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OAG reviewing land case dating back to 1970s

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 17:07

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is reviewing one of the oldest and most complicated cases the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has investigated so far.

The case involves the alleged criminal misappropriation of 11.75 acres of government land by a businessman in Chukha.

It took more than seven years for the commission to conclude that a businessman settled in Gedu, Chethey, was able to claim land in Emalakha in Bongo gewog as belonging to his mother-in-law given flawed judgments being passed by both the higher and lower courts. Both courts reportedly passed verdicts based on wrong or tampered evidence.

The investigation found that the land at Emalakha as claimed by Chethey was actually called Emalaktshen and belonged to Aum Dema, the wife of former finance minister Chogyal. Since the land was registered as tsamdro (pasture), it was taken over by the livestock department in 1982 and Nu 46,511 was paid for a wooden structure, which was constructed in 1975, as compensation to Dema’s son.

The land, which is located below the Thimphu-Phuentsholing Highway, about 115km from Thimphu, housed the Emalakha Calf Rearing Sub-Centre until 1989.

Later, the forest department took over the area and the Gedu range office developed the area by planting trees.

In 1998, the land was leased to Jai Prakash Associates by the government during the Tala Hydropower construction to establish a stone quarry, dumping site, workshop and godown.

Today, the remnants of a Jai Prakash store and workshop, including a two-storey building remain.  Chethey is alleged to have inherited the building and other structures on the plot in lieu of rent or lease charges from Jai Prakash when the company terminated its work at Tala.

The commission conducted its investigation from July 2009 to September 2016 after receiving a walk-in complaint along with documentary evidence, alleging that the High Court had passed the land dispute judgment in favour of Chethey’s wife, Choden. The complainant stated that Chethey used a description of the same location for the government land occupied by Jai Prakash.

During a cadastral survey in 2003, the land in question could not be formalised since the Gedu range officer refused to sign a clearance stating that the land belonged to the government. Consequently, Chethey filed a case against the agriculture ministry before the Chukha dzongkhag court on behalf of his wife, alleging that the forest department denied land clearance despite it being registered to his mother-in-law.

The court on November 24, 2008 ruled in favour of Chethey based on a false declaration submitted by Chethey. The defendant then appealed to the High Court, which upheld the lower court’s ruling on April 21, 2009.

While scrutinising the judgments ACC found both courts passed verdicts based on the court order issued for transfer of thram in Choden’s name on November 11, 2003.  Surprisingly, the investigation revealed that there were several flaws in the court ruling. For instance, November 11 is a public holiday, during which all government institutions were supposed to be closed and the judge would have attending the celebrations, instead the court passed a judgment allowing the transfer of land from Choden to Tshering Pelden.

ACC also found that even the official letter head used for the judgment was the Chukha court’s whereas the case was registered at the Phuentsholing dungkhag court. Tshering Pelden told the investigators that he didn’t attend the court hearing at all as he was outside the country pursuing his studies. He also stated that he had not authorised anyone to sign on his behalf.

However, Chethey had conceded that he signed on the behalf of both the parties worrying that the total area may exceed the permissible limit. The investigation also revealed that there was no such land registered in the name of Sonam Choden or Choden as clarified by the National Land Commission secretariat. ACC charged him on two counts of forgery.

The commission implicated Chethey on two counts of perjury for submitting a false declaration to the lower and higher courts, stating that the land at Emalakha could not be registered during the cadastral survey in 2003 as the Gedu range officer refused to give clearance. In 2002, Chethey requested the same plot as land substitute for his 50-decimal plot at Dzongtoe Lamme Dram, which he claimed was taken by a DANTAK quarry.

ACC’s investigation also found that Chethey submitted an application to Jai Prakash on February 1, 1999 informing them that the company had occupied his land without his prior consent and asked them to fix a nominal rent. He also stated that if the company is not interested in paying rent, they can leave the structures when the project winds up. After remaining silent for more than five years, Chethey submitted another application in May 2004 to the dzongkhag requesting for help to get buildings and a water supply system.

ACC implicated him on four counts of deceptive practices as he deceived the authorities including the dzongkhag administration, Jai Prakash Associates, Tala Hydropower project and the National Environment Commission with intention to enrich himself. He wrote letters causing them to believe that the land belonged to him and raised the issue of claims against the land, which in reality was government land.

He was also accused of deceiving the dzongkhag and survey officials that his land was not surveyed during the detailed survey of 1988 as the surveyors had left the survey site when he was busy with a survey in Bunakha. He claimed that till 1989, the land in question was managed by his parents and he started looking after it only in 1991-92. “This is because Chethey knew that associating with and taking responsibility would implicate him,” ACC’s report stated.

The commission also recommended the prosecutor to restitute 11.75 acres of land to the state and Chethey to rehabilitate the area as per the existing laws of the country.

The report stated that the case extending into the 1970s made investigation difficult in terms of finding documents and locating key witnesses. About 29 individuals, including 14 witnesses were summoned and 44 interrogations were carried out.

Rinzin Wangchuk

Samtse shopkeepers told to vacate stalls by April 1

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 17:06

More than 30 shopkeepers in Samtse are hopeful that the dzongkhag will not ask them to vacate their stalls. The dzongkhag has asked them to vacate their stalls by the end of this month to make space for Samtse town’s development activities.

If they vacate the stalls, most of them would not have spaces to run their garment businesses. Without their businesses running, they fear that they will not be able to repay their loans on time.

Kuensel learned that most of the shopkeepers operating at the stalls have taken loans ranging from Nu 150,000 to Nu 300,000 with the help of the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Women run the majority of the businesses.

