Cremations

Thimphu mourns

Thirty two people were cremated today. 18 of them were pilgrims who died in the recent plane crash in Nepal. The rest were from other parts of the country – they were bought to Thimphu when their families learnt that that His Majesty the King was personally supporting the cremations, and that His Holiness the Je Khenpo was presiding over the final rites.

Thousands of mourners, from all walks of life, gathered in Thimphu’s cremation grounds to stand by the bereaved families of the air crash victims. The outpouring of public support reconfirms how readily we are able, and willing, to come together, as one family, whenever we are faced with adversity.

But we are fortunate that we’ve been able to hold the cremations at all. The air crash, after all, occurred in the high mountains, in a foreign land, and barely five days ago. In most such cases it would be near impossible to bring home the remains of even one victim. Yet, in this case, every one of the bodies were retrieved from the crash site, transported to Katmandu, identified, embalmed and brought home, all in record time. And, given the circumstances, in a manner that caused as little suffering and grief as possible.

All this, and much more, was possible because His Majesty the King personally oversaw the relief work, and ensured that the victims and their families were given complete and unconditional support. The Gyalpoi Zimpoen’s office and government officials worked round the clock, in Nepal and at home, to make sure that the families of the victims would be able to provide funerals for their loved ones, at home, with dignity, and in accordance with our traditions and beliefs.

A terrible tragedy is coming to an end. But through it, I am reminded that we are indeed fortunate to be Bhutanese.

Valuable lessons

Strengthening Bhutan

Yesterday, during our 103rd National Day celebrations, His Majesty the King reminded us, His people, of our collective responsibility to strengthen our nation. That, His Majesty explained, meant excelling in our workplaces. But that, His Majesty emphasized, also – and more crucially – meant “… upholding values such as integrity, justice and compassion and above all living by that unwritten but absolute code of right over wrong…”

Below is the official transcription of His Majesty the King’s National Day address.

My dear people,

As King, I have been deeply blessed by the satisfaction of seeing immense achievements in four short years, made possible only by the harmonious bond between the people and government, as we worked hand in hand. We have conducted our first general elections, formed the government and opposition, instituted the National Assembly and National Council and above all, following elaborate deliberations by our honourable members of Parliament, we adopted our sacred and historic Constitution. We have all worked together towards strengthening our democratic institutions and this year established the Supreme Court of Bhutan.

As a developing country, socio-economic development efforts are vital. In this regard, the prime minister and the government have not only worked hard on successfully implementing the crucial 10th 5-year plan but have also initiated many new projects for the benefit of our people.

For the peace, happiness and prosperity we enjoy today, I take this opportunity to voice on behalf of our people, gratitude to the Fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck. On my own behalf, I shall never forget the kindness, loyalty and faith with which you, my people, have supported me at the beginning of my own reign. [Continue Reading…]

Relief for relief fund?

For the people

During Question Hour today, I requested the Hon’ble Home Minister to report on the status of the Relief Fund. In particular, I asked him if he, as the minister in charge of disaster management, would propose legislation to establish the Relief Fund.

According to Article 14 Section 12 of the Constitution:

Parliament shall establish a relief fund and the Druk Gyalpo shall have the prerogative to use this fund for urgent and unforeseen humanitarian relief.

Bhutan’s first Parliament has already met five times. And the sixth session is currently on. Yet, and in spite of the opposition party’s repeated appeals, the Parliament has not established the Relief Fund. In fact, the Parliament has done no work to establish the Relief Fund. So the first elected Parliament risks defaulting on this important responsibility.

On the other hand, a spate of natural disasters – floods, earthquakes, storms and fires – have struck various parts of the country during the last two years, and have caused unprecedented hardship to countless people. In almost every case, His Majesty the King has personally provided immediate relief, and overseen the rehabilitation and recovery process. And, during the opening of the Parliament’s sixth session, His Majesty spoke of His pledge to victims of the Chamkhar fire that:

… even though our nation may be a small, landlocked country without the great wealth of others, in their moment of great suffering, the King and government would do everything to find the resources needed to alleviate their pain and restore happiness to their lives.

Obviously, there’s a real need to establish the Relief Fund urgently.

So I was happy to hear the home minister report that his ministry and the Ministry of Finance have jointly drafted a proposal to establish a relief fund, and that the proposal would soon be discussed in the Cabinet.

And I was even more happy to hear the Hon’ble Speaker decide that the home minister will submit a motion in the National Assembly to introduce the proposal to establish the Relief Fund.

