Speaking at the question hour in the National Assembly yesterday, Opposition Leader (OL) Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said that it was a conflict of interest for the ruling party to identify and appoint senior civil servants as candidates while they were still in the civil service.

“Two to three years back, we heard that a powerful civil servant of an important position was identified as a candidate and that he was making familiarisation tours to his constituency although they were said to be official visits,” he said, referring to former Cabinet Secretary Kinzang Wangdi.

The former cabinet secretary has joined the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as its candidate from Trashigang’s Bartsam-Songphu constituency. “We see a clear conflict of interest,” he said.

Pema Gyamtsho said he initially thought that the unconfirmed reports of some of the senior civil servants being identified as candidates could not be true. “However, when the candidates were announced, the rumours turned out to be true.”   

The OL said that if senior bureaucrats are roped into politics as candidates of the ruling party, the apolitical nature of the civil service would be at risk.

Pema Gyamtsho cited Article 26 of the Constitution, which emphasises the need for an independent civil service. He added the ruling party had identified senior civil servants, who in the prime minister’s words were the best and brightest, as candidates even before they resigned and confirmed their candidature.

“How do you explain that this is not a violation of the Constitution and politicisation of the civil service?” 

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that if the country is to progress towards prosperity, the politicians alone cannot do enough, while acknowledging the importance of keeping the civil service apolitical.

“It has also been a concern for me since I was a member of the Opposition. About six political appointees worked in the Office of the Prime Minister then,” he said.

The present government, he said, has no political appointees in any of the government offices. However, the prime minister said that the civil servants themselves would know better if civil servants were being politicised.

 The prime minister said that relatives and family members of members of the Opposition were appointed as ambassadors and secretaries in the current government’s tenure.

“We are identifying and selecting candidates for 2018 elections. But we are not only looking at the civil service for candidates, but also from the private sector,” he said.

The ruling party, according to the prime minister, has not differentiated potential candidates based on their past party affiliation. He said the party has given tickets to former minister of Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), Nandalal Rai from Sompangkha in Sarpang and former DPT MP Sonam Penjore from Mongar’s Kengkhar-Weringla constituency.

He said that it was not only PDP that roped in candidates from the civil service. “The DPT had candidates from the civil service in the 2013 and has for 2018 elections.”

“About six months back, I asked Kinzang Wangdi if he was interested to join the party. He said he needed to think over it,” the prime minister said. Kinzang Wangdi, he claimed, resigned immediately upon accepting the proposal.

According to the prime minister, former director general of local governance Lungten Dorji had denied the offer although both DPT and PDP had approached him during the previous two elections. “He was approached by DPT in 2008, and we approached him in 2013.”

Lungten Dorji is the ruling party’s candidate from Panbang, Zhemgang. “We sent our supporters to convince him to resign and join our party. These constituencies have been strengthened.”

Former director general of National Library and Achieves, Dorji Norbu, was roped in for Nganglam constituency in Pemagatshel.

“Some of the candidates have come forward themselves. If they want to serve the country (through PDP) we should appreciate and welcome them,” the prime minister said.

“However, I did approach some civil servants myself,” he said. He added, that he told not to carry out political activities until they resign from the service.

The OL said that former civil servants roped in by other parties did not occupy powerful and significant posts in the civil service and that they were recruited only after their resignation.

He said the civil service must promote and ensure its independent and apolitical nature to discharge public duties in an efficient, transparent, and accountable manner.

Pema Gyamtsho thanked PDP for taking Nandalal Rai as its candidate.

The prime minister said, “I think we did not do a mistake by taking him. If someone is really interested, we feel we should give equal opportunity irrespective of whether they are civil servants or that they belonged to a different political background,” he said.

The prime minister said that PDP urged the former civil servants to resign at the earliest if they accepted the offer.

PDP has officially declared about a dozen senior former civil servants as its candidate for the upcoming election. Most of them resigned recently. 

MB Subba