Compulsory contributions?

I’d promised one anonymous reader that I’d give my views on an unrelated comment on “Sustaining happiness”. This was what our anonymous reader had asked: I have been reading about the contribution of the MPs salary towards sustaining thier offices and wondered how that worked. How is accounted for in the election commission. To me, its seems like an advantage over other parties and perhaps something only DPT is capable of right now. given, that PDP has only two members even if they wanted to contribute , it wouldn’t compare.

The comment relates to talk about the DPT requiring their MPs to contribute part of their salaries to maintain party offices in their respective constituencies. It also relates to the DPT’s decision last July that their MPs would contribute 10% of their salaries to the party.

DPT has an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly. And if their MPs decide to finance party offices in their constituencies, that’s their business. So I believe that as long as contributions made by the MPs are in accordance with the law, no one can complain about the advantage that DPT enjoys.

But I’m concerned if the each of their MPs is required to contribute the same amount of money to the party. If that were the case, MPs could be making compulsory contributions to their party. Or be paying some sort of fee. And both are illegal.

Our election laws allow party members, which would naturally include MPs, to make voluntary contributions to their party. They can contribute, but that contribution must be voluntary. Contributions cannot be made compulsory, or forced, on any member. Since I can’t see how 45 persons could agree to voluntarily contribute exactly same amount of money, I believe that such contributions may be illegal. So our anonymous commentator may have a point.

I’d made reference to this in an earlier entry.

Our Punakha party

Yesterday, our secretary general Sonam Jatso and I visited Punakha. The PDP Dzongkhag office there had invited us to attend their general meeting. About 100 party members including members, workers and supporters had gathered to discuss strategies to further strengthen our dzongkhag office.

I was delighted. We lost both the Punakha constituencies last year. And our president, Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup, who hails from Punakha, resigned to take moral responsibility for the poor election results. Yet, not a single party worker or supporter has left the party. Instead, they are closer and more focused than ever. And they are determined to work hard to revitalize our party.

Now we must do our bit …

PDP Secretary General

Last week, in a quiet ceremony, Lam Kezang Chhoephel, PDP’s secretary general, formally handed over the party’s files to the incoming secretary general, Sonam Jatso.

Lam Kezang joined PDP in July 2007 and served as the party’s first secretary general. He successfully registered PDP as Bhutan’s first political party on 1st September 2007, and was instrumental in establishing and developing PDP’s party offices throughout the country.

Lam Kezang leaves the PDP to join a private company. I thank him from the bottom of my heart. And I wish him success.

A unique example

Last year, in Sherubste College, a student asked me: “We’ve been told, many times, that democracy in Bhutan is unique – please tell me how it is unique.”

The fact of the matter is that all democracies are based on, more or less, the same principles, and none can claim to be really unique. But, on the other hand, no two democracies are exactly the same, making every democracy, unique in its own way. So to claim that our particular form of democracy is unique, in the way it is structured for example, would not make much sense.

But in one regard we are unique, and in another we must aspire to be so.

We are truly unique in the way democracy was introduced in our country – gifted, so to speak, from the Golden Throne to the people. This, we must never forget. And always celebrate.

And we must aspire to be unique in another way: in the quality of politicians that we elect. In every democracy, politicians are viewed with suspicion. They are considered, and many times proven, to be a greedy, corrupt and power-hungry lot who will go to any length to win, but who, once elected, can’t be trusted to keep their promises.

So this was my reply to the very concerned Sherubtse student: “If you want a unique democracy, insist that our politicians are unique. Insist that they empathize with the common people and that they serve them with humility. Insist that they keep their promises – that they actually walk the talk. Insist that they are the champions of our democracy. And the role models for our youth. Insist that they are unique. Then, and only then, we’ll have a unique democracy.”

Why do I remember Sherubtse? Because today, 24th March, is exactly one year since we elected 47 people to the National Assembly. So it is a fitting time to reflect if we, politicians, are fulfilling His Majesty’s vision for a vibrant and honest democracy. And to see if we, politicians, are living up to the hopes and aspirations of our people. To consider if our politicians are unique.

One politician has already proven that he is unique. Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup may have lost the elections last year, but, by all accounts, he has become even more popular. Yet, in spite of his growing popularity and the strong appeals from all over our country, he resigned as PDP’s president. And he resigned for one reason alone: to take full moral responsibility for his party’s loss in the general elections last year.

Now that, in Bhutan’s context, is unique. And should be emulated by our politicians. Perhaps then, we can claim to have a truly unique democracy.

