Home is where the hurt is

Waiting to be seen

The prime minister was in New York when the September 18 earthquake struck. He’d left Bhutan on 12th September to address the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly on 23rd September.

Most heads of government would have rushed home if, during their absence, an earthquake that hit their country caused widespread destruction. Our PM did not. He chose to stay on in New York. And from there, instead of returning home, he chose to go straight to Tokyo to address the 24th Congress of Architecture on 28th September, and then to Kolkata to meet the chief minister and to attend a Buddhist society meeting.

The PM eventually came home on 2nd October, two weeks after the September 18 earthquake.

It’s been over a month since he returned home, but, as far as I know, the PM still has not visited any of the areas that were hit by the earthquake.

And last Sunday, the PM left the country again, this time to attend the SAARC summit that will take place in The Maldives on 10th and 11th November.

Meanwhile, our people are still struggling to rebuild their lives and their homes. The September 18 earthquake damaged 9000 structures and cost Nu 888 million.

DHI and us

Kuensel quietly carried a corrigendum today clarifying that DHI had not given iPhones to the PM and the cabinet. And in it, the editor helpfully points out that: “Officials from the PM’s office, meanwhile, said the reference was to an occasion that happened in 2009.”

The corrigendum is helpful. But it is quiet. Too quiet.

Kuensel must now ask the PM – not “officials from the PM’s office”, but the PM himself – why he did not clarify that he was talking about something that took place almost three years ago, and why he misinformed the public about DHI giving iPhones.

The PM could have easily told the truth and put the iPhone rumour to rest. Instead, he chose to sensationalize it, and, in doing so, planted serious doubts about DHI’s credibility. For that, he owes the public an explanation. And he owes DHI an apology.

This is not the first time the government has raised questions about DHI. On several occasions already, MPs from the ruling party have expressed concern and objected to how DHI is run and how their employees are paid. The government complained about and succeeded in revising the Royal Charter. And during the very press conference which featured the iPhone controversy recently, the finance minister protested that “the government has little say in the functioning of DHI since it is governed by the Royal Charter which gives absolute power to its board directors.”

Added to that, unknown agents continue to fuel stories about DHI being run as a “parallel government”.

DHI was established in 2007, the year before our first elections, as the custodian of our nation’s wealth. The idea was to separate the investment and executive arms of the Royal Government. That idea is still relevant: politicians, now and in the future, cannot be trusted to manage and expand the commercial investments of the Royal Government in a manner that is prudent and sustainable. And that’s why DHI was established as an autonomous organization incorporated under the Companies Act.

But that does not mean that DHI can do anything it pleases or that the government has absolutely no control over the organization. DHI’s performance targets, including how much money they must earn for the exchequer, are fixed together with the government. And, more importantly, most of the members of DHI’s Blue Ribbon Panel and the board of directors are appointed, directly or indirectly, by the government. In addition, their operations are audited by the Royal Audit Authority to ensure prudent and effective use of the people’s resources.

These checks and balances are important. And we must use them to address concerns about salaries, perks, recruitment or any other issue that we may have. But otherwise, we should not undermine the functioning of DHI. And we must not make unmerited attacks on its image. The company is simply too important for the current and future wellbeing of our people.

How important is DHI? The company is already worth more than Nu 45 billion. That works out to about 60% of our national GDP. And last year, the company contributed Nu 4.3 billion in taxes and dividends to the government. That works out to more than a quarter of the government’s domestic revenue.

But DHI is barely four years old. So we can expect them to make some mistakes. When they do, we need to work together, constructively and within the legal framework, to correct them. Otherwise, we should support them – our wealth, and that of our future generations, is at stake.

i-Question

Did DHI try to bribe the prime minister and cabinet ministers? If, as the PM claimed in Kuensel, DHI had indeed offered them “the latest generation iPhones”, then that would amount to blatant corruption. And the Anticorruption Commission should investigate it thoroughly.

Why should this particular gift be seen as “blatant corruption”? Because three years ago, during the new year, DHI had given Nokia cell phones to all officials holding cabinet rank, including the PM and the opposition leader. But, as far I know, most of the recipients did not accept the gifts; most of them had returned the cell phones after the National Assembly MPs rejected DHI’s bags, which they had received at about the same time.

Now after all that, if DHI is still tempting our ministers, this time with iPhones, we should be concerned. We should be alarmed.

