All about democracy!

It was almost six years back when the first democratically elected government vowed to introduce the Right to Information (RTI) Act. However, the initiative took a backseat in later years and instead discussion hovered over the necessity of such an act.

The government then also came out with its proclamation that RTI legislation was not a priority.

But those in favor of the legislation had their hopes rekindled when the present ruling government before the elections this year pledged to introduce the RTI Bill. Accordingly, the Bill was introduced last week in the National Assembly, where the latter forwarded it to the legislative committee for review. It will be further deliberated this week.

How successful the discussion would go on is something to be seen amid rising concerns over the unpreparedness of the society, bureaucracy, news media and even the public. Some have even been calling that the focus should be on creating awareness and that enactment should not merely be for the purpose of having an Act.  

Undeniably, creating awareness is pivotal. A sort of misconception perhaps is prevalent even in our urban intelligentsia. Many view that it’s the media that is desperately wanting this legislation. But RTI goes much more beyond the news media. The RTI, as enshrined in our Constitution, is a fundamental right of every Bhutanese citizen. FINAL-LOGOS_1

Having this legislation in place means that information is a public property and people should have access to information that have bearing on their lives. The need for RTI, therefore, has become more evident now with the present government’s decentralization mechanism that vies to give full autonomy to local governments and Nu 2 million to every gewog every year. Therefore, people in the gewogs have the right to know, to demand information if the allotted budgets are used accordingly. This will only go on to enhance transparency and accountability, thereby also helping to ensure good governance.

The parliamentarians need not look far for reasons for not having this legislation. For instance, their deliberation on the ACC Annual Report 2012 has exhibited corruption in recruitment and selection process, and even political and electoral corruption, with irregularities in ministries augmenting every year. The RTI tool, therefore, would be helpful in addressing these setbacks. There are already successful cases in India where people have questioned the admission and recruitment process in colleges using RTI legislation.

While having several institutions and mechanism initially would cost exorbitantly, these shouldn’t deter us. Compensation will come accordingly. Imagine how much it would help to save that we keep losing on every year to corrupt practices or corruption.

Often, information is regarded as power in the contemporary world. An informed citizen is a powerful citizen. And if our citizen become one because of this right doesn’t that go well for the country. Isn’t that what democracy is all about?


Farmers’ same old problem

Farmers bearing the brunt of wild animal depredation is not something new. It has almost become a routine as huge areas of cultivated crops are lost to wild animals annually.

From maize fields in Pemagatshel being rummaged by wild boars to wild elephants in Samtse increasingly poking around paddy cultivation, almost all farmers are living on the mercy of wild animals.Wildlife (wild pig) spotted returning to forest after destroying maize field_0

And recently, it’s the farmers in Paro and Punakha who are battling it out to save their crops from wild animals, especially wild boars. Spending sleepless nights and guarding their fields to at least have something to thrive on after having had toiled in the farms from dawn till dusk for almost a year have become a routine as well.  

There is no denying the fact that human-wildlife conflict has become a contentious issue for quite some years now.

Even the previous government had pledged to find a solution to this problem, and the issue was also raised by the council members during the question hour session with the present agriculture and forests minister on Friday. But farmers still continue to live in havoc wreaked by these wild animals.

It’s time that the government must come up with solution for the poor, frustrated farmers who have been waiting for too long a time. It’s not a new problem anymore. The problem has been there for a while, but perhaps what is missing is the genuine desire to put an end to this predicament.

We continued to be grappling with the problem of rural-urban migration which has also been continuing unabatedly, but before finding solution to avert this drift it would be sensible to find solution on how to save foods for the farmers. It’s only when farmers can no longer earn their own livelihood, they are susceptible to migration, thus leaving increasing chunks of farmlands fallow.

Some rural people have even abandoned their ancestral land because of wild animal depredation. It’s becoming rampant every year and coercing farmers to abandon farming in totality. What good would it be then if this happens? Our urban towns are not a better place either as signs of urban poverty are already surfacing up. We should be aware that we are up for some serious problem if the problem continues as it is.

Moreover, what use would it be then even if we exert rural prosperity as the thrust of the Five Year Plan and boast of making rural lives more enticing if our rural folks are not there back in the village? Before embarking on the odyssey of rural prosperity or transforming rural areas or even achieve self-sufficiency or reduce poverty for that matter, what we need to understand is that our farmers need food security. Help them have that and the rest would follow accordingly.

The blaring dilemma

Not long before the main elections this year, what some saw as a mere political ploy, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) came up with what it called the 100 Day Pledges – drawing a list of activities the party will do if it formed the government.

Many questioned back then whether this was coming at a time when political parties were riding high on campaign promises; also comparing whether it was something akin to the adage of politicians promising to build a bridge where there is no river.images

And now with the elections over, new government and the cabinet in place, questions hover over the doability of those pledges? Was it too ambitious? Will the government be able to fulfill all the pledges in its first 100 days in office?

This was what the local journalists had in mind as well, as they questioned the cabinet ministers at the first Meet-The-Press on Thursday. Almost all queries centered on the pledges the party made, such as the Economic Stimulus Plan, Meet-the-People program, pay and housing allowances of the civil service, free electricity to the rural poor, extended maternity leave for working mothers, homes for the elderly, full youth employment, and the Bhutan lottery business.

And we can take respite in the fact, gauging through the answers, that the government is doing what it can or what it promised to the people during their campaign. It has already done away with the controversial Pedestrian Day rule; and Meet-the-People program has been commenced two weeks back.

The government has also identified several areas that would merit money from the Rupee 5 Billon stimulus fund to ease doing business in the wake of the current problems in the economy. It is also vehemently bent on restarting the Bhutan lottery business to ease rupee earning and subsequently address its dearth.

Additionally, works have begun, according to the government, on the pledge of providing free electricity to rural households, while a group of relevant stakeholders and experts would be put together to advise the government on extending maternity leave for working mothers.

The government adopting austerity measures two weeks back in the wake of the current state of the economy, growing public debt, Indian Rupee dearth, and ever increasing current expenditure, has also earned kudos or a pat on the back from many sections of the society.

The early indications, therefore, are anything but good. The government has embarked on its journey, presently making a good start. But what it needs to be mindful of is that there are more pledges to fulfill than time; at a time when the whole economy is in turmoil and situations least favorable, we can only hope that the journey is as smooth as its beginning.