The former executive director (ED) of Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Limited (RICBL), Sonam Dorji, took the RICBL’s board to the Thimphu dzongkhag court last month for unlawfully sending him on retirement.

Court officials from the Civil Bench said that the preliminary hearing was conducted on February 27, and the hearing for opening statements would be held within a week.

RICBL’s lawyer is reportedly representing the board.

Sonam Dorji moved court on the grounds of evident injustices due to grave abuse of discretion by the defendant and for erroneous interpretation of laws prejudicial to the interest of the plaintiff. He alleged that the board did not follow disciplinary procedures and unlawfully retired him compulsorily.

The board on January 22 sent chief executive officer (CEO) and the plaintiff on compulsorily retirement after the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) wrote to the board chairman to take punitive administrative action against the executives and other officials of the RICBL.

The commission wrote to the RICBL board and RMA simultaneously on December 29 when the commission forwarded its findings and draft charges of 16 RICBL officials and three private individuals to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) in connection with the irrational financial transaction between the RICBL and Nubri Capital Private Ltd. and Sherab Reldi Higher Secondary School in Mongar, fraud and collusion in the settlement of false insurance claims and embezzlement cases. In his submission to the court, Sonam Dorji stated that they were asked few questions by the board on matters of investments and other administrative issues in the RICBL on January 17. He stated that he was neither informed of any disciplinary charges, nor was he given an opportunity to explain in writing about the allegations. He was then made to retire from service and his benefits were withheld.

During the preliminary hearing, the plaintiff submitted before the court that he also requested the board to review the decision of the board since due process was not carried out to send him on compulsorily retirement but didn’t hear anything from the board.

He submitted in writing to consider whether the board followed the disciplinary procedures guaranteed by laws to compulsorily retire the appellant, and that is it correct for the board to compulsorily retire him while the case is still under the OAG review.

Sonam Dorji submitted that the board has totally disregarded the constitutional rights, statutory protection and administrative procedures and violated principle of natural justice.

He also alleged that the board violated the RICBL Service Rules, which expressly states that the disciplinary authority shall not issue penalty order if the charges are not framed against the employees.

“In this case, the board did not frame any formal charges against me and, therefore, there was no opportunity for me to defend,” Sonam Dorji stated in his submission.

RICBL’s Service Rule states that where a court ruling is required, or when 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.

“These provisions of the RICBL service rules abundantly make it clear that if an employee is being investigated or charged by the competent authorities other than the RICBL, an employee shall not be compulsorily retired but shall be kept under suspension,” he stated in his submission.

The ACC on January 23 sent a rescinding order to the board chairman after the commission forwarded its investigation findings and draft charges to the OAG for public prosecution. The letter stated that the board must make its considered decision to either reinstate the CEO and ED or to 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.”

Sonam Dorji also requested the court to look into where the ACC’s investigation report of criminal or administrative nature is final and binding and that the could take a unilateral decision in dismissing people from office.

Sonam Dorji refused to comment since the case is sub-judice.

Former CEO, Namgyal Lhendup, also appealed to the office of the chief labour administrator with the labour ministry on February 8, against the board’s decision. He alleged that the board violated the RICBL service rules.

He argued that the Anti-Corruption Act merely requires the public servant to be suspended from the service if he or she is investigated or charged before the court and ACC had neither recommended nor provided grounds for compulsorily retirement.

In his submission to the ministry, Namgyal Lhendup, who was compulsorily retired by the board on the grounds of serious misconduct, stated that this case must be determined only upon conviction by the court in accordance with the RICBL service rules.

“Therefore, the board’s decision is premature and unlawful,” he stated.

Rinzin Wangchuk