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Bhutan's Daily Newspaper
Updated: 1 hour 2 min ago

Focus point

2 hours 34 min ago

Picture story

3 hours 8 min ago

 Residents of Gelephu drungkhag use temporary bridges to cross the Moakhola 

No transfer, no salary

3 hours 10 min ago

To ensure that transferred health professionals leave to their new workplace, the health ministry’s human resource committee had written to the medical superintendent of JDWNRH and the dzongkhags to stop payment of salary to health personnel who are not relieved with immediate effect.

The  April 11 letter stated that as mandated by section 14.7.5 of the Bhutan Civil Service Rules 2018, civil servants who are transferred should be relieved within 30 days from the date issue of the transfer order. Health professionals are civil servants.

A health ministry official said that the letter was issued after the Cabinet did not agree to the appeals made by 12 officials.

Of that, four were doctors including two specialists. The two specialists worked with the JDWNRH on attachment.

Kuensel learnt that the transfer of a pediatrician to Mongar regional referral hospital was earlier revoked. This has reignited the issue of placement of specialists at hospitals that are not well- equipped for them to practice their skills.

Bangladesh is expected to send 20 specialists and four sub-specialists once the cabinet approves their pay packages.

They would be placed at the JDWNRH, Mongar Regional Referral Hospital, Gelephu Central Regional Referral Hospital (GCRRH) and some district hospitals. The government has proposed a salary of about Nu 345,000 for specialist and about Nu 311,000 for the sub-specialists who would be on contract.

While the arrival of specialists would ease the burden on doctors at home, there are concerns that the hospitals are not yet ready to receive specialists in terms of infrastructure.

The government during the campaign period said that facilities at district hospitals and basic health units are deficient and have not been improved and upgraded for decades.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that his government would strengthen the facilities and services of the dzongkhag hospitals to the level of the national referral hospital to reduce patient waiting time and ensure quality health care.

The decision has come under criticism with some questioning the logic of sending specialist to hospitals without facilities.

“The specialists in the dzongkhags would be showing the direction to solutions in Thimphu rather than finding the solution,” a doctor said.  “That’ll only result in wastage of the expertise and resources.”

Kuensel learnt that the health ministry has already circulated a letter to all hospitals asking them to list the requirements in equipment and facilities should specialists be placed there.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that the equipment and facilities would be in place before the specialists arrive.

“Procurement of equipment is already in pipeline through the flagship programme and facilities would be made available as pledged,” the minister said.

She said that equipment such as X-ray, ultrasound, complete blood count machines would be procured and sent to the hospitals.

Once the regional and district hospitals are furbished with the equipment, most of the cases would be taken care, the minister said.

“The bigger machines like MRI could take little longer, as we need a contract with the supplier, then find technicians, but for other machines it would be fairly efficient,” she said.

She said that the ministry would place dialysis machines in Wangdue hospital to cater to patients from Gasa, Punakha, and other neighbouring dzongkhags.

The minister said that in the case of cancer clinic, equipment are in place and waiting for specialists.

Tshering Palden

Inaugurated treatment plant still not operationalised

3 hours 12 min ago

Two months after it was inaugurated, the wastewater treatment plant in Hejo, Thimphu is not yet operationalised.

Thimphu thromde has still not connected the wastewater pipelines from the households to the treatment plant.

Funded by JICA, the treatment plant was constructed at a cost of 100 million Japanese Yen. Mokan Joka System Co. Ltd based in Japan with M/s Vajra Builders as the local constructor constructed the plant.

Thromde officials said the pipes could not be connected due to budget constraints. In an earlier interview with Kuensel, a thromde official had said that thromde was waiting for the plant’s construction to complete for it to connect the sewer lines to about 30 households.

Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said the works and human settlement ministry kept the thromde in the dark while the work was carried out and that the plant was also inaugurated in his absence.

“I am unaware about how many pipes are connected or not and I cannot comment on this as I’m also in the dark,” the thrompon said yesterday

One of the thromde officials said that some of them learnt about the plant only during the inauguration even though the thromde would have to construct a similar plant nearby to meet the requirement of Hejo’s population.

“But we cannot do anything until we’ve the budget and if we were involved from the start then we would have managed,” the official said. “We’ll have to keep it on hold unless we have budget and future scope of expansion is not even in discussion.” Kuensel learnt that JICA has planned a visit to the plant next month.

The thromde was supposed to hold a public consultation in Hejo to connect the lines after the inauguration. At the consultation, Kuensel learnt that the residents were never informed about such a plant coming up in their locality.

Kawang demkhong theumi Ugyen Penjor said that besides the residents, even he was unaware about the plan. He said that he was informed only two days before the inauguration.

“Nor the thromde or the ministry informed us about the plant coming up in Hejo,” he said. “We knew about the plant only when we were invited for the inauguration and I was asked to gather the residents.”

Ugyen Penjor said at the inauguration they learnt that residents should connect the pipes to the plant. He added that thromde officials then presented them the cost estimation, which ranged from Nu 60,000 to Nu 200,000.

