Editorial

April 16, 2017

Monitoring universities and college degrees 

The recent episode of the Sikkim Manipal University (SMU), from where several Bhutanese have graduated over the years, has opened up an entire can of worms in the country’s higher education’
First, were students seeking admission even informed that “distance education” from these colleges will not be recognized? Or is it a fundamental duty to know everything? What were stakeholders, such as the department of adult and higher education (DAHE), Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) and the scores of education consultants doing?

And what is the problem with distance education in a digital world, where people take one class in the Norther hemisphere and go for their evening classes to the southern hemisphere?
These loopholes reveal that there seems to be a yawning fissure between agencies, working in their own compartments, worried that their territory would be infringed.

We must understand that over the years thousands of Bhutanese have obtained their degrees from SMU and other colleges affiliated to universities of the neighboring Indian states of West Bengal, Manipur and others.

The current scenario where students with certificates of ‘distance education’ were not recognized has not only come as a huge blow to those who have already pursued their degrees from these colleges, but add to the frustrations that is slowly building up, especially amongst the youth.

While the Prime Minister’s intervention comes as a much needed respite to all those affected, the education ministry and their relevant departments should by now chart out a roadmap so that such untoward incidences will not occur in the future.

Apart from these, Bhutanese students, despite the education ministry’s intervention, are often duped while going for higher studies in neighboring countries as they are provided with false information by recruiting agents. There are a lot of cases to prove that the above statement holds water as it has already affected a large number of students over the years.
Why are we still confronted with the same old malady when we know that it is time to put an end to such unpleasant practices?

As mentioned earlier, compartmentalization is the main issue. DAHE will not listen to RCSC, for they have their visions. The RCSC will say that they have their own mandate. But what about the national mandate – the nation’s vision?

And in all these dramas, the losers are the people and country, especially those from the lower rungs of society. Such cases lead to loss of faith in institutions. These make us wonder if we ever learn from our own experiences and mistakes.

It is time for our leaders to put their heads together. It is time for our leaders to know that irrespective of the institutions they work in, they are working for the country. The Nation has a Vision. Let us achieve it.

April 9, 2017

The RBP predicament

We sleep peacefully at night. Girls can walk around without fear of being raped. Is it because we, Bhutanese, do not and will not indulge in any kind of crime? Records say definitely not! So why this sense of security?

The answer is simple. It is because of the men and women in blue, who walk around all night ensuring that we sleep. Yes! People will say, it is their duty. Duties cannot be performed easily if there are no incentives.

As implementers of the law, the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) faces the music whenever something goes wrong. They are blamed for forensic incapability. They are blamed for not having separate detention cells. They are blamed for almost everything bad that happens.

But do people who feel that the RBP is not functioning well try to find out the reason?

Let us leave the RBP and think of other agencies. What makes them productive? What inspires their employees? The answer is money – budget. So, if the RBP does not get enough support financially, how can they work efficiently? If they are not provided a good forensic cell, how can they even get finger prints? And if they have not been allocated enough budget, how can they construct separate detention cells? In a techno world regime, how can they stay updated without budget?

Despite all these problems, the RBP has not compromised in their responsibilities. The crack down on substance abusers is probably something they can justifiably be proud of. Organizations like the RBP have very few friends and more enemies, for they land up making one group sad. The budget discussion for the 12th Five Year Plan has been held. We do not know if the RBP has got a fair share. We talk about need based budget allocation. And what the RBP needs are need based.

There are international agencies supporting the RBP. The government also provides some amount. But if we want to clean our streets; have different detention cells and make the RBP the most efficient amongst law implementers in the world, they have to be supported.

The bottom-line is that the RBP needs money. If not we may not be able to sleep peacefully.

 

A river of dreams

The Prime Minister’s visit to neighbouring Indian state of Assam to celebrate Namami Brahmaputra, the largest river festival of India, is more than a cultural expedition a mark of friendship honouring the already close ties the state of Assam and Bhutan enjoy from times immemorial.

