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No decision on the 200 statues at Babesa

Sat, 09/21/2019 - 17:24

The 200 or so statues that forestry and thromde officials prevented from immersing into the Thimchhu is waiting for its fate with the thromde and department of forest not being able to decide on an alternative.

The statues, after the Vishwakarma puja celebrations, until now are immersed in rivers and streams to complete the ritual. Broken statues of the four-armed deity riding an elephant adorned with a crown and jewelries are piled up in an archery range. Stray cattle, it was observed, are feeding on the ritual waste piled up at the site.

According to Hindu devotees, immersing the statue in the river is necessary to complete the ritual process, which is symbolic of his return to the divine cosmos.

“It’s a tradition like cremating a human being whose remnants return to the earth,” said a Hindu Pandit.

Hindu devotees are divided on the belief. Some said that while the tradition is to immerse the statue in the river, traditions should evolve with time and change. “Considering its impact on the environment, the tradition could change with time,” said a Hindu devotee. “What about in places without streams or rivers?”

Thimphu Thromde officials who said that they would designate an appropriate site to keep the statues are yet to identify a location. 

On September 16, on the eve of the Vishwakarma Puja, the Department of Forest and Park Services issued a notification prohibiting the immersion of statues and disposal of other materials into the rivers or water bodies.

The notification stated that all field offices under the Department of Forest and Park Services should carry out strict monitoring to ensure that idols and other materials are not cast into our rivers and other water bodies after the celebration of Vishwakarma Puja on 17 September.

It also said that the notification was being circulated to prevent pollution of our water and aquatic ecosystem.

However, while it was prevented in Thimphu, Kuensel spotted construction workers immersing statues into the Pachhu at Shaba, Paro. Workers were also seen burning waste from rituals.

Forestry officials who were on inspection duty at the site told Kuensel that without any alternatives planned, they allowed the statues to be immersed in the river.

“The workers claimed that immersing is necessary to complete the ritual but we prevented other waste from the ritual entering into the river,” forestry official said.

Meanwhile, Kuensel trying to follow up on the ad hoc regulation and the statues piling up on the riverbanks was not received well by the forestry department. The office accused Kuensel of writing “negative” stories and asked what Kuensel gained from writing such articles.

Chimi Dema

Tseza residents appeal to ACC to investigate canal construction

Sat, 09/21/2019 - 17:22

Residents of Tseza gewog in Dagana appealed to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to investigate why the 4kms irrigation canal constructed at Nu 10.1 million (M) is not benefitting them.

The irrigation canal construction began in 2017 and was handed over to the dzongkhag last year. It was supposed to benefit 45 households of four villages in the gewog.

In the complaint letter submitted to the ACC, villagers requested the commission to investigate how the canal was designed and approved by the dzongkhag officials.

Villagers also wanted ACC to investigate if the contractor constructed the canal based on the design.

In earlier interviews with Kuensel, residents alleged that the dzongkhag officials refused to show them the design. Villagers also said that they wrote to the dzongkhag about the poor quality of the construction but no one listened to them.

Dzongkhag engineer then said there was alignment problem and the dzongkhag would rectify it with the 10 percent of contractor’s payment amounting to Nu 570,000.

Villagers also requested ACC to investigate if the irrigation canal handing-taking was done following the normal procedures.

They claimed that a huge government budget has gone into waste, as no water flowed into the irrigation canal and to their fields. “What’s the use of constructing the canal if it is not benefitting the end-users,” the letter stated.

Officials from the ACC said they forwarded the case to Royal Audit Authority (RAA).

RAA officials said audit office in Tsirang already issued two memos against the irrigation canal construction and details will be included in the audit report.

Tashi Dema

A guideline for reaching the unreached

Sat, 09/21/2019 - 17:21

In an effort to improve the overall health of the unreached communities in the country through outreach programmes, the health ministry has developed a guideline.

The guideline was presented at the biennial health conference in Tsirang.

Programme officer with the Department of Medical Services (DMS), Karma Tenzin, said that despite having a strong primary healthcare system in the country, there are still pockets of population unreached by the essential primary healthcare services. “This can be largely attributed to the geographical terrain, which have displaced communities to be far away from each other. ”

According to the National Health Survey 2012 (NHS), about 4.6 percent of the population required walking for more than three hours to the reach the nearest health facility.

About 2.14 percent of population had to walk for more than three hours to reach the nearest road point, according to Population and Housing Census of Bhutan, 2017 (PHCB).

DMS in collaboration with the community health department (CHD) undertook a nation-wide qualitative study to help understand why people were unable to access basic health facilities on a regular basis.

Two major probable reasons that the study found were the distance of health facility and the nearest road point. The study also recommended the need for a guideline to help reach services to the unreached.

The fourth biennial health conference also recommended the development of a proper guideline.

Karma Tenzin said that the high level committee (HLC) endorsed the guideline. “Reaching the unreached has been a major priority in the eleventh plan and continues to be in the current plan.”

