The darker side

It’s regrettable as well as very upsetting, but none the less true. Suicide is gradually creeping into our society.

Just about a month back, we saw two students in Bumthang commit suicide where the disturbing photograph depicting the deceased with graphic details was even going viral on social media like Facebook and WeChat.

The above case, however, is not the single one that many of us chanced upon. There are many more people taking their own lives for one reason or the other that we don’t hear of. About 96 suicide cases, including attempted ones, were reported to the police last year. This means that eight people committed suicide every month in a country like ours with around 750,000 people. There is definitely a reason for great concern. But what is quite thought provoking is the reason for people resorting to this mean. Are lives’ circumstances precipitating suicide in our society?

Going by the cases, it’s not only adults but also children who have the tendency to take one’s life. The rich could be prone to it and so is the ordinary person. But what we are oblivious about is that small voice that triggers such a consequence.

It’s a very disturbing trend. We proclaim ourselves as the land of Gross National Happiness (GNH). Almost every policy is centered on this concept. However, we should also not forget the fact that a chunk of our near and dear ones conclude dying as the best way out.  These are obviously not the people who seem to be happy. Are we failing in our pursuit of GNH then?

The soaring suicide cases are also a vindication of our collapsing social system. There was more altruism in the past. People sacrificed for each other. Today we don’t even know who our next neighbor is. People are becoming individualistic. In the midst of all that, poverty is high. The least trigger may send people to the extremes.Reluctant

According to scientific reports, the reasons for suicide are numerous. But it’s mostly extreme depression that sometimes drives suicidal tendencies. And as a country, we don’t have adequate experts to tackle cases of severe depression and mental disorder that may lead to suicide. Pathetically, we have negligible numbers of psychiatrist or psychologist working in the country.

Further, we even don’t know exactly how common suicide is in the country. There are no available data. Getting the correct statistics and a real study on this matter is pivotal if we are serious about tackling this issue. The time has also come, besides the training of psychiatrists to take care of severe depression and creating awareness, to place emphasis on this issue because the problem of suicide is becoming real.

The sidekick of youth issue

Few days back a foreigner took to social media platform, Twitter, tweeting: Sad. Travel operator suggests you “avoid tussles with the [Bhutanese] younger, raucous boys if you don’t want to get into trouble.

Is this what the image of our youth has become? The youth that we pride in so much that they would be the torchbearers of our future and the reverence that the future of our nation lies in their hands.

What the tweet basically meant was that foreign tourists coming in the country are admonished by tour operators to refrain from messing up with our youth if they want to avoid trouble.

Perhaps this is an indication that country’s prevailing youth issue has affected the morality of our tourism industry in dubbing the country as happy and peaceful land. In doing so, the tour operator who cautioned the foreigner was quite right to expose the declining morality brought about by some of our youth resorting to drugs and violence.tourism

Having said this, the issue cannot be generalized to all youth. Such projection will only be wrong. But again, youth issue calls for attention. In fact there have been efforts from stakeholders to study the situation and bring about relevant interventions yet the responses seem to have missed the target.

The point here is not to discuss the youth issue which has been done extensively by policy makers, CSOs, media and the general public. The point here is to correct the reality back home when we are trying to sell our country as the land of happiness to the outside world. In other words we should prove the worth of the products we are selling without hiding any defect.

The youth issue may be subject of socio-cultural and psychological explanation, it must, however, not affect Bhutan’s potential area to showcase its unique culture and traditions as tourism products to the tourists who pay hefty tariff to visit the country.

The first places that tourists see when they come to Bhutan are Paro and Thimphu. Coincidentally, youth violence and delinquency are concentrated in these areas. The aesthetic scenes that the tourists enjoy will be diluted if they encounter such behavioral problems in the streets. God forbid, we hope tourists are not stabbed if they happen to hang out in pubs late at night.

Branding Bhutan as land of happiness can really cost the society going by how a tour operator cautioned a foreigner. It will entail moral education and behavioral change to make our streets safe and happy for the tourists. After all, we must deliver value to the product that we sell to the affluent tourists. Otherwise, youth issue can seriously stab the image of our country that the tourism industry is striving to portray.

The exodus of educationists

Is something wrong in the teaching profession? This is one pertinent question that deserves some deep reckonings, considering the exodus of educationists from this profession.

Whatever may be the reasons, an increasing number of people are opting to find a way out from this profession. While some have left for greener pasture, it seems some are impatiently waiting for that golden opportunity to bid adieu.

