Better party

That a group of people in Thimphu are forming a political party comes as very good news. Our two existing parties – one ruling, the other in opposition – cannot offer sufficient choice for democracy to take hold in our country. So we should be excited about the prospects of a third party. And we should encourage them.

But we may need even more people to step forward and form political parties. After all, both the existing parties – DPT and the PDP – have huge loans, and may not be around to participate in the 2013 elections. The Election Commission of Bhutan, in their notification of 31 January 2009, has already made it clear that “State financing shall not be forthcoming under any circumstance.” And, more importantly, the ECB, in that same notification, directed “the parties to clear all financial liabilities … by 30 June 2012.”

Unless something goes terribly wrong, we still have another three and a half years till the next National Assembly elections. And that’s enough time for concerned citizens to get together and form several viable political parties.

Letter trail

Several of you (Pro Media, Zamtap, Sonam, Kudrung and Kids) have asked me to post the letter that Lyonpo Khandu and Dasho Chencho wrote soliciting financial assistance from people who are not registered members of their party. One reader, Kids, almost begged: “I sincerely request your excellency to share the letters with us.”

There’s no law prohibiting me from posting the letters (one in Dzongkha, the same in English). Yet, I feel uncomfortable. So please bear with me. But, be assured that my reluctance to post the letters here is not because I don’t want to share the evidence, so to speak. I just don’t feel comfortable.

One reader, however, obviously had a copy of the letter. This is part of what Rinzin wrote in defending the fund raising efforts of the DPT MPs: “The last paragraph of the letter reads ‘Kindly note that the Election Commission of Bhutan(ECB) in consideration of the financial difficulties faced by political parties have raised the maximum ceiling of an individual contribution from Nu.100,000 to 500,000. Please also note that in accordance with the Laws, your contribution will be adjusted as;
i. Registration fees,
ii. Membership fees,
iii. Balance as your contribution.”’

The “last paragraph” that Rinzin reproduced in fact proves otherwise. “…your contribution will be adjusted as: i. Registration fees,…..” is evidence that the letter was sent to people who have not paid registration fees. People who haven’t paid registration fees are not registered members of their party. And they had no business soliciting contributions from them.

I repeat: Section 146(c) of the Election Act states that a political party may be dissolved if “it has solicited or resorted to collection of funds from private individuals or any agency other than from its registered members.”

I’ve forwarded the letters to the ECB today. I’m confident that they’ll take it up from there.

Dear Kudrung

OL with hot perks

OL with hot perks

Kudrung recently sent me a letter. The letter was posted on this blog as a comment to an article. The comment had nothing to do with the article, “Illegal, immoral and dangerous”. Here’s what Kudrung wrote:

My Dearest OL,

I hate to say this but I just can’t hold myself to say aloud how much I envy you.

An Opposition Leader with the rank of the cabinet has all the the time in the world to create a blog, moderate them daily, write articles and finally post it. How can he do it ? I only wish I have so much time to do all this. As a office goer I hardly have time even to read and reply my emails.

Guys, please recommend me what should I do to be like the OL with all the perks of a Minister, with high status and power, highly revered (for being only the two elected in the party)and all to do is to moderate articles in a website/blog.

How much I wish to be like him.

Kudos to him.

I should have replied to Kudrung’s letter immediately. But, like Kudrung, I’ve been pressed for time. Plus I didn’t know if I was expected to reply. So I’m writing now, with apologies for the delay.

Dear Honourable Kudrung:

You forgot to leave a return address. But don’t worry. I have the IP address of the computer you used. Your computer sent it to me automatically when you registered your nickname on my blog. And your IP address tells me that you are a member of the national assembly. So, I’m following protocol, and prefixing your name, even if it’s only a nickname, with the title “honourable”.

I thank you for your letter. But I found it rather confusing. You see, immediately after addressing me (and thank you for calling me your “Dearest OL”) and confiding in me (by admitting aloud “how much I envy you”) you chose to ignore me. Yes, I agree that you talked about me. But you were talking to everyone else, not to me – you’d quickly relegated me, your subject, to the third person.

