Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s Member of Parliament from Nganglam, Choida Jamtsho, died on the night of April 18 after consuming a curry made of some wild plant in Baelangdra, Wangduephodrang.
Two men, aged 33 and 44, who were with the MP, are in Bajo hospital. Health officials said they are in stable condition and are being monitored.
The MP had reached Baelangdra on April 17 with his relative from Thimphu to meet another relative, who stays in Baelangdra, and went on a pilgrimage.
The trio consumed the plant at Baelangdra Nye at about 8pm. The Nye is located about an hour walking distance from the nearest road point.
After consuming the curry, they developed symptoms such as nausea, giddiness and vomiting. It was reported that the MP and the 44-year-old man experienced seizures.
The MP’s relative called a neighbour for assistance. He later called 112 as all three started to experience similar symptoms.
Although a doctor and nurse were deployed to the area with an ambulance, the MP died before the health team reached the location.
The two individuals were brought to the hospital at 2.30am and 5.30am.
According to a medical staff, the journey for the medical team took longer than expected as the team had to walk in the dark to the Nye.
The MP’s body was moved out of the Nye area between 1pm and 2pm yesterday. His body was taken to Thimphu.
Although pictures of the plant were shared with forest, agriculture teams, and the National Biodiversity Centre at Serbithang, the medical team is yet to identify the plant.
The team will send a live plant to the centre today. The toxicity level of the plant will also be studied.
Meanwhile, locals have identified the plant as Nyimchung, which is not edible.
Locals said that the trio might have misunderstood the plant to be Dhem, which is edible.
Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) should redefine its role in governance.
He said that the ministry should implement activities than just approving information, communication and technology (ICT) activities of agencies in the country. “Then the ICT standard would be good and it would strengthen the ministry.”
The Prime Minister made the comments during the ministry’s mid-term review (MTR) held on April 18.
Lyonchhen also said if implementing activities were included in the ministry’s key performance indicators (KPIs), then other agencies would follow.
The ministry officials reported that they have achieved the KPI of increasing the frequency of urban transport services during the rush hours, percentage of the population with access to online payments, and effective improvement of the airport security.
They also reported that numerous projects have begun under the Digital Drukyul Project, which is one of the flagship projects of the government.
The projects included the national digital identity (NDI) project, which has begun collecting the biometric data of individuals.
During the MTR, the IT and Telecom department’s director Jigme Tenzing, who is also the officiating secretary, said that the ongoing pilot project is facing constraints with biometric data collection.
He cited the example of how data points from children cannot be collected, as they want to.
The ministry aims to collect the biometric data of 50 percent of the population by the next fiscal year.
Jigme Tenzing also reported that under the government initiated network, 529 offices were connected with fibre optic out of the intended 1,000 offices.
The ministry is expected to soon sign a contract with the software developers, Thimphu Techpark Ltd for the development of the electronic patient information system (EPIS), which will streamline the health record of patients.
Jigme Tenzing said that the pandemic situation has resulted in a significant delay of the EPIS. “However, we are working to identify a separate office which would be necessary if we are to make EPIS a successful one.”
For the Bhutan integrated tax system (BITS), Jigme Tenzing said that the inception report for release 1 (Goods and Sales Tax, and Excise module) is expected to complete by end of this fiscal year.
The ministry presented the establishment of the third international gateway as one of the ways forward.
Jigme Tenzing said the ministry had initiated discussions with the foreign affairs ministry to negotiate with the Indian government to lower the total cost (USD 5 to 6) for one Mbps in a month while connecting with Bangladesh through India.
“If we succeed in establishing the third international gateway, it would not only improve the reliability of internet connections within the country but there is also a high probability that we can bring down the internet cost for Bhutanese citizens,” he said.
Almost a year after the launch of the Single Window Company Registry System, 86 companies have registered with the company registry division under the Ministry of Economic Affairs ( MoEA).
The system, an online platform is used to register new companies, was launched on May 14 last year.
MoEA launched the system to ease doing business in the country. On average, the division used to register about 50 companies a year which increased to 86 after the launch of the system. The newly registered companies include 24 manufacturing companies, two mining companies, 17 construction companies, and 43 services companies.
Bhutan’s rank in ease of doing business has been dropping over the years. In 2018, Bhutan ranked 73 out of 190 countries, which further fell to 81 in 2019, and dropped further down to 89 in 2020.
With the new system, the turnaround time to register for a company is reduced. According to the World Bank’s report, to start a business formally, as a Limited Liability Company, requires 12 days and eight procedures.
Registrar of Companies, Karma Yeshey, said before the launch of the system to register a company was a rigid process. “The system is simple and many procedures have been embedded in the system.”
To register a new company, the system has integrated related government agencies, which has reduced the procedures to four.
The system also has pre-made format Articles of Incorporation (AI) which is a by-law for companies. Karma Yeshey said people had to pay more than Nu 50,000 to make an AI. “To encourage people to be entrepreneurs the registration has to be easy.”
Charges to register new companies are: Nu 5,000 for private limited companies, whose shareholders are less than 50, and Nu 8,000 for public limited companies, whose shareholders are more than 50.
Karma Yeshey said with the system a company could be registered between one and three days. “If the document had issues it took longer otherwise a company can be registered within 20 minutes.”
He said the system proved useful during the pandemic. An official with the division is tasked to check the system every day for new registrations.
The division has three employees who have to register and regulate companies which was challenging, an official said. “Technology is the answer for a compact civil service for efficient service delivery.”
The system is going to be further upgraded with a design change and security measures enhanced in June, this year. The upgrade will also integrate message notification on phone, and licence will be integrated. Tax details would be integrated further in the next update.
