Friday, March 4, 2011

I am a beneficiary of MTCP Program 2009; Part One

Recipients of MTCP Scholarship, Aug, 2009
After a long gap of 17 months (after my first trip), my administration again nominated me for a trip abroad. This time, I was to travel to Malaysia in the month of August to attend a training on Passenger Management. It was funded by the Malaysian Technical Co-operation Program known more in Bhutan as MTCP. It was a 14 day program and involved participants form the developing countries world wide. It was more of  knowledge sharing among participants than a formal training.

 Since its inception in 1980s, MTCP has long a history of support to Bhutan. MTCP  supported different agencies in different fields and in different capacities. Many Bhutanese officials, both at head office and filed have immensely benefited from MTCP scholarships.

 Of all the agencies in Bhutan, Customs administration in particular has received a lion's share of support from the MTCP program. Today we have a good number of MTCP beneficiaries in Bhutanese Customs administration, spread  over 9 regional offices, actively engaged, both in revenue collection and protection of the society.  It was an honor by any means, for me  to join  my predecessors on this count.

Whatever may be the reason behind this noble initiative, (by the Malaysian Government) people in Bhutanese Customs officials have their own opinion and feedback about the program. Most of the beneficiaries widely  acknowledged and commended the initiative. The trainings it offered were all relevant, practical, rewarding and enriching. The Customs Academy in Melaka has groomed a good number of customs intellectuals and today it is being revered by most of the beneficiaries.

The training nomination, both short and long were always done at the head office then. This has invited lot of criticisms, both form within and outside. The officials in the filed  have always accused officials in the head office for not being fair and square in the nomination process. They were accused for deliberately withholding information on trainings that accorded higher daily allowances and explicitly pursued officials in the field to avail the trainings that accorded meager daily allowances.

MTCP programs were such programs, that invariably (if not always) got pushed for the field officials. And as accused, It was not because of it's relevance that it got filtered to the field level officials, but more, because of less net allowance the program accorded for the participant altogether. However the justifications from the head office always stood right and correct, because the MTCP programs were always need based and based on the practical aspects of the work. The programs were deemed more appropriate for the field officials than those in the policy makers; -the (most) officials in the head office, who are policy makers by default and (not by design).

But for me, It was a different story altogether. A thing of "daily allowance" was too little a deterrent for me in taking up the opportunity. The trip brought me a sense of excitement that was ungovernable.  I  became even more eager to find out how truly Asia, Malaysia was. (as advertised in the TV commercials) The idea of rejecting a trip to Malaysia on basis on the allowance story  sounded stupid and naive. I also thought to my self that rejecting a trip would be like rejecting a lifetime award form my administration. So I decided to accept and embrace my nomination with utmost sincere gratitude. 

I remember completing my pre-departure formalities with ease and on time.  As demanded by the organizers I  have submitted all the required information like Passport details and travel itineraries along with my lengthy essay, describing my administration, highlighting some of the -so called good practices in passenger management in my work place. I did  also submit my presentation in power point format. 

The organizers acknowledged my genuine mails instantaneously and kept silent whenever I asked something silly and nonsense. They directed me to arrange my own flight ticket for Paro-Bangkok-Paro sector and told me, that the flight ticket for Bangkok-Kaula Lampur- Bangkok would be issued by a travel agent known as Kedwang Travel Agent in Malaysia.

It was a proposition I awaited form my organizers for a long time. With this, I immediately made up my mind to capitalize on the close and symbiotic relationship my office had with the Royal Bhutan airlines;- the Drukair. It was like fairy tale and I firmly believed that the Chief Executive Officer of the airline would consent to my requisition. I wrote an application requesting his esteem office to issue me a discounted air ticket. I personally  met him and  he indicated for me to wait a while which I did for a week.  

Finally after a week, the company secretary of the Drukair called me up and said that my request has not been considered. This came as a lightning and I went numb. I couldn't believe his words and I couldn't respond to him for a while. It was agonizingly painful to know that a man who has been making and would continue to make thousands of request from me and my office, turning down my only request.  The sense of betrayal was outrageous and I started to regret beyond words, the kind of flexibility I have accorded him, both officially and personally. I felt insulted on all counts; -as a customs in-charge and as a person making request.

With my first option yielding no result, I went for my second option. I approached the accounts section of my office. To my relief and satisfaction, the accounts personal agreed to lend me the money on reimbursement basis. I bought a full fare ticket and with that I shifted my attention to other things like arranging money for my shopping and buying souvenirs for my fellow participants. I went to bank and not only emptied my saving account but also emptied my wife's saving account too. I took a months salary in advance to be on safer side too. For my fellow participants, I bought few bottles of Bhutanese whiskey and few badges of our King. 

I reached Bangkok on 1st August. I remember how I walked in the airport with an air of confidence. Unlike my first trip, I didn't need any assistance (not even from my Thai friend)  I found my way through. I spent my night at my friends residence before I finally flew to Malaysia on 2nd August.

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