Saturday, March 9, 2013

An appraisal of the 1st Democratic Government led by Prime Minister Jigmi Yoezer Thinley (April, 2008 – April, 2013).

I am impressed by the 3 hour presentation of the 5 years report. The ability to create a feeling of one to one conversation to a 3 hour long address may be what keeps the Prime Minister connected to the persons on the dusty farm roads.

1. The 10th Five Year Plan

A whole lot of Government Agencies, Corporations, delivery systems, administrative wings, Private Sectors, the people themselves worked in unison under the Cabinet team to successfully implement the most ambitious 5 year Plan in the 52 years of planned development. His Majesty the King provided the inspiration and the guiding light including clear timely advises as acknowledged by a grateful Prime Minister. The armed forces especially the Royal Bhutan Army bore the brunt of various successive natural calamities of flood, fire, windstorms and earthquakes whilst His Holiness, the Dratsang and many religious institutes and Lams offered prayers successfully for the nation to overcome the difficulties. And NGOs headed by their Majesties the Queen Mothers made important much needed social contributions. DHI was there to value add the income generations of government corporations. The Nation has much to thank India and other developing partners for the success of the 10th Plan.

It seems according to media stories that critics of DPT Party are attempting to separate or disassociate the tasks performed by implementing agencies, delivery systems, administrative apparatus from the cabinet team. It is, I believe, a futile effort to divert performance credit away from the DPT Leadership. The reason behind such an attempt could be two kinds. a)  It may be difficult to find fault with the overall success of the 1st democratic government of royal Bhutan. b) The lack of self experience in the art of governance, the absence of insights and broader perceptions, all of which are must qualities if one must go for the jugular of any Ruling Party which seemingly is in comfortable command.

The cabinet and all the associated governance apparatus be that local government, law agencies, government corporations, administrative wings or implementing agencies are together as a wholesome body called the Government. For the historic 1st 5 year of democracy in Bhutan, the people installed DPT Party at the helm and provide the necessary leadership in governance. Therefore both the success and failures must be attributed to the political party that is in charge of the national governance irrespective of whether that party in leadership chair was directly, indirectly or by way side involved in the success or failure for the given period.

2. The hall marks of the 1st government of royal democracy of Bhutan

The accomplishments during the 5 years are astounding. However, the success does in no way be-little what were achieved pre-2008 years. The multiplying effect is always more dramatic. It’s like population explosion. Nevertheless, the Hon’ble Prime Minister Jigmi Yoezer Thinley led government has genuine demonstrated reasons to report great strides in most aspects of national development that ranges deep and wide from education, health, agriculture, communication link ups, new roads, media proliferation, enhanced private sector participation, playing leading roles in the international arena especially on gifting to the world at large the GNH approach and establishing more diplomatic ties.

3. Controversies of McKinsey, Tobacco law, green Tuesdays and rupee shortage

a) McKinsey contract
I have always maintained that it was fundamentally wrong for DPT formed royal government to hire McKinsey as the overall advisor for national governance. In my perception, the fee of Nu: 430 million is irrelevant whether it is adjudged to be more, less or recoverable. The disagreeable act is bringing in an outside pathfinder when the people of Bhutan overwhelmingly voted for Druk Phuensum Tshogpa to be the first ever pathfinder of royal democratic government of Bhutan. It took Bhutan several decades to do away with various advisors from India. The last advisor post that we finally managed to abolish was that of the police advisor from India.

It is my sincere belief that only the true sons and daughters of the soil can craft the required national statesmanship that can serve the Bhutanese national interests. I have always had absolute faith in the ways of our Kings and the Bhutanese statesmen who have led the nation. A nation is like a child and the best guardian for nurturing the child is the birth parents who have inexhaustible love and concern and are totally selfless when it comes to the wellbeing of the child.

A foreign consultancy firm could be used as a sounding board for specific project, idea or policy but never as overall path finder of national administration. As most who should know Bhutanese are aware, the CEO of McKinsey has been convicted with jail term by an American Court for criminal corporate fraud of the lowest kind, insider trading (a corporate crime equivalent to selling the soul of the mother). I feel that the very presence of McKinsey not just with their fingers in all our pies, is a defilement of the home of GNH, the two-way allegiance between the King and his subjects, the trust between the government leadership and the voters, the extended family system and the open character and religious sentiments of the Bhutanese and our youths the promise of the nation.

