Thursday, September 28, 2023

March of Democracy

The Kingdom of Bhutan is one of the world’s five youngest democracies. That is not quite unusual in itself - what is unique about it is that unlike elsewhere in the world when democracy came into being caused by turmoil and conflict - at the cost of bloodshed and mayhem, our democracy came at a time when there was peace and tranquility. It was not the dissatisfied commoners but our ruling monarchy that willed it - borne of uncommon wisdom and realism. It was an act in self-preservation - to ensure that the state of Bhutan and the Bhutanese race remain in perpetuity - until end of time.

It was not expected that our democratic journey would be without hurdles – we are, after all, charting a new and untreaded path. What was unexpected is that the very organization that was instituted even before the start of democratization would attempt to derail a meticulously and patiently planned journey that began some 70 years earlier. Some of the recent announcements by the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) point to the possibility that we could jeopardize all that we have achieved in the past many decades.

It is sad - the ECB seems to lack persons with any institutional memory. Obviously they are unaware that they were among the first 4-5 institutions that were specifically established to usher in, and promote, democratic norms - by His Majesty the IVth King when He lifted the ban on formation of political parties, and set into motion the process of political reforms, in the early 2000s. The other institutions that were set up at the cusp of the cross-over from absolute to democratic constitutional monarchy, and introduction of rule by popular vote, were:

Office of the Attorney General                         - 1999
National Judicial Commission                         - 2001
Anti-Corruption Commission                         - 2006
Druk Holding & Investment Limited (DHI) - 2007

For the past seventy (70) years our monarchs have been methodically and patiently planning the devolution of rule to a system of governance - based on the will of the people. The ECB seems clueless about this and, in their ignorance they seem to act in tangent to the very unique endeavors of our successive monarchs.

In less than a year since His crowning in 1952, His Majesty the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck established the National Assembly of Bhutan - in the year 1953. With the creation of that democratic institution, Bhutanese people’s march towards democracy was set into motion - by the father of modern Bhutan.

His Majesty Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck - father of modern Bhutan started the democratization process in 1953.

In 1968 His Majesty the IIIrd Druk Gyalpo voluntarily relinquished His veto right in the National Assembly. He went one step further by introducing a triennial Vote of Confidence in the King - something totally unique and unheard of in the world of absolute monarchies around the world.

In 1981, the IVth Druk Gyalpo introduced the decentralization policy - to enable active participation by the people - in the process of policy formulation and implementation.

To further decentralize governance and the decision making process, 1988/89 saw the appointment of four Zonal Administrators – one each in Chhukha (Zone I), Tsirang (Zone II), Gelephu (Zone III) and Yonphula (Zone IV).

In 1991, even greater decentralization was implemented. Block Development Committees were set up in all of the country’s Blocks. This allowed for direct participation by the people and greater autonomy in allocating financial resources for developmental projects - determined by the people. By allowing the people the right for self-determination, the culture of democratic process was slowly but surely being imbued in the psyche of the Bhutanese people.

In July 1998 His Majesty the IVth Druk Gyalpo issued a Royal edict devolving His executive powers, and stepping down as head of government. The Council of Ministers earlier appointed by Him was dissolved - to pave way for the democratic election of the Ministers by the Members of the National Assembly, elected by the people.

In June of 2007, the historic democratic elections were announced - scheduled for 24th March, 2008.

The meticulous and patient implementation of the many democratic processes described above amply demonstrate that our Kings have worked tirelessly and with commitment and patience, to bring about genuine reforms and political modernization for the preservation of the Bhutanese state and people.

It may not be too late to remind the ECB that they are digressing from their principal duty and function. The world has viewed the Bhutanese democratic process as something extraordinarily unique and exemplary. We have done the absolute right things in our long and laborious journey to arrive where we have. It would be catastrophic to allow it all to go asunder – we risk the danger of projecting an image that is inconsistent with our spoken and written words.

