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My Explanation on Tobacco Control Act

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The Tobacco Control Act and the sentencing of former monk, Sonam Tshering, have been blown out of proportion. I sympathize with the sentiments of the people who are affected by the severity of the sentence and believe that it is important to provide a clear perspective on the issue.

What has been overlooked by the media and some sections of the Bhutanese population is that the Tobacco Control Act, introduced in the National Council (NC) by the Ministry of Health, debated in both the NC and the National Assembly (NA) was enacted by parliament with all members of the NC having voted in favor while only three voted against the bill in the NA. It was, therefore, a decision of the majority in parliament and therefore, the majority of the Bhutanese people.

Sonam Tshering has now been convicted in a court of law, not by the government or parliament.

I feel sorry for him and have empathy for members of his family who must bear the pain of his misdeed. I can understand why many people feel that the punishment is incongruous to the crime. But then, that is what the law has prescribed. In the end, it is not about how much of tobacco he was carrying, it is about committing an illegal act.

Although the members of the Lhengey Zhungtshog and parliament might individually harbour differing views, and disagree with the law, the government is bound to stand by the side of law. Likewise, all Member of Parliaments who debate and vote on an issue in parliament have the ethical and moral obligation to stand by the will of majority as manifest in the laws made by it.

However, the Royal Government — elected by a majority of the populace — has and shall always stand by the will of the people. Therefore, if the people want the Tobacco Control Act, or any other Act, to be amended, there are proper procedures for amendment. No law is perfect and all laws can be changed as compulsions and values of society change.

However, the government will not respond to any attempts to create hysteria on the issue through any forum including the social media. Likewise, street demonstrations and movements in such cases are unpredictable in their outcomes and are necessary only in countries where the rule of law is undermined by authorities; where democracy has failed and where there is no other way to draw the attention of those in power.

We must avoid bringing in practices that are foreign to Bhutan and go against the interests of true democracy. In a country that is committed to establishing a unique democracy, we must find ways and means to express our will and opinions in the most civilized and effective ways using means that are democratic, relevant and peaceful.

The government encourages the people of Bhutan to express their views and to propose amendments to existing Acts through their elected representatives who are duty bound to represent them in parliament.  I encourage the people to call or write to your own MPs, as responsible members of your constituency, not as anonymous voices in the media. You must prevail upon your MPs to act on your behalf.

(This is the unedited version of a statement issued by Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley on March 5, 2011, following massive criticism from the opposition party and media on the recent verdict of the Thimphu Court on monk student Sonam Tshering sentencing him a jail term of three years. Download Tobacco Control Act 2010.)

The court verdict issued on Sonam Tshering is attached below

11 COMMENTS

  1. JYT is going crazy. He forgets that the very concept of democracy being practiced in Bhutan is a foreign idea. The unique, indegenous and traditional Bhutanese system is the feudal, hereditary, dictatorial and one man rule in the country. With democracy comes people’s rights to express themselves freely and without fear of any one. It can be a single voice or a united voice. Why should they fear a government they elected. There is nothing wrong in organizing peaceful public meetings, rallies and demonstrations to express people’s unhappiness over an issue and where people want the government to listen to their grievances and take actions to remedy them. Street protests are part of democratic cultures. There is no need to be nervous about it and if the government denies this right or tries to interfere with it it will lead to fatal consequences. You cannot disallow democratic practices on grounds it is foreign. The very clothes you are wearing and the computer you are using is foreign.

  2. JYT’s sweet talk on how Bhutan should seemlessly transition into a unique democracy is in fact a strategy to pre-empty attempts by the public to express their views through criticisms. His tone hides in a veil, threats he is making as to what consequences peole could face if by chance they took to the streets. He does not need any interruption to the smooth power sail he is enjoying. As much as it goes like like that it is a ‘unique transition’
    Unique believer of Democracy he is!

