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Bhutan's Daily Newspaper
Updated: 1 hour 27 min ago

FCBL to close farm shops by this month

Fri, 06/24/2022 - 10:22

Chhimi Dema

Thimphu dzongkhag tshogdu recently decided to write to the agriculture ministry after gups from highland communities expressed concerns about the closure of sanam tshongkhangs (farm shops).

Gups said the farm shops benefitted the highlanders access essential food items.

DT members said they will write to the agriculture ministry through their Member of Parliament (MP).

However, the Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) decided to close the 101 farms in the country by this month.

The farm shops were established in 2014 to provide buy-back facilities to the farmers and sell essential food items at affordable prices.

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According to FCBL’s annual report 2021, FCBL incurred a loss of Nu 91.17 million (M) in the past three years.

“The operating expenses are significantly high compared to the revenue generated by the farm shops,” it stated.

In 2021, FCBL spent Nu 36.90M on farm shops and incurred Nu 27.09M loss. FCBL incurred Nu 28.46M loss in 2020, and Nu 35.62M loss in 2019.

A report from the company stated that although the farm shop operation benefitted rural residents, its poor financial returns over the past six years incurred a loss of Nu 134M.

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“The recent review by an external expert also strongly recommended to close the farm shops that are not commercially viable,” it stated.

There are 119 operators in the farm shops, who were offered the option to take up the farm shop operation either on a franchise or in private retailing mode. Some shops had two operators.

The reports stated that 33 operators opted for franchise mode and two operators opted for private retailing.

The farm shop operators were provided with all entitled benefits and two months’ basic salary.

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FCBL’s chief executive officer, Naiten Wangchuk, said that the corporation, agriculture ministry and other relevant agencies studied the operation of the farm shops several times.

He said that considering the shops’ benefits to the rural communities, they were kept in operation for the two years of the pandemic. “We are looking into other ways to provide this service to the rural communities.”

More jobs less takers in Phuentsholing 

Fri, 06/24/2022 - 10:19

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

The Gowa program, the regional labour office in Phuentsholing conducted on June 22 brought together 22 companies and job seekers.

There were 299 jobs available but only 106 jobseekers turned up.

Of the 22 companies, 16 companies wanted to recruit “on the spot.” However, only four were recruited on the spot. Another 80 jobseekers were shortlisted for further interviews.

Labour officials said more than 90 percent of them will get jobs.

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Companies from Pasakha industrial estate, other manufacturing units and service providers floated salaries ranging from Nu 5,000 to Nu 24,000 a month. However, some companies had difficulty finding job seekers for recruitment.

Lhaki Cement advertised to recruit an electrician. However, most who came to inquire went back after they learned the workstation was in Gomtu. 

Empty chairs: 106 job seekers met with employers

“Only one came,” an official said.

The regional director of the labour office, Sonam Tenzin said it was a paradoxical situation.

“It is not that there are no jobs. There are jobs,” he said, explaining that youths have to take up those jobs.

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Most manufacturing companies look for skilled workers, mainly Technical Training Institute (TTI) graduates. A TTI graduate, Prem Kumar Gurung, 24 said he would take any job. The plumber was shortlisted.

Kezang Dawa, 26, is among those who were recruited. The class 10 graduate has been jobless for a year. He got a job with five others at Perfect Composite. 

“I am very happy.”

Kezang Dawa, who worked at a resort, lost his job due to the pandemic. He worked at the Mini Dry Port and construction sites.

A human resource official said they have been advertising to recruit for a long time. 

“We advertised so many times,” he said, adding nobody had come. “Today, we were able to recruit because we were able to interact and explain to them about the jobs.”

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Phuentsholing Thrompon Uttar Kumar Rai urged the jobseekers to take whatever jobs were available.

“We have to start small. That’s the first step to bigger successes,” he said.

NC19TF considering removing five-day quarantine 

Fri, 06/24/2022 - 10:18

Nima Wangdi  

With the Covid-19 pandemic cases reducing, many say that there is no need for the five-day mandatory quarantine for those entering the country.

They said that the quarantine has become a burden for both government and the individuals.

A corporate employee, who recently returned from a week-long trip to India, said that the five-day quarantine is not needed. He said his expenses of Nu 1,800 a night and Nu 3,000 for two tests were borne by his office and the government. Yet he still felt it was unnecessary given the situation.

“If not for the Monkey Pox and some other Covid-19 variants that are drawing close to the country, quarantine is not required,” he said. The quarantine for those travelling within the country was discontinued a few months ago.

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The government pays the quarantine bills and test charges for those who are returning from medical treatment, and regular studies; those who travel for biometrics and the International English Language Testing System tests. People travelling for personal work have to pay for quarantine and the tests.

People arriving in Bhutan can choose either home quarantine or facility quarantine. Those who have unvaccinated family members at home go for facility quarantine while others choose home quarantine. Some also choose home quarantine since they can’t afford it or don’t want to spend on hotels.

Sonam Yangden, 30, who recently returned from Europe opted for home quarantine at her sister’s place in Thimphu. “Officials come for tests when we call them but no one comes to monitor me at home.”

She said that if those who are supposed to be quarantined at home are roaming around, the whole purpose of having the protocol in place is defeated.

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She said that the individuals should responsibly complete the home quarantine period with due diligence. “However, with the Covid-19 fading from memory, many don’t follow quarantine protocols seriously.”

There are talks going around about the government planning to do away with the five-day quarantine for the arrivals soon.

A medical doctor said that from the medical point of view the quarantine is unnecessary at this time.

National Covid-19 taskforce’s Chairperson, Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that they are deliberating on the matter but there is no definite time as to when to do it. “We are looking at the data at the moment.”

