By Phurpa Wangmo
During the press conference on 12th February, the Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that ‘’the government has full confidence that the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) will investigate the government’s charges of alleged corruption by former minister Yeshi Zimba as soon as possible and in accordance with the laws of the land. As such, the government will not comment further on its charges or the opposition party’s counter charges. This is best left up to the Anticorruption Commission”.
On the two questions “are the charges politically motivated, and why are they being raised now” raised by the opposition, the Prime Minister said that the opposition party has alleged that reporting the case on former minister Yeshi Zimba to ACC is politically motivated. In fact the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) has successfully managed to lead several section of the society to believe that the government had raised the issue to gain political favors said Prime Minister.
He said ‘’based on prima facie evidence, the government should have directed the Attorney General to directly file a case in the courts of law against former minister Yeshi Zimba for corruption and restitution of Nu 76.9 million to the government. Instead, the government deliberately chose to send the case to ACC to rule out political motive.’’
‘’The DPT’s allegation of ‘political motivation’ against the government implies that politicians should not charge any other politicians. If that were the case, politicians and political parties would then escape the law under the excuse of being ‘politically motivated’’ said prime minister.
This is a dangerous precedence being created by the DPT as political parties or politicians would shy away from calling out the misdeeds of the other for fear of being accused of being ‘politically motivated.
According to the press release, the opposition party should not prevent or weaken the ACC investigation by rousing the sentiments of the general public and labeling the investigation as ‘politically motivated. The DPT must demonstrate itself as a responsible political party and actually welcome the ACC investigation, especially if it is confident that they have done no wrong. More than anybody else, political parties must support the ACC in its fight against corruption and it must begin by allowing the ACC institution to conduct a thorough and an unhindered investigation. The government calls on the opposition party to allow the law to take its own course and not to confuse the general public by distracting from the matter at hand’’ said Prime Minister.
The press release also added that the government would like to further clarify that former minister Yeshi Zimba will not be able to contest the next elections due to the age limit. As such, requesting the ACC to investigate Yeshi Zimba cannot be ‘politically motivated.The government believes that the opposition party is engaging in the oldest trick in the books by trying to escape the due course of law by branding the responsible actions of the government as ‘politically motivated.’
The DPT accused the government of waiting for four and half years before taking it up with the ACC. The possibility of corruption vis-à-vis fiscal incentives was made known to the public in 2015 during the discussion on “Tax exemption of Books’.
The finance minister during the press conference in August 2015 pointed out that the former DPT government had granted major fiscal incentives to hotels just before the end of its term.
The ministry of finance release mentions that tax exemption between 17thApril, 2013 and 13th august 2015 led to Nu 225 million in revenue foregone. Of this Bhutan Hotel (Le Meridian) did not have to pay Nu 76 million in taxes after receiving the incentives.
The same issue was discussed in the 10th Session of the 2nd Parliament when all members of parliament were informed of the possibilities of corruption when fiscal incentives were granted to hotels.
The prime minister verbally informed the ACC about possible policy corruption and misuse of power when the previous government granted additional fiscal incentives to the hotel industry just three days before the end of their tenure.
The government has exhausted all recourse of alerting the parliament, the media and informally to the ACC as well. It now finds it only logical that the government should officially request the ACC to investigate the matter.
The government still has 6 months to complete its term and must function responsibly until the last day of its term. It would be irresponsible to absolve itself of its duty just because it feels that the term would end after 6 months.
The government is confident that the ACC would take up the investigation seriously and offers its support in anyways should the ACC require of the government. We would also like to request the DPT to support the ACC in fulfilling its mandate.
Prime Minister said that the opposition party claims that the government’s request to investigate Yeshi Zimba is an attempt to “divert attention away from its own failure and plummeting credibility”. The opposition party mentions everything from “very poor performance” of the government to helicopters, power tillers and central schools.
‘’These issues have nothing to do with the matter under scrutiny, and can only be a desperate attempt by the opposition party to divert the attention of the general public from a corruption scandal’’ he added.
The opposition party has threatened that it would take the government to court on
Exemption of tax and import of second hand electric vehicles on which the prime minister himself directed the ACC to investigate for possible conflict of interest.
Procurement of Boleros purchased in strict accordance with Procurement Rules and Regulations 2009 and Income tax exemption to small and micro businesses in rural areas exempted in accordance with prevailing laws said prime Minister.
Customs duty and sales tax exemption given to book sellers exempted in accordance with prevailing laws.
The purpose of the opposition party’s threat is to intimidate the prime minister and the government. The government shall not be intimidated by such threats.
Prime Minister said ‘’The government has not condoned any acts of corruption and had in fact proactively called on the ACC to investigate any possible corruption acts. The government has set good examples by inviting and actively supporting the ACC even when it concerned the cabinet members of the government. It shall not condone any acts of corruption and will call on the ACC for investigation if any possible corrupt acts are discovered whether it is within the present or the past government or the opposition party’’.
‘’The government is surprised to note that the DPT is convinced of the wrong doings and corruption of the government but had thus far condoned it. This indicates that the opposition party has not been sincere in discharging its responsibility as the opposition party and had not been sincere in its fight against corruption. We would like to remind the opposition party that it is a sacred duty of the opposition party to hold the government accountable and responsible and should it entail taking the government to court, it must do so’’ he added. The government will not trade off with the opposition party, as it seems to indicate the threat that the opposition party will take the government to court on several maters if the investigation should persist is unacceptable.
The government invites the opposition party to take the government to court or ask the ACC for investigation should it find any acts of corruption with the government.
‘’Indeed, the opposition party is mandated with the sacred role to hold the government accountable, and must take all possible recourse to demand a clean government’’ said Prime Minister.