Profile: Dasho Neten Zamgmo, the former Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) chairperson, described herself as happy and satisfied post-retirement.
The former chairperson moved to Dewathang in Samdrupjongkhar after her retirement to be the executive director of the Samdrupjongkhar Initiative (SJI), a civil society organization founded by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche.
Leaving Thimphu and working with communities at the grass roots level has always been Dasho Neten’s dream. She did not hesitate to leave the urban life, which she had enjoyed for more than 20 years, after retiring.
Today, as she sits inside a small room with a computer and printer, empty file racks, her slippers neatly arranged by her table, she says she does not regret her decision.
“I have now a satisfying and happy life and I am really loving it,” she says. “I didn’t even have a printer in ACC,” she adds. “Of course, when I was with ACC it was the best experience too, but I really didn’t get a chance where I get to sit, laugh, gossip and discuss with people together like I get now, this is exactly what I wanted in my life.”
Sipping on her lemon tea, she says, “You see, it’s actually an amazing process I am going through where I’m learning a lot and it’s no more about sitting on a high chair or expensive carpets. But sometimes emotional when I get to see the reality of people’s lives they are living in.”
Dressed in her usual full Kira, wonju and tego, every morning she walks to her office -a 10-minute walk away. As soon as she reaches her office, the first thing she does is check her mail.
No more are there anonymous complaints of corruption waiting for her.
Her decisions are relatively simpler. She mulls over which gewog or chiwog to visit. During such visits, she usually talks about waste management, organic farming, arts and crafts, which are the core objectives of the SJI. “The whole shift has been totally different.”
She says Thimphu was a suffocating place to live in physically and metaphorically. She hated the hypocrisy and artificial life of urban Thimphu. She constantly desired to return home and work at the community level.
She frequently is questioned by friends about the transition and if she has adjusted to her new life.
“Having lived in Thimphu holding a high position, the sudden change might have proved difficult for others, but this is non-issue for me,” Dasho Neten said. “When I attended GNH International Conference in Paro recently, I was trying to sell our SJI’s hand made craft products and all my friends found it funny that a former chairperson is now a sales woman.”
She left Thimphu in August and took a cab all the way to Dewathang. She joined the SJI by the end of September because she agreed with the initiative’s goals.
Today, besides working with the SJI, she also takes care of her mother’s house and her younger sister.
“I’m totally cut off from what’s happening in the country or world and I sleep a lot,” she says. “I have become lazy,” she laughs. “I was surprised when I realized I didn’t even know the three new eminent NC members were elected recently until my sister told me and now I’m thinking to look for my old radio to at least keep up with the news.”
She says she was overcome by a strange feeling when she left Dewathang to attend the GNH conference in Paro recently. “I felt very different as soon as I got into the car at 4am. I felt so uneasy and felt like I was going to a foreign world.”
Today her concerns are waste management, especially for the plastic kind. She hopes not to become obnoxiously obsessive about her new responsibility.
Working with nine of her colleagues in SJI, Dasho has already visited 27 villages and nine gewogs.
“I’ve never done this before even when I used to visit Dewathang every year. If I had remained in Thimphu, I don’t think this would have happened even if I wanted to create awareness about corruption.”
Having lived a “Prado life” in Thimphu, she quickly narrates the only difficulty now is walking to the village. She has weak knees.
“I’m not trying to be romantic with life, yes, it is tough but is living behind land fallow and village is not a solution. That’s why I always wanted to come back.” She is not sure if she’ll ever move back to Thimphu.
Initially, she worried about some of the corruption cases that were still pending after moving to Dewathang. But not anymore.
“But as a concerned citizen I am still worried about corruption as an issue. Because the environment is definitely fertile for corruption to grow from my experience or what even I have seen.”
As the clock strikes 5pm, instead of hurrying to go home, she makes sure she checks all the work on the desk. This is what defines her. Work always comes first.
Before returning home, Dasho smiles and does not give a definite answer if she is considering joining politics. Rumours have been doing the rounds that her move to Samdrupjongkhar is politically motivated.
She doubts she may ever join politics, but just in case she does, she says she will join the right group that has a conviction for people’s needs.
“I won’t mind even if I lose the election but I want to set certain standards and tell people politicians and politics can be good,” she says. “If wining is the motive, a politician may stoop to all sorts of strategies … You see, even if I win by fair means, I am sure people would still say, so joining SJI was a strategy to join politics and win votes.”
Yangchen C Rinzin