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Thursday, July 2nd, 2015 - 3:06 AM
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Preparation: Around 1pm yesterday, the nangtens (sacred relics) of Chakar lhakhang are escorted to Jamphel lhakhang for the four-day festival

 

 

Bhutan to be net energy importer for the first time

Due in the main to the imminent operation of Dungsum Cement project

Power: Bhutan for the first time would be required to enter into an arrangement with the neighbouring Indian state of West Bengal to import electricity during the coming winter months, when domestic consumption is expected to spike with the imminent commissioning of the Dungsam Cement project in Nganglam.

Dungsam is expected to consume around 26 megawatts (MW) of electricity at any point of time once cement production starts.  It has the capacity to produce a million tonnes of cement annually.  The project missed its last deadline in September this year.

Besides Dungsam’s commissioning, domestic consumption has been increasing steadily over the years, because of construction activities in the hydropower sector and the rural electrification program.

While recent figures were not available, energy exported to India declined by six percent between 2011-12 as a result of increasing domestic consumption.

In the coming winter, Bhutan is projected to import between 50 to 60MW of electricity from India, meaning domestic requirements would exceed domestic generation by 60MW.

Between October 2011 and March 2012, Bhutan imported electricity from India worth Nu 30M.

So far, an arrangement to import electricity from India was not required, as electricity imported from India was always netted off when generation picked up.

Managing director of Druk Green Power corporation, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin, said Bhutan would become a net importer this lean season when Dungsam is commissioned.  This means, total imports during the lean season would surpass total exports, a phenomenon that will be experienced for the first time.

Lean season in the country starts from mid September until May.  Although Bhutan has a total capacity of 1,488MW, this drops down to around 284MW during the peak winter months.

Hydropower officials in Bhutan have been negotiating with their Indian counterparts since last year to import power.  However, Indian officials had proposed that power imports from India must be guided by the unscheduled interchange mechanism.

Bhutanese hydropower officials could not agree to this.

In this mechanism, Bhutan would import an agreed upon amount of electricity from West Bengal, for which it will be required to pay a premium, transmission and wheeling charges.  Bhutan will then supply an equivalent power to India when generation picks up.

In addition, the arrangement has to ensure that Bhutan will not import more or less than the agreed amount.  Any deviation leads to penalties in the form of high charges.  Unscheduled interchange mechanism was introduced in India to ensure grid discipline, efficiency and accountability.

Bhutanese hydropower officials had said that energy flow was something that could not be controlled, so Bhutan might land up paying penalties.

“We’re still negotiating with our Indian counterparts, and hopefully, we won’t be required to import through this mechanism,” Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said.

The most likely arrangement, he said, would be energy banking, which means Bhutan will export an equal amount of energy imported from India without any financial transactions.

Managing director of Bhutan power corporation, Dasho Bharat Tamang said that energy

import projections had gone haywire with Dungsam being delayed time and again.

Most probably Dungsam might not be commissioned this year, so the demand would

not increase much, he said. This means Bhutan would not be required to enter into an

arrangement with India.

India has excess power during winter months, because there is less usage of air conditioners, while in Bhutan requirements increases in winter with more people using electricity for heating.

By Nidup Gyeltshen 

P/ling gridlock

It  used to be the heat in summer, or the pleasant weather in winter, people often asked about, when returning to the hills from a visit to the country’s commercial heart and most important frontier town – Phuentsholing.

People still ask about the clime, but the occasional visitor is more inclined to talk about the traffic jams that are choking this border town, the gateway to Druk Yul.

Today, traffic snarls are so commonplace in Phuentsholing, local residents have almost gotten used to the idea of idling the engine while waiting for movement ahead.

And when visitors complain of the traffic, residents remind them that what they are experiencing now is really nothing.  Come winter when the town becomes the venue for the month long Wang (blessings) and a jam can last an hour or two.

In fact, residents point out that jams become more frequent as the summer gives way to autumn, and then to winter.  Besides the Wang that draws thousands of people to Phuentsholing, there are other reasons why traffic deteriorates in winter.

