Meet the Press: The government may or may not agree with the Royal Civil Service Commission’s decision on the three secretaries but, in the spirit of allowing the commission to fulfil its constitutional mandate, lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay said, the government has welcomed the decision.
At the meet the press session yesterday, the prime minister said that the government didn’t act unilaterally, and had followed the laws, by referring the matter to the commission.
“As a government, collectively and individually, we may not agree with the RCSC’s finding that the CoS acted in good faith, but everybody can’t be right at the same time,” he said. “If you don’t agree, we have to appeal, to some other body, and in this case, the checks and balances have played out its course, and I see a closure to it.”
Almost two months after the case reached them, the commission last week decided to reassign the three surrendered government secretaries, stating that, despite procedural lapses and poor judgment, the secretaries and the committee of secretaries (CoS) had acted in good faith on the ENERTIA allegations.
The home minister, Damcho Dorji, said the commission has gone into the details of the case, come up with a logical conclusion, and did everything as per the civil service act. “So the government has no reservations against the decision and we’re happy with it,” he said.
However, the opposition party’s statement on the issue, according to the prime minister, is meaningless and damaging.
Lyonchoen said it was meaningless, because the opposition begins by appreciating the commission’s decision and the hard work that had gone into it.
“Immediately after that, they start attacking RCSC and then they attack the government,” lyonchoen said. “The government hasn’t taken any decision, except to refer the matter to RCSC, and then they attack the Cabinet for doing that. Then, they appreciate the RCSC’s decision and go on to say that the secretaries must be reinstated.”
The opposition party recently issued a press release, asking for the reinstatement of the secretaries to their original positions, and for the Cabinet and the economic affairs minister to take accountability for the issue.
In a proper democracy, lyonpo Damcho Dorji said, they would have expected the opposition to work with the government and have direct dialogue, instead of going to the media and acting like they are outside the government and Parliament.
“We’re quite amazed that the opposition seems to have very little respect for the decision of the RCSC,” lyonpo Damcho Dorji said.
In his personal legal opinion, the home minister said that the opposition has been unfair in dissecting the decision of the RCSC, especially on the issue concerning the Cabinet.
“I’d say, it lacks justification of normal reasoning,” he said. “If they were really serious on CoS, about the decision that was meted out to the secretaries, then they should have given a more reasoned and logical justification as to why justice was not meted out to the secretaries; and why and how the Cabinet has erred or violated the provisions of the Constitution and the RCSC Act, as they’ve pointed out.”
Lyonchoen said the opposition’s statement was also damaging, because people would read it and take it at face value. “They’re misleading the people and people are going to think that RCSC isn’t doing a good job; that the government isn’t accountable,” he said. “We’re accountable, we’re following the rule of law, and that’s why we referred it to RCSC.”
The government also regretted, lyonpo Damcho Dorji said, that the opposition had tried to pull in the National Council, knowing that the house is an apolitical institution.
Since the Cabinet is accountable to Parliament, and that the Cabinet is a part of the National Assembly, lyonchoen said that this discussion could take place in the National Assembly.
The home minister feels that the opposition is not sincere in its job that it’s currently doing. “I’m not saying that it’ll do in future, but especially in things regarding the CoS, I’d say that they haven’t been sincere from what they’re trying to defend or have floated to the public.”
Meanwhile, a task force is reviewing the functions of CoS to recommend if and how the committee needed to be reinstituted.
Economic Affairs Minister explains
The economic affairs minister Norbu Wangchuk said he had not denied about not discussing the issue of ENERTIA and its articles with the economic affairs secretary.
“I’ve been accused of misleading the nation by telling a lie, by referring to my statement on December 12 last year,” lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said. “When I spoke to the media last year, I’d represented the views and decisions of the Cabinet on the three secretaries.”
Among others, the opposition had asked the economic affairs minister be held accountable for “negligence of his duty as a Cabinet minister, by failing to coordinate within his ministry and the Cabinet,” and for “wilfully distorting information and misleading the nation on national TV, where he vehemently denied any knowledge of the course of the action taken by the secretaries.”
“Such an act is tantamount to violation of the minimum ethical code expected of a member of the Cabinet to tell the truth,” the opposition had said.
Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said discussions were held on the ENERTIA articles,which alleged that the economic affairs secretary had been involved in corruption charges with regard to BHEL.
After numerous articles emerged, lyonpo said, he had advised the secretary to suggest what they should do about it and, based on his advice, the secretary had come up with specifically two suggestions.
“The most substantial charges against the secretaries is that they’d sent a letter to the government of India and to us, that letter, in tone and language weren’t befitting of the government of Bhutan writing to its friendly neighbour India,” lyonpo said.
“That was what the significant charge of the entire issue was and we believe that there has been a breach of several norms, regulations and rules.”
One of the suggestions, lyonpo said, related to a former civil servant of the economic affairs ministry, KB Wakhley, whom the secretary believed was hand in hand with ENERTIA magazine in framing these allegations against him.
The second suggestion concerned the ENERTIA magazine’s articles.
During this discussion, lyonpo said, he had advised that, with regard to KB Wakhley, if the secretary believed that he was involved in framing these charges, then, as he had suggested, they could go ahead by writing to the RCSC.
As for the ENERTIA case, lyonpo said the secretary’s suggestion was to write to the government of India (GoI).
“I’d asked the secretary to hold onto this for two reasons – one, because it involved a foreign entity and therefore writing to India in my mind required much more reflection and much more deliberation.”
The second reason, lyonpo said, was that, during their discussion, more information was emerging or potentially would emerge, and that the facts established by ENERTIA were not yet established.
“Subsequently, we understand at the Cabinet that the issue has been taken up to the CoS, and that is the matter, which was out of the knowledge of the Cabinet,” lyonpo said.
He said the need to write to GoI was discussed in at least four CoS meetings, stretching over five to six months.
During this duration, he said, none of the secretaries informed their ministers, and which later culminated in writing the letter to the GoI, without an explicit approval of the Cabinet, the PM or the foreign minister.
“I’d acted in good faith, individually as a minister and as a member of the Cabinet in the larger interest of the country,” lyonpo said. “Perhaps we may not agree with RCSC ‘s decision, but in respect to the independence and autonomy of a constitutional entity, we respect this decision and welcome it.”
By Sonam Pelden