No study conducted for keeping previous PP admission age at six
Yangchen C Rinzin
All children who turn five years on or before February 5 will be eligible for admission this academic session.
Children who were refused admission for this academic session last year but meet the age criteria can approach schools for admission on February 4.
The official age for enrolment in grade PP so far was six years and above. However, the Cabinet recently decided that the admission age to be reduced to five years.
The Prime Minister’s Office wrote to the education ministry on January 8 telling the ministry to bring down the age limit for admission beginning this academic session.
The ministry’s notification issued on January 14 has asked both private and public primary schools to adjust and accommodate all the incoming eligible children.
The government decided to bring down the admission age criteria to ensure that the age aligned with the National Service (Gyalsung) that would be instituted in 2022.
Despite hiccups and many raised eyebrows on the government’s decision, which many criticise as rushed and irrational, the ministry had to go ahead and change the admission age.
The ministry had once revoked admission of 890 underage PP students (below 5.5 years) last year. Prime minister had asked the ministry to reconsider the decision but the ministry stood by its decision. However, it was later reconsidered as one-time adjustment following the directives from the Prime Minister.
The ministry strictly maintained the admission age limit at six years based on the documents issued on November 13, 1985. But yet again it had to give in following the recent directives from the government.
In the past, the ministry had turned down hundreds of parents requesting schools to admit their children, who fell short by a few days to reach the official age. The ministry had always argued that age six was as per the international calculation to support a child’s physical, intellectual, language, emotional and social developments.
The ministry derived its reasoning taking into account children’s development stages and wellbeing based on the wealth of global research findings and practices. The ministry also did not heed to the National Assembly’s recommendation to review and determine the PP admission.
Such arguments, Education Minister Jai Bir Rai said were never backed by a literature study conducted independently by the ministry and were depended on international studies and 1985 document.
“There have been arguments and pressure whether to bring down the admission age but many parents have shown willingness that their children are ready for school by 5 years,” Lyonpo said.
“We were stuck on such arguments, however, coincidentally Gyalsung happened. We must ensure that our children are ready for Gyalsung by the time they turn 18 years.”
Lyonpo said the parents should not expect the ministry to make any adjustments and admit four and a half years old students. Before, when the admission age was six years, the ministry allowed schools to take in 5.5-year olds if seats were available.
Lowering the age means the ministry will have to forgo and relook into its education policy guidelines and instructions.
Lyonpo said, however, this would not require a change to the entire guidelines except the age component. “This we can review and change. We’re confident the change would be implemented efficiently despite some glitches.”
With more than 6,000 additional students on top of the already admitted 13,000 PP students, the ministry has asked the schools to send in the details of additional students and teachers required including the infrastructure.
Lyonpo told Kuensel that although it was not sure how many additional students would be enrolled, it was certain that half of the already admitted students would be enrolled, which means the ministry should ensure enough space was created.
“The burden of additional students is likely to be felt in the urban schools, but some schools in rural areas do not have enough students in class PP,” Lyonpo said.
“However, we’re working on the estimation and that a team would come up with an eco-smart building that would be fast and efficient to construct.”
Lyonpo said that additional budget would be worked out for supplementary budget release and more teachers would be recruited on a contract or as assistant teachers. The teacher-student ratio today is 1:24 in lower schools. The additional enrollment would contradict the education policy.
Lyonpo explained that is only an ideal ratio and that it is not compulsory to stick to 1:24. “We might have to change the ratio once we change from summative to formative assessment, which is in the plan. This is just a beginning and everything will become smooth gradually.”
The ministry another argument to not enrol children below six years earlier was that all the curriculum for class PP were designed for a six-year-old child. This would be taken care of once the assessment is transformed into formative, the minister said. “The government has already done away with the examination for class PP-III.”
Following the lowering of the admission age, the ministry will also have to relook into the ambitious target to increase enrollment rate by 32 percent in the ECCD (3-5 years) this financial year in the annual performance agreement and 65 percent by five years.
“We’ll anyway enrol students from 3-4 years in the ECCD because whether 3 or 5 years, we have to have ECCD centres. It won’t impact the target and instead would have better facilities with fewer children.”
Lyonpo Jai Bir Rai said that there will be no issue with the additional PP students except increasing classrooms and budget, which the government is confident it can provide.
Lyonchhen earlier told Kuensel that admission age at six years old was subjective and it depended on the child’s mentation process because what a six-year-old child could do in the 1980s or 1990s a three-year-old can do today.
“The cognitive [development] depends on the curriculum designed, not on the age of a child going to school. We’ve to implement by next academic session itself to ensure no child misses the Gyalsung programme.”
As of 2019, there are 11,852 students enrolled in PP education according to the annual education statistics 2019. This is a decrease of 1,829 students as compared to 2018 enrolment, which the report claimed it was due to the ministry’s initiative to encourage right children age enrolment in PP where children of 6 years and above are enrolled in PP.
…to deliver justice and upholding the rule of law
Tshering Palden & Tashi Dema
Going by the Royal Audit Authority’s (RAA) review of judiciary system and practices, the judiciary needs to make significant reforms to deliver fair, just and equitable justices.
The report, issued in June 2019, which is still not accessible to the public, highlights numerous shortcomings that require remedial measures in both case management procedures and practices and legal and institutional framework.
RAA noted inconsistent case management practices in courts, as there is no standard to assess the performance of the courts, timeframe to dispose cases, fixed number of summon orders and rebuttals in trials.
There were also inconsistencies in the issuance of summon orders and bail amounts.
The hearing schedules in dzongkhags and drungkhags, according to the audit report, depends on the preferences and conveniences of the bench clerks, prosecuting agencies and the litigants, hampering the fairness and timely delivery of justice.
It also found unsystematic and ineffective scheduling of case hearings, as courts do not schedule hearings using hearing calendar. “The current practice of scheduling the hearings in trial courts is constantly associated with arbitrary changes based on preferences and convenience of the clerks leading to prolonged delays.”
There is no effective case registry system, as there are instance where courts entertained re-litigation of cases that are already decided or are pending before other courts. The practice violates section 127 and 115 of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC).
Without any mandate for courts to follow up on their judgement of civil cases unless an aggrieved party moves the court, there is no guarantee that all judgments of civil cases are effectively enforced.
RAA also found that there is no responsible institution to enforce civil case judgments.
It stated that the effectiveness of the court largely depends on how effectively their judgments are enforced but in the present judicial process, there are no mechanisms instituted to ensure effective implementation and ascertain the status of court judgments unless aggrieved party moves the court against defaulting party. “There is risk that some judgments passed are not implemented.”
There is no system instituted in the judiciary to assess and report on any inconsistencies in court decisions. Disparities in judgment between different levels of courts may invite unnecessary public criticism undermining the credibility of the judiciary.
