The action taken on cabin crew members and public transport drivers after they tested positive for controlled substances has raised several questions.
Among the many, an issue that needs clarity is how and when does a positive result for controlled substance become a criminal offence or an administrative issue.
In the recent case of the transportation sector, we saw three different sanctions imposed on those who tested positive for controlled substances.
Drukair staff were grounded until they were certified clean. As a deterrent, they were paid their salaries but not the allowances. Bhutan Airlines relieved their two cabin crew members from employment. The bus drivers are suspended for six months.
The authorities and the respective organisations may have taken actions against their employees as per their rules and regulations but questions still persist. How relevant is the controlled substance that an employee tests positive for in determining the administrative actions? To what extent does the occupation of an employee matter, in terms of the risks posed to the public when the administration decides an action?
The issue needs to be expounded because the varying sanctions imposed on the employees have created a perception among the people that we implement rules discriminatory. It shows that despite having one law, the rules and regulations drawn from it differ among organisations. Unlike in other cases, inconsistent application of rules in this instance risks numbing the intent of the law as well as the national effort against substance abuse. According to the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority, the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse Act would apply only when an individual that tests positive is also in possession of controlled substance. But in this case, the quantity of controlled substances one is in possession of determines the degree of sentencing. The Act, which limits the judiciary’s discretion in implementing the law, appears to have limited say on organisations implementing the same law through its rules.
We have always faced problems in implementing laws and rules. This should not happen in the case of substance abuse. We have lost too much time and lives. Discussions on social media on the issue of substance abuse should be understood as a form of public support for the national cause. With every action against an abuser and peddler closely followed, there is a need to iron out the inconsistencies in the rules.
The people’s confidence must be gained for the country to sustain its efforts against drugs. For the people to take informed decisions, authorities must share information. Much of the flak in the case of the cabin crew members verses the bus drivers arose because authorities were reluctant to share information.
Our policy makers have called for a collective effort to address the issue of substance abuse in the country. We now call on them to address the concerns raised by the people. We are reviewing our laws for inconsistencies. We must do the same for the rules. It is the country’s present and future that is at stake.