Monday, September 25, 2023

In Any Garb, Bhutanese are Bhutanese

While the autocrats inside the House of Democracy in the Happy Kingdom of Bhutan is driving the country’s five political parties bonkers with their undemocratic diktats, it appears that our UN Mission in the Big Apple has been driving a different breed of humanoids completely NUTS! - in the world’s most democratic nation.

The harangued neighbors of Bhutan's UN Mission in New York is now appealing to our Buddhist sense of compassion - to spare them the high decibal noise from a malfunctioning air conditioning unit that is making their life hell for them.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

A Hydropower Abundant Nation’s Angst

Just yesterday evening, sitting at the round table of my favorite restaurant Paday Bistro, I was seeking help from two friends - Lhakpa and Gyamtsho - to help me stock up on some barrels of kerosene fuel. Also to let me know where I could buy kerosene stoves.

One of them asked: “What for?”

I responded: “I get the sense that the freeze this winter could likely be more pronounced than in all of the earlier winters”.

“Why would you say so?”

“I fear we may suffer more acute shortage of electricity for lighting and heating - caused by quantum jump in domestic consumption of electricity”.

“You fear so? Then get a wood-fired Bukhari - we are a country with abundant wood”.

“But the place where I live does not provide for the use of Bukharis. In any event, managing Bukhari wood is a real pain in the nether regions, in addition to being environmentally destructive".

“Think of something else then - kerosene stoves could choke you to death with its noxious fumes”.

“Is there a difference - being dead with kerosene fumes or being frozen to death?”

It appears that my fears may be unfounded. This morning the KUENSEL carried the following report, which would indicate that the government is mindful of the impending problem. They hope to solve the problem, yet again, by importing electricity from India - this time even more than in the past - resulting in an additional import bill of Nu.6.00 billion:

Is it possible that we might consider curtailing consumption - instead of increasing imports?

I have been saying this for the past one and half decades: Why is it that a country that claims to be a net exporter of “clean” electricity has to import electricity from another country? Why do citizen’s need to line up for hours at the fuel kiosks - to purchase imported energy to cook and heat homes?

Why do we have to build hydropower projects that never get done - instead of building a damn dam across the Wangchhu - to store water during the summer months when there is excess water, to feed the idling projects downstream in Tala and Chhukha, during the winter months?

I have proposed this ten years back - read at the following:

What the dang hell is wrong with the Bhutanese people? Are we total dullards or what?

I suppose - like I jokingly told few friends a week or two back, that the government’s answer to the simplest of the citizen’s questions would be:

“Choe gii haa mego se”

“It is beyond your understanding”.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Sorting Out The Confusion: Is It Koch Bihari Or Is It Bhutanese?

Dear Mr. Goron,
Thank you for your prompt response to my mail. I was hoping that you might be able to help me - given that I am told you catalogued the coin collections of the late Mr. Nicholas Rhodes – considered among the top authorities on ancient Bhutanese coins. I am saddened to learn that your cataloguing work did not include his Bhutanese coins.

I needed a second opinion on the silver “Ma Tang” of late Mr. N. Rhodes, currently lodged at the SPINK, UK. Thus far, it was/is accepted that the silver “Ma Tang” is Bhutanese and, perhaps, even our earliest coinage. Then, a few days back, I unearthed a doctoral thesis paper by an Indian PhD student, submitted during 2015, part of which reads as follows:

The use of the term Ma-tang is interesting and may well be explained by looking at the coins themselves and in particular the full coin or half coin of Prana Narayan who ruled between 1633 and 1665. These as do the earlier rupees of Lakshmi Narayan have prominent letter “Ma” coin at the top right of the obverse legend. This letter although written in Bengali would have been easily recognized by the Bhutanese so that probably caused the coins to be referred to as “Ma-tang” or “Ma tam” as it is unlikely that they could have read any part of the legend.”

