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Hydro revenue can’t assure self-reliance

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:10

Tax exemptions, huge capital inflow from hydropower and growing public expenditure is a concern

The outlook that fiscal self-reliance would be achieved with increased hydropower generation is an illusion, says a 2016 World Bank paper on public finance.

While higher export revenue, manageable external debt service, faster economic growth, sustained poverty reduction are some positive impacts of hydropower, investments made in this sector is not captured in the official fiscal balance of the government budget.

To elucidate these findings, the World Bank’s chief economist of South Asia region, Martin Rama (Phd) gave a public lecture on Bhutan’s public finance reforms yesterday in Thimphu. The lecture was organised by the Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH.

He said the country’s fiscal deficit, which is between two and three precent is quite reasonable but if hydropower financing is included, the fiscal balance could hit more than eight percent of GDP.

The combined effect of massive capital inflows from the power sector and an expanding fiscal balance is a large current account deficit, which led to the rupee crisis.

As the deficit stabilised during the last few year, the rupee shortage eased too, but he said that the relief could be temporary only, given that over the next four years the deficit could increase by another 10 percent of GDP.

The fact that once hydropower projects shift to the generation phase, it results into significant export earnings is also true. However, in 2014, about 18 percent of the hydropower export earning was spent on debt servicing and this is projected to reach a maximum of 38 percent over the next 30 years.

Martin Rama (Phd) said this led to a wider gap in achieving fiscal self-reliance because when more than a quarter of revenue generated from hydropower is spent on debt servicing, the country may not meet its expenditure.

In such situations, tax revenue, he said, plays a crucial role.

The World Bank report also highlighted that tax revenue is declining relative to the country’s GDP and that recurrent expenditures could surge in the medium term while actual capital expenditures do not always match government plans.

“In the absence of a clear long-term plan and determined action, Bhutan could be forced to scale down its public investment program,” the report stated.

Martin Rama (Phd) said tax revenue in Bhutan is not enormous. “Lots of revenue are lost in supporting the private sector,” he said.

He said the decline in tax revenue in relation to GDP is not due to a change in tax instruments or in tax rates, but because of policy decisions of tax holidays and exemptions.

Sales Tax exemptions result in 50 percent of foregone revenue. Further around 63 percent of all imported commodities are exempted from Custom Duties.

On the contrary, the pressures on expenditure will mainly come from the social sectors.

For instance, Martin Rama (Phd) said that when the revenue base from hydropower exports increases, there is pressure on the government to expand the civil servant’s payroll.

Providing education to children and youth, while coping with the growing importance of non-communicable diseases among adults will also require more public spending on education and on health.

“The introduction of central school system will add significantly to future public expenditures, as the target is to have 50 percent of students in boarding schools by 2024 and this increases the cost per student by 30 percent,” the World Bank report stated.

Through the reduction of communicable and childhood diseases, Bhutan has increased life expectancy at birth from 59 years in 1990 to 69.5 years in 2010. But longer lives are associated with more years of ill health and a higher prevalence of chronic and non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart diseases. The cost of treating these diseases is comparatively high.

The World Bank projected that total expenditures for treating cancer patients will double in this decade (2010-2020). “Bhutan can thus expect to see its public expenditure on health ballooning in the coming years,” he said.

A separate challenge to fiscal self-reliance, in addition to declining tax revenue and rapidly raising public expenditures, is the growing disconnect between planned and actual spending.

Among the recommendations in the report, the chief economist highlighted on the need to have a stabilisation fund to park additional hydropower revenue instead of giving a pay hike. “These rules are difficult to implement when there is weak governance, but Bhutan has a strong governance,” he said.

Instead of losing the tax revenue to exemptions that are not rational, he said efficient management of taxation could also play a vital role in attaining fiscal self-sufficiency.

Tshering Dorji

No immediate plans to approve private TV channel

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:09

There are no immediate plans yet to approve a private television channel, information and communications minister DN Dhungyel said yesterday at the National Assembly.

“The government hasn’t thought of allowing a private TV channel as of today,” he said in response to a question from Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi, who asked about the government’s stand on the issue.

Dorji Wangdi cautioned the house about the risks associated with licensing of a private channel. That said, he also added that he was not against having a private TV channel.

The state, he said, has invested billions of Ngultrums into BBS and that if Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) becomes a public service broadcaster (PSB), there were fears that state resources would be drained from BBS to the private channel. He added that such a move could stifle and slowly kill the state broadcaster.

Another risk, he said was about ‘politically vested licensing.’ “There is a huge stake on reporting freely and fairly impacting the credibility of the media. We should first put in place a new Bhutan information, communications and media Act (BICMA),” he said.

The ongoing session of the National Assembly is expected to pass a new BICMA Bill that seeks to repeal the BICMA Act 2006. The Bill was introduced by the information and communications minister last year but was withdrawn to be re-introduced this year with some changes.

Lyonpo DN Dhungyel, however, informed the house that a PSB bill was being finalised by BBS. The bill will be submitted to the information and communications ministry and subsequently the Cabinet for review and approval.

“BBS have asked for a PSB status. The mandate of BBS will be clear if it becomes a PSB,” he said, adding that the state-owned broadcaster today does not have a clear status. However, he said the government was not involved in the drafting of the bill, which started in 2012.

The prime minister said the government would look into the merits and demerits of the PSB bill and introduce in the Parliament if the government feels that making BBS a PSB would be in the country’s interest. “The state has been providing BBS enough funds,” he said.

