Comments rule

This blog has enjoyed tremendous success. That success – measured by the number of readers who visit this blog every day – is not just because of my posts. Instead, it’s driven mainly by your comments.

Many of your comments are informative. They are thoughtful. And they are insightful. In fact, many of them are better than the original post. That’s why they generate so much attention. And that’s why there’s such vibrant debate.

So naturally, I am deeply grateful for your comments.

That said, some of the comments have also been spiteful. They’ve been written with the sole intention of lobbing personal attacks at other people. Such comments distract our readers from the main issues; they compromise healthy discussions, and they suffocate constructive debate.

The prime minister and other public officials, including yours truly, have all been victims of abusive comments and personal attacks. Other prominent people and some commentators have also suffered. But, so far, I have not intervened; I have not moderated the comments. That’s because I did not wish to risk stifling any one’s views in any way. Plus, I strongly believe that, in the overall analysis, a free-for-all discussion space generates more good than harm.

However, the number of malicious comments intended to discredit people has increased sharply. Perhaps that’s because we’ve been discussing many more controversial issues. But then again, perhaps it’s the looming elections that is spawning the vitriol.

So I’ve decided to moderate this blog, more carefully, and more attentively. I am aware that I risk interfering in your views and how you express them. But I am also keenly aware that, left unchecked, personal attacks and vicious comments will crowd out other useful comments. And that the fruitful discussions we enjoy now will degenerate to meaningless noise.

That’s why I have decided to moderate all comments. But I will do so reluctantly. And with great hesitation.

Starting with this post itself, I will remove any comment that I think is abusive; that I consider to be a personal attack; or that is not directly relevant to the issue that I have raised.

On my part, I commit to actively engage in the discussions by interacting with you instead of just listening to you. If you would like to raise issues that are not directly relevant to my post, you may do so by emailing them to me – I’ll consider posting them as separate entries.

Thanks to your active participation, this blog has enjoyed tremendous success. Let’s work together, with dignity and mutual respect, to strengthen and build on that success.

 

Stop digging!

Listen...don't dig

Denis Healey, a British politician, once famously said: “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.”

Digging. That’s what the government is doing by issuing guidelines to relax the implementation of the controversial Tobacco Control Act. According to the guidelines:

Any Bhutanese bringing in tobacco products, more than the permissible quantity for personal consumption through designated port of entry, will not be directly charged for smuggling, but would be levied a 200 percent tax.

The excess quantity would be seized, the citizenship identity card number noted, so that the offender would be charged on the second attempt to bring in more than the prescribed limit.

Why do the guidelines amount to “digging”? There are several important reasons:

First, the government does not have the authority to grant exceptions to the Tobacco Control Act. According to the Act, any person found selling or buying tobacco products “… shall be punishable with misdemeanor if the source of supply is revealed. If the accused fails to disclose the source of supply, he or she shall be liable for the offence of smuggling in addition to the offence of misdemeanor.”

The law is straightforward. And the government must not undermine it. Doing so, like granting exceptions to first time offenders – letting them off with a small fine – could amount to interfering in the judicial process.

Second, why did the police draft these guidelines? That’s not their job. It’s the Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency’s job to make rules for the implementation for the effective implementation of the Tobacco Control Act. And why did the cabinet approve the guidelines? That’s not their job either. Their job is to ensure that the rules made by the BNCA are in line with the provisions of the Tobacco Control Act.

And third, what happens to the 27-odd people already under detention. Some of them are being tried. And some, as we know, have already been incarcerated.

Through the guidelines, the government has now admitted that possessing illegal tobacco for personal consumption is a trivial offense, one that should carry a fine of only 200% of the cost of the tobacco. If so, amend the Tobacco Control Act.

The 7th Session of the Parliament has just begun. So if the government proposes an “urgent bill” to amend the Act, there’s enough time to discuss and amend the Act in this session itself. Otherwise, at least begin the process in this session. In the meantime, get BNCA to take another look at their rules. And stop digging.