31 August, 2009 – There is growing excitement about the possibilities of finding wealth hidden beneath our pristine natural environment.Past explorations indicate the presence of both industrial and metallic minerals like, quartzite, graphite, talc, tungsten, lead, zinc and copper.
With two thirds of the country still unexplored mining is seen as one sector that has not been tapped and holds the potential for growth.
The mining sector will form the basis for an industrialization drive depending on what is discovered according to the draft economic development policy.
This is in keeping with the overall national goal to achieve rapid economic development that will largely be pushed by hydropower development. It is a goal to make Bhutan wealthier and more self-reliant.
But the thrust on mining and quarrying is a bit worrying considering that it means digging up the country. Some worry that Bhutan might transform into one big quarry site from a nation that is deeply attached to and respects its natural environment.
Some tough decisions will have to be made in the quest for economic growth that most Bhutanese so desire.
Official do*****ents as well as draft economic policy recognize that minerals are finite and non-renewable resources. Therefore, it will be used in a sustainable manner to diversify the economy while at the same time prevent undue damage on the ecology and the environment.
But experience so far has shown that translating these words to reality is extremely hard to do. While this is an in house problem, the government it appears will be depending on outside expertise and resources to dig up the country and may be even mine certain high value minerals in the future. This means we do not really know what we are getting into?
If we go by beautiful TV and magazine ads on multi national companies that use the worlds natural resources it seems they really care for the natural environment. There is a lot more that is not advertised.
At the end of the day the country must benefit, specifically the communities that are affected by mining or quarrying activities.
The mining policy to be developed by the end of this year must cautiously address these issues so that Bhutan does not end up like a vandalized chorten.
30 August, 2009 – The capital city is literally under siege from our leaders of tomorrow.
They are pouring in, in the hundreds, from all parts of the country and filling up the nightclubs, restaurants and compelling photo studios and tailors to put in the extra hour.Ive had a lot of stitching orders mostly from girls for tegos and kiras, says Kesang Dorji, 35, a tailor in Thimphu. Its good business but they want their orders almost immediately.
Sarika, 22, who works for Kasha Photoshop has also felt the deluge. A lot of young men and women have come in to take passport sized photographs the past couple of days, she says.
With just over a week for the graduates orientation programme, Sonam, 23, has already made several trips to the tailors. I think its a once in a life time event and I think we have to look our best, says the graduate from Delhi. As girls, we want to look beautiful, its only natural.
Tshering Zam, 22, a graduate from Delhi University agrees. No one openly admits it, but its true that orientation programs of the past have been like fashion parades, where everyone is decked out in their finest ghos and kiras, she says.
Besides all the necessary superficiality that comes with being a girl, Tshering also hopes to get herself acquainted on government development policies and employment opportunities from the orientation program. Im hoping that the program will familiarise me with our current economy and driglam namzha (traditional etiquette), she says. Its also the perfect opportunity to meet up with old friends and catch up on news, she says excited.
Tshering Jigdrel, 22, is not too sure what to expect. Well, my friends and seniors, whove attended the program in the past, say its very informative and could help me get through my RCSC examinations, says the IT graduate from Hindustan college. Im guessing the program will refresh my driglam namzha as well, he laughs.
While many graduates live with their parents in the capital, those from elsewhere are either looking for temporary accommodation or putting up with friends and relatives for the time being.
Dechen Wangmo, 23, who graduated from Bangalore, has been living with her sister for the past month. I came here with the intention of getting a temporary job, says Dechen, who is currently interning with the Gross National Happiness commission. I hope the orientation program helps me get introduced to the officials of the new government.
The orientation programme, which is organised every year, provides a platform for fresh graduates to interact with government leaders and decision makers before they take the plunge into working life.
A total of 1,331 graduates have registered with the ministry of labour and human resources for the less than two-week orientation programme, which begins on September 8. This years theme is Leaders of Tomorrow.
1,331 graduates registered for the 2009 orientation program
By Pema Choezom
29 August, 2009 – His Majesty the Kings command to the speaker of the National Assembly and the chairperson of the National Council to convene an Extraordinary Sitting of Parliament has cleared the air of uncertainty surrounding the special session and the need to pass urgent bills.The kasho highlighted the need to look beyond specific disputed bills towards building the foundation for healthy debate and consensus building. This was a strong message from the throne, the custodian of the Constitution.
Recalling how the debate in the second session of the first parliament ended, especially on the two urgent Bills (Local Government and Civil Service), parliament has not set the right precedence.
