Can anyone tell me what this is?
What would you do if you found out that there’s this job opening that would pay three times more but would be less demanding than your current job? You’d probably apply for it, right? How could you pass up an opportunity to earn three times your pay for actually doing less work?
What would you expect if you found out that that job was in a government project, financed by government funds? You’d expect to get that job, right? And if you don’t, you’d expect a more qualified and experienced fellow Bhutanese to get it.
That’s exactly what happened. PHPA advertised for doctors. The doctors would be paid by the project. But they would work in the Bajo basic health unit.
Several Bhutanese doctors applied for the lucrative jobs.
But the government intervened. And that’s when things went wrong. The government decided that Bhutanese doctors would not be eligible for the PHPA jobs. They decided that PHPA could, instead, recruit doctors from India.
What is it with us? Our economy is very small. That’s why economic opportunities are few and far between. And yet, we insist on giving the best opportunities to foreigners. We insist on depriving our own people.
The 9th session of the Parliament begins tomorrow with a traditional ceremony, and will continue 11th of July. Here’s what we will be discussing…
Three bills will be introduced in the National Assembly:
Two bills that were introduced and endorsed by the National Council will be discussed in the National Assembly. They are:
The following three bills, which were endorsed by the National Assembly and subsequently discussed in the National Council, will also be discussed to resolve differences, if any, between the two Houses:
If the two Houses are unable to come to an agreement on these three bills, His Majesty the King may command a joint sitting to deliberate and vote on these bills.
In addition to the bills, the following reports will be presented and/or discussed:
And the following conventions will be presented for ratification:
If you wish to study the bills, they can be downloaded from the National Assembly and National Council websites. If you do study the bills, we, the members of the opposition party, will be happy to discuss them with you. More importantly, we will be delighted to receive your comments and suggestions.
Finally, the session will, as usual, have Question Hour. Please contact us, here or in our office, if you have questions for the Government that you would like us raise in the National Assembly.
I like to walk. And I like to bike. So today, on Thimphu’s inaugural Pedestrian Day, I enjoyed the opportunity to bike from my home (in Taba) to my office (in Langjophakha) to the clock tower square to lunch (in Motithang) to the PDP office (Changangkha) to Karma’s Coffee (Hongkong market) to the archery range (near the Indian Embassy) and finally back home.
The government has declared that, henceforth, every Tuesday will be Pedestrian Day, at which time most vehicles will not be permitted to enter the core area of Thimphu. Other cities are reportedly already following suit.
The intentions behind the Pedestrian Day idea may be good. Many of us, for example, already agree that walking is good for our health, and good for our environment. So many of us would not argue against Pedestrian Day.
But some of us may not like to walk, especially if we have several places to go to, in our ghos and kiras, when it is excessively hot or cold, or when it rains. Some of us may find it difficult to walk, like, for example, the old, the weak, and working mothers. And some of us may simply not like walking at all.
So the intention of starting Pedestrian Day – of forcing people to walk once a week – may be good. But the way it has been handled is not good; it is not democratic. The government has, once again, failed to consult the very people they claim to be helping. To walk or not affects the lives of each and every one of us. So we should have been consulted. And the cabinet should not have taken the decision; it should have been left up to the respective local governments. Instead, the prime minister himself has issued an executive order decreeing that, “… all Tuesdays henceforth, will be observed as Pedestrians’ Day throughout the country particularly in major towns”.
As expected, public reaction after the first Pedestrian Day has been varied and mixed. While some residents clearly enjoyed walking to work and back, others have bitterly denounced the government’s decision as arbitrary and draconian.
So the prime minister should call the first Pedestrian Day a “dry run”. And, based on even a few negative reactions, he should revoke his executive order. Then he should start honest consultations with the people. Better still, he should learn to leave these matters to local governments – it is their job to decide how best to organize community life in their respective areas.
The best course of action would be for the prime minister and the government to lead by example. They could call every Tuesday “Pedestrian Day”, encourage people to walk on that day, and make it convenient for them to do so. But people should not be forced to walk. Instead, the government should revitalize the defunct HEHE walk, and lead by example – they should leave their cars at home and they, themselves, should make it a point to walk every Tuesday. In due course of time, most of us will follow, naturally and happily.
But there’s growing suspicion that the government’s decision to impose Pedestrian Day may not be all that noble. Some have suggested that government’s unilateral decision was motivated by the fact that Rio+ 20, a UN conference on sustainable development, and one that the prime minister is expected attend, will begin in Rio de Janeiro in barely two weeks.