I am not just against McKinsey. I am against any foreigner holding executive post in the royal government of Bhutan. That’s why I was aghast 3 years back when I realized that the Director of Royal Education Council was a foreigner (now replaced) and on the spur of the moment I made my feeling known in an article. Only much later, a thoughtful reader of the article told me that the foreign director was a royal tutor. So I guess professionally he was qualified but the issue was nationality not professional capacity. And likewise, I am in no position to be-little the technical capacity of McKinsey. They must be efficient because others have availed their services.

However, the McKinsey factor kept nagging my conscience and I was forced to analyze the issue for peace of my mind. Whether I hit the bull’s eye or not, I stopped worrying about McKinsey once I arrived at the following rationality. Like the whole Kingdom, DPT leadership must been equally bewildered by the kingdom shaking land slide election victory. Whilst the inexperienced underlings and supporters rejoiced with glee, the thoughtful senior leadership of DPT especially Lyonchoen Jigmi Y Thinley must have been relieved but also perplexed by the result. What could have been so totally different between DPT and PDP?  At the leadership level ofcourse the Representatives of the people in the National Assembly always preferred Lyonchoen Jigmi Y Thinley but between the other candidates of the two political parties, how could the choice be so startling? A thoughtful leader had reasons to be jittery. Were the people of Bhutan looking for more drastic change in the substance of national governance that was beyond the past experiences and knowledge that the nation had at hand?  Maybe that made the otherwise most talented and confident Prime Minister seek the arm rest of a highly recommended foreign consultancy firm to guide his government.

Fortunately for Bhutan and luckily for DPT, the Prime Minister recouped his wits early on and quickly gained mastery of the national rudder. By then the McKinsey contract was signed and sealed. So McKinsey limped along with few publicity stunts like compact agreements and what is touted as major management innovation ( though the software is already available in the market ) the online governance . It is actually similar to ATM except ATM is far more reliable and speedy. The Government did not need McKinsey to introduce this system. However there is no denying the novelty of the G2C. It is at cradle stage now but if nurtured to full potential with the same sincerity as shown by DPT led government, it will do wonders for equality and efficiency.

b) Tobacco Law
It was National Council baby fertilized by Health Ministry and supported by majority of MPs of the National Assembly. His Majesty gave Royal Assent to the Tobacco Bill, possibly out of political compulsion rather than belief in the goodness of the Law. Just imagine what the Monarchy detractors of modern world would have said if His Majesty returned the devilish Bill conceived by National Council and backed by almost all parliamentarians and its draconian claws obscured by the silhouette of better health and social goodness screens.

But from henceforth, I pray that His Majesty the People’s King never again sign a Prohibition Bill on socially acceptable vice like tobacco, doma or alcohol into law because such laws do little good and causes major social despair, acrimony and fear. It makes the otherwise decent people into criminals and the King appear to assume the role of devil‘s advocate seeking to make saints out of his citizens. Saints are God’s angles not the King’s subjects. Discourage social vices but not jail! The tobacco hunting teams discovered tobacco goods of humble value at the home of a single mother of 3 children. The mother was arrested, tried and jailed. The eldest son was taken off schooling to look after the two siblings and manage home. Would that single mother and her doomed 3 children believe that they have a People’s King and a social conscious Prime Minister?

I have never met the mother or the 3 children but facts can be ascertained from Thimphu Judiciary Court or Police. Yes I did make online protests in an effort to draw royal attention to find ways to protect his subjects from such draconian laws. A moderation came about from the law makers but to what extent? Maybe His Majesty the King could grant pardons to all prevailing and future victims of the draconian laws until the MPs learn to tamper law making with social decency.

c). The green walk of Tuesdays.
Thankfully this has been lifted or should I say modified. I do not question the goodness behind the green walk especially because it was so publicly championed from Lungtenzampa by the cycling King and walking Prime Minister.

The national green walk in the urban centers is philosophically sound like Lord Buddha’s Teaching of abstenism but confronted with hard realities of everyday earthly family life, who and how many have luxury of both time and energy to walk for walking sake. The over-burdened working parents, helpless single mothers, hard pressed Teachers juggling early morning hours between home and school chores, the humble salaried workers bereft of taxi fares or additional fuel expenses for winding detour car routes and many others who simply cannot even take morning or evening walks to prolong their lives, for various domestic and economic reasons.

