The government, in a press release issued on yesterday morning, announced its decision to hand over three Government Secretaries to the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC), and also discontinue the Committee of Secretaries (CoS).
The Secretaries are the Cabinet Secretary, Dasho Penden Wangchuk, Ministry of Economic Affairs Secretary, Dasho Sonam Tshering, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secretary, Yeshey Dorji.
The main offence of the three Secretaries, and also by extension the CoS, was to send a strongly worded letter from the Foreign Ministry to the Government of India on the behalf of the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) without either consulting the Cabinet, the Foreign Minister or even the Prime Minister.
The letter was sent and signed by the Foreign Secretary on the instruction of the CoS after the MoEA Secretary had brought up the issue in the CoS meetings.
The matter of the letter (see separate story on letter) basically focused on corruption allegations made by an Indian journal “ENERTIA” against a senior civil servant. The letter without any clearance from the RGoB made a series of claims on the impact of the articles by “ENERTIA” on the Indo-Bhutan friendship and also asked for strong action.
The CoS had discussed the allegations of corruption made by “ENERTIA” on four consecutive meetings held between October 2 and November 27, 2014.
The release issued by the Office of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet says that the content and language of the letter could have serious foreign policy implications. According to the press release, the OAG had advised against raising the issue formally with the GoI without the RGoB first verifying the allegations and facts.
The Cabinet learnt about the letter on December 9 by accident, one week after it had been sent and almost ten weeks after the CoS had decided to inform the GoI.
The Cabinet said that the CoS had exceeded its mandate by discussing issues outside the scope of its terms of reference, and has purposely withheld information, including important decisions, from the government.
It says members of the CoS breached important provisions of the Civil Service Act of Bhutan and Bhutan Civil Service rules governing the code of conduct of senior civil servants.
The release adds that the Foreign Secretary misrepresented the RGoB by sending a formal letter to the GoI without approval of the Foreign Minister or Prime Minister.
The Cabinet Secretary had not kept the PM informed of the CoS discussions and decisions and MoEA Secretary misused the institution of CoS to raise, discuss and take action on allegations made on him by a foreign magazine.
In a separate press conference, the MoEA Minister, Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk, said, “The Cabinet was alarmed to discover a letter sent by the CoS to GoI – a letter of protestation almost demanding the GoI to resolve the issue.”
“The Cabinet had expected, since it involves a foreign country, it should be reasonably fair on their part to have consulted the government in this matter, but the government was kept in the dark. “
He said the government was also concerned about the tone and content of the letter and its impact on the friendly relationship between the two countries.
The MoEA Minister speaking on behalf of the government also said that such actions by the CoS would constitute running a ‘parallel government’.
Lyonpo said that this was also in the context of the government’s position on the “ENERTIA” articles and the BHEL issue being well known to the media, bureaucracy and society at large. He said the government had decided that it would, before any investigation, establish all the facts of the matter and also do due diligence. He pointed out that the CoS had even gone against the legal opinion of the OAG.
He said that the government had to make this difficult and painful decision of surrendering the services of three very senior civil servants after a lot of deliberation in three cabinet meetings only after which the decision was taken.
He said the decision had to be taken for the greater good of the country, good governance and for democracy.
The CoS, according to the cabinet release, is an important institutional arrangement established to enhance good governance and promote transparency, accountability, efficiency and professionalism. The CoS meets once a week to ensure that the executive functions of the government are implemented efficiently and effectively by coordinating government policies, programs and projects among the ministries.
The release says that the CoS had enjoyed complete trust and confidence of the government and their views and recommendations were taken seriously by the Cabinet. It said that the CoS, which included all 10 Government Secretaries and the Cabinet Secretary, functioned independently without any interference from the Cabinet.