Below are answers from Tenzin Namgyal Tethong la to TPR's "Questions for the Kalon Tripa Candidates."
Question 1. The position of Kalon Tripa is the highest executive office of the Tibetan government. Please describe what you believe to be your qualifications to serve in this preeminent leadership position.
Answer 1. The qualifications I bring to this office are those of leadership, devotion and experience. I have worked in our government in many capacities from a secretary to a Kalon, both in Dharmsala and outside in our foreign offices. I have also worked in the public arena heading various organizations and community based efforts. My ability to work and be productive at the highest levels of government and at the grassroots level of small communities is of public record.
Through these experiences I have learned to interact with leaders and experts to bring out their fullest understanding of issues and problems that confront us, and to gain their cooperation in formulating the best policies. I have also been open to the concerns and needs of the public, and have been able to provide leadership and encouragement to move communities forward on various issues, in some instances helping to find solutions to long standing problems.
Q2. What are your major weaknesses, and how would you overcome them in serving as Kalon Tripa?
A2. One weakness attributed to me in TPR’s review of the Swiss debates is that of my role in the Tibetan Youth Congress and the International Campaign for Tibet and the “pattern of setting things up and then moving on”. TPR questioned why I did not stay and work in these institutions.
First of all, it is a truism that an individual's best contribution to a project or institution, after it has been established and put on sound footing, is to be able to leave at the right time. When new members, new energy, and new leadership emerge within an organization it is best to allow them to have that space. The first generation of TYC leaders did just that and set an example that encouraged succeeding generations of youth leadership to emerge and to flourish.
We must always be encouraging and enabling our younger colleagues to step into positions of real power and influence, even if it means stepping aside ourselves.
As for the International Campaign for Tibet, I set it up and headed it when I was also the Special Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Washington, D.C. It was only proper as a Tibetan government officer to hand it over to my successor when I returned to Dharmsala.
As for other weaknesses, I will have to respond as they are pointed out to me. One is the worst judge of oneself.
Q3. Who are some of the individuals whom you would consider appointing to the Kashag and other important posts? Why?
A3. The Kashag has seven portfolios - Home, Education, Culture & Religion, Finance, Security, International Relations, and Health - each requiring leadership from individuals with expertise and knowledge in the respective areas. Since our community is relatively small we know most of the experts or individuals in these fields, and many of the senior officials within the government are among the most qualified. However, there are many other experts outside government who, if given the opportunity, may be willing and able to serve in various capacities. We will have to find the very best person for each portfolio.
The exercise of forming a government has the added political dimension and need for a balanced representation of the many constituencies of Tibetan society from region to gender.
Q4. Please list the most important issues that face the Tibetan government, in your opinion, in decreasing order of priority.
A4. The most important issue facing the Tibetan government is the issue of Tibet; how to advance the just cause of our nation, and how to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of the Tibetan people.
The second most important task is to ensure that the institution of the Tibetan government is protected from the intentions of the Chinese Communist Party, and that it remains an effective body best representing the collective will and efforts of the Tibetan people. And, integral to the Tibetan Government is the office of the Head of State of Tibet, which, according to our exile charter and the future draft constitution for Tibet, is occupied by the person of the Dalai Lama.
Thirdly, while we act to ensure the wellbeing and interests of the Tibetan community in exile, we must always speak and do only that which will benefit the Tibetan people back home. We must let the Chinese government and the world understand that our efforts are not just for the exiles, and that we speak on behalf of all Tibetans.
Q5. What is your evaluation of the outgoing Kalon Tripa, Professor Samdhong Rinpoche? Please give at least one example of what you believe he did right and at least one example of what you believe he could have done better.
A5. I do not think it is appropriate for any Kalon Tripa candidate, or even the eventual Kalon Tripa elect, to be evaluating the outgoing Kalon Tripa. This would not be in keeping with our traditions nor would it be fair unless there is an exceptional need to do so.
History, documents, the media, and scholars will do that in the future. And, informally of course, the public will do that no matter what, if they are not already doing so.
THE SITUATION IN TIBET
Q6. What measures do you believe Tibetans in exile should take to promote concrete positive change for Tibetans in Tibet, including land rights, economic empowerment, and education?
A6. Tibetans in exile must do everything possible, through action and words, with the support of others, to promote concrete positive changes in Tibet. Our efforts should not be limited just to land rights, economic empowerment and education. It should be for all other rights which are denied or abused by the Chinese authorities. In 2008 many in Tibet simply called for His Holiness to return to Tibet. This is completely legitimate and should be pursued vigorously. More importantly, we must fight for the political rights of the Tibetan people, the very basis by which the Chinese abuse the Tibetan people.
