The contrary that is!

Little did Jigme Yonten know then, when he was chosen for a government’s scholarship to pursue Electronics and Communications (EC) engineering program in India, that it wasn’t the end of grueling times for him.

Now that he has finished his engineering program, he has almost all knowledge of the course, except for a job. The reality is that he has been jobless for two years now despite bagging government scholarship after Class XII in a selection process that sees stiff competition every year.

Imagine if this is the condition of a few of those who are chosen for government scholarship, what is happening to those who return after graduation, finding private colleges and universities within and outside the country on their own.

It has been justified time and again that the mismatch of jobs and skills in the job market is the main reason for jobseekers not getting jobs. This statement has been declared everywhere, as euphemism for the reality.

The reality, however, is that even a few slots under the government scholarship don’t match what the present job market demands. What needs to be done or could have been done instead is that these slots should be examined. Isn’t the government also contributing to the unemployment problem by continuing such practice rather than unearthing these mismatches?jobs

It’s notable, nonetheless, that the government is working to address the unemployment issue through programs such as the Employment Guarantee Program and Oversea Employment Program (OEP). Further, the government also has the Economic Stimulus Plan (ESP) that mentions clearly that a criterion to be eligible for the ESP fund centers around employment generation.

And while scores of graduates are being employed through the OEP, certain observers, however, also feel that it’s just a short-term measure. What would they do once these newly recruits complete their contract and return home? Wouldn’t that open the floodgate of jobseekers again?

It, therefore, becoming all the way more important to explore for long-term solution to this problem. We could do that from exploring what are taught in schools, training and tertiary institutes to scholarship slots and jobs that have demand not just within the country, but in the region as well.

Battling against contemporary diseases!

The weeklong blood donation drive and Non-Communication Diseases (NCDs) screening, held in Thimphu and for a day in all the other districts of the country a month back, were relevant given the contemporary times we live in.

The event, held in tandem with global commitment and aspiration to which Bhutan is signatory of addressing the threats of NCDs from 2013 to 2020, was a success if the 2,418 people who voluntarily came up for NCDs screening and 1,029 people donating blood were any indication.

However, there were also some startling revelations that should be reasons for concern. First, it’s the rate of NCDs that continue to be augmenting every year. About 336 people or 15 percent during the screening were found to be hypertensive, and 43 diagnosed diabetics.

Further, what could be precarious are the facts of several reports already claiming that at least 93 percent of Thimphu’s population are exposed to one of risk factors of NCDs, besides the latter still being the diseases that are creating a huge dent on the government exchequer.

Another revelation, subsequently more alarming, is the number of people living with HIV/AIDS. During the weeklong drive, a person was detected HIV positive and 17 were found to have sexually transmissible infections.

As these numbers were derived just from those people who had come for the NCDs screening that time, we could imagine what the actual figure is likely to be. The figure, therefore, is just the tip of the iceberg.

HIV/AIDS is, therefore, a major concern as we are not losing our close and dear ones, but also losing people in the most economically productive and reproductive age group (as per age group distribution of PLWHAs).sex

We may yet vie to have HIV diagnostic testing services available in all places across the country, but what is more wanting now is the awareness on safe sex practices or sex education. Unsafe sex is still the main cause of HIV/AIDS.

Rather considering it a taboo, it’s conceivable, besides the pivotal role of teachers and parents, a curriculum on sex education, where every child is taught that an unprotected sex can kill, will do much better.

Paving a way?

The two government secretaries having had surrendered government quarters following the circulation on housing rules by National Housing Development Corporation (NHDC) last week may be just two cases, but, nonetheless, it’s also an indication of how housing rules of government quarters are flouted, especially by people in the higher ranks of the government. changjij

There have already been reports abound in the media of people in the higher civil service ranks occupying units or government quarters that are meant for people in the lower income group.

While it’s heartening that people in the lower income group are at the centre of the government-housing-units initiative, what merits contemplation is whether they (the intended people) are getting the benefit of such a scheme or plan.

Reports abound of allotment rules being flouted emerged of the housing units in Chanjiji earlier. Perhaps, a similar sort of thing seems to be occurring in other housing units and government quarters as well. Some have occupied or been occupying these apartments for almost a decade or even more, the lower rent being the obvious reason.