In the above, it is categorically implied that the coin is NOT Bhutanese. I disagree with him - but it is my believe that any, and all contrarian views, deserve a respectful consideration. Thus I wrote to Mr. S K Bose. Sadly I am not satisfied with his reply either - it appears that he did not find it necessary to study the matter with greater care. He writes:

“Thank you for your mail. The question of any discussion with Late N. Rhodes never arises as the coin photograph given by you relates to Harendranarayana (1783-1839 AD), whereas Prananarayana ruled Koch kingdom during 1633-1665 AD. Most of the silver tanka of Prananarayana bear a Bengali letter MA on the reverse of the coin wherein the name of the ruler is there.”

In the above Mr. S K Bose is categorical that the coin in question is that of Maharaja Prananarayana (1633-1665) of Koch Kingdom, and that the “Ma” on its reverse is Bengali.

Having looked at the coins of Maharaja Prananarayana of Cooch Bihar, I agree with Mr. Bose that some of Prananarayana’s coins are indeed inscribed with the Bengali alphabet “Ma” but other than the alphabet itself, everything else is totally different. Shown below is one of the coins of Prananarayana:

One of the Silver Tankas of Maharaja Prananarayan of Koch Kingdom with the Bengali alphabet "Ma" on top right of Reverse

I disagree with both the thesis writer and Mr. S. K. Bose. To me the alphabet “Ma” on the silver "Ma Tang" in the collection of late Mr. Rhodes is exactly how we Bhutanese write the alphabet - the Bengalese write it entirely differently. Further, they ignore the other even more prominent marking on the coin’s obverse - inside the Bengali alphabet “Cha” - the numeral “1” or “Chiig” in Bhutanese. There is simply not a shred of doubt that the numeral is Bhutanese, and not Bengali. Please see the following:

Silver "Ma Tang" - with unmistakably Bhutanese alphabet "Ma" on the Reverse and numeral "Chiig" on the Obverse

So, for me, I am totally in agreement with Mr. Rhodes - the silver “Ma Tang”, which in later years came to be called “Nyingtang Ghatikhap” by the Bhutanese, is beyond doubt - Bhutanese.

Bye and take care and, once again THANK YOU for your time and effort.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Century by Century

It was in the 8th decade (1970’s) of the 20th Century, that Bhutan imposed a BAN on commercial harvesting of timber. As of 1979, Bhutan prohibited the export of logs and unprocessed raw lumber - by private individuals and businesses. Every single cubic feet (cft.) of residual timber that was available in the possession of private timber logging operators and sawmill owners - post the BAN - was required to be bought up by a government entity called the EXPORT DIVISION, under the then Ministry of Trade, Industry & Forests.

Such drastic action from the Throne was necessitated as a result of wanton destruction that was being caused to the country’s forest stand - by unscrupulous Forestry officials of the RGoB, in cahoots with greedy timber merchants, coupled with both the legal and illegal cardamom growers in the South of the country.

The extent and scale of the problem was so huge, that:
  1. Along with the timber nationalization policy of 1979, the government was forced to put in place a complete ban on the movement of any form of lumber - during the night - in an attempt to control illegal felling and extraction of timber;
  2. Upon completion of the take-over exercise by the Export Division, to our consternation, it was discovered that the actual timber stock in the hands of the private operators was more than FIFTY TIMES in excess of what was projected by the Forestry Department to be in the possession of the timer traders/saw millers, based on the records of timber harvest permits issued by the Forestry Department.
  3. The volume of timber that needed to be moved to the exit points in the South of the country - in particular Phuentsholing - was so huge that we discovered that the COUNTRY DID NOT HAVE ENOUGH TRUCKS to be able to transport the timbers in time for their profitable sale to buyers.
  4. In order to be able to handle the transfer of timber from their locations in the Northern parts of the country to Phuentsholing while they were still in saleable condition, for the first and last time in the history of Bhutan, the government had to employ the riverine route - to move the bulk of the sawn lumber to Phuentsholing. In other words, we had to use the combined forces of the Haachu, Paachu and Thimchu rivers - to float the stock of lumber down to the Export Division’s timber stock yards located in Phuentsholing. The phenomenal financial disaster that ensued, fortunately, is not recorded in any official documents of the RGoB.
The country imported skilled timber floaters from Jammu & Kashmir in North India, to do the job.

