Keeping it austerely simple!

Quite a ruckus and heated argument of sorts were imbuing in many forums, just a month before the primary election this year, when the Prime Minister (then having had resigned as the Opposition Leader) retuned his official duty vehicle that was granted to him back to the government, citing that the country couldn’t afford to set such a precedent when it was going through an economic crisis.

Many thought that the move was a mere tactic to garner political mileage by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president, petty and debauched. And some couldn’t help, but applaud this austere gesture, reasoning how much it would save the government exchequer if all the other ministers and equivalent posts were to do the same. Another reason being at that time that the economy merited more prudent measures. pg3Money - best

And after PDP was given the mandate to form the government, the ruling party is all geared up again, in what they call a small bid on their part, to revive the economic situation by taking some major austerity measures in the wake of the current state of the economy, growing public debt, Indian Rupees dearth, and ever increasing current expenditure.

During the 4th sitting of the Cabinet on Friday, austerity measures were to be adopted in nine areas to curtail unnecessary and excessive spending. Measures include not adopting the new pay scales recommended for the ministers of the second Parliament, Prime Minister deciding to continue living in his private residence, reducing security personnel for the Cabinet and subsequent withdrawal of pilot escort for movements within Thimphu and Paro.

Keeping ex-country travel at a minimum and no formal reception or see-off line at the airport, revising Chadri Protocol, reducing hospitality and entertainment expenses to bare minimum, unavailing domestic staff facility, and making no political appointments in the Cabinet Secretariat were other decisions, besides also deciding that no new vehicle will be procured by the government until the economic situation improves.

Unquestionably, the recent move from the Cabinet deserves applauses. It’s only imaginable how much money would have been saved if curtailment of wasteful public expenditure had been implemented when problems first started emerging in the economy, almost more than a year from now. But it’s never too late to do the right thing.

These austerity measures adopted by the government could also set a precedent for the future parties and politicians. All in all, it’s a reminder that the posts of the prime minister, ministers and politicians are not always about grandeur and luxury, and that the benefit to the nation and people must always come first before personal benefits. Simply, that is what ‘answering to the call of the nation’ is all about.

The jobless challenge continues

It’s time we stop taking respite, or even equate, that unemployment scenario in the country is not as bad as it is elsewhere in some other industrialized or developed countries.

It’s also time we revisit the government’s rosy figure that overall unemployment rate has been remarkably brought down to 2.1 percent in 2012 from 4.2 percent in 2008, because the real situation in the job market just exhibits the contrary.

Unemployment among young adults is increasingly becoming a serious issue. Finding jobs is aggravating in all areas and it is only getting worse with each passing year.

As per recent figures, there are already 3,567 graduates, for instance, who completed their preliminary exam a week back and would be striving for the 538 slots in the civil service this year. This means a majority of these people should either explore for jobs in the corporate or private sector.job

And leaving aside the corporate sector, finding jobs in the private sector is not as easy as it appears so. While the sector may have been envisioned as an engine of growth, it is still in its infancy and may even take eons to reach that stage. Even if it does so, there are way too many deterrents.

While the absence of job security and good retirement benefits in the private sector are acknowledged facts, another truth is that there are no jobs even if graduates want to join so. In the wake of problems in the economy which have been dragging on for a year now, layoffs and workforce retrenchments in the private sector are becoming more frequent than jobs. Graduates know as well and their obvious choices, therefore, for civil service and corporate jobs.

And it’s also time we stop attributing or reiterating the unemployment challenge to the mismatch of jobs and skills in the job market. More than often, almost a decade for now, this mismatch has been reasoned out everywhere as euphemism for the reality – the reality being that jobs are no more aplenty.

What needs to be done or could have been done instead is that areas where mismatches are should be unearthed and subsequently jobseekers should be developed with the skills or jobs that are in demand. We may even explore jobs or skills that would be in demand, for instance, a decade from now in the country, outside or in the region.

More new technical and vocational education and training institutes that develop particular skills should be opened, and could also explore changing curriculum or syllabus in colleges and tertiary institutes and align that with the demands of the job market. The task will only be made more daunting given the country’s large young population and increasing graduates every year. We need pragmatic measures here rather than mere malarkey.

Fate of the print publications?

Sadly, albeit true, media industry especially print publications appear to be presently perturbed whether it would withstand the test of time.