Royal address

His Majesty the King addressed the nation during the opening session of the Sixth Session of the Parliament this morning. The official transcript of the Royal Address follows:

Since assuming Kingship in December 2006, I have travelled outside Bhutan four times – each time it has been to India. Indo-Bhutan friendship is of paramount importance and something we hold dear. We must always work to further strengthen and deepen it. In October this year, I visited Kolkata and New Delhi. I found in my meetings with the President, Prime Minister, Chairperson of the UPA, ministers, government officials and leader of the Opposition, a common heartfelt appreciation for Bhutan’s achievements as a nation, and a steadfast commitment and pledge to strengthen even further what they feel is a model partnership and bond between countries.

We are presently undertaking the mid-term review of the 10th 5-year Plan. India’s assistance has been wholehearted and generous to the first development plan under our new democracy. On behalf of the people of Bhutan, I convey my deep appreciation to the Government and People of India.

Upon my return from India, I went directly to Bumthang to the site of the tragic fire in Chamkhar town. [Continue Reading…]

MPAB delivers

Super stars

I’m back in Thimphu having completed my medical treatment (I’m fully better now), and after visiting Bumthang where, thanks to His Majesty’s People’s Project, the victims of the recent fire disaster in Chamkhar town and the town itself are already well on they way to a full recovery.

The banner features MPAB artists entertaining RBA soldiers involved in the reconstruction of Chamkhar. The artists also performed for the residents of Chamkhar. And, a day after arriving in Thimphu, they organized a fund raising event at the Clock Tower Square.

Disaster relief

Chamkhar fire

At 2:00 am yesterday morning, even as fire raged through Chamkhar town, the Galpoi Zimpoen’s office was already coordinating efforts to control the disaster. Three hours later, together with the Dzongdag, Royal Bhutan Police, civil servants, monks, students and local residents, His Majesty the King’s representatives in Bumthang were able to contain the fire from spreading throughout the town.

By then, the inferno had left behind a trail of destruction – two men lost their lives, 42 houses were razed to the ground, 66 shops were destroyed, and 267 people were left homeless.

But, at the command of His Majesty the King, who is in India, the Zimpoen’s office was already busy arranging food and temporary shelter for the shocked victims. And by the afternoon, His Majesty the Fourth King had reached Chamkhar to personally oversee the relief and recovery efforts.

Most of the victims in Chamkhar have lost their entire life savings. And their road to recovery will be long and difficult. I hope that their plight will move the Parliament to establish the Relief Fund as soon as possible.

Photo credit: BBS

Leadership of the Self

Leaders

About 1,300 graduates are taking part in the annual graduate orientation programme. And like last year, and the year before, the opposition party will not have the opportunity to meet them.

Last year, I blogged about what I would have spoken about had I been able to meet the graduates. And over the weekend, I’ve been thinking about the wide range of issues that might interest this year’s graduates. But one topic stood out: His Majesty the King’s recent Convocation Address to the students of the University of Calcutta.

As the students in Kolkata prepared to enter the real world of work, His Majesty the King had urged them to live their lives guided by the values of kindness, integrity and justice. To exercise “Leadership of the Self”, His Majesty commanded, is to become better human beings. And that to bring change in the world – to eradicate poverty; to reduce inequalities; to reverse environmental degradation; to improve healthcare – we need to actively seek out “Leadership of the Self”; not leaders to lead the masses.

His Majesty the King’s message is even more relevant for every one of us at home. And it’s particularly pertinent for the 2010 graduates, our future leaders, for whom I reproduce His Majesty’s address in its entirety.

[Continue Reading…]

Implementing the Constitution

For the people ...

Several people have asked me for an English translation of the expression of gratitude that I had offered to His Majesty the King during the inaugural ceremony of the fifth session of the Parliament. A busy schedule, arising from the fifth session, distracted me from translating the statement.

But yesterday, after posting the entry about the signing of our Constitution, I suddenly decided that the translation had to be done immediately. Here it is …

Expression of Appreciation to His Majesty the King

Introduction. It’s been hardly two years since the introduction of democracy in our country. Democratic Constitutional Monarchy has started off well, and as such, our country has received considerable international appreciation and acclaim for a successful transition to democracy.

But more importantly, our people are already enjoying the benefits of the new system of government.

We have been able to achieve a great deal of development within such a short span of time, because of the blessings of the Triple Gem; the support of our guardian deities; the prayers of our clergy; the good fortune of our people; and because of the wisdom, foresight and guidance of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

Most importantly, it is because of the noble deeds and exceptional accomplishments of His Majesty the King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

To most people, democracy means that the complete powers of governance are in the hands of the people. And, that is correct. But in order to administer these powers on behalf of the people, our Constitution accredits a range of institutions. These are, for example, the National Council and the National Assembly, the ruling party and the opposition, the Lhengye Zhungtsho and civil servants, the judiciary, and the Constitutional Offices. The respective powers, roles and responsibilities of these institutions are enshrined in the Constitution.

