Many people in Bhutan will be observing losar (ལོ་གསར་) or New Year’s Day today, 25 January 2020, and it is appropriate that we celebrate this day as a traditional New Year’s Day in the Bhutanese calendar. Like Lomba, Karm Nyaru and Nyilo, this is an ancient calendar event observed in many parts of Bhutan, although today it has got the misnomer Sharchokpi Losar as it is currently popular in eastern Bhutan, and Chunyipi Losar for falling on the first day of the twelfth Mongolian and Tibetan month. It is an old tradition of New Year’s Day based on both the movement of heavenly bodies in the sky and agricultural cycle on the ground.
This ancient tradition of New Year’s Day, falling on the first new moon day after nyilo or winter solstice and in the month when the full moon meets with the constellation Gyal (རྒྱལ་), Pushya Nakshatra or Cancri, was widely celebrated in Bhutan and other parts of the Himalayas, and was also recorded in texts such as the Gongdue (དགོངས་འདུས་) teachings of Sangay Lingpa (1340-96). Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the founder of Bhutan, was a staunch follower of Sangay Lingpa’s teachings. He invited Sangay Lingpa’s descendant Rigzin Nyingpo to bestow him the entire teachings of Sangay Lingpa and incorporated rituals such as the Lama Gongdue into the ritual curriculum of the State Monk Body. In this way, the Gongdue calendar is also significant in Bhutan’s religious institutions.
However, it was perhaps not only due to Sangay Lingpa that Zhabdrung followed this New Year’s Day. When he came to Bhutan, this losar was probably the most popular New Year’s Day among his new subjects and they most likely considered this as the beginning of a year. Probably for these reasons, Zhabdrung chose this losar as the time to change the officials of his new government and monastic body in Punakha, and perhaps, it was also on this New Year’s Day that his subjects paid tributes and felicitations to him, which may have led to the traditional day of offering. Thus, the tradition of observing this losar or New Year’s Day and this lunar month of Gyal or Tiger month (སྟག་ཟླ་) as the first month of the year was probably important to Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal for both religious and worldly reasons.
Given this, it is odd that Bhutan did not adopt this losar as the main losar or New Year’s Day but followed the Tibetan New Year which was a legacy of Mongol rule over Tibet. The losar, which we now call Dangpi Losar and have two days of public holiday, is based on a calendrical system started by the Mongolians. When Ghengis Khan invaded the ancient Tangut kingdom and successfully took control over it in 1227, he held celebrations of victory. The month of victory celebrations was marked as the first month of the year, and the day came to be annually observed as New Year’s Day. This tradition later reached Tibet through the descendants of Genghis Khan as they took control of the Tibetan plateau. The months came to be known as Horda (ཧོར་ཟླ་) or Mongolian months and the New Year was observed as Royal or King’s New Year (རྒྱལ་པོའི་ལོ་གསར་) perhaps referring to the Mongolian Rulers. In subsequent centuries, the practice reached Bhutan and the term Horda was used in Bhutan as late as 1980s when it was changed to Drukda (འབྲུག་ཟླ་) or Bhutanese month by our astrologers. Thus, the day we call Dangpi Losar has no auspicious reason or significance for the Bhutanese and Himalayan communities as a part of seasonal cycle although it is considered the beginning of a holy Chotrul month.
The origin story of Dangpi Losar shows how calendar systems can change with political and religious changes. So, it is about time we also stop celebrating a losar which commemorates somebody else’s victory in a land most Bhutanese have not even heard of. In contrast, this losar has much antiquity and significance for its astral, agricultural and political significance. This ancient losar truly marks a new season as it falls around winter solstice and the midpoint between old and new agricultural seasons.
This losar is an old Bhutanese New Year’s Day and a real beginning, when one can wish everyone a happy, joyous and successful New Year.
A great year of Male Iron Rat to everyone!
Karma Phuntsho (Phd)
President of the Loden Foundation and the author of many books and articles including The History of Bhutan.
The National Assembly yesterday added a new Section in the Mines and Minerals Bill 2020, which states that the state shall ensure broad-based ownership in mining operations by requiring 49 percent of shareholding to be floated to the public.
The existing mining law requires the mining promoters to float 30 percent of the total shareholding of the company.
Proposing the new Section, chairman of the economic and finance committee Kinley Wangchuk said that it would ensure mining resources benefit the maximum people. He said that mining resources are being enjoyed by a handful of people.
The new Section, he said, would enable small investors invest in the mining sector.
Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said that there are 26 mining companies and 40 stone quarries in the country. He said that keeping 40 percent shares to the public was in line with distributing the mining wealth to maximum people in the country.
The committee had proposed at least five prompters in a mining company. However, members said that having more promoters would increase the chances of corruption and the House rejected the committee’s proposal.
The House also decided that all mineral reserve proven by the geology and mines department shall be allocated through public notifications through open competitive bidding process or to a state owned enterprises.
Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said that there was no need for the government to invite bids if a mining work is given to a state-owned enterprise (SOE). “The government can directly allocate the work to a SOE,” he said.
