Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sounding The Hydropower Projects' Death Knell

It has been four long years; it has taken 54 blistering articles at an average of over one article a month! I was the lone crusader ranting away like a man possessed - lamenting at the destruction that continues to be caused by a disaster named “hydropower”.

The deafening silence from the powers that be, in the face of my relentless unraveling of the many ills associated with Bhutan’s hydropower projects, would have discouraged the most zealous of Judean zealots. And yet, I never faltered - I kept on unabated. And now it seems like I can finally take a break - it appears that the moment of awakening is upon us. Look at what TheBhutanese reported in their paper of 10th November, 2018:

For the record, I am not against hydropower - I have never been. I was, and am, against the manner in which they have been done in recent times. I am fully cognizant of the huge potential that hydropower offers Bhutan. Sadly all that we have managed to do so far is turn this potential into a tool of economic bondage and financial enslavement.

I am glad that finally the realization has dawned upon us.

I am also glad that 2 out of 6 of our River Basins will be kept free of hydropower projects: Chamkharchu and Amochu River Basins. You may recall that I had petitioned on keeping Chamkharchu free of hydropower dams and free-flowing.

I do not really care about Amochu - in fact I think we should go ahead and do Amochu hydropower project. From my point of view, Amochu hydropower project would be the most profitable, and environmentally least destructive - but I think I know why it won't be done. And I respect that. I also agree that we should do the Sunkosh project.

I salute the Hydropower Committee Members - whoever they are - who have made the recommendations to go slow and smart on hydropower projects and for asking that two of our River Basins be kept free of hydropower projects. It is about time! Posterity will record them as heroes and future generations of Bhutanese will remember them fondly for their service to the nation.

Obeisance be to His Majesty the King.

Thank you!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Bhutan Gets A Brand New Set Of Cabinet Members

The madness is behind us - elections are over and we now have a brand new set of Cabinet Members. They may not be the leaders some of us chose - but from here on, they will lead us and our lives will be intrinsically linked to what they do and how they do them.

We know that they will fall far short of their campaign promises. In truth none of us really expect them to live up to every one of their promises. I as a citizen will be happy if they achieve even 30% of their promises. And, in the hope that they will work hard and sincerely at achieving those 30% of their promises, I offer them my CONGRATULATIONS and wish them BEST OF LUCK.

Photograph courtesy of BBS

Prime Minister: Dr. Lotay Tshering
Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs: Dasho Sherub Gyeltshen
Ministry of Agriculture & Forests: Yeshey Penjor
Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Dr. Tandi Dorji
Ministry of Economic Affairs: Loknath Sharma
Ministry of Information & Communications: Karma Donnen Wangdi
Ministry of Education: Jai Bir Rai
Ministry of Health: Dechen Wangmo
Ministry of Finance: Namgay Tshering
Ministry of Works & Human Settlement: Dorji Tshering
Ministry of Labour & Human Resources: Ugyen Dorji

While the new Cabinet Members and their team prepare to take on the task of governance, I would like to submit my very short wish list - just four simple and achievable ones. I most earnestly urge the new government to focus on the following:

For Bhutan Tourism is the most important industry - 10 times more important than hydropower. Thus, first on my wish list is TOURISM. Its benefit reaches every spectrum of Bhutanese society – the government, airline industry, hoteliers, restaurateurs, waiters, laundry man, the carvers and the weavers, the painters, pony drivers, guides, cooks, vegetable seller, vehicle owners, tour operators, taxi owners ---- the list is endless. We need the government to get serious with this sector. Please invest some time and money to keep this sector on track.

We have phenomenal climatic variation and our staggering altitudinal range is unmatched - from 97 Mtrs. at the lowest point to 7,570 Mtrs. at the highest point. Our water resources are among the highest in the world. These natural endowments create ideal conditions for agriculture production. Despite all that, only 5.5% of our land is under agriculture. Energize this sector and reverse rural-urban migration - help eliminate Goongtongs. Make us food self-sufficient and, if possible, let us make agriculture produce as one of our exportable surpluses.

