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A bridge between industries and the government

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 17:04

When the power tariff was revised and increased in October 2013, industrialists claimed that it hit them most.

Bhutan Electricity Authority (BEA) approved increase of energy charge to Nu 1.98 per kWh from the then existing Nu 1.79kWh for medium voltage (MV). Demand charge increased to Nu 155 kW per month from earlier Nu 115kW/month for MV users.

In case of the high voltage (HV) users, energy charge increased to Nu 1.67 per kWh in 2013-2014-tariff cycle from Nu 1.54 per kWh. Demand charge increased to Nu 130 per kW per month from Nu 105 per kW per month.

The revision increased electricity bill by millions to the industries.

Industrialists appealed to the government that the only advantage Bhutanese industries had over industries in neighboring countries was the lower tariff but with electricity bills increasing, industrialists said they were on the verge of closing the industries if the cycle continued.

The industrialists met and asked the Association of Bhutanese Industries (ABI) to raise their concern to the government.

ABI then had dialogues with the agencies such as the BEA, Bhutan Power Corporation and the economic affairs ministry and followed it up several times, leading to a change in the tariff in December 2016.

When the tariff increased, high voltage (HV) industries were hit the most. However, starting January 2017, a new tariff schedule was implemented. The HV energy charge of Nu 1.96 per KWH was then reduced to Nu 1.59 until 2019.

An official with Saint Gobain Ceramic Materials Bhutan Private Limited in Pasakha industrial estate, Dipankar Chakraborty, said the ABI has done a good job in reducing the electricity tariff.

“Power tariff was increasing continuously when the market was not stable,” he said, adding that industries were running at loss. “Helping us with tariff is one of the greatest successes of ABI.”

ABI, conceived 10 years ago when few prominent industrialists came together to start an association to address issues related to the industries, was formed in 2008.

It was registered as a Mutual benefit Organisation (MBO) under the Civil Society Organisation Act of Bhutan, 2007.

The association, according to the office bearers, have submitted many industrial related issues to the government and solved more than 70 percent of them.

Chief executive officer of Pelden Enterprise Limited, Pema Tenzin, who is also an executive member of the association, said ABI gathered views from different industries on power tariff and presented factual inputs to the government. “ABI is a strong bridge between the industry owners and the government.”

He said the association has resolved industrial issues with the government since its inception. “ABI really benefitted the industries.”

Pema Tenzin explained that many industries have come up today, creating different challenges and ABI has assisted in all possible means.

Dipankar Chakraborty also said that ABI has worked with the government to open a basic health unit (BHU) in Pasakha. The construction works for the BHU is expected to start by this year.

“This BHU will help both public and industries here,” he said. “People will not have to travel all the way to Phuentsholing.”

Industrialists also claim that ABI has been consistent in taking grievances to the government to solve issues in whatever capacity it could.

ABI is also in the process of linking cargo train facility from Hasimara, India.

Although in its early stage, if the project comes through, transportation costs will decrease and safety of outgoing products will be enhanced. As of now, trucks ferry the finished products to all destinations across India.

Considering its vision to represent manufacturing industries in all forums, within and outside the country, to foster growth of industries in the country, ABI has also participated in various consultative meetings and forums, trade fairs, both within and outside the country. It also participated in the formulation of Economic Development Policy, 2010, Foreign Direct Investment Policy, 2010, and Mineral Development Policy.

ABI has also participated in the first Bhutan-India regional friendship trade fair  in Gelephu in January 2010 and 10th SAARC trade fair in Kathmandu, Nepal in December 2010.

Meanwhile, with Goods and Services (GST) Tax in India to be commenced next month, ABI is currently studying how it would impact industries. ABI had also hired a consultant firm.

ABI general secretary Jochu Thinley said the association is currently researching GST’s impact analysis.

“We will find out GST’s impact on our industries and the Bhutanese economy,” he said.

ABI program officer, Pema Yangchen, said the association has also coordinated trainings in disaster management in 2016 and security coordination in 2015.

“Various multi-sectorial meetings are also conducted whenever required,” she said.

Pasakha industrial estate is the largest estate in the country with 22 ABI member industries. The remaining 30 are distributed across Samtse, Samdrupjongkhar, and Thimphu.

As industrial parks development is ongoing in Samtse, Gelephu, and Mongar, ABI is expecting more members.

Currently, there are 51 registered members with ABI, of which 20 are large-scale industries and 16 medium scale industries. The remaining 15 are small industries.

The ABI has been following up on the Bhalujhora bridge that connects Pasakha industrial estate.

Pema Yangchen said that the bridge is ABI’s major concern today. “A stakeholders’ meeting was also conducted recently,” she said.

Industrial trucks ply through the Bhalujhora river, as the bridge is not feasible for heavy trucks. The route is not accessible in rainy season.

In 2016, vehicle movements from both the sides were immobilised for several days causing loss to the industries.

Construction of a new bridge was also initiated in 2015. But the contractor was terminated due to delay in work.

ABI pursued this matter with relevant agencies like the Department of Roads (DoR) and Phuentsholing thromde.

Although the bridge will not be constructed this summer, the DoR agreed to help like deploying excavators to dredge river whenever industrial trucks were unable to cross the river.

ABI general secretary, Jochu Thinley, said the association’s major challenge is its memberships.

“ABI’s sustainability depends on voluntary contribution from the industries,” he said. “We do not have support from the government or any other agencies.”

Vision:

“Facilitate growth of industries in the country”

Mission:

1. Promote industries that are sustainable and are in line with the government policies and objectives.

2. Represent manufacturing industries in all forums both within and outside the country to foster growth of industries in the country.

