The public accounts committee’s (PAC) recommendations on the Trowa theatre land case was criticized by National Council (NC) members some of whom called for and expressed support for an Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) probe.
NC members disagreed with the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement’s proposal to sell the Trowa theater land in Changjiji, Thimphu.
Trashigang NC MP Dr. Sonam Kinga suggested a proactive investigation on the issue by ACC, stating that it was a case of ‘policy corruption’.
Gasa NC MP Sangay Khandu who expressed support for an ACC investigation said “It would be most appropriate as an independent report would shed light on the case and help identify lapses and accountable officials which are critical to fixing accountability if corruption is proven, which appears to be the case right now”.
Dagana NC MP Sonam Dorji said “ACC needs to take up the issue as soon as possible”.
The Trowa case involves some 19,500 square feet (Sft) of government land that was leased to a businessman in 2001 to build a recreational centre for the residents of the complex.
The lessee who was unable to construct a theatre then sold the land to another private individual, Kinlay Wangchuk of Riverview Hotel. The lease as part of a larger government policy decision on leased areas increased from Nu 2 per sft to Nu 42 per sft .
Refusing to accept the new rates Kinlay Wangchuk after taking over the lease has still not signed a lease agreement with the government nor has he paid any lease rent since 2006. The current total outstanding lease rent has been calculated at more than Nu 5.2mn.
The issue was first discussed during the 5th and later the 7th parliamentary sessions, in 2010 and 2011 and on both occasions it was decided that the government should resolve it in accordance with the law. The case was yet again included in the PAC’s report presented in the NA last month.
Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba said selling the land to the theatre owner seemed most suitable since buying it back along with the theatre would incur huge cost for the government. The ministry had already sent a proposal to national land commission (NLC) to sell the land to the owner of Trowa theatre, Kinlay Wangchuk.
NA then concluded with a decision to wait and hear from NLC. “I think we should wait what comes out of that,” NA speaker Jigme Tshultim said then. He also said government has the authority to sell the land if it wished to.
NC Deputy-Chairperson Sonam Kinga said, “In the past six years and six months the lease rent due has piled up to more than Nu 5.2mn but the government hasn’t received a penny”, he said.
He said it was concluded in parliament last year that the government should resolve the case in accordance with relevant laws of land while the situation now is turning just the opposite. “It is learnt that many letters were exchanged between the ministry and the lessee and has now concluded to sell the land to the lessee”.
He said, a ministry proposing to sell government land to a private individual means proposing to act against the law.
Wangduephodrang NC MP Sonam Yangchen cited a host of laws to justify her point that selling the land to a private individual was completely illegal.
According to land Act, government land can be transferred to private only as kidu, zhisar, exchange and substitute. All other transactions such as selling of government land is prohibited and a criminal offense. “Therefore, Trowa theatre land cannot be sold to a private individual,” she said. “It comes under misdemeanor according to law.”
She said it is important to “remind the government about the clauses in the Land Act 2007 and that selling government land is illegal”.
Dagana NC member Sonam Dorji said “Whether it is the ACC, the court or a commission, a time frame must be defined to resolve the issue as it has already been delayed by more than six years”.
He said it is an issue of inequality and corruption because if normal citizens residing in government houses default on their rents, the government serves warning and eviction notices and in the case of Trowa theatre, no action had been taken for more than six years. He said, instead of sending any default warnings, the land is now about to be sold off to the defaulter.
“If government land is sold out in this manner, some people have enough money to buy the entire capital city”, he said.
Sonam Kinga supported one of PAC’s recommendations to take the case to court of justice. “Why did the government allow business operations on the land without signing the lease agreement as though it was signed? I support PAC that responsible individuals need to be taken to court”, he said.
One of PAC’s recommendations stating that the ministry’s proposal on the sale of government land to private individual may be confirmed with the Land Act was described by Sonam Kinga as a weak one. “According to the Land Act, it says government land cannot be sold to private individual. There is nothing to confirm. It is clear and it comes under corruption,” he said.
He said NC should instead note that the government has intentionally proposed an illegal land transaction and also allowed business operations on the land without signing the lease agreement. “This is policy corruption and it calls for proactive ACC investigation,” said Sonam Kinga. He said the land hasn’t been sold yet and is important that the investigation be carried out immediately.
Gasa NC MP Sangay Khandu said “The reluctance by agencies to act more appropriately appears to be a big failure. It seems reason enough to believe that responsible officials had shied away from their responsibilities at all levels”.
Bumthang NC MP Tshewang Jurmi also supported ACC carry out the investigation immediately to avoid any further issues. He said “Selling the land to the theatre owner is completely unacceptable”.
The PAC chaired by Trashiyangtse NA member Kesang Wangdi is a joint parliamentary committee comprised of NA and NC members.
Other PAC members include Pemagatshel NC member Jigme Rinzin, opposition MP Damcho Dorji and Mongar NA member Sonam Penjore.
The NC will come to a conclusion during its session on July 6.