The programme officer said that the health ministry defined hard to reach population in two aspects. In rural areas, the unreached population may be identified as nomadic communities, national work force, and population living in labour camps, population residing in remote areas of more than three hours walking distance from the nearest health facility.

In the urban areas, population residing in temporary shelters or semi-permanent structures in urban pockets not reached or difficult to reach may be identified as unreached population.

The unreached groups may be identified as elderly population, pregnant women in rural areas, mobile labourers population including road side workers, industrial workers, and persons with disabilities.

Karma Tenzin said that the identification and mapping of unreached population by district health offices form the cornerstone of the guideline as health officials will be able to provide health services where it is needed.

The basic primary healthcare service package includes mother and child health (MCH) and awareness, general screening and disease management, hygiene and environmental sanitation assessment, awareness on priority health issues such as disease prevention and control, first aid and emergency measures and basic healthcare service package. Karma Tenzin said that the service package could also include other services.

Some of the challenges in accessing the health services include geographical and seasonal conditions, socio-cultural and personal barriers including misconception and myth, long distance to facility, financial barrier, the nature of work and livelihood, the attitude of service providers, and absence of health workers in health facility.

The guideline spells out the preparation steps of the outreach programmes, which include identifying site, target population, and formation of a team, among others.

Health secretary, Dr Ugen Dophu, said that just sticking to the definition of the unreached population would be unwise. “There are mental and disabled people who need help and who do not exactly fit into the definition. While about 5.4 percent of population unreached in the country, the health ministry cannot tell where these unreached population are.”

He urged health officials to act on the guideline. Besides improving overall health of the unreached population through outreach programmes, the guideline was also formed to ensure uniform and continued provision of services to the unreached communities.

Stakeholders and health facilities can also use the guideline for planning outreach programmes.

Rinchen Zangmo | Tsirang

Picture story

Sat, 09/21/2019 - 17:21

The Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) day was observed at the Indian embassy yesterday. Some 150 Bhutanese alumni attended the programme. On an average, about 300 Bhutanese avail trainings in India under ITEC programme annually. 

Clear and concrete plan wanting

Sat, 09/21/2019 - 17:19

Yet again poor planning has come home to roost.

It was a good decision to not allow people to throw the statues of Lord Vishwakarma into the rivers after the day-long celebration. What with toxic materials and chemicals used these days to make the statues, there have been concerns—rightly so—about damage to the river ecosystems.

Elsewhere in the region, environmentalists, activists and the media have tried repeatedly—although unsuccessfully—to intervene. The battle continues.

On the eve of Vishwakarma Jayanti, on September 16, the Department of Forest and Park Services and the National Environment Commission issued an enforcement notification for compliance that said that throwing of the statues of Lord Vishwakarma into the rivers would not be allowed.

So there are—three days after the celebration—hundreds of statues standing by the riversides in Thimphu. What now is to be done with them? Where, if not into the rivers, will they be taken to be gotten rid of?

The answer seems to be wanting.

What we are aware of is that there was from the very beginning a tell-tale sign of Bhutanese planning. Adhocism has never stood us in good stead. Yet the way we plan things has been always very tentative. For the present mess, let’s hark back to our recent attempts to ban the use of plastic bags.

There was a conspicuous lack of awareness before the notification was handed out or served and alternatives were not suggested. Now, when asked what is going to happen to the statues that have been dumped by the riversides, the officials who had the art and part in it are taking the public concerns amiss.

However they choose to react—question from the media are not received well—they will have to deal with it now that nobody will come to reclaim the statues. Hopefully they will find the sensible and environmentally-friendly way of disposing of the remnants from the celebration.

Mistakes made, we have learnt a lesson. To avoid such a mess in the future, agencies responsible could suggest using pictures of Lord Vishwakarma instead of statues. Some are already doing it. If the people are unwilling still, have a clear way to hold individuals who disregard the notification to account. These are alternatives that bid fair to succeed.

What will be required however, to make assurance doubly sure, is awareness and education.

We hold by the decision to prevent toxic waste from going into our rivers, but anything less than a concrete plan will leave us out of conceit and will call the agencies concerned to account.

Should presumption of innocence restored and conviction held in abeyance upon appeal?

Sat, 09/21/2019 - 17:17

The legal turmoil this week has been whether the Home Minister should resign during the pendency of his appeal because he was convicted by the trial court. 

This situation is not unique to Home Minister’s case. Thus, it merits a discussion.  The intricacies of whether an appeal amounts to suspension of decisions of lower court in whole or partly remains a subject of interpretation among many legal fraternities. 

For example, both Kuensel and The Bhutanese quoted a legal expert who asserted that the presumption of innocence ceases and conviction remains once the trial court has convicted him. This interpretation does hold some truth because the trial court decided the case and the judgment has become final if not appealed. The trial court would have taken into consideration the facts and circumstances and evidences to prove those facts the parties have brought before the court and prosecutor has been able to convince the court beyond reasonable doubt on the charges made against the accused. 

Appeal is merely a confirmation or rectification of either in parts or in entirety.

