Meanwhile Opposition also rips into govt
In almost two years of its governance so far, the ruling government has quietly prided itself in not figuring in any major ACC investigation for decisions in its current term starting from July 2013.
However, that changed with the 2015 Anti Corruption Commission report which said that the government’s import of electric vehicles was a case of conflict of interest and also violation of law including the Constitution.
The report says ACC’s review came about since Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, both verbally and in writing, on 23rd June 2014 asked ACC to conduct an investigation into the issue of conflict of interest in the government’s initiative to import electric vehicles.
In the ‘meet the press’, the government in an all out damage control mode led by the Prime Minister made it clear that the last cabinet meeting had decided reconsider the whole policy of importing second hand electric vehicles based on ACC’s observation.
“We are reconsidering the whole policy not because it is illegal but because ACC has said it is illegal,” said Lyonchhen.
He said for the government the earlier ban on importing second hand vehicles was not in the prohibited list but in the restricted list which meant the government could be flexible about it.
Lyonchhen said that after similar criticism from the Opposition and National Council the cabinet had taken the Office of the Attorney General’s views who had said that if there is any doubt between prohibition and restriction the final call can only be taken by a court.
Lyonchhen said that given the fact that he himself had asked for the investigation he asked if any other minister or public servant had invited an investigation on themselves.
The PM pointed out that the ACC report said that it could not establish any direct conflict of interest between the private interests of the PM and the government’s actions on import of Electric Vehicles into the country.
He also said that the ACC report while criticizing the policy also said that the government’s objective was noble.
Objecting to the ACC calling EV’s the PM’s pet idea he said in that case national projects like the East-West highways, expanding agriculture, improving the quality of schools etc were also pet projects.
The ACC in its report pointed out that receiving of EV gifts from Nissan and Tesla companies had violated the provisions of the gift rules of 2009. The ACC in its report said that business firms gifting EVs to the PM or a minister even if as official vehicles for testing its efficiency is beside the point. The ACC says that it has the potential to impact fair and transparent tendering process and even if the decision is not affected there is a differing public perception that cannot be dismissed.
Here the PM announced that of the three EVs gifted to him by Nissan to him two had been handed over to the government and the third had been given as a lottery gift on His Majesty the King’s birthday. He also said that he would stop driving the Tesla which he was using as a duty car and had government license plates and instead hand it over to the Ministry of Finance. He said that he and his wife had bought an EV with their own money at no discount for their own use.
He said that it was not just one or two companies gifting vehicles to the government but also others like Mitsubishi recently and even a hybrid vehicle from the State Trading Corporation of Bhutan (STCBL) both of which would now be auctioned.
Lyonchhen said that Bhutan is too small a market for EV companies to gift vehicles hoping for something in return.
The ACC in its report said that the government signing MoUs with Nissan and Mahindra undermined provisions of the constitution that provided for fair market competition and has given undue benefits to private interests of the two dealers.
ACC pointed out that the MoU signed with Nissan contains the governments national action plan for EV which among others contains details like the plan to convert all RGOB light vehicles into EVs, implementing EV taxi fleet and EV transportation for tourists etc.
The government said that it this is not the only MoU but the government had planned to sign many MoUs with other companies to ensure sustainable transport in Bhutan. The government said that given ACC’s recommendation it would to relook at all MoUs including the ones signed with autonomous agencies.
Coincidentally as the meet the press was going on the Opposition party Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) issued a release on its Facebook page lambasting the government over the ACC’s EV review report.
The DPT said, “This is a clear case of corruption for a Government, which continuously harps on curbing corruption and following the rule of law. It could not have committed a more serious violation of the law.”
It further said that the ACC’s report validates the Opposition Party’s position on this issue when it was debated in the Third Session of the National Assembly during which several of its members had vehemently opposed the Government’s move.
The Opposition party said that in light of the ACC report it demanded that the government immediately return the EV gifts received from the Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. (Japan), Tesla Co. (USA) and Mitsubishi Motors, as the provisions of the Gift Rules have been violated.
It asked that all the second hand electric vehicles imported so far be re-exported since this was in violation of the third Country Import Rules and Regulations. It said continuing to import second hand vehicles would turn Bhutan into a junk yard that will seriously dent Bhutan’s hard-earned reputation as a country committed towards pursuing a clean and green economic development.
Finally the Opposition called on the government to immediately abrogate the MoU with the two companies as it has given undue benefits to private interests of two local car dealers of Nissan and Mahindra Reva.
The release said that the government must immediately explain its position and inform the public and it should not betray the people’s trust and confidence by repeatedly violating the Constitution, the highest law of the land.