The National Assembly’s live TV broadcasts are proving useful. One observer, for instance, a senior civil servant, followed the recent debate on the Anticorruption Bill, and noticed that I “didn’t utter a word” during the discussions. She spoke to Kuensel about it, which reported that:
A senior civil servant said the opposition leader was very emphatic about the severity of the tobacco Act’s penalty that he went to the extent of hiring a lawyer for the first Bhutanese to be convicted under the Act, pro bono.
“He didn’t utter a word when members were deliberating the corruption amendment bill,” she said.
Yes, the senior civil servant is correct when she says that I was “emphatic about the severity of the tobacco Act’s penalty”. Yes, I objected to the excessive penalties for seemingly minor infractions provided in the Act. But I, like most of Bhutan, completely agree with the aim of the Tobacco Control Act, which is to reduce – perhaps even eradicate – the consumption of tobacco in our country.
And yes, the senior civil servant is correct when she says that I “didn’t utter a word” when we deliberated the Anticorruption Bill. I did not speak – either for or against the Bill. But I, like all of Bhutan, completely agree with the aim of the Anticorruption Bill, which is to reduce – hopefully even eradicate – corruption in our country.
Why didn’t I speak? I didn’t because I couldn’t. And I couldn’t, because I was not given the floor on the two occasions that I put my hand up.
The speaker probably did not see me. But had he noticed my hand go up, and had he given me leave to address the Parliament, I too would have argued that the penalties proposed in the Anticorruption Bill were excessive, and I too would have supported the revised penalties.
The senior civil servant seems to insinuate that I should have opposed the revised penalties. I couldn’t. Not because I didn’t get to speak. But because this time, I actually agreed with the majority. Even if I were given floor, I would have just recorded my support for the revised penalties.
That, incidentally, is why I voted “No” for the Tobacco Control Bill, and “Yes” for the revised Anticorruption Bill.
I hope that the senior civil servant in question will now see some consistency in my actions. I do not, and I cannot, oppose for the sake of opposing.
But were the penalties that were originally proposed in the Anticorruption Bill excessive? You decide…
According to the original draft, the penalty for all bribery and embezzlement offences was:
A person guilty of an offence under this section shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term not less than five years to not more than nine years.
In other words, almost all offenses were originally categorized as third degree felonies, regardless of the magnitude of offense. So if a person is caught giving a Nu 100 bribe, that person is liable to spend five years in jail. But if a person is caught offering a Nu 13 lakh bribe – or for that matter a Nu 13 million bribe – that person is liable to spend a maximum of nine years in prison.
The penalties did not differentiate between the severity of the offenses. And while the penalties for small offenses were excessive, those for very big offenses were exceptionally lenient.
So the Parliament, in a joint sitting, revised the penalties as:
An offence under this section shall be a misdemeanor or value based sentencing, whichever is higher, subject to maximum of a felony of Second degree if the value of the amounts involved in the crime exceed the total amount of minimum wage at the time of the crime for the period of 35 years or more.
Under the revised penalties, a person caught offering a Nu 100 bribe could be sent to jail for 1 to 3 years. But, on the other hand, a person caught offering a Nu 13 lakh bribe could now be sent to jail for 9 to 15 years, not just between 5 to 9 years as was originally proposed.
The new penalty structure is more reasonable. And it’s more logical. As such, it should be a much more effective weapon in our war against corruption.
That’s why I did not oppose it. And that’s why I voted for it.