RAA recommended the need for judiciary to institute a system to monitor, evaluate and report on any inconsistencies in judgements between different levels of court to inspire public confidence and enhance the credibility of the judiciary.
It was stated that although the appeal process mandates higher courts to clarify and interpret the law and correct the lower court’s errors, it doesn’t happen.
With relaxed appeal system, where litigants need not specify reasons for appeal and appellate courts accepting it irrespective of whether the case has legal basis or not, litigants to misuse the system for personal benefit. It also provides room for court officials to involve in undesirable practices.
Most of the appeal cases are monetary cases, as the right to appeal provides respite to the defaulting party but it affects the other party in getting justice on time.
In the administration, verification of current practice showed that 16 drangpons were not transferred from a place of posting even after three years although section 225 of the Judicial Service Act mandates it. About 59 bench clerks remained in the same place of posting for more than five years although BCSR stated they should be transferred within four to five years.
“Prolonged stay of judicial personnel in a particular place may result in unwarranted developments and transfer of experience and knowledge may not be feasible,” RAA stated.
There were no proper basis for sitting fees paid to the members of Royal Judicial Service Council and the rules and regulations for the payment of sitting fees was framed and adopted by the Supreme Court without consultation with the finance ministry.
RAA pointed out that judiciary doesn’t have a system instituted to declare conflict of interest by sitting drangpons until they declare it themselves although section 73 of the CCPC 2011 requires a case to be assigned to a drangpon who may not have or reasonably construed to not have a conflict of interest in a case. “In absence of transparent system of declaration of conflict of interest instituted, there is no assurance of general compliance of this import requirement by all drangpons.”
There were also no requirements for bench clerks to declare their conflict of interest in a case although they play a vital role in the case and its proceedings.
Audit also reported discrepancies in data maintenance, as the case information system and case management system used by judiciary were found unreliable. It stated that 58 percent of the data content was incorrect, incomplete and duplicate.
Meanwhile, there is hope for lawyers working in government organisations to become drangpon rabjams if the judiciary takes RAA recommendations of seriously.
The audit report stated that section 74 of the Judicial Service Act provides an option for the judiciary to appoint drangpons or drungkhag courts or drangpon rabjams from persons having served as registrar of a court for four or more years in succession or seven or more years as an advocate in succession. “Section 62 (F) of the Act requires drangpon rabjams to be in position level P1.”
But RAA observed that drangpon rabjams are appointed only from among persons having served as a registrar of a court and not fulfilling the requirements under section 62. “Although there was a position gap in appointment of drangpon rabjams, judiciary did not consider appointing from persons having served as an advocate.”
It recommended judiciary to appoint drangpon rabjams from government lawyers and other law practitioners recognised by the Bar Council, as the judiciary could not realise the position structure of judicial service personnel.
Where Bhutan is doing pretty damn poorly is visible. Where it needs to go in the 21st century is becoming unclear by the day. We are still talking too much and doing too less.
Bhutan could focus elsewhere for better gains than modern technologies such as IT and robotics and much more that is being talked about today. Data consumption and usage, more importantly, will be a serious challenge for Bhutan because there has not been equivalent investment in this sector.
We can dream and we can talk. We can even convince our friends and relations to think the way we do. But for what end if the nation is not prepared for this significant leap? IT education, the bedrock of all these phenomenal opportunities for growth, is today at best receiving only a lukewarm response. The thing with the technology is that we could often be the last users before something new comes up to nullify our efforts.
Speed of change. That’s the key. Bhutan has no advantage there. But that does not make us poor. What is actually making us poor is our inability to sell our best products. Bhutan can never be a military power and that is not even what the nation wants to be. Bhutan can never be an economic power, which we only dream of but can in fact achieve if we were to go rogue like many nations that are triggering disbalance the power play in the world today.
Bhutan has a national ethos which, unfortunately, many so-called advanced countries and economies do not have. We have never succumbed to and, will not ever, to the immediate gains that will ultimately prove dangerous to not just world the economy but the life of earth itself. No one has got modern economy quite right and that’s where Bhutan could step in.
Bhutan has what the larger world needs desperately today. Hawks will always be there because they are governed by their self-interests. The world must defeat them.
The world politics is in sad state of affairs. For Bhutan that’s nothing new. But we can do a lot more. If selling climate and culture is difficult, we aren’t doing enough. If we are not investing in our art and architecture, we aren’t doing anything. Talking too loud is so useless. How are we positioning ourselves better in this chaotic world today? In other words, how are we engaging with the world beyond? How far are we looking?
During the deliberation on the amendment of Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC) in the National Council, a member raised concerns about the judiciary amending the laws made by the parliament and the need to include a provision to control such powers. This was followed by a Kuensel article “Contradicting Supreme Court Orders confuse courts”, which discussed on a standing order and many legal experts raised concerns of such orders.
This standing order was issued on November 26, 2019, instructing all the courts to implement the earlier standing order issued on June 17, 2015, which declared S.199.8A unconstitutional making every criminal offence a bailable.
In Bhutan, though Article 1(13) of the Constitution makes it clear: “Separation of the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary” except as permitted by the Constitution. The separation of power adopted by numerous constitutions centuries ago mainly “as the system of checks and balances among the three arms of the government”.
Article 1(11) our constitution appoints the Supreme Court as the guardian and the final interpreter of the Constitution. This is an enormous authority the Supreme Court enjoys. However, reading this Article with Article 21 (8) and (10) does seem to limit the scope of authority of the Supreme Court.
For example, under Article 21 (8), Supreme Court can interpret the Constitution when there is a question of law or fact referred by His Majesty and under article 21(10), the Supreme Court can issue declaration, writs, orders, directions only based on circumstances of each case.
This indicates that there must be a case in order to exercise authorities under Article 21(10). Similarly, to interpret the provision on fundamental rights, it can be done only when a person aggrieved by action of the state is challenged. Thus, it is unclear, if current practice of Supreme Court issuing merely a standing order to amend or repeal parliamentary acts is within the framework of separation of powers.
Contrarily, Article 10 (1) explicitly states: “there shall be a Parliament of Bhutan in which all legislative powers under this Constitution were vested”. Therefore, legislative authority is an exclusive domain of the parliament. This can be inferred even from Article 1 (1) which states that, “Bhutan is a sovereign and sovereign power belongs to people of Bhutan” and parliamentarian are representatives of the people and not the judiciary.
When the principle of Separation of Power was propounded by a French Philosopher Montesquieu to fight against tyranny of the leaders who hold on absolute powers, he suggested that there is should absolutely no encroachment of each other. But with changing of times and shift in governance system towards people centric democracy, absolute separation of power is impossible and some overlap authorities into each other’s boundaries are inevitable.