They are worried that they would not have money to pay their suppliers in Siliguri, India.

Tashi Tshomo, a divorcee, sells clothes. “Samtse does not have many buildings and space is limited. Maybe I will start selling vegetables,” she said.

While vegetable vendors have been provided with an alternative area to sell their produce, garment shops have not been provided with one. The construction of three new buildings is almost complete in the town, but stall shopkeepers said spaces in these buildings have already been booked.

Tashi Tshomo said the commercial spaces in one of the new buildings is too expensive. Rents would be cheaper when all the buildings are constructed, she added. Meanwhile, Tashi Tshomo is supporting her eldest daughter in a private school.

Migma is another woman who runs a garment shop in one of the stalls. She is also a divorcee.

“Many of us are from humble backgrounds,” she said, explaining that they would face difficult times if there are no other spaces identified to run their businesses. There are so many people who have to repay their loans, she added. “We do not want to complain because we have been able to use the stalls free of cost.”

Shopkeepers said that they have submitted a letter explaining why they cannot move out. They have not received any response so far.

Another woman, San Maya Barailey, told Kuensel that she cried when she learned of the news. “Operating businesses in this stall is my livelihood. My husband is sick and I have children going to private schools.”

San Maya Barailey said she has no idea how to repay her loans.

The shopkeepers are planning to submit an appeal to the dzongkhag one more time.

However, some have already started packing up.

Samtse town’s BCCI representative, Ugyenla, said that his main worry is about shopkeepers who have  to repay their loans. “They are repaying on time so far. It would be difficult once they move out from here.”

Samtse’s municipal in-charge, Tenzin Dakpa, said that the stalls should be vacated by April 1. “People should find their own space for doing business,” the in-charge said.

Rajesh Rai | Samtse 

Remains of missing student found in Perth, Australia

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 17:05

Five months after a Bhutanese student went missing in Perth, Australia, police in Perth confirmed that his remains have been found and that they will hand his body over to the university.

The deceased was last seen at his home on October 5 last year and he left behind a suicide note on Facebook on October 12, stating that he was suffering from brain cancer and that he did not want to live until the disease became chronic.

Australian police in Perth, the Bhutanese community and Curtin University security officials search for him, combing places the deceased was familiar with but could not find him.

The deceased was pursuing a Bachelors of Science (BSc) in Chemistry on government scholarship since 2014.

It was learnt that a bush clearer had found the remains last month along with the deceased’s bag that contained his mobile phone and wallet in a park near Perth city.

A relative said that police then said it was 99 percent confirmed that it was the deceased’s remains but to be 100 percent sure, a DNA test is being conducted.

“Police called me, saying they will handover the body to the university,” a close relative, who has been in constant touch with Australian police said.

She said there were many who believed that he took his life because he owed money to many people but that is not the case. “He just owed to a friend and the amount isn’t much.”

She said that he had been complaining of headaches since childhood and he might have assumed that it was brain tumour.

A Perth resident, who was close with the deceased, said knowing the kind of person he was, he could have gone into the bush so that no one could be able to find his remains. “He was not someone who would give trouble to others.”

The Association for Bhutanese in Perth (ABPI) president, Lekey Tshering, said while he has not met the police yet, ABPI will work to return the body to university officials.

Staff reporter

The white elephant of Panbang

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 17:03

A tall figure perched above the Nganglam-Panbang highway is the white elephant of Panbang.

The 8,500 kilogramme silo was built to store maize at Sonamthang village, about three kilometres from Panbang towards Nganglam. Today it is abandoned and unused.

The agriculture machinery unit built the silo between 2006 and 2007 for the villagers of Sonamthang to help them store their maize grains.

Farmers didn’t want to use the silo after their maize they saved was found spoilt. Farmers don’t know why the silo failed and the produce of their hard work let to decay.

A farmer from Sonamthang, Pema Gyeltshen, 32, said the farmers saved some 20 dreys each in the silo for the first time when it was installed.

“The maize was all rotten and infested with insects when they took out after some three months,” he said. He added he didn’t want to keep his maize in the silo thereafter.

Drey is a traditional grain measuring equipment, which equals to little more than a kilogramme.

He said farmers suspected rainwater seepage from the top to have led to rotting of their maize. Farmers did not cooperate in saving their maize in the silo after that.

“Farmers store their maize in sacks at home today,” he said.

Choki, 45, said farmers have to dry their maize in the sun frequently to protect it from getting spoilt at home. “Otherwise maize grains get spoilt due to the heat and humidity. The silo would be useful if it worked properly,” he said.

Ngangla gup, Rinchen Wangdi, said their maize could have also been spoilt because the people didn’t know how to use it.  Agriculture officials did not teach people properly on how to use it then.

“Actually people dried their maize in the drying machine that is also installed near the silo before putting in to the silo,” he said. However, it didn’t work.

Gup Rinchen Wangdi said farmers of Sonamthang grow maize twice a year, once each in summer and in winter. There was no problem with the winter harvest but the one harvested in summer got spoilt because of heat. “We are planning to reuse it soon,” he said.

Zhemgang dzongkhag agriculture officer, Phuntsho, said soon they will see what actually needs to be done to make it work.

“I suspect it was not working due to management problems,” he said.

The silo has a conveyor like structure that carries the maize to the opening on the top. It also has a small opening at the bottom to take the maize out.

Nima Wangdi | Panbang

Zamlingzor farm road non-functional

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 17:02

The people of Zamlingzor chiwog in Mendrelgang, Tsirang have not been able to enjoy the benefits of their farm road since July last year.