“The residents were supposed to connect pipes from their homes until the manhole, after which thromde should connect it to the plant,” he said.

However, Ugyen Penjor said that even if they did their share, it was of no use because the thromde has still not connected the sewer lines. About 18 residents of the 80 households were interested and five have already started.

Thromde charges a connection fee of Nu 3,000 per household.

Works and human settlement ministry claims that the plant is now handed over to the Thromde but thromde officials said there was no well-planned transition.

An official from the ministry said the thromde was already given three months to connect the sewer lines before inauguration and that thromde officials including the thrompon were involved in the project since the start.

The thrompon had also signed a MoU and had been involved in site visits and identification of the project site.

Construction of the treatment plant began in 2017 after the Department of Engineering Services signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Mokan-Joka System (MJS) of Japan and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in December 2016.

“From the ministry’s side, the work is complete and after the inauguration, it was thromde’s responsibility to keep it operational,” an official said. “Even two officials from the thromde were sent to Japan to especially study about this particular project and numerous meetings were held with the thromde to carry out the project.”

However, the officials who were sent to Japan have today left for their studies in Australia.

An official with the ministry said that as a temporary measure to keep the plant running, about 33,000 liter of sewerage waste was brought from Dechencholing area to fill the plant. “The plant might remain empty if not connected soon.”

When operational, the sewerage treatment system would cater to 86 households and more than 700 people in lower Hejo. It would prevent secondary pollution such as foul smell, is cheaper, takes limited space and can be operated unattended.

The plant constructed with locally available materials and using simple technologies would help the residents from having to clean the septic tanks manually.

Yangchen C Rinzin

ACC and RAA investigate thromde’s sewer line 

3 hours 14 min ago

If you find stretches of road dug up in Thimphu thromde these days causing inconveniences to commuters, it is not because the roads are old and worn out.

It’s the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) and Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) officials verifying if the number of manholes constructed along the sewer lines within the thromde area are proportionate to the actual payment made.

Sources said the RAA, after auditing the thromde, issued a memo stating that about 47 manholes were not constructed as reflected in the report.

A source said that the ACC, based on the RAA findings, wrote to RAA if the two institutions could verify it together since the thromde officials claimed that the manholes were buried under the road’s blacktopping.

As of yesterday evening, ACC and RAA officials said they did not know the outcome of the verification.

“The physical verification took place in the last three days,” a source said. “Our officials would have to compile a report and submit it.”

The last physical verification took place in Taba yesterday. Motithang, Langjuphaka and Yangchenphug areas were also dug up for verification on April 17 and 18.

“The manholes are not supposed to be buried under the blacktop,” a source said. “It should be at the level of the road’s surface to clear sewer blocks.”

Staff reporter

Eight sentenced in Thimphu land grabbing case

3 hours 15 min ago

Thimphu dzongkhag court’s criminal bench sentenced eight people, involving a dzongkhag staff and his wife, a local leader, two former gups and three Thimphu residents to prison for encroaching on state land and regularising it illegally.

The judgment passed yesterday sentenced the dzongkhag staff, Mindu Dorji, to three years in prison for forgery and encroaching on state land.

Mindu Dorji was found guilty of fraudulently measuring 63.12 decimal of land between Soridrang and Kashingbagor in Babesa (above the Dantak area) in Thimphu in 2000. The land was the (tsamdro) grazing ground of Baap Tshalumaphey in the past.

He was given a year for forgery, as he forged documents stating that a 10 decimal land he bought from Kuenga Choden at Pashingang Jabchogzama below Talakha lhakhang is between Soridrang and Kashingbagor.

He was given another two years prison term for state land encroachment, as he increased the 10 decimal land to 63.12 decimal and registered it in his wife’s name.

Mindu Dorji was found guilty of violating the Land Act 1979, illegally registering state land and fraudulent measurement of state land.

The court also ordered him to restitute the 63.12 decimal land to the government and pay Nu 86,945 as penalty. Although he was imposed a penalty of Nu 549,901, the judgment stated that he paid Nu 462,956 to the government as extra land payment.

The judgment stated that on July 28, 2000, the then Council of Ministers instructed the home ministry to regularise excess land falling within the extended Thimphu City Corporation (TCC) area in compliance with the 58th National Assembly resolution of 1983.

The ministry was required to complete the survey and necessary regularisation before transferring the records to TCC. The Department of Survey and Land Records (DSLR) had surveyed and executed changes.

Accordingly, Mindu Dorji’s wife Pemo had deposited the excess land fee for the 53.12 decimal on government rate of Nu 20 per sq ft amounting to Nu 462,956, while the land registered in her original thram was only 10 decimals.

Chang gup Kanjur, two former gups, Naku and Kencho, three residents of Chang gewog, Namgay, Gyeltshen and Bjabcho and Mindu Dorji’s wife Pemo were sentenced to six months each in prison for signing on the no objection certificate Mindu Dorji prepared for his wife Pemo, which stated that the land is between Soridrang and Kashingbagor.