Other important measures that we might take to promote concrete positive change for Tibetans in Tibet should include upgrading all or most of our current efforts and even carrying out new initiatives and new strategies. In recent years we have emphasized accommodation and openness through dialogue, but that should not preclude the possibility of making our case in a stronger manner and taking it to a higher level.
We should explore the possibility of suing the Chinese government on an individual basis, sue them about our rights, loss of homes and property, denial of education and religious freedoms, harassment, imprisonment, torture, and even the death of family members etc. And we may be able to go beyond the individual and initiate collective action on such matters. We will have to explore whether we can do it China, Spain, international courts, or even in specially constituted tribunals.
Q7. What is your position on the Tibet-China dialogue? Given the current impasse – with the Chinese government refusing to discuss anything other than His Holiness’ personal status, and the Tibetan government stating that further concessions on the Tibetan side are impossible -- what is your long-term vision for solving the Tibet issue?
A7. The Tibet-China dialogue has come to a full stop because the Chinese have rejected the Middle Way proposal of “genuine autonomy” and because they want to talk only about the Dalai Lama’s personal status and wishes. Therefore, we have to carefully consider our options, even consider new options, and push hard without doubt or hesitation for justice.
The real long term solution will begin to unfold when the Chinese leadership is fully convinced that they have made a complete mistake in their invasion and occupation of Tibet, that their ill founded policies over the last fifty years have not been good for Tibet or China, and that they need to have a complete overhaul of their policies, keeping the wishes and aspiration of the Tibetan people at its core. For such a scenario to materialize the main motivating factors for China can only be brought about by us, the Tibetan people.
While key aspects of the Middle Way proposal have dealt with the mechanics of how the Tibetans would live within the PRC, the more fundamental question that needs to be addressed now is how and on what basis we continue our struggle. Our struggle is not just about what we can get out of the Chinese leadership, but what is rightfully ours based on ideas of justice and legality which the global community is increasingly trying to abide by. China cannot be the exception and we have the task of making that obvious to them and the world.
Since the Chinese have full power in Tibet which we cannot simply wrest away, we have to find ways to change their thinking. In the process of gaining any increased level of freedom and rights for the Tibetan people we have to be able to convince the Chinese that it will not exacerbate their deep fears of instability. This will be tricky but it cannot be ignored and constant efforts will have to be made.
While we work towards our long term goals, we cannot look at them simply as something to be achieved in the future if we do not, at the same time, hold the Chinese government fully accountable for the immense cultural devastation and human suffering in Tibet over the last fifty years. Any reference to the past is not merely for its symbolic value but to anchor our justifications to real human reasons for betterment. Furthermore, to keep the past relevant, we must seriously and deliberately call for full and proper acknowledgement, apology, and restitution by China to the people of Tibet for all the losses we have incurred over the last fifty years.
Q8. The “Middle Way Policy” was never passed in the Tibetan Parliament. No laws or resolutions mention the term “Middle Way Policy” per se. Yet the current Kashag strongly pursues this policy and claims that it has the “overwhelming majority support from the Tibetans” and the parliament. Would you pursue the same policy? Why? If not, how would you promote as resolution of the Tibetan issue?
A8. You are right. There has been ambiguity about the claim that the Tibetan people fully support the Middle Way policy when the Parliament has not explicitly said so.
I do not think we are obligated to any previously held position since the Chinese have rejected the Middle Way, and because they remain adamant that any future discussions will be limited to the personal needs of the Dalai Lama. In 2008 His Holiness called for a special congress of Tibetan leaders for a full review of events that transpired in Tibet that year, and he constantly encourages us not to remain stagnant.
We need to find a way to promote a resolution of the Tibetan issue based on the reasoning that the human rights of the Tibetan people are not for the Chinese to grant, or to abuse. And that collectively, we as a people have the right to determine our own future. These are universal rights, recognized by the family of nations and enshrined in U.N. resolutions, for which the Chinese have no special exemption. We and the rest of the world will have to convince them of these truths. Fair to say that many more efforts and initiatives will have to be considered and pursued, too many to list right here.
Q9. Situation: six months into your administration, you are informed that the U.S. president has arranged for you to meet with the Chinese president on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. What would be your plan?
