With thanks

The following is a rough translation of my address yesterday, in the closing session of the parliament.

HM-kengkhar

The People’s King

Today is an auspicious day: it is the closing ceremony of the 10th session of the first parliament. Today is also an historic day: it is the closing session of the first elected parliament after Bhutan became a democratic constitutional monarchy. On behalf of the opposition party, I offer thanks to His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen for gracing the closing session of the parliament.

In the past five years since the introduction of parliamentary democracy, His Majesty the King has worked tirelessly and contributed so much to the nation and the people that it is impossible to recount them all here. In fact, it is difficult to even offer a summary, because no such articulation would do justice to His Majesty’s contributions.

Nevertheless, on behalf of the opposition party, I take the privilege of offering our sincere gratitude to His Majesty the King for the continuing, steadfast and unwavering support and guidance that the country has been blessed with. And so I would like to take the privilege of highlighting just a few areas and projects through which His Majesty has led the country with vision and dynamism.

First, by granting royal kidu, His Majesty the King has changed the lives of countless people. His Majesty has granted land to the landless and the poor. Thousands upon thousands of people in the villages who couldn’t pay for their excess land were granted exemption, and their excess lands were regularized in their name. This went on to address the biggest concern for countless people in the villages and helped them lead a normal life. It gave them hope to continue living in the villages at a time when rural to urban migration has become a grave threat.

His Majesty’s kidu program has been extended to poor students to help them go to school. It has given the rural and poor students an equal opportunity to go to school and shape a career for themselves. His Majesty also supports many elderly, poor and needy citizens all over the country. The Kidu program ensures that no one is left behind and His Majesty has personally met all of the recipients to understand their problem.

Second, it was unfortunate for our country to have suffered from so many disasters in the past five years. We had entire towns and a dzong destroyed by fire. We experienced windstorms, floods and earthquakes posing a lot of hardship for the people. We even had an unfortunate plane crash where some Bhutanese citizens on pilgrimage died in Nepal. But whenever a disaster struck, His Majesty personally and immediately went to comfort the people. While His Majesty’s mere presence gave people hope and comfort, relief funds and support helped them rebuild their homes and lives.

Third, as a deeply religious country, the two great religions of Bhutan have spread even more and taken greater hold. It is because of His Majesty’s personal work and example that the people have even greater faith and belief in our religions. In this context, I would also like to thank His Holiness the Je Khenpo, Trulku Jigme Choida, for his exemplary leadership, and the five lopens, the clergy and the monks, lay monks, and nuns of all faiths for their continuous prayers for the nation.

Fourth, as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, His Majesty the King has strengthened the security of the country. His Majesty has guarded our external boundaries and protected the country from all internal threats. In addition, His Majesty initiated the De-Suung program which has strengthened community vitality, patriotism, and volunteerism. The De-Suung volunteers are the first ones to reach any disaster affected area. They seem only eager to help and such positive enthusiasm would not have been possible without His Majesty’s vision and leadership.

Sixth, it is amazing to recount that His Majesty has personally met almost all the people in the country. Despite the busy schedule, His Majesty has given audience to people from all sectors at the Royal Palace. His Majesty invited and personally attended to people from the civil service, corporations, local governments, business community, farmers, musicians, movie industry, media, bloggers and many others. His Majesty listened to them, took stock of their problems, joked with them, advised them and the most important, inspired them to achieve greater heights. In addition to that, His Majesty has been visiting schools constantly. Ever since ascending the throne, His Majesty has graced every graduate orientation program, whether it is university graduates, vocational graduates or teachers, and has been personally giving away the graduation certificates no matter how large a group is. His Majesty has always reiterated that the youth are the future of the country and has always kept them in the loop with constant interaction and in the process advising and supporting them.

Seventh, His Majesty the King has taken Bhutan’s international relations to new heights. His Majesty has generously granted audiences to international visitors to Bhutan, and has visited many countries. Each visit has brought unparalleled goodwill and standing. While making new friends, His Majesty has taken the friendship with India to a new level. [Continue Reading…]

The power of the land

For our future

The following is a translation of my statement in the National Assembly yesterday:

Today we are discussing a matter of profound significance – land.

