Following a request from Bhutan Telecom’s management board, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has decided not to suspend the chief executive officer (CEO) of Bhutan Telecom Limited, Tshewang Gyeltshen, while the court proceedings are underway.

The commission on June 21 wrote to the BT board to suspend Tshewang Gyelsthen after the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) charged 11 individuals in court for alleged fraudulent registration and encroachment of 1.37 acres of government land in Tshalumaphey, Thimphu about 17 years ago.

The case was registered with the Thimphu dzongkhag court on June 19.

BT’s board of directors met on June 27 to take a decision on ACC’s letter. After considering many factors, board members felt that the CEO need not be suspended as Tshewang Gyeltshen has already taken the decision of not renewing his term for the same reason even though he enjoyed outstanding performance rating during his three-year term.

“The board feels that non-suspension from BT will in no way cause tampering of his old documents as the case in question does not pertain to his current organisation,” stated the letter to ACC signed by the chairman of BT board of directors.

The letter stated that the board also considered the option provided by the commission that if he is not suspended then he should not be allowed to use office resources, including his time while attending the court proceedings.

The letter also stated that the CEO has only two months to complete his term and that the remaining time will be utilised for smooth transition to the next management.

“The board feels that in the interest of the company it would be advantageous not to suspend the CEO since there needs to be a proper handing-taking of the charges in these last two months of his tenure and he has also been instructed to prepare a way forward for the new CEO on the pending issues of the company,” the BT board’s letter stated.

An ACC official said that the option was given to the BT board as per the directives of the Supreme Court. The board also ensured that Tshewang Gyeltshen would not use office resources while attending the case hearings.

“On this ground, the commission found it justifiable to not suspend the CEO,” an ACC official said.

As per ACC Act 2011, Section 167 (2), “A public servant who is charged with an offence under this Act shall be suspended with effect from the date of the charge till pending the outcome of any appeal.”

Until 2013, ACC used to suspend public servants who were charged before the court directly. The Supreme Court on July 17, 2013 issued a directive stating that suspension as an administrative matter must be assigned to a competent authority under which the official to be suspended works.

“However, the ACC may unilaterally suspended officials during the course of the investigation to ensure non-interference and prevent possible destruction of evidence or continuance of the malfeasance by an individual while in office,” the SC directive stated.

The SC also stated that once charges are filed before the court, it must be optional at the discretion of the competent authority and not mandatory or for an indefinite period – law must be applied uniformly. “However, where a public official charged and prosecuted by the OAG or ACC in a court of law is not suspended, then the public official must be represented by a legal counsel of his choosing and may appear in court only as a witness or when summoned by the court at his own expense.”

The SC stated that suspension is a temporary measure, an executive tool for action and does not create a vacancy until such time the individual suspended is found guilty by a court in keeping with the due process of law.

Meanwhile, the OAG charged Tshewang Gyeltshen, the former survey and land record assistant director, for accepting bribe. ACC alleged the accused, in complicit with the two former Chang gups and Namgay, had encroached 10 decimals of late Ani Norzom’s tsatong (unclaimed land) land by falsely misrepresenting his wife as niece in the court. He is also accused of encroaching on a 16-decimal government land by misrepresenting the location.

Namgay from Talakha had allegedly conspired to illegally transfer late Ani Norzom’s 49-decimal land from Talakha to Tshalumaphey village, Babesa in November 1998. Namgay had agreed to appropriate 10-decimal land to CEO Tshewang Gyeltshen’s wife.

OAG alleged that not only did they fraudulently transferred the land of the late Ani Norzom, but also illegally surveyed the land at a different location on vacant government land and significantly inflated the plot acreage during the survey on November 20, 2000.

OAG charges stated that the accused measured land at Tshalumaphey in Babesa when the actual land owned by late Ani Norzom was in Talakha.

Rinzin Wangchuk