Tashi Dema

Iron Female Ox Year-Corruption:The Female Ox year will be remembered for the emphasis to root out corruption in the country.

His Majesty The King, during the National Day address, said corruption is on rise and commanded accountability must become a cornerstone of governance henceforth.

With the country’s corruption perception index score in Transparency International (TI) remaining stagnant at 68 points since 2018, it is evident forms of corruption and their causes have not changed.

Studies have already shown that the citizens’ perception of the prevalence of corruption in the country is already high. Many believe it is serious and has increased in recent years.

The year started with the news of how Supreme Court Justice Kuenlay Tshering allegedly helped a woman, Khandu Wangmo, avail the Chevening scholarship, based on a text message he received from an authority, which later proved to be fake.

Although the British Honorary Consulate denied unfair influence in the scholarship and claimed selection process is conducted with the highest standards of integrity and objectivity and that it is free of any local or other unfair influence, nepotism and favouritism, many people raised questions of corruption in scholarship grant.

In the case surrounding Khandu Wangmo, she and her former husband Yeshi Dorji, who was a dzongkhag drangpon, were charged and convicted of deceptively availing Nu 8 million loan from the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan in two days on the pretext of starting multiple businesses. Many people raised how difficult it is for them to avail loans, but those with connections and influence could easily avail it.

The former home minister Sherub Gyeltshen resigned after the High Court’s larger bench upheld the judgment that convicted him of claiming false vehicle insurance.

Dumper truck dealers were investigated for evading green tax worth millions.

ACC also investigated alleged corruption at the Mini Dry Port (MDP) and truck parking (temporary) port in Phuentsholing and found deep-rooted prevalence of bribery and extortion by loaders and custom officials.

Officials were accused of receiving illicit payments from multiple parties in relation to the import of goods by concealing the bribes using the bank accounts of other private individuals.

However, the pandemic has provided the opportunity to expose the bribery racket as earlier attempts failed because the exchange of bribes and kickbacks were done in cash.

The situation changed during the pandemic where goods entry were regulated and cash transactions were limited and monetary transfers had to be routed through banks.

The National Assembly passed the Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Bill, allowing the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) and the Office of Attorney General (OAG) to investigate corruption cases to address the shortage of human resources in the ACC.

It rejected ACC’s organisational and human resource independence although the National Council endorsed ACC’s recommendation for it. The Bill will be deliberated in the joint sitting.

The parliamentarian discussed the need for a separate bench in courts to expedite corruption cases, but decided to leave it to the judiciary whether to create new benches or consolidate it with the existing courts.

The Supreme Court also revoked a suspension order the ACC issued against three construction companies stating ACC should follow the doctrine of harmonious construction and based on the principles of reasonableness CDB used, it was not necessary for ACC to suspend the contractors.

SC ruled ACC can only ask concerned agencies to take appropriate actions and not take actions.