Saturday, January 31, 2015

A letter that describes what metal career diplomats really are( courtesy The Economic Times )

NEW DELHI: S Jaishankar, India's envoy to the US, was appointed the new foreign secretaryon Wednesday night replacing Sujatha Singh who had six more months to go.

A press release issued late on Wednesday said that the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet approved curtailment of tenure of Sujatha Singh with immediate effect and appointment of Jaishankar for two years from the date of his take over or until further orders, whichever is earlier.

Sujatha Singh, who was India's ambassador to Germany, took over as Foreign Secretary on July 31, 2013, when the UPA led by Manmohan Singh was in power.

Below is the full text of Sujatha Singh'sfarewell letter: 

Dear Colleagues, 

I have today sought early retirement from Government service. 

My life as a civil servant in the service of India, both overseas and in India, has given me the opportunity to serve not just the Government of India but the people of India and the idea of India that we have had the honour to represent as professional diplomats - the largest democracy in the world, teeming, vibrant, resonant with all its diversities, cultures, languages and civilisational splendour. A democracy that demands patience in untangling the mysterious ways it works, a system that infuriates more often than not, but a system that surprisingly also delivers, more often than not, because of the people who hold it up, the people who make it run. 

I believe that civil servants are among the millions of people who work towards enabling India to deliver, who work towards enabling India to realise its enormous potential, who assist fellow Indians in realising their aspirations. Not all civil servants perhaps, but some of us certainly, and among them I count the Indian Foreign Service as amongst, if not the best in terms of professionalism, in terms of competence and in terms of sheer dedication and world view. Like any other civil service or indeed profession, we have our shortcomings. But what we do possess in the Ministry of External Affairs are great institutional strengths, strengths that we have consistently built on over the years and that keep MEA in the vanguard of change in GOL It is this inherent strength that has enabled MEAto rise consistently to the challenges presented to us - to prepare, to organise, to deliver and to follow up, on what has perhaps been the most charged, and indeed the most successful, calendar of any new Government's post election foreign engagements. 

I believe that the Foreign Secretary, as Head of this Service and the senior-most civil servant in the Ministry, plays a critical role in being the main point of interface with the political leadership, in giving objective advice that takes into account India's foreign policy interests over all connected and interlinked aspects. 

While individuals can and do play a critical role in building institutions, I believe that no individual is larger than the institution. It can never be about individuals. It has to be about institutions and how institutions interface and coordinate with each other. 

Colleagues, it has been my privilege to have served over 38 years in the Indian Foreign Service, and a particular privilege to have served as Foreign Secretary over the past 18 months, leading the remarkable women and men who work selflessly, at all levels of MEA,to advance India's interests abroad. I will continue to cherish this sense of pride for the rest of my life.

Best wishes, 

Yours sincerely, 

(Sujatha Singh)

Friday, January 30, 2015

National income and Natural resources.

It is often said in public speeches that the two resources: national and natural resources are to be utilised for the common benefit of all citizens. That is a tall order in real practice but not impossible.

In the past, major steps have been taken in sharing national income for providing free education and medical care to all. These steps are so vast and ages old that people fail to comprehend the goodness and equality of such a profound policy.

In every day life of cross national development journey, one small but effective decision was nationalisation of river sand resource. Before river sand resource was put under NRDCL, few influential personalities were enjoying a financial Mecca that was strangling the overall development growth of the nation. I think it was His Majesty the 4th King who took the bold decision to ensure that the most common raw material in construction was made available to all at reasonable cost and in required quantity.

Now NRDCL is attempting to fulfill another national mandate to provide sawn timber to all at reasonable cost. The private saw millers do not like it but if left to them as in the past years, there will be no limit to desires for self profits only.

The present Government seems to be taking judicious practical stands in its discussions during the last Public Private Dialogue as well as during the Meet with the sawmiller group. I wish the same Government had accorded the necessary mandate and extensive right for primary mining to the National Mining Corporation placed under DHI Management.

Unfortunately the existing private mining groups got their way. And so the most potential mineral wealth of the nation will continue to be devoted towards enriching the select few for sometime into the future. The National Mining Corporation will turn out to be a very expensive public eye wash exercise.

