The Supreme Court’s (SC) overturning of the High Court ruling on the embezzlement case involving former foreign minister opens a whole new debate. It is now important that we take this debate to a more sensible and useful level so that we may be able to come up with ways to effectively stop civil servants from misusing government vehicles.
The issue of civil servants misusing government pool vehicles has been there for a long time. Even as finance ministry issued circulars to stop rampant misuse of government pool vehicles, we have had little success so far. What this tells us is that the ways we have employed to address the issue have been vastly deficient and calls for a more workable solution urgently.
We are now made to understand that MP Rinzin Dorje, while as the dzongdag of Haa, used office’s pool vehicle to transport timber for the construction of his house in Pamtsho, Thimphu. That he did, more than nine times! And yet, according to SC, Rinzin Dorje did not intentionally resort to embezzling public property. In other words, he did not sufficiently breach or violate the government circular.
Finance ministry’s circular issued on January 13, 2000, allows a civil servant to use pool vehicles under pressing and emergency personal needs. It is perhaps because civil servants can use government pool vehicles under pressing and emergency personal needs that we see countless vehicles with BG numbers picking up kids and weekly grocery from shops. The circular allows anyone to conveniently declare personal emergencies and use government pool vehicles for private needs.
What is essentially wrong with the circular is that by allowing some usage leeway, it is encouraging civil servants to misuse government pool vehicles as and when they want. And it is precisely because of this that we have not met with success in our efforts to stop rampant misuse of government pool vehicles. SC’s verdict makes the possibility of civil servants misusing government pool vehicles all the more convenient. We can ill afford to let this happen.
There is now an urgent need to issue a new circular with language that leaves no space for convenient interpretations. Otherwise, there is a serious risk of mindless and shameless misuse of pool vehicles for personal benefits.