Leased land

Trowa Theatre in Changjiji sits on government land. The land, measuring 19,432.56 square feet, was leased to a businessman in 2001 to build an entertainment center.

In 2006, the government approved the transfer of the lease to another businessman. And increased lease rent from Nu 2 per sft per annum to Nu 42 per sft per annum, which was the amount being charged to other lessees occupying similar property in Thimphu.

The businessman taking over the lease did not sign a lease agreement protesting that the new lease rent was too high. He still has not signed a lease agreement with the government. Nor has he paid lease rent since 2006. The total outstanding lease rent as of last month is about Nu 5.24 million.

The Parliament discussed this case in its 5th and 7th sessions, in 2010 and 2011 respectively, and, on both occasions, decided that the government should resolve the issue in accordance with the laws of the land.

Last Thursday, during the Public Accounts Committee’s report to the National Assembly, Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, the minister for works and human settlement, reported that his ministry was unable to resolve the issue, and that, as such, he had requested the Land Commission to sell the land to the lessee.

The government should answer how a businessman is allowed to run a business on government land, without signing a lease agreement, without paying lease rent, and for so long while violating laws and ignoring regulations. And the government should resolve the issue, even if the case must be forwarded to the court of law, as was recommended by the Public Accounts Committee.

That’s what the government should do. But what the government actually did do, instead, was to send a formal request to the Land Commission to sell the land to the businessman.

What was Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba thinking?

There are many other businesses, in Thimphu and in other parts of our country, which have also leased government land. Wouldn’t selling leased government land to one businessman open the floodgates for other businesses to also buy land that they have leased from the government?

And what about the rule of law? Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba must know that the laws of the land prevent leased government land from being sold. He must know that Section 307 of the Land Act states that:

Under no circumstances shall a land on lease from the Government land or Government Reserved Forests land be converted to ownership right.

Trowa Theatre sits on prime government land. That land belongs to the people of Bhutan. And the people of Bhutan would want to know that their government is protecting their land, not squandering it recklessly.

Thank you

A couple of late meetings prevented me from watching TV last night. So I watched BBS TV’s rebroadcast this morning. In particular, I watched Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, the officiating prime minister, and Lyonpo Wangdi Norbu, the finance minister, talk about the current economic situation.

I thank the government for going on national TV to explain the ongoing currency situation to the public at large. The two ministers are our most experienced financial experts. The two of them have served as finance ministers for a combined total of 14 years, and as finance secretaries for more than 10 years. So they are very qualified to speak on the rupee crunch, and to allay the public’s growing fears on the state of our economy.

I also thank the prime minister, who is in New York attending to other pressing matters, for deputing the officiating prime minister and the finance minister to address the nation on his behalf. The fact that the government has eventually addressed the nation at a time when our people’s confidence has been shaken is welcome and appreciated.

So, on behalf of the people, and without getting into the specifics of what was said on TV, I offer a sincere thank you to the government.

Real accountability

Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, the works and human settlement minster, was reportedly “shocked and alarmed” at news that his ministry was underutilizing its budget allocations. The Ministry of Works and Human Settlement has apparently used barely15% of this financial year’s budget although more than half the year has already elapsed.

Is Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba really shocked and alarmed? I hope not. After all, we expect our ministers to have a good idea of how their respective ministries are performing or underperforming, as the case may be. So if he is really shocked, if he is really alarmed, we should be concerned. In fact, we should be horrified. We should be appalled that he does not know what’s going on in his own ministry.

The minister has assured us that he will look into the matter personally, and that he will hold “respective individuals accountable.” That’s good. We desperately need accountability. But accountability, real accountability, begins with the head of the organization, in this case with the minister himself.

So if his ministry is underperforming, and underperforming badly, Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba must accept full responsibility.

But if, because of him, other organisations are also suffering, he must take even bigger responsibility. And that, unfortunately, is what seems to be happening with the Thimphu and Phuentsholing city corporations. The city corporations are not under the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement. They are autonomous. Yet their budgets seem to be controlled by the ministry. If that is so, Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba must take full responsibility for encroaching on the powers of local government and for undermining their performance.

Shock and alarm will not improve the performance of the ministry or the two city corporations. For that, there’s only one remedy: accountability.