A Case for Defense : KB Wakhley’s lone battle

  • Special Report

When rules are made to follow and not followed, and a voice is raised to make the rules follow, tussle begins between the violator and the voice maker. The one with strong grips upon the power subdues the other and the system keeps running until one burns or the other fully governs. The same scenario is in prevalence in Bhutan since 2009 between a forcefully retired civil servant, KB Wakhley and Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC).

Courtesy: Wakhley's Facebook
Courtesy: Wakhley’s Facebook

KB Wakhley, a senior electrical Engineer began his civil service on April 1984 at Department of Power and through his dedication and contributions, rose in rank and file to become the CEO of Bhutan Electricity Authority (BEA) in July 2008. In between he has received numerous appreciations and rewards for his excellence.

The then Minister for Trade, Industry and Power, Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk, appreciated Wakhley with a recognition certificate for successfully accomplishing Power Transmission Eastern Project in the six districts of eastern and central Bhutan on June 9, 2003. In the recognition note Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuck commended his contribution stating “he has successfully accomplished the project under very difficult situation.”

In August 2009, Mr Wakhley was taken aback when he got a notice of his transfer to the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) for no apparent reason. Meantime, he was expecting a promotion in BEA. Many times he asked the concerned authority for the reasons of transfer. Complacently he demands, “I am fine to serve my nation as a civil servant in any departments but as a citizen I have the right to know very reason for my transfer to other departments.” He says, “Every time I am denied.”

Astounded by the sudden transfer to non-conforming department in relation to his expertise in electrical engineering, Mr. Wakhley began the search for all probable reasons.

“Two of the three reasons I myself found. Reason One: I had written an article for the national daily Kuensel on July 10, 2010 titled ‘Possible impact of higher electricity tariff’, implying negative impacts of tariff on environment.

Reason Two: BBS TV had interviewed me on June 27, 2009 in which I highlighted the rules set by Bhutan Electricity Authority- Code Safety, 2008 and about the death of a woman in Gelephu due to faulty placement of live wire along with a TV cable. The third one that I learnt later was my participation in solidarity walk (31 July 2009).

One of the projects, 'Power Transmission Eastern Project' accomplished under Wakhley's supervision. Photo: Wakhley
One of the projects, ‘Power Transmission Eastern Project’ accomplished under Wakhley’s supervision.
Photo: Wakhley

And, according to KB Wakhley, the charges against him came many months later after they surrendered his service to RCSC

With much agony, Wakhley told BNS about the solidarity walk, “Many civil servants had participated in the solidarity walk from ministry of finance, ministry of foreign affairs, business community, private and corporate sectors. I was the lone official to be victimized, probably because of my ethnic background. If I have committed a crime, for that matter violated any laws of the land, I am ever ready and willing to be punished.

And on the ‘solidarity walk issue’ my explanation was accepted by, Sonam Tshering, former secretary of MoEA”. According to Wakhley, the solidarity walk was to show concern on the washing away of seven boys by Wangchhu River, in absence of any safety measures, that otherwise would have been prevented.

BEA-Code Safety-2008 under article 6.4 reads, “Failure to use Safety Equipment in accordance with the Safety Rules shall be regarded as a serious breach of the Safety Rules that may be subject to disciplinary action”.

“I had not exaggerated anything intending to cause damage to any of the officials or concern authority either in Kuensel or in BBS. I had simply cautioned the modus operandi of the then existing procedures and handling any of the equipment per Code Rule for public safety. And, that sounded threat to the RCSC commissioner Kinley Yangzom”, he states confidently.

July 16,2011 issue of ‘Business Bhutan’, a weekly tabloid, quotes, “ K.B. Wakhley alleged that he had been transferred out of BEA, at the time not to allow him to investigate the role of the Chukha Dam incident where seven boys were washed away in 2009”.

Literarily frustrated by the ongoing malfeasance, Wakhley launched his personal blog, ‘BHUTAN-Kingdom of The Most Friendly People’ on June 16, 2010 and started posting his articles published in Kuensel and his personal story. On December 10, 2010 he posted the following note on his blog and stopped-“Circumstances have forced me to refrain from writing for now. At appropriate times, I will share my views/opinions. Anyway, I enjoy reading other’s blogs; and of course a lot of books.” Nowhere has he mentioned what was the circumstance that refrained him from writing then. Almost after a year’s silence he resumed his blog on November 27, 2011. There on he is seen updating his blog very often on regular basis.

Article by Wakhley in the Kuensel
Article by Wakhley in the Kuensel

His intrepid blog writing is seen as singular voice against injustice in Bhutan’s present political power structure. When contacted by BNS, some of the readers of his blog from inside and outside Bhutan, said that they were surprised to see Wakhley so fearlessly publishing his opinion. They even doubt, why Bhutan government is turning deaf ear or ignoring his concerns. The fact that his blog post appear non-bias and authentic is he always supports every post with reasonable proof. In one of the latest posts he is not reluctant to openly label RCSC as the most corrupt agency in Bhutan. Does that mean bureaucracy is all entangled in a corruption mess?

Besides his insatiate grievances and injustice mounted on him he is seen very vocally projecting the areas badly affected by corruption in the nation’s mechanism through his blog. Readers of his blog have the feelings that he has created ripples across the nation by advocating to bring deep-rooted corruption to an end.

On repeated attempts BNS very recently could contact KB Wakhley in Thimphu, Bhutan. When asked about the reasons for his lone fighting and to who he targets to, he said, “I want to expose how things work in a bureaucratic hierarchy. In absence of Information Communication Technology (ICT), I would have been a forgotten guy by now. Many in the past fell victims to suppression and oppression, intimidation and harassment and they had no choice but to resign with a heavy heart under duress or made to retire compulsorily. I wanted to break the barrier since I have given my heart and soul for the nation as a concerned and loyal citizen of His Majesty the King, to the extent of putting my own life at grave risk couple of times. The credentials by itself speak about me.”

