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.