Friday, June 25, 2010

The presentation on national budget-well done!

The Finance Minister Lyonpo Wangdi Norbu yesterday presented the government’s budget for the financial year (FY) 2010 and 2011at National Assembly session.

According to the national budget report (FY 2010-2011) the initial approved budget outlay for the FY was Nu. 26,304.310mn. The budget estimate at the end of March 2010 shot to Nu 30,451.645mn an increase of 15.77%. The revised budget includes Nu. 4,147.335mn.

The country’s current expenditure projection is revised upwards to Nu. 13,837.352mn an increase of about 1.8% from the original estimate of Nu. 13,594.134mn. The increase mainly is due to the incorporation of additional project funds of Nu. 243.218mn.

The capital expenditure budget estimate has also been revised upwards to Nu. 17,731.429mn representing about 28% increase from the original capital budget outlay of Nu. 13,827.312mn. The increase is mainly due to the incorporation of additional budget for activities such as the construction of Lhakhangs and cottage for nuns at Wolakha in Punakha, acquisition of land for the green zone areas in Thimphu city and for several donor funded activities amounting to Nu. 3,904.117mn.

The domestic projected revenue is Nu. 15,370.223mn an increase from the original estimate of Nu.14,108.766mn or 8.94%, which is mainly on account of increase in remittances from the Tala hydro-power project due to improved generation during the year.

Funds received from donors incorporated as supplementary budget for the FY 2009-2010 is Nu. 2,076.956mn and 104.323 mn under the Royal government’s funding.

The gross domestic product (GDP) of the country since the last two years grew by 11.9% which shrunk to 6.2% in the FY 2008-2009. The electricity sector continued to be the main driver of the economy. It accounted for over 22% of GDP on average, as compared to 11.5% in the FY 2005-2006 and 18% in the FY 2006-2007.

The share of agriculture conversely has gradually decreased from 21.8% in the FY 2005-2006 to 16.7% in the FY 2008-2009. Another important contributor has been the construction sector which constituted about 12% of the economy.
Tourist arrivals in 2009 is estimated to have dropped by more than 15% as compared to the year earlier.

Gross foreign exchange reserves reached the equivalent of US $ 758 mn as of the end of June 2009 against US $ 655.3mn the previous year recording a growth of US 102.7 mn or 15.7%. As of December 2009, it had reached US $ 818.59 mn, sufficient enough to cover more than 19 months of imports.

A significant portion of the grant is provided by the Government of India (GoI) as in the past. For the FY, the total GoI grants of Nu. 8,068.180mn is presently projected of which the programme grant is Nu. 1,400mn and project grants of Nu. 6,668.180mn.

Besides the grants from GoI, project-tied grants of Nu. 2,331.258mn and programme grants of Nu. 505.700mn is expected from other bilateral and multilateral agencies.

“This year’s budget is also like in the past is geared towards poverty reduction and so the primary focus is on the socio-economic development strategies within a sound macro-economic framework,” the Finance Minister told the House.

Like always the government has accorded high priority to the Health and Education sectors. The sectors combined will receive the highest share of about 23% of the total budget.

The amount allocated in these two sectors is not revealed but going by some of the major areas of expenditure over Nu. 400mn in the Health sector and over Nu. 700mn in the education sector will be incurred during the FY 2010-2011.

Understanding that high quality human capital is a pre-requisite the government has committed Nu.369.93mn as human resource development budget. And to accelerate development in the rural areas the government has allocated Nu.
3,547.599mn towards Renewable Natural Resource for the purpose.

For the trade, Industry and private sector development Nu.109.395mn has been allocated to cover development and maintenance of Industrial sites, revision of Company’s act, feasibility studies for the setting up of new industries.
In the tourism sector to gear up for the planned inflow of 100,000 tourists a year by 2012 the government for the FY 2010-2011 Nu. 203.259mn has been allocated.

The total budget in the road sector is Nu. 3,444.806mn which is about 10% of the total budget, the primary aim being to link all parts of the country internally.

The government’s one of the main focuses being on the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Nu. 1,061.3mn and an additional Nu. 193.969mn as a provision for the development of various airports and their operation has been allocated.

A budget of Nu. 2,567.658mn is provided for in the Law and Order sector out of which Nu.1,098.669mn is for the improvement of the living conditions and efficiency of the police force.

The Finance Minister’s presentation on the budget will continue this coming Monday.