A9. Should such an opportunity present itself I would meet with him without hesitation. I would speak forthrightly on behalf of all the Tibetan people, about our hopes and aspirations for the future, and of the urgent steps needed to fully address the grievances of the Tibetan people. I would speak as an elected leader of the Tibetan people, albeit by those in exile alone, but with the legitimacy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for whom the Tibetan people render their highest respect and authority under whom I serve. And I would point out that speaking to His Holiness the Dalai Lama may be in the best interests of China, and possibly the only way to find a solution that will also gain the support of the Tibetan people.
Q10. Situation: one year into your administration, demonstrations break out in Lhasa and spread throughout U-Tsang, Kham, and Amdo. What would you do?
A10. Assuming such outbreaks of demonstration take place throughout Tibet again, not unlike the 2008 demonstrations, we would have to fully marshal whatever resources we have to support them in every way immediately. We will also have to inform and engage the world community to such an extent that it will shame and prevent the Chinese from rushing into any harsh actions.
We should also be prepared to reach out to the Chinese leadership and the Chinese people immediately with our truth. During the 2008 demonstrations the Chinese public was deliberately misinformed by their official media and turned universally against all the Tibetan people. We need much better planning and execution, all of which has to be prepared in advance.
TIBETAN GOVERNMENT REFORM
Q11. What would you do to promote greater transparency and accountability in how the Tibetan government operates?
A11. It is my belief that the Tibetan government in exile may be among the most transparent and publicly accountable governments in the world. However, if there are any good ideas to advance such concerns we should be open to discussing them publicly since there is always room for improvement.
If someone has concerns about accountability or transparency regarding a particular matter it should be brought forth openly and with specificity. This can be done through the Kashag and related offices, the Parliament, through the media, and if no attention is paid one can even file a case in our Justice Commission. We can even consider having some sort of a national “suggestion box” where the public can offer the best of their thoughts on how to constantly improve the functioning of our government.
Q12. How would you work with His Holiness and the religious leadership to ensure a smooth reincarnation process for the 15th Dalai Lama and the selection of a regent? How would you counter Chinese efforts to appoint a fake Dalai Lama?
A12. To ensure the smooth reincarnation of the 15th Dalai Lama, the primary responsibility at this stage rests with His Holiness, but eventually the Tibetan government and the Tibetan people in exile must be fully prepared to take on that responsibility. The preservation and protection of this institution at this time in our history, may be the most important responsibility which we can carry out in exile.
The Office of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government must take concrete steps to address these concerns and inform the public accordingly. It would be timely to have a full review of the “Regency” provisions in our exile charter in light of explicit Chinese intentions about future recognition of Tulkus of Tibet.
To counter Chinese efforts to appoint a fake Dalai Lama we must take steps to ensure that the worldwide Tibetan Buddhist community, as the primary international entity directly related to the institution of the Dalai Lama, accepts and endorses a system we have control over. We must structure it so that it gains the moral and legal recognition of the global Buddhist community as well as the global Tibetan community.
Furthermore, since His Holiness the Dalai Lama has become more than just a Tibetan Buddhist figure there is reason to believe that other Buddhist denominations, other religious orders, and even some governments will recognize and support what could in effect be the due recognition of the Institution of the Dalai Lama in exile, one that is free of the Chinese, formally and legally. We need to take the right steps and make the right provisions for such an effort to succeed, before the crisis hits us unexpectedly.
Q13. How would you improve standards in the Tibetan civil service to improve competitiveness of entry, compensation, and advancement?
A13. To improve the standards in the Tibetan civil service may not be as daunting as it appears. The overall sense of loyalty and dedication of the average Tibetan to His Holiness and the cause of Tibet is an invaluable asset on which the service cadre stands.
On a technical level, the selection, training, and possibly the continuous training of staff will need more attention. And on a practical level one cannot expect the new generation of Tibetan exiles to serve as selflessly with little compensation or facilities as those who did in the first few decades of the government in exile. The service cadre can no longer be looked on as a “refugee” service cadre, but should be seen as a group of dedicated professionals who also need to be cared for in a manner befitting their dedication and what is expected of their service.
In recent years many young and older Tibetans who have migrated to the West have returned to voluntarily serve in various Tibetan settlements, government offices, schools, monasteries and social organizations for brief periods of time on their own initiative. There is no reason why we cannot institute a more efficient program to take full advantage of their offer of service and the skills they posses to further benefit the Tibetan people and the work of our institutions.
Q14. How would you strengthen the financial base of the Tibetan government?