3. Promote high standards of services, product quality, and professionalism in the industries.

Objectives:

While the overriding objective of the Association would be to develop manufacturing industries in the country, the other primary objectives of the Association are to:

1. Act as a platform to discuss with the government and related agencies and resolve issues and problems constraining the growth of industries in the country

2. Review relevant Acts, Rules, Regulations, Procedures, incentives of Bhutan and other countries and make appropriate recommendations to the government that would facilitate in the growth of industries in the country

3. Study industrial policies of other countries through participation in forums – domestic, regional and international and derive ideas and methods that would contribute towards growth and development of industries

4. Make appropriate recommendations and suggestions to the government on policies, procedures, regulatory and other pertinent matters in all the related areas intended to create an enabling environment for growth and development of industries;

5. Liaise with government, public and private agencies, Associations, Federations, Confederations, and other legal entities located within and outside the country in areas that are of interest to the Association

6. Support industries in the affairs of their businesses through promotion of good governance, labour rules and regulations, fair and transparent procedures;

7. Support government in preserving environment through promotion of environmental friendly production systems and techniques;

8. Promote, protect and safeguard the interest of manufacturing industries in Bhutan from undue external and internal influences.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Panko Fried Asparagus Spears

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 17:03

Ingredients

Tempura floor   125gm

Asparagus   half a bunch

Apple   40gm

Salad   to garnish

Celery slaw  to garnish

Cocktail sauce   30gm

Soda water  100

Bread crumbs  100 gms

Coconut powder  90gm

Oil  to fry

Method: 

Clean and cut the asparagus length wise

Coat the asparagus with tempura flour mixed with soda water before coating it with panko (bread crumbs)

Deep fry the coated asparagus

Arrange the salad along with finely chopped apple on plate and chopped celery salw, and garnish with cocktail sauce

Serve the Asparagus hot.

There is nothing to fear

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 16:54

I run a hotel and I often get requests for jobs from recovering addicts. First of all, the term confuses me. If they are recovering, does that mean that they have not recovered and are still using drugs? Secondly, is it safe to employ someone who used drugs? I worry that they will become aggressive or commit some crime. Actually, I want to help but am confused. Please advise me.

Confused, Paro

Well, with regard your first question, addiction is considered a disease like hypertension or diabetes. Basically, once you are diagnosed with high BP etc, it cannot be cured. However, with correct and timely intervention, the disease can be managed and kept in check. Addiction is the same.

In this respect, rehab treatment is similar to visiting a doctor for hypertension or diabetes. The sufferer is taught a programme that can help them constrain the disease. For hypertension, this might include a dietary regime of consuming less salt and increasing fruit and fresh vegetables, as well as undertaking regular exercise. In rehab, among other the things, the addict will be taught a programme, such as the 12 steps, in addition to receiving instruction on how to deal effectively with life issues and how to avoid addiction-triggers.

In the same way that we will not say that a person who is controlling their hypertension or diabetes is cured of the disease, so it is with addicts. In short, a person who identifies himself as a recovering addict is no longer using drugs, but the disease remains latent and needs to be constrained.

Furthermore, in a similar way that there no one personality trait that defines someone with diabetes or hypertension, so there is no one characteristic that defines an addict. In reality, like everyone else in society, addicts have their own individual personalities and each one is unique and different to another.

Therefore, when you interview someone for a job, there should be no discrimination against someone because they once abused drugs and they should be treated the same as everyone else. In fact, I would contend that recovering addicts tend to make excellent employees because they have to follow a strict programme, which includes no late night parties (as these might act as a trigger), and, of course, they have to totally avoid drugs and alcohol.

In addition, the rehab programme will entail a lot of discipline and will challenge the addict’s defects and prejudices. In this respect, a recovering addict will generally be hard working, punctual and no longer hold old-fashioned ideas, such as believing that sweeping the floor or throwing out garbage are socially low activities.

Furthermore, you should realize that many addicts started to use drugs as a means to escape mental pain. In this respect, they are in need of help, not condemnation. If they were aggressive in the past, it was mostly due to the affect of the drugs and it is not an innate characteristic. As I mentioned above, each addict has a unique and individual personality and they are no less or no more likely to be violent than any other member of society and so there is nothing to fear with regard to employing a recovering addict. In the unlikely event that they do relapse, the most probable consequence is that will just not turn up for work. Nothing else will happen. In fact, many of Thimphu’s top hotels and cafes employ recovering addicts, and I always receive very positive feedback about their performance.

Actually, it is very important that businesses like yours reach out and offer opportunities to recovering addicts. In this respect, we can think of society like a human body. If one part of the body, for example the liver, is sick, then we cannot claim that the body is healthy. In reality, if our liver is sick, we are sick and the whole body is affected. In this respect, if one section of our society is not productively engaged but instead is addicted to drugs, then we have to admit that society is sick and, as we are part of this society, that affects all of us.

In conclusion, I strongly suggest that you offer job opportunities to recovering addicts. Not only is there nothing to fear, but in doing so you are benefitting society and, at the same time, probably gaining a very good employee.

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes. Email to jjwangchuk@gmail.com for any queries

Adopt a Dog!

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 16:54

Hello everyone!

My name is Swimmy. It is not because I am the best swimmer dog in the Thimphu dzongkhag. To tell you the truth, I have never seen the Wangchhu and I am not even enjoying being washed that much. My name is Swimmy because my mother and I were living at the swimming pool complex before we were taken up to Yusipang for help. When I say living, I mean surviving.

At the beginning, we were lucky to be in such nice surroundings with trees and green bushes to sleep in the shade and nice young people to throw some biscuits or sometimes even half their lunch to my mum and me. Despite a lot of attention and kindness from some of the youngsters coming to play or swim, we fell on hard times last winter and we started to look slimmer and slimmer, and with less and less hair to protect us from the harsh weather. Fortunately, a nice young girl told her mum about us. I think she could feel what I felt and understood the pain and hunger we were in and identified with me. She had a nice mum too, like mine, and both of them decided to find help for us and phoned the shelter. They could not take us to their home I was told because this great family had already six dogs – all rescued from the street, all real Bhutanese dogs like me and mummy, proud, sincere and faithful.

So please, if you have a little space in your home for a nice beautiful young pup, happy and healthy and ready to join his own family, please come and visit the shelter and ask for swimmy baby. My mum is named swimmy mummy, she is also a great dog and a great mum. Come and meet us! We love children and other dogs and I am a very happy fellow ready to make you smile. See you soon I hope.

