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.

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.

 

Illegal censorship

Loud and clear

Loud and clear

Bhutanomics is a political satire blog set up by “Bhutan analyzers” who are committed to keeping a check on the “ballooning egos of the powerful so that they don’t forget the people are watching.”

The blog was launched in March, last year. And within no time, they attracted a large and faithful following which seemed to keep growing. Traffic to the blog was so high that the administrators were forced to upgrade and expand their website infrastructure several times.

Then, all of a sudden, on 12 January, Bhutanomics went dead. Their website was inaccessible. In fact, users of Tashi’s or Samden’s ISPs could access it. And anyone outside the country could access it. The website could also be accessed using anonymous proxy servers.But anyone using the Druknet’s internet services could not access the website.

Druknet is Bhutan’s biggest ISP. And Druknet is a government-owned company.

Most followers were convinced that Druknet had blocked Bhutanomics. But Druknet denied it. The information and communication secretary and BICMA, the media’s regulator, also denied any involvement in blocking Bhutanomics. And the cabinet secretary denied issuing any order to block the website.

Yet, Bhutanomics was not accessible. And full access to it was reinstated only only after the outpouring of public outrage threatened to grow. The controversial website is back online. But all is not well. All cannot be considered to be well until the perpetrators of the blatant censorship of Bhutanomics are exposed and bought to full account.

I’m reproducing below the full interview between Bhutanomics and Kuensel with the hope that we reflect on what happened; that we continue to ask questions; and that we commit to fighting any and all forms of illegal censorship. 

 

Q. Well firstly, I haven’t yet confirmed with Druknet/BICMA if Bhutanomics is indeed blocked, but attempts to access it so far seem to indicate it is.

A. Bhutanomics hasn’t been accessible in Bhutan since 12 Jan 2013. Strange thing is its still viewable through a proxy server.

Just as a precaution, have you checked with your own web host to eliminate any technical reasons?

Our website is firing on all cylinders. Bhutanomics is accessible everywhere in the world except Bhutan. Why would we spend precious little money we have to run a website that doesn’t work?

If it is indeed blocked, like what happened to the previous version of Bhutan Times, then my question to you would be whether you think this censorship of free speech, and why?

Obviously it is. Bhutanomics is not like the old website bhutantimes. In that most of the focus was on anti-national rhetoric by people in the camps. Only prior to the 2008 elections did bhutantimes begin to approach domestic politics and that was restricted to bashing one main person contesting for prime minister. We suppose, if Bhutanomics did that i.e. bash someone other than the ruling government (we could even bash the country it seems) we would not be banned. We would be welcomed.

As you can see Bhutanomics has no affiliation. Everyone is a fair target. Everyone is allowed to contribute. The central theme is that we care for the country and each article is about something that makes us worried, whether it is bad policy or personality flaws or sheer stupidity on the part of those in power.

If you aspire to positions of power, you must be able to take the brickbats. In America, groups have questioned openly the very citizenship of the president.

If the PM can take unlimited praise such as “JYT phenomenon”, “world statesman”, “no other leader like him”, “solver of the Amochu problem,” and so on, then he should be able to accept that there are others who think otherwise.

If meetings and conferences were open and criticism and argument were permitted instead of avenged by the government (such as with many civil servants, dzongdags and newspapers) then Bhutanomics may be unnecessary.

But with the lack of space for free criticism we have to resort to this.

By banning us, the ruling government has joined that very special group of governments in North Korea, Cuba, China, Syria, etc., where there is censorship of the internet.

How would you respond to comments that some material on your website is defamatory/personal attacks/perhaps could undermine a free and fair elections?

The stories that we have published are all contributed by people – people who are concerned about the state of the country. We just provide the platform and the security for those people to express themselves.

The parts considered unbearable by those in power are what in other countries is called satire and lampooning. Check out NDTV’s political cartoon or The Onion in the US or the numerous ones in the UK.

Banning criticism is really the situation where free and fair elections are not possible.

