28 October 2006- We are hit, once again, with the happiness issue. In the latest media analysis we are
placed eighth among the happiest nations in the world by a well-known British university, very impressively placed first among Asian countries. While this may raise many questions it is good to hear it anyway.This focus on happiness, and on Bhutan as a happy nation, can translate into a much-needed pressure on the people. Even those of us who do not believe in the GNH are confronted by the constant publicity. People who hear it want to know what it is all about.
So we might as well ask ourselves what it means. There are many ways to interpret happiness, something that thinkers have been trying to do throughout history. While we are not required to walk around laughing to prove we are happy, we are familiar with the concepts of contentment and quality of life that are two interpretations of a happy existence.
We know that some criteria for happiness, like the environment and culture, are strong in Bhutan. We also know that the other criteria used for the analysis of happiness, like income, health services, and education have room for improvement in Bhutan.
But they are recognised as priorities and that is a good start.
The map drawn by Leicester University is apparently a meta-analysis based on the findings of over 100 different studies around the world, which questioned over 80,000 people. It looks at satisfaction with life which is a major area of research in economics and psychology.
This fresh attention on the concept of happiness does have one impact. GNH has served best as a reminder of forgotten priorities to a growing number of societies around the world. And, even as GNH remains largely rhetoric to many Bhutanese, this international interest reminds us that there it is a good goal to strive for. Such a reminder is critical at a time when we could lose focus on the real purpose of the development process.
It is also good reminder when we are a little unsettled by the dramatic evolution taking place in our political system. We can be assured that we are among the more contented societies around the world. We are going through an unprecedented period of peace and stability, the best ingredients for change.
The recognition of Bhutan today as a success in mans primary goal, happiness, could be thought-provoking if we take a critical enough look at ourselves. But, then, why not? Being known as a happy country does not make us one but it is a better image than many countries can hope for today.
Remember happiness doesnt depend upon who you are or what you have; it depends solely on what you think
21 October 2006-
On the eve of yet another Plan period we look ahead with excitement, and with some trepidation, at what lies ahead. This Plan, particularly, will be something to think about, given the political changes ahead and, with it, the new leaders who will be tested in the important role of governance.The Ninth Plan was an interesting period for all of us. Did we, the planners, implementers, and beneficiaries learn anything from it? What did the delayed start and extended year mean? All of us who accepted the planning process with indifference in the past may want to think about this.
With the Planning Commission itself undergoing major changes our planning process of recent years was largely the refining of a shopping list, a list that grew to Nu. 70 billion in the Ninth Plan.
Eventually we were forced to ask ourselves, are we planning activities depending on a viable budget or are we making the wish list and hoping for the best?
The budget proposal has climbed to Nu. 110 billion, a colossal jump from past Plans. With 60 percent of this expected to be national revenue, including the Tala earnings, at least 40 percent, Nu. 44 billion, has to be raised from grants and loans. This comes at a time when politics will also demand a high price.
Are we already drawing an overdraft on the Tala project? Are we also over estimating the generosity of the donor community?
Year after year we have projected activities that we could not afford. As a result the expectations from allocations like the ambitious training programmes that were projected in past Plans have been largely unfulfilled. The private sector, excited by promises at the beginning of the Plans, has become skeptical.
The 10th Plan, according to planners, evolves around the international development agenda like the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and SAARC Development Goals (SDG).
Those are goals that can refine our own development vision and highlight poverty. But what about our own goals, like the professed commitment to GNH?
GNH began as a unique inspiration and picked up momentum both at home and in the wider world but have we stopped seeking greater clarity to this vision? Are we relegating GNH to the status of a CBS project? The political evolution deserves all the attention it is getting but it should not cloud our development goals.
Right now we need a clear vision, for the sake of development and politics, and particularly for Bhutans future. We need a picture of what we should expect at the end of the 10th Plan and, for that matter, the 11th Plan.
