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.

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…]

Royal Grandmother

My last post was about Dr Aubrey Leatham, a leading pioneer in cardiology and the development of pacemakers. Dr Leatham, along with others, like Dr Albert Craig, had been invited to Bhutan by Her Majesty the Royal Grandmother, Ashi Kesang Choeden Wangchuck, to care for His Majesty the Third King.

Between then and now, Her Majesty the Royal Grandmother has also spearheaded innumerable programs to care for the health of the people. They include, among many others, the introduction of, for the first time in Bhutan, drugs to fight leprosy and tuberculosis.

What’s more, Her Majesty, now in her eighties, continues to work to improve healthcare and alleviate the sufferings of our people. Just last week, Professor Ian Frazer, the scientist credited with developing the HPV vaccine, was in Thimphu at the invitation of Her Majesty.

The human papillomavirus causes cervical cancer, a leading cause of death among Bhutanese women. So Professor Frazer’s work and the HPV vaccine have contributed immensely to improving the quality and length of the lives of our women.

But the vaccines are expensive. They currently sell for US$ 120 per shot in the market, and a full course, consisting of three doses, costs a whopping US$ 360. Luckily, under Her Majesty the Royal Grandmother’s patronage, the Ministry of Health’s extended program of immunization has received US$ 32 million worth of HPV vaccines from the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation.

The program to prevent cervical cancer began three years ago. That is when girls, throughout the country, started getting the HPV vaccines. The idea is to cover all women … and to put an end to cervical cancer.

For this, and for much more – for introducing modern healthcare in Bhutan, for eradicating leprosy among our people, for controlling tuberculosis – I humbly thank Her Majesty Ashi Kesang Choeden Wangchuck, Royal Grandmother.

Thimphu High Street

Thank you for taking part in the last Big Picture. Your answers were varied – Changangkha, Phobjikha, Gangtey, Wangdue, Paro, Bumthang, Dagana, Lhuntse and Thimphu town – and rightfully so. The old photo, after all, could have been taken anywhere in Bhutan.

The picture, as you can now easily see, was taken outside the Tashichhodzong. It shows the beginnings of modern Thimphu complete with offices, shops and, in the background, the dzong undergoing major renovation and expansion.

Dorji, “Pothery” and “River” all identified the place correctly. But the first correct answer came from Ugen, who wrote, “Settlement outside Tashichhodzong in Thimphu in early 50′s.” This picture was actually taken in the early 1960’s, but it couldn’t have been that much different in the 50’s, so I’m awarding the prize to Ugen. (Ugen: please email me to claim your prize.)

The photo is from a book “Hearts and Life and the Kingdom of Bhutan” by Dr Aubrey Leatham, a leading pioneer in cardiology and the development of pacemakers. This book is mainly about developments in the field of cardiology since 1945. But the author has included a chapter about his experiences in Bhutan, and that’s what gives the books excitement for us, and a sense of magic and mystery for other readers. He has also included almost 100 photographs, most of which show what Thimphu, and Bhutan, looked like in the 1960’s. Lovely. As we would expect, Thimphu has grown and changed beyond recognition, but the rest of Bhutan, luckily, has not changed very much.

So what is the connection between cardiology, Dr Leatham and Bhutan? The doctor was invited to Bhutan in 1963 and again in 1964  on a very important mission: as a physician to His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo. He nursed the Father of Modern Bhutan, and claims to have extended our King’s life by more than a few years. The significance of his service is not lost on the author who writes:

My patient, the King, with premature coronary artery disease (before the days of coronary artery surgery, dilatations and stents), survived for eight years, giving time for his son to take over; he died whilst on safari in Africa. I was presented with the Order of Bhutan by the Queen for restoring hi to health until his son was ‘of age’.

His Majesty the King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck passed away on 21 July, 1972. His son, the Crown Prince, ascended the Golden Throne to become the Fourth Druk Gyalpo at the tender age of 16.

 

About relief

Consider this: His Majesty the King issued a Kasho yesterday granting Nu 200 million towards the reconstruction of the Wangduephodrang Dzong. Nu 100 million was granted from the armed forces, and Nu 100 million from His Majesty’s Kidu Foundation.

Now consider this: The government has allocated Nu 20 million per year to the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Fund until the balance reaches a ceiling of Nu 100 million. The Relief Fund was passed by the Parliament in the last session. Nu 20 million per year is woefully inadequate. I said so in the Parliament. And I wrote about it.

How much is Nu 20 million? It works out to under 0.06% percent of the government’s annual budget estimated at Nu 34,515.549 million for 2012-13.

Wangduephodrang Dzong

Image of hope

I was in Wangduephodrang on Saturday. I’d gone there to visit the De-Suung training program. After meeting the De-Suups, I stopped by the Wangduephodrang Dzong to see the massive renovation that the dzong was receiving.

