A Brief Introduction to the Tibetan Government In-Exile

Background

In 1949 the People’s Liberation Army of China marched into Tibet’s northeastern province of  Kham and Amdo, thus setting in motion the forcible occupation of the country which culminated  in the flight of its young leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama to India and the crushing of the Tibetan National Uprising in March 1959.  Tibet’s leader was followed by some 80,000 Tibetans, who sought refuge in India, Nepal and Bhutan.  The influx of refugees continues even today. Currently, the Tibetan exile population is over 145,150 of which about 101,242 are based in India. ( Planning Council’s projected population in 2007, based on annual percentage growth rate – CTA ).

On April 29, 1959, His Holiness the Dalai Lama established the Tibetan exile administration in the north Indian hill station of Mussoorie.  Named the Central Tibetan Administration ( CTA) of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, this is the continuation of the government of independent Tibet. In May 1960, the Central Tibetan Administration was moved to Dharamsala, situated in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. 

The Tibetan people, both inside and outside Tibet, recognize Central Tibetan Administration as their sole and legitimate government.  CTA is also being increasingly recognized as the legitimate government and true representative of the six million Tibetan people by parliaments around the world. 

Right from the beginning, the Central Tibetan Administration has taken upon itself the task of   rehabilitating refugees and restoring the freedom of Tibet. Education has been on top of the rehabilitation agenda. 

Alongside rehabilitation, CTA decided to experiment with modern democracy in preparation for a future, free Tibet.   On September 2, 1960, the Tibetan Parliament in-Exile came into being.

In 1990, His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced further democratization, by which the composition of the Tibetan Parliament was increased to 46 members.  It was empowered to elect the Tibetan Kashag or Council of Ministers, who are made answerable to it.  Similarly, the Tibetan judiciary known as the Supreme Justice Commission is instituted.  Today, the Parliament has 43 members (instead of 46 members) as His Holiness the Dalai Lama has decided not to exercise his power to nominate three members. 

The newly empowered Tibetan Parliament in-exile en acted the present constitution in June 1991 under the title of The Charter of the Tibetans in-Exile. 

Today, the Central Tibetan Administration functions as a veritable government and has all the attributes of a free democratic government. It must be noted, however, that the CTA is not designed to assume power when Tibetan becomes free.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama has clearly stated in his manifesto entitled ‘ Guidelines for future Tibet’s Policy and the Basic Features of its  Constitution ' that the exile government would be dissolved as soon as Tibet regains freedom. His Holiness the Dalai Lama would then transfer his power to a transitional government headed by an interim-President. The interim President, in turn, will be required to hold general election within 2 years and hand over power to the popularly elected government.

Constitution

The Constitution of the Tibetan exile community is known as ‘ The Charter of Tibetans in Exile’.  It is the supreme law governing the functions of the Central Tibetan Administration.  The Charter was drafted by the Constitution Redrafting Committee in 1990 and referred to the Tibetan Parliament.   After careful deliberations, the Charter was unanimously passed by the X1th Tibetan Parliament in-Exile on June 14, 1991.  It was approved by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on June 28, 1991. 

The Charter professes to adhere to the universal Declaration of Human Rights as specified by the  United Nations and to provide to all Tibetans equality before the law, enjoyment of rights and  freedom without discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, language and social origin. It  clearly states in the preliminary that all Tibetans will strive to bring about future Tibet comprising   the whole province of U-tsang, Do-Toe (Kham) and Do-Mey (Amdo) as a democratic, federal, republic state and a zone of peace.

The Charter provides for a clear separation of power among the three organs of  government:

Judiciary, Legislature and Executive.  Before the Charter was adopted, the Central Tibetan Administration functioned along the lines of the draft democratic constitution for a future Tibet, promulgated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1963. 

Judiciary

The Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission is the highest judicial organ of the Tibetan community   in-exile.   It was formally inaugurated on March 11, 1992 with its office in Gangchen Kyishong,  seat of the Central Tibetan Administration. 

Judiciary is one of most important organ of a democratic institution.   Whenever an issue of contention arises in the course of the Executive’s implementation of any law enacted by the Legislature, the judiciary interprets, or makes decisions thereof; thus protecting the rule of law by guaranteeing justice to all and making the whole of the institution of democracy vibrant and meaningful. 

According to the Charter,  The Supreme Justice Commission (SJC) is responsible for adjudicating all civil disputes in the Tibetan settlements.  It, however, does not entertain any case if the doing of so in seen to transgress the authority of the host countries. Similarly, the SJC does not handle criminal cases as this is the preserve of the host government. 

The Supreme Justice Commission is headed by the Chief Justice Commissioner (CJC) and two  Justice Commissioners, all of whom are nominated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and referred for the approval of the Parliament. If the Parliament does not reject the nomination by two-thirds majority, His Holiness the Dalai Lama will confirm the appointment.

Legislature

Instituted in 1960, the Tibetan Parliament in-exile is the highest legislative organ of the Tibetan  Community in-exile.  The creation of this democratically elected body is one of the major changes that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has brought about in his efforts to introduce a democratic system of administration.

