Neten Dreop Dorji visits Gasa tsachu

Lam Dorji

Bringing my uncle Bagu to meet another uncle, Neten Dreop Dorji, who is here at the tsachu. He joined the Pungthang Dratsang at the age of 8, became Gasa Kangjub at 22 and served 11 years, served as Kudru at punakha where he also was in the Budrep alongside the late Je Khenpo Geden Rinchen. He was the 1st Trashigang Lam Neten, for 12 years. He also served as the 1st Dratsang Dakchong. I remember visiting him when he was Machey Zimpoen in Punakha as a student at lekeythang. He was sent to Trongsa as Lam Neten for 5 years after which he retired. Under a Royal Command and under instructions of the the current Je Khenpo, he returned once again and started the semtokha lobdra where he served for 3 years. Afterwards he became Uzin for dechenphodrang and later dechenphug, before finally retiring in 2004 at the age of 74. He is 86 years old today and lives in Thimphu with his nephew and lovely family, spending his time praying.

A tall and strong character from Gasa, of simplicity, integrity and service; nothing but inspiration!

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What Gasa vegetable growers say they need

Aum Dawa Lham and Tandin Pem, mother and daughter, from gathana are amongst the top vegetables producers in Gasa. Last year they made Nu.20,000 selling eggplant alone. My respect to them even though I do not know much about growing vegetables, it sounds like success and with MORE potential to explore. They grow an impressive amount of vegetables. A Nu.700-1200 travel fare with ADDITIONAL costs for transporting the farm produce either up to Gasa or down towards Punakha, an added uncertainty in finding vehicles in the first place, has kept several vegetable growers, like aum Dawa and Tandin, from tapping into the market properly. They tell me a scheduled bus service would allow them to not only send pre-ordered batches of vegetables to clients as required, but make it in time to khuruthang farmers’ market without a night-halt and expenses that come with it. It would also allow them to spend more time tending to the vegetables instead of waiting on the dusty road with sometimes nothing but wilted vegetables at the end of the long wait.

They have inspired me by how they work despite the challenges. Farming should be least obstacled, atleast in providing the best possibility at success because at the end of the day there can be no self-reliance without us growing our own food.

[Photos by me]

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Gasa is the last dzongkhag without a public transport service

The drive down to khuruthang in punakha, from Gasa will take about 2-3 hours depending on road conditions as it has been raining all night. That is 150 km, back and forth from Gasa (75 km oneway), comparable to traveling to Phuentsholing from Thimphu. Taxis charge Nu.1200 for a round trip per person, Nu.600 oneway for the same distance and it costs Nu.1510 to refill a LPG cylinder (Nu.510 as cost plus Nu.1000 for transporting) even before talking about other difficulties. Bus fare from Thimphu to Punakha is less than Nu.200. Work to complete road to gasa dzongkhag center began with the 1st parliament, and today it has reached the dzongkhag center; we are grateful. It has changed our lives in many ways. However, the convenience of the road remains a distant dream for the majority, without an affordable public bus service, which in turn would made living certainly more reasonably priced and tapping into farm produce market easier.

While a long over due decision of the Government to blacktop the last remaining dzongkhag center in the country, within the next 2 years is a most celebrated news for us, it is still 2 years (and if not completed even longer), a public bus service, not necessarily a daily, will undoubtedly allow individuals to enjoy the road that took great pains in building. We are hopeful it will be completed as promised and that perhaps, the Government can explore resources within and outside, including the park services wherein my constituents live, to start a bus service so that the benefits of the road can be expanded to even more people.

Sharing a letter I had written to the Minister for Information and Communication after a meeting in February. I also took the opportunity to express the same to the Prime Minister during the MTR. I look forward to hearing from the Government on its plans soon.

[Published on facebook on April 1, 2016]

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Retired judges and Jabmi practice at the heart of the Jabmi Amendment Bill 215

Section 24 of the Jabmi Act 2003 has been proposed to be deleted which prohibited ex-judges from private practice. Instead a new section allowing ex-judges (retired) to take up private practice is being proposed and has been passed in the National Assembly, to be passed in the coming days in the National Council. This is at the heart of the amendment in my opinion.

 

A bit of history that is not too old to recollect. In the 1st Constitutional and probably the only case a few years back when the Opposition took the Executive to court for violation of law, not on substantive but on procedural, a development was that an ex-judge (member of the Opposition) was allowed to appear before the court. The reasoning was based on interpretation of the use of the word ‘retired’ in the Jabmi Act 2003. In the courts interpretation, put simplistically ‘retired’ applied to only those who completed their tenures incase of the High court and the Supreme court or superannuated for others; an interesting and important development.