They were found guilty of violating section Na 1 and 2 of the Thrimzhung Chenmo.

The eight people could pay thrimthue in lieu of prison term, as it is compoundable sentencing.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) discovered the alleged crime sometime between 2012 and 2015 when it was investigating another encroachment and illegal regularisation of state land involving a former assistant survey officer of the erstwhile Thimphu City Corporation (TCC). 

The investigation found that sometime in 2005, Chazam Rinpoche purchased a plot measuring 63.12 decimals from Pemo for Nu 3.945 million. It was during the period when the thram record for the municipal area was being handled by the TCC after it was handed over by the DSLR.

The case was about suspected bribery and illegal registration of 46.88 decimals of government land at Tshalumaphey, Semtokha in the name of Chagzampa Drubthop Rinpoche or Chagzam Rinpoche.

The investigation was based on the Royal Audit Authority’s referral, which was followed by similar letters from the National Land Commission secretariat, and the TCC requesting the ACC to investigate the matter.

Tashi Dema 

H1N1 outbreak under control

3 hours 17 min ago

The recent Influenza A- H1N1 outbreak in Bumthang is under control with the number of infected people visiting hospital declining from 30 to 35 a day to about a dozen these days.

Since the first case was reported on April 8, about 227 people were reported to have been infected by influenza A H1N1 pandemic 2009 causing seasonal flu.

Of the total infected, around 90 percent were students of Wangdicholing lower secondary school (WLSS), Bumthang. The first incident was reported on April 8 when 45 students did not come to school. Some were sent home and some referred to hospital.

Medical Officer of Wangdicholing hospital Dr Pema Wangchuk said the samples from the infected were sent to the Royal Center for Disease Control for investigation, which confirmed the disease as Influenza A- H1N1. However, the doctor said it is a normal seasonal flu that occurs every year, especially during early spring and winter.

Signs and symptom of influenza are fever, cough, headache, muscle and joint pains, sore throat and runny nose, sometimes with vomiting and diarrhoea.

Students are infected easily mainly because of congestion, lack of hand hygiene practice and not having preventive measures for cough, according to health officials. The hospital organised advocacy and preventive measures to avoid further spreading of the disease.

As per the report from WLSS, about 64 infected students could not attend regular classes until April 15. Although the number decreased, there are students not being able to attend classes while some teachers were also infected.

This is the second consecutive outbreak. Last winter more than 350 people were infected by the same virus.

The current outbreak falls under the moderate category, where preventive measure and sensitization programme and treatment could work.

Nim Dorji | Bumthang

Challenges facing tourism sector

3 hours 19 min ago

At a time when the government is making serious effort to take tourism to the top, reports tell us that a lot of things ought to be improved first if tourism is to be the biggest contributor to the nation’s economy.

Tourism Council of Bhutan’s (TCB) exit survey 2018 found that banking services, communications and toilet facilities in the country are some of the areas where development is necessary.

More than 20 percent of tourists said that they were dissatisfied with the banking system, including exchange, point of sale, and ATM services. And, likewise, 15 percent of visitors from abroad said communication facilities, including Internet and telephone services, could be improved.  A poor toilet facility in the country has long been a problem, not only for visitors but also for the local people.

According to Bhutan Tourism Monitor, 274,097 tourists visited Bhutan last year, 7.61 percent increase compared with that of 2017. In the came year, the country’s second biggest revenue contributor, saw its earning go up by USD 5.6 million compared with that of the previous year.

TCB has already selected Lhuentse, Zhemgang, Dagana, Gasa, and Samtse as priority dzongkhags to develop tourism in the country. The gross receipt from tourism is expected to increase from Nu 10.6 billion in 2018 to about Nu 39.16 billion in the next five years. Similarly, direct revenue contribution is expected to cross Nu 5.48B, about Nu 3.91 more than in 2018. What this means is that we should be prepared for arrival growth.

But we have challenges. The sector is not able to sell Bhutan as an exclusive destination. That fact that more than 80 percent of the respondents said that they were satisfied with the facilities and services during their visit to Bhutan, the challenges are not all too big. The danger is that if we fail to improve basic services for the visitors, value for money will take the hardest beating. And that will not be good for the future of tourism development in the country.

Therefore, besides product development, we must also focus on development of services in the country. They are both equally important.

Efforts on to revive DKT

3 hours 22 min ago

Efforts by two separate interest groups to form political parties for the 2018 elections were unsuccessful after the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) denied them registration.

Jigme Dukpa

However, former civil servant Jigme Dukpa, one of the interest groups behind Druk Kuenphen Tshogpa (DKT), is making efforts to revive the aspiring party for the 2023 elections.

To read more, please subscribe by registering at www.ekuensel.com

In love with butterflies and other stories

3 hours 23 min ago

Literature, in any form, reflects the society of a place and time.

Most writers weave stories from a life lived. From a world seen. And for the conditions endured. When journalists write, the fiction is based on true life.

