OAG has to get its basics right

The country is in oblivion, and for the right reasons, because it has been grappled with an issue that has been pricking the conscience of every Bhutanese citizen – the Gyelpozhing land issue.

The issue has presently taken an untoward turn with the Anti- Corruption Commission (ACC) and the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) fighting out in the High Court with the ACC having suspended the speaker and the home minister and the OAG challenging the legality of the suspension.

The conflict between the ACC and the OAG is a sign that the country still needs to consolidate our newly established democratic institutions in the absence of which differences between two institutions will continue to surface whenever the court is moved with a high profile case like Gyelpozhing.

In the current case, the difference between the two institutions has shifted the focus away from the main issue to a different dimension.

Critics also say that the OAG has unnecessarily involved itself in the case.

After the ACC investigation traced signs of major corruption in the Gyelpoizhing land case, it has done what it is supposed to do. In September this year, the OAG made its “opinion” public by posting on its website where it declared that there was no elements of corruption in the ways the land were allotted.

This public declaration was completely uncalled for because it confused many ordinary minds and led them to rather conclude that the ACC is wrong. The public declaration of its opinion which was in complete contrast to the ACC finding, in a way, also served like a verdict for the case. The OAG should have handled the issue in a better way.

Now that the ACC has moved the court in Mongar and following it suspended the speaker and the home minister, the OAG comes back to the scene again and challenges the ACC’s right to suspend the two important people.

To an ordinary mind, it may appear that the OAG is hell-bent on nullifying the Gyelpoizhing case.

Photo courtesy- Bhutan Observer

It is also clear that the ACC is not prosecuting the government in any way. It is prosecuting many people and two of them happened to be a minister and the speaker but the duo is not the government. Despite that, the OAG is vehemently arguing against the ACC’s right to suspend the two despite the 2011 ACC Act clearly giving it the right to do so.

Like the ACC put it, if the OAG is involved in the case in any way, it should actually be defending the ACC. If it chooses not to, it should at least not be siding with two senior politicians who are charged with criminal cases.

The OAG has to get its basics right and let the case run its course.

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The brawl continues

Up in a brawl

A heated exchange of allegations, arguments, and explanations between a media house and the government has presently stolen the show in the media and on the internet.

And the recent one is that of the Prime Minister (PM) Jigmi Y Thinley, offering an explanation to the people on the Gyelpozhing land case. Besides the local newspapers, it was also posted online on the cabinet’s website.

The PM contended that the Gyelpozhing case was fabricated to malign the government and what transpired 10 years ago has nothing to do with the present government.

Lyonchhen said the primary reason for consenting that the case be investigated by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) was to set a precedent under the government’s “Zero tolerance policy against corruption”.

While the brawl continues, the pivotal question here is how long it will take the ACC to wind up the investigation and come out with the conclusion. Almost all are waiting for this particular case to end.

It has been a little more than a year now since investigation began on the Gyelpozhing land case. Why is it taking too long?

The ACC have its own functioning norms and setbacks, but the delay is definitely taking a toll on people’s lives, especially those who feel they have been dragged into the case.

All are pleas for the ACC to expedite the investigation. The PM urged the same while presenting the State of the Nation report earlier. It was even reiterated at the National Graduate Orientation Program.

Similar dissentients also resonated in the recent parliament session from ministers and MPs.

However, the ACC has maintained that they cannot say anything unless the investigation is over. The ACC reiterated that investigation is going on even now.

While it’s vivid that the wait is just not over, whatever that is presently happening is apparently not good either, with allegations and counter allegations one after the other between the government and the media.

There is no denying the importance of the elected government and the media in a democratic setting. Both are imperative. But the people are losing trust in the two institutions. They don’t know just who to believe- the elected government or the media house.

The PM earlier asserted that even when media made mistakes, the government has not taken them to court because media needed to grow.

This, according to some people, has completely backfired. It has made media to commit more mistakes and get away easily.

So, there is always the court if the government feels that a particular story is baseless allegations. The government can always move the court instead of tarnishing each other’s credibility. This would not only help the media grow, but also keep the government’s credibility intact.

[August 26, 2012]

Private media gagged

Things are getting worse each day for the private media in the country. Advertisement has become a rarity for months now. Employees are being laid off to cut cost. Some are not even paid for months. It’s as if like everyone is waiting for the first paper to fold.

Already stuck in a financial quagmire, the death of the private media seems inevitable now. The finance ministry has already issued a circular on June 11 stating that government agencies are to publish advertisements in selected medium and not in all the papers at the same time.

And the recent notification from the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has shocked the private media. It has declared that it will, henceforth, publish advertisements or notifications related to elections and the ECB only in Kuensel, BBS TV, Kuzoo FM Radio.

Similarly, other government agencies have also started taking a similar stand following directives from the finance ministry.

Whatever said and done, the days of the private media are getting numbered. And the government seems to be least concerned about this plight.

