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Sangay’s New Cabinet: Strengths and Weaknesses

posted Sep 26, 2011, 3:20 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Sep 27, 2011, 7:57 AM ]
By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
September 26, 2011

Throughout his campaign, Lobsang Sangay repeated that, if elected, his nominations of Kalons (Ministers) would be inclusive of all sections of the exile Tibetan community.  Sangay said that there would be one Kalon from each of the three provinces, three elders, four younger members, two women, one ecclesiastical, and one representing new arrivals from Tibet.  At that time, some thought that this was a clever election strategy to reach out to all segments of the electorate, while others considered this a manifestation of his promise to focus on “unity.”

In the final election results in April of this year, Sangay out-performed two veteran Tibetan politicians and was the first exile Tibetan Prime Minister to be sworn in after His Holiness the Dalai Lama devolved all his political and administrative authorities.  Since he won election on a platform of “unity, innovation, and self-reliance”, it will make sense to view his administration in relation to these factors.

On 16 September, Sangay put up six Kalon nominations before the second session of the Fifteenth Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile.  The members of the parliament unanimously approved all six Kalons without raising a single question in votes lasting about 15 seconds per nominee (which was the focus of our last editorial).

Three days later, on 19 September, Sangay designated the Kalons their departments.  The following are our preliminary thoughts on the new Kalons and what each might or might not contribute to the Central Tibetan Administration.

The newly inducted members of the 14th Kashag with the Justice Commissioners, Speaker and Deputy Speaker 
of the Parliament, Chief Election Commissioner and Auditor General after the swearing in 
ceremony in Dharamshala on 16 September 2011.   (Photo:

1. Pema Chhinjor (Minister of the Department of Religion and Culture)

Though Chhinjor has years of Dharamsala experience and a good command over Tibetan language and history, many see him as a very old Gangkyi-hand who may tie down Sangay’s possible bold initiatives.  A few allege inefficiency during his earlier stint as Kalon for the Department of Security from late 1998 to 2001, and consequently over whether he is the best choice.  However, given the fact that the average age of the current Kalons is relatively young, Chhinjor may, perhaps, give a perspective of the elder generation on many issues as well as knowledge and institutional history.

2. Dongchung Ngodup (Minister of the Department of Security)

Ngodup is the most obvious choice, especially given the fact that Sangay mentioned his name in a televised debate with the Voice of America during the election campaign.  Hence, no surprise here.  What he can bring is significant experience, credibility, governance, and trust, especially from among the new arrivals.

Ngodup has an impeccable reputation, both as former secretary of the Department of Security and as former Kalon for Security under Samdhong Rinpoche’s administration.  In this sense Ngodup represents a safe continuation from the previous administration.  Sangay giving Ngodup the same department is calculatedly smart, especially as running this department in particular requires a special familiarity with sensitive issues.  Overall, Ngodup can contribute what Sangay lacks — experience.

3. Gyari Dolma (Minister of the Department of Home)

After the preliminary election, the Election Commission gave Dolma the choice between running for the Prime Minister or for the exile Parliament.  Dolma chose the former.  When Sangay became the Prime Minster, the talk of Dharamsala was that Dolma would be one of the ministers and that she would likely run the Department of Home, because her selection would be a strategic way for Sangay to ally himself politically with an important family and power base.

Besides this, Dolma brings in a bundle of charisma and the can-do spirit of an activist.  As a former Deputy Speaker, she also brings in a great deal of expertise on the functioning of the Tibetan Parliament of which Sangay has little or no knowledge.

However, Dolma’s most valuable contribution will be her excellent relations and associations with the Indian establishment, both at the centre and in the state, which is crucial in running the Department of Home.  As one of the two female Kalons, she satisfied two of Sangay’s election promises by representing women and a province.

4. Tsering Dhondup (Minister for the Department of Finance)

As a relative expert in accounting and auditing (he worked as an auditor in the CTA for 16 years) and as the past Kalon for Finance (2006-2011), Dhondup is a safe choice for the Department of Finance.  He is young enough to reflect Sangay’s oft-chanted slogan ‘change’ and is experienced enough in dealing with complex financial issues that the members of the parliament often raise in the assembly.  Dhondup also brings in a good deal of experience regarding the centralization of finance and accounts under Samdhong Rinpoche’s administration, which brought the finances of all CTA departments under a unified system.