Transformation of BBS into a public service broadcaster will pave way for a private TV channel in the country, according to a draft national broadcasting policy.

Once the government allows a private TV channel, BBS as a public service broadcaster is expected to receive only public announcements that are not commercial in nature. BBS as a PSB will have clear limits on the overall amount of funding that it may obtain from commercial sources. A PSB get its funds via public sources.

The company currently meets about 50 percent of its recurring expenses from advertisements. Also, the draft National Broadcasting Policy that seeks to transform BBS into ‘a true public service broadcaster’ is under the review of Gross National Happiness Commission.

Being a state-owned media house, questions are often raised on its independence in terms of management and content. BBS employees however believe that the main mandate of the organisation should be to inform the nation.

The government during the Parliament session in December 2014 announced that BBS would be a public service broadcaster.

According to the draft National Broadcasting Policy, BBS will be required to carry a certain amount of public service announcements for free, for example three to five percent of airtime.

If approved, the national broadcasting policy will allow the licensing of one private, commercial television channel. “In due course, and once commercial viability issues have been assessed, consideration will be given to introducing a second channel,” it states.

BBS was delinked from the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) in 1992. Its employees said the company does not have a clear identity either as a public broadcasting corporation or a state owned enterprise.

Becoming a public service broadcaster would help BBS become a neutral broadcasting channel, as they will be independent of government agencies and business houses.

MB Subba

 

60 job seekers and 361 students attend job fair

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:07

Mon Maya Tamang, 18, from Bangtar was seen walking from one stall to another at the job fair conducted by Samdrupjongkhar regional labour office on May 21.

The class 10 dropout said she was looking for a managerial position in hotels.  She said she could not continue her studies because of financial constraints and decided to look for a job instead.

“I applied in technical training institutes in Chumey, Bumthang and Sarpang because there is demand for technical graduates,” Mon Maya said.

She said the job fair was informative, as she knows about the available vacancies.

Another job seeker, Sangay Dema Tamang, 19, from Jomotshagkha said she completed class 12 from Orong Higher Secondary School last year.

She said she applied for a housekeeping and receptionist post at Hotel Bhutan Mountain.

Officials from the regional labour office said 18 companies, 60 job seekers and 361 class 10 and 12 students from Garpung Middle Secondary School, Samdrupjongkhar Middle Secondary School and Dungsam Academy attended the fair.

Officials said front desk, site engineer, sales executive, sales manager, sales personnel, waiters, housekeeping, receptionist, baker, salesperson, dishwasher, accounts assistant, farm attendant and production supervisors were the vacancies available at the fair.

They said the fair was expected to bring together genuine job seekers and potential employers.

Officials also said that of the confirmed 28 agencies, only 18 turned up for the event. “It was difficult to bring in agencies and job seekers together,” an official said. “Some had no idea about participating in it but others assumed it was useless.”

Officials said there are 673 registered job seekers in their office.

Kelzang Wangchuk |  Samdrupjongkhar

Talking about promoting our culture

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:06

As the custodians of our culture, it is incumbent on us to make every effort to protect and preserve the Bhutanese culture in their many forms. As foreign cultures come stomping about, we risk losing the tangible and intangible elements that inform our culture and shape our identity.

National Council’s social and cultural affairs committee recommended that the government finalise and endorse Bhutan’s culture policy document that encompasses all aspects of cultural heritage. Twenty-four recommendations in all were made for the preservation of cultural heritage. The house of review has also asked the government to revisit the Cultural Heritage Bill and make it a comprehensive legal proposal. Such interventions are critically important as modern developments bring in myriad challenges.

We have arrived at a time in our development journey when we are compelled to look at our traditional architecture, performing arts, languages and driglam namzha, among others. When our children today do badly in speaking and writing in Dzongkha but can speak fluent Hangul or Korean, we need to look at what damage foreign influences are doing to our language and culture.

Our Constitution mandates us, every single Bhutanese, to safeguard our culture. Promotion and preservation of our cultures should mean more than constructing and renovating our dzongs, lhakhangs and other religious and historical sites. Our intangible cultures are equally important.

While the national dress is an important part of our culture, the debate among the legislative members veered off the road. We have some nature of profession where wearing gho and kira is inconvenient. Rather than going into small details like this, our focus should be on promoting and preserving our intangible cultures.

Our architecture, arts, languages and code of etiquettes define our society by giving us a special uniqueness. Losing our unique identity could have implications on sovereignty and security. Economic development must be pursued, but we cannot let our cultures and traditions recede into distant memory. Cultures from outside are bound to come in this age of globalisation, but we need to be able to promote and preserve ours.

Trashigang’s geography makes it prone to forest fires

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:05

The dzongkhag has already recorded 14 forest fire cases this year

With over 30,124 acres of forest cover lost to fire in the last five years, Trashigang dzongkhag is one of the most forest fire-prone areas in the country today.

Given the frequency of forest fires in the dzongkhag, residents say that it has become more of a visual spectacle for people in the region than an issue of concern.

“Forest fires happen almost everyday. There is nothing much we can do,” a resident who didn’t want to be named said. “There is no one to take the blame and authorities can never find out who was involved in it. We have never heard of a person being caught for causing forest fires.”

The largest area destroyed in a forest fire was in Bartsham in 2014 where it razed 5,449 acres of Chirpine and broad-leaved forest. The year saw 20 forest fires where around 16,997 acres of Chirpine and broad-leaved forest were lost.

