Message on Happiness Day

Today is a big day for Bhutan … and the world.

Today, people all over the world will come together to observe the first International Day of Happiness. My family and I join the people of Bhutan in celebrating the first ever global happiness day.

I thank the prime minister and the government for their hard work and perseverance in advocating Gross National Happiness at home and abroad. I congratulate them for for successfully promoting happiness in the international agenda, and for pushing the United Nations to adopt the resolution on happiness. Their efforts have led to the adoption of the International Day of Happiness.

Today is a good time to think about our priorities – to ask ourselves what is important and what we aspire to do with our lives. It is also a good time to take a deliberate break from regular work; to spend time with family, friends and loved ones; to be true to oneself, free of material ambitions and insatiable desires.

Today is also a good time to reflect on Gross National Happiness and how it was born. It is a time, a proud time for all Bhutanese, to remember that His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, gave the world a new idea, a new calling. So today is a time to offer thanks to the Fourth Druk Gyalpo for gifting GNH to Bhutan and to the whole world. On this happy day, I urge all Bhutanese to offer prayers for our beloved Kings.

Tashi delek!

 

Disloyal? Unpatriotic?

The opposition party’s statement on the government’s failed UNSC bid drew a strong response from the prime minster. Instead of clarifying the government’s position, or responding to the our request for a full disclosure of the expenses incurred, he called my remarks “disloyal and unpatriotic”.

We will not engage in personal attacks. But we cannot ignore the PM’s malicious assault which was obviously intended to malign the opposition members and undermine institution of the opposition party. So we felt compelled to issue the following  statement to the press last Friday:

 

The Opposition Party deeply regrets the unwarranted remarks of the Honourable Prime Minister during the recent press conference in which he labeled the Opposition Leader as “unpatriotic and disloyal” for expressing his views on the failed UN Security Council bid, and for calling on the Government to review its foreign policy.

By calling the Opposition Leader “disloyal and unpatriotic” the Honourable Prime Minister seems to have no respect and regard for the institution of the Opposition Party or the duty of the Opposition Party as enshrined in the Constitution.

The Honourable Prime Minister’s derogatory remarks indicate that while the Government wants to take all the credit for any success, it does not want to be held accountable or face criticism for any of its failures.

The Opposition Party is not surprised that the Prime Minister has gone on record to term the Opposition Leader as “unpatriotic and disloyal”. Such incidences have occurred before, as when the Government demeaned the Judiciary when they lost the Constitutional Case. Similarly the Government has also undermined the institutions of the ECB, ACC and media on various occasions.

We feel that the Prime Minister’s remarks are an attempt to deflect public attention from the Government’s failed UN Security Council bid and from the series of allegations of corruption that continue plague the Government.

However, the Opposition Party will not be intimidated by the Prime Minster’s derogatory remarks. Instead, we shall continue to discharge our duties faithfully – without fear or favour – in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, and in the interest of the country and people.

Accordingly the Opposition Party calls on the Honourable Prime Minister and the Government to take the views and concerns of the Opposition Party constructively, and to recognize that all of us share the common objective of strengthening the nation and fulfilling the aspirations of our people.

Clear to run(?)

About 6 weeks ago, at a press conference, the prime minister claimed that the Election Commission of Bhutan should disqualify the opposition party from taking part in the next round of elections for failing to clear its debts by the 30 June deadline.

Remarkably, the prime minister also suggested that the two members in opposition should not be permitted to run in the next elections … not as members of their current party, not by starting a new party, not by joining another party.

As it turned out, the election commission, having reviewed the status of the two existing parties, decided that both PDP and DPT continue to enjoy their status as registered political parties. That means that PDP will be able to participate in next year’s elections. That also means that the two members in the opposition will be able to run in the next elections.

Okay, that’s clear.

But what’s not clear is if the prime minister, some of the other DPT ministers, and the speaker will be allowed to take part in the 2013 elections?

The prime minister, the speaker and other ministers have all been implicated in the Gyelpozhing “land grab” case. The Anticorruption Commission investigated the case and concluded that 67 of the 99 plots allotted in Gyelpozhing were “illegal”.

The ACC has already issued a “freeze notice” forbidding any transactions on 75 of the plots.  And they have forwarded the case to the Office of the Attorney General in keeping with the Anticorruption Act, Section 128 of which states that OAG “… shall undertake prosecution of persons on the basis of the findings of the Commission for adjudication by a Court.”