The Nation must move forward and in the process the gap between the rich and the poor must not be allowed to widen even further. Private sector development is an important part of economic progress in any nation whether developed or at developing stage. I do not belittle the pivotal roles that private sector have and will play in the future.  However, it is also true that most of world's national and natural wealth are concentrated amongst limited number of people. This is the reason why majority of the world population struggle for decent food and shelter even in the developed nations.

Bhutan was a poor, isolated and a rural nation but abject poverty was rare. Today it is  GNH nation doing tolerably well and yet now we have more of those struggling for decent living in terms of food and shelter. One reason is that we have a larger population and longer life expectancy. The other is that a very small group have their hand all over the economic pie.  The social base of private sector is so very narrow and limited in ownership diversity. Cross check any ten large Enterprises and there will be cross ownership of several extended families in Factories, Mining, Trade ,Finance  and Tourism Infrastructures. Even the Media that is always crying for alms from the Government is just an additional business of well to do Bhutanese businessmen and women who have larger economic base. Recently these same group of newspaper owners are demanding that the Government fund their exclusive right to rule the 4th Estate that is supposed to be one of the shining light of democracy. The hunger for wealth and influence is abnormally transparent and readily accepted it seems.

It may be advisable for the nation to now review the past policies on providing electricity power subsidy to industries; the primary mining rights of all minerals and usage of scarce hard currencies.  The recent High Court admonitions on past tax shelter industries demonstrated how and who made crores of money. These industries were not required to pay even corporate tax so the beneficiaries did not bother to file personal income tax for incomes  from such fast easy money ventures. It may be high time that a real sit down is called upon to examine upon  whom all incentives, subsidies  and exploiting rights are being bestowed .

I commend this Government for passing  down to the grassroot level the benefit of national wealth by providing 100 units of electricity free of cost in rural areas. However, the most sustaining distribution of national wealth is land kidu to farmers by His Majesty the King. If sincerely and effectively utilised, sufficient farm lands with progressive farm technology could induce rural prosperity. This may provide both economic and political relief to rural Bhutan in the long run.

However, major problems will be in urban centres that will increase tenfold with development of 20 Thromdes in the near  future. Rural to urban migration will increase when more farm lands are absorbed under urban plans that have been  always geared to rob the poor farmers and enrich the better offs. Farm lands are forcefully taken over with negligible compensations and then these very farm lands  parcelled out among business licence holders and influential persons.  That is one policy that made the poor poorer and the better offs even more well offs.  This policy will continue to create  more class of have nots  with more of their children unemployed as number of Thromdes are increased and enlarged to satisfy the appetite of the well to do.

The classes of have nots and increasing number of educated unemployed disillusioned youths will gradually question how the national and natural wealth are utilised and distributed. Therefore, national leaders must act now to bring about fairer distribution of resources and benefits. The GDP is important to any nation even to GNH Bhutan  but reducing the gap between the rich and the poor is equally important. And adopting policies that enable more equitable distribution of national resources, opportunities and fruits of developments could help in closing economic gaps among the Population.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Merit of ACC Suspension Demands.

The Commission had issued suspension demands  for two former Lhakhang Karpo project officials and according to media,  may also have issued similar demand  against the Foreign Minister who is already on authorised absence. ACC has been quite impartial in its demand for suspension from service for all those charged in the Court of Law.

It seems that such suspension demands are usually issued on the day the corruption case is filed in the Court of Law. So OAG must have filed the case yesterday the 26thJanuary,2015 at Haa Dzongkhag Court. As per the Act, the ACC is deemed to be empowered to demand such suspension. However, depending on the merit, the suspension demands have been either followed through or kept in abeyance by implementing Agencies in the past. The present scenario is yet to play out. The 'authorised absence ' already sanctioned by Cabinet to Foreign Minister could complicate matters or result in same relief for the other two.

Without prejudice, the automatic exercise of suspension power by ACC needs to be reviewed. At the first glance, there is disparity in that the suspension order is issued to only those that are employed by the Government and the large Corporations. So others facing similar anti-corruption cases are not affected. Therefore, suspension becomes an additional extra pre- judicial punishment for few. It could, therefore, be deemed rather unfair and un-necessary.

In the case of Haa Lhakhang Karpo, the service of the  Lapon had been terminated and both the Engineer and the Manager of the Project have been disassociated from the Project since the ACC investigation. So in a way,  pre-judicial anti-corruption disciplinary actions have already been taken. Therefore, is it really necessary to again impose further punishment on the alleged wrong doers when the Charges are filed in the Court and therefore, jurisdiction transferred from a constitutional or civil Agency to the Court of law?

