Government’s charges are nothing but a malicious political vendetta: Opposition Party
The government has alleged that the fiscal incentives approved by the then Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) government in April 2013 by the former minister of works and human settlement, who had chaired the Lhengye Zhungtshog meeting was alleged to have committed policy corruption and engaged in conflict of interest and official misconduct.
However, opposition party believes that the government’s charges are nothing but a malicious political vendetta.
The press release from the opposition Party states that it’s shocking that the government could make such wild allegations against a very senior and respected member of the former government and who is on the verge of retirement.
“The fiscal incentive was granted to benefit all tourist standard hotels which fulfilled the set criteria. Hence, 92 hotels including Hotel Riverside belonging to the brother of the present finance minister Namgay Dorji have benefited from the incentives.”
The press release states that the exemption amount availed by Le Meridien was the highest simply on account of the very high cost of its investment as a five-star hotel and not based on
any other consideration.
“All hotels eligible for exemption differ in standards and level of investment and therefore are bound to differ in amounts of exemption.”
Opposition member from Bartsham-Shongphu, MP Wangdi Norbu said that while implementing the fiscal incentives 2010, anomalies were observed that made the ground implementation difficult. Integral parts of components or categories of items were treated differently for taxation purposes.
So in order to clarify these anomalies, the concerned agencies undertook extensive discussions and consultations following which a multi-sectoral committee consisting of the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Tourism Council of Bhutan and the Hotels Association of Bhutan was formed to review and submit a specific list of items that fall under a particular category of exemption with respect to the hotel industry.
“Due to the time taken in the process of preparing and submission of the recommendations, the Cabinet could only approve the detailed list of eligible items in April 2013 only.”
The press release further states that, the Cabinet did not approve “additional incentives” as the government has falsely charged but had merely clarified the anomalies. It must be noted that the government had been granting customs duty and sales tax exemption on imports for all industries and tourist class hotels since the 1980s.
Therefore, the Fiscal Incentives 2010 was nothing more than a repetition of the earlier tax exemptions.
If the conflict of interest needs to be investigated, Opposition Leader (OL) Dr Pema Gyamtsho said that it has to be done to all 91 other hotel which had benefited equally, not just for the Hotel Le Meridien.
“We are truly shocked with such undignified and unthinkable acts and tactics of the Government to divert attention away from its own failures and trying to harm the opposition party by assassinating the character of a senior member. This attack is clearly on the opposition party,” he added.
He said that in any case, why they waited for four and half years. If there was something wrong, they should have acted from day one. “They came to power in July 2013, now it is Feb 2018. Why did they wait for so long?”
As far as we concern, there was nothing wrong with the decision. “Just before the election, when such allegations are coming, it is just to gain political mileage for the ruling party and this is politically motivated,” added the OL.
The member of opposition from Dramedtse-Ngatshang constituency, MP Ugyen Wangdi said that the allegation of conflict of interest by the government against Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba were baseless.
He said that as the Minister for Works and Human Settlement did not have any control over other ministries and agencies.
In keeping with the procedures and standing practice, in the absence of the Prime Minister, the senior-most minister officiates and chairs the cabinet sessions. He added that Lyonpo Zimba would have needed to declare conflict of interest if the incentive was for hotel Le Meridien only. However, he said that this incentive was meant to benefit all tourist standard hotels.
He cited an example with the pay revision for the civil servants; he said that members of the Lhengye Zhungtshog, the Speaker, the Chairperson of the National Council, the Opposition Leader, and equivalent cabinet posts holders did not recuse themselves during the deliberation of their pay revision.
“Since they were to benefit enormously, they could have recused themselves and left the decision for the rest of the members. This did not happen as the salary revision was not for any one person but for several categories of office bearers.”
Therefore, he said that there was no perceived conflict of interest in the decisions taken. Likewise, the question of “policy corruption” arising out of “conflict of interest “does not arise at all as the Cabinet approved the recommendation of the inter ministerial committee and not a request from Lyonpo Zimba’s daughter for specific benefits of the Le Meridien hotel.
Allegation of official misconduct, Ugyen Wangdi read out the Penal Code of Bhutan 2004, the section 294 of the Penal Code of Bhutan 2004 states that “A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of official misconduct, if the defendant knowingly: commits an act relating to the office constituting an unauthorized exercise of the official functions or unauthorized divulging of restricted official information or secrecy; or refrains from performing a duty, which is imposed upon the defendant by law.
Based on the above provisions of the Penal Code of Bhutan, he said that Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba acted upon duly authorized authority and performed his duty as imposed upon him by the law. Therefore, there is no act of official misconduct committed by him. Rather he said we feel that this is a case of a desperate government trying to legitimize their ill-intended attempt to discredit and defame Lyonpo Zimba.
The press release stated that the Opposition Party has been performing its duty diligently and constructively in and outside the Parliament so as to enable to the government to function and to maintain peace and harmony in the country in the larger national interests. If, however, the government is bent on taking advantage of the sincerity and restraint exercised by the Opposition Party, then it will be left with no other option but to take the following course of actions that includes the demand the Government that the benefits, customs duty and sales tax on imports from third countries and India accrued to major industries, businesses, hotels between 2010 and 2018 be published for public viewing and scrutiny.
Opposition party request the ACC to investigate possible commitment of “conflict of interest” on: exemption of tax and import of second hand vehicles against existing rules for the benefit of party supporters and procurement of a huge number of Bolero vehicles from a single dealer which is against the Constitutional provision of disallowing monopoly.
The section 10 of arti- cle nine of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan stated that the state shall encourage and foster private sector development through fair market competition and prevent commercial monopolies.
The opposition had also decided to take the government to court on many accounts including the: illegal income tax exemption to small and micro business in rural areas without following the due process of tax alteration by the Parliament; illegal customs duty and sales tax exemption given to the book sellers for a period of one year in 2015 without following the due process of tax alteration by the Parliament; illegal establishment of BOIC and wastage of public resources for the benefit of a few individuals and illegal grant of fiscal incentives for the period of January 2016 to May 2017.
Meanwhile, press release also states that if the Prime Minister is a champion of controlling corruption as he seems to claim, how about he reflect on the use of government money amounting to Nu. 3m to develop his private residence at Taba?
The opposition party said that they will have to request ACC to investigate this issue as a case of corruption by the highest elected official.
The press release states that he knows that the misuse of public resource for private benefit is a serious form of corruption and needs to be investigated thoroughly. “The evidence is not difficult to produce as we understand that the Royal Audit Authority has already issued a memo.”
The opposition party members speaking to the press