Karma Yeshey said the system would be upgraded accordingly with feedback and availability of budget. “Currently, the notifications from the system is sent through email.”
After the launch of the system, the existing companies sent their statutory documents through email and the walk-in registration of companies was stopped.
Phub Dem | Paro
The Human Right’s Committee of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recommended parliamentarians to amend the Child Care and Protection Act 2011 to include all rights enshrined in the Convention of the Rights of a Child (CRC).
The recommendation was discussed during a high-level sensitisation workshop on the human right treaty mechanism with a focus on CRC conducted in Paro last week.
Bhutan was one of the first countries to sign and ratify the CRC in 1990 and the two optional protocols to the CRC on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and children’s involvement in armed conflict in 2009.
After signing and ratifying the CRC and the optional protocols without any reservation, challenges remained in implementing the laws.
Without proper legal guidance, lawmakers found difficulty in amending Acts and discuss issues related to CRC provisions.
The workshop was conducted to prepare Bhutan’s reporting to the Human Right’s Committee in partnership with UNICEF and the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC).
As a state party to the CRC, Bhutan must report to the committee on the Rights of the Child, OHCHR, every four years on the status of implementing the convention.
The government has to submit its combined sixth and seventh report by September next year.
NCWC’s programme officer of the children division, Ugyen Wangchuk, said that periodic reporting was an opportunity to review and reflect on the challenges of implementing the convention.
He said that NCWC, as government machinery, does not have the power to enforce the committee’s concluding observation, which mainly comprises reforms in coordination, policies, and legislation.
He said that parliamentarian’s involvement was essential in helping NCWC implement the recommendations. “We want parliamentarians to consider child protection and wellbeing issues while framing legislation.”
The Human Right’s Committee also recommended establishing an independent human right institution to monitor child’s right and investigate and address complaints to promote and protect the child’s rights.
It also recommended reviewing the Citizenship Act of 1985 to dissociate birth registration from citizenship and simplify the birth registration procedure and suggested registration of children born to a Bhutanese mother or father, including children’s whose father cannot be ascertained for Bhutanese citizenship.
Other recommendations included establishing a government entity to coordinate all activities to implement the Convention, allocate resources, increase the budget allocation, decriminalize abortion, develop a national policy on child mental health, and many more.
NCWC’s officiating director, Ugyen Tshomo, said it was time to amend some laws, as some biased laws hamper child welfare.
She cited the example of how if a single mother cannot bring up the child and wants to send them for adoption, the mother cannot give the child without a citizenship identity card.
Former chairperson of the National Assembly’s Human Right Committee, Drujeyang-Tseza MP Jurmey Wangchuk, said that the workshop was an eye-opener for most parliamentarians.
He said while many people still think human rights are a western concept, but we have our concept in the constitution.
Going forward, he said it was time for the country to establish a full-time human right commission to advocate and educate so that people are aware of their fundamental rights. “National Assembly and Council committees such as human rights, women, children and youth can function under the commission.”
Yangchen C Rinzin
The Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) reforms which are part of the government’s overhauling of the sector will be ready by June, according to Labour Secretary Sonam Wangchuk.
The interim TVET reform office with the Prime Minister’s Office returned the TVET programme to the labour and human resources ministry to implement the reform after almost two years.
The government in 2019 initiated TVET reforms, and the PMO took over the TVET programme from the ministry.
Although the secretary did not mention the TVET programme being handed back, he said that it aims to transform the TVET system into attractive learning and career choice.
The ministry prepared the deployment of the master trainers in February.
Sonam Wangchuk said that master trainers would be provided in fields like timber frame construction and building insulation, landscape design and management, and building painting.
“We should also be able to start the TVET reform initiatives by April like introducing 79 courses, which will be relevant to the local economy and emerging needs of the economy,” he said. “The initiatives will also include course allocation to the training providers, course development, and refine TVET pathway.”
The secretary said that by June the plan for the reform would complete and prepare a structural master plan for technical training institutes and institute of zorig chusum, assess additional infrastructure and facility required to roll out new courses.
The secretary said that the reform initiative would deliver TVET programmes that are designed to adequately equip Bhutanese youth with 21st-century skills and competencies. “It’ll develop and nurture a pool of committed, motivating, inspiring, and qualified TVET leaders.”
A task force in the ministry has been formed to implement the TVET reform. “Depending on the government’s directives and approval, it will be implemented,” the secretary said.
The secretary also requested the government to integrate the TVET reform in the 12th Plan.
In the Annual Performance Agreement 2021-2022, the ministry targets to place 2,055 individuals for skilling technical training institutes under the build Bhutan project. This is to enhance increased and equitable access to TVET.
The ministry also targets to have about 25 master trainers engaged in the critical areas of TVET to support the reforms. “This will improve the quality and relevance of TVET,” the secretary said.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that since TVET reform was already approved, the ministry should not wait for formal approval. “Approval is just a formality. Don’t wait till July. All these plans are components of reform so, don’t wait for separate approval.”
In Bhutan, heritage loss is not just a story, it’s a plea.
Take a look at some of our museums today. When they are supposed to be the repositories of the nation’s history, we have so little there going by the count of artefacts and their stories.
Anyway, how many museums do we have? Three. Four. Let us say five, counting in some private initiatives and management.
The real question is not about how many museums we have but what contents do we have in there to tell the Bhutanese story. Not a lot.
When fire engulfed the Taktsang Monastery in Paro on April 19, 1998, we lost a good chunk of history with it and, likewise, Paga Goemba in Chukha and Wandgue Dzong in 2012.
Every fire or disaster is a loss to Bhutan. We are not even counting the sale of precious and historical objects that happened in the later part of the last century. Reportedly, some museums abroad have more collections about Bhutan than Bhutan has.