We need the government to turn Bhutan into an energy self-sufficient state. We already are! But something is amiss somewhere. Why are the citizens of a country that produces so much hydro-electricity, required to queue up at the fuel station for hours and hours, trying to buy imported energy? Why is our own electricity out of the reach of the common people? Why are we importing billions of Ngultrums worth of LPG and kerosene, when we produce hundreds of billions of units of hydro-electricity, in the process depleting Rupee reserve, and causing harm to the environment?

Why are we exporting hydro-electricity at more than two times lower the price than that charged to Bhutanese domestic consumers? Why is the government persistently fixing electricity rates at a level that is higher than the imported kerosene and LPG? What is the reason behind making our own electricity unaffordable as an energy source?

Please unravel the mystery of the mathematics behind electricity tariff fixation for domestic consumption.

We have done enough of the talk about being the champion of environmental conservation, about being a carbon negative country. Now lets dispense with the rhetoric and get down to walking the talk. Stop environmental disasters such as Shingkhar-Gorgan road. The construction of the West-East highway was a disaster to begin with - environmentally and financially. It has already caused a serious dip in the arrivals of dollar paying tourists. My heart bleeds at the thought of how we are going to be able to maintain such a behemoth of a road, once built. Please do not ever contemplate projects with such colossal environmental destruction.

Here is wishing all the best to the DNT government. May you bring the change you promised - for the better.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

So What Ticks You?

Every morning I log on to my Blog and scan through the statistics - to see which articles are being read and from where and how many times. It never ceases to amaze me - the readers’ choice of articles and the locations from where they log in. The readership is so varied and they log in from some most unexpected places.

I would have thought that my latest article would get the most attention - not entirely correct. I notice that readers are equally interested in my older articles - articles that were posted many years back.

Sometimes the readers find their way to my Blog through the most bizarre route. Take, for instance, how the following reader from South Africa ended up on my Blog:

SD January 15, 2014 at 1:46 PM
Hi Yeshey. I enjoyed your article. I met Mr Franceschinis in Durban, South Africa in the nineties. He gave me an autographed booklet with some of his photos in. They are exquisite. I found the booklet today and googled his name thus coming across your article. The booklet is called "Guida alla mostra fotografica viaggio attraverso L'Himalaya." I couldn't find much other info out on him. Regards

The above comment was posted on my following article:

As you can see the article was posted on October 9, 2012. The reader happened by the article - 15 months after it was posted.

Of the 559 articles posted on this Blog since 5th November, 2009, one article that is consistently read even after more than five years of its posting is my following article:

The above article deals with Kapney and Patang – I am clueless as to why this article generates so much interest among the readers. Every once in a while this article shows up as one being read by the readers.

Equally popular article (7,137 pageviews) is my following article:

At 11,398 pageviews, my all time second most visited article happens to be:

At 6,948 pageviews so far, my following article ranks as the 5th most read article:

My two articles on the disgusting behavior of the Indian film actor Aamir Khan generated a staggering 42,339 pageviews. Sometimes I wonder if people are interested in meaningful posts?

My Blog stats show that the following articles have been read today:

Democracy Out Of A Carton Box?
27 Oct 2018

Lingzhi Yügyal Dzong: Bhutan’s Remotest Dzong
9 Oct 2012

Hydro-Power Madness
6 Dec 2016

Doklam Plateau And The Shifting Tri-junction Points
20 Aug 2017

Rotary Club of Thimphu Recognized in Australia
2 Nov 2016

Are Our School Drinking Water Safe to Drink?
7 May 2018

Rotary Club of Thimphu Service Projects
28 Jan 2018

The Sinking Dam Site of Bhutan's Biggest Hydro Power Project Under Construction
22 Feb 2018

Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project-I in Colombia?
13 Jun 2018,

WATER: The Next BIG Trouble: II
13 Aug 2014

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Democracy Out Of A Carton Box?

A friend in the US sent me a link to a reputable website on which the following photo of one of our voting compartments of the recently concluded 2018 General election is depicted. The caption underneath the photo reads as follows:

A woman votes in a polling station in Bhutan's capital Thimphu for the parliamentary elections in October 2018, when the small Himalayan kingdom held its third election since the elimination of absolute monarchy.

I looked at the image with a sinking feeling. I was horrified! Can’t we do a better job of building a more respectable looking voting compartment? If this is the state of affairs in the capital city, what must be happening in the rural areas? Why are we wasting time fooling around with democracy, if this is the level of our seriousness about it?

