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Updated: 1 hour 58 min ago

BHUTAN-1 orbiting the Earth for two years

Thu, 07/02/2020 - 12:00

Served educational purpose for Bhutanese space engineers

Yangyel Lhaden

At about 330 kilometres above the earth’s surface, Bhutan’s first satellite BHUTAN-1 is orbiting the earth. Last Friday, on June 29, it was the second anniversary of launching the satellite to the International Space Station (ISS), located at about 400 km altitude above the earth’s surface.

From the ISS, BHUTAN-1 was released into earth’s orbit on August 10, 2019. The satellite is placed at around longitude of 51.5 degrees with respect to equator in earth’s orbit. BHUTAN-1 orbits the earth 15 to16 times a day and passes around the country four to five times a day.


BHUTAN-1 (CubeSat with dimension 10*10*10* cm) is an educational satellite, meaning it was developed for beginners to learn on how to build a satellite, launch it in space and operate it from the ground station.

BHUTAN-1 has been developed by Bhutanese engineers at the Kyushu Institute of Technology as part of their Master’s Degree under the BIRDS-2 Project.

BHUTAN-1 is capable of transmitting two types of data- mission data and housekeeping data. The data is received at the ground station located at the Ministry of Information and Communication compound, Thimphu.

Mission data are camera images captured from space.  Cheki Dorji, engineer with the Division of Telecom and Space (DTS) said that downloading images from the satellite was not feasible since Bhutan-1 satellite could not uplink the data from ground station to space to harness the image. It was the limitation of CubeSat built under the BIRDS-2 project, he said.

However, housekeeping data is transmitted from the satellite every day and studied. The status of the satellite such as its battery, temperature and its parts are known as housekeeping data.

The Deputy Executive Engineer with DTS, Kiran Kumar Pradhan said that although the capability of the satellite was limited, the function of small CubeSat was similar to a bigger satellite which gave them insight on how a bigger satellite works.


Life Span of BHUTAN-1

The minimum requirement of a satellite to orbit in space is six months. BHUTAN-1 has been in space for two years. According to DTS officials, BHUTAN-1, in a few months will reach earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate.

Yeshey Choden, engineer with DTS said that the satellite was living up to its full potential and had served the educational purpose well.


What’s next?

Officials of DTS said that they could not stop by just building a satellite.

Kiran Kumar Pradhan said that if they could operate small satellites, they could even build bigger satellites and operate them. DTS officials are studying ground reality on what satellite would be appropriate for Bhutan, which sector needs the most, and relevant agencies that could be the potential users of satellites.

Kiran Kumar Pradhan said that after the Covid-19 pandemic eases, they would start practical work on the next satellite by consulting international agents.

However, DTS officials said that they still needed to continue with the capacity development programme to enhance their capability to build bigger satellites in the near future.

The development of space policy and strategy is included in the 12th Plan. Yeshey Choden said that by the end of 12th Plan, they would have clear ideas on how the space programme would proceed.

However, Yeshey Choden said that the policy and strategy aspect was not enough to adopt space technology. For a sustainable space programme it was important to create a thriving space sector, she said. “One of the main activities the team is focusing on is reaching out to people and educating them on space technology,” she added.

Bhutan Space Week was observed from February 17-23. The team is also looking forward to working with the education ministry to incorporate some aspects of space technology in current school curriculum.

Ugen Tsechup Dorji appointed SAARC CCI Sr VP 

Thu, 07/02/2020 - 11:59

Chhimi Dema

Eight national federations of SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SAARC CCI) appointed Ugen Tsechup Dorji as its Senior Vice President on June 30.

Ugen Tsechup Dorji said that through this chamber Bhutan could do business with other countries such as the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade – a foreign trade and investment promotion agency or ASEAN Chambers of Commerce to export produce to beyond the region.

“The presence of regional tie-ups and connection of SAARC CCI with other organizations would enable private sector in the country to utilize SAARC CCI to look for avenue beyond our immediate neighbours.”

He said that the regional organisation will look for measures to improve the intra-regional trade and ease trading within SAARC countries to benefit all private sectors of the region.

He said that Bhutan could not use SAARC CCI as much in the past. “There is huge potential for trade and commerce for Bhutan if SAARC CCI platform is use properly,” he said.

Ugen Tsechup Dorji would serve as Senior Vice President for two years and take over as the president. He was the president from 2006 -2007.

