His Majesty said “the Rule of law begets discipline, which in turn begets order, and peace, which leads to trust and to stability. Corruption is unambiguous- there is no great or small corruption. And no one can be above the law.” Kuensel in an editorial this week, described the case of violation of quarantine by a woman that lacks “seriousness and the double standard in the application of laws.” Such state actions are against the fundamentals of the rule of law. The lack of transparency and accountability breeds tolerance to corruption defying the wise wisdom from the throne.

The tremendous contributions and sacrifices made by the frontline workers and Prime Minister taking moral responsibility for lapses must be appreciated and thanked.  Yet we cannot either exonerate such behaviour or approbate impunity to the rule of law if public servants either failed their duties or deliberately abused their authority in the name of this pandemic. The incidents of escaping quarantine are not new. It is not yet clear how a woman escaped the quarantine facility in Gelephu and obtained all the permissions to travel to Thimphu. The recent case in Paro is another example that calls for proper investigation of how people are able to escape from the most fortified fortresses. If there is misuse of authority, the responsible officials must be held equally accountable for endangering the lives of other Bhutanese. Why only escapers? Everyone must be treated equally under the law and charged for such action.

If any official on duty facilitated the travel, such act may amount to corruption, an abuse of functions  or misuse of authority of a public servant under Section 58 and 59 of the ACC Act, 2011 including favouritism, nepotism, or patronage and for aiding and abetting under Section 125 of Penal Code of Bhutan. Officials can also be charged for failure to report a crime under Section 430 of the PCB if they knew that woman was trying to escape the quarantine facility. If the officials are civil servants, they could be terminated from the civil service under Section 85 and 86 of the Civil Service Act, 2010.

Law enforcement agencies like Royal Bhutan Police and Anticorruption Commission are empowered with the enormous authority to detect and prevent crimes as well as investigate if necessary. Despite the public and national newspapers calling for accountability, these investigating agencies remained a spectator. Section 24 (1) (d) of the ACC Act empowers the ACC to investigate “on its own motion even without a complaint and without informing any person or authority.” The OAG should not rush to convict the escaper without a proper investigation how the person managed to escape. The courts must ensure that equal duty is imposed on the state to uphold the rule of law when such cases are filed. Without a proper investigation and finding the truth, the suspicions of potential corruption and double standards in the application of laws will remain in the minds of the general public.

His Majesty said, the greater threat is ignoring corruption. When accountability, transparency, and the rule of law are ignored, people’s trust and confidence in government fade away, tyranny and authoritarianism can set in.  When press releases of government are more powerful than parliamentary laws in current situation, the government must exercise extra vigilance to prevent any form of corruption.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.