In what will be an important period of transition for Bhutan’s Constitutional bodies the heads and commissioners of three constitutional bodies will be finishing their term around August 2015.
The constitutional bodies in question are the Chairperson and two commissioners of Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), the Chief Election Commissioner and two commissioners of the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) and the Auditor General of the Royal Audit Authority (RAA).
This will be happening because they were all appointed at the same time on August 6th 2010 by His Majesty the King for a period of five years, which means they finish their five years term in early August 2015.
As per Article 31 (4) of Constitution, “The holders of the constitutional offices shall not be eligible for re-appointment.” This would mean that the constitutional post holders cannot be given another five year extension and so alternatives will have to be found.
Fortunately, there is already a recent precedence set with the appointment of the new RCSC Chairman and the four commissioners in 2014.
As per the Constitution the heads and Commission members of Constitutional bodies shall be appointed by the Druk Gyalpo from a list of names recommended jointly by the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of Bhutan, the Speaker, the Chairperson of the National Council and the Leader of the Opposition Party. This process is enshrined in Article 27 (2), Article 24 (2) and Article 25 (2) respectively for the heads and members of ACC, ECB and the RAA.
This was the same process followed in the earlier selection of the RCSC Chairperson and four commission members.
Given the importance of the three organizations in Bhutan’s democracy and governance there is intense curiosity on who the final shortlisted candidates will be and also the process around it.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Lyonpo Tshering Wangchuk said that he would be one of the five members who would be doing the selection. Lyonpo said that though he was new to the process the committee has selected the RCSC Chairman and Commission members earlier.
Another member of the Committee would be the National Assembly Speaker Tshogpon Jigme Zangpo. He said that in the selection process of the RCSC Commissioners the committee had various possible names including around 700 names shortlisted by the RCSC.
The Tshogpon said that the committee set up criteria and looked at the experience, background, track record and post held by the candidates based on which they were selected. Explaining the relatively young age of the RCSC Chairman and Commissioners he said the committee also felt the need to give opportunity to young and dynamic people.
However, the Tshogpon said that given the different nature of the three organizations the same exact criteria cannot be applied for all three organizations.
The Tshogpon said that the most important qualities that the candidates must have would be experienced background, good track record and most importantly integrity for the post.
The Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that the procedures are clearly outlined in the constitution. He said in addition to the Constitution, each organization had their own respective Acts further elaborating the Constitutional provisions.
The PM said that committee’s five members would be getting a good pool of names and it would also be their duty to do a good background check and research on the potential candidates from their qualifications to other factors.
On the criteria the PM said that it would be based mainly on the Constitution and the mandates of the individual organizations. He said any criteria cannot undermine the constitution.
The five member committee would have several options in terms of selecting candidates.
One in the case of ECB and ACC is appointing one of the commissioners as the head of the organization. In the RAA somebody also within the organization could be explored.
However, at the same time the National Assembly in 2014 amended the Entitlement and Service Conditions Act for the Holders, Members and Commissioners of the Constitutional Offices of Bhutan (Amendment) Bill 2014 allowing at least the commissioners to join back into the civil service if they have not completed their retirement age. The Bill is being introduced in the upcoming summer session of the National Council.
Another option would be to shift some or all three around in the posts given that the constitution is silent on appointment of one constitution post holder to another constitutional body. However, this is something the committee will have to discuss and come up with.
One more option is getting in new faces and here again the constitution does not specify that it has to be people from within the civil service though most of the qualified people are within the civil service.
The ultimate choice by the committee will have far reaching implications on the three key bodies. This is because the Constitution post holders given their independent nature decide both the policy and implementation aspects of their organizations.
In ACC it could be anything from the anti-corruption drive to the system through which complaints are redressed. Even the work culture and ethics of the organization is largely set by such heads. ACC for example has a stringent policy of implementing its own advice given to other organizations. The ACC since its inception has grown both in strength and capability hauling in both small and big fishes.
In the ECB the Chief Election Commissioner and the two Commissioners have the first and last say on all election matters from the conduct of elections to looking into complaints. The ECB’s conduct of elections in 2008 and 2013 was appreciated by international observers as being free and fair.
In the RAA the Auditor General is unique in that there are no commissioners with the AG deciding what Audits to conduct and taking other major decisions. Given the huge institutional strength and capacity this is one organization that insures that government resources are not misused and proper financial rules are followed across all agencies. The RAA under the AG in addition to normal audit reports has done a plethora of performance audits that have brought about focus on key issues from mining to construction.