Chief forestry officer Dendup Tshering said the frequency of forest fires in the dzongkhag could be attributed to its geographical location.

He said fire prone areas like Bartsam, Yangnyer, Bidung, Chaskhar in Mongar (shares border with Trashigang), Udzorong and Kanglung makes a ring that lies in a perfect leeward side and remains dry most of the time.

“During summer, when there is heavy rain outside these places, these areas remain mostly dry,” he said. “Also because it is Chirpine forest, which generally signifies dryness, forest fires are prominent here.”

Of the 54 forest fire cases recorded by the department in the dzongkhag in the last five years, causes were identified for only 11. Those fire incidents were caused due to road activities, burning of debris, lightening and transmission lines.

While a majority of the forest fire causes still remain unknown, Dendup Tshering said that most of the unknown fires are assumed to be started intentionally by people.

He said that since Chirpine forests have lemongrass undergrowth, people intentionally start a fire to burn lemongrass for increase oil production. It is believed that once the lemongrass is burnt, oil production increases the following year.

“It could also occur when settlements close to the forests start a fire to ward off wild animals like wild boars,” Dendup Tshering said. “Apart from these two, we don’t see any other reasons for people to start a forest fire.”

Baypam Genkhar tshogpa, Sonam Tenzin however said people from his chiwog have denied their involvement in any of the forest fire mishap in recent years. On February 4 this year, a major forest fire destroyed 1,200 acres of Chirpine forest in Baypam.

With the growing number of forest fire incidents, the department of forest and park services has conducted a series of awareness campaigns including door-to-door advocacy in six gewogs.

“We have done everything possible,” Dendup Tshering said. “But I’ve not seen any permanent solution so far.” Despite all the precautionary measures and trainings along with awareness campaigns, he said, forest fires continue to threaten both flora and fauna in the region.

However, he said that in order to minimise the extent of damages, he suggested burning the forest annually under prescribed burning, which will be controlled. “The damages will be less. Even seedlings will not be affected.”

Dendup Tshering said the vegetation of Chirpine forests, which are dry with lemongrass as undergrowth is an indication of forest fires. “Once the debris gets accumulated over the years, the chances of a bigger forest fire are evident. Areas where there has not been a forest fire for three to four years has a higher potential to cause larger damages.”

The 2014 forest fire in Bidung Barsam destroyed some16 houses and killed several cattle. The fire destroyed 10,444 acres of Chirpine forest. “To reduce collateral damages, we should practise prescribed burning,” he said.

Meanwhile, 14 forest fire cases have been reported to the department this year, which Dendup Tshering said is one of the highest cases reported so far in the dzongkhag.

Younten Tshedup | Trashigang

Chudzom farmers interested in commercial vegetable farming

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:04

The residents have so far depended on cardamom cultivation

It took farmers of Chudzom in Tsirang, who have largely depended on cardamom cultivation so far, a visit to other parts of the country to get interested in growing vegetables.

A two-week farmers’ study tour last week took them to the fields of other successful farmers growing commercial vegetables in five dzongkhags of Paro, Thimphu, Tsirang, Wangdue and Samtse.

Chudzom (Dovan) today is dominated by cardamom cultivation that residents don’t grow vegetables and instead buy imported vegetables. Most have converted their land into cardamom orchards.

One of the study tour’s participants, farmer Tek Bahadur Rai, said that although he grows vegetables, it is barely enough for family consumption. Most families, he said, rely on imported vegetables.

He said he tried growing vegetables but gave up due to pest infestation. “But improved farming technologies can address this problem,” he said. Tek Bahadur has decided to not only expand his vegetable garden but also to compost manure, which he learnt to do from the tour.

Chudzom gewog has suitable climate to grow all kinds of vegetables. The soil is fertile and water supply, adequate. After returning from the tour, Monika Acharya has decided to take up commercial vegetable farming. She discussed the plan with her family and explained them the potential and possible success of large-scale farming.

“I have just learnt and it will take sometime before I decide to go into vegetable farming,” she said.  She added that the women vegetable group in Tsirang, who grow vegetables in abundance and has become financially independent, inspired her.

Agriculture extension officer, LB Chhetri, said that in terms of vegetables farming, farmers in the gewog were behind compared to other dzongkhags. “It was mainly because of lack of market earlier when the gewog did not have a farm road connectivity,” he said. “But more farmers are interested now to take up vegetables besides cardamom cultivation.”

Chudzom is also one of the last gewogs in the dzongkhag to form farmer’s vegetable group. About nine groups were recently formed with each group having at least two members who participated in the study tour. “The gewog could lead in commercial vegetable farming in the near future given the interest farmers have shown,” the extension officer said.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang

91 gups attending mediation training

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:03

Just as democracy empowers people, mediation gives judicial power to the people, the president of Bhutan National Legal Institute (BNLI), Her Royal Highness Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck said during the inauguration of the mediation training for the gups at Lamaigonpa in Bumthang on May 22.

HRH said mediation is aimed at maintaining peace and harmony in the society and all have the responsibility to achieve the goal.

“Local leaders should work hard to fulfill people’s expectations as people have faith in the local government,” she said.

HRH said that with this phase, all the local leaders would be trained in mediation. A total of 91 gups from 10 dzongkhags along with those who missed the first phase of training are participating in the on-going mediation training.

The gups are from Bumthang, Trashiyangtse, Zhemgang, Trongsa, Gasa, Dagana, Mongar, Wangduephodrang, Lhuntse and Trashigang.

