Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Taxation system that has no rationality.

1. One one hand, you take loans to construct a house for your family residence plus few additional flats for rental purpose.  There is no tax waiver during construction and income tax is immediately levied from the first rent collected even though you could end up later surrendering the house to the bank in lieu of unsettled loan amount.

2. On the other hand, you construct a hotel. During construction and furnishing, the government waives off tax on materials. And after construction, government waives off income tax for 5 to 15 years depending on the location.  The income to government is only from sales tax that is paid by the customers who use the hotel rooms and eat and drink in the hotels.

The most expensive investment of a hotel is in furnishing from kitchens to rooms and toilets. And all these are tax free. In fact some smart hotel owners do not incur any cost in hotel furnishing. They import double the amount tax free, sell 50% in the black market at double the purchased cost and thus are able to furnish their hotels free of any monetary cost. Maybe a nominal fine if caught.

Hotels are therefore accorded double tax relief incentives. Matetials/ furnishings are not taxed during constructions and income tax is waived off for several years. All sales tax on rooms, food and drinks are happily paid by the customers. Whereas the rental building owners on the other hand are trebly oppressed. Mercilessly taxed by the government,  heavily cursed by tenants and finally for few unfortunate ones the building is auctioned by the bank. But life goes on. Some sail on, few fly and most trudge along. Survivsl instinct is amazing!

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

PDP government taxi policy stands terminated.

The PDP had imposed ban upon taxis from other dzongkhags from operating in Thimphu the most lucrative national market. And further new taxi licence in Thimphu was banned. All this to protect the monopy of existing ThimphuTaxi drivers who had befriended PDP Party during 2013 election. The PDP government even had taxis marked under different dzongkhag logo. I thought it was a very bad and narrow policy and had condemned it.

This time the DNT government abolished this segregation taxi policy and declared " Let market force decide ". I wish to celebrate the day of equal opportunity and equal law for all Bhutanese within the Kingdom.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Bhutan government comes to the rescue of Bhutanese youths in Japan.

More than 700 youths had gone to Japan under  " Learn and Earn Programme". Dreams and enthusiasms got dashed when youths realisedthat it was quite impossible to learn and earn at the same time and pay off loans taken to enter the programme.

The youths became victims of the greed of unscrupulous Bhutanese and Japanese Agents. Whilst the Japanese government had nothing to do with the Agency in Japan, the Bhutanese Government had everything to do with the Bhutanese Agency in Bhutan.

The issue of the sad plights of Bhutanese youths in Japan was sidelined by the new Bhutanese government until recently when Japanese media also picked up the same issues that have been the hot topics here in Bhutan among general public for the last several months.

Towards the  end of last week, the Bhutanese Prime Minister announced two major decisions which together at one stroke brings solutions to the grievances of the youths.

1. The repayment of the loans have been deferred until after the " Learning " period is over and the youths step into the  " Earning " stage.

2. The extension of Japanese visas related to such Bhutanese youths in Japan under " Learn and Earn " programme would be looked into jointly by the Japanese and Bhutanese Embassies at New Delhi.

The above two decisions solves almost all problems relating to employment opportunities in Japan and loan repayment terms. I feel the Prime Minister has really put the best foot forward and I appreciate the decisions. Hopefully all youths and parents also are thankful to both Bhutanese and Japanese governments.

What remains is the initial loan principal. The Bhutanese Agency BEO had overcharged the Bhutanese youths and also seems to have made a killing from handsome commissions paid by Japanese Language Schools  through the Partner Agent in Japan. And to cover the commissions, high tuition fees were collected from Bhutanese youths by the Language Schools. It seems that proficiency in Japanese Language is mandatory for employment in Japan. Thus the clouts enjoyed by such Language Schools.   

The Anti Corruption Commission of Bhutan have investigated the whole " Learn and Earn " scheme and have made criminal charges against Bhutanese Agency " BEO "  and few officials of Ministry of Labour and Human Resources. However, the Office of Attorney General is yet to decide on prosecution. Political play is suspected.

