Thursday, June 16, 2011

In Support Of Tobacco Control Act: Part III

We are a nation of barely 700,000 people. If we should fail as a society, it will not be because of our unmanageable population or because nature hasn’t been bountiful with us - it will be because we are morally corrupt, intellectually impotent, undisciplined and, above all, habitual law-breakers without a conscience or a sense of duty. The signs of decay and rot are far too evident. Look around you, everything is falling apart and nothing works. Nothing is as required by law.

Have you seen the abominable structure that is the Amankora hotel in Jakar, Bumthang? It has not only broken every single building code and guidelines prescribed for built-up structures in the urban spaces of Bhutan, but the audaciously inappropriate structure has been allowed to be built alongside the historic and iconic Wangdicholing Palace. How did such a sacrilegious monstrosity come to be built next to a national monument that is the citadel of the Wangchuck dynasty?

There is no two ways about it - the structure is a symbol of defiance and a challenge to our laws and disrespect for our heritage. But the shameful thing is that some Bhutanese who are supposed to control such blatant affront to the laws of the land did not do their job - whether knowingly or unknowingly. Who is responsible?

Am I flogging a dead horse? May be, but the very existence of this structure points to something so typically Bhutanese - our total disregard for the law. It is shameful - but I can bet you that those who failed to perform their duties still have the gumption to walk tall and talk of service to the Tsa-Wa-Sum while, those of us who care, has to hang our head in shame every time we pass the Palace because the very existence of that structure by the side of the Palace is a constant reminder to us of the depths to which we have fallen. For a fistful of dollars, we can be capable of selling our very soul!

The morality of the Bhutanese people is at its lowest ebb. Consider, for instance, the case of the car quota privilege accorded to a certain category of civil servants. Everything is so wrong about this supposed entitlement. This is a clear case of state sponsored corruption of the highest order and it has been going on for decades.

Firstly, it assumes that this category of citizens is more deserving than others. The award of this preferential treatment creates a class segregation that implies that those who are not entitled to it are inferior citizens who do not contribute to nation building. The reverse is true - the workers in the corporate and private sectors contribute way more than any civil servant does. It is unethical on the part of the government to reward some while ignoring others.

However, I bring up this issue not because the quota system goes against the concept of the government’s policy of Drangnam and Drangden (Equity & Justice), but because it is associated with one of the most shameful and enduring corrupt practices that has been going on for decades. And, this has happened because, true to form, the Bhutanese people have no shame about blatantly breaking a law.

Like backstreet touts, the civil servants shamelessly peddle their quota entitlements to the highest bidder in the open market. They know they are not allowed to do that, and yet, they have no compunctions about their illegal behavior. Even while the government is aware that such behavior has serious ramifications on the morality of the nation as a whole, it continues to turn a blind eye to this menace. All these point to one thing: something is seriously wrong with the Bhutanese mentality.

The government must accept sole responsibility for the proliferation of such illegal activity among some section of the civil service. In creating the quota system, the government has, in an indirect way, created an enabling condition to lure the civil servants into immorality. The abuse of the car quota system creates not one but two criminals - the seller and the buyer. Few hundred million Ngultrums are lost every year because these buyers are able to evade duty and taxes on the cars they buy in the names of the corrupt civil servants.

Why does our public service delivery fail? Why is a public servant playing computer games when he should be attending to people needing service? Why are civil servants playing archery and making out as if they are fulfilling a national objective while they should be in the office earning their keep? Why is a civil servant feeling chivalrous in spending half a day of public time at the cemetery attending a funeral of some one dead?

Even when there is a rule that prohibits government vehicles from being engaged in private work, why are government vehicles seen at the school parking lots and near chortens dropping off and picking up monks and children? Why is garbage dumped at the spaces where there is a signboard that specifically cautions: NO DUMPING?

Why are the Bhutanese people habitual lawbreakers? The answer is simple: we do not have respect for the law. And, the reason why people do not respect and follow the law is because the laws do not provide for punishments strong enough to deter wrong doers. And, even when there is a law in place, it is poorly enforced, if at all.

We have a desperate need for strong laws to save ourselves. Let us ask for them. We have a government that is showing signs of courage and commitment. Let us encourage them by rendering our support to their initiatives. Let us not be mislead into believing that the Tobacco Control Act does not have the support of the majority of the Bhutanese people - it does because the Act was passed by the Parliamentarians elected by the majority of the Bhutanese people.

We have many problems that need solving. Weak laws and even weaker enforcement isn’t going to solve our problems. To solve them, we need strong laws and determined enforcement agencies to enforce them. Therefore, let us demand for many more of the Tobacco Control Act and hope that, one day, we too will be counted among those nations and societies who respect and adhere to law.


  1. The Amankora, sited as it is and at such a scale, is absolutely outrageous.

    That's true negligence and disrespect to heritage. There's no way there weren't other options available for site locations around Jakar.

  2. (Forgive me for focusing on the hotel problem, Yeshey. I know this was not the point of your post. It's just that your first example is a "no brainer" even for observers from outside your culture.)

  3. Yeshey, you have reflected on age-old problems, but hopefully a few ears will perk up. Regarding dumping garbage in an area with a sign saying no dumping garbage. Have you seen what they have done to one of the areas, i.e. near the road leading to the Changangkha Lhakhang? The garbage mound was growing bigger and bigger, and then one fine day, the concerned decided to barricade the area. That was the solution. It does not only look strange but rather ugly to see a small wire meshed area which appears to be for no rhyme or reason. Now, if only the upholders of the TCA could give a pointer or two to the people in charge of ensuring that garbage is not dumped where it is not supposed to be dumped. Tingt

  4. Hi Andrea,

    Thanks for the comments.

