Saturday, September 7, 2013

Ketamine from Bhutan to Thailand

Disclaimer: I am a Customs Officer. But please be informed that views expressed here are my own and in no way represents the views of my office.

Image courtesy:
Few days ago, we all saw the news of a Bhutanese woman being nabbed for running an errand in Thailand go viral. Every soul now knows that she was involved in smuggling of a dangerous psychotropic substance called Ketamine worth Bt.15 million in Bangkok airport. It is very unfortunate case!. 

As a Customs Officer who work in Paro airport, I am hurt by Miss Zhimo's reckless act. The news of her arrest brought us not only shame but also pain in equal proportion. We were blamed at and ridiculed. She made our office look like a total failure. She disappointed not only Bhutanese and the Thais, but also those donor agencies who have, so far helped us in capacity building.

Looking at the reward she received, its a case of stupidity and bravery in epic proportion. She succeeded in fooling our authorities in Paro, but looks like she met her destiny in Bangkok. While the Thai authorities are celebrating their catch, its time for our authorities to look back and see as to how Miss Zhimo managed to pass our control system undetected.

I am hopeful that our Poilce department will come with a concrete findings. This is because when Miss Zhimo's friends were returning home after being released by Thai Customs, it was airport Police who did not even let airport customs question them in our own area. They were escorted like a VIP from our area.

Considering the availability of such drugs in our neighborhood and lucrativeness of the business, some say Miss. Zhimo could well be a tip of iceberg. What is even more dangerous is that we have a large number economically vulnerable people in our society. Therefore if cautions are not taken, chances are high that our unemployed youths could as well fall prey to such a trade. 

Miss Zhimo is now a case of wind that has crossed the northern plateaus and a river that has crossed the southern plains. But there is an important lesson we need to draw from her undertaking. Besides her "greed" there could be reasons beyond, best known to herself, that dragged her into an affair such as this. Some day we may get to know them.

But for now its high time for concern authorities to carefully look back take necessary measures that would prevent such cases in future. Here are few measures I would recommend:

1.Create gainful employment to our people:
World wide Drug trafficking phenomenon have shown that the traffickers have the tendency of using most vulnerable people as carriers. Most vulnerable people include those people who do not have a permanent source of livelihood (a job) Therefore if our people are engaged, their chances of being used as a carrier can be minimized. 

Fortunately, we now have a government in place that promised 100% employment. So the prospect of Bhutanese people being used as carrier may diminish soon.

2. Create more awareness on carrying parcels:
Traditionally and culturally, Bhutanese travellers are fond of not only sending but also carrying parcels. Therefore with changing time, there is a need for concern authorities to sensitize travellers on the risk of carrying parcels, especially form the strangers. 

3. Address security lapses in Paro airport:
I am of the opinion that aviation security section is doing their best. But more needs to be done. If the present security lapses are bridged, I am of the opinion that 90% of the problems can be solved. 

Firstly there is need for the airport security to streamline the issuance of access cards to people entering the terminal building. Why I am saying this is that, at present we have people who can walk up to the aircraft side to both receive and see-off the travellers. I have often seen that access cards are given to people who are more influential and powerful. 

Secondly, Body frisking should be uniform, irrespective of the post and designation of the person entering the restricted and critical area.

Thirdly, Security equipment like the surveillance cameras, radio sets, x-ray machines in the passenger terminals should be all functional. I am told that that of the 20 cameras we have in airport, only few are (Partially) functional. 

Fourthly: Aviation security should now stop saying that "that drugs will not blow off the aircraft" and think of shouldering broader responsibilities like detecting other restricted and prohibited items like narcotics. Now they should also learn to read yellow, green, orange and blue images besides their conventional black and dark images. Why I am saying this is that the X-ray machine in the departure is owned and operated by the aviation security.

4. Capacity building for the right officials:
Capacity building is crucial in law enforcement. There can be only results when we have a right people in the right job with right knowledge and skills. Therefore, as I said earlier, the capacity building for any agencies should transcend mere monetary benefits like DSA and allowances.  

Besides, it is high time that allied agencies like the BNCA, DRA, RMA, MoHCA, Customs and BAFRA etc also look into training aviation securities in the relevant fields 

5. Intelligence sharing among the enforcement agencies:
Information sharing in Paro airport among different agencies seem non existent. However this is my personal observation. If we had a good information sharing system then, I believe Miss Zhimo may not have gone to Bangkok jail. 

6. Incentives and rewards. 
This is my 8th year in airport Customs and I have had the privilege of serving my department with utmost dedication. I have so many wonderful experiences to share but somehow I never feel comfortable sharing such things on my blog. 

