The party offered to withdraw the case if Dasho Benji offered a public apology
In a sign that the Dasho Benji vs DPT defamation case is generating more controversy than intended, the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) said that, it was ready to withdraw its case if Dasho Paljor J. Dorji (Dasho Benji) said that his comment on facebook was meant as a jest and not accusing the DPT of ‘robbing the country blind’ and offered a public apology through the court.
The DPT gave a 26 page response to Dasho Benji’s rebuttals made earlier by lawyer Yonten on October 16th 2014.
DPT, accusing Dasho Benji of political motivations said that defaming DPT was the most convenient way to prove his political loyalty to a party that matters to him. The plaintiff said that the baseless accusation has created widespread suspicion that DPT was never a party with integrity. “People’s sense of distrust for the DPT MPs, party members and workers, as well as supporters in general, has become disconcertingly palpable,” said MP Ugyen Wangdi.
DPT said that though the defence claims that the comment was ‘an idiomatic meant to humorous’ the defendant had failed to apologize even informally despite feelers being sent through mutual contacts.
The representative from DPT, MP Ugyen Wangdi said that Dasho Benji as in his own words was a senior official and therefore his words could not be taken lightly.
DPT said that since political parties are registered legal entities under the Election Act of Bhutan DPT has the inalienable right to sue the defendant. The party said that the definition of person under the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code includes legal entities, whether public or private.
The DPT commenting on Fundamental Rights said that while the law exists to ensure citizen’s enjoyment of ‘freedom of speech, opinion and expression,’ it cannot come at the cost of others pain and deprivation. The party said that the media enjoyed absolute freedom and independence in the five years of its administration borne out by an openly critical media towards the government.
The DPT went on the offensive saying that the defendant had asked for a pay hike and new duty vehicle and when it was not given then he took to defaming the past government almost immediately.
The party also said that Dasho Benji had failed to prove how ‘DPT Robbed the Country Blind’ in willful defiance of the rule of law.
Citing various data on rupee crisis, GDP, fiscal deficit, McKinsey report and its own list of achievements while in government on the socio-economic front, the DPT refuted Dasho Benji’s lawyer’s arguments of DPT distressing the national economy.
In defense of lawyer Yonten’s previous arguments the DPT said that while it used the Wagon R and domestic helps it does not amount to the same cost as the salary hike taken by the new ministers. The party also said that Parliamentary Entitlement Act does not apply to cabinet ministers.
The party then gave its version of the facts and defence on issues like Prado, Education City project, Trowa Theater, Denchi, Bhutan Lottery and etc denying any wrong doing or corruption.
The DPT also responded on the defendant’s accusation that it had usurped Royal prerogatives. The DPT said, that since both its silence and also a full blown response would have serious consequence it would respond in an extremely brief manner.
The DPT said the financial and administrative powers of the Prime Minister as the head of government was not delineated and until it is done there are no legal bounds for the PM’s role.
On the issue of a Prado being allotted to an officer under the former PM the DPT said it was an old vehicle and was valuated and sold by DNP based on an order and not given away.
On the issue of Land Bill and allegation of attempted usurpation of the Royal prerogative of granting Kidu the DPT said that granting of Kidu Land can never come under the NLC. It said the land bill was to solve land issues. The party also said that with the best of intention it was proposed to replace the Zimpon, through whom all appeals are channeled, to maintain the neutrality of the Palace and protect its sanctity. The DPT said that any opinion of the Zimpon would be accepted and misconstrued as Royal command while even his silence would be misinterpreted.
On the accusation of DPT being a seditious party the party denied it saying that it is a requirement on the part of any political party to hold a post electoral convention to formally bring the party’s election effort to a close. DPT said that there was a clamoring for an early convention from party members from all parts of the country to clear all sorts of misperceptions arising from the electoral process.
DPT said that the outcome of the meeting was that the party accepted the election result and humbly resolved to shoulder the responsibility of the Opposition, the party resolved to submit its concerns to His Majesty the King in keeping with the proud tradition of looking up to His Majesty as the last refuge and upon the representatives of the party having been received in gracious audience by His Majesty the King people were most appreciative and grateful. DPT said the party then brought the chapter of the 2013 elections to a close.
In response lawyer Yonten said that an apology was out of the question as it would not be taking the issue seriously. He said that the issue was freedom of speech and democracy for if DPT as a party is allowed to sue an individual for critical speech then even PDP, other parties and government agencies can do the same for any criticism from any individual hampering free speech and democracy. The lawyer also said that while civil servants were prosecuted for even minor issues the cabinet took different perks and privileges which should actually be defined by the Pay Commission and not them. The lawyer said that ascribing both a political and at the same time personal motive to Dasho Benji showed the prejudiced mind of DPT.
The lawyer also argued that the issue of sedition was relevant to the case. This paper based on the lawyer’s arguments found that the defendant still had the option of arguing further on the sedition aspect without having to file a separate case as the burden of proof to prove it lay on the defendant which made the accusation.
The court gave a date of 11th December 2014 as the next date of hearing when Dasho Benji’s lawyer would present further arguments.