Book it!

“Far apart and close together” is an informative book that celebrates the enduring friendship between Switzerland and Bhutan. The book comes with a DVD on GNH.

Every MP was gifted this delightful book.

Did we accept the bag which cost Nu 1,800? Absolutely not, that would be corruption. Did we accept this book, valued at Nu 2,700? Absolutely.

No to bags

The first item the National Assembly debated yesterday was bags. To be precise, bags worth Nu 1800.

It turns out that traditionally, members of the National Assembly are given a bag each at the start of every session. This tradition is not uncommon – countless bags and satchels have been distributed in workshops and seminars throughout the kingdom. For this session of the National Assembly, the DHI offered to present the bags.

Trouble is we are not allowed to accept gifts valued above Nu 1000. So the honourable members unanimously decided not to accept the bags.

This is significant and historic. It is significant because our lawmakers have demonstrated, in no uncertain terms, that they will not engage in anything remotely associated with corruption. It is historic because this is the fist time that “tradition” has been bypassed in favour of honesty.

The National Assembly’s decision is no small matter. And its message is loud and clear: don’t misuse tradition to justify corruption.


Fighting for equity and justice

It’s been six months since I questioned the legality of the appointment of DPT party workers to the Cabinet. The government has not addressed my concerns. So I’ve decided to go to ACC. Here’s what I’ll tell them:

That in mid-June, five DPT party workers were appointed to the Cabinet. One has since resigned, but four of them continue to work under the government’s payroll.

That on 19th July, the RCSC approved the proposal to recruit four staff on “contract basis” for the Cabinet. By then the DPT party workers had already been working for more than a month.

That according to BCSR 2006 (Bhutan Civil Service Rules), people can be recruited on contract only for: (i) time bound projects and programmes; (ii) temporary vacancies caused by civil servants on long term leave; and (iii) positions where there is an acute shortage of human resources. The appointments to the Cabinet do not fulfill any of these criteria.

That Chapter 4.2.1 of BCSR 2006 requires that “The recruitment of personnel on contract shall be based on merit through a fair, open and competitive selection process.” The job vacancies in the Cabinet were not advertised; the government simply appointed their own party workers.

And that Article 7.8 of the Constitution declares that “A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to equal access and opportunity to join the Public Service”. This fundamental right to every citizen was denied by the government.

I’ve thought about this long and hard. It’s not about the four people in the Cabinet – I have absolutely nothing against them. In fact, they may be capable. They may be qualified. They may even be deserving.

It’s about how the jobs were given to them. Were their appointments legal? Did the government follow procedure? Or did it disregard the law? Did it misuse power and authority? Was there corruption?

The long arms of the ACC will tell.

The National Council has also called these appointments unlawful, and they will demand a judicial review. This is good news to supporters of democracy. To crusaders against corruption. And to the champions of equity and justice.

Running against corruption

As I left for Trongsa this morning, I drove by runners participating in World Anticorruption Day. The turnout was impressive – hundreds of people, young and old, women and children, businesswomen and men, and bureaucrats and politicians had turned out to show their resolve to fight corruption.

Today’s run was important, and it was especially significant that some politicians participated. I didn’t run. So instead, I’m writing.

Shortly after the first parliamentary session ended, the ACC organized a presentation for MPs. Our Honourable MPs rose, one after the other, denouncing corruption, vowing to fight it, and promising full, unconditional support for ACC.

The clear determination of my colleagues impressed me. But I reminded my fellow MPs of three truths: one, that throughout the world, politicians are perceived to be the most corrupt; two, that we, as elected MPs, are politicians; and three, that unless we, politicians, are, first and foremost, incorruptible ourselves, we would have already lost the fight against corruption.

Easier said than done, I’ve been told. But, much more honest and effective than all the grandstanding and rhetoric that we, politicians, readily dish out when called upon to fight corruption.

We’ve started democracy. Start it right. Start by demanding that our politicians – ministers, MPs and party workers – don’t just talk of anticorruption, but are themselves not corrupt; that they do not smell of the nepotism, cronyism, patronage, graft, bribery and embezzlement that todays runners ran hard against.