The historic First Parliament of Bhutan has already deliberated many issues of great importance. Today’s topic of discussion, concerning the amendment of the Land Act, is also extremely important. The decisions we take will have a long-term impact, for better or for worse, on our country and our people.

It may appear that our kingdom has been blessed with plenty of land. This is true, but the amount of land actually available for agriculture and human habitation is very limited. This is because our landscape is dominated by high mountains and steep cliffs, and mighty rivers and deep gorges.

In addition, the Constitution requires that a minimum of 60% of the total land is maintained as forest cover for all time. This further constrains the amount of land available for human use.

This is why land is such a precious and scarce resource in Bhutan. This is why each and every one of our kings gave special emphasis to protecting State land and resources, while ensuring that all their people had access to land ownership. And this is why each and every one of our kings has sorted out and solved land related issues, personally, and in a step-by-step manner.

In 1955, for example, the Third Druk Gyalpo, His Majesty the Late King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, abolished the practice of serfdom in our country, and initiated major land reforms by which the common people were granted ownership of and complete powers over their lands.

His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo continued reforming and strengthening land policy for the benefit and welfare of the people. He granted kidu land to the landless, and initiated the land resettlement program. In addition, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo issued no less than six Kashos all decreeing that only the Druk Gyalpo, and no other person, has the authority to give away Government land.

Land issues continue to receive special attention under the reign of His Majesty the King. From the very day His Majesty assumed the sacred responsibilities of Druk Gyalpo, He has worked tirelessly to address all land related problems of the people. He has done so personally, and without allowing other persons to interfere.

As such, many people, throughout the country have benefited. People with no land have been granted kidu land; people with excess land, have had their excess land regularized; sa thrams have been provided so that people can enjoy the power and privileges of land ownership; and where the land is unproductive, people have been resettled and rehabilitated properly elsewhere.

We, the people of Bhutan, have enjoyed unparalleled levels of good fortune and prosperity because of the enlightened leadership of our beloved monarchs. As a result, each and every one of us has the opportunity to fulfill our aspirations to own land and a home in our own country, and to ensure that future generations can live where their parents lived.

Yes, there may still be some land-related problems. But they are rare, and they can be easily addressed within the current laws, regulations and system. As such, we should not hold discussions to revise the Land Act 2007. With the permission of the Assembly, I will briefly submit why we should not revise the Land Act.

Firstly, the Bhutanese people expressed deep concern when Their Majesties the Kings introduced parliamentary democracy in our country – our people were afraid that, in a democracy, no one would take care of their individual problems. That is why, when preparations were being made to introduce democracy, the people made sure that the Constitution clearly bestowed all powers of kidu and land to the Druk Gyalpo.

Second, in keeping with this provision of the Constitution, the 87th Session of the previous National Assembly enacted the Land Act 2007. In accordance with the Land Act, the National Land Commission, an independent institution to oversee all land related matters in the country, was established purposely removing administrative powers over land from government ministries. Furthermore, and more importantly, to safeguard against further political interference, the members of the Land Commission were composed mainly of secretaries to the government and the Gyalpoi Zimpon, and deliberately excluded ministers of the elected government.

Third, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, His Majesty the King has travelled the length and breadth of the country, to every dzongkhag, in order to personally address the land related problems of each and every citizen. As a result, the people of Bhutan have expressed compete trust and confidence in His Majesty, and have consistently maintained that they are fully satisfied that their land issues have been resolved.

Fourth, His Majesty the King has issued a Kasho to the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Chairman of the National Council and the opposition leader. In my personal and humble opinion this extraordinary Kasho reflects the deep concerns of His Majesty that deliberating the Land Bill 2012 could dangerously jeopardize the current system, a system that is working very well for the welfare of the people and the interests of the country.

Fifth, according to many news reports of the media, the people of Bhutan have expressed outrage and concern at the Parliament’s intention to deliberate the Land Bill 2012. The general public has clearly stated that there is no reason to revise the current Land Act.

Sixth, the term of this Parliament will soon be over. We have barely 10 months left. Therefore, we should not deliberate the Land Bill 2012, a matter of great significance, towards the end of our term when the current laws and system are working well.

In view of the points I have briefly mentioned, I would like to recommend the following course of action, and urge the Honourable Members of Parliament to support these recommendations.

