The Office of the Prime Minister is the most important office as the highest elected leadership position in any country. It represents the aspirations of the people and symbolizes the power given by the people to realize those aspirations. The country looks to this office for exemplary conduct during other times and for confidence in times of uncertainty. An individual who rises to this position beginning from the grassroots, in a sense represents the best of what a citizen aspires to be. Therefore, any individual who occupies this office owes it to the country and to its people the sacred duty to uphold the highest of standards, moral and ethical in its conduct. It could greatly either strengthen or weaken trust; the fundamental basis of relationship between a government and its citizenry.
The Office of the Prime Minister has come under scrutiny even during the first government concerning appointments of four political party workers. This was extensively discussed both in parliament and in society because it needed more reflection. As pioneers, setting the right precedence is critical because this will shape our new democratic culture. This Government did not make such appointments. More questions are expected to arise as we inch forward into the future, shaping the roles of institutions and in this case, the Office of the Prime Minister and its responsibilities in not only leading the country with confidence but setting the highest possible standards. A concern that needs deeper reflection and contemplation has arisen once again in my opinion.
All Government offices including the Office of the Prime Minister need to follow the procurement rules issued by the Finance Ministry. In case of gifts to the Government, the gift rules apply. This is important to understand because the Office of the Prime Minister has been seen to be promoting Tesla motors electric car with the Prime Minister driving it for months now, and more recently Nissan LEAF electric car, after the Government’s decision to change decades old policy of keeping out used cars and importing used Nissan LEAF cars. The Tesla motor electric car in question now bears a government registration (I imagine the Nissan LEAF with the Prime Minister does too), several statements have indicated that it is for testing purposes.
Many views have emerged from different quarters of Bhutanese society indicating that it has not escaped public notice and it is encouraging to note that people do observe; lack of apathy is a welcome sign.
The exercise of constructing a vision of electrically powered transportation is a good thing and certainly not new in Bhutan. The Government’s decision to assemble electric cars in the country for example was a wonderful thought. However, testing a product for a business raises questions of ethics and the appropriateness of such an act. I am reminded of such an incident from my university days in Thailand. The Prime Minister at the time appeared on a private cooking show on television one evening. Next he had to resign because it reflected poorly on the Office. He was seen to be promoting a certain business which affected adversely the trust people placed on the office. One wonders what the next product could be that the Office of the Prime Minister of Bhutan may seen to be promoting albeit all the good intent; the means (process) is as important as the end.
I share my opinion in the hope that more serious thoughts could be given to a seemingly insignificant but consequential act by such an august office. Differing views need to be heard, different angles need to be seen and more importantly because the Office of the Prime Minister represents our Government, the people of Bhutan must speak up to set the standards of what is acceptable and what is not. We often talk about code of conducts of civil servants; we talk of code of conduct for various other public servants. Is there a need to consider a code of conduct for the Government? The Executive (Lhengye Zhungtshog) needs to align its law with the Constitution. Will it also not be timely to define the role and responsibilities of the Office of the Prime Minister?
[Photographs from social media contributions]