In the National Interest

A series of 13 investigative stories and 2 Editorials from April 2022 to March 2023 by this paper exposed the fact that Oil Companies in India were overcharging Bhutan for decades for fuel.

This story alerted the Bhutanese government which took up the matter with the Indian government which graciously slashed fuel prices saving Bhutan Nu 3 to 2 billion a year in fuel prices.

Ironically, even till the last moment, a senior Bhutanese bureaucrat was trying to justify the position of the Indian Oil companies to this paper before the price drop became known.

Between 2010 and 2011 and even afterwards the Editor of this paper wrote close to two dozen investigative stories on the old Bhutan Lottery that was sold in India.

The main focus of the stories was on the tens of billions of potential revenue and unpaid prize money that Bhutan was being cheated out of every year and also the various illegalities of the lottery agent that was costing Bhutan its reputation in lottery selling states in India.

The stories recommended that if Bhutan can just enforce the rules or run it properly, Bhutan can earn billions every year.

The government at the time even ordered an RAA special audit based on the stories and the RAA confirmed them to be true.

It was found that the former Lottery Directorate manned by a Bhutanese Director and officials instead of looking out for Bhutan were essentially taking illegal payments and were even winning lottery prizes courtesy the lottery agent in India.

They gained in millions but Bhutan lost in billions.

The first government instead of cleaning up the lottery business via an ACC investigation and then redoing it in Bhutan’s favour, shut it down.

However, the shutdown was not done properly with the result that fake online Bhutan lotteries falsely claiming to be backed by the Government of Bhutan are doing billions worth of business every year in India.

This paper did stories exposing these fake online lotteries but no government till date took action.

Instead, the domestic Bhutan Lottery created to restart the business in India has become just a domestic lottery company in Bhutan.

The Punatsangchu I project disaster may not have been one if there was better oversight and pointed questions by Bhutanese officials at all levels instead of just going with the flow on what other external experts said.

The many problems around the Learn and Earn Program in Japan or the export of Bhutanese women to the Middle East only to be rescued later at great national cost are other examples.

Even when it comes to vegetable and fruit exports we found that we are not up to date with the standards in India, which led to holding up or delaying exports and thus hitting our farmers. Neighbouring Nepal did a far better job on this front.

The controversial Suvidha App tax on our boulder exports and other exports to Bangladesh by the West Bengal government is still not solved.

There is a common thread that weaves through all of the above and it says something about our government and also us as a people.

The first is that we are ready to accept everything at face value and lack the culture as a nation and people to ask the hard questions and do a double and triple check even when it comes to our core national interests.

The second is that we feel we have done our national duty by wearing Gho and Kira and doing the bare minimum and leaving the rest to others. The duties of an official and a citizen are so much more.

An example of this mindset is seen when the public are more concerned on social media on whether Bhutanese going abroad wear Gho or not in official meetings than the substance and outcome of the meetings. We love form over substance.

Our nationalism in that sense is a lot of lip service and thinking that we are the best, but it is does not go much beyond that.

The third is a surprising reluctance to think beyond the borders of Bhutan even though what happens outside will eventually impact us.

All the international media may give news on some event or trend that can impact Bhutan, but our officials will not take any initiative unless an official notification comes informing of the impending problem and with exact instructions on what to do.

The fourth is that as a small country and small society while we like to think we look out for each other outside, but as Bhutanese we really don’t and Bhutanese are in far bigger danger of being cheated by their own than foreigners as instances have shown in the past.

The fifth is a combination of a national lack of curiosity and also a lack of confidence. We are supposed to be a nation but demonstrate the intellectual capacity and openness of a small insecure village.

We have built a society good at following orders but are are largely clueless when left to our own devices. We mistake confidence for arrogance and simple cowardice, ignorance or apathy with that over hyped Bhutanese quality of humility.

The sixth truth is that we can be extraordinarily jealous and petty towards the success of our fellow citizens and colleagues. There is a crab mentality to gang up and pull down the successful, one way or another.

The seventh reality is that we as a people have a huge sense of entitlement be it from the government, families or society in general.

Instead of singing endless praises of ourselves or listening to praises from Bhutan struck foreigners or tourists we need to face reality and start to change for the better. This will not require office orders or any special budget, but just some honesty, openess and internal introspection.

There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other.

Desiderius Erasmus

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