But the point is not about which country has more collection of Bhutanese artefacts in their possession today. It is about the loss we suffered and the imminent danger of losing more.
We are now in the process of re-electrification of some of the important historical and heritage sites. The Wangdue Dzong, reportedly, is being modelled as a heritage site with all the modern amenities to address hazards such as fire. The idea is laudable. But the history of Bhutan is contained not only in the dzongs. Many monasteries, state-sponsored and private temples and monasteries are facing the same problem.
Because Bhutan’s history is preserved mostly in the country’s numerous religious institutions, protecting them is of utmost importance.
In Bhutan, most fire incidents happen due to short circuit. That is where we need to focus first. If short circuit is the main cause of fire, why is it still a major problem? But then, new technologies are always welcome for all their expedience.
In the meanwhile, focusing on the homespun ideas and simple method to safeguard would be a worthwhile effort, at a much affordable cost.
Museums everywhere are places of worship and celebration. If we invested genuinely in building a few state-of-the-art museums, we can achieve two things at the same time—preserve heritage and history.
That can be done. Easily. Protect Bhutan’s heritage and history.
Visitors to Nub Tshonapata in Haa should seek a route permit from Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve (JKSNR) since the area falls under the reserve.
It also set the number of visitors to the lake to 25 at a time.
JKSNR notified the public recently and stated the requirement is in line with the provisions of Forest and Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations, 2017.
Section 271 of the rules and regulations ensure appropriate waste management strategy in the park areas. “Any violation of the rules will be dealt seriously,” the notification stated.
JKSNR’s chief forestry officer, Sonam Tobgye, said they maintained records of people visiting the lake in the past one and half year and it was observed that the number of visitors increased in recent days.
This, he said, had impacted the biodiversity, particularly from littering and overcrowding. “We are conducting a long-term impact study of visitors on plants and wildlife. There were trampling and disturbances in the area.”
The trek, which consists of seven passes, takes three days to complete.
However, the visitors or tour operators can send the information like date of visit, number of people, and visitor information through an email to JKSNR.
The decision is well received by trekkers.
A tour guide, Phub Tshering, who arrange tours to the lake said that the initiative was good because the concerned authorities can monitor visitors to the area.
“It would help in reducing waste management issues along the trekking routes,” he said. “In the past, we got permits from Haa dzongkhag. It was confusing since JKSNR did not have visitor information although trek was within its boundary.”
A trekker, Chencho Wangdi, said that in the past, the permit to trek in some parts along the trekking route was mandatory while in some areas, it was not required. “With uniform implementation of the new rule, I think we can address the increasing waste challenges along the route. Officials should ensure that people bring their wastes back.”
The permit, he said, would also help keep a record of the visitors and solve the problem of getting lost along the route.
Nub Tshonapata plays a significant role in Bhutanese history. The lake is famed for being a treasure trove from which Terton Sherab Mebar in the 12th to 13th century discovered religious items as treasures.
A cymbal discovered from the lake is one of the main internal sacred objects of Rinpung dzong in Paro. It is displayed to the public during the first day of the annual tshechu.
Gewog leaders in Thimphu, who have been enforcing some judgments of civil cases, said they face challenges.
Gups said that courts ask them to enforce judgments related to family dispute, marriage, property distribution, and water issue in their gewog but many litigants do not agree while enforcing it.
This issue was deliberated in the recent Thimphu dzongkhag tshogdu held earlier this month and members decided that the dzongkhag should send a letter to the court requesting the presence of a drangpon or any court representative while enforcing the judgment.
Soe gup, Kencho Dorjee, said that there would not be any issue to enforce the court’s decision if both parties agree on the terms and conditions. “It becomes challenging when they disagree while enforcing at the gewog office.”
“In a year, five to six judgments have to be enforced in Soe and it is difficult when parties disagree with the judgment,” he said.
Genekha gup, Karma Gyeltshen, said some people disagree with the judgment at the gewog. “It would be better to have a legal representative from the court to enforce the judgment.”
Kawang gup, Thupten Wangchuk, said enforcing court decision is difficult in the gewog.
He said he ask people, who come to court to enforce the judgment, as mandated by the court if they would accept the gewog’s enforcement. “If they have an issue, I send them to court justifying they do not want gewog to enforce it.”
… MoE and UNICEF to try the programme in three districts
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
Bhutan became the first country in Asia to pilot the Caring for the Caregiver (CFC) Programme, which began in Trashigang on April 17.
Ministry of Education (MoE) and UNICEF Bhutan are piloting the caring for caregivers training to equip Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) facilitators with the skills on caregiver support focusing on health and emotional support.
A joint press release from MoE and UNICEF states that caregivers have a large impact on children’s survival and development and their well-being is critical in achieving optimal child development. “However, there is today little emphasis on caregiver health and emotional well being, especially in resource-constrained communities with limited access to such forms of essential support,” the release states.
The training package, developed by UNICEF with support from the LEGO Foundation, focuses on a strengths-based counselling approach to build caregiver confidence, support stress management, self-care, conflict resolution skills, family engagement, and social support.
UNICEF Bhutan Representative Dr Will Parks said that the CFC package is a caregiver and family-centred training that focuses on encouraging families to support and protect children.
“The pilot of the CFC package in Bhutan is a testament of the strong partnership between the Ministry of Education and UNICEF in our united effort to improve the health, development, and well-being of children in their earliest years,” Dr Will Parks said.
Education Secretary, Karma Tshering said that the CFC package is a much-awaited programme and an integral part of the ECCD programme. “Responsive caregiving and early stimulation will go a long way in benefiting our children with long-lasting relationships with parents, which are critical to children’s healthy and positive development with best learning outcomes.”
