Bhutan has a long way to go to fight corruption although it has made some headway, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) stated in the annual report 2017.
The recently released report states that corruption offences such as embezzlement of public funds and abuse of power continue to take place. The report will be deliberated in the ongoing parliament session.
ACC has recommended that the government and agencies not only put in place transparency and accountability mechanisms, but also enforce anti-corruption codes of conduct strictly. There is also a need to enhance integrity among public officials, ACC states.
The report states that the political will to fight corruption must continue to translate into actions from rhetoric. “What is needed is also a lot of political will and support, beyond the electioneering rhetoric or vacuous statements on fighting corruption,” ACC states.
ACC states that with the approach of the third National Assembly election and the implementation of the 12th Plan activities set to begin soon, the country should guard against corruption.
“ACC in itself is facing a daunting task in taking necessary steps to prevent and combat corruption. The human resource issue are perennial to ACC and is further aggravated by financial resource constraints,” the report states.
Complaints received in 2017
In 2017, ACC received a total of 305 complaints, which is an average of 25 complaints a month. This is a decrease of 47 complaints from the previous year.
According to the report, 57.4 percent of the complaints were received from anonymous sources and 42.6 percent from known sources.
Abuse of functions topped the table comprising 155 complaints or 50.8 percent of the total complaints. ACC also received 95 complaints, which according to the commission were not related to corruption offences.
Allegations of embezzlement constituted 9.8 percent.
Thimphu saw the highest of complaints (100), which is 32.8 percent of the total complaints received, followed by Chhukha with 28 complaints, and Paro and Punakha with 21 complaints each.
Tsirang saw only two complaints, the lowest among the 20 dzongkhags.
As in the past, allegations against local governments were the highest with 81 complaints, constituting 26.6 percent of the total complaints.
“This may be attributed to the increasing delegation of responsibilities and resources to local governments without commensurate check and balance and accountability mechanisms,” the report states.
ACC did not receive any complaints against political parties and foreign ministry.
ACC decides or takes actions based on the parameters defined in the complaints management policy and procedures. According to the report, 39 or 12.9 percent of the total complaints qualified for investigation in 2017.
Complaints that have no element of corruption but require administrative recourse are shared with relevant agencies. ACC shared 105 such complaints with relevant agencies for administrative inquiry and action last year.
Based on the action taken reports (ATR) from the agencies where cases were referred, 26 complaints were closed and one was upgraded for investigation. Four complaints were referred back to concerned agencies for further action.
One of the long-term priorities of ACC is to reduce the backlog of complaints by assigning the complaints for investigation.
Last year, there were 68 complaints awaiting investigation, including those from 2006 to 2017. The complaints that were yet to be assigned for investigation included 41 from 2006 to 2015, 13 from 2016, and 14 from 2017.
As of December 2017, 19 cases were in court, including five old and at various stages of adjudication. Seven cases were dropped and closed due to lack of evidence or corruption or administrative improprieties, according to the report.
Of the 15 cases forwarded to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) in 2017, 11 were related to fraud and embezzlement. The remaining pertained to conflict of interest, abuse of power, and other offences.
A majority of the embezzlement cases investigated were allegations referred from banks and corporations, some of which entailed more than one investigation at the same institution.
Last year, 78 people were recommended to be prosecuted, which ACC stated was subject to change upon a detailed review by OAG.
Various courts rendered judgments on 12 cases involving 62 defendants charged for corruption and other criminal offences last year. Out of them, 46 were convicted with sentences ranging from one month to 15 years in prison. Seven were acquitted.
The judgments ordered restitution of Nu 42.886 million (M) last year.
In total, court judgments from 2006 to 2017 ordered a restitution of Nu 190.5M and 81.92 acres of state land. ACC reported that 81.65 acres of the land were reinstated as government land and Nu 41.535M financial restitution realised as of December 2017.
Some of the cases are under appeal and restitution pending.