Focus point

Sat, 06/24/2017 - 16:53

DNT pitches politics of worst order: PM

Sat, 06/24/2017 - 16:53

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) is desperate to be seen and heard, more so after the Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) announced Dasho Neten Zangmo as its new president, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said at the meet the press session yesterday.

He was responding to the DNT’s press release that stated fiscal incentives, which the government had granted as unconstitutional and that the Prime Minister and finance minister should resign.

The Prime Minister said that even as DNT does not have presence in the Parliament, every now and then the party issues press releases. “I think it is good, but good only if the press releases are well thought-out.”

“If it is just to be seen and heard every once in a while, I think that motivation is wrong,” the Prime Minister said. Even if it is to be just seen and heard,

it is good as long as DNT understands the issue and question those that are of national importance, he added. “The problem arises when they don’t understand the issue, or even if they understand, they really don’t care.”

Prime Minister also questioned the timing of the press releases that gained the media attention of the DNT. He said that after BKP announced Dasho Neten Zangmo as the new president, the whole country seem to talk about her and BKP.

“It’s almost like DNT was desperate to be seen and to be heard as relevant and intelligent,” he said, adding that it has outrageously declared something that was legal as unconstitutional and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister and finance minister.

“I have tried not to respond because it doesn’t merit a response,” he said. “As far as I know and as far as I can see, this is politics.”

Further substantiating his stand, Prime Minister referred to the press release DNT issued on the public debt claiming it was skyrocketing. “They got the government to reply and after the government replied they were quite.”

If the DNT had done their homework and understood the fundamentals of the economy and structure of the debt, the party would not have raised the issue, the Prime Minister said. “They are desperate to engage with the government.”

On the matter of central schools, Prime Minister said that the DNT took a picture of Rangtse Primary School in his constituency and explained about the poor living conditions and facilities. He added that the school is not a government boarding school and that the picture they took was of informal boarding. “This is precisely why we started central schools because our children are building sheds and shacks and living in unacceptable conditions.”

The DNT, he said, has sensationalised the issue. The Prime Minister said he responded why central schools are crucial to address such problems and added that DNT was celebrating the fact the PM responded to their press release. “This proves the point that press release was issued only to get the government’s attention and get the government to respond.”

“That is politics of worse order,” Prime Minister said. “Yes, the elections are approaching, but lets get into the political mode may be six months before elections.”

He said the government has more than a year and a month in hand. “Should we start playing politics?” he asked. “But we would have wasted the last year on politics rather than on development.”

Tshering Dorji

Picture story

Sat, 06/24/2017 - 16:52

His Majesty The King granted Dhar to two Drangpons and Dzongdags, and a Gup, at the Tashichhodzong yesterday. From left- Drangchu Gup Pemba, Sarpang Dzongdag Karma Galay, Supreme Court Justice Kuenley Tshering, Supreme Court Justice Norbu Tshering and Chukha Dzongdag Minjur Dorji

Drug abuse arrests not alarming: PM

Sat, 06/24/2017 - 16:51

Although the government is taking it seriously, the number of people getting arrested for trafficking and abusing controlled substances in the country is not alarming, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said during the meet the press yesterday.

In the last five years, the highest number of people arrested for their involvement in controlled substance cases was in 2014 at 712, followed by 562 in 2013. In 2015 and 2012, a total of 514 and 516 were arrested respectively.

The Prime Minister said that although the government has gone all out and asked the police to arrest any person trafficking and abusing drugs, the number of arrests last year was 523. “In 2017, the number of arrests should hopefully be bigger because a lot of cases have been undetected.”

He said that going by the number of people arrested, it is not very alarming. Lyonchhen, however, said that the issue of substance abuse is serious and the government is taking it seriously. “Every time I see something in media or get a report on drug abuse and illicit trafficking, I get concerned.”

Except for last year, more than 50 percent of those arrested in the last five years were youth. In 2016, about 47.8 percent of the arrested were youth, of which 8.8 percent are students.

In 2012, of the total arrests, 28.7 percent are students. The total arrests in 2013 and 2014 had some 16 percent of students. About 11.26 percent were students in 2015’s total arrest.

The Prime Minister said that the government is carefully monitoring schools and the education minister is going from school to school launching drug-free school programmes. “If we go by the trend in the last five years, there haven’t been a drastic increase and the percentage of youth involved has also come down, which is a good sign,” he said. “But we are not happy because we know that much more are going undetected.”

Lyonchhen said the drug abuse situation is dangerous for the country’s youth and its future. “The government is doing its best, not just in the investigation, arresting, filing cases and seizing drugs but also in terms of advocacy.”

He said that until 2014, drug abusers were not arrested.  “In 2015 and 2016, about 37 and 83 abusers were arrested.”

The Prime Minister also said that since the enactment of the Narcotic Drugs, Psychoactive Substance and Substance Abuse (NDPSSA) Act in July 2015, which requires the suspects apprehended for substance abuse to be referred to the Bhutan Narcotic Control Authority’s (BNCA) treatment assessment panel for assessment, a total of 120 abusers were arrested. “This year, about 202 controlled substance abusers were arrested until yesterday.”

He said it is not that there are larger numbers of abusers but it is just that the government had directed the law enforcement agencies to take a tough stand on substance abuse.

Figures shared by the Prime Minister show that about 42.6 percent of the arrests in 2016 was related to pharmaceuticals drugs followed by 36.1 percent related to cannabis (marijuana) and 2.69 percent solvents.

In terms of drugs seized, the quantity of Spasmo-proxyvon (SP) increased by four times in 2016 at 143,234 capsules compared to 31,580 capsules in 2012.

The quantity of marijuana seized increased to 779 kgs last year from 324 kgs in 2012. The seized Nitrosun 10 tablets increased from 3,988 in 2012 to 4,902 tablets last year.

Lyonchhen said that the increase in drugs seized could be because the usage has increased or policing has improved. “Since the government had directed police and other law enforcing agencies to do a thorough investigation and implement the law strictly, the drugs seized have increased while the number of total arrests has not really increased.”

