Big ideas

House No. 7

I stayed at Yangtsena yesterday. It’s a small village on the southern slopes of the Pu-la overlooking the Amochhu river.

Yangtsena has only seven houses. But all of them are handsome, traditional farmhouses. It wasn’t always like that – just 14 years ago, they lived in basic bamboo huts.

That’s about when, when Yangtsena’s residents got together and decided that they, all seven households, must have better houses. Individually, no family had the resources to build a farmhouse. So they decided to pool their resources, especially labour, and collectively build all of their houses, one farmhouse at a time.

Contributing labour to build houses is not uncommon in our villages. Almost every house in rural Bhutan has been built using at least some form of free labour from their neighours.

But what sets Yangtsena apart is their resolve to build the entire village collectively, an idea that engaged every man, woman and child, almost every winter, in construction. Last winter, they completed their seventh, and final, farmhouse. And with that they completed an idea that began 14 years ago.

Yangtsena is a small village. But they have big ideas. Their next project is to improve their irrigation channels and then, again collectively, build more paddy fields. The idea – a big idea, and one that they will surely achieve – is to become self sufficient in rice.

BNCA rules

Most of us support the objectives of the Tobacco Control Act, which is to reduce tobacco consumption – perhaps even eradicate it – in the country. But many of us are alarmed at the severe penalties being handed out under the Act.

First Sonam Tshering, a monk, was sentenced to three years in prison for possessing a mere 48 packets of chewing tobacco. He has appealed the verdict to the High Court.

Then Lhab Tshering, a driver, was arrested for possessing 64 packets of chewing tobacco. He’s currently being tried at the Thimphu District Court, and could also receive a three-year prison term.

And a couple of weeks ago, three people – an engineer, a soldier and an officer – were arrested for allegedly smuggling nine packets of cigarettes. Three people could go to jail for three years each for smuggling nine packets of cigarettes!

Most of us support the objectives of the Tobacco Control Act. But many of us can’t make sense of how the Act is being implemented.

So I was delighted to learn that the Royal Bhutan Police had offered the government a graceful way of resolving this predicament. Kuensel reported that the police had recently written to the Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency asking them a very pertinent question:

Carrying what quantity of tobacco would be considered smuggling or violation of the Tobacco Act provisions?

And Kuensel reported that:

Police officials said for them to enforce the Tobacco Act, there was a need to “quantify” the amount of tobacco products a person was carrying.

“At least the minimum amount should be specified,” a police official said. “Are you going to charge a person, who is caught with a packet of cigarette, like one caught with thousands of tobacco products?”

But, sadly, the government did not seize the opportunity. Kuensel went on to report that:

BNCA officials said the penalty is the same, irrespective of the quantity of tobacco one is caught carrying.

There’s a big difference between smuggling to sell or distribute tobacco products, and illegal possession of tobacco for personal consumption. And that difference should be clearly defined in BNCA’s rules and regulations. But they feel that there’s no need to differentiate between the two.

That’s too bad. If the police’s concerns were accepted, a monk wouldn’t go to jail for possessing a few packets of khaini. A driver wouldn’t face a similar sentence for also possessing khaini. And three people wouldn’t be charged with smuggling nine packets of cigarettes.

At this rate, many more of our fellow citizens will end up in jail.

A helping hand

Here’s an announcement from Jurmi Chhowing. I won’t be in Thimphu, but for those who are … please attend.

My apologies for going off the topic!
I’m requesting personal help. We are trying to help raise whatever cash/kind we can for the Tsunami/Earthquake victims of Japan.

Its called “A HELPING HAND” – (With The Journalist, Bhutan Today, Radio Valley, Kilu Bhutan Music School & Japanese friends & colleagues using their resources besides many others). We are building up to the event (a MUSIC concert by STUDENTS from KILU), and trying to create avenues/raise publicity for people to chip in and show Solidarity at this tragic juncture in Japan.

It will culminate with the Concert on Sunday 2:30PM at the Clock Tower. And you are ABSOLUTELY WELCOMED!

Thanking You, Sincerely, Jurmi Chhowing.

 

 

Happiness without kerosene

Happiness is ...

Today is the 24th of March. So it’s exactly three years since PDP got clobbered in the kingdom’s first general elections. Actually it wasn’t that bad – 33% of the voters had supported us. It’s just that that, unfortunately, translated to only two of the 47 seats in the National Assembly.

Anyhow, it’s now three years since that fateful day. And I’ve decided to commemorate the general elections by going to the people. I’m in Dorikha, at my indulgent aunt’s farmhouse, on my way to Gakiling gewog.