Therefore, it is not uncommon for any legal system across the world that courts, in particular appellate courts, does amend lot of parliamentary acts through its decisions when a case has been filed before the court. But amendment of laws through issuance of standing order are often seen very rare in any democracy set up as it is often seen as direct infringement on the parliamentary domain.
Therefore, our judiciary must exercise due care when it requires to enter into domain of legislature to protect public confidence in the judiciary. Any form of power tussle between the judiciary and parliament is unhealthy for a democracy.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.
Gup refutes the allegations claiming it an administrative lapse
Chimi Dema | Punakha
Punakha dzongkhag’s internal audit is investigating Toebisa gup and Dochula-Menchuna tshogpa for allegedly embezzling contributions made for a fire victim of Begana chiwog.
The complaint was initially lodged to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the commission asked the dzongkhag administration to investigate and report.
It was learnt that the gewog collected some money from gewog residents and business people of Thinleygang after a woman, Pem, from Begana lost her two-storey traditional house on November 3, 2018, but she never received it.
Pem said she was not aware the gewog officials collected the money for her.
She said she remains grateful to the gewog officials for the help they rendered when she lost her house. “I was in the field, preparing for winter crop when a friend staying at the other side of our village saw thick smokes from my house. I rushed home but couldn’t save anything.”
According to Pem, villagers and gewog officials helped her in containing the fire, making temporary shed and providing rations, utensils and clothes. “Some neighbors also helped in cultivating my winter crops.”
She also received her house insurance of Nu 200,000 and semso from Gyalpoi Zimpon’s office. She didn’t know gewog officials collected money from shopowners in Thinleygang and villagers from other chiwogs until recently.
“I never expected monetary contribution and didn’t even bother about it after I heard it,” Pem said.
Shop owners in Thinleygang said gewog officials collected Nu 500 each from them as a semso to the fire victim. “We were also called for a meeting by the gewog officials before making the contribution,” a shop owner said. “Now we hear the money never reached the victim.”
There are about 14 shops in the Thinleygang town today.
Meanwhile, the dzongkhag internal audit said they do not see misuse of the cash as of now but an administrative issue.
He, however, said it would be confirmed once the investigation is completed. “We are waiting for our team to return from Gujarat, India, to conduct a thorough investigation.”
Gup Namgay Tenzin also claimed that it was an administrative lapse and not misuse of the cash.
He agreed that about Nu 12,000 was donated by shopowners and villagers from five chiwogs as a semso to the fire victim.
However, the money was kept with the tshogpa because they wanted to buy things for the victim and give instead of cash, as villagers supported in kind including rations. “We thought we will buy utensil and other necessary things.”
He claimed he was engaged in training and other official works in the meantime and forgot about the money. “The tshogpa also thought the budget was taken care of by other tshogpas.”
Gup Namgay Tenzin said the Dochula-Menchuna tshogpa, who was assigned as in-charge of painting the gewog office roof used the fund when he was out of station. “The gewog did not receive gewog development grant during that time and the initial allocated budget of Nu 22,000 wasn’t enough. The tshogpa unknowingly used the contribution, which was found in a cupboard.”
He said both he and the tshogpa were reminded of the money when the issue surfaced recently after people lodged the complaint to the ACC. “As the money was utilised for maintenance of gewog infrastructure, we decided to reimburse the cash from the gewog budget.”
He also claimed people complained because the local government election was nearing.
According to the gewog administrative officer, discussion to reimbursing the cash was held during the last gewog tshogde. “But we don’t know when to restitute the money.”
Nim Dorji | Trongsa
The 118MW Nikachu Hydroelectric project marked a significant milestone when it completed excavation of the head-race tunnel from both ends of the first and second phase on January 23.
The 12-km tunnel is a critical part of the project, HCC’s fifth hydroelectric project in Bhutan.
Guests and officials witnessed the event, also known as tunnel day-lighting moment, in Trongsa. Hindustan Construction Company is executing the works on contracted from Tangsibji Hydro Energy, a 100 per cent subsidiary of Druk Green Power Corporation.
DGPC managing director Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said that with rigorous planning and constant monitoring the project team was able to achieve the feat despite challenging working conditions. “The excavation works for diversion tunnel at the dam began on August 2, 2016, followed by Adit-III and Adit-II. We have achieved almost twice the overall physical progress compared to last year.”
The project faced multiple challenges such as poor rock strata, extremely cold conditions and high water-ingress during tunnel excavation.
Tangsibji Hydro Energy Managing Director, Sujan Rai said that with the breakthrough in the HRT construction the resource allocation to the other sites of the project has become possible.
He said that the concrete lining of phase two and three of the tunnel will begin immediately.
Rest of the HRT faces breakthrough is planned to be completed by the end of 2020 provided there are no geological surprises.
Of the 12km HRT, only 3.28 km is left for the excavation and the concrete lining of 8km is expected to be completed within 2020. As of January, 49 percent of the project is completed. The work at the powerhouse and dam are also progressing well.
A press release from the HCC stated that the civil work for the turbine foundation at the powerhouse has now been completed while work at the dam site is on in full swing. The erection of the project’s two turbines is expected to begin this month.
The project is worth Nu 11.96 billion. Of the total cost, 60.8 percent was from Asian Development Bank and 29.68 percent from Commercial Bank of India and 9.52 percent from DGPC.
One of the unique features of the Nikachhu project is that once it is complete the water from the tailrace tunnel will be connected to the Dam of MHPA, which will give additional power generation for MHPA during the lean season.
The project is expected to be operational by April 2021. Upon completion, Nikachhu project will export to the Power Trading Corporation of India.
…15 percent NPL not a major concern
While the rate of non-performing loans (NPL) has been rising in the country, Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said that it is not a major economic crisis.
Responding to Nganglam MP Choida Jamtsho’s question on the deteriorating economic situation from the growing NPL yesterday, finance minister said that the current NPL stood at Nu 21.5 billion (B), which is about 15 percent.
The 15 percent NPL, Lyonpo said, should not worry the public. “Globally, NPL more than 20 percent is only considered worrisome.”
But the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) figures reveal that hotel and construction sector alone caters to 30 percent NPL of its portfolios.
Lyonpo said that as of June 2019, the eight financial institutions (FI) has lent about Nu 143B of which major share was in the housing, tourism and hospitality, and trade and commerce sectors, which has also the highest NPL currently.
“Our NPL is just 15 percent and there is no reason for us to worry at this time,” he said.
Lyonpo explained that in 2016 when the RMA replaced the base rate policy with minimum lending rate (MLR) policy, the number of loan applicants increased by about 17 percent.