Alcohol and Bhutan

Fri, 06/24/2022 - 10:17

Now that the Cabinet has decided to allow restaurants to serve wine and liquor without requiring a separate bar licence, questions at the National Council put Health Minister Dechen Wangmo in a tight spot.

Lyonpo’s justification was at best threadbare.  While she said that the health ministry was concerned about the rising cases and financial burden due to alcohol liver diseases, it is hard to establish a link between easy access to alcohol and increased consumption. The argument does not hold water.

Our relationship with alcohol has been complicated. Addressing the problems and challenges related to alcohol so has at best appeared tentative. Some have even called for a total ban on alcohol in the country, which, unfortunately, won’t work. There are cultural aspects of alcohol to be considered. But that ought not to give us the excuse to not do something significant so that there is a sensible and much-needed regulation.

 Alcohol may be part of our culture but alcoholism and problems related to alcohol are not. They have never been. It is precisely this new and growing reality that should worry us. Implications, in the long run, will be costly. The direct cost of treating one alcoholic patient is estimated at Nu 122,000, contributing to the escalation of health care costs. And it is growing—with it social and economic costs.

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Because alcohol is one of the killers in the country, there is an urgent need to look at the destructive side of alcohol. We simply do not need more bars and alcohol outlets.

It’s a small consolation that studies and surveys will be carried out regularly which will give us a clear picture of the damage of alcohol to Bhutanese lives. Our hope is that politicians will rethink and rue their mistakes.

According to well-placed global research, people with alcoholism are up to 120 times more likely to commit suicide than those not dependent on alcohol—someone commits suicide every 40 seconds. This is also a serious problem facing the country today.

A recent survey found that in eastern Bhutan more than 58 percent of the respondents were alcoholics. In Thimphu, of the 36.4 percent of the adults who had consumed alcoholic beverages in the past year, 10.5 percent engaged in binge drinking. In rural areas, as much as 50 percent of the grain harvest of each household is used to brew alcohol each year. Underage drinking is also a serious problem.

Elimination of alcohol products altogether will not be possible. Our only hope lies in being able to limit or minimise consumption. This can be done.

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A research project to aid in policy decisions

Fri, 06/24/2022 - 10:16

Chhimi Dema

A project, Bhutanese Knowledge for Indigenous Development (B-KIND), will begin in three focused dzongkhags to document and study the impacts of climate change faced by Bhutanese communities and find adaption strategies in consultation with policy-makers to benefit the communities.

The dzongkhags are Gasa, Punakha, and Wangdue.

B-KIND’s programme coordinator, Ritu Verma (PhD), said that the project carried out in rural communities would showcase people’s stories and everyday life experiences of climate change in systematic evidence-based research.

She said that the project would hold community consultations and document people’s needs.

After studying the socio-cultural practices and the biophysical conditions–based on meteorological data and other climate vulnerability assessments–the project would establish the impacts of climate change in these localities.

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Ritu Verma said that the project’s aim is to deepen capacities for evidence-based policymaking.

“If its [decision is] based on strong data and evidence, then it could benefit communities because it is based on their realities, which are double-checked through evidence,” she said.

The research project will provide training based on the community’s requirements and small action research projects.

The project held its inception workshop from June 16 to 17 to share project documents such as the research and data management plan; research ethics; monitoring, and evaluation of the project.

Ritu Verma said that the inception workshop allows the team from the two partner organisations, the Tarayana Foundation and the College of Natural Resources to share the status of the various themes of the project.

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The research project will focus on themes such as sustainable agriculture, climate change adaptation, gender equality and transformative change, indigenous knowledge, rural and international development, wellbeing and Gross National Happiness, and holistic food systems.

Ritu Verma said that the workshop assessed the project’s impact on communities and how the public can increase their knowledge about issues in these communities.

The project was launched on August 17 last year.

After its launch, Ritu Verma said, the project started setting up social media handles, buying equipment, and students who received scholarships through the project started their course work.

The project team conducted field visits and held community consultations with the farmers.

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In the coming months, the researchers with the project will make field visits to collect data and two students will leave in September to study in Canada.

Ritu Verma said that the project’s outputs range from researching and publishing articles in academic international peer-reviewed journals; hosting photo exhibitions, workshops and training; and making policy briefs.

The programme received a grant of approximately USD one million from the Government of Canada through the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

Power tillers lying idle in remote Langchenphu gewog

Fri, 06/24/2022 - 10:16

Kelzang Wangchuk | Jomotshangkha

Six power tillers issued by the then government, which are supposed to be busy in the fields at this time of the year, are lying idle at Langchenphu gewog in Jomotshangkha, Samdrupjongkhar.

The power tillers have been defunct for more than two years now.

This is because the gewog administration could not replace some parts of the power tiller.

A farmer, Kelzang Dorji, 66, said the power tillers helped the farmers for about three years during the paddy cultivation.

He said they didn’t even know what happened to the power tillers. “We reported the matter to an operator.”

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Another farmer, Tandin Wangmo, 40, said they hire the private power tillers during paddy cultivation at the moment because the gewog administration could not fix the government power tillers.

She said hiring private power tillers is expensive as they have to pay about Nu 1,500 to Nu 2,000 a day. “It would help us if concerned authorities could repair the power tillers.”

Villagers said although the power tillers were provided for public service, they could not reap much benefits.

“We don’t know whose responsibility it is to maintain and repair the power tillers?” a villager said. “Either the gewog administration or the Farm Machinery Corporation Limited should repair it.”

He said keeping the power tillers idle is a waste of state funds.

