The nine page ‘opinion’ of the OAG on the ACC’s Gyelpozhing report, according to a practicing lawyer in Thimphu reads like arguments put forward by a defense lawyer defending the accused in the Gyelpozhing case, instead of a government prosecutor doing his job.
Some have also seen a degree of similarity in tone and content between the past press releases issued by the government defending the Gyelpozhing case and the OAG’s opinion on Gyelpozhing.
It is also highly peculiar that the OAG whose mandate is to legally review the ACC report has gone out of its way to counter the opposition leader and the media in its report. A job that is normally reserved for the Prime Minister’s media team, not the OAG.
There is public outrage as many see this report as an attempt to get the high and mighty off the hook on the basis of some shaky legal arguments. These arguments come from a ‘government lawyer’ who as per the OAG Act can be ‘hired or fired’ by the very people he is supposed to charge.
There is a strong feeling that the OAG’s report not only lacks credibility but is also the result of a strong conflict of interest. Going by the current public mood it is difficult to imagine how the OAG report will be accepted by ordinary citizens.
As per the ACC report the crime was that lucrative plots and land in Gyelpozhing was given by the allotment committee to their own family members and influential people who were all not eligible. The result was that ordinary people who were eligible and had lost land to the project did not get their due plots.
In addition to that land which was not part of the town plan and not meant to be allotted was given away in acres. This whole allotment according to ACC was committed by violating various laws and procedures.
The fact that OAG has found only some ‘administrative lapses’ with Gyelpozhing may redefine our understanding of what is illegal in Bhutan.
By the same token the AWP case, Samtse Mines case, Ministry of Health Procurement scam, Phobjika case, MoE case, RICBL case and other cases involving numerous junior government officials, Gups, private sector employees can also be treated as ‘administrative lapses.’
The OAG’s interpretation of ACC’s Gyelpozhing report will have several far reaching implications. The OAG’s report in short has given Kidu like discretionary land powers to a local government committee. It has also sent the message that as long as one is in a government committee and influential people are involved then every possible legal violation can be treated as part of some ‘administrative lapses’.
The interpretation for some will be that individuals are above laws and systems in Bhutan.
In any other democracy a report like this would not even be printed as fiction. In Bhutan, however, the OAG has only upheld a long held maxim that there are two sets of laws for people depending on who you are.
Government authorities have the courage to come out with such reports as they well know that any opposition or criticism will be restricted to anonymous online forums. The masses in a short time will go back to their normal routine as the entire Gyelpozhing issue will be wiped out from public memory and official literature.
Sections of the media and the ACC who are already heavily over burdened and under pressure are expected to carry out the dirty work for the public much like municipal cleaners. However, if the government does crackdown on those fighting corruption then there will definitely be little or no support from members of the public or any other institution.
In a country where corruption cases are sources of entertainment and gossip rather than reflection, where the burden of fighting corruption is placed on a few, and citizens are yet to think critically there will be many more Gyelpozhings and OAG reports.