But can OAG prosecute members of the government? Chapter 3, Section 12(a) of the OAG Act states that OAG shall “… represent the Government in civil litigation and criminal prosecution before the Courts of Law …”. Furthermore, Chapter 4, Section 20 of the OAG Act declares that, “The Attorney General shall be accountable to the Prime Minister”.

In fact, the OAG Act does not prevent the attorney general from prosecuting the persons charged in this case, as they are being charged as private individuals, and not as members of the government.

But what if OAG is unwilling to prosecute? What if they feel intimidated? And what if they drag their feet? Then what?

That should not happen. But in the unlikely event that it does, ACC is empowered to conduct its own prosecution. According to Section 128(3) of the Anticorruption Act, the ACC may “… carry out its own prosecution of a person charged with an offense under this Act or take over the prosecution process from the Office of Attorney General when the case is:  (a) delayed without valid reason; (b) manipulated; or (c) hampered by interference.”

So whether it’s by OAG or by ACC, the persons implicated in the Gyelpozhing case will be charged.

But that’s not all. According to Section 167(2) of the Anticorruption Act, “ A public servant who is charged with an offense under this Act shall be suspended with effect from the date of the charge till pending the outcome of any appeals.”

That means that once the prime minister, speaker and other the ministers involved are charged in a court of law, they must be suspended.

But even that is not all. Section 179(g) of the Election Act provides that “A person shall be disqualified as a candidate or a member holding an elective office under the Constitution, if he/she: has been accused of felony in a pending case and the competent Court has taken cognizance and charges have been framed against him/her.”

That means that once they are charged, and if they are accused of felony, they must be disqualified from their offices, not just suspended.

That also means that, unless they are acquitted by the courts of law, they cannot take part in next year’s elections.

The first Parliament will complete its term in April 2013. And according to the Constitution, elections must be conducted within the next 90 days. That means that elections must be conducted by July, at the latest. And that means that, to take part in the elections, the accused must be acquitted by June 2013.

That’s just nine months from now. Nine months for the speaker to prove that he didn’t break the law in the way he allotted land to influential people. And nine months for the prime minister, the minister for works and human settlement and the minister of finance to prove that they did not break the law in applying for and accepting large tracks of land in Gyelpozhing.

Hejo vs Denchi

Denchi: relatively expensive

About two years ago, I’d written about a group of residents in Hejo, Thimphu. Their land had been taken over by the government. But they had not accepted the government’s compensation for their land. They claimed that the government’s compensation rate – set by the Property Assessment and Valuation Agency, PAVA – was too low. They protested that their land, located adjacent to Thimphu’s dzong and close to the capital’s business center, fetched much higher prices in the market. And they pointed out that even PAVA’s rates were considerably higher for land that is located further away from the center of Thimphu.

The residents of Hejo have still not been able to resolve their case. They agree that the government can acquire their land for “public purpose”. But they know that the Constitution says that the government can do so only “on payment of fair compensation”. And since the current compensation not “fair”, they have been fighting for a better compensation rate.

Further afield, in Denchi, Pema Gatshel, the government has acquired land to develop a new township. But in this case, the government – the cabinet, no less – has granted compensation rates in excess of PAVA’s rates. The cabinet’s approved rate of Nu 9,000 per decimal more than doubles PAVA’s rate, calculated at Nu 3,952.42 per decimal for Denchi. In fact, the cabinet’s rate is 128% more than PAVA’s rate.

It’s obvious that the landowners in Denchi stand to benefit. And what has now become obvious is that a certain Aum Dechen, who happens to be the prime minister’s aunty, stands to benefit the most. She gets a cool Nu 21.60 million for her land. That’s a whopping Nu 12.12 million above PAVA’s rate of Nu 9.48 million.

The residents of Hejo are still fighting for”fair compensation”for their land. But those in distant Denchi have been given more than their fair share – thanks to the cabinet’s intervention.

To resolve the Hejo case, PAVA should revise the compensation rates, as they must, once every three years.

And to resolve the Denchi case, ACC should investigate the cabinet’s involvement for possible corruption.

Photo credit: The Bhutanese

Expensive talk

The Ministry of Agriculture says that the prices of local vegetables is increasing. They are right. In fact, the prices of local vegetables have not just increased; they have skyrocketed.

Between this time last year and now, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, the price for local cabbages increased from Nu 37.43 to Nu 48.75. That’s an increase of 30.25%. The price of local chillies increased from Nu 270 to Nu 300 or by 11.11%. And the prices of potatoes and beans have jumped by a massive 47.22% and  39.40% respectively.

So what’s driving the prices of local vegetables?  The Ministry of Agriculture has blamed inflation, the seasons and the rupee crisis.