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Langchenphu gup, Guman Singh Gaylal, said they could not fix the power tillers because of the ownership issue. “The ownership is with FMCL and not with the gewog administration.”

He said the gewog administration tried to repair and fix the defunct power tillers but could not as they didn’t get the spare parts. “We have informed the FMCL to repair those power tillers.”

The gup said the gewog administration has no separate budget for the power tiller maintenance but only to monitor them. “It would help manage the budget if the FMCL could give us the ownership.”

FMCL officials, however, said two power tillers were beyond repair and lifted from the gewog and kept at one of the villagers’ houses.

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According to officials four power tillers were functional and deployed in the fields.

Officials said that they could not repair those two power tillers as they could not get the spare parts during the lockdown. “We would give the ownership to the gewogs if they want but under some terms and conditions. We would also provide additional power tillers if it’s required.”

NA to pass Tourism Levy Bill 2022 today

Fri, 06/24/2022 - 10:15

… the money Bill after NA’s adoption today will be tabled at National Council this session

Tshering Palden 

The National Assembly yesterday agreed to all the provisions in the Tourism Levy Bill 2022. The House will vote and adopt the Bill today morning, which remains only a formality.

The members deliberated on the recommendations from the economic and finance committee, which was tasked to review the Bill after the first and second hearings on June 20.

The Economic and finance committee chairperson, Kinga Penjor reported that there was overwhelming support for the reform from across the sectors. “We consulted with many stakeholders and what became obvious was the support to the intent and the principles behind this reform,” he said.

Other members of the committee, and some from the Opposition Party echoed similar views.

The committee tabled only one recommendation, the other two being clerical changes.

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Section 6 of the Bill states, “Notwithstanding Section 4 of this Act, a tourist who had paid and confirmed the tour under the Tourism  Levy Act of Bhutan 2020 on or before 20th June 2022  shall continue to benefit subject to conditions imposed under Tourism Levy Act of Bhutan 2020 and Rules  thereof.”

The committee recommended that this consideration be extended from June 20 until December 31, 2022.

Kinga Penjor said that stakeholders in the tourism sector raised the issue of readiness in terms of resources and facilities. “Some even requested for an extension of two years which would be adequate for them to prepare and the resources to be ready,” he said.

He said that according to figures obtained from those in the tourism industry of 5,000 guides 3,115 were active.

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“Between September last year and this month, 27,266 tourists have booked their tours and many hotels and restaurants have availed of loans amounting to around Nu 48 billion,” he said.

He said that the committee after going through the evidence presented to them, mostly by those in the industry since the Tourism Council of Bhutan could not present any data, decided to recommend the change to the section.

Almost suddenly, the session that began with cordial bows and fist bumps erupted into a heated argument.

Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi supported the recommendation. He said with the extension the hotels and tour operators would get some work while the government puts together necessary preparations and facilities. “Otherwise, the small window opportunity these businesses could be lost and hurting their livelihoods.”

Kinga Penjor said that those in the tourism sector told the committee that the TCB has not consulted the Bill with them.

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TCB board chairperson and Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said the TCB has been working for the past year on this reform.

“Guides have been trained and are still being trained. VISA approval would be done within a week and banking is also being eased to facilitate seamless transactions,” he said. “We’re ready to begin this September.”

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the Bill has taken into consideration the concerns of the stakeholders in the industry raised during the previous consultation meetings. “This Bill has the answers.”

Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that giving an extension until December 31, 2022 would mean having two Acts, the Tourism Levy Act 2020 and the Tourism Levy Act 2022, in effect at the same time which is not lawful.

More than a dozen MPs spoke for and against the committee’s recommendation. In the end, Speaker asked the floor to vote on the committee’s recommendation. The recommendation was rejected with only 13 MPs in favour of the extension.

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Bartsham-Shongphu MP Passang Dorji proposed a change to Section 8 of the Bill.

The section reads: “The Competent Authority may provide for an exemption or concessionary levy rate on the applicable Sustainable Development Fee, subject to any conditions prescribed in the Rules..”

He said that the authority to change levy or anything related to money was only given to the Parliament of which the executive is a branch.

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that since the Act would be passed by the Parliament the competent authority would derive that power from the Act. “If one looks at it from another perspective, there is no need for every such change to be routed through the Parliament.”

The House passed all five chapters of the Bill as tabled by the Finance Minister.

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Wangchuk Namgyel commended the committee for investing adequate time and scrutinising the Bill after exhaustive consultations.

He gave opportunity until the last MP who registered to speak and extended the session way past the time allotted to its deliberations and the tea break.

Other aspects of the Bill 

A tourist shall be liable to pay a tourism levy known as the Sustainable Development Fee of USD 200 per night, which may be revised by the Competent Authority from time to time.

The government will identify an apex agency as the custodian of the tourism policy which shall be responsible for the development, promotion and regulation of tourism in Bhutan.

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The increase in the SDF is also in line with Bhutan’s ‘High Value, Low Volume’ tourism policy. The SDF, however, has exemption on day tourists, who do not travel beyond the first designated point, five-year-olds and below, and children between six and 12 years would receive the concessionary levy rate of 50 percent.

The competent authority shall implement the provisions of this Act; license, register or certify tourism service providers; and regulate and monitor the quality of tourism services including hotels.  The authority has access to information, documents and the places of business of tourism service providers at all reasonable time by providing prior written notice to the service provider as may be required. It will also determine, promulgate and enforce requirements and code of conduct for all tourism service providers.

The Act will supersede all previous notifications, circulars, guidelines, rules and regulations on tourism to the extent they are inconsistent with the provisions of the Act.