However, there are others who interpret otherwise.  A renowned legal scholar said that an appeal was based on “the principle that all men are fallible, and judges are human beings who may commit a mistake and a judge how has not committed an error is yet to be born”.  Another legal scholar, Neil Andrews, also stated that “the legal system of every civilized country recognizes that, judges are fallible and provides machinery for appeal in some form or another.”  This means “an appeal is a continuation of a suit” where the judgment of the higher court would be presumed to be passed by the trial court and Home Minister is legally right to hold the office as he is still presumed innocent.

Further, Section 109(2) of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code of Bhutan states: “while the appeal is pending, all awards for damages and other settlements related to the Court’s decision shall be held in abeyance”. 

Therefore, the moment the person files an appeal, the decision of the trial court gets suspended and the proceedings continue in the higher court. This also means presumption of innocence until proven guilty gets restored until the outcome of appellate court.

It is also based on the principle that the lower courts have less experienced judges and generally a single judge makes decision and that the appellate courts are generally of far more experienced and can refine and develop better decisions. Appeal also means to “persuade a higher court that the trial court was wrong” and rectify the errors or uphold the decisions of the lower court.

However, unrestricted right to appeal has its own demerits. The appellant can buy time, differ to pay damages or compensations, alimony or to differ the negative political impacts due to court decisions. It may also be due to vested interest by lawyers to increase their fees or to disadvantage other party such as to harass or incur more cost for the respondent.  Therefore, while appeal provides a path to rectify the errors of the lower courts, it may also amount to injustice.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not reflect those of Kuensel or JSW School of Law.

Sonam Tshering

Faculty of law at the JSW School of Law.

DoR starts handing over GC roads to LG

Sat, 09/21/2019 - 17:17

The department of the road (DoR) has started handing over the management of Gewog Connectivity (GC) roads to local government (LG) since mid-August amidst concerns raised by gups on their capacity to maintain them.

The roads are handed over through the dzongkhag administration. 

 This is following a directive issued in May after the government decided that the LG would be responsible for the construction, maintenance and operation of GC roads.

 Local leaders have raised the issue and some put up in the respective Dzongkhag tshogdus questioning the government for issuing Cabinet order without consultation. Local leaders also raised that without budget allocated for the GC road maintenance, it would be difficult to maintain. 

 A few gups had also expressed to the respective dzongkhags that they would take back the management of GC roads if only it is accompanied with budget, engineers and labourers. 

DoR, officiating director general, Karma Wangdi said that the decision was done based on the Cabinet’s order and Road Act 2013 where it states that dzongkhag roads should be with respective dzongkhags. 

 “This is why we haven’t handed over the institutional or public usage roads including highways to the dzongkhag,” Karma Wangdi said. “We’ve finished working on the GC roads that would be handed over and a few roads that would be retained, but handover later.”

 Although DoR is yet to maintain the record of those GC roads, which are already handed over to the LG since August, six GC roads would be retained with the DoR. This is owing to various issues like spillover from 11th FYP, constructions delayed, some roads are still under construction, and a few with contractor issue. Karma Wangdi said that these roads would be handed over when the issues are resolved. 

He said the DoR has not received any maintenance budget for the GC roads for this financial year. The DoR, otherwise, used to receive Nu 44,000 per km per year for dzongkhag roads and a separate lump sum of about Nu 187 million for monsoon restoration. 

“We had proposed for the budget but since the talk was already there to handover the GC roads, it was not approved but we did receive the monsoon restoration budget,” Karma Wangdi said, adding that is why the maintenance budget would be dealt by the finance ministry and DoR would be handing over only the roads. 

The DoR is already in the process of transferring engineers who were recruited when GC roads were handed over to DoR, to the dzongkhags along with the GC roads. 

In an earlier interview, DoR’s director general Tenzin told Kuensel that according to the Road Act, there is no classification of GC roads. “It is called as dzongkhag roads, which is why it is being handed over. GC roads became popular in the 11th FYP where the former government wanted to blacktop all the GC roads,” he said.

The decision to handover the GC roads back to LG comes six years after the former government had instructed the ministry to take over all GC roads from the dzongkhags to ensure all the GC roads are blacktopped. 

Earlier MoWHS minister Dorji Tshering had said that the roads are being handed over because of the decentralization policy of the 12th Plan.

 Today, out of the 205 gewogs only three gewogs (Soe, Lingzhi and Lunana) are without GC roads.  There is a plan to blacktop the remaining 23 roads in the 12th FYP, which is approved with the funding from Government of India. Rest of the roads are already blacktopped, some are under construction, some are interlinked, and a few do not require blacktopping. 

Yangchen C Rinzin

BoB launches agency-banking service in Sakteng

Sat, 09/21/2019 - 17:16

The Bank of Bhutan (BoB) launched its agency banking services under BoB connect in Sakteng gewog, yesterday.

The Sakteng gup and BoB officials launched the service by awarding a BoB connect authorized agent certificate to a Saktenglocal, Pema Gyleteshen. This is the 276th BoB agent in the country.

The agent will provide basic banking services such as deposits and withdrawals, fund transfers, BoB loan and NPPF loan repayments, B- mobile / Tashicell recharges and top-ups and electricity bill payments.