A stretch of 2.4 kilometres of the farm road was damaged due to a heavy downpour in July, 2016. The gewog had spent Nu 1.2 million (M) from the Gewog Development Grant (GDG) to construct the road.

The 5km road connects Zamlingzor chiwog to the Mandrelgang gewog centre.

A detailed report of the damage was submitted to the dzongkhag office. The damage was assessed by an engineer who estimated that reconstruction and building of retention walls would cost Nu 3.4M.

The estimated amount includes an estimated cost of maintenance of a portion of another farm road in the gewog.

This was one of the many issues raised during the recent visit of agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji to the gewog.

Mendrelgang gup Yeshey said the gewog officials have not heard from the government after they submitted the report. He said it is important that Zamlingzor chiwog is connected with a farm road because of its potential in vegetable production.

“Zamlingzor is one of the biggest fruit-growing chiwogs in the gewog,” he said.

When the farm road was functional, the gup said farmers used vehicles to reach their produce to Damphu town. He said there is an urgent need to reconstruct the damaged portion of the road.

The road will benefit about 30 households once it becomes functional.

Tshogpa Kinzang Wangdi of the chiwog said the farm road needs to be reconstructed altogether as it was damaged beyond repair.

Lyonpo asked the gup to forward him a copy of the report submitted to the dzongkhag. He said his ministry and the government were concerned about the conditions of some farm roads in the country.

Many farm roads have been damaged while some villages are yet to be connected with a farm road.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang 

Sighting of Godlewski’s bunting takes count to 719 birds

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 17:01

Godlewski’s bunting (Emberiza godlewskii) is the latest addition to Bhutan’s avian biodiversity.

With the sighting of the Godlewski’s bunting, Bhutan now has 719 birds. The Godlewski’s bunting is the second new bird species to be recorded this year after the Yellow-eyed babbler (Chrysomma sinense) was sighted and recorded in the Royal Manas National Park (RMNP) in February.

“Off to Bhutan,” a birding and birdwatching company’s guide, Norbu, with a group of tourists comprising of biologists from Victoria, Canada discovered the Godlewski’s Bunting recently. The group recorded the bird near Tharpaling monastery.

Norbu had led his guests to Tharpaling monastery to observe the Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus) where it can be easily spotted.

One of the biologists, Claudia Copley, emailed that when the bird was first spotted, its identity was unclear since most of the watchers, save for Norbu, did not possess much knowledge about birds. However, Norbu took several photographs of the bird.

“Upon examination later on the bus and after much discussion, it was concluded that the bird was a new record for Bhutan,” Claudia Copley said.

They then checked its identity with Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment ornithologist, Sherub. “We crossed checked with Sherub who told us that the bird wasn’t recorded before and is a new find,” Norbu said.

Sherub said it is the westernmost sighting at least in Bhutan. “So far it was found only in Arunachal Pradesh in India and China,” Sherub said.

As per the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Godlewski’s bunting is found in China, India, Mongolia, Myanmar and Russia. The bird is recorded in Bhutan for the first time.

Claudia Copley said that while the new bird is no match for the exquisite Himalayan monal, they were happy with the discovery. “But Norbu’s enthusiasm for the discovery of the new bird was something we’re glad to be a part of,” Claudia Copley said.

Bhutan made a record discovery of new birds in 2015 recording eight new bird species: Jacobin Cuckoo (clamator jacobinus), Stork-billed Kingfisher (pelargopsis capensis), Greater Sand Plover (charadrius leschenaultii) and Little Owl (athene noctua).

That year, the Beautiful Sibia (heterophasia pulchella) and Brown Accentor (prunella fulvescens) were also discovered after the country recorded the Common Moorhen (gallinula chloropus) and Burmese Shrike (lanius Collurioides) in January and April respectively. In two years, Bhutan recorded 10 new bird species.

Tempa Wangdi

Credit growth a concern for growing imports

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 17:00

With more than 23 percent of domestic credit injected into building and construction, the economy continues pumping air into the bubble.

The housing bubble was one of the main causes of concern when the economy was hit by a severe Indian rupee shortage, followed by credit restrictions.

As of November last year, building and construction made up Nu 20.20 billion (B) of the total domestic credit of Nu 87.430B. This figure is excluding the loans the National Pension and Provident Fund provided. In 2015, of the total credit of Nu 74.77B, around Nu 18.28B (24.4 percent) was in this sector.

Economists say that a combination of low interest rates and loose credit can bring borrowers into the market. This means that the current policy has the tendency to drive the demand for loans.

Add to it the increasing number of vehicles, translating to imports and foreign currency outflow, local economists say that the country’s economy is heading in the same direction it did in 2013.

The only saviour, should the same problem recur, is the hydropower revenue from the on-going hydropower projects. This indicates that the delay in construction of these projects has an implication on the government budget,  trade and current account balance and also the foreign currency reserve.

While the cumulative figures on transport loan as of November last year stood at Nu 4.21B, trade statistics show that the country spent almost Nu 7B on import of vehicles and spare parts.

A banker said that a major portion of personal loans is going into purchasing vehicles. As of November, Nu 13.6B has been booked against personal loans.

At the same time, loan for agriculture, the sector which employs a huge chunk of the work force, is just Nu 4.65B.

After building and construction, service and tourism has highest share of domestic credit at Nu 16.63B. Trade and commerce, which constitutes 13.5 percent of the total credit, is again leading imports.

On the sector that enhances exports for instance, the manufacturing sector has Nu 11.84B worth of credit.

“The financial sectors’ dependence on the government and corporate deposits and few sectors for loan poses a great risk to the economy,” a local economist said.

The World Bank, in its study of financial institutions, has recommended the country to upgrade its banking to Basel accord on banking supervision.

