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Bhutanโ€™s Battle Against Corruption, ACCโ€™s Strategies to Forge an Ethical Society

โ€ฆ๐’•๐’‰๐’† ๐‘จ๐‘ช๐‘ช ๐’๐’๐’˜ ๐’‰๐’‚๐’” ๐’”๐’‰๐’Š๐’‡๐’•๐’†๐’… ๐’Š๐’•๐’” ๐’‡๐’๐’„๐’–๐’” ๐’‡๐’“๐’๐’Ž ๐’•๐’‰๐’† ๐’„๐’๐’Ž๐’‘๐’๐’Š๐’‚๐’๐’•-๐’ƒ๐’‚๐’”๐’†๐’… ๐’Š๐’๐’—๐’†๐’”๐’•๐’Š๐’ˆ๐’‚๐’•๐’Š๐’๐’๐’” ๐’•๐’ ๐’‘๐’“๐’๐’‚๐’„๐’•๐’Š๐’—๐’† ๐’“๐’†๐’”๐’†๐’‚๐’“๐’„๐’‰ ๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐’Š๐’๐’•๐’†๐’๐’๐’Š๐’ˆ๐’†๐’๐’„๐’†-๐’ƒ๐’‚๐’”๐’†๐’… ๐’Š๐’๐’—๐’†๐’”๐’•๐’Š๐’ˆ๐’‚๐’•๐’Š๐’๐’๐’” ๐’•๐’ ๐’†๐’๐’‚๐’ƒ๐’๐’† ๐’”๐’•๐’“๐’‚๐’•๐’†๐’ˆ๐’Š๐’„ ๐’‘๐’“๐’Š๐’๐’“๐’Š๐’•๐’Š๐’›๐’‚๐’•๐’Š๐’๐’ ๐’๐’ ๐’‰๐’Š๐’ˆ๐’‰-๐’“๐’Š๐’”๐’Œ ๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐’‰๐’Š๐’ˆ๐’‰ ๐’Š๐’Ž๐’‘๐’‚๐’„๐’• ๐’„๐’‚๐’”๐’†๐’”

Sonam Deki

As per the National Integrity Assessment (NIA) 2022, Abuse of Power, Bribery, and Embezzlement are the top three perceived prevalent forms of corruption in the country. This is consistent with the analysis of complaints received by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in the FY 2021-2022, where Abuse of Power/Authority (48.7%) was the most alleged corruption offense, followed by Embezzlement (5.9%) and Bribery (3.4%). Notably, complaints related to Abuse of Power have consistently been the highest alleged corruption offense, with even the highest number of complaints qualifying for investigation pertaining to Abuse of Power.

“Among numerous factors, weak leadership at all levels, weak checks and balances, lack of proper accountability mechanisms, and strong closed-knit networks contribute to the prevalence of such corruption instances. This is further aggravated by weak systems and processes in contrast to the rapidly evolving technological advancements. The NIA 2022 also highlighted that public officials ignoring official duties, misusing authorities, and ineffective grievance redressal mechanisms are some of the factors contributing to a weak accountability culture,” said the ACC.

Besides investigation, the ACC continues to strengthen the culture of integrity both at the individual and institutional levels, across public and private agencies, through various education and preventive programs.

Specifically, some recent initiatives to promote an ethical climate in the public sector include the introduction of the Integrity Vetting System in personnel management, public procurements, and elections to promote individuals with higher standards of ethics and integrity. The adoption of the Model Public Service Code of Conduct is aimed at clearly informing public servants about the expected ethical standards. Furthermore, e-learning courses have been administered for civil servants, parliamentarians, and justices to orient them on their respective ethical standards. To increase the ACC’s reach, vigilance, and deterrence across the country, Regional Offices have been established in Bumthang, Trashigang, and Phuentsholing, among other efforts.

Moreover, the ACC has shifted its focus from complaint-based investigations to proactive research and intelligence-based investigations to enable strategic prioritization of high-risk and high-impact cases.

In addition to general advocacy, the ACC conducts thematic programs to sensitize public and private officials about professional-based ethical standards and associated corruption risks. This is complemented by online training modules for various professions. The ACC has also been working on inculcating behavioral change in the youth by implementing ethics and integrity curricula in schools and tertiary institutions, along with establishing integrity clubs in schools.