When BNS further inquired whether his fight is more a personal matter with RCSC or can be generalized to apply for other similar injustice acts, Mr. Wakhley said, “It is a personal as well as a representative case of what has been done to other civil servants. I would like to refrain from mentioning their names. They probably thought that raising a voice would be meaningless in a system mired with favoritism and nepotism; and experience, intelligence, commitment and integrity has no place in such a system. There may be other civil servants who may have rendered better services than what I may have done, yet they must have met with the same fate as me. Most preferred to remain silent perhaps. As far as my experience goes, honesty is a crime and such a trend must change, and change for the betterment of the civil servants and the public and the people at large. There is an absolute need for state intervention to change the status-quo and the imbedded flaw in the system.”

Mr. Wakhley strongly objects the prevalent system in Bhutan to put some unjust rules and regulations retrospectively, non-existent at the time of action.

He asserts, “Any action based on rules and regulations which is not effective is null and void.”

When asked, where has your struggle reached?, in reference to his statement from ‘Business Bhutan’ dated July 16, 2011, he said, “I will continue exposing corruption and my own factual story, which is becoming a history in itself now. Knocking the door of judiciary may be ultimate when every other option fails. I am very sure that everything will fall in place at appropriate time. Need to wait, but continue writing and expose the truth. And, of course, my fight against corruption will continue since over fifty percent of the overall development budgets are being pocketed and such a trend has kept our country a least developed even to this day. Such practices must stop at all cost, despite the fact that I am fighting a lone battle perhaps.”

Coverage on Wakhley by the Business Bhutan
Coverage on Wakhley by the Business Bhutan

But he is not free of skepticism. Judiciary is also reeling under similar vicious circle of corruption, he feels. Resting his undeterred faith on the state, he answers to a query of BNS, “Getting rid of repression or oppression or elimination of such trends must come for that matter, from the state. Government in power will attempt to swing votes in their favor through manipulative process if need arises. Government come and go, but our monarchy and the Kings must remain for perpetuity and it is here that the state must play a very clear and vital role. In Kings we trust, and it is the ultimate hope that the kings listen the plea and find solution to problems being faced by me and the like. Sustenance of independence, sovereignty, security and prosperity of the nation and people lie in our monarchs.”

To the question- how long will you continue to write if at all nobody responded to your lone fight?- he reiterated, “It is immaterial whether they hear my voice or not, but truth must be continued to be exposed. Here in our country, officials and prominent people are scared of reality and truth. Why is such a trend? And bureaucrats and prominent and influential people are always protected and never brought to book. Only the small fishes are seen on the fray and they are always hunted.”

In one of his blog posts, Wakhley hinted of discrimination against him based on his lhotshampa background, “Humiliating, harassing and intimidating a committed and honest senior civil servant from a minority background who had contributed a lot to the nation is uncalled for in a GNH country. I am sure that the leaders and the government of the day will review the issue thoroughly and take prompt actions on those defaulters”

One retired civil servant-turned-businessman in Thimphu, requesting anonymity, divulged to BNS, “Nepotism takes precedence over academic excellence earned, getting favor from RCSC these days in Bhutan. Major mistakes or abuse of authority go unnoticed if you are of big name or have somebody in backing. In Thimphu we call big fish and small fish. But, if you are in a good position, in terms of rank, and if they are eying your position for their dear ones- your very small unintentional mistake is sufficient to kick you. Same thing has happened to me. I could not make my plea heard for I have no one on backing. I looked towards the future of my children and started the business. I blame my fate for not being born in an elite family”.

Was he not concerned of his children’s future? Yet, optimism prevailed. He said, “There are two things. One, every day is not Sunday. This trend shall come to an end and everyone with quality gets share to equal opportunity. Second, we need to educate our children to fit everywhere, meaning business or private firms or with some very professional expertise. Otherwise, in this small country with handful of population, that day not so far where an educated citizen begs in the streets and all the nation’s departments will be crowded by someone’s family members.”

What has been most striking in Wakhley’s post is a story of him seeking consultancy license which was granted but denied registration by the construction development board within Ministry of works and human settlement. How intentional was that not to allow registration of consultancy firm for KB Wakhley who has already proven records of good deeds for the country? Are all conspiracy theories working in Bhutan?

Team of experts and BEA staff members during the inaguration of Power Transmission Eastern Project after its completion. Photo: Wakhley
Team of dignitaries and project officials during the inaguration of Power Transmission Eastern Grid Project  at Deothang Substation in Samdrupjongkhar after its completion.
Photo: Wakhley

As implied, Wakhley is not a singular case of such unjust imposition, denial, intimidation and finally eviction. Several other civil servants and even common people could have faced such marginalization, for the trend is set already. Mr.Wakhley is the torch-bearer now, but will he be heard by the leadership of democratic Bhutan? Are others prepared to follow him to get proper justice?

Wakhley prefers to call this writing a wake-up call. If this goes unattended, democracy is not supposed to be taking roots where everybody should enjoy  equal treatment. If a civil servant sees a deep rooted corruption in the higher bodies of authority, even the constitutional organs, a local office of Gup cannot be free of such deception, where villagers can be as gullible as possible. A timely correction in the institutional flaws shall provide opportunity to achieve the goals of GNH, rather than just beating drums of hollow GNH model.

Wakhley’s blog can be read here.