With the Anti Corruption Commission issuing suspension orders to the two civil servants for alleged involvement in the lhakhang Karpo case, there are many questions being asked. This is because, a few days earlier, the government granted the foreign minister ‘authorised absence.’
The first question on many minds is why are there two rules for the same alleged crime? The foreign minister has also been charged in the same case. The project engineer and the manager, as civil servants, are governed by the civil service rule, which is quite clear.
The rule mandates that civil servants be suspended by agencies if, among others, they face criminal charges in a court of law. The case is in the Haa court. However, they will be entitled to a subsistence allowance of 50 percent of the basic pay until the completion of the court or disciplinary proceedings. If they come out clean, they will be paid the remaining amount in arrears.
As empowered by its Act, ACC had also written to the prime minister, as the relevant agency, to suspend the foreign minister. Lyonchhoen chose to relieve him on “authorised absence”. The minister will be entitled all benefits while he is away defending himself against the charges.
This is where observers feel the laws are unfair. And because our laws are based on the principle that all men must stand before the law on equal footing and that there should not be two sets of laws, one for the rich and powerful and another for the poor. Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje will not fight the case as the foreign minister to avoid conflict of interest or influence by power.
Another question is on the ‘authorised absence’ the royal civil service came up recently, in dealing with the three government secretaries. It implies that, when an official is being investigated, the commission can decide whether the civil servant should be suspended or given “authorised absence.” The civil service rule will not apply to the elected government. The government chose to borrow the newfound arrangement in deciding what to do with the foreign minister.
What is clear is that there are far too many anomalies in our laws, when it comes to suspension. These need to be ironed out. The ACC Act says the commission shall suspend a public servant, who is charged under their Act, with effect from the date of the charge until the outcome. We hear that not many agencies are following it. The judiciary had already suggested to change ‘shall’ to ‘may’ to make suspension discretionary and not automatic.
In the meantime, the judiciary could look into the possibility of prioritising cases involving public servants. This is because there is cost on the state; service delivery is hampered as well. In the recent past, we had cases where civil servants suspended were compensated, in arrears, their salary for three years after finding them innocent. Some are still fighting cases in the court.
While the post is protected until proven guilty, the ultimate losers are the state and the people.