BNLI’s Director General, Drangpon Pema Wangchuk said dzongkhag thrizins and thrizin wogmas were trained in Thimphu early this month while gups of other nine gewogs were also trained in Samtse. “We have now covered all local leaders including gups, mangmis and Tshogpas,” he said.

Department of Local Government’s (DLG) director general Lungten Dorji said that under the HRH’s visionary and dynamic leadership, BNLI trained the first batch of local government leaders since 2012. “About 130 female local leaders, 144 tshogpas, 205 mangmis with women gewog administrative officers of the first local government were trained,” he said.

He said, the impact of mediation training, which is highlighted in the mediation training impact assessment report, 2016, is that of the 36,250 cases, local leaders have mediated 15,316 cases. The remaining 20,934 cases were litigated.

He said with 4,238 cases, Mongar dzongkhag had the maximum number of cases followed by Thimphu at 3,922 and Paro at 3,623 cases.

“Monetary disputes topped the nature of cases at 11,791 followed by 5,512 matrimonial and 1,514 land boundary disputes,” he said.

The mediation training ends on May 27.

Nima Wangdi | Bumthang

Dorji Lopon in Australia

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:01

Dorji Lopon Kinley of Zhung Dratshang, who is in Australia on a 17-day visit, administered oral transmission (lung) of the ngoendro, chabdro, bazaguru and mani to over six hundred devotees, mostly the Bhutanese community living and studying in Canberra.

Dorji Lopon also administered the Mithrugpai wang. The Australia-Bhutan Association of Canberra (ABAC) submitted a proposal to the Zhung Dratshang through Dorji Lopon for the construction of a Buddhist temple in Canberra. During his visit, Dorji Lopon will visit Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth before returning to Bhutan on June 5.

Gradual promotion of organic sector recommended

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:00

Recognising the need to achieve food self-sufficiency, food security and the goal of attaining import substitution, promoting the role of the organic sector will be done in a phased manner.

A consultant, Sunder Subramanian, while presenting the recommendations and way forward after the two-day deliberation on roadmap for organic agriculture policy in Bhutan, said that this could be done by setting short, medium and long-term goals.

The stakeholders from relevant agencies also recommend revisiting the master plan for organic agriculture in the country developed by the agriculture ministry.

“Although the master plan is comprehensive, there is a need to revisit the master plan in light of the current situation and update, keeping it realistic and with attainable targets,” Sunder Subramanian said.

He added that there is also a need to escalate organic agriculture to a higher agenda as part of the roadmap by promoting organic agriculture as a flagship programme under the 12th Five Year Plan.

In terms of institutional arrangements, there is consensus among the participants that the National Organic Programme (NOP) has to be strengthened both financially and in human recourses.

“Also empower the NOP and give it a necessary coordinating power to coordinate between the relevant departments and with agencies when necessary,” Sunder Subramanian said. “Not just NOP, but other relevant agencies should also set organic agriculture targets as part of their programmes.”

Besides incorporation between the relevant departments within the ministry and with relevant agencies, the participants also felt that an apex coordinating body at a national level should be established if it is found necessary after the assessment to promote organic in general and more private sector engagements to promote organic agriculture.

Incentivising organic agriculture is another key recommendations of the workshop.

Sunder Subramanian said that this could be done by setting some kind of a mechanism for minimum support price for organic producers, particularly in favour of supporting smallholders and marginal farmers going organic.

Undertaking focused market development in terms of supply and demand, and marketing mechanisms; supporting awareness building, product promotion and labeling are some of the suggested ways to incentivise organic agriculture.

The NOP organised the workshop that ended yesterday with support from ICIMOD and the European Union.

Dechen Tshomo

No separate budget to preserve intangible culture

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:00

There were times when monks from Chizhi goenpa in Thimphu travelled all the way to Dekiling in Dagana to perform tsechu every year. The monks, carrying dung (trumpet), also went to perform local tsechus in Dawakha and Matalongchu in Punakha and Hebisa in Wangduephodrang.

Punakha’s National Council (NC) member, Rinzin Dorji, said that people in Punakha believe that the blowing of the dung by lay monks of Chizhi goenpa bring peace and prosperity to their area.

But the culture, he said, has stopped for the last 13 years in Dagana and for few years in Punakha and Wangduephodrang. Rinzin Dorji said civil servants from Dawakha and Matalongchu have contributed money and revived the tradition.

He recommended the government to allocate some budget to preserve the culture.

The NC’s social and cultural affairs committee reported that there are 397 local festivals in the country but with the decline in rural population, younger generations showing less interest into such arts and lack of financial support, some local festivals are no longer performed. “Others are at risk of being discontinued,” the report stated.

The committee reported that dzongkhags are facing difficulty in finding dancers and mask dancers during annual tsechus.

It was mentioned that dzongkhags like Lhuntse, Zhemgang, Trongsa and Trashiyangtse have discontinued local festivals because of lack of dancers.

The committee also pointed out that although the government has allocated budget for the preservation of culture, most of the budget was allocated for construction and renovation of dzongs, lhakhangs and other religious and historical sites. “There is no separate budget allocated for the preservation of intangible cultural heritage,” the report stated.

Thimphu NC member Nima Gyeltshen and Trongsa NC member Tharchen raised the need for Bhutan Broadcasting Service Corporation (BBSC) and local television operators to broadcast local tsechus instead of school variety shows.

Paro NC member Kaka Tshering said it is important to empower Department of Culture (DoC) to improve performing arts by collaborating with schools and tourism council.

