The Bhutanese finds several errors and holes while fact checking the Prime Ministers defense of DPT Vice President, Chang Ugyen on the 10 acre Thimphu land scam
The Prime Minister accused ‘The Bhutanese’ of selective reporting and playing with the truth to show the DPT government in a bad light for the story, ‘DPT Vice President involved in Nu 300mn Thimphu Land Scam’.
The prime minister though not denying that there had been irregularities in Chang Ugyens thram defended the DPT Vice President.
This was during the recent meet the press session on Thursday when a reporter from this paper asked about the future course of action by the government on the scam.
Chang Ugyen in 1987 as the Chang Gup has grabbed 10 acres of government land in Thimphu and till date is yet to return 7 acres.
The Bhutanese took down the 22 minute long and three page transcript of the Prime Minister’s reply and did a basic fact check on his main allegations and points.
The Prime Minister claimed that a High Level Committee from 2003 to 2005 had looked at around 1,305 similar irregular cases only one of which was Chang Ugyen’s.
The Bhutanese has found this is incorrect as the High level committee (which was from 2001 to 2003 and not from 2003 to 2005) did not find 1,305 irregular cases but only around 50 irregular cases of which one was Chang Ugyens.
Lyonchhen claimed that many of the cases were similar or even worse than that of Chang Ugyen’s.
This is also incorrect since out of the actual 50 cases the biggest land grab of 10 acres had happened in Chang Ugyen’s case. Most of the other cases ranged between mainly a few decimals to 1 or 2 acres. The level of forgery of thram records in Chang Ugyens case was also more blatant then in other cases. Records not only at the Gewog level but also the main thram in the national land commission were found to have been overwritten and even pages had been torn off to hide facts. There was also a blatant conflict of interest as Chang Ugyen was the Chang Gup at the time and he had given 2 acres of land to the Land records director Lhaba Duba. The land records director Lhaba Duba had to compulsorily resign from service.
The Prime Minister also said that Chang Ugyen had approached the Prime Ministers Grievance cell against the National Land Commission’s decision asking to him replace land of equal value. The prime minister said “the prime minister’s office has given its directives, its views to the land commission,” indicating that a view sympathetic to Chang Ugyen was given.
The Bhutanese has found that the Prime Ministers’ ‘views and directives’ to the national land commission on Chang Ugyen’s land scam case is in violation of the constitution and is also a case of conflict of interest. The constitution allows only His Majesty the King to have any prerogative on issues of granting land Kidu to private citizens. There is a conflict of interest as most members on the commission are civil servants who are accountable to the elected DPT government which in turn is advocating views on the DPT Vice President’s case.
The Prime Minister defending Chang Ugyen said, “Land is a complicated issue, it’s a complex issues and we did not have rules, regulations, machineries and mechanisms to ensure to the extent that nothing of irregular nature occurs.”
The paper found that though measurement techniques were not as advanced like today, the country before the 1987 land scam still had a very strong 1979 land act similar to the 2007 land act. Prior to the 1979 land act the country’s land laws was governed by the ‘Ma Tham Chen’ founded by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in the 17th century and strengthened and improved on by the 1st King His Majesty Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuk. Even prior to 1979 a detailed registry of thram records separating private land from government land was maintained with the government. His Majesty the Fourth King in a Royal Kasho in 1980 had also made it very clear that land to private citizens could only be issued by the King. In fact in 1984 thrams of several people who had registered land without getting a Royal Kasho were cancelled. Many of these lands were reinstated only after getting the Royal Kasho of His Majesty the fourth King. By 1987 when the scam occurred modern methods of maintaining the records by an educated elite was already well in place.
A key linchpin of the Prime Ministers accusation against this paper was on why was only Chang Ugyen’s case highlighted when there were other cases mentioned in the high level committee report.
‘The Bhutanese’ first came across the case of Chang Ugyen based on a complainant from Thimphu. As Chang Ugyens was the only unsolved and still ongoing case this paper could get basic information from the high court verdict which is online and the agencies concerned. In the course of investigating Chang Ugyen’s story the Bhutanese was informed that a final but old report on around 50 cases was also there. However, despite repeated attempts with the government and especially with the National Land Commission to get the report, it was not given to the paper. The paper has also filed a written ‘Right To Information’ request given under the constitution with the National Land Commission to get the complete report that also contains all ‘solved cases’. The Bhutanese filed the RTI application with the intent to publish stories on all 50 cases once the government decides to share the complete report with the paper.
However, apart from the fact that the paper had no details on the 50 other solved cases ‘The Bhutanese’ pursued the Chang Ugyen story first simply because information was available in the public domain, his case was the only one that was not solved and the NLC had asked him to refund the land to the government. The land scam story also had good governance implications as the ruling political party had knowingly given the post of ‘Vice President’ to an individual found guilty in a land scam. This is in the face of their policy of zero tolerance on corruption.
The Bhutanese also gave Chang Ugyen an opportunity to state his side of the story but was refused.
The Prime Minister also alleged that the head line ‘DPT Vice President involved in Nu 300mn Thimphu land scam’ gave the impression that DPT had benefitted and that Chang Ugyen had enriched himself of Nu 300mn when he was in the post.
The headline of the story was an editorial decision which is usually taken in independent media houses around the world and it was in keeping with the facts of the story.
Also the story in the very beginning mentioned that the scam occurred in 1987 and that the land value of Nu 300 million was by current market estimates. Although going by current quoted land prices the land is actually worth Nu 500 to Nu 600mn but in the interest of not being sensational a conservative figure of Nu 300mn was taken.
Neither the entire article nor the headline suggests that DPT was involved in the scam. The article in fact takes pains to mention at least four times that the scam pertained to 1987 and that the land was still not given back by Chang Ugyen.
The Prime Minister also accused ‘The Bhutanese’ of misreporting the 2008 court verdict saying that Chang Ugyen as the plaintiff had the option of filing a criminal case which he did not.
The Prime Minister’s interpretation of the verdict is contradicted by a written statement of the Office of the Attorney general which says, “it is the opinion of the OAG, the high court merely remarked that unless a criminal charge is filed in accordance with sections 154 and 187 of the civil and criminal procedure code by any party, Chang Ugyen or the government, the court is unable to impose criminal sanction’.
However, even the OAG’s view of voluntary criminal prosecution by either sides is contrary to the law according to an eminent legal luminary still serving in the judiciary. “Even the court’s opinion that a criminal case can be filed is actually binding on both parties and so a criminal case should have been filed, ” he said .
Finally, the Prime Minister claimed that his government after 2008 had fought and defended a civil litigation case filed by Chang Ugyen.
However, in another case of conflict of interest ,despite the NLC’s deadline of 2011 to replace the land ending last year, no action has been taken against the DPT Vice President. “If someone does not replace land in the given time then normally NLC has to charge sheet the matter to the court, which has surprisingly not happened,” said a land commission officer.
The Attorney General Phuntsho Wangdi told the Bhutanese “right after the judgment, a judgment report was sent to NLC for information. The Plaintiff was given 10 days petition period to appeal and since he did not appeal the OAG wrote a letter to NLC to implement the judgment.”