Category Archives: Bhutan

Is there a silver lining to the rupee crunch?

It’s obvious that a lot of people are worried about the rupee crunch that’s upon us Bhutanese this spring. People have children in India who they have to send money to, businessmen are worried about imports, vegetable vendors are complaining about the increased value of the rupee compared to the ngultrum and subsequently the increased price of the vegetables, everyone is worried about inflation, people who are halfway through constructing buildings are having a hard time completing their work, and the crisis may threaten the ngultrum-rupee peg itself.

But is there a flip side to the whole crisis? We have been aware for a very long time, that we have a very unhealthy practice of buying almost everything from India, while not selling enough to it, and this rupee crisis is a result of that lack of self sustenance. Will the rupee shortage force us to become a little more self sufficient?

I mentioned an interesting conversation with a friend in my last post, and he certainly thinks so. He cites the example of the lack of eggs due to the bird flu scares, and how that has led to a complete replacement of imported (and inferior quality) eggs with local eggs, and how, despite the increase in price, people still eat eggs.  In fact, he says, people won’t want to go back to eating the small white eggs again, even if they are cheaply available in the market. Sounds like a success story.

So, will that happen? When we find that Indian vegetables and other commodities are no longer available in the market, or are as expensive as the local ones because of the informal increase in rupee value, will people start consuming local goods, thus replacing the imported goods with local goods permanently?

I don’t know. I sure hope so, but I also get the nagging feeling that it isn’t going be all that automatic as my friend suggests. We can work this situation into an advantage, and use it to boost our local economy, but that definitely needs some active, conscious action.

We should have been able to replace imported items with local ones already. Local products are supposedly of better quality, healthier, and tastier. So why hasn’t the average Bhutanese preferred local goods to imported ones? Of course, reasons vary for different items, but lets talk food products here.

The first answer is probably because of the higher cost of local goods. The higher cost can be attributed to lack of competition among the local produce, and that, in turn to the small yield from farms. I may be wrong- I have heard of people having to throw away vegetables (potatoes) because they couldn’t sell it all off. But in general, I feel I am right in this. Obviously, this is conjecture, and the concerned agency needs to look at why local produce is not main source of food for us.

Incidentally, who is the concerned agency? The agriculture ministry, for now, but it’s about time we had an agency which looked solely at how to boost local economy through agriculture. Not just boost agriculture, or cottage industries, but economy through agriculture. This body can be small, and work with various other organisations, but work solely to ensure that our farmers grow more, grow for business, find ways to turn more and more farm produce into marketable goods, ensure that the products are of a certain quality, and also to help them market their goods.

The agriculture ministry probably works at helping farmers produce more. But something is definitely going wrong somewhere in between when this work doesn’t translate into results. What happened, for instance, to the three crop policy that was introduced a few years ago?

We need to look at the real problems of our farmers. Do they have the right seeds, the right breed of animals, the right knowledge to grow these crops and rear the animals? Do they have enough land, enough fertilizers, enough water to irrigate their lands? Do they have roads to help them transport their goods to the outlets? Are there enough cooperatives that help them sell their produce? Or are our farmers just lazy? We aren’t really a lot of people to feed, smaller and more difficult lands have been able to feed larger population than ours.

The rupee crisis may open the eyes of our farmers to the opportunity to market their locally grown produce, and eventually replace all imported farm produce- it may hide a silver lining.  But it may not work out that way, unless active steps are taken. We can wait and watch, or we can make it happen.

Meanwhile, you can do your bit to enhance this ‘silver lining’ by consciously choosing local products- local milk, butter, cheese, salt, vegetables, locally produced snacks (a lot of locally produced potato chips, fried nuts, fried snacks, and even fried tengma is available in town, and they are probably more healthier than MSG filled imported snacks), packaged drinks, and furniture.

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Filed under Bhutan, Entrepreneurship, government, new ventures, Uncategorized

PM’s interview on BBS

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.

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Filed under BBS, Bhutan, Bhutan Lottery, Gorgan Shingkhar Road, Gyelpozhing, Prime Minister, Tobacco Act

My friend the dairy farmer

Youngten Lempen Tharchen, or Tharchen, to his friends, is a graduate from Sherubtse College, Kanglung, a former journalist, and a dairy farmer in Dagana.
Always resourceful, Tharchen is intelligent and would have done well at the civil service exams, but instead he chose to avail an interest-free loan from Loden Foundation and set up a small dairy farm in his village in Dagana.
He has six cows, a bull, a small patch of family land on which he built a shed, and family members who help him with the work. He has already started selling some products, and he may not exactly be rolling in the money now, but he is far from giving up.
In fact, Tharchen has some admirable goals- he dreams of making the farm bigger and involving all the farmers in his area to form some sort of cooperative, and increase supply of local dairy products as much as possible.
He has come up against a lot of very interesting issues in the course of his work, and I suggested that he start his own blog to write about them and his farm- I am sure a lot of people will find it interesting and inspiring.
Tharchen’s choice is inspiring to me- he has paved a new road for himself off the beaten track, away from what people expect a young intelligent graduate to do, and proved to us that there is no boundary young people like us need to stick to when it comes to work. He has also followed a dream he has nursed for a while and gone for it.
His goals also inspire me. He wishes to help the people in his community improve their lives by increasing their income, and has taken the first step towards that goal- setting up a dairy farm in his village and talking to the people in his community.
It would be wonderful to see a community benefit each other by working as a cooperative and producing enough milk to supply atleast a part of the country. This is better for the economy of the country, we will not have to depend so much on import, and our farmers will be making a better living. AND he is helping address the unemployment problem in his own small way by being self-employed, and later by employing more people to work with him.
Tharchen also aims to make his products organic- another plus. The possibilities are unlimited- he can work with tourism and actually help the government make good their aim of starting off agro tourism, selling to tourists the opportunity to live in a rural household. He can, and wants to, start off small community projects involving children.
He has started off something promising and full of opportunities, and I wish him all the best. And I also hope that soon there will be a blog from the man himself, writing about dairy farming and life in Dagana.
Most of all, I hope his story inspires you as much as it inspires me.

