The decision to relieve the former executive director (ED) and chief executive officer (CEO) of Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Limited (RICBL) was taken after lengthy deliberations following due process and in compliance with laws, rules and regulations in force, the board’s spokesperson, Sangay Tenzin, said.

The former ED, Sonam Dorji, has moved Court while the former CEO, Namgyal Lhendup, has appealed to the labour ministry against the board’s decision.

Sangay Tenzin said that the onus lies with these institutions to review and see merits in their appeals.

“On the part of RICB Board, we will comply with laws, rules and regulations in force,” he said.

Aggrieved by the board’s decision, Sonam Dorji took the board to Thimphu dzongkhag court while Namgyal Lhendup appealed to the office of the chief labour administrator last month to seek justice for unlawfully retiring them compulsorily. Both the executives appealed on the grounds of evident injustices suffered due to grave abuse of discretion by the board and for erroneous interpretation of laws prejudicial to the interest of the appellants.

Sangay Tenzin said that as clearly reflected in the press release issued on January 19, the board during its sitting on January 17 decided to relieve both the CEO and ED from service with immediate effect.

“To be specific, the board after taking into consideration the serious administrative lapses and alleged criminal charges against the CEO and ED decided to relieve them in line with the RICB Service Rules & Regulations 2016,” he said.

Sonam Dorji and Namgyal Lhendup alleged that the board violated the Service Rules, which states that the disciplinary authority shall not issue penalty order if the charges are not framed against the employees. The Service Rules states that where a court ruling is required, or the investigation is being conducted by any law enforcement agency or lawful authority, the period of suspension may be extended till such time as the disciplinary authority may expressly specify, or till the final judgment has been rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction.

In his submission to the court, Sonam Dorji stated that he was compulsorily retired from service and his benefits withheld pending the criminal charges before the court of law, and other financial liabilities were also not finalised by the board. They claimed that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has neither recommended nor provided grounds for compulsory retirement.

“While the ACC in its letter reflected the Board to either reinstate or suspend the two officials, the letter also makes clear reference to take punitive administrative action against the CEO and ED based on their findings and in line with rules and regulations in place,” Sangay Tenzin said. “Therefore, the Board’s decision to relieve them is in line with the service rules’ Chapter 12, section 12.5 (b) and the decision was taken after validating the serious administrative lapses and alleged criminal charges against the CEO and ED.”

The executives also alleged that the board breached Section 142 of the Companies Act.  The former CEO was one of the Board of Directors of RCBL. The director can be removed before the expiry of period of his office only through ordinary resolution at the general meeting in accordance with sections 143, 144 and 145 of the Companies Act of Bhutan 2016.

“However, such procedures were not followed by the Board when they were removed from the post,” the aggrieved parties said.

There were some precedents where officials implicated by the ACC in the Lhakhang Karpo case and illegal land transaction case in Thimphu were not suspended or relieved.

The ACC on January 23 wrote a rescinding order to the RICBL board chairman after the commission forwarded its findings and draft charges to the OAG for public prosecution. The letter sated that the board must make its considered decision to either reinstate the CEO and ED or suspend them from service as deemed appropriate with reference to the ACC letter of December 29, 2017.

“The board may consider Supreme Court’s (SC) directive issued through its judgment on July 17, 2012 to determine their suspension.”

The SC directive stated that suspension, once charges are filed, must be based on whether the public servant while in office has the opportunity or is in a position to impede or frustrate prosecution or commit further acts of malfeasance or both.

“Besides, public interest (precedence involving non-suspension of doctors involved in the health ministry corruption case) should be the guiding factor in deciding to place a public official under suspension. Therefore, the competent authority should have discretion to decide this taking all factors into account,” the SC ruling stated. “Hence, precedence dictates that suspension, once charges are filed, must be optional at the discretion of the competent authority and not mandatory or for an indefinite period – law must be applied uniformly.”

Rinzin Wangchuk