Gyalpoizhing Land Case – Press Release from Prime Minister

Using highly offensive terms such as scam and land grab, and abusing the tolerance of the government, one journalist, acting as prosecutor, judge and jury, has fabricated the “Gyalpoizhing case” to malign the government. Further, what transpired 10 years ago has nothing to do with the present government. If indeed, Tshogpon Jigme Tshultim had violated laws of the land, he would have suffered for it immediately. However, as I and a few ministers or their family members were implicated, and in the interest of promoting transparency, I requested the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in August 2011, for a thorough investigation. The ministers and I also made ourselves available for questioning during the investigation. A primary reason for my decision was to set a precedent under our “Zero tolerance policy against corruption” for government and leaders, including the PM, to face investigation on allegations of corruption.

As the ACC findings are yet to be made public, further doubts and suspicions are being raised by a particular newspaper. Therefore, eventhough it is inappropriate to comment publicly on a matter that is under investigation (“sub judice”) by an independent body, I am compelled to offer, without prejudice to the work of the ACC, a brief explanation on each of the main allegations in response to public demand.

1st allegation: It is alleged that the allotment of land in Gyalpoizhing was in violation of several Royal Kashos which decreed that no one, other than His Majesty the King, may grant land.

In actual fact, the Kashos pertained only to government land, tsamdros and sokshings and not to urban plots that were and are always allotted by empowered authorities or dzongkhag committees.

The only time a specific Royal Command was issued to stop urban land allotment was via a letter issued by His Majesty’s Secretary in March 1987. The circular mentions specifically that the moratorium will remain until proper rules have been established.

Subsequently, a Royal Command conveyed by the Eastern Zonal Administrator vide a circular in June 1991, states that once the structure plans for towns in the dzongkhags are finalized, “the power to allot building plots would rest with the respective dzongdas who will be aided by committees. Clear criteria and directives shall be issued in consultation with the Ministry of Social Services.”

Accordingly, in July 1991, late Dasho Dorji Tenzin, Secretary, Ministry of Social Services (Works and Housing) conveyed a Government (His Majesty the King’s) order laying down a set of nine criteria and procedures for allotment of plots in townships. It states that “following guidelines are to be followed throughout the kingdom for township development …. for strict compliance by all concerned”.

The Royal Command that caused the final lifting of the moratorium on urban plot allotment is conveyed to the Secretary, Works and Housing by Mongar Dzongda, Dasho Karma Dorji in August 1998. His letter states that “HM the King was pleased to command that the allotment of land in Mongar township should be made as early as possible by the committee”. It also conveys that a committee comprising of 12 public officials, with the dzongda as the chairman of the municipal committee, shall allot the land. This was then applied uniformly throughout the country. The letters written by Tshering Dorji, Director General, Department of Urban Development and Housing to the Dzongda, citing the first Royal Command are invalid and demonstrate his complete ignorance of subsequent Commands.

The above coherent series of Royal Commands establish, beyond any doubt, that the dzongdas have the power and duty to allot urban plots. All records establish that Mongar Dzongkhag Committee, under the chairmanship of Tshogpon Jigme Tshultim, allotted the land at Gyalpoizhing in keeping with Royal Commands.

If the Gyalpoizhing land allotment is to be declared illegal, then all the townships in the counry will become illegal, since all building plots were allotted by urban development and Dzongkhag authorities from the beginning.

2nd allegation: It is alleged that many farmers were deprived of their valuable land and not given compensation, and are still aggrieved.

Every farmer (37 households) who owned land in Gyalpoizhing project area was fully compensated, not only for land, but for structures, as well as crops. Those who didn’t want monetary compensation were given land substitute. No complaints have been registered in the Dzongkhag in this regard. Therefore, it is absolutely untrue that there are people who are still aggrieved. Complainants from outside the township but nearby areas have been deliberately misreported as belonging to Gyalpoizhing township area.

3rd allegation: It is alleged that a part of the Gyalpoizhing land allotted by the dzongkhag administration was government land and should not have been included in the town.

All the land included in the Gyalpoizhing township belonged to the Kurichhu Hydropower Project Authority. This includes the so called government land on the other side of the river which accommodated office buildings and labour camps of the project. Therefore, irrespective of whether these were originally private or government land, they belonged to the project and were transferred to the dzongkhag to build the new town. It may also be stated that government land used to be allotted by the Cabinet for institutions and towns.

4th allegation: It is alleged that I acquired my plot when I was the Home Minister and, therefore, exercised administrative influence over the dzongda.

Untrue. I was the Minister for Foreign Affairs at the time.

The reports accused us of land grabbing, whereas, we paid for the plots at the prescribed rates. We were persuaded to apply for plots by the then Dzongda who hoped that investment by “influential” people could help influence others to return and invest in interior eastern Bhutan. This is the kind of thing that governments at the national and sub-national levels do (mainly with incentives) to promote investment and growth. My own plot of 22,000 sq. ft. lies on the other side of the river with no other possible access but over the security sensitive wall of the dam. If, at some stage, I and the other plot owners are denied access over the dam for security and structural reasons, the only option is to row across the river. These sandy plots are, therefore, of little use to the public and remain unused even now, after over 10 years.

All supporting documents:

  1. Circular from secretary Dorji Tenzin
  2. Letter from Dzongdag Karma Dorji
  3. Letter from Zonal Administrator
  4. Letter from Dasho Pema Wangchen

When the media’s intention is not to inform but to disinform, it goes against the very essence of its purpose and ethics. When the aim of a newspaper is to break the relationship of trust between the people and the elected, it harms democracy and its workings. And, when the purpose is to serve the vested interest of a few, it is dangerous. The government has far greater and more urgent responsibilities than to be occupied with baseless allegations.

– Prime Minister, Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley.

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Source: http://www.cabinet.gov.bt/

This story from Sonam Pem

Sonam Pem has the distinction of being our very first author on Bhutanomics.

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