As a less positive development, Dhondup’s previous stint as Kalon for Finance also saw the CTA’s annual accounts swing from surplus to deficit.  In 2007-8, Samdhong Rinpoche announced a surplus of Rs. 11 million (US$223,000) in the exile government’s budget.  This past year the CTA ran a deficit of Rs. 65 million (US$1.3 million) for 2010-11.  (Deficits have been all too common in Dharamsala, unfortunately, so this sort of result is not unique to Dhondup’s tenure.)

Looking at the source of the 2007-8 surplus, it becomes clear that the CTA funding is not self-sustaining.  According to, a quarter of the CTA’s operating funds in 2007-8 came from His Holiness’s contribution, and another 12% came from foreign aid.  It also likely represented the tail end of a temporary “bump” from the controversial 2003 privatization of CTA enterprises (when Dhondup was not Finance Kalon), which netted about Rs. 721 million (US$14.6 million) for an endowment of sorts that needs to be managed well.

Sangay’s call for “self-reliance” is especially critical in the field of finance.  In our view, it will be increasingly critical for the CTA to strive for financial self-reliance.  Right now Dhondup looks to be a choice suggesting that only modest changes in financial policy are likely to be forthcoming.  Certainly Dhondup is no hedge fund maven or Wall Street MBA.  But hopefully in his service with a new Kalon Tripa, Dhondup will advance some more serious structural reforms of the CTA’s finances.  All Tibetans should wish this project success.

5. Dickyi Chhoyang (Minister for the Department of Information & International Relations (DIIR)) 

Chhoyang is a surprise choice, though not the biggest surprise.  Her choice as a Kalon may, perhaps, have had to do with Sangay’s election campaign to have at least two women Kalons, besides the fact that Chhoyang ancestrally hails from Amdo province, a case of one stone killing two birds. 

Her lack of experience, both as a politician and as an administrator, and also her lack of in-depth practical knowledge of Dharamsala politics, the Tibet Support Group movement, or the day-to-day lives of Tibetans living in India, Nepal and Bhutan are big drawbacks.  As the Kalon for DIIR, it remains an open question whether her Tibetan language skills are strong enough to serve her daily at the level required to manage a government organization. 

On the plus side, she is relatively young, energetic, and has a proven enthusiasm to work for the cause.  Chhoyang’s upbringing in the West may give her a different perspective and hence a new angle in diplomacy, information dissemination, and even possible restructuring of the existing media channels under DIIR. 

Her experience living in Tibet and briefly in Beijing could prove invaluable, as will her working knowledge of Chinese.  Her fluency in English and French are also big plusses for the lead diplomat of the Central Tibetan Administration.  If Chhoyang proves to be a quick learner in administration and in speaking professional Tibetan, she may prove to be a very successful DIIR Kalon.  She is someone to watch closely. 

6. Tsering Wangchuk (Minister of the Department of Health) 

A medical doctor by training (from Poland), Wangchuk apparently has neither administrative experience nor any hands-on knowledge on government policies.  He is hence the biggest surprise.  There was a huge confusion among the public when Sangay announced his name in the parliament since he was a previous unknown. 

Sangay’s choice of Wangchuk either reflects his bold move to bring in fresh minds, or subtle and often invisible political moves necessary to fulfill electoral demands.  It certainly appears that Wangchuk has been an early supporter of Sangay’s campaign, for example posting a 1 January 2011 message on the Sangay campaign website that Sangay’s VOA interview was “Super” and wishing him “Good Luck” in the election. 

Whatever the case may be, Wangchuk will face a stiff challenge in running this department, as being a doctor does not necessarily give him an edge in administration.  Administrative experience and understanding of policies will likely prove to be far more important and necessary than a medical degree. 

7. Lobsang Sangay (Minister of Department of Education)

Kalon Tripa Lobsang Sangay kept the seventh portfolio for himself, a move which certainly reflects his administration’s emphasis on education as the “number one priority” and his call for 10,000 professionals among the Tibetans in exile.  Among the Kalons, he is the most qualified and the best positioned to head the Department of Education.  Again, he lacks the necessary administrative experience but we hope that others in his Cabinet and Secretariat can give guidance where it is needed. 

A Concluding Thought
As the Kalons begin their task, we hope to see Parliament’s unqualified and unanimous approval rewarded by a smart, efficient and well-functioning Cabinet. 

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