In a way, it is regrettable that green walk just could not be sustained by the inadequate urban masses. However if carbon emission control was the goal, that is being easily achieved albeit in a less palatable way. High inflation figures, escalating fuel prices and the continuous downturn of world economy will also affect our economy. There will be less industrial and commercial venture carbon emission, due to lesser activities. A downturn in economy translates to less carbon emission as well as more oxygen for health and less money for pockets.

d) The Rupee Shortage
The popularly known and widely felt rupee crunch is actually a shortage of foreign currency in the national exchequer. If we had dollar, pound or euro in sufficient quantity, rupee shortage is easily overcome. But we do not have. An underdeveloped nation like ours does suffer from this economic malaise because our needs are more than our output. The export is far less in value than import. And acute shortage of rupee is particularly felt because we need to import everything from India. If India had insisted on hard currency like dollars for payment Bhutan would be facing dollar crunch not rupee crunch.

In the last 10 years, the per capita income has jumped and Bhutanese are in position to enjoy the fruit of the success of our past economic policy. For example, at one time majority of Bhutanese parents struggled to provide uniforms to our school going kids in Bhutanese schools. Today Bhutanese parents including many in rural Bhutan are funding education of their children at colleges in India. Our enhanced ngultrum prosperity outstrips the national rupee inflow. When we purchase goods or services from India using ngultrum through banks or shops in Jaigoan or Siliguri, ultimately the government has to provide the rupee counter value for ngultrum we spend.  Unlike rupee status in Bhutan, our Bhutanese ngultrum is not a legal tender in India. Thus the main culprit if one can so name it behind rupee shortage is the new found prosperity of individual families and private sector of Bhutan.

Therefore the DPT cannot be solely blamed for the rupee shortage. Yes RMA and Finance Ministry could have done a better job at managing the crisis. In a political musical chair game, the National Council heaped the blame for rupee crisis upon Finance Ministry and RMA.  It is a political charade.  It was National Council that vetted the RMA Act that gave sweeping monetary powers to RMA not Finance Ministry. Moreover the proposal of Finance Ministry for tax hikes on certain imported goods like vehicles were watered down by the parliamentarians. Dasho Rinzin Rinzin of National Council states that the Finance Ministry’s tax increases were not convincing enough. At the way the ngultrum economy was bulging, foreign currency crisis (especially rupee) had to happen. When a naked person is standing in the front, is it really necessary for someone else to again reiterate that the naked person has no clothes on?

There is another fundamental flaw in the resolution of National Council directing Cabinet Secretary to take punitive action against RMA and Finance Ministry after the term of the 1st Parliament. The members of the Parliament must be held accountable along with RMA Governor. Why should other officials of the two agencies be disciplined? And any way the Constitution has the Chief Justice of Bhutan as the Head of interim government not the Cabinet Secretary. Many members of the National Council have performed with great dedication till then. How could it suddenly play cheap politics on its last day of the session?

And another thing, National Council wanted the Entitlement Act amended but when it was handed over to them on a platter by the National Assembly who initially had blocked the same; the National Council could feel the past hurt ego but not sense the legislative victory. They could have had the cake and eat it too. The disparity between the MPs of the two Houses could have been nullified forever. It makes me wonder if a deal to suit the NC members had been secretly hatched somewhere before the NA proposal.

4. Major achievements of the government : hydro-projects, roads and communication, the historic Meeting between Bhutan and China.

a) The Hydro-Projects
His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck emphasized on the two pillars of economic policy: 1) The education of Bhutanese children 2) The development of hydro-power. The King referred to the water resources of Bhutan as the liquid white gold. The King’s nature conservation policy has much to do with preserving water resources as it does with preservation of eco-system. That’s my hindsight intelligence. Quite some time back, I decided to strengthen my faith in the ways of the Bhutanese Monarchs on major royal policies because it was proving to be quite an unimaginable task to clearly comprehend the broader designs of a royal decree at the time such is issued.

The 1st democratic government of Bhutan under Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley is not the originator of hydro-power projects. But the zeal and commitment by this government to 10,000 MW of hydro-power is admirable and their efforts laudable.

I am also most impressed and grateful that for the first time in the history of Bhutanese development era of 52 years, the victims of progress have been given a share in the fruit of progress. I am referring to the 10,000 units of electricity per acre of land sacrificed for hydro-projects for the life of projects. To my national conscience, I appreciate the significance of the symbolism that this gesture represents. It warms the heart, assuages the sentiment and most importantly the gesture acknowledges the obligation of the nation to the victims of progress in concrete and tangible manner.

