Consolidating the fight against Corruption

Complacency is never good, but Bhutan can afford to pat itself in the back in terms of its success in fighting corruption in the last six years.

Bhutan’s ranking in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index in 2008 was 45 out of 180 countries which as of 2014 stood at the 30th position.

The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) has played a stellar role and continues to play one in the fight against corruption.

The establishment of the ACC in 2006 and the granting of certain powers, resources and autonomy along with a strong head was a major development that still echoes till today.

A strong ACC, ever since, has been effective in prosecuting both big and small fishes and is at the forefront of raising awareness on corruption.

There is now also an increasing realization that to truly fight corruption, it is not enough to just prosecute people, but a change is needed in the very mindset and attitude towards corruption.

In that sense, the leadership shown by His Majesty the King on this issue has been exemplary who time and again including in the latest 107th National Day celebrations has identified corruption as a major threat to Bhutan’s development and prosperity.

The media over the years has also played an important role in fighting corruption, by not only covering cases investigated by the ACC but also uncovering cases of its own.

Corruption can be compared to a rotten fish where the rot starts at the head. So the media in going after the most powerful in the land addressed the rot in the heard first which in turn had a positive impact on the body.

The media has also not been selective in its coverage as all categories of powerful politicians, business houses and families have been featured in the media over the years, sending a loud and clear message that corruption will not be tolerated and that it will be exposed.

The 2013 general elections was a watershed moment where corruption and in transparency became a major election issue.

A major example in the change in mindset can be seen in comparing the legal prosecution of the Gyelpozhing and Lhakhang Karpo cases.

In Gyelpozhing case, during the former government’s time, the Office of the Attorney General declined to prosecute the case leading to the ACC taking up and prosecuting the case. The ACC faced various hurdles including strong statements made against it by members of the former government, but ultimately the Supreme Court issued a verdict that vindicated both the ACC and the media.

With the lessons being learnt from the Gyelpozhing case, the current government, in the Lhakhang Karpo case, has not interfered with the OAG in legally prosecuting the case in court. The OAG instead has been asked by the government to consult with the ACC in filing the court case.

One interesting trend that is visible these days in the capital is an ever increasing list of unhappy PDP sympathizers and supporters complaining that the government of the day is not ‘helping’ them.

As long as the Prime Minister and the cabinet are consistent in this approach, corruption and nepotism in Bhutan will not thrive and it will only get weaker. It may not be politically easy in the short term but it is absolutely vital for the long term future of the nation.

To fight corruption effectively, the commitment and cooperation of the head of the government is absolutely essential. So far this government has not been embroiled in any major scam or corruption case and it should keep it this way for the next five years. Once the top political leadership falls in line, the system itself will also fall in line.

The government will also have to work in close cooperation with the ACC to ensure that necessary systemic reforms are also implemented to curb the problem at the source. ACC must also be given all necessary support. At the same time, the government will also have to ensure that the media is strong and vibrant enough to fight corruption.

Bhutan has the potential to do a Singapore in fighting corruption and it has made a good beginning by going after the powerful.

The leadership of His Majesty the King in alerting the nation and its people against corruption has been absolutely vital.

The actions of the elected government so far also show a degree of sincerity which must be preserved and strengthened for the fight against corruption to be truly effective.

 

Corruption is a true enemy to development.

Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj

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