Ap Gyengye and Bhutan

Yesterday, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo and members of the Royal Family took part in the consecration ceremony at the completion of major rehabilitation carried out at Dechenphug. The rehabilitation was commanded by His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the greatest Dharma King in the world.

I was barely 5 years old when my mother introduced me to Ap Gyengye in Dechenphug Monastery. Since then I’ve visited Dechenphug several times a year to honour Him and to offer prayers for His support. And during the last four decades I’ve seen increasing numbers of people make the pilgrimage to Dechenphug.

Ap Gyengye has served our King, our country, and our people exceptionally well. And our sacred relationship continues to flourish. Gyengye Jagpa Milen Kheno!

Tower in Trongsa

“I’m returning after 48 years!” exclaimed Dr Jagar Dorji, MP.

The Ta Dzong, which was constructed more than 350 years ago as a watch tower above Trongsa Dzong, was used a as a make-shift dormitory for students of Chokorling School in 1961. Dr Jagar was among the 13 students who lived in Ta Dzong for a year.

We were in attendance when His Majesty the King inaugurated the Ta Dzong as the Tower of Trongsa Museum on 10 December. The conversion of the dzong to a state-of-the-art museum took over three years and Nu 120 million. That’s a lot of money, but well worth it.

Worth it because the Tower of Trongsa shows off our history and heritage, and art and culture magnificently. Well worth it because the museum will attract tourists and much needed jobs to Trongsa.

I asked Dr Jagar what he thought of the conversion of Ta Dzong. “Nice, very nice”, he beamed. Naturally. He hails from Trongsa.

The Tower marks the completion of three interrelated projects assisted by the Government of Austria. Through the projects the Trongsa Dzong was partly renovated, the historical baa zam (traditional cantilever wooden bridge) across the Mangde-chu was rebuilt, and the Ta Dzong was converted to a world class museum.

The projects have finally made Trongsa a tourist destination. And that will allow the local economy to grow while also promoting our rich culture and heritage. Such projects must be encouraged.

Well done.

Local Government elections – update

His Majesty the King commanded that Local Government elections shall be conducted after the ECB completes the delimitation process and after the relevant acts under which elections are to be held have been revised in accordance with the Constitution.

His Majesty the King commanded that Local Government elections conducted under Acts that had been repealed and which are contrary to the provisions of the Constitution would lake legitimacy even as an interim measure. And that the cost of conducting elections again after a few months would cause financial burden to the exchequer and enormous inconvenience to the general public and the bureaucracy.

The terms of incumbent gups have been extended till the ECB conducts the elections next year.

Running against corruption

As I left for Trongsa this morning, I drove by runners participating in World Anticorruption Day. The turnout was impressive – hundreds of people, young and old, women and children, businesswomen and men, and bureaucrats and politicians had turned out to show their resolve to fight corruption.

Today’s run was important, and it was especially significant that some politicians participated. I didn’t run. So instead, I’m writing.

Shortly after the first parliamentary session ended, the ACC organized a presentation for MPs. Our Honourable MPs rose, one after the other, denouncing corruption, vowing to fight it, and promising full, unconditional support for ACC.

The clear determination of my colleagues impressed me. But I reminded my fellow MPs of three truths: one, that throughout the world, politicians are perceived to be the most corrupt; two, that we, as elected MPs, are politicians; and three, that unless we, politicians, are, first and foremost, incorruptible ourselves, we would have already lost the fight against corruption.

Easier said than done, I’ve been told. But, much more honest and effective than all the grandstanding and rhetoric that we, politicians, readily dish out when called upon to fight corruption.

We’ve started democracy. Start it right. Start by demanding that our politicians – ministers, MPs and party workers – don’t just talk of anticorruption, but are themselves not corrupt; that they do not smell of the nepotism, cronyism, patronage, graft, bribery and embezzlement that todays runners ran hard against.

Jewel of books

Twenty months ago the Tarayana Foundation invited Bhutanese to compose poems celebrating His Majesty the Fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Of the more than two hundred entries, 25 poems were selected and compiled into the book “Jewel of Men”. These poems express the deep feelings – of love, affection and reverence – that all Bhutanese hold for our beloved monarch.

“Jewel of Men” was launched yesterday by Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, in a warm ceremony commemorating our Fourth King. Present were HRH Ashi Sonam Dechen Wangchuck, who delivered an eloquent welcome, and HRH Dasho Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck, who gave us a poignant documentary about his relationship with his father and his monarch.

“This book of poems”, Her Majesty revealed to an audience full of emotion, “I hold dear to my heart, for it is a reflection of the sentiments of love and gratitude to His Majesty, who has given this country so much, in particular, a King in His Image, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck”

I thank Her Majesty and Tarayana for voicing my innermost feelings on the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, a giant among men, a king without equal, a jewel.

A matter of power

The Indian minister for power, Sushil Kumar Shinde, was in Bhutan from 4 to 7 December. His visit was busy: His Majesty the King granted an audience; he met the Prime Minister, and the MEA Minister, Secretary and DG; he visited the Tala dam site and Chukha power plant; he visited Dochula; and I called on him.

His visit was successful: a protocol agreement to develop 10,000 MW by 2020 is ready and will be formally signed later this month. An “empowered group” will then be formed to identify and accelerate the implementation of hydropower projects. Both governments are visibly optimistic, and Mr Shinde has even promised to complete the plan by 2019, that’s a year before schedule.

In all this exuberance, we’ve forgotten to involve one player – Druk Holdings and Investment. As far as I know, the government did not involve DHI at all during this very important delegation. They were not included in any of the discussions. And they did not even get to make a courtesy call on India’s Power Minister.