Policy misadventure is nothing new to Bhutan - it is the most celebrated talent of the Bhutanese bureaucracy.

I do not believe that the timber nationalization policy of 1979 was an act in support of nature conservation - I believe that it was an act solely intended to combat large-scale corruption in the Forestry sector. Sadly what resulted was the forfeiture of a most dependable revenue source that, some knowledgeable people believe, could have out-performed the hydropower revenue.

Recent national level study reports reveal that despite close to half a century of banning commercial harvesting of timber in the country, our forest is actually poorer for it - amply proving the repeated point made by our forestry scientist Dr. Phuntsho Namgyel that overstocking forests with excessive trees can result in degradation of the quality of forests. He had made the point that selective thinning of the forest is actually critical for the healthy growth of the forest and many other life forms contained within it.

The government has recently announced that timber and timber products would contribute Nu.10.00 billion to the national exchequer. This means that the country is now all set to lift the BAN on the exploitation of the country’s rotting forests. This is DAMN GOOD!

We are now into a new Century - the 21st Century. A whole new breed of people are at the helm of things. But the question remains: has the bureaucracy evolved into a better specimen of human beings? Or will they, yet again, close to half a century later, instigate another BAN - through corruption, mismanagement and mindless shoddy work?

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Democracy’s Death Knell

Exactly forty two (42) days back, on August 2, 2023 the Kuensel informed the nation of the Election Commission of Bhutan’s (ECB’s) announcement that they would put in place a Committee that would assess the appropriateness of the Manifestos of the five political parties contesting the upcoming elections. The political parties have until 28th of September 2023 to submit their Manifestos for authorization /approval/endorsement by the ECB.

Close on its heels, barely twenty eight (28) days after the earlier announcement, the Kuensel reported yet another commandment from the House of Democracy - on 30th August, 2023 - that the ECB would be disallowing door-to-door campaigning by the political parties.

With the two important democratic processes firmly sealed and locked away securely, we are now all set to go to the polls. The last item that remains on the agenda is for the political party leaders to be ushered into their caves with the instruction that they may now start to sound their drumbeats and trumpet calls - that they are at last free to pronounce their respective ECB authorized party Manifestos.

In all likelihood this is how the Bhutanese political party leaders are expected to send out their bugle call to their voters to attend their party meetings where they would read out their ECB sanctioned party Manifestos

Pray, tell me, what kind of message does such pronouncements by the custodians of all that is fair and good in a democracy, send out to the world about the stability of our governance, our commitment to self determination, freedom of choice, and respect for the will of the people?

Particularly at a time when our Monarch is trying His hardest to propel the country to heights never even attempted before, what kind of promise do we hold for the potential global investors whom we hope to cajole and entice to invest in our country and its potential? Political stability, good governance, people with kindled spirits - a society capable of progressive thinking - these are some of the qualifying benchmarks by which the global community will judge us - it will not be on the repeated claim that we are a unique breed of people. It will not be because we are given to suppressive tendencies at the most inopportune moments.

A political party’s Manifesto is a most sacrosanct document – each of them would believe that it will set them apart from the common pack – on it will pivot their party’s very reputation, success and appeal to their voters. IT WILL DEFINE THE PARTY ITSELF! Thus, it is unlawful and unfair that the ECB require the parties to reveal and discuss their manifestos with them, or with a bunch of people appointed by them whose credentials would be, at best, suspect.

Who assures the confidentiality of the documents? Does the ECB have the competence to justify their stand on why a certain campaign promise is untenable? No law requires a political party to reveal their funding sources to implement a campaign promise. Thus no political party may be subjected to cross-examination on the issue.

In any event, who told them that they hold monopoly over intelligence and smartness - over those of the political parties and the people of Bhutan? I think it is best to leave the game of politics to the people engaged in politics on a daily basis. Novices acting God could very well prove to be disastrous.

