An election dispute that is being reviewed  by the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has highlighted confusion in university degrees authentication process by Department of Adult and Higher Education (DAHE) and Bhutan Accreditation Council (BAC).

A former civil servant, Tshokey Dorji, who was nominated as National Council (NC) candidate from Thimphu Thromde had obtained authentication of his LLB degree from the Supreme Court.

Following the completion of the dhamngoi zomdu, one of the candidates, Sonam Penjor, filed a case with ECB, stating that Tshokey Dorji had received a preferential treatment with authentication of his degree.

Other candidates said they received authentication of their certificate from the university.

BAC had allowed Tshokey Dorji to authenticate his certificate from the Supreme Court since he had worked in the judiciary. This was done as per BAC’s decision  to recognise authentication of degrees by the apex court and the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC).

However, this has raised questions about whether the SC and RCSC are competent authorities to authenticate a person’s university degree. The past practice was that BAC would recognise a degree after receiving confirmation from the university.

The complainant also stated that he did not get a level playing field since he took time to get authentication from the university.

Earlier, DAHE had notified that the process of recognition of a degree would involve validating qualifications with the awarding institutions and is solely dependent on the response from the universities.

A letter to RCSC on January 12, 2018 shows that BAC deviated from the procedure of recognising a university degree.

Signed by BAC’s chairperson, Karma Yeshey, the letter to the RCSC states: “As per the recognition procedure, the confirmation (of degrees) is sought from the awarding body, which in most cases are the universities. While some universities/institutions provide timely confirmation there are some universities that never responded, especially in India.”

BAC’s 11th meeting held on  January 8, 2018 decided that the RCSC would be one of the secondary sources for authentication of degrees for former civil servants.

However, some candidates Kuensel spoke to said they were not aware of the change since DAHE did not notify the change to the general public.

Dorji Wangchuk, one of the candidates, earlier said he was disqualified to contest the election due to lack of timely response from the university. The former teacher who was nominated from Bidung gewog said he was not aware about secondary sources for authentication of his degree.

DAHE had also forwarded to RCSC a list of 13 aspiring candidates, including foreign minister Damcho Dorji, MP Ritu Raj Chhetri, and Neten Zangmo, for authentication of their degrees in January.

The BAC is seeking the confirmation for medical and allied degrees from the Bhutan Medical and Health Council since the DAHE has been unable to receive response from some universities abroad.

DAHE had written a clarification letter to the ECB about Tshokey Dorji’s case. Signed by DAHE’s officiating director, Baburam Sherpa, the letter stated that RCSC did not confirm the mode of education of Tshokey Dorji’s degree, after which the confirmation had to be sought from the SC.

“It is only after receiving the directives from BAC that we endorsed his qualification. Our office has endorsed as per the criteria by BAC and did not deviate from the set rules to accommodate his endorsement,” Baburam Sherpa said.

Karma Yeshey and BAC members on March 5, 2018 signed a notesheet stating that the SC could authenticate law degrees. On the same day, member secretary of the BAC, Kezang C Dorji, had written to registrar general Tshering Dorji for authentication of the degree.

On March 6, SC’s registrar general issued a letter to the BAC stating that Tshokey Dorji had completed a full-time five-year LLB from the University of Mumbai, India.

“The undersigned would like to confirm the genuineness of the LLB degree to Tshokey Dorji,” the registrar general stated.

If the new rule is to be upheld, aspiring National Assembly candidates who have worked as civil servants and military personnel need not seek confirmation from the university.

However, question remain over the competency of SC and the RCSC to authenticate degrees without getting a confirmation from the universities.

One of the candidates said that the only way to authenticate a person’s degree was by getting a confirmation from the university. “Perhaps, this was the reason RCSC could not confirm the mode of education in Tshokey Dorji’s case.”

He also questioned if it was the mandate of the SC to recognise a degree.

While officials from ECB said they would not comment until the case is settled, campaigning is in full swing.

Tshokey Dorji did not comment.

MB Subba