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk, who is also the chair of BNCA, said the government amended the NDPSSA Act in 2015 realising the issue of drug abuse in the country. “The provisions in the Act for illicit trafficking are strict and the Act clearly states the law related to abuse and illicit trafficking of controlled substances.”

Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said thousands of vehicles ply in and out of the border areas every day and it is not possible to frisk each and every car. “Most of the arrests are made based on informers.”

He said some traffickers bring in controlled substances concealed inside fruits, grocery items and vehicle parts, making it difficult to crack down on trafficking of drugs into the country.

Besides strict enforcement of laws, the Prime Minister said that the government wants to provide good legal representatives to those detained for drug abuse in the court of law.

Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay said helping the drug abusers with rehabilitation treatment alone is not enough. He said the government is looking at the possibility of helping drug abusers with legal representation besides detoxing and rehabilitation services. “If they don’t have good lawyers, they may get unnecessarily locked up for a longer duration.”

Dechen Tshomo

Foreign ministry to expedite repatriation of students

Sat, 06/24/2017 - 16:51

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) will expedite the repatriation of 18 Bhutanese students who are stuck in Malaysia on expired visa within a week, according to the ministry’s officials.

“This will be done through diplomatic channel with the Malaysian foreign ministry,” foreign secretary Sonam Tshong said. “However, we are waiting for some details that we asked for from the education ministry.”

The education secretary, Karma Yeshey wrote to the foreign secretary on June 21 seeking the ministry’s support for the safe return of 18 students, including seven females from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The students’ special passes expired on June 7.

Sonam Tshong said the MoFA received the letter, which was sent through post only yesterday. “They could have sent through other modes of communication if education ministry viewed it as an “urgent” rather than sending through post,” he told Kuensel.

He, however, said that said the letter has no details to help MoFA process documents to bring the students home.

“We have requested education officials to provide us names and passport details of the students, and contact detail of Drupthop Education Consultancy & Placement Firm’s (Drupthop ECPF) partner in Malaysia,” he said. “Thereafter, MoFA will approach the Malaysian Embassy in New Delhi, India for assistance.”

The students are among the 23 who had applied for student visa and enrollment at Victoria International College, Kuala Lumpur Campus, through Drupthop ECPF in 2016. The students were taken to Malaysia on tourist visa in December 2016.

Drupthop ECPF proprietor Chhimi Rinzin’s partner Ravi facilitated to get the students out of the airport. After signing two agreements to bring back the students by May 25 and refund the money by May 31, Chhimi Rinzin reportedly disappeared.

Chhimi Rinzin’s husband who was supposed to remit full payment to those who wish to stay in Malaysia by yesterday informed the students that he would send the money next week. However, a female student said she was happy to know that the government is going to repatriate them from Malaysia. “I really want to come home,” she said.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said since Bhutan doesn’t have a diplomatic relation with Malaysia, the government would be working closely with Bhutan Embassies in Bangkok and New Delhi to bring home the 18 students safely.

Meanwhile, five students who are in Bhutan have decided to seek the court’s intervention on Monday to get a refund of Nu 1.360 million from Chhimi Rinzin and Drupthop ECPF’s managing director Kuenley Tshering Dorji. Four students paid Nu 280,000 each as tuition fee for a three-year Bachelors and another student paid Nu 240,000 for two-year diploma in hospitality management.

“This time we will request the court to summon Kuenley Tshering Dorji, who was actively involved in the consultancy and signed the agreement, to testify before the court,” one of the five students said.

Rinzin Wangchuk

Make jobseekers employable

Sat, 06/24/2017 - 16:50

As we deal with the growing youth unemployment situation in the country, there is an urgent need to look at how we are employing strategies to address the issue, both for short and long term. While the immediate interventions that the government has come up with might look like the ultimate remedy, their sustainability is questionable.

If job creation is not sustainable, unemployment problem cannot be solved. If we are just looking at short-term adjustments, much leaves to be desired of our mandate.

This country’s population is very young. There are about 141,000 people in the age bracket of 15 to 24. Currently, youth unemployment figure stands at more than nine percent. As more and more young people graduate and enter the job market, unemployment situation will only worsen. If the labour minister thinks that youth unemployment problem has been exacerbated by rapid socioeconomic growth and development over the last couple of decades, solutions must be found, a workable one at that. Plans must be worked out to face the future challenges.

As if the problem hasn’t come to the head already, we can do without official commentary about what dynamics are playing on the employment scenario.

Going by some government stat, about 18,000 young people enter job market every year. The civil service, armed forces and government corporations are able to absorb only about 6,000 jobseekers. Of the 5,780 jobs identified last year excluding the usual employers, only 3,593 were taken. The private sector, being small as it is, cannot employ a large number of jobseekers. Also, the sector development is facing shortage of skilled human resources.  Developing indigenous human resources, therefore, has become critically important.

The real challenge today seems to be skills-job mismatch. Employers, particularly in the private sector, demand skills and competence in potential employees. Our young TVET graduates do not seem to possess these requirements. At the TVET symposium in Thimphu that more than 40 principals, vice-principals and senior instructors of technical training and zorig institutes attended, the need to improve technical education and standardisation of the facility and trainers was the highlight. It has been found that some of our TVET institutes are making do with outdated machines, which do not give trainees the necessary skills to meet modern challenges.

Rather than pursuing unsustainable employment creation like overseas employment programme, the government could consider updating and upgrading TVET institutes in the country. This could prepare our young people for employment in the future. Self-employment is possible only when employability through skills development is made possible.

Work begins to construct a mini dry port

Sat, 06/24/2017 - 16:50

With the groundbreaking ceremony for a mini dry port conducted yesterday in Phuentsholing, Bhutan is expected to have its first mini dry port in 20 months time.

The port, which will house more than 45 trucks and have customs clearance for imports and exports, comes after 15 years of dialogues and land disputes.

