACC for its review through an action taken report (ATR).

The report stated that ACC noticed that there is no uniformity in the handling of such complaints among the different agencies.

Complainants are often not satisfied when ACC asks agencies to address their complaints and insist that ACC itself investigate. Consequently, the institutional and managerial capacity of ACC is overwhelmed with administrative matters instead of dedicating its limited resources to tackling real corruption cases.

Therefore, the need of the hour is to establish an adequate and effective mechanism for providing effective oversight over public administration, safeguarding individual rights and creating procedures for redress of individual grievances against the administration.

The ACC has recommended to institute an office of ombudsman to protect the general public against violation of rights, abuse of powers, unfair decisions and maladministration. The ACC justified that this will, however, require parliamentary law, as there is presently no legal provision for an ombudsman, although Article 21.16 of the Constitution provides that the Parliament may, by law, establish impartial and independent administrative tribunals as well as Alternative Dispute Resolution centres.

To deal with administrative grievances and all problems related to such complaints, the ACC has proposed for an establishment of an office of ombudsman.

The National Council deliberated on this issue while discussing the ACC report yesterday.

The good governance committee suggested that rather than creating a separate institution, the existing institutions like Royal Civil Service Commission, Druk Holding and Investments and labour ministry can be used to deal with administrative complaints pertaining to civil servants, corporations and private entities respectively.

The committee recommended the ACC to forward all administrative-related complaints directly to these agencies for remedial actions.

Gasa’s council member, Sangay Khandu, said that the issues related to administrative lapses are something that the ACC can do on their own. But it needs to strengthen its capacity.

The Council member from Bumthang, Nima, said that there is no clarity on how the office of ombudsman would be structured, cost of establishment, and laws. He suggested that the recommendation of the committee be upheld and keep provisions for such establishment in future.

However, the eminent member of the house, Phuntsho Rabten, said that ACC is also overwhelmed with mounting backlog cases.

About 529 backlog complaints were carried forward from 2006 to 2015, and reviewed comprehensively and reconciled to 165 cases. He said that such administrative complaints are deviating the focus of the Commission from its primary mandate.

He said an office of ombudsman would benefit the country because simply passing the mandate to parent agencies like RCSC, DHI and labour ministry would not achieve the desired outcome.  Some members also said that these agencies have their own mandates and would give less priority to the investigations.

Tshering Dorji