Unconstitutional elections?

I have copies of two letters:

One, by the Election Commission of Bhutan, authorizing the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs and the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement “…to issue directives to the relevant authorities to hold elections where the tenure of Local Governments has expired or expiring”.

And two, by the Ministry of Home Affairs informing all 20 Dzongdags to conduct elections where the tenure of Local Governments has expired.

Both letters are unconstitutional. The Constitution and the Election Act mandate and require the Election Commission to hold elections for Dzongkhag Tshodus, Gewog Tshogdes and Thromde Tshongdes.

Clearly, the Election Commission is not yet ready to hold Local Government elections. But why authorize other agencies to conduct these elections? And why the urgency if the Election Commission will be, by its own estimates, ready by 2009?

The Election Commission should retract its decision and accelerate its efforts to complete its groundwork for local government elections. In the meantime, any elections to Local Government could be unconstitutional.

The end of school

Galek, my daughter, age 9, class 4, finished her final exams yesterday.

Today, her last day at school, is significant.

It’s significant for me because she’s completed yet another year at school – a reminder that she’s growing up; that time flies.

It’s significant for Galek too – today marks the completion of her first academic year since the introduction of democracy in Bhutan; the completion of one of the five academic years that we’ve given the DPT government to improve our education system.

So I’ve been thinking: what has the DPT government done so far to improve the quality of education? And how have their policies made education more meaningful for our students? I’ll have to think, and think hard, about this for a while.

Meanwhile, Galek will get her results today.

Lyonpo Thakur, you’ve completed your first academic year as education minister. How would your report card look?

Not if, but when?

I’ve just returned from a UN dinner to say farewell to the outgoing UNDP Resident Representative.

In attendance were the prime minister, cabinet ministers, Speaker, Chairman of NC, secretaries to the government, constitutional post holders, heads of international agencies, and diplomats. As far as I could tell, this very distinguished group had assembled in a small room in the Hotel Riverview without any noticeable extra security arrangements.

The terror attacks in Mumbai reminded me that this is not a good idea.

Bunching our most important people together is risky. If we must, take the necessary precautions. Otherwise, sooner of later, we’ll be in trouble.

Mumbai blasts

I strongly condemn the indiscriminate attacks by terrorists in Mumbai, and offer my condolences, solidarity and support to the victims and their families.

My thoughts and prayers are with the government and people of India.

Happiness for me – 2

A repeating problem

Jigme Dorji has a problem – he passed Class 12, but wants to repeat Class 12!

He secured an overall result of 65% percent, including a high of 75% in geography, which, I think, is quite good. But he feels that it’s not good enough and insists that he needs to repeat, and get better results, in order to do well in life.

To do well in life means to get a job in the civil service or, at the very least, a big corporation. For that he needs a bachelor’s degree.

65% didn’t get him admitted to Sherubtse College, Gedu College of Business Studies or any of the other free government colleges.

Actually he did qualify for the colleges of education in Paro and Samtse. But he’s not interested. He’s convinced that a B.Ed degree is good only for teaching. And that teaching would confine him to schools and not allow him to progress.

He could, like the thousands of Bhutanese students every year, study privately in India. But his parents are simple farmers in Trashigang. And they have 4 other children to look after. So Jigme can’t afford to even think about studying privately.

He could have enrolled in the RIHS or any of the VTIs. But they are for Class X students. And, he feels, that having completed 12, it would seem like a big setback. Besides he wants to progress and not stay as a technician all his life.

So the only option for him, as he sees it, is to repeat Class 12, study even harder, get better results, and qualify for Sherubtse College. I think this option is difficult, risky and wasteful.

Jigme is not alone. Every year too many students repeat Class 12 although they have passed, some, like Jigme, with quite good results. What a big waste.

What should the government do?

First, it should improve counseling services. This would allow students to plan their future based on their abilities and a better understanding of the careers that are available.

Second, it should develop multiple pathways to and within work. This would make it possible for a person who starts work a technician to become an engineer. Or a nurse to become a doctor. Or a teacher to become a manager. The idea is to keep all doors open by creating bridges and ladders.

If this issue not addressed in earnest, expect more wastage and frustration. Expect more problems.

Happiness for me

More than 90 scholars from 25 countries have descended on Thimphu to participate in the 4th International Conference on GNH. The conference, which is organized by the Centre for Bhutan Studies, was inaugurated this morning.

Interest in GNH is growing. And every year, many more sociologists, economists, psychologists, politicians and even businessmen and women join the ranks of GNH believers. What do most of them do? They conduct study, research, survey, analyze, hypothesize, and propose theories. They publish. And we are blessed with a growing library on the important subject of GNH.