Pandemic-affected project completion dates to be rescheduled

Thu, 06/23/2022 - 11:46

Dechen Dolkar  

Following requests from contractors, the Ministry of Finance (MoF) has approved the rescheduling of the completion dates for ongoing construction works affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Construction Association of Bhutan (CAB) requested the government to consider re-scheduling the completion date for ongoing construction works.

Due to the pandemic, the import of construction materials and labourers was a challenging task, which led to delays in executing the projects.

The procuring agencies have been considering time extensions based on the contract document, however, the lack of evidentiary documents has impaired the extension of contracts beyond the contract agreement.

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The executive director of CAB, Tshering Younten, said that they had requested the government to consider rescheduling the date of the ongoing projects and not to impose a penalty on the liquidated damages (LD) for those projects that were already completed during the pandemic period.

The government has considered only the ongoing projects. “This consideration will benefit the ongoing projects and the big contractors. However, small contractors are not happy since the government has not considered the removal of penalty,” said the ED.  

In February this year, when they submitted the request to the government there were about 75 projects that were ongoing.

Tshering Younten said that now most of the construction must have been completed.

The ministry in its notification issued on June 21 stated that there are projects that are already behind schedule and are on the verge of failure.

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Therefore, the MoF recognising these unprecedented challenges and with the objective of normalising the present situation issued guidance to the procuring agencies for re-scheduling of the intended completion date for ongoing construction works.

The ministry asked to review all ongoing projects as per the present situation and determine if the existing duration is sufficient or not to complete the project.

However, for projects that are either not affected or the agreed duration is sufficient to complete the project, the contract duration will be retained as per the existing contract.

The ministry also notified that even if a project has entered the liquidated period (LD), it will be subject to review and eligible for a time extension.

During the rescheduled period, LD will not be imposed, however, once the rescheduled period completes imposition of LD will continue.

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The rescheduling will be one time for all the ongoing projects and any further time extension will be as per the contract documents.

The contractors after the time extension will ensure that there is strict compliance to ensure that contractual obligations are performed and penalties will be levied thereafter without exception as per the contract documents.

The notification was issued on June 21 and it will be effective from the date of issuance of the notification.

Tshering Younten also said that they have also requested the government for the cost escalation of the projects.

He said that the contractors are running into losses, especially those working on roads.

“During the tendering, the cost of a barrel of bitumen was Nu 6,000 and now it is Nu 11,000 to reach a site,” he said.

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Govt.’s focus to be on treatment and service provision: Health Minister

Thu, 06/23/2022 - 11:44

Nima Wangdi

The Cabinet approved the issuance of bar licences to all the hotels after “numerous and detailed deliberation”, said Health Minister Dechen Wangmo. A task force, she said, was formed and stakeholders consulted.

Lyonpo submitted this during the question hour at the National Council (NC) yesterday.

MP Kesang Chuki Dorjee said that Bhutan is one of the countries with the highest per capita alcohol consumption.

NC raised concerns about making the alcohol easily available and recommendations were submitted to the government.

Lyonpo said that ministry also conducted a number of studies to establish whether the ban would help reduction in alcohol consumption.

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Lyonpo said that the alcohol liver disease problem is on the rise and the ministry is concerned about it. “There is no dedicated organisation to take care of the alcohol addicts; a number of relevant organisations share responsibilities.”

“We will not be empowering citizens by imposing the ban on alcohol. We should now focus more on treatment and services for alcohol dependents, which we don’t have currently,” Lyonpo said.

She said that with the recent change in the alcohol policy, the number of bars but there is no evidence to prove that more bars have contributed to increased alcohol consumption.

According to Lyonpo, the issuance of bar licence was banned from 2015 until 2020. In the meanwhile, even grocery shops started selling alcohol and the volume of local-brewed ara remained the same.

Alcohol control strategy 2015-2020 was not implemented as it was not comprehensive enough.

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Lyonpo said the ministry now has a big opportunity to enhance proper addiction services. “This time it is alcohol; tobacco could be the next. We will deal with the same model. It is very important that we have service provision for the consumers.

“[Alcoholism] is not a disease that can be treated immediately with a medicine but it is related to mental health and requires repeated counselling.”

Returning to High Value, Low Volume

Thu, 06/23/2022 - 11:43

Director General of Tourism Council of Bhutan Dorji Dhradhul speaks about the transformation in the tourism sector. 

Why is the change in tourism happening?

The tourism transformation must be viewed within the larger context of national transformation. It is about the larger vision to prepare Bhutan for a new and resilient future. It is about the role of tourism as a strategic national asset that brings benefit to all Bhutanese and especially our future generation.

The transformation is a return to our root policy of high value, low volume and a renewed commitment to pursue this goal. It will reposition Bhutan as a high value, exclusive destination for discerning tourists. This also translates to raising our standard of infrastructure and service, re-skilling and up-skilling our service providers and providing meaningful and well-paying jobs that ultimately enhance the quality of life of all Bhutanese people.

 Is this the right time for the tourism transformation? 

The pandemic has exposed our vulnerabilities and has been a wake-up call to reflect and recalibrate. We want to emerge stronger out of the pandemic and make our tourism sector stronger and more resilient, by ensuring better incomes for all, so this is the right time.

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The proposed SDF seems to be very high. Will this not result in a decreased number of tourists?  

The current SDF was implemented since 1991 and has not been increased for the last two decades, and does not reflect inflation, rising purchasing power and growth of tourism pressure on the environment and society. The proposed SDF reflects our position as a high value, exclusive destination defined by the result of carefully crafted policies that have placed sustainability at the forefront. The SDF will address the rising negative externalities such as the carbon footprint of visitors and also uplift the quality of our infrastructure and services.