Democracy out of a taped up carton box?

Surely we are better than this? When are we going to put our minds to what we are doing? This is truly pathetic.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Catching The Bull By The Tail

Bhutan’s latest National Forest Inventory Report states that 71% of our land is under forest cover - rest are taken up by shifting cultivation, forest plantation, horticulture, pasture land, agriculture and human settlement. What is revealing is that only 5.5% of our total land mass is under agriculture farming. Small wonder than that we suffer from food insufficiency.

But it does not have to be this way. Bhutan has phenomenal climatic variation. Our staggering altitudinal range is unmatched - from 97 Mtrs. at the lowest point to 7,570 Mtrs. at the highest point. Add to that our water resources, which is among the highest in the world. All these conditions go to endow us with the most ideal conditions for agriculture production. Our good fortune does not stop here.

Bhutan is located bang in the middle of the world’s three most hungry nations - China to the North, India to the South and Bangladesh to the East. These nations’ consumptive powers are inexhaustible - they collectively represent the biggest market for food!

And yet, we keep talking of hydroelectricity at 60% loan money borrowed at 10% interest. What are we, DUMB?

We have the land, we have the water recourses, farming and farm work is in our blood – and yet agriculture sector remains neglected - to the point that we cannot even produce enough chilies that we eat for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner, on a daily basis. A country that identifies itself with Emma Datsi does not grow enough chilies that we need to import the arsenic-ridden variety from across the border.

But Rotary Club of Thimphu is doing something about it. We have taken on agriculture as one of the three areas of our focus. We believe that agriculture production is key to development and economic progress. Thus we have been supporting rural farmers with farm machinery, solar fencing, green houses etc. - to encourage agriculture production.

Three Members of Bongo Agriculture Group flanked by RC Thimphu Club President Rtn. Tsewang Rinzing and Charter Member Rtn. Kesang Tshomo - during a briefing dinner yesterday evening. The agriculture group's 9-days trip to Thailand is being sponsored by the Rotary Club of Thimphu and a number of Clubs in Chiang Mai, Thailand, including a passionate social worker - Khun Viennarat Chuangwiwat - based in Bangkok. The Group Members will learn all aspects of organic farming. This project is a precursor to a larger project totaling US$ 49,000.00 that is being planned and implemented in the three villages of Bongo, Jungley and Phasuma, under Chhukha Dzongkhag, in collaboration with a Club in Malaysia, among others in the region.

The government has got the bull by the tail - we do not need to teach farming to the famers - what help they need is in marketing, distribution, storage, post harvest processing - primarily to be able to sell what they grow. Growing comes naturally to our farmers. They are hampered by lack of capability to market, transport, store, distribute, and package their produces. Once we assure them those --- the farmers will grow abundantly.

We no longer need to place our rivers under bondage - as collaterals for ill-conceived and poorly implemented hydropower projects on borrowed money at 10% interest.

We DO NOT NEED 10,000 MW of hydroelectricity. We are a country of less than 800,000 people that is not even the population of a small gully in suburban Shanghai. What we do NEED is 10 hardworking people who care enough to work hard at solving 20 small problems. We can do without those 1,000 people who think big and talk big and plan big - but achieve absolutely nothing.

It is about time that we learnt to focus at solving our small problems - the big ones will fall into place.

Monday, October 8, 2018

General Round of Bhutan’s 3rd Parliamentary Elections

The General round of Bhutan’s 3rd Parliamentary elections is scheduled to be held on October 18, 2018. On that day a section of the Bhutanese people will choose the party that will form the government, for the next 5 years.

This election is interesting on many fronts.

1. PDP - Many had believed that PDP would emerge the winner in the Primary rounds and even go on to win the elections to form the government for a second term. They were unceremoniously shunted out. Even more surprising, they fared poorly in the postal ballots, which caught many by surprise.

2. DNT - considered a rank outsider - dethroned the strident and swaggering PDP - to emerge the winner of the Primary round. The public perception was that they would trail a doubtful second, behind PDP.

