Monday, April 8, 2019

A VIP Guest from Bhutan – for Her Majesty’s London Police Department's Prison

When I first joined the Bank of Bhutan in 1971 (one day I will give you an account of how I, still an underage, managed to get employment in a government entity when the rules forbade it), Bhutan did not have paper currency - our legal tender was Tikchung - denominated at 50 Chettrums. Imagine transecting in thousands of Thalas! The Tikchungs used to be bagged in pouches made of cloth - and carted off into the bank’s currency vault on steel trolleys - pulled and heaved by muscular guards - at the end of each day! For the bank's cashiers - counting the Tikchungs was a nightmare. Unfortunately, there was no escape from the daily End-of-Day (EoD) reconciliation routine.

During those primeval days, we used wooden troughs that had hundreds of indentations the circumference of a Thala. We would pour bags of Thalas into the trough and spread them across the trough, to count the Tikchungs. The Thalas would snap into the indentations - excess Thalas would be removed ---- each trough had a set number of Thalas…. Phew!!! It was daunting. The Tikchung counting troughs looked like this:

Tikchung counting troughs used for counting Thalas

There were also one or two units of coin counting machines, most likely imported from the UK by the BoB’s first Managing Director – Mr. Holms whom I never met because he had died in a car accident by the time I joined the BoB. Mr. Holms was from the Chartered Bank of India (which later became Standard Chartered). After Mr. Holms, all the CEO's of the Bank of Bhutan were from the State Bank of India - this is no longer true.

The coin counting machines looked like this:

Tikchung counting machine - no paper currency notes to count - only jingle of metal coins

I recall vividly that the salaries of the RBA personnel posted in the border areas used to be carted on the backs of ponies.

The Coronation of the 4th Druk Gyalpo finally saw the printing and release of Bhutanese paper currencies. The first of the Ngultrum notes were released on June 2, 1974. They were in the denominations of Nu. 1.00, Nu. 5.00 and Nu. 10.00. The currency notes of the denominations of Nu. 2.00, Nu. 20.00, Nu. 50.00 and Nu. 100.00 were released in 1978.

In the absence of a Central Bank, our currency notes were initially guaranteed first by the Ministry of Finance, then by the Bank of Bhutan and, finally, by the Royal Monetary Authority, as of early 80’s to date. A country’s legal tender is a Promissory Note - thus needs to be validated with a signed promise to guarantee the bearer the payment of the sum denominated in the note. Thus, our currency notes carried the signatures of, in order of listing, His Majesty’s Representative in the Ministry of Finance, the Finance Minister, the Deputy Managing Director of the Bank of Bhutan and, finally, by the successive Governors of the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan.

Bhutan's earliest Nu. 1.00 currency notes were signed by HRH Ashi S C Wangchuck, His Majesty's Representative in the Ministry of Finance

Subsequent releases of the Nu.1.00 currency notes bore the signature of Mr. Yeshey Dorji, Deputy Managing Director of the Bank of Bhutan

Nu. 2.00 currency notes, also signed by the Deputy Managing Director of the Bank of Bhutan

 Nu.5.00 currency note signed by HRH Ashi S C Wangchuck, His Majesty's Representative in the Ministry of Finance. This may be among the first series of Nu. 5.00 notes released during June of 1974

The subsequent Nu. 5.00 currency notes bore the signature of the Deputy Managing Director of the Bank of Bhutan, Mr. Yeshey Dorji

Nu. 10.00 currency notes bearing the signature of HRH Ashi S C Wangchuck, His Majesty's Representative in the Ministry of Finance. This could be the earliest series of Nu. 10.00 notes


Nu. 50.00 currency note bearing the signature of the Chairman of the RMA - the Finance Minister. It is my understanding that he signed in his capacity as the Chairman of RMA - because although the RMA was created in 1982, it did not yet exist as a functioning organization. The Central Bank took over the note issuing authority only in 1983. Thus I have to assume that the note must have been issued between the years 1978 - 1982

The following is a little known but not very funny piece of history surrounding our currency notes.

One fine morning in 1979, Mr. Yeshey Dorji, the then Deputy Managing Director of the Bank of Bhutan arrived London, for a training course. He went to the Berkley’s Bank to convert his US$ currency notes into British Pounds. Quite promptly and without much ado, he was picked up by personnel of Her Majesty’s London Police Department and unceremoniously lodged into London jail. The reason:

Pronounced guilty of being in possession of FORGED CURRENCY NOTES!

Not very funny actually - considering that Mr. Yeshey Dorji was one of the signatories of our currency notes! Imagine!! Much later, the Barkley Bank's officials apologized to Mr. Yeshey Dorji - since it turned out that the currencies that were supposedly fakes, were actually genuine stuff.

CHANGING WORDS OF THE PROMISE
The initial versions of the currency notes released during June of 1974 carried the following declarations:

“Chaang khen la ngue ki rup nga troe jui khelang yoed”
(I promise to pay the bear the sum of Rup 5.00)

Subsequent versions made the following promise:

“Chaang khen la ngue ki ngultrum nga troe jui khelang yoed”
(I promise to pay the bear the sum of Ngultrums 5.00)


2 comments:

  1. Thank You Yeshey for a very informative article, chronicling the history of modern money in our country. Your blogs are interesting, informative and enjoyable. Kudos!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you sir for this post.great to share with students leaning introduction to moneyin economics

    ReplyDelete