It is apparent now that the government is out to kill the private newspapers in the country. It is sad but indubitably true.

Clamping down on the media has begun. We have all the reasons to believe.When free speech is never free

Going by the recent events, even the circular issued by the information and communication ministry directing its agencies and departments not to give advertisements to ‘The Bhutanese’ wasn’t just mere miscommunication.

It was obviously targeted to gag the paper for the stories that were damaging or tarnishing the government’s image.

Newspapers that are critical in their new coverage are targeted, subtly though, by severing their very lifeline – advertisement. This is what is happening.  Sad but a heavy price too.

Now almost all of the ten ministries have taken the same stand when it comes to rendering advertisements to private media in the country.

But what we can’t fathom is which those selected medium are? And how is it selected? The system of selection is still vague. The whole thing has been devised in such way that only the selected ones benefit and flourish.

What is obvious from this move is that private newspapers are targeted. They are subtly asked to fold.

The government has repeatedly averred to support the media. And the role of media in ensuring a vibrant democracy has almost become a banality. The talks to develop media are mere rhetoric or lip service. Or is it just confined to some selected ones?

It’s just not the private media that are in dangers, even the infant democracy of Bhutan is at stake. For now, the worst is waiting to happen.

[August 19,2012] 

It’s just not over

It will be another demanding time as graduates from various colleges and universities will be attending the annual National Graduates’ Orientation Program starting tomorrow.

The program hasn’t changed much since its inception, except for the fact that more and more numbers of graduates are pouring out of colleges and universities every year.

It’s not different this year too. There are more than 2,200 graduates who have already registered for the program as of now, up by 35% compared to last year.

The number of graduates has been increasing every year, but available jobs or employment both in the government and corporations haven’t changed much.  It has shored up by just few margins or has remained the same.

For the 2,623 graduates who have registered for the civil service preliminary examination, the RCSC has announced 597 vacancies in the civil service this year.

The vacancies have gone up by 146 compared to 451 vacancies last year. While it’s heartening for graduates that there are more vacancies, the additional vacancies, however, are in teaching, technical and professional categories.

It won’t be much daunting for technical graduates to find a job in the civil service as more than half of the vacancies (279) has been earmarked for the technical category, but what about general graduates? The fact is that general graduates hugely surpass technical graduates every year.

Meanwhile, the government has been pompously proclaiming that the unemployment rate at 2.1% is one of the lowest in the world. But what it fails to consider is youth unemployment rate in the country.

Even if it has come down from 9.2% to 7.3%, the number is still huge.  The government’s unemployment rate is an understatement when a chunk of unemployed youth is still loitering on the streets in the capital.

Graduates attending orientation program [photo courtesy- bhutan observer]
Meanwhile, a whooping 2,000 graduates definitely have no choice, either to look for jobs in corporations and private sectors. But how many graduates can the corporations and private sector recruit?

Looking at the present predicament of the economy, even corporations in the country are minimizing expenditures. Their profits have dipped compared to previous years.  Employees are getting laid off if we happen to look at State Trading Corporation of Bhutan’s case.

The situation is no different for the private sector too. The private sector which was envisioned by the government as the engine of economic growth and employment hasn’t changed much either. It’s still weak, fragile, and striving to stay afloat.

Even the prospect for self-employment, entrepreneurship and innovative businesses is bleak with banks suspending all types of loan. It’s definitely not an ideal time to graduate and enter the job market.  More than anything, what graduates need now is a hoard of luck.

[August 12, 2012]

Social media is here to stay

Social media has brought benefits beyond reckoning. Contemporary lives have become unimaginable without social media such as facebook, twitter and LinkedIn. Whatever said and done, it is here to stay.

We may be far away from being a global village, but we have managed to become one in the domain of social media. National borders have become irrelevant. Information traverses between continents in just a second. Time and distance has become a thing of the past.

But besides these benefits, if we delve just a little into how it has changed the world, we will also find there are some potentially negative impacts too.

The mighty social media

We need not look afar from examples. Take for an instance, the controversial website -bhutantimes.com. It is still vivid in our minds the popularity of the website before it was closed and how one ‘Common Man’ used it vehemently in defaming the People’s Democratic Party(PDP) before the 2008 election.

The anonymous user spelled doom for the PDP and even the government was coerced to ban the website at one point of time.

Whatever it is, the impact of the Common Man or bhutantimes.com, or for that matter the social media, cannot be basically undermined or brushed off. It has inadvertently had a huge impact in making Druk Phuensum Tshogpa the more popular party.

Now, a different form of social media is trending, basically facebook and twitter. Facebook has already become much popular amongst the youth. It was through this page that few Bhutanese started the tobacco movement.

The only major aspect here was that people were not anonymous. People were not afraid to voice out. The result of the government revisiting the tobacco act to certain extent could also be attributed to this movement on facebook.