The dry port is one of the three South Asia Sub-region Economic Cooperation (SASEC) projects with the Phuentsholing Thromde (PT). It will cost Nu 134.85 million (M).

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is funding 81 percent of the total budget as grant and the government will fund the rest.

Economic affairs minister, Lekey Dorji, along with ADB’s country director, Phuentsholing thromde officials, and representatives from various agencies attended the function yesterday.

Lyonpo Lekey Dorji said the need to develop the port has become imperative with increasing trade each year.

“We have recorded a growth of 600 percent in trade,” he said. “But on the other hand, we did not have commensurate improvement in the logistics to support this growing trade value.”

He said Bhutan ranked 135 out of 160 countries in the World Bank global logistics performance indicators. “The government is giving highest priority in building such infrastructure in the country.”

Lyonpo Lekey Dorji also said that the port would contribute significantly to the overall economy of the country.

Meanwhile, the construction of the 5.4 acres of the mini dry port has been tendered out to a Japanese construction company, Marushin Shitake Construction Company limited, which had started clearing and mobilisation work.

The dry port is awarded as a ‘design and build’ concept, meaning the contractor would design the port. Designs would be submitted phase-wise and the construction would be approved and implemented every time designs are approved.

Department of Trade’s Director General, Sonam Tenzin, said the dry port is significant to the business community in the country, especially, in terms of cross-border trade.

“It is expected to reduce the cost of transactions significantly,” he said, explaining its key services would be to function as a warehouse, transshipment of cargos, and cold storage. “It will add value to exports.”

Meanwhile, the dry port, which will have a truck scanner and weigh bridge, will be connected via the second gate from the Baubazaar area in Jaigaon. A northern bypass road will also be constructed through the port.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing 

Erratic power supply irks Jomotsangkha residents

Sat, 06/24/2017 - 16:49

There was a power cut in Jomotsangkha last week and residents say it is going to be worse in the coming months.

Local residents are even questioning Bhutan Power Corporation’s (BPC) target for rural electrification since it does not serve the purpose when it is most needed.

A resident, who do not want to be named, said the local people need electricity in summer when temperatures soar but that is when it is most erratic.

During the power blackouts, service delivery is hampered since public offices like the basic health unit (BHU), Bhutan Development Bank, Bhutan Telecom and other offices cannot function.

The medical officer of Jomotsangkha BHU, Dr Narayan Rizal, said although the hospital tries to manage by using backup light from the Indian state of Assam, it is also unreliable.

It was learnt that around 25 expecting mothers, who are scheduled for ultrasound last week, could not avail the service because of power blackout.

Residents of Langchenphu, Lauri, and Serthi gewogs say they are fed up with the erratic power supply.

A resident, Tashi Wangdi, said it’s a pity that no one is doing anything with the erratic power supply in the locality although the problem existed for a long time.

He said since the officials cannot detect the problem since the electricity lines are connected through dense forest. “Officials risk their lives to detect the fault but it is difficult.”

Erratic power supply is also affecting business people.

A restaurant owner, Pema Zangmo, 35, said she depends on gas or firewood to cater to her customers most of the time since power is unreliable. “I have to close the restaurant at times.”

BPC officials say heavy downpour and strong winds delay the restoration works of power lines. “Since the power transmission cables are installed in places without  road connectivity, we have to wade across the swollen rivers and travel through dense forests to fix it.”

Kelzang Wangchuk |  Jomotsangkha

FCB has enough food reserve, assures minister

Sat, 06/24/2017 - 16:49

Food Corporation of Bhutan has enough food reserved as required by law, agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji said during the meet the press session yesterday.

He was responding to the findings of an audit performance report on FCB 2016 released recently.

Considering per capita consumption of rice, Bhutan needs to have at least 1,400 metric tonnes of rice, 200MT of sugar, and 58MT of oils in reserve to last three months, the minister said.

The audit’s performance report’s finding of 1,238MT was only based on what they found in 27 depots and not the whole 53 depots. Sugar was on 176MT of the 200MT needed.

As of June 22, there were 6,955MT of rice, 2,748MT of oil, and 1,791MT of sugar, excluding the stock for daily sale.

The agriculture ministry is mandated with maintaining food reserve. Bhutan is also party to the agreement to maintain SAARC food reserve of 360MT. The corporation is identified as the national food bank.

“One way, the audit performance report is valid because no matter how much we have, it would not be enough,” the minister said.

The finance ministry extended an over draft facility to help the corporation maintain the food reserve.

The ministry built 11 new depots in the past four years, including cold storage facilities. The audit authority investigated 27 depots. There are 53 depots including 22 sub regional depots. When the audit was conducted, there were only 61 farm shops.

“So, even if a shop had a minimum of 1MT of rice, there would be enough food reserve,” the agriculture minister said. The corporation’s board is introducing a policy for the food reserve, which would soon be submitted for the Cabinet’s approval, he added.

The Prime Minister and agriculture minister are updated every week on the food reserve.

Earlier, the corporation had to dispose of food items worth Nu 5 million as they were damaged because of lack of proper storage facilities, the minister said.

The audit was conducted during the period between 2011 and 2015. The corporation built a cold storage with a capacity of 500MT in Samdrupjongkhar and 1,000MT capacity in Lingmithang, Mongar. Facilities were also built in Khuruthang in Punakha, Nganglam in Pemagatshel, Khangma in Trashigang, and Haa.

The minister cited the example of distributing food to Nimtola in Dagana where a school was cut off by landslide last year. The government airlifted ration to the school.

“Should there be a need for emergency food supplies, there is plenty,” the minister said.

Tshering Palden

BDBL launches new banking services

Sat, 06/24/2017 - 16:48

Bhutan Development Bank Limited (BDBL) clients will now have access to Internet banking and a mobile banking application called BDB mobile for fund transactions.

With the new core banking solutions, Finacle, automated teller machine (ATM) switch are expected to be functional at all times, helping the bank to view customer holdings and transactions to create a targeted and customised offering to its customers.

Chief executive officer (CEO) of BDBL, Phub Dorji, said the new system will not only improve data integrity but also be able to handle the Internet, mobile wallet and many more value added services.