“With the increased loan applicants, the number of defaulters also increased as a corresponding effect thereby increasing the NPL,” he said, adding that the competition among the FIs to attract more clients through different schemes could have also let to the increased NPL.
He, however, said that the government in collaboration with RMA and FIs has devised several strategies and plans to address the current NPL issues.
One of the main strategies was to promote loan specialisation by different financial institutions. Lyonpo explained that the new strategy would allow respective FIs to loan money to a particular sector.
Another strategy was to provide securitisation of loan by the two insurance companies. “Under this strategy, even if the person is not able to repay the loan, the insurance would cover for it.”
Meanwhile, responding to the Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi’s question on the fiscal and trade deficits, finance minister said that total budget deficit in the 12th Plan is Nu 29B and not Nu 40B as mentioned by the MP.
However, Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering had earlier said that although the 12th Plan had a projected fiscal deficit of Nu 29B, it could touch Nu 40B should the government consider its various pledges.
MP Dorji Wangdi said the health ministry as informed by the health minister alone has a fiscal deficit of about Nu 12B in the 12th Plan. “If we add that to Nu 29B, the total deficit comes to about Nu 41B. Of the several pledges the government has made, the free WiFi alone would account for more than Nu 21B taking the total fiscal deficit to over Nu 62B.”
The increased budget outlay from the enlarged developmental activities combined with the decrease in the grant and aid from donors as a result of change in the economic status of the country by 2023, Dorji Wangdi said that the country’s economy would be in a major crisis.
The MP added that the country’s increasing trade deficit also posed a major threat to the country economy.
The minister said that in the past 15 months since the present government took over, the fiscal deficit has decreased to Nu 22B from Nu 29B. “The government’s tax reform initiative was a major step in addressing the current fiscal deficit.”
He said that with the introduction of innovative financing strategies and launching of the Bhutan Climate Fund including the promotion of public-private partnership schemes, it would further help address the fiscal deficit.
On the trade deficit, Lyonpo said that the government plans to decrease the trade deficit of Nu 30B as of 2018, which is around 16 percent of GDP to 13 percent in the current financial year. “Economic diversification and substituting imports by promoting cottage and small industries would also address the trade deficit.”
Officials from the human settlement (MoWHS) presented the progress status of the Water Flagship Programme (WFP) to prime minister on January 23.
Activities for the 15 dzongkhags and four thromdes are being planned.
Project Management Unit has adopted four strategies with an overall allotted budget of Nu 2,671.96 million. The strategies include declaration and protection of critical watersheds and wetlands, development of adequate and climate-resilient infrastructure for thromdes and dzongkhags (municipalities and rural areas), improvement of drinking water quality surveillance and the better implementation of water legislation and governance.
The maximum budget has been allotted for the second strategy owing to more activities.
Programme Manager Sonam Jamtsho said, “Under the first strategy, the consultation workshops with Sarpang and Gelephu thromde have been completed and also the gewog level consultations on watershed management. Demonstration on assessment in the field has also been completed. Training workshop for field officials of Sarpang and Manas forest division have been conducted and initiated the incorporation of watershed assessment for 10 dzongkhags. ”
Sonam Jamtsho said that in the second strategy, the sensitisation tour to local governments in 11 dzongkhags and four thromdes were carried out to identify irrigation schemes, areas with critical water scarcity and possibility of exploration of groundwater.
Officials said the expression of interest to recruit three consultants was floated from December 2 to January 13 which includes the introduction of climate-resilient water treatment technologies in partnership with University of Applied Sciences, Dresden, Germany, identification of urban water projects for Asian Development Bank (ADB) loan financing, and discussions on exploration of groundwater resources with the Department of Geology and Mines.
Expert mission from Water Management International (France) to carryout assessment of non-revenue water for Thimphu and Phuentsholing thromdes, identifying rural water supply schemes for financing through Green Climate Fund in partnership with Food and Agriculture Organisation, and preparatory work for loan financing from ADB for urban projects are ongoing, as per the officials.
Bidding document for procurement of equipment for water quality testing under preparation has been included in the third strategy.
The official said that the Chukha, Mongar, Pemagatshel and Samtse were identified for the preliminary assessment of groundwater.
They said they would receive technical assistance from World Bank for the rapid assessment of institutional setup for creation of water agency. “We initiated the collection of data and preliminary assessment of water tariff guideline. Regarding the integration of irrigation, schemes were identified for possible integration for seven dzongkhags.”
Lack of accurate data on water sources, quality of planning and design, urgent need for water resources mapping, and need to assess ground water resources in critical areas were some of the key observations from the sensitisation tour.
Concerns about the sustainability of infrastructures after the completion of the flagship programme, resource gap and availability of experts are identified as challenges.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering informed the officials that the WFP would be an independent body in the future and instructed the officials to collect water-related data from all the gewogs and villages and make better use of expertise and resources.
Neten Dorji | Trashiyangtse
Residents of more than 70 households in Jamkhar, Trashiyangtse, who use Jigtsam lhakhang to conduct their monthly rituals, are worried they would not have a common place to conduct rituals.
Without proper maintenance after the 2011 earthquake, the lhakhang is now on the verge of collapse. Major cracks have been developed on the walls.
Located more than 10kms from the gewog centre, the two-storey lhakhang caters two chiwogs in the village. Residents say the lhakhang is more than 200 years old and it was a private lhakhang before the owner handed it over to the community.
A lay monk, Pema, said if the government doesn’t support the lhakhang renovation, people would not be able to do it on their own. “The lhakhang will turn into ruins.”
He said it does not look good when a village doesn’t have a lhakhang in a religious country like Bhutan.
Laishum-Larjab tshogpa, Kota, said two chiwog tshogpas raised the issue to the gewog and dzongkhag several times but nothing has been done until now.
Residents also claim except for the lhakhang, all other lhakhangs in the gewog was renovated.
Another tshogpa, Ngotong, of Ninda-Paachu chiwog, said the gewog allocated a budget of Nu 7 million in 2012 but it was not approved by officials claiming the lhakhang doesn’t need renovation. “Officials would only know if they visit the lhakhang.”
Meanwhile, Jamkhar gup Karma Tshewang said that gewog administration is well aware of the issue and they expect the lhakhang to be renovated in 12th Plan, as they allocated Nu 300,000 for renovation works.
The gup said if Kholongchu hydro project starts, they would seek donation to reconstruct the lhakhang.
In 1974, in a short and simple but traditional ceremony, the Ngulturm was formally launched in Thimphu as the legal tender of the country. Five years later, in 1979, the national currency was declared as the only legal tender money in Bhutan.
On the morning of April 6, 1974, Her Royal Highness Ashi Sonam Chhoden Wangchuck released the first currency paper notes. The ceremony was held in Tashichhodzong in the presence of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo and the Cabinet. The paper notes released were of one, five and ten denominations.