SAARC CCI also designated Iftikar Ali Malik from Pakistan as the president during the joint session of the Executive Committee Meeting and General Assembly Meeting of SAARC CCI which was held virtually.

SAARC CCI is the regional apex body for trade founded in 1985 to promote trade and industry. The trade body is accepted as the voice of private sectors across the region.

New normal as schools re-open

Thu, 07/02/2020 - 11:58

Yangyel Lhaden

Schools closed right after the first Covid-19 case in the country. When the schools re-opened yesterday for Class X and XII, students and school administrations saw and felt the new normal.

In Lungtenzampa Middle Secondary School (LMSS) in Thimphu, “Lapchu, Lapchu” song greeted the students, encouraging them to wash their hands. Everyone in the campus is wearing facemask.

There is something called the new normal rules. What is it?

According to Ministry of Education’s (MOE) guidelines for re-opening of schools/centres, premises should be disinfected; everyone should maintain at least one metre distance; adequate handwashing facility should be available; thermal screening for everyone at the entrance; students and parents should be briefed about new norms before classes start. These are the basics. 

Two little LMSS students, who met after a long time, hugged and walked towards their class. A teacher calls out to maintain physical distance. All of a sudden, it’s a new normal again. Friends must part and keep the distance.

Schools do not have the morning assembly. Students are not allowed to share food, stationery, and have to eat in classroom with their teachers. Academic blocks are colour-coded. The students have to wear colour-coded badges.

All these measure are to avoid prevent transmission of the pandemic.

Karma Dolkar, student of LMSS, said that she was excited to meet her friends and the precautionary measures at the school made her feel safe.

Pelzan Dolma, another student, said that she felt uncomfortable with the facemask.

In Trashigang Middle Secondary School, all 33 students reported to the school. Regular classes based on MOE’s prioritised curriculum took place.

The principal said that the school received two infrared forehead thermometer and soaps from the government. The school bought the sanitisers.

In Bartsham Central School in Trashigang, according to the new rule, 20 minutes time difference between class 10 and 12 students to reporting to school, classes, interval, lunch break, and departure from school is the new normal.

The principal said that all these initiatives were to avoid over-crowding.

In Phuentsholing Higher Secondary School, the principal said that physical distancing was maintained from outside the gate. Because it was the first day of school, the students were entertained with recreational activities rather than delving straight into academic lessons. There were songs and recitation programmes that were done through an intercom.

Some schools, however, opened without infrared forehead thermometer. But students and teachers had to run through physical check up by the health officials.

MOE’s officiating secretary, Karma Tshering, said that the infrared forehead thermometer, soaps and sanitary napkins were dispatched from the ministry to the schools before the school re-opened.

Build Bhutan project comes with incentives for job seekers in construction sector 

Thu, 07/02/2020 - 11:57

Yangchen C Rinzin

In an attempt to meet the shortage of workers in the construction sector due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the labour ministry launched Build Bhutan Project (BBP) yesterday.

The project with a budget of Nu 1,040 million is expected to ease unemployment and layoffs by filling the gap in the construction sector.

The project comes at a time when there is a shortage of 14,495 foreign workers, including 7,405 skilled workers, in the construction sector due to the restriction imposed in response to Covid-19.

The construction sector is short of masons, carpenters, steel fabricators, plumbers, electricians, building painters, operators, and rod binders.

Labour minister Ugyen Dorji during the launch said that the project will engage about 7,000 individuals over a period of two years.

Lyonpo said the project will employ unemployed persons registered with the ministry, laid-off employees, employees on unpaid leave during the pandemic, and overseas returnees.

The project will train job seekers, reskill them, or improve their skills in construction trades leading to national certification. The ministry survey conducted in March showed that there was a demand for about 7,533 skilled workers from 2,379 employers.

The BBP was initiated to match the demand for workers in the construction sector with the supply of workers. It will mobilise, create and manage a pool of skilled and unskilled workforce to meet the requirements of the sector, and promote the sector as an attractive avenue for employment.

“It is a very risky and ambitious initiative we’re embarking on, but if not now then when. It’s time to change the mindset to take up the job in the construction sector,” Lyonpo said.

“It is about an individual who should put their heart to contribute to the economy during such a difficult situation.”   

He said that many returning from overseas worked in retail or sales which have less avenue of employment at home and without option, the construction sector is the only choice right now.

“The Bhutanese must take this as an opportunity to contribute to nation-building and keep the economy running. During the pandemic, the service is needed more in the construction sector for now.”