A constructive  solution would be for BEO to offer to pay each youth as compensation a sum of Nu: 100,000 + interest till date to address the grievances of the youths in addition to refunds pointed out by ACC. BEO can easily absorb these payments from the commissions received and profit accrued. OAG could then initiate an out of court settlement in consultation with ACC regarding the BEO business licence and service of Labour Ministry officials under administrative actions.  It would be a win- win for all stakeholders.   

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The solution to Thimphu city traffic decongestion.

Lungtenzampa motorway bridge should be replaced with a beautifully designed arch way pedestrian bridge. Let Lungtenzampa revert to historic walks of romance. 

However the feud between Tashi group and Thimphu Thromde over Lungtenzampa bridge ends, traffic congestion will still choke this area.   

The Thromde and Tashi group can keep fighting but not over Lungtenzampa bridge please. Thimphu city needs far more usefully convenient bridge and road to clear the traffic congestion. 

So forget Lungtenzampa motorway bridge. Make a pedestrian crossover plaza. 

Construct a twin bridge along the lower  Chubachu bridge presently under construction. And expand the road from Dechen Zam to Simtokha to 4 way traffic to cater to traffic towards East from Thimphu and to compliment the present Express way for South & West traffic from Thimphu.

Build a flyover road over the Chuba stream from upper Motithang ( where the present  road forks one towards BBS tower and the other down towards Zilukha )  all the way down to the twin Chubachu bridge. Connect all internal roads to this flyover road and to the present road from upper Chubachu round about to the new bridge presently under construction.  The flyover road is suggested because there is no other land space to build the required road. The flyover road and twin bridge will definitely ease congestion within Thimphu core area as well as reduce traffice pressure on the present Expressway.

Friday, February 8, 2019

More exorbitant monetary penalitiea on the way from DNT Government?

Plastic ban is good effort but why is the monetary penalty so high ? Nu: 500 to Nu: 1000! Bhutanese authorities have no regard for hard earned  money value of common people. Does the government think everybody has access to ill gotten income? Or does government  feel so powerful to act recklessly omni authoritarian. Why do Bhutanese authorities make monetary fines so unaffordable?

A simple inconsequential  mistake and they rob you of whole livelihood. The daily national wage is Nu: 125 and minimun fine Nu: 500 for any minor infringes of irratic rules that come on and off at random. The intent is never to encourage general people to follow rules but always to induce fear and obedience. A system of governance that is still wrapped up in primitive package.

From traffic rules to plastic ban rules,  educated officials use cane instead of brain when all  those in authority can  do is come up with rules to harass and punish and not educate. Sorry lots in our country. 

The rule is purposely made vague to confuse people and  increase  leeways of corrupt practices of rule enforcers. Is the ban for sale or for use or also includes plastic covers of packaged goods?

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Breaching the Constitution.

When someone breaks law, a simple apology does not suffice to the Court to get away with the act of breaking the law. Likewise, simply apologising to Supreme Court would not suffice if a ruling party is found by Supreme Court in  breach of an article or clause of the constitution. An exercise of extra constitutional power tantamounts to dictatorship.

An individual breaking the law would be penalised through levying of monetary fine or prison sentence. A ruling political party if found in breach of article of constitution cannot be fined or sentenced to prison term like an individual. The Party in breach may have to resign and fresh election called unless I guess pardoned by His Majesty the King and permitted to continue after undoing the breach.  

Whether DNT formed Cabinet is in breach of the Constitution can be determined legally by the Supreme Court only. The DNT government is superseding the set constitutional limit of free education for all in its pursuit to fulfill the campaign pledge of the DNT Party. Afyer the tenth starndard, the Constitution provides for state sponsorship of  free education based on merit only. Not state funding of all class X general passouts.   