That may indeed be the case. Pedestrian Day may have more to do with pandering to the west than really helping our own people. For instance, if you Google “pedestrian day Bhutan” you’ll find many dozens of news links from all across the world. This shows that the government has obviously targeted the international media; this shows that the government was more concerned about securing international publicity than attending to any domestic inconveniences.
This will not be the first time that the government’s policies would have been determined by our hunger for international adulation. In 2009 the government signed a promise to keep our country carbon neutral for all time to come. That promise, grandiosely called Declaration of the Kingdom of Bhutan – the Land of Gross National Happiness to Save our Planet, was put into effect, also without public consultations or discussions, hardly a week before it was proudly declared at COP15, the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen.
If this is the case, if Pedestrian Day has been timed to simply impress the Rio+20 gathering, the government must stop playing games, they must rescind their decision, and they must apologize to the people of Bhutan.
Photo credit: BBS
We, in Bhutan, take auspicious signs seriously. And the more auspicious the sign, the better.
Today is Duechen Ngazom, the most important day in the Buddhist calendar. Today, coincidentally, is also Her Majesty the Queens’ 22nd birth anniversary.
Her Majesty the Queen’s first birthday after being crowned the Druk Gyaltshuen falls on the most revered day of the year. How auspicious is that? Very auspicious. And that bodes well, very well, for the tsawasum – our monarchy, our country and our people.
Happy birthday, Your Majesty!
Politicians and political parties love media coverage.
The Journalist, a weekly paper, has featured PDP on its cover, directly or indirectly, in four of its last 8 issues.
Therefore, PDP must be happy. Right?
Not exactly. Every one of The Journalist’s stories on PDP during the last two months has a negative bias. And almost every one of them seems to be intended to undermine the PDP, and to discredit its president.
The Journalist began their 1st April cover story by telling readers that:
The talk in town is that Gasa MP, Damchoe Dorji, the only opposition member apart from the opposition leader, may not continue in the People’s Democratic Party should he decide to run in 2013. This will have huge implications, sources say.
“If Damchoe Dorji leaves PDP, this will badly dent the image and credibility of the party and its attempt to resuscitate itself,” said a civil servant. “This will also be a huge blow in particular to the Opposition Leader whose ability to lead will be under scrutiny.”
And in their editorial of the same issue, The Journalist writes that:
With their candidates switching parties and most PDP supporters not very keen to have the opposition leader Tshering Tobgay as the party president, 2013 does not seem to be as exciting as it should be for them.
The cover story of The Journalist’s last issue in April, on 29th April, focuses on PDP’s leadership problems. And most of that issue’s editorial is devoted to explaining why, because of PDP’s debts, the party may not be able to register for the 2013 elections.
Three weeks later, on 20th May, the day after the PDP’s general convention, The Journalist again featured PDP on its cover page, and again talked about the eminent demise of PDP. According to The Journalist, PDP’s new president, who is not trustworthy and who is not likeable, could be “presiding over its funeral”. The story goes on to say that, “almost all the capable candidates from the PDP have already left the party”, quoting unnamed “observers”.
The next week, on 27th May, The Journalist again devoted their cover page on PDP. But the party is painted as “almost a dead horse” and its president is portrayed as unable to lead. And again, The Journalist goes to great lengths to try to convince readers that most of PDP’s earlier candidates have left the party.
I’m flattered that The Journalist considers the PDP worthy of so much attention. Being featured no less than four times in barely two months on the cover of a weekly newspaper is noteworthy. But I’m amused at their determination considering that there’s so much real news competing for the nation’s attention. And I’m amused at their persistence in writing and rewriting the PDP obituary.
Thankfully, The Journalist is read by very few. And thankfully those who read it, don’t take their stories too seriously. It’s quite easy to spot what The Journalist is up to.
Our country is going through an unprecedented economic crisis. So why is the government establishing a “Secretariat for the new economy”for the United Nations? Instead, what we need is an office – a war room – dedicated to planning and directing the recovery of our economy.
And why is the prime minister preparing to “make a statement promoting the vision for a new economic system” for the world? What we really need – desperately – is a head of government who is genuinely and fully committed to understanding, planning and directing the recovery of our economy.
Yesterday’s economic forum was scripted and implemented to perfection.
If all this sound too good to be true, it probably is.
Consider this: Just 6 months ago, in December last year, the RMA’s rupee borrowings had peaked at Rs 11 billion, and the government had sold US$ 200 million for Rs 10.3 billion to clear Rs 8 billion. So at that time we were left with Rs 3 billion in credit, and Rs 2.3 billion in cash.