  1. That we reject the Government’s Motion that the Land Bill 2012 be introduced in this session of Parliament but be deliberated by the next Parliament.
  2. That instead, the Government should file a Motion to withdraw the Land Bill 2012 in this session.
  3. That a Joint Parliamentary Committee be constituted to study the Royal Kasho, and to seek His Majesty’s guidance, who, by the Constitution, is one of the three integral organs of the Parliament, on how best to proceed keeping in mind the welfare of the people and the national interest.

Thank you.

Wangduephodrang Dzong

Image of hope

I was in Wangduephodrang on Saturday. I’d gone there to visit the De-Suung training program. After meeting the De-Suups, I stopped by the Wangduephodrang Dzong to see the massive renovation that the dzong was receiving.

While returning to Thimphu, I stopped briefly on the other side of Punatsangchhu to take in at the grandeur of the Wangdue Dzong, and, as usual, marveled at the brilliance of Zhadrung Ngawang Namgyel. He had chosen the site personally, on a ridge overlooking the confluence of the Punatsangchhu and Dangchhu rivers, to defend His newly unified Drukyul against intruders from the South. He had succeeded beyond measure: the dzong, which straddled the high, narrow ridge, was impenetrable and dominated the Wangdue skyline for centuries.

Today, I was back in Wangduephodrang. But this time to join the nation in mourning. The mighty Wangdue Dzong, which stood magnificently for 374 continuous years, was no more. It had been gutted by fire yesterday evening. The fire reportedly started near the entrance of the dzong, and within hours, strong winds had fanned the fire through all buildings completing the destruction in a matter of hours.

Tragically, the very strength of the dzong – that it was virtually impenetrable – prevented all efforts from suppressing the inferno. The entrance was on fire, and the rest of the fortress was inaccessible.

So soldiers, under the personal command and supervision of His Majesty the King who himself had rushed from Thimphu, scaled the southern walls, broke into the monasteries, and rescued the many sacred relics that were in the dzong.

An entire nation is in mourning.

We have lost an important part of our history – a living, breathing monument that until yesterday served, as intended and without interruption, both the civil administration and the monk body. Yesterday evening, almost four centuries of continuous and daily offerings of butterlamps and prayers came to a sudden halt.

We are in mourning. But, miraculously, and against all hopes and expectations, we have, in our possession, the real essence of the Wangdue Dzong. Most of scriptures and statues and artifacts would have been consumed by the fire, but relics – the sacred treasures, many of which had been built and installed by the Zhabdrung himself – are safe. And that’s what really matters.

What also matters is that we begin the process of rebuilding the once mighty dzong immediately. We can rebuild our dzong, as in moments of national tragedy, our people, all of us, come together, easily and naturally, to think and act as one, under the command of His Majesty the King, the source of all our hopes and inspiration.

So there’s no doubt that the Wangdue Dzong will be rebuilt – bigger, better and stronger – and that it will once again, in a few years, dominate our western skylines.

Apologise and appeal

One year +

Today, we celebrated traditional day of offering.

Today is also exactly one year since Sonam Tshering was detained by officials for illegally possessing Nu 120 worth of Baba khaini. Sonam Tshering has already been in jail for one full year.

So today, on traditional day of offering, I thought about how we, parliamentarians, should offer our services to Sonam Tshering and the many others like him who continue to suffer under the oppressive Tobacco Control Act.

First we should apologize. We should apologize and take full responsibility for arrogantly (and foolishly) passing a law that quickly subjected so many of our people to untold pain and suffering.

Then we should appeal. As soon as the Tobacco (Amendment) Bill comes into force, we –  members of the National Council, the ruling party and the opposition party – should collectively appeal to His Majesty the King to grant amnesty to the people who have been incarcerated unjustly because of our foolhardiness.

Sonam Tshering and others like him are in jail because of us. The least we must now do is try our best to get them out.

Oath of Allegiance

For king, country and people

The 8th Session of the Parliament began yesterday. The 8th session will be remembered as, during the inaugural ceremony, the Members of Parliament took the Oath of Allegiance to His Majesty the King.

I’m posting a (unofficial) translation of the Oath of Allegiance as a reminder of our promise to serve our King, our country and our people to the best of our abilities.

