Even though the Mongar District Court followed by the High Court upheld Anti Corruption Commission’s (ACC) right to legally prosecute the Gyelpozhing case the DPT manifesto has called it a violation of the Constitution which it promises to address once back in power.
The DPT manifesto also touches on how DPT has received little or no understanding from constitutional bodies and calls for closer consultation with the government.
The incumbent DPT government which had come under the increasing scrutiny from the Media over corruption scams has also promised in its Manifesto that it will prevent a misguided media from destroying democracy.
All of the above issues have been covered in DPT’s Manifesto under the fourth pillar of GNH called ‘Good Governance and Democracy’.
The DPT while calling for a ‘liberal interpretation’ of the constitution for itself in its manifesto also refers to two instances of violation of the constitution. One of it is on the ACC taking up the prosecution of the Gyelpozhing case.
The manifesto says the, “violation took place when the ACC usurped the function of the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to prosecute. The Constitution, for profound reasons, separates the functions of investigation and prosecution of corruption cases and vests the ACC with the former function and the OAG with the latter. Laws that are ultra vires to the Constitution, and under which such violations have taken place, will be amended.”
This will mean that the ACC Act which gives it powers to legally prosecute cases when the OAG refuses to or fails to do will in all probability be amended by DPT to not allow the ACC to legally prosecute cases.
Both the district and High Courts had upheld ACC’s legal and constitutional rights to prosecute the Gyelpozhing case.
The High Court in its recent Judgment had said that the ACC can prosecute based on Article 27 section 6 of the Constitution, the ACC Act and section 31(2) of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code of Bhutan.
Instead political parties and lawyers had raised the need to indeed amend the OAG Act to give the OAG more independence as under the current OAG Act the OAG is directly accountable to the PM and can also be fired by him.
The OAG after it received the Gyelpozhing case from ACC had dismissed it saying that there was no case. When the ACC did file a case the OAG opposed ACC’s right to file the case and also opposed ACC’s suspension of the former Speaker and the Home Minister.
However, both the Mongar District Court and recently the High Court upheld ACC’s right to prosecute the case and also proved the OAG wrong by giving guilty verdicts for the allotment committee.
According to a practicing lawyer if the government took away ACC’s legal prosecution powers given to it under the ACC Act then any future government would become immune from ACC prosecution as the OAG was anyhow the government lawyer.
The other constitutional violation pointed out by DPT was when according to it the National Council became dysfunctional between 16 March and 10 May, 2013 which DPT says was in violation of the Constitutional provision which establishes that the NC is, in effect, a continuously functioning body.
However, according to a prominent NC member who did not want to be named as the Parliament was yet to take session, the DPT’s interpretation is both ‘misguided and mischievous’.”If we go by DPT’s interpretation then the NC members should sit for only one term and stand no chance of another reelection,” said the member.
The DPT in its manifesto promises to uphold the independence of constitutional bodies and promises to give neceassry technical and material support to bodies like Election Commission of Bhutan, Royal Civil Service Commission, ACC, Royal Audit Authority and OAG. It also says that only people of highest integrity of character and proven merit will be appointed to these posts.
However, the party also points out that constitutional bodies have not cooperated with the government.
The manifesto says, “There appears to be a growing perception that the respect, trust and support extended to the Constitutional bodies by the DPT administration have not been reciprocated. There is the sense that the DPT administration has received little or no understanding from some of these organizations and that its strong majority in Parliament gave cause for the bodies to feel threatened. This may have prompted feelings that cooperating with the government would be seen as being submissive.”
It further says, “DPT shall strive to remove such unfounded fears as we serve the same cause. We shall endeavor to promote mutual trust and respect based on the understanding that cooperation need not come at the cost of independence or autonomy, whereas working against each other will harm democracy and the nation. To this end, we shall consult each other and establish a forum for regular discourse between the Government and the Constitutional bodies so that each of us can best perform our functions separately but with cooperation, and without in any way compromising our independence.”
On Media the DPT manifesto promises to guarantee the freedom and independence of Media as it has done in the last five years, provide prompt access to information and promote the growth of media.
However, the manifesto without naming any specific media houses also talks of dangers of misguided and irresponsible media houses and talks of ‘creating an environment for truly free and responsible media’.
The incumbent government when faced with corruption investigations by the media in the past has questioned the credibility of media houses and journalists with no evidence or legal basis calling them irresponsible and even corrupt.
It had even gone to the extent of issuing a circular marked confidential to government agencies to not advertise with this paper after the paper covered some corruption stories on some politicians. The cabinet had also stopped the licensing process of new private TV stations.
The DPT manifesto says “We are also mindful of the dangers arising from a misguided or irresponsible media. Just as an independent, professional and responsible media is critical to the flourishing of democracy; it can be the very cause for its destruction.”
It further says, “News or information must never be owned, influenced or manipulated by anyone as are physical structures, equipment and financial assets. The dangers of a corrupt and manipulated media will always threaten democracy, whether in a small and vulnerable economy or in a large and powerful nation. Our media is no exception. Druk Phuensum Tshogpa will strive to create the environment for a truly free and responsible media.”
The DPT manifesto in its list of legislative plan of 16 laws has placed the Right to Information at number five as a law to be introduced in parliament.
However, contrary to the manifesto the DPT Party President Jigmi Y Thinley had said that they would first consult with the people on RTI and only introduce it if they wanted it. He had also talked of the dangers of RTI and how it could affect government functioning. All three other parties supported RTI at the debate. The incumbent DPT government in its first term had promised to bring in the legislation before the end of its term but failed to do so.
Tenzing Lamsang/ Thimphu