Sakteng Gup Sangay Dorji said that the facility would help the people of the remote gewog. He said people have to travel all the way to Trashigang for transaction work, which was both expensive and time consuming. “With the BoB agent, it would benefit the people and civil servant in the gewog.”

Gup said the agents would also benefit the staffs of Dungkhag, School, Shedra, community police centre, RNR, Forestry office, BHU and 15 micro business units in Sakteng.

Agent Pema Gyeltshen said the BoB connect agency banking services can be availed by anyone owning with any kind of smartphone. The fund can also be transferred to someone without a bank account through the cash-out facility.

Today, there are 26 BoB agency in Trashigang.

Staff reporter

UN SG calls for climate action, not fancy speech

Sat, 09/21/2019 - 17:15

By 2050, about 200M people across the globe, every year, could need international aid as a result of climate-related disasters and socio-economic impact of climate change. The funding requirement to address this could balloon to USD 20B every year by 2030.

This was one of the findings of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) Societies, which is backed by scientific data and analysis.

The IFRC President, Francesco Rocca during a press conference at UN headquarters in New York, yesterday, said that this is the cost of doing nothing and that by doing something, the numbers could drastically decrease.

However, the UN will recognisise and incentivise early movers. The UN Secretary General’s special envoy on climate Action, Alfonso de Alba told Kuensel that the faster countries move to take action on climate change, the greater is the benefit. It includes easy and cheaper access to finance.

Calling the issue as “Climate emergency,” the UN secretary General Antonio Guterres in a press conference on September 18 said that climate change is already a tragic problem of societies.

During the Climate Action Summit, which will be held on September 23 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the secretary general said that he expects countries to commit to carbon neutrality in 2050. “There is already a meaningful number of countries that have done so, and I hope that, in the summit, there will be even more.”  This translates into a reduction of emissions in the next decade of 45 percent.

For the developing countries, he said that Green Climate Fund is important to support them adapt and mitigate. The developed world is supposed to contribute about USD 100B every year from 2020 to this effect.

“I have three grandchildren, and I don’t want to be responsible for them to live in a semi‑destroyed planet when they will come to my age,” he said.

Youth, the SG said are showing leadership and demanding their respective governments to take actions. This is why a Youth climate summit is also scheduled on September 21, bringing together youth from all the member states to come up with proposals, of which top 15 will make it to the stage.

“We will showcase promising initiatives aiming at moving away from coal, putting a price on carbon, stopping subsidies for fossil fuels, and cutting pollution that damages our health,” Antonio Guterres said. “I told leaders not to come with fancy speeches, but with concrete commitments.”

When it comes to climate change, the special envoy also said that stake too high to be politically safe and more resources need to be put to support climate change and reaching the marginalised sections. There is more clarity now, he said adding that the idea is not a conservative one and remain static. Its sustainable use.

The 74th UNGA will also host its first SDG summit on September 25 to review the 17 commitments 193 nations made in 2015.

“We are losing the race against climate change. Our world is off-track in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals,” the UN secretary General said.

Tshering Dorji | New York

SDF disburse USD 13 million loan to Drukair

Sat, 09/21/2019 - 17:14

The SAARC Development Fund (SDF) disbursed a loan of USD 13 million (around Nu 918 million) to Drukair Corporation Limited for the purchase of ATR aircraft in Thimphu, yesterday.

“SDF financing would help Drukair Corporation Limited extend aviation connectivity with Bangladesh, India and Nepal and thus, providing economic connectivity and regional integration,” said CEO of SAARC Development Fund, Sunil Motiwal (PhD).

The disbursement was followed after an agreement was signed among Ministry of Finance, the government, SDF, and Drukair in August.

The economic and infrastructure windows of SDF focus on trade, economics, transportation, tourism. The current project fulfills SDF’s mandate of regional integration and collaboration through project financing.

The ATR financing will help in further increasing the number of regional and international tourists, a press release from the SDF stated. In a year, Bhutan attracts more than 254,704 regional and international tourists.

“The project would not only help Bhutan promote its tourism sector but also ensure greater connectivity to achieve economic development in the region. Thereby, promoting the welfare and prosperity of the people in SAARC region,” said Sunil Motiwal.

Since its inception in April 2010 by the heads of the eight SAARC member States, SDF is mandated to build regional integration and economic cooperation through project funding in all the eight SAARC member states – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The Secretariat is based in Thimphu Bhutan.

Currently, under SDF, there are 87 projects (13 areas) under the social window with fund commitment of USD 74.49 million and two more projects are approved in principle in social sector.

Five projects are under the economic and infrastructure windows (including 2 in-principle approved projects) with a fund commitment of USD 73 million and Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) programme with fund allocation of USD 50 million in SAARC member States.

The cumulative fund commitment under the three funding windows including MSME programme stands at USD 197.4 million. More than 10 bankable projects are also under active consideration of SDF to co-finance in SAARC member States.