The National Assembly also decided to increase the lease period from 15 years to 20 years. The Bill had proposed to increase to 30 years.
“Those mines whose lease period is 15 years will get additional five years and others that have 10 years lease period will have 10 more years,” the committee chairperson, Kinley Wangchuk said.
The House decided that the mining shall be leased through open auction for the expected economic life of the mine or for a maximum period of 20 years, whichever is less. The Bill has no provision for renewing the lease, which means that once the lease period expires the mining will be leased through open auction.
According to the Bill, the leasee should start mining operation within the period specified and carry out mining operations in accordance with the Mine Plan, Environmental and Social Risk Management and Mitigation Plan and the lease agreement.
Communities affected by mining operations say that they have little to benefit from mining in their localities, while the impacts threaten their livelihood and health.
But miners says that the corporate social responsibility carried out by the company had directly benefited the community and shareholders benefited from returns on their investments.
Some officials say that there weren’t many operators due to the capital-intensive nature of the business and that the country was benefiting in the form of taxes.
The Parliament is hoping to make sure that the Bill would enable the mining sector to create thousands of jobs and ease the business operation in the mining sector.
The Mines and Minerals Management Act 1995 has never been amended although several changes and related issues have emerged in the last 24 years.
Minerals are among the top 10 exports of the country. Seven mine-based industries (MBIs) in the country paid a total of Nu 455.8 million (M) in 2017 and Nu 601.2M in 2018 as Corporate Income Tax (CIT), according to reports available with the committee.
The net profit earned by the seven MBIs was Nu 1.1 billion (B) in 2017 and Nu 1.3B in 2018. According to the reports, the total royalty and mineral rents levied was less due to the application of incentivised royalty system.
The House will continue the deliberation of Lhengye Zhungtshog Bill
Discussion on the eligibility and qualification of cabinet or council of ministers sparked heated debate at National Council yesterday while deliberating on the Lhengye Zhungtshog Bill of Kingdom of Bhutan 2020.
Social and Cultural Affairs Committee (SCAC) of the House, which introduced the Bill, proposed the criteria for the nomination of the cabinet as an elected member of the National Assembly and possess qualification as prescribed in the Constitution and other relevant laws.
Gasa’s MP Dorji Khandu, said that due to lack of specific requirement, people’s trust and confidence in the cabinet had declined over the years. The people, he said, had begun raising concerns over the new and young ministers.
“Qualification and experiences should be a crucial condition.”
The absence of specific criteria, if continued, would become a political game, he added.
Dorji Khandu said that for the sake of gaining majority votes, there were chances that the ministers would be nominated from the dzongkhags with a bigger population and more constituencies, which would have impact on balanced economic development.
“For instance, Thimphu—the capital and most developed dzongkhag—has both two ministers—prime minister and health minister,” he said, adding that selection of cabinet ministers could become a political pledge in the future. “Such practices could undermine the credibility and authenticity of the position.”
Chukha’s MP Sangay Dorji said that the criteria were already mentioned in the Constitution and Election Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan.
Some members were of the stand that there were already limited people coming forward to join the politics, and said that rules should not restrict anyone. In a democracy, they argued, door should be kept open for any individual who fulfils the general criteria to join a political party and appointment to the cabinet.
The eligibility and qualification with other clauses will be re-deliberated.
Dorji Khandu further said that there was no rule to remove a prime minister if the vote of no confidence was against the PM.
Chapter 17 of Bill states that the removal of prime minister or ministers will require a two-third-majority vote of no confidence.
Some provisions of Lhengye Zhungtshog Act of 1999, which was enacted before the Constitution, were found to be contradicting with the Constitution. The National Law Review Taskforce also found the Act redundant and recommended repeal.
Considering the important role of the executive, deputy chair of the committee, Ugyen Namgay, said that a separate Act was required for guidance and convenience while executing its power and functions.
The Bill has ten chapters and 83 sections including set procedures for the formation and composition, powers, responsibilities, and functions including its Secretariat to enable the Lhengye Zhungtshog to discharge its responsibilities in an efficient, fair and transparent manner.
The Bill also prescribes code of conduct for the members of the Lhengye Zhungtshog to preserve and enhance the public’s confidence and trust.
Going by the Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perception Index for 2019, Bhutan has not made much progress in tackling corruption last year because it stayed in the same position as 2018.
TI released its report yesterday and ranked Bhutan 25th out of 180 countries or territories with a score of 68. The average score is 43. In 2017, Bhutan was in 26th place.
The report stated that Western Europe and European Union region scored highest and Sub-Saharan Africa region the lowest.
It stated that the CPI 2019 showed corruption was more pervasive in countries where huge money could flow freely into electoral campaigns and where governments listen only to the voices of wealthy or well-connected individuals.
It also reveals that a staggering number of countries are showing little to no improvement in tackling corruption. “Our analysis also suggests that reducing huge money in politics and promoting inclusive political decision-making are essential to curb corruption,” the report stated.
