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BPC suspends Director accused for sexual harassment

However, if the allegations labeled against him are found untrue, the Director could counter-charge the accuser for defamation

By Tashi Namgyal/Thimphu

The Director accused of sexual harassment of a female employee under Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) has been suspended by the company after the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the company issued a suspension order late last Friday.

According to BPC service rules 2016, an accused must be suspended simultaneously once an enquiry committee is formed to investigate a case. The Director involved here will remain suspended until formal enquiries are complete, corroborated with a disciplinary action if the accused is found guilty.

The service rule also states that the Director will still receive 50 percent of his monthly salary while under suspension.

The committee, consisting three senior female officers, a legal officer and the Human Resource (HR) division of the company has been asked by the CEO to expedite and complete the investigation within ten days, which means the investigation report should be out by the end of this week.

A female employee of the company lodged a formal complaint on September 21 against one of the Directors of the same company, stating that the alleged accused misbehaved and harassed her on the night of September 15.

She stated in her complaint that the incident occurred at the companyโ€™s customer care office when she was on her night duty along with another female colleague.

What the Boss says

However, the CEO of the company said that they will listen to both sides of the story before making any rash decisions.

โ€œIt is important to listen to both the accused and the victim. โ€œWe respect the complaint and weโ€™ll deal with the case as per the service rules,โ€ he said.

The alleged victim has also been placed on leave by the company so that she could regain her strength from the trauma.

As per the BPCโ€™s service rules and regulations 2016, an employee shall be guilty of the offence of sexual harassment if he or she commits any kind of sexual harassment as defined by the service rules. โ€œIt will be considered a major violation of the code of conduct and dealt with accordingly, as per the major disciplinary proceedings.โ€

The victim, as per the service rules, must submit the complaint in writing and write to the designated person. The designated person shall acknowledge receipt of the victimโ€™s written complaint within two working days and commence an investigation within five working days.

โ€œIf the victim is not satisfied with the outcome of the internal complaint procedure, the victim may lodge a complaint to the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources. If a person is found to be guilty of sexual harassment, they may be held legally liable if the employer knew or reasonably should have known of harassment and failed to take action,โ€ the service rules stated.

Defamation laws could come into play

If the allegations against an accused are found to be untrue, the complainant is liable to be charged for defamation.

According to Section 317 of the Penal Code of Bhutan (PCB) 2004, โ€œa defendant shall be guilty of the offence of defamation, if the defendant intentionally causes damage to the reputation of another person or a legal person by communicating false or distorted information about that person’s action, motive, character, or reputation.โ€

Similarly, Section 319 states that the offence of defamation shall be โ€œa  felony of the fourth degree and pay compensation for a minimum of one month and a maximum of three years to the aggrieved party calculated in accordance with the daily minimum national wage rate, if the defamation includes murder, armed robbery, terrorism or treason,โ€ and โ€œa petty misdemeanor and pay compensation to the aggrieved party for a minimum of one month and maximum of three years calculated in accordance with the daily minimum national wage rate, if the defamation includes any matter other than murder, armed robbery, terrorism or treason.โ€

Further, the defendant shall also be charged with contempt of court. Section 367 of the PCB states that a defendant shall be guilty of the offence of contempt of court, if the defendant โ€œhas been served with a court order and fails to comply without any reasonable cause, purposely interferes with or interrupts a legal proceeding including a failure to respond to a court directed inquiry, makes a public outburst, an antagonistic comment or directs a threat at a judicial official or person present in the courtroom, or engages in acts demonstrating a lack of driglamnamzha befitting the court, and refuses to abide or obey a direction rendered by the court.โ€

Section 368 states that โ€œthe offence of contempt of court shall be a petty misdemeanor except that the court may extend the period of imprisonment until the defendant complies with the court order that is the subject of the contempt.โ€

If the accuser cannot prove the defamation, the defamation can counter-charge and hold the accuser liable for defamation.

However, experts claim defamation laws in the country are so weak

Observers are pointing out that there are so many loopholes under the defamation law of the country whereby defendants go scot free or with meager sentences.

Law experts Bhutan TODAY talked to conceded that the defamations laws in the country needs major overhauling.

โ€œDefamation is a crime in Bhutan and but the sentence is quite light,โ€ a former Drangpon said. โ€œFurther, in a criminal case, the defendant does not get compensation since the case will be prosecuted by the police or OAG,โ€ he added.

Another law expert said, โ€œI do agree that many people get away with a fine for serious defamation and on the other hand, the aggrieved does not get adequate compensation.โ€

On where the laws need refurbishing, a Drangpon from the Supreme Court said that defamation should be both crime and a tort or civil wrong, so that the offender should be entitled to compensation and the accused is penalized as well.

โ€œSentence and compensation should depend upon the severity of the defamation,โ€ he said, adding that in many countries it is a tort and not a crime.

โ€œPeople could get away with money. Thatโ€™s why we need penal sanctions to deter people from doing that,โ€ he reiterated.

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