SDF has committed a total of USD 31.48 million for ongoing and future projects in Bhutan. Of the total, SDF has funded over 10 projects in Bhutan worth USD 8.48 million under its social window as grants, USD 13 million under the economic window for purchase of Druk Air ATR aircraft and allocated USD 10 million under MSME funding scheme of SDF.

The SAARC Development Fund’s social window has supported a total of 10 projects in Bhutan worth USD 8.48 million.  Seven out the 10 projects were successfully completed.

Staff reporter

Tshogpa detained for alleged marijuana smuggling

Sat, 09/21/2019 - 17:12

Based on a tip-off, Jomotshangkha police arrested a tshogpa of Serthi gewog in Samdrupjongkhar involved in marijuana smuggling from Jomotshangkha on September 18.

Police received a complaint stating that a single-cabin Bolero was carrying marijuana around 2:30pm from Minjiwoong in Serthi gewog.

Police managed to locate about 133kgs of dry marijuana leaves, which were unloaded and hidden in the jungle at lower Jampani, about a kilometre from the drungkhag office.

Police carried out a search for the driver and the Bolero in Jomotshangkha town and arrested the 42 year-old-man.

Police also recovered about five milligrammes of dry marijuana leaves from the suspect’s bolero.

Meanwhile, Jomotshangkhag police arrested nine suspects involved in marijuana smuggling until September 18 this year while they arrested 49 suspects and seized 1,941kgs of marijuana since 2011. Most of the suspects who were at large are in Shar Kalaktang and Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh, India.

Police officials said that with the support from Bhutan Narcotic Control Authority (BNCA), police, drungkhag and gewog administrations carried out awareness programmes including uprooting the marijuana plant in Serthi gewog.

They said that although farmers were provided assistance in agriculture farming and other activities, people do not take interests in farming activities. “Illegal marijuana smuggling is still increasing besides carrying out surprise inspection and day and night patrolling,” an official said.

Officials said that with the support from the drungkhag and gewog administration, police would soon carry out aware programmes in all the chiwogs of the three gewogs – Serthi, Langchenphu and Lauri.

Kelzang Wangchuk | Jomotshangkha

Picture story

Fri, 09/20/2019 - 16:11

Lam Neten of Chukha Rabdey, along with 30 monks, are conducting a three-day kurim to prevent famine and the outbreak of diseases like dengue in the country.

Surgical site infections account for most HCAI

Fri, 09/20/2019 - 16:10

Healthcare-associated infection (HCAI) is the most frequent adverse event in health care.

Programme analyst with the Department of Medical Services’ health care and diagnostic division, Pem Zam, said endemic burden and epidemics of HAI were major public health problems.

According to WHO, HCAI, also known as nosocomial or hospital-acquired infections (HAI) is an infection occurring in a patient during the process of care in health facilities, which are not present or incubating at the time of admission but occurs after 48 hours of admission.

In case of surgical site infections, it includes infections up to 30 days after surgery and up to 90 days if there is implant or prosthesis.

Presenting the findings of a study on HAI at the fifth biennial health conference in Tsirang, which ended yesterday, Pem Zam said HAI had a significant economic impact at both the patient and population levels, including out-of-pocket costs to patients and costs incurred through loss of productivity due to morbidity and mortality.

WHO estimates that on an average seven percent in developed and 15 percent in low  and middle-income countries suffer from at least one HAI at any given time, with attributable mortality estimated at 10 percent.

In Bhutan, according to a point prevalence survey (PPS) carried out in 15 hospitals in October last year, the overall prevalence of HAI was found to be 6.7 percent.

A total of 373 eligible patients from 15 hospitals were surveyed on the day of the study, of which 25 patients had HAI. 

It was found that the national referral hospital in Thimphu had the highest prevalence of HAI at 8.83 percent. This, she said could be because the hospital has the highest bed strength with multispecialty facilities.

In terms of types of HAIs, the surveillance found that surgical site infections are the highest at 32 percent, followed by clinical sepsis (24 percent) and ventilator-associated pneumonia (12 percent).

The microbiology findings in the identified HAIs found that 64 percent had no growth while Klebsiella pneumonia accounted the highest with 24 percent, acinetobacter spp at eight percent and E.Coli at 4 percent.

“These are the three organisms that were present in the culture,” she said.

The PPS provides a snapshot of only one day so she said that this might not reflect the overall HAI in the country. The other limitation of the surveillance is that there was no capacity for routine HAI surveillance.

Poor planning and budgeting for infection control and medical waste management activities at the dzongkhag health facility level, lack of dedicated infection control focal persons, lack of microbiology services, mismanagement of trained infection control focal especially when they are transferred are the challenges faced in infection control.

In 2009, a prevalence survey in JDWNRH was conducted. Prior to this, Pem Zam said that there was no report or baseline on HAI in the country.

Similar to the recent PPS, this study also found that surgical site infection was the most common infection at 54 percent of all HAI cases.

It was also found that there was a lack of established guidelines and protocols for instituting such surveillance system in the hospitals.

In 2012, the infection control and waste management programme with the ministry has developed routine surveillance, ‘the standard protocol on HAI surveillance in hospitals’.