Revision- 11 July 2011: Tharchen started blogging, his first post is about how he became a dairy farmer.
http://norzhong.blogspot.com/

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Filed under Bhutan, Entrepreneurship, Loden Foundation

October 2011 is what we are waiting for!

It is not news anymore, the whole country is now buzzing with the announcement of His Majesty to wed in October. It is happy, happy news indeed, and although we are still months away from the occasion, the excitement everyone feels is palpable.
I was in the media gallery yesterday, and had the fortune of watching His Majesty make the wonderful announcement, and hidden from view of the formal proceedings of the parliament, we were free to express our excitement, as we watched those in the hall flash grins even as they resisted  breaking out into cheers.
I was also very fortunate to have graduated from college in May 2008, which meant that I could witness the coronation celebrations in the country that year in November. It was an amazing time to be a Bhutanese, and to be in Bhutan. A lot of my friends were still abroad then, and I was truly sorry that they missed this momentous occasion.
I don’t know if people who weren’t here really understand what it was all about. Maybe it just sounds like a big national celebration- well, it was a big national celebration, but it was also much more.
It was a time for everyone in the country to step out of their homes and join a big party. Everyone was out, attending events, or simply enjoying the vehicle free streets, acknowledging everyone else, friends and strangers with smiles and solidarity. There were a record number of people in the national dress, proud and beautiful people in their finest.
It was more than the coronation of a king- It was a time for everyone to celebrate their identity, their history and legacy, and their dreams and hopes for a promising future. Maybe all those people who were part of the celebrations didn’t express their feelings in so many words, but everyone felt it.
No one was alone, everyone was part of a bigger whole, and they knew. It was a magical time, and I believe that it brought everyone closer to one another and to everything that we have- our country, our kings and our shared memories.
That is why I am excited that we have another national celebration to look forward to this year. Perhaps it will not be in the same scale as the coronation celebrations, and I know His Majesty expressed his wish that the celebrations not be grand.
But I know it will be as big as the coronations in the soul. The joy evoked in the hearts of the people will be the same, and that is what makes an event grand, not the money spent on it. It will be a good time to be in Bhutan, and I am glad that some of my friends who missed the coronation will be able to witness the Royal Wedding. They deserve to share in the memory of a national celebration that lets us appreciate who we are.

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Two Things

I remember saying in this blog previously that I do not appreciate anonymity, and it seems I have more reasons of late to do so, because of all the very senseless remarks, and acid judgements dished out by some in the name of anonymity. It is very easy for people to just bask in anonymity, and call people names, although if the readers just knew the name of the writer they would probably not pay much attention to what is being said.
Having said that, I would also add that I get some very illuminating comments from some anons, and I appreciate those, which is why I have made it easier to comment in this blog. I have decided to remove pre moderation, so whatever you comment will stay without me approving of them first. But this does not change that this is a moderated blog, and if I find any comments to be defamatory of any person, I will remove them. Since this is my blog, I am responsible and answerable for whatever comments anyone puts here, as per the law.
All I can ask people to do is not make any vicious remarks, or use bad language. I will remove them.

The other thing is that I once made a comment in this blog which I later removed, but I think I will put it back again, and any bashing is welcome, given that they are directed to me, doesn’t have abusive language, and doesn’t offend anyone in terms of religion, ethnicity, nationality, or anything else that is personal and sensitive.
I wrote at one time how I was inspired by a statement: “You are a journalist first, and then a Bhutanese.”
I found this to be inspiring because I beleive that as a journalist, a person’s duty is to uncover the truth, whereas a nationalist would strive to project a positive a postive image of their country, denying what realities may exist.
By this I do not mean that in the name of journalism you should go about bad mouthing your country. I just mean that your most important duty should be to find out the truth.
And of course, we all have our own judgement after that, and the necessity to make public an information should be done with great thought. Every Journalist knows that what they publish should never harm the security of the people who live in their country, or anywhere else, for that matter.
But there are cases where people don’t want to let on that even in Bhutan we have crimes and so on, just because of all the “Shangri La” talk. Yes, we are an amazing country, but we have our own little problems too, and pretending that they don’t exist becasue we want to be proud of our country will not erase these problems.

Oh, and one more unrelated thing. I was attending the PM’s talk to principals in Paro on GNH, and he said a lot of thought provoking things, some of which I will write about later. One thing that struck me was what he said about the promotion and preservation of culture.
“Culture is very dynamic,” he said. “When we speak of preserving and promoting our culture, we are talking about ensuring that whatever is good is preserved and protected, and whatever is bad is changed.”
Hearing this made me feel very happy, and certainly elevated my opinion of this pillar of GNH, which I veiwed with some scepticism ever since I heard people making arguments such as “Night Hunting is a part of our culture and so it should not be banned”, and “We cant change those old phrases that call women ‘morems’ or talk about beating them, they are part of our culture.”
Our traiditional respect for elders, beautiful clothes and works of art, stories with lessons, lovely architecture, these are the things we must strive to keep. And statements and activities that bring down women, corporal punishment and violence those are things we should do away with. After all, our ancestors were not perfect, and if we were to keep doing what they do just because its ‘our culture’, we are losing the view on which GNH was founded.

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Filed under Bhutan, Comments, culture, GNH, Moderation