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?