In my own view, I feel that ACC or the OAG which usually  prosecute the cases on behalf of ACC could go through the judicial process in regards to enforcing  suspension from service of those charged in the Court. This method would be fair as it would accord due cognisance to ACC powers as well as judicial mandate of the Court to examine the merit of exercise of such powers. Just because an Agency or for that matter any authority has certain powers,  does not mean that such powers can  be arbitrarily exercised whether warranted or not. The necessity and relevance of exercising such powers must also be looked into and the Court of Law is the most appropriate authority to determine it.

In the overall interest for protecting the mandate of ACC, the rights of individuals and the judicial mandate of the Courts of Law,a transparent due process must be drawn up in regards to suspension of alleged corrupt individuals charged in the Court of Law. In the past, we have had officials suspended and later found innocent as well as those that ACC could not get suspended but later found guilty. So suspension of individuals from services depended on the influence of that individual versus ACC determination and not at all based on the legal merit of the case or situation.

The past practises were any thing but fair to the defenceless. . Therefore, I submit that ACC, the OAG and the Judiciary kindly take the time and effort to establish an acceptable judicial approach in the matter of ' suspension from service ' so that same rule and process applies to all that are charged in the Court of Law in anti-corruption cases. My own feeling about the issue is to have the Prosecutor submit the suspension demand to the Jude who would decide upon the merit of such a proposition. The Court may possibly want to grant the defendant the opportunity to counter such OAG demand in the interest of seen to be delivering justice.

Palden Drukpa ! Lha Gyelo ! May process of Justice Prevail !

Friday, January 23, 2015

Authorised Absence a new found coinage.

The term, ' authorised absence ' is a new term coined by RCSC as a kind of temporary way out to break the impasse over the three Government Secretaries who the Commission found were improperly discharged from their Posts by the Cabinet. Under this term the Secretaries would be treated as on duty in regards to entitlements but would stay away from their offices and official responsibilities for the time period taken by RCSC to arrive at a final decision. It is a kind of passive political manoeuvre by a apolitical Constitutional body in a delicate situation. I am quite impressed.

Now the Cabinet has borrowed this new impasse solving method of RCSC and applied it to the Minister of Foreign Affairs who is being charged in the Court of Law on anti-corruption Charges. The case is related to the Haa Lhakhang Karpo Project that had been suffering a prolonged state of distress in the last 4 years.

Considering the past  case of Gyalposhing , there was a possibility that the the accused Minister would not be called upon to forgo his official duty as Foreign Minister as it is quite unrelated to the case under judicial process.  However, the Cabinet, it seems, has taken a less controversial way out. This official arrangement would enable the Minister to concentrate on his case without losing the entitlement.

The  authorised absence is a precedent creating decision of the Cabinet and could henceforth be applicable to all cases of Government employees as well as all elected officials. After all in their different capacities, the civil servants and the elected officials serve the Nation. I think the Constitutional post holders are immune from prosecution unless they are impeached first during their tenure. So  authorised absence would be applicable for impeachment duration not Court case.
I foresee one dilemma in the cases of authorised absence. What happens if a guilty verdict is passed? The services of the guilty would  terminate but would the entitlements received  during authorised absence need to be refunded or such  entitlements  considered  payable till the day of guilty verdict from the Court?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A different Tshering Tobgay and a new geopolitical Position for Bhutan.

India saw a very different side of the personality of His Excellency the Prime Minister of Bhutan at Vibrant Gujarat. It is my personal take that His Excellency's personal profile shot up high in both the political and business world of India. Following the heady Gujarat address, there was a marathon of high level Meetings with all important dignitaries of the Republic of India. India was no longer patronising in its attitude to Bhutan's Tshering Tobgay. The Prime Minister himself looked very comfortable and confident during all the official engagements. And the change in the demeanour of Indian Officials and Corporate Executives was not just noticeable but receptions seem spruced up.
What I observed is not as on the spot witness but from clipses of scenes shown on BBSC television.

Indian political sensitivity had to have reluctantly absorbed the implication of Meeting between the Prime Minister of Bhutan and the Secretary of United States. Bhutan on it own would not have been in position to seek a bilateral meeting with the 4th in line strongmen of America. His Excellency Norbu Wangchuk confirmed my presumption that it had to be America who initiated the high level Meeting. India could not have obstructed such a America initiated Meeting especially with the planned visit of American President to India during Republic Day.