We bow at the feet of the supreme golden throne of the Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the upholder of the Chhoe-sid-nyi of Bhutan.

We, the Members of the First Parliament of Bhutan, hereby affirm our trust and devotion in the sovereignty and unity of Bhutan.

Further, we offer our allegiance to serve the Tsa-Wa-Sum and shoulder our responsibilities to the best of our abilities with sincerity, dedication and impartiality at all times.

Signed on 11th day of the 11th Month of Iron Female Rabbit Year corresponding to 4th January, 2012.

The Oath of Allegiance was administered in accordance with Article 2 Section 5 of the Constitution which states that:

Upon the ascension of the Druk Gyalpo to the Throne, the members of the Royal Family, the members of Parliament and the office holders mentioned in section 19 of this Article shall take an Oath of Allegiance to the Druk Gyalpo.

Our King has spoken

The People's King

Our elders believe that the words of our kings are droplets of gold. They believe that to carry out a king’s command is to undertake a task that’s heavier than a mountain. They also believe that to ignore a king’s command is to waste an opportunity more precious than gold.

Our kings do not say much. But when they do, what they say is important; what they say has far-reaching implications. And what they say is gratefully received, studied and carried out with a sense of great urgency.

Our King has spoken. In his Royal Address, on 17th December, our National Day, His Majesty shared his “deepest concerns” with the nation: that we must strengthen the foundations of our democracy; that we must make education more relevant so that it leads to jobs; that we must step up the fight against corruption; and that we must build a self-reliant, sustainable economy.

Our King has spoken. Now will we, like our elders, accept his command as droplets of gold? Will we, like our elders, receive, study and execute his command, even though they weigh heavier than our mighty mountains? Or will we, unlike our elders, ignore and waste that what’s more precious than gold?

Thanking our armed forces

Supreme Commander in Chief

The Royal Bhutan Army, Royal Body Guards, Royal Bhutan Police, and  militia and Desung volunteers celebrated Armed Forces Day yesterday. To commemorate the important day, I’m reproducing a translation of the motion of thanks that I proposed during the opening ceremony of the sixth session of Parliament about a year ago, on 19 November 2010.

Introduction

It has been almost three years since Bhutan became a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy. Throughout this period, His Majesty the King has continuously favoured the first elected Parliament with counsel, guidance and unconditional support. As a result, neither misfortune nor hardship has been able to trouble the two Houses of Parliament or any of its 72 honourable members. And for that reason, we, the members of Parliament, have been able to fulfill our respective responsibilities, and work towards establishing a strong foundation for our democracy.

Earlier this year, during the inauguration of the fifth session of the Parliament, I had the opportunity to report to the Honourable Members that, from the day His Majesty the King ascended the Golden Throne, His Majesty has worked throughout the country, and worked tirelessly, for the benefit of the nation and the people. More specifically, I drew attention to the fact that the selfless service rendered by His Majesty were in accordance with the duties of the Druk Gyalpo as enshrined in the Constitution.

My report, however, was very brief. In fact, since I covered His Majesty’s accomplishments in a range of areas, I could not do justice to any one of them. So today, as I, on behalf of the Opposition Party, respectfully submit this Motion of Thanks, I propose to focus on just one aspect of His Majesty’s work.

To do this, I would like to draw the attention of our Honourable Members to Article 28 Section 1 of the Constitution which states that: “The Druk Gyalpo shall be the Supreme Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and the Militia”.

[Continue Reading…]

Congratulations!

Bravo!

25 additional colonels make our armed forces that much more stronger. His Majesty the King, who is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, granted promotions to the accomplished officers this morning.

I thank the officers for their outstanding services to the tsa-wa-sum, and wish them and their families a very hearty Tashi Delek!

Zhabdrung’s gifts

Zhabdrung's Zhabdrung

Here’s a story from Sombaykha to commemorate Zhabdrung Kuchoe:

Topche was a nyagay – a strongman. About two hundred years ago, he left his village, Nakhikha in Sombaykha, to serve in Zhabdrung Jigme Drakpa’s court.