The luxury tourism market is one of the growing segments of the tourism industry, projected to grow to USD 45 billion by 2027 (Global Market Insight). Therefore, we have huge potential to tap into this market, which entails shifts in the customer segment for Bhutan.

What are the plans to make Bhutan a high value destination?

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Reinforcing high value, low volume tourism will result in a major facelift in the quality of infrastructure, services and experiences that will benefit not only the tourists but ourselves as well. Additionally, the overall transformation will provide the opportunity for service providers and stakeholders to innovate and grow.

Bhutan will re-brand itself and at the national level, the Government will invest heavily in branding, promotion, and marketing.

What are opportunities from the tourism transformation?

Under the current system, a tourist has not been able to fully exercise individual choice and subsequently, Bhutanese service providers have not had the incentives to innovate. The transformation provides huge opportunities for Bhutanese to innovate a range of diverse and authentic Bhutanese products and experiences.

As we provide high value services, Bhutanese people will also enjoy the high value infrastructure and services developed for tourism.

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While tourism will continue to be an important economic sector, given Bhutan’s long-term strategy of developing talent in areas such as IT, banking and finance, engineering, biotechnology etc, the scale of tourism is also being strategically calibrated. We must keep in mind that we only have a limited pool of youth in the country. If current practice continues, all our youth can be easily absorbed by tourism. Since the sector in its current set-up does not require much skills, it also becomes an easy employment option and an easy way to make money. This would however be a grave injustice to our youth.  

The transformation therefore places our youth at the center and is aimed to ensure that the economic gains trickle down to our youth in the form of higher skills and remuneration and youth will be highly trained, skilled and specialized in their fields of operation, also making their work more meaningful and fulfilling.

To be continued ….

Mongar, Gelephu hospitals to perform overseas Visa health screening

Thu, 06/23/2022 - 11:42

Nima Wangdi  

For the convenience of the people wishing to travel abroad, two more regional hospitals, Mongar and Gelephu will facilitate health examinations for overseas Visa purposes from next month provided the ministry of foreign affairs approves it.

This is expected to reduce the workload at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH). Only JDWNRH is recognised to perform health examinations for overseas Visa purposes and it led to a large number of backlog cases.

Having received some cases of people travelling all the way from places like Trashigang to Thimphu for the health examination and not being able to get appointments, regional hospitals starting the service should help.

Health ministry officials said the ministry proposed foreign affairs ministry to allow the two regional hospitals to perform the task. This is in view of the increase in demand from the people. The foreign affairs ministry would approve it in consultation with the receiving countries.

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The official said if needed the service may also be started in some cluster hospitals with approval from the foreign affairs ministry in future. “Board of doctors are also being constituted in the cluster hospitals in Tsirang, Wangdue, Samtse, Bumthang, Trashigang, Dewathang and Phuentsholing.”

An MoH official said, JDWNRH currently is working hard to clear the backlog. “It is expected to complete in about two weeks.”

JDWNRH’s officiating medical superintendent, Dr Norbu said that the hospital was working hard to clear all the backlog so that people can apply in time for July admission. “We have increased the number of daily cases from eight to some 40 today including weekends.”

Dr Norbu said, with the backlog and the pressure from the people, the JDWNRH administration requested doctors and other professionals to work for free. “We are doing this following the order from the Ministry of Health.”

Change approach to fight drugs

Thu, 06/23/2022 - 11:40

When the Royal Bhutan Police embarked on its fight against drugs in December 2013, they claimed the nationwide drug crackdown would make the society drug-free.

Almost nine years later, the fight is still on. Offences related to controlled substances are a major issue in the country today.  The number of drug peddlers has not reduced. Police publish their photos on social media almost every other day.

During the peak of the pandemic, controlled substances and tobacco products were some of the most trafficked items from across the border. In 2020 alone, even when movements were restricted, there were 455 cases of drugs, which included substance abuse by minors.

After the nationwide drug crackdown began, more than 7,000 people have gone behind the bars. Records state 712 people were arrested in 2014 for offences related to drugs, followed by 515 in 2014. In 2017, 555 people were arrested for the offence and in 2018, 620 people were arrested.

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What is clear from the figures is that the number of people involved in drugs did not decrease after the crackdown. And with drugs penetrating the borders as it did before the crackdown, the fight did not meet its intended purpose.

This makes us question the mode of the operation. Many are asking if our police are catching the small fish and leaving the drug lords or the main people who are supplying the controlled substances. But there is a good news. Thimphu police claimed one of the main dealers was arrested from Jungshina recently. We are yet to know the details.

However, with the illegal drug trade continuing, if not flourishing, isn’t it time to find some effective drug control mechanism? Isn’t it time to focus on treatment, awareness and sensitisation?

We need a rationale drug control programme that includes everyone, not just law enforcers and penalties. Educating society on the adverse impacts of pharmaceutical drugs and substance abuse on youth is necessary.

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Society is failing miserably when we dump our youth, who experimented marijuana and abused it, together with hard core criminals.

We also have to streamline the application of laws on drugs.

While our law enforcers and nodal agency for matters related to narcotics drugs, psychotropic substances and substance abuse, close their eye on a firm that produces and sells hemp extracts in Thimphu, they raid homes and farms to curb the distribution of marijuana. Like farmers of Baelangdra in Wangduephodrang and Shingkhar Lauri in Samdrupjongkhar, 100s of people go behind bars for possession and trafficking of cannabis.   

We need a society free of drugs, but we also need rationale laws and their application.

