No uniformity in treatment of corruption cases?

MB Subba

Zhemgang’s Goshing gewog has been without a gup for two years and three months now with the gup suspended by the Department of Local Governance (DLG) following an embezzlement case.

The case is expected to take more time should the suspended gup, Sangay Lethro, exhaust the appeal process. The gup who has been found guilty by the Panbang drungkhag court for embezzlement of public fund has appealed to the dzongkhag court.

Yesterday, he told Kuensel that he would exhaust all the judicial process despite his concerns about the gewog service being affected.

He said that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC)’s letter to the DLG had provided the option of either suspending or not allowing him to use office property for defending the case. But he preferred not to comment on whether other officials involved in corruption cases had enjoyed better treatment.

Those following the recent case including that of the Home Minister Sherub Gyeltshen’s are questioning the uniformity in application of laws and treatment of officials involved in corruption allegations.

The home minister was found guilty of false insurance claims by the Thimphu dzongkhag court and recently by the High Court. He has also appealed to a larger bench of the High Court, but he continues to go to office.

Executive director of Centre for Local Governance and Research, Tharchen, said that treatment on suspension of elected officials should be streamlined. “There should be clarity on the procedure of suspension of officials as lack of it is affecting the state and the constituents,” he said.

In the home minister’s case, the government has indicated that it would not take action until the judicial process is exhausted.

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the home minister as a citizen had the right to exhaust the judicial process. He said that there were chances of the person being proven innocent ultimately, but he acknowledged the lack of uniformity in the treatment of the home minister and the Goshing gup’s cases.

DLG director Kado Zangpo said that DLG should be informed if lack of local leaders is affecting public services. He said that there was precedence in case of the local government to keep a gup suspended until the last judgment.

Section 167 of the ACC Act states that public officials shall be “suspended during the investigation” if his or her attendance is likely to impede the investigation proceeding or when there is likelihood of available evidence being influenced, removed or tampered from the official record which may be under his or her subordinate’s guardianship.

The home minister’s case surfaced before he contested the 2018 parliamentary elections.

Observers said that the relevant agency should take initiatives to reinstate the official as soon as the investigation is over. But they add that the official should be suspended as soon as he or she is convicted by the trial court, reasoning that the person remains guilty until proven innocent by the higher court.

In the labour ministry Director General’s (DG) case, the Royal Civil Service Commission also decided to wait for the final court verdict to take any action against the DG.

After the ACC wrote to the RCSC to suspend the DG, the RCSC stated that the decision is based on Bhutan Civil Service Rules and Regulations and in line with the Court Order of the Supreme Court issued on 17th July 2013 regarding the Gyalpoizhing Land Case.

Section 19.10.1 of the BCSR 2018 states that suspension shall be discretionary and not mandatory in its application whereas Section 19.10.5 of BCSR also states that, once the charges are filed, public interest should be the guiding factor in deciding to place a civil servant under a suspension.

Meanwhile, there are also questions about whether the person should refund salaries taken from the date of first judgment if he or she is proven guilty ultimately. The home minister receives the regular pay and privileges, while the Goshing gup said he receives half of his salary.

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