I am not offended though. I just didn’t know whether you expected me to reply to your letter or not. Hence, the delay.

You sound envious of my position. Yes, as opposition leader, I am accorded the rank of a cabinet minister. And, yes, I enjoy the perks that come with it. But, I haven’t been given any more “status and power” than you, Honourable Kudrung. Unless, that is, you were referring to my orange kabney. I guess the kabney does lend a little more “status”. But, I swear, I have no more “power” than you. And, I assure you that there’s absolutely no reason to imagine that I am any more “revered” than you. My party, the opposition, has only two members. And, because of that, our party may get some sympathy. But reverence? None at all. We haven’t done anything to deserve it. So, there’s absolutely no need to be worried.

Talking of parties, you are obviously from the ruling party. So I’m confused. Your party won. And won comprehensively. You control 96% of the National Assembly. The ten cabinet ministers and the prime minister are from your party. And so are the speaker and the deputy speaker. Plus most of the chairpersons of the committees belong to your party.

And still you covet the opposition leader’s position.

For the sake of democracy, permit the opposition party to appoint the opposition leader. But if you really, really want to become the opposition leader, next time join the losing party.

You do know that the opposition leader is not required to maintain a blog, don’t you? So if it’s the blog that you’re really after – if you didn’t like what I wrote about in “Illegal, immoral and dangerous” – you should start your own weblog. There’s no law that prevents our members of parliament from doing so. In fact, your blog would be very welcome. Our people would find you more accessible. You’d be able to benefit by interacting with them. And you would be able to put their wisdom and their insight to good practice.

Yours respectfully,

Tshering Tobgay

P.S. I hope you like the picture.  It’s by Bhutan Observer. And you can see what I think about it here.

What face?

I was alarmed to read Kuensel’s story “Bjemina volte face” in which Gup Tenzin was quoted as saying that he heard from a tshogpa that: “… PDP supporters went from house to house talking to people and convincing them.”

This is a serious charge. So, I telephoned Gup Tenzin. He denied having said anything of that sort. I then called the reporter, Tenzing Lamsang. And, he claimed that Gup Tenzin repeatedly confirmed that PDP supporters did go from house to house convincing them to support the stone quarry.

I don’t understand what’s going on. But, I must try to get to the bottom of it.

Illegal, immoral, dangerous

Three months ago, some PDP members in Paro received a letter. The letter was signed jointly by the DPT MPs from Paro: Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk and Dasho Chencho Dorji. The letter, which apparently targeted businessmen, asked the recipients for financial support to run the DPT office in Paro.

Article 15.4(d) of the Constitution declares that political parties can only accept money or assistance made by its registered members. And, Section 146(c) of the Election Act states that a political party may be dissolved if “it has solicited or resorted to collection of funds from private individuals or any agency other than from its registered members.” Furthermore, Section 54 of the National Assembly Act clearly states that “A member shall not resort to any form of fund raising from individuals or any agency.”

So, what Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk and Dasho Cencho did – solicit funds, by letter, from people who are not registered members of their party – is most probably illegal.

But what they did is morally wrong too. Members of a ruling party sent letters to members of a very weak opposition asking them to make financial contributions and to join their party.

And what Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk did is dangerous. When the minister for economic affairs solicits donations from businessmen, it might easily be construed as outright corruption.

Illegal, immoral, dangerous: I’m forced to write to ECB about this.

State of the party

Last Sunday, in the Bhutan Times…

PM and OL on state funding for parties

Financing political parties

The Royal Audit Authority, in its annual report to the Parliament, pointed out what we all know: that both our political parties are in serious financial problems. As of 30th June 2008, PDP owed Nu 20,326,924 to the Bank of Bhutan and Nu 3,588,232 to other various other suppliers. DPT owed Nu 14,253,975 to the Bank and Nu 7,708,010 to other suppliers.

