The wife of the former Education Minister buying land near the Education City site through a loan taken by the former Education Minister may not be illegal, but it does represent an enormous conflict of interest.
The Education Ministry is one of the key stakeholders in the multi-billion Education City project, and has the responsibility to get in the foreign educational institute tie up for the City, and also plays a regulatory role in the education content and quality of the institutes to be placed in the City.
The Education Minister, both as head of his ministry and also as a Cabinet Minister would, therefore, gain privileged information and prior knowledge about the project and location of the Education City site.
Therefore, the wife of the former minister buying land near the site raises questions, not just ethical questions, but also questions on the role played by the Education Ministry in the project. First question being, how effectively would a minister, whose wife owns land right next to the Education City site, be able to play the role of an objective stakeholder in the project?
It is also interesting to note that during one of the political debates on the national television, the former Education Minister, without even batting an eyelid, denied he or any other ministers owned land near the Education City site.
The former Education Minister’s wife is not the sole landowner near the site of the Education City. The former MoWHS Minister and Education City Board Chairman Yeshey Zimba’s wife has 14 acres of ancestral property on a hill side directly opposite to the 1,000 acre project.
The Education Secretary Sangay Zam has around 2.70 acres of ancestral land also directly opposite the Education City.
The Former Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinely also owns 7 acres land opposite the Education City project bought in the 1980’s.
The Former Speaker owns 7 acres of land bought in 1978 near a village next to the Education City.
In all the above cases, except for the former Education Minister, it is true that the land is either inherited ancestral property or has been bought much before the project was even conceived of.
However, it is also true that, except for the former Speaker, all of the above landowners would have had an important say in approving the project, approving government expenditure for it, and approval of the site. These individuals and the agencies they represent have also played an important role in coming up with various other financial and regulatory aspects of the bill.
It is also true that the current site was not the only option, and there were other sites that could have hosted the Education City.
Given the serious concerns on the viability and scale of such a project, the government also had a clear option of rejecting the whole idea of such a large scale venture.
Also given the size and scope of the project and its equal distance from useable private land in Thimphu and Paro, the private land value in the surrounding areas are increasing, and is expected to go up even higher once the project is complete.
There have been serious questions and concerns on the conflict of interest over the project, with the project initially being proposed and promoted by the former Prime Minister’s nephew and son, and both are working with the project now.
It is a fact that in a midst of the Rupee and Credit Crisis, when the government was slashing expenditure everywhere, the same government allocated around Nu 470 mn to be spent over the next three years in providing facilities for the project. This is above the 1,000 acres of land already leased to the project.
Though there are serious issues over the viability of the project, with minimal interest shown in the project so far, this leads one to question the final outcome of a project that is now under construction.
With all the facts made available, it is not for this paper to pronounce any judgment, but for the readers to decide and draw to their own conclusion.
“Truth never damages a cause that is just.”