The Anti Corruption Commission in its review of the Trowa Theater case has said that the commission did not find it appropriate to investigate it as a corruption case as corrupt intention cannot be established.
The ACC has, however, pointed out a litany of administrative and procedural lapses and weaknesses in the Trowa case.
The ACC’s review report says, “The Ministry as the competent authority on matters under its mandate may not have exhausted all administrative procedures. As an example, though so much time has passed, even a notice was not served to the owner of the Trowa Theater on suspension of business pending the resolution of the problem. While lease rent was pending business continued as usual.”
It says that similarly many administrative lapses have occurred in lease policy and planning, lease preparation, lease monitoring during implementation and lease administration from 2001 till date.
The ACC said that administrative liability and accountability needs to be fixed on officials involved.
It was pointed out that though the National Assembly had directed the Ministry to take up the matter legally the Ministry did not take the legal option forward. Instead, as one of the options, the Ministry requested the National Land Commission to approve the sale of land at a mutually negotiated price.
The report says, “This letter to the NLC sparked the notion that attempt was made to sell Trowa theater land through policy corruption. In this particular case, the Minister who proposed the sale of land inherited the problem from the predecessor.”
The ACC had met with the Royal Audit Authority who had initially pointed out the Trowa case while reviewing the Trowa case.
The ACC criticized the Ministry’s options to the RAA to solve the problems in 2012 which included selling the land to the owner, buying back the property or lowering the lease rate.
The report said, “The four option proposed above had conditions which seem more difficult to meet than resolve the stalemate. This reflects either the commitment to solve the problem or the shear desperate attempt to pass the problems to others.”
It also says that in 2001 when Trowa was first leased there were no clear policy guidelines or rules and regulations on lease of government land. Lease of land took place on ad-hoc basis without a standard procedure. ‘Devoid of standard procedure, due diligence in protecting government interest was not exercised. How can one justify a lease period of 25 years and allow construction of a permanent recreational facility with minimum terms and conditions governing it,’ says the report.
The ACC pointed out contradictory clauses in the lease and also government rules.
The ACC in an indirect reference to the Education City project among others said, “The continuing sad story is that more Trowa theatre like cases are being created with lease of government land with a maximum lease period of 30 years. Any land lease deal with a permanent structure on it that would outlive 30 years would be on potential problem. At the end of the of the lease period, a permanent structure would be on government land. How would we deal with this typically Trowa Theater like stalemate?”
The report said that more such problems are being created every day. It says, “While short term land lease with temporary structures would be much easier to deal with, lack of clear rules, involvement of multiple agencies, lack of central database etc make land lease highly vulnerable to corruption.”
The ACC said that while how to resolve the stalemate of Trowa Theater Land Lease Case is an administrative matter, there is definitely a strong need to improve the government land lease system.
It says, “The system review needs to come out with a comprehensive policy, supported by rules and regulations in line with the Land Act 2007. A central database of information on land lease along with agency level information being maintained at agencies in a two tier information database system needs to be developed as the minimum requirement of check and balance.”
The 19432.56 square foot (sft) land at Changjiji was leased for 25 years to Sangay Dorji in 2001 at an annual lease rent of Nu 2 per sft and the approval for the construction of an entertainment hall was issued by Thimphu City Corporation (TCC).
In 2006, the lease was transferred from Sangay Dorji to Kunlay Wangchuk which was approved by the MoWHS minister with a revised lease rent of Nu 42 per sft. National Housing Development Corporation (NHDC) was directed by the ministry to execute the new lease agreement but Kunlay Wangchuk who said the new rates were not unacceptable, refused to sign any agreement despite several notices issued to him nor has he paid any lease rent since 2006. The current total outstanding lease rent has been calculated at more than Nu 5.2mn.
At some point of time, the MoWHS has even sought to sell the land to the current theatre owner while national council (NC) members linked the case to ‘policy corruption’ during its ninth parliamentary session last summer.
Recently the National Land Commission Dispute Settlement Committee rejected the government proposal to sell the Trowa Theater land based on the Land Act 2007 and instead lowered the lease rate based on the Tenancy Act and its own land lease rates.