Things are definitely not going well for print media, not just in the country but globally as well. The perfect examples were the two events that transpired last week – the takeover of ‘The Washington Post’ by the founder and chief executive of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, in the United States, and Bhutan Observer (the country’s second oldest private newspaper) suspending their print edition after being in the market for about seven years. istock_000004433967xsmall-300x299

And while top echelons of the Washington Post Company cited the newspaper-industry challenges as reason for the inevitable sale, the reason for Bhutan Observer was no different too. The challenge sustaining as a socially responsible independent media, the paper claimed, coerced them to suspend print edition and go online.

The market situation in the country, costly print edition, maintaining nationwide reach, and professionals required to keep the paper running were listed as other reasons for its foray into online, research and consultancy works.

And unquestionably, all of the above challenges and problems are ubiquitous in all the private media houses presently. It’s not something off-the-wall to other papers in the country. The situation is only getting worse each day. Most hoped that the scenario might change with the 2013 elections, but post-elections it has been back to the same old ordeal. Advertisement continues to be a rarity. Laying off employees and cost cutting have only intensified in all areas of the media houses. It is as if many are waiting; in anticipation that a miracle of sorts might appear from somewhere to salvage them.

Further, sustenance ahead doesn’t appear to be an easy task too. All media houses sustain on government advertisement as it constitutes about 80% of the country’s total advertisement. And what some print media houses need to be cautious about is the fact that government doesn’t see the advertisement scenario changing for any better in the next five years.

The sustenance task, therefore, is only expected to become more daunting with the advancement in digital media. Although we can repose in the fact that there is much time when we reach such a stage when there would be no printed newspapers, such possibility, however, cannot be ruled out. If we go by the present signs, we may not even be far-off from such a predicament.

The two events, therefore, are also a reminder to all the other publications of a highly unlikely situation waiting to unfold. Journalism experts purport that media houses have to be a viable venture, along with the adherence to principles and ethics of journalism. And we haven’t lost it all. By-all-odds, there is room for such establishments with such purposes, at least for now. 

The wrongs of the Pedestrian Day

Finally, having to walk every Sunday of the first month is not something to fret about anymore. In what appears to be righting the wrongs of the previous government, the first sitting of the new Cabinet lifted the Pedestrian Day rule with immediate effect last week.

The reasons being that it was giving problems to general public especially in times of emergency and drastically affected the business community. A decision was also arrived, where the day will continue to be observed only once a year – June 5 [coinciding with the World Environment Day].Pedestrian-day

Undoubtedly, the Pedestrian Day rule had its objectives and reasoning that were not only noble, but also with ideals that made it so adorable when it was first implemented on June 5 last year. But there were obvious reasons for its letdown as well.

For many, the rule came as something out of the blue. Many were taken aback; the rationale being that a government decision bearing impacts on the daily lives of the people must be consulted first with the people. It didn’t happen here so. It should have been understood then that a government decision cannot be imposed capriciously, failing which it will only invite flak and criticism. The same happened here too.

Office goers walked under scorching heat and sometimes drenched in rain, not just they wanted to. Parent were confronting a difficult time too- dropping and picking up kids to and from schools, school children skipping classes, and some driving outside the core areas on Tuesday, taking detour wherever they found one, driving more miles than usual, just to reach their workplaces. More so more, the imposition of the rule every Tuesday had gravely left the businessmen and transporters worried and panicking, with businesses plummeting and bringing vehicle movement and construction works at halt. This was not something people wanted.

Even if one intended aims of the rule was to cut down on the imports of fossil fuel, it didn’t translate so. Figures of fuel sales didn’t show a declining trend. It only failed to serve the intended purpose despite people having had to confront the drudgery of the rule. Reducing emission of green-house gas, another aim of the rule, sounded inspiring, but not at what cost it was coming for and despite Bhutan already being a net carbon sink or a carbon neutral country. Leaving aside the problems that people were confronting, to many, such an imposition appeared as an ambitious odyssey of the former ruling government for portrayal as a global pioneer in environment.

The decision disallowing maneuvering of vehicle and make people walk instead to offices and workplaces seemed noble at best, but undemocratic at least. All in all, it, therefore, also sends a subtle reminder that in a democratic process, it’s the people who call the shots.