  3. When JYT can smoke imported Chancellors,evading tax pushed in bhutan thru diplomatic bags why was poor soman given so harsh a kick. When he say he is by the verdict of the government why should he feel for the monk and his family. What this double standard polity benifit JYT?
    JYT is just not a elected pm by the majority but just a hand picked man from the JSH’s Hemchi!
    How come in democratic country and the land of gross national happiness innocent people are thrown in the prision without giving/proper hearing from the defence counsel.
    JYT make a good mokery of Democracy. This is the essence of bhutanese democrracy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Mr.Thinkey,
    your long explanation of tobacco act is useless until you make sure your king mr wangchuk and your general mr.lam dorji respect your act.make sure all your people be governed by democratic norms and principles.other wise do not bark at commoners only.wah— how long you guys keep enjoying at the cost of p;oor people.
    Every one watching your drama.Mr.thinley, you read one play,macbeth and exlain your king what happens finally.
    secular.

  5. I am sure some of those very people (judges) who passed the verdict on Sonam Tshering have cartoons of tobacco stocked in their closets. Probably, the very judge smoked 20 cigarettes or foreign cigars that morning before he came to the court. His mouth might have been still smelling cigarette smoke while he was pronouncing the judgement. Police who searched Sonam tshering – go smell the ministers and the judges.

  6. May be at a snail’s pace, democracy is coming in Bhutan. we will eventually hear about the people uprising again. By then, JYT and all others involved will have realized the power of the people. It is not the 90’s, when the majority of the evicted people, even in the dusk of their last day in Bhutan, still loyally thought that the King and his Ministers would never illtreat them. Time has changed and so have people.JYT! defeat can be very upsetting. Your address to the public regarding Sonam’s case is still dictatorial. I would highly encourage my fellow Bhutanese to come to the streets, if that be required, just to see what JYT can do in a democratic Bhutan.
    May the truth win!

  7. Honorab’le JYT,
    Thanks for bringing your explanation through the media. I wouder how you can play foul game on commoners. Just couple of weeks you said the media was overreactive to the government and you voiced the media to change their attitude. Now you make use of the same media to save your face and the government’s in general.
    One thing current state of affair is simply autocratic, just one step less than the govt. headed by your mentor JSW. Now you term that as democracy. Only words have changed to highlight Bhutan but not the policies.
    At this juncture I must highlight that the tobacco law was passed by the NA. What is this National Assembly? It is the house where you groom your mentees! See there is no opposition to counter balance the acts of the government. May be there exist few opposition in the house. You cooly explain that it was the majority in the house that passed the law. It went by your way coz you had none to oppose.And this is I believe a majority passed act.
    It is high time now for the OL and general public to stand against their government. Many are ready to support you and your fight against the govt in true sprit of democracy.

  8. The explanation seeks to clarify the decisions behind the sentencing of Sonam Tshering. But it does little to redress the grievances of the people. Tobacco Ban is desirable and policy makers have done the right thing by signing it into law. But, how it is regulated and enforced and what punishment the perpetrators should face is a question that should be clearly thought of and implemented.

    The common people are outraged at the sentencing and see it as crude implementation of law. And, quite simple, they want it addressed.

    To bring attention and urgency to the matter, youths have used social media to consolidate their opinion.

    As such, PM ought to respect the way we communicate and not decry it as media hysteria. Perhaps, it is to your advantage if you follow the conversation.

    I honor the Tobacco Bill act and support it however the government must do a good job of legislating it into law. Clearly, people are not against the bill but in the heavy handed way it was executed.

    And in all fairness, the monk should have chance at appellate court and/or should be released on bond. Or possible receive a very lenient punishment.

    We understand that when law takes its course, we are left with very few choices. Each as difficult as the other. But, at this juncture, you have the opportunity to influence the action and right it or choose to be politically correct and ignore it. How you choose will have a lasting effect on Bhutanese society.

    Bikash Chhetri
    Atlanta, GA.

  9. Like an old tape recorder JYT never forgets to give his nationalistic wisdom on every matter involving the RGOB. The people wanted this and that. That is why the Parliament made laws.