Now to get back to the current topic. The new section proposed in the Amendment Bill seeks to open up private practice to retired judges. Personally this is great news. Many of our judges are very young, including the Chief Justice, would be engaged in a service that we require and allow them to make use of their skills post retirement. It only appears fair. However, on deeper thinking, the carefully thought and crafted proviso in the Jabmi Act 2003, by the Judiciary at a time when things could have been easily maneuvered for opening up, may be indicative of the serious concern within the Judiciary. Delivery of justice in a large part is affected by public perception. It is susceptible to perceptions of biases and corruption very often. We have been very lucky in Bhutan that the evolution process and development in the Judiciary has been led by the keen interest of our Kings. This is because Their Majesties recognized Justice as the source of peace. A unique and important institution, the Royal Advisory Council was created as part of the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. It greatly helped alley perceptions of biases and corruption in the justice system  by allowing review outside of the Judiciary. However, the judiciary is now completely independent as envisioned in the Constitution after 2008. For most Bhutanese, the popular perception is that the Judiciary is unquestionable, atleast to the degree that the Executive and the Legislature is subject to. Understandably given the nature of public good it provides, however, it cannot be ignored that there maybe some basis of perceptions of biases and corruption like anywhere else. The Judiciary, given that the two other arms of State, the two Houses of Parliament and the Executive are electied and very vulnerable to political gimmick. The confidence in the Judiciary becomes even more crucial.

 

The Jabmi Amendment Bill needs objective thinking. It has far more ramifications to our justice system than we think. We are not just talking about amending, we are reversing an important principle of the law. It maybe easier to consider prohibiting sitting on a chair, far away from the difficult experiences of being a judge but the expectations of the profession cannot be ignored either. There are  pros and cons but we must carefully weigh them before a reversal which would be difficult to remedy once decided. Allowing private practice would mean bringing to society experienced lawyers and allowing retired judges to continue living comfortably, all perfectly well. But with private practice, the idea of a justice system that is unbiased and just or atleast closer to it, may lose out to cynicism. Do the benefits outweigh the grave risks? In the next few days the National Council will conclude debate on it. It is a huge decision and it would help to hear more views.

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Focus on the Doing Business front

Kuensel newspaper recently covered a story Govt. takes credit for rise in Doing Business ranking. Bhutan has improved its ranking from 125 in 2014 to 71 in 2015. This is wonderful news for everyone but we must also understand that there has been changes in how Doing Business is measured. A change in parameter can help greatly improve capture data better. We also know when we look at the rankings in the region, our earlier ranking(s) left many of us with questions looking at some of the countries doing better than us. Because we had the good fortune of focussed leadership of our wise Monarchs, we had in place practices that could easily have put us many steps ahead. With improvement in both measurement and also better availability of data, we are beginning to appear in our rightful place.

I congratulate the Government on its efforts for the many initiatives that would have gone into this improvement. As for Government legislative initiative, Parliament is still discussing the new Companies Bill and an Enterprise Registration Bill, both aimed at improving ease of doing business. The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry has already voiced serious concerns against the proposed Enterprise Registration Bill amidst lack of clarity on establishing the objective and the form of the Bill. The news article basically attributes it to two areas, both NEW parameters in the measurement of the index; (i) getting electricity (2), and (ii) registering property(5) and has left out zooming into the details, which is important for us to bring further improvement to encourage private sector growth.

A look at the details will help understand it better. While Bhutan has had improvements, rankings have also slipped in several areas and will help improve; (i) getting credit (-8), (ii) starting a business (-6), (iii) dealing with construction permits (-5), (iv) paying taxes (-2) and (v) protecting minority investors (-1). Given the leap in ranking, perhaps next report could see more leap as we being to see the Government address these 5 areas of concern in Doing Business environment.

Bhutan Doing Business Index

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Government decides to merge BOIC with BDBL

I do not know how we should feel about it. Should we feel happy that correction has been made to violation of law or if we should feel disappointed that the Government has violated law as could be inferred from decision?

My reservations have always been on the violation of the Financial Services Act 2011, that requires either a license or a permit to carry out banking and financial services. While interpretations maybe subject to dispositions, there is little or no room to misread explicitly worded provisions of law. The decision, while bringing with it a sense of encouragement to see correction of a wrongdoing by the Government, it also lays before us a question of regard for law, and without that in a democracy, what else is there? I thank our guiding Star for allowing better senses to prevail. [The Foreign Minister announced the decision with reference to FSA law as the reason at the National Graduate Orientation Programme on Sept 3, 2015]

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Linking the Civil Service and Service Delivery

My thoughts on performance management and civil service from early 2012.

sangaykhandu's blog

This essay tries to explain the importance of managing performance in the public service in order to fix individual responsibility and accountability in the delivery of public services. Although institutional accountability has come to the centre stage of discussion on fixing accountability today, it is imperative that we understand and accept that it is the aggregation of individual accountability that arises to institutional level of accountability.

The Bhutanese civil service is all too familiar with words like meritocracy and professionalism and it is understandable. They have come to the fore especially since the introduction of the position classification system (PCS)

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