The Legislative Committee informed the National Council that the committee retained most of the amendments made by the National Assembly on the Civil Service Reform Bill of Bhutan 2022. However, during the course of deliberation, a few members were of the opinion that Section 31, which was removed by the committee, should be retained.
The committee clarified that the repealed section does not have any connection with the reform initiatives and would create many problems, including the overhauling of the entire legal system. The committee also pointed out that only rich people would be able to pay the fine in lieu of imprisonment, and only those who cannot pay would be undergoing imprisonment.
Deputy Chairperson of the Legislative Committee, Eminent Member Ugyen Tshering, justified why Section 31 was removed. Section 31 states that the Office of the Attorney General shall compound petty offences in accordance with the compounding rules, which means paying a fine in lieu of a jail term.
The Eminent Member said the compounding is usually done by the courts, and OAG is the one who is prosecuting. So, what Section 31 says is that without the case having to go to court, the OAG will pay a fine. This is a completely different process.
The first issue in this Section 31 is petty crimes and all the offences are graded as per the law. And petty crimes mean any offence, which are three years and below jail term, will not be taken to court as a fine can be paid. Therefore, the committee felt this is going to change the criminal justice system including many other systems.
The Civil Service Bill is all about restructuring and reorganizing with the vision to bring efficiency and accountability. So, therefore, the proposed Section 31 has no relation to the aims, objectives and purpose of the Bill.
Section 31 is going to affect accountability and rule of law. Citing an example of a legal agreement where people are least bothered about the legal agreements, not realizing that that legal agreement is the law, which shows people don’t fear the law.
There are 170 different kinds of offences in the Penal Code of Bhutan, of which 107 offences fall under misdemeanor and below, which means all these 107 offences can be solved by paying fines. Citing an example, sexual harassment falls under misdemeanor, and if a person is sexually harassed then the culprit can easily get away by paying a few thousand ngultrums, and might commit the same offence again.
The same goes for marital rape, battery cases and many more. According to the data, 63 percent of the crimes in Bhutan are going to get compounded, and ultimately, it is going to affect accountability, and rule of law.
Another important aspect is the qualification of a candidate for an elective office. So, when a person is compounded, there is no criminal record, imagine what kind of person will be in the elective office in the future, said the Eminent Member, Ugyen Tshering.
Meanwhile, the Civil Service Reform Bill of Bhutan 2022 was introduced by Prime Minister Dasho Dr Lotay Tshering. The Bill was reviewed and presented to the House by the Legislative Committee.
The Chairperson of the Legislative Committee, Tsirang MP Dhan Kumar Sunwar, informed the House that the committee retained most of the amendments made by the National Assembly.
The National Assembly amended 8 sections out of which the Legislative Committee amended 3 sections and repealed one section from the original Bill. While the House accepted most of the recommendations proposed by the committee, two sections (8 & 11) were reverted back to the committee for re-deliberation.