Parliament could not pass urgent bills because they could not agree to incorporate changes. What they forgot is that the Constitution specified that a Bill introduced as an Urgent Bill cannot be withheld. It has to be passed in the same session or dropped entirely and introduced as a fresh bill in the next session.
While the deadlock over the two Bills could have been in the larger interest, we are learning that process based on the Constitution was not followed.
The two Bills were discussed simultaneously in both the houses and then the recommendations of either house were discussed in the joint session. Constitutionally, the recommendation or objection should have been submitted to the house from which the bill originated and not through a joint sitting as happened in the last session. The Bill should have been submitted to the Druk Gyalpo, who shall then command the houses to deliberate and vote on the bill in a joint sitting.
Since both houses had not followed procedure, the Druk Gyalpos intervention was sought unconstitutionally.
The immediate impact is the delayed local government elections and the implementation of the 10th plan. The election is important, so is parliamentary process. His Majestys kasho states that, if a bill cannot be passed in a joint sitting, it signifies that there are serious differences that must be addressed through means other than a joint sitting. The legislative committees of both houses should sit together and thrash out issues before the bills are presented again.
There is a danger if proper procedures for passing of bills as reflected under the constitution are not followed. It is crucial that the right precedence be set from the start.
28 August, 2009 – The maximum punishment is a life sentence and our prisons hold more than 115 people convicted of such crimes.Still the desecration of our chortens, a symbol of values and beliefs, continues to abound.
The dilution of our culture and tradition is often projected in terms of western attire and loud music. But it is the vandalising of such monuments that truly indicate erosion at the core, the erosion of our essence.
These sacred monuments, which stand on strategic locations and along every walking trail in the country, were built to protect the community and anyone that passes by them. Now they provide the possibility of making a quick buck if their relics are of any value.
Although cases seem to have resurfaced in recent months with robberies in the capital city and in the eastern districts, chorten vandals have been around for more than two decades in search of the dzee (cats eye), a kind of antique jewelry with a niche market beyond Bhutan.
Even to this day no one is quite sure where the demand was coming from or who was buying them but, in the process, more than 50 percent of the 10,000 registered chortens in the country have been dug up. Many of the vandalised chortens that were restored by local communities have been dug up again and again.
For years now, villagers have been taking turns to guard these monuments at night. This has, to an extent, prevented desecrations but it doesnt address why the erosion is taking place.
There are some people, who are extremely angered and want to get to the root of how and when it started. Such ideas did not get birth in rural Bhutan, although villagers have been known to do the dastardly deed.
It is an act of greed; in some cases it may be desperation. It is materialism pushing out spiritual sanctity; it is the breaking down of traditional values.
Such trends, some say, are inevitable when a closed society gets exposed to the outside world and develops a hankering for creature comforts.
Does this mean that the remaining 50 percent of chortens will also face the same fate or can something be done so that people do not dig up whats left?
27 August, 2009 – Its not going to be easy becoming a gup or member of a local government office.
The election act stipulates that the interested candidate must be functionally literate and possess adequate skills to be able to discharge duties as a local government office bearer.This means the ability to read and write in the national language, Dzongkha, do simple math and have managerial and leadership skills.
So the Election Commission of Bhutan has come up with a set of guidelines and will develop a standard question paper to test functional literacy and possession of skills.
Only those, who score 50 percent or more, or 40 percent in each of the test components, can stand for local elections.
The intent here is clear. It is to give the electorate the opportunity to elect candidates, who can carry out the important decision making responsibilities at the local level.
It follows the precedence of the general election, where all political candidates had to have a bachelors degree to contest.
The national candidates got away easily, compared with what the local government candidates have to go through. They did not have such kinds of tests and quite a few of the candidates, who struggled with the national language during the debates on TV, got elected. They were also lucky, because the media treated them with kid gloves, lest it derailed the first election that was almost running short of candidates.
While the functional literacy tests for local government office sound like a good idea, there are some questions being raised on the ability to accurately assess managerial and leadership skills. No test is foolproof and a candidate with high functional literary skills does not guarantee a good candidate.
Besides conducting the tests for possible candidates could present a logistical challenge for the Election Commission.
Still, most of rural Bhutan want a gup, who has yonten and can get things done for the people. People with higher secondary education, as well as with a college degree, are considering becoming the gewog boss.
In the new political system, the apolitical gup is an all-important person. So much depends on the local leader to improve life in rural Bhutan. That can happen if the gup can govern. The functional literacy tests probably aims to get such candidates.
26 August, 2009 – No one is quite sure when the special joint session of parliament will be convened to pass the urgent bills that got stuck in the July session.August 17 was mentioned as the day for the special session. That date is long gone.