Something that intrigues me is this: will the ECB have overriding authority on a sitting government? If not how can they prevent the elected government to NOT DO what they had earlier ruled was not allowed - or FORCE THEM TO DO what was promised - during the time of the campaigning? On the other hand, who gave the ECB the authority to decide what is workable and what is not? The political parties are not answerable to the ECB - they are to the people of Bhutan. And, if the people decide that a political party’s campaign promises are doable - they make the decision - not the ECB.

But in all this madness, what sticks out like a sore thumb ---- is the fact that not a single political party has risen to the occasion – to protect what is legitimately in their interest to do so. This leaves us with the question:

If these political parties are proving to be incompetent in protecting their own interests, why should we trust that they have it in them to protect the interest of the people of Bhutan?

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Sa Maartang - NOT Pice

Dear Mr. Bose,
Thank you for your e-mail. Even more, THANK YOU for the privilege and honor to be of help to a person of your standing.

I am happy to return herewith the image of your modern Bhutanese machine struck coin. As desired, I have named each of the motifs on the coin, in Bhutanese - including their Western equivalent.

The coin image you sent me is, what I prefer to call, the machine struck “SA MAARTANG” - not to be confused with the hammered “Sa Maartang” of the past. Most erroneously, Western writers/historians/collectors have chosen to call this particular coin: “Pice”, which is incorrect. Thus, as an act of reclaiming its ownership and giving it its rightful nationality, I am renaming it “Sa Maartang” - for three reasons:

1. It has the Bhutanese “Sa” alphabet inscribed on its Obverse,
2. The metal used is “Red” colored copper, and
3. Tang” – meaning coin or Tanka. “Pice” is not a Bhutanese term - it is Indian.

The combination of the three words translate to:

Sa+Maar+Tang = Sa+Red+Coin = Sa Maartang

As you would know, the coin was milled at the Government of India Mint, Calcutta in the Bhutanese “Iron Tiger Year” (1950), at the same time our first Cupro-nickel Tikchang or Thala was struck in the same mint.

Although the word inscribed in Bhutanese script on the reverse of the Thala/Tikchang reads “Jatam”, I prefer to call it “Jatang”. The reason should be obvious to you - the term “Tang” is a derivative of the ancient word “Tangka” used by the Koch and other Indian people to describe your coins. As you already know, the Koch Kingdom’s Narayani was also used extensively as legal tender in Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet, among other countries in the region. In later years when Nepal and Tibet started to hammer their own coins, both of them called their coins “Tangka/Tanka”, among others. As you are aware, Bhutanese coins trace their origins to the Koch Narayani - in fact some of our coins were exact replicas of the Narayani because they were hammered with dies supposedly carried away forcibly from Cooch Behar. Thus our coins too came to be called Maartang, Ngueltang, Zangtang, Sertang etc..

As explained by you to me, and following the accepted convention, and as a mark of obeisance to our monarchy and the Kings, I am designating all our modern machine struck coins with the bust of our Kings as the OBVERSE side of the coin, and the other side as the REVERSE. Thus, arising out of this concept, and seeing that all the motifs on one side of your “Sa Maartang” are the exact same motifs on the REVERSE of the Thala/Tikchang, I am designating that side of the Sa Maartang as the REVERSE of the coin.

No doubt you know that the same “Sa Maartang” was reissued in 1954 with exactly the same motifs. However, this time the coin’s die was re-cut, resulting in sharper and better defined impressions of the motifs.

I hope you have a copy of the 1954 Sa Maartang - if you do not, it would be my honor to present you with a copy from my collection. They are abundantly available in Bhutan, although no longer used as legal tender.

Please let me know if you have any contrarian views on the matter - it would be my honor to consider them.

Bye and take care ---- please continue to keep well and safe so that I may continue to draw upon your vast and unmatched knowledge on the subject of coins of the Himalayan region.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Reaching For The Stars

His Majesty the King’s dream project in Gelephu extending all the way to Kalikhola is truly mind-boggling and mesmerizing. It is so complex, and the scale so colossal that it is beyond the comprehension of small minds such as those of us - the common men. Only a King is capable of abstracting a plan so monumental that it leaves you panting for sanity.

