Saving face

The Supreme Court has ruled that the government violated the Constitution by raising taxes without seeking the Parliament’s approval.

This is a landmark verdict. But the verdict should not be seen as a loss for the government. Nor should it be seen as a win for the opposition party. In fact it should be seen, and celebrated, for what it really is: a resounding victory for the democratic process.

Even so, the government made a mistake – a serious mistake – by imposing taxes unilaterally and, in so doing, violated the Constitution. For that, the government must accept moral responsibility.

Naturally, how the government exercises moral responsibility for their transgressions is their business. It is an internal matter, but one that is important, as it will set the standards for government accountability.

In this instance, however – for imposing taxes unlawfully – the government should just accept that they had made a mistake, apologize for it, and move on.

Apologize and move on, that’s what the government should do.

Instead the government has responded to the Supreme Court’s decision in other ways, all of which is exactly what the government should not do.

First and foremost, the government should not tell people that they have been prevented from raising taxes. That’s not true. The constitutional case did not question the need to raise taxes, including the tax on vehicles.

Taxes are needed, there’s no doubt about that. And taxes must be raised, especially to meet national goals. But taxes can be raised only in accordance with the procedures enshrined in the Constitution. And that’s what the Supreme Court’s verdict is about – how to impose taxes.

The government can and must raise taxes. But when they do so, they, like all of us, must follow the law.

Second, the government should not threaten people that they will not receive electricity or roads or other development work, because they can no longer accept grants and raise loans. Again, not true.

The constitutional case was about the procedure to raise taxes, not about accepting grants or loans. The Supreme Court has even clarified that the government has the authority to accept grants and raise loans.

Third, the government should not claim that the Supreme Court’s verdict has weakened democracy. It has not. On the contrary, the constitutional case and the verdict have strengthened the democratic process. Various institutions – including the Parliament, the ruling party, the opposition, the executive, the media and, most importantly, the judiciary – played their respective roles to safeguard the Constitution and to ensure that its provisions are understood and obeyed.

The constitutional case and the verdicts of the courts have strengthened the rule of law. That surely is good for democracy.

And finally, the government should not threaten to resign. No one has asked for any resignation. Talk about resignation – either individually or en masse – is irresponsible. It is also dangerous. Having threatened resignation the government may find it hard to save face without actually resigning.


Facebook Comments:


  1. I think Government never said officially that they want to resign; rather PM said that they will have to discuss to see what course of action they are going to take if they have really violated the constitution. And PM also said that if they have violated the constitution, it may not be legitimate for them to continue. There, PM was talking about moral responsibility… If you see from one angle, it is good that they are taking strong moral responsibility and even pondering to resign instead of clinging on power. But it will be not good at this stage when we have just started our democracy. I hope government don’t resign and continue…More than anything, we should look at the intention of one’s action…Government’s intention was very good but certain procedures were overlooked and it is absolutely pardonable at this early stage of democracy. If Government has violated constitution for their individual or party’s benefit then it is totally different. But, for this case, Government did not do something very drastic which requires them to resign. Saving face or not is not important, it is important to continue to establish firm foundation of democracy. Even opposition wanted to resign after election in 2008 but they realized later and stayed on….So, government should continue….

  2. Dear OL,
    Government is responsible for making errors of raising taxes which deemed not to be constitutional
    and violated several laws and when there is no punishment for government from supreme court???
    When Sonam Tsherning committed mistakes of tobacco worth Rs 120 and he was punished for 3 years and why Wangdue Norbu cannot be resigned since he is solely responsible for raising taxes and if you cannot perform your duties as a Opposition Leader, you seems little afraid of someone??????
    We as citizen do not want to see keeping silent when government made mistakes and prisoning Sonam Tshering for minor mistakes. We want equity and justice la.

  3. Dear Ol
    Actually i made a mistakes saying that Finance Minister should resign and sorry for commenting negative ideas which will hamper the democracy and i was wrong for this small comment la and i want to say that government and OL is going and moving on same path

  4. I was shocked when the PM talked with our leaders of tomarrow at Sherubtse Collage. He has totally twisted the verdict of the SC and worse is that student and lectureres of the collage were WOW Wow we Know know. It was very clear that the case was not about raising Taxes but it was about the Procedure to raise taxes but PM was into saying that the SC and Opposotion did not let the Government raise tax… he brainwashed the students and I am saddened.

