As the country completes a decade of constitutional democracy, Bhutan has seen many developments. Some good. Others, not quite.
This culture of who one’s related to and the might of power and money always existed in our society. The transition to democratic governance may have made us more aware of our rights, responsibilities and assured people of greater transparency, but often we come across instances that make us question whether the Bhutanese have changed their ways of doing things.
The recent case of investigating officers from the anti-corruption commission being threatened and spat at is an unhealthy development. Encountering such reactions is not new to the ACC. Some of the accused have challenged investigating officers to a fight while some have attempted to assault them. The ACC is not alone.
Phuentsholing police has registered a case of alleged harassment against a DPT coordinator after an alleged DNT coordinator filed the case. The DPT coordinator is accused of sending a voice message in a group chat to batter the complainant and to burn his vehicle. Both parties say the issue is not political but personal. But, the bitterness and the vehemence to harm those perceived as the “other” is apparent. Political parties must denounce such conduct from its supporters.
In defence of those accused of indulging in alleged corrupt acts, distressed relatives and families are resorting to criminal acts. With a police case lodged against the two individuals, the ACC has shown that anyone who undermines a constitutional mandate, democracy and obstructs the pursuit of truth would be dealt as per law.
When people threaten public officials for doing their job, the rule of law, the basis for democracy, is undermined. We should not mistake individual freedoms and rights to commit wrongs. Given the ACC’s nature of work, lodging a case with police may not be enough. Measures have to be put in place to enhance the security of investigating officers. The ACC is among those institutions that are at the helm of protecting democratic values. The least the people could do to fight corruption is to allow ACC to do its job. As its work gratifies the law-abiding, its work petrifies those who violate the law.
The institution is not without challenges. Attraction and retention of professionals remains a perpetual challenge. Budget allocation to ACC has been decreasing and the tentative budget of Nu 75 million allocated in the 12th Plan shows the importance accorded to the institution. Shortage of human and financial resources risk crippling the institution from performing its mandate to fight corruption. Threatening its officers will discourage those who have been to date resilient to such pressures.
Despite the fight against corruption getting attention from the country’s highest authority, actions from our policy makers, planners and people have been half-hearted. When institutions such as the ACC become insecure, the country and the people lose.