The metamorphosis of BOIC from the initial idea of it being an agency in the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) to an agency outside the civil service and now possibly to an State Owned Enterprise (SOE) after a consideration of merger with Bhutan Development Bank Limited (BDBL) appears like a news story that is often edited. In this story, the National Council (NC) has been an important player. Of course, NC has moved on long ago into discussing other issues of national concerns as demonstrated by the contents of the heavy agenda of the current session.
It moved on because it has done what it has to do as a House of Review by exhausting all due parliamentary procedures available at its disposal. However, recent misrepresentation of NC’s position (its views and actions) by some story tellers calls for a re-visit of arguments and re-telling of a story without editing contents.
The very first misrepresentation suggested that neither NC nor the political parties expressed concerns over BOIC when it was first established. The edited BOIC story said that such concerns were raised only months later. In the unedited version of the story, the fact that NC has expressed concerns from the very beginning is recorded quite clearly. It first raised its concern with the Prime Minister during a Question Hour as far back as the 13th session.
Two, the story teller has emphasized time and again that NC has ‘curtailed’ the opportunity for ‘discourse’ and discussion. From an editor’s point of view, this is what is called ‘a factual error.’ The error is that it was not NC which has curtailed but rather initiated the discourse by raising the concern with the Prime Minister. He had stated on the floor of the house that this concern can be discussed.
NC first waited for more than six months for the government to engage NC in the dialogue. Quite the contrary, the government went ahead with the establishment of BOIC soon after that Question Hour in its 13th session instead of discussing the concerns as assured. Despite this, NC again called upon the government to table a Bill to legalise BOIC. The response after another six months was anything but encouraging! Hence, an editor editing the BOIC story and correcting the factual error would write, “The sentence in the story should have read, ‘the government has curtailed the discourse and discussion. Not NC.’ Error is regretted!”
There is something that journalists, editors and readers don’t like about any story in a newspaper, radio or TV. That is when a story is sensationalized. Sensationalization of the BOIC story happened by way of alleging that NC shouldn’t submit every small issue to the Druk Gyalpo. The provocative language used to make such an allegation spiced up the sensationalization effort. The intent to discredit NC was quite clear.
In such situations, editors insist on objectivity and removal of the ‘sensationlizing’ element. When an editor cross-checks the BOIC story, he finds out that concerns over legality of BOIC was the only one submitted for legal interpretation in the last two and half years. So, he would ask his reporter, “How dare you say that every small issue shouldn’t be submitted when only one was submitted so far, and that too after exhausting all other means?”
Training of journalists involves a mantra; ‘get your facts correct!’ Editors repeat it so often that journalists sometimes have nightmares about it. Getting facts correct involves cross-checking of information, interviews and research. The story teller in the re-telling of BOIC story stood his ground by saying that lots of consultations and research were done to ensure that BOIC was legal.
But the editor is not convinced. He finds out that the government responded to NC’s resolution to communicate that it was waiting for the opinion of Attorney General. Seeking of OAG’s opinion took six months! He is confused and says, “OAG should have been logically the first person to be consulted long before BOIC was established. Does it make sense to argue that adequate research and consultations were done and seek views more than a year later?”
The editor reflects more on this point. He realises that the government first considered BOIC as an agency under MoEA, then established it as an autonomous agency outside civil service. Suddenly, it considered merger with BDBL followed now by a decision to establish an SOE. So he says to himself, “If research and consultations were done initially, would not these options have been considered long before BOIC was established? Why now?” Quite excited, he does some cross-checking himself and finds that NC has been observing a disturbing trend whereby some government bills, such as the Enterprise Registration Bill, have been rushed for deliberations without exhaustive consultations even with primary stakeholders.
The BOIC story teller emphasises that the Parliament has endorsed both the Economic Stimulus Plan (ESP) and the Supplementary Budget Appropriation Bill 2013. Hence, it is legal! There is a popular saying, ‘If you can’t convince someone, confuse him.’ Likewise, the mixing up of stories to create confusion has to be sorted out. The question of legality has been raised for a different reason. The Prime Minister’s Executive Order stated that BOIC will be a time-bound autonomous agency established in the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Yes, the government has the constitutional authority to create agencies within the civil service. But BOIC was created as an agency outside the civil service, which would require approval of the Parliament. Approval for the Plan and budget cannot be conveniently deemed as approval for establishment of BOIC as a non-civil service agency.
The story teller is upbeat when he declares that the creation of an SOE would address everyone’s concerns over BOIC’s legality. Actors in the story like NC has to sometimes challenge the story teller by reminding him that it had never suggested that the establishment of an alternative organisation would take care of concerns over BOIC’s legal status. It has to recall that its suggestion was to legalise agencies like BOIC and APIC by tabling a Bill in Parliament. To say indirectly that establishing an SOE now would retroactively take care of the legal concerns over erstwhile BOIC is called misdirection!
The plot of the story revolves around the question of BOIC’s legality. The Prime Minister had stated that BOIC would be shut down if it is proven to be illegal. Today, BOIC is being shut down. But the plot thickens now because the government takes a very different position saying that although BOIC is being shut down, it remains convinced about the legality of BOIC. It says it is only respecting differing opinions of actors like NC, Opposition Party and other political parties.
The story teller implies that NC is being biased on this government by focussing on BOIC when it turned a blind eye on APIC established by the previous government. He does not recall that NC took issues of CDG, State-funding of political parties and appointment of party workers in PM’s office with the previous government. It also took issues of constitutionality with other non-governmental agencies. Certainly APIC was overlooked. Therefore, NC asked for a bill to legalise both BOIC and APIC. Why?
This government cites APIC as the reason to establish BOIC. Future governments will then cite BOIC and APIC as reasons to establish more such organizations. Is it better for the trend based on bad precedence to continue or rectify it as we learn along the way?
NC has provided its support to the Economic Stimulus Plan and the Supplementary Budget because it appreciated the intent behind it. It is also because of this appreciation that it did not ask the government to shut down BOIC! Rather it recommended that the government table a Bill to legalise BOIC (and APIC) as the way forward.
An Editor’s Note: The title of the story should have read, ‘BOIC, a State Owned Enterprise’ and not ‘a Story Often Edited.’ Error is regretted!
Chairperson of the
National Council of Bhutan