The National Assembly’s (NA) good governance committee proposed 53 provisions of the Anti-Corruption Act of Bhutan 2011 for amendment yesterday.
Commencing the third reading of the Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2021, the committee’s chairperson, Ugyen Dorji, Dewathang-Gomdar MP, submitted that the provisions for amendment are proposed after the national law review task force recommended consolidating some provisions of the existing Act with other laws.
He said the third session of the Parliament forwarded the Bill to the committee and since they could not discuss it in the fourth session because of the Covid-19 pandemic, they reviewed the Act totally, as they had time.
He explained that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) proposed to amend 31 provisions of the existing Act. “The committee met with various stakeholders and dropped six provisions proposed by ACC, but proposed to amend 53 provisions.”
Ugyen Dorji also explained that the Bill harmonises 27 provisions of the Act with the Penal Code of Bhutan.
The discussion was mostly on whether the grading of the sentences should be specified as per the Penal Code or as per the committee’s recommendation that mostly leaves room for interpretation by the judges.
The committee proposed offences should be graded a misdemeanour or value-based sentencing and not specific to the existing provisions.
Bongo-Chapcha MP Tshewang Lhamo stressed the importance of specifying the grading of the sentences to be as per the Penal Code.
Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi pointed out how the committee reduced the lowest sentencing from fourth-degree felony to a misdemeanour in five provisions.
He also said it is important to specify value-based sentencing.
Bartsham-Shongphu MP Passang Dorji also emphasised the importance of specifying the sentencing in value-based sentencing.
He said when sentencing is left for interpretation by the judge, there would be problems in implementing it.
Finance Minister Namgay Tshering questioned if active and passive bribers could be graded under the same offence.
Drametse-Ngatsang MP Ugyen Wangdi, however, said specifying the sentencing would become too restrictive while implementing the Act.
On reducing the sentencing from fourth-degree felony to misdemeanour, he admitted there were clerical mistakes in the Bill and that the sentencing should have been as per the existing Act.
Members also discussed what constitutes an abuse of functions.
The committee, on recommendation from ACC, proposed abuse of functions as, “a public servant who knowingly abuses functions or position by performing an act amounting to favouritism, nepotism or patronage, etc in violation of laws, in the discharge of his or her functions to obtain advantage for himself or herself or for another person or cause loss to the State shall be guilty of an offence.”
Section 58 (1) of the existing Act states, “a public servant who knowingly abuses functions or position by performing an act amounting to favouritism, nepotism or patronage, etc in violation of laws, in the discharge of his or her functions to obtain advantage for himself or herself or for another person shall be guilty of an offence.”
Members, through a show of hands, decided to retain the provision as it is in the existing Act.
MP Passang Dorji said nepotism and favouritism is the most prevalent corruption in the country and should specify the forms of corruption.
Works and human settlement minister Dorji Tshering explained it is important to specify the term ‘loss to State’, reasoning it will be difficult for officials to work if it is not specified.
MP Ugyen Wangdi said the word ‘etc’ should be removed, as it is not used in Acts.
The house will deliberate the Bill today.
By Tashi Dema