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…]

Extraordinary

Something extraordinary took place in the National Assembly last Tuesday.

The government introduced the Land Bill 2012 in the Assembly. But they did not move a motion to deliberate the Bill, as was expected. Nor did they move a motion to withdraw the Bill in accordance with legislative procedure. Instead, the government proposed that the next Parliament deliberate the Bill. And the National Assembly endorsed the government’s proposal.

So what’s out of the ordinary?

One, the government introduced a bill that they never intended to discuss. But why would the government go through the trouble of introducing a bill, if they did not want it to be deliberated? Probably because they felt that the National Council would not agree to the main amendments to the Land Act (that the Land Commission is revamped so its members are largely ministers, and that the cabinet is given powers to grant resettlement land). And probably because they felt that the Bill would not pass the joint sitting of the Parliament that would have to be convened because of differences between the two Houses.

Two, the government decided that the next Parliament should deliberate the Land Bill. The current government enjoys a huge majority. And they, most likely, will form the next government. But to plan lawmaking on that assumption is presumptuous. And it is preposterous. I’m not sure it happens anywhere else in the world.

Three, the National Assembly endorsed the government’s proposal, and resolved that the next Parliament would deliberate the Land Bill 2012. That, in spite of the fact that, according to Section 192 of the National Assembly Act: “All Bills before the Assembly or any committee on the last sitting day of a term of the Assembly or when the Assembly is dissolved shall lapse a the end of that day.”And, in spite of the fact that, according to Section 318 of the National Assembly Act: “If the consideration of a matter has not been concluded by the end of a session, it shall be continued in the following session, unless parliamentary elections have been held in the interim …”

It’s clear that discussions on bills cannot be carried over to the next Parliament. Yet that’s exactly what we resolved to do. Extraordinary.

 

 

Short and sweet

Assembly

The 8th Session of the Parliament concluded last Friday. It was easily our shortest session: we started on 4 January and ended, barely 12 working days later, on 20 January.

But the 8th session was historic. Her Majesty the Queen graced both the opening and closing ceremonies; and the members of Parliament got to offer the Oath of Allegiance to the Throne.

Plus, the joint sitting of the Parliament amended the Sales Tax, Customs and Excise Act and the Public Finance Act to align them in accordance with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution which had been rendered in the first constitutional case (Incidentally, the amendments had actually been proposed by the ruling party in the 6th session to give the government sweeping powers to introduce, increase and revise all taxes); the Parliament amended the Tobacco Control Act, responding to public outcry that the law was flawed and draconian; the National Council passed the first-ever private bill, the National Flag Bill, introduced by NC MP from Wangduephodrang; and the Speaker invoked special powers granted to him in the Legislative Procedure Rules to block the Parliament from voting on the Election (Amendment) Bill that mainly sought to permit state funding for political parties.

The 8th session was also quite productive. In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, the National Assembly passed five bills (Consumer Protection Bill, Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Fund Bill, Education City Bill, Disaster Management Bill and University of Medical Sciences Bill) and ratified one international convention (Ramsar Convention on Wetlands); the National Council passed the University of Medical Sciences Bill, the Parliamentary Entitlement (Amendment) Bill, and ratified the Ramsar Convention; the joint sitting passed the Child Adoption Bill; and both houses endorsed the government’s proposal to increase the salaries of tshogpas, and questioned the government on a range of issues.

The 8th Session was short. But it was productive. A lesson, perhaps, that we should keep our future sessions as tight as possible.

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.

Inviting issues

The eighth session of the Parliament will start on 4th January. Here are the bills the National Assembly will discuss:

  • Tobacco Control ( Amendment) Bill 2011
  • Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Fund Bill 2011
  • Disaster Management Bill of Bhutan 2011
  • Education City Bill of Bhutan 2011

And here are the bills that the National Assembly and the National Council will discuss in a joint sitting to resolve differences between the two Houses.

  • Child Adoption Bill of Bhutan 2011
  • Sales Tax, Customs and Excise (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2011
  • Public Finance (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2011
  • Election (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2011

The bills can be downloaded from the NC and NA websites. Please give me your feedback.

Also, please give me your suggestions on issues that I should consider raising with the government. I’ll raise them during question hour, or, depending on the nature of the issue, propose them as motions.

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…]

State of the government

The prime minister took more than three-and-a-half hours to deliver his State of the Nation address to the Parliament today. He used that time to describe, in great detail, and to great effect, the achievements of his government.

The PM is correct in highlighting the government’s performance in his annual report to Parliament. We expect him to use the occasion to showcase his government’s successes. And showcase he did.

But we expect the PM to report on the status of some of the other institutions that are important to our nation as well. After all, he’s supposed to the reporting on the State of the Nation.

The PM gave a detailed account of the government, but he made little or no mention of His Majesty the King’s achievements, national security, GDP, the judiciary, the monk body and local government. So today’s report was more State of the Government, than State of the Nation.

