Bhutan’s efforts to crack down on substance abuse and trafficking of controlled substances is gaining momentum.
As we grapple with the ruckus the SP+ has created, airline staff and public transport drivers have been tested for controlled substances over the last three months. Pool vehicles are now inspected for carrying drugs.
The move is long awaited and the intent, clear.What however remains unclear is the different treatment meted to those who had tested positive for controlled substances since the effort to crack down on substance abuse and trafficking began.
The seven cabin crewmembers were grounded but allowed to resume work after a retest certified them clean. As a deterrent, the Druk Air staff’s allowances were withheld but they were paid their basic salaries. In the case of the pilot, the salary is about Nu 30,000. The bus drivers who tested positive are suspended for six months. Since they are employees of private bus operators, it is not known yet if they will be paid their salary, which is about Nu 10,000.
Such discerning actions by the information and communications ministry is unacceptable and shameful. The discriminatory way in which it has handled these cases makes a mockery of the national effort against drugs and confirms the belief that in Bhutan, it matters what you drive and travel in as much as who you are related to.
Which is why the recent move to check pool vehicles for controlled substances has received mixed reactions. The move is appreciated but not without pool vehicle drivers asking if the fleet of vehicles of the armed forces and Dantak and parliamentarians would also be inspected?
Their questions are valid. For often it is the size of the car and the number plate that determines the applicability of rules and laws as well as thoroughfare in our society. We hope that our law enforcement agencies will be fair in their inspections this time and urge the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority, the lead agency, to stop pretending that it has no teeth to bite.
The complexity of the issue demands collective efforts from all. There is as much a need to review the way we look at substance abusers and peddlers. The health ministry sees them as patients who need help and the police as criminals. We do not yet understand why the airline staff are seen as a privileged lot but if the country is serious about the drug issue, we must be willing to treat all those who test positive equally. Their occupation should not matter.
We are aware that we have failed in curbing access to controlled substances from across the borders. But we can ill afford to fail in preventing these substances from reaching those who are dependent on it, both young and old. Nor can we afford to remain complacent. As a country that builds its economy on borrowings, we have a compelling need to do more and better. The last thing this country needs more of is authorities abusing power.