Day before yesterday, when members of the National Assembly met to discuss the preliminary agenda for the Assembly’s next session, the opposition party proposed that a bill to amend the Tobacco Control Act be considered.

It has not yet been one year since the Tobacco Control Act was adopted, but 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.

Regretfully, the members of the National Assembly did not grant permission to introduce a bill to amend the Tobacco Control Act.

Meanwhile, indignation spreads: four people have been detained for handling 9 packets of chewing tobacco!

And a woman has been arrested for possessing 5 sticks of cigarettes. This clip is from Bhutan Today:

Right to choose

The Chief Election Commissioner has released a pamphlet “… to share a few concerns of the Election Commission and clarify certain issues”

The Election Commission requests all of us to forward and redistribute their pamphlet to other Bhutanese.




National speaker?

for broadcasting

Yesterday, members of the National Assembly met to discuss the preliminary agenda for the Assembly’s next session.

During the discussions, the members also considered if the entire proceedings of the National Assembly should once again be broadcast on live TV. After exchanging the same old arguments – from the need to promote transparency by those favoring live TV, to the importance of preventing the public from influencing legislative debate by those against live TV – the members passed the buck to their speaker.

The Constitution and the National Assembly Act both empower the Speaker to prevent the media from attending all or part of the Assembly’s proceedings. So the MPs reasoned that the Speaker alone must decide if the partial ban on live TV broadcast should be lifted.

They are correct. Article 10 Section 15 of the Constitution states that:

The proceedings of Parliament shall be conducted in public. However, the Speaker of the Chairperson may exclude the press and the public from all or any part of the proceedings if there is a compelling need to do so in the interests of public order, national security or any other situation, where publicity would seriously prejudice public interest.

I am hopeful that the Speaker will decide that live TV broadcast does not compromise public order or national security; that it does not prejudice the public interest; and that, in fact, it enhances transparency, accountability and the democratic process.

I am hopeful that the Speaker will allow the resumption live TV broadcast.

Unemployment news

First the good news: unemployment has dropped from 4% to 3.3% and will be further reduced to 2.5% by 2013. The prime minister announced the good news in his State of the Nation report last year. The government reiterated the good news in January this year, during a review of the project Accelerating Bhutan’s Socio-economic Development.

Now the not-so-good news: the government’s unemployment figures have been questioned, forcing them to “… refute allegations that the data they used to indicate drop in unemployment rate for 2010 was manipulated”.

And finally the bad news: more than 6000 people applied for the 307 job vacancies that a hydropower project recently announced.

Opposing corruption

“guardian” entered three comments on my last post. All three were on corruption.

In the first comment, “guardian” complained that I hadn’t given any attention to this important issue:

OL simply needs to get his priorities right. When there are so many cases of corruption in the country, OL has not even raised his voice once. I suspect that somehow if he does that, he will find more PDP supporters who are behind all these corrupt practices.

In the second comment, “guardian” laments that no one seems to be doing any thing about the malaise spreading through our society:

Right now the most serious problem which is leading to poor governance is corruption which seems to have pervaded every section of Bhutanese society. Sadly, though, it was the government which kept on stating that corruption in Bhutan was at manageable levels, only to find out now, that it is a tough nut to crack.

Even the ACC it seems is not able to cope with the scale of corruption in the country.

And in the third comment, “guardian” persuades the opposition party to challenge the government:

Ol does not need to do anything, there is enough evidence as per the ACC reports that there is rampant corruption. OL just needs to tell the DPT government that he is worried about corruption and ask the ruling government to do something about it.

The fact that he is not even blogging about it very worrying indeed. Don’t you agree with me!

But it’s not just these three comments. “guardian” has left a string of comments, in many of my posts, all calling for opposition to corruption in Bhutan. And it’s not just “guardian”. Other readers have also voiced various concerns and objections to corruption.

Corruption is real. Corruption is rising. And, left unchecked, corruption could get dangerously pervasive. So we must act against it, individually and collectively. Otherwise this scourge will become irreversibly entrenched in our society.

But how do we fight? How do we fulfill our constitutional duty to “… uphold justice and to act against corruption”?

We can file reports – even confidential ones – to the Anticorruption Commission. We can go to the press. And we can discuss this important issue here, in this blog.

So if you know of any instances of corruption I urge you to report them to ACC. I encourage you to talk to the media. And I welcome you to discuss them here. This issue is important for the health and the future of our country. So let’s discuss it. And let’s do so constructively and responsibly, without engaging in slander, libel or malicious gossip.

On my part, I’ll listen and I’ll learn. And I’ll raise your concerns with the government and the ruling party, especially in the Parliament, the next session of which begins on the 20th of May.

Playing the game

My post entitled “Playing the media” drew many responses. Two of them were from Tenzing Lamsang.

In his first response, Tenzing argues that “sources” play an important role in revealing crucial information, often by taking great risks. He writes that:

Investigative Journalism internationally has to rely on confidential sources and so is the case in Bhutan. In fact a good journalists job is to cultivate the right sources in the right places.

We should salute these brave sources whose courage and conscience have helped to clean up society to some extent and also spread transparency.

The very lack of a RTI Act, Whistleblowers Protection Act, in-transparent system, cultural shyness to the media and other factors make even mundane information be released as leaks.

I agree with Tenzing Lamsang. I agree with him one hundred per cent.

But there seems to be a slight confusion. My post did not question the use of sources. In fact, like Tenzing, I too applaud whistleblowers who expose wrongdoings, especially by those in positions of authority. And, like him, I too believe that it’s about time we enacted legislation to enable the right to information.