  5. Mr. Viewer says

    Linda I think what you said is absolutely correct. The issue of clamming sympathy from the SC students was a baffling notion as the context was not about ruling govt raising taxes but the procedure. Everything has a presidency and the O.P has not claimed on the tax raise and the verdict by the law was ethical on the proclaim of the procedure.
    Well when the parliament sets strict rules on issues as sentencing tobacco consumers unlawfully importing them to imprisonment of 3-5 years and remember everything said and done by the end of the day- the Constitution of Bhutan says that the Judiciary is the guardian of the Constitution.
    * Remember be it PDP or DPT ruling the government or new parties they are just a regulatory in function the government for the people and just the ruling party and not that the ruling party has the power to every bits and bites of binding the regulation and there is always a procedure.With this that the PM of the ruling party is just the member of the parliament as the others and the law and regulation authority is for the parliament and not for him/her.

  6. Mr. Viewer says

    Its sad for the ruling govt. to restate the verdict which is out and to influence the public on the ideas wrongly which is a political move by the PM or the ruling party at the moment.
    We had high regards of them but unfortunately fighting on petty justifications is no democracy play but political game play. Well dear politicians lets not worry and push the ball of liberation and liberty to think and convince and to go around the country to make our political moves but to take it as a challenge and move further.
    Well every one makes mistakes and it has been proven by the Judiciary on its clear verdict. Well if the either parties think the verdict was injustice, I am sure that either parties may sustain their statement and further take it. But if not accept the response and go further.
    I am sure the public at large is not blind and deaf to get carried away but either parties making comments and trying to restate what has already been finalized.
    Condolence and sympathy may arise and develop at homes and families but to use emotions and sentiments in the politics is a wrong move who ever develops it.
    Sonam made a mistake and in a nightmare of draconian regulation so dont worry there has not been a platform of penalty or fine for either parties to face. Neither shall or did the O.P win or the ruling loose.

  7. One of the biggest weakness in our small society is the need to ‘save face’. So many times I have heard our leaders ( leaders as in the Govt, Department heads, private sectors etc) we cannot accept that we have made a mistake because we will look bad in the eyes of the general people.
    And that is why we have children who cannot express their weakness or fears to their parents. In Bhutan Very few children are able to say to their parents, I am having trouble at school or with friends and I need help. Because parents view it as a failure or loosing face in the eyes of their friends. Because we find ‘saving face’ is more important than being honest, we suppress other social issues like domestic violence, child labor etc.
    I know this is not the issue discussed at this point but to be the concept of ‘saving face’ – of not being able to come out and say, ‘Yes, we have made a mistake’ and that we would like to be given another chance ‘ is cultural that has a deep root which will harm not only the present but will create bigger problems in the future.

    We should be able to be open to criticism because that’s how we can make changes, we should be able to admit mistakes because that’s how we are humbled and most importantly we should be able to ask for a second chance because that’s how we gain the trust of the people.

  8. I sympathize with people in the Government. They know that they have erred but they aren’t ready to accept it. That’s not good at all. Instead they have been going around making what not accusations about the verdict of the Supreme Court.

    My advice for them would be to accept it as their error of judgment and take full responsibility and move on.

  9. Lecturers and students of Sherubtshe are not fools in the first place, where they are driven by the brain washing techniques. It was well identified between raising tax and protocol requirements of the tax raising. Please dont repeat this and people have differentiated enough between these two. More than anything, was the intent and nobility of the govt on raising tax and also some national secrets of not really putting up in the parliament basically to avoid evasion of taxes. PM should make a national power point presentation in the meadia to know real intention and who all should have been affected by how much, how money from the rich would have been come to the poor and hence bridge the gap.

    In short, as Zukpola said, government did not threaten any one nor they have warned any one of not proving the planned developmental activities. As PM said, it is his responsibility to inform the nation on verdict that came out from the SC. Good bless our LUNGTENCHEN GI LYNCHOEN

  10. The Govt couldn’t fool the Constitution. The SC verdict made it clear. But it still is making constant efforts, be it in media or in public gatherings, to fool the poor and public claiming that they have not wronged. Things they mention like ‘poor will suffer’, they will not get electricity, roads, etc. prove that they are playing a political game. When not every member of the public is innocent, how far can they go on fooling and brainwashing people.
    May be BBS should come in between to help make things clear. Representatives from both the parties should participate in a live debate to clear this mess. Else, the Govt will keep reasoning that they had good intention to raise taxes (that appeared not) and the opposition will keep justifying why they took the govt to court (which is hardly heard by the majority)…

  11. Are are strengthening democracy by forgiving, endorsing and promoting dictatorial move of the governemnt? This way we are planting a wrong culture in Bhutanese democracy. I do not have anything personal against the party (DPT) nor affiliation in PDP. But the cabinet should be reshuffled and it does not mean that the governemnt should resign.They should explain to the people of Bhutan what went wrong.

  12. I too believe that the government should just accept the verdict, apologize to the nation, and move on.

    In any democracy, the Supreme Court has the final say. Our government, all citizens and all institutions in our nation should respect that. Otherwise, our democracy will not work. In particular, I think the ruling party should respect the democratic process, after all that is how—through the democratic process—they got elected to govern the nation.

    I don’t want the government to resign and especially I don’t want Lyonpo WN to resign. All said and done, he is the best FM we can get. DPT doesn’t have any other MP who can become a minister. In fact, it will be a disaster if we have any other MP become a minister. Lyonpo WN is intelligent, sincere, and above all, the most hardworking minister in our country. Nobody is perfect. Lyonpo has made a mistake. Now he should accept it, say sorry, and move on. We all make mistakes. After all this is a new system and we are all learning and experimenting with it.

    However, eventually, if the government doesn’t listen to us and decides to resign, it will not be the end of the world. We’ll have an interim government and an appropriate amount of time to prepare for a new election. Our civil service is strong and capable enough to keep the government running till we have a new political government. In fact, we can have the next election in 2012 instead of 2013. The difference will be just a matter of one year. This may actually make the story of our democracy more interesting. It may also give us the time and opportunity to reflect deeply on how to make our democracy more meaningful. It may also give us an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and ensure that we have a more balanced representation and power in the National Assembly. It may also make all our future leaders understand the true value of our Constitution. Democracy is a system based on rule of law and the Constitution is the mother of all laws – the supreme law. If we are unable to protect the Constitution, there will be no point having a democracy.

    The government should stop thinking that the OP, Judiciary, Media, etc. are all their enemies. Because they are not. They are all shouldering their own responsibilities the best they can. They want the government to be successful but they can’t turn a blind eye and a deaf ear when they feel that the Constitution is not being followed. After all, individually and collectively, all our future, including the peace and security of this nation, depends on how we protect our Constitution and what kind of a democracy we develop for ourselves.

  13. People are mislead that re-election has to be held if the governemnt resigns. Going for a general election would be too costly. But the PM and FM should resign to take moral responsibility.

  14. Is popular politics in Bhutan just beginning to warm up? The PM seem to have found a bickering point with the SC verdict & raising the tax issue just as the OL has in the HC verdict & Sonam Tshering. As an ordinary citizen, I’m happy that the democratic processes have enabled the Constitution and the Tobacco Act to be upheld. There surely must be other important issues to talk about – how to alleviate poverty and elevate quality of education, for instance.

  15. Everybody makes a mistake,i accept it and everybody would be the same la.

    Now lets be frank and to the point la, PM on his midterm review meeting to all the dzongkhag was advertising like the OP has stop them (RP) from raising the taxes for which they won’t be able to complete the tenth five year plan as they have planned, but the fact is that PM & the RP were saving their face and brainwashing the nation instead of accepting the mistake and make the nation understand of this problem. in fact not i, everybody would not have seen in any of the newspaper and heard in any of the media that He(OL) and the OP don’t want the government to raise the taxes, after all its for the well being of the nation as a whole. what OL mention was raising of taxes was not in accordance with the constitution. thanks OL that you have shouldered a huge responsibility that even the nation couldn,t and finally i strongly agree with what you the honble OL have mentioned la…………


  16. Apologize happens when some one make mistake for their personal gain. What the present govt had done is reducing the gap bewteen poor and rich and for this action, i dont find reason for any kind of anthologizing and public dont at all expect this. No body is demanding this. Feel free. Govt will have to give back those collected vehicle taxes sooner or the latter and this would mean that govt is respecting the verdict thought their intention of doing that is still clear. I can agree that Lynchoen had talked on the verdict in 3 or four dzongkhags coinciding with the midterm review and he as to do that because it is his mandate to inform the people very clearly on the verdict. He can not go back to those remote dzongkhags again specifically for this reason alone and that is one reason why PM is informing the public, not misguiding or not respecting the verdict or not taking it personally.

  17. Who said the government did not accept the verdict passed by the SC? The PM clearly stated that government accepts the verdict, and he also stated that the OL’s appeal for not following the constitutional procedure of raising the taxes. But there were issues wherein the court over-zealously touched handicapping the government is some areas.

    My personal assessment to all these developments is – I respect OL’s appeal for taking the government to court for breaking the constitutional procedure and the government therefore must accept it. It shows that no matter how thoroughly the MPs discussed the ‘draft constitution’ it was not well done, we can only improve through practical mistakes and facing the real circumstances. Personally the constitution needs lot of amendments and I hope it will be sooner or later. And my other assessment is Judiciary proved that it is independent from the government and that is really laudable, but do the Judges really trust their interpretations of laws including the constitution? Were they confident passing the verdict? I would like our Judiciary to ponder over this.

