JAB president reappointment sparks controversy

The recent decision taken by the board members of Journalists’ Association of Bhutan (JAB) to reappoint the incumbent president for a second term has not gone well with some of the members.

Board members, three of them, one each from print, television, and radio, had taken the decision to extend JAB president Rinzin Wangchuk’s three-year term for a second time at the board meeting on October 29. The term had commenced from November 1.

 Shortly after the reappointment was announced in Kuensel, a petition, referring to the JAB press release was signed by 31 individuals and submitted to JAB on November 8.

The petition letter stated that “the editors, journalists and media professionals of Bhutanese media fraternity that this ‘reappointment’ of the incumbent JAB president is not in keeping with JAB’s own Articles of Association (AOA), CSO Rules and Regulations and the Representative nature of JAB.”

The petition asked the board to reverse its decision and to conduct election to the president’s post. The letter said it called for more transparent and openness in its decisions and actions and function as per JAB’s AOA.

The petition pointed CSO Rules and Regulations under Chapter 3 (section 7) titled Board of Trustees that says, “A CSO shall be governed by a supervisory Board of Trustees which shall be principal policy making organ.”

The section 9 of the same chapter mentions that the members as per the AOA shall democratically elect a trustee.

The letter pointed the AOA under Article that “the Board of Directors  hereinafter referred to as the Board shall govern the association. The members of the Board shall be elected by the General Assembly (GA).”

Citing several sections, the petition stated that when the office bearers retire or resign or are expelled, a GA would be held to elect the replacements. The board is only allowed to appoint a replacement for a member in the board from among the members if in need.

The petition further stated that the board does not have the power to give a second term to the incumbent JAB president under the purview of the AOA.

Meanwhile, the petition called the CSO authority to ensure the election of the president took place in a transparent manner as per JAB’s AOA. The petition stated that the authority and JAB should conduct a well-publicised formal GA secret ballot.

In a response to this petition—the board of members has said that they are not in a position to reverse their decision. The board’s decision was made in the best interest of journalism in the country, it stated, adding it was not for personal benefits of the president or any of the board members.

The reply explained the president’s nomination for the second term was based on the CSO Rules and Regulations and JAB’s AOA, which empowers the board to provide strategic leadership in the best interest of the organisation.

Board of members pointed that the Article 21 (1) of the CSO rules and regulations state that Board shall, pursuant to section 53 of the Act: “provide overall strategic leadership and direction to the CSO.”

Article V (9 i) of AOA of JAB states that the Board has the powers and functions to “Manage the association’s affairs as it deems fit and appropriate in achieving the Association’s purpose and objectives.” Hence, the Board took the decision, the letter added.

The decision was also made as per the TOR for the Board of Directors, which clearly empowers the Board to reappoint the president. The Board also said that Rinzin Wangchuk is the senior most working journalist in the country and that he has worked “very hard” to promote JAB and sustain its activities by personally engaging in fund-raising drives without any personal benefits.

The Board’s response also underlined that only 11 out of the 31 petitioners were registered JAB members.

Since the petition has also asked the CSO authority, information and communications ministry, and the United Nations Democracy Fund to ensure accountability and transparency from JAB, the president said that in the interest of the Association and the credibility of media in Bhutan, he would like to request the Board members to resolve the issue without having to involve external bodies.

“The issue is not a major crisis that the board members cannot handle. I have trust in the members that this issue can be sorted out amicably,” Rinzin Wangchuk said.

He also said in his response that he would like to request the Board members to investigate, through the JAB secretariat, if the signatories to the appeal had done so believing in the issue or were made to sign out of fear of the media owners.

“Lastly, if this issue is affecting the credibility of the Association, especially its fund raising drive, I am more than happy to resign as the President.” 

Rajesh Rai 

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