Former ministers required security arrangement: Opposition

The Opposition has said that security walls at the residence of former ministers were necessary because the ministers moved into the Minister’s Enclave only in 2010.

The Opposition issued a press release on March 9 in response to the prime minister’s recent directive to the RAA to look into the legality of the security walls around the former ministers’ residences.

The prime minister had also asked the former ministers to refund the expenses incurred in constructing the security infrastructures.

The Opposition said the current and past scenarios and the need for security arrangements were completely different and non-comparable.

In the period between 2003 and 2005 and until July 2010, there was no such a thing called Lhengye Dhensa (Ministers’ Enclave) where ministers reside today, its press release states.

The prime minister and ministers used to reside either in government quarter or private residences.

“Owing to this and, in the aftermath of 2003, some security coverage was commanded to be provided to ministers. Therefore, the question of pre-democracy cabinet ministers having to refund the expenses should never arise,” said the Opposition.

In July 2010, after the SAARC Summit, ministers of the first elected government moved into the Minister’s Enclave.

The Opposition’s press release, in rebuff, stated that the RAA report showed that the prime minister had misused government funds to develop his private residence at Taba in Thimphu. The RAA’s report, the Opposition stated, had made it clear that the PM’s action was illegal.

According to the Opposition, the RRA report stated: “The development of the security-related infrastructure in the private residential building of prime minister at the cost of the Government exchequer was not within the budgetary programmes and activity.”

The audit’s findings, the Opposition said, means that this expenditure was not approved by the Parliament in keeping with the relevant laws such as the Public Finance Act and therefore, it is not only inappropriate but totally unlawful.

The prime minister had said that he voluntarily refunded the cost of the development of his personal residence.

“However, the Opposition has learnt that he refunded the amount only upon the RAA’s objections. If he voluntarily refunded, then why did he in the first place use the public resources? This is the height of cynicisms and hypocrisy,” the Opposition said.

The Opposition added that the question of refunding does not arise if the use of the public resource was permissible by law. “Further, if we are to go by the PM’s logic, whoever is caught misusing public funds should be condoned upon reimbursement.”

According to the Opposition, the prime minister receives 30 percent of his monthly salary as house rent allowance, which works out to about Nu 57,000 a month.

The Opposition said that the former prime minister could not move to Ministers’ Enclave because the prime minister’s residence was used as the State Guest House due to the Supreme Court being housed at Kuengacholing State Guest House.

“On the other hand, when the second Government came in, the PM’s house was vacant and there was no excuse for him to not move there. But he did not for reasons best known only to himself. The Prime Minister’s residence at the Ministers Enclave remains unoccupied to this day,” the Opposition stated.

The Opposition had first raised prime minister’s private residence issue in the seventh Session of Parliament on June 10, 2016 during Question Hour.

“We would like to inform the people that this is another false statement from the PM,” said the Opposition in the press release.

The prime minister earlier challenged the Opposition to sue the government over various issues such as alleged misuse of government money and illegality of fiscal incentives.

“We tried our best to provide checks and balances within the available parliamentary and institutional mechanisms. But given the Opposition’s small number in the National Assembly, our efforts are not always successful,” the Opposition said.

Conflict of Interest

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay on January 26 had written to ACC alleging the former human settlement minister of having indulged in a conflict of interest, policy corruption, and official misconduct while chairing the 156th Cabinet session in 2013.

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

The Opposition said that prime minister mentioned that he did not direct the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to investigate the case against DPT’s senior member, Yeshey Zimba, to avoid possible perception of political motivation.

The issue of real ‘conflict of interest’, the Opposition said in press release, would arise if the government directs the OAG to investigate or prosecute any members of both ruling and opposition parties.

“The OAG is the legal arm of the government and functions directly under the PM.”

The OAG as the government’s lawyer, the Opposition said, cannot be made to carry out investigations that warrant independent institutional rulings.

“Unfortunately, this has been the case concerning the investigations into the PDP workers’ Business Opportunity and Information Center (BOIC) loan scam in Tsirang. The Opposition Party feels that the high office of the OAG must never be made a political instrument to vent the government’s political vendetta,” the Opposition said.

MB Subba

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