But what if DHI had not offered iPhones to the PM or to any other minister? Then what? I ask this because DHI has apparently denied giving iPhones to the ministers. In fact, the very same Kuensel report states that, “DHI officials denied having done anything of the sort.”

So we have two stories. And only one of them can be true.

If the PM is right – if DHI had indeed offered him an unsolicited gift – we should be alarmed. And ACC should investigate DHI for attempting to bribe our senior most government officials.

But if DHI is right – if they have not offered iPhones to the PM or any other minister – we should be equally alarmed. The PM should then have to explain why he has misled the public, and why he is undermining DHI’s reputation.

Kuensel’s website has been giving problems. So here’s the clip of their iPhone story.

 

 

GNH vs GPH

Really growing happiness

Yeshey Dorji, a prolific blogger (and an excellent photographer), weighed in on minister Khaw Boon Wan’s controversial comments by concurring with the view that since we want to emulate Singapore, for us Singapore could well be the Shangri-la.

But regardless of where Shangri-la may lie, Au Yeshey admits to finding GNH confusing, and raises the alarming prospect that GNH may actually undermine personal happiness. This is what he writes:

“GNH, GNH. GNH – Oh God, it is so confusing. This GNH has me totally baffled. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the principles of GNH are the antithesis to GPH – Gross Personal Happiness.

“At one point soon, we must all calmly sit down and debate on the issue: Can GNH contribute to GPH; if not, what is the point? Can GNH be achieved without usurping GPH? Is GNH more important than GPH?”

Au Yeshey Dorji is not alone. GNH has indeed become complicated. This simple, straightforward idea, which has quietly guided our country’s development till now, seems to have suddenly become an animated metaphysical commentary on how to make the whole world a happier place.

So let’s go back to the basics, and relearn GNH.

This is how His Majesty the King explains GNH:

“Today, GNH has come to mean so many things to so many people but to me it signifies simply – Development with Values.”

This is how Simpleshow describes it.

And this is how Mieko Nishimizu sees it:

“A philosophy that sets the mandate of government as removing obstacles of public nature to enable individual citizen’s pursuit of happiness.”

But what about Au Yeshey’s important question: “Can GNH contribute to GPH?”

Dr Nishimizu would answer “Yes!” In fact, just last week, she delivered a lecture at RIM telling us how Ina Foods, a  business company in rural Japan, has embraced GNH principles to make their employees happier, and how, in the process, the company itself has become more sustainable and very profitable.

Happy people, making money, in a sustainable way – perhaps Shangri-la is in Ina!

Food for thought

Shangri-la's?

Khaw Boon Wan, a Singaporean minister, recently declared that “Bhutan is not the Shangri-la on earth”, and that the Bhutanese are an “unhappy people” for who “Singapore could well be the Shangri-la!”

Mr Khaw’s remarks, which were made in Singapore’s parliament, have upset a lot of people in our country. That is natural. He has attacked our image. He has challenged GNH. And he has insulted our people. So, many of us are angry.

Even so, we should listen to him. And if what he has said carries even a grain of truth, we should listen carefully. We should, for instance, listen very carefully when he says that we are a tiny nation sandwiched between giants and that, as such, self-determination and self-reliance are difficult to achieve, especially when we can barely eke out an economy for ourselves.

And we should listen very, very carefully when he points out that our people are “toiling in the field, worried about the next harvest and whether there would be buyers for their products.”

We’ve become used to lapping up international praise, and without even pausing to consider whether or not we deserve that adulation. But on the other hand, we are quick to condemn the occasional criticism. We shouldn’t. If critical remarks are insightful and constructive, we should, as Business Bhutan put it, receive them as valuable “food for thought.”

Investigating Gyelpozhing

Last Saturday, more than two months after Business Bhutan broke their story about alleged land grabbing in Gyelpozhing by senior public servants, the Anticorruption Commission announced that they:

“… are in the process of studying laws related to land, policy issues, analysing and re- viewing the complaints they received with regards to Gyalpoizhing land case.”

The Gyelpozhing land case has raised serious questions about alleged corruption involving our senior-most public servants when land was acquired and redistributed in Gyelpozhing. This is a big case. And it is an important one. So the ACC is correct in studying the case carefully before they launch an all-out investigation.

But the questions remains: Is ACC taking too much time to start investigating the Gyelpozhing land case?

