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Many Bhutanese drivers suffer from road rage and poor road etiquette. The world falls apart if another vehicle overtake ours. The biggest mission at hand then is a vengeful pledge to overtake that vehicle and restore the lead.

When it is dark, we love driving under the comfort of our car’s headlight at full beam. Most of us don’t respect the right of the car coming from the other direction by not using the low beam lights.

The road knows no protocol and it also becomes a neutral platform to vent out our envy or anger if someone behind the steering is a person we don’t like, whatever the reason maybe.

The MPs confirm it. The politically enlightened car-owning Bhutanese are finding new ways to vent.

Many MPs say that it is frustrating to be on the road. One MP from the east says “The moment people see the MP’s logo on the car, some vehicles, if they are behind us, honk unnecessarily just to irritate. If they are ahead of us, they refuse to give way and deliberately drive at a snail’s pace. It happens almost on a daily basis.”

Another MP highlighted an incident which took place when he was returning from a tour of his constituency and found himself caught in a roadblock. There was an excavator clearing the road and there was already a long queue of vehicles, mostly trucks, stranded.

After waiting for about two hours, the MP got quite anxious and came out of his car to ask the excavator driver how long it would take to clear the road. He neared the huge vehicle and had barely opened his mouth when the driver deliberately dumped a heavy load of mud right in front of the MP covering him in dirt from head to toe. The driver didn’t even apologize. Immediately, a group of truckers nearby started laughing at the MP and started cracking jokes about MPs and how powerless they were.

“I was embarrassed completely,” the MP recollects “and the worse thing is that all of them knew I was an MP as they clearly saw the MP’s logo on my car.”

This incident reflects how much respect (or disrespect to be more precise in this case) the MPs enjoy among the masses. The MPs have been criticized by the public, the civil service, the media and other faculties through all possible channels.

Many quarters, including the MPs, are asking for an evaluation of their role in the new democratic system. They are virtually finding themselves walking against the wall. They have been entrusted with a vital responsibility but hardly enjoy any power.

The role of an MP is limited only to the two months they have in a parliament sessions conducted twice a year. It is further constricted if an MP is not comfortable speaking in Dzongkha and these MPs have to script their speeches days in advance to be able to assert their points. Beyond parliament walls, they are as good as a commoner. Their blue scarf, the ceremonial sword and a logo on the vehicle number plate carry almost no weight.

Today, an MP doesn’t even have a legitimate say to ask the bureaucracy for any information regarding their constituency. They are left to maneuvering their PR skills to do it. They have no direct say in any developmental activity taking place in their constituency. They have their share of tension with the dzongdas at the district level who, as civil servants, are expected to be apolitical and try to distance themselves from politicians.

Despite being handicapped on all fronts, they are expected to carry the heavy burden of fulfilling their campaign promises to which the people hold them accountable.

In such a scenario, the role of the MPs outside the parliament has been reduced to that of a clerk and a PR official for the people of their constituency. People with problems in the villages who seek certain favor or even a kidu from the government approach their MPs and all the elected men in blue can do is write a petition letter for them and arrange for appointments with high officials or ministers. One MP says this role makes him feel like a “glorified messenger.”

The MPs have been reduced to this situation also because of a mass fear that they shouldn’t become too powerful. If it happens, it is substantiated with another fear that they may misuse the powers. The issue, in other words, is the lack of trust in the very leader(s) we elected.

This came out clearly when the issue of the constituency development grant surfaced in 2008. While the elected government handled the issue wrongly by camouflaging the CDG fund under the budget, it was not the contentious point discussed. There was almost a unanimous agreement across the country that the CDG should be scrapped because the MPs “could” misuse the fund. The fear was loud.

This fear is very intrinsic in our culture. Such a fear is vital to ensure a safety net in a new democracy like ours. But it is equally important to balance it out with rational legislation to see that it doesn’t arrest the functionality of a system.

The recent decision of the government to resign en mass after losing the first constitutional case was also a cumulative decision following almost the same situation faced not only by the MPs but also by the elected government.

The above post appeared as an editorial in Business Bhutan on March 26, 2011.

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