Advocating Buddhism from the wheel chair

His eminence Lama Ugyen Norbu, 33, popularly known as ‘Dechencholing Rinpoche’ is a well known Buddhist master to many Bhutanese and tourists alike. He advocates Buddha dharma from his wheel chair but the physical disability does not at all prevent him from advocating Buddha dharma.
He is profoundly well versed in both Kagyu and Nyingma traditions of Vajrayana sect which is mainly practiced in Bhutan.
His eminence received empowerments and oral transmissions from great Buddhist masters like His Holiness Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, His Holiness Trulku Jigme Choeda, His Excellency Lopon Karma Jurmey the yogi who is the disciple of Lama Sonam Zangpo the great lineage holder of Tokden Shakya Sheri, His Excellency Khenpo Tshering Dendrup of Drigung Kagyue, His Holiness Kyabje Penor Rinpoche, His Holiness Kyabje Drubwang Rinpoche, His Holiness Kyabje Peling Thuksay Rinpoche, His Holiness Kyabje Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche, His Excellency Khenpo Karpo Rinpoche the disciple of late Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche, His Excellency Kyabje Zhechen Rabjam Rinpoche, Late Dabab Trulku of Trongsa, crazy yogi Bazuguru Lama of Zhemgang, His Holiness Lama Rigzin.
And also from other great masters like Palden Rinpoche (Lobesa Rinpoche) the heart son of Azom Gyelsay Jurmey Dorje, His Excellency Lopon Ugyen Jurmey son of Lopon Choedrak of Lhalung Tibet, His Excellency Kyabgoen Lama Yeshey Choezin Rinpoche of Kurtoe Ugyenphu who is his godly Father, His Excellency Trulku Rigzin Pema, His Excellency Khenchen Katayana and Khenpo Thubten Dorji of Mysore.
His eminence was born to a simple family in central Bhutan in 1977 with few auspicious signs. His father, Yeshey Penjor, vividly remembers how few Tibetan Lamas (Like Lama Yongzin Rinpoche and Kathok Rinpoche who lived in Bumthang after they fled Tibet) prophesied that a bodhisattva will take birth within a year’s time to his wife Aum Kuenzangmo. Lama Yongzin Rinpoche than gave a coral necklace and a white scarf to Aum Kuenzangmo and Yeshey Penjor with a prophecy: “A boy who will be born to the two of you will benefit millions of beings.”
During the time of conception Rinpoche’s mother had an extraordinary dream where a pure white radiant conch flew from a nearby Temple and entered her body from the crown. Unfortunately, the mother expired when he was barely two years old.
Rinpoche learned monastic rituals, grammar, literature and astrology while at Babron Tharpaling Monastery the main seat of Kunkhen Gyelwa Longchen Rabjam in Bumthang for few years.
He spent years as cow herder and finally had the chance to go to school when he was 13 years old. He had to discontinue his Bachelor's degree course from Sherubtse College to pursue higher meditation in Vajrayana Buddhism in late 1990s. The period saw him spending full time in retreat and meditation practices. It was during which time His eminence had the good fortune to receive precious Kagyu and Longchen Nyingthig tradition of Ngagyur Nyingma from the above mentioned bodhisattvas.
After having spent many years in meditation his masters advised that the time had come for him to begin teaching and propagating Buddhism. From then on he started teaching his devotees. His devotees include youth, common lay people, office goers, job-seekers, monks, nuns, lamas and trulkus. He spends most of his time these days attending to his visitors that come to get his blessing, oral transmission, meditation instructions, spiritual courses, counseling, astrological reading and anything to do with Buddha dharma.
The free time that he sometimes happens to have for himself, he spends it in prayers and in meditation called ‘watching the mind.’ When asked what he in particular practices, Rinpoche humbly said, “Well my main practices are Guru Yoga (Lamai Nyeljor) of Longchen Nyingthig and Vajrakilaya.” On the advice of his masters he had already undergone Munjusheri Jetsun Jampelyang retreat divination for a year long, Vajrapani Pelchakna Dorjee, Vajrakilaya Pelchen Dorji Zhoennu, and had profoundly learnt Tibetan and Bhutanese astrology.

I managed to interview some of his devotees. Phuntsho Thinley, a Park Manager with the ministry of Agriculture said, “Rinpoche is a highly learned being. Besides his convincing teachings as a result of his profound knowledge, he also has a great sense of humour.”

“To me he is like a Buddha himself. Just by the sight of him I fell as though all my sufferings are vanquished. His prediction for me until this time had all come true. I visit him almost on a weekly basis. The more I interact with him the more I find myself leaning towards him faith wise. He is just like any other truly learned Buddhist Lama,” said Sonam Tobgay, the Deputy Managing Director of Bhutan Post.