He said the bank was using a switch based in Nepal before, meaning whenever clients availed ATM services, it had to be routed through the switch in Nepal, making ATM service delivery inefficient. “BDBL decided to have our own switch and purchased a switching system from Maximus and today we have been able to integrate our ATMs to the new switch.”

Phub Dorji said problems related to ATMs withholding money after withdrawal will be solved faster now. “The mobile banking app ‘BDB mobile’ contains features such as transfer of funds, online payment and utility bill payment.”

The app is available for iPhone and Android operating systems.

The deputy CEO (operations) of BDBL, Sonam Rigyel, said the new core banking system will help the bank achieve its objective of reaching the unreached, product diversification and excellence in customer services. “We are hopeful that through this enhancement of digital systems, our bank will be able to take our service to the next level.”

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, while launching the services, emphasised the importance of improving the livelihood of people living in the rural areas.

BDB has close to 56,000 credit accounts and 159,000 deposit accounts.

The bank has three regional offices, 34 branch offices, 17 gewog field offices, 198 gewog banking services and 40 ATMs across the country.

The CEO said they would cover the remaining gewogs as soon as Internet facilities are available in those gewogs.

Meanwhile, three gewog banking service operators from Orong in Samdrupjongkhar, Chumey in Bumthang and Sephu in Wangduephodrang, were  recognised for their customer service.

Karma Cheki

A parcel containing HCFC-22 gas explodes in Gelephu bound bus

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 17:18

Nineteen passengers travelling from Thimphu to Gelephu were taken to Damphu hospital yesterday afternoon, after a parcel containing hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC-22), which is a colourless gas used in refrigerators and air conditioners, exploded in the public transport.

Although no injuries and casualties were reported, sources said that a small cartoon box kept on the engine beside the driver exploded after the bus crossed Tsirang-Dagana junction and broke two window shields behind the driver and went flying down the cliff below the road. The bus was filled with gas, making it cloudy for a while.

The passengers were taken to the hospital to confirm the gas was non-poisonous and doctors at the Damphu hospital confirmed the exploded gas was not poisonous.

According to Tsirang police, Dolma Enterprise in Thimphu sent the parcel to the Vocational Training Institute (VTI) in Jigmeling in Gelephu for a training purpose.

Police said that the driver accepted the parcel without inquiring the details of the item inside.  “For being careless on carrying parcels, the documents of the driver were seized,” a police source said.  “Owner of Dolma Enterprise was also informed about the incident and we will soon be questioning them.”

Police said they would carry out a proper investigation to avoid such incident in the future.

Meanwhile, the case will be forwarded to the Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) for further investigation and necessary action.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang

Four organisations certified for quality management

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 16:25

Bhutan Standard Bureau (BSB) certified Bank of Bhutan (BoB), Bhutan Bitumen, Karma Feeds, and Phuntsholing thromde for  quality management system (QMS) in Thimphu yesterday.

BoB’s head office was certified for providing international, corporate and domestic credit card services.

The chief executive officer of BoB, Pema Nadik said they wanted to be certified to make their processes standard and  to reduce errors related to credit card services.

He said that it took about eight months to receive the certificate.

Bhutan Bitumen Industries Private Limited was certified for manufacture and supply of cationic bitumen emulsion (cold mix) for road construction.

Karma Feeds was certified for manufacture and supply of pellet and mash type feeds for farm animals and poultry.

Phuntsholing thromde received certification for the provision of urban planning, municipal services, development and control of socio-economic infrastructure and facilities including regulatory functions in the city.

The four organisations are the first recipients of the QMS certificate.

Economic affairs minister, Lekey Dorji, while awarding the certificates emphasised on the need for quality management system if Bhutan is to have quality based products and services.  “Quality is never accidental. You have to work for it.”

BSB’s director general, Sonam Phuntsho, said BSB undertook the QMS certification project to fulfil its mandate of promoting and providing market relevant standards to industry, commerce, government and the society.

“This is a pilot project aimed at training interested organisations by an independent third party to prepare BSB for audit and QMS certification,” he said.

He also said although there are no written criteria, the quality evaluation was based on International Organisation for Standardization. “Our officials were trained to carry out the certification process.”

Sonam Phuntsho said that the advantages of certification are that it provides an opportunity to improve and organisations can never compromise in terms of efficiency and quality.

The QMS certificate has to be renewed after every two years. BSB will monitor and assess the certified organisations annually.

Meanwhile, the director general said that BSB has applied to the National Accreditation Board for certification bodies in New Delhi, India, hoping to be accredited before the end of 2017.

“BSB has applied for an international recognition in the fields of animal feed, chemicals, public administration and financial services,” he said.

Sonam Phuntsho said BSB is planning to include environmental management system, food safety management system and occupational health and safety in its scope.

Karma Cheki and Rinchen Zangmo

Robbing the country of its future?

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 16:03

After overseas employment agencies, there are now reports of education consultancy firms exploiting students who wish to pursue higher studies abroad.

For a society that takes pride in empowering its children with education, this is a sad development.

The plight of 23 students who were duped to study in Malaysia came to light only after some students decided to return home and shared their story. The education ministry has now requested the foreign ministry’s assistance to repatriate the 18 students who are in Malaysia on expired visa.

It is not that the ministry was unaware of this case.  It was. The issue has been going on for a year and the ministry’s complacency to respond to the risks the 23 students were facing is disturbing. In such a case, we can hardly blame the students and parents for being naïve and trusting.

As education gets commercialised and people literate, we appear to have become a society that sees business opportunities in the desperation of the unemployed and high school students wanting to complete graduation. We have no qualms about exploiting children whose parents have sought loans to educate or send them overseas to work.  The rising cases of drug abuse among our youth are not enough to get our law enforcers crack down on access and trafficking of controlled substances.

We must ask why we have become so indifferent to these issues. We have a problem when we laud the rescue efforts of the government when one of its ministry’s lapses allowed such instances to occur in the first place.

