Contrast and compare

Express job

Express job

Have you travelled on the Thimphu – Chunzom higway recently? Is so, you would have noticed a frenzy of construction activity at “Charkilo”. What’s being constructed is the road to the controversial Education City.

For all the controversy surrounding the Education City, the government has made sure that the project has not suffered for want of attention or support. The cabinet has earmarked and approved the lease of 1000 acres of land as the government’s equity for the project.  A new company, DHI-Infra, was established two years ago to spearhead the project. A full board, with the works and human settlement minister as the chairman, has been set up. Numerous road shows have been conducted. The cabinet “further ratified” the Education City project bid, and awarded the bid to a consortium of bidders. A law was passed specifically for the Education City. The government has allocated a subsidy to the Education City in their 2012-13 budget. The construction of the Nu 133 million road and bridge has taken off. Someone has lobbied hard enough for the IFC to recognize the project as an outstanding public-private-partnership venture. All this while the detailed project report is still being prepared.

The Education City project is going ahead. It is being bulldozed ahead by the government.

What’s not going ahead, and what deserves our attention, are the proposals to establish three private colleges. These colleges will be established by Bhutanese people, using Bhutanese money, and for Bhutanese students. So we should render them our full support. Instead, they’ve been left on their own, without any government support. And the proposals, all three of them, are lost, mired in the government’s infamous red tape.

 

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…]

Code language

What we, as a country, need to do to rescue the Thimphu Tech Park. Yes, it will take a full generation to get there. But that’s why we must start immediately, with a sense of urgency.

Impostor!

Impersonating anyone on social media is easy. All that’s needed is to create an account using that person’s name, photo and other relevant information. And the impersonator is in business.

We’ve seen one person impersonate the prime minister on Twitter. And another person, also on Twitter, has been going around as MP Tshering Penjor. More recently, someone has opened a Facebook page pretending to be me.

I don’t mind impersonators on social media, especially if their purpose is to expose and make fun of the stupidity and excesses of public officials. This type of satire could generate much-needed laughter, while also subtly passing on important messages to the public as well as the targeted official.

But it’s dangerous, and unacceptable, when impersonators become impostors. The purpose of impersonators is to entertain and to poke fun at public officials. The purpose of impostors is to deceive and mislead the public.

The person who pretends to be me on Facebook is an impostor. That impostor has used my name with my photograph to deceive my Facebook followers that Bhutanomics is run by PDP and The Bhutanese. In fact, that impostor even misled BBS into believing that it was really me.

I’ve expressed my views, even very critical ones, openly and honestly during my term as MP. I’ve done so in the Parliament, in the media, when interacting with the public, and on my blog, Facebook and Twitter. I do not need (thankfully) the cover of anonymity to discharge my duties as a member of the opposition party. And no, I do not have any thing to do with Bhutanomics.

I wrote about Bhutanomics because I’m against illegal censorship. But there’s a bigger reason I wrote about it:  I’m frightened that any one who can order the illegal closure of a website could also, just as easily, order phone conversations to be tapped and SMS messages to be tracked, illegally.

 

A birthday greeting

Happy birthday!

Happy birthday!

On the joyous occasion of His Majesty the King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk’s 33rd birth anniversary, the People’s Democratic Party joins the nation in offering our deepest respects, heartfelt felicitations and prayers for His Majesty’s long life and a long prosperous reign.

Long Live the Druk Gyalpo!

Bhutan has been blessed with a succession of enlightened monarchs – selfless and benevolent kings who have always placed the interest of the nation above all else. They have ensured the peace, security and stability of our country; they have bestowed liberty, justice and happiness on our people.

Bhutan continues to be blessed. At a time when our people were enjoying unprecedented peace, prosperity and happiness, His Majesty the King blessed us with democracy. He then worked tirelessly to ensure that the transition to democracy is smooth. When we, the people, were unsure about democracy, His Majesty gave us assurance. When we were confused, His Majesty gave us inspiration. And when the political system seemed to flounder, His Majesty provided steadfast support and counsel.

That is why, within a very short time, the foundations of our democracy have already become unshakable.

On our part, His Majesty’s birth anniversary is an opportune occasion to dedicate ourselves to take democracy forward, and so serve the Tsawa Sum. Political parties, their members and candidates can do so by committing themselves to genuine nation-building instead of pursuing narrow political interests. Civil servants and the clergy can do so by remaining truly apolitical. And, most importantly, every Bhutanese can do so by fulfilling their sacred responsibility to vote in the upcoming elections. The best gift we can offer His Majesty today would be the pledge that we will take our democracy seriously.

Two months ago, on December 17th, during our National Day celebrations, His Majesty the King called on the nation to participate in the upcoming elections “as candidates, members of parties and voters.”

Today, on His Majesty’s birth anniversary, it would be befitting on our part to commit to do so … as a simple, yet heartfelt birthday gift.

Long Live the Druk Gyalpo!

Illegal censorship

Loud and clear

Loud and clear

Bhutanomics is a political satire blog set up by “Bhutan analyzers” who are committed to keeping a check on the “ballooning egos of the powerful so that they don’t forget the people are watching.”