It stated that fraud which occurs at the highest levels of government to petty bribery that blocks access to basic public services such as health care and education, citizens are fed up with corrupt leaders and institutions. “This frustration fuels a growing lack of trust in government and further erodes public confidence in political leaders, elected officials and democracy.”
According to the report, the current state of corruption demand a need for greater political integrity in many countries. “To have any chance of curbing corruption, governments must strengthen checks and balances, limit the influence of big money in politics and ensure broad input in political decision-making. Public policies and resources should not be determined by economic power or political influence, but by fair consultation and impartial budget allocation.”
The report recommends that for democracy to be effective against corruption, governments must ensure that elections are free and fair.
Governments must promote the separation of powers, strengthen judicial independence and preserve checks and balances.
Preventing and sanctioning vote-buying and misinformation campaigns are essential to rebuilding trust in government and ensuring that citizens can use their vote to punish corrupt politicians.
To end corruption and restore trust in politics, it is imperative to prevent opportunities for political corruption and to foster the integrity of political systems.
Governments should protect civil liberties and political rights, including freedom of speech, expression and association.
Governments should engage civil society and protect citizens, activists, whistleblowers and journalists in monitoring and exposing corruption.
In order to prevent excessive money and influence in politics, governments should improve and properly enforce campaign finance regulations. Political parties should also disclose their sources of income, assets and loans, and governments should empower oversight agencies with stronger mandates and appropriate resources.
Governments should promote open and meaningful access to decision-making and consult a wider range of groups, beyond well-resourced lobbyists and a few private interests. Lobbying activities should be public and easily accessible.
Governments should create mechanisms to ensure that service delivery and public resource allocation are not driven by personal connections or are biased towards special interest groups at the expense of the overall public good.
It should reinforce checks and balances, strengthen electoral integrity, empower citizens and control political financing.
A 12-year-old boy died after he fell off from a guava tree in Samdrupjongkhar yesterday afternoon.
The incident occurred near the workshop area when the deceased was playing with his friends.
According to sources, the deceased fell off the guava tree, which was about 15ft high and hit his head on the electric poles kept beneath the tree. The incident occurred around 1:30pm. They said the deceased must have slipped while playing.
The friends went home and informed the deceased’s parents, as they could not evacuate him to the hospital. The parents then took him to the hospital.
The health officials said the deceased was brought dead to the hospital around 2pm.
“It was late by about 15 to 20 minutes,” an official said, adding that they were no major injuries on his body.
Officials said the deceased succumbed to severe head injury and excessive bleeding from the mouth.
The Bhutan Crowdfunding platform has spurred on the growth of three startups in seven months.
When access to finance is deterring entrepreneurs, and banks turning them down frequently, this platform has come as a promising alternative source of financing. A new investment avenue for the public is being shaped.
The world’s smallest stock exchange has shown the way concerning innovative financing model and that too backed by technology. What is even more captivating is that the Royal Securities Exchange of Bhutan has developed these online portals including the trading and live market orders inhouse.
The government may want to take note of these developments because the stock exchange is well equipped to promote the capital market. What they lack is interest from the bigger companies to go for listing and government’s stubbornness to divest shares of state enterprises.
The stock exchange, however, is preparing small startups to gradually go for initial public offering (IPO). The three startups will be required to hold AGM, form a board of directors and comply with regulations. When these companies come for IPO, it is expected that their operation is already in sync with corporate governance codes. This is besides the jobs they create in the value chain could be huge.
Notwithstanding the reality, the idea appears promising.
In reality, the stock exchange is shrinking with few mining companies on the verge of delisting. Lack of incentives coupled with heavy regulation is not attracting new listings. Even as we boast of the success of crowdfunding, our young entrepreneurs are struggling to gain investors’ trust.
Our economic policies and regulations must be coherent and converge on the same course. Even other policies and laws must be sensitive to the economic needs. Trust factor must be entrenched at every stage, between the government and the private sector in particular.
Technology should be perceived as an inevitable tool to pursue futuristic economic development.
Nevertheless, the market capitalisation has touched record high due to vigorous trading in the secondary market. But we need more players, not just to promote local investment but to create decent jobs, given the potential and credibility that comes with the listing.
For now, our young faces behind the startups need motivation and investment to scale up. The story of Microsoft, Facebook and other global giants would have been different if their young promoters suffered from trust vacuum.
Our collective effort and a small sum could help them create giant companies that will steer a self-reliant economy.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
For the past four years, 41-year-old Dechenmo has been running a flower nursery at Wangkha, Chukha.
The business is her main occupation but it has suffered from reaching a larger market.
“I want to take my flowers to Thimphu,” Dechenmo said. “But the thromde doesn’t allow me to sell the flowers there.”
The florist said that the business was good and she would earn Nu 20,000 per month from her 50 decimal nursery during peak season. She also made 100 flower pots and sold them all recently.
Dechenmo shared her story at the “awareness generation workshop on gender dimensions of trade facilitation in Bhutan” in Phuentsholing yesterday.
Organised by Bhutan Media and Communications Institute (BMCI), the workshop is a part of a regional project called “Gender Dimensions of Trade Facilitation; Evidence from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal.”
