Calling the recent allegation against the party and former minister of works and human settlement Yeshey Zimba on the fiscal incentive case as ‘a malicious political vendetta’, Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho maintained that Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) will take the government to court if pushed too far.
This was divulged during the conference with the media on Thursday. The response came after the government had alleged that the fiscal incentives approved by the then DPT government in April 2013 was granted to benefit Hotel Le Meridien, which belongs to the daughter of Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, who had chaired the Lhengye Zhungtshog meeting. Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba was also alleged to have committed policy corruption and engaged in conflict of interest and official misconduct. The press release issued by the government alleged that Hotel Le Meridien alone benefited Nu 76.88mn in fiscal incentives.
The Opposition Leader (OL) said they are shocked and surprised with such allegations.
“Why wait for four and half years to make such allegations? Why did they not make the allegation from the day one? It’s crystal clear that with election nearing, coming up with such allegations is nothing but a political stunt. A very bad precedent has been set by the government,” he added.
The opposition explained to the media that MP Yeshey Zimba then as the MoWHS minister did not have any control over other ministries and agencies.
“In the absence of the Prime Minister, the senior-most minister officiates and chairs the cabinet sessions. Lyonpo Zimba would have needed to declare conflict of interest if the incentive was for Hotel Le Meridien only. However, this incentive was meant to benefit all tourist standard hotels,” he said.
MP Khandu Wangchuk, the former economic affairs minister and who claims to know Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba since Class I to XI, described him as a good and religious person.
“For the last 33 years along with Yeshey Zimba, we have served the Fourth King and the country till date. Yeshey Zimba holds a good reputation and when he is about to resign, such allegations defaming him is very disheartening and sad. On a personal front, I am deeply disturbed and wondering what he and his family might be going through,” he said. “With almost 40 years of dedicated service, we have not made money but we served. We wanted be compensated with dignity not with such allegations,” he added.
Similarly, MP Ugyen Wangdi from DPT said the allegations lacked basis.
Citing an example, he said the members of the Lhengye Zhungtshog, the Speaker, and the Chairperson of the National Council, the OL, and equivalent cabinet post holders did not rescue themselves during the deliberation of their pay revision.
“Since they were to benefit enormously, they could have rescued 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, there was no perceived conflict of interest in the decisions taken,” he asked.
Likewise, MP Ugyen Wangdi said, 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.
The OL added, “The policy benefits would accrue to all tourist class hotels equally. Moreover, these incentives have always been granted till now – shows that there was no problem at all. If there was a problem with the fiscal incentives the government should have pointed them out and changed the same from the day it assumed office.”
On the allegation of official misconduct, according to the opposition, as per the provisions of the Penal Code of Bhutan, Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba acted upon duly by authorized authority and performed his duty as imposed upon him by the law. Therefore, there is no act of official misconduct committed by him.
“This is a case of a desperate government trying to legitimize their ill-intended attempt to discredit and defame Yeshey Zimba,” the OL said, “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.”
According to the opposition, fiscal incentive was granted to benefit all tourist standard hotels which fulfilled the set criteria. Hence, 92 hotels, including Hotel Riverside which belongs to the brother of present Finance Minister Namgay Dorji, have benefited from the incentives. 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.
The OL also asked if this government really has the moral authority to come up with such an undignified and unthinkable politically motivated charges against the opposition.
“I don’t think PM is curbing corruption but in this case he is manipulating. Such a vicious attack is most reminiscent of witch-hunting especially just before the upcoming elections. The opposition never imagined that the government would stoop so low as to engage in such unfounded allegations and disturb the peace of the nation, setting a very dangerous trend for future governments to follow and to ruin a young democracy, the gift of our Monarchs,” he added.
Talking to Business Bhutan, Commissioner Jamtsho from Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) said the complaint put up by the government is being reviewed and that they would treat the case like any other normal case.
“But whether it qualifies for further investigation is yet to be finalized,” he added.
Chencho Dema from Thimphu