What is clear though is that the already delayed local government elections may not happen in October as planned if the local government bill does not get passed any time soon.
The local government elections under the new political system were supposed to be held last December, but it could not because the gewog delimitation process by the Election Commission of Bhutan was not complete.
At the same time the local government bill was also not ready and, if elections were held, it would have had to follow the 2002 GYT chathrim, which was repealed in 2007.
Just as the judiciary is without a Supreme Court, it is another situation indicating that our transition to a democratic form of governance, which began 15 months ago, is not quite complete.
Whether a special session can actually be held is another issue. According to the Constitution, the parliament on its own cannot decide to hold a special or an extraordinary session. It must come as a command from the Druk Gyalpo if the exigencies of the situation so demand.
At the same time, the Constitution specifically mentions that, in case of urgent bills, such as the local governance bill, it should be passed in the same session in which it was introduced.
It is the prerogative of any ruling government to pass bills, not withhold them. Only through the bills can the ruling government govern. Yet some MPs of the ruling government feel they have accomplished something by succeeding in blocking the bill.
In our transitional phase it is important that each and very bill is thoroughly discussed before it is passed yet, at the same time, parliament must also weigh the impact of withholding a bill.
When it comes to the local governance, it means perpetuating an old regime that we decided to leave behind. In the meantime, the tenure of the in*****bent gups could be extended again.
In our new system, even the election of a gup is of interest and importance. People working in urban centres want to cast their ballot when the devolution of power and authority to the elected local government happens.
25 August, 2009 – The imagery of minors, some barely in the teens, working in greasy conditions in workshops in Thimphu usually brings out two reactions.One group sees it as exploitation of the child for cheap labour in not very safe working conditions. It is a trend that should be stopped.
Another group sees it as something to be appreciated – young boys working hard and learning the ropes of living early in life. There is dignity of labour and they are, in a way, better off than those bored with the latest video games.
This viewpoint often comes from the understanding that in rural Bhutan children helping out parents to farm land, fetch water and wood everyday and doing odd jobs for the headmaster is part of growing up.
Many of our senior bureaucrats and political leaders came through such a well-grounded childhood. Children in rural Bhutan continue to grow up this way and some take to the plough by the age of 12.
Such differing views have made implementing the labour law, which was enacted in 2007, a challenge. It allows employment of children between the ages of 13 and 17, as long as working conditions are not hazardous. Thus it is okay for a school-going child to sell doma on weekends if they are helping parents to earn income.
The labour department has drafted a set of regulations, which permits minors between 13-17 years to work in certain occupations. The regulations are awaiting the approval of the ministry.
Once the rules are strictly implemented, these minors, who do not go to school, will be out of work and the means to survive. What happens then? This is of concern to labour officials.
Given their lack of skills, these youth are probably being underpaid and could be resorting to stealing to earn more and buy what other kids have. Most of these youth come from rural Bhutan, from families caught in the grip of poverty, brought to the capital by relatives.
The National Commission for Women and Children has conducted a study to profile these child workers and is working on strategies to help them. But these are only temporary measures.
The issue, it appears, is poverty. Working as a child in the village to help parents and working in an urban setting to survive is not quite the same thing.
24 August, 2009 – There is no denying that we need more women at political and decision-making levels. Even in the civil service only 30 percent are women.Meeting all of CEDAWs requirements would be attaining perfect statehood, something that has still eluded many rich and developed nations. But, looking beyond CEDAW, the story of our women is something else. It is a story that has shaped and will continue to shape Bhutanese society.
For instance, they are the pillars of most families. They efficiently run the household, raise the children and work the kitchen. Bhutanese society is today beginning to understand that doing these things is no easy feat.
Its a full time, if unpaid, professional job. Beyond these traditional roles, Bhutanese women are emerging in areas that were at one time the domain of the male.
While their representation at the decision making level is less than desired, in the private sector some of our leading business houses are run and owned by women. This may have its roots in the tradition of passing family wealth down only to the daughters.
In media, a fairly new industry, the presence of women is very visible and some say it may only be a matter of time before they take over the industry.
Our education policy is not discriminatory and the gap between the sexes is shrinking quickly. At the primary and middle schools levels, the number of girls outnumbers boys.
This basically means that, in the not too distant future, there will be a good number of well educated women competing against men for high level posts. Some are bound to get them.
Like the director of the national commission for women and children said, there is no concrete evidence on what is preventing Bhutanese women from enjoying equal rights and participation. It will be challenging because a sound environment for equality is created by our policies.
