Celebrating teachers and workers

Very important people

Very important people

Teachers and blue-collared workers throughout our country must be celebrating. Good. They have reason to rejoice.

Yesterday, during the National Day celebrations in Changlimithang Stadium, His Majesty the King paid special tribute to our teachers and blue-collared workers. And, in recognition of their important services to the tsa wa sum, His Majesty awarded the National Order of Merit to 16 educationists and blue-collared workers. One craftsman, Jinzop Karma, Bhutan’s foremost traditional sculptor, was bestowed the Druk Thugsay.

My heartiest congratulations to them.

And, to the countless teachers and blue-collared workers all across our Kingdom, I say: thank you.

Photo credit: BBS

Royal decree

I see two important points in His Majesty the King’s kasho instituting the Royal Commission and outlining the process to establish the first Supreme Court of Bhutan.

The first is that the delay in establishing the Supreme Court was deliberate. It was meant to make the “… new democratic institutions learn to work together in harmony, and with unity of purpose, in the interest of the Nation and People.”

The second is that, His Majesty the King has devolved his authority and created an even more transparent process of establishing the Supreme Court. Though Article 21, Section 4 of the Constitution authorizes the Druk Gyalpo to appoint the Chief Justice of Bhutan in consultation with the National Judicial Commission, His Majesty’s kasho empowers the Royal Commission to recommend “…one person to assume the post of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.”

Helping hands

Durung, Trashigang

Durung

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9th November, 2009: RBA soldiers dismantling a house that had been damaged by the earthquake in Durung, Trashigang.

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Haa

Haa

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22nd November, 2009: RBA soldiers dismantling a house that had been damaged by the fire in Haa town.

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From Trashigang in the east, to Haa in the west, the Royal Bhutan Army has played a crucial role in providing relief to the victims of disasters. They dismantled houses that were dangerously damaged by the calamities, they built temporary shelters, and, perhaps most importantly, they provided a sense of security.

Now they have started helping our farmers rebuild their homes.

Giving thanks

MPs outside NA

This week’s banner features members of parliament, in front of the Gyalyog Tshokhang, preparing to receive His Majesty the King to the inaugural ceremony of the fourth session of the Parliament.

A quick translation of my statement thanking His Majesty the King follows:

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A series of natural disasters have ravaged our country during the past 20 months. Nature’s four elements have created calamities throughout our country, in every dzongkhag, causing immeasurable problems for our country and our people.

Recently, earthquakes, windstorms and fires have inflicted damage, and caused anxiety and hardship for the people living in the eastern part of our country. And, only the day before yesterday, fires destroyed many houses in Haa town and Samkhar, Trashigang.

Such calamities are common in some countries, but in Bhutan they are rare. And they have never occurred in such frequency, or with such force, causing unprecedented problems and hardship for our people.

So our people are surprised. And they are worried. Since all these calamities have occurred only after the first elections, some people have wondered if democracy is inauspicious for Bhutan.

Democracy may or may not be auspicious for us. But, what is certain is that His Majesty the King personally introduced democracy in our country specifically to protect the wellbeing of our people. Furthermore, His Majesty the King has repeatedly commanded that we, the people, must strengthen the foundations of democracy in our country.

So, regardless of whether the signs are auspicious or ominous; and regardless of the frequency and severity of natural calamities, all of us must work together, collectively, to make democracy successful and beneficial to our country, our people and the dharma. This important responsibility belongs to each and every one of us.

On behalf of the opposition party, I thank our civil servants, armed forces, Zhung Dratshang and religious organizations for providing immediate help and support to our people every time there is a natural calamity.

More importantly, I offer our eternal gratitude to His Majesty the King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. Whenever natural calamities strike, His Majesty always rushes to personally help and comfort the people who are affected by them. And, in addition to awarding kidu grants to the victims of natural calamities, His Majesty provides moral support to build their confidence.

Recently, on the 3rd day of the 8th month, an earthquake – the strongest living memory – rocked our country. That earthquake completely destroyed not just houses, but entire villages upon villages in many parts of Eastern Bhutan. Many precious lives were also lost in the earthquake.

To make matters worse, aftershocks, windstorms, and fire spread even more damage, and caused our people living in the East – and people all over our country – a tremendous amount of worry and hardship … problems that His Majesty the King addressed personally.

In fact, this is what people told me when I toured parts of our country that were affected by the calamities: on the very day the earthquake struck, members of our armed forces were immediately at the scene – at His Majesty’s command – to help the people affected by the disaster. By the next day, the offices of the Gyalpoi Zimpoen had arrived, and were already distributing food, clothes and tarpaulin to the victims. Furthermore, at His Majesty’s command, the Prime Minister and Gyalpoi Zimpoen toured the affected areas and met the people.