And whether Supreme Court takes up the constitutionality case depends on the Command of His Majesty the King. Only the King of Bhutan can move the Supreme Court on a constitutional case. Unlike in neighbouring countries like India and Pakistan, the Supreme Court of Bhutan can act only upon royal consent regarding constitutional matters. Thus the constitution can be as gracious or firm as deemed royally.  

If the case does come to Supreme Court, among other issues, two factors may prove to be pivotal in determing the outcome.

1. The definition of the qualifying term " merit " as applied  and generally understood in the past by the Education Ministry and stakeholders like past students. And merit as defined could very well be the 59.4% set by the government for admission in class XI in government schools..

2. According to information quoted by Kuensel, this issue of providing free education upto class XII is not a new matter. It was submitted during the 1st Parliament by some MPs when the Draft Constitution was presented to the Parliament by Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye the then  Chief Justice of Supreme Court in  his capacity as the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committe. So the underlying fact is that the matter of free education upto class XII was submitted in the Parliament and rejected during the deliberation process of adoption of the Constitution. And it is a historical fact that  every article and clause was explained and debated upon in the Parliament before the Constitution was adopted.  

The critical fact here is that this particular issue of free education upto class XII  had been already submitted and rejected by the Parliament during the process of adopting the Constitution by the 1st democratic Parlianent. Therefore, it is quite clear that if this government wants to enhance " free education upto class XII level "  then it has to go back to the Parliament and get the present constitutionally set limit enhanced. According to His Excellency Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, there are both "economic and legal ramifications and  the 12th standard is categorised as pursuit of higher studies."   Constitutional infringement no matter how small or for larger benefit is still a breach. There are no acceptable legal ways to bypass the constitution except by the path of amendment.

The matter of  constitutional breach and benefit of free education are two entirely different issues though in this case the one affects the other. But Constitution must be relevant and its articles and clauses respected to both the letter and the spirit until inconvenient article or clause is amended through set Parliamentary process to suit the call of the time. It cannot be ignored even for the good of the majority because then it can be sidelined for the benefit of the few also. Availibility or non availibility of money is besides the necessity to adhere to the Constitution until such an article or clause is changed to accomdate the desire of the government or the people.

In talking about breach, many would recall the Supreme Court case of Opposition PDP Party vs DPT Party  government about taxation policy. The DPT government was directed by the Supreme Court to put tax issues through Parliamentary process as sought by the Opposition Party. You could say that DPT cabinet was in breach of the Constitution. However, there was a clause in the Financial Act in vogue that empowered the Cabinet to take decision on taxes. I think the  Supreme Court took cognisance of that fact also. So the apex court decision was largely on thereafter process I remember reading in Kuensel. The particular clause in the Financial Act was later done away with. And there was no verdict declaring a clear cut breach of the Constitution. DPT continued in governance. Sure there must have occurred some political rethinking and adjustment in different political heirachy setups.

The DNT formed cabinet is bent on going ahead with free education upto classs XII to fulfill the campaign pledge of the Party.     The Opposition Party warns of possible breach of the Constitution. The PM feels that greater good offsets the possibility of constitutional breach so he argues that the risk is worthwhile. And over 4000 students await private school placings on 8th Feburary, 2019.  There just is no time to amend the Constitution in favour of free education upto class XII. So now what is the way out ? Does the Prime Minister roughshod over possible breach of the constitution with the hope that the matter may never be referred to the Supreme Court?

The Opposition is leaving it to the  National Council which may or may not  decide to submit the matter for royal referral. There is, however, another possibility. The case may still be referred to Supreme Court without input by NC as was the issue about PDP going ahead with Thromde and Yenlag Thromde in every Dzongkhag because it was one core  campaign pledge of PDP Party. Afterall His Majesty is the sole guardian of the Constitution though Supreme Court is the one which if commanded by His Majesty will submit the judicial findings on constitutionality. 