In writing and publishing 30-short stories in a book In Love with Butterflies and Other Stories, what these two former journalists, Sonam Tashi and Riku Dhan Subba, have done is to make us look inward.

Perhaps, that’s what they were doing themselves when they were writing the stories. That’s how I feel, and no one needs to subscribe to this view.

Just read the book and look within your mind.

As a former journalist, I went through the same pang and angst. At times I even curbed the exuberance of reporters to a level that the management thought was acceptable to our society, much to my own regret, and of course the reporter’s chagrin.

The writers (Sonam and Riku) were friends since their school days. Coming from different social backgrounds, their thoughts converged on the same thing – our evolving Bhutanese society.

They touch upon some quite a few sensitive issues that we Bhutanese would gossip about, even condemn it when it is raised in our own intimate inner circle of like-minded friends but will never come out against it in the open. These are just few instances but there are many that need to be addressed.

It is usually said that every journalist has a book in him or her. Some write to grind their own personal stone, some to display that they know better than the others and to see their name in print (even if no one buys the book). Some write with the hope that the society they live in will change for the better for everyone.

We don’t bother much about the last part.

Having said all that, let’s get on with the book.

Bhutan is a small country. Everyone knows everyone and we are worried of hurting the sentiments of our much-clichéd small Bhutanese society. For all the misplaced sentiments, we are willing to look the other way. I look the other way, because it doesn’t hurt me. It doesn’t hurt my family.

The 1960s saw the opening of Bhutan. Before that we were a closed self-contained isolated society, very much satisfied with the way of our life. But then we needed to develop to keep up with the outside world.

Then the outside influences swamped us, diluting our own age-old cultural, social and economic values based on Buddhism, despite our own philosophy of Gross National Happiness. We didn’t know what to accept and what to reject. Smuggling of contraband goods and counterfeit currencies made their way into the newspaper columns.

The book also contains some stories of our social ills that we have accepted as part of our life. Alcoholism may seem like a minor social aberration (A Bottle of Promise) as compared to our efforts to please the visiting dignitary, (Chadi). Yet these are ills that we can do away with.

Today, I could understand why an expatriate worker with an international agency was so incensed about ‘night hunting’, which most Bhutanese took it as part of village social life. It is through acceptance that these practices begin to cause physical and mental damages to persons and society.

The book contains stories that are serious, humorous and almost frivolous – stories that we did come across at one time or the other in our life (wherein we may also have played a part unwittingly).

But did we ever pause to think how they would affect us?

Happy reading.


Contributed by 

KB Lama 

Publisher: Bhutan Printing Solution, Thimphu

ISBN No: 9789998085008

Number of pages: 192

Price: Nu 299

Tourists dissatisfied with banking, communications and toilet services

3 hours 26 min ago

Dissatisfaction in accessing banking services, communication and toilet facilities were the main complaints among tourists who visited Bhutan last year.

According to Tourism Council of Bhutan’s (TCB) exit survey 2018, about 12 percent of international and 10 percent of regional tourists said that they were dissatisfied with the banking system including exchange, point of sale, and ATM services. About 10 percent of international and five percent of regional tourist indicated dissatisfaction in accessing internet and telephone services.

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GoI to refund Nu 2.6B in excise duty for 2017

3 hours 27 min ago

The government of India (GoI) agreed to refund Nu 2.6 billion (B) in excise duty for 2017 at a signing event between the two countries on April 18 evening.

This is the last excise duty refund claim of Bhutan.

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Chagchen – The Great Seal

3 hours 29 min ago

Chagya Chenpo (ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ཆེན་པོ་) or Mahāmudrā, which literally translates as Great Seal, refers to a range of things including the topic of a very important and advanced meditation tradition well known in Bhutan. In its initial appearance in the early tantras in India, the term designated a hand gesture, which is a symbolic representation of the true nature of things. It also referred to the hand implements of the deities. In the later tantras, which are considered higher and more advanced, the term Mahāmudrā was used in the context of the four mudrās or seals alongside the seals of action (ལས་ཀྱི་ཕྱག་རྒྱ་), pledge (དམ་ཚིག་གི་ཕྱག་རྒྱ་) and dharma (ཆོས་ཀྱི་ཕྱག་རྒྱ་). In the yoginī class of tantras, it also refers to the spiritual consort for sexual yoga practice.

However, in its latest and most advanced use, Mahāmudrā refers to the ultimate nature of reality and the realization thereof. Like a royal seal which makes an order or document a binding royal edict, the ultimate nature of reality, as an innate characteristic of existence, binds all phenomena together. All things are bound by their ultimate nature of being empty, illusory and yet open and naturally present. It is this concept of Mahāmudrā as the innate and ultimate nature of one’s mind and all phenomena, and the corresponding meditation techniques, practices and experiences, which constitute the well-known and most revered tradition of Mahāmudrā in Bhutan and the Himalayas.