    If the people wanted to make laws I am sure, they also wanted to be informed that such laws existed.

    Apart from enacting a law, did the government proactively inform the Public that such a law had been enacted?

    Was there a transitional period to educate rural people? Rural people of Bhutan may be the most hard hit by laws that the city folks like to fantasize and impose without information.

    Where was your PEOPLE SPIRIT JYT to create policies to educate THE PEOPLE?

    And the Courts use Legal maxims like ignorantia juris …. that can be found behind almost all legal dictionaries to justify whether Sonam should be held innocent or guilty. Is that fair?

    Legal maxims are old. And their age should tell us that they are used in highly sophisticated legal systems. Bhutanese courts seem more interested to gain that sophistication, and device complex but dogmatic rules rather than give justice based on common sense for the moment. Such maxims would have been just after most of the population were made aware of such a law.

    Smoking in Bhutan is not completely banned by the Act. Public smoking is illegal but private smoking in some hotels is legal. And would you think smokers just before the law was passed stopped smoking after the law was enacted?

    Another thing to ponder on is, tobacco trade in Bhutan if done by paying taxes is completely legal.

    So the rich are aware of the laws, they can pay the taxes and also smoke in hotels. The rural people are neither aware of the laws, may not be able to pay the taxes and would probably smoke in a public place because they wouldn’t have the money to enter a hotel to smoke. The handful of rich Drukpas win while the poor Drukpas can go to prison for three years.

    Ofcourse the judges of the Court have never been kept inside a prison for a day, so how would they know?

    Is that the equality JYT you want to give to the new Drukpa Bhutan?

    If Sonam knew that he could bring in Tobacco on paying tax to the government according to the Act, he would have probably left the tobacco at the border instead of paying taxes.

    Can’t you see, it is unfair to impose penalty when someone is unaware?

    I am surprised to see the Courts of Bhutan are so immature and unprotective of the rights of a Drukpa citizen. The Parliament made a law without providing education, while the government enforced without consideration…. the court could have at least seen a person’s liberty was endangered and should have protected a citizen. The Judiciary has the leverage to decide what is fair, not just enforce the law. If Judiciary also does what the government does, whats the use of the Judiciary?

    The Tobacco Control Board Notification of 8 December 2010 provided to all travelers prescribes in section 4, that a person can import 200 sticks of cigarettes, 30 pieces of cigar or 150 gms tobacco or other tobacco products, per month on payment of 100% Sales Tax and 100% customs.

    Was the court even conscious whether Sonam’s case involves reasonableness to plead innocent?
    The doctrine (ignorance of the law is no excuse) the Court applied, should have been reserved for criminals who would obviously plead innocent like Sonam. But is the court trying to say that there is no difference between criminals and a person like Sonam? Criminals would be cheating, Sonam did not cheat, for he was not hiding it.

    There is stark difference between a person who acts to be innocent and a person who is in reality unaware of the law.

    The role of the Judiciary is to be fair, instead of coughing up a few legal maxims!

    I would like to draw the attention of JYT to Article 7.3. of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan which provides. “A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to information”.

    Sonam’s constitutional right to be informed as citizen by education has been violated, his freedom has been restricted, and all the court could do was lick the government’s ass and say the public wanted such a law. Since when did Bhutan become so much public opinion oriented?

    And Bhutan should be public oriented in the right way, not just say it. Sonam’s constitutional right could even save him from this imprisonment if he proves that he was not hiding the Tobacco.

    Hope JYT understands this!

    Regards

  10. Tobacco control is one way right in our country but there should be age limit, proper smoke free zones. Despite these if anyone found guilty should not be again punished as of now. Punishment is harsh in other hand it’s demeaning the essence of our young democracy outside. Indirectly govt is selling tobacco on 100 percent profit not tax. If govt facing increasing crime then choose alcohol to ban/control than tobacco with proper enactment.

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