Nothing, however, has been done to monitor the practice despite the allotment issues having had surfaced up time and again. It’s, therefore, a good start that NHDC is looking into the rules which it implemented in January last year in an attempt to provide equal opportunity to all the civil servants.

And as the organization envisions of making available around 800 housing units after a few years from now for those in the lower income group, it also becomes necessary to ensure that the benefit trickle down to the these people; some of those who still put up in dingy and ramshackle apartments, and some sharing a common flat – not uncommon among employees in the lower rung because of necessity than choice.

The government secretaries, meanwhile, also deserve some applause for surrendering their quarters and adhering to the housing rules. They could perhaps also be considered as an example to the remaining others who still continue to reap the benefits actually unintended for them. A way has been paved here, albeit a good beginning, but would the others follow suit?

[March 23, 2014]

Facilitating entry is not enough!

The time cannot be more befitting than now. Women have been at the centre of most events this month. And as we are about to embrace the next month, it’s heartening, therefore, that the beginning is with another significant event – a National Consultation Conference on Women in Politics from April 1-2. women

Such initiatives from BNEW and NCWC would certainly go a long way in our efforts to empower women. And there is no denying the significance of women’s participation in a democracy. Even Hillary Clinton once famously remarked – “There cannot be true democracy unless women’s voices are heard.”

These initiatives, therefore, bode well for our democracy as an increased women’s representation in Parliament or local governments for that matter will ensure that women’s voices are heard equally when it comes to making decisions that mostly affect their world.

Women’s representation is presently dispiriting in the Parliament as well as the local governments. Even the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report which was recently launched exhibits that women in Bhutan in elected positions are unfortunately rare – having been reduced from eight to four of the 67 elected Members of Parliament in the 2013 elections.

Further, the report states that women are not yet adequately represented despite positions in the higher levels of government and decision-making being open to both genders and placement of women in the higher strata of government being encouraged.

What is, therefore, going wrong when it comes to women taking political berth or assuming higher offices in the country?

Many purport the notion that politics is a male dominated field – that a man makes a better politician than a woman. Even most women continue to have the same belief as well. This notion should subtly change if women are to make a difference or if this existing number is to change. If instances are anything to go by, stereotypical attitude against women, which is rampant in rural areas, perhaps has also obstructed women from being elected in politics.

More than facilitating women’s entry into politics, what is found wanting for now is attitudinal and behavioral changes against women that stems from the inherited psyche of society. The rest would then follow accordingly.

Keeping a check!

In what is a good indication lately, a few of the people are interpreting the several judgments that are passed by the judiciary. They have also got to say that different courts have different interpretation about the laws in the country.

The signs, therefore, bode well for the country. A system of check and balance, no matter how trivial, petite or insignificant, is always good to ensure accountability, ultimately contributing to good governance.

And this should probably be seen from positive aspects as well, rather than merely viewing this as an infringement or underestimating the functioning of one of the most revered institutions in the country.

Several judgments are passed by courts almost every day, but do we even feel the need to question the judiciary. How it’s done? And not even the media is questioning as well.

While media have done ample of coverage on serious legal issues, enough stories on court issuing important verdicts on many issues, most of it is related to what was in the verdict. Was a judge even questioned for the reasons for the verdict? It was merely accepted unquestionably as if it was coming from the god himself. Do we even care to ask for a simple explanation?

What we need to comprehend, therefore, is that the institutes like judiciary are made up of people too – judges and they are humans too. They can err; they can make flaws like a normal human being. They could also go wrong. Histories and media reports elsewhere are also abound with stories of their fallibility.

Questioning the courts, therefore, seems setting the right precedent. May be it is time they should be held accountable too. This was pointed out even by the previous government after the verdict on the Constitutional case and that media accepted unquestioningly the verdict of both the High Court and then the Supreme Court. It was also accentuated then that it was not only the legislature, but all the organs of the government that the media should hold responsible.

Perhaps, the time to start such a thing would be now. It’s never too late to start a good thing!

[February 9, 2014]


Open economies?

Contrary to ground realities, Bhutan has done better on the business front if the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ report published by World Bank last week is any indication. The country’s rank moved up from 148 to 141 this year out of 189 countries.