Mahāmudrā is practiced by all Himalayan Buddhist traditions although the Kagyupa school is most well known for the practice of Mahāmudrā. The essential teachings of Mahāmudrā are said to have been taught by the Buddha Vajradhara. In the most known lineage, Vajradhara taught Tilopa, who passed it down to the scholar Naropa, and he transmitted it to Marpa, who spread the teachings in Tibet. In another lineage, Vajradhara’s teachings were passed down through figures such as Saraha, Nāgārjuna, Śavaripa and Maitripa who passed it on to Marpa. Marpa taught the Mahāmudrā teachings to his disciples including Milarepa and the latter taught Gampopa. Gampopa synthesized the Mahāmudrā teachings in his technique of Mahāmudrā of Co-emergent Union (ཕྱག་ཆེན་ལྷན་ཅིག་སྐྱེས་སྦྱོར་) and Four Syllables (ཡི་གེ་བཞི་པ་). Similarly, Khyunpo Naljor, the founder of Shangpa tradition passed down the teachings through his Amulet Mahāmudra (ཕྱག་ཆེན་གའུ་མ་) tradition as did Jigten Gonpo through his Mahāmudrā of Fivefold Practice (ཕྱག་ཆེན་ལྔ་ལྡན་) and Tsangpa Gyarey through his Six Spheres of Equal Taste (རོ་སྙོམས་སྐོར་དྲུག་).

The core message of the Mahāmudrā teachings is the identification and actualization of the empty, luminous and blissful nature of the mind through the two practices of śamatha/zhiney (ཞི་གནས་) or calm abiding and vipaśyanā/lhagthong (་ལྷག་མཐོང་) or insight meditation. In the triad scheme of ground (གཞི་), path (ལམ་) and fruition (འབྲས་བུ་), the natural state of the mind, the innate Buddha is identified as the Mahāmudrā of the ground. The practices and experiences which bring out this ground reality as lived reality is the Mahāmudrā of the path, and the full actualization of the innate nature in the state of perfect enlightenment is the Mahāmudrā of fruition.

The famous Drukpa Kagyu scholar Pema Karpo explains Mahāmudrā of the ground, path and fruition through the four yogas (རྣམ་འབྱོར་བཞི་) or practices of single pointedness (རྩེ་གཅིག་), non-fabrication (སྤྲོས་བྲལ་), single taste (རོ་གཅིག་) and non-meditation (སྒོམ་མེད་). The entire spiritual path to enlightenment and Mahāmudrā practice is explained and laid out through these four inner yoga practices. The crux of Mahāmudrā practice in Kagyu school, like that of Dzogchen in the Nyingma school, is to free one’s mind from conceptual fabrication by dropping all thoughts of the past, present and future and laying bare the pristine awareness, which is true nature of the mind. It involves an effortless suspension of all thought processes as indicated by the dictum of the Four Syllables: amanasi, a Sanskrit term for non-mentation. Such actual meditation on Mahāmudrā is sought after undertaking the preliminary practices and through the help of an experienced teacher who would give the quintessential oral instructions.

Contributed by 

Karma Phuntsho (PhD)

Karma Phuntsho is a social thinker and worker, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of many books and articles including The History of Bhutan.

Cabinet to make changes to pay commission report: Foreign Minister 

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 16:29

The Cabinet will make substantial changes to the fourth Pay Commission’s report to align with its motto of narrowing the gap, foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji told Kuensel yesterday.

However, the foreign minister, who is also the government’s spokesperson, said that changes would be made within the Pay Commission’s recommendations and the scope of the budget.

Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said the Cabinet was the final authority on the pay commission report but added the government was mindful that changing the whole report could undermine the purpose of the Pay Commission.

“We should not be bringing something totally new but we will be definitely making some substantial changes,” he said.

The Cabinet, he said, welcomes the criticisms and suggestions from the public. “But people should know that this is the Pay Commission’s report.”

After the Cabinet released the report on April 9, public servants have taken to social media to criticise the recommendations, one of which includes raising the red scarf allowance from Nu 100 to Nu 10,000 a month. Most have said the recommendations have come in contradiction to the expectation of seeing the gap being narrowed.

“We understand that the percentage of increase for top-rung civil servants should be less, while the percentage of increase for lower-rung employees should be high. People are saying the red scarf allowance is too high,” he said.

Lyonpo said that the Cabinet is looking at the Pay Commission’s report as well as people’s suggestions and criticisms. The government, he said, was of the view that some changes needed to be made in the report to make things equitable by aligning with its motto of narrowing the gap.

“Some are suggesting that we increase the salary by Nu 8,000 to Nu 10,000 for all. But we don’t have the money to do that,” Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said, adding that the government was looking at how it can fulfil the needs and aspirations of the people within the budget.

On whether or not the suggestions of the Pay Commission report would narrow the gap, Lyonpo  Dr Tandi Dorji said that a careful look at the report would show that employees at the Elementary Support Personnel (ESP) and General Support Personnel (GSP) levels would get an overall raise of 77 and 51 percent respectively. He said people needed to look at the additional benefits, such as provident fund (PF) and pension.