But of all these institutions, that of the Druk Gyapo is, by far, the most important. According to Article 2 Section 1 of the Constitution, “His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo is the Head of State and the symbol of unity of the Kingdom and of the people of Bhutan.”

All of us are fully aware of His Majesty the King’s noble deeds, actions and achievements. So on behalf of the opposition party, I would like to express our heartfelt gratitude by recalling a few of His Majesty’s accomplishments during the past two years. I thank the Honourable Speaker for allowing me to do so.

One: land. In accordance with Article 2 Section 16 (b) (The Druk Gyalpo, in exercise of His Royal Prerogatives, may grant … land kidu and other kidus), His Majesty the King has, during the last two years, traveled throughout our country to grant audiences to people living in our remotest gewogs and villages, and to personally experience their living conditions and greatest difficulties. [Continue Reading…]

Appointing dzongdags

My last post generated a lot of discussions. Good.

Most of you feel that the cross transfer of the Samtse and Haa dzongdags does not represent new appointments. That they are merely transfers of existing dzongdags. And, that the home ministry has the authority to transfer existing dzongdags.

I disagree. The home ministry cannot transfer existing dzongdags for two reasons: One, dzongkhags are not under the home ministry – they are independent, autonomous agencies. So, the home ministry does not have legal administrative authority over dzongdags. According to Chapter 16, Section 2.1.3 of the BCSR, only the RCSC can execute “inter-ministry/agency” transfers. And the BCSR defines agency as “the Ministry, Dzongkhag, and Autonomous Organisation…”

And two, according to Article 2.19(q) of the Constitution, dzongdags shall be appointed by the Druk Gyalpo “by warrant under His hand and seal.” But does this mean that the Druk Gyalpo appoints dzongdags in general, as a cadre of civil servants not meant for specific dzongkhags? Or, does it mean that the Druk Gyalpo appoints dzongdags to specific dzongkhags?

The RCSC favours the second interpretation. Hence their announcement:

His Majesty the King has appointed Rinzin Dorji, Chief Planning Officer, GNH Commission as Dzongdag, Samtse Dzongkhag; Karma Dukpa, Sr. Drungpa, Phuntsholing Dungkhag as Dzongdag, Zhemgang Dzongkhag; and Sonam Jigme, Chief Trade & Industry Officer, Regional Trade & Industry Office in Samdrup Jongkhar as Dzongdag, Gasa Dzongkhag.

The above appointments have been made in accordance with Article 2, section 19 (q) of the Constitution.

His Majesty’s warrant is specific. Rinzin Dorji was appointed as Samtse Dzongdag, not as any dzongdag. Karma Dukpa as Zhemgang Dzongdag. And Sonam Jigme as Gasa Dzongdag. So they cannot be transferred to other dzongkhags.

But that does not mean that they, and other existing dzongdags, can never serve in other dzongkhags. If the RCSC and the government feel that moving a particular dzongdag to another dzongkhag is desirable, all they’ve got to do is follow procedure. Follow Article 2, Section 19(q) of the Constitution.

And why is procedure, especially those enshrined in the Constitution, so important? To ensure checks and balances. And to ensure respect for law and transparency.

Guru Thongdrel

Look for the Lam

The Paro Tsechu ended yesterday, with the unfurling of the Guru Thongdrel. His Majesty the King graced the final day of the popular festival, as thousands of people braved the cold and rain to receive the sacred thongdrel’s blessings.

Dasho Sangay Dorji, a leading dzongkha language expert, says that the gigantic tapestry was commissioned by the second Paro Penlop, Ngawang Choeda, and constructed by Lam Ngawang Rabgay more than 350 years ago.

Parops love to tell stories about their thongdrel. According to one, Lam Ngawang Rabgay sent a trader to Tibet to barter rice for brocade. But the trader was given strict instructions to deal only with the first businessman he would encounter there. The trader followed his Lama’s instructions faithfully and procured a Chinese merchant’s entire stock of brocade – that person was the first businessman that the trader had met in Lhasa. Back in Paro, the trader was amazed to discover that he had unknowingly purchased the exact types and amounts of brocade that was needed for the thongdrel.

In another story, the Parop Penlop himself traveled incognito to Tibet and gambled with Lhasa’s treasurer. The penlop won, and returned to Bhutan with the treasurer’s entire stock of brocade. That stock was exactly sufficient to construct his thongdrel.

The thongdrel, reputedly Bhutan’s first, features Guru Pema Jungey and his two consorts, surrounded by Guru Rimpoche’s eight manifestations, the Choe-Lung-Truel Sum, and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. At the bottom of the thongdrel is one more figure: that of Lam Ngawang Rabgay, who made sure that future generations would gaze on him with eternal gratitude.

The banner, of Paro’s famous tsechu grounds, celebrates our rich heritage.