A matter of power

The Indian minister for power, Sushil Kumar Shinde, was in Bhutan from 4 to 7 December. His visit was busy: His Majesty the King granted an audience; he met the Prime Minister, and the MEA Minister, Secretary and DG; he visited the Tala dam site and Chukha power plant; he visited Dochula; and I called on him.

His visit was successful: a protocol agreement to develop 10,000 MW by 2020 is ready and will be formally signed later this month. An “empowered group” will then be formed to identify and accelerate the implementation of hydropower projects. Both governments are visibly optimistic, and Mr Shinde has even promised to complete the plan by 2019, that’s a year before schedule.

In all this exuberance, we’ve forgotten to involve one player – Druk Holdings and Investment. As far as I know, the government did not involve DHI at all during this very important delegation. They were not included in any of the discussions. And they did not even get to make a courtesy call on India’s Power Minister.

This is unfortunate. Practically all the knowledge and experience with regard to hydropower development in Bhutan resides with the Druk Green Power Corporation and Bhutan Power Corporation, both DHI subsidiaries. Ignoring this valuable store of national expertise does not make sense.

As a matter of fact, DHI should actually be fully involved. Their mandate, decreed by Royal Charter is “… to hold and manage the existing and future investments of the Royal Government of Bhutan for the long-term benefit of its shareholders, the people of Bhutan.” It goes without saying that the development of the 10,000 MW of hydropower would constitute “future investments of the Royal Government”.

The Royal Charter also declares that “DHI shall implement all future commercially oriented projects that are developed by the government”. All the power projects included in the 10,000 MW plan are obviously “commercially oriented” and DHI will, by law, be required to implement them.

If DHI is expected to eventually “hold and manage” these hydropower projects it is only good sense to involve them right from the beginning. If the negotiation, identification and construction of the projects are done by the government, and if the DHI is expected to take over the projects (including all loans) once they are operational, the incentives to work fast, cheap and well may not be strong.

True, DHI does not have the capacity to implement such large projects. But neither does the government. Hence, a few months ago, the talk of creating an entirely separate secretariat for energy under the Ministry of Economic Affairs. This would be wasteful, inefficient, and tantamount to hiding two ministries under one umbrella ministry.

Develop DHI instead – they have the mandate, experience and the right incentives.

More pay hike talk

Kuensel’s Tenzing Lamsang is amazing. He’s done it again. He’s written yet another story almost entirely based on government “sources”. And he is thorough – his account is packed with names, dates, places, amounts and important quotes. He seems to know too many details about the confidential debate that the government has been having on the pay hike issue.

Our government is amazing. They’ve done it again. They’ve allowed classified government information to leak, including details of discussions in our highest decision making body, the Cabinet. Is classified information being leaked purposely? Or are they being stolen? If it’s the former, a dangerous game is being played. If it’s the latter, it’s dangerous, plain and simple.

Now back to Tenzing and the ongoing saga of the pay hike.

Today’s piece is his fifth pay hike story. And most of his information, by his own admission, are from “sources” in the government, even from within the cabinet. This must stop. The selected information leaks, protracted discussions, and the government’s indecisiveness have fueled wild speculation and unnecessary anxiety among public servants. And today’s story will make most civil servants a little more anxious, thanks to the leak about discussions in the Cabinet on teaching allowances.

Before democracy, under His Majesty’s government, the salaries of public servants were increased six times between 1985 and 2006. None of these increases were preceded by promises of increasing remuneration. All of them came as pleasant surprises. And public servants were deeply grateful for each increase.

The government will not get such gratitude – it’s gotten itself in a no-win situation. But before the situation gets worse, before the public looses more trust and confidence in the system, before civil service morale suffers irreparable damage, I suggest that the government settle the pay hike issue once and for all.

Now that would be real news.

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10 December 2008: I have no evidence that the government leaked information to Tenzing Lamsang, or that he may have stolen information, or that he may have paid for stolen information. My intention is to caution the government about information management, not implicate the reporter in any way.

A second chance…

During the Nasscom annual strategy meeting held in Thimphu last week, Narayana Murthy, Infosys Chairman, announced that he would train 100 Bhutanese in his company. The offer is timely and, if used well, would be the first significant step towards creating the knowledge and skills base required to develop a viable ICT industry in Bhutan.

A similar offer was made by Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s PM, during his visit to Bhutan in June 2005. The visiting PM “…commended the Bhutanese’s versatility with the English language…” and publicly announced that he would be prepared to employ many Bhutanese as English teachers in Thailand. How many have been employed so far? Zero. Why? Because no one was given and no one took the lead to followed up with the Thai government. No one – not RCSC, not BCCI, not Foreign Ministry, not MOLHR – no one.

So this time let’s not squander the opportunity. Let’s get serious. Let’s make full use of Mr Murthy’s offer. Let’s begin by signing an MOU between Infosys and the government. Then let’s start the selection process.

At the least, Mr Murthy’s offer would be a welcome respite for our recent graduates, many of whom are concerned of looming unemployment.

The National Council’s banquet hall


The offices of the Honourable MPs of the National Council were inaugurated yesterday. Their offices are now located on the second floor of the recently built Royal Banquet Hall.

The second floor is actually the attic of the Royal Banquet Hall. But the offices are quite comfortable and the MPs, including the two who have no windows in their offices, are not complaining.

Viewed from the outside the Royal Banquet Hall doesn’t look too bad. I was horrified when the original, historic banquet hall was razed to make way for this new building. And was initially appalled at how ugly the new structure looked while it was being built. Like I was saying, not too bad, but nothing like the quiet and charming original we’ve lost.

By the way, the building was actually constructed as the National Council. At least, it appears that that was the plan and that’s what GOI, the main donor, was told. But that’s not the case, and now the beautiful main hall is used primarily to host banquets. Only the attic is used by the National Council, as offices for their MPs.

And where is the National Council hall? The old conference room adjacent to the banquet hall accommodates this important house of our Parliament. It’s small, congested, uncomfortable, and the Honourable MPs have to undertake difficult maneuvers to enter or leave the Hall when the Council is sitting. Plus there’s hardly any room for visitors. All in all, very, very different from the splendour of the National Assembly Hall.

Naturally this is unacceptable. So there’s already talk about building a completely new structure, one that’ll be more becoming for the important institution that is the National Council.

Such talk should not be acceptable.

About Nu 120 million was spent to build the Royal Banquet Hall. That’s already a lot of money. So rather than spending even more money building a separate National Council – and diverting that money from the people – we should use this building for its intended purpose: as the National Council. The hall is large enough for the National Council, and, with a few improvements, will be as grand as the National Assembly’s.

And where should be host government banquets? In restaurants, naturally. Thimphu already has a few hotels with good banqueting facilities. Many more are already being built. Private entrepreneurs have invested good money building these facilities – it’s time to make better use of them.