And it looks like the plan is already off the drawing boards and on to the ground - India just announced the allocation of US$10 million – to start work on the planned rail link between Gelephu and the neighboring town of Kokrajhar in the Indian state of Assam – slated to be completed by the year 2026 - spanning a total distance of 57.5 KMs.

Indo-Bhutan rail link: Shape of things to come

Certainly His Majesty is not planning for any failures. That is evident in the meticulous planning that has gone into the project, and the assemblage of world’s top corporate and financial brains - to work on the Gelephu initiative. For sure Plan B should kick in - should there be the slightest inkling that things are not going as planned.

For me personally, I was hugely nervous about the private land acquisition proposal that was rumored - that would have entailed enormous financial outlay - diverting precious resources needed by the Bhutanese people for other important developmental works. To my great relief, I have on good authority that the government is NOT EXPECTING to acquire any private property for the project - obviously because there is more than enough state land for the taking.

Also, I do not believe that the worry here is of whether the plan will work or that it will fail - it is just too big a deal for any such unfounded worries - every angle would have been looked into by the world’s very best planners and thinkers. If there is anything at all to marvel at the plan, it is that our Monarch has the courage to venture into this with determination and conviction!

Alas, this is not saying that I do not worry - I do have one worry that rattles me every time I think about it:

From all indications, His Majesty’s time and energy has been entirely taken up by the need for undivided attention and focus on the Gelephu initiative. Even worst, His attention would be totally diverted to the project - once it comes on full steam. That is where I believe we may be in trouble.

The Gelephu initiative represents less than ten percent of the country’s overall land mass and population. What is the danger that His other subjects could be subjected to neglect and abandonment? That thought gnaws me at the very core of my being. I fear that this could spell trouble for His other larger mass of subjects domiciled in the larger spaces of His Kingdom.

His subjects’ need for His leadership elsewhere is as urgent as, and no less than, that of the extraterritorial conclave that Gelephu is destined to become.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Why We Have To Lose to Win

I am encouraged to learn that the slumbering colossi may finally be awakening from their extended siesta. Two days back, TheBhutanese newspaper reported that the DrukAir is looking at reducing airfares for the tourists visiting Bhutan. Thank God for small mercies - this should have happened more than two dozen years back - but Alas! we cannot help our sloth-like nature. But as they say in the comic books, it is never too late!

I have said this over and over and over again - that the DrukAir is required to operate under extremely disparaging conditions. Nature is its most stubborn opposition. Consider the class of aircraft they own and their fleet size - the pitifully limited number of routes they serve, and the massive number of administrative and support staff they have to employ. When you consider all these limiting conditions under which it was expected to operate - one cannot fail but ask the question:

Wasn’t it plain stupid to create DrukAir - and still hope that it will make profit?

NO!!!! it was not a stupid idea - what is stupid is the perception of the people - that it was created as an enterprise of profit - IT WAS NOT!!! As I have said many times in the past - beyond doubt, the DrukAir was created to make a statement – a bold statement of our nationhood!

Unfortunately the vision of its creators was twisted out of form - it was turned into an organization that exacted heavy toll on others who depended on it. Thus, as an organization of hope and pride - it failed the Bhutanese people miserably.

Sadly, if TheBhutanese is to be believed, there are signs that the accountant’s mentally still prevails within the DrukAir’s management, which is evident in the fact that they speak of “loss” and “subsidy” in the same breadth.

Subsidy is specifically provided by governments around the world to provide competitive edge to fledging local industries, to act as a fulcrum - to balance unfair competition from superior economies, as a counterweight to combat harsh and unyielding economic challenges, to heighten economic buoyancy, to prevent losses, to keep costs down so that ancillary industries can grow and prosper - to ensure that critical services are not discouraged due to challenges that are outside their scope and competence.