“People are forgetting that there is a seven percent raise in the PF of every civil servants that is to be provided by the government. People will have more to take home when they retire,” he said.

The foreign minister said that the proposed increase was about 20 percent for top-rung officials and 71 percent for lower-rung employees.

However, critics say that the proposed percentage of hike for lower-rung civil servants are not significant given the small salary base. The increase in allowances for top bureaucrats and politicians are more than the proposed pay of ESP and GSP employees.

On the Pay Commission’s recommendations to decrease the mileage from Nu 16 a kilometer to Nu 10, Lyonpo said the idea was aimed at reducing the misuse of the mileage system and to discourage civil servants from using personal cars.

He said that even though more than one employee travelled in one car, all claimed mileage.  He said the government is of the view that the office should provide the car if more than three people are travelling.

“I think even of it is reduced to Nu 10, it should be able to meet the cost. Nevertheless the criticisms are valid, and we are looking at them,” he said.

Foreign Minister said he was not disappointed by the criticisms on social media on the pay commission’s recommendations. “In democracy, people have the right to express their view. We should be open and accept all the criticisms,” he said. “Obviously, whatever recommendations you come up with, not everybody will be happy.”

There have been criticisms that the allowances, including house rent allowances, are high for the top public servants and too little for low-income civil servants.

“People should understand that there is a rule that says about salary erosion. That means you have to increase the salary even for the top people to compensate for the inflation,” the foreign minister said.

However, he added that the people’s suggestions and comments on the perception of the top bureaucrats and politicians getting being too high were being looked at.

On whether the ministers and MPs may deny the proposed raise, the foreign minister said the recommendations are based on inflation.

MB Subba

Bhutan’s press freedom improves

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 16:26

Bhutan’s press freedom ranking climbed by 14 places this year according to the 2019 World Press Freedom index.

Bhutan ranked 80th out of 180 countries with a score of 29.81 out of a possible 100, a higher score being worse.

In 2017, Bhutan was ranked 94th that brought in controversy after the report claimed that Bhutanese journalists were sent into exile as a result of self-censorship and approval of a law criminalising defamation. The Bhutanese journalists refuted the claim.

The last time Bhutan saw its ranking fall was in 2015 when it was ranked 104th from 82nd in 2013. The report stated that no journalist, citizen journalist and media assistants were killed in 2018.

The France-based organisation, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), ranked the performance of 180 countries according to a range of criteria that include media pluralism and independence, respect for the safety and freedom of journalists, and the legislative, institutional and infrastructural environment in which the media operates.

The report stated that self-censorship held back emancipation in Bhutan. 

It claimed that the level of self-censorship continued to be very high in the land of GNH because many journalists avoided covering sensitive issues for fear of appearing to challenge the social order.

Although the Internet is booming, with more and more news circulating on blogs and social media networks, the report stated that journalists who dared to post investigative reporting or criticism were subject to online campaigns by political activists. “This combined disinformation and defamation with personal and sometimes racist attacks.”

In terms of the public news, the radio plays a major role. The report also stated that the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority was created as per the Information, Communications and Media Act 2018.

“However, the five members are directly appointed by the government. This poses a major threat to media independence,” the report claimed.

The report also stated that the main daily newspaper, Kuensel, still belongs to the state, while the state-owned Bhutan Broadcasting Service lacks legal status guaranteeing its editorial independence.

However, pluralism continues to develop, which was evidenced by the balanced coverage of the campaign for the general elections in September and October 2018 according to the report.

“Privately-owned publications exist although the economic environment is difficult, above all because of insufficient state advertising,” the report claimed. “The recent defamation suits and a national security law penalizing any attempt to create “misunderstanding or hostility between the government and people” have continued to act as a brake on journalistic freedom.”

In the SAARC region, Bhutan has the best working environment for the media industry. The Maldives is close behind ranking 98, Nepal 106, Afghanistan 121, Sri Lanka 126, India 140; Pakistan is 142 and Bangladesh 150.

This year’s, Norway is ranked first, followed by Finland and Sweden. Turkmenistan (180th) ranked the last, replacing North Korea (up at 179th).

The 2019 World Press Freedom Index shows how hatred of journalists has degenerated into violence, contributing to an increase in fear. The number of countries regarded as safe, where journalists can work in complete security, continues to decline, while authoritarian regimes continue to tighten their grip on the media. The RSF Index shows that an intense climate of fear has been triggered, one that is prejudicial to a safe reporting environment.

Yangchen C Rinzin

Vajrayana conference begins at Zhichenkhar

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 16:25

The third international Vajrayāna conference began yesterday evening at the new library of the Mind, Body and Sound at Langjophakha in Thimphu.

The theme for this year’s conference is ‘Techniques in Vajrayāna Buddhism.’

Organised by the Centre for Bhutan and GNH Studies and the Central Monastic Body, the conference has brought together scholars from around the world to discuss and deliberate on Vajrayāna Buddhism.

