Haa tragedy

I am shocked and deeply saddened to hear about the tragedy in Haa that cut short the lives of eleven of our young soldiers and injured ten others. Young Bhutanese men in uniform with their entire lives ahead of them, some with wives and children, laid down their lives while in the service of our nation.

I join all Bhutanese in offering my heartfelt sympathy to the families and loved ones of the victims of the Anakha tradegy. I hope that you can draw some measure of comfort knowing that you are not alone in your grief – that people across our country, and Bhutanese everywhere, pray and mourn with you.

For the families of the injured, please know that we will do whatever possible to restore the health of your loved one. We join you in your prayers for their full and speedy recovery. And, we will be there with you for as long as it takes.

At this time our hearts also go out to all members of our armed forces who risk so much in the service of our nation – who are always ready to risk their own lives so that the rest of us can live in safety and security.

And, at such times, it is always His Majesty the King who is first on the scene, the greatest source of comfort for those in pain, and the provider of welfare to the children and spouses of the victims. We are blessed to have His Majesty at Anakha, offering solace to bereaved families and ensuring that the injured receive the best medical attention. All of us in the government humbly stand by His Majesty the King, our Kidu-Gi-Pham, to serve and do whatsoever is required of us to provide support and comfort to the victims and their families of today’s tragedy.

At a personal level, it pains me deeply that I am not in Bhutan at this moment of tragedy. I will return home as soon as possible but until then my thoughts and my prayers will be with the families of our soldiers who have suffered a terrible fate.

Draft RTI Bill

The government will table the Right to Information Bill during the first session of the Second Parliament. The cabinet is still discussing the draft bill, and would appreciate your comments. Thanks in advance.

 

Draft Right to Information Bill, 2013

PREAMBLE
Whereas, the Right to Information  upholds the principles of gross national happiness through good governance, it is essential to ensure an informed citizenry, to secure access to information held by public authorities, and to promote governmental transparency and accountability; and
Whereas, Section 3 under Article 7 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan guarantees the right to information to a Bhutanese citizen;
The Parliament of Bhutan at its _____ Session, on the _____ Day of the _____ Month of the ____________________ Year of the Bhutanese Calendar, corresponding to the _____ Day of __________ 20__, hereby enacts the Right to Information Act, as follows:
CHAPTER 1 – PRELIMINARY
Short Title and Commencement
1. This Act shall:
(1) be called the “Right to Information Act”;
(2) come into force on the _____ Day of the _____ Month of the ____________________  Year of the Bhutanese Calendar, corresponding to the _____ Day of __________ 20__.
Scope
2. This Act shall:
(1) extend to all citizens of Bhutan; and
(2) all branches and levels of government, including the executive, legislative, judiciary and military as well as private bodies  carrying out public functions or receiving public funds.
Construction
3. In this Act, the singular shall mean plural and masculine shall mean feminine wherever applicable.
Repeal
4. The provisions of existing laws and regulations that are inconsistent with this Act are hereby repealed. [Continue Reading...]

Cost-cutting measures

Press Release

23 August 2013

Bearing in mind the current state of the economy faced with a growing public debt, INR dearth and ever increasing current expenditure, the Fourth sitting of the Cabinet decided on adopting austerity measures to rein in unnecessary and excessive spending. As such, the Cabinet has decided to implement the following cost cutting measures until economic situation improves in the country:

 1. Pay: As per recommendation of the National Assembly conveyed vide NAB-SP/2010/74, dated 16/12/2010, the pay scales for the Ministers of the Second Parliament was to be increased from Nu.78,000 – 1,560 – 85,800 to Nu.1,80,000 – 3,600 – 1,98,000 for the Prime Minister and Nu.1,30,000 – 2,600 – 1,43,000 for Cabinet Ministers and equivalent posts.

The Cabinet has decided not to adopt the new pay scales as recommended above. The existing pay scale of Nu.78,000 – 1,560 – 85,800 will be applied for the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Ministers with effect from 27th July 2013, the day His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo granted Dakyen to the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers. The next Pay Commission may review and suggest otherwise if necessary and recommend to the Government later.     

2. Accommodation: Prime Minister has decided to live in his private residence and spare the official residence for continued use as a State Guesthouse. Cabinet Ministers will mandatorily occupy official residences at Lhengye Densa as it would involve payment of housing rent allowance otherwise.

3. Security: Security personnel for the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers shall be reduced to bare minimum and no pilot escort will be used for movements within Thimphu and Paro. The Ministry of Home & Cultural Affairs has been directed to revise the Security Protocol for VVIPs/VIPs, 2013 accordingly.

