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The fear of being politically linked

With election mood picking pace, there appears to be a growing apprehension among institutions of being affiliated to political parties.

When the issues on fiscal incentives and compound wall built for the prime minister’s residence came up, both the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the Royal Audit Authority (RAA), the institutions that were called upon to investigate, said they would take their own time to look into these issues. Then, the constitutional offices did not want to appear being used by the government and the opposition. Today, the upcoming election is the most common reason cited, to delay if not to take up these issues. The timing, according to the investigating institutions, is wrong.

The RAA’s reports on use and misuse of public resources in public institutions have brought about much transparency. But the authority’s reports on public services such as the widening of the East-West highway, the blacktopping of GC roads and the central schools are not yet released because it is concerned that other parties would use the findings against the government.

In one of its recent performance audit reports on Bank of Bhutan’s core banking solutions, the audit authority cites a case where an intruder siphoned-off Nu16.506 million from a Letter of Credit account of a government agency maintained with the bank. It has been learnt the government agency is the RAA and that the amount is about Nu 6million.

The authority may be right in pointing out the lacuna in internal control but withholding its name in the report while naming the rest in all its reports raises questions on transparency. When the issue of the Tsirang hospital’s construction came out in the media, the audit authority’s and the health ministry’s concern among others, was how the media got the story and not so much on how the lapses pointed out in the report, occurred.

The audit authority is not alone. The ACC did not re-investigate the REDCL case in Tsirang when the Opposition requested for it. In its attempt to be fair, it did not take up the fiscal incentive issue the prime minister asked the office to investigate. But members from the civil society organisations (CSO) were taken aback when the commission was prompt in investigating the recruitment allegation case at Loden Foundation, just as the office of the attorney general was in prosecuting Dasho Sherub Gyeltshen case.  Many felt that the recruitment allegation against the foundation did not merit such attention from the commission. Given the growing perception among the public on how scholarships granted by CSOs aren’t necessarily given to those who need it the most, a thorough investigation on this area may have done more public good.

On the overseas employment case with the labour ministry, the commission is quick to point out that it was already investigating the case when the request from the prime minister’s office was made. Amid such public perceptions comes an off the cuff remark to journalists to not report much on corruption cases because the commission could be accused of being linked to political parties.

These developments are worrying. Public institutions that have the constitutional mandate to ensure accountability and transparency appear to be wavering in performing their responsibilities. The institutions would have their own reasons but public confidence in them has begun to wane.

The people’s fear of these institutions being used is bigger than their fear of being linked to political parties.

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