2nd general convention

The PDP held its second general convention yesterday.

Despite strong appeals, from every party member, PDP president Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup resigned, taking full “moral responsibility” for the party’s loss in Bhutan’s first general elections.

The general convention confirmed the following nominations:

President: Tshering Tobgay
Vice Presidents: Damcho Dorji, Ritu Raj Chhettri, Yeshey Dorji
Secretary General: Sonam Jatsho
Treasurer: Namgay Dorji
Spokesman: Dr Tandin Dorji

The general convention also approved a new executive board.

PDP general convention

Tomorrow, 22nd March, PDP will hold its general convention.

We anticipate a large turnout. People from every dzongkhag have telephoned to inform us that they’ll be participating in the meeting.

The convention is open to all party members. To attend, please be at the RAPA hall by 9:30 AM.

Party convention

Here’s good news for PDP supporters:

A high-level party meeting today decided that PDP’s annual convention will be held on 22 March 2009. All registered members are entitled to participate in the convention, details of which will be made public this week.

Increasing voluntary contributions

The election commission’s decision to increase the voluntary contribution ceiling to political parties is hazardous to the health of our fledgling democracy (read ECB’s notification).

It’s hazardous because increasing the amount that members can contribute will strengthen the two existing parties, and place any future party at a big disadvantage.

It’s hazardous because increasing the voluntary contribution ceiling by 500% to Nu 500,000 per member per year disproportionately favors one party – the ruling party, DPT, which also enjoys an overwhelming majority. To be sure, even a ceiling of Nu 100,000 favours DPT more than PDP, but that ceiling was established before the elections, and both parties were fully aware of the rules. Changing the rules now, in the middle of the game so to speak, risks bolstering one party unfairly.

And it’s very hazardous because only a handful of Bhutanese can afford to make voluntary contributions of Nu 500,000 per year. Naturally, big money, from those few hands, will influence politics that much more, defeating the whole purpose of defining a ceiling in the first place.

If increasing the voluntary contribution ceiling is not good for a healthy and vibrant democracy, ECB should reconsider the decision.

Opposition in hot water

I liked Bhutan Observer’s caricature for two reasons. One, they managed to make me look content and happy.

And two, Gyamtsho, my son, predicted my response. When his friends had expressed concern for me, he had assured them that I would find it funny. What did I do when he showed me the cartoon? I laughed. And the more I looked at it, the more I laughed.

I like the cartoon very much. But they got one thing wrong – the opposition is not “in turmoil”.

I wish we were. If we were in turmoil, it would mean that we were agitated and confused. But that we were alive. And that we were a strong opposition. So if we are in turmoil, Bhutan Observer should, indeed, be amused.

But we are not in turmoil. We are weak. Very weak. And a weak opposition is not good for a vibrant and honest democracy. The opposition has only two members – that’s hardly 4% of the national assembly. So we don’t fool ourselves. We are weak.

However, we work hard. Work honestly. And work diligently. We also work with confidence and courage. And try our very best to provide the constructive opposition that our people expect.

Bhutan observer should not be amused. They should be concerned.

Paying commission

Public anxiety over the pay hike issue is on the rise. And a lot of grief and surprise is directed at the huge increase that we, politicians, are expected to get – the pay commission has recommended an increase of 130% for the prime minister, 66% for ministers and 100% for parliamentarians.

The public should be surprised. After all, the previous cabinet had already approved the draft Parliamentary Entitlement Acts and made public what aspiring politicians could expect to earn. And that was essentially Nu 30,000 per month plus 20% for house rent plus a chauffeur-driven car. Everyone knew this. And accepted it.

So most of us had a fairly good idea of what we would get – salaries and other perks – before we joined politics. In fact, many of us were influenced, at least in part, by what we expected to earn. This reality, which some would obviously quickly deny, was, for some reason, disregarded by the pay commission, which has awareded the highest increases to politicians. That’s why the public should be surprised.

But it should also be suspicious. Last July, DPT decided that its 45 parliamentarians would voluntarily contribute 10% of their salaries to their party. How 45 people can all agree to “voluntarily” contribute exactly the same amount is amazing and should, sooner or later, be seriously questioned. But that’s another matter.

For now, consider the obvious: that 10% of 60,000 is 100% more than 10% of 30,000. So while DPT MPs currently “voluntarily” contribute 3,000 per month to their party, they could possibly contribute 6,000 per month. But for that the salaries of MPs would first have to be increased to Nu 60,000.

Surprised and suspicious? You should be.