The conference is one of the first pre-consecration events of the library of mind, body and sound

The president of the centre, Dasho Karma Ura said the conference is one of the first pre-consecration events of the library of mind, body and sound named in honour of the Great Fourth as Zhichenkhar.

“By the subject matter itself it is very auspicious,” he said. The consecration is expected next month.

A practitioner of Sowa Rigpa in Italy, Dr Nida Chenagtsang said Bhutan is a botanical garden for the world.

“The world has become miserable from peoples’ greed, and that it needs Vajrayana,” the co-founder of the conference said. “Bhutan being the only Vajrayana country, the world needs Bhutan.”

Citing how his concept of Buddhism evolved since childhood, Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said a person need not necessarily be a monk to practice Buddhism.

“What I know is that whatever we do, it must all be mixed with the ingredients of compassion.”

He said that his advise to medical students was that no matter how tired they were, the 110th patient deserves the same attention as the first one they examine. “Over the years as I embraced the profession of a medical practitioner, my comprehension of the religion narrowed to one aspect – of being motivated by compassion in everything I do,” Lyonchhen said. “Today, at the helm of governance, this is the same principle that I apply.”

Vajrayāna Buddhism is referred to as the Path of Skillful Methods in reference to its diversity of means for realising enlightenment in a single lifetime.

In the next three days, scholars would present on the diverse ways in which the techniques of Vajrayāna Buddhism can be adapted and made relevant to a modern, transcultural, scientifically driven, and environmentally challenged world.

Tshering Palden

Second motorable bridge over Omchhu opens

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 16:22

The 46.8ms pre-stressed concrete box girder bridge over Omchhu in Phuentsholing opened to traffic on April 17.

The bridge near the confluence with Torsa is the second motorable bridge over Omchhu.

The much-awaited bridge is expected to complement the SASEC Project’s northern bypass road and ease congestion in the commercial hub.

Phuentsholing thromde is planning to divert the trucks ferrying boulders from Torsa from this bridge. Trucks would not have to drive through the existing motorable bridge so that ongoing construction of an underpass bridge of the northern bypass would not be disturbed with heavy congestion.

Project manager of the bridge, Anu Pradhan, said they have informed relevant officials of the diversion.

“Trucks will have to use this bridge and then exit from the second gate,” she said, adding that trucks today enter and exit from the main gate.

Meanwhile, the construction of the bridge at this point over Omchhu, which is under the urban infrastructure development project had begun in 2015. But the construction was stopped midway due to design changes, as there was a mismatch in the report about the soil studies.

When the design was changed and finalised, the contracting firm, a Nepal-based Tundi Construction Private, could not bear the revised cost and surrendered it.

Construction resumed in August 2017 with a new design where the bridge span increased to 46.8ms from the previous 46ms. The costing also increased to Nu 75.12M from 44.46M.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is funding 85 percent of the capital as a loan, while the government is funding the remaining 15 percent.

The project manager, meanwhile, said that the construction was not delayed this time. “As there were some extra works, we gave the construction company 33 additional days to complete,” she said.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

When farmers are forgotten

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 16:21

Our cardamom farmers are unhappy.

Reports from various parts of the country show that the price the government is offering to buy back the spice is not upto the expectations of the farmers. The Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (FBCL) argues that the produce the farmers are selling do not meet the quality mark.

In the process, sacks of cardamom are rejected or bought at a price lower than what was initially promised to the farmers. While quality and price matters, we must accept that this issue with cardamom was constructed. Our inability to keep up with the formalities required in the export of cardamom to India and the certification process had at one time halted its export.

The government intervened and offered to buy the cardamoms while works were underway to resolve the certification issue. It was addressed and export resumed but no announcement was made on the status of the government’s buy back scheme. Although farmers had the option to sell their harvest to exporters, reports show that they had not. Many had stored their bags of cardamom and FCBL started buying them only recently.

Lack of communication and then denying the price offered earlier has now left our farmers helpless. As one of the largest export crops in Bhutan, cardamom farming is one of the main means of livelihood for most farmers in the south. Many have also taken up cardamom farming in other parts of the country even though the business is already rife with problems.  Middlemen distorting prices and influx of inferior quality into the market have already hit cardamom business hard. The buyback scheme, which is underway, was to come as a boon. It has become a bane.

Such instances reflect the way we treat our farmers and the agriculture sector. Implementation of measures touted to address problems confronting the farmers – from irrigation to production to marketing remains weak. It is thus not surprising that farmers are the least happy among the population today.

The agriculture sector is the biggest employer in the country but gets the least amount of attention in terms of budget allocation. The ministry for agriculture and forests receives more funds for conservation than for food production. However, when the two areas are clubbed, there is a perception of agriculture sector receiving enough budgetary support.

It is time we separate the two so that one sector does not come at the cost of the other. We have begun executing a plan that will make Bhutan graduate from its least developed status but have continued to neglect agriculture and the problems of farmers, the biggest sector.

Governments have changed but our culture of negligence towards agriculture has not.