Kuensel covered the historic occasion. According to the April 14 issue, “Rs. Nu 10 Lakhs worth of notes have been printed bearing the signature of HRH Ashi Sonam Chhoden Wangchuck as His Majesty’s representative in the Ministry of Finance.” It further states: “All Bhutanese notes will be legal tender on par value with Indian notes which shall also remain legal tender.”
The Nu 10 note was printed in purple colour with undertones of orange and white. The note had the portrait of His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck printed on it. The back of the note had a sketch of the Simtokha Dzong.
Similarly, the Five Ngultrum note had a portrait but that of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The back of the note had a colour sketch of the Paro Dzong. The note was printed in reddish brown with undertone of orange and green.
According to Kuensel, the size of both the five and ten corresponds to that of the Indian Rs 10 and Rs 5 notes. The Nu 10 note was released to commemorate His Late Majesty and came into immediate circulation. The Nu 5 was to released only in June to commemorate the historic coronation of His Majesty Fourth Druk Gyalpo.
The Nu One note did not have any portrait but had juxtaposed Dorji (Vajra) and a pair of Dragon. It was blue in colour and, like the Nu 10, came into immediate circulation.
According to Kuensel, the paper currency was designed by the master craftsman Khikhor Lopon and his counterpart PB Chitnis of the Indian Security Press. V Swaminathan executed the project under the direct supervision of HRH Ashi Sonam Chhoden Wangchuck.
The India Security Press printed these notes for the first and last time. Located in the state of Maharashtra, the government press was charged with the task of printing various Indian government documents, including postage stamps.
Like the Indian currency, the words, “I promise to pay the bearer the sum of Ten Rupee,” was printed in the currency but only in Dzongkha.
The first time was the Nu 5 notes circulated was in the Tashichhodzong during the Tendrel Phunsum Tshogpa ceremony. On June 2, it was offered to the various dignitaries that attended the ceremony. Out of the 10 offerings the cash offering was the last signifying the end of the ceremony.
On June 2, 1974, the public including students who had gathered on the grounds of the Banquet hall were given cash gifts of Nu 15 each.
On June 3, the Ngultrum was distributed for the second time to the people of Bhutan who had congregated in Changlimithang to celebrate the coronation.
The tradition of distributing money to the people known as changgyaps during important and national occasion continues to this day. For many who flocked to the coronation, receiving of the money was their highlight.
According to the Annual Report (1972-73) of the Ministry of Finance, the Government of India gave our government a grant of Rs 45 lakhs. The money was used to prepare for the coronation. In the Receipt Payment of the year, Rs 15,78,151 was reflected as preliminary expense for the coronation of His Majesty. It is likely that the amount of 10 Lakhs or at least 22 percent of the fund was used from this grant to print the currency.
The first time the Ngultrum appeared in a government document was in 1974. In the Plan Progress Report-April 1, 1974 to December 31, 1974, prepared by the Ministry of Development states: “The total plan outlay for the first three years of the plan was Nu 1,866.07 lakhs. A further expenditure of Nu 564.92 lakh was incurred during the first nine months of the fourth year.” In the 41 page report, Ngultrum is used at least 11 times.
The second lot of paper currency was printed and released in 1978. The Dzongkha version of the word “Ngultrum” was misspelt “Ngulkram.” This was the result of Dzongkha typewriter that did not have the alphabet, “Tah.”
Five years after the Ngultrum was formally released, in 1979, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo announced it as the only legal tender money in the country.
On 3 January 1979, a meeting was called as follow up of the Gelephug meeting. The Minutes of the Meeting were handed out and discussed in details.
The neatly typed four-page report in foolscap paper has this important announcement. According to the Minutes, “His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo has been pleased to command that from May 1979, coinciding with the birthday of His Majesty, the Late King, Ngultrum will be introduced as the only legal tender money in Bhutan.”
His Majesty stated that “the use of our currency will enable us to have effective control over the monetary policy and help us to indicate our trade deficit more clearly making the people aware of the need to produce goods for domestic consumption and for export.”
There are at least three theories of the etymology of Ngultrum. The first is that the word Ngultrum is dngul-tam. Dngul means silver and tam means distribution. In Dr John Ardussi’s thesis, “Bhutan before the British, a Historical Study,” he states, “the question of currency values and types circulating in Bhutan during the 18th century is little known from the native literature. The dngul-tam may have been a local silver coin of moderately high value. In the 18th century, prize horses were given to princes of Cooch Bihar as gifts. These horse were worth 130 dngul-tam.”
Dr Wolfgang Betsch, a numismatist, thinks that “Ngultrum” is a combination of two words: Ngul or Silver and Trum which means Tangka. The term “Tangka” refers to a Tibetan silver coin that has been coined since the mid 1600s.
The third popular theory of the origin of the etymology of Ngultrum is that it is derived from Taka. Also known as the Tanka or Tangka, it was one of the major historical currencies of Asia, particularly in the Indian subcontinent and Tibet and became a currency of the Silk Road. It was inscribed in numerous languages across different regions, including in Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Hindustani, Bengali, Nepali, Tibetan and Mandarin. The taka was traditionally equal to one silver rupee in Islamic Bengal.
Before the Ngultrum was released, Tigchung coins were in circulation. For example, in 1966, during the 25th session of the National Assembly, it proposed minting of one crore of Tigchung in India. At the time, Tigtsa was not available in India so it had to be imported. “This would cost the government of Bhutan about 9 Lakhs in hard currency which was procured. The House also learnt that the country would be benefitted by Rs 36 lakhs after having the costs for the minting materials and the mint charges.”
National currency is one of the symbols of an independent country. So far, there has been no national discourse on the etymology of the Ngultrum. In 1974, the Ngultrum replaced the Tigchungs and was formally launched as national currency. This ceremony was quiet, simple but traditional and held in the capital.
Bhutan is expected to produce 2,435 metric tonnes (MT) of crops and vegetables under the national organic flagship programme (NOFP) by the end of this year.
With a total budget of Nu 1 billion, the programme will focus on the production of quinoa, buckwheat, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, asparagus, mushroom, beans, cauliflower, and chilli in the fiscal year 2019-2020 on 1,000 acres.
While presenting the update at the Prime Minister’s Office January 23, NOFP manager Kezang Tshomo said that organic buckwheat and vegetables were already in the market. Vegetables were sold to the local market and a portion of buckwheat was bought back as seeds.
“Under the flagship programme, certification is necessary. As soon as cultivation areas are identified, and cultivation starts, certification will also begin,” Kezang Tshomo said.
Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) is working on the accreditation process and is expected to implement it by June this year.