The hydro-projects are a boon to Bhutan as envisaged by the Monarch. And even if we have 6000 instead of 10,000 MW by 2020, the other 4000 MW will come by 2022 and definitely Bhutan will reap dividends. I do not think that our economy will reach so bountiful a stage by 2020 or 2025 whereby we would be hard pressed to utilize the rupee earned from hydro projects. I am referring to Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk’s response to Dasho Damchoe of Opposition Party who expressed his misgivings of economic impacts of hydro projects beginning from Chukha and Tala projects executed under direct administration of the King to the ongoing hydro projects. Lyonpo Khandu was understandingly reacting in the necessary manner to douse the ill intended fire of criticism. On a lighter note, it was amusing to hear someone other than victims of hydro project land acquisitions bemoan the ‘ills’ and another painting a rupee utopia in times of rupee crunch. That in a way is parliamentarian flair for political non-sense and humour.

b) Roads and Communication
The 1st democratic government truly has nurtured the seed of democracy introduced by the Monarch. And hence forth freedom of speech, movement of people and freight, information exchange, people interaction will blossom due to mobile telephones, internet, TV, radio and newspapers and above all road connectivity extending to the extreme rugged interiors.

I was never worried about mobile, TV, internet connectivity. These will have to come about by force of global modernization in such fields but that we now have it so soon is glorious. My desire or dream was to have a national circular road that connects the Dzongkhag centers through our own line of control. A road through Samtse to Phuentsholing, Lhamoizingkha, Manas, Nganglam, Pema Gatshel in the south and Gasa, Laya, Lingshi, Soe, Drugyel Dzong through Haa to Samtse. I think the 1st democratic government has made that dream a sure reality. And my other dream is to store excess monsoon water for lean season to run hydro plants. I hope that the next government will lay concrete foundation for such a goal starting with proposed Bunakha reservoir.

c) Indo-Bhutan and Sino-Bhutan relationships
His Majesty the King profoundly dwelt upon Indo-Bhutan friendship but made no mention of China or any other nations during his sobering address marking the end of 1st parliament of Bhutan.

In his 5 year report, the Prime Minister devoted considerable time to emphasize on the importance and goodness of Indo-Bhutan friendships. He said one line on Sino-Bhutan relation. He was aware of opposing views but Sino-Bhutan relation can be only good for Bhutan, he said. Maybe national leaders are sometimes in priestly silence never in position to say aloud their inner thoughts. However, the Prime Minister did meet Chinese premier and that speaks volumes of Bhutanese aspirations.

Bhutanese can never discount the importance and goodness of Indo-Bhutan Friendship. India is a friend, major developing partner and socially and culturally the closest. There is very close link between the people of India and Bhutan. Both Lord Buddha and Guru Rinpoche originated from India. The successive leaders of India beginning from Nehru and the People of India have enriched the People and the Kingdom of Bhutan. And Kings of Bhutan have always held dearly the Indo-Bhutan friendship. I reiterate all these to demonstrate that the people of Bhutan will always remain grateful friend of India and her people.

However, Sino-Bhutan relation must take more concrete forms. In early 1960s Bhutan ended its isolation to embark on modern development plans. In the 21st Century, the Kingdom of Bhutan cannot afford to isolate itself from China. China is economically and politically one of the most powerful players in the world. Bhutan is the closet neighbour and the only neighbour that does not have diplomatic ties with China? Why is Bhutan being the Keeper of Post 1962 Sino-Indo Frost? And can past, present or future Butanese leaders deny that sovereignty of Bhutan lies intact inspite of the fate of Tibet and Sikkim because of our geo-physical proximity to the vital interests of both India and China.

It may be a fact that India does not wish for closer relations between China and Bhutan. But India’s animosity or distrust has more to do with China. Also India might suspect that China may surreptitiously takeover Bhutan and therefore endanger the whole of north east frontier states of India. It is, I feel, a hypothetical concern. It is for China to reassure India on such accounts. Personally, I feel that India need not feel the Chinese jitters from Sino-Bhutan diplomatic and economic ties.  The Indian foot print in Bhutanese history of development and sovereignty is unshakable by any other power. 

The Kings of Bhutan never ignored China though they have established closer ties with British India and then Independent India. His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck signed a Border Treaty on co-operation and mutual respect with China. And the reigning King His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck has to have the core interest of his Kingdom and people to the depth of his self existence. For sake of Bhutan and Bhutanese, His Majesty cannot ignore China and her leaders. Therefore, the road ahead is to gradually develop diplomatic and economic relations with China and never ever dilute in any way our strong bonds with India. We must draw India’s trust upon decades of Indo-Bhutan friendship so that our most reliable and benevolent friend is not deterred by friendly Sino-Bhutan prospects that will increase Bhutan’s international prominence and provide broader economic impetus.

