Inviting questions

The 10th and final session of the 1st Parliament got underway last Friday. During this session, the National Assembly will discuss just two bills: Contract Bill of Bhutan, and Alternate Dispute Resolution Bill. In addition, the National Assembly will consider the National Council’s comments on Road Bill and Domestic Violence Prevention Bill which were adopted by the Assembly in the 9th session. The Disaster Management Bill will be discussed in a joint sitting to iron out differences between the two houses.

Question Hour, when MPs get to question the government, are held on Tuesdays and Fridays. I’ve prepared some questions, but I’d like to hear from you as well. What question(s) would you like to ask? And to whom would you like them directed ? I’ll try to incorporate as many of your questions as possible in the opposition party’s questions.

Happy Losar!

nagini-crn

Chime R. Namgyal’s “Nagini”

I am guilty. My last post was on November 23. That means that I have not updated my blog for about two and half months – 79 days to be exact. That’s a long break. I took the break to collect my thoughts. I also took the break to focus on party matters – to consult and work more closely with my PDP colleagues in the lead-up to this year’s elections. I’m happy to report that, so far, our journey to the 2013 elctions is proceeding well. So far, so good.

I have been very fortunate that my blog has received a following far greater than I actully deserve. In fact, many of you have kept visiting this website even though I was not able to update it regularly. I want to thank all of you for visiting, and for participating in and adding to the discussions here, regardless of whether you subscribe to my views or not.

In the past couple of weeks, I have been looking forward to writing again, and, for that, I’ve been thinking about an appropraite day to restart. Today is the first day of the first month of the Bhutanese calendar. Today is losar. So it is as good a day as any to revive this blog, and to reconnect with my readers again.

On this Losar, I would like to wish all of you, your family members and friends, and all your loved ones a very Happy Losar! May my losar greetings bring you peace, prosperity and happiness. May the Year of the Female Water Snake inspire you to achieve your aspirations and fulfill your dreams.

On this Losar, let us remember the peace and prosperity we have enjoyed since Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel united Bhutan, and under the golden reign of our successive monarchs. Let us celebrate the leadership of our monarchs who have worked tirelessly and selflessly to give us a kingdom that we are justifiably proud of.

On this Losar, let us remind ourselves of the sacred responsibility we shoulder – to contribute to making our democracy a success. Before 2008, all of us were united in our reluctance to welcome democracy in our country. But we were also united in accepting it because it was given to us, as a gift from the Golden Throne. Now we must again stand united, each and every one of us, in carrying out our sacred democratic responsibilities, foremost among which is to make sure we vote.

As elections draw near, we must remind ourselves to make our votes count. Your one vote can be the difference between having the right member of parliament or not. More importantly, it can be the differnce between having the government of your choice or not. And most importantly, it could be the difference between whether you get the future of your choice or not.

In 2008, almost 80% of the electorate voted. It is a figure all of us should be proud of. No other liberal democracy can boast of such a huge voter turnout. The extraordinary turnout clearly indicated that our electorate knew the importance of the ballot and was willing to exercise it. That said, not as many voters turned up for the local elections held in the last two years. And that should concern all of us.

Therefore, on this Losar, I would like to call on all my fellow citizens – my brothers and sisters – to commit to exercising your democratic franchise. Think of voting as a duty, a sacred duty, and not a privilege. I hope that all of you would have already decided to vote … in the NC elections, in the primary elections and in the general elections. And please spread the message. Encourage your friends to vote. Encourage your family to vote. Encourage your neighbours to vote.

On this Losar, I would also like to remind all politicians and political parties to keep the interest of the nation above all other things. I am proud of my fellow politicians and more so of all the aspiring politicians, and I am sure that all of us will work to make our Kings and our people proud. Still, I would like to urge our politicians to put personal differences aside, and focus on the important business of nation-building instead.

I am sure my politician friends would agree that we are not in politics to win at any cost. We are not in it to hold on to power at any cost. Instead, we are in it to build stronger Bhutan. We are in it to build a better Bhutan. We are in it to build a country of our dreams.

On this Losar, let us commit to making the Female Water Snake Year a year of destiny for Bhutan. I am confident that each and every one of us will do our part in the upcoming national elections. I am confident that we will vote, that we will vote responsibly, and that we will vote for the change that we can believe in. And I am confident that, with the blessings of Guru Rimpoche, the protection of our guardian deities, and the guidance of our beloved Kings, we will secure an even better and brighter future for Bhutan.

HAPPY LOSAR ONCE AGAIN!

The banner features a detail of Chime R Namgyal’s depiction of a “Nagini” that he created for Tashi Delek, Druk Air’s inflight magazine.