Sonam Tshomo, a nurse working for Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Referral hospital prefers to receive the teachings in English language. She said that after the counseling her friends who were into smoking received from Rinpoche, “They have stopped it all together. For youth like us, someone like him is as precious as our parents, if not more.”

One of the ardent devotees of Rinpoche is Jangchuk Dorji (Buddhist name) a Christian born American who had turned Buddhist on his own choice had this to say about his root Guru: “Because I found him ridiculously humble, modest, a being with no pride, no arrogance It took me a very long time to garner my respects for him. From where I come from people with such extraordinary traits could be taken for a fool by most. I think that’s because we like to be more critical. Now I know I had been overtly arrogant then. I wish it had not taken me that long to feel for him the way I feel now.” And added that he feels for the Rinpoche just the way Christians would feel for Jesus if he had been alive now and the way Muslims would feel for Prophet Mohammad in person or for that matter a Jew would feel for an alive and kicking Moses.

Under the strict guidance of His eminance, all his devotees are into practicing Chakchen Ngondro and Dzogchen Longchen Nyingthig Ngondro (Preliminary Practices) every day at their respective residence. After every month the devotees go to see him for further instruction on the practices.

Each day multitude of sick people visits His eminance to get remedial blessing and to seek guidance. “I am available any day, any hour. I always, like any Buddha dharma practioneers consider it my good karma whenever I am of help to them. Humanity is just one big family. I suggest that Buddha dharma be practiced religiously by all beings for their own benefit and for the benefit of all sentient beings. Youth especially should come forward-It is my dream to preach the teaching to the young minds for they are the future torch bearers,” Rinpoche said.

“What makes you not a Buddhist” by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche is the recent book in English read by His eminance and says, “The contents in the book are thought provoking. I have enjoyed it thoroughly.”

His eminence resides in a rented house in Dechencholing, Thimphu with few monk attendants. He pays his rent and survives with the offerings his devotees offer him. “Health wise, Rinpoche is not doing well at all and yet he insists that he see all his visitors,” said one of Rinpoche’s attendants.

Lets bet on the ball !

Little wonder that the World Cup being one of the biggest events in sports attracts millions of football fans from around the world. The feverish game has it’s fans across Bhutan betting for their favourite team.
Some of the most popular teams amongst Bhutanese are Brasil, Argentina, England, Spain, Italy and Netherlands.

“If you enjoy betting on sports then you will definitely not want to miss the action at the World Cup 2010 as it’s a perfect time to pad the bankroll,” Karma Dorji from Bumthang said. “I have in small amounts have kept bets in office, at bar and at the snooker house. If Italy wins, I will get richer by Nu. 15, 000,” he added.

The most common bet in the country amongst the fans is the single game wagers where one picks a winner or a draw. “This system of betting allows one to make either make fast cash or turn broke instantly,” said Ugyen Tshering who had recently won Nu. 1,000 after Argentina won over Nigeria.

Another popular wager is betting on whom one thinks will win the entire World Cup. “This pays out the best,” said Nima Gyalpo, an Engineer. Some government offices in the capital have come up with a betting system where by a lot is drawn and the winner at the end will take home the major portion of the bet money. Over 20 fans in each office have put forth Nu. 300 each.

“Betting in Bhutan is in small amounts. In my country we have a system where by one can go online and bet millions of dollars,” said Andres Gomez, a Columbian.
Aum Zam, a hotelier in Phuentsholing said that she received a text message from some anonymous person asking her if she wanted to bet Nu. 10,000 but she declined.

“It is important that you learn all the wagers you can make because then you will be able to take advantage of the bets with the best odds. Learning the teams inside out starting early will allow to have a much better grasp on betting the outcomes of matches throughout the World Cup,” said Sonam Dorji a contractor stationed at Samtse. He has put some substantial amount on Spain. He refused to reveal the sum.

According to Yeshi Dorji, a civil servant in Trashigang, even if one does not enjoy betting on sports typically, one will find making an exception for the World Cup. “It is definitely worth it. Watching the World Cup when you have wagers on the matches is a lot more entertaining then just watching the game, just make sure you don’t bet more then you can afford to lose,” he added.

"Some of the game has been fantastic. The games were very good. The super eights should make the competition more stiff and engrossing and betting more compulsive" Ugyen Tashi, a corporate employee in the capital said.

According to section 393 of the Penal Code of Bhutan (PCB), a defendant shall be guilty of the offence of gambling, if the defendant stakes or wagers something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under the defendent’s control or influence upon an agreement or understanding that the defendant will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.