4. Ex-country Travel: Ex-country travel by the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers shall be kept to bare necessity. The Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers will travel abroad only when it is absolutely necessary and that too with a bare minimum delegation even if financed by host countries or organizers. There should be no formal reception or see-off line up at the airport.   

5. Chadri Arrangements: Chadri arrangements should be confined to events involving Royal Family Members, Zhung Dratshang and that are of national significance only. Pitching of tents, hoisting flags, arrangements of dancers, serving food, etc. during other events must be stopped. During visits of Cabinet Ministers to places outside Thimphu, there should be no elaborate chadri at the place of stay, whether hotel or guest house. Packed lunches for mid-way meals and tea to be arranged by the visiting team. The practice of Dzongkhag officials coming half-way to receive the officials should be discontinued. This applies to the visit of the Prime Minister as well. The Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs is directed to revise the Chadri Protocol accordingly.

6. Hospitality and Entertainment: No excessive expenditure shall be incurred for extending hospitality and entertaining guests by the Cabinet Ministers. Government entertainment for official purposes should be reduced to bare essential. Wherever possible, lunches should be hosted instead of dinners, and number of government invitees should not exceed twice the number of guests. Food items containing local products should be promoted, instead of imported stuff. The Ministry of Finance is directed to revise the existing circulars/guidelines on government entertainments and hospitality and further streamline it.

 

7. Transport/Vehicle: The Prime Minister is entitled to one Land Cruiser and Cabinet Ministers to one Toyota Prado as exclusive duty vehicles with drivers and operation/maintenance costs. One Maruti WagonR car is provided for secretarial duty of the Ministers.

  1. Notwithstanding the above entitlements, the Prime Minister has decided to use the old vehicle (Toyota Prado) on his duty. The Cabinet Ministers will use one of the pool vehicles available with the ministries. No new vehicle will be procured by the Government until the economic situation improves.
  2. Maruti Wagon_R cars provided for secretarial duty of the Ministers will be returned for pool use in the ministries.

8. Domestic Staff: Prime Minister was provided five and Cabinet Ministers two domestic staff at residences. The Cabinet has decided not to avail this facility. The Pay Commission may study the need and suggest otherwise later. The DNP’s Maintenance Unit will look after the flower gardens and general cleaning of premises on regular basis.

9. Cabinet Secretariat: Cabinet Secretariat currently has 41 staff (2 Executive, 13 Officers, 2 Contract, 11 Support, 9 Operator and 4 GSP) as against some 52 approved posts. In addition, there were 4 political appointees and one Photographer on contract basis.

The Cabinet decided that there will be no political appointments made in the Cabinet Secretariat. Instead, Prime Minister will look into re-organizing and down-sizing the Cabinet Secretariat. Excess staff, if any, could be relieved off on transfer to agencies facing shortage of HRs.

 

The Cabinet hereby pledges to abide by all relevant laws of the land and consciously work hard towards curtailment of wasteful public expenditure. In doing so, the Government earnestly hope that all ministries, autonomous bodies, corporate agencies and also the private sector understand the gravity of the economic situation and encourage them to voluntarily come up with their own austerity measures. The Government and the people must collectively aspire to revive the economic situation through collective efforts and sacrifices.

“We have emerged stronger”

Kuensel recently interviewed me. Their piece is reproduced below:

 How have you grown since the time you became the country’s first opposition leader and today as you exit your first five-year term?

It’s not for me to say whether I’ve grown or not in the past five years. I certainly hope I’ve grown. But that’s for my family and, more importantly, the people to judge. What I can say is that I have learnt a lot in the past five years. I have had the opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life – the poor and the rich, the young and old, farmers and businessmen, monks and students, soldiers, teachers and countless other public servants. I have been able to listen to them and to learn of their deepest hopes and aspirations. And that has been an extremely enriching experience. On democracy, I have learnt that it is hard work, that it is not free, and that the most difficult part of democracy is the exercise of checks and balances. In this context, PDP has had the difficult yet distinguished responsibility of serving as the Kingdom’s first opposition party.

You have been very critical of the government’s performance in a number of areas. Any area you feel the government did do well and deserves credit?

The transition to democracy has largely been stable and peaceful. For this, the government must be given due credit. However, this transition would never have been possible without the complete support and constant guidance of His Majesty the King. Furthermore, the government could have done a better job in strengthening democratic institutions and in minimizing the anxiety levels that our people have sometimes been subjected to.

One area in which the government failed badly?

The government has failed to inculcate a healthy respect for the rule of law. Some times, the government threatened to amend laws, including the Constitution, to suit their narrow, immediate purposes. At other times, they themselves blatantly violated the rule of law, like when they imposed taxes unconstitutionally. That led to the first constitutional case which they eventually lost. What followed was unprecedented – the government was made to return the taxes that they had collected unlawfully.