 

Ache Lhamo

Sonam Dorji, 12 years, Class 5
Rinzin Norbu, 12 years, Class 4
Sangay Dorji, 12 years, Class 4
Namgay Chojay, 13 years, Class 4
Thinley Norbu, 11 years, Class 4

These five students go to Monmola community primary school, in distant Serti gewog, in the Shingkhar Lauri region. And boy, they can dance. I met them during my recent tour to Jumotshangkha, in the eastern-most part of our country. And they honoured me with an active performance of the very lively Ache Lhamo chham. 

The students say they took over a month to learn the historic Ache Lhamoi chham. They were taught by two farmers, Lobsang and Yeshey, both renowned dancers themselves, before and after school every day. The farmer-teachers proudly explained that they volunteered their services to promote their culture and heritage, and to add value to their children’s education.

The Ache Lhamoi chham, one of the teachers told me, has over 100 separate movements which would take several days to perform. What the students showcased was just one movement, and an abbreviated one at that. Enjoy…

I’ve lifted the following description of the Ache Lhomoi dance  from the Asia-Pacific Database on Intangible Cultural Heritage. It was written by Lopen Phuntsho Gyeltshen of the Royal Academy of Performing Arts.

Ache Lhamo or Ashe Lhamo is regarded more as drama rather than dance, but many scholars accept it as dance-drama flourished in Bhutan since a long time back.

The characteristics
Ache Lhamo literally means Sister Goddess or Lady Goddess. This is performed by herdsmen once a year in keeping with the local customs. It tells or relates stories of people famed for their piety and miraculous achievements be it spiritual or temporal. The repertoire of this art was not very broad and the style of presentation cultivated by each group varies, although the overall performance of the general framework is the same. The dance by one man and a woman is accompanied by the rhythm of the cymbal and beating of the large-sided drum, while the story unfolds in operatic recitative and chorus. Aside from the main performance comic scenes are acted with great brilliance.

The Merak Saktenpa people perform this dance-drama once a year, for five days at a time. Apart from the yearly festival, Ache Lhamo is performed, at some great monastery or wealthy noble’s house and other special events of national importance.

History
The Tibetan saint and the bridge-builder Thangtong Gyalpo, in the 14th century, began his project of building iron bridges over many big rivers in Tibet. To provide adequate provisions for the laborers he developed an interesting means for collecting donations. The Chhongje Bena family with seven daughters was called upon and to each daughter he assigned different roles, while he himself beat the drum. A large audience was gathered and everyone who watched the play enjoyed it very much. This was the first time that drama was introduced in Tibet.

During the late 14th century, the saint expanded his activity of bridge construction over Bhutan, and it is believed that along with him this art traveled to Bhutan.

The saint regarded his building of iron-suspension bridges and related engineering feat as a practical application of thebodhisattva ideal, and his introduction of this dance-drama Ache Lhamo is in no way different from any Buddhist activity. He is also credited for the introduction of other classical dances and folk performing arts.

Disloyal? Unpatriotic?

The opposition party’s statement on the government’s failed UNSC bid drew a strong response from the prime minster. Instead of clarifying the government’s position, or responding to the our request for a full disclosure of the expenses incurred, he called my remarks “disloyal and unpatriotic”.

We will not engage in personal attacks. But we cannot ignore the PM’s malicious assault which was obviously intended to malign the opposition members and undermine institution of the opposition party. So we felt compelled to issue the following  statement to the press last Friday:

 

The Opposition Party deeply regrets the unwarranted remarks of the Honourable Prime Minister during the recent press conference in which he labeled the Opposition Leader as “unpatriotic and disloyal” for expressing his views on the failed UN Security Council bid, and for calling on the Government to review its foreign policy.

By calling the Opposition Leader “disloyal and unpatriotic” the Honourable Prime Minister seems to have no respect and regard for the institution of the Opposition Party or the duty of the Opposition Party as enshrined in the Constitution.

The Honourable Prime Minister’s derogatory remarks indicate that while the Government wants to take all the credit for any success, it does not want to be held accountable or face criticism for any of its failures.

The Opposition Party is not surprised that the Prime Minister has gone on record to term the Opposition Leader as “unpatriotic and disloyal”. Such incidences have occurred before, as when the Government demeaned the Judiciary when they lost the Constitutional Case. Similarly the Government has also undermined the institutions of the ECB, ACC and media on various occasions.

We feel that the Prime Minister’s remarks are an attempt to deflect public attention from the Government’s failed UN Security Council bid and from the series of allegations of corruption that continue plague the Government.