    One of the cardinal rules is that when one visits or seeks domicile in a foreign land, one must endeavor to be sensitive to local cultures and customs. That makes us cultured and educated and one finds ready acceptance with the local people and they respect you. Amankora, on the other hand, did exactly the opposite - they went to great lengths to break all the rules and they chose to do it right next to a monument that is associated with our revered Royal family. That is why, to this day, after having been in Bhutan for so many years, they still remain an outsider - tolerated but with malice and disgust.

  5. Hi Anonymous,

    That is the thing --- the huge signboard there could not get people to behave. As a result I think the City Corporation did something desperate – they put up an iron mesh fencing so that people couldn’t dump. That is the problem I mention .. people have no respect for law and when you get to a point when nothing works, you resort to desperate measures .. and then the people will start to holler that it is unjust.

    By the way, if you scroll down to my older posts, I have shown that area you refer to - with the garbage and the signboard.

  6. Andrea,

    I have been getting calls to know the meaning of your term "no brainer". Could you you please explain it to my readers?


  7. Aue Yehsey,
    A very BIG BINGO to you for being very candid and practical.

    I like your point about the dungen-like structure being raised near our monumental Wangdicholing palace.

    I was even thinking about it for quit sometime. Next time i am going to photograph the whole scenery of wangdicholing and display it on my blog.....

  8. Ah. "No brainer". It is actually a term I use infrequently because it is a little coarse. A "no brainer" is a concept or fact that is so simple and obvious that no brain is needed to understand it.

    As someone who has worked in heritage site management, I see the Jakar Amankora as an example of worst practices. The hotel actually diminishes the 'value' of the cultural landscape that its clientele are coming to see, not to mention the many other issues.

  9. Yes Yeshey, which clearly indicates, as pointed out by you, that people will only understand implementation of stringent laws such as the TCA and then of course they will cry foul, never mind that they lacked civic sense in the first place.

  10. There are better ways of educating our people. Enforcing stricter laws should be the last resort in a democracy. However, this is justified in the case of the Tobacco Control Act. Now the same should apply for the AWP alcohol products. Let's say enough to alcohol.

  11. Hi Lingchen

    Precisely. I am calling for the same kind of laws for rape, alcohol, murder, trade in drug its abuse etc.

    TCA is not a flawless law but it is a law that is needed. We should call for the amendment of the flaws, but to say that the law is bad is not correct.

  12. Sir with due respect to you and your insight which I do respect, the Government's motto is "Equity and Justice." This is perhaps a tad rhetorical, but equity means you give everybody the chance to be equal, but once somebody has become more deserving than others making the best of it, as judged by accepted standards and best practices, it is equity to reward the doer. This is in regards to your views on the quota. The civil servants who are the beneficiary of this are those who have proven their mettle, have been loyal, have contributed in critical capacities and shown leaderships. The civil servant selection, those who ultimately reap of this benefit, are selected through the pain of thorn and this quota is the only direct benefit the government gives for a life-time of their expertise and service. Every organization does give benefits in their own way. This is the only monetary benefit the Government gives to its servants. And we must not forget that every Bhutanese by law and right stand equal chance to get into the civil service, at the quota level if you will. This is a reward and incentive for a certain kind of performers who have chosen to be in the civil service. I am certainly not saying that other professionals outside the civil service aren't worthy. But what they get depend on the choice they make. Btw...I am aware that most people sell their quota, but once they have earned that benefit, it must only be natural that they use it in the way they like. Sir I would also like to point out that there are many good things that happen and one have to appreciate them as well. I would humbly say that what we need is inspiration and not punishment. If the system cannot give the carrot, do away with the stick by all mean...Thank you

  13. Dear Dendup Chophel,

    Frankly I do not want to enter into a debate with my commentators on my post. Each of us have our own views and all are welcome to express them as they feel. I do not need to refute them. However, I want to make an exception in your case because I do not want you to feel that you have wasted your time and energy in posting such long and impassioned comments. I fear that you may feel slighted that I did not even have the decency to acknowledge them.

    In my flowing explanation, I hope that you will see a different perspective to your own and if they make sense, then you will accept that your efforts to engage me haven’t been a wasted effort.

    One, you have a misconception that the car quota is a REWARD. It is not. It is an automatic ENTITLEMENT. There is only one qualifying factor in order that a civil servant becomes eligible for it - he/she has to attain a certain grade or level in the civil service. The recipient does not go through a verification system to ascertain if he/she earned the reward of a quota. As a result, even a cheat and a traitor gets a quota. If you do not believe me, please find out if some of the persons caught by the RAA and the ACC for cheating and embezzlement haven’t been a recipient of the quota. And, the existing entitlement rules also allow the same cheat to be entitled to a second, and if he is in the civil service long enough, even for a third or fourth quota during his life time.

    Two, the quota is given so that it helps the civil servant to buy a car at a cheaper rate than others. It is not given because he/she can sell it.

    Three, you are wrong when you say “government gives for a life-time of their expertise and service”. He/she gets it even without putting in a day’s work and without any expertise. If a person enters the civil service at the grade at which he/she becomes entitled to the quota, he/she gets it which means that he/she does not need to prove his expertise or capability or dedication.

    Fourth, the car quota system was introduced in the mid 70’s when every classroom educated Bhutanese was roped in into the civil service - whether we liked it or not. Thus, your contention that “The civil servant selection, those who ultimately reap of this benefit, are selected through the pain of thorn and this quota is the only direct benefit the government gives for a life-time of their expertise and service” is not true.