The Parliament comprises of 46 members.  Tibetans from the traditional provinces of U-Tsang, Do-Toe and Do-Mey elect 10 members each, while four schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon faith elect 2 members each.   Three members are elected by Tibetan living in the West, 2 from Europe and one from North America. In addition, on to three members with distinction in the field of art, science and literature and community service are nominated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The Tibetan Parliament in-exile is headed by a Speaker and Deputy Speaker, who are elected by the legislators themselves. Any Tibetan who has reached the age of 25 has the right to contest elections to the Parliament. Elections are held every five years and any Tibetan who has reached the age of 18 is entitled to vote.

Sessions of the Parliament are held twice a year, with an interval of six months between sessions.  However, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as head of the state, can summon special sessions of the Parliament in case of national emergencies. When the parliament in not session, there is a standing committee of 12 members; two members from each province, one member from each religious denomination, and one member nominated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

As representatives of the people, the members of Parliament undertakes periodic tours of Tibetan settlements to make as assessment of their overall conditions. On their return from such trips, they bring to the notice of the administration any specific grievances and matters needing attention.

Additionally, the Tibetan Parliament in-exile keeps in touch with the people through Local  Parliaments established in 38 major Tibetan settlements as is provided by the Charter of Tibetans  In-Exile.

Executive

The Kashag ( Cabinet ) is the apex executive authority of the Central Tibetan Administration. It is headed by a popularly elected political leader known as Kalon Tripa ( chief of the Council of Ministers).

Kalon Tripa is empowered by the Charter to nominate a team of up to seven Cabinet colleagues or Kalons. However, their appointment requires approval from 51% of the members of Parliament present and voting.

In the event of Kalon Tripa’s resignation, or inability to continue in the office, the Tibetan community in-exile will have to go to the polls again to elect a new Kalon Tripa.

The Kashag is serviced by its secretariat and the Planning Council. While the secretariat provides the Kashag with secretarial and logistical services, the Planning council serves as a consultation in matters relating to socio-economic development of the exile community.  As well as scrutinizing the project proposals, the Planning Council evaluates the performance of project activities undertaken by CTA departments.

ADMINISTRATIVE DEPARTMENTS UNDER THE KASHAG ARE:

Department of Religion and Culture

It seeks to preserve and promote Tibet’s spiritual and cultural heritage which is on the verge of extinction in the Land of Snow.

For more then four decades Tibetan community in exile has established over 200 monasteries and nunneries with enrollments of over 20,000 monks and nuns. The Department gives back-up services to these cultural institutes. It maintains close contact with the Buddhist centers throughout the world.

Additionally, there are cultural centers for the study of both spiritual and cultural traditions of Tibet. While some of these centers are autonomous bodies, financed by the Government of India, others are financed and administered directly by the department.  The best known of these cultural centers in India are :   the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, Dharamsala, The Tibet House in New Delhi, Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies at Sarnath, Varanasi, Norbulingka Institute for Tibetan Culture at Sidhpur, Dharamsala.

Department of Home

It is responsible for all rehabilitation efforts for Tibetans in-exile.  Employment generation and promotion of self-reliance among the Tibetan populace has been the chief task since its inception.

The Department of Home looks after the welfare of 21 agricultural settlements, 11 cluster units, 8 agro-industries and four carpet weaving co-operatives in India.  It also looks after 20 Tibetan settlements and handicraft societies in Nepal and Bhutan.

Local representatives of the department in the Tibetan settlements are known as Settlement officers or Welfare officers depending on the organizational structures. These officers may either be elected by the local Tibetan residents or appointed from Central Tibetan Administration, depending on popular wish of the local Tibetan residents.

Thus far, most settlements have decided in favor of appointees from the CTA.  But, the CTA is making concerted efforts to encourage Tibetan people to elect their own administrative head as this is seen to be an essential milestone toward village self-rule and political maturity.

Department of Education

It administers 77 schools in India, Nepal and Bhutan, serving 30,000 children, which form 70 percent of children in-exile.  A further 15 to 20 percent attend private schools.

Out of 77 schools administered by the Department of Education, 28 are directly run and financed   by the Central Tibetan School Administration (CTSA) of the Government of India.

The Tibetan Children’s Villages in Dharamsala and Tibetan Homes Foundation in Mussoorie are autonomous bodies under the Department of Education.  While TCV administers 17 schools and cares for a total of 11,500 students, the Tibetan Homes Foundation runs two schools with 2,200 students.

The education policy of the Tibetan in-exile is aimed at imbuing children with a sense of responsibility for the happiness of others.  Towards this end, it has developed a system to impart an education which judiciously blends smaller skills and knowledge with the “others-before-self”  motivation of traditional spiritual value system.

Department of Finance

It formulates the annual budget of the Central Tibetan Administration and submits budget proposal to the Tibetan Parliament in-exile. The department also monitors CTA’s spending and generates revenue for running the administration. The mainstay of its revenue is the annual voluntary contribution from the Tibetan community in-exile.  The annual voluntary contribution is more widely and loosely known as the Green Book contribution.

