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Monday, April 27th, 2015 - 7:37 PM
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Playing the role of a constructive opposition

Dr-Pema-GYamtsho-Opposition-Leader

Former agriculture minister and country’s second opposition leader, (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho talks to Kuensel about the role of the members of the new opposition party and its stand on some of the pertinent issues.

Q&A: Your party leader said the opposition this time would play an exemplary role. How?

As opposition, we’ll always place national interests above all. We’ll always bear in mind the interests and aspirations of the people of Bhutan for their country, for themselves and for their children. We’ll defend our ideology of standing up and speaking for equity and justice and for our mission of pursuing self-reliance.  We have the experience and the numbers to be a very effective opposition, without having to oppose whatever the government proposes or does. Being in the opposition doesn’t mean that we have to criticise the ruling party all the time, but also to support and even applaud it when it does a good job. I can say that we’ll be a relevant opposition. By that, I mean we’ll oppose or support the government, based on the merit of the issue at hand. That’s the only way we can make a difference and that, I think, is what our party leader meant.

 

First few issues you will oppose?

It may be easier for me to dwell on the issues that we’ll support rather than on those that we’ll oppose, since we don’t know what the issues would be. We’ll support any initiative that this government would take in strengthening our collective loyalty and dedication to the Tsa-wa-Sum. We’ll extend our full cooperation to strengthen our relation with India, in keeping with the Indo-Bhutan Treaty of 2007. We’ll also extend our full support to the government in resolving our border issues with China. Talks with China must move forward on the progress we’ve made so far, without any setback due to any new or additional conditions. We’ll also provide whatever support the new government needs to implement the 11th Five-Year Plan, provided they do not deviate from its core objective of attaining economic self-reliance, eradicating poverty, protecting the environment and preserving our culture.

 

Opposition’s role could be diluted in trying to protect what they’d initiated as the government…

We believe that whatever we’d initiated as the government in the past five years was in the best interest of our country and people. Therefore, the question of protecting or defending our initiatives doesn’t arise. What we’ll be mindful of would be that the present government doesn’t use our past decisions and actions as an excuse for not getting things done during their tenure. Where we feel that they can improve on what we’ve done, we’d welcome and support such adjustments and changes.

Opposition’s stand on GNH?

GNH as a new development paradigm is sacrosanct and indispensable. Remember that the erstwhile planning commission was renamed as the Gross National Happiness commission to institutionalise the royal government’s will and determination to mainstream GNH in our policies and plans. In the past five years, we’ve translated the theory and principles of GNH into practice and measurable domains of application that are relevant beyond our borders. Because GNH makes sense, and because it has relevance in addressing the many ills our world is facing today, as a result of unsustainable and exploitive practices, world leaders, academics, scientists, professionals and development practitioners have decided to develop it further for adaption as a new development paradigm for the future. Moreover, the United Nations at its 65th session has adopted “Happiness” as the 9th MDG. Whether all of us agree or not, Bhutan is recognised as the incubator for this philosophy, which was conceived by our visionary Fourth King. To abandon or deviate from taking ownership and leadership of GNH is tantamount to forsaking our core belief and values as Bhutanese that guided our unique development culture.

Fifteen is better, but is it big enough a representation at the Parliament?

Yes, having fifteen members in the opposition would definitely be better although, in terms of decision-making, there wouldn’t be much difference. It’s a ‘magical’ figure to have in the opposition, since the ruling party, with 32 members, would still have the two-thirds majority needed for passing bills and resolutions. Our strategy would, therefore, be to persuade individual members of the ruling party to vote on the basis of the merits and demerits of the bills and issues rather than along party lines, as we’ve done so during our tenure, although we had luxury of having absolute majority.

 

Will you support the country’s accession to WTO as this government has indicated it would consider?

We aren’t against joining WTO but we have to be convinced that doing so would be advantageous and beneficial to us. At this stage, there’s no need to rush into a decision on this front, and that we need to take time to further analyse the pros and cons of being a WTO member, particularly in view of our status as a small, import dominated agricultural economy with very few third-country trading partners.