While the committee recommended appointment of trained artists from institutions like Royal Academy of Performing Arts (RAPA), who are certified by labour ministry as performing arts instructors in schools and educational institutions, Gasa NC member Sangay Khandu pointed out that local people should also be recruited as performing arts instructors.

He also suggested that urban dwellers, who already formed tshogpas to help each other in times of need, should initiate some of their village’s arts in Thimphu so that people can come together.

NC chairperson, Sonam Kinga (PhD), said instead of relying on the government to allocate budget to promote local tsechus, it is important to look for alternative funding mechanism by the local government officials. “When a tshechu is nearing in a locality, local government officials should inform all the people from those areas and ask for funding.”

The committee recommended that the government should prioritise maintenance of an inventory of different festivals and performing arts in different communities and support documentation and archival efforts of agencies like BBSC, College of Language and Cultural Studies in Taktse, Trongsa and other government and private entities.

NC members also deliberated on the concerns raised on dilution of performing arts in drayangs and luyangs.

Sonam Wangchuk said that while Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) issues license to drayangs and luyangs, it is important to find out who monitors whether  they are promoting culture.

“While we understand drayangs and luyangs are commercial, it is important that it is in line with our culture,” the Mongar NC said.

He said that while Drametse ngacham, a mask dance, which originated in Drametse, Mongar, is performed by 16 men, some luyangs are now performing the dance with just eight men.

Chukha NC member Pema Tenzin said police claim that most crimes occur in drayangs.

He said it is important to revisit whether drayangs are really needed. “If it is deemed necessary, it should be monitored and relocated to places away from town. “There are 10 dzongkhags where there is no drayang. We shouldn’t encourage it.”

Trongsa NC member Tharchen said he conducted a study on drayangs in Phuentsholing and questioned whether drayang is providing the intended job opportunities. “We questioned the criteria for the employees and the criteria is disheartening.”

He said that while drayang owners are making money and young girls get employment, it affects families of people who visit the drayangs.

Wangduephodrang NC member Tashi Dorji, who is a committee member, said the committee members looked into drayang issue and its effect on culture and not the social aspect.

Chairperson Sonam Kinga (PhD) said it is important to make drayang and luyang employees feel proud of their work.

The house, while deliberating on vernacular languages, mentioned that except for Dzongkha, the national language, Tsangla, which is commonly referred as Sharchopkha and Lhotsamkha, 16 languages are endangered.

Zhemgang NC member Pema Dakpa said people in Kheng Bjoka speak a different language and it is important to note that people in the locality should preserve their language.

People of Bjoka speak a language that is a mix of Sharchop and Khengkha.

Tsirang NC member Kamal Gurung said Doyaps, Tamang, Sherpa and Lepcha speak different dialects.

Sonam Wangchuk said schools encourage students to speak in English and punish students who talk in their local dialects. “Students should be encouraged to speak in their own language.”

The house, while deliberating on driglam namzha, informed that there are about 30 government and corporate organisations that procure and issue western attires to their employees.

The committee reported that the government must review the proliferation of western attire as standard institutional uniforms so that appropriate remedial measure and advisory directives could be provided.

Sonam Wangchuk said that law has to be uniform and it should be studied why the offices use western attires. “I don’t see why people feel inconvenient wearing the national dress. I feel comfortable in gho.”

He said field and technical employees should take their trousers and shirts, change into it when they work and again wear national dress.

Sangay Khandu said it is important to understand why offices use the uniforms and cited examples of how it is necessary for field staff to wear it.

Meanwhile, the committee will discuss the recommendations made during the deliberation before forwarding it to the government and DoC.

Tashi Dema

E-payment for G2C services launched

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 17:08

Citizens can now pay online for services offered by four agencies 

To improve public service delivery especially those that were constrained due to the lack of e-payment facility, the Government to Citizen (G2C) e-payment services was launched in Thimphu yesterday.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay launched the e-payment facility for Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment (BCSEA), Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) and Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) under the Ministry of Information and Communications.

Except for RSTA services, citizens can go online to the G2C website at www.citizenservices.gov.bt to make e-payments. For instance they can pay for a new passport or renewal through the G2C website by entering their CID number, bank account number and also upload additional forms. E-payment for the nine RSTA services such as paying renewal fees for driving licenses or penalty can be done through the RSTA www.rsta.gov.bt website.

Payment can be made from any of the three banks of Bank of Bhutan, Bhutan National Bank and Druk Punjab National Bank through the Royal Monetary Authority payment gateway.  G2C officials explained that the e-payment services are an independent web service and are not integrated with Bank of Bhutan’s mBoB facility.

Launching the service, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that e-payment allows citizens to enjoy services quickly and almost immediately without having to go to an office. “Once you are able to pay for those services, it means that you really don’t need to visit the offices even to make cash payments,” he said.

The Prime Minister highlighted the importance of e-payment and G2C services as a stepping-stone in the country’s journey to become self-reliant and corruption free. “The most important benefit of G2C services, the use of e-payment is the fact that we tell ourselves that we must step up technologically to the next level,” he said. “We must use the best technologies that are available and must demand of our service providers and of ourselves the highest level of efficiency and transparency.”

There are more than 120 G2C services. Of these, e-payment facility is available for four BCSEA services such as issuance of duplicate examination documents, clerical recheck of papers and issue of English Language Proficiency Certificate.

G2C officials said that while e-payment for passport services under the foreign ministry is available to apply for new passport and renewal, those who wish to avail travel documents and passports for children should visit the passport office in person for verification.