I shall dwell upon the sudden change of political equation for Bhutan after an appropriate interval. However let me just state that once an Author titled his book on Bhutan as ,' Bhutan on the Wings of Change' . This time too Bhutan is on the wing of change but it is not just economic development or opening doors to modern era. The Kingdom of Bhutan is at a crossroad to a complex future whose stewardship could demand all the depth and majestic political experiences and acumen of the whole of Wangchuck Dynasty. Thankfully we now have a well experienced King who has proved that he not only had paid heed to political lessons that his great father imparted but in his royal vein  runs the political strategic dynamism of his grandfather who secure Bhutan's membership of the United Nations.

In a way the ascending of the 5th King on the Dragon Throne fulfilled ,should I term it, the prophecy of His Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. During my student days at Ugyen Wangchuck Academy, I asked the 3rd King, " How did the Wangchuck Dynasty came about and how far did His Majesty expected it to continue?" At that time there was no Bhutanese history text books in Schools so my curiosity of the past was genuine whilst my anxiety of the future was propelled by forces of democracy making inroads in many regions of the world.

I do not know the exact tidings the Prime Minister of Bhutan is bringing from India and from America. The political reality is that India is serious; United States is serious; China is serious. They are all very serious about the geopolitical position of Bhutan. The King of Bhutan has no alternative but to be more serious than all the other three put together because the subject of international seriousness is his own Kingdom of Bhutan.

Friday, January 16, 2015

An Outsider's view of Insiders' conduct of National Exam Board and Cabinet.

1. It seems the English Paper II question leaks was known by the Board from day one and yet no attempt was made to change the questions though there was time.

2, The subsequent corrective measures be it the initial decision to award English I mark for English II or the final decision to treat as if nothing critical happened so it should be generally acceptable to the majority of students to have the exam papers of English II evaluated and marks given accordingly in lieu of redoing the exam. And abstract intentions declared by the Government to take appropriate official actions against supposedly ghost cheaters or question paper leak patrons. Bullshit or political craps.

3. The Exam Board must be having as members people who understand and subscribe to the dignity of credibility for Education Certificates issued by the Board. To such a Board there can not be any other credible alternative to a wide spread question leaks but to re-conduct the Exam. So it simply means that the Board could not stand up to the political pressure of the Cabinet. I suppose the self preserving members would still want to preserve their board seats.

4, Now why would the Cabinet intervene? Cost of re-conducting the Exam? Certainly not. If a special Druk Air flight can be arranged from Bhutan to India to treat a single arrow hit patient what cost can stop a Government to do the right thing that affect the lives of thousands of youth and credibility of National Board for Exams. Timing is not at all an impediment. Colleges start in July or August months for High School Pass outs

5. This unfortunate and disgusting merry go round politicking with the credibility of national education system and process is an outcome of adverse conflict of political and personal interests at national level.

6. It seems that questions for both English papers I & II were leaked for the benefit of few lazy but socially and politically well connected candidates. The source or leak patron did not bargain for the same favoured students to share questions with intimate friends who would do the same for their intimate friends. The moral solace is that our youths  though subject to temptations are not totally selfish. It is also very possible that essay topics also got leaked but these can be camouflaged by simply adding irrelevant topics also.

6, A tightly controlled re- exam would be a disadvantage to such lazy favoured students. So the Government tried to seek a convenient and lazy student favoured way by doubling the English I mark. This was met with a huge cry from majority of students including some very good students of the English language who the BBS interviewed. I do not know those students but it was for all to see that those students with such reasoning and articulating power would fly through any English exams. However they came forward to express their shock and dismay.

7. The Government finally clams down with another shameless shocker and this time an education marshal law to protect the favoured lazy students. The Education Exam Board was directed to ignore the question paper leak and evaluate the answer papers of the by now thoroughly  corrupted and abused English paper II Exam.

There is meek acceptance for two reasons:

1) Students and adults alike have phobia for exams and interviews. So redoing an exam takes its toll.

2) When such united public outcry of the last several weeks cannot move a Cabinet,the available alternate option in a democracy is yet most unsettling for over century of a peaceful environment of the Kingdom under great Kings.