 

Your thoughts on the government lifting pedestrian day?

This was one of the first decisions taken by the present government and hope that their decisions on their other pledges would be equally swift and decisive. More important than lifting the pedestrian day itself, I’m concerned with the significance and implications that this decision will have in the coming years. Are we now making a clear choice for programs and decisions that would be beneficial and convenient in the short-term for certain sections of the society? The pedestrian day, like many of the other initiatives we’d taken as a government, was meant to bring in long-term benefits to the nation as a whole, knowing fully well that it will cause some short-term inconveniences. I was hoping that the government would consult the public before they come out with the decision, as lack of consultation was cited as the main irritant for observing the pedestrian day.

 

The new government is going to restart the lottery business. Your opinion?

It is morally wrong and will taint our national image, especially if we’re to continue following the GNH path. In the first place, do we want our country to depend on gambling as a source of revenue? Do we want to exploit the weak and poor at home and India? Is it in sync with our Buddhist values and do our laws allow it? Since the main market will be India, would their national and state laws allow such business?

 

Having been in the government for the last five years, you’re now in the opposition….

Yes, the roles are reversed now and I’m looking forward to play a very constructive and meaningful role as the opposition leader. We’ll be representing the interests and aspirations of a very large segment of our population and will, therefore, have to work very hard to live up to their expectations.

Picture story

Meet the people: About 19 individuals showed up to meet the Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay, during the first meet-the-people program held on August 24 at NRDCL conference hall in Thimphu.

While most were those who were looking for jobs, there were also others with agriculture related proposals and transfer requests.

Initiated as a feedback and public redressal system, meet the people program was in keeping with the government’s 100-day pledges.

1,614 graduates cross prelims hurdle

For the rest of the 3,332 though, it’s the end of their civil service dream

RCSC: With the Bhutan civil service examination (BCSE) preliminary examination result out on August 24, a total of 1,614 university graduates will go on to contest the 538 seats in civil service.

A total of 3,332 graduates had appeared the exam.

The Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) had decided to keep the cut-off percentage of the prelims at 54 percent to qualify for the main examination.  The cut-off percentage was the same in 2012.

Earlier, a total of 3,567 graduates had registered to sit for the August 11 prelims, out of which 235 didn’t show up.

This could mean a total of 1,953 university graduates will be in the job market vying for jobs in corporate sector, private sector, and NGOs.

This also comes at a time, when the number of graduates this year has increased much more than at any time before; the number of jobs, on the other hand, including the civil service has only decreased.

Last year, civil service had 597 slots, while the number of graduates who sat the prelims was 2,623; out of which 1,078 had qualified for the main examination.

Meanwhile, what is alarming is the indication projected in the “labour market information bulletin 2012.”

It shows the overall vacancy distribution in 2012 decreased to 6,214 from 7,781 in 2011.  This was the only case in which the number had dropped from 2003, as per the records with the bulletin.

A candidate, who couldn’t make past the prelims, Sonam Dorji, 23, said, he was worried about the situation in the job market.

“I’m not sure I’ll land a job anytime soon,” he said.

Another indication of tough competition in the job market this year is labour ministry’s “labour market information guidebook 2012,” which projected a scenario of about 1,274 employment opportunities in different sectors across the country.

According to labour ministry officials, in a recent interview with Kuensel, this number includes the 538 civil service seats for this year.

With this, only 736 slots remain for 1,953 graduates, who didn’t make it through the prelims.

Further, an additional 1,076 university graduates will pour in the competition, because only 538 will make it from the main examination.

However, some ministry officials have said that the “indicative figure” with the labour ministry’s bulletin records cannot be really accurate.  Moreover, many graduates who sat for this year’s prelims are already employed.

Meanwhile, for the “big” exam, scheduled for October 12 to 14, graduates will require a certificate confirming that they have attended the national graduate orientation program, the tentative date for which has been scheduled from September 26 to October 5.

