Namely that the Cabinet did not follow due process in its ‘surrender’ of the secretaries

Controversy: In the ongoing saga of the three reassigned government secretaries, the opposition yesterday slammed the government for being reckless and misleading and accusing them of attacking the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) for its decision to reassign the secretaries.

The opposition’s statement was in response to the government’s stand, where the prime minister, during the meet the press, stated the opposition’s stand as “meaningless and damaging.”

In an earlier statement, the opposition had called for the reinstatement of the secretaries to their respective positions, and demanded that the Cabinet and the economic affairs minister be held accountable.

“What we’ve expressed is our appreciation to the RCSC of taking the right decision, given their mandate and given the circumstances,” the leader of the opposition, (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said. “But, at the same time, we also questioned the government for not taking responsibility for their action in surrendering the secretaries before due process was completed.”

The opposition also pointed out that the government was now saying that they “referred” the secretaries to RCSC, as opposed to “surrendering”, as was stated in the Cabinet’s press release of December 12, 2014. “There is a big difference between referring and surrendering to the RCSC,” he said.

In their press statement, the opposition stated that, if the matter was only “referred” to the RCSC and not “surrendered”, as mentioned earlier, then the secretaries should have continued to work in their positions until the completion of the RCSC’s investigation.

What the government’s stand indicates, according to the opposition, is that the Cabinet had not taken the issue seriously, and did not consider it a matter of national importance.

“The PM’s logic has lost any meaning and his now well known habit of rewording and rephrasing his words to bail himself and his Cabinet out was in play again,” the opposition’s statement states.

The opposition said the Cabinet had the audacity to accuse them of politicising the matter and inciting discord between the civil servants and the elected government, when the Cabinet itself has accused the CoS of running a “parallel government” and alienated the bureaucracy.

To avoid being again accused of politicising, when the opposition had suggested that the National Council as an apolitical house of review look into the matter, it said that the Cabinet has again accused them of pulling in the council.

“Does this mean that neither the opposition nor the NC have any role to play in providing the required checks and balance to the ruling government,”the opposition’s statement states. “Surely, the Cabinet does not assume that whatever it decides is above criticism and beyond questioning.”

In response to the home minister, the opposition’s statement explained that it was not the opposition but the RCSC, which through its December 29 press release, had stated that the Cabinet had violated the provisions of the Constitution, the civil service act and the civil service rules and regulations.

Citing legal provisions, the RCSC had earlier stated that it was not in a position to accept the surrendering of the three government secretaries.  The Cabinet was advised to pursue the matter in accordance with the laws and rules in place, and to submit it along with details/evidences of the charges to the commission within two weeks.

Opposition member Ugyen Wangdi said the government claimed to have followed the law.

“According to us, in the rule of law, one basic fundamental is that the accused or the person, who has been charged, should be given an opportunity to defend,” he said. “The three secretaries should have be called before the Cabinet and given a chance to explain how they have acted and why they’ve acted so, if at all. But in this case, they were taken by surprise, I believe, and then only they were surrendered to the RCSC.”

The opposition also said that it doesn’t see the need to bring in the government of India (GoI), since the issue is purely an internal administrative affair.

However, since the economic affairs minister has brought it up, the opposition states that the letter, the foreign secretary wrote to the GoI, “doesn’t in any way pose to jeopardise our unique relations with India, either in tone or language.”

The RCSC’s press release makes no mention of this specific charge and, according to the opposition, “it can be deduced that they found no cause for concern.”

Opposition member Kinga Tshering said his layman understanding of law is that there was substantive law and procedural law, and if one of these laws was violated, then it automatically nullified one or the other.

He said the RCSC has looked at the substantive law aspect, where facts and legal principals have been established.  The procedural law, he said, was related to how the charges should be submitted, how a fair hearing should be given, and how it complied with the laws and rules.

“My personal view is that, when you violate any of these laws, then actually it’s a violation of the due process,” he said.

The opposition also pointed out that the economic affairs minster’s explanation on the issue has further confused them and the public with his changing statements.

Citing an example, opposition member Kinga Tshering said that the economic affairs minister on December 12, last year, had said that the “the decision of CoS was arrived at over deliberations of four meetings over two months.”  During the meet the press, the minister had said, “…the need to write to GoI was discussed in at least four CoS meetings stretching over at least five to six months.”

It was for these reasons, the opposition said that, the minister has, “clearly misled and misinformed the nation by first denying any knowledge of the CoS’s action, and now acknowledging that he was aware of the issue, which was also noted by the RCSC.”

What the opposition expects is to avoid similar incidents in future by putting in place proper procedures, where the Cabinet of the day doesn’t take reckless and rushed decisions without respecting the rule of law, without following due procedures, and without referring due provisions of the Constitution and relevant acts.

The opposition has again called for the Cabinet to take responsibility for not following due process, and the economic affairs minister for misinforming the nation.

“That’s what we want to be reviewed; what can be done to avoid such instances in future,” the leader of the opposition said. “That’s the kind of closure that we’d like to seek.”

By Sonam Pelden