The Lhakhang Karpo case involving the Foreign Minister in his former capacity as the then Haa Dzongda will not be the first time that a serving minister has some past issues haunting him.
This was also observed in the Gyelpozhing land case where several former ministers of the previous government were implicated, some more than others.
When the Gyelpozhing case came out, this paper had made certain recommendations and laid down certain pointers when cases involving powerful people like ministers come to the fore.
This paper would like to stick by them and judge and treat this case and this government by the same yardstick applied for the former government.
The government of the day which fought an entire election on the promise of doing away with and not tolerating corruption will now face a litmus test in how it handles this case. It must demonstrate the best practices and transparency in dealing with the Lhakhang Karpo case.
The first instinctive reaction of the government and the Foreign Minister will be to protect the government’s image. The Foreign Minister has every right to defend his name and offer explanations to the ACC, Media and to the Court but it must be done in a matured manner without questioning the motives or the institutional credibility of any of these institutions.
The Gyelpozhing case became ugly on two counts. One was that those behind its investigation be it the media or ACC had accusations thrown at them. The second was the blatant attempt by the then Office of the Attorney General (OAG), to exonerate the former ministers before the court even saw the case.
This government has to be different and so it has to let the OAG do its job without fear or favor and present an unbiased and professional case in court.
As past experience has shown, the OAG in its legal status is nothing more than the legal arm of the government with the OAG serving at the pleasure of the PM. Therefore, the PM has a special responsibility to ensure that everything is carried out as per the law and no occasions should arise whereby the ACC is forced to take up the case on its own in court.
It is too early to pass any value judgment on the Lhakhang Karpo case as the full and final report is yet to come out but early indications from the report shows that there was irregularity and corrupt practices in the construction of the project.
The Lhakhang Karpo case is disturbing as it relates to charges of corruption in the building of a sacred monastery. This also comes on the heel of the ACC investigation into the sacred Yongla Goenpa renovation where full details of a similar fraud emerged. If even sacred monasteries are not being spared then one gets an idea why many of our public infrastructure are poorly built or do not last for long.
It is troubling to know ACC’s observation that while in the past some people made offerings to monasteries to atone for misuse of public resources, now, the very monasteries are not being spared.
It is also disappointing to learn from ACC that officials across Bhutan take the execution of such departmental works to be an opportunity for self-enrichment showing that this may be a widespread practice. This in the end is a gross misuse of tax payer’s money or even donor’s money meant for the public good.
Though everyone is innocent till proven guilty, if convicted all involved including the Foreign Minister should face the natural legal consequences.
“Among a people generally corrupt, liberty cannot long exist.”