Sunday, October 8, 2023

Bhutan’s Culture of Mulling: Part II

It has been my experience that it is not in the character of the Bhutanese people to act with speed and precision. The sloth-like pace at which we act would explain why progress in this country is lethargic at best. For the bosses at the helm of things, it does not really matter - the dogs can continue to bark  - the caravan will move all the same. They are not the leaders - they are merely the seat warmers. Corporations like DrukAir can tumble and rot away, in the process causing misery to one and sundry - there is no one to whom they need be accountable - it is not money out of, or into, their pockets. If more is needed, there is the public exchequer into which they can dip their hands at will. Small wonder then that His Majesty the King speaks of our wanning Ngar! For proof, read the following:

Shingkhar-Gorgan Road
The Shingkhar-Gorgan road construction debate went on for close to one and a half decades. The law is clear why it cannot be done - and yet three successive governments “mulled” over the matter for years. After having “mulled” over the issue for close to 15 years, the issue of the road seems to be finally put to rest when, on 29th January, 2020, DNT’s Works & Human Settlement Minister Dorji Tshering said;

“Shingkhar-Gorgan road won’t materialize. Since 2008, there were 15 discussions on the topic. It is stale.”

The Timbre-less Timber
It was in 1979 that Bhutan decided to ban the commercial harvesting of our abundant timber stock. There was very good reason for it. But sadly, the forests remained locked-up and rotting for close to half a century, thereafter. Only last month the DNT government woke up to the realization that there was money to be had from harvesting our timber that remained rotting in the forests. The government has now lifted the ban - but it took 44 years to do so!

Vehicle Quota System
The Royal Audit Authority (RAA) reported rampant misuse of vehicle quota system. They found that the state lost Nu.3.00 billion in tax revenue during a five-year period under review, in addition to turning certain class of public workers into crooks and lawbreakers. The RAA also reported that the quota system contributed to “exhaustion of the country’s foreign currency reserves and increase in import of vehicle, spare parts and fuel”.

The Vehicle Quota System was introduced during mid 1970s. The country spent “mulling” over the issue for close to half a century before the DNT government thankfully axed the quota system in 2022. Today if you ask me very, very few have any understanding as to why the quota system was introduced - you may be surprised the reason behind it.

Alas, true to form, this has yet been another case of a good intention gone terribly sour. Sadly, there are already scavengers lining up the corridor - waiting to pick up the eventual carcasses that are bound to come tumbling out of the goody bag of the government - whoever is next in line.

Duty Free Quota System
I am not sure when this came into being. But it was many decades before the government saw evil in the system. It came to light that some supposedly respectable members of the society were merrily peddling their Duty Free entitlements in the open market. It not only contributed to depletion in foreign exchange reserve through import of such silly things as chocolates and perfumes and cigarettes etc., it bred whole lot of unethical people in the government/public sector. Thankfully the DNT government removed this most vile practice - late last year.

Hydropower Projects
After I spent close to two decades hollering to go easy on the mismanaged hydropower initiatives, it was not until in 2018 that finally the Hydropower Committee recommended going slow and smart on hydro projects - that is 44 years after the ill-fated hydropower initiative that first began in 1974.

In the next year (2019) – that is 45 years after deciding to systematically desecrate our entire river basins, the DNT government announced that two of our 7 river systems will remain hydropower free for all times - Chamkharchu in Central Bhutan and Amochu in the West-South of the country. The rest of the river systems - Wangchu, Punatsangchu, Magdechu, Kurichu, Drangmechu, Gamrichu and Nyera Amachu - all of them being fair game for hydropower. Mercifully, in recent years, the hydropower as a technology of choice for electricity generation has lost its sheen – hopefully we are now safe.

Freedom of Speech
In 2008 the Constitution granted every Bhutanese the freedom of speech - among others. Yet, year after year the media and individuals continued to be muzzled of the freedom of speech - some even lost their jobs because they had a mouth. It was only after fifteen (15) years that a sitting Prime Minister had the courage to reiterate the Constitutional provisions. Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering announced on 28 of January, 2023 that:

“Sharing information with the media is our responsibility. By sharing information with the media, they are not doing any favor, they are doing what they are mandated to do and they are doing what they are paid to do. Whatever we do, if it is for public benefit, the public must know. For this important information to go to the public, the media is the only thing that we can ride on”.

But alas - we are constrained by almost everything - doing is not always easy. But I have also repeatedly made the point that achieving greatness does not necessarily have to do with doing great things - dismantling great evil is also greatness. All it takes is courage!

Sadly courage is in short supply in this land of surplus verbosity.

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