It is twitter now that has become the source to know the state of affairs in the society. It has definitely become a place for news, policy discourses, rant, and vent one’s dissatisfaction and complaints, and gossip.

It is also becoming increasingly popular among politicians as a means to disseminate political messages, learn about the interests and needs of constituents and the broader public, and build networks of support.

Besides few incumbent members of the parliament, new unregistered political parties have also come on twitter, and a deluge of anonymous Bhutanese users on twitter off late.

And as such, there is no denying the possible impact social media can have in the upcoming election. It will definitely play a big role in determining how much votes a party will garner.

But what is more important is how constructively will it be used? For now, reputations getting tarnished, false rumors, defamation, distraction, smears, allegations, and untrue stories are all there to see.

[August 4, 2012]

 

 

A step forward for women

A little more than half a year has passed, but 2012 will also be remembered as a year where women have sprung up to change or create history in the country.

It was first the Chief HRO of the agriculture ministry, Ngawang Pem, who was appointed as the Tsirang Dzongda (governor) in July this year.

Her appointment as the first woman dzongda signifies many things. It marks the entry of a woman assuming a post and responsibility that were hitherto dominated by males.

Similarly, history was being made when 42-year-old Drangpon Tashi Chhozom was appointed as the country’s first woman justice in the country’s highest appellate authority, the Supreme Court.

Well, whatever signs it may hold, the journey has, however, begun for women to assume greater roles and take up the highest offices in the country.

There cannot be a benign time than now as new emerging political parties are desperately in a lookout for female candidates for the next parliamentary elections which is just around the corner.

Similarly, a nationwide media advocacy campaign titled “La, Aum Lyonchhen” (Yes, Madam Prime Minister) has also been designed to encourage women to contest for the 2013 elections through financial assistance from the Danish Institute of Parties and Democracy.

Women in Bhutan

But how many would turn up? It is only time that would tell. But there is definitely a platform for women who want to come out, and bring change if they believe in one.

However, there is also a concern that it would be futile anticipating change if the present numbers are anything to go by.

Numerically, about less than 14% of women represent the Parliament in the country. The number is further dispiriting at the local government level. Women constitute less than 5% of the newly elected local leaders.

The notion that politics is a male dominated arena should subtly change if our women are to make a difference, or if this number is to change.

We have ample epitomes before us. Take for instance the German Chancellor Angela Merkel; she is ranked first in the Forbes list of the world’s 100 most powerful women. Interestingly, the list shows that three of the top five most powerful women are politicians, and there are eight heads of state.

The second and third on the list are the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff.

Our women are no less capable comparatively. They should emerge to create a niche outside from home and domestic chores, and demand that representation inch closer to parity.

For the time being, we could only contemplate what Hillary Clinton once famously said – “There cannot be true democracy unless women’s voices are heard.”

[September 1, 2012]

 

 

Better late than never

It’s not a benign time for the private sector and financial institutions in the country going by what the representatives pointed out at a meeting with the BCCI last week.

Firstly, the representatives cautioned that the economy collapsing is inevitable if the government and the central bank don’t address the current liquidity crunch for another few months.

Bankers reiterated that the government is least bothered about their plight. With the banks told to suspend housing and vehicle loans, bankers say there is a huge crisis within the banks.

This has not only left the banks hapless, but builders who have started construction with their own capital and now in need of additional finances have also fallen on hard times.

Some are selling off their land and assets at much lesser price, while some have resorted to borrowings from their families and relatives abroad just to ensure that the constructions are complete.

The government should seriously delve into what is going wrong. They just can’t take credit for the growth achieved through the banks and the private sectors, and be uncaring when there is a crisis, just like what the bankers say.

Secondly, business community members are vehemently opposing the Pedestrians’ Day. They say they confronted difficulties on different scales and in situation because of this ad-hoc policy of the government.

They have even declared to hold a silent protest against this policy if nothing materializes 30 days after their proposal is submitted to the government. Whatever said and done, 52 days of no work because of Tuesdays tantamount to a huge loss, both for the private sector as well as the economy.

So how do we address this problem?

BCCI office in Thimphu

All of us are aware of the noble intention and the rationale behind observing the Pedestrians’ Day. It’s a significant and an exemplary contribution from a small country like ours. We have also bagged humungous international publicity through such a policy.

However, we should also be reminded that Bhutan is a least developed country and pursuing economic growth is equally important to us. And this policy is proving to be critically counterproductive in the sense that it is obstructing the process of development.

Truckers in the country are losing about less than a million a year; the same is with the home builders, contractors and government projects that have to be stalled. Even importers, exporters and transport agencies are no exception. All have huge setbacks.

But can we help it? In between the 2 Es- the economy and the environment – our development policies are strongly centered and emphasized on the latter. May be it’s time to have some relaxation now. And it is better late than never.

[September 23, 2012]