Please share your views here. And please take the poll that asks the same question.

Good governance

The Thimphu Thrompon recently ignored the “attic rule” by allowing the attics on 31 buildings to be replaced by an additional floor each. The government, which had earlier not responded to the Thrompon’s proposal to nullify the rule, reacted by quickly approving the proposal last Friday.

On Monday, members of Dagana’s Dzongkhag Tshogdu, led by their Chairman, reported to the Home Ministry to complain that their dzongkhag didn’t have a fulltime dzongdag, a dzongrab and several sector heads. They had traveled to Thimphu to request the government to appoint fulltime staff to these important positions.

What’s the connection between these two seemingly unrelated events? They show that our local governments have come of age. What’s obvious is that the newly elected local governments are taking their responsibilities seriously. But what’s not so obvious, and yet is very significant, is that they won’t hesitate to demand that the central government also fulfill their responsibilities.

Now that’s good for our democracy. And very good for our people.

Good ideas

Reports by BBS have confirmed recent rumours that Dasho Penjor Dorji and Dr Tandin Dorji are each starting a political party. That is good news. The next parliamentary elections will take place in 2013, in less than two years. So if we are to have more than two political parties by then – if we are to have a primary round of elections the next time around – it’s time to start openly working to establish new parties.

The reports about new political parties in the offing should also be received as very good news, as new parties will offer that much more political choice to our voters. Our country still has only two parties – DPT and PDP – and, so far, both of them have refused, and failed, to set themselves apart ideologically. The entry of new political parties will, hopefully, provide clearer and more substantive ideological alternatives to our voters, alternatives that are essential for our fledgling democracy.

Dasho Penjor and Dr Tandin have both been politically active. Dasho Penjor had tried to start the Bhutan National Party in 2007. He also played a key role in the merger of BNP, BPUP and APP to form the current ruling party, DPT.

Dr Tandin was PDP’s candidate in the 2008 elections representing Lingmukha-Toewang constituency. After the elections, he co-authored “Drukyul Decides”, a book in which he chronicles the events of the 2008 elections.

I wish them, and their new parties, success.

Thank you

The Royal Wedding celebrations moved to Paro yesterday. The festivities, which took place on the historic grounds of the Ugyen Pelri Palace, marked the end of the week-long official celebrations and were hosted by Their Majesties the King and Queen especially for the people who had worked to ensure the success of the Royal Wedding.

The Royal Wedding and the accompanying celebrations were indeed a resounding success. And we, the people of Bhutan, owe our gratitude to the hundreds of people who worked round the clock to make them so.

First and foremost, we must thank the Prime Minister, the working committee and the cabinet ministers for a job well done. They were the ones who successfully planned, coordinated and oversaw the once-in-a-lifetime celebrations.

Second, we are extremely grateful to HH the Je Khenpo and the Dratsang for offering prayers throughout the country. They secured the benedictions of the Triple Gem and invoked our Guardian Deities to protect and bless the Royal Couple and the people of Bhutan.

Third, we must acknowledge the important contributions of our civil servants, most of who worked long hours through the many weeks leading up to the celebrations. And during the actual celebrations, instead of joining the festivities, they continued to work, with even director- and secretary-level officers guiding the public and chaperoning guests and dignitaries.

Fourth, we thank our students and their teachers. They organised a wide range of events throughout the country, so that our people, in every district, could take part in the celebrations. And through their innocence, they conveyed the love and affection of the entire country to the Royal Couple.

Fifth, we owe our gratitude to our security forces. The Army, Police and Body Guards worked together to assure law and order, and to maintain the security of our country.

Sixth, we thank the media for spreading the celebrations and keeping our people informed. In particular, we applaud the BBS for taking the sacred ceremonies and colorful festivals in Punakha and Thimphu to every Bhutanese home through their excellent live TV and radio coverage of the celebrations.

Seventh, we are grateful to the many private businesses and corporate agencies who organized activities and released a range of souvenirs and mementos.

And most importantly, we, the people, are deeply grateful to His Majesty the King for giving us a Queen, and for dedicating the Royal Wedding to the people of Bhutan. The celebrations bought the entire nation even closer together and, during the past week, every one of us felt like we belonged to the same big, happy family.

Your Majesties – on behalf of the people of Bhutan: thank you, and tashidelek!

http://www.tsheringtobgay.com/monarchy/2011/3.html