This morning some members of the Bhutanese twitterati/twitterratzi broke news about the conclusion of the ACC investigation of the Gyelpoishing Land case. If you aren't familiar with the case you can refer to Business Bhutan's story for the background. It implicates several senior officials including the Prime Minister as having acquired land illegally from villagers. The villagers claimed that they had made repeated complaints but that their voices were not heard or heeded to. The ACC has now put a freeze notice on all the plots that were acquired as a result. (Sorry I don't think it's all. Only some?)
I am told that Kuensel/Business Bhutan? first broke the story and then The Bhutanese. Here is a later piece that they wrote. Since then other newspapers like Bhutan Times have also written about this case.
The ACC investigation concludes that "of 99 plots allotted, 67 (14.12 acres) were illegal. Genja terms and conditions, signed between the local authority and the plot beneficiaries, were not enforced." This means that 32 plots were indeed availed legally.
i) This transaction happened before the elections in 2008. Prior to 2008 there were probably many more land dealings that were made in a similar manner, involving many other names, that have yet to see their time come at the ACC office. If Kuensel did not bring this to light, and other newspapers had not covered it in depth, nobody would have ever known so this is a case in point of press freedom and how far the media in Bhutan has come today. It also shows how far some are really sticking their necks out to bring truth to light. This to date is probably one of the most serious cases ever that has been unearthed by the Bhutanese media.
ii) To me, this case speaks a great deal about the hierarchical system and that very little has changed. Hence, the questions and the analysis/introspection into/of ourselves as a society should not end there. There are many more questions we need to ask. One is that of the government employees and how they see "service" to King, Country and People. Many of our officials are more concerned about securing their positions, their gains, and playing safe. At the same time there are also many who dedicate themselves tirelessly, with little recognition and benefits. And so in this case we have the role of the "in-between" officials like the Dzongda in question. In the Prime Minister's rebuttal to the allegations, he said that "No complaints have been registered in the Dzongkhag in this regard. Therefore, it is absolutely untrue that there are people who are still aggrieved."
This statement made by the PM could be true or untrue. True; because our "in-between" officials are sometimes - in their quest to please the authorities and curry favour, or not risk losing their jobs or promotions - very good at hiding reality and not giving people in power the true picture on the ground/ providing incorrect information. They may also do this because they are under pressure from authorities. Either way we have an example from the elections in 2008, PDP workers probably painted the wrong picture for their candidates running for election simply to curry favour or because they were under pressure? The PM's answer could also be Untrue, that he was indeed informed by the Dzongda of grievances, but he failed to heed. According to the ACC report, however, it appears that the villagers did indeed complain but the Dzongda seemingly brushed it away.
Whatever the case, each and every person involved in these allegations now has to take a look at themselves and ask these questions. Did we act without knowing, or with the full knowledge that we were depriving innocent civilians/ villagers/farmers, who have next to nothing, but their land.
We should not be quick to jump to conclusions or draw blood from the buyers either because ours is a complicated system. Had they been lied to by the Dzongda or the official in between who brought forth the land prospect simply to please them? This is something not unknown/or alien in our society. Often the people at the top are not only naive but foolish not to ask the right questions and see through this or deliberately ignore the reality.
Then again, it says a lot for the people who are in these positions; holding offices and having a certain standing in Bhutanese society you are expected not to exploit that position. That because of who you are you simply cannot take undue advantage of the system and its loopholes to enrich yourself.
Will this case help in adjusting many things in our system? Will Dzongda's or for that matter any official now look at their roles more differently? That they are really there to look into the interests of the people and not the powers that be; Whether their jobs are worth saving more than the livelihood of innocent farmers and villagers?
It is at a time like this that each government employee should be looking into himself and asking that question. Would I have forgone that opportunity myself if I had been approached with one? For, more often than not, we are looked upon as fools if we didn't/don't seize such opportunities to benefit ourselves and our families, and made great examples of when we do. It is entrenched in the way we think.
Captain Sonam Rinchen was a man who was, in his heyday, a Captain in the army (at that time in the 80's, a very senior position) and then later a Dzongrab. Today he is a poor farmer. To the people who know him, he is an example of what not to be. "He didn't take his opportunity" ( to use the exact words) - kho zhung na dhoebdha za ma shebay/ while he was in the govt he didn't know how to eat. Implying that he didn't know how to "use or misuse" opportunities to his own advantage; is what I have heard people say. But to the people who really know him well, Captain Sonam Rinchen at the cost of a nice building/house and a car to drive, served as a dedicated, honest, straightforward man to his King, Country and People, and retired with little. The world or all of Bhutan doesn't need to know of his humble contributions, there are many like him; but he knows what he's done and I am sure there is someone else too.
“To know what is right and not to do is the worst cowardice.” ~ Confucius