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“Are they detained, suspended or imprisoned?”

This is the question on many minds every time there is a court verdict involving high-level public servants or elected officials. The question arises because there is an interest in what our public servants do.

The interest is heightened when officials or elected leaders are alleged or convicted for corruption. The general perception is that there are two sets of rules and laws. Public interest is on high-level officials.

With the Trongsa court sentencing the former dzongdag to five years in prison and a Thimphu district court finding the Home Minister guilty for false insurance claims and sentencing him for two months in prison, people are questioning how laws are implemented.

This is because civil servants and local government officials were suspended while others were not.

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. The implementation of the law is raising doubts.

Learning from past experience, the Royal Civil Service Commission is careful in taking decision, especially suspending officials. There are a few fighting legal cases and the Commission is waiting for the court verdict.

The RCSC had learnt lessons the hard way. They have suspended officials in the past only to be reinstated after court verdicts. It has implications. Despite the personal trauma individuals go through during the suspension, it cost the government and the people when public officials are suspended for a long time. It affects service delivery and decision-making when high-level officials are involved.

Relevant agencies and the judiciary should sort this out.

Our laws ensure that everybody is innocent until proven guilty by courts. This is a universal principle. But the problem is not ensuring this opportunity to all.

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. The ‘may’ has given protection to some while the ‘shall’ has damaged others.

Whatever the law, it should not be applied based on positions and titles. When such things happen, the trust in the judiciary is lost. Going by our appeal system, the “may” may cost the government and the people.

Court cases cannot be resolved in days. It takes years and the appeal system lets people buy time. From a district court to the Supreme Court, a case could take more time than what a public servant has in office.

In the past, it was villagers who drag people to court to waste valuable working time. Today, it could be buying time in office. For the sake of confidence in public servants and the judiciary system, the anomalies should be sorted out, at the earliest.

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