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If Not Deficit Then What Do You Call This Year's Budget?

posted Apr 30, 2013, 8:20 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
By Sangye Kunchok (Dharamsala, India) April 30, 2013.

 Have you seen the recently concluded Tibetan Parliament in Exile’s (TPiE) Budget session? It was ended with much confusion and qualms about the future sustainability of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA). For many years we have been told that CTA’s financial status was weak and debt-ridden prior to Samdhong Rinpoche’s Administration. Then with Rinpoche’s blessing and his controversial privatization of the CTA’s businesses, the financial status has improved into excellent condition. Didn’t we hear that loud and clear?

Things don’t look as rosy as the previous administration claimed and the numbers started speaking clearly. Thanks to our Chithus (Member of Parliament) especially, “Tsoepak Tsokchung” (Budget Estimation Committee) who have done a great job and whose qualms and questions sparked a great discussion in the parliament. The critical questions and comments by the Chithus brought an unwarranted high-pitched, emotional and disrespectful response from Finance Kalon that brought shame to the Sangay’s administration. The Kalon had to apologize later for his unprofessional behavior.

I am proud to report here that the quality of our Chithus has improved greatly and their professional response to the Finance Kalon’s rant while not bogging down on their principles were admirable. With the debacle of the previous parliament that brought shame to all of us, Tibetan people seem to have made a conscious effort of choosing the right people to the parliament this time. It is also possible that the live broadcasting of the proceedings and the subsequent distribution to the various cables network via DVDs may have deterred the Chithus from making bad impressions. It may be too early to say this but I believe the 15th TPiE cohort will bring much benefit to the Tibetan people.

Budget Deficit

When I first heard of bonus to the employees, I thought we have a surplus budget. But, there was no mention of “Surplus” in the budget.  So, we have to assume that it was at least a balanced budget because there was also no mentioned of the deficit budget. During Q&A, Finance Kalon declared, “we never said we had a balanced budget and we never had one,” when Chithus demanded clarity. Yes, we got it. But the question is if the 2013-14 CTA’s budget a balance, surplus, or deficit? Naturally, when there was no clarity, TPiE’s Budget estimation committee will have confusions, doubts, and lots of questions.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that it was a deficit budget but the manipulation of the numbers have blurred the real situation. 

The shortfall of revenues this year is covered from the various dept.’s long held savings and this has been going on for too long. Almost 90% of the reserved held by various dept were used like this to cover up deficit. This is the savings of the last 40 years prior to privatization, and it’s certainly not due to the ingenuity of Rinpoche or the Sangay’s administration. On the other hand, Kashag boast of having almost Rs. 800 Million in the Corpus Fund, which in reality is way “short of CTA’s 1 year budget that total around Rs. 1,200 Million” rebuttals one of the Chithus. There is good reason to be alarmed. CTA has neither enough rainy day funds nor enough assets that generates cash flow. It’s high time we do the reality check.

We should be honest in calling this a “deficit budget” even though there is a negative connotation. In the history of Tibetan exile government or CTA, only Tenzin Tethong administration called the shortfall of revenue a Deficit. In other words, he called spade a spade. But in all fairness, we should know that it was not the fault of Sikyong Sangay's administration but rather his previous administration. Unlike Samdhong Rinpoche’s administration, Sikyong Sangay’s administration runs no businesses and has no assets that generate income when he assumed the CTA leadership.

But that doesn't mean he should be employing the same tactic as his previous administration under the direction of the same finance Kalon. The forth coming honesty will keep us on our toes and keep us away from the election gimmick and popularity contest of sort by giving away bonuses. Like one Chithus mentioned, “ if we keep on doing like what we have been doing, the future sustainability of the CTA is questionable.”

Because of the ambiguity in the proposal as well as current financial strength of the CTA, the Parliament passed a resolution that directs the Audit Dept to audit the financial status of the CTA, which will provide us independent, objective and expert opinion. There was no reason for the Kashag to be that defensive and get emotional unless you know you are letting them open up a can of worms.

Empty Treasure Chest?

Sikyong Sangay objected the parliament’s resolution for auditing the CTA financial status on four grounds. He asked the constitutionality of such resolution for which the speaker responded sharply. He also questions the motivation for such resolution for which many Chithus responded seriously and they make their case with solid supporting points. This was just plain embarrassment for the Sikyong who gets lectured on the constitution of the Exile Tibetan Govt- one of the topics of his PhD thesis. The resolution calls for the review of CTA financial status by the Audit dept, an independent agency, to do audit from 2007- present. But Sikyong was of the impression that the Chithus want to “Investigate the Kashag.” He wonders what will the people think of this “investigation.” 

Sikyong’s misunderstanding may be because of his poor understanding of the Tibetan Language, or due to deliberate misinterpretation of his advisors (Kalons). So, because of such objection- some Chithus get confused when it comes to number while others jump to defend the Sikyong in questioning the motives of such resolution. Chithus Sertha Tsultrim charged Speaker Penpa for bringing this resolution to the parliament because of his animosity with the Kashag (the rumor he heard and he really believed in), which was rather naive and disruptive. This Chithus is supposed to be the editor of a Tibetan Newspaper, Boe Ki Bangchen and with such accusation I can only imagine the quality of his editorial.

Finally, Sikyong requested the parliament to let them (Kashag) do their review first without the help of an Audit Dept. The Chithus happily accepted and withdrew the resolution. After all, what we need is a review of the CTA financial status.

But, what we, or the Sikyong missed is an opportunity to provide an objective study of the financial status of the CTA by an independent agency.  Most of us know that financial status of the CTA went south especially after Samdhong Rinpoche’s infamous privatization of the CTA’s businesses.   We all know that Sikyong Sangay has nothing to do with the past Administration. This year he increased the budget-the biggest ever- and raised as he claimed, for the stipends for poor, scholarships to the students, pay to the staff, medical allowances for the sick and BONUS! All of this was commendable.

But, the budget presentation was intelligent that common people cannot figure out the deficit. This accounting style isn't that clever and may not be that difficult to understand if we have the access to these papers and if we have few investigative journalist or patriotic Tibetans who do the analysis. This manipulative accounting tactics have been going on for too long and Sikyong Sangay must bring this practice to an end and bring about a fresh start.

Kalon Tsering Dhondup and Dongchung Ngodup are the two Kalons who objected most strongly to the parliament’s resolution. I understand that they are also part of the previous administration. And I wonder if their job is to defend their past administration or to fulfill the duties of the Sangay’s administration.

Finally, it is important that we pay attention to the proceedings of the Tibetan parliament. CTA’s financial viability is of great significance and it’s the duty of all patriotic Tibetan to contribute and discuss freely about it. Some in the parliament were hesitant to discuss freely and mentioning word like “Bangzoe Thongpa” (Empty Treasure). I don’t see any reason why we should be worried about such word. If it’s NOT empty, why worry. But, if it IS empty, we should know this and work hard to fill this treasure chest.

Honesty and transparency is an absolute must. Sikyong Sangay can flaunts his success of budget increases which he does unfailingly, but he must also be honest in the assessment of CTA's overall financial strength.  The increases comes from only one source and we know where it is from.

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