May 26, 2015

The Bank in Your Pocket

     May 15, 2015 marked another milestone in the Bhutanese banking sector. The country's oldest and the biggest bank, Bank of Bhutan launched its Mobile and Agency banking. The Finance Minister, Lyonpo Namgay Dorji presided as the Chief Guest. The launch was attended by the other dignitaries, government officials, media personnel and the partners.   
Picture: Bank of Bhutan (The Chief Guest using app)
     While Bank of Bhutan already had basic Mobile banking, which provided sms alerts (on amount more than 5,000 BTN) on deposits and withdrawals, or do a balance inquiry or view last transactions, the current facility with many modern and additional features. This one comes with a cool app - M-BoB. With the coming of 3G network and better connectivity, more and more people bought smartphone. But that is not all - other customers, who still use basic phones can also avail the services using Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) - *262#. And where there is no Internet connection, USSD comes in handy even for the smartphone users. 

     According to Bank of Bhutan officials, "the Mobile banking technology shall not only make it easy for the customers to bank anytime and anywhere,"  but it will also promote "cashless transactions" geared towards a cashless society. It will also go a long way in conserving the environment. I hope once all people go Mobile with their banking needs, having to take care of a lot of used recharge vouchers that are scattered everywhere would be a thing of the past. It is said that at least 10% of a country's GDP goes into the cost of printing currency notes and cashless transaction will help reduce the cost of printing notes. 
     Customers now can pay all their bills online (especially if you hate standing in lines), including shopping, hotels, tickets among others. And now we can bank from the comfort of our homes, offices or while on stroll out in the country side. This avoids a lot of hassles where time is equated with money.  

     That is not all - customers also can deposit and withdraw cash, and pay bills with the agents (appointed by the bank in various locations) where there are no bank branches or ATMs. This is expected to promote financial inclusion of the rural farmers, who now remain unbaked.  
Picture: Bank of Bhutan
     And with this cool facility you can send money on mobile numbers and the other person can withdraw using the ATMs or agent.  BoB Charo service is aimed at people, who do not have accounts with Bank of Bhutan, but can use the Mobile and Agency banking services.  

     But the best is yet to come. In the coming weeks and months, the bank plans to introduce language options: English or Dzongkha. Currently, it uses English. It also plans to have a card-less cash withdrawal from ATMs by generating temporary pins on your mobile phones. And most interesting of all, customers will enjoy Near Field Communication (NFC) payment facilities, which will be useful to our taxi drivers. This is exciting time for Bank of Bhutan customers. 


     From the trials and transactions I have done so far, I am quite happy and satisfied. And once I explore this facility fully, I would be able to make better and more critical comments in the coming days and weeks. But for now, I am all praises for the team behind the Mobile banking. I would like to congratulate Bank of Bhutan for going beyond their mandates in bringing out the best for their customers.

Apr 30, 2015

Thimphu Municipal Water Outsourcing

In 2015, Thimphu Thromde decided to outsource city's waste collection to Greener Way, a private firm based in Thimphu. And I must admit that it was one of the best decisions that a Bhutanese authority has ever made. Waste management is serious issue everywhere and Bhutan is no exception. Until Greener Way took over the charge of waste collection in Thimphu, garbage trucks would come by only once a week. Greener Way has doubled the frequency of collection. And now residents segregate dry and organic wastes.  Greener Way also allows office-goers convenient and agreed time for the collection of waste. Mr. Karma Yonten and his team at Greener Way deserve all our praises. 

Now we come to another issue - water. This winter, residents along Babesa-Thimphu Expressway had faced acute shortage of water. In fact there was no water in the tanks and residents had to carry water from far off places. And we expected the situation to improve. But it continued for weeks. We were not provided the reasons as to why we weren't getting. House owners had difficult time talking to and calming their tenants. 

And that was when I realized how urgently we need to look for other alternatives of solving this issue. Once again - in my opinion outsourcing to is right thing to do. In times of problems, people have no one and nowhere to complain, especially when the concerned people are those responsible for it. But we can always demand better services from private firms. Those who are unable to deliver the desired services can be fired; can we do that with the authority? 

Moreover, I think Municipality has much bigger things to do. 

Once water is outsourced, people can expect  and demand an undisturbed clean water supply. At the same time, residents will be willing to pay for water. This way, people will also use it responsibly and more judiciously. 

Another thing that we must do is clean up our water tanks. I think it is long overdue. I can't imagine how much dust, sand, and mud must have gathered in those water reservoirs and tanks. How many times do we clean them? 

Thimphu Thromde should once again lead other municipalities in the country in this. 

