Former works and human settlement minister Yeshey Zimba said he is saddened by the malicious smear campaign against him by the Prime Minster.

Speaking to the media yesterday, Yeshey Zimba, who is also the MP from South Thimphu  constituency, said that the repeated attempt of character assassination by the prime minister by accusing him of conflict of interest and policy corruption in chairing the 156th Cabinet session in 2013 came as a great shock.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay on January 26 wrote to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), alleging the former minister of having indulged in a conflict of interest, policy corruption and official misconduct in chairing the 156th Cabinet session.

The meeting in 2013 had provided fiscal incentives to tourist standard hotels. One of the hotels was Thimphu-based Le Meridien, which belongs to Yeshey Zimba’s daughter.

“I am fully confident that the nation’s high offices of apolitical oversight bodies like the ACC and the Judiciary will ensure justice in spite of the PM’s attempts to make me appear guilty even before the ACC had a chance to study the matter,” he said.

“I expect that in the course of justice, Prime Minister Dasho Tshering Tobgay, will be held fully accountable for defamation and misleading the people when the accusations are proven to be false. In a nascent democracy we expect the PM of the country to uphold the dignity of the post and set good examples to promote harmony, honesty and justice,” he said.

Yeshey Zimba said the accusation had come on the eve of his retirement, to defame him and tarnish his public image built up over a lifetime of dedicated service to the Tsawa- Sum and most importantly having gained the trust and confidence of the King and people.

During his entire career, Yeshey Zimba said he never betrayed the people and the King’s trust. The accusations, he said, were not only false, but also politically motivated to damage his image, and that of the Opposition.

“We should be worried that this is happening now when the elections are approaching,” he said.

The prime minister’s relentless and malicious attacks forced him to speak the truth, he said. “The only thing I did was chair the Cabinet meeting.”

He explained that it was normal practice for the senior most member to chair the Cabinet meetings in the absence of the PM. Fiscal incentive, he said, was one of the 10 items on the agenda of the meeting and that the meeting, he said was not called to grant additional tax benefits to his daughter.

The former minister also said that he had no hand in preparing the agenda and that the Cabinet only granted approval to the proposal. “Hence, the meeting was clearly not held with the intention to specifically approve additional incentives for my personal gain as being made to appear by the PM,” he said.

Cabinet decisions, he said, are made collectively and not by the Chair.

According to him, in the 156th Cabinet meeting held on April 2, 2013, Finance Secretary Lam Dorji reported to the Cabinet that the ministry had approved the revised list of incentives for tourist standard hotels, in keeping with the authority vested in the ministry by the Sales Tax, Customs and Excise Act 2000.

The incentives list, he said, was presented to the Cabinet based on the recommendation of an inter-ministerial working group comprising representatives from department of industry, Tourism Council of Bhutan, Hotel Association of Bhutan and department of Revenue and Customs.

“The 156th Cabinet Meeting merely approved the decision already made legitimately by the Finance Ministry, before the Cabinet Meeting, and made no change at all to the revised list,” he said. “There is absolutely no question of policy corruption or conflict of interest or official misconduct as the PM continues to falsely claim in order to mislead the people. Many Cabinet decisions would have impact on relatives or party supporters that can also be construed as conflict of interest or policy corruption if seen in such a narrow sense.”

The accusations, he said, are framed as if the Cabinet meeting revised the fiscal incentives list finalised by the working group and the finance ministry to meet his daughter’s requirement. “This is absolutely not true.”

Yeshey Zimba said that his daughter’s hotel paid about Nu 14 million in taxes for essential imports that did not qualify for exemptions under the revised incentives. “So I wonder how additional incentives granted under my influence have resulted in additional benefits of Nu 76.8m in tax exemptions,” he said.

The incentives received by Le Meridien, he said, has been received by all other tourist hotels in the past and still continues to be availed by hotels.

“The Fiscal Incentives 2016 issued by the current government in 2017, continues to provide the same benefits as the revised list in 2013, which means the government in reality saw no problems with the so called additional incentives that I am accused of having granted,” he said.

He said the government should have withdrawn the 2013 incentives if it was not happy. “The government should be held accountable for not acting on time, if we are to go by the government’s logic of false accusations,” he said. “It is the role of the newly elected government to change laws, policies that it does not agree with, instead of pointing fingers at the past and not carrying out its own responsibility.”

According to Yeshey Zimba, the accusation that the Cabinet had conveniently avoided the submission of the Revised List of Incentives to the Parliament, as its term was over in a few days, is also an indication that the Government is deliberately trying to mislead the people.

He said the revision of items for tax exemption do not require to be submitted to the Parliament, as such authority has been vested in the Ministry of Finance by the Bhutan Sales Tax, Customs and Excise Duty Act 2000.

Kuensel contacted the Prime Minister but he did not comment.

MB Subba