The problem doesn’t end with the firm owner absconding and the ministry suspending licences. It instead calls for stern actions because it concerns the lives of the youth and their education, our future. The government must act and fix accountability. It should review and strengthen its monitoring services, create awareness and fix the lapses that led to such situations.

There are more than 30 education consultancy firms registered with the department of adult and higher education today. They must be consulted as well in addressing the challenges of sending students abroad. Records show that there are more than 2,000 tertiary students abroad on self-funding. An additional 936 are on scholarships.

Bhutan has always valued education and the sector continues to receive a large share of the annual budget. Our leaders, teachers and parents work hard to ensure that our children in schools get the best education. Why do we then falter and become complacent with their education when these children are on the threshold of their academic lives?

For a small and dependent country like ours, education is the most important thing we could give our children. We must not tolerate firms that chose to exploit the country of its future.

Council & Assembly strained over fiscal incentives deadlock

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 16:02

The Parliament’s recent decision to endorse the Fiscal Incentives 2017 as a money bill has raked up several ambiguities for the government.

At the post-session press conference on June 20, the National Council’s spokesperson and deputy chairperson, Tshering Dorji, said the government should collect taxes that were forgone without the Parliament’s approval. Most beneficiaries of the tax holidays are private businesses.

Tshering Dorji said the Council is confident that the government will not come up with excuses to not collect the taxes. “It is the responsibility of any government to get back the taxes that were granted without following the law,” the spokesperson said.

Article 14(1) of the Constitution states, “Taxes, fees and other forms of levies shall not be imposed or altered except by law.”

According to the Supreme Court verdict on the first constitutional case, it is not only the tax incentives that the present government granted that should be collected. The government should also collect taxes that the former government gave from 2013 to the December 31, 2015.

This is because the former government granted fiscal incentives in 2013without the Parliament’s approval although the Supreme Court verdict in 2011, had ruled that fiscal incentives should be passed through parliament.

The present government gave continuity to the same fiscal incentives from January 1, 2016 to May 8, 2017. The government argues that it did not feel the need to pass them through the Parliament, since the former government had not done so.

The value of tax incentives granted by the two governments is expected to run into billions of Ngultrums.

During the recent parliament session, Speaker Jigme Zangpo said the Supreme Court would provide a directive for resolving the issues sorrounding the fiscal incentives. However, the Speaker told Kuensel yesterday “There is no ambiguity as the fiscal incentives have been passed as a money bill.”

Chairperson of Assembly’s legislative committee, Ritu Raj Chhetri, said the Assembly couldn’t seek the judiciary’s interpretation on constitutional matters. He said the responsibility to recover the taxes falls on the government.

“The Parliament has streamlined the procedure for passing fiscal incentives. The ball is now in the executive’s court,” he said.

The Fiscal Incentives 2016 was renamed as Fiscal Incentives Bill 2017 after the Assembly agreed to treat fiscal incentives as a money bill. Accordingly, the fiscal incentives will be effective retrospectively from May 8, 2017 the date the bill was introduced in the House.

This makes the fiscal incentives granted before May 8, 2017 and after the Supreme Court verdict unconstitutional and may have to be recollected.

Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) president Phub Zam said fiscal incentives benefit everyone, especially the private sector and are necessary for economic development.

“The private sector is not the law maker and it should not be made to suffer the consequences due to delay in the submission of the fiscal incentives bill,” the BCCI president said. “I hope the impasse will be resolved soon as it is hampering businesses.”

Meanwhile, the Council has rebuffed the National Assembly’s stand that the former cannot reject a money bill. The Assembly recently objected NC’s rejection of the fiscal incentives bill in totality, stating that the bill lacked objectives.

“We did not commit any breach of law by rejecting the fiscal incentives. We have passed about 30 money bills. We are fully aware of the rules,” Deputy Chairperson Tshering Dorji said.

Assembly members are firm that the House of Review has no say over a money bill and that the Council’s rejection of fiscal incentives was not in line with the Constitution.

“While we know that we don’t have the supremacy over money bills, the Council can legally deliberate and vote on them,” he said. “So a money bill can be passed or rejected by NC,” he said.

However, some Council members are unhappy that the Assembly did not deliberate on the objections they had forwarded to the lower house. “Instead of deliberating on our objections, they wasted time by questioning the legality of our rejection of the fiscal incentives,” a Council member said.

The government has continued to maintain and argue that it’s the prerogative of the government to grant fiscal incentives to the private sector.

The government has cited Chapter 2, Section 3(2) of the Sales Tax, Customs and Excise Act 2000, which states, “On the satisfaction and in public interest, the Ministry of Finance may exempt a person from the payment of Bhutan Sales Tax.” Chapter 3 Section 5(2) of the Act states: “On the satisfaction and in the public interest, the ministry may exempt a person from the payment of customs duty.”

Following the Supreme Court verdict, the Sales Tax, Customs and Excise Act 2000 was amended in 2012, but Chapter 2, Section 3(2) and Chapter 3 Section 5(2) were retained.

The government has also cited Part II, Chapter 3, Section 9 of the Income Tax Act 2001, which states that on satisfaction and in the public interest, the ministry may grant exemption and tax holidays to certain businesses.

The Supreme Court verdict stated that it is the prerogative of the government to declare and grant fiscal incentives or to propose taxes to meet expenses of the government. “However, the exercise of the power to alter the rate of taxes by the government alone under the ultra-vires provisions of the Sales Tax, Customs and Excise Act 2000 under the implied authority to impose indirect taxes or by any other branch of government amounts to usurpation of power not granted by the Constitution,” the verdict ruled.

The verdict also ruled that imposing and altering of taxes must be decided by the elected representatives of the people in its entirety and not only by a sub-group represented by the executive. “According to the constitutional provisions it must be approved and passed by Parliament.”

MB Subba

Foreign ministry’s help sought to repatriate students from Malaysia

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 16:00

The education secretary has written to the foreign secretary yesterday seeking the ministry’s support to repatriate 18 Bhutanese students who are stuck in Malaysia on expired visa. Seven of them are females.