Under the International Organisation for Standardisation 17065, a prerequisite for certification bodies certifying products, processes and services, BAFRA will be accredited as the country’s organic agriculture produce certifying body.
“Quinoa and buckwheat will be BAFRA and Local Organic Assurance System certified by June,” Kezang Tshomo said. “We are exploring international organic certification opportunities in different regions as well,” she added.
The certification would enable Bhutan to explore international markets for organic products.
The programme was suggested to explore opportunities to set out a sales outlet through Bhutanese embassies in other countries and involving the export promotion division in the Department of Trade.
The locations for organic sales outlet in Paro and Thimphu were identified but are not operational as of today.
Currently, most of the organic produce in the country were sold to One Gewog One Product initiative and Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited. An official suggested that market opportunities in the school feeding programme should be explored too.
PMO said there should be a link between production, collection, aggregation and transportation of organic products to encourage growers. The producers were found to be discouraged due to the lack of an established market chain.
Meanwhile, 2MT of organic seed would be produced by the end of this year. By the end of the programme, 20MT of seed and 31,000MT of organic products are expected to hit the market. The programme registered local seed growers for organic seed production.
“Sowing is not yet complete due to seasonal variations but quinoa and buckwheat seeding has started in the south,” Kezang Tshomo said.
To reduce imported chemical fertilisers by 50 percent, the organic manure production plant is under construction in Pasakha while upscaling activities of vermicompost unit in Samtse and organic manure production unit in Glelephu have started.
But the programme’s progress is impeded by lack of expertise and laboratories, among others.
NOFP’s Annual Performance Agreement was signed last August between the Prime Minister and the agriculture minister to bring in socio-economic development through sustainable production of safe and nutritious foods. It is also expected to increase revenue and GDP while engaging youth and farmers.
Many people in Bhutan will be observing losar (ལོ་གསར་) or New Year’s Day today, 25 January 2020, and it is appropriate that we celebrate this day as a traditional New Year’s Day in the Bhutanese calendar. Like Lomba, Karm Nyaru and Nyilo, this is an ancient calendar event observed in many parts of Bhutan, although today it has got the misnomer Sharchokpi Losar as it is currently popular in eastern Bhutan, and Chunyipi Losar for falling on the first day of the twelfth Mongolian and Tibetan month. It is an old tradition of New Year’s Day based on both the movement of heavenly bodies in the sky and agricultural cycle on the ground.
This ancient tradition of New Year’s Day, falling on the first new moon day after nyilo or winter solstice and in the month when the full moon meets with the constellation Gyal (རྒྱལ་), Pushya Nakshatra or Cancri, was widely celebrated in Bhutan and other parts of the Himalayas, and was also recorded in texts such as the Gongdue (དགོངས་འདུས་) teachings of Sangay Lingpa (1340-96). Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the founder of Bhutan, was a staunch follower of Sangay Lingpa’s teachings. He invited Sangay Lingpa’s descendant Rigzin Nyingpo to bestow him the entire teachings of Sangay Lingpa and incorporated rituals such as the Lama Gongdue into the ritual curriculum of the State Monk Body. In this way, the Gongdue calendar is also significant in Bhutan’s religious institutions.
However, it was perhaps not only due to Sangay Lingpa that Zhabdrung followed this New Year’s Day. When he came to Bhutan, this losar was probably the most popular New Year’s Day among his new subjects and they most likely considered this as the beginning of a year. Probably for these reasons, Zhabdrung chose this losar as the time to change the officials of his new government and monastic body in Punakha, and perhaps, it was also on this New Year’s Day that his subjects paid tributes and felicitations to him, which may have led to the traditional day of offering. Thus, the tradition of observing this losar or New Year’s Day and this lunar month of Gyal or Tiger month (སྟག་ཟླ་) as the first month of the year was probably important to Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal for both religious and worldly reasons.
Given this, it is odd that Bhutan did not adopt this losar as the main losar or New Year’s Day but followed the Tibetan New Year which was a legacy of Mongol rule over Tibet. The losar, which we now call Dangpi Losar and have two days of public holiday, is based on a calendrical system started by the Mongolians. When Ghengis Khan invaded the ancient Tangut kingdom and successfully took control over it in 1227, he held celebrations of victory. The month of victory celebrations was marked as the first month of the year, and the day came to be annually observed as New Year’s Day. This tradition later reached Tibet through the descendants of Genghis Khan as they took control of the Tibetan plateau. The months came to be known as Horda (ཧོར་ཟླ་) or Mongolian months and the New Year was observed as Royal or King’s New Year (རྒྱལ་པོའི་ལོ་གསར་) perhaps referring to the Mongolian Rulers. In subsequent centuries, the practice reached Bhutan and the term Horda was used in Bhutan as late as 1980s when it was changed to Drukda (འབྲུག་ཟླ་) or Bhutanese month by our astrologers. Thus, the day we call Dangpi Losar has no auspicious reason or significance for the Bhutanese and Himalayan communities as a part of seasonal cycle although it is considered the beginning of a holy Chotrul month.
The origin story of Dangpi Losar shows how calendar systems can change with political and religious changes. So, it is about time we also stop celebrating a losar which commemorates somebody else’s victory in a land most Bhutanese have not even heard of. In contrast, this losar has much antiquity and significance for its astral, agricultural and political significance. This ancient losar truly marks a new season as it falls around winter solstice and the midpoint between old and new agricultural seasons.
This losar is an old Bhutanese New Year’s Day and a real beginning, when one can wish everyone a happy, joyous and successful New Year.
A great year of Male Iron Rat to everyone!
Karma Phuntsho (Phd)
President of the Loden Foundation and the author of many books and articles including The History of Bhutan.
The National Assembly yesterday added a new Section in the Mines and Minerals Bill 2020, which states that the state shall ensure broad-based ownership in mining operations by requiring 49 percent of shareholding to be floated to the public.
The existing mining law requires the mining promoters to float 30 percent of the total shareholding of the company.
Proposing the new Section, chairman of the economic and finance committee Kinley Wangchuk said that it would ensure mining resources benefit the maximum people. He said that mining resources are being enjoyed by a handful of people.
The new Section, he said, would enable small investors invest in the mining sector.
Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said that there are 26 mining companies and 40 stone quarries in the country. He said that keeping 40 percent shares to the public was in line with distributing the mining wealth to maximum people in the country.
The committee had proposed at least five prompters in a mining company. However, members said that having more promoters would increase the chances of corruption and the House rejected the committee’s proposal.
The House also decided that all mineral reserve proven by the geology and mines department shall be allocated through public notifications through open competitive bidding process or to a state owned enterprises.
Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said that there was no need for the government to invite bids if a mining work is given to a state-owned enterprise (SOE). “The government can directly allocate the work to a SOE,” he said.