And further what is more alarming is the finding of the annual education statistics, 2013, that shows that a government schoolteacher leaves the teaching profession almost everyday in Bhutan. About four percent of teachers in government schools leave the profession annually for various reasons, according to the report; while teachers voluntarily resigning totes up to 750 between 2008 and 2013.teachers

Often studies have been quoted, reasoning that teaching as a profession is unable to attract the brightest candidates, but what is disappointing is that even the ones that are there today are possibly in a lookout for that exit passage.

Take for instance, the vacancies announced for the post of Drungpa/ Dzongrab a few years back. While it was not known then how many educationists or teachers actually tried for the post, but 14 shortlisted out of the total 17 were education officers and school principals.

Seriously, we need to find solutions to avert this exodus. While reasons could vary and could be many behind teachers leaving this profession, this is obviously not a positive development. Educationists play a crucial role in shaping the future of the youth and thus the future of the nation.

This also becomes a cause for concern in the wake of a deluge of flak on the quality of education in the country. Perhaps, it’s not the first time we are hearing the dearth of teachers, the appointing of contract based teachers, and the deteriorating quality of education in the country.

And while we have also been told that there is no dearth of teachers per se and education report identifying low academic and professional standards for entry into the teaching profession as major constraints in the current system, it’s time we right the wrongs in the system. How long will we continue to find replacement to fill the vacuum left by those who are leaving or are about to leave? The departure also means the departure of skills, knowledge and experience. These are the people who know the education system inside out. Retaining through appropriate incentives rather than finding replacements should be the immediate focus. 

Inaccessible access to information

Has media’s access to information become so grueling? It appears so going by what reporters looking for stories or information in the field say.

Even for a few details on certain stories, the reporters today literally have to beg or cajole for information. It’s all a matter of sheer luck or the mood of the source/interviewee sharing the information with that reporter. If he/she is lucky, she gets the story. Otherwise be prepared to hear the phone getting slammed against you. And there are some ministers whom you can never contact over the phone, no matter how much one tries.Tastatur Info

There has been so much reiteration on the importance of communication, transparency and openness for that matter, but these are just rhetoric or some malarkey if the present trends are any indication. And what is indubitably sad is the fact that there are the heads of government institutions and agencies who feel that they are doing a humungous service to the media by answering their queries and rendering information to them.

It’s only dismal if such are the understanding and comprehension of the media. The access to information today, which many media practitioners claim have become even more arduous compared to the past years, could perhaps also explain Bhutan’s continuous drop in global press freedom ranking.

And while we may make headway toward transparency and accountability with the enactment of the Right to Information Act, how many of us even believe, both in spirit and mind, that information is a public property? And that people have the right to this information, and people should know about public policies affecting them and their lives. It’s more about rights than a favor.

However, on the contrary, labeling media people as ‘Phung zoh mee’ (Controversy brewer) and lines like ‘Choe Media Tsu Nyam Tse Yeh (You, media people are a disturbance!) have only become common today. If media has failed today, if it’s in a piteous state, it’s not only the media to be blamed. If people’s trust in the media and media’s credibility is being questioned today, the lack of access to information and more-than-constricted access to information are partly to be blamed too. It’s simple as that!

Not a game of quid pro quo!

A rift of a certain kind between the two Houses – the National Assembly (NA) and National Council (NC) – was apparent since the first Parliament. However, it has only ballooned now, perhaps rampant with the two Houses at loggerhead on almost every trivial issue deliberated in the Parliament. pixx

Take for instance the deliberation on the pay revision. The Lower House endorsed the pay revision despite NC’s recommendation to defer the revision until the economy improves. And while NA has the prerogative on this matter, perhaps it would be befitting to take into consideration the recommendations from NC as well. As such, the whole time and resources that NC spent deliberating and coming out with the recommendations, therefore, become futile if their recommendations were to be simply ignored.

Similarly, NC’s refusal to not deliberate on the Right to Information (RTI) Bill puts to waste the time and resources that NA took to deliberate on the Bill. NC simply rejected the Bill citing that there wasn’t much time to discuss the issues in the Bill. A whole year would, therefore, be wasted if RTI Bill becomes a Dead Bill.

Although debate and discourse are ideal for a fruitful democracy, but it would be, therefore, wrong if the two Houses are entangled in constant disagreements all the time. It will only make law making process more cumbersome. If what NC recommends is rejected by NA, and vise versa, when will be able to enact laws?