The workshop created awareness on the business environment for women in Bhutan with reference to available policies, facilities, support services, business infrastructure, and social and economic support.
BMCI director Pushpa Chhetri said the gender dimension project was to understand the women in medium and small-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal.
“We are trying to understand the challenges women face in doing business,” she said.
Women comprise about half of the population in Bhutan and there was the need to understand where they stood in terms of trade. Although there is protection legally, Pushpa Chhetri said it was the question of women availing the services optimally or not.
BMCI has surveyed the women in trade and business in Phuentsholing, Thimphu and Samdrupjongkhar to find out such issues. The workshop was to validate and authenticate the survey findings.
National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) director Kunzang Lhamo, who is also the project’s advisory committee member said the project was about how Bhutanese women were faring in trade and facilitation.
“It is to know whether there is enabling environment for women entrepreneurs in trade,” she said, adding that there is a dearth of information on women’s economic empowerment.
“We are hoping to generate information through this project so that we can carry out critical actions to create enabling gender-friendly environment for women entrepreneurs in the trade sector.”
Kunzang Lhamo said that it was found that most women in trading were either SMEs or other cottage industries. They are operating informally for self-employment, she said explaining it left room for vulnerabilities.
Various other issues and opportunities were also discussed at the workshop.
Fronting issue in Phuentsholing was also highlighted. Use of digitised marketing strategies, proper marketing and branding, and financing and its struggles were also discussed.
The proprietor of Manu Exports that deals in boulders, dolomite powder and crushed stones, Ashika Rai, 28 said Bhutanese women are “very shy.”
“They don’t usually come up to do business,” she said, adding that women also depended heavily on their spouses for financial support.
“I would like to encourage women of my generation into the business.”
Meanwhile, BMCI will disseminate the project report to all the relevant stakeholders. It would also be shared during the National Policy Dialogue. The findings would also be tabled for discourse at the regional level in which Bangladesh, India and Nepal will participate with their findings.
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
Poultry farming, one of the most profitable businesses in Trashigang is facing difficult times.
Tshewang Tobgay, a university graduate, started commercial poultry farming business in 2010 at Dramang, near Lungtenzampa, about 12km from Trashigang town.
He said most farmers lost interest in the business when feed price increased. He is already thinking of closing down the farm.
“Farmers have little choice. Feed price keeps shooting up,” he said.
Another poultry farmer in Rangjung, Pema Dorji, has pretty much the same story to tell. “The feed price went up to Nu 1,775 today. The business is no more viable.”
Egg import is also killing the business in the dzongkhag. There is no demand for local eggs in Trashigang and Trashiyangtse.
A farm owner said that achieving self-sufficiency in poultry products would remain a dream if import continues.
Another farm owner in Radhi had availed himself of Nu 5,80,000 loan from Rural Enterprise Development Corporation Limited (REDCL) and has so far repaid only 30 percent.
Farmers also say that feed produced by Pema Feed Mill (PFM) in Kanglung is of inferior quality affecting the production of eggs.
“I am running the farm under loss and if this remains the case for some time I might have to close it down,” said Nima Tshering, a farm owner.
Livestock officials said that they were monitoring and sensitising on feeding for livestock including poultry and dairy in the gewog.
“Poultry is a business where one can make quick money. Once they make some money from the business they venture into other business,” said an official.
There are four commercial, 13 semi commercial and nine group poultry farms in Trashigang.
Tshering Choden & Kezang Dema
In an attempt to engage youths productively, Gokab Community Center for Learning (GCCL) held a two-week Dancing for Book initiative in parks and public places in Thimphu.
Dancing for Books, according to a founding member of Gokab, Chado Namgyel provides an opportunity for youths to learn and explore new skills.
“The initiative provides a platform for youths to showcase their talent, creative thoughts and dance.”
Chado Namgyel said that the initiative was expected to promote reading habits and to develop critical thinking skills to build a creative community as they are engaged in creative writing works.
A class 12 student of Pelkhil Higher Secondary School, Tshering Dorji Tamang said that it has helped him become more confident and learn life skills.
Chado Namgyel said, “The initiative engages youths because the youth are easily influenced by the way people act, dress and communicate in social settings.”
The group staged performances in parks and public places. They began with dance and when enough spectators gathered, a reader read a book. The group also distributed books to the audience.
Since 2015, Dancing with Books covered Paro, Phuntsholing and Thimphu distributing over 1,000 books till date.
Besides providing different levels of dance classes, the group also conduct annual dance events. Both national and international participants took part in the competitions. So far, Gokab had around 50 participants. The participants mostly included youths with few adults.
The members also go places hosting dance programs and give books to the audience especially children to promote reading habits.
For this winter, the two-week programme ended on January 19.
About 83 students participated in the three-day Bhutan Children’s Writeshop (BCW) held in Changangkha Middle Secondary School that ended on January 22.
Students between 10 and 16 years interested in writing and reading attended the programme organized by 13 teachers from several schools. During the three day programme, four Bhutanese authors spoke to the participants.