Further the section 395 of the PCB states that except for an authorized lottery all else are to be considered gambling and therefore illegal.
Betting on this football extravaganza is high and fans have reported record wagering activity as punters flock to back their favorite teams.

Drooping TI rating of Bhutan

Bhutan is one of the least corrupt countries in south East Asia according to the latest Transparency International (TI) 2009 reports. The Corruption Perception Index (CPI) showed that Bhutan had scored 5.0 out of 10. The rating was done for 180 nations based on perceived levels of corruption in the public sector.

The CPI scores countries on a scale of zero to 10, with zero indicating high levels of corruption and 10, low levels. That ranking is based on data from country experts and business leaders at 10 independent institutions, including the World Bank, Economist Intelligence Unit and World Economic Forum.

However, according to the Commissioner of Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), Kezang Jamtsho it is not something we should laud ourselves about. “Our corruption rating is becoming worse by the year. Corruption is one of the biggest emerging challenges for Bhutan in general and for ACC in particular,” he said.

“Over the past one year ACC had received and dealt with about thrice the number of corruption cases than it has five years ago. So to say that we are one of the least corrupt countries in South East Asia is debatable,” said one of officers of ACC.
The commissioner said that even going by the TI reports, “Bhutan stood at 26th position in 2006 and barely three years after we have slumped down to 49th position. This in itself is an indication that says it all.”

According to TI 2009 report Bhutan had 5.2 as its CPI score in 2008 and a year after it dropped to 5, however, the position remained constant at 49th.
Kinga Tashi, a civil servant is of the opinion that Bhutan indeed is one of the least corrupt countries in South East Asia. “We have a good government. Bhutanese generally are honest people. And we have strong ACC to monitor corruption in the country. Every one hesitates to come under ACC scanner,” he said.

Pema Tshering, another civil servant disagrees. “I refute that we are one of the least corrupt countries in south East Asia. Well, it may be true some decades ago, but now it is a different story all together. With time the influence of globalization is apparent. How do you suppose a civil servant is able to afford posh cars like Prado and Land Cruiser in about less than a decade’s time in office?” he quips.

Samten Wangchuk a businessman said that corruption in Bhutan if not curbed from the offset is likely to become endemic with time. “There are so many instances of unreported corruption practices in our society-nepotism for an instance,” he said.
“Corruption is rampantly on the rise. Most likely, it is just the perception of the person on the street. I don't know how they accounted for various cultural differences. TI report is a typical screwed up Westerner's immature perception of the world,” said Lhendup Dorji a student of Economy.
A feature of 2009 CPI was that the vast majority of the 180 countries included in the index had scored below five.

Transparency International has found that a strong correlation between corruption and poverty continues to exist, jeopardizing the global fight against poverty and threatening to derail the UN Millennium Development Goals.
Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, and New Zealand are perceived to be the world's least corrupt countries with scores above 9 out of 10. And with scores below 2 are Somalia, Iraq, Haiti, and Myanmar and seen to be the most corrupt in the world.
Countries that have significantly improved their rating since the 2007 index were Albania, Cyprus, Georgia, Mauritius, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, South Korea, Tonga, and Turkey. Some of the countries that have a significantly worse rating since 2007 include Bulgaria, Burundi, Maldives, Norway, and the United Kingdom.

Citizens boo the revision!

The ministry of finance’s decision to levy revised Sales Tax (ST) and Custom Duty (CD) on imported vehicles entering the country is not well received by the general public.

However, vehicles imported from India are subject to only revised sales tax.

As per the finance ministry’s notification the revised rate for vehicles with a cylinder capacity of up to 1500 cc is 30 percent CD and 20 percent ST respectively. Similarly, 30 percent will be the ST and 30 percent CD for vehicles up to 2500cc. However, the ST for petrol vehicles with a cylinder capacity above 2501 cc remain similar to that of 1500 cc with a 20 percent increase in CD.