3. DPT - to every body’s utter consternation - the DPT emerged victorious in the Primary rounds. In fact, in terms of number of constituencies won, they are the undisputed victors. Most had believed that DPT would soon cease to exist as a political entity. But just as the proverbial Phoenix rose from the ashes, so did DPT soar, from despondency to dominion - bringing home the truth about the unpredictable nature of politics.

4. BKP - seen by many as a party that would attempt to do the most right. Their promise to fight corruption should have gotten them truckloads of votes. Sadly it appears that fighting corruption is not on the priority list of the Bhutanese people - how poorly the party fared is proof of that.

The results of the Primary round are out in the open and there is no altering it. Now what is to be seen is how we will vote during the crucial General round, which is due on the 18th of October, 2018.

Will the Sharchops’ continue to remain doggedly unwavering in their loyalty towards their party of choice - the underdog DPT? Or will they capitulate to another round of lyrical renditions from the likes of Dasho Sonam Kinga and Ex-Police Chief Kipchu Tshering? While I personally remain unconvinced that their negativity made any difference at all, is it possible that the DNT President’s promise of a gaggle of Ministerial berths for the Eastern Dzongkhags would manage to wean away voters from the DPT? Will they change their minds at this critical juncture? We will have to wait and see. The Sharchop factor is key - and they make me jittery.

I am in no doubt that the Central votes will yet again go the DPT way. The Bumtaps are a willy lot, as are the Koortoeps. For the Bumtaps, it is CARPE DIEM! They are just too smart to let slip away an opportunity to elect a Prime Minister from their Dzongkhag. It is just too alluring.

Zhemgang has been a mixed bag for the DPT. While Lyonpo Dorji Wangdi is unshakable in his Panbang constituency, the Bardo-Trong constituency has been indecisive in the past. They voted for DPT in 2008 but against it in 2013. Encouragingly for the DPT, Zhemgang voted for them 100% during this Primary round. It is to be seen how they will vote during the General round.

I am not going to hazard a guess as to how the Western and Southern voters will behave. Voters in these two regions will have you believe that they are knowledgeable and learned in the selections they make. That they are inherently more astute than others, and that they know a thing or two about making informed choices. For all that, they make the most erroneous choices.

But I do believe that there might be an element of surprise awaiting the General round of elections.

My Take
In the General round it appears that the swing votes will be those from the West and the South. People are more or less convinced that DPT will sweep both Eastern and Central regions. I tend to agree - going by the primary results. Of the total 21 constituencies in these two regions, DPT won 20 constituencies. If this trend continues, DPT needs only 4 constituencies from the Southern and Western constituencies, to win the elections.

In addition to the total of 20 constituencies in the Eastern and Central regions, DPT also won one each from Paro and Samtsi - taking the total constituencies won to 22. This means that the DPT needs only 2 additional constituencies, to emerge the winner of the 2018 elections. Is this doable?

I think it is doable. Why? The following is my reasoning:

I think people of Haa and Wangdue are likely to wake up to the reality that they may be the only two Dzongkhags from where there will be no Ministers who will form the new cabinet. Now this is a big deal - people of Haa and Wangdue will realize that should the DPT win - and in all likelihood they will win - their Dzongkhags will have no Ministers to root for them. People of Haa and Wangdue are very competitive in nature and the fear that they might get left behind is bound to play on their minds. Is it likely that this very real eventuality might make them catapult in the last minute, and vote for DPT! Quite likely ---- and then again one never knows.

Finally, what intrigues me most is how the Indian government will behave, should the DPT win the elections. It is said that they believe that DPT is anti-India and pro-China. Regardless of how they perceive the party, the reality is that they will have to live with the party - for the next five years, should they come to power. Now, India can either decide that the meaningful way forward would be to reconcile their ways and show that India is behind Bhutan - regardless of the party in power, or they can continue to give DPT a hard time and edge them towards China. India will have to make that choice. But certainly from my point of view - should the DPT come to power, India would be presented this God sent opportunity to work at removing some serious misconceptions and put India-Bhutan relations on a more solid footing. It is becoming clear that people of Bhutan have increasingly become edgy about the deteriorating relationship between two long time friends. How India will treat DPT, if they do come to power, will demonstrate to the people of Bhutan whether they have Bhutan’s interests at heart, in addition to their own, which are no less legitimate.