Apart from the usual pomp and gaiety of the fun-filled festival, the two heads, Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgye and Sarbananda Sonowal the Chief Minister of Assam, are expected to meet at the sidelines of the five-day festival to discuss on key issues like resource and information sharing between the two neighbouring friends.

The Telegraph India reported that Bhutan threw its weight behind Assam’s efforts to harness the Brahmaputra and took the ties to a new level by saying that Bangladesh and Bhutan will greatly benefit from Assam’s progress.

Additional sources claimed that the two countries are implementing a comprehensive scheme for establishment of hydro-meteorological and flood forecasting network on rivers common to India and Bhutan.

The network consists of 32 hydro-meteorological and meteorological stations being maintained by the Bhutan government with funding from India. The data received from these stations is utilised by the Central Water Commission of India for formulating flood forecasts and other meteorological studies.

The Lyonchhen, in his opening address at the festival yesterday, said that Sarbananda Sonowal the chief minister of Assam was like his spiritual brother and that both Bhutan and Assam have a lot of work to do in weaving a fabric that will unite the people on both sides.

On increasing business relations, Lyonchhen said he requested the Indian government to open a consulate in Guwahati. He said that Bhutan have requested the government of India to start a Bhutan consulate in Guwahati, and that will be very pleased when allowed, to personally inaugurate the consulate. The two leaders also talked on the prospects of sharing hydropower and crude oil keeping in minds the long term ramifications on the environment and the bio-diversity.

While Bhutan exports hydropower to Assam, the winter grade diesel, produced by Numaligarh Refinery Limited in Assam, is being exported to Bhutan and in a very subsidized rate.
The chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal also described the day as “historic” as the Brahmaputra has given special status to the people of Assam on the world map,

The Brahmaputra flowed gently but the atmosphere was charged with excitement. A river festival as this could be a turning point for greater deliberations on mutual understanding and friendship. And with the two leaders declaring themselves spiritual brothers, we have all the reasons to smile and hope for a better communal bonding between these two ancient neighbors.

 

To combat disaster

Heavy downpour for last few days in the entire southern belt has wreaked havoc. It is very unfortunate that thousands of our people have to endure has such an awful experience. It is sad that old town of Sarpang which used to be a stop-over for the travellers had been washed away, displacing hundreds of residents.
It is even more disheartening to know that a Sherubtse student has fallen a pray to this dreadful disaster. There are reports coming from all across the country about roads being washed away, bridges collapsing, and rampant landslides. We at the mercy of the rain god and many more disaster are inevitable if rain does not subside.
If not in the good days, we the Bhutanese are always good at helping each other during the times of disasters. His Majesty the King has never failed to show his unwavering love to his people, especially during the time of calamities. The People’s King, we call him, and the reason, not unknown, is because he lives for the people.
Even before the local people of Sarpang would react, His Majesty arrived at the disaster site to offer rescue service. Well, there are no words to describe such a king who leaves the palace to risk his life with the people who are in danger.
Personnel from the armed forces, forestry, DeSuups and volunteers also deserves a grand salute for their service to the people who are in need. They have been helping in evacuating the people for last several days.
But how prepared are we to combat disasters? According to the RAA report, there had been series of lapses and shortcoming in implementation of the plans and policies. It seems National Disaster Management Authority, the nodal agency to look after disaster in the country has failed in many spheres.
Thus, to combat disasters, it is advisable that NDMA to conduct a holistic study on the preparedness on disaster management. There is also a need for effective inter-agency coordination and appropriate policies and plans. Capacity building in disaster management and possibilities of insuring assets have to be carried out too.

