For long, we witnessed all five political parties treading the challenge of balancing the thin line between familiarization, consultation, and campaigning, with the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) cautioning them not to transgress electoral rules. A bombshell then fell as the nation woke up to hear that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) had forwarded a case of alleged corruption involving two former ministers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).
The PDP issued a press release expressing their surprise that “a matter from 2016 is actively being pursued on the eve of the election” and that the “audit memos were not brought to the knowledge of the individual, depriving them of an opportunity to clarify and justify their actions.” The party claimed it was a political move to damage the reputation of the Party.
Mandated by the Constitution and its own Act, the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) had submitted audit observations to the ACC in 2019. In the same vein, the ACC had begun investigations. It submitted its findings to the OAG. The media picked up the news and informed the public. All were performing their duties.
The PDP also did what it ought to – tell their side of the story. If there was anyone missing, it was the government and other political parties. Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) turned deaf to allegations that it was a political move. And the other parties, especially the two new ones, have other important errands to attend to – they have not completed familiarization.
The question asked by the PDP is why now? And from what has come out in the open, the other question appears to be what took the ACC so long? These are rational questions.
However, an investigation is conducted to establish whether or not a suspected offense has taken place. During investigations, evidence is gathered, especially those to prove or disprove the reasonable suspicion that an offense has occurred. The duration taken for investigations varies on a case-by-case basis. It depends on a range of factors, such as the number and complexity of the potential offenses, and the level of cooperation from those investigated or from witnesses. For the public interest and the interests of those involved, investigations need to be accelerated.
Ultimately, the investing agency needs to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that an offence has either been committed or not. In our case, the ACC has to do it judiciously, for the case comes back to them if there are loopholes. These are factors making investigations a lengthy process.
Meanwhile, a key responsibility of the AG in conducting criminal prosecutions is to represent the public interest, which includes not only the community as a whole but the victim and also the accused. The AG has the power to institute or withdraw any case according to law, “in the interest of the Government and the welfare of the people.”
We are innocent until proven guilty. So are the two members of the PDP. We do not know what will happen next. As mentioned earlier, important institutions are involved here. People are watching, and this is perhaps the first political case testing the Transformation exercise.