Human resource shortcomings plague investigating agency

Yearender |  Corruption: The Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) pro-activeness was questioned in the last year, as a result of its, as many perceived, snail pace on several cases.

The commission attributed its inability to keep up and clear the backlog of complaints to a shortage of human resources. As the ACC’s work is deemed sensitive, finding suitable people to work with the commission continues to be a challenge, especially with the Royal Civil Service Commission reluctant to provide human resource independence. ACC has 90 staff today, and plans to increase its strength to 147.

The past year also saw some disappointment for ACC’s investigators after the judiciary dismissed a few of its cases.

In June last year, the ACC and Office of the Attorney General (OAG) locked horns over fronting cases when the OAG converted criminal charges against 29 licence holders into a civil suit. The OAG cited the Anti Corruption Act for the conversion.

However, the ACC challenged OAG that despite an abundance of regulations, signed undertakings, expanded capacities of enforcement institutions like the regional revenue and customs office, regional trade and industries office, some Bhutanese “obsessed by greed” continued to resort to unlawful solicitation and amassing of wealth, leading to widespread progression of illicit businesses in Phuentsholing over the years.

Through intelligence gathering and surveillance for more than a year, the ACC learnt that fronting was providing a breeding ground for commercial bribery, deflection of goods across the border and an avenue for money laundering and forgeries. More than 40 trade licence holders are being prosecuted at the Phuentsoling dungkhag court for the restitution of more than Nu 600 million from these cases for the State.

As the Monkey year drew closer to its end, ACC was once again disappointed after the prosecuting agency dropped charges of fraud and conspiracy, in the land acquisition and substitution case involving former Trongsa Dzongdag Lhab Dorji and his wife Karma Tshetim Dolma during the establishment of the Institute for Language and Culture Studies in Taktse in Trongsa.

The OAG stated that upon diligent determinations of the facts and evidence contained therein, it found no merit to initiate any of the recommended criminal proceedings against the alleged suspects as the alleged transactions were found to have been caused due to administrative lapses of the State and the failure of a few individuals who had died before ACC began its investigation.

The year of the Monkey favoured former foreign minister, MP Rinzin Dorje after the Haa dzongkhag court acquitted him of charges that he had misused public property during his tenure as dzongdag. ACC appealed to the High Court which sentenced the MP to a year’s imprisonment.

However, the MP appealed to the Supreme Court which over turned the ruling and stated that it did not find any basis to criminally convict the appellant as OAG’s appeal to the High Court only sought to hold the defendant liable for administrative sanction.

Both the investigating agency and the public criticised the Supreme Court’s ruling and questioned if it would not encourage others to misuse pool vehicles.

Despite the criticism and disappointment, the ACC also handled some high profile cases in the Monkey year. One being the alleged reduction of a sentence from life to 10 years in connection with a choeten vandalism case in Mongar in 2002. It was alleged that the present foreign minister, Damcho Dorji when he was the Mongar drangpon sentenced a man from Chaskhar to life imprisonment. However, the then drangpon is alleged to have reduced the sentence to 10 years while issuing the conviction order to police.

Lyonpo Damcho Dorji accepted responsibility for the oversight.

Investigations on stalled notable corruption cases involving Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL), a public sector undertaking (PSU) of India, and a local Bhutanese company, Bhutan Ventures Trading (BVT), over a hydropower project tender and the irrational investment made by an insurance company in Nubri Capital have also been initiated and are expected to be completed soon.

The commission completed investigations on five cases involving fraudulent, illegal registration and transaction of government land in Thimphu by the former Chang gup and forwarded to the OAG for prosecution. Another illegal transfer of few acres of government Tsamdro land in Chang Debsi into a private individual involving the present serving Chang gup is also being investigated.

Meanwhile, Bhutan’s position in the global corruption ranking has remained unchanged at 27 from last year. According to the Corruption Perception Index 2016 released in January by Transparency International (TI), an anti-corruption watchdog, Bhutan scored 65 points out of 100. For the last three years, Bhutan’s scores in the annual index have remained unchanged.

Rinzin Wangchuk