Let me also share my thoughts – simple and straight forward – on happiness for me.

I believe that to be happy I must enjoy a sense of security, a sense of identity and a sense of purpose. And increasing amounts of security, identity and purpose would lead to increasing levels of happiness for me, my family and my community. That would be good for GNH.

HTMT Institute

The construction of the Hospitality and Tourism Management Training Institute is finally making progress.

The institute, located in 16 acres of sprawling property in Motithang, is estimated to cost Nu 385 million. That’s a lot of money to convert what had earlier been used as the Youth Center and, before that, as a government hotel to a training institute.

And that’s a lot of money to train only 50 people a year.

The good news is that once the institute is in full operation it would offer two-year courses in tourism and hospitality leading to diplomas that may be offered jointly with the International Tourism and Hospitality School in Salzberg. We could, therefore, expect the graduates of the HTMTI to be equal to the best in the world. That is indeed very good news.

The tourism and hospitality sector – our country’s largest foreign currency earner and, more importantly, biggest employer outside agriculture – is growing rapidly and demands increasing numbers of skilled professionals. This demand is expected to be met though the HTMTI.

The bad news is I can’t see most of these graduates, well trained and armed with diplomas, employed in local hotels. Most of our hotels are self managed and the growing demand for workers is for skilled workers, not managers.

So unless are aim is to train people for export – to Austria, for example – we need to do a serious review of the institute’s proposed training program.

Start such a review by consulting hoteliers themselves: Ugyen Wangchuk, the proprietor of Jumolhari Boutique Hotel and Chairperson of the Hoteliers Association, says that he expects the current shortage of skilled workers in the hotel industry to reach serious proportions. However, he claims that most of the demand is for semi-skilled workers (receptionists, bell boys, waiters, housekeepers, cleaners, assistant cooks, etc., ) and not the managerial level people that would be produced by HTMTI.

Then consult the experts: my friend in the Tourism Council of Bhutan, a specialist in tourism and hospitality, is already concerned about the relevance of the proposed courses at HTMTI. My friend feels that short, focused training in a range of skill areas would be more effective and relevant for our country, not a two-year management course.

The institute was first proposed in 2001, construction began only in 2007 and I don’t see it being ready before 2010. We’ve waited too long. Let’s not create another white elephant.

Denmark for Bhutan

Yesterday, I attended the event “Denmark for Bhutan” featuring the Danish film “Italian for Beginners” directed by Lone Scherfig. The film, a light hearted romantic comedy, was made in the dogme style using hand held video cameras, natural lighting and a small budget.

The event was organized outdoors – in the clear, crisp Thimphu evening at the CICCC Ground. Well done. And very enjoyable.
Many thanks to the Citizens’ Initiative for Coronation and Centenary Celebrations, and the Liaison Office of Denmark for last evening’s celebrations.

To our film makers: would dogme work in Bhutan? It’s cheap and simple. But without the bright lights and loud sounds of commercial cinematography, we would have to portray real life issues. And that’s what we need. But are we ready?

Volunteers for Bhutan

The Coronation was a grand success!

The Coronation – our coronation – showcased Bhutan’s unique culture and tradition. It also put on full display the love, affection and reverence that all Bhutanese have for our monarch.

I offer my heartiest congratulations to all the people responsible for making this historic national event a resounding success: The NSCCC, Zhung Dratshang, Home Ministry, Tourism Council, Protocol Department, schools, police, Thimphu Dzongkhag and City Corporation, hospital, media, City Bus, Department of Works and Housing, utility companies, DNP, and many others.

And I pay special tribute to the countless volunteers who came from all parts of our country and all segments of our society. They contributed their time, energy and resources to make the celebrations that much more enjoyable and safe, warm and special. Most of them worked behind the scenes and claimed no recognition. They worked long hours and shouldered heavy responsibilities.

Farmers traveled long distances, some from very remote areas, to offer special cultural performances.

Civil servants, especially the mid-level ones, sacrificed their long holidays to volunteer their services.

Recent graduates ignored looming employment concerns and turned in full force, everywhere it seemed.

The Citizens’ Initiative for Coronation and Centenary Celebrations organized a series of grand shows, and continue to do so to mark the centenary celebrations.

The Local Chapter put on memorable events and lavished pins and posters of His Majesty the King to all people.

They are patriots, all of them.

Volunteering is not new in Bhutan. It is a central feature of life in our villages. That’s how we build our houses, work our farms, celebrate births, nurse the sick, support the grieving, and secure our communities.

The Coronation Celebrations have shown that today’s urban Bhutanese are still ready to volunteer. That, in fact, volunteering is being taken to new heights. This, during our coronation, is a fitting tribute to our monarch.

To all volunteers: Tashi Delek!