Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Bhutanese Polity: In A State of Deep Moral Depravity

“Bhutan has one MP for 9,000 citizens. The margin between those who serve our country and the population they serve is very narrow. In many countries, elected representatives will never get to know all their people, even if they spend an entire lifetime trying to do so. We have one elected representative for 380 citizens, one public servant to look after the needs of 14 citizens. As I have said before, it is not a question of whether we can do something or not, whether we have enough or not, whether we are permitted or not. The question is, are we going to do it or not.”
His Majesty’s Address to the 11th Convocation of the RUB
7 June 2017

The people of Bhutan elected DPT to form the first democratically elected government, in 2008. Five years later, the people decided that they didn’t do their job – they threw them out and elected the PDP to lead the way by placing them on the seat of power and governance. But the first thing PDP did was to spend precious parliamentary time discussing pay revision and parliamentary entitlements. They proudly declared to the world that Bhutan is the world’s only “carbon negative” country. Paradoxically, Bhutan saw the highest registration of motor vehicles during their tenure. By contrast, it was the DPT government who banned the import of vehicles, effectively preventing the abuse of vehicle quotas, while curtailing fossil fuel imports.

During the latest round of elections, the people demonstrated that they were unhappy with the PDP as well. PDP’s defeat during the 2018 elections was decisive – they did not even make it through the Primary rounds. DNT was the people’s choice. For a moment I believed that this lot of young and eloquent speakers was a set of lawmakers after my own heart - I even said so in answer to an American friend’s question on my views on the new government.

I was wrong – they clearly outdid the past two do-gooders: the just concluded National Assembly saw them spend over two weeks talking of pay revision and parliamentary entitlements.

The din and the cacophony of their verbosity reverberated the hallowed halls of the National Assembly. The eloquence was palpable; the august hall resonated with impressive words spoken with fluency and without halt. The pomp and pageantry was impressive. But what did not escape our attention was this: it was all too evident that the words and the intent behind them served only one purpose – their self-interest. The Parliamentary proceedings completely silenced out the one question His Majesty asked pointedly during the 11th Convocation of the RUB:

The question is, are we going to do it or not.

The question was completely ignored!

The 2nd session of the 3rd Parliament has come to an end. The lawmakers are now all set to submit the records of the proceedings and the resolutions thereof, to His Majesty the King, for His Royal assent, for their resolutions to come into effect as law. And this is where I believe that the Parliamentarians have failed in their responsibility to protect and preserve the sanctity and the inviolability of the Crown, which is the responsibility of every single Bhutanese.

My reasoning is simple: This lot of Parliamentarians – as did those others before them – will be submitting to the King for His Royal assent - something that they know very well will be misused and abused blatantly, as they have been done for the past many decades. The Parliamentarians will, collectively, be submitting to the King to accord His Royal assent – their resolution on the 4th Pay Commission’s Pay Revision recommendations. These recommendations would contain an inconspicuous matter dealing with vehicle quota entitlement and/or encashment thereof.

Now, my question to the Parliamentarians is this: Are you being His loyal and trusted subjects in seeking his Royal assent, on something that you are certain will unfailingly be abused? Do you do it because you know that His Majesty would consider it inappropriate for Him to take away a kidu, even if awarded by those in whose domain it is not to grant undeserved kidu?

Frankly I believe that pay raise is the prerogative of the incumbent government – I have no issues with it – if the government feels that they have the wherewithal to pay Nu.100,000.00 to a junior clerk, they are welcome to it. But certainly awarding underserved kidu is outside their domain.

Award of quota to some, in preference over others, is in itself an act of segregation among equals. This should never happen in a society that prides itself as a thinking society. However, if the government must, they should do so with a bit of intelligence. What the DNT government has done is worst than what it already was. While glibly putting out the falsehood that they have rationalized the underserved quota entitlement, they have in fact aggravated the problem even further.

On the one hand, the monetized value of Nu.250,000.00 for the public servants is far more than what they were getting for their quota sold illegally in the open market. The fixation of monetization value of the MP’s and the Cabinet Ministers’ and others at Nu.1,500,000.00 seems to have been derived from its black market value that ruled in the last year.

The DNT’s recommendations on the vehicle quota are terribly flawed, in addition to being unfair and costly for the country. The following is how I see it:

If the civil servants and the MPs and the Ministers get more than the monetized value of their quota from the open market, they will go ahead and shamelessly sell their quota in the open market and make tidy sums of undeserved monetary benefit. However, if they do not get their asking price, which would be higher than the monetized value of their quota, they will do a quick turn around and offer to sell their quota to the government, at the monetized sum. The government has no choice but to buy the quota and pay the recipients the monetized value of the quota, as promised.