Another important area where the government failed is the economy. The economy has become extremely vulnerable with debts rising and short-term Rupee borrowings spiralling out of control. At this rate, we are heading towards an economic crisis, a crisis that will undo the benefits of decades of hardwork and subject the country and people to unimaginable hardship.

Some political pundits indicated 2013 election is more about who will become the opposition…

I hope the political pundits are wrong. If the pundits are right, and if the 2013 elections is only about who will become the opposition, it would mean that DPT is invincible and will form the government again. Such a foregone conclusion would also mean that democratic choice would be undermined. Therefore, it becomes crucial for all of us, including the political pundits themselves, to support the other parties so that they can offer credible alternatives and healthy competition.

Some former PDP candidates and members said they were hardly consulted while opposition played its role and that the party should have been regrouped years ago than now. What happened?

The opposition party has just two members in the Parliament. As such, we have had to work extremely hard during the past five years, especially since the very idea of an opposition was nonexistent until then. It is hard to imagine that anyone associated with PDP, including our former candidates, would be upset if the opposition were able to play its role successfully. As far as the two opposition party members are concerned, we have actively sought to consult any and everyone available, both inside and outside the party.

All of us agree that PDP should have regrouped years ago. But that is easier said than done. Our party was in shambles. The president had resigned taking moral responsibility for the 2008 loss, and the party was burdened with huge financial debts. Added to that, many candidates resigned, some for professional reasons, some to form a new political party. It was testing time for the party, but we have not just overcome our difficulties, we have emerged stronger and are now well-positioned for the coming elections.

You made many remarks on the Rupee issue the country continues to reel under. Had your role reversed to play the government, how would you address the issue?

I raised the Rupee issue way back in 2009. Since then, the opposition party has consistently raised the issue in the Parliament. Today, even though we have a full-blown Rupee crisis, one that is holding our economy at ransom, the government still has not admitted that we have a problem. Any other government would have understood that our economy is small, that imports exceed exports, and that, as such, foreign currency, Especially the Rupee, must be managed very carefully. Past governments, in which many of the current ministers also served, were acutely aware of this and ensured that shortfall of Rupee never assumed critical proportions. So I, like many others, am extremely disappointed that the DPT government has failed to prevent this crisis.

What would we have done if we were in the government? We would have exercised caution right from the start. We would have monitored the economy carefully and ensured that trade imbalances did not spiral out of control. We would have reined in exessive government spending, while making sure that agriculture, services, manufacturing and small businesses thrived throughout the length and breadth of our country. In short, we would have made doing business in Bhutan easy and enjoyable. So a Rupee crisis would never have occurred under our watch. But if it did, we would have accepted the problem, studied it, and addressed it head on.

Five political parties this year. Where does PDP stand?

That is for the people to decide. On our part, we will work hard and work honestly; we will leave no stone unturned to provide a credible alternative; we will serve to fulfill the promise of democracy and the hopes and aspirations of our people.

Your priorities if PDP came to power…

If PDP comes to power, our first priority, like that of any other party that comes to power, would be to undo the damages done by DPT. Government expenditure has been excessive. Our economy is in a mess. Doing business is cumbersome. Youth unemployment is rife. Poverty is still very visible. Agricultural production is dismal. Education quality is an issue. Roads, especially farm roads, are in urgent need of repair and reconstruction. Corruption hasn’t been tackled boldly. Private media has been weakened.

Given the opportunity, PDP would strengthen democratic institutions, and devolve power and authority from the centre so people can enjoy the blessings of liberty, equality and prosperity. That’s what PDP’s ideology, Wangtse-Chhirphel, is all about. That’s why PDP promises Power to the People.

Contrast and compare

Express job

Express job

Have you travelled on the Thimphu – Chunzom higway recently? Is so, you would have noticed a frenzy of construction activity at “Charkilo”. What’s being constructed is the road to the controversial Education City.

For all the controversy surrounding the Education City, the government has made sure that the project has not suffered for want of attention or support. The cabinet has earmarked and approved the lease of 1000 acres of land as the government’s equity for the project.  A new company, DHI-Infra, was established two years ago to spearhead the project. A full board, with the works and human settlement minister as the chairman, has been set up. Numerous road shows have been conducted. The cabinet “further ratified” the Education City project bid, and awarded the bid to a consortium of bidders. A law was passed specifically for the Education City. The government has allocated a subsidy to the Education City in their 2012-13 budget. The construction of the Nu 133 million road and bridge has taken off. Someone has lobbied hard enough for the IFC to recognize the project as an outstanding public-private-partnership venture. All this while the detailed project report is still being prepared.