The blog was launched in March, last year. And within no time, they attracted a large and faithful following which seemed to keep growing. Traffic to the blog was so high that the administrators were forced to upgrade and expand their website infrastructure several times.

Then, all of a sudden, on 12 January, Bhutanomics went dead. Their website was inaccessible. In fact, users of Tashi’s or Samden’s ISPs could access it. And anyone outside the country could access it. The website could also be accessed using anonymous proxy servers.But anyone using the Druknet’s internet services could not access the website.

Druknet is Bhutan’s biggest ISP. And Druknet is a government-owned company.

Most followers were convinced that Druknet had blocked Bhutanomics. But Druknet denied it. The information and communication secretary and BICMA, the media’s regulator, also denied any involvement in blocking Bhutanomics. And the cabinet secretary denied issuing any order to block the website.

Yet, Bhutanomics was not accessible. And full access to it was reinstated only only after the outpouring of public outrage threatened to grow. The controversial website is back online. But all is not well. All cannot be considered to be well until the perpetrators of the blatant censorship of Bhutanomics are exposed and bought to full account.

I’m reproducing below the full interview between Bhutanomics and Kuensel with the hope that we reflect on what happened; that we continue to ask questions; and that we commit to fighting any and all forms of illegal censorship. 

 

Q. Well firstly, I haven’t yet confirmed with Druknet/BICMA if Bhutanomics is indeed blocked, but attempts to access it so far seem to indicate it is.

A. Bhutanomics hasn’t been accessible in Bhutan since 12 Jan 2013. Strange thing is its still viewable through a proxy server.

Just as a precaution, have you checked with your own web host to eliminate any technical reasons?

Our website is firing on all cylinders. Bhutanomics is accessible everywhere in the world except Bhutan. Why would we spend precious little money we have to run a website that doesn’t work?

If it is indeed blocked, like what happened to the previous version of Bhutan Times, then my question to you would be whether you think this censorship of free speech, and why?

Obviously it is. Bhutanomics is not like the old website bhutantimes. In that most of the focus was on anti-national rhetoric by people in the camps. Only prior to the 2008 elections did bhutantimes begin to approach domestic politics and that was restricted to bashing one main person contesting for prime minister. We suppose, if Bhutanomics did that i.e. bash someone other than the ruling government (we could even bash the country it seems) we would not be banned. We would be welcomed.

As you can see Bhutanomics has no affiliation. Everyone is a fair target. Everyone is allowed to contribute. The central theme is that we care for the country and each article is about something that makes us worried, whether it is bad policy or personality flaws or sheer stupidity on the part of those in power.

If you aspire to positions of power, you must be able to take the brickbats. In America, groups have questioned openly the very citizenship of the president.

If the PM can take unlimited praise such as “JYT phenomenon”, “world statesman”, “no other leader like him”, “solver of the Amochu problem,” and so on, then he should be able to accept that there are others who think otherwise.

If meetings and conferences were open and criticism and argument were permitted instead of avenged by the government (such as with many civil servants, dzongdags and newspapers) then Bhutanomics may be unnecessary.

But with the lack of space for free criticism we have to resort to this.

By banning us, the ruling government has joined that very special group of governments in North Korea, Cuba, China, Syria, etc., where there is censorship of the internet.

How would you respond to comments that some material on your website is defamatory/personal attacks/perhaps could undermine a free and fair elections?

The stories that we have published are all contributed by people – people who are concerned about the state of the country. We just provide the platform and the security for those people to express themselves.

The parts considered unbearable by those in power are what in other countries is called satire and lampooning. Check out NDTV’s political cartoon or The Onion in the US or the numerous ones in the UK.

Banning criticism is really the situation where free and fair elections are not possible.

What is the purpose of Bhutanomics? And when was it established?

We have been around since the beginning of 2012. We think of ourselves as the Bhutan analyzers who try to keep up with the happenings in the corridors of power. We try to keep a check on the ballooning egos of the powerful so that they don’t forget the people are watching.

Given presence of proxy servers, Facebook, and Twitter, does such a block really matter to you?

The block proves that our government cannot stand any form of criticism. That matters to us. If they are sincerely doing their duty why would they be averse to criticism?

Yes proxy servers means people can still read bhutanomics but that’s not the point. If people feel a certain way about something they should be allowed to say it. Why block them? It’s a futile exercise. You can’t block the internet in this day and age. Instead the government should read between the lines of the satire and try to correct their mistakes.

Entitlement urgency

Most of you sided with the government’s proposal to force early elections that I wrote about in Dissolving the government. Thank you for your comments. (For the record, PDP would benefit from early elections too. Unlike the three new parties, we already have a presence in all 20 dzongkhags. And that means that early elections would almost assure us of getting past the primary round.)

By law, the government can recommend the premature dissolution of the National Assembly. So I have no problem with the legality of the government’s proposal. It’s the principle that concerns me. If the government’s proposal to dissolve the National Assembly before the completion of its term is motivated by the national good, I’m all for it. If, on the other hand, the government is motivated by narrow political interests, I’m concerned.