A14. It is probably fair to say that the next Kalon Tripa will have to begin a thorough discussion concerning the financial base of the Tibetan government, including a full review of recent policies and its impact. There is no doubt considerable attention and effort will have to be made to strengthen the financial resources of the government because we do not have the ability to collect taxes nor manage our finances as independently as we wish.
THE SITUATION IN EXILE
Q15. What would you do to revitalize the Tibetan settlements and to improve life for Tibetans seeking employment elsewhere? How do you view Tibetan immigration to the West?
A15. Obviously, there is no simple way to “revitalize” the settlements. The first settlements in the south were agricultural, each individual receiving approximately an acre of land, modest by any standard, and dependent on rain as the primary source of irrigation. Since then, the ownership of these plots, “leasing”, seasonal workers, planting, harvesting, and finally the marketing of the harvest has become increasingly more complicated and more costly each year. Right from the early years, in the off season our people have had to engage in “sweater” and other business to supplement their incomes. It has not gotten easier in the settlements.
Other settlements, especially in the north of India, have different sets of problems, and those in Nepal are further burdened by the current political and economic uncertainties. But with the basics of some land in each of these settlements, they provide a valuable foundation on which we have been able to establish schools, rebuild our monasteries and our communities.
To revitalize these settlements, the solution will not come from Dharmsala alone but with the partnership of people who live in these settlements and support from the outside. It will require more than just experts to suggest new strategies and initiatives and it will be a slow process.
However, to answer your question more directly, I believe the key to revitalizing the settlements, especially the larger agricultural based ones, may lie in focusing much more seriously on developing a more professional management of the cooperatives, and introducing business practices that could result in making the coops better placed economically to modernize their operations, properly utilize their economies of scale, and ultimately deliver more benefits to the cooperative members.
This would involve providing business planning training, tools and resources to the coop management teams, and bringing about a change in the mission of the coops from that of preservation to one of growth. Such an initiative would also rely on all coop members supporting the cooperative and putting the long term interests of the settlement and cooperatives ahead of the sometimes short term gains private middlemen might offer for their harvest. In the long run, the people must be made to understand that a strong cooperative may be one of the best ways to grow and revitalize a settlement.
How best to try such new strategies must be carefully considered in tandem with the changes that are taking place in the manner in which settlement officers are either being elected locally or appointed from Dharmsala.
For those Tibetans seeking employment elsewhere, it is the lack of land for the growing population, and the limited economic opportunities which cause them to leave. Furthermore, since we have educated our second and later generations of exiles up to and beyond Higher secondary levels, and many have also acquired skills and knowledge of higher professional standards, it is simply illogical to expect them to remain in the settlements with limited opportunities and facilities.
The immigration to the West is not unique to us, and those who embark on these journeys face many difficulties. While we have not been able to be of much direct assistance they have benefited from the general sympathies towards Tibetans. Overall, it is far better for Tibetans to have a better quality of life wherever - be it in the West or in the East (such as Japan or Taiwan) - beyond just economics, than to be struggling, often for basics, in a poor area dependent in many ways on our own larger community and government, and on the charity of others.
More important though, the children of immigrants in the West are finding considerably greater educational and professional opportunities. This is a bonus that should be recognized for its worth.
Q16. What would you do to improve the standard of education in our school system to ensure that Tibetan students can successfully navigate the modern world while being grounded in their traditions and culture? How will you promote a curriculum that promotes creativity and leadership, not just memorization?
A16. Education is an issue that constantly needs evaluation and adjustment since society, politics, culture and economics are always in flux. Tibetan children who study well and graduate with Higher Secondary degrees from our schools in India are able to enter the best of universities in India and the West. Clearly the technical standards are being achieved.
However, education is not just of numbers and technical proficiency alone. One of our ongoing concerns through the decades has been the declining standard of spoken and written Tibetan of our exile children. Many different efforts have been made and are being made with limited success. Clearly more creative, effective, and appealing methods need to be tried out.
I am sure creativity and leadership skills are also being taught in the schools occasionally, but at some deep level it really can’t simply be taught like a regular subject. The whole environment in which a child is brought up and educated has to be responsive and nurturing to the needs of the child and his growing mind.
But clearly, since a good education with values and entry into the professions is the surest way to improve the lives of our people, I believe that our government has an obligation to make it possible for every student to have the opportunity to reach his or her highest potential. I think we can be much more successful at meeting this obligation by devoting much greater effort, coordination and outreach to the finest educational institutions, organizations, and governmental agencies in India and around the world.