In line with this, monitoring of HAIs was initiated on pilot in the three referral hospitals and Phuentsholing hospital for two years.

HAI rate for 2013 and 2014 from routine HAI surveillance was found to be 0.25 percent and 1.3 percent respectively.

Pem Zam said that the low HAI rate means it is likely underestimated due to under reporting. It could also be because of lack of dedicated infection control focal points. “The focal persons that we have in the hospitals and BHUs’ primary responsibility is patient care and being an infection control focal person is their secondary responsibility.”

The report of the pilot project was presented to the ministry that instructed the programme to go ahead with PPS on HAI. Since the PPS was carried out in 2014, the surveillance was rolled out to 15 hospitals so far.

Surgical site infection, Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), pneumonia (healthcare-associated pneumonia and Ventilator-associated pneumonia) and bloodstream infection including clinical sepsis are the most common HAI in the country.

Hand hygiene, standards precaution, decontamination environment cleaning, infection control in health workers and medical waste management are the components of infection control in place at the health facilities.

According to WHO, many infection prevention and control measures, including hand hygiene, are simple, low-cost and effective. However, they require staff accountability and behavioural change.

Awareness and training of health professionals on HAI, ensuring adoption of the national infection control and medical waste management guidelines, increasing frequency of HAI point prevalence surveillance two to three times in a year, and rolling out PPS to other hospitals and BHU and establishing facility-based routine reporting and surveillance of HAI for accurate monitoring are some of the future plans to control HAI.

Dechen Tshomo | Tsirang

Additional policy directives to improve PSL

Fri, 09/20/2019 - 16:09

The Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) has issued additional policy directives on the Priority Sector Lending (PSL) based on the experience of the past one year in implementing the PSL.

According to the additional policy directives, PSL proposals on automobile workshops will be determined by the dzongkhag.

This directive was issued considering that the local government is the most appropriate agency to determine if an automobile workshop is needed in the locality.

The RMA issued the additional directives with the PSL report for the second quarter of 2019 last week. They are expected to improve the PSL system.

The additional policy directives states that the financial institutions must assess the proposals approved by the dzongkhag within a turn around time of 30 working days after the receipt of the proposal.

The RNR sector has been entrusted to recommend proposals that are not in the priority list to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests. The ministry will then assess the proposal in consultation with respective dzongkhags.

The directives state that the project assets will qualify as equity. But the proponent must produce 30 percent equity for purchase of machineries and other assets for the projects and the loan will be directly disbursed to the vendor of the asset by the bank.

The Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan and Bhutan Insurance Corporation Limited are not required to lend under the PSL as they are providing affordable insurance schemes, especially crop insurance. However, the two insurance companies will be required to review the pricing of their insurance products often.

According to the second quarter report issued last week, the majority (79 percent) of the PSL projects to be approved continue to be based on agriculture. The projects are clustered around similar ideas while proponents were all individuals with only a handful of groups.

A total of 1,486 PSL applications were received as of the second quarter of 2019, of which 1,197 projects were approved.

Thimphu received 268 project applications, which was the highest among dzongkhags. The financial institutions collectively assessed 1,002 projects as of second quarter 2019 and approved 450 projects.

More than half the projects that were rejected were on account of poor credit history of the clients. The financial institutions collectively sanctioned Nu 413.62 million (M).

A total of Nu 289.63M were disbursed as of the second quarter of 2019.

The PSL initiative was launched on December 13, 2017 for implementation with effect from January 1, 2018.

MB Subba

Five-year-old allegedly raped in Dagana

Fri, 09/20/2019 - 16:08

A five-year-old child was allegedly raped on September 18 in Dagana.

The incident took place around noon when the girl’s mother was on duty. She works as a cleaner in one of the schools. The girl was at home with her stepfather.

According to the mother, the suspect is a friend of the stepfather.

She said the stepfather was in the kitchen preparing lunch when the incident happened.

She said her husband told her that when he returned from the kitchen, the girl and the suspect were not there. 

“It was learnt that the suspect has lured my daughter to go with him to buy noodles.”

The mother said when she came home for lunch around 2:30pm, she found her daughter crying. “She had scratch marks all over her face. When I asked about it, she said she fell down.”

She also found her daughter bleeding. “It seemed like my daughter was warned not to tell anyone, as she kept lying and crying.”

The principal of the school reported the matter to the police.

The child was admitted in Dagapela hospital for a night and sent home yesterday afternoon.

According to the mother, the suspect kept visiting her home and she never suspected him to do something like this.

The police arrested the suspect at 7:30pm yesterday.

Rinchen Zangmo  | Dagana

Minor raped and murdered in Paro

Fri, 09/20/2019 - 16:07

A class II student of Drugyel Lower Secondary School in Paro was raped and murdered on her way from school in the evening of September 19.

Sources in Paro said the girl was dropped off at Satsam Choeten by a friend’s mother around 3pm. Her mother stays a few kms above the main road.

Her body was found later that night in a bush. She was strangulated and there were evidences of rape. 