The Basel Committee is the global standard-setter for the prudential regulation of banks across the world through supervisory guidelines that central banks impose on banks in their respective countries.

Currently, Bhutanese banks are categorised in the Basel-I accord and the suggestion is to move to Basel II and then to Basel III. Basel I is a set of international banking regulations focused mainly on credit risk by creating a bank asset classification system.

Unlike Basel I, Basel II enables the banks to create standards and regulations about how much capital the financial institutions must have set aside. Banks need to put aside capital to reduce the risks associated with its investing and lending practices.

Basel III builds on the other two Basels, which enables the banks to improve their ability to deal with financial and economic stress, improve risk management and strengthen the banks’ transparency.

A banker said that these Basel accords would enhance the banks’ ability to take risks, and thus lower the interest rates because banks are in a better position to take risks as it moves up the Basel chain.

Tshering Dorji

An important digital milestone

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 17:00

In what should provide much needed security and reliability, a government data centre has been established.

Currently, each agency stores its data on its own servers, which is both costly in terms of initial set up, and operation and maintenance. On top of this, a competent IT team would have to be on site at all times to trouble shoot when needed. Given the lack of having enough IT personnel, one of the common terms we hear today in most agencies is “system down”.

By consolidating information in one data centre, the government can concentrate its best IT personnel into one team to focus on ensuring the centre is running at all times. The government will also spend less on purchasing new servers. Efficiency will be improved.

Today, we have more public services moving online and more personal data being digitalised. Without secure systems, any skilled hacker can wreak havoc by stealing or editing data, among others.

By having data consolidated in one area, security is enhanced.

Another advantage of having data housed in the IT park is that it is relatively safer in the event of a natural disaster like an earthquake. It is hoped that the data in the centre is further back up in another centre elsewhere.

The government must now concentrate on further improving connectivity. The two telecommunication companies continue to enhance their services but problems still occur when you use online services like online banking. Electricity can also fluctuate from time to time.

Without reliability in these two areas, any achievements in e-governance will be limited.

There is also a need to further raise awareness of public services moving online and speed up efforts to make paying for services using the internet easier.

Undoubtedly, another significant milestone has been made in a journey of many more milestones.

No Dakpa turns up for Kora

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 17:00

The 15-day Baza Guru Dungdrup that is being presided over by Khamtrul Rinpoche at Choeten Kora in Trashiyangtse will end tomorrow.

Dungdrup Tshogpa’s general secretary, Ten Dorji, said that the dungdrup was organised in memory of Khandro (Dakini) who is believed to have been buried alive inside the choeten. For this, a ritual known as Dakpa Kora is organised every year where hundreds of people from Arunachal Pradesh, known as Dakpas, come to circumambulate the choeten.

However, no Dakpas from Arunachal Pradesh came this year.

Shacha Tshering from Pangkhar village in Trashiyangtse said that in the past hundreds of Dakpas came to receive blessings and circumambulate the choeten. They usually would come to Trashiyangtse a week before the dungdrup.

The organiser provides meals and places to stay to the elderly pilgrims.

Namgang Kora or circumambulation by Bhutanese, is held on the 30th day of the first month of the lunar calendar.

The choeten was built by Lama Ngawang Loday in 1740 on the site where a demon was subdued. The choeten was dedicated to the memory of his late uncle, Jungshu Pesan. It is believed to be a replica of the Boudhanath stupa in Nepal and was consecrated by the 13th chief Abbot of Bhutan Je Sherub Wangchuk.

Baza Guru Dungdrup (recitation) is organised by Dungdrup Tshogpa. This annual event was started in 2009.

Tashi Phuntsho |  Trashiyangtse

Focus point

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 15:43

Police begin naming and shaming suspects

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 15:43

However some are questioning the legality and ethics of such a measure

With the growing popularity of social media, it has now become a trend for people to upload photographs of suspects on social media platforms like Facebook and WeChat. Recently, even mainstream media and the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) uploaded images of suspects.

The recent incident where RBP issued a press release along with the photograph of a person accused of raping and murdering a 19-year-old girl in Samtse and mainstream media using the picture along with their stories generated debate.

Some even questioned if RBP, as an investigating agency, has the legal right to take such a measure, as section 16 of article 7 of the Constitution states that a person charged with a penal offence shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty in accordance with the law.

Police chief Colonel Chimi Dorji said that over the years, the number of crimes in the country has increased and more severe crimes are being committed. He said that people should be more cautious.

Colonel Chimi Dorji said that the Constitution has given the people the right to information. “People are curious to know of any crimes in their community and as a law enforcing agency, it is our responsibility to protect the safety of the people and the community,” he said.

He said that the police is taking a bold step and posting pictures of suspects on their Facebook page to inform people of criminals and crimes so that people are alerted.

The police chief said that the RBP will adopt the naming and shaming policy depending on the severity of the case to deter crimes in the country, irrespective of rank and background of the suspect. “We will also post pictures of the suspects involved in huge drug peddling on our Facebook page,” the police chief said.

The police chief said RBP will provide pictures of the suspects involved in heinous crimes to the media along with the press release. “It is up to the media to use the picture or not but the police will have the pictures posted on their Facebook page.”

He said a criminal is safe if their identity is hidden from the public and that the criminal could remain a threat to society.

Colonel Chimi Dorji said that an individual has the constitutional right of privacy but the public also has a right to information.

“If we protect the individual’s right, we are denying the public’s right and vice versa,” he said. “We have to weigh the options and see whose right to value more. The discretion is with us.”