Programme Analyst, Karma Galey said, the CFC training for ECCD facilitators is to build the capacity of ECCD facilitators to understand the concept of CFC clearly and acquire knowledge and skills to administer the intervention, aligned with existing parenting education sessions and home visiting schedules.
“Most of the caregivers are trying to do the best they can for their children, but caregiving and raising children is exhausting and stressful. For this reason, a whole family approach to raise children is critical.”
He said when families’ work together, they can play an important role in promoting development by providing children with opportunities to play and learn effectively, build relationship skills and explore their environments safely.
A participant, Chimi Wangmo said, “If we support caregivers to better understand and manage their problem, it can improve their abilities to support their children.”
She said the CFC would change both behaviour and emotion of caregivers.
“If we could impart CFC programmes to caregivers adequately then by the time their children are admitted at the ECCD, they would be ready to understand anything,” said another participant, Jigme Choden.
The pilot phase which began from Trashigang, the MoE and UNICEF is going to train 75 ECCD facilitators and dzongkhag education officers from across three districts, Trashigang, Punakha and Tsirang.
“During the pilot phase, a research-based monitoring and evaluation approach will be applied to CFC implementation thereby ensuring that the packages are relevant and serve the needs of caregivers to strengthen parenting. Based on the findings, the resources will be further improved before the programme is rolled out nationwide,” the prerelease states.
Karma Gayley said the programme is presently being piloted in three dzongkhags Trashigang, Tsirang and Punakha. “If found effective and meaningful, it will be rolled out in all the other ECCD centres and integrated into the existing parenting education modules.”
The CFC materials were adapted specifically to Bhutan’s context to build on the existing National Parenting Education Manual developed by the MoE and UNICEF.
Meanwhile, 25 ECCD facilitators and an education officer from Trashigang completed the three-day training yesterday.
As Phuentsholing records more positive Covid-19 cases from the community
A third nationwide lockdown looms large as two more from the community tested positive for Covid-19 in Phuentsholing yesterday.
A 36-year-old man working in one of the factories in Pasakha, Phuentsholing tested positive for the virus yesterday. Later, it was learnt that his wife too tested positive.
Sources said that the man had developed symptoms since April 14 but visited the flu clinic yesterday, after four days (on April 18). As primary contacts, his family members were also tested. As of yesterday, only his wife tested positive.
Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo said that the family members had been quarantined and the rest of the workers at the factory were being tested.
It was learnt that there were more than 70 workers at the factory, currently working in containment mode after the lockdown. The last time the man went to work was on April 16. He had also received the vaccination earlier this month.
Following the recent rumour of another nationwide lockdown, Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said, “As of today, there is no lockdown, but tomorrow, I don’t know.” Given the volatile situation due to the outbreak in Phuentsholing, Lyonpo said that there were no guarantees.
She said that the entire family — father, mother and son — had been infected at the National Housing Development Corporation Ltd.’s colony in Phuentsholing on April 17. “They were symptomatic and had come to the flu clinic where they tested positive.”
Lyonpo said that the ministry was studying the possible source of the infection in the community and the taskforce in Phuentsholing was also looking for any possible breach in the protocol.
“Testing is ongoing in the communities and we are also testing those emergency travellers who have moved out of Phuentsholing in the last couple of days,” she said, adding that the surveillance had been enhanced and over 5,000 people were tested in the last two days.
In the meantime, despite the outbreak in Phuentsholing, business is as usual in the capital city. Hotels and restaurants are cramped, the Norzin Lam is bustling, and people in groups are seen strolling the streets without facemasks.
Lyonpo said that while people are casual about the current situation, the three million-plus Covid-19 deaths globally was a reality that people must understand. “The reality is that we have a weak health system in the country, and the ICU services in the country is very limited. That’s a reality.”
Should a full-blown Covid-19 outbreak hit the country, she said that the country will suffer. “With new variants emerging, we have very limited information on these variants. For now, globally, there are five variants of concern. Until we are clear about the variants and their implications, we cannot let our guards down.”
She said that going by the situation in India, the new variant was highly transmissible, which was why the rate of transmission was much faster. “If you are infected, the severity is much higher this time. And, the new variant also tends to attack the younger population.”
Lyonpo added that vaccination does not prevent an individual from getting Covid-19. “People must understand this. The vaccine will help in reducing the severity of the disease, but you can still be infected,” she said. “Vaccine is not the silver bullet. That is why we cannot afford to be complacent at this stage.”
Health officials said that people must practice the safety protocols —wearing facemasks, social distancing, and washing hands frequently —at all costs.
Five positive cases detected from the community since April 16
Local transmission of Covid-19 has been confirmed in Phuentsholing following the detection of three more cases from the community on April 17.
According to sources, another mother and her son have tested positive for Covid-19 from the National Housing Development Corporation Ltd’s (NHDCL) housing colony in Toorsa, Phuentsholing on April 17. Details of the third individual are being confirmed.
The first case of local transmission in Phuentsholing was recorded after a 10-year-old student and her mother, who reside at the Toorsa temporary settlement, tested positive on April 16.
The mother and son, however, may not be the first case (index case) this time. Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that in an outbreak situation, it was always difficult to point out patient zero or the first infected person.
Health officials said that Covid-19 was an imported disease and the only source of such disease was via the points of entry — southern border or international airport.
With positive cases detected from the NHDCL colony, the index case, for now, could be either from the colony or the temporary settlement in Toorsa. This would be possible given the close proximity of the two settlements to the Bhutan-India border.
Health officials are currently testing desuups, residents of NHDCL colony, mini dry port, and public transport drivers in Phuentsholing.
About 200 samples collected on April 17 from the temporary settlement in Toorsa including samples of classmates and teachers of the 10-year-old boy, all tested negative. There are more than 2,900 people living in Toorsa.