BCW is a non-profit initiative of teachers to engage students for a meaningful vacation.
Sonam Norbu, the programme coordinator said, “The dream of the initiative is to let children fall in love with writing and nurture home-based researchers, academicians, and writers.”
He said that writing habit of the students was declining which is why the teachers came together through social media to conduct the programme.
For reading, they have been organizing the “Reading Retreat’ programme every summer vacation and BCW is held during winter break to improve writing.
Ten-year-old, Kuenzang Choden is the youngest participant. She loves reading poems and has been keeping a journal.
Tenzin Wangyel, 13, from Jigme Namgyel Lower Secondary School said, “Writing is a passion for me, it shows me who I am. I can express my feelings and thoughts through writing.”
Based on the idea of anecdotal journals and freewriting, a customised book ‘My small book of big dream’ was introduced for the participants.
The programme would help participants publish three children’s books annually from next year.
Yangchen C Rinzin
Vegetable Go To School Porject (VGtS) has led to more organised vegetable gardens in the schools, contributing to better nutrition.
VGtS is a multidisciplinary school garden project piloting the use of multi-intervention school garden programmes in five countries – Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Indonesia, and Nepal to improve food security and nutrition.
A commitment was also signed between former education minister Norbu Wangchuk and former agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji to support synergies between school, water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and nutrition programmes in the education system in 2017.
Since the commitment was signed, Project manager of VGtS and school agriculture programme coordinator, B B Rai, said that the project established various sustainable ways and means to address the impact of gardening and eating habits.
“Through this, the integration of agriculture with health and nutrition for school feeding programme has really created the impact. Even with the change of government, we’re still practising the integration concept,” he said.
BB Rai said that keeping in mind the commitment for the integration, both the ministries train teachers to train on the WASH concept, impact of nutrition food, while officials from agriculture go as resources to train the cooks or mess in-charge on the vegetable gardening, how to cook nutrition food, and practice model or container gardening.
The project has now led to agriculture programme in schools with more meaning, more time to learn and impactful learning with organised vegetables garden contributing to nutrition.
“Although we did not conduct any trial, however, the physical event shows that schools with gardens have sufficient green vegetables,” he said. “They also have a variety of vegetables to learn and also to taste from.”
Although, there is no clinical study conducted, with this integration concept and also the implementation of fortified rice, BB Rai said that many nutritionists expressed that many of problems related to health had been reduced in schools that practice vegetable gardening. “The integration of school vegetable gardens with activities of health and school feeding programme for better food and nutrition have been achieved so far.”
His Majesty The King granted an audience to ICT teachers from across the country who are attending a 12-day coding training which started in Gelephu yesterday.
Addressing the teachers, His Majesty said, “We have always steered our country in the right direction. We have successfully navigated through great geo-political and socio-economic changes of the past. This decade requires us to yet again skilfully navigate the new digital and technological landscape.”
The training is intended to prepare ICT teachers to teach coding to students. Ministry of Education (MoE), Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) and Royal Education Council (REC) are working with LeapLearner to introduce coding in schools from classes PP to XII from this academic session, as part of the education flagship programme.
LeapLearner is a successful EduTech start-up with a global presence that works to teach children coding. During this course, LeapLearner will teach Python, PyLeap, and Scratch.
His Majesty The King also granted audience to teachers attending a workshop on Continuous Formative Assessment as an alternative to examinations, organised by the REC and MoE.
His Majesty also granted audience to teachers and facilitators conducting the Class XII exam paper evaluation in Samtse on January 21.
His Majesty began this Royal tour of the southern dzongkhags on January 18 to inspect proposed sites where the training centres for Gyalsung will be built.
On January 19, His Majesty granted audience to participants of the 8th Bhutan Executive Service Training at RIGSS in Phuentsholing.
During the visit, His Majesty also granted audiences to RBA officers in various Wings in the south, and to dzongkhag officials of Samtse and Sarpang.
His Majesty will visit Samdrupjongkhar next, and continue the Royal tour through the eastern dzongkhags.
The health ministry has strengthened surveillance at the points of entry as part of precautionary measures to screen pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus that was first detected in Wuhan, Hubei Province in China.
An official from the health ministry’s Emergency Medical Service Division said infrared fever scanning and surveillance of respiratory symptoms have been in place at the Paro International Airport since January 15.
In coordination with the immigration department, collection of local contact address and health screening of passengers arriving from China at the Paro International Airport began yesterday.
The travellers were educated on the infection with the in-flight announcement in both the national airlines starting January 17.
On January 21, health officials held an internal coordination meeting to discuss preparedness and way forward.
All the health centres including the national referral hospital in Thimphu were notified to strengthen and step-up surveillance and report to the Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC).
An interim guideline and case investigation forms were also circulated to all health facilities.
The Chinese government first reported the outbreak of pneumonia of unknown etiology in Wuhan, Hubei Province in China to the World Health Organisation (WHO) China Country Office on December 31, 2019.
By January 7, novel coronavirus (n-CoV) was identified as the causative virus. The novel virus is now known as 2019-nCoV.