This is unfortunate. Practically all the knowledge and experience with regard to hydropower development in Bhutan resides with the Druk Green Power Corporation and Bhutan Power Corporation, both DHI subsidiaries. Ignoring this valuable store of national expertise does not make sense.

As a matter of fact, DHI should actually be fully involved. Their mandate, decreed by Royal Charter is “… to hold and manage the existing and future investments of the Royal Government of Bhutan for the long-term benefit of its shareholders, the people of Bhutan.” It goes without saying that the development of the 10,000 MW of hydropower would constitute “future investments of the Royal Government”.

The Royal Charter also declares that “DHI shall implement all future commercially oriented projects that are developed by the government”. All the power projects included in the 10,000 MW plan are obviously “commercially oriented” and DHI will, by law, be required to implement them.

If DHI is expected to eventually “hold and manage” these hydropower projects it is only good sense to involve them right from the beginning. If the negotiation, identification and construction of the projects are done by the government, and if the DHI is expected to take over the projects (including all loans) once they are operational, the incentives to work fast, cheap and well may not be strong.

True, DHI does not have the capacity to implement such large projects. But neither does the government. Hence, a few months ago, the talk of creating an entirely separate secretariat for energy under the Ministry of Economic Affairs. This would be wasteful, inefficient, and tantamount to hiding two ministries under one umbrella ministry.

Develop DHI instead – they have the mandate, experience and the right incentives.

Lucky Sonam

Sonam Tshering beat 135 participants to win the India House Golf Tournament on 30 November. For his efforts, he received the keys to a brand new Maruti Zen Estilo during the tournament’s prize distribution ceremony this evening.

Not bad considering that Sonam, who is only 17 years and in Class VIII in Zilukha LSS, is currently doing his Common Examinations.

Coach Karma Lam introduced him to golf barely four years ago. While he enjoyed playing the game, he quickly discovered that there was pocket money to be made by working as a caddy. (Incidentally, last year’s winner was Karma Wangchuk, 20 years, also a caddy.)

Sonam made about Nu 300 a day carrying golf clubs during the weekends. This weekend his earnings increased a thousand fold! “I’ll sell my car”, he told me, “and save the money in the bank to pay for my further studies.”

With this sort of attitude, he can expect to continue to get lucky.

More pay hike talk

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.

Now back to Tenzing and the ongoing saga of the pay hike.

Today’s piece is his fifth pay hike story. And most of his information, by his own admission, are from “sources” in the government, even from within the cabinet. This must stop. The selected information leaks, protracted discussions, and the government’s indecisiveness have fueled wild speculation and unnecessary anxiety among public servants. And today’s story will make most civil servants a little more anxious, thanks to the leak about discussions in the Cabinet on teaching allowances.

Before democracy, under His Majesty’s government, the salaries of public servants were increased six times between 1985 and 2006. None of these increases were preceded by promises of increasing remuneration. All of them came as pleasant surprises. And public servants were deeply grateful for each increase.

The government will not get such gratitude – it’s gotten itself in a no-win situation. But before the situation gets worse, before the public looses more trust and confidence in the system, before civil service morale suffers irreparable damage, I suggest that the government settle the pay hike issue once and for all.

Now that would be real news.


10 December 2008: I have no evidence that the government leaked information to Tenzing Lamsang, or that he may have stolen information, or that he may have paid for stolen information. My intention is to caution the government about information management, not implicate the reporter in any way.

A second chance…

During the Nasscom annual strategy meeting held in Thimphu last week, Narayana Murthy, Infosys Chairman, announced that he would train 100 Bhutanese in his company. The offer is timely and, if used well, would be the first significant step towards creating the knowledge and skills base required to develop a viable ICT industry in Bhutan.

A similar offer was made by Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s PM, during his visit to Bhutan in June 2005. The visiting PM “…commended the Bhutanese’s versatility with the English language…” and publicly announced that he would be prepared to employ many Bhutanese as English teachers in Thailand. How many have been employed so far? Zero. Why? Because no one was given and no one took the lead to followed up with the Thai government. No one – not RCSC, not BCCI, not Foreign Ministry, not MOLHR – no one.

So this time let’s not squander the opportunity. Let’s get serious. Let’s make full use of Mr Murthy’s offer. Let’s begin by signing an MOU between Infosys and the government. Then let’s start the selection process.

At the least, Mr Murthy’s offer would be a welcome respite for our recent graduates, many of whom are concerned of looming unemployment.

Unconstitutional elections? – 2

Yesterday the ECB responded to my concerns regarding the legality of the forthcoming Local Government elections. (see my blog on 29 November)

The ECB explained that the Local Government elections should go ahead, as an “interim measure”, in accordance with MOHCA’s order to elect Gups where the tenure of the incumbents has expired.

I will object to the elections for several reasons:

First and foremost the elections will be unconstitutional. The Constitution puts the responsibility of conducting elections (NA, NC, Local Government and National Referendum) squarely on ECB. Allowing MOHCA to order elections, for whatever reason, is a constitutional breach;

Second, all elections must be conducted according to the provisions of the Election Act which was approved by both Houses and submitted to His Majesty the King during the first session of the Parliament; and

Third, the Local Government Act came into force in July 2007 and will remain in effect till modified by Parliament. Local Government elections cannot, therefore, be held in accordance with the earlier DYT Chathrim.

I appreciate the constraints that the ECB faces. It must, for instance, finalise the electoral boundaries for the Local Government constituencies before it can conduct the elections according to the electoral laws. But there’s no point in holding elections now, only to repeat the elections in 2009 after completing the delimitations of the Geogs. That would not only be a waste of money. That would be disruptive. And that would be unlawful.

I’ve appealed to ECB to reconsider.