However, the police chief said that photographs of minors will not be posted online because they might have committed the crime since they are young and might not be in a position to make the right decisions for themselves.

“But as an adult, people are responsible for their own action. They should understand that their action is illegal and if they are caught then their families will be affected,” he said.

He added that if the police do not post a suspect’s photographs on its Facebook page considering that the act will victimise the suspect’s family, then the police would not be doing its job. “We posted the picture of the rape and murder suspect on our Facebook page because we want to inform people of such heinous crimes and criminals,” the police chief said.

However, some police officials said that posting photos of suspects as a measure to deter crime would also affect  people who are associated with the suspect and therefore may not be the right move. “Police should only issue photographs if the suspects are at large and a threat to people and society,” an official said.

A member of the National Assembly’s (NA) human rights committee, Ugyen Wangdi, said that legally people should avoid posting pictures of the suspects in media. “Even if it is somebody who is involved in a heinous crime, it is not appropriate to post their pictures in media unless the suspect is a danger to the society.”

Ugyen Wangdi said that the NA raised concerns when financial institutions publicised loan defaulters on national television, which was later disallowed.

He said that RBP might have their own guidelines but the right to privacy is recognised as a fundamental right under the Constitution.

“A convicted person is liable for punishment but I don’t think he or she should be named and shamed as there is a repercussion to those associated with the suspect,” he said.

Ugyen Wangdi also said that naming and shaming might not work in the way it is intended to. “Such action can harden the criminal in a person and he may repeat the crime.”

No comments could be obtained from the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA), which regulates media content, as its director general is currently on leave and other officials were not authorised to speak to the media.

Dechen Tshomo

Drug resistant TB cases on the rise

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 15:42

… despite the overall number of TB cases dropping annually

Despite making good progress in detecting tuberculosis (TB) cases and achieving a treatment success rate of 90 percent in the last few years the number of multi drug resistant (MDR) TB cases in Bhutan is on rise.

MDR-TB cases in the country increased to 55 in 2016 from just six in 2005, while TB cases has decreased to 1,145 in 2016 from 1,328 in 2010, according to the health ministry’s deputy chief programme officer of the national TB control programme, Chewang Rinzin.

Presenting the situation of TB in Bhutan at the world TB day celebration at Bajo yesterday, Chewang Rinzin said that globally, MDR-TB is an emerging public health problem and the WHO has declared it a crisis. This, he said, is because only one in four MDR-TB cases are detected and only one in two cases are cured.

However, he said the treatment outcome of MDR-TB is only 48 percent globally, and treatment outcome of MDR-TB in Bhutan is 92 percent, as per 2014 records.

MDR-TB is caused due to partial or irregular TB treatment, non-completion of the full course of TB treatment, no direct observed treatment, side effects of the medicines and social or economic barriers. It is also caused if the person is HIV infected, has diabetes, is under-nourished, those abusing substances  and psychiatric conditions.

The increase in treatment failure for MDR-TB, close contact tracing and delay in seeking health care are some of the challenges being faced, Chewang Rinzin said. Treatment failure is attributed to incomplete and irregular treatment and inadequate directly observed treatment implementation.

Health officials said that someone close to the patient should ensure the patient completes the full course of treatment.

This year the day was celebrated with the theme, “Unite to End TB”. The post-2015 End TB strategy envisions a world free of TB, with the eventual goal of ending the global pandemic by 2035.

According to global TB report 2016, about 10.4 million (M) TB cases were reported globally in 2015 of which about 45.6 percent of the cases were from the Southeast Asian region. Of the 0.58M cases of MDR-TB reported globally, about 34.5 percent were from Southeast Asian region. Similarly, of 1.4M deaths globally, about 0.71M deaths are due to TB in the Southeast Asian region and of the 1.2M people who were co-infected with TB and HIV, 0.39M died from HIV associated TB worldwide.

Health Minister Tandin Wangchuk said although Bhutan is considered a low TB burdened country in the region, TB is still a priority public health problem mostly affecting the productive age groups of 15-44 years.

Lyonpo said considering the burden of TB and MDR-TB in the country, the government had joined the global and regional community in taking forward the agenda of TB through the sustainable development goals, 2016-2030 and the End-TB strategy, 2015-2035.

Lyonpo said the set strategy is ambitious and required concerted efforts from all individuals and every stakeholder. The ministry commits to reach 90 percent of the people who need treatment and treat them successfully.

“I call upon all individuals to help identify and encourage those with cough for more than two weeks to visit the nearest health facility to be screened for TB so that we leave no one behind in terms of access to services, diagnosis and treatment,” said Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk.

Every individual, Lyonpo said, could take part by identifying potential TB hosts and referring them to hospital, encouraging close contacts of TB patients to get screened, assist in educating and disseminating the message and help in ensuring sputum follow up examinations for TB patients at two, four and six months.

Some of the major challenges the health sector is facing are suboptimal implementation of directly observed treatment, delays in diagnosis and treatment and sample shipment due to rugged terrain and inadequate infection control measures in the health facilities, Lyonpo said.

Meanwhile, records with health ministry stated that in 2010 around 48 people died of TB, which decreased to 40 in 2012, but increased to 44 in 2014 and again reduced to 24 deaths in 2015.

Dawa Gyelmo | Wangdue  

A much awaited agreement

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 15:40

Bhutan and Bangladesh will soon sign an inland water route protocol. A secretarial level meeting between Bhutan and Bangladesh in Thimphu earlier this week decided to work on the memorandum of understanding between the Bhutan Standards Bureau (BSB) and Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) to recognise each other’s standards and classifications.

The transit route that will stretch from Indian territory through the Brahmaputra river till Mongla and Chittagong in Bangladesh will open vast trade opportunities for both countries.