He also did not present the annual plans and priorities of the government as required by the Constitution, Article 10 Section 10 of which states that:

The Prime Minister shall present an Annual Report on the state of the nation, including legislative plans and the annual plans and priorities of the Government, to the Druk Gyalpo and to a joint sitting of Parliament.

Instead, he spent a considerable amount of time arguing for state funding for political parties, in spite of the fact that the National Council had only recently voted against state funding.

Screaming for answers

The picture above, taken by Bhutan Today, shows victims of the recent Chamkhar fire huddling around their possessions.

Look at that picture. It should make you feel grateful. The picture shows that the residents were able to save at least some of their belongings from the fire that engulfed entire houses. They seem to have rescued clothes, mattresses, blankets, tables, carpets, pots, cupboards and even a bukhari from the fire that destroyed 33 houses. Given the tragic circumstances, we should be grateful for that.

Look at that picture again. It should now make you feel frustrated. The picture shows that the fire could not be controlled even though so many people had the time to rescue so many of their belongings.

Most of the houses in Chamkhar town stand in a line along the main street. So it would have taken time for the fire to spread from one house to the next. It did – that’s why the residents could save so many of their possessions. And yet the fire could not be controlled, not until it reached a three-storied stone structure that prevented it from spreading further.

So why couldn’t the fire be put out earlier? Because Bumthang has only one fire-engine, a second-hand truck manufactured in 1998. What’s worse is that that fire-engine can carry only 10 minutes supply of water. In fact, at full blast, that fire engine uses up all its water in just 5 minutes.

The fire fighters actually almost bought the fire under control during its early stages. But their water ran out. And, because Chamkhar town has no fire hydrants, they had to leave to replenish their small stock of water. That’s when the fire went out of control.

Look at that picture one more time. It should make you angry. The picture shows that, in spite of the two earlier fires, we were not at all prepared to fight this fire.

About a year ago, in the Parliament, during last year’s budget discussions, and before the first Chamkhar fire, I had requested the government to increase funding for our fire fighting programmes. I had argued that our fire fighters need more and better fire-engines. But I had also proposed that, if the government could not buy new fire engines immediately, they should at least buy water tankers to support the existing fleet of fire engines.

Bumthang’s aging fire engine was no match for the three Chamkhar fires. But with support from a simple 9,000 litre water tanker they would have probably been able to control the fires before they wrecked so much damage and suffering to the people of Chamkhar.

Today, the government is trying to find out who caused the fire. The residents are convinced that the fire was not an accident. So they want to catch the person who set their town on fire. The perpetrator must be caught. And be bought to justice.

But the government has so far ignored another, perhaps more important, investigation. They need to find out why, after repeated warnings and fires, they had still not equipped our fire fighters adequately.

Look at that picture. It’s screaming for answers.

Opposing corruption

“guardian” entered three comments on my last post. All three were on corruption.

In the first comment, “guardian” complained that I hadn’t given any attention to this important issue:

OL simply needs to get his priorities right. When there are so many cases of corruption in the country, OL has not even raised his voice once. I suspect that somehow if he does that, he will find more PDP supporters who are behind all these corrupt practices.

In the second comment, “guardian” laments that no one seems to be doing any thing about the malaise spreading through our society:

Right now the most serious problem which is leading to poor governance is corruption which seems to have pervaded every section of Bhutanese society. Sadly, though, it was the government which kept on stating that corruption in Bhutan was at manageable levels, only to find out now, that it is a tough nut to crack.

Even the ACC it seems is not able to cope with the scale of corruption in the country.

And in the third comment, “guardian” persuades the opposition party to challenge the government:

Ol does not need to do anything, there is enough evidence as per the ACC reports that there is rampant corruption. OL just needs to tell the DPT government that he is worried about corruption and ask the ruling government to do something about it.

The fact that he is not even blogging about it very worrying indeed. Don’t you agree with me!

But it’s not just these three comments. “guardian” has left a string of comments, in many of my posts, all calling for opposition to corruption in Bhutan. And it’s not just “guardian”. Other readers have also voiced various concerns and objections to corruption.

Corruption is real. Corruption is rising. And, left unchecked, corruption could get dangerously pervasive. So we must act against it, individually and collectively. Otherwise this scourge will become irreversibly entrenched in our society.

But how do we fight? How do we fulfill our constitutional duty to “… uphold justice and to act against corruption”?

We can file reports – even confidential ones – to the Anticorruption Commission. We can go to the press. And we can discuss this important issue here, in this blog.

So if you know of any instances of corruption I urge you to report them to ACC. I encourage you to talk to the media. And I welcome you to discuss them here. This issue is important for the health and the future of our country. So let’s discuss it. And let’s do so constructively and responsibly, without engaging in slander, libel or malicious gossip.

On my part, I’ll listen and I’ll learn. And I’ll raise your concerns with the government and the ruling party, especially in the Parliament, the next session of which begins on the 20th of May.

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…]