This transection is not only profane – but there is another immoral side to it: the government is in effect helping the unjustified quota recipients to turn ill-gotten gains into legitimate money, by enchasing the quota.

It is sad.

There are a select number of people on whom His Majesty placed His trust and faith. He has adorned them with Bura Marp and Patang and put them in positions of authority and responsibility. He has 5 eminent Members in the National Council - to do things and direct affairs in a way He envisions for the country and the people of Bhutan. This privileged lot should, by virtue of being hand picked by the King, ensure that good counsel is provided to the erring politicians and the civil service. Punishingly costly recommendations such as the vehicle quota entitlement should have never been allowed to find its way into the Parliamentary resolutions. But it has – and it is now all poised for Royal assent.

This lot has failed the King and the country, as have others before them – His Majesty’s trust and faith was clearly misplaced - they failed to do what the King thought they would, on His behalf. They failed to comprehend that the King is the dispenser of kidu - not a usurper of it.

I have said this many a times in the past - that given our population size, all that we need is just 10 hard working people to propel this country to unmatched glory. Unfortunately we have only one out of the ten needed, who is working tirelessly. The rest are vile opportunists, with the country's interest furthest from their agenda!

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The March of Money: Part VIII

The problem of the errors in the wording or dating of our currencies is not limited to the metal currency - the problem persisted even in our paper currencies. Look at the following earliest three paper currencies issued in 1974: Nu.1.00, Nu.5.00 and Nu.10.00:

If you notice, the declaration of promise made on the bank notes read as follows:

“Chaang Khen La Nguel Ki Rup Chu Tham Toi Jui Khelang Yoed”
“Promise Is Made To Pay The Bearer A Sum Of Rup Ten”

There are two problems with these promises:

This promise is made by “Ngueltsi Leykhung”  - Department of Finance. The note is signed by Her Royal Highness Ashi Sonam Choden Wangchuck who was then His Majesty’s Representative in the Ministry of Finance. Thus, it should have been “Ngueltsi Lhenkhag”.

Mischief was intended when the term “Rup” was inserted because the Bhutanese monetary unit of “Ngultrums” and “Chetrums” were already coined by 1974. Thus the promissory note should have read:

“Chaang Khen La Nguel Ki Ngultrum Chu Tham Toi Jui Khelang Yoed”
“Promise Is Made To Pay The Bearer A Sum Of Ngultrums Ten”

The next paper money was issued in 1978. They are not without mistakes either. The first Nu.100 note had rather perplexing markings - the monetary unit on the obverse of the note does not match the one on the reverse:

Bhutan's first Nu.100.00 bank note issued in 1978

The monetary unit printed on the obverse of the note reads:

“Chaang Khen La Nguel Ki Rup Chig Ja Toi Jui Khelang Yoed”
“Promise Is Made To Pay The Bearer A Sum Of Rup One Hundred”

The spelling of "Chig" (one) is also wrongly spelt.

Strangely the reverse of the note marks the denomination as 100 Nu

ONE HUNDRED NGULTRUMS is also perfectly spelt!

Other currency notes issued in 1978 were: Nu. 1, Nu. 2, Nu.5, Nu.20, and Nu.50. They had the following problems:

The currency notes of 1978 full of mistakes

The Bank notes are marked as issued by “Pelden Druk Zhung” – Royal Government of Bhutan. But it is signed by the then Deputy Managing Director of the Bank of Bhutan, Mr. Yeshey Dorji. But fortunately for this series of notes, the declaration of promise is worded correctly:

“Chaang Khen La Nguel Ki Ngultrum Nga Toi Jui Khelang Yoed”
“Promise Is Made To Pay The Bearer A Sum Of Ngultrums Five”

The other inconsistency is the manner of numbering the notes of this series. They are numbered with prefix: A/1, B/1, C/1, E/1 and F/1. The number D/1 is missing - no idea why.

As of 1985, the Royal Monetary Authority started the issue of the currency notes and they were signed thereafter by the successive Chairmen/Managing Directors/Governors of the RMA:

Among the first currency notes issued by the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan was this Nu.100.00 note released in 1985.