One is made to wonder why and for what political purpose the Government is simply on a headlong rush for a headlong national crash. Why is the Cabinet instigating national crisis one after another? What power is being tested and what kind of ground is being prepared and what could be the end game objective?.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A matter of re-examination of English II.

Is it really and absolutely necessary for class XII students to redo the Exam from the original School ? Could they not register with their individual Admit Card  identification numbers at a Middle or High School available at their place of residence?

The DEOs and Dzongkhag and Court Officials in respective Dzongkhags could provide the support and vigilance roles. Further if given adequate notice and Exam is conducted towards end of February or 1st week of March, all concerned students can make themselves available for the Examination. Also all schools will be opened and running so logistic problems of even providing text books for a few days preparation is possible.

Catching the culprits is a different issue. Bhutanese High School Certificate value and validity can only be sustained through re-  conducting an Exam whose question papers were publicly declared to have been leaked.

Why and what could be obliging the Cabinet of the Kingdom of Bhutan to indirectly take endorsing steps for wrong doing by making all excuses to avoid a re- examination ? Is corruption the guiding light of governance of convenience ?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Convicts and Informers

Thanks to cash reward, an Informer made it possible for Royal Bhutan Police to catch the Convicts from Bey Langdra. Few days back the life-sentenced 3 Convicts who had carried out thefts of religious items from Stupas had  managed to escape from Wangdue Phodrang Police lockup.

This would be a big relief for the Police. I hope the successful rearrest would provide some relief to the 3 Police personnel under whose watch the break out happened. Many prisoners all over the world do attempt to escape and some are successful though most are rearrested sooner or later. Few such break away prisoners even volunteer to return to prison because of free shelter, food, clothes and possibly company. However,  possibly only in Bhutan, the prisoners who make a break away are substituted by their Police keepers. And the services of  Jail Superintendents can be even terminated. How is that for human rights logic or professional sense of responsibility?

In matters of religious theft,  as bad as it is both morally and spiritually, I feel that it is now time for Bhutan to have a re-look at heavy handed laws that hands out life sentences to Chorten ( Stupa) robbers. The laws were passed  based on emotional and spiritual passion during those bygone days when Buddhism was the State Religion. It was then rightly construed as an insult to the State to rob Temples and Stupas.

Now the national political character has undergone dramatic changes. There is freedom of religion. Buddhism is no longer the State Religion. Therefore, robbery especially of unguarded Stupas should be offence of similar nature as that of shoplifting. The sentencing need to be value based. The Nation need to be more humanly conscious and must gradually discard the role of devil's advocate.

I would continue to condemn all types of theft whether Chorten robbers or Public Fund Embezzlers. But life imprisonment for Chorten robbers? Come on Kingdom of Bhutan ! Wake up from religious fanaticism and dark age feudalism!

The Assault Charm at Gujarat Vibrant by Prime Minister of Bhutan.

I just watched BBS 2 replay of the Speech of Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay. Its incredibly seductive and briefly tantalizing in nature. The audience was floored. A national advertisement worth millions of dollars absolutely free of fees and it locked the attention of the whole world to the tiny sovereign nation of the Bhutanese people. India and China are the two encircling giant neighbours of Bhutan but in Gujarat the tiny dragon of a Kingdom stunned the billions to apt wonder struck bewilderment. What could the host Prime Minister Modi of India do but to enthusiastically clap when the Prime Minister of Bhutan declared to the Delegation from around the world, " Come! Invest in Bhutan! You have fresh air, clean environment, happiness and completely free access to the huge market in India."

If a Bhutanese speaks in Hindi in India in an International Gathering then it better be to seduce Mother India or else I for one would  accuse the Bhutanese Speaker of ambushing Bhutanese national pride and sovereignty. The Speech was flawlessly delivered and beautifully worded both in English and Hindi to maximise Bhutan's national interests. 'Make in India' was so softly and wilfully charmed away to Investment in Bhutan,the Kingdom of Gross National Happiness.

I have always maintained that for a landlocked tiny Kingdom that is so dependent on outside goodwill and respect, we have to have extraordinary national leaders who can dominate world scene through personal dynamism. We are most fortunate to have successive Prime Ministers beginning from honourable late Prime Minister Jigme Palden Dorji who can convey the wishes and designs of our great Kings to the international audiences.

Thank you, Your Excellency Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay for storming the Gujarat Forum with Bhutanese delicacies. It was a huge lesson in the art of bilateral and international diplomacy.