The Education City project is going ahead. It is being bulldozed ahead by the government.

What’s not going ahead, and what deserves our attention, are the proposals to establish three private colleges. These colleges will be established by Bhutanese people, using Bhutanese money, and for Bhutanese students. So we should render them our full support. Instead, they’ve been left on their own, without any government support. And the proposals, all three of them, are lost, mired in the government’s infamous red tape.

 

Message on Happiness Day

Today is a big day for Bhutan … and the world.

Today, people all over the world will come together to observe the first International Day of Happiness. My family and I join the people of Bhutan in celebrating the first ever global happiness day.

I thank the prime minister and the government for their hard work and perseverance in advocating Gross National Happiness at home and abroad. I congratulate them for for successfully promoting happiness in the international agenda, and for pushing the United Nations to adopt the resolution on happiness. Their efforts have led to the adoption of the International Day of Happiness.

Today is a good time to think about our priorities – to ask ourselves what is important and what we aspire to do with our lives. It is also a good time to take a deliberate break from regular work; to spend time with family, friends and loved ones; to be true to oneself, free of material ambitions and insatiable desires.

Today is also a good time to reflect on Gross National Happiness and how it was born. It is a time, a proud time for all Bhutanese, to remember that His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, gave the world a new idea, a new calling. So today is a time to offer thanks to the Fourth Druk Gyalpo for gifting GNH to Bhutan and to the whole world. On this happy day, I urge all Bhutanese to offer prayers for our beloved Kings.

Tashi delek!

 

With thanks

The following is a rough translation of my address yesterday, in the closing session of the parliament.

HM-kengkhar

The People’s King

Today is an auspicious day: it is the closing ceremony of the 10th session of the first parliament. Today is also an historic day: it is the closing session of the first elected parliament after Bhutan became a democratic constitutional monarchy. On behalf of the opposition party, I offer thanks to His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen for gracing the closing session of the parliament.

In the past five years since the introduction of parliamentary democracy, His Majesty the King has worked tirelessly and contributed so much to the nation and the people that it is impossible to recount them all here. In fact, it is difficult to even offer a summary, because no such articulation would do justice to His Majesty’s contributions.

Nevertheless, on behalf of the opposition party, I take the privilege of offering our sincere gratitude to His Majesty the King for the continuing, steadfast and unwavering support and guidance that the country has been blessed with. And so I would like to take the privilege of highlighting just a few areas and projects through which His Majesty has led the country with vision and dynamism.

First, by granting royal kidu, His Majesty the King has changed the lives of countless people. His Majesty has granted land to the landless and the poor. Thousands upon thousands of people in the villages who couldn’t pay for their excess land were granted exemption, and their excess lands were regularized in their name. This went on to address the biggest concern for countless people in the villages and helped them lead a normal life. It gave them hope to continue living in the villages at a time when rural to urban migration has become a grave threat.

His Majesty’s kidu program has been extended to poor students to help them go to school. It has given the rural and poor students an equal opportunity to go to school and shape a career for themselves. His Majesty also supports many elderly, poor and needy citizens all over the country. The Kidu program ensures that no one is left behind and His Majesty has personally met all of the recipients to understand their problem.

Second, it was unfortunate for our country to have suffered from so many disasters in the past five years. We had entire towns and a dzong destroyed by fire. We experienced windstorms, floods and earthquakes posing a lot of hardship for the people. We even had an unfortunate plane crash where some Bhutanese citizens on pilgrimage died in Nepal. But whenever a disaster struck, His Majesty personally and immediately went to comfort the people. While His Majesty’s mere presence gave people hope and comfort, relief funds and support helped them rebuild their homes and lives.

Third, as a deeply religious country, the two great religions of Bhutan have spread even more and taken greater hold. It is because of His Majesty’s personal work and example that the people have even greater faith and belief in our religions. In this context, I would also like to thank His Holiness the Je Khenpo, Trulku Jigme Choida, for his exemplary leadership, and the five lopens, the clergy and the monks, lay monks, and nuns of all faiths for their continuous prayers for the nation.

Fourth, as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, His Majesty the King has strengthened the security of the country. His Majesty has guarded our external boundaries and protected the country from all internal threats. In addition, His Majesty initiated the De-Suung program which has strengthened community vitality, patriotism, and volunteerism. The De-Suung volunteers are the first ones to reach any disaster affected area. They seem only eager to help and such positive enthusiasm would not have been possible without His Majesty’s vision and leadership.