Also, primary contacts of the mother and son traced in Thimphu, Samtse, and Phuentsholing tested negative to Covid-19 on April 17.
As of 6pm yesterday, no new cases were detected from the community.
Meanwhile, concerns were raised after it was learnt that the mother of 10-year-old and the three frontline workers (two desuups and a policewoman) contracted the virus despite getting the vaccine.
Health experts said that although the vaccination had the potential to shield individuals from getting infected by the virus, it did not guarantee 100 protection in all those who received the jab.
“The effectiveness and the importance of having the vaccine are that it would protect people from developing severe symptoms if infected by the virus,” said an official. “Even with the vaccine some people will get infected but he or she will not become seriously ill from the disease.”
He added that for Bhutanese, it was too early to see the impact of the vaccine since the second dose was still due. “Two weeks after the booster dose, only then will a person be considered fully vaccinated and only then he or she would have developed adequate antibodies against the virus.”
Until then, he said the vaccine would not be effective. “The best bet is to follow public health measures like mask-wearing, practising physical distancing and regularly washing hands.”
…girls sweep all top positions
Class X students who appeared in the Bhutan Certificate of Secondary Education (BCSE) examinations last year had outperformed the previous batches to set the highest pass percentage in eight years.
The pass percentage was 96.57, an increase of 2.94 percent from 2019.
Of 12,813 candidates who appeared in the exam from 130 schools (124 government and six private schools) 6,891 were female, and 5,922 were male. Of that, 439 failed.
The pass percentage was calculated based on the number of candidates who passed in Dzongkha, English and three other subjects.
Srijana Giri from Ugyen Academy in Punakha topped the exams with 94.6 percent closely followed by Rigzay Lhamo from Lungtenzampa Middle Secondary School with 94 percent.
Kinzang Tshomo from Damphu Central School (CS) in Tsirang, Yeshi Tsheyang Zam from Ugyen Academy and Namkha Dema from Gesarling CS in Dagana secured 93.6 percent each came third.
Srijana Giri said that she was overwhelmed. “I worked hard but didn’t expect that I would top the exam. I owe it to Ugyen Academy’s principal and teachers.”
She said that many students would think that Class X exams were not important. But she added that there was no room for complacency and students must strive for excellence in all the classes.
Srijana Giri is also a passionate reader. “Students should also give priority to co-curricular activities that can shape their lives,” she said.
According to Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment, 92.67 percent of the students passed in Agriculture For Food Security, which is the best pass percentage subject-wise. However, only 46.85 percent of the students passed in mathematics, which is one of the lowest pass percentages.
Officials said that the syllabus coverage was 65 percent due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But they added that there were no changes in the setting of exam papers.
Education Minister Jai Bir Rai said that despite the Covid-19 pandemic, students performed well due to the collective efforts of teachers, parents and students. “All the toppers are girls, but boys did equally good.”
There is no cut-off point to qualify for Class XI. The private schools will absorb 1,800 students.
The pass percentage in Class X has always been more than 90 percent since 2006.
Yangchen C Rinzin
The ministry of labour and human resources sought to reduce its target for job creation from 52,930 to 26,609 jobs during the 12th Plan mid-term review on April 16.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, who chaired the midterm review, questioned the ministry if it was mandated to create jobs in the first place and asked for a proper definition of “job created”.
“What do you mean when you say job created?” he said. “Whether the ministry created a job but nobody is keen on taking up that job or does it mean the ministry really employed so many? Or does the target mean the ministry created the jobs in different sectors?”
Lyonchhen reminded of ministry that pandemic would end someday and that when it does there would be economic and employment issues, which was why it was important to ensure the current skills were enhanced and training revamped if necessary.
Labour Secretary Sonam Wangchuk said that since employment is everyone’s responsibility and the ministry alone cannot create jobs, respective sectors should submit a list of the numbers of jobs they could create. “So, the target set was as per the lists collected from nine sectors. The intention was to make other sectors responsible in creating jobs.”
However, the ministry was asked to study the target again by discussing with different sectors on what jobs are available and what jobs can they create instead of dropping the target.
The ministry also requested Lyonchhen to revise the target like ‘job created through new business startups’ from 2,811 to 432. The target to establish new startup businesses was proposed to be dropped to 144 from 864, and reduce youth from 5,045 to 1,320 in the youth trained in entrepreneurship development programmes.
The secretary said that some of these targets were in the Startup and CSI Flagship programme blueprint.
Lyonchhen asked the ministry to justify what nature of jobs was created through new business.
“It’s still unclear how many exactly jobseekers we have and for labour ministry, they should have such details when asked any time,” Lyonchhen said. “Then the information on how many can the ministry employ.”
The ministry is also studying if it should continue with the overseas employment programme.
Lyonchhen appointed out the need for an exhaustive database of jobseekers.
The ministry in the 12th Plan has also targeted to study the creation of employment agency for construction sector, establishing Bhutan Qualification Authority, the development of foreign workers’ management strategy, and the implementation of the National Skills Development programme.
The ministry engaged 633 workers through Build Bhutan Project and the majority of them are unskilled workers (309), followed by masons, and carpenters. A total of 712 were engaged in skilling and 36 specialised firms were established.
The ministry also proposed a revised budget outlay of Nu 500 million for the project.
Chimi Dema | Tsirang
Tsirang dzongkhag court sentenced two former Bhutan Development Bank Ltd (BDBL) employees to over 11 years in prison for embezzlement of more than Nu 17 million (M).
The April 14 judgment stated that the two officials, both 32-year-old have embezzled Nu 17,09M between 2012 and March 2019. It was also stated that the convicts have embezzled the amount by forging and tampering with the bankbooks of 67 clients.