Works and human settlement minister Dorji Tshering said that any kind of construction, need labourers, construction materials, and finance.

Lyonpo said that for materials, apart from buying local materials, the government has been looking into making materials available. The allocation of the capital budget for the 2020-21 financial year is more than 25 percent.

Implementation strategy to attract unemployed

Labour minister said to make BBP attractive, one of the most important strategies is instituting a wage top-up in addition to what employers pay. The government will add 15 percent of monthly wage based on the worker’s level of skills.

If the engagement of worker is less than a month, the wage top-up will be provided on a Pro Rata basis. For instance, if an employer pays Nu 18,000 for a diploma level, the government will top-up Nu 2,700.

The BBP will also institute a retirement security and benefits scheme, including provident fund.

Lyonpo said the BBP will contribute 10 percent of the employee’s basic salary to the PF and the employer adds five percent.

This is for the first year of the project and from the second year, the contribution will involve a tripartite and contribute five percent each.

“The uniqueness of this scheme is that it is portable meaning the employee will not have to necessarily stick with one company to avail the PF,” Lyonpo said. “There is also a flexibility to withdraw the contribution as and when required.”

However, the employee will have to engage in the construction sector for at least a year to withdraw the entire PF.

“If an employee wants to withdraw before a year, they will only get their share of PF contribution while BBP contribution of 10 percent will be put back to the project.”

The workers under the BBP will be given training through a compressed unstructured training programme with 20 percent of it conducted at the technical training institutes, as foundational courses and the remainder 80 percent at the designated companies in the form of on-the-job training or attachment.

Lyonpo said to ease the employer’s financial burden and to improve the working conditions and environment in the construction sector, the BBP will also provide work uniform to start with as an added incentive.

The project will register and categorise interested job seekers into two groups, skilled and non-skilled. Both the employer and employee can register with BBP online.

Lyonpo said that as a long term objective, the labour ministry in collaboration with works and human settlement ministry will create an employment agency in the construction sector.

“This sector will provide a sustainable supply and management of skilled construction workforce. This will make the construction industry a key sector in generating employment opportunities.”

There are 26,000 foreign workers in the country today.

Maokhola bridge on halt due to Covid-19 

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 16:26

Nu 400M allocated for a bridge to be used for other prioritised projects 

Yangchen C Rinzin

Given the considerable expense it could incur, the government in the reprioritisation of the 12th Plan has decided to halt the much-talked-about Maokhola bridge project in Gelephu.

The tendering process for design and survey of the bridge was in full swing. The project should have begun from September at the latest and would have been completed by 2022.

The villagers of four gewogs—Chuzergang, Sershong, Tareythang, and Umling on the other side of the Maokhola will have to wait for a few more years before they can have a bridge, or until Covid-19 goes away.

Human Settlement Minister Dorji Tshering said that the construction of the bridge was put on hold due to Covid-19 and it was uncertain when works would resume. What is certain is that the budget allocated for the bridge would be re-prioritised.

For the bridge that is estimated to cost Nu 900 million, a budget outlay of Nu 400 million was allocated in the 12th Plan. The Nu 400 million will be now allocated for other activities prioritised in the pandemic situation.

  As per the survey, the span of the concrete bridge is expected to be about 800 metres. The survey has also looked into the construction of river protection walls.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the project was put on halt and was not cancelled.

Lyonchhen said that during the re-prioritisation of 12th Plan due to Covid-19, it was found that the construction of the bridge could entail massive human resource challenge and raw materials shortage from India.

“Implementation of the bridge was not something that can be implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic. So we decided to halt the project,” Lyonchhen said. “This activity is one among many that we have forgone in the reprioritisation process.”

Lyonchhen said that the construction of the bridge could come anyway but this not this time.

The bridge was one of the pledges of the government.

“Yes, the bridge was one of our pledges but the situation is different now. It’s difficult to use a huge budget for a bridge that is not required immediately when the budget could be used for other Covid-19 related works.”

Men sentenced for “breach of public order and tranquillity”

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 16:25

Nim Dorji  | Trongsa

Bumthang district court sentenced a man from Dagana to a concurrent prison term of 27 months for violating the government’s directive to close shop at 7pm last week.

He is a repeat offender, previously convicted for trespassing and harassment.

He was handed an eleven-month prison term for breach of public order and tranquillity and the two-year-three-month for harassing.

Police apprehended the men drunk and shouting near a private residence at Gongkhar at around 10.50pm on May 5.