All business services with the economic affairs ministry where payment is required can now be paid electronically. A two months trial of the e-payment system showed that RSTA services generated the highest revenue among the agencies followed by the department of trade.

Karma Cheki

Speaker reprimands agriculture minister

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 17:07

Speaker Jigme Zangpo has reprimanded Agriculture Minister Yeshey Dorji for violation of the National Assembly Act and the Rules of Procedure.

During the question hour on May 19, the agriculture minister referred to Trashiyangtse’s Bumdeling-Jamkhar MP Duphob as MP from Falakata, a small town in Alipurduar district of West Bengal, India.

When MP Duptho said that the ban on chillies caused inconveniences to vendors and consumers, the minister responded saying: “I didn’t know there was an MP from Falakata in the National Assembly until today.”

The MP had said that extending the ban on the import of chillies from Falakata appeared to be illogical as chillies are a seasonal crop and that chemical contents vary from time to time.

Following a written complaint from the Opposition, the Speaker yesterday handed the agriculture minister a letter of reprimand, copies of which have been submitted to Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, the Leader of Opposition and the Secretary General of the house.

Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji was also summoned to the Speaker’s office, where he was explained by the latter about the provisions under which he was reprimanded.

“Henceforth, please keep in mind not to repeat such behaviours,” the Speaker stated in the letter of reprimand, adding that the minister’s behaviour violated both the National Assembly Act and the Rules of Procedure.

The Speaker said that he has used the Speaker’s powers prescribed in the National Assembly Act and the Rules of Procedures. “If the Deputy Speaker had intervened, the matter would have been solved that time only,” he said.

The session was presided by Deputy Speaker Chimi Dorji.

Speaker Jigme Zangpo cited Section 273 of the National Assembly Act 2008, which states that every member should subscribe to maintaining the decorum and dignity of the House and shall desist from acts of defamation and use of physical force. He also cited Section 34.4(b) of the Rules of Procedures, which states that the Speaker shall preserve dignity and decorum in the hall and maintain discipline among the members.

MP Dupthob said the Opposition had actually demanded a public apology on the house floor from lyonpo Yeshey Dorji based on a precedent. Khamaed Lunana MP of Gasa, Pema Drukpa, in 2015 apologised to National Council members in a joint sitting after he accused them of siding with political parties.

“Based on the precedent set by the Khamaed Lunana MP, we had demanded a public apology on the house floor,” Dupthob said. However, the Speaker can also take a disciplinary decision of his own within the framework of parliamentary laws.

“Being satisfied or not is subjective. It’s about obeying the rules,” said Dupthob. “The Speaker as the head of Parliament has reprimanded the minister in writing.”

MB Subba

Going organic by 2020 questionable

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 17:06

Bhutan’s vision to become organic by 2020 is questionable, said the National Organic Programme’s (NOP) coordinator Kesang Tshomo during the first day of the national workshop on a roadmap for organic agriculture policy in Bhutan in Thimphu yesterday.

Agriculture and forests ministry developed and launched the National Framework for Organic Farming in Bhutan in 2007 with a vision to become organic by 2020.

Kesang Tshomo said that the organic programme was established to implement the framework. But the question is: can the country achieve the targets?

“These questions could have been answered if we were able to implement the national framework,” Kesang Tshomo said.

Shortage of funds was identified as a challenge.  “Target for the 11th FYP is ambitious but the budget was not adequate,” Kesang Tshomo said.

She said that since the NOP never actually implemented the framework, the possibility of reaching the target by 2020 is questionable. “This is the reason why NOP has been trying to get some assessments done so that we can gauge where we stand now.”

The NOP is in the process of assessing the benefits and challenges of organic agriculture in Bhutan with support from ICIMOD.

The two-day workshop is part of the national stakeholder consultations led by two consultants, Sunder Subramanian and Sherub Gyeltshen that was completed in March this year.

The workshop is also expected to draw stakeholders’ ideas and contributions before finalising the draft report. The draft will be available on the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests’ (MOAF) website for input from the public.

Agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji said the assignment will assess the potential impact of Bhutan’s vision of going 100 percent organic and possible impact on environment, economy and social development of the country.

The workshop aims to assess the opportunities and challenges for organic agriculture as a source of livelihood for local people in Bhutan including ICIMOD’s pilot sites.

“I see a huge opportunity and potential for organic agriculture to play a significant role since the majority of our Dzongkhags are part of Project Area Network,” Lyonpo said.

The agriculture ministry has mandated Agriculture Research and Development Centre in Yusipang to undertake organic activities.

“The agriculture department is working on the mandates,” Lyonpo said. “This is a step to further enhance our goal for organic agriculture. Slowly, I see an opportunity for other centres to focus on organic agriculture.”

Lyonpo urged the stakeholder from different sectors to think how they can participate in the organic development goals. “The way things were done so far, unfortunately, did not bring expected results.”

Lyonpo said that it is time the nation set achievable targets, ensured required resources and assigned ‘accountable’ responsibilities to the sectors. “ We need monitoring system that ensures committed targets are achieved.

Dechen Tshomo

Only NRDCL to transport and deliver sand in Sha region

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 17:05

The Natural Resource Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL) will transport and deliver sand from the collection sites under Sha region from June 1.

This decision, according to a press release sent by the corporation, was arrived after several rounds of meetings. “It is being done in the larger interest of the nation and people.”

The press release states that only trucks registered with NRDCL can transport the sand. “The trucks registered with NRDCL at present will be deregistered by May 31 and the agreements signed earlier would be nullified.”