  18. Truth_is_Buddha says

    First and foremost, the rule of law has prevailed and justice reigned supreme. In a country like ours, where (still) word of mouth and a foul tempered person in authority makes a life changing ruling, this is indeed welcome.

    Congratulations to the Opposition party for filing this case and to the Judiciary for a Judicious and lawful verdict.

    While I and everyone sympathises with the Government, it should not be seen as a defeat or humiliation. Govt should not try to change stories and say inappropriate things such as not meeting 10 FYP goals etc. This indicates very childlike behaviour and seems the govt is only interested in promoting their image and not focussing on providing appropriate service within the rule of law.

    The Govt will infact regain public confidence if they accept the verdict in all humility and already start proper and accountable procedures to rectify their past mistakes, with a sense of apology and forgiveness.

    We, the people are counting each day for the successful maintenance of democracy in our beautiful country. We hope the govt will think differently, selflessly, and in humility about implmenting all activities in line with its policy of Equity and Juctice.

    Good luck to the ruling party and the opposition as well.

  19. SC verdict says that all laws framed and enforced before implementation of constitution stands null and void: And changes to laws in force before constitution have to be amended only by parliament. If i understand these correctly, then I just want to know how government will function without any laws being amended!!!


  20. Exactly Thinlay – the government, based on the previous laws and act, had pushed through the taxes to those high powered CC cars and had made it clear that the Act was to be tabled for amendment in the following session. The judiciary preceded the legislative – which is historic in itself.

    What has changed with SC verdict? Basically nothing, the government (majority party govt) can still raise the taxes but only the time for application will change and the only defeat to the government is to return the taxes now for more later – hahaha.

    The opposition MP from Gasa even told to the Kuensel that they could have appealed the SC to dissolve the government but they did not do so because it was not their intention. The constitution again gets twisted. The SC has the power to dissolve a party if they performed against the constitution but not the government. Is opposition party again going to change the meaning of the constitution through appeals?

    DPT members have never retaliated in forums like the opposition members do – this is an honourable act of DPT. However, DPT must find a way to make the nation informed like it was done at Sherubtse. A PDP supported suggested BBS; it is a great idea – PM and Cabinet must face the BBS and address and answer the nation.

  21. Lampenda Chuup says

    If all laws framed before the constitution are now void, this would mean the parliament gets to amend them all in a transparent manner. This also means the MP’s will finally have to do some work. This, I would like to see.

    The government should accept the procedural oversight, and move on. They are still in charge. Be the bigger person. Everyone makes mistakes. Enough bitching. All Bhutanese are not idiots to be beguiled by theatrical speeches. Save it for the foreign GNH audience.

  22. Hon’ble OL,
    In my opinion, moral responsibility arises when one has done something wrong. But, if one has not done anything wrong, one has the moral responsibility to continue where one is. Coming to the government losing the case, it is not as straight forward as one might imagine. If we look at it properly, it looks like the whole government (1 PM + 10 Ministers + MOF) were less patriotic, intelligent, less aware of laws, less concerned for the nation, etc.) than a few guys in the judiciary. This just cannot be true.

  23. Enough of the draconian tobacco act and the constitutional case. Now we want the OL to take the fight to the RGOB in regard to their inaction against corruption. Let’s see if the OL has the will to do this or doe’s he believe that in doing so, some of the very people groomed by his mentor will be caught in this web of corruption.

  24. Agreed guardian. OL fighting corruption will gain people’s confidence and clean the society.


  25. Whatever the hullaballah, DPT should accept the supremacy of the rule of law. Judging the way PM made one of the SC students to ask a question so that he could brainwash the entire nation of the noble intent of raising tax, I felt that it sounded as if no one other than PM himself and DPT government is the only, final interpreter of our constitution. Listen not to the director of SC but also listen to the stories the lecturers and students have to say. Their side of the story has a different root of the topic.

    Nothing needs to be questioned on raising tax. That is in fact noble. But is it to say that noble visions should not need parliament approval. If this is the case, I do not see any need for acts which lays out grounds as to how anything should take place. I have been saying that democracy is now becoming autocracy in the hands of the DPT government. Whether they resign or not is beyond my comments but I am sure democracy will take root on its own given the wonderful shows ECB put up.

    I am totally in favour of the verdict of the supreme court and the opposition leader. Kudos to all the home works done by both of you. The people of Bhutan take pride in the wisdom of your decision.

