This is especially so as constitutional bodies and the media is coming under increasing pressure from an increasingly sensitive government.
The latest example is statements on BBS and other media outlets by the Health Minister and his officials that the ACC investigation on the MoH procurement scam led to the drugs shortage. The inference here is that the recent death of a patient should therefore be blamed on ACC. This is a patently untrue statement. While it is true that ACC did bar two corrupt suppliers the MoH could have easily accessed hundreds of other non-barred suppliers.
These statements apart from being a clumsy attempt to pass the drug shortage buck to the ACC will demotivate the anti corruption agency’s hardworking officials.
These statements show that despite all the talk of zero tolerance on corruption, in reality, the government has a dim view of ACC.
The Election Commission of Bhutan of late has also been at the receiving end of increasing government and political criticism. Not long ago the Chief Election Commissioner was viciously and personally attacked for doing his job through an open letter from the government printed in media outlets.
There was almost a vindictive sense of triumph as leading politicians questioned the ECB budget and expenditure. This is seen by many as an effort to cut the ECB down to size.
Bhutan’s Royal Audit Authority may be the only audit agency in the world having a ‘positive section’ in all its reports in highlighting the positives of audited issues. This according to audit officials is a result of fierce criticism by this government on the ‘language’ in the RAA reports.
Another disturbing trend of RAA in Bhutan is that RAA reports on various issue are kept hidden and only shared with a select group of senior government officials. The reports are also not shared with Members of Parliament and other senior officials. The government’s attitude is to try and keep RAA reports confidential from the time it is released till it is forgotten.
The media especially in recent times has become the favorite whipping boy for almost all issues under the sun.
All is well as long as the media does critical or investigative stories on the opposition party sympathizers which include some big business houses. The media agency is praised till the heavens, the reporters in question are hailed as heroes and these stories are bandied about as proof of press freedom in Bhutan.
However, when the same paper and reporters criticize the government all hell breaks loose and the papers are tagged as being sympathetic to the opposition. In what is becoming an increasingly ugly atmosphere media houses are under increasing pressure to conform or suffer the opposition party tag and with it comes undisguised and clumsy attempts to destroy the credibility of media houses and media professionals. A recent example of the increasing government intolerance to criticism is when a BBS reporter reporting from the GNH conference in New York said that the Prime Minister ascribed criticism of the GNH conference as being politically motivated.
Never mind, that nearly every media outlet had criticized the New York GNH conference for taking away the government spotlight on the rupee crisis.
Even the most innocent criticisms these days are are ascribed to the worst possible intentions one of which is that some media houses are criticizing the government to undermine democracy.
This first elected government has the unique responsibility of strengthening Bhutanese democracy. This government in its first few years seemed to know what it was doing making the right noises and moves especially in the context of encouraging media freedom.
However, of late a heavy fog of intolerance, vitriol and machinations seems to be the order of the day, and in the end the only casualty will be a genuine and healthy democracy.