An official from the Department of Adult and Higher Education (DAHE) said the education ministry wrote the letter to the foreign ministry after the special passes for the students expired on June 7.

The students are among the 23 who had applied for student visa and enrollment at Victoria International College, Kuala Lumpur Campus in Malaysia, through Drupthop Education Consultancy & Placement Firm (ECPF) in 2016.

Each student paid Nu 280,000 (about USD 4,307) as tuition fee and student visa fee.

A copy of the secretary’s letter has also been sent to the Royal Bhutan Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand for further perusal. When Kuensel contacted Ambassador Tshewang C. Dorji on the course of action to be pursued by the Embassy, he said he hasn’t received any directives from the ministry.

Drupthop ECPF proprietor Chhimi Rinzin had taken students to Malaysia on tourist visa in December 2016. The letter stated that the students were never informed that they were on tourist visa. When they arrived in Malaysia, they were asked to attend classes at the Victoria International College without formal admission and a valid visa.

The students who returned home could not attend the month long class because they didn’t have student visa and their passports were not with them. “We were staying idle in the apartment doing nothing,” one of the five who returned home, Doley Tshering said.

When their tourist visa expired in January this year, Chhimi Rinzin asked them to go to New Delhi, India to process for student visa promising that it would take about five days. After two months of their stay in New Delhi, they were informed that their visa has been processed and were asked to travel to Malaysia through Kolkata.  While five students returned home, 18 of them went to Malaysia only to find out that their visas had not been granted.

The letter stated that Chhimi Rinzin arranged for Ravi, her agent in Malaysia, to get the students out of the airport. They were made to stay in an apartment without any progress in their visa process. By the first week of May, Ravi arranged to stamp special passes for which Chhimi was asked to pay additional 3,200 Malaysian Ringgit (about Nu 51,000). He had taken all the passports and indicated that it shall be released only upon payment he made to stamp the special passes.

Some parents reported the case to the DAHE. An agreement was drawn between the parents and Chhimi Rinzin on May 16 where she agreed to bring back the students by May 25 and bear all expenses incurred thereof. However, on the same evening, she called Ravi and asked him to arrange work for the students. “This was a turning point of her stand after which we could not contact her despite all our efforts,” the letter signed by the education secretary Karma Yeshey stated. “She failed to abide by the agreement.”

Meanwhile, Chhimi also executed another agreement with the parents of five students who returned home. The parties signed the agreement on April 6 in presence of officials from the Quality Assurance and Accreditation Division, representing the Department of Adult and Higher Education (DAHE) as witness.

As per the agreement, Chhimi Rinzin would refund the money by May 31 and handover the academic transcripts safely to the parents/ guardians/students at the earliest. The aggrieved parents also agreed to waive off the interest component of the actual principal amount deposited into the firm account in 2016 if the firm refunds their money by May 31.

However, she reportedly disappeared after she failed to comply with the third internal agreement.

“Given the current scenario, their safety and security are at risk,” the letter stated. “While the students do not seem to be aware of their future and the department has exhausted all means to resolve the issue at the ministerial level, the ministry would like to seek your support for their safe return at the earliest.”

Meanwhile, students in Malaysia are hopeful that they may get training visa as their firm started sending payment for the visa. Few students want to return home. “Chhimi’s husband is going to finalise tomorrow about the full payment for those who wish to stay in Malaysia,” a student said. “Until now the agent has been providing us cash for food and lodge.”

DAHE yesterday issued a notification suspending the licences of three education firms including Drupthop ECPF.

Rinzin Wangchuk

TVET must keep apace with change: Symposium

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 15:59

More than 40 principals, vice-principals and senior instructors of technical training institutes (TTI), Institutes of  Zorig Chusums (IZC) institutes, and representatives from private training institutes and industries are attending the two-day TVET symposium in Thimphu.

The Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) professional services division of the labour ministry organised the symposium with the theme “Celebrating History of TVET in Bhutan – Towards TVET for Sustainable Development”.

Some pioneer TVET educationists, leaders of the TVET educationists and practitioners shared the history of TVET system in Bhutan and success stories to uplift the image of TVET.

Speakers highlighted that the disregard for vocational work still exists today, including the mismatch of jobs in the market.

One of the panelists, Anup Mahat from TTI in Khuruthang, said that there has been a lot of talk about the issue, yet nobody has worked towards improving the technical education and standardisation of the facility and trainers. “This should have taken place a long time back and the goodness in TVET is still missing.”

The concerns about how vocational jobs are still looked down upon as a blue-collar job were shared. The panel discussed how the people with vocational skills work in dissimilar fields leading to mismatch in the employment area.

Managing Director of Bhutan Power Corporation, Gem Tshering, who was one of the speakers, said: “If we are skilled to work in a certain field, there is no shame to work instead of working at office with minimal knowledge about the job.”

Another panelist, Tandin Dorji, said that Bhutan started TVET in 1965 and that there is a need to keep apace with changing time.

“When technologies are changing fast, how can we train the trainees with machines that was installed in 1965,” he asked. “This is where the mismatch of job is happening today.”

Head of Department of Bhutan Calcium and Carbide Limited (BCCL), Passang Sherpa, said that bonus and increment would help improve employee’s efficiency and to make jobs attractive.

The participants pointed out that despite having Bhutanese skilled workers, there is still large number of foreign nationals working in the country.

The chief executive officer of Construction Development Corporation Limited, Phuntsho Gyeltshen, said that the problem of minimum turn up of Bhutanese in such area of work couldn’t be solved immediately. “For every tender we provide, we have a requirement to have at least 30 percent of the Bhutanese workers for the project. Through such activities, employment opportunities are also made available.”

The symposium, which will end today, is aimed at educating leaders and managers of TVET institutions and organisations on TVET practice to prepare better TVET leaders in future. It is also expected to update and the current TVET system by sharing best TVET practices in the region.

There are 99 registered TVET providers operating in Bhutan including private, public, NGOs and corporations.

Yangchen C Rinzin 

Additional reporting by Phurpa Lhamo 

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