However, the Opposition Party will not be intimidated by the Prime Minster’s derogatory remarks. Instead, we shall continue to discharge our duties faithfully – without fear or favour – in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, and in the interest of the country and people.

Accordingly the Opposition Party calls on the Honourable Prime Minister and the Government to take the views and concerns of the Opposition Party constructively, and to recognize that all of us share the common objective of strengthening the nation and fulfilling the aspirations of our people.

Ill conceived and misguided policy

My statement to the press yesterday:

Yesterday the UN General Assembly voted to elect non-permanent members to the UN Security Council. Bhutan, along with Cambodia and South Korea, competed for a single vacancy for the Asia Pacific Group of countries.

Bhutan secured only 20 of the 192 votes cast and was eliminated in the first round of elections itself. South Korea beat Cambodia in the second round of voting, and was elected to the Security Council.

The Government has expended considerable time and resources trying to secure a non-permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. Our Mission to the UN at New York has been enlarged; Special Envoys of the Prime Minister have traveled far and wide; Ministers have traveled extensively and held bilateral meetings at the sidelines of the many multilateral conferences that they attended; and the Prime Minister himself has spent a disproportionate amount of time outside the country, campaigning for a berth in the UN Security Council.  It also appears that Bhutan may have established diplomatic relations with several countries solely for the purpose of securing their vote for our Security Council candidature.

The Opposition Party has always believed that the Government’s bid for Security Council membership was ill conceived and misguided. Moreover, we believed that even if we were somehow elected to the Security Council, we would have exposed our country to more harm than to good. As a young democracy, our focus should be at home, within the country, addressing issues of national importance, rather than craving for the international limelight.

The Opposition Party, however, chose to remain silent until now as we believe that in important foreign policy matters, we must present a united front to the international community, and Bhutan’s bid to join the Security Council was this government’s most significant foreign policy initiative. With the elections having concluded, however, we would be failing in our duty, as the Opposition Party, if we did not express our concern over the current government’s misguided attempt to secure a UN Security Council seat. Our concerns do not stem from the fact that we lost the election, but from having contested for the seat in the first place.

We also feel compelled to voice our deep concern over the overall direction of Bhutan’s foreign policy under the current government. Bhutan has always followed a prudent and far-sighted foreign policy befitting a small country located in a geo-politically sensitive region. The current government’s international priorities can be described as irresponsible at best, and undermine a foreign policy that has served Bhutan well over that last century.

As such, the Opposition Party calls on the Government to reconsider its foreign policy priorities, and devote its attention and scarce resources to pressing issues within the country.

The Opposition Party also calls on the Government to provide a complete and public account of the expenses incurred to campaign for the UN Security Council seat, and to explain why so much resources were allocated to an undertaking that we had no chance of winning in the first place.

19 October 2012

Weather service

20121011-095839.jpg

Waiting for the sun

I woke up to a glorious morning today. The skies were clear. And the heavens promised a warm, sunny day.

That’s how it’s supposed to be at this time of the year – warm, sunny and bright: perfect weather for harvesting paddy. And that’s why some of our farmers, prompted by BBS’s forecast for sunny weather, have begun to harvest their crop.

But the farmers who harvested their paddy a few days ago and, as is required, left them to dry in their fields were in for some anxious moments yesterday. It had rained the previous day and almost all of yesterday. And they feared that another day of rain would destroy their crop and an entire year’s worth of hard labour. So, naturally, they are delighted at the possibility that today’s sun will quickly dry their rain soaked paddy.

This happened last year too. And the year before. Our farmers had to deal with unseasonal rain and were left literally praying for the sun to come out so that the paddy they had harvested would not rot in the rain.

Our farmers forecast weather at this time of the year by expecting the previous week’s weather to continue for the next two to three days. Some of them combine that estimate with BBS TV’s weather forecast. But BBS’s predictions, which are based on data from the Ministry of Agriculture’s meteorological center, can be notoriously unreliable. So every year, at this time of the year, our farmers spend many anxious days trying to guess the best time to harvest their crop.

Much of this anxiety is unnecessary. Many websites – AccuWeather and BBC, for example – provide free satellite images and weather forecasts for Bhutan. Their forecasts are also not accurate. But at least they provide satellite images and show weather patterns. And gewog administration officers, RNR extension workers and the farmers themselves could use that information to develop a clearer picture of the weather pattern.

But we can do a better job; we can go much further to reduce the anxiety among our farmers. That would be possible by purchasing professional weather forecasting services, and distributing that information, as and when needed, through TV or other media, to our farmers. That wouldn’t cost much. But that would help our farmers immensely. And that’s what the government should be doing.

