Parliament: With a joint sitting of Parliament endorsing the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) amendment bill 2014 yesterday, the attorney general will now be accountable to the His Majesty the King and the prime minister.

By accountability, it means that the attorney general is answerable to His Majesty the King and the prime minister. “This is considering the fact that the attorney general, as the chief legal officer, is the legal advisor and legal representative of the government, in line with the Constitution,” Samtse’s council member Sangay Khandu, who was part of the joint committee, told Kuensel.

The accountability issue was the most debated clause in past sessions, especially in the National Assembly, with members arguing that it could lead to serious conflict of interest.  Some members then said that the amendment didn’t serve the desired purpose if the attorney general was accountable to the prime minister.

In 2012, when the OAG refused to prosecute those involved in the Gyalpoizhing land case, the then opposition party, People’s Democratic Party, said that the particular clause of the attorney general being accountable to the prime minister was problematic.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) took up the Gyalpoizhing case. The ACC Act states that the commission can take over the prosecution process from the OAG when the case is delayed without a valid reason, manipulated, or hampered by interference.

Currently, the OAG is prosecuting the ongoing Lhakhang Karpo case involving the foreign minister.

While the accountability clause was endorsed, disagreements on nine other clauses sent the bill to the joint committee to be tabled at the joint sitting this session.

Some parliament members, Kuensel spoke with, said the attorney general being accountable to the prime minister may not necessarily lead to a conflict of interest with several changes made in the amended bill.  For instance, the prime minister could appoint and remove the attorney general, as per the earlier Act, but not anymore, as it now has to route through His Majesty the King.

Despite initial hiccups, the OAG bill 2014 was endorsed with 47 yes votes yesterday, while three members abstained.  The bill originated from the council, after which it was sent to the assembly last winter.

The endorsed bill states that the attorney general shall submit an annual report on the activities of the office to His Majesty the King and to the prime minister.  The attorney general shall hold office for a term of five years, and may be eligible for reappointment for a second term.  However, the bill doesn’t specify if he or she can go back to the civil service after completion of tenure as attorney general.

Unlike in the earlier Act that gave full authority to the prime minister to remove the attorney general for various reasons, the OAG 2014 bill states that His Majesty the King, on recommendation of the prime minister, shall remove or require the attorney general to resign if he or she suffers from incapacity, wilfully violates any provisions of the law that substantially affects interest of the office, or is convicted.

The bill also states that the attorney general will have to be in the government or public service for a minimum of 15 years.

While most members yesterday were in favour of the joint committee’s recommendations, some questioned why the clause on ‘reappointment of a new attorney general should the existing one die, resign, or vacate office before his or her office term’ was removed.

Some members said it was necessary to specify the term of the new attorney general, should the existing attorney general leave before the term.

The discussion ended with a majority of the members agreeing that the clause should remain removed as recommended by the joint committee.

By Kinga Dema