PC recommends SDF on regional tourists

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 16:19

The fourth pay commission report recommended introducing sustainable development fee (SDF) on regional tourists.

Currently, regional tourists do not require permit fee to enter Bhutan.

The report states that in view of the increasing number of tourist arrivals from the region, there is an opportunity to introduce SDF on regional tourists. In 2018, about 170,000 regional tourists visited Bhutan. “The introduction of SDF of Nu 500 per head is estimated to generate Nu 425 million annually.”

The report also proposes the government could also look into the possibility of enhancing the USD 65 SDF for the international tourist that has remained unchanged for the last 40 years or more.

Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB)’s director general, Dorji Dhradhul, said that there was a plan to introduce a minimal fee on regional tourist and revise the SDF of USD 65 for international tourists.

“This has nothing to do with the pay commission’s report. The council is also on the same track,” he said.

The council is in the process of discussing how to manage regional tourist, including charging a minimal fee during the peak season.

He pointed out that some media reports on the issues of regional tourists gave wrong message that the government was trying to restrict the regional tourists. “We are not talking about stopping or discouraging regional tourists. We are talking about regulating and managing regional tourists effectively.”

Regional tourists were important, he said.

While some are of the opinion that the regional tourist benefits the low-end hotels, in reality, the majority of the star-rated hotels’ clients are a regional tourists.

Dorji Dhradhul said that currently the issue with the regional tourists who come from Phuentsholing was about regulating and managing them because of which inconveniences occurred to others and to the guests themselves.

Bhutan, he said, was a happy host and irrespective of where the tourists came from, they should have the best experience.

International tourists are regulated. They pay a minimum tariff and they get a tour guide and everything including the accommodation and transportation are taken care of by tour operators.

“They receive VIP treatment and they are well taken care of, and even if they face some problems they leave the country happy and this is what we want,” he said.

The problem with the regional tourist, he said, was that they came on their own and there was no one to guide them. So, sometimes they end up doing what they are not supposed to. “It’s because they don’t have a guide and they are not aware of the dos and don’ts and then their reputation goes wrong, which is not good.”

“This sometimes makes people feel that regional tourist are generally like that and could result in discrimination. When this happens, they will not get a good experience which is our shortcoming,” he said. “If we are not able to give them good experience then it is a failure on the part of TCB.”

Secondly, he said that there was a risk for their safety and security. In the past years, many accidents occurred. When such misfortunes happen, it was difficult to follow up and to coordinate since they came on their own.

In the case of international tourists, it was otherwise and the tour operator would be held responsible for their guest.

He said that this was one reason why TCB is going for regulation meaning regional tourist coming through a tour operator. “If they don’t want to come through a tour operator then fine but to at least have a Bhutanese guide during their stay in the country.”

The assumption was that if there was a guide then they would be taken care of, he said.

Currently, the majority of the regional tourists physically go to the immigration office, fill the forms and get the permit. The international tourist does the same online so the TCB is planning to have the same procedure for regional tourists.

Besides convenience, he said, e-permit would solve many problems for regional tourists. “They will not have to wait in a queue, get their permit to enter Bhutan in advance, and can enter the country during weekends.”

He said that it has many advantages and it is easy for the monitoring agencies to manage as well. The e-permit is an option and only a few regional tourists avail the service now.

The council is also looking at revising the daily SDF of USD 65 or the minimum daily tariff itself.

Dorji Dhradhul said that many believed that the minimum daily tariff of USD 250 was expensive when in actuality it wasn’t. “Of the total, USD 65 is the SDF and the rest provides the guest three-star accommodation, personal guide, transportation, meals and fees for entry to the monuments.”

“We want to make Bhutan an exclusive destination and take tourism to the top,” he said. This can be done in two ways, the first in terms of revenue generation and secondly by making Bhutan number one tourist destination in the world.

To do this, he said, the fee had to be high. “If we keep the fee at 250 then how would we become exclusive? If Bhutan wants to become an exclusive destination, high-value low impact, then I feel we need to increase the fee.”

The council is also working on the tourism policy and is expected to have a final draft of the next tourism council meeting that is expected to be held in June or July. “By end of this year, we will definitely have a policy and that is our biggest work.”

According to the report, reviewing and rationalizing existing tax rates include revision of the green tax, royalty on forest products and non-wood forest products and introduction of other taxes like value-based property taxes, an extension of the coverage of five percent property transfer tax and luxury taxes to generate additional revenue are some of the other recommendations.

The report states that to ensure that the proposed salary revision does not undermine the long-term fiscal sustainability and economic stability of the country, and in keeping with the relevant provisions of the Constitution, the recommendations are proposed for consideration.

Dechen Tshomo

Picture story

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 16:18

Bajo Lhakhang was converted to a Shedra on April 17. His Eminence Vairotsana Rinpoche Ngawang Jigme Jigten Wangchuck inaugurated the shedra. Eleven students previously at the shedra at Rada Lhakhang are to begin their studies at the new shedra. Her Majesty the Queen Mother Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck and Her Royal Highness Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck attended the inauguration.