Public works

Thinley Lam

Thimphu’s main roads are fairly good. They are not necessarily beautiful, but, in spite of limited resources, they are, by and large, smooth, wide and well-managed.

The smaller roads, however, tell a different story. Many of them are narrow, riddled with pot holes, and have not seen any form of maintenance for years. Naturally, many local residents are frustrated. One such resident is Aum Thinley Lham. She lives in Taba and, for the longest time, has complained bitterly about the state of her road. But instead of continuing to grumble, she has decided to take matters into her own hands; she has decided to repair the road herself.

Last Sunday, I chanced upon Aum Thinley Lham repairing the road leading to upper Taba and to her property, Wangchuk Resort. She’d purchased several truckloads of concrete mix, and was using her own staff and her own vehicles to repair the road. Obviously, she couldn’t repair the entire road. But she felt lucky just to be able to patch up the biggest pot holes.

Most of us, who live in urban areas, take public property for granted. We want the best. But unlike our farmers, we do not contribute to building them. We don’t even contribute to their maintenance. This is not sustainable. If we want to enjoy good roads, good schools and good parks, we better learn, like Aum Thinley Lham, to contribute. Or we better be willing to pay our city corporation higher taxes.

Here’s a question: which, in your opinion, is the most beautiful road in Thimphu?


Facebook Comments:


  1. nima tshering says

    Dear OL,
    Aum Thinley is lucky and fortunate enough that she can repair her own road and many more in thimphu can do so. Bhutan is poor but Bhutanese are rich. I sometime wonder with such unstable and backward economy like ours can effort most luxurious cars like Mercedes, BMW or any latest gadget u can name. I fear with the income inequality and disparity within the small Bhutanese society. we are in the same boat and we shall sail or sink together. we shall progress as society and as a nation.Is our policy makers and politicians of such deary deserts that is embarking upon our beautiful and innocent society? I fear we are becoming different of same origin. where does all this money and income come from? why rich become richer and poor remains poor? we have Monarchy and Wangchuk dynasty that may be hereditary but we don’t have son of any millionaire or billionaire. we are sons of poor isolated Himalayan country.

  2. INVISIBLE says

    Dear OL,

    This is a thoughtful article but I am not convinced that this model will inspire or incentivize rest of the urban dwellers to act. Here is why I think that way:

    Incentives must be aligned (private incentive aligned with social good): Here I see Aum Thinley Lam’s private incentive is aligned with public good and hence it is easy to eliminate “free rider” problem or avoid “tragedy of commons.” Aum Thinley Lam has negative incentive if she also be free rider because she has Wangchuk Resort (as you mentioned) as big property. She needs to worry about customer coming there rather than just a farmer walking alone through this same road. For that lone farmer, it is better to be free rider or he would be “economically” speaking indifferent. Unless private incentives are aligned with public good, I see no reason why urban dwellers come rushing out of their houses to contribute.

    Whose responsibility is to align private incentive with public good? Government’s and policymakers’. If there is misalignment of incentives, it is simply a “government failure” (not a market failure). This is where benefit of real public policy comes in. This is where we need public policy that aligns private good with public good, not just any laws or regulations without logic.

    In this particular case, Aum Thinley Lam also has resources that many others wouldn’t have but this is irrelevant. Unless, there is incentive to act, why should someone invest one’s private resources.

    In the case of farmers in the village contributing to farm roads, I also differ from you on the reason you implied. I think farmers contribute because there is inherent “punishment” if they don’t contribute. Through “punishment” such as community shaming, group pressure, social norm of Zhabtog Wogla, free rider problem is avoided. The incentive here is that farmer has more to lose if he/she does not contribute. It is not charity. So here again it is a question of aligning private incentive with public good.

    I see this incentive misalignment problem in RCSC and many of our public institutions. We need to think about why people are behaving in a certain way while we are making public policies. Don’t tell people “change mindset, change behavior, etc”. It won’t happen. It is not in human blood.

    On nima tshering’s point above: I agree with everything except two small points:

    1) “Bhutanese are rich” – I disagree. Last I checked, about 70% of the Bhutanese are still poor farmers. A few Bhutanese may be rich but not Bhutanese in general (educated middle class is rising, which is good). Being rich is a good thing (if path to getting rich is acceptable to the society). Everyone works hard to become rich – we all are unless we decide to denounced all material stuffs and go to become monks (nowadays even some monks want to get rich). Being rich is a good thing. We should admire them but we should not admire or even accept them if they became rich through short cut of harming the society at large (money laundering, political capture, regulatory capture, market power, etc).

    On the point our economy is “backward,” it is NOT. The last I checked, Bhutan is the FOURTH fastest growing economies in the world. First is Equatorial Guinea, Second is China, Third is Macao (part of China), FOURTH is Bhutan, Fifth is Bostwana, Sixth is Singapore, and so on. BUT….

    BUT I have a big worry because our economic growth has been fueled simply through public expenditure (on borrowed money and donor money) – so there is FISCAL irresponsibility on the part of the Government. Current Rupee crisis is one symptom.