Budget constraints lead to 12th plan project cancellation

Thu, 06/23/2022 - 11:38

Dechen Dolkar

The government will not be able to carry out infrastructure projects in the financial year (FY) 2022-23 which were deferred due to the reprioritisation of 12th FYP last year due to time and budget constraints.

The government last year deferred several national infrastructure projects, including roads and bridges.

During the question hour at National Assembly yesterday, MP Lungten Namgyel from Nanong-Shumar questioned the Prime Minister on the status of those projects.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the government had to defer the projects that will not boost the economy in the country.

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Lyonchhen said that since all the construction projects are dependent on Indians, the government decided to focus on projects that does not require labour import.

“Government deferred constructions of government offices for the budget of Nu 1.5B in 12th plan,” Lyonchhen said.

It includes the construction of the ministry of foreign affairs, education ministry, and agriculture and forest ministry offices.

Lyonchhen mentions that in some dzongkhags there is a need to construct a court and some offices, walls and gates. “Each will cost a minimum of Nu 500,000 to Nu 600,000.”

Lyonchhen said that the government also cancelled in-country training and construction of highways.

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However, Lyoncheen said: “If the projects are mentioned in the budget report for FY 2022-23, they will be constructed.”

The capital expenditure was spent in the construction of roads, drinking water supply and irrigation channels. The government has to spend an additional Nu 500M.  Currently, about 130 projects are underway.

The government also spent on the farm roads for granular sub-base (GSB).

Lyonchhen mentioned that out of 12,000km farm roads in the country, around 9000km need base course which will cost around Nu 16B.

Phase one of GSB has been completed with the budget of Nu 2.5B; in some gewogs, phase two has started and it would cost around Nu 3B.

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“Government is planning to complete the second phase GSB within one and a half years,” Lyonchhen said.

Lyonchhen said that money was also spent on the construction of a quarantine centre at the border areas to accommodate more than 3,000 people at the cost of around Nu 2.5B.

The government also constructed more than 15km of a wall at the border.

The cost of schooling children 

Thu, 06/23/2022 - 11:37

Tshering Namgyal | Lhuentse

It’s been almost three years since Tshomo from Goenpa Karpo village in remote Lhuentse has been living away from home in order to educate her children in Khoma.

Constructing a makeshift hut on a leased land cost her more than Nu 50,000. it has been her second home from which her children walks to school.

Khoma Lower Secondary School offered to take care of her three children in the hostel. However, she opted to keep the younger ones, studying in classes II and I, as day scholars. The eldest studying in class VII stays in the hostel.

Tshomo’s main duty is to cook meals, wash clothes and takes care of them. She is not alone.

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There are at least 10 parents who live temporary shacks adjacent to the school campus so that their children can continue going to school. As the children Parents leave the shacks and move to their villages after their children attend higher classes.

Tshomo says she was compelled to stay there because her children were too reluctant to stay in the hostel. Unlike in the past, she said the kids were too young to take care of themselves because of the early enrollment at five years.

“They are not able to eat properly and we are worried if they are kept in the school, although there are caregivers in the schools. Most of the time their belongings are missing but we can’t blame anyone.”

Khoma LSS is more than four-hour walk down from Goenpakarpo. The return journey takes almost day. Although the village was recently connected with a farm road, it is more than two-hour drive from Khoma. But there is hardly any vehicles and the fares are expensive.

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She said an extended classroom in the village could address the issue. It could also help those in the neighbouring villages like Nyalamdung, Drakteng and Lingdung villages. One of the remotest villages in Khoma gewog, Goenpakarpo village has around 23 households.

A day school at Baptong was closed recently. It made little difference to her children because they had to walk two hours through thick jungle to and from school. However, closure of the primary school has affected many other nearby residents.

They said they have raised the issue in various meetings.

Drimed Wangmo from Berpa village, less than an hour away from Baptong, has moved to Khoma to look after her niece studying in class I since her brother had to go for paddy cultivation. “Every day, I have to fight with her to get to school. Wondering how the school manages her.”

Another parent from Berpa walks to school every day with her daughter, a class II student.

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“We can take care better of our children at home and also do our farm work,” Pema Lhazom said.

According to sources, the closure of school depends on enrollment, and education policy mandates a minimum of 20 students to qualify for ECR and 25 and above students for a primary school.

At least 10 schools including two ECRs were closed down over the last 10 years in the dzongkhag. Kuensel learned that Lhuentse dzongkhag has three newly constructed ECCD centers that are non-operational without instructors.

FC Takin leads 2022 BPL qualifiers

Thu, 06/23/2022 - 11:37

Thinley Namgay    

FC Takin lead the ongoing 2022 Bhutan Premier League (BPL) qualifiers without losing a single game. FC Takin has secured 18 points from six games as of yesterday.    

The newly established Royal Thimphu College (RTC) FC are in second place with 13 points followed by Ugyen Academy FC and Paro Rinpung FC with 12 and 10 points, respectively.        

Eleven teams are competing for the six spots in the upcoming BPL 2022. 

In a highly contested game yesterday, Terton FC drew Namlha FC 1-1. Namlha FC broke the deadlock at 44 minutes through Ajit Gurung and made it 1-0 before the first half. However, Yenten Phuntsho equalised for Terton FC in the 66th minute.

Terton FC have eight points, followed by BFF Academy FC and Tensung FC with six and five points, respectively. 

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Thimphu Raven FC and Namlha FC have four points each and Friends United FC earned three points. Gelser FC is yet to register a point after five matches. 

On June 21, FC Takin came from behind to beat Friends United FC 3-2. 

Friends United FC will face BFF Academy FC at 4pm, and Thimphu Raven FC will play against RTC FC at 7pm today.  