In addition to being famous for his great physical strength, Boed Topche, as he was known, was also an exceptional swordsman. Legend has it that he would fight nonstop against the Zhabdrung’s enemies. And that at the end of each day, he would have to soak his hand in a bowl of hot water to dislodge the sword from his bloodied hand.

At the end of Boed Topche’s career, the Zhabdrung summoned him and commanded that, for his outstanding services, he could choose something – anything – to take back to his village. But Topche would not identify anything, insisting that serving the Zhabdrung was his reward.

When the Zhabdrung repeated his command for the fifth time, Topche gazed at a statue of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, a statue built by Zhabdrung Jigme Drakpa himself, and submitted that that statue would remind him of his master and lama.

The protector

As Boed Topche traveled to his village, farmers from all over Sombaykha gathered to welcome him back, and to receive and accompany the sacred statue in a ceremonial procession to Nyebji Goenpa. But as soon as the statue was installed in Sombaykha’s main monastery, the entire village became mute.

Upon hearing the incident, Zhabdrung Jigme Drakpa summoned Boed Topche and gifted him another statue to accompany the statue of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. That statue was of the Talo Gyalpo, the Zhabdrung’s guardian and a protector deity of the Punakha region.

Our elders tell us that Boed Topche ran from Talo to Sombaykha in a single day. And that the villagers were able to speak again soon after the Talo Gyalpo was also installed in Nyebji Goenpa.

Zhabdrung Jigme Drakpa’s statue of Zhabrung Ngawang Namgyal is still in Nyebji Goenpa. And Sombeps still worship it as their most sacred relic.

HM's Zhabdrung

But Nyebji Goenpa now has another precious Zhabdrung statue. Earlier this year, during the birth anniversary of His Majesty the King and about two hundred years after installing the Zhabdrung statue, the villagers in Sombaykha congregated to receive and install another image of Zhabdrung NgawangNamgyal. This one – a beautiful gilded bronze statue – was gifted by His Majesty the King.

Royal Kasho on LG elections

The Prime Minister, on behalf of the National Council, National Assembly and two political parties, has brought before me the issue of the candidates disqualified from participating in Local Government elections.

The 90 disqualified candidates have also jointly submitted an appeal on the same issue.

The members of the National Council have submitted their concerns on the relaxation of the one-year mitsi requirement for candidates in Local Government elections.

As King, it is my duty at all times, to examine not just the issue at hand, but to also contemplate the long term effect of any decision on the unity, harmony and security of our nation; on the dignity, integrity and strength of the Constitution; on the strength of law and the growth of a successful democracy in Bhutan.

In the interest of unity and harmony, I have always encouraged close consultation and cooperation between different branches and agencies of government; between institutions and the public; and among our people themselves. Bhutan is a small country so we must always seek ways to sit together, face to face in the spirit of brotherhood and with unity of purpose, to resolve all issues. We must take advantage of our strength as a small close-knit society. The submissions made by the Prime Minister on behalf of so many important institutions, reflects this approach of cooperation and consultation. I am very proud and happy to say that this is good democracy at work.

With regard to the Local Government elections, our primary concern should be that the Election Commission of Bhutan is able to replicate, and build upon, the tremendous success of the General Elections of 2008. However, the submissions made by the Prime Minister, the appeal by the disqualified candidates and the National Council’s stand, all indicate that the circumstances are less than conducive for successful Local Government elections. To conduct our first Local Government elections as a young democracy under such circumstances would hinder the growth of a strong vibrant democracy, and undermine the achievements we have made in our democratic transition. It would also tarnish the reputation that the Election Commission has rightly earned as a strong, just and independent institution. Therefore, while the Election Commission has always worked in the interest of the nation, and is striving today to conduct Local Government elections that have already been greatly delayed, it is advisable that they first resolve all issues before proceeding with the ongoing Local Government elections. The desired outcome of our first Local Government elections as a democracy should be that our people in the 205 gewogs of our 20 dzongkhags have faith, confidence and pride in the representatives they have elected to office. This outcome can only be achieved if we are all faithful to the Constitution, the laws of our land and the will of our People.

I hereby issue this Kasho on the 4th of May 2011 in carrying out my sacred Constitutional duty to “protect and uphold this Constitution in the best interest and for the welfare of the People of Bhutan.”

 

Jigme Khesar

King of Bhutan