Or, India can yet again repeat the kerosene and cooking gas withdrawal stunt.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Receding Glaciers That Feed the Mighty Punatsangchhu

Bhutan remains blissfully unaware that the region’s deposit of glaciers is drying up fast – at some places the ice has receded as high as 30 Mtrs. per year. Read the following:

In a report by ICIMOD, including eyewitness account to me by a Lunap horseman during my recent trip to Lunana this May, Lugge Tsho was none existent until the late 60’s – Swiss geologist Augusto Gansser-Biaggi first described it in 1970. This means this lake was formed by melting ice caused by global warming. In less than two and a half decades of its formation, Lugge Tsho in Lunana became the source of a major GLOF in October of 1994, killing 21 people.

The principal source of Punatsangchhu river is drying up. Bhutan's two biggest hydropower projects are stagnating on this river basin for the past many years - caused by "geological surprises"

Generation of hydro-electricity is solely dependent on continuous flow of water - but the continuity of the river flow is endangered by a situation where we are experiencing heightened level of global warming, causing receding of glaciers at alarming rates.

I do not believe that successful mitigation of climate change will result in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the face of proliferating industrial production to meet the needs of an ever-increasing human population, I would be truly surprised if we are able to halt further depletion of the ozone layer, let alone repair it.

The effects of global warming is showing us the way - it is now time for Bhutan to abandon the hydropower dream and move to other areas of investment where we are certain to succeed, and in areas where we have financial and management control. It would be suicidal to continue to tread the hydropower route, in the face of colossal disasters such as Punatsangchhu Hydro Electric Project  I & II, at 10% interest, on 60% loan money.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Uncommon Common Forums

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) is a regulatory authority - a facilitator charged with the responsibility to promote a healthy democratic culture, ensure fair play and safeguard ideals that would encourage enthusiastic participation in the democratic evolution, by the people of Bhutan for whom democracy is still a new concept. But I fear that the ECB - the torchbearer of the democratic process - has not been entirely democratic. On the contrary, I believe that they have violated the most fundamental of rights guaranteed by Article 7:2 of the Constitution of Bhutan.

The Common Forum dissertation is a great idea. Unfortunately, denying the candidates the freedom and the right to express themselves in a language of their choice has defeated the whole purpose behind the Common Forums. There is nothing democratic about the ECB requiring the candidates to express themselves in a language that they cannot speak. In fact I think this is infringement on the most basic of a human’s right.

The Kuensel’s article reproduced below clearly indicates that Common Forums are relevant. In fact one of the voters interviewed by the Kuensel’s reporter says that he did not attend the Common Forums of the past two elections because he did not understand what was being said. Another voter states that Common Forums in a language that they understand makes all the deference in making an informed choice.

One friend and reader of my Blog ( called me to say that she did not agree with me that the language of the Common Forms should be in any other language, other than Dzongkha. I asked her why – her answer was: Dzongkha is our national language. So I asked her: by that you mean Tsangla, Khengkha, Bumtap, Lhotsamkha, Brokkat ---- are not our national languages? I explained to her that any language identified with a bona fide Bhutanese citizen, and spoken within the boundaries of the territory of Bhutan – must and should qualify as a national language.

What is the logic in requiring candidates to speak in a language that they cannot speak? How is it meaningful to require voters to listen to a language that they cannot understand?

Other than to inhibit the democratic process, what meaningful purpose does it serve?

But I am encouraged - the ECB has now allowed the speaking of other languages - other than Dzongkha - during the informal Common Forums, whatever that means. I suppose, like our democracy, the ECB's evolutionary process is still incomplete. 😜

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Bhutan's 3rd Parliamentary Elections: One Down, One More To Go

So, the Primary round of our 3rd Parliamentary elections is behind us and we now look forward to the General round.

The result did not disappoint - it was unavoidable that Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) would emerge victorious. I foresaw too that People’s Democratic Party (PDP) would not make it to the General round - not because they performed badly during their time in the government, or that their candidates were any less qualified than other party's - but because it became clear to me that Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) was making serious inroads into the PDP’s traditional support base - Southern and Western Dzongkhags (Districts). Had voting been delayed by few more weeks, PDP’s harvest of the votes would have been even lower - DNT’s weaning ways would have caused even greater loss for the party.