The BPL 2022 will begin on August 13 with 10 teams. Coronation Cup Champion Druk Lhayul FC, 2021 BPL Champion Paro FC, Thimphu City FC and Transport United FC have already booked their places in the league.  

The qualifiers organised by the Bhutan Football Federation tournament will end on July 5.   

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Bhutan defeated Bahrain by 63 runs

Thu, 06/23/2022 - 11:35

Bhutan defeated Bahrain by 63 runs yesterday in the last game of the ongoing Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Women’s T20 Championship 2022 in Malaysia. This is the first win for Bhutan in four games. 

Bhutan made 126 runs losing only two wickets in 20 overs. The opponent managed 63 runs at the cost of six wickets in 20 overs.  Dechen Wangmo, 29, who snatched 64 runs not out was declared the player of the match yesterday.

NC supports two money Bills

Thu, 06/23/2022 - 11:34

Thukten Zangpo 

National Council (NC) members supported the Fiscal Incentives (Amendment) Bill 2022 and the Goods and Services Tax (Amendment) Bill 2022 yesterday.

The Bills were forwarded to the NC after their adoption in the National Assembly (NA) on June 19. The NA adopted the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill deferring implementation to when the GST system is ready.

Introducing the GST Bill to the house yesterday, Finance Minister Namgay Tshering, said that the software component, Bhutan Integrated Taxation System (BITS) development was not ready.

The National Assembly yesterday continued with the third reading of the Forest and Nature Conservation Bill of Bhutan 2021 for the fifth day

He also said that International Monetary Fund and Singaporean experts said the BITS lacked the auditing and tax compliance system.

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Lyonpo also added that it was unfavourable to implement GST when the economy was still recovering from the pandemic.

He added that the GST system was intended to fix tax leakages and double taxation.

Chukha NC member, Sangay Dorji said that the government had spent Nu 220 million (M) to develop BITS of the total budget of Nu 570M and of the total Nu 30M to Armenian developers.

He asked whether the BITS contract awarded to Thimphu TechPark Limited (TTPL) would continue the work and who would be held responsible for the failure to deliver.

Lyonpo said that the contract had been terminated temporarily as the TTPL could not deliver the required BITS solution.

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However, he said that the government was thinking about the re-engineering process and asked the TTPL’s opinion, and other international experts to chart the way forward.

He added that the contractual agreement was between the finance ministry and the TTPL, and Armenian developers partnered with TTPL.

The minister also said that they could employ about 40 graduates which contributed to knowledge transfer and capital formation.

 On the Fiscal Incentives (Amendment) Bill, the National Assembly endorsed repealing Section 56(1) of the Fiscal Incentives Act of Bhutan 2021 since it was redundant and covered by Section 51 of the Act.

The Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) in a letter to the finance ministry stated that the access to convertible currency was being governed by the Foreign Exchange Rules and Regulations as empowered by the RMA Act 2010 as opposed to the Fiscal Incentives Act of Bhutan.

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It means that the manufacturing units have to earn in convertible currencies from the export of their finished products to get full Sales Tax and Customs duty exemption on the import of raw materials from countries other than India.

However, the RMA asked the finance ministry to dismiss the convertible currency earning requirement as a precondition for exemption in March this year.

The Lyonpo also said that the Fiscal Incentives Act 2021 provided concessionary rates and investment allowance to make the economy stronger including reduced tax rate from 30 percent to 10 percent for the small, cottage, and micro-businesses located in border towns.

Bumthang NC member and chairperson of the good governance committee, Nima, said that the money Bills’ effective dates are not in conformity with the Public Finance Act 2012 and asked if the Act could be discussed in this session.

The effective dates of money Bills have been deferred despite Section 46B of the Act prescribing that such Bills shall be applied retroactively from the date it was initially tabled in the National Assembly. Lyonpo said that the Act is under review and almost ready.

Le Judre: The Law of Cause and Effect

Wed, 06/22/2022 - 18:41

Le judre (ལས་རྒྱུ་འབྲས་) or the law of cause and effect is one of the most fundamental concepts in Buddhism. Predating Buddhism, it is a concept shared by other Indian religious traditions including Brahmanism and Jainism. However, the concept of karma in the Buddhist tradition differs from that of other religions or the oft-cited claim that what goes around comes around or every action has an equal reaction. The Buddhists consider the theory of karma to be a vast and abstruse topic (དོན་ཟབ་པ་དང་རྒྱ་ཆེ་བ་) so much so that only the omniscient Buddha can fully fathom it. A great number of Buddhist philosophical treatises deal with the theoretical analysis of karma in depth and detail while Buddhist literature such as the Jātakas also contain stories to illustrate the way karma works.

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The moral theory of karma arises as a corollary of the central Buddhist philosophy of tendrel or dependent arising. The philosophy of dependent arising or law of causation asserts that (1) things do not come of nothing but out of causes and conditions, (2) things do not come out of an eternal cause but causes and results are impermanent and subject to change, (3) and that causes and results correspond to each other. It is in the context of this philosophical theory of causation that the Buddhists espouse the moral theory of karma or le judre that all sentient experiences are outcomes of their causal actions committed beforehand. They do not come out of nothing or from an eternal cause such as a creator God but from the positive and negative actions committed in the past. In this respect, all actions, which are ethically charged, lead to resultant existential experiences. Good virtuous actions give rise to pleasant experiences and bad non-virtuous actions bring about unpleasant experiences of suffering. For example, compassion gives rise to peace both in this life and future lifetimes while aggression leads to violence and short life. Neutral actions, like sterile seeds, do not produce results.

