Utter nonsense

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.

 

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  1. YPenjor says:

    “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.” “if a person is caught giving a Nu 100 bribe, that person is liable to spend five years in jail.”

    As stated in the Kuensel, every Bhutanese I suppose appreciated and supported the penalty increase from 5-9 years to 9-15 years for the upper limit. What makes the concerned citizens not happy is relaxation of the lower level of the penalty.

    For one, my justification is that a bribery will never be in hundreds. If the receiver accepts a bribery of hundreds, then he/she is in pathetic condition. The employer concerned of the person needs to reconsider the welfare of its employees. The Ministry of Labor and Human Resources attention is called in.

    A bribery that risk damage of the societal harmony will be obivously in huge sums (at least in thousands) and for huge reasons. Therefore, the lower level of penalty also deems to be fearful. After all, the law is to prevent and not to allege!

  2. This time, I do not agree with the OL at all, comparing corruption and smoking is comparing apples and oranges. Corruption is corruption whether it is 1 ngultrum or trillion ngultrum. The difference is that corruption affects and destroys societies. Instead of reducing penalties for small bribery we should have made corruption in large scale a life in prison with no chance of parole and minimum for any kind of corruption to be 25 years in prison.
    I say we should adopt capital punishment for those crooked good for nothing people.
    A murder effects one single family or community at the most, corruption effects the entire country.
    Also 100 ngultrum to a security guard might be like millions to a ministers, so it is all relative.

  3. Dogchok-gi-dokchog says:

    Truth,
    Are you saying that someone accepting a Doma Khamdo be senteneced for 25 years? Should the parliament pass such a law, you would be the first one to go to court. In pinciple, you are right. In practice, corruption is difficult to prove. If it is, why so many facing serious corruption charges still not sentenced?

  4. YPenjor says:

    Corruption is like the science of climate change. The innocent society suffers more than the culprits.

    According to most media information the corruption is either within the politicians, civil service and the corporate/private company employees or between them. The loss of economic sources like public revenue, tax and services due to corrupt practices amongst the elite political, civil servant and corporate/private company employees ultimately force the innocent rural and urban poor to suffer from loss of humanity facilities like education, medical care, water supply, access roads and electricity. In this light, Corruption Act deems to be framed fearful and implemented stringently.

    OL’s not speaking in the joint seating of the parliament on Corruption Bill and trying to justify his agreement with the mass of the MPs/NCs in this blog is definitely demonstrating his incompetency in digesting the indepth value of the Bill/Act. Otherwise, OL is trying to act smart against Guardian’s insistent accusation of protecting corrupt societies.

  5. Dear OL,

    Please have complete faith in yourself and your actions. We understand that everyone has a right to criticise and everyone should be prepared to be at the receiving end of a critic. However, this doesn’t mean that we have to give clarification and justification for our actions (or INACTIONS).

    You are doing a wonderful job and that no one needs to certify for you. Keep doing your good work and please don’t justify to critics. critics are to be responded through your deeds not words.

    Wish you all the best…

  6. OL thinks he can fool people with his second face.

  7. Dear OL,
    What ever the parlaiment enact the laws for corruption, it is always useless. Firstly ministry itself is corrupted at the head quater. Secondly the budget release by the ministry is again corrupted in the dzongkhag. When the audits pass the audit memo, they are simply brainwashed by the dzongkhag personals through various means, may be i dont know through cash or other means. Finaly the innocent employe at the grassroot level were always looser. So what ever parlamenterian enact laws, if the follow up is not done strictly, the purpose of enacting law is defeated. so as a citizen of the country, I am always worrid about it.

  8. guardian says:

    One thing is crystal clear now, both the DPT led government and the OL are reluctant to tackle the corruption menace head on.

    Everybody blames the ACC for not doing enough on corruption, in reality, however, without the backing of their political masters, the ACC can’t really do much. With the OL seemingly taking the same line as the government, the ACCs job has got that much more difficult.

    In regard to the Anti Corruption Bill, the stance taken by the OL is perfectly fine, the degree of punishment for bribery has to be in context of the amount of money being taken as bribe. The bigger the bribe, the larger the jail term. I don’t agree with people who say that a bribe is a bribe, no matter what the amount, in principle yes, in handing down jail terms, a definite no.

    Now back to the reason for my disappointment with OL, what we expected was for him to use the floor of parliament to highlight the number of corruption cases that have repeatedly been covered in the media and convey to the government that the general perception was that they were not doing enough to curb it.

    As long as this message was delivered to them, it would have sufficed.

  9. Just to clear it in my head-….
    For sure there must be a minimum penalty for corruption offences just for the intent/act itself irrespective of the amount/ value of bribe, for that is what we want to prevent. I understand that is why there’s a minimum sentence. I don’t find it convincing enough that the magnitude of offence should be judged by the amount of bribe only. In terms of offering bribe, certainly 13 million is 1000 times more than 13,000; but what about the magnitude of its impact or consequences? You could compromise the security of millions by bribing 13,000 to a security guard & on the other hand a 13 million bribe to endorse a company bid in favour of another might actually compromise very little. I think there must be a way of incorporating the damage/ potential damage into the penalty rather than sticking to blanket min-max sentences.

  10. If i recollect, one is allowed to give/receive gifts worth Nu. 500 and below. Anything above must be declared.

    Now if someone comes with the intent to bribe, is it proper to receive it and then declare with the government…..what happens if the civil servant declares that I received as a gift?

  11. Dogchok-gi-dokchog

    First of all lets make one thing clear, no one is going to arrest someone for accepting a doma, second of all, I don’t eat doma, tobacco, or consume alcohol, so there is no way I would be the first person to end up in the jail.
    Lets not get to extreme cases, what we are talking here is if a corrupted person can get away without serving a single day of jail term, it won’t deter anyone.
    Someone justifications offered by some of the ministers are ridiculous, One of them said that they don’t even have to be punished just society shaming them is enough, are they serious, most of rich people in Bhutan are corrupted, I don’t see them being ashamed of themselves at all.

  12. guardian says:

    truth,

    Rightly said, for most Bhutanese, the word shame does not even seem to exist in their dictionary. Unfortunately, many of the current ministers make this grade of being both corrupt and shameless.

    There are also many examples of senior government officials who were sacked for being corrupt, some of whom are very affluent business men today, all because of their ill gotten wealth. I don’t see any of them being ashamed, rather they portray themselves as being the most successful business men around.

    Another example is the coal king of Eastern Bhutan, it is a mystery as to how he became the owner of the coal mines. But I guess, everyone knows the real story. I don’t see him being ashamed, rather the only thing he does, is flaunt his wealth, wealth which he inherited by sheer default.

    Such people should keep a low profile if they are truly ashamed of their deeds.

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