Mar 9, 2015

Taming the Monsters


Finally my wife is demonstrating some keenness and motivation to learn to drive. She has realized its importance and understood that learning to drive is not only useful, but it is must in today's city life. 

And that's why she has expressed her interest to join driving schools in Thimphu. This makes my work much easier because I came to the conclusion from others' conclusions that letting your spouses get trained at driving schools is the best option. Some people cautioned me that if one wants to fight his wife then he needs to try teaching her how to drive. And I don't want that to happen. 

Driving is so much like love-making that it comes so easy to the experienced, but very difficult to teach someone. In that sense driving institutes do better job. I do not want to screw my good relationship, which has been nurtured over a long time just over a driving lesson.

But the humor aside, yes I am enrolling her in a driving school. And the hunt has started. And look what one of my searches had given me. This is the monster with which some of the trainees had to deal with. I wonder how many drivers this monster would have produced!

Driving is both pleasurable and risky task. It takes you to different places, including the death. It is a sacred experience and one has to learn it with great devotion and determination. 


I think the authorities need to monitor the quality of cars used at the driving schools and people who train the aspiring drivers. 

Can anyone with a driving license and some old used Maruti 800 open driving schools? People should look beyond money. This is not a business in the strict sense of the term. Making money comes in the process, but that should be the byproduct of the services that they offer. 

People who open driving institute should invest in better facilities and provide their customers satisfactory services. I have heard from friends how the car that they were learning to drive in would suddenly break down in the middle of the road and they would end up pushing it all the way to the workshop and classes would be cancelled until that car is back on the road. She has quit her lessons. 

But my wife still needs to learn how to drive. 



Feb 9, 2015

Why is kerosene dearer than our security?

People line up for their share of coupons
This weekend my family had to pay a hefty price for my complacency. They braved two cold winter mornings and evenings without a warm heater. It was difficult for the electric heaters to maintain the same warmth that the Korean kerosene heaters provide. But without crude oil, our heater stood in the middle of the living room, idle. We could not buy it from the Bhutan Oil Distributors (BOD) as we had no coupon. I forgot to collect it from the Trade Office and no amount of search paid any dividend.  

Almost there
This is interesting. In Bhutan we cannot buy kerosene like other commodities. Petrol and other fuels are much easier to purchase. I have seen people at the fuel stations buying petrol or diesel and taking them in their jerry cans. When it comes to kerosene, the authorities go strict and monitor everything. At least they seem to do so. Kerosene is the domain of the poor people like us. The richer lots have no use for this third-grade crude oil. And that's why we have people going wild. But do we even care how much people use other fuels? Who limits the quantity of fuel a car can burn? 

Each person is limited to 50 liters of kerosene a month, during the cold months. He/she gets only 10 during the warmer months. 

Now, let's delve into this issue a little further. To avail kerosene coupons, one has to go to the Trade Office and wait in line. Waiting is become the norm of the day now and no one seems to mind it anymore. Earlier, the Trade officials gave us 5 coupons of 10 liters each (for 50 liters). But now (I do not understand why - maybe for economic reasons) they give only one 50-liter coupon. This is good, but mostly bad. Good, because now one has to take care of only one document. But here is the crux of the matter - when we go to buy our 'quota' of kerosene, we need to part with the 50-liter coupon, irrespective of quantity we like to purchase. For example, if I buy only 30 liters (for storage and related reasons), I am forced to forego my remaining 20 liters. And here I see some a major problem, which is beyond the scope of this piece.    

We live in a digital era and most of the things happen online. And I feel kerosene coupon/quota is something that can be handled easily online. When the government can afford to issue Security Clearance (NOC) online, what is a kerosene coupon? Is kerosene more important than the issuance of NOC? This year, RRCO has extended their trust to the taxpayers by allowing the people to file taxes online. 

Allow a citizen to avail his coupon online - he may not need 50 liters at once. And accordingly allow him to customize the quantity he requires. We can always put a cap at 50 liters. That way we can avoid giving out 50-liter coupon when we actually collect only 25 liters. 

We have no objections with the way the distribution is done right now. Just provide us online, hassle-free and efficient service. 

Jan 31, 2015

Thank You - I can understand Dzongkha

This is my first blog post of 2015. Happy New Year and welcome back to another year filled with excitements and exhilaration.

I voiced this concern on the social media, but I would like to do it here again. Our policy is to promote our national language and everyone talks about it on the television and on radios.

But until now, in my opinion, it has been more of a lip service. I am not sure if that is a correct term, but I am using it anyway. You see, those people who are responsible and are paid to say that on the national TV say so only because they are mandated to say so. But once they are at home, they turn into a chilip and talk to their children in English. We can’t blame them. They are just doing the right thing by making their children’s future brighter by perfecting their English proficiency, because in real Bhutan, English proficiency, especially speaking is prized over anything.