PDP made a fundamental mistake in believing that DPT was their nemesis. In doing so they failed to take notice of the joker in the pack - a willie and masterful upstart that knew exactly where to hurt and maim. DNT went about methodically weaning away voters from the PDP stronghold, in the Dzongkhags where they were sure they had a standing chance. This was strategic thinking on the part of DNT - they focused on first wining the battle to get to the war. They damn well knew that trying to poke a dent in the DPT stronghold (Eastern & Central Dzongkhags) would be futile and ill-timed, atleast at this juncture. Very smart!

My reading was that DPT would enter the General round. I was right - they emerged the winner of the Primary round - in terms of  total number of constituencies won (in terms of total number of votes, DNT is the winner - they got 2,702 more votes than DPT). Some believe that Sonam Kinga’s facebook post (since I am not in the facebook, I am not aware of the full context of the post) had the opposite of the intended effect, that it generated a lot of sympathy votes for the DPT. I totally disagree - his post was inconsequential. Ten negative posts from him would not have altered the result one bit - not even God.

There is only one factor behind DPT’s win - the Sharchop (Easterners) factor!

I use to jokingly tell my Sharchop friends that if I stood on a mound and chuck a stone into any gathering, it would unfailingly hit a Sharchop. I now look at the Sharchops through a different lens - to be jestful of their numerosity is to invite peril. Obeisance to the mighty Sharchops!

Before the start of the campaigns some told me that the people of the Eastern Dzongkhags have all vowed to vote for the DPT - regardless of who represented the party. Other than one solitary constituency - Lhuentse’s Gangzur-Menjey - every Sharchop constituency voted for the DPT - all 16 constituencies, out of a total of 17!

Don’t mess with the Sharchops - they can make or break you, atleast in the political arena.


I wish luck to both the winning parties - during the upcoming General round. But in truth, as so wisely said by the President of DNT Dr. Lotay Tshering during his interview to the BBS TV, too much sound and fury is unnecessary, to elect a gaggle of foot soldiers and drummers and trumpeters. As long as the country remains to be guided and steered in the right direction by our able Field Marshal and the General, their winning ways will continue to assure victory at every bend and every corner. All that the Bhutanese people need remind themselves at all times is this: Winning or losing an election is not the end of the world. What is important to understand is that we are fortunate to have been given the right and the freedom to exercise a choice. Should a larger number of people choose to defer with your choice, it is not an affront to you. This time around, their choice happens to find greater acceptance over yours. It is not in opposition to yours - it is different to yours. Being different is not wrong - being unaccepting of a differing view, is.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Contributing Towards Bhutan’s Robust Healthcare System

The season of giving is here, yet again.

On 11th September, 2018 the Rotary Club of Thimphu handed over US$ 54,500.00 worth of emergency hospital equipment to Jigme Dorji National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH), Thimphu. Being in the middle of the campaign period of the country’s 3rd Parliamentary elections, the ceremony was toned down considerably - to avoid attracting too big a gathering. Even then there was a man in blue wanting to know who was in charge of the affairs - I gave him my name, my mobile number, information that we had the written approval of the Election Commission, the Dzongkhag Administration, the City Corporation, including, most importantly, that of my own.

Backdrop to the ceremony at the Clock Tower, Thimphu on 11/09/2018

 Past District Governor Jang from Korea speaking at the ceremony - he was instrumental in putting together this GG Project

 President of the Rotary Club of Thimphu - Rtn. Tsewang Rinzing - saying a mouthful at the event

 President of JDWNRH - the happy recipient of the donated equipment

Dr. Pandup Tshering, Director General, Deparment of Medical Services, MoH delivering the welcome address

With the handing over of this Global Grant Project of the Rotary Club of Thimphu and a number of Rotary Clubs in South Korea, the Emergency Department of the JDWNRH is now better equipped to handle emergency cases with more efficiency and promptness.

Towards the end of this year we will be donating another US$222,079.00 worth of Global Grant Project equipment – to provide critical microsurgery equipment to JDWNRH’s ENT and Cancer Departments. With the completion of this project in December of 2018, the Rotary Club of Thimphu would have donated in excess of Nu. 26,300,000.00 towards Bhutan’s healthcare system.

