The government though is firm on its belief that it’s legal 

Meet-the-press: The government will reconsider the policy on the import of electric cars even though it continues to believe that it is legal.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), in its annual report 2014, pointed out that the objectives of the government to import electric vehicles in the country violated the Constitution and the rules and procedure of imports from third countries.

Speaking at the 16th meet-the-press yesterday, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said his cabinet decided to reconsider the policy, simply to abide by the  ACC’s recommendations, and not because it thinks the policy is illegal. “We stand by our decision that the policy isn’t illegal,” he said.

The prime minister said second hand vehicles, according to the rules, are “restricted items”, which can be imported upon the government’s approval and that it was the “prohibited items” that could not be imported.

He also said that the decision to import electric cars was made after consulting the Office of Attorney General (OAG), which shared the government’s opinion. “They (OAG) said that, if there was a doubt on whether the word restriction meant the same as prohibition, it could be decided by the court only,” he said.

“We take the ACC’s recommendations very seriously,” the prime minister said, adding that the fight against corruption must be the nation’s fight.  The ACC recommendations are not binding, which the prime minister said, was unfortunate.

It was the prime minister, who requested the commission to conduct the investigation over an alleged conflict of interest on the government’s actions on import of electric vehicles.  He said there was no precedent of a minister or public servant asking the ACC to investigate himself.

The prime minister said the fact that he requested the ACC did not mean that the result should favour him.  He said he was alarmed when the report called the introduction to the electric vehicles the prime minister’s pet idea.

“The east-west highway expansion must be my pet idea. This is not a pet idea,” he said.  He said the policy was for Bhutan’s sustainability, balance of trade payments and currency management.

“The ACC’s findings couldn’t establish direct conflict of interest between the private interest of the prime minister and the government’s actions on the import of electric cars. This means there is no conflict of interest,” he said.

The annual report stated that “The government signing MoUs with NISSAN Motor Co. Ltd. (Japan) and Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles Private Limited (India) has undermined provisions of the Constitution that provides for fair market competition and has given undue benefits to private interests of the two local dealers of NISSAN Motor Co. Ltd. (Japan) and Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles Private Limited (India).”

“Was there a case, where a person or a public servant in Bhutan has not accepted a gift?”  He said the electric vehicles were gifted because Bhutan was the first government that was serious about sustainable transport.

However, the prime minister said, “If it’s going to make a big positive dent, I think we should sign an MoU, as long as the MoU doesn’t compel us to buy from the company, and as long as it’s noble.”

Meanwhile, the opposition party has demanded that government immediately return the EV gifts received from the Nissan Motor Co. ltd. (Japan), Tesla Co. (USA) and Mitsubishi Motors, as the provisions of the gift rules have been violated.  A press release sent at the time of the meet-the-press session stated that the government should  ‘re-export’ all the second hand electric vehicles imported so far, since this was in violation of the third country import rules and regulations.

This, the opposition party says, is a clear case of corruption. “ACC has found that government has violated the Constitution by giving undue favour to two local motor vehicle dealers,” the press release stated.

“It could not have committed a more serious violation of the law.  How can we have a government that blatantly favours certain people over other citizens of the country and knowingly contravenes the provisions of the Constitution?”

They also said that continuing to import second hand vehicles would turn Bhutan into a junk yard that will seriously dent the hard-earned reputation as a country committed towards pursuing a clean and green economic development.

“We urge the government to immediately revoke the MoUs with the two companies.”

By MB Subba