Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Gross National Hypocrisy: How the Vehicle Quota Hurts Bhutan

I have spoken to a number of Cabinet Members; I have spoken to politicians of the ruling Governments and those in the Opposition. I have spoken to bureaucrats, and even to one Member of the Pay Commission, about the shameful corruption that is the vehicle quota, and the need to scrap it from our system. Nothing has come of it – mainly because all those with whom I pleaded benefit personally from its perpetuation, while the nation continues to be deprived of hundreds of millions in lost revenue, year after year. The only door that I have yet to knock is the door of God - I would, only if I knew where His dwelling is.

Every year we squander away hundreds of millions of Ngultrums through loss of revenue - caused by award of vehicle quota to people who have not earned it - money that could have been used to build schools, improve roads and provide safe drinking water, or acquire much needed medical equipment. Thus far, no one has shown courage and selflessness to do something right – all have chosen to allow a most vile evil to go on unchecked, because they all benefit from it.

Perhaps it is that people do not really understand how vile this vehicle quota is. Thus I volunteer to point out the following.

There are a number of players that must be listed – as those contributing to the perpetuation of the blatant corruption that is vehicle quota:

Royal Government of Bhutan
The Royal Government of Bhutan has to take the TOP slot. It is the government that is sponsoring this shameful corruption.

Members of the Pay Commission
I believe that the past 4 Pay Commission Members should rank in the second place. They were charged with the responsibility to examine/re-examine the validity of the public employees’ entitlements. All of them know of the loss of revenue this evil is causing to the country and yet they did not act – simply because the perpetuation of this evil means money into their pockets.

The Seller of the Quota
The quota was awarded so that the recipient could buy a vehicle at a cheaper price. It was not given because the recipient could sell it in the black market, for monetary gains. The seller is thus a law-breaker.

The Buyer of the Quota
The buyer is an even bigger criminal - because he/she buys the quota with the intension to cheat the country its just due. He/she is guilty on two counts - one for evading Import Duty, and another for collaborating in an illegal enterprise.

The most evil thing about this vehicle quota is that it has a multiplier effect:

Every quota doled out generates two vehicle imports. The quota seller sells his/her quota and with that money he/she buys a smaller car for himself/herself. The quota buyer buys another car. The net result of this is that the population of vehicles increase disproportionately. This causes traffic congestion and parking problems. Even worst, the increase in number of vehicles means that we need to import more fossil fuel. The import bill of fossil fuel is such that I suspect we import more energy than we export, effectively dismantling the myth that hydropower generation is a gainful enterprise.

According to the RSTA Bhutan’s total vehicle population at the end of December, 2019 stood at 106,681. Of this, 55,801 are in Thimphu – which is more than 50% of the national total. Considering that Thimphu has a human population of 115,000 persons, this translates into 1 vehicle for every 2 persons in Thimphu.

Now imagine the quality of air of Thimphu municipality. Particularly since Thimphu is in a narrow valley boxed in by high mountains, imagine the level of toxic particulates that remain trapped and suspended in the air - that which is inhaled by unsuspecting humans.

Imagine the quality of Thimphu’s Wangchhu – resulting from release and dumping of thousands of tons of harmful waste from vehicle workshops and car wash facilities.

Recently it was discovered that 70% children between 1-4 years tested in Thimphu had EBLLs (Elevated Blood Lead Levels). This is extremely, dangerously high. There is an effort underway to determine the source of this poisoning. But there is paucity of funds to take the study forward.

We could perhaps consider spending some of the savings from doing away with the vehicle quota - to buy testing equipment and supplies to undertake research to find out what is the source of EBLL. Consider that the damage caused by EBLLs is permanent!.

1 comment:

  1. Hypocrisy at its best. When MPs sought election, their mantra was to serve Tsawa Sum i.e. the country, people & the king. Now as elected, the same MPs have knowingly forgotten the country and poor people with daylight robbery and therefore forgotten the good values our king inspires in every citizen.

    Bhutan is still a donor dependent nation and every chhetrum that comes from external sources or from tax payers should be put on for best services to the mass public good. Certainly not for the personal benefit of the elite MPs.