I thought that the Prime Minister’s interview yesterday on BBS was rather important, and expected the papers today to discuss the many things he said, because he said a lot of things which merits discussion and papers are ideal for that.
Unfortunately nothing like that happened, Kuensel reported accurately what he said about Gyelposhing (I suppose the editors didn’t feel it was necessary to mention other issues because much of what he said on them was a repetition of what he has already said before) but I saw no analysis, and only a rather on the surface editorial in Bhutan Today.
We sorely miss political commentary/columnists in Bhutan; I would have liked to hear what a lot of bright minds had to say on the interview. Hopefully I will be able to talk to the many smart people I am fortunate to know, eventually, and hear their opinions, but I still feel the kind of discussion coming out of paper analysis would have been good.
Talk was about before the interview that rather than BBS inviting the PM to speak, it was more likely that the PM had asked for some time on the news to clarify mainly Gyelposhing because he hadn’t done that great a job in the last meet the press and perhaps he felt that papers weren’t reporting what he said to his liking and wanted a chance to be heard directly.
Personally I didn’t think the PM made any major differences to public perception on issues by appearing on TV, although that is a matter of opinion- perhaps some people were convinced and moved by his appearance on the national television. For me, most of what the PM said was not new- so whatever opinions I had on various issues are still unchanged.
Here’s what the PM said on several topics yesterday
(This is from memory because I failed to take notes, I think I got the gist right, but I am not quoting verbatim and no one should assume that this is exactly what he said if they haven’t watched the interview- I hope BBS uploads a video online for people who want to watch- last I checked they hadn’t yet)
On joining Facebook- The Prime Minister always wanted to join Facebook but never got the time, – one reason why he joined was because he promised disappointed graduates at the National Graduate Orientation Programme this year who were not able to ask their questions that he would be available on Facebook and interact with them directly. He added that Facebook has allowed him to reconnect with the youth.
I suppose the PM is trying to make a genuine attempt to connect to the people, as he seems to be adding everyone who sends him a friend request. Bhutanese Blogger writes about this (read here) and I found myself rather agreeing to most of what he writes, except for the point about indiscriminately adding everyone, because I think as PM it is ok to connect to everyone. A little brushing up on social networking skills would serve our Lyonchen well.
On Tobacco Act- The PM said several things- first, that the majority of people, who are non-smokers, wanted the Act, and the parliament was merely submitting to the wishes of the people. Second, he said that all criticism was retrospective and no one criticized the law when it was being made. (I’m not sure if he also said that any law passed by the parliament has to be in effect for at least a year before it can be amended- he has said this before, but I don’t think he repeated this yesterday)Third, he repeated that it the law would be amended to clearly define the penalties to ensure it is not the smokers who are punished. Last, he said that the law enforcers have implemented the act very strictly, and that the court has interpreted it narrowly, putting everyone in jail for 3 years.
I have always felt strongly about this piece of legislation- it puts innocent people behind bars for three years! And even though I am glad at the shift in government view toward this Act, I still am a little wary on what will change after the amendment. First, it does not matter whether or not the majority of Bhutanese are non-smokers, or if they wanted this Act. Democracy is not about allowing the majority to dictate to the minority how to live their lives. That is why we have a secular state where all religions are allowed- our democratic principles do not allow this kind of tyranny of the majority, and pandering to the wishes of the majority to step on the rights of the minority is no more than vote mongering. And I highly doubt that the people wanted a law to jail smokers. This is just the parliament going overboard.
On criticism, although many people saw this act as ridiculous even before the first person was arrested (including me) I guess we didn’t voice it loudly enough, so I accept that the law has been criticized in retrospect and that is what amendments are for, although what we now say to those poor people behind bars for months I don’t know.
On the third point I worry. I hope the people against the TCA now recognize that they have been heard, but that now they need to make sure that the future amendment is sensible. So far I don’t see any discussions on what should the amended Act look like- this needs to be done publicly and loudly enough for the parliament to hear this time.