Kuensel’s recent record with the labour ministry as on August 14 evening had shown 452 graduates, who registered for the upcoming national graduates orientation program were already employed in government agencies, private and corporate sectors, including NGOs.

Meanwhile, all candidates are also given the opportunity to appeal to RCSC for a review of the preliminary examination results starting today until September 6.

The declaration of the outcome of the appeal will be declared on the commission’s website on September 13.  The appeal fee will be Nu 300.

Also, a candidate can write the prelims thrice, after which RCSC will not allow further.

The objective of the PE, according to the commission, is to shortlist candidates for the main examination, and ensure the minimum standard required of a candidate.

By Rajesh Rai

Phoja, Pelden group of companies and Druk shopping complex in the finals

IMG_7368Doing the round: Phoja archers shout for a hit

Archery: In the 2011 championship of the Yangphel archery tournament, Phoja defeated Bhutan Life Exposure and Ata Boning to secure a seat in the finals, yesterday.

In the semifinals of 15 rounds,  Phoja team set two games while its opponent failed to set any. When Phoja set the first game in fifth round, Bhutan Life Exposure secured three points but Ata Boning did not manage a single point. Likewise, in the 13th round, Phoja set the second game to beat the two teams out. The two teams had secured five points each.

After learning that team Phoja made it to the finals by then, the audience and supporters left the ground. Gem Tshering of the Phoja secured four double hits and 14 kareys.

On August 24, Druk shopping complex defeated Samyued Bhutan Tours and Mangdeps in three sets.

The day also saw the new record holder for the one day highest karey. It went to Jigme Norbu of Druk shopping complex after hitting 21 karays in 15 rounds, that included six dobjeys.

Pelden group of companies also made it to the  finals after beating Druk Yoesel and Lingpas. It also managed three sets against none from Druk Yoesel and one set from Lingpas.

The finals will be played on August 31.

By Tashi Phuntsho

Focus point

Symbolic-gear

When young people take their own lives …

Suicide: Sitting with his friends  in the crowd and watching the skit was the last time (madam) Kinga saw him before the school closed for the weekend last Saturday in Thimphu.

The next day, around the same time, her 11-year old student, who used to sit in the front row of class VI ‘B’, was no more.  He had hanged himself at his house, which is less than an hour’s drive from the school.  Foul play was ruled out and his body was cremated the next day.

Earlier this month  a seven-year-old girl in Tsirang was also found hanging from a tree branch below her school.

The class I student was walking home with her five friends and, according to them, also minors, she had told them many times along the way that she wanted to commit suicide.  Her age was initially reported as nine or 10 years, but the school principal verified that she was “running seven.”

Two weeks later, a 14-year-old girl from the same school also hanged herself in the toilet of her home.  The class IV student had just got home from school, soaked by rain.  By the time her parents returned from milking the cow, she was no more, even though the father had quickly kicked opened the locked door and sprinkled water on her face.

The incidents have sparked discussions on what could be pushing children and adolescents to take their lives especially in a country that’s steeped in strong Buddhist beliefs, and believes in creating an environment for people to be happy.

Buddhism condemns suicides, because human life is believed to be the most precious form of life; since, as a human being, one has the capacity to come out of samsara (suffering), the dratshang lhentshog’s general secretary Lopen Gyembo said.

“It’s considered a big sin; we believe in life after death and the consequences of suicide is that life will end that way until the negative karma they’ve accumulated is exhausted,” he said.

In all three cases, the children were not reported to have any problem at home or in school.  The 14-year-old girl had dropped school last year, following her parents’ request, but had returned this year to continue .  The 11-year-old boy was an above average student, participated in co-curricular activities and was jolly with his friends.

Impulsiveness seems to be one factor that’s causing the younger generation to commit suicides, psychiatrist Dr Damber Kumar Nirola said.