I happen to believe that it’s the latter. I believe that the government is forcing early elections to prevent the new parties from establishing themselves and taking away votes from the ruling party. I believe that the government wants to sweep the elections with little or no opposition. I believe that the government is intent on clinging on to power.

But let’s move on.

In his inaugural address, the speaker also announced that the Parliamentary Entitlement Act would be introduced for amendment during this session.

Now here, we run into trouble, both by law and by principle.

Section 30 of the Parliamentary Entitlement Act states that, “A member of Parliament upon retirement on completion of his term of five years shall be entitled to such amount of gratuity as may be provided for under this Act.”  And according to Section 31, “… No gratuity shall be payable if a member retires before the completion of his term or if his services are terminated.”

If the National Assembly is dissolved before the completion of its term, we, MPs, will not have completed our term of five years, and, as such, will not be entitled to collect gratuity. Hence, the urgency to revise the Parliamentary Entitlement Act.

Amending the Parliamentary Entitlement Act just to benefit ourselves is questionable, on principle. But it is also questionable, again on principle, because the the National Assembly  rejected the Parliamentary Entitlement (Amendment) Bill which was passed by the National Council less than a year ago, in the last session of the Parliament.

And that’s where amending the Parliamentary Entitlement Act in this session could run into trouble with the law.

According to Section 193 of the National Assembly Act, “When a Bill has been passed or has been rejected during a session in any year, no Bill of the same substance may be introduced in the Assembly in that year except by leave of the Assembly.” The Parliamentary Entitlement (Amendment) Act was rejected in the 9th Session, so we should not be allowed to discuss it in the 10th Session. Unless, that is, the Assembly considers this a serious enough matter to merit discussion even though a year has not passed since rejecting the Bill.

But even if the National Assembly goes ahead and amends the Parliamentary Entitlement Act in this session, the amended bill can only be considered by the National Council in the next session of the Parliament. That won’t be possible, as this session is the last session of this Parliament.

If any amendment to the Parliamentary Entitlement Act is to be passed in this session itself, the amendment bill must be introduced as an “urgent bill”. But for that, the question we will need to ask ourselves is this: does the entitlement of members of Parliament amount to a national urgency?

 

End violence against women!

Today is Valentine’s Day. It is a day to celebrate love. The simple and pure message of love transcends all society, and so the Day is observed by all, all over the world.

This Valentine’s Day is special because the world is also observing the One Billion Rising, a call for one billion women and all men who support women’s rights to walk out of offices and homes to “strike, rise and dance!”

Bhutan will also join the noble cause. And, in true Bhutanese spirit, Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck will lead the way, offering prayers and butterlamps at Tashichhodzong. I urge supporters and well-wishers to follow Her Majesty’s exemplary leadership to honour our women by committing to eradicate violence against them by participating in the simplen but sacred ceremony at the Tashichhodzong.

I call on everyone – each and every Bhutanese – to join Her Majesty the Queen Mother, to join One Billion Rising, to put an end to violence against our women.

Violence against women is against our religion. It is against our culture. It is against the law.

Let’s join hands to put an immediate end to this unacceptable scourge.

Dissolving the government

In his inaugural address last Friday, the Speaker announced that the government has proposed for the early dissolution of the National Assembly.

According to Article 10, Section 24 of the Constitution:

“… While the National Council shall complete its five-year term, premature dissolution of the National Assembly may take place on the recommendation of the Prime Minister to the Druk Gyalpo …”

So yes, the government can recommend the dissolution of the National Assembly before the completion of its term.

The government can do so. But they should not. Why? Because, the government is forcing early elections for their own narrow interests, not for the greater interests of the nation. And that is a bad precedent.

The government’s main excuse for forcing early elections – that, otherwise, the monsoons would interfere with the elections – is nonsense. That’s for ECB to decide, not the government. And the ECB has not even hinted that the monsoons could compromise their ability to conduct this year’s elections.

The government’s other excuse for forcing early elections – that, otherwise, the 11th Five Year Plan would suffer – is absurd. Surely, forcing early elections by 4 to 5 weeks cannot affect a whole five-year plan. Besides, an interim government along with the entire civil service will continue working on the 11th Plan during the three months leading up to the elections.

The government should be honest. They should admit that they want to dissolve the National Assembly before the completion of its term to force early elections. And that they want to force early elections to ensure an easy, perhaps even complete, victory in the upcoming elections.

The ruling party is ready for the elections. During the past six months, the government and their MPs have used their powers of incumbency to prepare for the elections. On the other hand, the new parties have only just received permission to “introduce” themselves to the people. To make matters worse, all the other parties, including the opposition, are still scrambling to finalize their candidates for the elections.

Early elections would favour the ruling party disproportionately. If they want to use that advantage, that’s their business. But they should not pull the wool over our eyes, they should not mislead the nation.

One more thing, the ruling party should remember that the people elected them to serve a five-year term. By dissolving the National Assembly ahead of its term, for their immediate electoral gain and not for the overall national good, they are essentially defaulting on their mandate to serve the people for five complete years. And that is a terrible precedent.