While police were not available for comments, sources said the senior superintendent of police (Crime) and other officials are investigating the case. 

It was learnt that there was no suspect identified in the case as of yesterday evening. 

Staff reporter

ACC appeals to Supreme Court on JPLP tax evasion case

Fri, 09/20/2019 - 16:06

The Supreme Court (SC) has reportedly accepted the Anti-Corruption Commission’s appeal against JPLP tax evasion judgment rendered by the larger bench of the High Court.

Sources from the SC said that the appeal case is yet to be assigned to one of the benches for hearings.

ACC appealed to the SC earlier this month after the state prosecutor, Office of the Attorney General (OAG), decided not to appeal against the ruling of the larger bench, which overturned the judgment of High Court’s bench III.

After reviewing the judgment passed on August 15, ACC informed the state prosecutor on the need to appeal before the SC. The last date for appeal was on August 29.

“Upon follow-up by the ACC, it was informed albeit verbally that the Attorney General is not appealing the case although screening corpuses had unanimously consented to appeal,” the commission stated in the appeal letter to the Chief Justice. “The ACC strongly believes that the ruling of the larger bench and OAG not appealing the case will set grave and erroneous precedence.”

ACC’s appeal letter stated that there is a huge stake both to the state and the taxation regime of the country if the matter is to be closed with the judgment of the larger bench, High Court (HC). ACC officials said that the judgment rendered by the trial court and the larger bench was almost same.

The commission requested the SC to permit ACC to appeal the case on behalf of the State. “Since OAG is yet to intimate ACC in writing the ground for not appealing to the SC, the commission is not in a position to submit the details for now.”

The commission, however, assures that the submission for appeal will be made within two weeks.

The larger bench presided over by three justices upheld the Phuentsholing drungkhag court’s ruling passed in July 2017. Both courts ruled that Jatan Lal Prasad, the owner of Jatan Prasad Lal Prasad (JPLP) enterprise in Phuentsholing, is liable to pay Nu 14.487 million  (M) for evading tax amounting to Nu 184M in four years from 2011 to 2014. The figure was worked out after calculating the 24 percent penal interest and 200 percent fines.

Both the larger bench and lower court considered purchase cost deductions of Nu 118.651M for the income of four years.

The bench III of HC, however, had altered the lower court’s judgment and increased JPLP’s tax liability from Nu 14.487M to Nu 126.897M by including purchase cost after the OAG appealed against the lower court ruling.

The bench III on January 30 this year ruled that the purchase/direct cost deduction is allowed only during normal course of filing the tax returns given in the Income Tax Act of Bhutan  (ITA) 2001. The ruling also stated that once the tax evasion is established, deductions are disallowed under general provision of the ITA.

Aggrieved by the bench III ruling, which had erred in interpreting section 35.2 of chapter 5 of the general provisions of the ITA by considering purchase as non-deductable and sentencing JPLP to an imprisonment of five years, legal counsel appealed to the larger bench on February 4 seeking the interpretation of taxation law.

The larger bench stated that taxpayers are mandated to pay just, fair, and equitable taxes as determined by the specific tax laws, whether it is direct or indirect tax. Such taxes are levied on the basis of net profit earned from the operation of a business.

The ruling also stated that for the purpose of earning profit or income, there has to be an investment. “If there was any tax evasion like in the current case, tax evasion can be possible only after the operation of a business.”

“In case of evasion, the enforcement is to impose fines and penalties. The basic essence of Income Tax Law is that the taxable income is the net profit of a business and not the total sales amount or turn over,” the ruling stated.

The larger bench also directed Jatan Lal Prasad to pay additional fine amounting to Nu 213,500 as per ITA and Anti-Corruption Act in lieu of five years imprisonment after deducting 92 days the appellant spent under custody.

The bench III after altering the decision of the lower court had sentenced Jatan Lal Prasad to five years in prison (non-compoundable). The lower court, in addition to the fine and penalties provided under ITA, imposed an additional penalty of Nu 7.875M on appellant as fine in lieu of imprisonment.

Jatan Lal Prasad was released on bail amount of Nu 80M by OAG on September 16, 2015 after the ACC detained him for three months and two days and denied bail as he couldn’t arrange a guarantor and pay Nu 184M for tax evasion.

Rinzin Wangchuk

Prolonged suspension of gup affects decision making, creates uncertainty

Fri, 09/20/2019 - 16:05

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has called a by-election in Bumdeling gewog, Trashiyangtse for September 25, one month after the gup was convicted on August 23 for rape of a minor.

The gewog will get a new gup in less than three months after he was arrested on July 12.

However, in Zhemgang, even after one year and two months since the Goshing gup Sangay Lethro was suspended for alleged corruption, uncertainty remains over when the gewog will get its gup. The case, which took place between 2011 and 2015, is ongoing in the Panbang dungkhag court.

Sangay Lethro said that he was expecting the court’s verdict by the end of this month or early October. The gewog will further remain without a gup even after the dungkhag court’s verdict if the accused is found guilty and decides to appeal to higher courts.

