For the want of a definition

The past year saw a series of unhealthy exchanges between the media and government agencies, with the former alleging that government agencies are unwilling to share information. It is always presumed that the media seek and even demand information for headlines and hyperboles. While there may have been scant incidences of the type, the reason media seek information is to inform the public, correctly.

And this is exactly what is not happening. Business entities are left in the dark after announcements were made that a three member team has been constituted to define what essentials and non-essentials are. This and other announcements by respective agencies on reserves and the possibility of moratoriums were made on official websites. But the public is still waiting for information on the definitions of non-essentials and restrictions that may be imposed in importing these goods.

Bhutanese, by large are law-abiding citizens. As pointed out by an entrepreneur dealing in imported goods, he urgently needs to know what goods are non-essentials, so that he can stop the import of non-essentials and begin trading in essential goods only. He is worried about his bread. And there are many like him.     

An informed citizenry is a prerequisite to maintaining the social contract between the established government and those governed by it. Further, the government and other agencies must accept the responsibility to provide to its citizens unrestricted access to public information on government activities. When this does not happen, it is ultimately the people who bear the brunt. 

We are not talking about the public’s right to know about government operations and functions, to hold the government accountable, which is equally important. At this juncture, we are referring to information which can enable the general public to plan their next move as social and commercial decisions depend on information provided by the government.

Though Bhutanese contractors cried foul over the NPL and cooling period, once this information was made public, contractors who knew that they can no longer be in the business moved to other trades. Some even left the country. However, when agencies sit on a policy matter, the citizens are affected. There are business houses who say that for the nation’s benefit most third country imports can be designated non-essentials. They would just stop selling those goods and focus on other trades.

Additionally, as said by many, Bhutanese are junk collectors and vulnerable to peer pressure. A new product that does not have any benefits just need to hit the markets. News about it float on the social media. By the end of the day, most would have bought it, only to be thrown within a month or so. These goods, most Bhutanese say are non-essentials. Products that were unseen in Bhutan, but have suddenly picked steam without any health or other benefits are non-essentials. It is not difficult to see non-essentials in the capital. Define it and inform the public. Several people will benefit.