With schools closed for winter vacation, a lot more people and vehicles descend to the south.  Winter is also the Mandarin export season, so there is an increased flow of trucks laden with the citrus fruit to Phuentsholing, which serves as the centre for sorting and packing the fruit for export to India and Bangladesh.

Yet the key reason why the town faces a traffic problem today is largely because of the movement of huge trucks bringing in raw material and taking out goods from the industries in Phuentsholing and the Pasakha industrial estate, 20km away.  By rough estimates, three to four hundred trucks rumble through the town almost everyday.

Traffic snarls are normally centred along the thoroughfare leading to the main gate that sees traffic leaving for India and entering Bhutan.  But on bad days its can stretch all the way back to the bus terminal.

The dungkhag and municipal authorities have tried several things to assuage the situation.  At one time, it even tried to change the timing of the trucks entering Phuentsholing, but this caused a jam in the adjoining town of Jaigaon, where traffic is even worse.

Talks have been going on at the government level to open a new route, where trucks heading for Pasakha industrial estate need not pass through the town.  A road as such already exists, but there appears to be some resistance from the localities across the border through which the trucks will pass.

When this will come through, if ever, remains up in the air.  Which means the local authorities need to think innovatively about addressing this problem, before it truly turns into a nightmare.

For now, the traffic personnel are doing what they can to keep things flowing.  And for those visiting the frontier town in winter, it might be a good idea to park at a distance and walk around to get from one point to the other.

Revived ‘Move For Health’ walk today

DSCN4432Kick off point: Dzongkhag officials make necessary arrangements at Bajo town yesterday

Fund: The “Move For health” walk that the government has revived to raise funds through donations to be used as capital money for the Bhutan health trust fund kicks off this morning from Bajo town in Wangdue.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay and health minister Tandin Wangchuk are leading the team, carrying slogans of the health walk on caps, banners and shirts to convey messages on healthy lifestyle across the country.

Similar to the 2002 health walk, the idea this time is also to raise funds from internal and external donors, which, in turn, will be used to enhance accessibility and quality of primary health care against rising costs and competing needs.  The fund raised will be used to procure essentials drugs, vaccines, and needles and syringes, which are an integral part of health care.

Until last evening, the dzongkhag administration, regional offices, schools and gewogs have donated more than Nu 1.3M, of which Punatshangchu I and II alone contributed Nu 640,000.

Unlike in 2002, where a capital fund of USD 24M was adequate to procure medical equipment, today, the minimum requirement is USD 85M.  This, according to the health trust fund’s officiating executive director, Sonam Phuntsho, is because of increasing population and disease.

BHTF has a capital fund of USD 23M, which is maintained through donations and capital money lending out on interest.

After two years of establishment of the BHTF in 2000, the growth of funds ground to a halt.  To raise the fund, strategies like move for health walk, which former health minister, Sangay Ngedup, initiated in 2002 from Trashigang to Thimphu, raised USD 2M.

Government and private sectors in the country, governments of Norway, Australia and New Zealand including the world richest man’s foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, and the Summit foundation, donated to the trust fund.

Since its operation since 2003, the health trust fund has supported the procurement of vaccines, including nationwide introduction of measles-rubella vaccines.  It also co-financed the procurement of pentavalent vaccine.  Each year USD 753,363 was spent on vaccines alone, while 66,139 children were immunised in the last five years from the fund.

Health officials said the trust fund was vital for ensuring timely availability of critical vaccines, essential drugs, needles and syringes, which is the backbone of primary health care services for physical and mental well being of the people.

Health officials said, in spite of the walk being very short, it will create awareness, which in turn would help raise funds.

Walking through the old trail of Wangdue-Thimphu, the team will halt tonight at the Helela mountain pass.  The following day, they will flag in at the Thimphu clock tower square via Chamgang.