The National Assembly also decided to increase the lease period from 15 years to 20 years. The Bill had proposed to increase to 30 years.
“Those mines whose lease period is 15 years will get additional five years and others that have 10 years lease period will have 10 more years,” the committee chairperson, Kinley Wangchuk said.
The House decided that the mining shall be leased through open auction for the expected economic life of the mine or for a maximum period of 20 years, whichever is less. The Bill has no provision for renewing the lease, which means that once the lease period expires the mining will be leased through open auction.
According to the Bill, the leasee should start mining operation within the period specified and carry out mining operations in accordance with the Mine Plan, Environmental and Social Risk Management and Mitigation Plan and the lease agreement.
Communities affected by mining operations say that they have little to benefit from mining in their localities, while the impacts threaten their livelihood and health.
But miners says that the corporate social responsibility carried out by the company had directly benefited the community and shareholders benefited from returns on their investments.
Some officials say that there weren’t many operators due to the capital-intensive nature of the business and that the country was benefiting in the form of taxes.
The Parliament is hoping to make sure that the Bill would enable the mining sector to create thousands of jobs and ease the business operation in the mining sector.
The Mines and Minerals Management Act 1995 has never been amended although several changes and related issues have emerged in the last 24 years.
Minerals are among the top 10 exports of the country. Seven mine-based industries (MBIs) in the country paid a total of Nu 455.8 million (M) in 2017 and Nu 601.2M in 2018 as Corporate Income Tax (CIT), according to reports available with the committee.
The net profit earned by the seven MBIs was Nu 1.1 billion (B) in 2017 and Nu 1.3B in 2018. According to the reports, the total royalty and mineral rents levied was less due to the application of incentivised royalty system.
The House will continue the deliberation of Lhengye Zhungtshog Bill
Discussion on the eligibility and qualification of cabinet or council of ministers sparked heated debate at National Council yesterday while deliberating on the Lhengye Zhungtshog Bill of Kingdom of Bhutan 2020.
Social and Cultural Affairs Committee (SCAC) of the House, which introduced the Bill, proposed the criteria for the nomination of the cabinet as an elected member of the National Assembly and possess qualification as prescribed in the Constitution and other relevant laws.
Gasa’s MP Dorji Khandu, said that due to lack of specific requirement, people’s trust and confidence in the cabinet had declined over the years. The people, he said, had begun raising concerns over the new and young ministers.
“Qualification and experiences should be a crucial condition.”
The absence of specific criteria, if continued, would become a political game, he added.
Dorji Khandu said that for the sake of gaining majority votes, there were chances that the ministers would be nominated from the dzongkhags with a bigger population and more constituencies, which would have impact on balanced economic development.
“For instance, Thimphu—the capital and most developed dzongkhag—has both two ministers—prime minister and health minister,” he said, adding that selection of cabinet ministers could become a political pledge in the future. “Such practices could undermine the credibility and authenticity of the position.”
Chukha’s MP Sangay Dorji said that the criteria were already mentioned in the Constitution and Election Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan.
Some members were of the stand that there were already limited people coming forward to join the politics, and said that rules should not restrict anyone. In a democracy, they argued, door should be kept open for any individual who fulfils the general criteria to join a political party and appointment to the cabinet.
The eligibility and qualification with other clauses will be re-deliberated.
Dorji Khandu further said that there was no rule to remove a prime minister if the vote of no confidence was against the PM.
Chapter 17 of Bill states that the removal of prime minister or ministers will require a two-third-majority vote of no confidence.
Some provisions of Lhengye Zhungtshog Act of 1999, which was enacted before the Constitution, were found to be contradicting with the Constitution. The National Law Review Taskforce also found the Act redundant and recommended repeal.
Considering the important role of the executive, deputy chair of the committee, Ugyen Namgay, said that a separate Act was required for guidance and convenience while executing its power and functions.
The Bill has ten chapters and 83 sections including set procedures for the formation and composition, powers, responsibilities, and functions including its Secretariat to enable the Lhengye Zhungtshog to discharge its responsibilities in an efficient, fair and transparent manner.
The Bill also prescribes code of conduct for the members of the Lhengye Zhungtshog to preserve and enhance the public’s confidence and trust.
Going by the Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perception Index for 2019, Bhutan has not made much progress in tackling corruption last year because it stayed in the same position as 2018.
TI released its report yesterday and ranked Bhutan 25th out of 180 countries or territories with a score of 68. The average score is 43. In 2017, Bhutan was in 26th place.
The report stated that Western Europe and European Union region scored highest and Sub-Saharan Africa region the lowest.
It stated that the CPI 2019 showed corruption was more pervasive in countries where huge money could flow freely into electoral campaigns and where governments listen only to the voices of wealthy or well-connected individuals.
It also reveals that a staggering number of countries are showing little to no improvement in tackling corruption. “Our analysis also suggests that reducing huge money in politics and promoting inclusive political decision-making are essential to curb corruption,” the report stated.
It stated that fraud which occurs at the highest levels of government to petty bribery that blocks access to basic public services such as health care and education, citizens are fed up with corrupt leaders and institutions. “This frustration fuels a growing lack of trust in government and further erodes public confidence in political leaders, elected officials and democracy.”
According to the report, the current state of corruption demand a need for greater political integrity in many countries. “To have any chance of curbing corruption, governments must strengthen checks and balances, limit the influence of big money in politics and ensure broad input in political decision-making. Public policies and resources should not be determined by economic power or political influence, but by fair consultation and impartial budget allocation.”
The report recommends that for democracy to be effective against corruption, governments must ensure that elections are free and fair.
Governments must promote the separation of powers, strengthen judicial independence and preserve checks and balances.
Preventing and sanctioning vote-buying and misinformation campaigns are essential to rebuilding trust in government and ensuring that citizens can use their vote to punish corrupt politicians.
To end corruption and restore trust in politics, it is imperative to prevent opportunities for political corruption and to foster the integrity of political systems.
Governments should protect civil liberties and political rights, including freedom of speech, expression and association.
Governments should engage civil society and protect citizens, activists, whistleblowers and journalists in monitoring and exposing corruption.
In order to prevent excessive money and influence in politics, governments should improve and properly enforce campaign finance regulations. Political parties should also disclose their sources of income, assets and loans, and governments should empower oversight agencies with stronger mandates and appropriate resources.
Governments should promote open and meaningful access to decision-making and consult a wider range of groups, beyond well-resourced lobbyists and a few private interests. Lobbying activities should be public and easily accessible.
Governments should create mechanisms to ensure that service delivery and public resource allocation are not driven by personal connections or are biased towards special interest groups at the expense of the overall public good.
It should reinforce checks and balances, strengthen electoral integrity, empower citizens and control political financing.