“Our children and youngsters have become psychologically fragile and lack the psychological resilience that was there in the older generation,” he said.  Even a small scolding, he said, is taken seriously that they end up taking their lives. “When we try to find out from youngsters, who land up with suicidal behaviour, we always get the same answers – “I was angry” or “I was hurt,” Dr Nirola said.  But they deny that they were ever depressed and that they do not intend to die. “Children particularly don’t seem to understand the permanent nature of death and seem to act more impulsively.”

Paediatrician Dr Kinley Tshering at the Thimphu referral hospital also said that children, who are seven or 11 years old, are cognitively not matured to understand, let alone commit, suicide.  “At that age, children won’t be in a position to understand death or suicide or its consequences,” he said.

Unless the children are physically, mentally or sexually abused, or live with parents who do not get along, or get influenced by the media, they won’t attempt ending their lives, Dr Kinley Tshering said. “I’d say, about 75 percent of such influences come from the media for children,” he said.

Which is why forensic specialist Dr Pakila Dukpa feels that the case of the seven-year old girl in Tsirang could probably be a “prank gone wrong”. “It’s mostly accidental in children, and if it’s deliberate, it could be due to mental stress,” he said.

An analysis of the GNH survey 2010 by the centre for Bhutan studies found those below 22 years in the country spent 200 minutes a day watching TV, which competes closely with teacher instructions to the students.  Occupation wise, the unemployed and the students top the list of those who watch TV the most.

In an earlier interview, psychiatrist Dr Chencho Dorji had said that “sensational” reporting give suicidal people the “false confidence” to do something similar. “There are many people, who want to inflict self harm and are unable to do it; but, when the media reports sensationally, it give them the rush, that false confidence.”

Before these incidents, the youngest suicide case Kuensel had recorded was of a 14 year old in 2004 between 1990 and 2010.  But Tsirang police’s records show that a 12-year-old boy had committed suicide the following year.

Thimphu alone saw eight suicides this year, which is a case every month and, except for two, who were in their 30s, the rest were all students.  Last year, it reported five and in 2011, it saw nine suicide cases.  In almost all cases, the people hanged themselves, the most common mode of committing suicide in the country, said Dr Pakila Dukpa.  Forensic officials said it takes less than five seconds to cut off oxygen supply to the brain when people hanged themselves.

The CBS analysis also found that, of the 248 students asked on the idea of suicide, 2.82 percent (about 60) of the students had contemplated suicide in the past year, while 4.73 percent or 117 students had reported suicidal ideation in life.  However, only 0.39 percent or about nine students had attempted suicide in the past 12 months or in life.

But while reported suicide rates may be high among the younger generation and to do with “relationship issues,” Dr Pakila Dukpa said the suicide trend couldn’t be predicted that way. “Everyone of us are potential suicide victims,” he said. “In our case, most suicides that have taken place are in the adult age group, and majority are farmers as per the records maintained by the police,” Dr Nirola added.

While females attempt suicides more, it’s completed more by men.  Except for the case of a 19-year-old female, the remaining seven suicides reported in Thimphu this year were all men.

Both doctors said that, while depression is the most common cause for suicides, what’s more important is knowing the causes of depression. “The causes for depression could be due to the development that the country is going through, as well as the change in family values, parental negligence or peer pressure,” Dr Pakila Dukpa said.

Society still lacks knowledge on mental illness and not many people are sensitive enough to sense the subtle symptoms of depression, Dr Nirola said. “Most people don’t realise that changes in emotion and mood are to be reported to healthcare providers,” he said. “Even when they visit the hospital, they ‘ll present only the physical aches and pain to the doctors, rather than the sad mood.”

The ignorance or denial of mental health issues could be the reason why parents change doctors and do multiple tests for their children, who fall sick or get faint attacks from stress at school.

“Somehow, I feel that there’s severe degree of stress from school among our students and it’s a sign of stress when students start fainting,” Dr Nirola said. “But families don’t accept stress to cause fainting or that a child could be depressed and instead look for other physical signs.”

