Three political parties, the existing PDP, the yet to be formed third Party of Dr Tandin Dorji and the recently announced fourth party have all asked for an ACC investigation into the Thimphu land scam involving the current DPT Vice President, Chang Ugyen. Members of these parties are also questioning the zero tolerance to corruption policy of the government.
Chang Ugyen was found to have misappropriated 10 acres of government land in 1987 which is currently worth around Nu 300 million even by conservative standards. The discovery of the scam was made only in 2003 by a special high level committee but till date 7 acres of land is yet to be recovered by the National Land Commission.
Parties ask for ACC probe
The Opposition leader Tshering Tobgay said, “ACC must investigate this case to see if Chang Ugyen acquired land illegally and if he misused his powers as Chang Gup. ACC must investigate the circumstances under which Chang Ugyen was made to replace the land that he acquired illegally instead of charging him with corruption.”
Meanwhile though yet to be officially registered by the Election Commission the third and fourth parties also called for accountability on the land scam.
The third party member Dr Tandin Dorji said “the case should ultimately be dealt by the Judiciary and the Anti-corruption Commission. If it is true then DPT should show what they really mean by transparency.”
A party spokesperson for the fourth party said “the land scam was brushed under the carpet for many years. Now that it has come to light the question is whether the government knew about it, if so, there is a lot to be said about the case which is highly questionable.”
The Opposition leader questioned the DPT leadership saying, “The integrity of Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT)’s entire leadership is now under serious question.”
He justified the above statement saying that already the Prime Minister, Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley, who also is the DPT president and Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, the former DPT Vice President are being investigated on the Gyelpozhing land grab case, and now the current DPT vice president is also involved in a land scam.
“Therefore, DPT members wouldn’t have had the moral authority to question Chang Ugyen’s credibility before appointing him as vice president,” he said.
Gasa MP, Dasho Damcho Dorji said, “If Chang Ugyen is really guilty of forgery then it has to be dealt as per the law. At the same time as an accused he has to be given the benefit of doubt and fair trial.”
The Opposition leader said “the case is important as it appears that power was misused to acquire land illegally in contravention of the laws of the land and the Royal Kashos.”
“If as much as 10 acres of land in Thimphu was acquired illegally, it is a huge case,” he added.
The opposition leader said that what concerned him even more was that the powerful have managed to keep this case away from public knowledge till now.
“I would have expected the ruling government to fulfill their promises of ensuring “zero tolerance” towards corruption. That expectation, however, is at an all time low,” he added.
The government reaction
The DPT government meanwhile has already gone on a defensive mode on the land scam. The works and human settlement minister Lyonpo Zimba said that he doubted the political intentions of the paper. “It is an old issue and the article is making it look like Chang Ugyen did all these things as a Vice- president. It is sad to see that a personal issue is being politicized,” he said.
The Bhutanese newspaper article had clearly clarified that Chang Ugyen had committed the act as the Gup of Chang Gewog but that till date he had not given the land back nor was he charged for grabbing government land.
Questions are also being raised on the nature of the High Court judgment in 2008 that allowed the 5 buyers of the seven acre plot from Chang Ugyen to keep the government land as theirs. Chang Ugyen was supposed to replace the land from elsewhere.
A legal expert who did not want to be named said the Court gave those buyers the land stating that they were innocent bystanders. “I don’t know if that is a sound judgment. The Court should have asked Chang Ugyen to give substitute land to the buyers,” he said adding that the government land should not be given just because the National Land Commission’s survey people were involved.
“The Court has made a mistake as they do not have the right to give away government land. This would have never happened if it was someone else,” he added.
On the nature of the case being civil and the Court being unable to charge someone of criminal charges as it was a civil case, he said, ”In Bhutan we do not have different courts for civil and criminal cases and so even if it is a civil case, it would have criminal elements and vice versa,” he said.
He said that the Court and the Office of the Attorney General are dragging their feet as someone influential is involved. “If the Court had asked the OAG to file a criminal case, then why didn’t they file it?”
Earlier the Office of the Attorney General had passed the buck to the ACC saying that charge sheeting a case can be done only after an investigation is carried out by the ACC or the police.
Meanwhile an ACC official who did not want to be named explained that procedures have to be followed from their side too. “Someone has to lodge a complaint which should be evaluated by an evaluation team consisting of six members. Then they would put it up to the commission to examine. The ACC cannot investigate the case without going through the normal procedure,” said the ACC official.
ECB on the land scam
With Chang Ugyen being the DPT Vice-President there are also now questions on what impact the land scam would have on his post.
In reply to a question on the issue the Chief Election Commissioner, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said “there is no specific law or rule that disqualifies a member of a political party if convicted of a criminal case but it is expected that a political party should not retain such a person if a court of law had declared him /her guilty or convicted in a criminal case particularly a member at an executive level.”
He said that such a member will not be eligible to be nominated as a candidate for elections and if he is already holding an elected post he will need to be dismissed from the position.
“We may advise a political party accordingly if a member is convicted of a criminal case by a court of law to severe the membership and if the judgment has not directed otherwise,” said Dasho Kunzang Wangdi sharing his view on how the Election Commission of Bhutan can intervene.