A 12-year-old boy died after he fell off from a guava tree in Samdrupjongkhar yesterday afternoon.
The incident occurred near the workshop area when the deceased was playing with his friends.
According to sources, the deceased fell off the guava tree, which was about 15ft high and hit his head on the electric poles kept beneath the tree. The incident occurred around 1:30pm. They said the deceased must have slipped while playing.
The friends went home and informed the deceased’s parents, as they could not evacuate him to the hospital. The parents then took him to the hospital.
The health officials said the deceased was brought dead to the hospital around 2pm.
“It was late by about 15 to 20 minutes,” an official said, adding that they were no major injuries on his body.
Officials said the deceased succumbed to severe head injury and excessive bleeding from the mouth.
The Bhutan Crowdfunding platform has spurred on the growth of three startups in seven months.
When access to finance is deterring entrepreneurs, and banks turning them down frequently, this platform has come as a promising alternative source of financing. A new investment avenue for the public is being shaped.
The world’s smallest stock exchange has shown the way concerning innovative financing model and that too backed by technology. What is even more captivating is that the Royal Securities Exchange of Bhutan has developed these online portals including the trading and live market orders inhouse.
The government may want to take note of these developments because the stock exchange is well equipped to promote the capital market. What they lack is interest from the bigger companies to go for listing and government’s stubbornness to divest shares of state enterprises.
The stock exchange, however, is preparing small startups to gradually go for initial public offering (IPO). The three startups will be required to hold AGM, form a board of directors and comply with regulations. When these companies come for IPO, it is expected that their operation is already in sync with corporate governance codes. This is besides the jobs they create in the value chain could be huge.
Notwithstanding the reality, the idea appears promising.
In reality, the stock exchange is shrinking with few mining companies on the verge of delisting. Lack of incentives coupled with heavy regulation is not attracting new listings. Even as we boast of the success of crowdfunding, our young entrepreneurs are struggling to gain investors’ trust.
Our economic policies and regulations must be coherent and converge on the same course. Even other policies and laws must be sensitive to the economic needs. Trust factor must be entrenched at every stage, between the government and the private sector in particular.
Technology should be perceived as an inevitable tool to pursue futuristic economic development.
Nevertheless, the market capitalisation has touched record high due to vigorous trading in the secondary market. But we need more players, not just to promote local investment but to create decent jobs, given the potential and credibility that comes with the listing.
For now, our young faces behind the startups need motivation and investment to scale up. The story of Microsoft, Facebook and other global giants would have been different if their young promoters suffered from trust vacuum.
Our collective effort and a small sum could help them create giant companies that will steer a self-reliant economy.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
For the past four years, 41-year-old Dechenmo has been running a flower nursery at Wangkha, Chukha.
The business is her main occupation but it has suffered from reaching a larger market.
“I want to take my flowers to Thimphu,” Dechenmo said. “But the thromde doesn’t allow me to sell the flowers there.”
The florist said that the business was good and she would earn Nu 20,000 per month from her 50 decimal nursery during peak season. She also made 100 flower pots and sold them all recently.
Dechenmo shared her story at the “awareness generation workshop on gender dimensions of trade facilitation in Bhutan” in Phuentsholing yesterday.
Organised by Bhutan Media and Communications Institute (BMCI), the workshop is a part of a regional project called “Gender Dimensions of Trade Facilitation; Evidence from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal.”
The workshop created awareness on the business environment for women in Bhutan with reference to available policies, facilities, support services, business infrastructure, and social and economic support.
BMCI director Pushpa Chhetri said the gender dimension project was to understand the women in medium and small-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal.
“We are trying to understand the challenges women face in doing business,” she said.
Women comprise about half of the population in Bhutan and there was the need to understand where they stood in terms of trade. Although there is protection legally, Pushpa Chhetri said it was the question of women availing the services optimally or not.
BMCI has surveyed the women in trade and business in Phuentsholing, Thimphu and Samdrupjongkhar to find out such issues. The workshop was to validate and authenticate the survey findings.
National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) director Kunzang Lhamo, who is also the project’s advisory committee member said the project was about how Bhutanese women were faring in trade and facilitation.
“It is to know whether there is enabling environment for women entrepreneurs in trade,” she said, adding that there is a dearth of information on women’s economic empowerment.
“We are hoping to generate information through this project so that we can carry out critical actions to create enabling gender-friendly environment for women entrepreneurs in the trade sector.”
Kunzang Lhamo said that it was found that most women in trading were either SMEs or other cottage industries. They are operating informally for self-employment, she said explaining it left room for vulnerabilities.
Various other issues and opportunities were also discussed at the workshop.
Fronting issue in Phuentsholing was also highlighted. Use of digitised marketing strategies, proper marketing and branding, and financing and its struggles were also discussed.
The proprietor of Manu Exports that deals in boulders, dolomite powder and crushed stones, Ashika Rai, 28 said Bhutanese women are “very shy.”
“They don’t usually come up to do business,” she said, adding that women also depended heavily on their spouses for financial support.
“I would like to encourage women of my generation into the business.”
Meanwhile, BMCI will disseminate the project report to all the relevant stakeholders. It would also be shared during the National Policy Dialogue. The findings would also be tabled for discourse at the regional level in which Bangladesh, India and Nepal will participate with their findings.
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
Poultry farming, one of the most profitable businesses in Trashigang is facing difficult times.
Tshewang Tobgay, a university graduate, started commercial poultry farming business in 2010 at Dramang, near Lungtenzampa, about 12km from Trashigang town.
He said most farmers lost interest in the business when feed price increased. He is already thinking of closing down the farm.
“Farmers have little choice. Feed price keeps shooting up,” he said.
Another poultry farmer in Rangjung, Pema Dorji, has pretty much the same story to tell. “The feed price went up to Nu 1,775 today. The business is no more viable.”
Egg import is also killing the business in the dzongkhag. There is no demand for local eggs in Trashigang and Trashiyangtse.
A farm owner said that achieving self-sufficiency in poultry products would remain a dream if import continues.
Another farm owner in Radhi had availed himself of Nu 5,80,000 loan from Rural Enterprise Development Corporation Limited (REDCL) and has so far repaid only 30 percent.
Farmers also say that feed produced by Pema Feed Mill (PFM) in Kanglung is of inferior quality affecting the production of eggs.
“I am running the farm under loss and if this remains the case for some time I might have to close it down,” said Nima Tshering, a farm owner.
Livestock officials said that they were monitoring and sensitising on feeding for livestock including poultry and dairy in the gewog.
“Poultry is a business where one can make quick money. Once they make some money from the business they venture into other business,” said an official.
There are four commercial, 13 semi commercial and nine group poultry farms in Trashigang.