The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) through a press conference and several press releases are attempting to clarify on the facts of the Education City story done by this paper.
After earlier denials by DPT’s Khamdang-Ramjar candidate Kesang Wangdi that the ex-Education Minister Thakur Singh Powdyel’s wife, ex-Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley, ex-MoWHS minister Yeshey Zimba and ex-Speaker Jigme Tshultim did not have land near the Education city, the party has now grudgingly accepted the existence of these plots.
Earlier the ex-Prime Minister and ex-Education Minister had flatly denied of having plots near the Education city.
The Bhutanese has based its Education City story on extensive documentary and electronic evidence.
The former Prime Minister, the former MoWHS Minister’s wife, and former Speaker own the said plots near the Education City based on their 2008 Asset Declarations to the Election Commission of Bhutan, which were published in Kuensel, Bhutan Times, and Bhutan Observer (see image).
The land owned by the ex-Prime Minister has been declared as being an apple orchard in Seleykha with thram number 623 with an estimated value of Nu 1.5 mn then. It was bought from a local farmer called Tshering Pema in 1978 at around Nu 8,000. Today, due to increasing land prices- also helped in a large part by the upcoming Education City, the land is valued at a much higher price now.
The land owned by the former MoWHS minister’s wife Thuji Zangmo, an ancestral property with thram number 148 is an apple orchard and has been valued at Nu 3 mn in 2008.
The ex-Speaker’s land has been registered as an orchard with thram number 813 and valued at Nu 2.2 mn in 2008.
Records with the National Land Commission also confirm the above along with the upcoming Asset Declaration of the two contesting candidates.
In the case of the Ex-Education minister, The Bhutanese, as part of its normal procedure on sensitive stories has recorded the conversations for accuracy, evidence, and record keeping.
The same tape had the former-Education minister’s wife saying that the ex-minister did know of the land transaction, and in fact, he went to get the Nu 500,000 loan for it. It also says that a legal agreement has been signed with a local landowner called Tsering who is selling the land.
The Education City area is around 25 kilometers from major urban areas of Thimphu and Paro. Given the limited useable private land in the urban areas, the land values of private plots there are rapidly increasing.
Meanwhile, in a press release from the DPT, the ex-Education Minister has alleged that the Editor-in-Chief of this paper had told him that the former minister did not own any land.
The taped evidence, however, show that while the Editor-in-Chief told the former minister that he did not own five acres there as alleged by an anonymous website Bhutanomics, the Editor-in-Chief did inform him that his wife had bought 50 decimals of land there. The ex-minister’s response as captured on tape, is of his denial of any knowledge of land there, but changes his stance when he was informed that his wife had informed The Bhutanese of the land.
The ex-minister in a press release alleges that his wife had been ambushed on the phone by Editor-in-Chief, who revealed his identity “only later in the course of the conversation”. This again is proven to be untrue as the recorded conversation is for around 6 minutes. As per the tape, the Editor has revealed his identity within the first 20 seconds of the conversation. The above tapes will be made open to the public domain.
The DPT in its press release has also said that the Education City site was identified by the Royal Education Council and it had no role in the site selection. The Bhutanese, however, has formal and recorded interviews with staff from DHI Infra saying that DHI during the tenure of the DPT government had looked at various options across Bhutan, which were presented to the Empowered Group headed by the former MoWHS minister. It is also mentioned in the tape that a site in Khotokha in Wangdue Phodrang was also a viable option. This lengthy tape too, is open for public examination.
Meanwhile the PDP president in a press conference said the The Bhutanese has done a thorough investigation and if what the paper has uncovered is true then it is a matter of grave concern.
“The government of the day must declare any and all conflicts of interest before proceeding with large projects. It goes without saying that if you have land near the Education City; the land is going to become extremely valuable over the years. At a minimum we would have expected the DPT government to declare the conflict of interest before finalizing the site,” said the Opposition leader.
On the former Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley, who said it is the Royal Education Council (REC) who chose the site, Tshering Tobgay said the chairman of the REC is the prime minister himself and REC is accountable to the prime minister’s office. “Former Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba is the chairman of the education city project board. He should have declared that there is a conflict of interest. In fact he should have withdrawn his nomination,” he added.
Tshering Tobgay said the former education Lyonpo Thakur Singh Powdyel is also represented on the education city board.
Tenzing Lamsang/ Thimphu