For export and import of goods to third countries, the only port accessible to Bhutan has so far been Kolkata.

The agreement is expected to be signed during the visit of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh in April.

Looking back, it’s been a long journey to arrive at this stage. Even though Bangladesh was ready to include Bhutan in the tri-nation team to increase the navigability of a river transit route, it took the two countries five years to work on a draft memorandum of understanding. Progress thus far made deserves to be commended because the ports in Chittagong and Mongla are very much feasible given the inland water connectivity. What this means is the trading partners will be able to save time and reduce costs of transportation.

The significance of this agreement is important for the two countries in the light of the possibility of immense trade potential that remains to be explored.

The bilateral trade agreement between the two countries was first signed in 1980. Bangladesh is the only country with which Bhutan has a trade surplus. Last year, total trade between the two countries grew to Nu 2.62 billion from Nu 1.98 billion in 2015.

As yet, private sectors in both Bhutan and Bangladesh are not able to explore the markets in each other’s territories.

Tourism is another area that the two countries can immensely benefit from. In the larger perspective, what this could result in is regional economic integration in South Asia.

Man gets nine years for sex with a minor

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 15:39

The Supreme Court recently sentenced Yeshi Dorji, 26, to nine years in prison for having sexual intercourse with a minor.

The court reversed the High Court decision and upheld the verdict passed by the Thimphu dzongkhag court that found him guilty of a second degree felony.

A former driver of National Land Commission, Yeshi Dorji, was convicted by the Thimphu dzongkhag court, but the High Court acquitted him for want of concrete evidence.

The dzongkhag court convicted the suspect and sentenced him to nine years in prison. The verdict stated that as the victim did not claim any compensation, the court did not order any compensation.

On the night of May 27, 2015, the convict and a 16-year-old girl exchanged SMSes wherein she said he could come to her house. Her father and stepmother, who operated the canteen at NLC, were away that night. He came to her house at 1am. There are two versions of what happened after that.

The victim’s version of the story, matching with the victim’s sister’s statement and the convict’s confession to police, says that the two had sexual intercourse, following which he left the house. The girl said she did not tell her parents because of fear. However, she had shared it with her younger sister. The sister who was present in the house that night did not know he had visited their home.

The convict retracted his confession to police in court. His defence lawyer said that the confession was made in order to take the matter to court at the earliest as the police were allegedly employing delaying tactics. He said that the convict had visited the house as he knew the family well but left without indulging in sexual intercourse with the girl.

The defence attorney alleged that the girl’s step mother had asked the convict’s family to pay them Nu 0.5 million for spending the night at their house. The convict’s family declined and the amount was reduced to Nu 0.2 million, the defence attorney claimed. Otherwise, he said, why did the stepmother report the case to the police only two days later.

The girl’s medical examination report revealed “old tears”. The defence claimed that medical officials said such tears could also result from physical activity or menstruation, among others. The defendant argued that if the two had sexual intercourse then the tears should be new.

While the dzongkhag court was satisfied with the evidence, the High Court could not be convinced.

The High Court, after the defence appealed to the dzongkhag court’s verdict, issued a verdict acquitting the suspect. It then went by the medical report of the girl in which the doctor said that the examination “medically could not confirm nor rule out sexual intercourse”.

The High Court said that the evidence did not say that the intercourse occurred with the convict.

The Civil and Criminal Procedure Code of Bhutan (CCPC)  2001, states that finding of guilt against one or more of the parties can only be given when the prosecution to the full satisfaction of the court has established proof beyond reasonable doubt.

Section 14 of the Evidence Act states that evidence may be given in any legal proceeding of every fact in issue (i.e. the points of facts for determination in a case) and of every other fact and circumstance which does the following: Proves a fact in issue; or disapprove a fact in issue.

In this case, the evidence did not prove the fact, therefore as per the section 156 of CCPC, the case was defered, the High Court said.

The Evidence Act 2005 section 5 (B) circumstantial evidence were not considered by the High Court.

The Supreme Court found out that the convict’s independent statement to police matches with the victim’s statement to the police in all details acknowledging that sexual intercourse had occurred.

Further, despite the delay in examination, the medical report showed evidence of intercourse. The points together convinced the court that the convict was guilty of having sexual intercourse with a minor.

Section 183 of the Penal Code of Bhutan states: “A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of rape of a child above the age of twelve years, if the defendant has sexual intercourse with a child between the age of twelve to eighteen years.”

Tshering Palden 

125 B.Ed grads could miss out on govt. jobs

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 15:38

At least 125 Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) graduates are likely to miss out on potential governemnt teaching jobs with the education ministry announcing 170 slots for contract teachers.

This year, in-take of teachers including those with post-graduate diploma in education and B.Ed qualifications has also decreased compared to last year. This year’s intake decreased to 589 from 610 in 2016.

While the number of vacancies for teachers in the Royal Bhutan Civil Service (RCSC) was increased to 279 from just 217 last year, the number of slots for contract teachers has decreased by 120. Last year 290 B.Ed graduates were recruited on contract. This year there are only 170 slots for 295 graduates who didn’t qualify for the civil service.

The education ministry announced 170 slots for contract teachers on March 23. But the notice on its website stated that only the B.Ed graduates who have secured above 50 percent in the Bhutan Civil Service Examinations will be eligible.

While over 574 trainees graduated from the Paro and Samtse Colleges of Education only 559 secured above 50 percent.

Of the 170 slots the education ministry has announced, 107 are for the B.Ed primary and secondary levels. To resolve the shortage of Dzongkha teachers in schools, the ministry is again recruiting 29 more Dzongkha B.Ed graduates on contract after recruiting 50 earlier on regular basis.