By Tenzin Namgyel, Wangdue

Women’s empowerment, a priority

DSC_4877Dr Rebecca Reichmann Tavares

Visit: The new UN Women representative for Bhutan, India, Maldives and Sri Lanka, Dr Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, is in the country on a three-day visit to discuss UN Women’s support to the country for the next four years, 2014 – 2017.

UN Women is currently working to promote women’s political leadership and governance, under an agreement signed with the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP.

Among the various works UNW is currently doing in the country, Dr Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, said she wants to prioritise improving local women’s participation in politics, support gender responsive planning and budgeting projects and foster women’s economic empowerment.

“One of the major programs we are pursuing is promoting women’s empowerment in the local governance and decision making bodies by working with relevant organisations,” she said. “We are also working on how to strengthen programs such as ending violence against women by providing technical and financial support.”

Dr Rebecca Reichmann Tavares discussed such priorities with the national commission of women and children, RENEW, institute of gross national happiness studies and election commission of Bhutan among others.

Dr Rebecca Reichmann Tavares took office as the UNW representative for Bhutan, India, Maldives and Sri Lanka from July 1 this year. Before this, she served as the UNW representative and regional program director for Brazil and Southern Cone. She also worked extensively in Latin America and the United States in promoting women’s human rights.

By Thinley Zangmo

The combine harvester – A panacea to Paro’s paddy problems

IMG_4200All in one: The machine that can harvest, thresh and winnow

Not only will it save a harvest from sudden rain, but make up too for a lack of labour

AMC: Farmers in Paro could find a solution to problem of losing harvest to rain every autumn.

The agriculture machinery centre (AMC) in the dzongkhag is promoting the combine harvester, a machine that can harvest, thresh and winnow paddy at the same time, and this will not only save harvest but also solve the problem of labour shortage.

The recent rainfall in Paro and, in some places, even washed away paddy harvest, affecting about 65 percent of the yield in nine of the 10 gewogs.  The combine harvesters, during demonstration to farmers in Shaba, Paro since October 8, already helped some farmers save their harvest from the recent rainfall.

Farmer Rinzin Dorji from Tomja in Shaba said the machine was very useful this harvest. “Firstly, it saved a lot of time and, by the time, it rained, there was nothing to worry about,” said Rinzin Dorji, who harvested his five fields with the combine harvester.

The six combine harvesters, which AMC received under Japanese non-project grant aid, are demonstrated free of cost to farmers, whose land is located in flat areas.

“Combine harvesters save time, manpower, and reduce the impact of rain on crops during harvest seasons,” said AMC’s regional manager, Dechen Wangchuk.  It reaps, threshes, and also winnows paddy harvest and wheat and helps reduce broken grains.

After the combine harvester reaps the harvest, it is threshed and the grains deposited in a storage inside the harvester. The machine then binds the straw and drops them in the fields or chop them, depending on a farmer’s choice.

“We might be hiring it like other machines from next year, depending on how successful it proves,” said Dechen Wangchuk.

So far, more than 20 acres of paddy fields in Paro were harvested with the combine harvester since its inauguration on October 8.

The combine harvester, according to elderly villagers, was once introduced during the time of the late Dasho Keiji Nishioka, a Japanese agriculture expert, who was in Bhutan in the 1960’s to help develop agriculture sector.

AMC officials said back then, it wasn’t really successful, as people were more interested in power tillers, and the unavailability of spare parts was another issue.

Farmers, however, are more fascinated this time.  They want to start availing the facility from next year if AMC is ready to hire it out.

The combine harvester is the recent development in the agriculture ministry’s step towards mechanised farming.  The implementation of mechanised farming was introduced in the country about five years ago, said AMC officials.

“It began from Chuzergang in Gelephu, where rice growing area is huge,” said AMC’s deputy deputy executive engineer Kinga Norbu, adding a mill was also set up as a part of the initiative.

Since then, it covered 24 gewogs, with facilities such as hiring out machines at subsidised rates, and AMC will be covering another 13 gewogs under the 11th Plan.