The two officials were arrested in March 2019.
The convicts are ordered to repay the embezzled amount with 15 percent annual interest within the next six months from the date of the judgment. Each of them has to repay Nu 8.5M, according to the judgment.
The judgment also stated that the defendants would be imprisoned until the money is either paid or recovered and the court may also attach the property of the defendants if they cannot pay as per section 43 of Penal Code of Bhutan.
The case first surfaced when an account holder with the bank had come to withdraw money and found the account empty.
Following complaints from more than 60 people about money missing from their accounts, the two officials were suspended from work in March 2019.
Meanwhile, the BDBL had restituted to all the account holders who lost their savings to the convicts in the same year.
Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha
Besides the government schools with a feeding programme, to meet the nutrition requirements private schools give fortified rice to students, the Food Fortification Taskforce (FFT) has recommended.
The taskforce is also encouraging the use of fortified rice for the general public. A blending machine would be installed in Phuentsholing by mid this year to enhance production to meet the demand.
The supply of fortified rice to schools with government’s feeding programme began in 2017. Initially, fortified rice was imported. Today, only fortified kernels are imported. The fortified kernels are blended with rice at Phuentsholing with a modified rice mill. The fortified rice contains vitamins A, B1, B3, B6, B9, B12, iron and zinc.
According to FFT member secretary BB Rai, in late 2020, a notification was issued encouraging schools, monastic schools and the armed forces to consume fortified rice.
This was after incidences of peripheral neuropathy (a common illness among the growing adolescents that have high nutritional demand) were reported in Gelephu in October 2020.
The FFT also informed the schools and various institutes on the availability of fortified rice, which wasn’t used as schools remained closed due to the pandemic.
“Some monastic schools are already using fortified rice,” BB Rai said.
To encourage the consumption of fortified rice in Bhutan, a two-day awareness workshop on food safety and quality management ended in Punakha on April 16.
Stakeholders from schools, various departments and dzongkhag representatives attended the workshop.
Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited’s (FCBL) head of research and development, Dinesh Subba said that the import of the blending machine from Chennai, India was delayed due to the increase in price due to inflation.
World Food Programme (WFP) and the government will provide Nu 9.25 million for the machine.
Speaking at the workshop, nutritionist Leigden Deiz said that in Bhutan the rice fortification programme has been rationalised as a good strategy to address malnutrition.
Malnutrition among students became a major concern with the fatal case in Orong Higher Secondary School in Samdrup Jongkhar, where two students died in December 2011. Several other students were also said to be deficient in vitamin B1 and thiamine.
A study conducted in 2014 by the health ministry showed a high prevalence of thiamine (vitamin B1) and cobalamin (vitamin B12) deficiency among schoolchildren from specific districts in the country.
Intake of vitamin B1, B12, vitamin A, and iron were inadequate during several study periods, and the number of schoolchildren with thiamine deficiency increased when the children were attending school.
Anaemia remains a major public health problem with a prevalence of 44 percent among children of six to 59 months, over 35 percent among non-pregnant women and 31 percent among adolescent girls.
According to a press release from the agriculture ministry currently, the school feeding programme consumes approximately 600MT of fortified rice annually.
The awareness programme would also be replicated for the stakeholders in the eastern central part of the country.
The two-day workshop was organised by the agriculture ministry and WFP.
… 350 samples tested negative
Nima | Gelephu
The contact tracing and surveillance, which includes testing of high-risk population and incoming travellers, in Sarpang dzongkhag after the recent lockdown is expected to complete today.
The lockdown relaxation would begin in a day or two if there are no Covid-19 positive cases and after the analysis from the national taskforce, the officials from the contact tracing and surveillance team said.
The officials from Gelephu Central Regional Referral Hospital (CRRH) started the assessment following positive cases from the community in Phuentsholing that triggered the lockdown in dzongkhags, thromdes, and satellite towns along the southern border.
The team tested over 350 samples from high-risk populations and those who came to the dzongkhag from Phuentsholing between April 7 and 16. All tested negative.
A total of 157 people travelled to Sarpang from Phuentsholing and 61 left for Thimphu, Wangdue, Samdrupjongkhar, and Chukha. Close to 100 travellers, mostly businessmen and drivers, tested on Saturday came negative.
The team collected over 250 samples from vegetable vendors, taxi drivers, incoming travellers, and high-risk villages. The results are expected tonight.
The medical superintendent with CRRH, Dr Dorji Tshering said, “A report of the surveillance would be submitted to the national taskforce. If all comes negative, probably the relaxation might start after the assessment.”
The ongoing assessment and surveillance have adequate representation of the high-risk population.
Delivery of essential items started yesterday and the identified shops in the respective zones are allowed to open from today in Gelephu.
The dzongkhag Covid-19 task announced lockdown for Gelephu thromde, Shaychamthang, Sarpang tar, and five gewogs: Gakiling, Shompangkha, Dekiling, Samtenling, and Gelephu gewog on April 17.
The task force has identified over 40 shops, vendors, and other essential service providers in the gewogs and towns that are currently under lockdown.
Schools, offices, and business establishments in thromde, satellite towns, and gewogs close to the border are closed safe for the identified shops.
Exports of goods and import of essential goods are facilitated, and transport of essential goods to other dzongkhags is done through transhipment and driver switching mode.
The registration and quarantine for routine travellers are suspended following the lockdown.
The movement for the essential service providers are allowed and new permits issued to reach the essential items and required services to those who face difficulty availing the services.
Gakiling Gup, Nim Dorji said that there was no report of people who visited Phuentsholing, as it required people to follow safety protocols. “Many businessmen and drivers had been to Phuentsholing,” he said.