  26. The government has done nothing wrong and the government has no obligation to apologise to any one, least of all to OL and his bunch of well-connected cronies. It should accept the SC verdict and decide what it needs to do in the light of the verdict.

  27. The Supreme Court has ruled that the government violated the Constitution by raising taxes without seeking the Parliament’s approval.

    Is this not a grave offense? Should the govt not resign as the breaker of the mother of all laws?

    So what do you mean by “must accept moral responsibility” if you do not mean that they must resign? Here you are speaking like a snake, i.e. with a forked tongue. Saying one thing and meaning just the opposite. You want the govt to resign but you dont want to be responsible for the consequences of the resignation. Sorry, but you cant have it both ways. Either admit that you called for the resignation and take the blame for the consequences or else dont claim that is not what the govt should do.

    You say ‘Apologize and move on, that’s what the government should do.’ Is this sufficient for violating the mother of all laws. And as you are so fond of saying Sonam tshering is jailed for three years for possession of 100″ worth of tobacco so definitely an apology is not sufficient for violating (I repeat) the mother of all laws.

  28. Pelden Drukpa Gyalo says

    First of all I would like to say that the OL and MP Damcho are doing a great job in promoting democracy and rule of law in Bhutan. From the various debates in Parliament and also in newspapers, I find the OL and Damcho more articulate, more reasonable and more convincing than the whole DPT group. The OL’s arguments here are also very sound, straight forward and right on target. No one has said that tax should not be raised. The SC verdict is about the procedure in raising taxes and not about whether the tax should be increased or decreased. And for that it is clearly and wisely mentioned in our Constitution that the tax should be raised only through the parliament with the participation of all the members (i.e. both the ruling and opposition members). Tax is the very important part of governance. Thus, it is understandable that its alteration be made in the presence of the whole Parliament and not by one section of people. But the DPT government was too adamant, blind and deaf to this rule, which is why they lost and OL won. I congratulate the OL and people of Bhutan on this. How can we expect the DPT to promote democracy in Bhutan if they do not even obey the Constitution? Now the onus is on the DPT to claim their mistake. How they respond will set standard of governance not only for this government but also for many future governments. And I expect them to set high standards. Remember that just a monk is jailed for 3 years for violating the Tobacco Act. Now DPT must decide their own punishment for violating the Constitution of Bhutan? We the citizens are watching with our eyes and ears wide open. So far the DPT’s beating in the bush on the SC Verdict has be nothing but disgusting and insulting to even the brains of the lowest beings.

  29. Pelden Drukpa Gyalo says

    Having a re-election will cost money. But it will be far cheaper than the mistakes that a government that does not follow constitution will make. No one is indispensable. If the DPT steps down then another group will take over. It will be naive, foolish and farmerly to think that only one person is apt to lead a nation.

  30. Palden drukpa gyalo, OL and Damcho promoting democracy, in what way I ask you? They have taken the govt to task in regard to the tax issue, yet they seem perfectly happy not to do anything about the ECB not following the constitution. Both the government and ECB did what they did believing that it would be most beneficial for the country at large. Apparently by going against the government proved only one thing and that OL was protecting his well off and well connected cronies.

    If it is not as I allege, why is the OL happy to let the ECB do things that are in complete contravention of the constitution and yet is willing to take the government to court even when he knows that the raising of vehicle tax would affect the rich more than the poor of Bhutan.

  31. nosamtang says

    Palden Drukpa Gyalo,
    You are definitely no patriot and from the way you write, you are one of those who were praying for the government to resign. Bad luck to you and your heroes – they will now see who has the last laugh.

  32. Political drama is being played out by DPT. I agree that the current Lyonchen is a good leader and we are proud of that. But the idea that he is the only capable person to lead the country, I for one, cannot buy it. It is ridiculous. We have several persons who can lead the country, if not better. This is an insult to all those dynamic leaders, both within DPT as well as outside.

  33. i fully support sc verdict and opposition’s approach. hats off OL


  1. […] the Constitution by raising taxes without seeking the Parliament’s approval. Tshering Tobgay has more. […]

  2. […] The Supreme Court of Bhutan has made a landmark verdict ruling that the government violated the Constitution by raising taxes without seeking the Parliament’s approval. Tshering Tobgay has more. […]

  3. […] The Supreme Court of Bhutan has made a landmark verdict ruling that the government violated the Constitution by raising taxes without seeking the Parliament’s approval. Tshering Tobgay has more. […]

  4. […] the public at large. Such games are silly at the best of times. But more often than naught, like the rumors of resignation that spread following the Supreme Court’s verdict, they can get dangerous. […]

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