Along with the combine harvesters, AMC provides paddy reapers, power tillers, tractors, and threshers on hire during paddy plantation and harvest seasons at a very minimum rate to help farmers save time and especially manpower.

A paddy reaper is hired for Nu 900 per acre and it can reap harvest on about two acres of land in a day.  A power tiller is hired for Nu 1,200 per acre, while for tractors it ranges from Nu 1,600 to Nu 2,000.  Threshers are hired for Nu 700 per day.

Today, there are 36 threshers that are made in AMC, and 34 paddy reapers through the non-project grant.

Every year, after completion of harvest in Paro, the machines move to other western districts like Punakha and Wangduephodrang, after which they move south. “We’ll be moving the reapers, threshers and combine harvesters to Punakha, where harvest will commence from October 24,” said Dechen Wangchuk.

However, the machine will be unable to help farmers, whose fields are not on flatland.

The deployment and management of hired machines from AMC is done by tshogpas and gups, said officials, while AMC provides the operator and back up technical staff.  Even trained farmers are hired to operate the machines and paid Nu 500 a day.

Agriculture department’s joint director, GB Chettri, said, under farm mechinsation support, crop production support like free seed, improved variety seed and disease support are included. “Labour shortage being a main constraint, farmers are increasingly availing farm mechanisation facilities,” said the agricultural specialist.

Kinga Dema, Paro 

What do old folks want?

DSC_0026-1973.8 percent of the elderly aspire to practice spiritualism

A survey of senior citizens, the first of its kind, is an attempt to find out 

RCSC: While it is no eye-opener that the elderly lot desire to practise spiritualism, a baseline survey of royal society for senior citizens (RSSC) 2012 tags a number to it.

Of the 101,563 people, who are 55 and above, 73.8 percent aspire to practice spiritualism.  The elderly account for 14 percent of the country’s population.

It has also been found that 54 percent would be ‘very happy’ to spend the rest of their lives in a retirement facility.  Another 38.3 percent said they would be happy, while 0.6 percent said they would not be happy.  The facility in discussion is a low cost semi-permanent structure, which will be built around a goemba so the elderly can practise spiritualism.

President of RSSC, a public benefit organisation, Dasho Karma Dorjee said the retirement centres will not be like an old-age home.

“The parents won’t feel like they’ve been dumped or neglected, and the children won’t feel bad.”

Spiritual guidance was also in want, with 95 percent expressing a requirement for that, 35 percent wished for group pilgrimage schemes, and 34.1 percent wished for spiritual masters to be invited to retirement homes or temporary congregations.

The survey states that most elderly complained that they could not concentrate on spiritualism, since they are made to babysit grandchildren.

Health is also a priority for the elderly with 98 percent wishing to avail special medical facilities.  These facilities include special visiting hours at the hospital for the elderly. “It also includes special visits by doctors where elderly people live, especially in clusters,” Dasho Karma Dorjee said.

While expressing the need for retirement homes, the elderly aren’t making their decisions based on what’s happening at home.

At home, 93.5 percent said they have no difficulties with their household members.  Those, who have difficulties, attributed it lack of love and care, being ignored, financial problem, being neglected and being scolded, among others.

Females were found to be the main caretakers of the elderly.

In terms of where they would like to live, it was found 60 percent preferred to live in rural areas.

Those preferring to live in rural areas were because of reasons like being attached to the place they were born and brought up in, some had properties and preferred to live there, while others preferred it because it was quiet and serene.

While preferring to practise spiritualism and wanting better health care services, the elderly are not shy from wanting to be involved in decision making process or wanting to work.

Of the total, 8,610 still aspired to remain in service and 4,242 reported they are still energetic to serve.

It was also found 11.7 percent are still employed, while 14.1 percent earned income from interests from savings, 0.4 from earned from shares and 0.7 from money lending, 1.5 percent lived on pension and 68.1 owned earned from fixed assets.

Having no earnings at all were 27.8 percent.

Their want for involvement in policy development and decision-making were mainly by means of interacting with local leaders and Parliamentarians.  This was mainly to share their experiences.

