Independence of constitutional offices

The ACC has objected the amendment that seeks to repeal the provision for commissioners to resign from civil servants

BILL: The Entitlement and Service Conditions for Commissioners of Constitutional Offices (amendment) Bill, that seeks to repeal the provision on the need for members or commissioners to resign from the civil service may not sail as smoothly in the National Council (NC) as it did in the National Assembly (NA).

The bill has reached the council after the assembly endorsed it in the last session.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in its annual report, 2014, has raised strong objections against the amendment, which will be tabled for deliberation in the upcoming session.  The issue was discussed last month among the council’s legislative committee, the ACC and the Royal Civil Service Commission.

The ACC’s annual report states that allowing commissioners to be civil servants is contrary to the principle of independence of the ACC.  Such a decision, the commission states, will undermine the decisions of independent constitutional bodies.

“Recent developments in the National Assembly related to independence of constitutional bodies are not encouraging,” the report states.

The council’s spokesperson and deputy chairperson, Tshering Dorji, confirmed that the issue would be discussed in the upcoming session, which begins on May 8.  Another council member, who requested anonymity, said the house would take into consideration the ACC’s objections during the discusion.

The ACC states that, if commissioners are civil servants, then independence of the institution in reality will be in the form of a lone person, the chairperson. “Trying to address a dilemma through an amendment of a law will undermine long-term interests,” the report stated.

“The institution of check and balance will be crippled (if the constitutional bodies are not independent),” the ACC cautioned in its report.

Leader of the opposition, (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said the opposition did not support the amendment and that autonomy of constitutional offices couldn’t be asked if commissioners continue to remain as civil servants.

(Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said there was a need to take a firm decision on the issue and that there should also be uniform standard across all constitutional offices.

The ACC’s report states if independence is restrained, effectiveness of the ACC will be compromised in fulfilling its mandate of curbing corruption

“Issues arising out of independence will affect the high-profile cases more because no one really bothers when “little fishes” are in trouble,” the report states. “When big and powerful people are under criminal investigation, influence in all forms may be exerted until such people would be off the hook.”

The report states that allowing commissioners to be civil servants are linked with the autonomy of constitutional offices.  It states that the government’s fear that giving autonomy to constitutional offices will violate the Constitution is flouted.

However, (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said a certain degree of autonomy for the ACC already exists.  He said the opposition believes that, except for commissioners and heads of constitutional offices, the rest should remain within the RCSC.

Council’s legislative committee chairman Kuenlay Tshering said that the stand of the council could only be known when the deliberations begin.

By MB Subba

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