Sixth, it is amazing to recount that His Majesty has personally met almost all the people in the country. Despite the busy schedule, His Majesty has given audience to people from all sectors at the Royal Palace. His Majesty invited and personally attended to people from the civil service, corporations, local governments, business community, farmers, musicians, movie industry, media, bloggers and many others. His Majesty listened to them, took stock of their problems, joked with them, advised them and the most important, inspired them to achieve greater heights. In addition to that, His Majesty has been visiting schools constantly. Ever since ascending the throne, His Majesty has graced every graduate orientation program, whether it is university graduates, vocational graduates or teachers, and has been personally giving away the graduation certificates no matter how large a group is. His Majesty has always reiterated that the youth are the future of the country and has always kept them in the loop with constant interaction and in the process advising and supporting them.

Seventh, His Majesty the King has taken Bhutan’s international relations to new heights. His Majesty has generously granted audiences to international visitors to Bhutan, and has visited many countries. Each visit has brought unparalleled goodwill and standing. While making new friends, His Majesty has taken the friendship with India to a new level. [Continue Reading...]

Code language

What we, as a country, need to do to rescue the Thimphu Tech Park. Yes, it will take a full generation to get there. But that’s why we must start immediately, with a sense of urgency.

Impostor!

Impersonating anyone on social media is easy. All that’s needed is to create an account using that person’s name, photo and other relevant information. And the impersonator is in business.

We’ve seen one person impersonate the prime minister on Twitter. And another person, also on Twitter, has been going around as MP Tshering Penjor. More recently, someone has opened a Facebook page pretending to be me.

I don’t mind impersonators on social media, especially if their purpose is to expose and make fun of the stupidity and excesses of public officials. This type of satire could generate much-needed laughter, while also subtly passing on important messages to the public as well as the targeted official.

But it’s dangerous, and unacceptable, when impersonators become impostors. The purpose of impersonators is to entertain and to poke fun at public officials. The purpose of impostors is to deceive and mislead the public.

The person who pretends to be me on Facebook is an impostor. That impostor has used my name with my photograph to deceive my Facebook followers that Bhutanomics is run by PDP and The Bhutanese. In fact, that impostor even misled BBS into believing that it was really me.

I’ve expressed my views, even very critical ones, openly and honestly during my term as MP. I’ve done so in the Parliament, in the media, when interacting with the public, and on my blog, Facebook and Twitter. I do not need (thankfully) the cover of anonymity to discharge my duties as a member of the opposition party. And no, I do not have any thing to do with Bhutanomics.

I wrote about Bhutanomics because I’m against illegal censorship. But there’s a bigger reason I wrote about it:  I’m frightened that any one who can order the illegal closure of a website could also, just as easily, order phone conversations to be tapped and SMS messages to be tracked, illegally.

 

A birthday greeting

Happy birthday!

Happy birthday!

On the joyous occasion of His Majesty the King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk’s 33rd birth anniversary, the People’s Democratic Party joins the nation in offering our deepest respects, heartfelt felicitations and prayers for His Majesty’s long life and a long prosperous reign.

Long Live the Druk Gyalpo!

Bhutan has been blessed with a succession of enlightened monarchs – selfless and benevolent kings who have always placed the interest of the nation above all else. They have ensured the peace, security and stability of our country; they have bestowed liberty, justice and happiness on our people.

Bhutan continues to be blessed. At a time when our people were enjoying unprecedented peace, prosperity and happiness, His Majesty the King blessed us with democracy. He then worked tirelessly to ensure that the transition to democracy is smooth. When we, the people, were unsure about democracy, His Majesty gave us assurance. When we were confused, His Majesty gave us inspiration. And when the political system seemed to flounder, His Majesty provided steadfast support and counsel.

That is why, within a very short time, the foundations of our democracy have already become unshakable.

On our part, His Majesty’s birth anniversary is an opportune occasion to dedicate ourselves to take democracy forward, and so serve the Tsawa Sum. Political parties, their members and candidates can do so by committing themselves to genuine nation-building instead of pursuing narrow political interests. Civil servants and the clergy can do so by remaining truly apolitical. And, most importantly, every Bhutanese can do so by fulfilling their sacred responsibility to vote in the upcoming elections. The best gift we can offer His Majesty today would be the pledge that we will take our democracy seriously.

Two months ago, on December 17th, during our National Day celebrations, His Majesty the King called on the nation to participate in the upcoming elections “as candidates, members of parties and voters.”

Today, on His Majesty’s birth anniversary, it would be befitting on our part to commit to do so … as a simple, yet heartfelt birthday gift.

Long Live the Druk Gyalpo!