Yes, inflation would have caused price increases. The last quarter recorded inflation at 13.53%. That’s the highest rate we’ve seen in years. But that’s nowhere near the 47% increase in the price of local potatoes. By comparison, the price of imported potatoes, which was Nu 17.83 per kg last year, increased only slightly, to Nu 20 per kg this year. We import most of what we consume from India. So inflation rates here follow those in India. And since the price of imported potatoes (and other vegetables) went up only marginally, inflation cannot be blamed for the huge increase in the cost of local potatoes (and local vegetables).

Nor can we blame the seasons. In their report, the government compared vegetables prices between two years but at the same season. So when they say that the price of local cabbages have increased from Nu 37.43 to Nu 48.75 per kg, they are talking about  prices in June last year, versus prices in June this year. More significantly, the government has found out that production of local vegetables have gone up. All this means that we can’t pin the blame on the season.

The third excuse that the Ministry of Agriculture has offered for increasing vegetable prices is the rupee crisis. I agree, the rupee crisis is to blame. But not for the reasons that the Ministry of Agriculture thinks; not because the ngultrum is fetching fewer Indian rupees at the informal exchange market.

The rupee crisis did indeed cause a sudden hike in vegetable prices. But they went up due to an unlikely event. On 12 April the prime minister went on national TV to talk about the rupee crisis. During that talk, the prime minister announced that the government would no longer permit vegetables to be imported from India. Prices of local vegetables went up immediately. And haven’t come down since.

Ambassador for life?

Should Parliament make the Prime Minister GNH Ambassador for Life?

The proposal to make the Prime Minister GNH Ambassador for Life was tabled by the Speaker. But it was not discussed in the National Assembly. Yet, the proposal was forwarded to the National Council. And it was almost included in the Assembly’s resolutions as a proposal that had, more or less, been accepted. The Speaker also made indirect reference to the proposal in his address during this session’s closing ceremony.

So should Parliament make the Prime Minister GNH Ambassador for Life? No. First, the Parliament did not follow due process. Second, no one knows what “GNH Ambassador for Life” entails – what it means, and how much it will cost. Third, the nominee is a serving member of the Parliament – such titles should be reserved for past members only, if at all, and only after they’ve proven themselves. Fourth, the nominee is currently under investigation for the Gyelpozhing land scam case. And Fifth, it is outside the scope of the Parliament’s authority.

That authority, to appoint a GNH ambassador for life, belongs to His Majesty the King. According to Article 2, Section 16(a) of the Constitution: “The Druk Gyalpo, in exercise of His Royal Prerogatives, may: award titles, decorations, dar for Lhengye and Nyi-Kyelma in accordance with tradition and custom.”

Lyopno Khandu Wangchuk, the economic affairs minister, however, claimed, the Assembly, that a broader, more liberal interpretation of the Constitution would allow the Parliament to bestow that title to the PM.

I’m not sure. The government has consistently called for a broader, liberal interpretation of the Constitution. And the opposition party has consistently maintained that doing so would be dangerous, especially if those doing the “broad, liberal interpreting” are the very ones who stand to benefit.

Take Article 2, Section 16(a) of the Constitution, for instance. If a liberal interpretation of this provision is taken to mean that other institutions can also, in addition to His Majesty, grant titles and decorations, imagine how the subsequent provisions could be interpreted.

Article 2, Section 16(b) states that: “The Druk Gyalpo, in exercise of His Royal Prerogatives, may: grant citizenship, land kidu and other kidus”.

And Article 2, Section 16(c) states that: “The Druk Gyalpo, in exercise of His Royal Prerogatives, may: grant amnesty, pardon and reduction of sentences.”

Several commentators took exception to my last post, Rule of the mob. Think again. What is preferable? Rule of the mob? Or rule of the law?

Ordering people

At the end of the second Pedestrian Day, I reproduce below a comment posted by “Dala”:

Can anyone provide a copy of the executive order circulated by PM.I want to see the content of the order because the Police and the RSTA people are not allowing vehicle movement even in remote places forget about towns and cities. I was on the way to Dagana from Dagapela and they stopped my car and said that I cannot go to Dagana. When I asked why I can’t go, their reply was that there is executive order from PM to restrict all vehicle movement on Tuesday. So, its really confusing for the general public. I thought the executive order applies to Dzongkhag towns and cities only.

The prime minister’s executive order is available on the Cabinet’s website. However, I’m posting it here for your ready reference.

 

 

 

 

What we really need

Our country is going through an unprecedented economic crisis. So why is the government establishing a Secretariat for the new economy”for the United Nations? Instead, what we need is an office – a war room – dedicated to planning and directing the recovery of our economy.