That is a healthy sum, by any measure.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Clueless About What We Are Talking and Doing

A European reader of my Blog writes to me as follows :

“…… Clining to one’s temple is not a safeguard but a fear of the future. The slogan His Majesty the King exposed to Sudents on August 17 at the National Graduate Orientation Programme, giving them his thought « Evolve, Adapt , Upgrade » cannot be understood by the whole people. Let us hope that He will be able to give some precise headings for the « little people » after the election and of the future elected P.M. I have a plenty confidence of His visionary feel.”

The man is clearly worried by the way our elections are going and by what is being put out by our politicians.

I am worried too. How did we get this way? At what point in time did we shed our sense for reasoned thinking?

Another reader from Asia – an academician – writes:

“………. More generally, I am disappointed that politicians have declined - for their own reasons - to address your critique of the hydel mess.

Otherwise, on the political front, I am depressed that Central issues are not being addressed in a strategic vision.”

That says it all!

Our politicians are talking of cutting taxes – obviously they are clueless about the merits of broadening the tax base and increasing tax collection.

They are splendid in their brazen intention to help the civil service remain corrupt – in fact, even heighten it through the promise of increased quota allocation. That is in stark contrast to our collective endeavor to fight corruption. Who is fooling who?

Late in life I am beginning to face the reality of the scrambled Bhutanese psyche, more precisely – thoughtlessness.

Few weeks back during one of our Club meetings, a discussion was initiated as to how much to pay our Members – when they are out in the field, on Club business. Whole lot of Members began putting out numbers, justifying sums, working out averages, cost of lodgings, cost of meals, breakfast, conveyance etc. to arrive at a sum that, in their opinion, should be justly claimed by a Member as TA/DA entitlement.

In the ensuing discussions, one central point was completely missed - that Rotary work is voluntary - there is no such thing as an entitlement. Entitlement is the very antithesis to the Rotary doctrine.

I tried to make the point that a Rotarian cannot claim entitlement – because that is not in the spirit of voluntarism. It is not in the spirit of Rotary to claim an entitlement for doing a humanitarian voluntary service. I vehemently opposed the idea of fixing an entitlement on the grounds that doing so would violate the Rotary dictum. Instead I suggested that a Member could claim actual cost spent behind performing a task on behalf of the Club. My logic is simple – as a person belonging to a voluntary organization, one is expected to volunteer ones time and skills, FREE. No entitlements can be claimed. However, a Member is not required to suffer financial loss in the pursuit of Rotary objectives, involuntarily. Thus he or she should be reimbursed in full, all the sums he or she spent, if he or she so wishes.

My logic simply did not gel with those of my colleagues. It was all Greek to them. Thus, I gave up arguing because it was clear that there was no clarity in their thoughts. If 7 years of Membership has not taught them the finer nuances of being a Rotarian, my frothing in the mouth arguing a point for an hour wasn’t going to yield any results.

It is like our government issuing a person a license to start an enterprise of profit - and then accusing the person of making profits!  That is the level of our confusion.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Promise of Increased Quota - A Clear Indication of Lack of Morality

Seeing red and getting agitated in the wee hours sitting on the pot is not a very healthy way to start one’s day. But that is the emotion I went through this morning while reading TheBhutanese. As a Bhutanese, I cannot escape from the sin of being a part of the whole. And the whole is currently being besieged by the dream merchants peddling outlandish dreams that promise to bring riches and sweep away life long problems, as if by magic. The promises they make are born of greed - greed to win and greed to remain in power. The promises they make are shallow - that we can all tell. Unfortunately, these shallow and irrational promises are directed towards the same creed - greedy for free goodies and kidu and soelra.

I am particularly pained that even Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) whom I have supported in the last two elections has succumbed to this most vile of tactics - the offer of increased quota - in an effort to court the civil service’s votes.

Reading through TheBhutanese, I do not see a similar promise being made by the Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) or the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT). I salute them - clearly they have exhibited a superior level of principle and ethics. And clearly these two parties realize that singling out the civil service for wooing could back fire on them for, the larger vote bank is in the rural and the private and corporate sectors.

If the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and DPT are offering increased quotas to the civil service, why is the same not offered to the employees of the private sector and the corporate sector? After all, the tax and income generation by these sectors far outweigh what the civil service does. Are these two parties not recognizing the contributions made by the private and the corporate sectors?

