Cabinet Secretary admitted to not informing Cabinet on CoS issue

Meanwhile a letter and CoS minutes throw more light on the issue

A senior Cabinet Secretariat official told The Bhutanese, on the condition of anonymity, that the Cabinet Secretary Dasho Penden Wangchuk in a 9th December 2014 cabinet meeting had admitted to not informing the PM and the Cabinet on the Committee of Secretaries meetings over Enertia and on writing a letter to the Indian government.

“He said that he had forgotten to inform the PM and the Cabinet about the CoS meetings and that he was responsible for it,” said the official.

The senior official said that this was also present in the minutes of the meeting of that cabinet meeting. The officer, however, declined to share a copy of the minutes.

Earlier the office of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet had already issued a press release stating that the Cabinet Secretary had not kept the Prime Minister informed of the CoS discussions and decisions.

The release had also said that the cabinet learnt about the letter being sent to India on 9th December, one week after the letter to India had been sent on 2nd December.

When the paper contacted the Cabinet Secretary he declined to comment saying that he was duty bound by RCSC rules and would speak only when asked by RCSC.

Meanwhile The Bhutanese is also in the possession of a copy of a 5th November 2014 letter allegedly written by the Cabinet Secretary Dasho Penden Wangchuk to the PM on the Enertia issue.

The letter basically informs the PM of the Enertia issue and the 123rd CoS meeting where CoS decided to write to RCSC and also to the Foreign Ministry to expedite communicating the concerns of the RGoB to GoI against Enertia.

The letter has the Cabinet Secretary’s signature at the end as the Chairman of the Committee of Secretaries.

However, when contacted, the Prime Minister and his officials categorically rejected receiving any such letter and said there was no such letter in their records. The Prime Minister’s personal secretary also did not receive any such letter.

The letter interestingly is missing a letter number which is standard for government letters. It has also been found that the letter was submitted along with other CoS documents by the Cabinet Secretary on 10th December after the PM asked for an explanation.

Interestingly the separate ‘submission of explanation’ letter signed and submitted by the Cabinet Secretary to the PM on 10th December fails to mention this 5th November 2014 letter. The 10th December letter explains the detail sequence of events with all CoS meeting dates but there is no mention of the 5th November letter.

According to an official from the PM’s office the clinching evidence that this letter was never received by the PM or the cabinet is the open admission by the Cabinet Secretary on 9th December in the cabinet meeting on his inability to inform the PM and the Cabinet of the CoS meetings and the letter sent to India.

A cabinet official said that it is probable that the letter, whenever it was written, was not sent to the Cabinet at all and only came up after actions were already taken and when it was too late.

The Bhutanese contacted the Cabinet Secretary and asked him about the 5th November 2014 letter signed by him. Here too the Cabinet Secretary decline to share any comments or his version of the story saying that he was duty bound as a civil servant under RCSC rules.

A government official said that the main issue was why the CoS had sent a letter to a foreign government without getting clearance from the PM or the Cabinet as a whole. Especially, when the letter was a strongly worded complaint asking for action to be taken.

Meanwhile, a close examination of the minutes of the four meeting of the CoS shows that the CoS had assumed it had the authority to draft and send a letter to the Indian government. None of the minutes of the four CoS meetings show that CoS was waiting for some permission from the PM or the Cabinet to send such a letter. Even up to the fourth CoS meeting there is no minutes to show any members of the CoS asking the Cabinet Secretary if clearance had been given by the Cabinet or the PM.

The minutes of the first CoS meeting in 2nd October says, “CoS would direct MoFA in writing to inform the GoI on the issue.” This statement is interesting in that it is a decision and does not pre-suppose any permission is required from the Cabinet. Even the part on informing the PM is only with regard to submitting Dasho Sonam Tshering’s background note against Enertia. The Foreign Secretary Yeshey Dorji was absent in this first meeting. The CoS in the meantime went ahead with its other decision of consulting the OAG.

In the second CoS meeting on 9th October the draft letter to the Foreign Ministry regarding the matter was discussed and endorsed. In addition the Foreign Secretary informed the meeting that the Ministry will take action based on the legal opinion received from OAG. Here again permission was not sought from either the Foreign Minister or Prime Minister to come up with the final draft of the letter.

In the third CoS meeting on 30th October the MoEA Secretary raised the need to submit the letter to the GoI and to share the RGoB’s concern on the matter. The meeting decision ‘directed the Foreign Ministry’ to expedite communication the concerns of the RGoB to the GoI.  In the meeting the Chair informed the he would submit the matter to the Prime Minister, but this did not happen. Again there is no discussion of explicitly seeking permission to send such a letter from CoS to GoI.

In the fourth CoS meeting on the issue in 27th November 2014 the Foreign Secretary was reminded to expedite writing to the Indian Embassy with regard to the allegations made against the MoEA Secretary by Enertia Magazine.

In the explanation submitted by the Foreign Secretary to the PM on 10th December 2014 there seems to have been a clear hesitation on his part to immediately send the letter as he claims that ‘the matter was lying with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for over two months.’

Interestingly he also mentions that the MoEA Secretary made two additions to the letter drafted by the MFA on the CoS’s instructions as the Secretary had been consulted for factual accuracy. One was the phrase, ‘I believe there was another write up in the September issue of the same Magazine” and another was, “From the articles, it is quite clear that one of the motivations for Enertia to try and defame a senior official of the RGoB was because according to them he did not support their efforts of holding a conference in Bhutan at the end of August 2014.”

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