The political parties of Bhutan can play politics all the way. But they must refrain from compromising the future sovereignty interest of Bhutan for short term political gains.  The diplomatic inroads accomplished by the 1st democratic government must be appreciated and it will bring fruitful national dividend if the next government formed by DPT or another political party keeps the long term interest of the Nation at heart and forge ahead in developing better international ties particularly with China. The competition and animosity between political parties must not overshadow the raw and genuine national interests. It would be self defeating to be-little national strides achieved by DPT government in foreign relations. 

5. His Majesty the anchor and guiding light of Bhutanese democracy 

Democracy was gifted by His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck and King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck took over the mantle of leading and nurturing democracy from the initial faltering national steps. The success of the 1st 5 year of democracy is beholden to the guiding light of the young King. I feel that the 4th King would have good reasons to celebrate his royal decision to enthrone the next in line.

Many Politicians of the present world would give anything to have the looks, the height, the charm and gift of oratory skills and public interaction that are part of inborn qualities of the Bhutanese King.  It seems that somehow the Wangchuck Dynasty always managed to nurture forth a King especially adapted to the changing needs of Bhutanese history. His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is the chosen one to lead and supervise the democratic aspirations of Bhutan. If any grandpas of my age are worried about future of their grandchildren, maybe we could afford a break and let it be in the care of the dynamic King. 

The most important thing for a small nation is to have great Leaders who are able to interact with the populace in their natural environ and who can develop international rapport by virtue of their own personality rather than the wealth or power of the country which Bhutan lacks. And those qualities, our people’s King has in abundance. The people of Bhutan have come to accept the young King as a confidant of their family. It is also most heartening to see the near adulation responses of the citizens of India, Thailand, Singapore and Japan when our King and Queen visited those countries after the royal marriage.

In Bhutan, the highlight of each session of the parliament is the event when the King addresses the nation from the august Hall. It has become a very important tradition and this must be maintained. Whether the King is happy with the government or not, whether he is happy with MPs or not, it should not matter. The Hall of the Parliament belongs to his people and as their leader and ultimate refuge, the King must reassure the people from the seat of the parliament that he is there for them standing vigilant from amongst all the MPs, Ministers, judges, police or local leaders of the nation.

The People’s King of Wangchuck dynasty and Shabdrung lineage will have much more to offer. We are yet to witness greater enlightenment from the dragon that adorns the spirit of democratic Bhutan. King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck must continue to keep alight the soul of Bhutan’s democracy and stability.

6. My personal appreciation of the government

The successful implementation of 10th Five Year Plan deserves to be heartily applauded. I compare the achievement to that of Miss Universe, beautiful but not necessarily virgin nor free of flaws. However on the overall, beauty and art does win the crown.

My admiration is over and apart from the 10th Five Year Plan. I had partially expressed these in a letter to the Minister of Education Lyonpo Thakur S Powdyel when the year of Sherig Century was being launched last year. (Maybe my letter of 4th May, 2012 better expresses my feeling of that moment)

The DPT led royal government’s successful leadership of unplanned historical events.
  1. The forming of the 1st democratic government and adoption of the Constitution thus laying the foundation   of democracy both in print and practice.
  2. Stewardship of the coronation of the 5th King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and celebration of 100 years of enlightened Wangchuck Dynasty.
  3. The hosting of SAARC Summit in Thimphu.
  4.  Managing the so called constitutional crisis with political sobriety and national maturity.
  5. The Stewardship of the auspicious Royal Nuptial.
  6.   GNH at UN- Sharing the royal vision of national hope with the rest of the world.
  7.   Celebrating “Sherig Century” the light of intellectual empowerment.
  8. The rapprochement with China at the level of Prime Ministers during the ‘The Rio Summit when the great  dragon and little dragon met on the equal level platform’ against the back drop of the gathering of world leaders.
7. The legacy of the 1st democratic government

Come 20th April, 2013, Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley and his Cabinet hands over a nation not just intact but much enriched by many historical events, a very confident and proven King with a beautiful Khendum as Queen and partner. Bhutan has a prominent place among nations and is at peace within and outside and a vision to further strengthen democratic ventures and above all a model of proud democratic discipline that sets the way forward. Thank you Prime Minister Jigmi Yoezer Thinley. 

8. A prayer for the future

We all have reasons to take pride in the success of the 5 years of Democracy. However, the mission is an ever demanding journey. And the task of such a journey compounds with passing time and multiplies with increasing population. So forward we march after every 5 year interval into the next election and the next government. The advantage for Bhutan is that we have the same anchor in the King of Wangchuck Dynasty and may we remain the same united people albeit our petty differences. By the grace of Triple Gem, may our tryst with democracy be a destiny of good national fortune.