The Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley and ministers who have land allotted to their names in the Gyelpozhing Township will voluntarily give back the land to the government.
“As a show of appreciation and support for the work of the ACC, shall voluntarily return to the government land allotted in their own or in the names of their immediate relatives,” stated the release from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) report on Gyelposhing Land allotment submitted to the Office of Attorney General (OAG) on 31 August, 2012 concluded that no laws had been violated.
It also established that there is no land grabbing as well and all previous landowners had received full cash compensation or land substitution from the Kurichhu Power Authority long before the area was identified for township.
The release stated “further, as applying for land is a right every citizen enjoys in Bhutan, abuse of power or use of influence by those who applied and received land have also been ruled out”.
In the opinion of the OAG, Gyelposhing land allotment had taken place within the bounds of prevailing laws and practices and therefore, does not constitute a case of corruption under existing laws.
However it also stated that some lapses of procedural and ethical nature may have occurred on the part of the committees as certain procedures or norms were not strictly followed.
“While the OAG recommended administrative action against the Chairmen and member of the Land Allotment Committees, it has become clear that it is neither possible nor appropriate for the government to take administrative actions and states it is not practicable and appropriate to take administrative action on a matter that had taken place a decade earlier under a different system,” stated the release.
It stated further that many of the committee members are no longer in public service; the focus of the current government is to prevent corruption during its own term and in the future.
The chairmen of the committees have accepted moral responsibility for the decisions made by their committees, stated the release. Land, if allotted to the immediate relatives of any chairmen, shall be restituted to the government as recommended by the ACC adding since no laws have been violated, all other recipients shall not be required to surrender their plots.
In immediate response to this latest development the Opposition Leader (OL) Tshering Tobgay tweeted on his Twitter account “Prime Minister and Ministers do not have authority to return land as ACC’s ‘freeze notice’ is still in effect. The case must go to court.”
The recent ACC investigations on the case concluded that 67 of the 99 plots allotted in the Gyelposhing were “illegal”.
The ACC issued a “freeze notice” forbidding any transactions on 75 of the plots and forwarded the case to the Attorney General in keeping with the ACC Act which is under section 128 which states OAG “shall undertake prosecution of person on the basis of the findings of the Commission for adjudication by a Court”.
Chapter 3 under section 12(a) of the OAG Act states that OAG shall “represent the Government in civil litigation and criminal prosecution before the Court of law” and furthermore, chapter 4, section 20 of the OAG declares that “The Attorney General shall be accountable to the Prime Minister”
This provision became the conflicting point of view as to whether OAG can rule over a case when it is accountable to the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister, the Speaker and other Ministers have all been implicated in the Gyelposhing “land grab” case.
In the circular of ACC it was stated that government acquired 81.98 acres of land from 71 households of Drepong, Wangling, Ngatshang and Saling Gewogs for the Kurichu Hydropower Project (KHP) and the higher secondary school in 1990s.
An investigation commenced on 20 September 2011. Kashos, laws, rules, criteria and procedures on land in general and plots allotment in particular were examined. 3 field visits were made. Several physical verifications of the plots were conducted jointly with officials from the Municipal Corporation, Monggar. Past plots allotment in Khuruthang and Monggar towns were studied. Over 121 people were interviewed /interrogated.
The determining criteria for plots allotment in townships were (as deduced from the Kashos and the circular of the then Secretary of Ministry of Social Services): (i) General preference in plots allotment to be given to residents of townships; (ii) Those individuals residing in townships must own a legal business; (iii) Those individuals owning legal businesses themselves must be operating the businesses; and (iv) One family one plot irrespective of the number of licenses they possess. Lottery was only a procedure for plots allotment.
The efficacy of the criteria developed was put to test in Khuruthang and Monggar towns in 1996 and 1998. The set procedure was: (i) Preparation of eligible list of recipients by Dzongkhag Committee, (ii) scrutiny of the list by the competent ministry, (ii) submission of the list to His Majesty by the competent authority and (iii) distribution of plots to eligible recipients only on receiving the Royal Consent.
Investigation revealed that of the 99 plots allotted, 67 (14.12 acres) were illegal. Genja terms and conditions, signed between the local authority and the plot beneficiaries, were not enforced.
The case was forwarded to the Office of Attorney General on 31August, 2012.