The health official said that the RCDC was prepared to handle the 2019-nCoV in their Biosafety level 3 (BSL 3) lab. “If need be, samples can be shipped to Armed Force Research Institute for Medical Science laboratory in Bangkok, Thailand.”
He said further preparedness actions will depend on the findings and recommendations of the WHO Emergency Committee Meeting which was held yesterday in Geneva, Switzerland.
The official said that the WHO has not yet confirmed the source of infection, route of transmission and incubation period for the 2019-nCoV.
“Although WHO has not officially established significant human-to-human transmission, there are media reports of human-to-human transmission whereby heath workers treating the patients are infected in China,” he said.
Since the first outbreak, the new viral illness has infected hundreds and killed at least nine in China. The virus has also spread to other countries like Japan, Thailand, South Korea, the USA and Taiwan with at least one case confirmed. Almost all the confirmed cases have travel history to Wuhan City, China.
Coronavirus is a large family of virus causing illness from the common cold to severe diseases such as MERs-CoV and SARS-CoV. The novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain.
Common symptoms of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties that may resemble the flu or cold, making detection difficult.
Severe signs of infection include pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and could be fatal, a health official said.
According to a cautionary notification issued by the health ministry to the public and health centres on January 15, if anyone has one or more of these symptoms with travel history to the affected areas or Wuhan in China within 14 days, they are asked to report to the nearest health centre.
To reduce the risk of infections while travelling in or from the affected areas, travellers are advised to avoid close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections, and practice frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people.
They are also asked to avoid close contact with live or dead farm or wild animals, and travellers with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette that includes maintaining distance, covering coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and washing hands.
Yangchen C Rinzin
The Cabinet on January 14 approved 50 percent raise in school stipend to Nu 1,500 from Nu 1,000 per child for three meals for boarders. This means each student would get Nu 17 for a meal.
The education ministry gives 60 percent of the stipend to Food Corporation of Bhutan for non-perishable items and 40 percent to the schools for perishable items.
However, the raise is less than the overall stipend proposed of Nu 2,040 per child, which the education ministry proposed based on the calculation of nutrition the children required.
Currently, there are three categories of feeding: three meals for boarders with a stipend of Nu 1,000 per child, two meals per day in primary schools with a stipend of Nu 670 per child and one meal a day for day scholars in central school with a stipend of Nu 335 per child.
The Cabinet order stated that with the revision of stipend, the education ministry should ensure the quality of meals provided to students and rationalise the breakfast facilities in rural schools. “The ministry should also explore providing lunch to other needy schools.”
Education minister JB Rai said that although the stipend has been raised less than what was required, the decision was made following several discussions with the finance ministry.
“Using our interest and common sense, we’ve come to such a decision while we understand there was a need to increase as per the proposal,” Lyonpo said. “The approved stipend should suffice because it was made looking at the budget constraints and Nu 17 per child is better than Nu 11.”
Lyonpo added there is always a chance to review and increase in future but this time looking at the available budget, they had to accept the approved raise.
“I didn’t argue much looking at the financial constraints and we’ve no choice than to agree. Because the finance ministry had done the calculations based on the budget available.”
Lyonpo said that there is no direction on the increased stipend whether to distribute it equally for the perishable and non-perishable. “The nutrition division of the ministry would take care of it.”
Earlier Lyonpo told Kuensel that the Cabinet approved education ministry’s proposal to increase the number of feeding schools in the 12th Plan and to raise the stipend.
Lyonpo had said that the budget would be proposed in the next financial year.
“This was found necessary because children have to still walk for hours,” Lyonpo said. “All the proposed schools were identified based on their needs.”
Today, there are 263 feeding schools, including 162 schools that the government took over from the WFP this year after it phased out of the country.
…Only 15 chairs and two tables saved
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
A fire razed Phongmey gewog office in Trashigang to the ground yesterday morning. No casualties were reported.
A resident, Namgay, was the first person to see the gewog office on fire. He reported the incident to gewog mangmi, who reported it to police.
Namgay said he saw thick smokes from the gewog office. “I immediately called the mangmi and neighbors.”
He said when he returned after calling the mangmi and neighbors, the fire already raged the roof. “We couldn’t do anything, as there was no water nearby the gewog office.”
Fire engine from Trashigang reached the gewog an hour and 27 minutes after the incident was reported at 4:30am. It helped in containing the fire on the ground floor and nearby structure.
Mangmi Tshering Gyeltshen said when he reached the gewog, the upper floor was already raged by fire. “We could only save 15 chairs and two tables from the ground floor.”
He said they lost all documents and office stationery from the upper floor. “I am worried about the gewog audit. We don’t have a single document.”
He said refuted fake news on social media that someone has intentionally set the gewog office on fire. “When I reached the gewog, the door was still locked. It’s not possible to set fire.”
Local residents also claimed electrification was not done properly in the office and there were incidences of electric shortcircuit in the past.