The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision Helen Keller
18 October 2006-
We welcome the news that Changlimithang stadium will receive a major face-lift. This is not the first renovation plan for the stadium because several plans have been drawn up in the past and dropped for unexplained reasons. But this time it needs to be credible, for the 2008 celebrations, and to fulfill the need for a professional outdoor facility beyond 2008.In terms of the preparations for 2008 we hope that the plans go beyond the stadium to include a face-lift for Thimphu city and all other towns and villages around the country. And we hope that the beautification plans are inspired by the natural and architectural splendour that Bhutan has always been known for.
Bhutan is admired, today, for its aesthetic beauty. Our natural environment has provided the pristine backdrop that has shaped our image.
This image has been preserved, by royal initiative, in the reconstruction of landmark monuments like Punakha Dzong and Taktshang that have also been effective training grounds for traditional builders, craftsmen and artisans.
But our urban development does not reflect this legacy. While economic development has come through a dramatic period modernisation has clashed, rather than complemented, with our aesthetic heritage. Phuentsholing, Thimphu, and Khuruthang are significant examples.
As we plan to celebrate an important period of our history, in 2008, it seems a good time to reflect on what our landscape, both urban and rural, will look like in the future. The best way to celebrate such an event, it would seem, would be to renew our commitment to our past the legacies that have sustained us.
Our development vision has been personified for a century by the Golden Throne. Many parts of the country came to life because of royal visits.
Roads, schools, and hospitals, sprang up in remote parts of the country where His Majesty the King visited. Tradition stayed alive because of the royal presence.
Despite all the changes that sometimes detract us from our real priorities 2008 must symbolize the continued legacy of our history. As world leaders have acknowledged, we must preserve the past for the future through those who live in the present.
As we look at the changes that are taking place all round us today we ask ourselves, Given what our town planning has achieved in the past decades, are we the generation that might turn negative trends around? Or will we be the generation that kills the essence of Bhutanese aestheticism?
It is up to us to live up to the legacy that was left for us, and to leave a legacy that is worthy of our children and of future generations
14 October 2006- The politics of fuel is an old story in Bhutan. Many people have been, and are still, using fuel to cheat each other and the system.The racket is developing a more complex form as society becomes more complex. Yet it is as transparent as our society is small and a solution is not out of reach. That is, if we have the will.
In the past it was simple. Drivers, and sometimes government officials, stole fuel from pool vehicles. Drivers sold it to taxi drivers and private vehicles owners and officials usually used it to fuel their own cars. The problem became ingrained into the system because, with a relatively large number of people involved in the misuse of government vehicles, it could not be stopped.
In todays climate no one is surprised that our private sector has joined, and perhaps taken over, this unfortunate initiative. Like so many consumer goods, the adulteration starts from the source, probably from the process of import itself.
It began in Thimphu and is now a problem around the country. In the border areas the government had to clamp down on larger scale black marketing of fuel involving people on both sides of the border.
It is not surprising that fuel supplies in Thimphu are being adulterated. In this deteriorating environment it is disappointing that not enough has been done to stop it. We were under the impression that fuel, which is a vital consumer item for all aspects of development, was under close observation by the Ministry of Trade and Industry. It is, as we have been reminded many times, a quota supply from India so we have all the more reason to monitor it.
The average Bhutanese consumer is nave and, therefore, ripe for exploitation. We do not count change or ask for receipts when we shop, we do not question the prices or check the quality of goods, we do not realise it when we are cheated day after day. As along as this complacency continues we will be vulnerable to exploitation.
But we do need more government intervention on trends that involve mass cheating. Fuel and all other petroleum products must be monitored more closely at the sources and at the supply points. For example it is not possible for every consumer to weigh LPG cylinders. It will have to be done by government monitoring teams.
This calls for high level commitment because we know, through experience, that government employees are not beyond picking up a few Ngultrums on the side. High-level commitment also indicates that the government means business. Penalties for corrupt practices need to be stepped up.
If the business community cheats the public it is unfortunate because it means that some are getting rich at the cost of the people. But if there is the involvement of officials at any level it will be real tragedy because we, as a society, will have no chance.