In discharge of my duty, which involved taxing, seizing, and confiscating, me and my team fell into endless arguments, we met stiff resistance not only from outsiders but also from insiders.  we made people angry and we made people cry, we risked being attacked by gang. we were mocked at and cursed upon. we sacrificed our family time and our meals. We neither had government holidays nor weekends. We were ridiculed by passing passengers and by walking Lyonpos. But at the end of the day, the only reward we got was our monthly salary.

Besides, airport is place of too many VIPs, too many protocols, too many favors, too many vigilance, too many dramas, and many more. Due to such sensitivities, working in airport is never a pleasant one. So I believe a small incentives to the enforcers can do a magic both in public service delivery and law enforcement.


  1. I was expecting an article from you on that incident. It's nice to hear from you as one of the personnel closely working with such issues. Your post makes it clear that customs job is not an easy one. Moreover, there are so many improvements on various fronts need to be done it seems. Hope the concerned authorities will be alarmed by such incidents which damage our country's international image and act accordingly to curb such incidents.

    1. Thanks Langa for your comment. Like you I too hope that our concerned officials now act more rationally and take measures acccordingly

      have a nice time

  2. Sir Pelden,
    A clean note full of ardent messages and truth: The message that many must know and the truth that seeks higher human intervention.

    1. "truth that seeks higher human intervention" I really liked this line. Thanks Damcho.

      You have a nine time.

  3. I would have been Happy had you/your office caught her at Paro Airport only, so that it would have not only brought satisfaction in your job well done but also nation's name would have been saved from embarrassment, anyways better luck next time as it's just the beginning of many such happenings.

    1. Wangyel, I understand your feelings. Yes not only you and me, but the entire Bhutanese people would have loved that. and I want to educate you on a small point, Firstly customs control all over the world is not 100% risk proof. on an average, out of 100 cases, customs make only 2-3 catches. and secondly, smugglers are always 10 steps ahead of customs control and therefore we need to have a equally competent ans skilled customs officials in the our area. but dismally this is what we are lacking. to tell u a small example, in our departmentment, capacity building is seriously neglected area. I am of the opinion that only few people in the head office are benefiting form so called "paid vacation" in ex-countries.Thirdly, intelligence sharing system in our airport is pathetic. and many more......May be we will discuss such issues over a cup of coffee...

      till then u have a nice day and take care

  4. This Miss Zhimo is a natioanl treasure i say,,,she suddenly outsmarts our complacent bhutanese officials at airport and gets nailed down in thailand which would now shake off our officials from the deep slumber...your article and your suggestions give me a promising sign of getting woken up...good luck sirji

    1. Sogyel, I wouls say she is smart also but at the same time stupid also.....In terms of waking up the officials in slumber, i think Its about officials getting redundant due to the factors I have mentioned above.....we will discuss such issues over a cup of coffee next time....

      till then have a nice time

  5. Zhimo is a very expensive lesson for Bhutan. Go by the Facebook discussions Zhimo is however unlucky among the many who were doing bigger smuggling than her. Once upon a time Paro Airport busted huge amount of Gold and then they began focusing on "black" now they must focus on "yellow" and other colors. I hope people in decision making read your article and instead of writing warning letter to you, take serious note of the lapses. The excuses they gave on BBS was a huge joke.

    Thank you for writing this.

  6. Peldhen Sonam Nima sir,

    The Concerned Authority must take note of your recommendation. Thus, no one applause for the excellent work done by customs official with limited resources. But if something goes wrong like this case, all the people including officials of relevant authorities are please to point finger at Customs in Airport. I can really understand the situation system in Bhutan. Nevertheless, keep working hard. My humble support to Customs team of Paro Airport

    1. Thank you Sangay for understanding our plights....and more for rendering your thoughtful support for my office and friends...

      You have a nice time then

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. Passu,

    I am a man who grew up in the company of girls; with my mother and with my seven sisters. I am continuing to live in the company of girls still; with my 3 daughters, my wife, mother-in-law and my grand mother...therefore It aches my heart to hear about Zhimo in Bangkok jail...I hope Zhimo finds a good lawyer and come back home...My prayers are with her and her loved ones.....

    About the "concerned authorities" I hope this time they will read my article first. I hope they understand my plain language. I hope they will be more careful. I hope they will act little rational this time, before they lavishly warn me....

    As you said, there are lot of things that needs attention in airport.Today we have seen a lady carry drugs in her bag. But tomorrow we may see someone stuffing drugs in their stomach, because we have condoms freely available from our health centers

    thanks you for reminding me to write on this....

    You have a nice time


  9. A gentleman here has addressed YOU as Sir Peldhen. I am impressed that a Bhutanese national has been knighted by the Queen of England. Congratulations again!

  10. So what happened to her case? What was the verdict of the Thai court? Or was she brought back to Bhutan?

  11. Professionally written blogs are rare to find, however I appreciate all the points mentioned here. I also want to include some other writing skills which everyone must aware of.


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