Cabinet’s idle website

Total solution?

I trust that part of the Nu 2.05 billion total solutions project will go towards updating the cabinet’s website – for some odd reason, the cabinet has stopped publishing their executive orders, cabinet decisions, and press releases on their website.

Returning graduates

Since the start of planned modern development in our country, one of our biggest constraints to progress has been the consistent shortage of human resources. We simply did not have enough skilled and qualified people required to initiate and sustain development. So when our students studying in India and beyond returned home after they graduated, we welcomed them back eagerly. And we were proud of the fact that they – almost every single one of them – chose to return home instead of working abroad.

Not any more. Recently, 100 graduates completed a month-long training at Infosys. 37 of them were offered jobs in India. But of them, only 9 have accepted the offers. The rest want to work in Bhutan. We, however, want them to work in India. Lyonpo Nandalal Rai reportedly spent an hour trying to persuade them that they should “not waste such an opportunity”. And many of us, led by the media, have quickly cast them as ungrateful youth who are “shaming the country.”

We’ve stopped welcoming back our graduates with open arms. Instead, we’re encouraging them to work in India.  And if, for whatever reason, they don’t, we attack them. I am concerned.

True, unemployment is real. The government estimates that there are already about 13,000 unemployed youth, the majority of them between the ages of 15 and 24. But shaming our youth into accepting foreign jobs is not the solution. Instead, we should see them as a scarce resource, which, indeed, they are. And we should make full use of this resource to strengthen our economy which, after decades of modern development, is still largely dependent on foreign aid and loans.

Graduates who chose to work in Bhutan are not the problem. They are part of the solution. Without them – and there are another 1,330 graduates currently attending an orientation – it would be virtually impossible to develop the vibrant economy that we badly need.

The government is building an IT park, our first, in Babesa. This is good news. Some of us are concerned that the refusal of the graduates to accept the Infosys and Genpak jobs in India will discourage international businesses from investing in the IT park. The opposite may, in fact, be true. We can now convince potential investors that we have enough qualified graduates. And, more importantly, that they prefer to work in Bhutan.

Your avatar

gravatar-logo2Okay, our new site is up and running. And you would have noticed that reading your comments is easier and more enjoyable. That’s because all of you are using usernames. And unique usernames make following comments and discussions easy.

But most of you have not created avatars. Avatars can be photographs (like Abi and I have used) or caricatures or any other picture you think is appropriate to represent you or your mood. They are not necessary. But, like usernames, they’ll make following your discussions lively. They are also fun.

Abi Narayan showed me that easiest way to make an avatar is to use gravatar (for globally recognized avatar). Gravatar is a free service that allows you to use your avatar image in all gravatar-enabled websites including this site. If you’ve already posted a comment, but haven’t yet created an avatar, you’ll see the gravatar logo beside your username. Replace that with your image!

Solving problems

Today is World Maths Day.

And children throughout the world are celebrating mathematics by solving mental arithmetic questions online. Their goal is to set a new world record in the number of questions they collectively answer in 48 hours. But the real objective is to make maths fun. And to promote numeracy among students.

Last year more than 1 million children from 20,000 schools and 150 countries set a new world record by correctly answering 182,455,169 questions in 48 hours. The organizers of the event already predict that, by tomorrow, another world record will have been set.

The competition began at 5PM yesterday. So the competition will go on for another 31 hours even as I post this entry. And that means there’s still time. Registration is easy and free. All you need to register and participate in the event is internet access.

Our ICT facilities are rudimentary, at best. And most schools do not even have computers. Still, where the facilities are available, make use of them. Go online. Register. And get a few students – yes, even if only a handful – to participate. We can set our sights higher next year. And perhaps even borrow the idea and adapt it for our specific conditions.

Why am I excited about World Maths Day? Listen to the pain in our beloved king’s voice as he commands that “Mathematics is one of our main weaknesses. We have similar weaknesses in Science and amazingly, even English.”

For more information go to the WMD website. Or read Maria Miller’s blog.

Working online … securely

Okay, I’m impatient. I wish we’d make better and quicker use of ICT. I wish we’d use the decades of hard work and zillions of dollars that others have invested to leapfrog to the frontiers of ICT.

But I should also wish that we learn from their mistakes.

A close friend of mine tells me that filing taxes and declaring assets online is dangerous stuff. She warns me that financial information, such as bank accounts and personal identification, that is sent online, especially as email attachments, can easily be intercepted and misused. And that “identity theft” and stealing other people’s money online is already a rampant crime all over the world.

But she also tells me that it is possible to design secure systems. And that ACC, MOF and other online service providers can and should provide complete security that goes beyond simple passwords.

We know about the opportunities of online finance. Let’s learn about the dangers as well – Wikipedia has some information on identify theft.