What is the purpose of Bhutanomics? And when was it established?

We have been around since the beginning of 2012. We think of ourselves as the Bhutan analyzers who try to keep up with the happenings in the corridors of power. We try to keep a check on the ballooning egos of the powerful so that they don’t forget the people are watching.

Given presence of proxy servers, Facebook, and Twitter, does such a block really matter to you?

The block proves that our government cannot stand any form of criticism. That matters to us. If they are sincerely doing their duty why would they be averse to criticism?

Yes proxy servers means people can still read bhutanomics but that’s not the point. If people feel a certain way about something they should be allowed to say it. Why block them? It’s a futile exercise. You can’t block the internet in this day and age. Instead the government should read between the lines of the satire and try to correct their mistakes.

Keeping watch

Today’s issue ofThe Bhutanesehas only three announcements (one each by BOB, CBS and TCB), and one felicitation message (by Lhaki Group).

Public resources control media?

About four months ago, on 28 April, The Bhutanese complained in their editorial that the government was increasingly “using their advertisement revenue to ‘fix’ critical papers …”

Last Saturday, Business Bhutan published a copy of a circular, marked “confidential”, directing all departments within the Ministry of Information and Communication “not to provide any advertisement, announcement, notification, circular, etc” to The Bhutanese. The letter, dated 2 April, was issued at the instruction of the Minister.

Lyonpo Nandalal Rai, the minister of information and communications, has clarified that the circular was a result of miscommunication; that he had meant “Bhutanese media”, not “The Bhutanese”; and that he had withdrawn the circular as soon as he had seen the error.

Lyonpo Nandalal Rai’s clarification is welcome. But it seems unlikely. And, anyway, it is not sufficient. He should answer why he would have wanted to issue a blanket ban on all advertisements, announcements, notifications and circulars in all the media houses – print, radio and television – in the first place.

He should produce the office order withdrawing the circular in question.

And he should explain why government advertisements, announcements, notifications and circulars in The Bhutanese have fallen, and fallen drastically, since April.

The latest issue of The Bhutanese, for example, printed on Saturday, 11 August, carried just three notifications (two by Bank of Bhutan; one by Bhutan Power Corporation) and one message (by DHI). There was nothing – no advertisement, no announcement, no notification, no circular – by any of the government agencies.

Compare that with the Saturday, 11 August issue of Kuensel which carried more than 10 notifications (by National Assembly, ECB, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, RBP, Ministry of Agriculture, Tsirang Dzongkhang Administration, Wangduephodrang Dzongkhag Administration, Samdrupjongkhar Thromde and STCB) and more than 10 announcements (by Druk Air, RAA, BNB, DGPC, NPPF, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance, Mangdechhu Hydropower Project and RBP). Most of these notifications and announcements were made by government agencies.

In terms of content, The Bhutanese wrote 15 articles and, for comparison, Kuensel wrote 17 articles in their 11 August issues.

But Kuensel enjoys a wider and bigger reader base – yes. Plus Kuensel is older, more established and would have a better marketing division – yes, yes and yes. Yet, the huge difference in advertisements between the two newspapers is too big to be explained just by these factors, especially since The Bhutanese also enjoyed much bigger government advertisements only a few months ago.

Is the government misusing public resources to control the media? It certainly looks like it. And if that is the case, we cannot allow it. But what can we do? To start with, we can take a closer look at the newspapers. We can study the contents of the newspapers, and scrutinize all government advertisements, announcements, notifications and circulars.

That way, the government will know that we know if and when they misuse public resources to control the media.

Here’s a copy of the MOIC circular that appeared in Business Bhutan:

The Journalist?

Politicians and political parties love media coverage.

The Journalist, a weekly paper, has featured PDP on its cover, directly or indirectly, in four of its last 8 issues.

Therefore, PDP must be happy. Right?

Not exactly. Every one of The Journalist’s stories on PDP during the last two months has a negative bias. And almost every one of them seems to be intended to undermine the PDP, and to discredit its president.