The quota system is terribly flawed. It is not offered to those who deserve it. If the argument is that the civil servants are poorly paid, then it is not the lower rung of the civil service who are poorly paid that get the quota but the higher salaried ones who get it. If the argument that civil servants are poorly paid holds true, then go ahead and increase their salaries and TA/DA. Why is this an issue all the time?

Political parties must remember that civil servants are paid salaries for the work they are supposed to do. It is the private and corporate sectors and the villagers who work hard to put money into the coffers of the national exchequer that enables the government to pay the salaries of the civil service. If anything, these sectors should receive preferential treatment. If the civil servants’ salaries are inadequate - go ahead and pay them better. But certainly there is no justification to give them special quotas, when none is offered to those who actually generate income.

But the most shameful thing is that every one knows that the quotas are peddled by the civil servants at exorbitant premiums, to the highest private bidders. This is highly illegal - and yet these parties are making campaign promises to even further increase the quota entitlement, thereby affirming that they will contribute to the perpetuation of a brazen illegal act by the civil service. If they mean well for the country and the people of Bhutan, they should either do away with the system entirely, or rationalize it in a way that it is offered to those who deserve it.

At one level, the quota system creates a class distinction. At another, it is causing the country whole lot of loss of revenue. And still at another level, it helps to perpetuate an illegal activity by the civil service.

During a public talk last year by Mr. Martin Rama, World Bank’s Chief Economist of South Asia Region, he made the following points:

 “…… the decline in tax revenue in relation to GDP is not due to a change in tax instruments or in tax rates, but because of policy decisions of tax holidays and exemptions. Sales Tax exemptions result in 50 percent of foregone revenue. Further around 63 percent of all imported commodities are exempted from Custom Duties.”

“Instead of losing the tax revenue to exemptions that are not rational, efficient management of taxation could also play a vital role in attaining fiscal self-sufficiency.”

Our political parties need to think a little deeper than they are obviously doing. They have to keep in mind that even among the civil service, the quota receivers are in the minority. The promise of increased quota will, therefore, not make any sense to those civil servants who are outside the bracket of the privileged ones. But once you make a campaign promise, you will have to fulfill it, if you come to power. It is then that you will realize your promise has cost the country dearly.

But do you really care, beyond winning the elections?

Friday, August 31, 2018

Hung Yegcha Gesa? Jawai Lablo Shi? Keh Bhandai Cha?

Three elections later, we are still stuck at the point where we began – in the puddle of confusion.

The on-going Common Forum debates on the BBS TV is a shameful example of how unreasoned we are as a society - of moronic proportions. Where is the sense is requiring a candidate to speak in a language in which he is so poorly skilled? And what meaning can there be for a bunch of audience having to tolerate a blabbering politician who is unable to coherently pass on the message that he is apparently struggling to pass on?

What is the point of asking a mathematician to speak to a gathering entirely comprised of geologists?

Candidates should be allowed to speak in a language in which they are proficient – so that they are able to pass on whatever message they want to pass on to prospective supporters. And the supporters – if they are one – why should they be made to tolerate a blabbering session about which they are clueless?

I think the Dashos at the Election Commission or whoever, must start to understand that Common Forums and Election Campaigns are occasions when candidates have the opportunity to get out their messages to the voters. This can hardly be done by requiring them to speak in a language that they cannot speak - and to a gathering for whom Dzongkha is Greek.

The voters must be given an opportunity to make an informed choice. This means they have to understand what is being said by the candidates - the candidates must be judged on the basis of what they say and promise. How can an educated judgement be made when the voters are clueless as to what the candidates are saying?

Our election rules are full of absurdities. Take the case of the civil servants requiring to remain “apolitical”. How is that possible? The moment a person casts his vote, he can no longer claim to be apolitical. The only way to ensure that a civil servant remains apolitical is to disallow him/her from voting.

Explanation: Since I have a large following outside the country, I would like to explain that the title of the post is an outcry of exasperation expressed in Sharchopkha (language of the Eastern) followed by Khengkha (language of the Central) and lastly in Lhotshamkha (language of the Southern) Bhutan. Expressed in English, it means: "What the hell is the man talking about?"