Until the year 2003, His Majesty's Representative in the Ministry of Finance, the Deputy Managing Director of the Bank of Bhutan and the Chairmen/Managing Directors/Governors of the Royal Monetary of Authority of Bhutan promised to guarantee the payment of the value of the sum mentioned on the bank note. The following series of notes seem to be the last where the promise to pay was made:

As of 2006 issue, that promise has been quietly withdrawn and the bank notes to this day do not carry that guarantee, leading one to wonder if the money is worth anything at all, in the absence of a signed promise. 😂😂😂😂:

A comparison of the two Nu.500 notes - one carrying the promise and the other without it:

The bank note on the top is that of 1994 issue where there is a declaration of promise to pay. The one on the bottom is that of 2006, where the promise goes missing. Both the currencies were issued by the Central Bank - Royal Monetary of Bhutan.

In the Nu.500.00 note of 1994, it is made to appear as if Lyonpo Dorji Tshering was the Chairman of Ngultrums Nga Ja Thamba. As you can see that illusion is corrected in the later note of 2006 signed by Lyonpo Wangdi Norbu.

Bhutan's highest denominated bank notes:


Nu. 1,000.00

For the first and last time, Bhutan's bank notes were printed at the India Security Press, in 1974. Thereafter, notes released in and after 1978 to date are printed by the Thomas De La Rue & Co. Ltd. of the United Kingdom.

Just once in 1989, another security printer was used: Korea Minting and Security Printing Corporation (KOMSCO).

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The March of Money: Part VII

After 1966, there was a stream of coins that were released by Bhutan. It will be too lengthy to list them all. These coins were all legal tender but most were none-circulating coins. What is common among all the coins is that most of the mintage had errors on them. It is as if they were all struck by zombies without an iota of attention to detail. Look at the following problems:

1974 Food for All  - Chetrums 20 is wrongly spelt Chetrums

1979 Five Chetrums Copper - wrongly spelt as Chhertum

1979 Ten Chetrums Copper – wrongly spelt as Chhertum

1979 Twenty Five Chetrums Bronze – wrongly spelt as Chhertum

1979 Twenty Five Chetrums Nickel – wrongly spelt as Chhertum

The following coins about which I have made mention in my earlier posts, had the following errors mentioned against each:

1928 Thala Jatrum Ched – the word “Druk” on the obverse erroneously rendered

1929 Thala Jatrum Ched – the year of coinage indicated is wrong – it should have been Tsa Drue – year of the Earth Snake (1929)

1950 Thala Jatrum Ched – the word “Druk” erroneously rendered

1951/1954 Copper coin – it is neither denominated, nor carries a year of coinage

1966 50 N.P. Jatrum Ched – the word “Druk” is erroneously rendered and it is wrongly labeled 50 N.P.

1966 Rupees 3 – it shouldn’t have been Rupee – since the coin is Bhutanese

The following 1979 One Ngultrum coin is one of the two perfectly minted coins:

1979 Ngulturm One Nickel - Perfect!

The other coin on which a good job was done is the 1928 Zangtrum – the coin’s markings are spot on. Additionally the engraver has done a superlative job in the engraving of the Dzongkha script:

The word "Druk" and the Year of coinage "Tsa Druk" is perfectly engraved

The last interesting notation I have to make is that of the 5 Chetrums coin struck in 1979. The design on the coin’s reverse is borrowed from the Maartrum coin of 1835:

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The March of Money: Part VI

The next year of Bhutan’s coinage was 1951, followed by 1954. In those two years, a confusingly vague kind of bronze coin came into being - it was not denominated, and it was not dated. The coin was called 1 Pice Maartrum. The coin's obverse and reverse looks as follows:

1954 Maartrum Copper coin that was named 1 Pice in numismatic circles

The following comparison of the two coins will reveal certain subtle differences in the two. The one on the left is 1951 issue and the one on the right is the 1954 issue. At first glance both of them look alike but the one on the right is lot more sharper in detailing.

Two different faces of the same coin

With the emergence of these 1951 and 1954 coins I felt that three repeated errors in the coinages had dealt a deathblow to the ill-fated Thala and thus was put to pasture. No such luck - it remerged in 1966. And this time the inaccuracy was even more disastrous - it was denominated 50 N.P. - meaning 50 Naya Paisa - Indian unit of currency. Perhaps the Calcutta Mint people took upon themselves to name the 1966 Thala as 50 N.P. since the Bhutanese currency unit Ngultrum/Chetrum came into being only in 1974 when our paper currency was first released. The 50 N.P. Thala looked like this:

The 1966 Thala was no longer called Jatrum Ched but 50 N.P. As of this mintage, the years of coinage ceased to be indicated in the lunar year