Complacency by the watchdogs hurts both taxpayers and beneficiaries
7 October 2006- Buddhist teachers explain that enlightenment, for us lay people, does not come as a sudden understanding of truth. It comes in doses as we learn the lessons of life. They also teach us that we should not sit back waiting to be enlightened. We have to work hard to attain this wisdom.This would mean that we have to help ourselves in all aspects of life, among them being the responsibility for democratic governance.
Today much of our conversation evolves around the electoral process leading up to the 2008 general elections. The questions we are asking are who will form political parties and who will their leaders be?
But it is also time to ask ourselves what we are doing about it.
Are we just watching and waiting? In the past, partly spoilt by a government that did most things for us, we were happy to sit back and enjoy the benefits. In the future we are required to make our own efforts in creating those benefits.
The idea is that we do not just watch and wait, we observe, reflect, and think about what is happening around us. As political leaders emerge we watch their actions and listen to their words and, most important, think about them. Why are they doing what they are doing? Why are they saying what they are saying? Do they truly represent the peoples interests?
The Bhutanese media, encouraged to develop professionally, has been given the responsibility to present the actions and words of political leaders with impartiality. Print and broadcast media, public or privately owned, are required to serve the interests of the electorate, not of individuals.
In the end we are not voting for individuals themselves but what they stand for. We are looking to see how they will lead the nation and, to do that, we need to understand their visions. We have to listen to policies outlined by those who want to be our future leaders. We have to be convinced.
Some Bhutanese voters already have developed a distrust for politicians, supposedly from their assessment of politicians they have seen elsewhere. But we need not view our politicians with suspicion or skepticism, not without good reasons anyway. We must, instead, question our politicians and question ourselves in assessing them. A questioning electorate is known to help keep politics clean.
The bottom line is, we just dont just hope for a better life, we will have to vote for one. And to do that we, the public, have to do our homework as much as politicians and future leaders.
We have to help ourselves. If we keep thinking that somebody is going to help us, we are thinking the wrong way
4 October 2006- A number of institutions and posts have been, or are being, established to prepare for democracy. In fact most people now are doing most things in preparation for democratic governance. What does it all mean?An important perspective is that, now that we are introducing such dramatic change to the system of government, we need to strengthen the state itself. The basic responsibilities of the state become even more important if government is going to go through transition and, therefore, possible instability.
While we were secure in the past system, in a trusted leader who was caretaker of both state and government, we now look at the state and government as separate entities with the government functioning within the overall domain of the state. And the state will be mandated with specific responsibilities by the Constitution.
The state has the overall mandate to ensure the sovereignty of the kingdom as well as to ensure the well being of the people.
These important responsibilities require the state to also ensure that the government functions effectively to provide external and internal security, public goods and services including infrastructure, fosters economic growth, and strengthens rule of law.
In the long run the state has to make sure that people are not only protected from serious problems like poverty, drugs, terrorism, and lawlessness but that national growth is achieved by the governments. Tax management plays an important role in all this.
When all this breaks down a state is described as a failed state. We place our faith in a democratically elected government but we have seen democracy meet too many hurdles to be complacent.
That is why the judiciary, the bureaucracy, the legislature, and a number of Constitutional bodies have critical roles to play. When we talk of preparing for democracy we do not mean that the numerous institutions responsible for governance become a part of the electoral process. They have to rise above the electoral process and provide the arena within which democracy will function.
While there is sometimes a misconception that the state has no role in democracies a strong state becomes critical because weak states cannot sustain democracy. The state is, in fact, the custodian of the peoples interests.
Today these institutions are important reminders at a time when the excitement of democracy is gripping most of the population. They remind us that many of us need to maintain our independence from politics to protect the overall interest of the country and people. They remind us that democracy is not a goal in itself but a path to good governance and happiness.
If frugality were established in the state, and if our expenses were laid out to meet needs rather than superfluities of life, there might be fewer wants, and even fewer pleasures, but infinitely more happiness.