Meanwhile, Trashigang police officials said they suspect electric shortcircuit to have caused the fire. The property damaged by fire was estimated to be more than Nu 60 million.
Coronavirus, an outbreak of pneumonia-like illness that was first reported in Wuhan, China is now spreading fast. And we need to be worried.
Bhutan has responded swiftly but we need to be still very careful and vigilant. We already have infrared fever scanning system at Paro International Airport. Surveillance at every point of entry should beefed up.
In the more interconnected world today, tackling disease outbreaks can be challenging. Increasingly, countries other than China have begun reporting new cases of coronavirus. As the Kuensel went to press last night, nine people had succumbed to the disease in China. Reports are sounding grimmer by the day.
As the knowledge about the disease grows, we now know that the disease can be transmitted from human-to-human. And we are yet to know a whole lot about the disease. That is dangerous. How countries and regions are responding to the disease can be helpful to Bhutan that is now receiving an increasing number of tourists from almost every part of the world.
All the health centres in the country, including the national referral hospital in Thimphu have been notified to strengthen and improve surveillance and report to the Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC). We are told that Bhutan has the capacity to handle the threat from the disease. But many people still do not know much about the disease.
Public awareness and education programmes should spread faster than the disease. This has not been very visible so far. More important, Bhutanese travellers should know where they are going, what are the risks, and what they can do to prevent themselves from getting infected.
In the face of such emerging health emergencies, depending on the findings and recommendations of the WHO Emergency Committee is perhaps the only thing we can do. What we can ill afford, however, is complacency. We cannot just wait for advice from WHO. Strengthening internal capacity is the need of the hour.
With dramatic rise in the number of new disease cases, the countries world over now have begun to strengthen screening at the airports. But some health experts are of the view that despite rolling out of screening technology, the communities could still be vulnerable to the disease that is spreading rapidly.
In the meanwhile, simple health measures can go a long way in keeping the infection at bay. WHO has advised people to avoid “unprotected” contact with live animals, cook meat and eggs thoroughly, and to avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms.
If you experience respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties, rush to the nearest health and medical centre, immediately.
The agriculture ministry, through dzongkhags and gewogs, is exploring means for farmers to grow better quality cardamom.
This, according to agriculture minister Yeshey Penjor, is to facilitate cardamom growers to grow price-fetching spice.
He said that the big brown cardamom, which is currently grown in the country, cannot fetch high price as the small black cardamom that are predominantly grown in south India.
Lyonpo said this while responding to Sombaykha’s Member of Parliament (MP) Dorjee Wangmo’s query on what methods and strategies could improve cardamom yield and business during the question hour session in National Assembly on January 21.
She said poor yield and price of cardamom since last year has affected farmers who depend on it as the main source of livelihood.
MP Dorjee Wangmo claimed that about 80 percent of farmers depending on cardamom in Sombaykha and Gakiling gewogs, Haa, are facing difficulty in repaying loans they took for the spice cultivation.
She also called for revising the cardamom buyback scheme, stating farmers are complaining of low rates and limited benefits.
The buy-back scheme, initiated in 2018 by the government is a contingency strategy to provide support to farmers during market failures. The commodities are then included in the scheme and buy-back price is determined annually by a technical committee representing various stakeholders.
Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor said that given the cost of production at Nu 292 for a kilogramme (kg) of cardamom, the current market price of Nu 450 a kg is not too low. “The business is still profitable.”
He explained that when market is not good, the government, through Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd, which is the implementing agency of the buyback scheme, manages to buy the cardamoms from farmers between Nu 350 to 400 for a kilogramme.
Meanwhile, opposition party’s Bardo-Trong MP Gyambo Tshering also questioned the agriculture minister on the provision of barbed wire fencing to rural households.
The MP said that the motion regarding the government to provide barbed wire fencing materials on cost sharing model on priority basis as subsidy to affected rural households was passed during the second session of the third parliament.
“But many farmers are still waiting for it.”
He also highlighted some of the major problems villagers face in absence of barbed wire fencing. “Besides damaging crops, the wild animals also threaten the lives of villagers.”
Gyambo Tshering said that if the trend continues, it would threaten food and nutritional security in the country, considering the current estimated damage of Nu 1 billion annually.
Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor said that the government is supporting more than what was agreed in the motion. “We are providing all the required raw materials not only for barbed wire fencing, but also for electric fencing.”
He explained that from more than Nu 3B budget in the 12 th Plan, the ministry has allocated Nu1.22B for food and nutritional security. “About 50 percent of Nu 1.22B has been distributed to the local governments for various development projects.”
The local government, he said, is responsible to work on priority basis.
“Given the human-elephant conflict in the south, the ministry is also exploring options how it could be prevented.”
Schools will implement the Continuous Formative Assessment (CFA) in classes PP to three beginning this academic session, according to the Royal Education Council (REC).
REC in collaboration with the education ministry is organising a training of trainers (ToT) workshop for 201 teachers in Gelephu to ensure teachers teaching Dzongkha, English and Mathematics are professionally prepared to implement CFA as an alternative to examinations.
