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YEARENDER:

For the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the Rooster year began with an early call for awareness as the anti-graft body focuses on prevention and reducing corruption in the country.

One of the major initiatives the commission has taken to reduce corruption in the 12th Plan is to incorporate the revised national integrity and anti-corruption strategy (NIACS).

To integrate the revised anti-corruption strategy in development Plans, the commission organised consultation meetings in August for heads of 16 agencies. The consultation meeting was aimed at improving the integrity measures in procurement and human resource management, among others.

ACC carried out a thematic presentation on “The role of educators in building an ethical and incorruptible society” at the Paro College of Education on August 19. ACC also highlighted some important aspects of corruption and roles that the Gewog administrative officers can play in mainstreaming anti-corruption measures in the gewog development programmes in Tsirang.

However, the Rooster year saw more detection of corrupt practices and conflicts between prosecuting and investigating agencies.

As the Rooster announced the break of dawn, the ACC dropped the case of alleged bribery case in connection with the reduction of a sentence from life to 10 years involving foreign minister Damcho Dorji for lack of evidence in March last year. It concluded that the case doesn’t merit prosecution after six months of extensive investigation.

It was alleged that the former drangpon of Mongar, Damcho Dorji, the incumbent foreign minister, was bribed by a contractor to change the prison term in connection with two choeten vandalism cases in Lhakhang Dogorba and Hongri, Chaskhar gewog in 2002.

During the course of the investigation from September 2016 to February this year, ACC officials interrogated 17 people, including the former superintendent and officer-in-charge of Mongar police, constables, the convict, a DCM truck driver, former bench clerks and the messenger of the dzongkhag court. Of the 17, the bench clerk was detained for around two weeks to establish facts as the conviction order to the police was allegedly prepared by him and signed by the drangpon.

The commission’s investigation however found that, in November 2002, Rido from Chaskhar, was found guilty of choeten vandalism and was accordingly sentenced to life imprisonment.  However, contrary to what had been explicitly stated in the judgment, the drangpon wrongfully communicated to Mongar police to imprison the accused for 10 years from March 8, 2002 to March 7, 2012.

Rido was released on serving the prison term.  Although Lyonpo Damcho Dorji’s case was dropped by ACC, Rido was sent back to the jail to serve life sentence after the Supreme Court issued an order.

In April, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) questioned the legal standing of the ACC to prosecute the Trongsa land case. ACC charged six individuals comprising the former dzongdag Lhab Dorji, his wife Karma Tshetim Dolma, the then Trongsa drangpon Ugyen Tenzin, two former gups, Drakteng gup Tenzin and Nubi gup Phuntsho of Trongsa, and the National Land Commission’s surveyor Kelzang Nima to Trongsa dzongkhag court after OAG dismissed the case in December 2016. The case is still ongoing.

The OAG dismissed the case after reviewing the ACC’s findings stating that there was no legal basis to prosecute them.

The OAG, while dropping the case, stated that the alleged transactions were caused due to administrative lapses of the state authorities and the failure of few individuals who had passed away before the ACC investigation.

Attorney General Shera Lhundup said that even when the prosecution is done by an autonomous agency, there are confirmed instances of investigating agencies withholding critical exculpatory evidence. “People must understand the health of due process and justice when the investigators become prosecutors,” he said.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay directed the OAG to render full support and cooperation to the ACC in the Trongsa land transaction case. He said that he had written to the AG on May 10 to refrain from criticising and challenging the ACC, which is exercising its authority as empowered by the ACC Act. “As a government’s legal advisor and legal representative, I have directed the AG to support and cooperate with the commission.”

ACC also investigated to ascertain the legality of sources for more than INR 107.435 million (M) of demonetised notes deposited in 74 bank accounts after Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan (RMA) forwarded 700 INR accounts to ACC and another 725 accounts to the Department of Revenue and Customs (DRC) for review.

There were 27,000 accounts with INR 1.6 billion deposited in various financial institutions in the country during the demonetisation of INR notes. The central bank is now sitting on eight suspicious account holders.

ACC also forwarded its investigation report on fraudulent registration and encroachment of 1.33 acres of government land at Chang Debsi, Thimphu, to the OAG on June 6 for probable prosecution and restitution of six plots. The commission implicated former land record officer of Thimphu dzongkhag, Sonam Norbu and National Land Commission’s (NLC) former survey team leader, Pema Wangdi for fraudulent transfer of idle thram through forgery and encroachment of government land.

ACC has asked the chairman of the Bhutan Duty Free Ltd (BDFL) to revoke the appointment of 10 officials who were recruited without meeting the employment criteria. ACC’s investigation found that the applicants who were shortlisted had scored less than 65 percent.

The Rooster year also saw two local leaders charged for corruption. Department of Local Governance on October 3 issued an order to Thimphu dzongkhag administration to suspend Chang Gup Kanjur after the OAG charged the gup in dzongkhag court for his alleged involvement in a state land encroachment case.

ACC forwarded to the OAG a case where Zhemgang’s Goshing Gup Sangay Letho is alleged of embezzling about Nu 10.594 million (M) from public fund between 2011 to 2015. The ACC investigated the issue in November 2016 following a complaint alleging the gup of embezzling funds meant for constructing a gewog connectivity (GC) road in 2011 and farm road from Lamtang to Mewangang in 2012.

As the Rooster was about to give way to the Male Dog year, ACC implicated 16 top officials of the Royal Insurance Corporation Limited (RICBL) and three private individuals in connection to five separate cases it investigated in 2016 and 2017.

The prosecution referral reports included investigations into the alleged irrational financial transactions between the RICBL and Nubri Capital Private Limited, fraud and collusion in the settlement and false insurance claim of a Toyota Prado, take over of another private Prado by the RICBL, irrational investments by the management in Sherub Reldri Higher Secondary School in Mongar and Neethsel Private Limited at Pasakha and other allegations of corrupt nature against the chief executive officer, executive director and other management officials of RICBL.

The RICBL Board relieved both the chief executive officer and executive director from their service on January 22 after reviewing various administrative lapses and other alleged charges against them by the ACC. CEO Namgay Lhendup and ED Sonam Dorji submitted their resignation to the board on January 18, to take moral responsibility and also submitted that the other employees be spared of any administrative action.

Meanwhile, the Rooster handed over a new case involving the project manager of Samrang mega farm project to the Dog year. ACC is reportedly investigating several alleged issues involving corruption in tendering process to favour one particular supplier, accumulation of unexplained wealth and sharing of classified information. The project manager was reportedly detained from December 28 last year and released only on February 9.

ACC also reportedly raided the house of Sai Trading’s proprietor and seized Nu 2.5M. However, the money was believed to have returned to the owner after he was detained for questioning.

The government has asked the ACC to investigate the labour ministry and has sent the minister on paid leave. It recently asked the commission to investigate former minister Yeshey Zimba’s involvement in fiscal granting incentives to hotel Le Meridien co-owned by his daughter. The dog year is likely to keep the commission on its toes.

Rinzin Wangchuk

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