The CBS analysis found that  6.6 percent of students had reported very stressed; 23.5 percent as moderately stressed; 26.9 percent as somewhat stressful and 43.1 percent as not at all stressed.

Bhutan on an average sees about 40 suicides a year, which is about 5.7 per  100,000 population. Sri Lanka has 46 while Australia has 12. CBS president Dasho Karma Ura had however said that the rate of suicide at an international level was not alarming.  “But because of our approach to GNH, the room for such things should be very  low,” he said. “In our case people should not be committing suicides, and for us it’s not about statistics, but about what we should be doing.”

Lopon Gyembo said Buddhism believes in cause and condition. “ So while one’s karma could be the cause, we as humans have the capacity to mend the condition,” he said. “If they (victims) are too young and their emotions not overpowering, then it’s not a suicide from a Buddhist perspective; the death is accidental,” he said. “But if it’s a suicide, the action has to be formed by the person, because the thoughts and emotions overpowers the person to take that action.”

Meanwhile, the 11-year-old boy’s school conducted a rimdo in VI B, after his classmates kept telling (madam) Kinga that they were are unable to sleep. “We’ll have a wang organised in the school tomorrow,” (madam) Kinga said.

But her student, who had 100 percent attendance until midterm and scored 71.1 percent in the midterm examinations, left like an obedient child that his madam remembers him as.  He had completed his science project before he ended his life.

By Sonam Pelden | Thimphu

 

Putting their money where their mouth is

The cabinet has come up with a slew of cost-cutting measures to suit the current economic climate

Austerity: The prime minister and Cabinet ministers of the new government will continue to pocket existing salary and not adopt the new pay scale that was in the pipeline after a discussion during the first Parliament.

Which means they will continue receiving a salary of Nu 78,000 basic amount, and not the proposed Nu 180,000 for the Prime Minister and Nu 130,000 for ministers.

The hike in salary was determined during the sixth session of the first Parliament in 2010, during which the then Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers, the Supreme Court chief justice and National Assembly speaker, among others, “unanimously refused to benefit from the hike”.

The Parliament had then left it up to the “next government” to propose the new salary raise for the elected ministers, when it took over.

The civil servants, at that time, were given 20 percent pay raise, which had come in two years after its last 35 percent hike in January 2008.

However, opting to decline the raise, the executive team will take of existing pay scale of Nu 78,000, which will come into effect from July 27, when His Majesty granted dakyen.  However, a press release from the Prime Minister’s office yesterday stated the next pay commission could review and suggest “otherwise”, if necessary, and recommend to the government later.

The gesture was one of the austerity measures the new government adopted, following the fourth sitting of the Cabinet, “bearing in mind the current state of economy faced with a growing public debt, INR dearth and increasing current expenditure”.

During the Cabinet sitting, a resolution was also drawn to confine the chadri arrangements to events involving royal family, zhung dratshang and those that are of national significance.

“Pitching of tents, hoisting flags, arrangements of dancers, serving food, etc. during other events must be stopped,” the press release said.

Be it hotel or other guesthouse, during visits of the prime minister and ministers to places outside Thimphu, there should be no elaborate chadri.  While visiting team will have to arrange for packed lunches for midway meals and tea, practice of dzongkhag officials coming half-way to greet officials will be discontinued.

Even during official functions, entertainment should be reduced to bare essentials.  In doing so, it should be lunches instead of dinners wherever possible, and number of government invitees should not exceed twice the number of guests.

The team will also travel abroad “only when it is absolutely necessary” and irrespective of who finances the trip, the delegation should be that of small and required number.  Unlike in the past, there should be no formal reception or see-off line up at the airport.

In terms of vehicles, the prime minister will stick to his previous ride, Toyota Prado, while ministers will use one of the pool vehicles available with the ministries.

“No new vehicle will be procured by the government until the economic situation improves,” it said.

The press release also stated Maruti Wagon R cars provided for secretarial duty of the ministers will be returned for pool use in the ministries.

The Cabinet also decided to shed the domestic staff facility.  While the prime minister earlier received five, others had two helpers at residences.