I’m taking along two important items for this trip. The first is a book: “Happiness – Lessons from a New Science” by Richard Layard, an economist who challenges that contemporary economic theory does not favour the pursuit of happiness.

The second item is a “solar light bulb” manufactured by Nokero (as in “no kerosene” – their idea is to replace the use of kerosene for illuminating homes). Nokero’s bulb is the size of a regular incandescent bulb, but carries a complete system to convert sunlight into electricity – solar panel, rechargeable battery, and light emitting diodes.

The Nokero bulb I’m carrying is a sample. Several villages in Gakiling don’t have electrical light, so I’ll use it to read “Happiness” at night. If the bulb survives my week-long tour, it would be ample proof that Nokero would make a worthy gift to our remote farmers.

Playing the media

Back in 2008, Tenzing Lamsang, working with Kuensel at that time, wrote a series of stories about the impending pay hike for civil servants. His stories, based on information from unnamed “sources” in the government, added fuel to the wild rumors and speculation that were already rife throughout the country.

The government was obviously leaking information to the media. And that, I felt, was dangerous. So I felt compelled to write:

Kuensel’s Tenzing Lamsang is amazing. He’s done it again. He’s written yet another story almost entirely based on government “sources”. And he is thorough – his account is packed with names, dates, places, amounts and important quotes. He seems to know too many details about the confidential debate that the government has been having on the pay hike issue.

Our government is amazing. They’ve done it again. They’ve allowed classified government information to leak, including details of discussions in our highest decision making body, the Cabinet. Is classified information being leaked purposely? Or are they being stolen? If it’s the former, a dangerous game is being played. If it’s the latter, it’s dangerous, plain and simple.

Tenzing Lamsang called me several times after reading my post. He protested that he had not been fed information by the government; that he had not stolen information; and that he had not paid for any information. That’s why I later added that disclaimer at the end of my story.

So imagine my surprise when, last Saturday, I read what Tenzing Lamsang, now with Business Bhutan, had to say about sources:

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.

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.

GNH for dummies

Gross National Happiness explained in three minutes by Morten Sondergaard, a “serial entrepreneur”.

Enjoy!

Droelma Jig Chompa

The Central Monk Body offered three days of continuous prayers throughout the country for the people of Japan. Yesterday, the officiating prime minister, speaker, chairperson, cabinet ministers, MPs, civil servants, and other well wishers joined Japan’s new ambassador to Bhutan, the resident coordinator of JICA, and Japanese experts and volunteers at the Kuenrey in Tashichhoe Dzong to participate in the concluding day of the prayers.

Lopen Gembo explained the prayers and delivered the following statement on behalf of the Dratshang:

May I take this opportunity to welcome all to Tashichhoe Dzong to take part in this very special ceremony of propitiation and chanting of the Mantra of Drolma Jigchobma – the Wisdom Mother Tara, the great protector. For kind information, the ceremony was initiated by the Royal Government and started on 18th March and is performed in all Monk Bodies and institutions in all 20 districts. Please allow me to give a brief description of the service.

In our Bhutanese belief, Tara is regarded as a Buddha of compassion and action. She is the female aspect of Avalokitesvara (Chenrezig) and in some origin stories she comes from his tears and became the most compassionate Tara, emanation of the activities of all Buddhas.

In terms of grace and achievement, all Buddhas are same. But due to their aspirations and prayers made during their path to enlightenment, they differ in their powers of blessings. Arya Tara generated Bodhichitta and took the vow to benefit all sentient beings and safeguard them from all unseen threats in presence of Buddha Amogasidhi. Since then, Arya Tara tok successive incarnations. She continuously performed enlightened activity for the benefit of sentient beings. She emanated into twenty-one forms of Tara, and through these emanations dispelled various sufferings of countless sentient beings.

In the absolute state of enlightenment or Buddhahood, everyone is one and equal. However, we are relative beings living in a relative condition. Therefore, we sometimes need different things at different times, different remedies for different causes. Because of this, apart from the 21 Tara, she had manifested in innumerable different forms to help our relative problems.

Not only is supplicating Arya Tara beneficial for clearing away the four major obstacles of anger, pride, attachment and ignorance embodied as fire, poisonous substances, ocean and demons. It also heps to clear away all hindrances and disasters caused by the four elements. Therefore, Arya Tara is referred to as the undisputed protector from the eight great fears. Using the power of Tara’s mantra, visualization, creation of the Mandala and generation of immense positive energies, we hope to divert all negative energies and various unseen hindrances. Thus we presume this religious ceremony will restore peace and harmony in the affected region.

