Tashi Dema

Both the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the National Assembly Secretariat have responded to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) that there were no lapses from their side in the country’s accession to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), and fingers are now pointing at the ministry for the lapses.

In the recent Parliament session, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the ministry has conducted research beginning in 2018 on why the convention was submitted to the United Nations Secretary General on September 21, 2016 without the reservation on Article 66 (2) of the convention, in order to find out who is accountable for the error.

Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji then said that according to the findings, many are accountable, including some associated with the ACC and National Assembly Secretariat.

In an earlier interview with Kuensel, the minister said that the MoFA had written to the ACC and NA Secretariat to determine accountability.

However, the ACC wrote to the ministry on December 23, detailing its review and records, which showed that ACC was not consulted in preparing the document of ratification, nor was there any indication that the ACC, as an implementing agency, had a role in submitting the document to the UN.

“It also has to be noted that the MoFA and Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs were represented by the respective ministers in the NA, and had full knowledge of the deliberation and final decision about the reservation,” the ACC stated.   

The commission also stated that while it is committed to upholding accountability, there is no incriminatory evidence against officials in the ACC in the case to be held accountable. “Contrarily, the documents indicate that MoFA would be accountable for the failure to deposit the reservation, as the instrument of ratification, given that the reservation was an integral part of the ratification process in the two houses.”

The ACC had also asked the MoFA to share a copy of the report on the research conducted between 2018 and 2020 as submitted orally by the minister, as there might be certain information the ACC was not privy to. “This could help the commission in making an informed decision in holding alleged relevant officials accountable.”

Similarly, the NA Secretariat also wrote to the MoFA explaining that although the lapses occurred during the tenure of the second government, the Speaker conducted an investigation to find out who is accountable and concluded that there was no lapse from their office. “The NA Secretariat submitted the documents with the reservation.”

MoFA officials said it is difficult to figure out how the lapses occurred in a short span of time, as they were trying to address the issue up to now.

A senior official explained they are studying what happened. “As civil servants, we have to follow certain procedures and cannot tell the media what is being done.”

Meanwhile, the National Council demanded accountability after finding out that the MoFA failed to register the reservation on Article 66 (2) of the UNCAC in 2016, which stated that any dispute between two or more State parties on the interpretation or application of the convention that cannot be settled through negotiations within a reasonable time may be referred to the International Court of Justice.

The two houses of the Parliament ratified the UNCAC in 2015 with the reservation.

The reservation would mean that the Article does not bind Bhutan.

Out of the 140 UNCAC signatories, over 40 countries have conveyed reservations on the article.

When the Ministry of Foreign Affairs realised that it had failed to register the reservation while submitting the convention, the then-government and present government tried to register the reservation for three consecutive years but could not do so because two member countries, the Netherlands and Finland, raised objections.

The NA then discussed the UNCAC during the fifth session of the third Parliament in June of this year and revoked the previous Parliament’s reservation and sent it to the NC. However, the NC members disagreed with the NA’s decision and pointed out that revoking the earlier parliament decision would undermine the decision of Parliament and the supremacy of Parliament. “More importantly, Royal Assent to accede to the UNCAC, with a reservation on 66 (2), was granted on May 26, 2016,” the NC claimed.

The NC rejected the NA’s amendment and proposed to denounce and re-accede to the UNCAC with the reservations on Article 66(2) to uphold national interest, the supremacy of Parliament, and set a strong precedent to show that decisions of Parliament cannot and should not be revoked to cover lapses of any kind.

The NA re-deliberated the issue on December 15 and rejected the NC’s proposal.

While the issue will be discussed in a joint sitting in the next session of Parliament, it is not clear if anyone will be held accountable for the lapses.