The ministry has also announced a vacancy for 34 more science and six IT teachers. But at least 125 B.Ed graduates will have to look for jobs either in private schools or other agencies with only 170 slots available.

Of this lot, 59 of the B.Ed graduates with a science background will not get jobs in government schools with only 34 vacancies available for a total of 93 remaining after RCSC recruited 35 as regular employees.

At least 40 with a primary B.Ed qualification may also have to go without jobs since there are only 107 slots for 210 B.Ed graduates with B.Ed primary and secondary with English/history/geography backgrounds.

Though the ministry increased the intake for Dzongkha B.Ed graduates, 20 would still be left without teaching jobs since only 29 slots are available for 49 graduates left in the job market. Six B.Ed graduates with IT backgrounds will also have to look for jobs elsewhere outside the government teaching jobs since there are slots for only six of the 12 graduates.

In 2016 and 2017, the education ministry recruited around 1,199 teachers.

Tempa Wangdi  

A new party in the making

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 15:38

Efforts are being made to form yet another new political party.

A former civil servant, Jigme Drukpa, from the Menbi-Tshenkar constituency of Lhuentse is coordinating the efforts. Jigme Drukpa said the party will be called the Druk Kuenphen Tshogpa (DKT).

Jigme Dukpa said he will be the party’s interim president. He resigned in January from the civil service. He said he had been a chief administrative officer with the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources.

“DKT would be shaped by a collective wisdom of many people who are genuinely interested in public service,” he said. While there are many political parties, he says DKT would be different from the rest.

“It would be a party of the people, for the people and by the people in accordance with our constitutional framework,” Jigme Drukpa said.

“DKT believes that a political party is as good as who its candidates are,” he said. He added that DKT will have a broad-based membership with qualified and experienced candidates representing diverse fields.

The party, he said, will field candidates with clean records above 40 years of age and who are willing to make sacrifices to make Bhutan “a truly great nation” that every Bhutanese will be proud of saying “I am a Bhutanese”.

“We will come up with a suitable economic model that is sustainable, inclusive and vibrant, create an enabling environment for trading, commercial and employment opportunities, build our infrastructures and foster private sector growth,” he said.

“As our public servants are in the frontline of public service delivery, we will try to reform and incentivise our public service system appropriately. We will also improve our health care system, a sector that touches everyone’s lives,” he said.

DKT is in the process of preparing its charter and a checklist of documents for meeting registration requirements of the Election Commission of Bhutan. “We will be fully prepared and ready to participate in the forthcoming parliamentary elections in 2018,” he said.

Regarding the PDP government’s performance, Jigme Drukpa said it was too early for him to fairly assess the PDP government’s performance since it has more than a year to complete its term. “There is a possibility that the government could do exceptionally well and fulfill all of its promises.”

However, as of today, Jigme Drukpa said he feels there are certain key areas in which the government is lacking.

For example, he said the government could do much more than what it is doing in terms of tackling the unemployment issue. “I applaud the government’s effort in overseas job placements but it has more disadvantages than advantages. I feel that we should create more employment opportunities within our own country. It is possible to do so with right incentives and right working conditions.”

MB Subba  

The EU at 60: Pillar of a multipolar world

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 15:37

On March 25, the European Union (EU) will mark 60 years since the signature of the Rome Treaties, the first step towards a united Europe. Since the birth of the European Communities in 1957, the citizens of our member states have enjoyed six decades of unprecedented peace, prosperity and security. The contrast to the first half of the 20th century could not be greater. Two catastrophic wars in Europe between 1914 and 1945 left millions dead, and a continent devastated, divided and prostrate. For countries that had long been at war, European integration has been the most successful peace project in our history.

However, we are living in unpredictable times and the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaties is the opportunity not only to reaffirm our commitment to the values and objectives on which the European project is founded but also to take pragmatic and ambitious steps forward. The world is going through a time of great uncertainty: the global balance of power is shifting and the foundations of a rules-based international order are too often being questioned. The European Union will be an increasingly vital power to preserve and strengthen the global order.

The EU and Bhutan have worked together to promote trade and development since 1982. The EU supports Bhutan’s democratisation and modernisation with funding of more than Euro 42 million for the period 2014-20. This amount is triple the allocation for the previous period and is a clear proof of our commitment to Bhutan’s development.

We are proud to support the Government of Bhutan’s efforts to bring education, health, agricultural productivity growth and rural development to small far-flung habitations often without access to roads and modern telecommunications. According to the priorities we have agreed to jointly, the EU’s support will be mainly invested in capacity development for local governments and fiscal decentralization; strengthening civil society; and supporting sustainable agriculture and forestry. Additional support will be provided to combat climate change in which the EU has been a pioneering change agent.

The EU is the second-largest global economy. It is the largest global market and the leading foreign investor for most parts of the globe.  Increasingly it is active as a global security provider, strengthening its borders, and combining national strengths to develop common defence capabilities. A more fragile international environment calls for greater engagement, not for retrenchment, which is why the EU will continue to support the United Nations through peace missions, diplomatic efforts, human rights, tackling hunger and fighting criminality.

We invest more in development cooperation and humanitarian aid (Euro 55 billion) than the rest of the world combined, much of it going to education, democracy and human rights in around 150 countries. In the period 2014-2020, about 75 percent of EU aid was to countries which were often hard hit by natural disasters or conflict. For us, this is not charity: it is also a smart investment in our own security and prosperity.