The Monk Body of Bhutan humbly acknowledges the continuous assistance provided for decades by the people and government of Japan. We are very thankful for that and hope this small gesture and ritual service will uplift the spirits of Japanese people and create favorable conditions to overcome the disaster. At the same time, please accept our sincere prayers and condolence for those effected and lost lives. We do share your concerns and hopes and will continue praying for strengthening our good relations.

Thank you all once again for taking time to join us in this special ceremony.

Cross country

Yesterday, in Kabisa, during Bhutan’s first cross country mountain bike race, in which Sonam Tshering, who completed the 22 km course in 1hr 18 min, came first:

[Continue Reading…]

Bhutan prays

His Majesty the King

It’s almost exactly a week since the 9.0 earthquake hit Japan triggering the worst disaster in that country since WW II. The catastrophe, which has already taken thousands of lives, and left countless more homeless and destitute, has galvanized governments and peoples around the world in support of Japan’s mighty relief efforts.

In Bhutan too, people throughout the country are offering prayers for the victims of the disaster in Japan. His Majesty the King has lit butter lamps and offered prayers with the Japanese community in Bhutan. Similarly, the prime minister and government also offered butter lamps and prayers.

Earlier this morning, the Central Monastic Body began offering three days of continuous prayers for the victims in Japan. The prayers are being conducted in all twenty dzongkhags. But if you are in Thimphu, please visit the kunrey in the Tashichhodzong to join our monks in solemn prayer.

Our youth have also starting mobilizing support for the earthquake victims. Kilu Music School together with Radio Valley, Bhutan Today and The Journalist have announced that they will be performing a “donation concert” to raise funds.

And I just received the following SMS:

Thimphu Primary School is doing a sponsored walk on Sunday 9:30 AM to the  Buddha Point. We’re trying to raise money for the earthquake victims in Japan. Please join us, contribute and walk to help someone in need. See you there – TPS family:)

UPDATE

His Majesty the King has donated US$ 1 million to the Japan

The Youth Development Fund will organize a fund raising concert on 26th March

Quiet!

Several readers have repeatedly asked me why the opposition party had not taken the ECB to court for disregarding the Constitution during the recent thromde elections.

“Guardian”, for example, has argued that since the opposition had taken the government to court for violating the Constitution, it should, by the same measure, also take the ECB to court for allowing candidates to stand for election even though they had not been registered in their respective constituencies for the minimum one-year period. And

Since I hadn’t responded to these concerns, “Guardian” challenged, on several posts, that “by going against the government proved only one thing and that OL was protecting his well off and well connected cronies”.

And demanded to know “Why is the OL happy to let the ECB do things that are in complete contravention of the constitution and yet is willing to take the government to court even when he knows that the raising of vehicle tax would affect the rich more than the poor of Bhutan.”

I know that no amount of explaining will satisfy “Guardian”, simply because “Guardian”, whoever he or she is, understands the Constitution and the democratic process very well.

“Guardian” is fully aware that the constitutional case was about the procedure of imposing taxes, and not about objections to any particular tax, including the tax of vehicles.

“Guardian” is also fully aware of the opposition party’s roles and responsibilities set down in Article 18 of the Constitution:

  1. The Opposition Party shall play a constructive role to ensure that the Government and the ruling party function in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution, provide good governance and strive to promote the national interest and fulfil the aspirations of the people.
  2. The Opposition Party shall promote national integrity, unity and harmony, and co-operation among all sections of society.
  3. The Opposition Party shall endeavour to promote and engage in constructive and responsible debate in Parliament while providing healthy and dignified opposition to the Government.
  4. The Opposition Party shall not allow party interests to prevail over the national interest. Its aim must be to make the Government responsible, accountable and transparent.
  5. The Opposition Party shall have the right to oppose the elected Government, to articulate alternative policy positions and to question the Government’s conduct of public business.
  6. The Opposition Party shall aid and support the Government in times of external threat, natural calamities and such other national crises when the security and national interest of the country is at stake.

By Article 18, it is the duty of the opposition party to ensure that the government does not violate the Constitution. That’s why we took the government to court for violating the Constitution.

But what if ECB, other constitutional bodies, or independent agencies violate the Constitution? Can the opposition take them to court? I don’t think so. The Constitution does not empower the opposition to ensure that they function in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. That check and balance is provided in other parts of the Constitution, including Article 13 – Impeachment.

So why did the opposition party write to the ECB when it risked violating the Constitution? Because Article 8 Section 11 of the Constitution requires that “Every person shall have the duty and responsibility to respect and abide by the provisions of this Constitution”.

The opposition party, like any other citizen, can write to the ECB alerting them of violations of the Constitution. And that’s what we did.

But taking them to court is another matter. The opposition party may not have the legal mandate to do so. And that’s why we’ve kept quiet.