When it comes to being satisfied with their lives, 33.3 said they were happy, 24.6 said they are very happy and 24.1 said it was satisfactory.

Those who said they were struggling made up 10.1 percent, and 7.6 percent were not happy.  Four percent said they could not comment about the state of their mind.

The baseline survey of royal society for senior citizens 2012 is the first of its kind and was funded by the UNDP.

It has been submitted to the gross national happiness commission (GNHC) and the Gyalpoi Zimpon’s office, so it can be studied and used in planning and decision-making processes.

Dasho Karma Dorjee, in the report’s foreword, says the survey attempts at identifying, understand and study the needs, aspirations and expectations of people aged 55 and above for formulation of appropriate and customised policies and programs.

By Kinley Wangmo 

531 receive land kidu in Tangsibji

IMG_5725Dzongda Tshewang Rinzin explains the details to the villagers

If villagers can produce receipt of payment for excess land so far, the amount would be reimbursed

Land: On October 15, 531 lag thrams (land registration certificates) were handed over to Tangsibji gup for him to, in turn, hand them to His Majesty’s land kidu recipients.

The kidu recipients were villagers who had been paying taxes for the excess land that did not belong to them and farmers who have been cultivating on government land.

For those who only owned wet land, they were allowed to convert 50 decimal of land into chim sa, or land for construction of house.

Trongsa dzongda Tshewang Rinzin, who handed over the certificates to the gup in presence of villages at Tangsibji said people who had paid taxes for excess land could own that land.

“The taxes paid for excess land so far will be reimbursed on production of payment receipts,” he said.

He also explained to villagers that the new digitalised thram registration would have all information of the land owner and that mistakes in names, or their spellings or land area could be corrected within a year.

“Please pay the land tax on time, otherwise it’ll be converted into government land,” he said. “On death of a land owner, change the ownership within a year, otherwise that will also turn into a government land.”

Tangsibji gup Jigme Namgyal Tangbi said the 531 thrams had to be segregated into the four categories of ranchang (individual land), chirup (joint land), zatshang (family land) and others like land given for construction of schools, institutions and lhakhangs.

“We might take some time to compare and cross-check all data before handing over the thrams to the people,” the gup said. “The villagers are not yet aware of who got the land kidu and who did not.”

Thrams of the land kidu recipients of Nubi, Drakteng, Langthel and Korphu gewogs will be handed over to their gups starting October 20.

By Sonam Choden, Trongsa

Hotel occupancy’s gone through the roof

The month of October sees the highest number of tourist footfalls for the fall season

Tourism: With tourist season at its peak this month, hotels in the country, especially in the western districts, are running houseful with international and regional tourists.

As is the trend, October is the busiest month of the fall tourist season.

It’s again the time of year where tour operator, hoteliers, guides and handicraft shops do brisk business.  Even the national airline, Drukair, deploys additional flights to accommodate the increase in passengers.

Hotel Druk’s manager, Dillu Giri, said occupancy is higher this month, at about 90 percent, the highest so far. “We’ll see a gradual drop from November,” he said. “We also get a lot of regional tourists but, as our rooms are booked in advance, we aren’t able to cater to them.”

Similarly, all rooms in Hotel Riverview in Thimphu are also occupied untill mid November, said a staff, Sherab Tshomo.

Hotel Migmar’s manager, Sangay Rinchen, said, coinciding with the Durga puja festival in India, many Indian tourists are in the country, which further increased occupancy., “We had to move some of our guests to private apartments as most hotels were occupied,” he said.

Hotels in Paro also witnessed higher occupancy, with bookings until November end.  Hotel Zhiwaling in Paro witnessed 85 percent occupancy this month.  Similarly, most hotels remained packed.

“It’s difficult to get hotel rooms beyond Punakha,” said Bhutan Tourism corporation limited (BTCL) deputy manager, Khandu Yitsho. “It’s not much of an issue in Thimphu and Paro.”

