For a Witnesses and Whistleblower’s Act

For a Witnesses and Whistleblower’s Act

Corruption is a growing concern in the country and there is a need for the citizens to engage more against corrupt practices. The 77 participants from the Parliament of Bhutan, Bhutan National Legal Institute (BNLI), Media Houses and CSOs working with vulnerable groups during the ‘Awareness Workshop for the Parliament’, unanimously agreed that Bhutan needs a Witnesses and Whistleblower’s Act on Wednesday in Paro.

In a collaborative awareness workshop for the Parliamentarians on the ‘Status of Corruption in Bhutan and the Way Forward’ by the Bhutan Transparency Initiative (BTI) and Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), it was pointed out “Corruption is on rise” as per the National Corruption Barometer Survey, 2023.

The top five forms of corruption in the order of prevalence are trading in influence, failure to declare conflict on interest, abuse of function, concealment of corruption proceeds, and embezzlement, false claims and money launderings.

Civil servants, followed by the employees of Local Governments, private sectors, and corporations were perceived to be the most corrupt among the 12 key public service providers. As a way forward, the participants recommended the Parliament to enact Whistleblower’s Act.

The Opposition Leader (OL), Pema Chhewang said that in order to curve the corruption, whistleblowers and witnesses should be protected. The OL said, “There is need for an Act.”

In all, the OL said that there should be behavioral change, and advocacy to curb corruption.

The Deputy Chairperson of National Council (NC), Dago Tsheringla said as protection clause in the Act is not comprehensive, there is need to look into the matter. “The Parliament will support in policy matters,” the Deputy Chairperson committed.

The Anti-Corruption Act of Bhutan, 2011 ‘Protection of Witness and Informers,’ (Chapter 5) states, “Where the Commission receives information in confidence about a commission or suspected commission of an offence under this Act, that information and the identity of the complainant or informer shall be held secret between the Commission and the complainant or informer, and all matters relating to such information shall be privileged and shall not be disclosed in any proceeding before any court, tribunal or other authority.”

Further, Section (2) states, “If any books, documents or papers, which is given in evidence or liable to inspection in any civil, criminal or other proceedings, contains any entry in which any complainant or informer is named or described or which might lead to his discovery, the Court before which the proceeding is had shall cause all such passages to be concealed from view or to be obliterated so far as is necessary to protect the complainant or informer from discovery.”

Similarly, the Zhemgang NC member Tshering Tshomo also recommended the enactment of the Act to protect the whistleblowers and witnesses.

The executive director of BTI, Dr Rinzin Rinzin said that corruption is on the rise and as accountability; there should be collaboration among the different sectors, particularly, government, CSOs and media.

He reiterated that although there are some sections in the Penal Code and the ACC Act, there is nothing comprehensive that could shield witnesses and whistleblowers. “I would request and urge our parliamentarians to deliberate on it in the Assemblies.”

The media professionals also suggested for the need of Witnesses and Whistleblowers Act, and protection of journalists. The media professionals shared that if there is protection, it would help promoting to carry out investigative stories which help to curb corruption.

Meanwhile, officials from the ACC said that though there is already a clause to protect the whistleblowers and witnesses, there is challenge to maintain secrecy being a small society. The official also shared that the cases come to ACC only after initially sorting for internal compromise. “By then, the complainant is already known.”

Bhutan, known for its commitment to holistic development, has maintained a Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) score of 68, securing the 26th position among 180 countries and territories. While the score has remained consistent over the past six years, there is a notable decline in its ranking, dropping from 25th place in the last two years. Nevertheless, Bhutan continues to hold the sixth position in the Asia and Pacific Region for more than a decade, showcasing its regional standing in the fight against corruption.

The shift in Bhutan’s ranking may be attributed to the remarkable improvement made by Barbados, which saw its score rise from 65 in 2022 to 69 in 2023. Barbados’ success can be linked to its strong institutions, transparent public procurement processes, and robust anti-corruption policies and legislations. Among the countries above Bhutan, 12 have maintained their scores, including Bhutan, while nine have experienced a decline by one or two points.

By Sangay Rabten, Paro