Our lack of women in decision-making positions, in some ways, boils down to the number of girls getting an education. Until recently, society in general felt that girls should stay home and run the house. Only boys were encouraged go to school. That is beginning to change.
At the same time, we cannot be complacent. Women in rural Bhutan, after a hard days work, pray to be reborn as men before they go to bed. The glass ceiling must be removed.
23 August, 2009 – When theres a drive behind each powerful push on the pedal, the thrill of biking heightens.
Creating awareness on cancer is what inspired three Bhutanese men to pedal 600 km up to Ladakh, India, the highest motorable road point in the world.
For a week, Ugyen Yoesar, 30, Kesang Tshering, 36 and Rinzin Norbu, 37, biked seven hours everyday, talking to people about cancer along the way.
The altitude was our main challenge, says Ugyen. Thimphu is about 2300 m and the lowest part of Ladakh stands at 3500 m, thats where we started our expedition.
Called, the bike for life, expedition, their aim was to promote a healthy lifestyle and create awareness on cancer. If I can help one person not to have to go through the pain my sister went through, this bike ride was totally worthwhile, says Ugyen, who lost his sister to leukemia, blood cancer, in 2005.
We tried our best to talk to as many as we met. Its a small contribution in our own way, adds Kesang.
Biking, they say, is a different way to get attention and inform people that a healthy lifestyle prevents cancer. Cycling itself is a very attractive sport, and people are curious. Thats how we talk to them about cancer, says Ugyen. We did this so that our leaders give attention to cancer because, by 2010, experts say that cancer will be the leading cause of death in the world.
The experience that cost each of them about Nu 100,000 was beyond their expectations, they say. It was well organised. We had a support vehicle, a chef, and a supporting crew, says Kesang.
No one from within the country sponsored the expedition. All of them work as tour guides and received help from friends and clients abroad. Biking as a concept itself is very new and we thought that, without doing something first, it wouldnt be nice to go asking for funds, said Ugyen.
They hope decision makers would notice their small contribution so that such programs get support in future. As Ugyen points out what the Lance Armstrong Foundation, an NGO founded in 1997 by cancer survivor and champion cyclist Lance Armstrong believes in: unity is strength, knowledge is power and attitude is everything.
By Sonam Pelden
23 August, 2009 – Bright and bubbly, Pema Yangkey oozes enthusiasm the moment she talks. At just 22, the young actress has already three movies to her repertoire and worked with several veterans of the Bhutanese film industry, like Nidup Dorjikss, Lhaki Dolma and also with new faces like Chencho Dorji and Kezang Tobden. She was also nominated for the best female newcomer award at the last film festival.The perky actress was always into acting. Although I didnt have any professional training in acting, I participated a lot in school plays and skits as a child, she says. It was the winter of 2006 when director Kuenga offered me a role in his film Jigten Zewa-The Betrayal…and thats how I got into the whole acting thing, she adds, as she plays with her hair.
The movie, however, did not do so well with cinemagoers but that didnt stop the aspiring actress from signing up for her next film, Drinchen. I loved the experience, shooting for my first film and I knew that it was what I wanted to do, she says. The best part about being an actress is being able to socialise on a bigger scale and meet new people every day, says Pema.
Although she hates the time consuming shooting process, she thinks the end result is always very fulfilling and compensates for all the hard work. Pema says she enjoys doing her crying scenes. They are so much easier to do than scenes, which include laughing…with crying scenes, I just try and relate it to something sad that had happened to me before and the tears just start flowing, she laughs.
Pema is not very fussy about the kind of roles she wants to play. As long as the script is perfect, I dont mind playing anyone, she says. Ooh, but Id love to play in a film that involves a lot of dancing and requires action scenes from me, says Pema.
But how is she any different from all the other young talented actresses that are coming up? For one, Pema considers herself an extrovert. Im young, Im modern and I represent the younger age group in the film fraternity… I dont have that typical Bhutanese look, which can work for and against me, she says. And to be very honest, there are actors, who act as if theyre under some sort of compulsion. I think acting should come naturally, says the bold actress.
If given the opportunity, Pema says she would love to work with actor Tshering Phuntsho. If not him, then, she says, shell settle for anyone, who plays a dark, reserved and mysterious role.
When shes not acting, Pema works for a private company. She says she would love to direct a film one day. Pemas next film, Chorten Kora II is slated to release some time next month.
Asked how she balances work and acting, the actress says that she has a very understanding boss. Ive been very lucky that way, she says thankfully.
By Pema Choezom