The extreme positioning by the two Houses, with both towing the line of in the national interest, is only going to be a problem. Where do we build consensus? Should there be a mechanism where differences are sorted out even outside the Parliament? Or is it just about some sort of a power displaying game or a quest to exhibit the mightier of the two?

It would be wrong if NA rejecting recommendations from NC is a mere retaliation of NC having refused to take up or review Bills for deliberation. Similarly, it even applies to NC – it would be wrong if NC considers showing supremacy or authority the next time when the NA sends a bill for review.

It’s simply not a game of quid pro quo. The least NA and NC members should realize is look at the larger interest of the nation. They have been voted by the people; chosen hoping that they would strive for the interest of the people, their community and nation, and not to lock horns every time on trivial matter. Instead of serving the larger interest of the nation, their present doing is disservice to the nation.

Filling the gaps

Do communication or coordination entail so much hard work? Instead it should be easier given the scale of the country and its demography. However, the contrary is true going by the events that have had transpired in the recent weeks.

There is no denying the dearth of communication today among different agencies of the legislative and executive. Some events, right from the beginning of the third session of the Second Parliament till now, exhibit that the vital aspect of communication is missing between National Assembly and Council, or even between agencies under the legislative and executive.pixxxxx

Recently, the National Assembly Speaker cancelled the question hour session, maintaining that questions were not received on time from the opposition party, while the latter justified that they were sent before 60 hours instead of the normal 48 hours. Instead arguments then followed on what each party viewed as normal working hours, thus depriving people of the answers to the questions they have asked through their representatives. Not so much so about the interpretation, it’s the people who have lost eventually.

However, such a situation could have been averted if the Lower House had corresponded or reminded the other party that the latter was due for submitting the questions. How much effort is even required to do so? Making a phone call or mailing a letter!

Similarly, the Council dropped deliberation on the Right to Information Bill this session, citing that the Department of Information and Media (DoIM) had failed to make presentation on the Bill despite requesting the ministry well before time.

While DoIM maintained that such request should be routed through the Cabinet Secretary based on a procedure established by the Committee of Secretaries, why should it take so long a time that the Prime Minister should intervene at the last moment? Whose fault is it?  Indubitably, it was a matter of procedure, but that could have been sorted out if there were effective communication between all these agencies and if they were serious about their responsibilities.

These events, therefore, all also indication of what His Majesty the King emphasized during the National Day celebration last year. His Majesty said it had become evident the country’s institutions, latterly were asserting independence and seeking greater autonomy at the expense of the overall harmony. “There is limited communication and coordination among agencies and this invariably leads to lack of coherence,” His Majesty had said.

It’s, therefore, time that we address these gaps or shortcomings that are prevalent today, sooner the better.

 

 

One-sided revision!

It’s anything but awing and astonishing – the pay commission’s proposal on pay raise for civil servants and parliamentarians that was approved by the National Assembly last week.

Civil servants get a 20 percent raise with another 20 percent as housing allowances, the Prime minister and cabinet ministers get a whopping raise of 131 and 67 percents respectively, 21 percent hike for parliamentarians, and increment in vehicle allowance from Nu 700,000 to Nu 1M. These are a few gist of the pay commission’s report.

Many are, however, questioning whether the pay revision, as pledged by the ruling government before the election last year, is timely considering the present predicament of the country’s economy. Or especially at a time when the country is experiencing mounting debt? How the revision would help the economy?pay

Whether the salary raise is timely or not, and while the revision would indubitably come as good news for many, there are also a host of other concerns too. How appropriate and reasonable is the hike when the government itself is on an austerity measure at the ministerial level? What about people in the private sector?

And while the revision is intended to benefit civil servants, especially in the lower income group, the proposal doesn’t do much to help them. While it only actually translates to five to six percent, considering inflation and other factors, for the lowest income level civil servants, the difference in revision, however, is more than 100 percent between parliamentarians and ministers.

Additionally, the pay hike proposal for now only seems to benefit people at the higher echelons, parliamentarians and ministers, while civil servants in the lower rung and private sector employees wait with bated breath to experience the looming ripple effects the raise is likely to bring along. House owners must be already mulling over increasing the rent. The prices of commodity, which is already experiencing inflation, will only go up. Income disparity and the gap between the haves and have-nots are also likely to grow. What the government would do to address these tangible effects of the pay raise?

Further, the revision has accorded the highest raise to those already getting hefty pay, while making it appear that those at the lowest rung also got equally. Simply put, it’s not the most-needy civil servants that are benefitting from the raise here.