The people found these interventions extremely helpful. Yet, His Majesty chose to visit the region and personally meet the people to give them moral support and a sense of confidence. Now, in addition to traveling the area on foot and personally seeing the affects of the disasters, His Majesty awarded cash grants, and kidu for timber and CGI. Furthermore, His Majesty commanded the armed forces to help the villagers rebuild their houses.

But that was not all: His Majesty visited their homes, cooked for them and talked with them. And, in order to comfort the people, His Majesty sang and danced with them, and slept in the houses of the poorest farmers.

As the earthquake had severely traumatized the rural students as well, His Majesty comforted them, played with them, told them stories, and built temporary classrooms for them.

The people affected by the natural disasters have said that, because of His Majesty’s personal concern, support and kidu, they actually consider themselves fortunate. They say that they now have the opportunity to build better homes for themselves. And, to build more vibrant communities.

Similarly, when fire raged through Haa, His Majesty, who was immediately at the scene of the destruction, granted support and kidu to the victims of the fire.

It is because of His Majesty’s all-important and selfless work, that, in the democratic era, our people look to our Monarch as our only support and ultimate insurance.

In order to fulfill this important mandate, however, we parliamentarians also have a responsibility. That responsibility is to establish the Relief Fund which, according to Article 14, Section 12 of the Constitution, the Druk Gyalpo can use for urgent and unforeseen humanitarian relief. But, instead of establishing the Relief Fund in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, we, parliamentarians, allocated Nu 20 million as a budget item for the fiscal year 2009-10. That was hardly enough, so the Gyalpoi Zimpoen’s office launched a separate Kidu Fund.

Led by the Dratshang, the royal family, members of the armed forces, civil servants, corporations, businesspeople, students, private citizens, international organizations and friendly countries have all made generous donations to the Kidu Fund. Still, in the interests of the future, it is extremely important that we, parliamentarians, establish the Relief Fund.

The fact that His Majesty the King is gracing the opening ceremony of the fourth session of the First Parliament, despite all other important engagements, is indicative of His Majesty’s support of the democratic process, in general, and of the Parliament, in particular.

On behalf of the opposition party, I once again, offer complete and heartfelt thanks to His Majesty the King.

Gifted Sonam

Working gifts

Working gifts

Ever so often, a reader will leave a comment that is much more powerful and important than the original entry. I am delighted every time that happens.

Someone called “Invisible” left such a comment to my last entry, “Farmhouse lunch.” The comment is insightful, thought provoking, and inspiring. So, if you haven’t already read Invisible’s response about SMEs and jobs for the “invisible people”, I encourage you to do so.

“If you ‘genuinely’ believed in Aum Sonam, enjoyed her lunch, and saw a business potential in it…” advised Invisible, “…let it give you inspiration, reason, and energy to drive SMEs in Bhutan.”

I am inspired. And it’s not just because of Aum Sonam’s lunch. It’s also because I believe in the potential of her idea to make homemade soap. Yes, you heard me right, soap.

You see, Aum Sonam and her fellow-farmers produce potato chips that they sell in Mongar and Bumthang. The chips sold well, but she was unhappy that they had to literally throw away the cooking oil after it has been used several times. And, it was not just potato chips: frying banana chips, tsip and khabsay also eventually produced cooking oil that they could not reuse.

So when Aum Sonam learnt that fat was the main ingredient in soap, she quickly decided to recycle the used cooking oils. She now collects all the used oil and produces soap from her farmhouse. Her soap is simple. But it is produces a rich lather that is effective at removing dirt from clothes.

A few months ago, a visitor chanced upon Aum Sonam’s farmhouse. He listened to her. And, he liked her idea, her spirit and her energy. So he purchased her entire stock, and encouraged her to expand her business to include herbal soap and creams that would find a ready market in our own hotels and resorts.

A month later the same visitor returned to her farmhouse. Aum Sonam eagerly told him about the progress that she had made, and about all the new possibilities that she had learnt since they last met. And, she confided that her biggest challenge was to produce soap that had a consistent shape and size. She’d tried everything, from tin cans to sawed-off mineral water bottles, and still she was not happy with the shape of her soap.

So imagine her surprise, when the visitor handed her a gift: a set of wooden soap molds that could produce several sizes of classic bar-shaped soap. She had only seen them – longingly – in pictures, and had wondered if she would ever own one. She was truly overjoyed.

That visitor was His Majesty the King.

Happy Coronation Day!