The Constitution is the most sacred embodiment of monarchical  democracy in Bhutan. It is not just the Mother of all Laws but also the foundation of all institutions including monarchy. The 1907 " genja " too is replaced by the constitution. If anyone thinks otherwise, please revisit the royal address to 1st democratic Parliament. Further it is the legacy of two Kings. People would recall the words of Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, " what we submitted was like a rat but it came out like a lion ". His Excellency was referring to the draft constitution that the Committee had submitted and receipt of the same back with royal inputs. This draft constitution was shared and explained to public of all 20 Dzongkhags but hardly a single submission from the public at large was  incorporatedby the Drafting Committee. 

Moreover, it passed the Parliament wherein even the submission of enchancing " free education from class X to class XII " was denied.  So now how is it possible that a ruling political Party can decide and implement this very " enhancement " on its own strength as the Party in reign?  Where then is the " rule of  law " if what is rejected for incorporation  in the constitution by the Parliament can be decided otherwise by a new Cabinet with few weeks of experience in governance. A height of recklesss immature act or a consolidated reassurance belief in invincibility in having defeated two major Political Parties!  

The DNT government could have delayed this for a year as wisely decided at the education conference and get the necessary amendment through the Parliament. It is possible to amend because political situation is different. But all of a sudden, the DNT Cabinet decided otherwise. Maybe, they received assurrance of constitutional silence from their source of legal advisors and thus emboldened to risk the superseding of constitutional parameter. 

However, any doubt  about possible constitutional breach may warrant review by Supreme Court because setting precedence of inaction or turning a blind eye because it is politically convenient   would invite bolder and more disastrous breach the next round.

PS.  Democracy in our country is evolving and every thoughtful views about subjects that are pivotal such as constitutional breach could make positive contribution to developing a healthy nation. The responsibility is to make known the concerns and duty is to accept in good faith the ultimate decision of the constitutional authority.

Friday, February 1, 2019

The revolution through introduction of free education till class XII.

1. Was removing cutoff points a vote garnering strategy of DNT Party as was paying mothers of babies upto 6 months?

Answer. Yes.  It was a political campaign social boon to garner votes. But both commitments will have far reaching socio- economic and political ramifications that DNT was unaware of. Maybe most were in the same shoes as DNT. 

2. Will education standard go down as some allege in the absence of cutoff points for govt. scholarship ?

Answer:  Not really for two reasons.

a. Till class X level, the same criteria is applied for promotion to next higher class. Pass mark is overall 35% but pass marks must be secured in 2 main subjects of dzongkhag and english. That still stands even for class XI today.

b. In the past years, students were admitted in class XI in private schools as long as they had secured a pass in class X. And many such students have qualified for professional scholarships after completing class XII in private schools.  And also not every student who studied in government schools after making through the cutoff marks of Class X did well in subsequent years. There have been considerable number of failures from govt. high schools too though not as many as from pvt. high schools.

3. Should government fund those pre- classs X students who do not get seats in government schools and therefore are compelled to study in private schools and nurseries since education is now free upto class XII?

Answer: Yes.  It is in line with providing free education upto class XII. But first seats in government schools must be filled as in the case of class X pass outs.

4. Is removing cutoff points a boon to poor families only?

Answer: No. The policy benefits all students ( regardless of the social status of their parents)  who would not otherwise qualify for government scholarship. The offsprings of rich and poor alike can be good or weak in studies for variety of reasons. Therefore, the policy benefits all familes rich or poor. The rich is saved from having to spend from their pockets  and the poor is saved from spending borrowed money to educate their children.   

5. What could be socio- economic and political ramifications with free education upto class XII.. 

Answer:  Education has removed the traditional distinction between master and serf class/ race in Bhutan thus achieving the goal of legal universal suffrage.

However, unavailability of free education after certain level of schooling ( Primary then Class VIII and finally Class X ) in the modern history of Bhutan have resulted in the creation of blue and white collar class workers in addition to traditional farming occupation. Further the constitution of Bhutan shamelessly created an educated class to rule those  uneducated or less educated.