Rethinking BBIN MVA                                                                                                                                     MAY 15, 2016

There is a general consensus that trade facilitation will benefit all member nations of BBIN. With the regional economy booming well, BBIN motor vehicle agreement is timely proposal for the member nations. Economic growth and flow of goods (interdependently) among the member nations has caught unprecedented pace and it will only grow if the BBIN MVA come into effect.
In the recent times, we have witnessed some hostile comments from most of the transporters. Responses are unwelcoming from cabbies and some section of our community, including some policy makers. Before jumping the gun and drawing conclusion, one has to weigh merits and demerits of this agreement.
Signing this agreement would allow free movement of vehicles in the region. This, the apprehensive section, thinks will take Bhutanese breads away. They have cited only negatives of this move.
But people have to understand that free movement of Indian vehicles in Bhutan already exist. Does this affect business of cabbies and truckers? Uncountable numbers of Indian vehicles ply in our country, is it new thing?
This agreement is not new to Bhutan and India, nor is it to Nepal and India. Vehicles ply every now and then, and it has been trend for last many years. Maybe it will be opening to Bangladeshi vehicles.
By agreeing to this pact, Bhutan is not trying to open to free movement of all the vehicles. There is provision in the pact that Bhutan can put certain issues forth before signing the agreement. Considering the size and population of our country, we cannot make all vehicles to flood in.
This is time to discuss how we can go about in regard to signing this pact. We can limit number of vehicle plying in. Or we can identify final destinations in the country beyond which they cannot ply freely. We can make these foreign vehicles to strictly comply with our road safety rules and other related regulation in order to ensure minimum adverse impact and maximum merits.
Today, our trucks ferrying export goods do not ply freely in sub-continent. Owing to this, huge revenue is being drained out. Transporting oranges from Bhutan to Bangladesh will open business opportunity for truckers and to the cabbies.
More than anything, better trade facilitation will always improve trade volume in the region. Economy of the member nations will be immensely benefitted. BBIN MVA is only trade facilitation; it is not a new dimension that maybe put economy into jeopardy.
There are so many considerations to be made collectively, rather to catching one end firmly and denying to this pact. Cabbies and truckers have to know that more number of foreigners will pump in more revenue, if handle cautiously. Insular economy will never grow unless it opens to open free market.
Thus, signing BBIN MVA has to be re-thought. Three other member states have already rectified the agreement. Bhutan will do it in upcoming parliament and in doing so, it is important that voices of people be heard properly.

Fronting has to be stopped

One impediment to private sector growth, especially in trading business, is because of fronting- the case of lending business licenses by Bhutanese to Indians. Rampant fronting business in borer towns had not only drained out colossal amount of revenue but also swallowed business opportunities of local people.
Fronting is an economic evil that has been enduring for last several decades. Despite a few diminutive attempts taken to curb this problem, government has failed to take serious action to root it out of the system.
Fronting has become rampant because of two reasons. One, the lure of making easy money has always been too hard to resist for Bhutanese businessmen who resort to fronting. All they need to do is to take out a license in their name and hand over to their Indian partner. The license holders get a comfortable cut from the profits doing virtually nothing.
Two, the Bhutanese government has literally failed to impose strict penalties in the past. Slapping with nominal amount as fine or forfeiture of the business license had little or no impact at all.
Moreover, fronting is a very lucrative option for Indian investors because they can then take advantage of concessions meant for the Bhutanese businesses like tax breaks, subsidized and cheap electricity, lease land from the government etc.
Its consequences are too grave if one really contemplates. It poses serious threat on national security apart from loss of business opportunities and revenue outflow.
This issue will endure unless severe actions are not taken. Nu 10,000 fine and cancellation of trade license will not give desired results. Policy makers need to do some home works and try thinking how it should be sorted out.
Last years, when Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) unearthed series of fronting business in border towns, some sense of fear rippled across the country. Imposing heavy penalties and detaining some perpetrators did ring the bell but our law is little vague. ACC Act doesn’t mention word ‘fronting’ in it and therefore the penalties. This offence is hardly spelled out in our laws.
When a monk was put behind the bar for three years a few years ago for trying to smuggle tobacco products, every single Bhutanese voiced out against the severity of law. Today, fronting is plaguing our local business setups and its impacts are graver. But they escape paying some amount as fine. This is clear lopsided law of our country.
It is time that fronting has to be stopped.

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