As the wind of Democracy swept across Bhutan in March 2008, the day of voting was a solemn but hopeful day.
There was hope and optimism that under democracy, everyone would be equal before the law, there would be accountability, abuse of power, nepotism and corruption would be curbed and there would be a new way of doing things.
Years later, people are not so sure any longer.
A recent example would be the, Kashi stores, industrial fronting case, where the cabinet decided to give back two licenses when all licenses should be cancelled by law. Two fronting committee members resigned in disgust on the grounds that 108 Bhutanese business licenses were cancelled but a big fish is being spared.
This decision gives further credence, to a poorly kept secret, that most fronting industries have their links with big wigs in Thimphu and even today enjoy protection and in some cases patronage.
In the Chang Ugyen case, the DPT made a land scam tainted former Gup into its Vice-President, a post, just one step below the prime minister. In any other democracy a self respecting political party would have done the right thing, but here the message was ignored.
In Bhutan Lottery, though an RAA report pointed out huge irregularities and even receipt of illegal commissions, the government hushed up the case and shut down the lottery business to the detriment of the national revenue. Here too the messengers were shot and the message ignored.
Gyelpozhing was a national reminder that in the end it is not about DPT or PDP but those that have power and those that don’t. Here, no doubt the case was forwarded to the ACC for investigation but not before making the case look like a political plot conjured from a magician’s hat and giving the media the ‘sensational and vindictive media’ tag.
Given the current state of tolerance of corruption and nepotism, there will be more Kashi stores and Gyelpozhing in the future, but of a bigger and more complex kind.
In the past the complaint was of a few families dominating business in Bhutan but now with democracy the only change is that a few more families have joined the fray.
For these connected few it is unusually easy to get licenses, clearances and woe betides any bureaucrat who stands in their way. These influential few even have the power and connections to bend laws and policies in their favor.
In the middle of all of this there is an increasing clamor that the past be kept in the past and so only those corruption cases after a certain date are investigated.
This in short is a call for an amnesty over corruption cases. Amnesty is granted to child soldiers in Africa, who are kidnapped by armed factions and then asked to fight or die. Amnesty is not for people in the position of power who were well aware that they were breaking laws.
The Corruption of today and tomorrow gets its foundation from corruption in the past. Moreover if the past is not tackled then the message sent out is, that it is okay to be corrupt since you can claim amnesty a few years down the line. A corrupt act in 1980 is a corrupt act in 2012 and a corrupt leader back then is a corrupt leader today.
In the end good governance is about leading through moral conviction and a clean system. Corruption destroys both. A special quality about corruption from the top is that it spreads through the system and ultimately becomes the very system.