While returning to Thimphu, I stopped briefly on the other side of Punatsangchhu to take in at the grandeur of the Wangdue Dzong, and, as usual, marveled at the brilliance of Zhadrung Ngawang Namgyel. He had chosen the site personally, on a ridge overlooking the confluence of the Punatsangchhu and Dangchhu rivers, to defend His newly unified Drukyul against intruders from the South. He had succeeded beyond measure: the dzong, which straddled the high, narrow ridge, was impenetrable and dominated the Wangdue skyline for centuries.

Today, I was back in Wangduephodrang. But this time to join the nation in mourning. The mighty Wangdue Dzong, which stood magnificently for 374 continuous years, was no more. It had been gutted by fire yesterday evening. The fire reportedly started near the entrance of the dzong, and within hours, strong winds had fanned the fire through all buildings completing the destruction in a matter of hours.

Tragically, the very strength of the dzong – that it was virtually impenetrable – prevented all efforts from suppressing the inferno. The entrance was on fire, and the rest of the fortress was inaccessible.

So soldiers, under the personal command and supervision of His Majesty the King who himself had rushed from Thimphu, scaled the southern walls, broke into the monasteries, and rescued the many sacred relics that were in the dzong.

An entire nation is in mourning.

We have lost an important part of our history – a living, breathing monument that until yesterday served, as intended and without interruption, both the civil administration and the monk body. Yesterday evening, almost four centuries of continuous and daily offerings of butterlamps and prayers came to a sudden halt.

We are in mourning. But, miraculously, and against all hopes and expectations, we have, in our possession, the real essence of the Wangdue Dzong. Most of scriptures and statues and artifacts would have been consumed by the fire, but relics – the sacred treasures, many of which had been built and installed by the Zhabdrung himself – are safe. And that’s what really matters.

What also matters is that we begin the process of rebuilding the once mighty dzong immediately. We can rebuild our dzong, as in moments of national tragedy, our people, all of us, come together, easily and naturally, to think and act as one, under the command of His Majesty the King, the source of all our hopes and inspiration.

So there’s no doubt that the Wangdue Dzong will be rebuilt – bigger, better and stronger – and that it will once again, in a few years, dominate our western skylines.

Auspicious

We, in Bhutan, take auspicious signs seriously. And the more auspicious the sign, the better.

Today is Duechen Ngazom, the most important day in the Buddhist calendar. Today, coincidentally, is also Her Majesty the Queens’ 22nd birth anniversary.

Her Majesty the Queen’s first birthday after being crowned the Druk Gyaltshuen falls on the most revered day of the year. How auspicious is that? Very auspicious. And that bodes well, very well, for the tsawasum – our monarchy, our country and our people.

Happy birthday, Your Majesty!

 

Our King has spoken

The People's King

Our elders believe that the words of our kings are droplets of gold. They believe that to carry out a king’s command is to undertake a task that’s heavier than a mountain. They also believe that to ignore a king’s command is to waste an opportunity more precious than gold.

Our kings do not say much. But when they do, what they say is important; what they say has far-reaching implications. And what they say is gratefully received, studied and carried out with a sense of great urgency.

Our King has spoken. In his Royal Address, on 17th December, our National Day, His Majesty shared his “deepest concerns” with the nation: that we must strengthen the foundations of our democracy; that we must make education more relevant so that it leads to jobs; that we must step up the fight against corruption; and that we must build a self-reliant, sustainable economy.

Our King has spoken. Now will we, like our elders, accept his command as droplets of gold? Will we, like our elders, receive, study and execute his command, even though they weigh heavier than our mighty mountains? Or will we, unlike our elders, ignore and waste that what’s more precious than gold?

Thanking our armed forces

Supreme Commander in Chief

The Royal Bhutan Army, Royal Body Guards, Royal Bhutan Police, and  militia and Desung volunteers celebrated Armed Forces Day yesterday. To commemorate the important day, I’m reproducing a translation of the motion of thanks that I proposed during the opening ceremony of the sixth session of Parliament about a year ago, on 19 November 2010.

Introduction

It has been almost three years since Bhutan became a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy. Throughout this period, His Majesty the King has continuously favoured the first elected Parliament with counsel, guidance and unconditional support. As a result, neither misfortune nor hardship has been able to trouble the two Houses of Parliament or any of its 72 honourable members. And for that reason, we, the members of Parliament, have been able to fulfill our respective responsibilities, and work towards establishing a strong foundation for our democracy.

Earlier this year, during the inauguration of the fifth session of the Parliament, I had the opportunity to report to the Honourable Members that, from the day His Majesty the King ascended the Golden Throne, His Majesty has worked throughout the country, and worked tirelessly, for the benefit of the nation and the people. More specifically, I drew attention to the fact that the selfless service rendered by His Majesty were in accordance with the duties of the Druk Gyalpo as enshrined in the Constitution.

My report, however, was very brief. In fact, since I covered His Majesty’s accomplishments in a range of areas, I could not do justice to any one of them. So today, as I, on behalf of the Opposition Party, respectfully submit this Motion of Thanks, I propose to focus on just one aspect of His Majesty’s work.

To do this, I would like to draw the attention of our Honourable Members to Article 28 Section 1 of the Constitution which states that: “The Druk Gyalpo shall be the Supreme Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and the Militia”.

[Continue Reading…]