A press release from REC states that recognising the critical roles of teachers in CFA learning the education ministry prioritises enhancing teacher capacity by informing on the concepts, process and protocols related to CFA.
A dzongkhag level orientation workshop on CFA would follow the workshop.
The Bhutan Education Blueprint 2014-2024 recommends strengthening formative assessment practices in schools. The 19th national education conference held last year recommended phasing out written examinations in primary school from this year. The conference also proposed instituting an effective alternative assessment system to enhance learning outcomes and performance.
CFA is a process to provide immediate feedback during instruction to improve teaching and learning practices. Facilitators were expected to identify learner’s needs and gaps to make necessary adjustments in instructions and interventions.
Unlike the traditional grading system (percentage grading), CFA, grades the students on the quantity and quality of their performance, which means the students are graded with standard grading systems such as beginning, approaching, meeting, or exceeding.
“Children are expected to move to the next higher grade progressively in this system of assessment. Besides, teachers have to provide remedial classes to students failing to manage the curriculum expectations,” the press release stated.
The current emphasis of the education system in the country—quantity and width learning—rather than quality and depth are affecting the quality of education. The examination-based education, the REC press release was until today linked with improving the quality of education.
In the process of enhancing education shift to competency-based learning and formative assessment, the REC in collaboration with the education ministry integrated CFA in five primary classes’ subjects, developed CFA guidebook, and ToT package.
Yangchen C Rinzin
Works and human settlement ministry would soon allocate Nu 19 million (M) to the local government (LG) for restoration of gewog connectivity (GC) roads.
The minister for works and human settlement, Dorji Tshering, said this while answering Drametse-Ngatshang member of parliament (MP) Ugyen Wangdi’s query on the government’s decision to handover GC roads to local government last year without any consultation.
According to the MP, GC roads were handed over without any budget for maintenance and restoration works.
He said most roads were damaged last summer. “Without budget to pay salary, laborers who work along the roads also had to leave their jobs.”
Ugyen Wangdi asked the minister if the government consulted or conducted studies before issuing the Cabinet order in May last year mandating LG to be responsible for construction, maintenance and operation of GC roads.
Lyonpo Dorji Tshering said roads were handed over as per the 12th Plan to decentralise and build the capacity of local government.
He said local government would receive separate budget and there should also be equal responsibility. “When the roads were handed to the ministry, we also didn’t receive the budget. So, there was no budget to handover to the local government.”
Lyonpo said the ministry has already worked with finance ministry and a total of Nu 25M has been estimated and allocated to the local government. “But there are few gewogs that are yet to receive the budget and those gewog officials should propose to the finance ministry to release the budget.”
He said they have been asking the gewogs to submit the proposal for the budget as per the rule.
Of the 205 gewogs, only three gewogs of Soe, Lingzhi and Lunana are without GC roads. The 23 GC roads, which were not blacktopped in the 11th Plan, would be blacktopped through funding from government of India.
Meanwhile, queries were also made on the status of the Shingkhar-Gorgan highway where the minister said that while the issue on the environment clearance is yet to resolve, the ministry would focus on the maintenance of three other roads that would benefit Lhuentse people.
“We’ll carry out the maintenance work on Ura-Lingmithang road, Gangula-Lhuentse road and Yongkola-Tsamang-Dorjilung where a bridge would be also constructed,” he said. “These would also shorten the travel to Thimphu and people should not only concentrate on the Shingkhar-Gorgan highway.”
The National Premier League champions, Paro FC stands a better chance against their opponents – Defenders FC of playing in the second leg of the Asian Football Confederation Cup (AFC) qualifiers against Bengaluru FC on February 5.
They have an advantage of three away goals as the match ended 3-3 at home to Defenders FC at Race Course International Stadium in Colombo, Sri Lanka, yesterday.
This is the first international match for Paro FC since its inception in 2018.
In a pre-match interview, Paro FC’s Technical Director and Head Coach, Puspalal Sharma, said that the team had prepared well and that they would make the opponents play their game and it worked.
Despite conceding an early goal in fifth minutes, Paro dominated the first half of the game with maximum possession. It equalised in the 12th minute when Dieudonne Fabassou headed in a perfect cross from the defender Chencho.
Dieudonne Fabassou doubled the score in 18th minute from a free-kick. But it was ruled as an offside.
Paro FC mounted pressure and Chencho Gyeltshen got a perfect chance and scored the second in the 24th minute. The Defenders FC equalised through Evans Asante 12 minutes later.
Paro FC shocked the opponents when Chencho Gyeltshen passed the ball and Dieudonne Fabassou scored his brace and made it 3-2 in favour of PFC in final minutes of the first half.
Both the teams wasted numerous chances in the second half but Sajith Kumara of DFC who was unmarked inside the box slotted in the loose ball almost colliding with the Paro FC goalie.
The two teams will play at Changlimithang on January 29. The winner of the tie will then face the champions of the Hero Indian Super League, Bengaluru FC in the preliminary round two.
A total of 20 players accompanied by three technical officials and eight board members reached Sri Lanka on January 18.