In addition to the 50 N.P. coin, the year 1966 also saw the release of 5 other none-circulating coins. The copper-nickel coin denominated 3 Rupees looked like thus:

Three gold coins, including a platinum one were issued as follows, to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of His Majesty King Jigme Wangchuck:

1 Sertrum Gold

2 Sertrum Gold

5 Sertrum Gold

5 Sertrum Proof Set. Although called Sertrum, it was actually Platinum

All of the above 1966 mintage had the following flaws. The engraver employed to prepare the coin's die seems to have been a very poorly trained one:

Between 1928 to 1954, there were a total of 6 milled coinages - but for the record we have only two years of coinages - the Tsa Druk (1928) and the Chaag Taag (1950) years:

Over the years we have named our currencies as follows:

Maar-trum           - red coin or copper coin
Zung-trum           - bronze coin
Ser-trum               - gold coin
Debai Tikchung - silver coin (Debai = Deb's)
Tiru                     - money
Thala                   - half money
Shiki                    - quarter money
Ngultrum            - silver coin
Chetrum            - half coin

The most extensively used coin before the paper money came into being in 1974 was the Thala which was denominated “Jatrum Ched” and milled since 1928. Going by how the term is spelt, the literal translation of this term would be: “Ja (Jaga) Tam (Coin) Ched (Half)” meaning Half Indian Rupee.

A knowledgeable senior citizen argues that the terms "Ngultrum" and "Chettrum" should have never been coined and applied to our currency. According to him, it is incorrect. He explained that "Ngultrum" means "Silver Coin" and "Chetrum" means "Half Coin". According to him, paper money is not coin and half coin cannot be a unit of currency.

Another knowledgeable person said that our paper money should rightly be called “Shoglor” meaning Shog (paper) Lor (money).

The other very popular silver coin that was in use those days was the "Boe-trum". I removed it from the above list since I realized that "Boe" means Tibet. So it is not our coin. I pointed this out to some one in our National Museum, Paro, when I went there to look at their collection of coins and found that the Boetrum was on display in their display case.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The March of Money: Part V

From available records, the first silver Thala was struck in 1928 – corresponding to the year of the Earth Dragon (Tsa Druk), in the Lunar Calendar. Because of an error that was detected in the die, a second lot of 30,000 silver Thalas were struck in the following year, or in the year 1929, corresponding to year of the Earth Snake (Tsa Drue), in the Lunar Calendar. The erroneously spelt “Druk” was duly corrected and the following coin became available in the Bhutanese market as a legal tender:

The Thala that was reissued in 1929 with the corrected word "Druk"

But hang on a minute - the markings on the reverse of the above coin shows that the coin was struck in the Lunar Year of Tsa Druk (1928) and not in the Lunar Year Tsa Drue (1929) when it was actually struck. How is that possible?

It is possible because while the Bongs and the Brits were pointed out that the word “Druk” on the obverse of the coin needed to be corrected because it was erroneously rendered - the careless Drups forgot to tell them that the reverse of the coin’s die also needed to be changed because it depicted the year of coinage. So the clueless Bongs or the Brits of the time used the same old reverse die that was cast with the 1928 year-mark, thinking that a die is, after all, a die!

So the epochal Thala started its journey with a grossly scarred face that got corrected a year later, but ended up taking yet another journey with a contorted behind!

The third leg of the Thala’s journey began in 1950, when a substantial number of them were once again struck in the same Calcutta Mint, this time in nickel. One would have expected that its honor would be redeemed, atleast the third time around. No such luck for the tormented Thala. Once again it was struck with yet another error, as shown below:

The 1950 Thala with correct year of coinage but with the word "Druk" rendered wrongly. It appears that the obverse die of 1928 coinage was used to strike this coin

As you can see, the year of coinage depicted on the reverse of the coin is accurate – “Chaag Taag Lo” – Iron Tiger Year (1950). But look at the obverse - the word “Druk” is yet again erroneously rendered. The “Ba-ra-ta-da” is once again disconnected. This means that the Bongs (the Brits would not have been involved since by 1950 they were out of the country) crafted a new die for the reverse of the coin, but used the faulty die of 1928 for the obverse of the coin.

God Almighty! Is this never going to end?

No, because the mistakes are repeated again and again and again – as my next Blog will show - leading me to believe that perhaps the errors were not mistakes. Could that be possible? We will never know.

Rendered below is a calendar depicting the Lunar Years corresponding to the Gregorian Years - so you can make the connections.