It also states that all customers requiring sand will have to register with NRDCL along with valid construction approvals and documents from the competent authority.

“Customers will have to deposit full cost of sand and transportation costs to NRDCL while obtaining the sand supply approval,” the press release states. “Delivery will be scheduled by NRDCL and the trucks deployed on daily basis according to a weekly and monthly delivery plan.”

It states that transporters will be paid by NRDCL upon delivery of the sand and customers need not have to deal with transporters directly.

“The revised system has been developed keeping in mind the prevailing problems and challenges of sand distribution, hoarding and escalation in the transportation cost,” the press release stated. This would also ensure fair transportation cost throughout the year.

In 2007, sand supply was nationalised and brought under the corporation with the main objective to make natural resources ‘available, affordable and accessible.

Staff reporter

ADB assistance sought to improve water shortage

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 17:04

To address the drinking water shortage in Samdrupjongkhar thromde, the government has taken assistance loan from Asian Development Bank (ADB) to construct water treatment plant (WTP), reservoir and water transmissions.

Samdrupjongkhar thromde’s assistant engineer, who is also the head of water solution division, Mani Kumar Rizal, said that the work is divided into two packages.

Of the total fund required for the construction, ADB assistance loan of Nu 1.2 million (M) USD takes up 79 percent and the government will fund the remaining 21 percent.

Mani Kumar Rizal said he couldn’t say how much the 21 percent will amount up to since the details are with works and human settlement ministry.

In package one, the construction of intake weir, raw water transmission, WTP, clear water reservoir and clear water transmission will be carried out. The total fund for package one is Nu 89M.

The assistant engineer said that while the construction is almost complete for intake weir and clear water reservoir, raw water transmission and clear water transmission are under construction.

He said that the WTP is being designed and once the design is ready, they will start the construction.

In package two, construction of a reservoir, transmission line and renovation of the existing reservoirs will be carried out in the second package.

He also said the water reservoir will be constructed at Pinchina, about four kilometres away from Samdrupjongkhar to Trashigang.

Mani Kumar Rizal said that they are estimating and reviewing package two as of now. “Thromde would tender the works by end of this year.”

The assistant engineer said that water would be supplied to Local Area Plan (LAP) I from new tank, which is going to be constructed package two. “For LAP II, III, and IV water will be supplied from the existing reservoirs after renovation.”

Meanwhile, he said that for 2015, he received 10 to 15 complaints every day on water shortage. “Sometimes it goes up to one week, as heavy downpour during monsoon damage main connection line.”

He said that by the end of that year, the complaints reduced drastically, as the thromde constructed bore well, renovated the old dug well and treated water.

Mani Kumar Rizal said they did major renovation last year and after that, the water supply has been good.

At present, there are three water sources for Samdrupjongkhar thromde,  Pinchina, Dungsam river and Rikhechu.

The assistant engineer said he is confident that Samdrupjongkhar thromde will not have water shortage once the project completes.

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

Buffalo rearing culture on the verge of disappearing

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 17:02

The practice of rearing buffaloes in Singeygang, Samtse is fast waning.

There are today only about five families who rear buffaloes in Singeygang. Ramlal Munda has a herd of 13 buffaloes. Many have sold the animal because of lack of good grazing grounds and dedicated herders.

Tshogpa Ram Prasad Sharma said that young people in the village are not interested to take up this practice.

At 63, Ramlal Munda is the oldest and among the few buffalo herders in Singeygang. At this time of the year, buffaloes are just left grazing in the fields. Ramlal Munda checks on the herd from time to time.

Ramlal Munda said rearing buffaloes is more profitable than rearing cows. The animal gives more milk and is more resilient. Dung quantity is also more, which is useful for biogas plants.

“A buffalo bull would fetch more than Nu 50,000 in the market today,” Ramlal Munda said.

Villagers say that there has not been much support from the government in buffalo rearing.

Dhanya Prasad Sharma said that recently government officials came to carry out an artificial insemination (AI) programme.

“This is a good sign,” he said, adding that more should be done to keep the practice alive.

The one buffalo that Dhanya Prasad Sharma’s family has had for the last five years has given birth to a healthy calf.

Dhanya Prasad Sharma said that keeping buffaloes would benefit local people economically and the government should support people to rear buffaloes.

Samtse’s livestock officer, Karma Wangdi, said that the government is aware of the scenario.

“People shifted their focus to jersey cows. That is why there is not many into buffalo rearing,” he said.

Karma Wangdi said that in 2010, a subsidy was provided. Four breeding bulls and 16 cows were distributed to two groups that included farmers in Singeygang. He added that equal importance is given to rearing cows and buffaloes.

The government has also leased a 90-acre land to Singeygang farmers. The land is meant for both cows and buffaloes. Livestock office has asked people to increase growing fodder in this land.

“They can also sell the fodder,” Karma Wangdi said.

Karma Wangdi said that interested farmers will be given additional support in the 12th Plan.

Along the borders of Singeygang, Sukur Muni has some healthy buffaloes. “We just leave them into the jungle,” she said. “They return on their own in the evening.”

Gauri Shankar Bhandari has the highest number of buffaloes in Singeygang. He has a herd of 15. “Buffaloes do not need care like cows do,” he said. “They are stronger and can plough more than oxen.”

Bishnu Maya Sharma from Namgaychholing said that getting a herder is not easy these days. “That is the real challenge.”