At selection interviews, if a candidate speaks fluent English then the panel is almost moved to tears and thinks it has discovered some mysterious islands in the Himalayas. And then we stress (again lip service mostly) importance of our national language. I don’t doubt its importance. But sometimes I certainly doubt if people really mean what they say in the public. Of course I am not discounting what some pioneers are doing to promote Dzongkha. I salute such individuals. Dasho Sherab Gyeltshen, the former Secretary of DDC, is one such people, who deserve our praises.

I have been thinking about this for a long time now. Mobile operators in Bhutan use English followed by Dzongkha in their automatic responses. I think they provide services to the Bhutanese and not foreigners. For example, when someone does not respond to your call or is out of service, the first automatic response we get is recorded in English. And the saddest story is this - people who understand English hardly wait for the Dzongkha version of the message. They cut if off; any sane person would do that. But people who do not understand a word of English, especially in rural villages have to wait until they get it.

I am not sure if this would cost anything at all – to reverse their automatic responses – to the telecom companies. But it would certainly mean a lot to the promotion of our national language. Otherwise, how can we promote it? 

Recently, someone wrote on the social media that our laws are first drafted in English and then translated into Dzongkha. These laws are then interpreted in Dzongkha, mostly referring English versions but they maintain “Dzongkha text shall be the authoritative text, if there exists any difference in meaning between the Dzongkha and the English text.”

But I wonder if we have enough words or equivalent terms to match what is been encrypted in English. But that is for another day!  


Dec 31, 2014

The Year That Was

Thank you. my dear!
What a year we all had. I really feel like I am still in June 2014 and it is surprising how fast the year moved. But I am happy to admit that it has been a year of learning and exploration as I ventured into new fields that I never tried it before. And I am happy that I took them up.

But seriously, on blogging and writing front, it has been a disaster for me like that of Malaysian Air. I felt terribly sorry for having left my blog dry and empty almost more than 3/4 of the year. It has been the worst year here at Penstar. I send out my apologies to my sincere readers, who had checked my blog several times only to leave without discovering anything new. I would like to thank you all for staying and bearing with me all year around. I really appreciate that. Hope you will continue to do so in the coming year. Hopefully, I will be able to blog much more often. 

And 2015 - here it comes. I welcome the year with my open arms although I would take sometime refraining from writing 2014 everywhere. If you see that, bear with me - as always it will take sometime for the realization to dawn - that we are no more in 2014. I guess that is same with all of you.

Here comes the tricky part - resolutions. Do I need to set some more resolutions even this year? I am sure most of us cannot keep up with the resolutions, but we make them anyways. But that does not mean I am being pessimistic with everything. In fact I would really want to be optimistic with a set of 2015 resolutions. They are not much and hopefully I will keep up with them. But most important of all - I need to get up on my feet and do some exercise. This is serious and no joke at all, people. I would be really shocked if being and staying fit in the year does not feature on your list of resolutions. I certainly have it as a priority number one.

And until then - thank you all for being good people and making my 2014 - a great year filled with happiness, prosperity, joy, jubilation and material satisfaction! 

Happy New Year and Tashi Delek. See you next year!

Sep 2, 2014

Hello; Rural Bhutan Calling

When cellular service was first introduced in Bhutan many people had hard time believing that one could communicate with someone over a small handset that resembled a child's toy. What amazed them was the fact that they can carry that handset wherever they went without having to be bothered by the wires. And back then only a handful of Bhutanese could afford cellular phones. We have come a long way today.

Almost everyone carries a mobile phone now that without one he/she is almost considered old fashioned. As on December 2013 as many as 544,337 people have subscribed to either BMobile or TashiCell. 

Of late WeChat is the talk of the town - at least in rural Bhutan. Everyone wants to know and find out who is on WeChat. Many farmers have it and that makes me uncomfortable as I was introduced to it only recently. Jokes aside, it is really simple and useful platform - once you create an account, you are ready to go and at the push of a button, you send messages and pictures to your loved ones. This does not require literacy. But again I am not discounting its negative impact - especially, how viral some leaked private videos went in Bhutan through WeChat! But this is only one side of it.

I think WeChat truly empowers our villagers and illiterate citizens. They don't need fancy and expensive mobiles to use WeChat.

It is important for us to provide reliable connectivity in rural Bhutan. But again it is time that we educate our rural folks about their safety and privacy in this SMALL and OPEN world. 