King of Hearts

King of Hearts

I join the nation in celebrating the first coronation anniversary of His Majesty the King. On behalf of the opposition party and the People’s Democratic Party, I offer our humble felicitations to His Majesty the King. On this joyous occasion, we pray for His Majesty’s wellbeing and long life, and rededicate ourselves to the service of the tsa-wa-sum.

The photograph, already an iconic picture, shows His Majesty inspecting the armed forces during the Coronation Celebrations in the Changlimithang stadium on the 6th of November 2008, five days after receiving the sacred dhar from the Machhen of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal at the Punakha Dzong.

The banner also features His Majesty inspecting His troops during the Coronation Celebrations. The picture isn’t too clear. But I like it. It was taken by Galek, my daughter, aged nine then.

Royal nuptials

HRH Ashi Dechen Yangzom Wangchuck married Dasho Tandin Namgyel yesterday. I join the nation in wishing the royal couple happy marriage and tashi delek!

None of our newspapers covered this important event. They should have.

Paying attention

When did you first know that democracy would be introduced in our country? That was the question I asked in my last entry. No one ventured a definite date. One reader, however, admitted that it was a “tough question” while others questioned the relevance and importance of the question.

Relevant or not, I think I first knew about plans to introduce democracy in our country only in 2004. On 17th December that year, in Mongar, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo had commanded that: “The highest importance was also attached to the establishment of parliamentary democracy and a system of government that will provide good governance and fulfill the aspirations of our people.” His Majesty was referring to the drafting of the Constitution. A few months later, on 21st March 2005, His Majesty informed the Lhengye Zhungtshog that: “The adoption of the Constitution will provide the legal framework for a democratic political system”. Most of us finally read how parliamentary democracy would be introduced when the draft Constitution was distributed throughout the country on 26th March 2005.

What is important to note is that the Fourth Druk Gyalpo had actually announced the transition to democracy much earlier. His Majesty had made many references to people’s participation and political change, most notably on 10th June 1998 (in the Kasho to the National Assembly Speaker) and on 2nd June 1999 (during the silver jubilee celebrations of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s enthronement).  And, as early as 17th December 2001, in Wanduephodrang, His Majesty commanded that:  “While drafting the Tsa-Thrim it is of utmost importance that we safeguard the security and sovereignty of our nation, ensure the well-being of our people and establish a democratic political system that will best serve the interest of our country for all time to come. One of the most important responsibilities of a king is to enable the people to govern and look after the country through the establishment of a dynamic political system.”

The transition to our democracy has, indeed, been uniquely smooth. So smooth that most of us weren’t even paying attention.






When did we know?

HM4

HM always knew

Last week, Bhutan successfully hosted the first Regional Conference on Deepening and Sustaining Democracy in Asia. The Centre for Bhutan Studies and UNDP Bhutan organized the event together.

That Bhutan, the world’s youngest democracy, led a major international discussion on deepening democratic values is commendable. It shows how much we’ve matured, politically, since the introduction of parliamentary democracy in our country barely 18 months ago. It also shows how serious we are about our new form of governance.

Looking back, it is clear that His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo had carefully prepared us, his people, for democracy. Most of us now agree that the process started with the establishment of elected local governments – at the dzongkhag level in 1981 and, a decade later, at the gewogs.  Then, in 1998, His Majesty devolved executive powers to an elected council of ministers. And in 2001, he commanded the drafting of our constitution. More importantly, and in countless occasions throughout his golden reign, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo consistently commanded that people’s participation and political change were necessary to strengthen the sovereignty and security of our country, and the peace, prosperity and wellbeing of our people.

So to celebrate our democracy, I’ve recently been thinking about, and asking people two questions. One, when did we first know that democracy would be introduced in our country? And two, when did we actually embrace democracy?

The answer to the second question is quite obvious: most people see 24th March 2008, as the day Bhutan reluctantly accepted democracy. To be sure, a lot had already taken place before the 24th of March: A draft Constitution was prepared; that draft was discussed widely, throughout our country; the Election Commission of Bhutan was established; electoral laws were drafted; a mock election was conducted; political parties were formed; and the National Council elections were conducted.

Still, for most of us, 24th March 2008 comes to mind when we think about the introduction of democracy in our country. That was the day when we went to the polls, in record numbers, to elect members to the National Assembly and, by extension, to choose our first government.

The answer to the first question, however, is not as straightforward. And, most of the people I posed the question to were, at best, tentative with their answers. So I invite you to think about the same question: when did you first know that democracy would be introduced in our country?

Jobs for Bhutan

hm4-2006

As Bhutan is a small country with a small population we must never allow ourselves to reach a situation where we are unable to provide employment to our people. Ensuring that this does not happen is an important responsibility of the government.

His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, 17 December, 2000, Trashigang