This is definitely a good indication as it exhibits the country’s seriousness over curtailing red-tape or bureaucratic rigmarole on the business front.World business. 3D image. The isolated illustration

Unquestionably, Bhutan has made major economic leapfrog in recent times. Bhutan launched its Economic Development Policy along with a revised and a liberal Foreign Direct Investment policy few years back. Such arrangements have been made, envisioning that it would benefit the country in its economic transition.

Debates have also been rife whether Bhutan should accede to the World Trade Organization (WTO), although, top government leaderships share more skepticism at present than optimism for long terms gains.

These will definitely be new challenges and tough decisions we have to confront. The government is aware nothing comes free. Pursuing ruthless economic activities can weaken the balance we have strived to preserve all this time. And this presents a mammoth task as we try to tackle economic growth on one side and the preservation of environment, culture and traditions on the other.

However, at the same time, we should not forget that we are living in a highly interdependent globalizing world. Global economic integration is increasingly viewed as an economic and political necessity rather than a matter of choice.

WTO is too distant. But nevertheless, we are pursuing an increasing role in regional economic and political integration. Some bilateral trade agreements are being reviewed and some new ones are being opened. We are also striving to reap gains from SAARC, BIMSTEC and SAFTA.

As regional economies are getting integrated, how well can we remain unaffected? As we become signatory to a regional trade agreement, we must offer the same preferential treatment to all member states. If we remove protectionist trade barriers for one member state, we become obliged to provide the same treatment to other member states as well. As a member of SAFTA we will be obliged to render the same treatment to Afghanistan as a member state, and as a member of BIMSTEC, similarly, we have to offer the same kind of treatment to Thailand too.

All parameters of globalization are morphing along with changing times. National boundaries are becoming irrelevant. Events happening in one place are shaping outcomes in another. The perfect examples are the inflation and fuel hike in India and its spiral impact here.

One key principle of economics is that trade benefits all parties involved in it. No matter how hard we try, the fact is we are possibly opening up to be open economies. And shouldn’t we be?

The appropriateness of the revision

The government has cast aside doubt on pay revision for civil servants for the time being, after announcing that it had recommended the pay commission to look into the matter, but this has not stopped exchange on social networking sites and online forums.

Many are wondering whether the pay revision, as pledged by the ruling government before the election this year, would come in lump-sum or percentage wise. Few even feel that the revision is unlikely to happen this time, especially looking at the present predicament of the country’s economy.

But a question that deserves reckoning is whether the salary raise is timely or not? The revision would indubitably come as a good news for many, but there are a host of other concerns too.

How appropriate and reasonable is the pay hike when the government itself is on an austerity measure at the ministerial level? When the country itself is on a borrowing spree from India and the augmenting national debt? And especially when donor countries’ aid and support are getting limited.

Additionally, there is also disgruntlement that the pay hike would only be good for high level officials while civil servants in the lower rung and private sector employees would have to wait with bated breath to experience the looming ripple effects the raise is likely to bring along.Word cloud concept illustration of minimum wage glowing light effect

House rents in the country especially in urban towns like Thimphu and Phuentsholing are already exorbitant. House owners must be already mulling over increasing the rent. The prices of commodity, which is already experiencing inflation, will only go up. These are two tangible effects that could happen in the wake of the pay raise. Income disparity and the gap between the haves and have-nots are also likely to grow.

The government, therefore, will have to look into these aspects. It should also be ready about controlling inflation and regulating market prices. There is a need to improve living standards but that cannot happen by hiking up salaries of a group of people. The overall vision is to take into consideration the larger picture. How would the pay raise impact the lives of a roadside worker, a wage earner, a construction laborer or a driver etc.?

And as such, why cannot the government give a bottom-up pay raise – with those at the lowest level of bureaucracy getting the highest raise? We are talking about peons, drivers, office assistants and others.

The pay raise must eventually improve lives of Bhutanese civil servants by providing them that extra buck and purchasing power. But what use it is if the extra money through the pay hike goes in supplementing the hiked house rents and cost of commodities? And what is the use if the people who haven’t got the deserved raise have to bear the burden equally with those who have got one?