There will be no “political appointments” made in the cabinet secretariat, unlike in the past, which had four appointees and one photographer on a contract basis.

Instead, the prime minister will look into re-organising and downsizing the secretariat, which has 41 staff, and the excess staff could be relieved on transfer to agencies facing shortage of human resources.

While there will be no pilot escorts during travels within Thimphu and Paro, besides shedding number of security personnel, the prime minister will live in his private residence and spare the official one for continued use as state guesthouse.

Ministers, however, will occupy the official residences at Lhengye Densa, as it would otherwise mean paying of housing allowance.

“The Cabinet hereby pledges to abide by all relevant laws of the land and consciously work hard towards curtailment of wasteful public expenditure,” the press release said.

By Kesang Dema| Thimphu

 

Picture story

Making music out of trash: Participants of the “Re-use” workshop re-purposed trash into sculptures and musical instruments and performed at the Clock Tower Square last month in Thimphu

Pictures Courtesy: Chant Bhattarai and Rinchen Lhamo

Trongsa district ruling on minor marriage overturned

Court: The High Court (HC) recently reversed the Trongsa district court’s ruling and released two men who had served time in prison for more than two months.

On June 17, Trongsa court sentenced farmer Kinzang Dorji, 22, from Samcholing village to nine years in prison for marrying a 17-year-old girl in contravention of the marriage act and penal code. As per the law, legal age of marriage is 18 years.

Kinzang Dorji was therefore charged for “rape of a child above age of 12”, which is a second degree felony.

The court also handed down a three-year prison term to the girl’s father, Jamtsho, for allowing the marriage of his minor daughter.

Kinzang Dorji appealed to the High Court on the grounds that the marriage was “consensual” and agreed to by the  parents.

The two judges of HC’s bench II established the marriage was consensual and both parents accepted them. “They had been living together as a married couple for the past eight months,” the verdict, which was passed earlier this month, stated.

The penal code’s section 183, which was amended in 2011, stated “a defendant shall be guilty of the offence of rape of a child above the age of 12 years if the defendant commits any act of sexual intercourse against a child between the ages of 12 to 18 years. However, consensual sex between children of 16 years and above shall not be deemed to be rape”.

Based on this latter provision the court exonerated the charge as consensual and not rape.

The court also took cognizance of their marriage. The girl, who was 16 before she married Kinzang Dorji, was studying in the local community school. She was compelled to discontinue her studies to look after her mother and three siblings because her father Jamtsho went to live with his second wife. They were living in a poor condition.

Later, her mother also expired. “Therefore, she decided to marry Kinzang Dorji to lead a family life and look after her siblings,” the HC’s ruling stated. “The court looked at all these situations.”

Problems cropped up only after eight months when Kinzang Dorji physically beat her. The girl’s father lodged with the Trongsa police a battery case against his son in law. Police found out that the girl was a minor and Kinzang Dorji was arrested.

The high court, however, cancelled their marriage and fined the stepmother Nu 1,000 for performing marriage of a minor. Her father was not imposed a fine as he had already served in the prison for more than two months.

By Rinzin Wangchuk

 

Meet-the-People today

The Meet-the-People Program will be launched today at the NRDCL conference hall at 11am. The program is in line with the 100-Day Pledges the government had made during its campaign.

Registration starts at 10 am and people who wish to meet the Prime Minister or the Cabinet Ministers are required to submit an application detailing out their grievances or issues along with related documents, a press release from the cabinet stated.

Similar programs will be organised in other parts of the country as well.

Meet-the-People Program, according to the press release is a feedback and public grievance redressal system for the people to directly meet the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Ministers without seeking appointments.

“Its objective is to provide the public easy access to meet their elected leaders, freely interact with them and avail of the opportunity to resolve their problems and grievances particularly in relation to public services,” the press release stated.

However, the program will not address cases that are under the purview of His Majesty’s prerogatives including land and citizenship kidu, and those under the purview of the courts.