He added that the lockdown was important as the gewogs shared a long porous border. “Moreover, there were people with travel history to Phuentsholing,” said Nim Dorji.
He said that most of the people were supportive and used to the lockdown now.
A local transmission in Phuentsholing has been confirmed with three more cases detected on Saturday. The cases are in clustered areas like the temporary shelter at Toorsa and the National Housing Development Corporation colony. What this means is that if we are not cautious, the risk of transmission is higher.
As a preventive measure, a lockdown in all the thromdes and satellite towns in the southern border dzongkhags had been imposed since Friday night. Contacts are being traced and tested. Fortunately, no positive cases had been detected in other places outside Phuentsholing.
But that doesn’t mean we are safe or we need not be cautious.
By Saturday morning, people were panic buying and rumour were rife that there would be another nationwide lockdown. By evening, the concerns disappeared and everything became normal indicating that we are still only reactive, not preventive even with local cases.
We have achieved 93 percent vaccination coverage, most positive cases are from the quarantine centres, yet the Phuentsholing incident shows how vulnerable we are and how uncertain the situation is. A look at the health ministry’s Covid-19 dashboard should be concerning us. If not, what is happening around us, especially in neighbouring India, should worry us.
Our neighbour is suffering from a second wave that is getting out of control. Daily cases are breaking records. Yesterday it was the biggest daily surge with 261,500 positive cases in a day. There are reports of shortage of vaccines and medicines even as the country ramps up the vaccination programme. Worst, the young are not spared and are dying.
What happens in India will affect our strategies. We are waiting for the second dose and critics in India are questioning the government’s vaccine diplomacy as some states run out of vaccines. Our second round of vaccination could be delayed. Those who received the first dose are among the thousands who are infected. At home too, apart from the students, the adults received the first dose.
The best still is the public safety measures. The message is clear from the head of the World Health Organisation. It boils down to what the government and individuals do. While there are still uncertainties surrounding Covid-19, now with a second variant, what is clear and scientifically proven is that face masks, physical distancing and hand hygiene work. The good thing about this is it is cheap and easy to practice. What is also scientifically proven is that complacency drives transmission. We still don’t understand. The government has insisted on this. And the rules are still in place. We are all openly flaunting the rules.
The prime minister since the beginning of the pandemic has warned the people that if we are complacent, we will be overwhelmed with cases and deaths. Our Duthroes (crematoriums), he warned, would not be able to handle the number of deaths. This is happening in India. It is a matter of time before we experience that if we forget the threat of the novel coronavirus.
Nima | Gelephu
Retey Primary School in Jigemcholing, Sarpang has been helping the children from Retey fulfil their dreams of going to school.
The school was started using outreach clinic with the help of a non-formal education teacher in 2002.
Retey is largely a Monpa community. The village got electricity connections in 2017. Roads reached the village in early 2020. Infrastructural development followed.
Bal Bdr Monger, from Retey, said that most families in the village struggled to send their children to schools. “Schools are too far and so, expensive for most families. Today, children in the village can go to school without having to worry about such issues.”
The school’s principal, Dorji Gyeltshen, said that the students from Retey walked until Korphu (more than 6 hours away from Retey), and had to go to other dzongkhags for education in the past.
“Such services are important here,” he said.
Children from Retey would have to walk until Gakiling if the school was not started here.
“It is difficult and risky in summer, having to cross swollen streams,” said Dorji Gyeltshen.
The school involves parents in important school functions and work together with the school administration in summer to build temporary bridges for the students from the nearby village.
The school, in a way, has helped children stay attached to their local traditions and culture.
“If the children are sent to town, our culture, and tradition, an important identity would be lost,” said Dorji Gyeltshen.
The school, though, doesn’t have enough teachers. Multi-grade teaching is being followed to address the teacher shortage.
A teacher takes at least 32 classes in a week. Class PP and I students learn together and, likewise students of Classes II and III, IV, V, and VI.
The school is expected to receive two additional teachers in June, according to Dorji Gyeltshen.
In extreme cases, a teacher must handle Classes PP to III together.
Dorji Gyeltshen said that the school received support from the gewog and the dzongkhag administrations.
There are 47 students in school today, all from Retey and nearby villages.
Nim Dorji | Trongsa
Chhoekhor gewog in Bumthang allocated Nu 1.2 milllion (M) for land development, provide greenhouses, connect farm road and provide electric fencing to 14 households of Nasiphel village.
The farmers, who depended on cereals like wheat, buckwheat and sweet buckwheat, did not show much interest to grow it since the legalisation of collecting cordyceps in the country in 2004.
Sources said cordyceps changed the lives of highlanders and the farmers in Nasiphel also became fully dependent on it. Many have abandoned farming practices although the place is favourable to grow the food grains.
Villagers said they would spend a month in the mountains, collecting fungus, and the money they fetch from selling it would last them a year.
They, however, said in the last few years, the yield of the cordyceps started to decline and the price also started to decrease. People could not sell cordyceps last year because of the pandemic and few who managed to sell fetched poor price.
Villagers said they now realised the need to look for alternatives, as the number of people collecting cordyceps is also increasing every year.
A farmer, Dorji Dema, with the price for vegetables and essentials increasing and the income from cordyceps decreasing, people are forced to look for alternatives.
The village tshogpa, Kencho Norbu, said that since the legalisation of cordyceps, people were least bothered to do farming, as everything was available from market.
“But, as the number of collectors increased and yield and price declined over the year, people started to realise not to only rely only on cordyceps but find alternatives such as doing farming and livestock,” he said.
According to the tshogpa, the gewog allocated fund to procure greenhouse every year and distributed to the people on a lucky dip basis.