The Journalist began their 1st April cover story by telling readers that:

The talk in town is that Gasa MP, Damchoe Dorji, the only opposition member apart from the opposition leader, may not continue in the People’s Democratic Party should he decide to run in 2013. This will have huge implications, sources say.

“If Damchoe Dorji leaves PDP, this will badly dent the image and credibility of the party and its attempt to resuscitate itself,” said a civil servant. “This will also be a huge blow in particular to the Opposition Leader whose ability to lead will be under scrutiny.”

And in their editorial of the same issue, The Journalist writes that:

With their candidates switching parties and most PDP supporters not very keen to have the opposition leader Tshering Tobgay as the party president, 2013 does not seem to be as exciting as it should be for them.

The cover story of The Journalist’s last issue in April, on 29th April, focuses on PDP’s leadership problems. And most of that issue’s editorial is devoted to explaining why, because of PDP’s debts, the party may not be able to register for the 2013 elections.

Three weeks later, on 20th May, the day after the PDP’s general convention, The Journalist again featured PDP on its cover page, and again talked about the eminent demise of PDP. According to The Journalist, PDP’s new president, who is not trustworthy and who is not likeable, could be “presiding over its funeral”. The story goes on to say that, “almost all the capable candidates from the PDP have already left the party”, quoting unnamed “observers”.

The next week, on 27th May, The Journalist again devoted their cover page on PDP. But the party is painted as “almost a dead horse” and its president is portrayed as unable to lead. And again, The Journalist goes to great lengths to try to convince readers that most of PDP’s earlier candidates have left the party.

I’m flattered that The Journalist considers the PDP worthy of so much attention. Being featured no less than four times in barely two months on the cover of a weekly newspaper is noteworthy. But I’m amused at their determination considering that there’s so much real news competing for the nation’s attention. And I’m amused at their persistence in writing and rewriting the PDP obituary.

Thankfully, The Journalist is read by very few. And thankfully those who read it, don’t take their stories too seriously. It’s quite easy to spot what The Journalist is up to.

Right to information

Article 7 of the Constitution is about our fundamental rights.

Section 3 of that important article declares that “A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to information”. By this provision, any citizen has the right – a fundamental right – to ask the government for any information. And the government must provide that information, whatever it may be. That is because the fundamental right of the citizen to government information, as granted by the Constitution, is unqualified. And it is unconditional. “A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to information” – that’s all the Constitution says, simple and straightforward.

But what if a citizen applies for information and the government refuses to provide it? The Bhutanese, a newspaper, was denied some information that they had requested. The newspaper, or whoever filed the right to information application, was denied the right to information, a fundamental right.

Now what?

The journalist who filed the right to information application, and whose fundamental right was violated could take the matter to the courts in accordance with Article 7 Section 23 of the Constitution which states that, “All persons in Bhutan shall have the right to initiate appropriate proceedings in the Supreme Court or High Court for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Article, subject to section 22 of this Article and procedures prescribed by law.”

That means that that journalist could seek judicial intervention to demand the information that was requested. In other words, the judiciary must ensure that that journalist’s fundamental right is not violated, and so must force the government to provide whatever information was requested.

But what about Section 22 of Article 7? What does that section say? It says that:

“Notwithstanding the rights conferred by this Constitution, nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from subjecting reasonable restrictions by law, when it concerns:

(a)     The interests of the sovereignty, security, unity and integrity of Bhutan;
(b)     The interests of peace, stability and well-being of the nation;
(c)     The interests of friendly relations with foreign States;
(d)     Incitement to an offense on the grounds of race, sex, language, religion or region;
(e)     The disclosure of information received in regard to the affairs of the State or in discharge of official duties; or
(f)     The rights and freedom of others”

The Constitution allows the State to subject certain restrictions, within reason, on our fundamental rights. So if the information that that journalist had requested is a state secret, or risks undermining some national interest, that journalist cannot demand that information as a fundamental right. But such restrictions on our fundamental rights can only be made and applied “by law”. And in the case of our fundamental right to information, that law would be the right to information act.