Today, the RMA’s rupee borrowings have reportedly already hit Rs 15 billion. And we have already spent the Rs 2.3 billion we had in cash. So that means that in the last six months we have accumulated a rupee deficit of 14.3 billion (Rs 15 billion – Rs 3 billion + Rs 2.3 billion = Rs 14.3 billion).
We owe Rs 15 billion. And we have US$ 720 million in reserves. US$ 720 million equals more than Rs 41 billion at today’s exchange rates. That’s an excess of Rs 26 billion. And that’s why the international experts have us convinced that the rupee crunch is a foreign currency reserve management issue; not an economic crisis.
Now consider this: we accumulated a rupee deficit of 14.3 billion in less than 6 months. If we use our foreign currency reserves to clear this debt, we’ll be left with the equivalent of Rs 26 billion in foreign currency reserves. But at this rate, we will have run up a deficit in excess of Rs 26 billion in less than one year. And we can again use our foreign currency reserves to clear this deficit too.
But then we’ll be left with nothing in our foreign currency reserves. Forget about the Constitutional requirement of maintaining foreign currency reserves not less than one year’s essential imports – our foreign currency reserves will have dropped all the way to zero; it will have been completely depleted. In other words, if, as the experts suggest, we “manage” our foreign currency reserves, we will have spent our entire reserves in less than a year, and we’ll be forced to accept, belatedly, that we are dealing with a major economic crisis.
So don’t blame the mismanagement of our foreign currency reserves for the ongoing rupee crunch. And, please, don’t think of misusing our reserves.
Instead, look at where the real problem lies. Look, for example, at government expenditure. And ask our experts if an increase in government expenditure from 21 billion per year (in 2008-09) to 38 billion per year (budgeted for 2011-12) could have caused the rupee crunch; ask them if excessive and uncontrolled government expenditure is what could have caused the economic crisis.
Doing business in Bhutan is already difficult. But it’s getting even more difficult.
Each year, the World Bank publishes a “Doing Business” report in which they rank countries according to the “ease of doing business” in those countries. Here’s how our country has fared in their report over the last few years.
In 2008, Bhutan was ranked 119 out of the 178 countries that the project studied.
In 2009, we fell to 124 out of 181 countries.
In 2010, we were placed at 126 out of 186 countries.
In 2011, we plummeted to 146 out of 183 countries
And in 2012, we improved slightly to 142 out of the 183 countries that were studied.
Our overall ease of doing business ranking fell from 119 to 142 during the period 2008 to 2012. Not good.
But it will get worse. Bhutan’s ranking is probably set to fall again.
Why? Because it’s getting harder to do business in Bhutan.
Why? Because the series of policy measures introduced by the government in light of the rupee crunch all make it much more difficult to do business in Bhutan.
Banks, for instance, cannot lend money. That means that businesses now do not have access to credit.
Informal trade across our borders have come to a standstill. And that has affected hundreds of small time business across the length and breadth of our country.
Import of a range of goods have been suddenly banned. That threatens the investments of a range of businesses.
And most recently, vegetable vendors will no longer be allowed to import vegetables; only FCB will. That means that dozens of vegetable vendors will soon lose their jobs to a government-owned company.
So Bhutan’s ranking in the next Doing Business report will probably take a beating.
Obviously, the ranking, in and by itself, doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it really could be getting really more difficult to do business in Bhutan. And doing business – good business, and lots of it – is what we desperately need to overcome the current rupee crunch.
What also matters is that potential investors refer to the Doing Business reports. And investment – foreign and domestic – is what we desperately need to strengthen our economy, and ensure that we do not face another rupee crunch in the future.
Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, launched When Loss is Gain yesterday, at the closing session of Mountain Echoes 2012, a literary festival that keeps getting bigger and more successful each year.
When Loss is Gain is written by H.E Pavan K. Varma, India’s ambassador to Bhutan, and a prolific writer who has already authored no less than 16 other books. This, however, is his first work of fiction, and one that you will most probably read continuously, in one sitting, from cover to very enjoyable cover.
The story, set mostly in Bhutan, is about the profound transformation in the lives and fortunes of a couple of Indians who accidentally meet in Wangsisina.
The book is already a commercial success in India; a French edition will be released soon; and there’s excited talk about making the story into an international film.
In short, the book has projected Bhutan to India and the world. And in doing so, it will, in some ways, transform the lives and fortunes of Bhutan and her people.
Your Excellency: congratulations … and thank you.