More clarity needed on Office of Profit

Election: What consists of office of profit? This is the question emerging even as the disqualified thrompon candidate, Tsheten Dorji is mulling to appeal before the election petition period ends on February 8.

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) disqualified Tsheten Dorji for violating Section 163 of the election Act, which bars a person from seeking or holding an elective office for holding an office of profit.

One of the clauses under Section 164 of the Act, which prescribes criteria for determining an office of profit, states that an office is deemed to be office of profit if government exercises control over the appointment, removal, performance and functions of the holder of the office.

But there are no provisions in the law that specify that holding a business license is tantamount to holding an office of profit.

Tsheten Dorji has not yet decided if he would appeal against his disqualification from contesting the elections. He said he initially believed that the ECB’s action on him was justified as he was to be blamed for not disclosing that he possessed a business license.

The election petition period started with the formal declaration of the results on January 26, and will end February 8.

The former thrompon said he would first go through the provisions in the laws. He added he was not aware of the provisions in the electoral laws that disqualify a candidate, and that he trusted the ECB’s decision.

Tsheten Dorji was in possession of the license even when he contested the first thromde election and while serving for the five years as Phuentsholing’s first thrompon. But the ECB had no mechanism to detect it.

The ECB believes that having a business license is tantamount to holding an office of profit. And the ECB wants relevant stakeholders to take up the issue for further action against the former thrompon.

“The issue does not end here. Relevant stakeholders should take up the issue,” Officiating director of electoral registration and delimitation department, Sonam Tobgay told Kuensel in a recent interview.

A former ECB official said that ECB would not investigate or verify the asset declared by candidates. He said it is made public for public scrutiny. “If somebody in 2011 pointed out the issue about the license, he would have been disqualified then,” he said.

However, it is not clear if the ECB would take any action against the disqualified candidate. The ECB also issued a notification recently stating it found that Tsheten Dorji’s nomination documents included false declaration.

In the Indian context, office of profit under Article 102 of its Constitution refers to a post under central or state government, which yields salaries, perks and other benefits. Similarly, Article 23 of Bhutan’s Constitution states that a person will be disqualified as a candidate to an elective office, if the person holds any office of profit under the government, public companies or corporations as prescribed in the electoral laws.

Deputy chairperson of National Council’s legislative committee, Sangay Khandu, however, agrees with the ECB that even holding a business license is equivalent to holding an office of profit.

“The issue is quite controversial. People transfer business licenses to their spouses’ names, which is similar to operating in your own name,” he said.

MP Ugyen Wangdi said the election Act does not provide holding a business license is equivalent to holding an office of profit. “It may be mentioned in some rules. But I’m not sure,” he said.

MB Subba

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