The ministry’s revised ST and CD rates for private busses and motor vehicles for transport of goods is almost equivalent to light vehicles.
Most people I talked to in the capital city on the matter were of the opinion that the rate of increase was high.
“The government sometimes have wanton ways of coming up with policies like this one. They think that levying increased taxes will discourage people from buying cars-lets wait and see,” said Tandin Wangyel, 37, a business man said.
While Jigme Wangchuk, 41, a corporate employee said that just about a decade ago cars were a luxury but today it has become a necessity. “Why is the government tightening it’s noose around people’s capacity to afford what has now become a necessity?” he questions.
The ministry’s justification behind the increased tax and duty as a progressive taxation for Karma Phuntsho, 33, hotelier, is but “a progressive taxation towards increasing government revenue.”
According to the proprietor of one of the car outlets in the capital, the revised duty and tax was not appropriate. “The effect on our business as I see it is nil. Even after the increase people will keep buying cars like anywhere in the world,” the proprietor said.
Yeshi Dorji, 44, a civil servant said that if the increase is because of the traffic congestion, “I see roads being widened. And if it is because of the environmental issues, why isn’t the government providing some subsidies on the import of electric cars?” he solicits.
For someone like Sonam Yeshey, 39, a businessman, the revision is good news. He expects to fetch better price for his two second hand cars which he intends to sale.
For Deki Yangden, 25, a business woman, the revision means having to depend on taxis for another few more years before she can accumulate enough cash to buy a car. “Bus services are not reliable. Taxi fares are phenomenally high. I feel victimized,” she said.
According to the Opposition Leader Tshering Tobgay the only solution to control the growing number of vehicles in the country is to “improve public transport and discontinue quota system.”

Revolution in 2013 Parliamentary election

The role and use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the 2013 political election will specifically assess how far parties are exploiting the unique characteristics of the internet to foster new styles of election campaigning.
The 2013 political election will also witness the extent to which ICTs open up new channels of communication and information and thus change the nature of electoral participation. ICT is also expected to contribute to broader debates about the changing role of parties, campaigning and concerns about declining electoral turnout.
According to the population records maintained by National Statistics Bureau (NSB) which is based on Population and Housing Census of Bhutan 2005, by year 2013 Bhutan’s total population projection is estimated at 733,004.
Out of which 182,000 of the citizens fall in the age group of 18-30 years meaning that these age group possibly are the educated lot and hence an ICT erudite. Statistically, 78,000 of them reside in the urban while 104,000 in the rural settlements. The NSB records also says that since the last election in 2008 by 2013 over 14,000 youths will have reached the age 18 and to exercise their right to vote.
The government has already pledged billions of ngultrums to make this country a knowledge-based Bhutanese society by harnessing ICT. Information technology development and dissemination is the priority area of the royal government.
The ICT development in the country will provide access to information technology and IT solutions to a significant proportion of Bhutan’s population, including government officials, teachers, entrepreneurs and rural children, by training and establishing ICT enabled schools, computer labs, and computer stations in rural Bhutan.

“It is difficult for me to make any judgment on what could likely happen in 2013 as we are yet obligated to see through the Local Government Elections in the near future. However, there is no denying that the inroads of ICT technologies will influence the manner of the Election campaigning that will be conducted or to be administered,” Dasho Kuenzang Wangdi, Chief Election Commissioner said adding that the application of ICT technologies had played a significant role in 2008 parliamentary elections as well although not at an extensive level as it may in 2013.
“I hope that Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s promise to make Bhutan an ICT enabled nation does not fail. I am sure if ICT is made available to all citizens, politicians will make use of the facility in the upcoming political campaigning in 2013,” the Opposition Leader Tshering Tobgay said.
The Internet's development and the importance of online campaigning it seems are underrated in Bhutan. Bhutan is yet to come up with a comparative basis for evaluating internet’s future evolution and how it can influence future political elections.
“The rapid growth of ICTs in the country is expected to provoke considerable debate about their implication on democracy. However, if our politicians do not deliberate on it, this would either mean they don’t care or are ignorant about it which in turn is not good for them,” Dorji Wangchuk, a civil servant said.
Sonam Yangden an engineer said that the high volume and speed of information transmission possible via the internet means that it has the potential to offer more substantive basis for campaigning than traditional forms of media.
“Parties in the future must use their websites primarily as information vehicles to provide voters with policy based material. Alternatively, however, parties may be tempted to exploit the emerging combinations of audio-visual and graphical features like it was done to some extent in the first election to attract and retain supporters,” hinted Karma Gyeltshen a civil servant.
The ability of ICT to gather information on voters means that parties have greater opportunities to target certain groups of voters and even personalize campaign messages. The fact that about 50% of the eligible voters by 2013 are the younger lot, much of the focus will be on them since they are the possible ICT citizens.
“From a party’s perspective, the interactive potential of ICTs offers parties a low cost and very direct means of seeking immediate feedback from voters on policy and campaign tactics. Technologies will also present the opportunities for parties to form ongoing relationships with voters to both mobilise and retain supporters,” a member of the Parliament said.
According to Kezang Dorji a civil servant and a hopeful member of the parliament after the 2013 parliamentary election technology may provide the means but does not necessarily provide the motivation to participate. “So I would combine the good old method of political campaigning at the same time making optimum use of ICT,” he said.