The art of politics

Dasho Gado Tshering is taking the art of politics to new heights. The former health secretary resigned last year “… on moral grounds after an ACC investigation revealed serious lapses in the procurement of GOI-funded medical equipment before 2008.” A few months later he announced that he would join politics. He has said that his decision to join politics was at the behest of the people of Haa. And he has insisted, consistently, that the people of his constituency will decide which party he will join.

Dasho Gado Tshering is popular in Haa. So most people believe that he will win from his constituency, regardless of which party he joins. That has led to a spate of rumors about him joining DMT, DNT, and, most recently, Druk Chirwang Tshogpa. But last week, he put the rumors to rest. He announced that the people of upper Haa want him to join the ruling party, Druk Phuensum Tshogpa. “… as of now, people of upper Haa have DPT in their mind,” he told Kuensel.

If Dasho Gado wants to join DPT, that’s his business. And if DPT wants to give him a ticket for 2013, or has already promised one, that’s their business. Never mind that they still have a serving member of parliament. The art of politics is, after all, the art of the possible.

But Dasho Gado should not blame the people of Haa for his decision to join DPT. He should not put words in their mouths. And he should not make it seem that the people of Haa have decided to continue supporting the ruling party.

The people of Haa have not yet decided. But they will do so soon enough, in the elections next year. In the meantime no one should preempt that decision merely for the purposes of political advantage.

Report cards

Here’s some fun, on another gloomy Pedestrian Day, courtesy “Bhutanomics”, a website many have been frequenting recently. I’m tempted to run a poll to see whose report card is the funniest (i.e., the most accurate).

 

Amazing social media

Social animal

Social media is amazing. Click on a few buttons, like a page, follow a friend, and, voila!, you know everything that’s going on around you.

To politicians, that knowledge is invaluable. It allows them to hear the people, to listen to them, to feel their pulse.

But social media has an even bigger gift for politicians. It facilitates communication. It allows politicians to interact continuously with people, easily and directly.

Yes, social media is amazing. That’s why I, as a politician, am active on Twitter and Facebook. That’s also why I’m on Youtube and Bambuser and Linkedin and Instagram. And that’s why I maintain this blog.

Over the years, I’ve received many messages, mainly on Facebook. Many of them have carried good wishes and words of encouragement … and criticism

But I’ve received many other types of messages as well: some giving me advice, some complaining about public policy, some explaining their personal problems, some asking for help with their school research, some asking for money, some asking if I know their long lost friend, and some simply to say “hi!”

Of the thousands of messages I’ve received, my all time favorite came from a young boy. He sent me this desperate message last week:

“Uncle, I have a cute little pug dog who I love very much. Last time, my mummy has given to your brother as he has a female pug. And my mummy cannot remember his no. Please ask him to bring back my pug. I miss him very much. Please uncle!!!”

I had to attend to his request immediately. I tracked down my brother, then went back on Facebook. But before I could tell him the good news, this message was waiting for me:

“Thank you uncle. He brought it back. Me and my sister are very happy now. Mummy wanted to send him with Aunty but we didn’t let her send him. Please tell other uncle, he can bring his dog to our home to meet my dog sometime. We will also send our dog to his home. Again, thank you uncle.”

Social media is amazing.

Democratic parties

Bhutan joined the world in celebrating International Democracy Day over the weekend. In Thimphu, a panel discussion was held to promote a better understanding of democracy, and to talk about why it is especially important for citizens to enjoy their rights but also to fulfill their responsibilities in a young democratic country.

There’s no doubt that such discussions are important. They will go a long way in educating our people; in building strong foundations for our democracy; and in making sure that, through democracy, the promises of peace, liberty and prosperity are fulfilled. So we must have more of these discussions.

But whenever we talk about democracy, one important aspect of it does not get much attention: political parties, and, in particular, the fact that they may not themselves be run democratically. This is strange. Political parties exist for and because of democracy. Yet, the parties themselves often lack a culture of democracy. Political parties contest elections and, through the democratic process, acquire political power to influence public policy. Yet, powers within parties are often distributed and exercised without regard to even the most basic of democratic principles.

Our democracy is young. So we must nurture it. We must strengthen every one of its instruments, from majority rule and minority rights to the separation of powers, checks and balances, and the rule of law. And yes, we must understand our rights and responsibilities.

But we must also demand that political parties themselves are democratic. We must insist that they too respect and abide by democratic principles when, for example, they select their leaders and candidates, or when they determine their policies, or, for that matter, when they run all their other affairs.

For the long-term success of democracy it is crucial that political parties themselves practice democracy. After all, if political parties are themselves not democratic, how can we expect them to strengthen and spread the ideals of democracy? How can we expect them to deliver the promises of democracy?