It was quite a scene at the Zangtopelri complex in Phuentsholing town, as Anti Corruption Commission officials shut down a shopping complex and three other shops, allegedly linked to corrupt practices.
A huge crowd gathered at the premises as words spread about the presence of the ACC investigation team. By the time officials sealed the shops, police had to shoo the crowd away. Such activities always draw public attention.
Will that send a strong signal of what the commission is doing? Will it deter people from getting into shady businesses? Word going around after the Monday evening drama was that what ACC found was just the tip of the iceberg. Whatever prompted the crowd, discussion was that more businesses would meet the same fate, should ACC investigate.
As the matter is under investigation, it is not clear why the businesses were closed. But what is clear is that the commission’s hands are full with cases and time is running out. The chairperson and the commissioners have only two months. Their five-year term will come to an end in July. Going by the rate of their investigations leading to more cases, there will be plenty of cases when the commissioners leave office in July.
It is also clear that the recent ACC investigation into illegal land transactions in Thimphu is opening a can of worms. There are more cases related to it that the ACC is unearthing. As a constitutional office with an important mandate, continuity will be ensured. But what is also drawing attention is how successful the commission has been in fighting a social ill that many now feel is more deep rooted than most thought.
Nine years after the inception of the commission, we do not know if the rate of corruption has dropped. There are already skeptics in some quarters questioning the commission, its spending on investigations and its findings. The commission has brought people to task, pointed out loopholes in the system and even blatantly accused officialdom of not caring and leaving it all to them.
Left alone to the commission, it would be fighting an uphill battle. If the commission is short of people, the long time taken in courts to bring people to task, the inconsistency in implementing verdicts passed, and lack of cooperation from agencies and ministries in taking administrative action are challenging them.
In His Majesty the King’s words, a greater risk than corruption itself is ignoring corruption. When the corrupt are not held to account, His Majesty said, those who observe due diligence, work hard and professionally are most likely to be discouraged.
Corruption has to be fought. There is no question about that. While the ACC is established to focus on fighting it, it is critical that everybody keeps up the fight against it.