Criminalizing defaulters

For the last few years our Financial Institutions have got away with an illegal and highly unethical practice of publishing the pictures of loan defaulters in the national media.

In this light, the recent National Assembly resolution asking FIs to discontinue such a practice and seek the court’s permission for any such action is a welcome development.

This paper, while commending such a move, would recommend the courts to not give any such permission at all, as it is a direct violation of the Constitutional and Human Rights of citizens. There are also no legal provisions allowing for such a practice.

The National Assembly and the government will now have to ensure that all FIs follow this legally binding resolution.

The NA, as the house representing the people, has done the right thing by their voters and more importantly by the Constitution. It is at these moments that people’s faith in democracy and democratic institutions as the protector of people’s rights are strengthened.

It has also brought to the fore the important issue of Human Rights of ordinary Bhutanese citizens as opposed to agencies, both government and private, exerting their power.

As pointed out by the NA’s Human Rights Committee and other MPs the practice of publishing the pictures of loan defaulters is not only illegal but also violates various rights of an individual including his Human Rights. It is also not in keeping with international best practices.

The FIs already have more than enough legal provisions and information with them to secure the assets of the loan defaulter. The publication of photos not only means taking away a loan defaulter’s assets, which is fine, but it also entails unnecessary public humiliation while doing it.

FIs should remember that people have only mortgaged their lands and other assets, not their honour, respect and dignity. FI’s should remember that while they can claim ownership to mortgaged assets they cannot lay ownership to an individual.

It is also a paradox that in a country where even the pictures of rapists and murderers are not released by the government, ordinary loan defaulters are criminalized by publishing their pictures in the national media.

The media on its part should also introspect and realize that publishing such pictures in return for advertisement revenue is not only illegal but it is also unethical. This paper as part of its overall policy has not and will never publish the pictures of any loan defaulters.

The very heart and soul of democracy ultimately boils down to the rights and protections granted to ordinary citizens and their ability to exercise them. The NA in passing this resolution has strengthened democracy and protected the rights of the people.

“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”

John F. Kennedy

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