Yesterday, the National Assembly spent a good hour discussing the Royal Audit Authority’s observations on the financial status of our two political parties. Actually, we did not really discuss the audit observations per se. Instead, we talked about, at length and in great detail, the need to provide state funding for the political parties.

This is not good. During our first session, about a year ago, we’d debated state funding for political parties. And we’d agreed that it would be unconstitutional. In fact, the Chief Justice, who at that time was still the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, publicly declared that state funding for political parties would be unconstitutional. But still, we discussed the issue again.

Some of the arguments our honourable members of parliament, including ministers, presented were shocking. Most of the members proclaimed that, upon closer examination, the Constitution did not specifically prohibit state funding for political parties. Many suggested that the foundations of our democracy would crumble if the existing parties were to fail. Some threatened that political parties, especially a ruling party with a huge mandate, would resort to corrupt means to raise funds. And, one brave member even proposed that laws could be amended to allow state funding.

My views are simple and straightforward. According to Article 15.4(d) of the Constitution, a political party can be registered if, among other things, “It does not accept money or any assistance other than those contributions made by its registered members, and the amount or value shall be fixed by the Election Commission.” Furthermore, the Election Act clearly specifies that political parties can raise funds from only three sources: registration fees, annual membership fees, and voluntary contributions. So obviously, I cannot support any proposal for state funding for political parties.

But what if one or both the existing parties were to collapse? Wouldn’t that affect democracy? Yes. But the show, so to speak, would go on. The importance of the existing parties is overrated. They are not indispensable for our democracy. Should they fail, it would be most inconvenient, and embarrassing, but other parties would surely come forward. And, they wouldn’t make the same mistakes, especially the excesses that have caused both PDP and DPT financial woes.

Now, if politicians, on the other hand, are prepared to knowingly violate the Constitution, we should be scared. It is dangerous for democracy. And it must not be allowed to happen.

Incidentally, less than a month ago, I’d expressed my concerns that our government may try to justify state funding for political parties (read Financing parties).

PDP meeting

About change

About change

Today we organized a special meeting for our financial supporters. During the meeting, we made presentations on the status of our party, and talked about the way forward.

Our supporters resolved that the PDP must continued to be strengthened in order to provide an effective opposition to the government, and to ensure that our people have access to a credible alternate party.

Several supporters offered voluntary financial contributions. Others volunteered to join the fund-raising committee.

Financing parties

About a month ago Kuensel reported that DPT MPs had insisted that “… only state funding would save them from sinking under.”

And quoted Lyonpo Thakur Singh Powdyal as saying: “Given the experience of the party so far and the need to have a responsible and respectable political system in the country, it’s desirable to have state support, because the existence and functioning of spolitical parties have critical implications on the health of the state.”

I’m amazed that DPT politicians continue to expect state funding for their party. After all, the first session of the parliament had decided that state funding for political parties would be unconstitutional. And it had resolved that the state would not fund political parties. So I’m surprised to see that our politicians continue to expect state support.

In fact, I’m concerned that our politicians and that our government may be preparing to justify state funding for political parties all over again. If this is so – and the Kuensel article makes me believe that it is so – then our politicians may try to approve state funding even though they themselves resolved, less than a year ago, that such funding would be unconstitutional. And that is cause for serious concern.

Raising funds honourably

I was surprised to learn that “… the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) leaders recently told their members of parliament (MPs) to raise money for the party.” (Read the Kuensel article). This is illegal. And I’m sure that the DPT leaders know that this is illegal.

The National Assembly Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan, 2008 forbids members of the National Assembly from fund raising. Section 54 under Chapter 7 (Role and Responsibility of the Members) specifically states that “A member shall not resort to any form of fund raising from individuals or ay agency.”

I’ve already accepted that we must be vigilant against our government’s tendency to disregard the law. But this is ridiculous. After all, we, the honourable members of parliament, were the ones who studied, debated and passed a law that prohibits MPs from engaging in fund raising. That law has been in place for not even a year, and it risks being broken by the very people who framed it.