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.

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)

Friday, April 5, 2019

Interesting Stats

After all these years of Blogging, I still haven't understood my readers' habits - why and when they read certain posts. Look at the following - all of a sudden there is a burst of interest in my older articles. What triggers their interest? What directs their attentions to articles some of which are more than 9 years old?


Between 4th April 10.00 PM to 5th April 9.00AM, there were 1,063 Pageviews from a total of 10 different countries.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

One Among Rotary Club of Thimphu’s Most Valuable Partners

The Rotary Club of Thimphu is a Public Benefit Organization chartered in April of 2012. It is a compact organization comprised of 22 Members drawn from a wide range of backgrounds - doctors, auditors, artists, industrialists, entrepreneurs, agriculturists, social workers, government officials, retired international staff, and even an airline pilot. Our Club associates with over 35,000 other Rotary Clubs in over 220 countries. The Rotary is perhaps the world’s largest club - with close to 1.3 million Members worldwide.

Membership to the Rotary Club of Thimphu is by INVITATION only. No one may become a Member simply because he/she desires to be one. Membership is denied if even one existing Member objects to the admittance of an aspiring Member. The Club does not accept Membership requests from religious and political personalities; neither from non-nationals. The Rotary Club of Thimphu does not engage in anything remotely related to politics or religion.

The Rotary Club of Thimphu’s core areas of focus are in Agriculture, Education and Health. The first time the Rotary Club of Thimphu began its service projects was in June of 2013. The Club donated 2 garbage dump trucks to the Thimphu Thromde (City Corporation), valued at US$ 44,550.00.

As of March, 2019 the total value of our service projects stand at: Nu.120.949 million. Beneficiaries include hospitals, youth farmer groups, village dwellers, students, a homeless destitute, a nursing student, the differently abled, and even the dead and dying.

The Members of the Rotary Club of Thimphu are proud to have been able to contribute this meaningfully - for the cause of the country and the people of Bhutan. But we never allow ourselves to forget for a moment that our successes are, in most part, due to others around us - those who contribute to our cause. Most of the funding comes from outside - but there are some within the country who contribute to our cause - with generosity and selflessness.

Yesterday evening the Rotary Club of Thimphu honored one such champion of CSR - The Hotel Druk, Thimphu.

The hotel has been there for us - every time we needed their help. In fact it was in this very hotel that our ongoing BHUTAN2020 project was conceived - a project that was officially launched in 2018, during the Toronto Convention of the Rotary International. This project will see the installation of $1.00 million worth of SkyHydrant water filers in 120 of Bhutan’s schools across the country, by the end of 2020.

We offer our Thanks to the Hotel Druk owners and the management for their generosity and their unflinching commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility. With the award of this Token of Appreciation, the Druk Hotel joins two other past champions of CSR in the country:

a.  The Druk Air; and
b.  Lhaki Group of Companies

The Club President Rtn. Tsewang Rinzing presents the Token of Appreciation to the General Manager of Hotel Druk, Mr. Dilu Giri

The words on the plaque fashioned out of the aromatic Tsenden Shiing

The Corporate world and the business houses, along with every single Bhutanese draw their sustenance from the country and its resources. Doing so is our birthright. But the first responsibility of those of us who draw from the common pool is to give back to it - a part of what we draw out of it.

You do not have the right to claim to be rich, if you cannot give. There is no pride in withholding all that you have. Please remember, all things considered, every one of us is destined to exit as poor as we entered. Thus, please give while the season of giving is yours - so that those among us who are not as fortunate may benefit from your generosity and spirit of giving.