Therefore subsidy is not a loss - but a responsibility of the government. And, DrukAir as a critical service provider, it is deserving of whatever subsidy is necessary - to keep it afloat and to continue to serve the national interest.

If subsidies were to be considered losses, we should forthwith close down our schools and hospitals and the civil service - they all exist because they receive 100% subsidy from the state.

We have to remember that even the most competent economies of the world provide subsidy to some of their industries - transport sector being one of the highest subsidized sectors. Every year the European Union (EU) subsidizes its transport sector to the tune of €73 billion. Likewise, the transport sector in China receives government subsidy in excess of US$130 billion a year. Germany is routinely accused by their competing neighbors for continuing to operate their money-losing airports - but they continue to subsidize them - because that is a veiled way by which they can gain competitive edge over others.

The DrukAir is a critical transport service provider for Bhutan’s vital tourism sector. Thus, it is correct that the government should provide it subsidy - there should not be an iota of hesitation - so that the airline can help boost the country’s tourism business. It is the only way by which the DrukAir can keep their fares within the realm of sanity. Doing so will provide direct and indirect benefit to the country’s mortally maimed tourism industry and, consequently, to the society at large.

If the RGoB fails to rein in the DrukAir and their irresponsible ways, the corporation has the potential to destroy Bhutan's tourism sector, and cause irrepressible dip in the country's foreign exchange reserve.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Tinker Tailor Soldier Smuggler

Over the years, I have doggedly insisted that our national flag carrier - DrukAir - is a vehicle on which few hundred business entities must ride - for business and prosperity. Because it is a public interest apparatus funded by Bhutanese public money, it must accept a responsibility that should transcend profit making. Whether pronounced or otherwise, the organization and its bosses cannot, in fact they must not, fail to recognize the social mandate that is intrinsic to its very being.

Sadly the carrier has failed the government and the Bhutanese people, miserably.

Yesterday morning a friend sent me some images of the vastly unfilled interior of the cabin of yesterday’s DrukAir flight KB153 - from Bangkok to Paro. Accompanying the images was the following partial passenger manifest of the flight, numbering a total of about 30:

Mix-And-Match: a Cabinet Member, a Professor, a failed business entrepreneur and three smugglers make up the passenger list of DrukAir

One does not have to be an Einstein to deduce that despite their insanely high fares, it is unlikely that the DrukAir is able to generate enough revenue to pay for their operating costs. Infact, we have seen that it has had exactly the opposite effect - it has succeeded in driving away thousands of potential passengers to competing airlines in the region - in the process driving the country’s tourism industry into the ground.

The thing with the national flag carrier’s irresponsibility is that the problem does not end or begin at their doorsteps - its ripple effect is felt across the broad spectrum of the business chain. It impacts Bhutan’s most vital industry - the tourism industry. When tourism is impacted, its effect is felt by the government: through reduced tax collection, and fall in foreign currency earning. Even beyond that, its impact is immediately felt by the hotel & restaurant industry, the handicrafts sector, transport industry, the farming community, pony drivers, roadside trinket sellers - even the wooden walkingstick fashioners at the base of Taktsang. As we all know, the tourism industry provides employment to the highest number of Bhutanese people, earns the highest foreign exchange and is among the very few net gain industries in the country.

To rub salt into the gangrene, the government’s recent tourism regulations that did away the requirement for tourists to come through local tour operators, has helped drive away a large segment of the tourism business into the waiting laps of the Jaigaon operators, with the net result that the Bhutanese operators are now no more than commission agents to the operators in Jaigaon. Bhutanese Tour Guides are reduced to lining up at the doorsteps of the Jaigaon operators - for business and employment. Or, they have been forced to take flight to destinations such as Australia or Canada.

Clearly those who are in positions of power and authority are being both negligent and irresponsible, that a single institution is allowed to inflict so much ruin and misery to others who have no choice but be at their mercy.

The question that begs to be asked is: If the Druk Air is not serving the national interest, whose interest is it serving? Is the organization being run and managed by a lot of do-gooders with misplaced allegiance? One has to begin to wonder!