Beware

The short entry about the appointment of Tenzin Rigden as the PM’s media advisor generated some long and heated discussions. Very good.

But now what?

First, the media must beware. By Tenzin Rigden’s own admission he has deep connections in the media:

… here are the facts – worked in Kuensel for 10 years; started and ran BT for three years (yes, I still own 10% BT shares if there is any value at all now); the owner of Bhutan Today is my first cousin and its CEO my nephew; the editors of Business Bhutan are friends and former BT employees; the entire news team of The Journalist, as you know, comprises former BT news team (by the way, I have no ownership or control there); and, finally, the MD of Bhutan Observer is one of my closest friends (you can check if you don’t believe.)

Tenzin Rigden is indeed well-connected. He’s also respected, and commands considerable influence in the media. And if he agrees to work as the PM’s media advisor, that’s his business. It’s just not good for the media. So beware.

And second, the Anticorruption Commission must look into how the PM’s office recruited their press officer. Was the position approved legally? And was the recruitment conducted according to established procedure?

The ACC has not yet responded to my request to investigate the recruitment of the four DPT party workers in the PM’s office. But, that won’t prevent me from lodging another complaint.

Allowing allowances

Last month, when, at the end of the Parliament’s Fourth Session, the National Assembly approved salary increases for MPs, I had complained that:

Parliament does not have the powers to consider or grant pay increases unilaterally. Instead, according to the Constitution, it’s the Pay Commission’s job to recommend increases in the salaries and allowances of public servants. And that includes us, politicians.

Now we hear that the Cabinet has approved allowances (equal to 45% of their basic salaries) for “ACC investigators and related professionals”. The Prime Minister had, in fact, announced that ACC employees would be given allowances, but the National Assembly neither discussed nor approved the allowances.

So we risk bypassing the Pay Commission again.

There’s no doubt that the ACC is critically important – in our fight against corruption, they operate in the front lines. And there’s no doubt that all of us must render any and all support to this crucial organization.

But let’s follow procedure. Let’s establish the Pay Commission. Let’s let them do their job. Let’s follow the law.

Article 30 of the Constitution states that:

  1. There shall be a Pay Commission, headed by a Chairperson, which shall be autonomous and shall be constituted, from time to time, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.
  2. The Pay Commission shall recommend to the Government revisions in the structure of the salary, allowances, benefits, and other emoluments of the Royal Civil Service, the Judiciary, the members of Parliament and Local Governments, the holders and the members of constitutional offices and all other public servants with due regard to the economy of the Kingdom and other provisions of this Constitution.
  3. The recommendations of the Commission shall be implemented only on the approval of the Lhengye Zhungtshog and subject to such conditions and modifications as may be made by Parliament.

Anticorruption

Earlier this week, the Anticorruption Commission’s annual report to the Parliament was discussed. Members of National Assembly – including the PM, cabinet minters, ruling party MPs, the opposition and the Speaker – registered their support for this important organization, and reiterated their resolve to fight corruption.

The ACC’s annual report, however, was silent on one issue. The report made no mention whatsoever of the recruitment of DPT party workers by the Government. About a year ago, I had informed ACC that the unilateral appointments of the DPT party workers may be unlawful, but have received no response so far. I’ll be writing to them again.

Supremacy of law

Every now and then a reader will leave a comment that is completely unrelated to and has nothing to do with a topic being discussed. This is okay. After all, one should be allowed to raise important issues even though they are not being discussed here. So I try to acknowledge these out-of-the-blue comments.

Deo recently made one such comment. This is what deo wrote in CDG unconstitutional: “OL, since you seem to have an opinion on everything, and has become a self-appointed legal expert, what is your take on the Jemina case? In your opinion, who is correct – ACC or high court? Both cannot be right.”

I can’t say that I have an opinion on everything. But I do admit to having opinions on some things, including issues concerning the law though I’m no legal expert. And I hope that my opinions matter, even if you disagree with them. As far as your opinions are concerned – I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – I take them seriously. They matter.

Now about the Bjemina case: who’s correct, ACC or High Court? The High Court, without a doubt. After all, our courts are the supreme authority to interpret and apply the laws of our land. We may not agree with their interpretation, but we are bound to accept them. That is what the rule of law is about.

Article 21.1 of the Constitution: The Judiciary shall safeguard, uphold, and administer Justice fairly and independently without fear, favour, or undue delay in accordance with the Rule of Law to inspire trust and confidence and to enhance access to Justice.

So as long as the High Court is faithful to the Constitution – and as far as I know, we have no reason to doubt that – we must accept that they are correct. And that their interpretation of the law prevails over everybody else’s.

But what if our courts, guardians of the law, themselves choose to deliberately ignore the law? Or break the law? Article 32 of the Constitution outlines the procedure to impeach the Chief Justices and Drangpons of the Supreme Court and the High Court.

Back to the Bjemina case: I don’t know the details of the case, and I haven’t studied the relevant laws. So my trust and confidence in the Judiciary instinctively makes me believe that they are correct. But I suspect that Deo feels otherwise. It would be good to know why.

Supreme excuse

Bhutan Observer, Bhutan Times and Kuensel are doing a pretty good job of keeping the controversy over the appointment of the Bhutan Post CEO alive. If it were not for them, the Cabinet’s tentative response to ACC’s investigation and report would have gone unquestioned, and the public would be none the wiser.

But now what? Constitutional experts argue that only the Supreme Court, as the final authority on the interpretation of the Constitution, can decide if the cabinet’s action on the ACC’s report, or lack thereof, is unconstitutional. And that the differences between the ACC and the Cabinet cannot be resolved until the Supreme Court is established. So there seems to be a growing consensus that nothing much can be done for now.

The experts are no doubt, correct. Except that ACC’s corruption charges, if any, are against a few individuals, not against the Cabinet. So those charges, if any, should be dispatched to the District Court.

Otherwise, with time, the gate will eventually close.