But circumstances bring about different ways of navigation. Survival instict is incredible. Even poor families realised that the only path to having a say in national affairs was in being a graduate. Today the number of young men and women graduating from colleges has increased greatly in comparision to 2008 and before. And many of them are from what many categorise as under- priviledged section of Bhutanese society.

This policy of free education till class XII will automatically further increase the number of college graduates. So socially, economically and politically, Bhutan is heading towatds a working class rule ( majority in reign of elected government )  in the near future.  Perhaps to a Bhutan with lesser disparity in social and economic status and more substantial political say than just the right to vote. 

Conclusion: Once democracy is introduced, it is difficult to shape it in the interest of just ruling class club. Political Parties need votes so freebies are a must. And impacts from certain freebies can result in major political upheavals for the good of the nation and majority of populace. I look at any change in policies in the light of how the majority are affected not just how much rich or poor benefit. I hope paying nursing  mothers will induce population growth especially in rural Bhutan and free education ultimately nullifies the constitutional bar placed to supress the aspiration of majority of Bhutanese people to have a 1st hand say in national affairs of Bhutan.    

Monday, January 28, 2019

A new direction taking shape in Bhutan's national policy?

1. I recall reading that PM Modi of India had offered 5 billion rupees (  just like UPA government gave PDP government )  during the telephone call to congratulate Bhutan's elect PM Dr. Lotay Tshering. 

2. Then there was a re-commitment from India about the 10,000 megawatt projects in Bhutan around the time of PM Lotay's visit to India. During PDP tenure, India had backtracked on the commitment and even imposed new terms which PDP formed  government  did not accept.

3. Since the visit to India by the Bhutanese PM, there has been no reference to that 5 billion rupees. India did agree to fund 45 billion rupees 12th Plan budget. That commitment was there even before the general election. And an additional Rs. 1 billion to improve custom infrastructures on both sides of Indo- Bhutan international borders to speed up trade after GST adoption in India.

4. Recently the Bhutanese PM has indicated the intention to slow down on  further new hydro projects. The public reasons given are that haste causes difficulties as in Punatsangchu two projects. The actual decision could be based on more concrete factors.

My personal take of events:

I am not fully  sure as yet but all indication points to preserving sovereign dignity. I pray that I am right. Thus this new government needs our support and goodwill in the path chosen. We Bhutanese must bear with our government if it is unable or delays fulfilling campaign pledges. It is necessary to forgo freebies of the present for national larger interest of the future.

Before our PM visit to India, some people were saying that he might get 60 or more billions in grant instead of the 45 billion for 12th Plan from New Delhi. My response was " I hope not though it could be 50 billion if the 5 billion freebie grant ( unattached to identified activities  ) offer was accepted ".

The 5 billion freebee grant offer could have funded most of DNT Party pledges. But thankfully,  it seems PM Lotay did not pursue it. And further, it seems he did not make new hydro projects a priority during his visit to India. 

I believe that pursueing new hydro projects under the terms insisted upon by India is not the best option for Bhutan. Our rivers are our biggest natural resources. But with our hands tied and hydro- project  costs going insanely wild and project completion date overshooting double the years from 5 to over dozen years, the vision of white gold has become a nightnare.  The 10% interest on hydro loan is piling up to original capital project costs.   The envisioned cash cow has become a corpse of national burden.

So yes, Your Excellency, hurry not with new hydro projects. Let us catch our breath and attempt to put a brake on the down hill slide. The land slides  at Puna I dam site is just a prelude to the sinking ship of the nation if interest rate continues at exorbitant 10% and reckless decisions and delays by project managements continue at the 2 mega projects of Punatsangchu. The government of India need to hold to accounts the former CEO of Puna I & II and all the key Indian appointees who were on tours 365 days a year as observed by Royal Bhutan Audit Authority.

I believe Bhutan can still  achieve the white gold vision that our Kings have set. Just a different time and new strategy is required to get to the favourable path. For one take up the Bhutan- Bangladesh proposed hydro project if India approves transit passage through her domain for export of electricity from Bhutan to Bangladesh. A transit fee can be paid. It would be a true case of joint equal partnership successful venture.  

