Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Bhutan’s youngest minister and Kheng’s first

14 April, 2008 - Some time last year when the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa was finalizing its constituency candidates, an informal “mini mock election” was held by a small family in Zilukha, Thimphu.

The election was not serious, but three of the four-member family voted the family head, Dorji Wangdi, to accept the ticket to run from the Pangbang constituency in Zhemgang.

On Thursday, this same family, which had just shifted into a newly constructed bungalow, was extremely busy to receive the man of the house, Lyonpo Dorji Wangdi.

“I can’t believe my father has become a minister,” said Lyonpo Dorji Wangdi’s daughter, Sangay Wangmo, 16. “Actually I voted against him on running for parliament.”

Lyonpo Dorji Wangdi, who was awarded Dakyen as the labour and human resource minister yesterday, is the youngest minister at 41 years and the first from the Khengri namsum (the three regions of Kheng). “I’m humbled by the trust and the faith my party and the people have in me,” said the newly appointed minister.

Lyonpo Dorji Wangdi is among the first graduates from Sherubtse College to assume a ministerial post in government. Born in a simple farming family in Mewangang village, the minister describes himself as a religious minded, hard working person. True to what he said, he is commonly known among friends as Guru or the prayer captain; he served as prayer captain for 12 years in school and college.

Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine of becoming a minister. “I always wanted to become a teacher since my school days,” said the minister. But joining politics was a response to the call of the nation. “I wanted to participate and participate with full dedication and in an exemplary manner.”

Lyonpo Dorji Wangdi holds a master’s degree in business administration and laughs when reminded of his ambitions and degree. “I think my greatest strength comes from my spiritual cravings and the academic qualification I pursued,” he said. “I went on to do things, that are in contrast to my nature, but that has made me a strong person.”

The post of a minister is a huge mandate, according to the minister, who served as planning and programme officer in the finance ministry and planning commission. Lyonpo Dorji Wangdi was working as deputy cabinet secretary for seven years before joining politics. “My experience has taught me fairly well of the workings of government,” he said. “I’m comfortable because my ministry has a huge group of professionals to guide me.”

The Tenth Plan states the need to create 93,000 jobs, but Lyonpo Dorji Wangdi is not worried. “Unemployment is a normal phenomenon in developing countries,” he said. “What we have to do is take stock of the job-seekers, that would come in thousands. We’ll have to align our education system to the job market.” Thus, one of his top priorities would be to work together with the education ministry.

Asked what kind of unemployment picture he could visualize after five years, the minister said that the rate of unemployment would not drop from 3.5 percent. “Even if we can keep it to 3.5 percent, it will be an achievement,” he said. He reasons that there will be more people looking for jobs, as thousands of students finish school every year.

The new minister had not prepared much for the huge task that rests on his shoulders. “I’m not prepared because I didn’t think I would be entrusted with this task,” he told Kuensel. However, he said that he would work closely with civil servants and believes himself to be a good team manager. “Politicians will come and go, but civil servants will always be there,” he said. “I’ll need their help and guidance. With our collective wisdom, everything will be smooth.”

Back in Zilukha, his family believes that the new minister will carry out his responsibilities efficiently. “He’s a hard working and sincere person, who even brings his work home almost every day,” said Dorji Yeshey, 14, the younger of his two children.

Wife Pemo, 36, is quite reserved and more worried than happy at her husband’s new post. “Being a minister means a lot of responsibilities,” she said. “I was against his decision to join politics, because we had two school-going children to feed,” she said. “I’m shocked to hear that he is becoming a minister. There are many capable candidates in his party.”

Friends and colleagues call Lyonpo Dorji Wangdi a sincere and a disciplined man. An ardent fan of Newcastle football club (England), Lyonpo Dorji Wangdi loves watching and even playing football. “He’s more like a friend than a father,” said daughter Sangay Wangmo, whose friends have already started teasing her by asking for rides in her father’s new ministerial vehicle.


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