But we don’t have a right to information act. Therefore, that journalist must be provided with whatever information was requested, even if that information is, in the unlikely event, against the national interest.

The prime minister had promised a right to information act. He’s done a U-turn now. He’s now said that a right to information act is not needed at the moment. He should reconsider.

The Constitution guarantees us with the right to information. So we, the citizens at large, and the media in particular, do not need any further legislation to enjoy that fundamental right.

In fact, it is the government that needs a right to information act. The act would protect the government. The act would identify and define the nature and scope of important and sensitive information that cannot be made public in the broader interests of the nation. And the act would permit the government to apply legal restrictions to safeguard and protect such information.

A RTI act is necessary and important. And the prime minister should work on it with a sense of urgency. Otherwise he should support Hon Sangay Khandu’s bold initiative to introduce a right to information bill as a private bill in the next session of the Parliament.

 

The Bhutanese

Bigger paper

The Bhutanese, Bhutan’s latest newspaper, was launched today, coinciding with His Majesty the King’s 32nd birth anniversary, in a quiet ceremony in their offices in Chubachu.

The Bhutanese is our 11th newspaper. But it is the first to use the broadsheet format. So while we’ve become used to reading small, comfortable tabloid papers, The Bhutanese offers the feel of a bigger and more real newspaper.

They’ve used the extra space well. In their very fist issue they take on the “DPT vice president involved in Nu 300 mn Thimphu land scam”, the “Commission Raj in the health ministry…”, arbitrary printing price increases, new political parties, and other important stories, both in the capital and in the districts. More importantly, in a break from existing practice, they spell out their editorial policies clearly and publicly in which they promise to “…be impartial and not favor any political party, business house, organization and prominent individuals.”

The Bhutanese was launched in a quiet ceremony. But they’ve started off with a bang.

Well done. And congratulations.

Exciting news

There’s excitement in the air. The media fraternity has finally launched the Journalists Association of Bhutan. The journey has been long: it began way back in 2006, and has included a UNDP funded project and the establishment of the Bhutan media foundation.

So, naturally, our journalists are excited. I’m excited too. I congratulate our journalists. And I wish them success in their mission to improve the quality of journalism in Bhutan. Congratulations also to JAB’s office bearers, especially to their first president, Passang Dorji.

But there’s another reason for that excitement. The media fraternity has been preoccupied by a state of commotion, confusion and suspicion.

Kuensel informs us that most of them had no idea what was happening and “most came to know about the election only on the evening before.” Kuensel also informs us that two elected members of JAB’s powerful steering committee have already resigned, and that several media houses have questioned the election process, that they have called for a re-election, and that they have been thinking about boycotting the association.

In his letter to the JAB general secretary, Tenzing Lamsang, one of the two steering committee members who resigned, has complained that “… since last evening powerful forces both inside and outside the media have been hard at work to undermine the elections and along with that JAB as an organization.”

Bhutan Today laments that “Everyone wants to hold the reins. But there is a proper way to get there. “By hook or crook” should not be in the dictionary of the Fourth Estate …” And they ask “Where are we failing? Is it the tyranny of the minority but powerful players?”

There’s no doubt that the JAB elections were controversial. But then, on the other hand, every one seems to endorse the new president. If so, where is the controversy? And why did Tenzin Rigden and Tenzin Lamsang resign from the steering committee? Who are the “powerful forces both inside and outside the media” seeking to undermine JAB? Who are those that crave power even “by hook or crook”? Who are the “minority but powerful players” in the media?

There’s excitement in the air. But it could be just a storm in a teacup. Or it could be a dangerous storm, one that is actually about power politics. Either way, we, the people, would be obliged if the media could tell us what all the fuss is about; if they could shed some light on what’s really taking place; if they could give us the really exciting news.

 

Wikiprotest