Chang gewog in Thimphu remained without a gup for almost two years since the suspension of its former gup, Kanjur. The former gup was eventually convicted for corruption and a by-election was held in June this year.

According to local leaders and dzongkhag officials, prolonged absence of elected officials at the local level not only affects services but also leaves the gewog disadvantaged in terms of development activities.

Mangmi and officiating gup of Goshing gewog, Pema Samdrup, said that people of his gewog have been raising the issue of lack of a gup. He said his role did not suffice that of the gup and that the gewog was left in uncertainty in terms of when it will get a gup.

He said he did not receive additional benefits for the additional responsibilities. The chairperson and deputy chairperson of a DT are entitled to an additional responsibility allowance.

The suspension of the Goshing gup also left the Zhemgang Dzongkhag Tshogdu without a thrizin (chairman). In such a case, the officiating thrizin neither receives additional benefits nor the full-fledged power, but additional responsibilities.

In an earlier interview, Zhemgang’s officiating DT Thrizin and Bardo gup, Kinzang Jurmey, said that he did not enjoy the power of the Thrizin. “As an officiating Thrizin, sometimes we hesitate to take decisions.”

An LG member can also be removed for failure to attend more than two consecutive sessions of the local government (DT/GT) without the leave of absence from authorized person, according to the LG Act.

The suspended gup has missed three consecutive DT sessions.

“People have voted for me to serve them. I feel sad for not being able to do that as I am suspended,” said Sangay Lethro. He is said to be receiving 50 percent of his salary.

According to Section 35 of the election Act, election to fill a vacant post shall be held within 30 days from the date of vacancy.

However, Sangay Lethro still remains the gewog’s gup as he enjoys the right to be presumed innocence until proven guilty in accordance with the law.

An election official said that ECB would not call a by-election of a local government post until there is a vacancy.

Observers say that the courts should expedite such cases and that there should time limit fixed on how long an elected official can stay out of office.

The election Act requires a local leader to vacate his post for prolonged ill health. But lack of a provision on how long a local government member can remain on suspension can leave a gewog without a gup for an uncertain number of months or years.

MB Subba

New challenges in the health sector

Fri, 09/20/2019 - 16:04

A year ago, around this time, the news of 11 babies dying one after another at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in Thimphu shook the nation.

The death of the new-borns was attributed to the failure to institute infection control measures, which caused a bacterial infection outbreak at the NICU of the national referral hospital in Thimphu. In plain terms, hospital-acquired infections (HAI).

This is the one case many Bhutanese can relate to. What is coming is even disturbing. Not to scare people, but HAI is becoming a new challenge in our health system.

A survey report shared at the biannual conference in Tsirang where all the top health officials gathered, found that overall prevalence of HAI at 6.7 per cent. The percentage might sound small, but it is a great cause of concerns.

It is a concern because we are not prepared to deal with it. It is a concern because the national referral hospital has the highest prevalence rate. Hospital-acquired infections like Klebsiella pneumonia accounted for the highest with 24 per cent.

While the survey can be brushed aside for not reflecting the overall HAI in the country, there are enough reasons to worry. Although HAI can be controlled, we do not have the planning or the resources to do so.

This indicates our priorities. Health officials are aware that more resources and attention in preventive efforts could reduce the burden on the treatment part. But our focus is not there.

Studies conducted by health officials have found that poor planning and budgeting for infection control and medical waste management activities, lack of dedicated infection control focal persons and microbiology services, mismanagement of trained infection control focal are the challenges faced in infection control.

A decade ago, a prevalence survey found that surgical site infection was the most common infection at 54 per cent of all HAI cases. This indicates that we are losing our focus.

What are we doing?

HAI is the new global trend. It is a new health problem. Infection control, health officials point out, is secondary. The focus is on patient care. The irony is that those they care are at risk of HAI. Research findings imply that hospitals are the key facilitator of transmission and suggest that diseases are spreading from person-to-person primarily within hospitals.

To a layman, visiting a hospital means treatment and care for the sick or the injured. The last thing they expect is losing loved ones from HAI. It is already happening.

A new challenge in the health field is the so-called superbug, a strain of drug-resistant bacteria. Superbug would be a bigger challenge for those without resources or knowledge to deal with them.

The best way to deal with drug-resistant infections is to avoid getting them in the first place. Good hospital hygiene, which includes early identification and isolation of patients carrying these bacteria, could not only delay the spread of these pathogens, but also successfully control them.

Simple measure like hand hygiene and behavioural change are effective. In our case, one effective way is controlling the crowd at the hospitals. We could start with the simple doable things like good hygiene and avoiding spurious equipment.

WWSI addresses water-related challenges along Wangchhu basin

Fri, 09/20/2019 - 16:03

Mountain ecosystems are the source of water, energy, agriculture and other goods and services for over half of the world’s population, but the Himalayan region is the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Officials from Afganistan, Bhutan and Nepal who managed the integrated water resource management in the mountainous river basins under the Asian Development Bank (ADB) came together to share best practices and challenges in Thimphu on September 18.

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