Nima Wangdi 

Seven of the nine local leaders, whose audit clearances were revoked after Dhamngoi Zomdu, appealed to the High Court yesterday to authorise them to contest the local government (LG) election since they have not been convicted.

Candidates said, when they inquired, Royal Audit Authority (RAA) told them that their audit clearances were revoked because the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) had written to authority saying that the individuals have cases against them.

Taking out copies of the Constitution from their hemchus (pocket), they cited Article seven, clause 16 on fundamental rights. It states that a person charged for a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in accordance with the law.

Nyisho gup candidate, Phub Dorji said: “Our case is barely registered with ACC but they disqualified us from the elections, which is unfair.”

The litigants are Kaka, the Lunana Gup candidate in Gasa, Punakha’s Guma gup candidate Ugyen Khandu, Trongsa’s Korphu gup candidate Sangay Khandu, Soe Gup candidate Kencho Dorji in Thimphu, Chukha’s Chapcha gup candidate Tobgay, Nyisho gup candidate Phurpa Dorji in Wangdue, Dhangchu gup candidate Pemba in Wangdue, Korphu Mangimi candidate Yeshi Nidup, and Punakha’s Changyul tshogpa candidate Namgay Bidha.

The High Court asked them to return today.

Korphu gup candidate Sangay Khandu and mangi candidate could not make it to the court yesterday.

The petition cited the case of the former home Minister, Dasho Sherub Gyeltshen who was given all the clearances by RAA and ACC despite having a case in the court.

Gup candidates said it was unfair that they have been disqualified from contesting in the elections when they were not informed about the charges against them by the authorities. “We were initially given audit clearances and later, at the eleventh hour, were revoked without any clear reasons,” a gup candidate said.

Guma gup candidate Ugyen Khandu said the complaint against him was registered with ACC sometime in June 2020 and the authority waited till the eleventh hour to revoke his audit clearance. “I feel like the authority is favouring the complainant in disqualifying me from the elections.”

Ugyen Khandu said that he was given go ahead by the returning officer (RO) with the campaign. The candidates submitted all their documents on November 22 and on 23, they were given identity cards for the campaign. “On November 24, around 4:30pm the returning officer called and informed me that I and the Changyul tshogpa candidate have been disqualified,” Ugyen Khandu said.

He immediately came to Thimphu and inquired with ACC about the case. 

ACC officials refused to disclose the case details. 

“I’d not mind if I am convicted. But why would they revoke my audit clearance when someone has merely registered a case against me?” he said.

Changyul tshogpa candidate, Namgay Bidha, said she knew someone had complained to ACC against her but her audit clearance was revoked without any investigation into the case. “I don’t even know what the complaint is about,” she said.

Nyisho gup candidate, Phub Dorji, said he is also unaware of the case he is accused of by the ACC. “ACC refused to share  the case details.”

By November 25, Lunana gup candidate Kaka was given the identity card for the campaign and he even opened bank accounts for the campaign. 

They were told that their audit clearances were revoked after RAA received a letter from ACC stating that they are being investigated.

The candidates said they would not stand for election if they were guilty. “It is wrong for the authorities to deprive us of taking part in the election just because someone has registered a case against us,” a candidate said.

Clause 5 of Article 23 in the Constitution states: “Any disqualification under section four of this article shall be adjudicated by the High Court on an election petition filed pursuant to a law made by parliament under section seven of this article.”

An official from the RAA said that RAA and ACC have signed a memorandum of understanding that states that audit clearance may not be issued or may be revoked if there is a case against the person who qualifies for investigation as per the MoU. “We have been following this since 2010,” he said.

The official also said it happened at the last minute this time due to the delay in information sharing between the two organisations. He said besides those revoked cases, the authority has also rejected audit clearances for about 60 incumbent gups based on their audit issues.

Regarding the issuance of audit clearance to Shengana gup, the official said although his name was in the list shared by ACC, they reissued clearance for the candidate after the Office of the Attorney General said that they have dropped his case. “OAG dropping a case is a logical conclusion that there is no case against him,” the official said.

ACC officials said that they can’t share any information for now owing to some confidentiality issues.

Edited by Tshering Palden