The Green Book proposal came first in the form of a resolution passed at the general body meting of a grassroots level exile organization known as the Tibetan Freedom Movement in July 1972.  Western educated activists and members of the movement proposed that if the CTA was to truly become a government of the people, by the people and for the people, it is necessary for people contribute running expenses of this institution.

After twenty years, the Tibetan Parliament in-exile passed a legislation stipulating that the payment of this contribution is one of main responsibilities of Tibetan nationals in-exile.

Any Tibetan wishing to apply for a service of CTA – such as admission to school, scholarship for higher studies, job with the exile administration - needs to produce the Green Book.  Similarly, Tibetans wishing to exercise franchise or stand election for Tibetan public office must produce their Green Book.

Department of Security

The primary responsibility of the department is to ensure the security of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  It has a Branch Security office which arranges pubic audiences with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and helps Tibetan refugees in seeking renewal of their refugee registration certificates from the Government of India. It also runs a research unit to monitor developments in Tibet and China.

In addition, the department runs three Reception Centres to look after the growing number of new refugees arriving from Tibet.  The refugees usually arrive first in Nepal, from where they make their way to Dharamsala and other Tibetan settlements via Delhi. There are branch reception centres in Kathmandu and Delhi where new refugees are provided food and shelter, and guided to their onward destinations. The reception centres also help new refugees jobs, join schools and monasteries.

Department of Information & International Relations

The Department of Information and International Relations educates the Tibetan people and international public opinion to the political, human rights and environmental conditions in Tibet. Towards this end, it publishes books, print and electronic materials on Tibet.  The periodicals come out in three languages: Tibetan, English and Chinese.

The department serves as a protocol office of Central Tibetan Administration and liaises with the  International media and Tibet support groups throughout the world.

There are 12 CTA foreign missions under the department. They function as the embassies of the  Central Tibetan Administration. They are based in New Delhi, Kathmandu , New York, Geneva, Tokyo, London, Canberra, Paris, Moscow, Pretoria, Taipei  & Brussels.

Department of Health

The department of health runs 5 Primary Health Care Centres, 7 hospitals, 47 clinics and 2 mobile clinics in the Tibetan settlements of India and Nepal.  It meets the cost of emergency health care needs of new refugees and other needy Tibetans in-exile

The Tibetan Medical and Astro-Institute in Dharamsala is an autonomous body under the auspices of the department.  The Medical Institute has 47 branch clinics in various parts of India and Nepal to provide traditional Tibetan medical care to Tibetans in-exile and the local inhabitants.

AUTONOMOUS INSTITUTIONAL BODIES

Election Commission

The power and functions of the Election Commission are to conduct and oversee elections of the Tibetan Parliament in-exile, Local Parliaments, the Speaker & Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, members and Chair of the Kashag ( Council of Ministers).

If the Central Tibetan Administration decides to call a referendum to secure people’s verdict on  a matter of extreme importance, it will fall upon the Election Commission to conduct referendum. Although the settlement/welfare officers of most the Tibetan Settlements are appointed by the CTA, Tibetan inhabitants have the right to elect them if they so wish or choose. In such a case, the Election Commission will conduct the election of the Settlement/Welfare officers as well.

In order to ensure the independence of the Election Commission, the Charter provides for the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  Two additional Commissioners are appointed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama during the general elections of the Tibetan Parliament in-exile.

The Chief Election Commissioner holds the office for  a term   of five years unless the Tibetan  Parliament in-exile impeaches him/her by two-thirds majority.

Public Service Commission

The Public service Commission is responsible for recruitment, training, appointment and promotion of the civil servants of the Central Tibetan Administration. The Chair of the Commission is appointed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama for a term of five years. It came into existence on February 11, 1992 with the promulgation of the Charter of Tibetans in-Exile, which named it as a constitutional body.

Prior to that the civil servants of the Central Tibetan Administration were recruited by the erstwhile Department of Personnel, which was set up in 1973.

Office of Auditor General

The Office of Auditor general (OAG) was established in 1962 to audit & look after the financial management of various governmental and non-governmental welfare organizations under the Central Tibetan Administration.  As the activities of the Central Tibetan Administration expanded/increased, the importance of the Office of Auditor General grew at the same time.

In view of the importance of the functions and responsibilities of OAG, Article 106 of the Charter of Tibetans in-Exile provided an autonomous status to this office. Accordingly, the Auditor General is directly appointed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  The first auditor general assumed his/her responsibilities on September 23, 1991.

The Office of Auditor-General is responsible for auditing accounts of all the CTA departments, and their subsidiaries.   It also audits the accounts of most of the public institutions like the co-operative societies, trading concerns, educational institutes, hospitals, health centers, and so on.  It further evaluates the efficiency, propriety and management performance.

In short, the Office of Auditor-General functions as a watch-dog on the Central Tibetan Administration.  However, shortage of staff impedes OAG to complete audit of the entire branches. Out of 383 such organizations, the Office of Auditor-General could handle only 181 organizations.