I thank Your Excellency for not taking a easier path of pursuing the 5 billion rupee  candy that could have funded DNT Party  campaign freebee pledges. And I pray that fellow Bhutanese sympathise with our government in making do the maximum with what we as a nation can afford.

Monday, January 14, 2019

BEO/ MoLHR Bhutanese youths in Japan.

1. Optismistic in Government's changing attitude towards the plights of Bhutanese youths in Japan.

2. The deferring of loan repayment to permanent job status is most constructive. Loans should not be waived off as it would be a very destructive trend that would banrupt future financing resources.

3. Would be most beneficial if government could treat the loans in the same category ( same conditions ) as " education loans " granted under PDP government. Afterall " Learn and Earn " is kind of  pay through vocational skill trainning which is part of education process.

4. BEO should immediately take over 15% of each loan of 7 lakhs and 6 lakhs  respectively as liability compensation for rosy  marketting strategy to dupe youths into joining the programme and for overcharging plus trial and error type of management of the programme in Japan.  

5. ACC/ OAG could consider dropping criminal charges against BEO Partners and Labour officials if serious regret is demonstrated in terms of BEO taking over 15% principal loan amounts and Labour officials go all out to find some relief for working conditions and terms of the youths. 

Conclusion: It is not easy to work away from home be it in Middle East or Japan. In Japan language is a huge hurdle whilst Middle East the culture is a pain. But Bhutanese youth can adjust quite rapidly. So any Agency which is serious about helping the youths, do not start with the attitude that Bhutanese youths are lazy and incapable. Some of you adults  may have had easy early life. But many of us did not. Some youths that you know possibly family members or own offsprings may be lazy but it is not correct to generalise.  It was opportunity and hard work that enabled much of Bhutanese populace to come thus far. And so will majority of our youth population succeed in life with little impetus provided at the right stage of life.

Also forget this much quoted figure of 83% of BEO youths are still in Japan and paying loans on time. It is possible that parents of such youths are either sweating more or are in position to pay out. And ofcourse there are always few exceptionals. But government and ministry must look out for the future of the  majority because the few exceptionals can take  care of themselves. 


Saturday, January 12, 2019

Bhutan and her population.

1. Actual Bhutanese population in 2017 was declared to be around 680,000 ( sixhundred eighty thousand ). Residency population was around 735000 which includes foreigners including hydro and other construction workers. Thats what I recollect. The stand of NSB in today's Kuensel varies somewhat but camoflaged under the dubious term resident population.

2. I think Bhutanese population growth is already into negative but according to NSB, it is not so ( barely into negative ).

3. Our genius 3rd King had foreseen this problem of population decline and had discouraged birth control especially of the permanent kinds. 

4. Much later UNFPA came into Bhutan and strategically succeeded in almost forcing Bhutanese families to curtail fertility rate. Vasectomy and tubectomy operations  were carried out with much glee especially among the soldier families the most prolific population production centres ( Family Lines the accommodation provided to soldiers with families).  And in rural areas which again are the source of population growth, annual census days in geogs  were used to identify who must undergo vasectomy or tubectomy.  There were campaigns and posters proclaiming " Small is beautiful " with picture of 2 parents with one or two children.

5. In the 1980s and 1990s, vasectomy was in vogue and later tubectomy operation for mothers during birth of babies.  Birth control became the social fashion with pills and contraceptives for females. Male condom was promoted mainly to prevent contagious diseases " safe sex " which translates to care free sex. Policies on birth control and care free sex have been successful. Now the desire of high standard of living is the main impetus.

6. Even national laws were tailored to discourage birth rate.

My pubic opinion during the height of birth control campaigns was " It is hard to comprehend why UNFPA was out to eradicate the subjects of the King. And in the years to come, Drukpas will be in national zoo of Bhutan  as rare human specimen  ".  Not to be taken literally. I was highlighting the disadvantage of over zealous officials implementing birth control agenda.