Association of Bhutanese tour operators (ABTO) chairman, Karma Lotey, said, however, it wasn’t really difficult to get accommodation, with the increasing hotels catering to tourists every year. “It’s more to do with the issue of seasonality,”he said. “It’s difficult to get rooms in popular hotels during peak season.”

Karma Lotey also said that it was more difficult to get hotels in the east, where fewer hotels exist.

According to TCB’s hotel occupancy analysis 2012 focused on the month of October, five-star category hotels recorded 50 percent and an annual occupancy of about 30 percent, while three star category hotels in the country recorded the highest annual occupancy rate with about 35 percent.

TCB suggests investment in accommodation to be focused in dzongkhags, where there are few or no international standard hotels.  Zhemgang, Gasa, Tsirang, Sarpang, Samtse, Lhuentse, Pemagatshel, Trashiyangtse, and Dagana dzongkhags do not have registered hotels, and hence are affected by a lack of accommodation providers, TCB records show.

According to tour operators, there are enough hotels to cater to tourists in the country, but not equally distributed in all regions.

As of last year, there were 123 TCB accredited hotels and resorts with a capacity of 2,749 rooms, which amounts to 5,464 beds every night and 163,290 beds available in a month.

Tourist arrival, last year, stood at 105,414 with 53,504 international, or dollar paying, tourists and 51,910 regional ones.

Records with tourism council show that, as of August, the country saw a total tourist arrival of 66,305; of which 28,103 were international tourists and 38,202 were regional tourists from India, Bangladesh and Maldives.

Regional tourists are exempt from paying minimum daily tariff of USD 250 and USD 200 during peak and lean seasons and do not require visas.

By Rajesh Rai

 

The RTI Bill: Need for caution

Access to information relating to government and public bodies has been rightly described as a ‘key to democracy’.  The reasons are not far to seek.  Timely and accurate information allows citizens to participate fully and meaningfully in a range of activities which contribute to good governance.  Access to information is also a critical tool in unearthing and combating corruption, remedying social and other injustices, ensuring fair and even-handed application of laws, and making government more accountable.

Not surprisingly, recent years have seen much public pressure being brought worldwide to reduce official secrecy and to increase openness and transparency in government.  More and more countries are recognising the importance of legal guarantees to allow their citizens access to state-held information.  The trend towards enactment of right to information (RTI) laws has gained particular traction in the past couple of decades.

Legislating for access to information is, however, only one of many steps that need to be taken to increase governmental transparency.  Implementing RTI laws and enforcing them with the necessary rigour and even-handedness pose equally formidable challenges.  Even more importantly, there is a need in many countries to shake off a long-existent culture of secrecy and usher in a climate of openness.  This can often take generations to achieve.

 

Transparency not absolute

It needs to be recognised as well that transparency in government can never be absolute.  Even in the most liberal democracies, there are certain matters of state which require to be shielded from public view.  An obvious example would be information concerning national security: for example, the extent and details of a country’s military arsenal, or contingency plans about the deployment of troops.  Another obvious example would be information that could be potentially useful to terrorists or criminals.

But these are not the only matters in respect of which secrecy is justified.  Although many people may not appreciate this, a strong case can be made for not revealing the details of discussions between Ministers and civil servants.  Why is it important to keep such information secret? Because, if confidentiality is not guaranteed, civil servants will be reluctant to offer frank advice to their political masters, especially on sensitive or controversial matters, with the result that the quality of decisions that are made by the government will suffer.

Another less obvious example where secrecy would be justified is in relation to communications received by the government in confidence from foreign governments.  If all such information were to be made public, many foreign governments will take fright and refuse to share sensitive material or frank assessments on issues of mutual interest.

What is therefore needed for a successful RTI regime is the striking of the right balance between transparency and secrecy.  That balance varies from situation to situation, and even from country to country.  Any law that is passed must be flexible enough to recognise this reality without compromising on certain basic values that are prized by all societies that aspire to be called open and democratic.