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Like a single seed giving rise to numerous fruits, the actions do not just lead to an equal outcome but give rise to much greater results. Thus, a single homicide is believed to lead to being killed five hundred times and simple act of giving lead to great wealth in the future. Some ethically charged positive and negative actions are said to definitely bring about results while for others their process of maturation can be thwarted or suppressed by a counteractive force. For example, an action can be overcome through rituals of confession and reparation although what can be expiated differs from one Buddhist school to another. Vajrayāna Buddhist traditions in Bhutan claim that even most heinous actions such as matricide can be expiated through confession and purification. Some actions are said to bring about result in the current lifetime, others in the next or in the subsequent lifetimes.

What is positive or negative and right or wrong in the Buddhist theory of karma is determined by the state of one’s mind. The Buddha taught a voluntaristic theory of karma proclaiming karma to be primarily intention. Speaking against the Brahminical and Jain theories of karma as physical and material phenomena, he declared, “O Monks! Karma, I declare, is intention. Having intended, the body, speech and mind perform action” (Aṅguttaranikāya, iii, 415). It is virtuous, non-virtuous and neutral intentions, which make actions positive, negative and neutral. The three kinds of actions then bring respectively happiness, suffering or no results. An intention is negative when aroused by emotions such as attachment, greed, hatred, ignorance, arrogance and jealousy, and positive when inspired by calm, composed, clear, compassionate and righteous state of the mind.

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This moral philosophy of karma with intention/volition at its heart forms the basis of the Buddhist soteriological and ethical system. Karma is not merely an intellectual topic broached by philosophers and scholars but a belief espoused by the devout masses. In Bhutan, le judre is a very popular religious concept used to explain the past and present state of being and also shape the future. It is the foundation of Bhutanese moral conscience, which guides people to good and avoid bad things.

His Holiness ordains 144 nuns

Wed, 06/22/2022 - 11:15

Rinzin Wangchuk 

About 144 nuns from Bhutan and neighbouring countries received Gelongma vows from His Holiness the Je Khenpo at Ramthangkha, Paro yesterday.

Organised and registered by the Bhutan Nuns Foundation, His Holiness ordained the nuns for the first time in Bhutan.

Her Majesty Gyalyum Tshering Yangdoen Wangchuck, Dratshang’s Dorji Lopon, Tshogki Lopon and Laytshog Lopon attended the ordination ceremony.

Dratshang’s media focal person said that Ramthangkha is considered a sacred place where Gelongma Pelmo, who was an Indian princess and became an ordained nun, practised Nyungne or fasting ritual. The ordained monks or nuns have to abide by hundreds of vows like not to kill, not to steal, not commit sexual misconduct, not lie, and not consume intoxicants, etc.

His Holiness is considered as the only spiritual head with the unbroken transmission of high ordination (Ngyendzog Dompa) of the Drukpa Kagyu tradition. His Holiness ordained hundreds of monks at the Gyetshuel level (novitiate) and at the Ngyendzog (celibate) level from various religious institutions in the country since 1997 and also ordained hundreds of monks from outside Bhutan.

Several monks, including Khamtrul Rinpoche Shedrup Nima of the Tashijong Khampa Ghar Dratshang in Himachal Pradesh and Drupchen Khamchey Dratshang in Darjeeling, India, received both Gyetshuel and Ngyendzog Dompa from His Holiness.

Tourism Levy Bill not just about USD 200: Lyonchhen

Wed, 06/22/2022 - 11:15

Phurpa Lhamo

The introduction of the Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022, which increases the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) to USD 200 per night for a tourist would be used to reinvest into making Bhutan a high-end tourist destination. 

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said this was one of the major reasons why the sector needed reform when he appeared on national television on June 21. 

Lyonchhen said that moving forward, the plan is to invest in the sector and make Bhutan a high-end tourist destination. Investing and improving the sector would mean improving the guides, hygiene and sanitation, food services, and ensuring a safe society.

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that with the amendment, the government with Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) would focus on promoting Bhutan as a tourist destination globally. 

With the Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022, the minimum daily package rate (MDPR), which includes the royalty of USD 65 would be removed. 

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The purpose of removing the MDPR and introducing USD 200 SDF was to encourage and ensure tourists the luxury to choose and spend more daily.

On tourists spending an average of Nu 200 on a meal and around Nu 2,000 on lodging, Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that the impact of making less money by the owners trickled down to the employees. 

He pointed out that currently, most employees in the service sector could not make a proper living. The target is to have tourists spend more in the country to benefit more people.

Lyonchhen said that to date, “middlemen” had made more money despite tourists spending USD 500 or more. “The plan is to have the agents connect with the tourist directly.”

Hosting high-end tourists, Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said would also ensure Bhutanese learn from the tourists. 

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On the timing of the Bill, Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that with international experts already forecasting that the tourism sector would take about three years to bounce back to the pre-pandemic level the bill wouldn’t affect the industry. 

To take advantage of the reform, Lyonchhen said that operators and those in the sector should be innovative and bring forth ideas. 

As for regional tourists, they would still only be imposed the SDF of Nu 1,200 per night. They would have to hire a guide and pay to bring their car or hire one.  

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that the new rules for regional tourists would be monitored for around three years and revised if they didn’t work.

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This reform is expected to bring opportunities for guides and drivers due to an increase in the number of tourist arrivals to around 300,000 from a mere 70,000 (international tourists) in the past. 

The Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022, Lyonchhen said was for the greater good of the country and the future generations and that the benefits from the tourism sector should not only go to those in the sector but to the country and its people. 

“Every Bhutanese is a stakeholder of the tourism sector.”