Lastly- how can the parliament frame a law and expect enforcers to go easy? They were just doing their jobs, and the courts were following the book- and I think this should continue- we should have good laws, and the enforcers and courts should adhere to them- not the other way around.
On Gorgan Shingkhar Road- The PM appreciated the conservationists for raising their concern- good for democracy- but said in this case the concerns are unnecessary. Bhutan already has 81 percent green cover, it is not necessary the road will harm the ecosystem, the people need the road desperately, and the government will ensure the road is built in the most ecofriendly way possible.
I don’t know where the 81 percent came from, I haven’t found any written literature saying so- I would appreciate if someone would point me to it- I’m surprised at the changing figure of our forest cover and a little concerned that it is just numbers. Besides that I don’t have an opinion on the road- perhaps the people do need it more, perhaps it won’t damage the ecosystem, I don’t have the facts to argue on any side. Of course people must always be a priority. We cannot conserve at the cost of development for the poorest people. But is there no other way, are people really going to benefit so much, is the government not breaking any laws to build this road? I’m afraid some of the questions may be answered too late- in retrospect- but for now I think what is important is PM’s commitment that the road shall be built in the most ecofriendly way possible, what we can do is ensure this.
On high salary for DHI employees- The PM said that the disparity was perceived by the people who believe that they carry out the same responsibilities, and that DHI enjoys autonomy, which is why it pays its employees based on global trends for payment to such organisations. However, he said, since Bhutan is different, the Royal Government has brought this matter to the notice of the finance ministry, and that discussions are on with DHI.
I don’t have an opinion in this either-perhaps DHI does need to attract the best minds, but are they really doing this? I also don’t know how they plan to sort this out; definitely not by knocking down the already fixed salaries for current employees I am sure.
Lottery- The PM said that the lottery business is ‘bad’ and not in line with our GNH values, and also it is hard to ensure it is being run cleanly – which is why the decision to stop running the business. Apparently we also have enough money to not need the lottery business.
Whether lottery is ‘bad’ is really a matter of personal opinion. Gambling is definitely not an alien culture as far as I know, and lottery in itself is rather clean when compared to other forms of gambling. I really don’t see what is so ‘bad’ about the lottery business or how it would make our people or anyone else- less happy- unless they are being cheated. Perhaps it will be difficult to ensure it is run cleanly, but I feel it could be taken up by a private firm if the government doesn’t want to soil its name. Every business will need some form of monitoring, and eventually we will need to look beyond Bhutan for business if we are to grow. And we can never have enough money, especially not when donors are pulling out and there are people living in poverty.
I think the best way to go from here really is cleaning up the mess (finding out exactly why and how things went wrong and identifying and holding those responsible accountable) and starting afresh.
Gyalposhing- The PM said that the township was developed on the land acquired by the Kurichu project, and that people were adequately compensated for even the huts, and that there is no hue and cry from those people whose lands were acquired then. Moreover, he said, that land had been abandoned by most farmers who were given the land in 1981, because it was agriculturally unproductive. He added that there were not many people applying for land there and even now more than 50 plots are empty.
On the allotment, the PM said that it was in accordance with rules and regulations prevailing at that time. According to the PM, allotment was based on a circular issued by the Late Dasho Dorji Tenzin, the then secretary for ministry of works and human settlement. The circular cited a directive from the highest level, that once the town has been planned, land may be allotted by a committee.
Now this is interesting. At first glance the arguments seem to be reasonable, if there were few applicants and some plots still vacant, and no law was broken in the allotment, what is the problem? Strangely, and rather unintentionally, I think, BBS aired some contradicting interviews with people involved with Gyelposhing right before and after the interview with the PM. One was a man who had applied for land then, and had not got it- he said that there was a ‘lucky dip’ selection the first time and he didn’t get the land, and the second time it was a fixed list- no lucky dip.
Another man, a member of that committee that PM mentions, said that they were there just to sign the papers; the list was pre decided when it came to them. This at least proves that the government does not dictate BBS content like many like to speculate, but also puts us on square one. All we can do is wait and watch how ACC handles this case.