Chhoekhor gup, Pema Dongyel, said they constructed a farm road as requested by people and people were asked to form a group to grow sweet buckwheat and produce flour. “The programme was also initiated to inspire people to revive farming.”
Last week Kuensel published an opinion where the author mentioned that “none can vote in an election, anywhere, on mere residency” which is factually incorrect. Let us look at examples.
The Election Commission of India posted on their website that in India not only the residents but also students and homeless people in that locality are given the right to vote in the municipal elections, which are implemented in all major municipal elections in India. In Japan, the voting right is currently given to residents holding Japanese citizenship. A proposal to give the same right to foreigners residing in big cities like Tokyo is being discussed. The reason is that a resident must have the right to “express their will over issues that their local communities face as they are paying taxes and fulfilling other civic obligations.”
Title II of the Treaty on European Union guarantees not just the right to vote but also stand as a candidate in municipal elections in the Member State of residency “without actually substituting it for the right to vote and to stand as a candidate” in their own country. Further countries such as Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Malawi, Uruguay, New Zealand and Luxembourg already have even allowed non-citizen residents to vote in municipal elections with a varying requirement for the duration of residence in that city. However, such rights are rarely given in the national elections because the national representative takes policy decisions and make laws, including those for the security of the country.
The Wall Street reported that in the United States, the right to vote in municipal elections is now afforded to both homeless and green cardholders in big cities like Chicago, New York, and Maryland. In Australia, the residents of the local government of Victoria states are entitled to vote for a councillor to represent their ward or municipal district or council elections. This is because, by history, the seed of democracy originated with an institution of city elections such as Athens to Rome to Italian republics centuries before the concept of state and governance emerged.
The author of the perspective further said, “A few writers were found outrageously instigating through Kuensel, without really understanding the rationale of the existing laws, that every resident of a thromde can vote.” The use of words “outrageously instigating” is a sign that the author cannot engage in healthy discourse, debate, and respect for differing views. The author seems to have not fully understood the actual intentions of the Constitution and election laws. There is indeed some ambiguity in the existing laws, but laws must be interpreted liberally as it is about the promotion of democratic values and empowering the people. The Constitution is a living document, and its rationale and spirits will change with changing time. The current impediment is due to narrow interpretation of the law and not because of explicit provisions of the laws.
Let us examine the existing laws. Article 7 Section 6 of our Constitution recognized the right to vote as a fundamental right because “the sovereign power belongs to the people” under the Constitution. Article 23 provides the procedure for how the power is vested in the people. It states that the “general will of the people shall be the basis of government” expressed through periodic elections. Since the right to vote is a fundamental right, any kind of restriction must be reasonable and within the scope of Article 7(22). Under the current election system, for example, in Thimphu Thromde Election, less than one per cent of the population express their will and “this handful will” is imposed on more than ninety-nine per cent of the population residing in the hromde. Where is the power of people?
Both the Constitution and Election Act protect the right to vote in every election at one’s choice of the constituency. For example, Article 23 (1) (c) ensures the right to vote in the constituency if the voter is “registered in the civil registry of that constituency for not less than one year, before the date of the election” and Sections 100 and 101 provide the same eligibility and adds that such registration in the electoral roll must be for only one constituency.
There are three categories of elections the National Council, the National Assembly and the Local Government. The NC election is a direct election with each dzongkhag as their constituency. The NA election is an indirect election with two or more constituencies in each dzongkhag. The local government, each gewog and thromde, is divided into different constituencies with a minimum of seven constituencies in the case of Thromde Elections by the Constitution. However, for Gups and Thrompons, there is only one constituency. For instance, Thimphu dzongkhag has one constituency for National Council, two constituencies for National Assembly, and many constituencies for LG Elections under each gewog and Thimphu Throm.
Unlike other countries, in Bhutan, there is a requirement of a census or Gung (house number) to enrol in that constituency under the election laws. However, the Constitution does not require this. The Election Act can be amended to remove this confusion. So far, those without a census but owning houses have not been able to vote in the Thromde Elections. Indeed, the Constitution indicate that a Bhutanese can register with different constituencies provided the voter registers with the civil registry.
Such requirement is not different from resident’s right to vote in other countries. In their case, the resident must register with the election authority and here, in our case, one needs to register with the civil registry. Registering with civil registry and the requirement to transfer the entire census is completely different. Further, currently, even the election law nowhere states that census must be transferred; instead only requires registration in respective constituencies.
On the contrary, if one transfers the census from the earlier constituency then, there are devastating consequences and will change the landscape of politics in Bhutan. For example, Thimphu Thromde has over 1.5 lakhs population, and the total eligible voters are less than 10,000 meaning over 1.4 lakh are from other places. If tomorrow 10,000 people from Samtse transfer their entire census to Thimphu, how will five constituencies in Samtse justify having five constituencies during the national elections as population plays a major role in the delimitation of constituencies? It will also cause numerous other legal problems such as right in the joint family properties and inheritance, etc.
His Majesty said, “Local government is not the lowest level of government; it is the nearest and closest level of government for our people. For rural Bhutanese, local governments are indispensable avenues for participation in democracy and development. In the long run, the success of democracy in Bhutan will be determined by the success of local governments.”
Professor Joshua wrote, “If states are laboratories of democracy that may experiment with social policies, then municipalities are test tubes of democracy that also can try out novel democratic rules” because “local jurisdictions” such as in the case of Thromdes, the residents have “sufficient stake in local affairs and have the proper incentives and ability to make informed choices about who should lead them.”
Further, residents are the people who are “closest to their local elected officials, and when individuals have a problem or need something done, they often call their local representative.” Therefore, our authorities must interpret the laws more liberally to promote and encourage people’s participation in any election to strengthen our young democracy.