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Committee recommends special bench for corruption cases

Deliberating the Anti-Corruption Report 2018, the good governance committee (GGC) of National Council (NC) yesterday proposed the judiciary to establish a special bench to address the issue of prolonged trial for corruption cases.

As of December 2018, the committee reported to the house that there were 21 cases under review by the Office of Attorney General (OAG), of which six were referred to OAG in 2017.

The committee stated that of the 74 cases currently under trial, 62 cases (83.78 percent) were referred to the court more than two years ago.

“While the time taken by the OAG to review and refer the case to the court seems reasonable, the majority of cases are delayed during the trial process,” the committee reported.

In 2018, judgments were rendered for 46 cases. Thirty-four cases took more than two years to receive judgment.

A member of the committee, Lhatu, said that timely adjudication by courts is important to enforce the rule of law as the prolonged process of trials undermines the impacts of prosecution. Prolonged trials in courts, he said, not only incur huge cost to the state exchequer but also have a negative psychological impact on the individuals who may be proven innocent ultimately.

The good governance committee also recommended the government to mobilise adequate funds for human resource of the ACC, particularly in supporting long-term studies.

The committee reported that recruiting professionals with appropriate skills and retaining the existing ones have been one of the major challenges faced by the ACC since its inception in 2006. The physically and mentally stressful work compounded by the lack of human resource development budget for long-term studies have not favoured the ACC to become an employer of choice for many, according to the committee.

Lhatu reported that in 2018, while 27 additional staff was recruited, 17 had left the ACC resulting in a net gain of only 10. The opportunity for higher studies seems to be one of the motivating factors to join the ACC for both new recruits as well as serving professionals.

“However, due to lack of budgetary support from the government for long-term study programs particularly in recent years after the conclusion of the donor supported projects, the ACC has not been able to provide such opportunities to its staff.”

The recommendations will be put to vote for adoption and then only will it become the official views of the House.

Member from Chhukha, Sangay Dorji, said immediate and lone-term strategies should be considered to strengthen the ACC as a credible, effective and incorruptible institution. In 2018, he reported that the ACC received a total of 333 complaints, an increase of 28 from 2017.

According to the ACC report, abuse of function topped corruption allegations, constituting 182 complaints (54.7%) followed by embezzlement with 23 (6.9%) complaints.

MP Sangay Dorji said that despite concerted efforts made by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to recover the restitution amounts, the pending restitution was still high at Nu 187.964 million (M).

The member stated that Bhutan’s ranking on Corruption Perception Index (CPI) improved from 31st spot in 2013 to 25th in 2018.

Some members said that a detailed study needed to be carried out to determine why the attrition rate in the ACC was high.

The good governance committee reported that efforts have been made to reduce and manage the backlog complaints qualified for investigation that accumulated from 2006 to 2016. The number of backlog complaints has been further reduced from 54 in 2017 to 49 in 2018.

Reducing backlog of complaints qualified for investigations is a priority of the ACC, the committee reported. Of the 105 complaints, which qualified for investigations, 27 complaints were assigned for investigation during the reporting year leaving 78 complaints for 2019.

Of the 27 assigned cases for investigation, seven complaints were related to five on-going cases, thus remaining 20 for the reporting year.

MB Subba 

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