Younten Tshedup  

One of the charges against Justice Kuenlay Tshering in the ongoing criminal case is helping Khandu Wangmo, while he was on the selection panel, to secure a scholarship in the United Kingdom.

However, in response to Kuensel’s queries, the British Honorary Consulate (BHC) in Thimphu, stated the selection process for the scholarship is free of any local or other unfair influence.

Not concerning the ongoing case, BHC clarified that the Chevening Scholarship, the British government’s flagship scholarship, provides opportunities to foreign students from 160 countries, including Bhutan, annually.

The scholarship is provided to study a Master’s degree at any university in the UK. According to a clarification letter from the BHC, the selection process is conducted with the highest standards of integrity and objectivity and that it is free of any local or other unfair influence, nepotism or favouritism.

A standard application, selection and interview procedure is followed world-wide, states the letter.

The letter further states that every application received for the scholarship is assessed and graded by a selection committee set up in London by the Chevening Secretariat. “No person in Bhutan has any knowledge of who sits on the selection committee.”

Annually, the scholarship receives around 90 applicants from Bhutan, of which the selection committee shortlists some 20 candidates and of those around 10-12 are invited to interview by the British High Commission in New Delhi, India and the Chevening Secretariat, London.

The letter states that no person on the selection committee has any information about a candidate other than what is contained in their formal application.

“It would be exceedingly difficult for any person in Bhutan to exercise undue or unfair influence on the selection committee in London or on the British High Commission diplomats in Delhi,” according to the letter.

The alleged charge of nepotism and favouritism

In 2016, during the Chevening Scholarship interview, Justice Kuenlay Tshering, who was one of the panellists for the interview, is alleged to have assisted Khandu Wangmo to (popularly known as Bumden Khandu) secure the scholarship.  It is alleged that the Justice had given her higher marks.

Besides Justice Kuenlay Tshering, the panel included Andrew Soper, the then minister counsellor, British High Commission and Supriya Chowla, head of Chevening Scholarships at the British High Commission to India.

Justice Kuenlay Tshering at that time did not hold any official post or position of authority.  He was invited to be on the panel by the Chevening Secretariat in his capacity as an eminent private citizen.

It was learnt that no Bhutanese invited to be a member of the interview panel was an official government post holder at the time of the interviews.  The interviews were also strictly controlled, and followed procedures set by the Chevening Scholarship acting on behalf of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the British Government.

The British Honorary Consulate clarified that at no time does the Bhutanese representative have the opportunity to interact individually with any other member of the panel before the interview.

Also, each candidate at the interview was marked in a number of categories determined by the Chevening Scholarship in London and questions were asked from a bank of questions provided by the Chevening Secretariat.

The chairman of the panel, Andrew Soper, the then minister counsellor, reviewed and collected all the marks awarded by other panellists for a final ranking of the candidates.

The chairman of the panel, according to the letter, should be highly sensitive to any evidence of favouritism, bias or inconsistency. “If the marks awarded by any individual member of the panel are inconsistent with or differ significantly from the marks awarded by other panel members, then this would be easily detected by the chairman, who would flag up the issue, and the British Honorary Consul would be made aware.”

This means that, as alleged, if Justice Kuenlay Tshering had awarded high marks to Bumden Khandu, it would have been noticed and the chairperson would have flagged it, meaning all the panellists could have marked her almost equally which left no room for doubts.

“No person other than the four members of the interview panel and the British Honorary Consul have access to or sight of the candidate’s mark sheets during or after the interviews,” the letter said.

Kuensel learnt that neither the prosecutor nor the investigating teams had contacted the British Honorary Consulate in Thimphu to crosscheck.  

The results of the interview are communicated directly by the chairman of the panel to the British High Commission in New Delhi, and to the Chevening Secretariat in London.

Kuensel also learnt that the charges are based on the statement that Justice Kuenley Tshering gave to the police investigating team.  The charges are yet to be given to the defendants.