Three days later, Tenzing Lamsang left a second response, one that appears angry and in which he threatens to take me to court. Here’s the second response in its entirety:

First the Opposition leader should stop spinning facts his way. This is not the political arena where you can throw wild accusations at the government but here you are dealing with the reputation of a media professional and an individual and what you have posted again borders on defamation.

When you made the original post on the pay hike I had no problem expect with the fact that you questioned whether the information had been ‘stolen’. I was unhappy and called you in 2008 to ask you by what you meant by the particular phrase ‘Or are they being stolen’. You very clearly told me that you meant that weather it was stolen by some official and then given to me implying that an official had stolen it which anyhow was an incorrect assessment. As you now claim I did not make any justifications to you as in the first place I did nothing illegal and secondly I owe no explanation to you.

I was simply trying to handle in a civil way what others would consider defamation. I accept that you have not accused me of stealing documents but by even hinting that the information was stolen without any evidence it is irresponsible and dangerous especially coming from the opposition leader of the country.

However the damage of your post in 2008 was done and since then some of my detractors have assumed your post to be a fact and used it to spread this fiction of stolen documents.

Perhaps the right way to handle it would have been to resolve the issue in court at that time like you recently did with the government.

Stealing is what a common thief or criminal does and it is the basest and most vile act for which there are adequate provisions in the penal code.

You have once again raised questions over my entire body of work for whatever reasons by hinting that the pay hike information was stolen. Lazy armchair journalism is something I do not do. I make it a point to meet everyone and get information and follow the basic rules of ethical journalism combined with backbreaking hard work.

A whimsical and defamatory comment like yours backed without any truth or evidence will not do the credibility of the opposition leader any good.

Truth does not spread easily but whisper a lie and it spreads like wildfire doing its damage. Based on this lie a paper has done a cartoon which is in poor taste, devoid of reality, petty and foolish. In Bhutan as I have said before the biggest challenge at times is not the government but people including those in my own fraternity who use the pen at times like a butcher’s knife.

Next time around I will not take kindly to such accusations and logical steps will be taken accordingly.

I don’t know why he got so upset. All I can say is that “Playing the media” was not intended to be an attack on him. Nor was it an attack on his sources. What I found questionable – even unethical – was that the government was purposely leaking information with the intention of gauging public opinion.

The post was titled Playing the media for a good reason. “Playing” the media – get it? Here’s the excerpt from Tenzing Lamsang’s column that I quoted in that post:

Another similar incident occurred in early 2009 when another source shared information with me that the finance ministry was planning car taxes of up to 50%. The story was done. However, the ministry immediately issued a circular saying that there is no proposal for a car tax. The source later told me that there was in fact a proposal which MoF withdrew immediately at the time due to the negative reaction. The source confessed to me that the information was deliberately leaked to me so that public reaction could be gauged.

I reiterate: “Playing the media” was not about Tenzing Lamsang. I covered that quite clearly in “Investigating rewards?”

“Playing the media” was about certain questionable practices of the government. That’s why my post ends with:

The government should not play games with the media and, through it, with the public at large. Such games are silly at the best of times. But more often than naught, like the rumors of resignation that spread following the Supreme Court’s verdict, they can get dangerous.

Enough said. Let’s address the real issue. I’d like to hear from you: is it okay for the government to deliberately mislead the media by disguising and leaking proposals that are still under consideration as policies ready for implementation in order to gauge public reaction?


Taking charge

Here are two reasons why we should welcome news that the prime minister has formally taken charge of the foreign affairs portfolio:

One, the foreign ministry, an important portfolio, has been without a minister for about a year.

And two, this is a good opportunity for the government to reduce the size of the administration.

Eleven ministers (a prime minister and 10 cabinet ministers) for a country of 700,000 people and a GDP of barely US$ 1.3 billion is excessive by any measure. Switzerland, for instance, has 7 ministers for 8 million people and a GDP of US$ 500 billion.

Our government is bloated. And we need to trim it. We need to make it small, compact and efficient.

A good way to start is by reducing the number of cabinet ministers. And a good way to start that is for the prime minister to take charge of at least one ministry.

RUB fees?

The RUB has accepted McKinsey’s recommendation to charge fees to their students. This year, 10% of the students entering RUB’s colleges will have to pay fees. And by 2013, 30% of them will have to do so.

Is this a good idea? What do you think?

Please share your thoughts. And please take the poll that asks “Should RUB charge fees?”

Examining exams

Need testing

Earlier this year, when the education ministry announced that they were thinking about doing away with written examinations for students of PP to Class III, I asked if phasing out the exams was a good idea.

41% of you said YES, exams should be discontinued for Classes PP to III. But 56% of you said NO, written exams should not be discontinued. The rest said that they were not sure.

Thank you for taking the poll.

The idea of doing away with examinations was first mooted at a GNH for Education conference. The education ministry considered the proposal, but seem to have dropped it after concluding that, at this time, our schools do not have a suitable alternative to assessing student performance.

I agree. That, plus removing examinations from our classrooms sounds uncannily like NAPE  (new approach to primary education), another modern idea that our schools and teachers were not adequately equipped to implement.

Vicious precedence

Okay, I’m confused…

On 31st March, Bhutan Today reported that the Chukha district court found the driver who was caught with 10 packets of khaini and 2 packets of cigarettes guilty of a misdemeanor. I’d written that we should welcome the verdict, and posted a copy of Bhutan Today’s article in which the Hon’ble Drangpon was quoted extensively.

But today, Bhutan Today reports that the Chukha district court found Ambar Biswa, the driver who was caught with 10 packets of khaini and 2 packets of cigarettes, guilty of a fourth degree felony and sentenced him to a prison term of three non-bailable years.

Do you smell anything vicious? Here’s today’s article by Bhutan Today: