Who can fund Bhutan democracy dialogue?

BDD: Although formed with moral intentions, the legality of external funding for the Bhutan Democracy Dialogue (BDD), a multi party platform for cooperation is now being questioned.

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa has written to the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) requesting a review on the legal aspects of BDD funding before it implements its planned activities.

The letter stated that external sources are funding the BDD and routing the funds through the election commission to political parties. The same issue was also raised in the last national council session during the budget discussion.

A source said the funding has direct correlation with the party even though it is routed through the commission. “I feel it is illegal and the stakeholders are knowingly bending the law,” the source said.

Of the total budget outlay of Nu 4.6M for this year, the BDD has spent about Nu 0.25M to date.

The ECB is aware of the Constitution and the electoral laws that restrict political parties from receiving monetary assistance from external sources. “The ECB fully respects and abides by the letter, intent and spirit of these law provisions,” a top ECB official said.

However, the commission also exerts that it has the responsibility to ensure development of institutions, systems and culture of political parties fostered through trainings, seminars, workshops and creating platforms for interaction and collaboration to learn and share best practices.

This, official said could be funded either through approved National Plans, Trusts or assistance from individuals, corporate and entities both within and abroad.

ECB officials said this is in line with the ‘guidelines for administration and management of support and assistance for non-member entities and persons for institutional strengthening and capacity building of registered political parties,’ which is also derived from the Constitution.

Further, the ECB stated that activities of the BDD are joint activities approved by the BDD steering committee, formed with two-member representation from all political parties and two from the ECB. “So there is no possibility of initiating any activity in the interest of any individual party,” the official said.

The commission’s role in BDD is to coordinate the steering committee meetings, guide, review and monitor the activities and regulate all aspects of finance and accounts including submission of periodic financial reports to its related partners.

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) general secretary, Sonam Jatsho said parties do not deal directly with the funders and that he did not see any legal issues.

Members from the parties, he said are not represented in capacity of party candidates but as steering committee members of the BDD. “All committee members become a part of ECB since it coordinates and implements all programs,” he said.

As far as the rules are concerned, he said the ECB would be clear on it.

However, a former committee member of the BDD from the opposition, Kinga Tshering said the steering committee was formed to manage and guide the BDD activities.

Such legal issues, he said would be deliberated in the committee meetings and refrained from commenting further.

The President of Druk Chirwang Tshogpa, Lilly Wangchuk said it was important to understand the intent of the law. She said that the clause restricting parties from external funding was meant for the election period and refrain the parties from being loyal to money and muscle power.

The BDD, she said is not a political party and that it was created to promote cooperation, dialogue, partnership and harmonious political environment. “These are irrelevant concerns and it is disappointing,” she said.

Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party’s (BKP) interim general secretary Karma Jimba said BDD’s idea to bring parties together is unique despite the fact that individual parties did not receive single pie from the funds. “I see no concerns,” he said.

He said that to celebrate the democracy festival, the committee agreed to look for more funds and technical assistance. The committee, he said, also secured a fund of Nu 50,000 for each party for the democracy fest.

The government and the Danish Institute of political parties (DIPD) are funding the Democracy Festival as proposed by the BDD Steering Committee to be held next month.

“BDD as an unprecedented forum of all parties for societal harmony, has been given rightful publicity and was made legitimate under the laws,” the ECB stated in its response to Kuensel.

Since the BDD is an initiative conceptualised jointly by all the five Parties, the ECB official said that all parties are responsible to ensure that the forum fulfils its objectives of bringing harmony and strengthening all parties for meaningful choice to the electorate.

“It is incumbent on all parties to ensure that this forum of their making is not abused or misused in any way by anyone,” ECB cautioned.

 

Tshering Dorji

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