 

The Bhutanese initiative

Against this background, the recent decision of the Government of Bhutan to postpone consideration of the Right to Information Bill by parliament should be warmly welcomed.  As someone who has studied this subject at some considerable length and who has seen the working of right-to-information regimes in a number of countries, developed and developing, I am firmly of the view that the Bhutanese initiative requires further deliberation and refinement.

It is gratifying that the Bill has been referred to a parliamentary committee.  This committee should undertake a thorough review of the Bill. To aid in this process (because, without meaning any disrespect to the parliamentarians, there may not be the necessary expertise within the committee), the Ministry of Information and Communication should, in my view, commission a Discussion Document which will, among other things:

• identify and analyse potential weaknesses in the Bill;

• inventorise provisions in other existing laws that clash with or are inconsistent with the provisions of the Bill;

• revisit the issue of implementation strategies, including a more realistic time-table for implementation, if necessary in a phased manner;

• address the vital issue of training at different levels (IMOs, appellate authorities, judiciary, etc.);

• examine the options for co-ordination of multi-Ministry requests for information;

• consider afresh the structure and mechanisms for appeals from decisions of information management officers (IMOs).

 

The above is not an exhaustive list, but is indicative of the many areas where further work needs to be done if the RTI initiative is to become a success.  Consideration also needs to be given to looking more carefully at the experience of other jurisdictions so that lessons can be learnt and risks avoided.

 

One of the most important lessons is that an RTI law should never be rushed and brought into force before the infrastructure for its proper implementation is fully in place.  It is worth noting, for example, that in the United Kingdom although the law was passed by parliament in 2000, it was not brought fully into force until 2005.  The five years in-between was used to ensure that all government departments and public bodies were adequately equipped and all personnel – including the appellate authorities – were properly trained to assist in the law’s successful implementation.

By contrast, the RTI Act in India (enacted in 2005) was brought into force in a hurry.  A study carried out by a leading international consultancy firm recently came to the conclusion that the time provided for implementation “was inadequate to change the mindset of the people in Government, create infrastructure, develop new processes and build capacity to deliver information under this Act “

In Bhutan, the preparation of the Discussion Document suggested above should not be rushed: it should be informed by solid research and adequate consultation with the relevant stakeholders, so that what emerges is thorough and well informed. The document should also explain, in clear and simple language, that RTI is a much more complex subject than people usually assume it to be, which is why a wide-ranging review is needed before any law is enacted. This will quell any possible public disquiet over the delay in the enactment of legislation.

The government should ensure that the implementation of the RTI law is not marred by low public awareness.  Attention should also be paid to having the best record management processes within departments and agencies, and to harnessing modern technology (e.g. by installing high speed photocopiers and scanners at every level of the bureaucracy) so that there is no wastage of time.  Another major challenge that the government is bound to face is to train IMOs in weeding out frivolous, vexatious and unmeritorious applications for information.  This too calls for specialised training.

 

Interim measure

Since the parliamentary review of the RTI Bill is likely to take some time (at least a year or two), the Government should, in the meantime, consider promulgating a Code for the Disclosure of Official Information as an interim measure. Such a code will go a long way in assuring the Bhutanese people of the Government’s good faith in the matter. It will also boost public confidence in the Government’s determination to increase transparency and accountability without leading to needless litigation (as an incompletely thought-out Act may do).

More importantly, the experience of running a code for a year or two is likely to signal a shift in governmental and public attitudes to official secrecy, and thus contribute to a change in mindsets which, as noted above, is an essential factor in bringing about long-term transformation.

The RTI initiative holds the promise of huge benefits to Bhutanese society.  If handled properly, it could give a welcome boost to the country’s nascent democracy by strengthening trust between the people and the government.  If handled badly, it could prove to be a costly experiment which results in widespread public disenchantment.

 

Contributed by

 Venkat Iyer

[Dr Venkat Iyer is a UK-based barrister and legal academic.  He also serves as Law Commissioner for Northern Ireland.  As an expert on media law and ethics, he advises governments, IGOs and NGOs around the world.]