In its opinion, the CoS had not exceeded its mandate in the action taken

Governance: The opposition has called the government to explain how a letter written to the Indian ambassador had merited its action of penalising three secretaries by surrendering them to RCSC in a senseless and humiliating manner.

In a press conference yesterday, the opposition said that they believe the letter that the foreign secretary wrote was intended to protect the special relationship that exists between Bhutan and India.

The opposition also believes that the committee of secretaries had not exceeded its mandate by discussing issues outside the scope of its terms of reference, nor had it purposely withheld information, including important decisions, from the government.

On December 12, last year, the Cabinet surrendered the Cabinet secretary, Dasho Penden Wangchuk, economic affairs secretary, Dasho Sonam Tshering, and the foreign secretary, Yeshey Dorji, to the civil service commission for action.

Opposition member from Panbang, Dorji Wangdi said that, after getting additional information, the opposition believes that the secretaries were victimised for defending the government’s stand.

“This is a case of victimisation and penalisation of secretaries for actually implementing and executing the directives of the government, for defending the government’s stands, and the sacred Indo-Bhutan relationship,” he said.

The economic affairs secretary was accused of misusing the institution of the committee of secretaries (CoS) to raise, discuss and take action on allegations made on him by a foreign magazine.

Opposition member Dorji Wangdi said the issue came from the economic affairs ministry, and was discussed in the CoS because the economic affairs secretary submitted it as an agenda for CoS.

“He was accused by Inertia (the foreign magazine) of corruption because he wrote to them and defended his minister’s stand on the conclave that Prof Iyer had wanted to organise,” he said. “When the secretary wrote, saying that the government wouldn’t be able to support the conclave, he was seen as being a block and that’s why he was accused.”

South Thimphu’s opposition member, Yeshey Zimba, said there was not much difference when civil servants were surrendered or removed, but when any civil servant erred, there was a process to penalise them.

The opposition said that the government, which came to power on a plane of law abiding political party and the champion of the independence of constitutional offices, found itself in intoxication by power, as was evident from the surrendering of the three secretaries without following the due process of law.

“Now the government is under pressure to follow the due process of law, but sadly having caused the damage, that was painful and inflictive, not only for the three secretaries but for the entire system,” the opposition said.

Yeshey Zimba said that this unwarranted action of the government has not only stunned a large section of the society, but has also sent a wave of fear and a sense of helplessness and insecurity, particularly among the senior officers in the public service sector.

“The security and self respect that are vital for confidence of civil servants in discharging their duties have been shattered and battered,” he said.

Opposition member Khandu Wangchuk, who was also the former economic affairs minister, said the Inertia magazine had accused a senior government official, who was also a member of authority on all the hydropower projects, and not personally against the economic affairs secretary.

“Now if he’d kept quite and hadn’t taken up this issue to CoS, would that have been a right course of action?” he said.

Khandu Wangchuk said that the secretary must have felt that keeping quiet would have implied acceptance and guilt, if the government of India (GoI), who is financing and supporting all these projects, hears of the secretary being corrupt.

“I think he was duty bound to ask GoI to raise the issue with the magazine, and if he had kept quiet, then we should have been more suspicious,” he said. “And the foreign secretary, being the seniormost diplomat, who is fully aware about our foreign policy, would never write a letter, which would harm the relation between the two countries.”

The foreign secretary was indicted for misrepresenting the government by sending a formal letter to the government of India without the approval of the foreign minister or the prime minister.  The cabinet secretary was indicted for not keeping the prime minister informed of the CoS discussions and decisions.

Leader of the opposition  (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho, said that, ideally, all members of CoS should take the responsibility, because the issue was discussed as a committee.

“We’re waiting for RCSC to complete its investigation and come up with a transparent information on how the three secretaries have affected Indo-Bhutan relations, how they have exceeded the mandate of CoS, and how they have failed to inform the PM and the MoEA minister,” he said.

He said that, regardless of how the events may unfold now, RCSC has already said that the Cabinet has not followed the provisions of the civil service Act and the Constitution. “Who is going to take responsibility and be accountable for violating these provisions and for not following due process?” he said.

By Sonam Pelden