Media: At least 25 bloggers attended the first community of Bhutanese bloggers conference held in Thimphu, yesterday.

During the conference, designed to bring bloggers together to discuss and debate issues, a mobile app that aggregates blog posts by Bhutanese bloggers and provides notifications for the latest posts was launched. The mobile app, simply titled CBB, will only be available at the Google Playstore for devices running on the Android operating system, for now.

A few bloggers presented issues following the launch.

Blogger, Riku Dhan Subba, spoke about the importance of maintaining rural roots. The blogger who is from Chuzagang in Sarpang, said that when he moved out of his village for studies he never intended to return. He explained that in Bhutan, when you move, you are thought to be progressing while staying back in the village was viewed as cowardly. He added that many people also do not return to their villages because of the harsh lives they have to live in the absence of basic facilities.

However, after he completed his studies, he longed to return to his village.

Once back in Chuzangang, he found many unemployed youth who had returned from Thimphu, unable to find jobs. Now, they formed gangs, engaged in violence and abused drugs.He said it was a serious problem being faced in Chuzagang.

He explained that besides a READ centre in Chuzagang, there was nothing else in terms of facilities.

Riku Dhan Subba said he now returns to Chuzagang at least five times a year. He has also started a programme that seeks to instil confidence and skills in the youth of the village, and to make them aware of the importance of obtaining an education.

Riku Dhan Subba is the only person from Chuzagang with a college degree. He said it is a natural responsibility to go back to the village and give back to the community. “My contribution is very small,” he said.

In reference to the limited facilities in rural Bhutan, another blogger and co-organiser of the conference, Nawang P Phuntsho, shared a story of how the 35km farm road to his village had taken 17 years to build, which is about 2km a year. “Even a dung beetle could have walked that far (in less time),” he said.

National Council Gasa representative, Sangay Khandu, spoke about how parliament in Bhutan works. However, his explanation on the role of a National Council member of parliament (MP) was the highlight of his presentation.

He began with a joke about how Riku Dhan Subba was doing a better job of visiting his village at least five times a year, when MPs are required to do so only twice a year.

He said that an MP in Bhutan had the option of taking issues, that are learned during constituency tours or from local government submissions, either directly to the plenary or the specific government agency. However, if nothing happens, then the issue can be taken to the judiciary or to the fourth estate, the media.

He said it was for the latter option that he chose to start blogging, as publishing his views publicly, journalists could examine it and choose if a story was required. He said  that that way politicians and the media could work together, and not use each other.

In response to another question that the abstain option for MPs was a waste, Sangay Khandu said that abstaining from a vote could be seen as a form of protest. He said that it was better that an MP be allowed to abstain that way, rather than having them walk away during the voting session, as practised in other parliaments and is disruptive.

Economist Ugyen Lhendup talked about the economy and how inequality in Bhutan had been reduced in the past five years. He said that lower income groups in the country had gained more proportionately than the higher income groups. He also explained that despite GDP growth slowing down in recent years, poverty rates have been halved and the nature of growth here has been pro-poor and inclusive, and attributed the success to poverty alleviation programmes.

Ugyen Lhendup said that concerted efforts have to be sustained and the efforts of NGOs, both local and international, need to be continued.

Speaking to this paper, co-organiser of the conference, Passang Tshering, explained that blogging in Bhutan is an important way to express public opinions and ideas. “How else can we do it, we’re not in the parliament of Bhutan,” he said. “If you’ve a good idea and you post it, some people somewhere will find this idea practical for them so that’s why it’s important,” he said.

Gyalsten K Dorji