Humanitarian crises continue to take a heavy toll internationally, and in 2016 the EU allocated relief assistance of over Euro 1.5 billion for food, shelter, protection and health care to 120 million people in over 80 countries. Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011 it has been the largest single donor of humanitarian aid for the millions of men, women and children displaced by the conflict.

In a world of global challenges, regional instabilities and alarming brinkmanship, the EU will have an even more significant role to play. It will look to its cooperation with Bhutan not only to support bilateral initiatives towards self-sufficiency but also to bring perspective to bear on issues such as climate change where an emerging global compact exemplified by the Paris Treaty needs to be implemented wisely and for the benefit of future generations. In my recent visit to Thimphu with a group of European ambassadors I have emphasised the EU’s commitment to support Bhutan’s endeavour to join the ranks of the middle income countries in the near future.

Contributed by  Tomasz Kozlowski

Ambassador of the  EU to Bhutan

Dhamdum substation brings reliable power to Samtse

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 15:36

The 220kv substation at Dhamdum in Samtse, which became operational in April last year, has become a boon for the dzongkhag.

It has not only replaced power import in gewogs like Tashichholing (Sipsu), Tendu, and Norgaygang (Bara) but also increased the power reliability in the dzongkhag.

Prior to commissioning of the substation, these three gewogs in Samtse were importing electricity from the neighbouring town of Jaldaka, India.

The substation installed to serve the Dhamdum Industrial Park (DIP) in Samtse was completed with a budget of Nu 410.317 million (M).

The Damdum substation construction started early 2013 and it was scheduled to be completed in September 2014. However, the construction was completed in November 2015, and it has been operational since April 2016.

The substation, which has a capacity of 500 megawatts (MW), has been limited to just about 100MW.

Bhutan Power Corporation’s (BPC), senior manager of electricity services division (ESD), Chipchu Dukpa, said that the substation has brought immense benefit to the dzongkhag.

“There was no high voltage power before this substation was commissioned,” the manager said, adding that Samtse was being fed by a 33kv line in Gomtu and the dzongkhag would face power black outs if the supply was disrupted in Gomtu.

He also said Samtse imported electricity from Banarhaat, India, whenever there was power shortages. “Importing from these towns of India could also be minimised as there are two domestic options left.”

He said that importing from India should only be an option if the power is cut from both the Dhamdum substation and Gomtu.

At present, Tashichholing is connected with a 33kv line from the Dhamdum substation. However, it also has provision for 66kv and could be upgraded whenever required.

Chipchu Dukpa said once the industrial park in Dhamdum is ready for operation, the park would require taking high voltage 66kv connections. “The park would have to plant its own substation.”

“A team has already come and surveyed the area to construct a substation for the industrial park,” he said.

Rajesh Rai | Samtse

Fire destroys house

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 15:35

A two-storey house was razed to the ground in Khar, Pemagatshel yesterday morning. The fire started at around 9am and was contained by 12:30pm by RBP, Desuups, and village volunteers.

Neighbours saved an 85-year-old woman from the fire. The dzongkhag kidu office provided the family, which lost all belongings, with a disaster kit, tarpaulin sheets, and semso from His Majesty The King. The family also received other benefits.

Staff reporter

Govt’s first data centre launched

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 17:09

With the rapid adoption of technology in the country today, the need for a centralised government data hub has long been recognised.

In order to address the issues of cyber security and to provide efficient and effective online public services, geared towards fulfilling the vision of becoming an ICT-enabled society, the Government Data Centre (GDC) was launched yesterday in Thimphu.

Occupying a space of 2,500 sq ft at the Bhutan Innovation and Technology Centre at the Thimphu TechPark, the GDC will enable a whole-of-government transition in ICT that would ensure strategic integration and better efficiency across government agencies.

The centre is equipped with high-end servers and all the necessary facilities such as a precision cooling system, power redundancy, monitoring, a secure environment with disaster recovery and fire-protection system among others.

Department of IT and Telecom (DITT) project officer, Nidup Gyeltshen, said that the centre is fully built on virtual technology, which will enable faster deployment of services.

He said that the system is a TIER-2 Data Centre and provides 99.741 percent availability, which translates into 22 hours of downtime per year, which is substantially high compared to current standards.

So far 22 critical government systems such as civil registration and finance procurement including Government-to-Citizen, Government-to-Business and Government-to-Government services have been migrated to the centre.

The centre has a current capacity of 50 terabytes, of which 60 percent is currently in use. Nidup Gyeltshen said that the system is scalable and the capacity can be increased based on requirement.

“From a technology standpoint, GDC supports mobility, provisioning on demand, scalability, virtualisation and the flexibility to respond to fast- changing operational situations,” he said, adding that other benefits of the centre includes economy of scale, security, more optimal storage management and better performance. It also minimises duplication of work and effort.

Before the introduction of the centre, all data was stored by government agencies in their respective server rooms. DITT director, Jigme Thinley Namgyal, said that as a small nation with a compact government, Bhutan cannot afford inefficiencies and compromise security. “This data centre will address both security and data archiving concerns promoting optimal utilisation of government resources.”

Information and communications ministry’s secretary, Dasho Karma Wangchuk Penjor, said that as the country moves towards ICT-isiation of its governance and economy, the data centre project is a priority project of the government.

“With the centralisation of data, we hope to achieve more efficient usage of our data and our experts, limited as they are in the ICT sector, towards achieving economies in storage, management and most importantly towards cyber security issues that have been emerging even in a small economy like ours,” said Dasho Karma Wangchuk Penjor.

The project is a part of the government’s e-governance master plan. Built at a cost of Nu 120 million, the project is funded by the Government of India under the Project Tied Assistance.

Younten Tshedup

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