And why is the prime minister preparing to “make a statement promoting the vision for a new economic system” for the world? What we really need – desperately – is a head of government who is genuinely and fully committed to understanding, planning and directing the recovery of our economy.

But nat!

At school, we, like all children, all over the world, loved playing pranks. Our arsenal boasted an impressive range of innovative pranks. But the simplest and the most popular of them by far was the very versatile but nat! prank.

This is how it was administered: We’d go up to a fellow student and excitedly declare, “I found your wallet!” And then, very slowly, add, “But nat!”

Or we’d tell him, “Our math test is postponed … but nat!” Or, “She says she likes you too … but nat!”

The but nat! was meant to negate whatever news had just been delivered.

For obvious reasons, the prank would work only if the victim had really lost his wallet. Or if he hadn’t prepared for the upcoming math test. Or if he had confided that he was in love with a certain girl. And if, by some chance, the victim had lost a lot money, or really hated math, or was madly in love, the prank would triumph.

The prime minister, who, incidentally, also attended the same school, has pulled off a but nat! on the entire nation.

Last month, he went on live TV and confidently broadcast that the government would ban the import of vegetables from this month onwards. But last week, a month after his announcement, he seems to have changed his mind, and slowly added … but nat!

There’s no doubt that we can grow our own vegetables. In fact, we must grow our own food. But we’ve done precious little to encourage domestic production. So we’ve been relying almost exclusively on imports.

We can, and we must, grow our own food, especially vegetables. But that’s not possible overnight. Our dependency on imported food has come about from years of inefficient farming combined with lazy government policy.

Yes, we can, and we must, work towards substituting imported food with domestic production. But we must work carefully, deliberately and intelligently. An immediate and outright ban on vegetable imports will do more harm than good.

So I wasn’t surprised to hear the government say but nat! and negate the vegetable import ban.

But I am surprised at their decision to allow only one agency, the Food Corporation of Bhutan, to import vegetables. The FCB, as far as I know, does not have any experience in importing vegetables. As such they will find it difficult, if not impossible, to negotiate, buy and transport a wide range of perishable goods every week to Thimphu and other parts of the country. They don’t have the experience to do the job. And they don’t have the incentives to do a good job.

It’s clear that we will be compelled to import vegetables for some time. As such, the government should permit the vegetable vendors to continuing importing vegetables. They, not FCB, are the people who know how to do this business the most efficiently.

But in the meantime, the government must encourage domestic vegetable production. The government must take food self-sufficiency seriously.

Playing but nat! at school, with students, is one thing. Playing around with government policy, without understanding the ground realities, is quite another.

Rupee statement

Some friends have suggested that I should use my YouTube account to incorporate a bit more audio-visual in this blog. I agree.

Here is the statement I recently made on BBS TV urging the government to inform the people about the rupee situation. I’m happy to report that, according to BBS, the acting prime minister and finance minister will appear on TV tomorrow, Tuesday, 3 April.

I’ve posted the English transcript of my statement after the video.

 

Our economy is in a crisis.

Just last year, the government was forced to sell US$ 200 million from the country’s foreign currency reserves to clear a huge rupee deficit. But today, barely five months on, we are faced with another rupee deficit, one that seems to be spiraling out of control.

The Royal Monetary Authority has taken several measures to address the rupee crisis. But their measures are ad-hoc crisis measures, not long-term policies. As such, they have not been able to control the growing deficit. And as such, the general public has become increasingly worried.

The rupee deficit has affected everyone. Businesses, especially small-time traders, are suffering as they do not have timely access to Indian rupees. Similarly, our ordinary citizens are suffering – they no longer have ready access to rupees, and as such, cannot buy basic essentials or travel to India easily for medical treatment, education or pilgrimage.

Our economy is in a crisis. And we, the people, are concerned – we are confused; we are anxious; and we are losing confidence in our own economy. Yet our government has remained completely silent. The prime minister and elected government have still not addressed the people to explain what is happening to our economy.

The government must clear all doubts and reassure the people that they are in control of the situation. Otherwise our people will become even more confused; even more anxious; and may even start to panic.

As the leader of the opposition party, it is my responsibility to demand that the government address the people, and provide us with clear and definite answers.

Therefore, and on behalf of the people:

I call on the government to give a full account on the nature and extent of the rupee crisis.

I call on the government to explain, in clear terms, their plans, strategies and policies to resolve this crisis.

And I call on them to tell us, the people, exactly when we expect our economy to recover from this crisis.