    Of course, we can’t just blame the Government on the irresponsible fiscal policy because we the people want lots of things (hospitals, roads, schools, etc) but we never thought where the money is coming from. But the Government still has the power to upset us by denying those things in the short-run and manage well if they don’t go towards populism or political short-sightedness. But again that takes me back to my first point on Aum Thinley Lham example. Incentives must be aligned with politician’s private incentive with public good. And this is a hard stuff….there is no model in the world that succeeded. So only option left? We the people must rant when there are reasons to rant…so we continue to align politicians’ incentive with public good through punishment like we won’t vote “for you” in the next election or carrot we will vote “for you” in the next election.

    Just my random thoughts. I chose to live and die in Bhutan so I worry for my future, and that makes me worry for my nation’s future (incentives are aligned at least this this case – I believe..:) )


  3. I really appreciate OL’s effort to educate people about social services. But Aum Thinley is not a right model. I thought she repaired road from Taba to Dechenling which wasn’t the case. She was repairing road that benefited her most. Other beneficiaries are accidental.

    I also wouldn’t worry much about roads in Thimphu being bad because there are 70 percent people who have never enjoyed facilities like road, water, electricity etc

    The road in Thimphu is electoral issues for Thimphu MPs and Thrompon not for the people who love nation as a whole.

    However, people also can’t blame everything on government and can’t wait for govt to do something, people should act on their needs. This is where Aum Thinley comes in.

  4. the careless traveller says

    Dear OL,
    Your article says that there’s still Hope and that there are still good people who are willing to give back in our country.
    You have an excellent eye for spotting and bringing out the goodness in people. Please continue.
    As for the old roads in Bhutan, I would like to suggest or rather ask the policy makers to adopt a system that they use in the US.

    It’s called ‘Adopt A Highway’ policy.

    Encourage the private companies and individuals to adopt a section of a highway/road by making financial, material or labor contribution in maintaining the roads. Give a tax break to the donors for their contributions.

    We can also encourage Students and civil workers to volunteer their time in labor,expertise or in any other form. The City/department can in turn reward them by giving them references/credits for their efforts.

    We have terrible roads teamed with one of the harshest terrains in the world. It takes every citizen to make the roads clean, safe and reliable in the long run.

    Thank you,

    ~the careless traveller~

  5. My few cents:
    1. I dont agree that the handful of rich ppl in Bhutan have become rich by “working hard”. They become rich by appropriating and deceit, and stealing from the govt.
    2. I dont believe volunterism and free public service because of the ‘free-rider’ proble.
    3. Public expenditure, as pointed in one of the above post, are done through donor funding. So where does the revenue collected by the govt go if not into public expenditure. I see annual revenue reports but i never see any expenditure reports – of how those revenue are used and in what kinda public facilities.
    4. I feel the need to increase the income tax, especially for the high income earners. Research in international development reveal the need to have a direct tax revenue of atleast 30% (ours pls find out from the revenue report)
    5. What about introducing property tax? why is it silent in the Income Tax Act? And what about inheritance tax? cna capital gains tax? The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind.

  6. sorry…i mean 30% of GDP…through direct tax

  7. Dear OL,

    thanks for bringing such topic la.
    on the other hand you must also understand that one of the reasons for rural urban migration is our farmers are time and again chased for Woola (you call it as contribute to building. At times, the farmers are compelled to leave the farming for Woola. This is not a voluntary contribution but it is a compulsion.

  8. Dearest OL,

    This is politiking- aum Thinley Lam is a PDP voter. What is wrong if she built her own road to her own resort in Wangchuk Taba. It belongs to her. She will benefit for it and no one. She plays in millions if not billions (with earning from hotel in Mongar, few buildings in Thimphu, Wangchuk hotel in Thimphu and resorts) and if she used a few Nu it does not hurt her or your pocket). I have heard of a sad story how she procured that property where she built the Wangchuk Resort in Taba. Who sold it works slave for in that road you are talking about – no reason to credit her?

    I hope you will verify things before you appreciate or depreciate anyone.

    God bless you OL in the next elections,

    Yours a well-wisher

  9. Kelpazangla says

    I fully supplement Libra. Access road to Aum Thinley Lham’s property is not a common property. Instead let us assess how Aum Thinley Lham got rich, own chain of Hotel Wangchuk in Thimphu town, Taba and Mongar and DrukTrin Shops. Aum Thinley Lham’s husband Tshering Dorji besides her own business was a long time senior civil servant; Director of Telecom for ages, Director/Secretary in MoWHS for more than a decade.

    So, no appreciation for praising your Party Worker. Your chance of attacking DPT and promotion of PDP is destructing your quality rating. Stop it!

  10. Kelpazangla says

    Thinley Lham in any case is a ***** shameless of luring and cheating innocent people.

  11. Your Excellency,
    The Thimphu-Taba road is very dangerous with narrow bents at certain points. It has turned into worse with numerous pot-holes on the highway. The drivers try to avoid such pot-holes and drive is wrong lanes which increases the collision chances. Please look at this matter urgently.

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