Aug 28, 2014

Flying home Lessons from Taj Mahal

It was a great trip. And a visit to Taj Mahal was the greatest treat of India. I have heard a great deal about this monument that I had to visit it. So, on August 24, 2014 as I was winding my India trip I managed to visit it. I can't describe how spectacular it was - it was simply amazing! One has to see with his/her own eyes and physically be there - only then can he/she realize what is meant by that!  
It was truly memorable event of my life; second to the birth of my daughter, of course. And for now I will leave all information and historical facts about how this monument came into being to the historians and researchers! 

It was Sunday. And I think there were more than 10,000 visitors. It was crowded. It was hot. I found that running the monument was an organization in itself - I am sure it employs thousands of people. Taj Mahal is one of the greatest treasures of the mankind and showcases the magnificent piece of human creation. 

An Indian visitor pays INR 20 while the visitors from SAARC regions have to part with INR 510. The visitors from elsewhere pay as high INR 750. I think people won't mind paying any amount to visit such a monument. 

We have many historical sites in the country; the most talked about one being the Taktshang. Many tourists make it a point to visit it. 

My visit to Agra made me believe that we can similarly institute visitors' fees for some of our historical sites. Well, in most temples and holy Buddhist sites, I know some visitors offer nyendar, but again it is not mandatory. In order to create funds to sustain these treasures for the posterity, we need to think of ways to generate revenues. Entrance fee is one viable option I see for now! Anything that is offered free is not often valued. 

How far can our meagre domestic tax take us? 


Aug 12, 2014

A Matter of Great Embarrassment

Picture by Kuenga Tashi, BBS, Monggar
My becoming a vegetarian has nothing to do with the fear of sins and thereby being thrown in the darkest corner of the hell. Some people do not like the taste - they are vegetarians under duress. Some cannot consume meat because they are advised against it by their doctors. Mine is purely out of love and compassion for the animals. 

My assumption is that if I stop eating meat there will be one hungry-mouth less feasting on it. The whole idea is that if we have less mouths feeding on cruelty then there will be fewer merciless knives that take the lives of innocent animals. We worry that we might die soon and perform rimdros or visit doctors. But then people die for meat! Animal cruelty is cruelty like no other. 

But what had happened at a place in Monggar is even worse. The owner of Gashamo suspects that some men are raping their cow. And there were evidence thrown everywhere. That's not all - a few days ago, the inhuman act has left Gashamo with a fractured limb. Now that is a great shame. I did not know men could stoop to that level. It is inhuman - the animalistic behavior must be corrected. 

According to the Penal Code of Bhutan; Section 211: 
A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of bestiality, if the defendant engages in sexual intercourse or other sexual contact with an animal.
Penal Code of Bhutan grades "bestiality" as "petty misdemeanor". That means if a person is found guilty of such offense, then he would be imprisoned from anywhere between a month to less than a year. But it is sick and embarrassing! We have heard of people going to jails for fantasizing sexual acts with their bicycles. 

Authorities should cut off such shameless people's genitals and feed them to dogs. Of course even the dogs won't feed on them, I am sure. 

Aug 6, 2014

Sorry my child, I cannot change your name

From: www.jantoo.com
I had no say in naming my daughter unlike most modern parents because I chose to offer that honor to some highly learned and incarnate Buddhist Lamas. And according to the karmic forces my daughter was named. Yangchen Tshogyal Dolkar དབྱངས་ཅན་མཚོ་རྒྱལ་སྒྲོལ་དཀར། is a decent name. But today there are so many names that are far more difficult to pronounce and by that token Yangchen Tshogyal Dolkar is not at all sophisticated. 

I had to write this post – hoping some day my daughter gets to read it herself and understand my limitation and that I had no say in her name – to let her daughter know that I had to let you down with your request.

How can you change your name? But she does not understand that. She thinks it can be done like the way we change our clothes in summer. Sorry! There are some modern men who change their wives more often and realize they can’t change their names as often as they wish. Of course now thanks to Facebook Rimpochhe – people can change their names – one a day if they choose to change. But that is not the truth; it is social, I know. People change names because they want to be new – someone else – with fancy and complicated names.

It has been sometime now since my daughter started nagging my wife and I to change her name. I don’t know from where kids these days are getting these wild ideas. She does not like her name anymore. Of course when she kept on pressing us we had to lie to her. The idea that she would then belong to a new set of parents scared her dearly. In that case, she says, she would keep her name the same.

Sorry my dear child – I cannot change your name and years from now you will understand exactly why not.

P.S: There are many decisions that are irreversible and before we seal them let’s give them second thoughts because once the damage is done no amount of whitewashing can bring the desired effect. We are going through a rough time. October is near - do we really need taxes for everything? 


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