Rajesh Rai | Tashichholing

Manual on climate resilient agriculture

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 17:01

A farmer’s manual on climate resilient agricultural practices and technologies was launched in Tsirang yesterday.

The 50-page pictorial manual suggests solutions to critical climate change issues and impacts on vegetables in Barshong gewog, and describes climate-smart practices for sustainable production and income of the vegetable farmers.

The manual was produced as a part of several pilot activities taking place in Barshong through support from the EU-funded programme on Rural Livelihoods and Climate Change Adaptation in the Himalayas (Himalica), managed by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

According to Dr. Surendra Raj Joshi, ICIMOD’s Himalica programme coordinator, the manual has been prepared based on lessons and findings from similar agro-ecological zones from the region in order to equip communities to reduce risks of extreme events such as too little or too much water and have resilient practices adapted and expanded. “The recommended technologies and practices are simple and affordable, yet make sense to address bigger risks of climate change,” he said.

The Programme Director of Agriculture Research and Development Centre in Bajo, Pema Chofil, who coordinated the development of contents for the manual, said that it’s target audience includes educated farmers, extension supervisors, local officials, teachers coordinating school agriculture programme, and individuals interested in farming.

“The manual features simple but proven technologies,” he said. “Some of these technologies have been around for quite some time, but hadn’t reached Bhutan. Others have been around but weren’t popularized.”

The manual therefore has been designed in accordance with the basic principles of environmental, economic, and social sustainability, and provides detailed steps for vegetable production, from land preparation to harvesting, and post-harvest management.

The Himalica pilot interventions in Tsirang focus on four crop value chains – bean, cabbage, onion, and ginger – and all these crops are feature

The politics of economics

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 17:00

Although it did focus on the economy, the recent exchange between the government and Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa saw more than numbers being flung at each other. Even as both parties claimed that the issue was being politicised, the exchange showed that politics becomes part of the debate.

Somehow political parties seem to make an attempt to detach themselves from politics and show that the concerns raised are non-political. Economic issues have social implications on the people, the polity, which means there will always be a political dimension to issues concerning the people. Pretending that it is not adds no value to the discussion. The crux of the debate, if it at all continues, should be on the state of the economy because it is vulnerable and affects all. It is no secret that our small economy is dominated by the hydropower sector. It is understood that our reliance on imports for both consumption and capital goods needs is as high as our reliance on development aid. Reports point out that grants finance about 30 percent of the total budget.

Our policymakers, political parties and the society should be concerned that we are relying on others to become self-reliant. How do we sustain economic growth when the same is induced through external aid? Our economic vulnerability is exposed not only through our reliance on development aid and loans, but as much through political campaigns. The country has seen it happen and it would be naïve to assume that the politics of economics would not be used and abused again.

Compounding such an economic geography is our incapability to tap into our primary sector – agriculture. Perhaps, it is because of the nature of the sector, where results are not as immediate or visible as compared to other sectors that it has not been given the attention it deserves. Yet, we continue to claim that we are an agrarian society, even though the primary sector’s contribution to GDP has been less than one percent between 2008 and 2015. How the sector performs and impacts the livelihood of those who depend on it appears to matter little even to political parties concerned. But when linked to the debt issue, it appears to matter that farmers in some remote parts of the country received a flock of sheep. In such frames, even the bleating of a sheep tends to carry political meanings.

Smoked fish business doing good in Zhemgang

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 17:00

Smoked fish is made not only in Wangdue, but also in Zhemgang. A woman in Berti, a village about four kilometres from Tingtibi town, recently started a smoked fish business and it is picking up.

One can see ponds and huts by the huge maize field. There is a small structure from where smoke comes out. Carefully prepared fish are placed above small fire in different layers of the grill. This is how she smokes fish.

Pema Choden, 31, who runs this farm, said her smoked fish find better market than the fresh fish. She harvests fish from her pond, smokes and sells them. Many people from Zhemgang and other places come to buy them.

She said the demand for the smoked fish is so high she has difficulty supplying them. “I don’t sell fresh fish much,” she said. She has two ponds in which she has about 30,000 fish.

Pema Choden made about Nu 100,000 by selling both fresh and smoked fish last year. Pema gets telephone calls from hotels demanding smoked fish.

She has only a small structure where she smokes fish but the dzongkhag administration has already built a bigger one where she can smoke more fish. She is now planning to increase production now. She will now be able to dry about 20 kilogrammes of fish at a time.

She sells smoked fish for Nu 150.

Nima Wangdi | Zhemgang

Health officials attend World Health Assembly

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 17:00

Leading a five-member delegation from Bhutan, Health minister Tandin Wangchuk is attending the 70th Session of the World Health Assembly, which began yesterday in Geneva, Switzerland.

Attended by delegations from all 194 WHO Member States, the World Health Assembly is the highest decision-making body of the World Health Organisation and focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board. Bhutan holds a three-year membership of the Executive Board is also a member of the Programme, Budget and Administration Committee.

Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk will deliver a statement at the plenary session and co-sponsor a number of side-events on tobacco control, malaria elimination, non-communicable diseases and Sustainable Developmental Goals.

The main functions of the World Health Assembly are to determine the policies of the Organisation, appoint the Director-General, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed programme budget. This 70th Session of the Assembly will also elect a new Director General for the organisation.

This session will deliberate on non-communicable diseases, promoting health through the life course, preparedness, surveillance and response to antimicrobial resistance, poliomyelitis, International Health Regulations, health emergencies and communicable diseases.

Staff reporter 

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