The ACC faces a major challenge in changing the public’s attitude towards corruption. Often, the public tends to report corruption or agencies implement anti-corruption measures only when directly affected or exposed through oversight mechanisms. To address this, the ACC conducts extensive awareness campaigns, launches the myACC app, and utilizes social media accounts for easy reporting. Collaborations with civil society and media are also part of their efforts to shift public attitudes and build a corruption-free society.

Another challenge is ensuring the capacity of ACC staff to deal with evolving corruption risks. To tackle this, the ACC enhances its Intelligence-Based Investigation approach, prioritizing cases based on strategic intelligence and focusing on cases involving substantial public funds or of national significance.

Given the sensitive nature of the job and the need to operate in a closed-knit society, retaining skilled personnel while ensuring a conducive working environment with adequate incentives presents challenges. Recognizing these challenges, the ACC has implemented various staff welfare schemes and social security measures. Additionally, a dedicated security unit with the support of the RBP has been established within the ACC to safeguard the ACC officials while on duty.

According to both National and International reports, Bhutan’s efforts to combat corruption have not shown significant improvement. Bhutan was ranked as the 25th least corrupt country in Transparency International’s Corruption

Perception Index 2022, maintaining a score of 68 for the fifth consecutive year. Similarly, its rank of 25 has remained unchanged for the second consecutive year. Furthermore, the NIA 2022 reveals that the perceived level of corruption, classified as ‘Quite Serious’ (58.8%) in Bhutan, has increased over the years. This highlights the urgent need to enhance integrity systems and strengthen governance mechanisms, ensuring greater accountability and transparency within the nation.

The ACC is dedicated to contributing to Bhutan’s long-term national goal, as outlined in its Strategic Anti-Corruption Roadmap 2021-2030. While most of the interventions highlighted in the roadmap are already being implemented, the ACC is currently in the process of embedding them into the 13th Five Year Plan.

The Anti-Corruption Commission stated, “Whistleblowers play a crucial role in the fight against corruption. More than anything else, maintaining the confidentiality of whistleblowers is the utmost priority of the ACC. The Anti-Corruption Act 2011 also empowers citizens to report corruption anonymously. To this effect, as soon as the ACC receives a report, it is automatically generated into a unique Complaint Registration Number (CRN) irrespective of whether it is from known or unknown sources. In that way, the identity of the complainant is protected throughout the process of complaints review and investigation, including during the prosecution by the OAG and adjudication in the Courts, to prevent any form of reprisals or victimization. Hence, the ACC encourages everyone to report corruption freely without any inhibition. Further, the ACC has introduced various platforms for reporting corruption.”

The ACC added, “Various studies have revealed that individuals holding significant power and specific authority are exposed to the possibility of misusing their entrusted privileges. Likewise, individuals working within public agencies responsible for handling revenue and resources, particularly those dealing with cash transactions, face increased vulnerability to corruption. Additionally, individuals engaged in service delivery tasks are also susceptible to engaging in corrupt practices. These findings are corroborated by the majority of the complaints received by the ACC in the FY 2021-2022, which were in the areas of Resources (46), followed by Contract (25), Natural Resources (21), and Personnel (20). Concerning complaints against agencies, LG constituted the highest number of complaints (107), followed by Ministries (34) and Dzongkhag Administrations (24). To address these vulnerabilities, systematic studies are conducted in identified high-risk areas, and based on their findings, relevant recommendations are being made for implementation by the agencies. The ACC also issues prevention advisories called ‘Denkuel’ to highlight potential corruption risks and strategies to address them. For instance, two prevention advisories were developed and shared with relevant stakeholders during FY 2021-2022, focusing on Community Contracting in the Gewogs and on Drawings and Building Construction Approvals. Likewise, the Corruption Risk Management tool is also implemented to facilitate mainstreaming of risk-based integrity measures in various agencies. Besides, the Business Integrity Initiative of Bhutan has been introduced since 2017 in 15 portfolio companies and listed companies of Druk Holding and Investments Ltd (DHI) which has been further taken to the private companies wherein as of now we have 15 DHI portfolio and Listed Companies and three private companies that have formalized their commitment to promote ethical businesses in the country.”

Furthermore, the ACC continues to carry out general advocacy and awareness programs for target audiences, aiming to ensure the sustainability of integrity measures and foster an informed and vigilant citizenry at large.

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