Working online

I’ve filed my PIT returns electronically. It’s quite easy: go to the MOF website; download the electronic form, an excel file; complete the form; and submit it as an email attachment. The only cumbersome part is sending the supporting documents – TDS certificates, proof of education expenses, donation receipts and the like must be scanned and sent as email attachments.

The entire process should not take more than two hours. If you have trouble, telephone them. The officials are polite, patient and helpful.

I learned that, so far, only 600 of the 5500 PIT returns were filed electronically. That’s barely 11% of the total returns filed. As the PIT deadline approaches, I expect and encourage more tax payers to file their PITs electronically.

I’ve also submitted my asset declarations online. This new feature of the ACC came as a pleasant surprise. I’d gone to their website to print the asset declaration forms and accidently stumbled on their online service. Declaring assets is now very simple. Just follow the online instructions and you should be done in less than an hour.

The ACC system, however, is new and they are still piloting it. So expect small glitches. But nothing that can’t be handled with a quick call to Chimme Wangmo who manages the system – she’s knowledgeable, courteous and very helpful.

So far about 40 people have submitted their asset declarations to ACC. Of them only 8 were filed online. Again, I’m sure more people will use this very convenient service as the deadline to submit asset declaration approaches.

One important point about submitting asset declarations: Public servants who fall under Schedule I are required to submit their asset declarations to ACC. All others submit them to their respective organizations. Read page 9 of the Asset Declaration Rules to see which public servants are under Schedule I.

Stayin’ online

It happened again. Druknet was down this morning. It was down yesterday too. And I was frustrated – I couldn’t check my emails, or update this blog, or confirm my Druk Air reservations.

But many others must have been even more frustrated. The sudden loss of connectivity with the rest of the world would have prevented them from attending to much more important and urgent work.

We should expect, and demand, higher quality of services. So I called Druknet. And I learned that their internet service was interrupted while they were upgrading their system. Apparently, while installing an advanced back-up power supply unit, an electrical leakage caused their system to short circuit…a small glitch really.

But I also learned that Druknet has improved the reliability of their services considerably since the two major interruptions last year. In January, the fiber optic connection to London was disrupted when submarine cables in the Mediterranean were destroyed by ships anchoring off Alexandria. And in August, landslides above Takti knocked down a power pylon damaging the fiber optic cables it carried.

Since then, Druknet has improved the existing link to London and established a new fiber optic link to Hong Kong. To backup the fiber optic network, it has installed a high capacity microwave radio connection between Phuentsholing and Thimphu. And it continues to use the Satellite Earth Station link to British Telecom, and a VSAT link to Telesat in Hawaii.

Druknet has done a lot of good work. But that’s not good enough. To make full use of the wonders of ICT, we must have quicker and more dependable internet connections. For that, we, customers, must demand for better services. Otherwise, expect more glitches.

Deleting power

The “delete” key is powerful. I can undo what I’ve done. It gives me a sense of security. And a sense of power. I can, after all, erase a word, a document, a picture, or even my computer’s memory, by an effortless tap at the “delete” key.

The “delete” key is also dangerous. Once deleted, the memory vanishes into the dark depths of cyber space. That’s where one of my emails went. It was from Europe. From a person who wants to meet me in April. Please send me your email again. Sorry I made a mistake! But, I’ve learned from it. I’ll be more careful from now on.

I learned something else though. What the delete key gives is a false sense of security. And a false sense of power. Artificial memory, once deleted, is out of sight, and out of mind. But, it stays etched on the hard disk, and in the depth of cyber space too. Any whiz kid can fish it out. I’m not good enough, and neither are any of my friends. I am duly humbled.

The “delete” key is dangerous, indeed. Just like politics. Power rests with the people, never with the politicians. That, is one mistake I pray I will never make.

The “delete” key and politics. Both necessary, useful, and even wonderful. As long as we handle both with care, and with a big dose of humility.

(This entry was updated – and completed – with your help. Many thanks for your comments.)

e-PIT

Yes! I can now file my PIT online. Actually not fully online, but electronically – download the PIT return form and send it in as an email attachment.

I’m not complaining. This is a huge step forward. So, well done. I’m going to file my PIT electronically. Are you?

Internet came to Bhutan in June 1998. It’s been more than a decade. Let’s see what I can now do online: I can read the news, participate in online forums; maintain a blog; check government announcements, complain to ACC, check if I’m a registered voter, download government forms, apply for foreign labour, register for employment, and a few more things.

Now let’s see what I still can’t do online: I can’t renew my drivers’ license, apply for a passport, apply for security clearance, check my bank balance, pay utility bills, pay telephone bills, make loan installments, apply for school, attend online classes, apply for and renew business licenses, update and transfer my census, buy bus tickets, buy air tickets, process building permits, pay other taxes, apply for rural timber, declare my assets, and a lot more.

Improving online services will reduce red-tape, corruption and expenses. Connectivity is no longer an issue. Nor is human resources. See what Singaporeans can do online.