The defendant submitted to the court that he went to collect his citizenship identity card and driving license, and shouted under the influence of alcohol.

He admitted to the charges and pleaded the court to acquit him. He said that he won’t repeat such an act in the future.

However, as he has breached the governments directive and being a repeat offender, the court sentenced him to 27 months in prison.

The government on April 14 announced all businesses to close by 7pm to reduce the risk of community transmission and avoid mass gathering.

Meanwhile, in a similar case, two customers and a shopkeeper were also charged for breaching the directive.

The police intercepted three of them drinking in a shop near Jambay Lhakhang.

The shopkeeper submitted to the court that the two men were hired that day to construct a cowshed. Since the work was incomplete he asked them to stay at his place to continue the work the next day.

He said that his shop and residence were together and he doesn’t sell alcohol. He bought alcohol from another shop and closed his shop at 6.30pm.

The shopkeeper told the court that the police knocked on the door and came in and found them in the kitchen where three of them were drinking after dinner.

The court acquitted the three of them stating there was no evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

This is the fourth incident reported in Bumthang court after the government issued the directive.

The court acquitted them, stating the charges could not satisfy the court.

Rotavirus vaccination is not cost-effective for Bhutan

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 16:25

Yangyel Lhaden

In 2018, the government decided to introduce three vaccines—pneumococcal (PCV), flu, and rotavirus. Pneumococcal and flu vaccines have been introduced but not rotavirus. What happened?

The cost-effectiveness, budget impact, and human resource impact study on the rotavirus vaccination by the health ministry’s essential medicine technology division (EMTD) in collaboration with Health Intervention Technology Assessment Programme (HITAP), Mahidol Oxford Research Unit (MORU), and PATH found that introducing rotavirus vaccine in Bhutan was not cost-effective.

All biologics, before introduction in the country, has to go under health technology assessment. EMTD used one of the health technology assessment methods called economic evaluation.

Rotavirus is one of the agents that causes diarrhoea. In Bhutan, diarrhoeal visits to health facilities and diarrhoeal morbidity have decreased over the last decade due to improvement in the country’s public health system.

However, diarrhoea still remains one of the top ten causes of morbidity in children under five.

Cost evaluation

The benefit of the vaccine and the price of the vaccine and its associated costs are compared against the threshold ratio of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The vaccine is cost-effective only if the ratio comes below 0.5 of GDP.

Four rotavirus (RV) vaccines are currently being used—RotaTeq, ROTARIX, ROTAVAC, and ROTASILL.

The findings established that, at the current prices, none of the evaluated rotavirus vaccines would be cost-effective in Bhutan at a willingness-to-pay threshold of 0.5 times the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita (Nu 111,908).

Among the four RV vaccines, ROTASIIL has the potential of giving the best value-for-money result with the lowest net budget impact of US$ 40,600 per year at the current price.

ROTASIIL and ROTAVAC would only be cost-effective at 0.5 GDP per capita if the disease burden was higher.

The study found that in the last few years, there was only one diarrhoeal death each year according to the Health Management and Information System (HMIS) database.

The study also found that the workload of the health workers—paediatricians, medical officers, pharmacists, and nurses—would reduce while the workload of the health assistants would increase.

Pemba, laboratory officer with the health ministry, said that the case burden in the country was not so high and investing on the vaccine would only be reasonable if the mortality rate due to rotavirus diarrhoea was high and morbidity cases out of control.

Deepika Adhikari, senior laboratory officer, said that investing on a vaccine would only be effective if health benefit gained was in line with the price paid.

The current health interventions and strengthening of the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) programme by UNICEF were rather more effective in preventing the overall communicable diseases, she added.

How was the study carried out?

To assess the cost-effectiveness, budget and human resource impact of rotavirus vaccination programme compared with no vaccination, a cost-effectiveness analysis was performed using UNIVAC, a deterministic static cohort model developed at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The costs and health outcomes were the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio.

The cost-effectiveness thresholds of 0.5 (Nu 111, 908) and 1.0 (Nu 223, 815) times the GDP per capita were used for the base case analysis and sensitivity analysis, respectively.

The country’s disease burden was studied using HMIS database from all health facilities in Bhutan. Children under five were the subject of interest and children under one the target of population for the vaccination programme.

The model assumed that the children could experience one of three states of rotavirus gastroenteritis (RVGE)—no RVGE, non-severe RVGE, and severe RVGE.

For non-severe RVGE, it was assumed that they would either forego treatment or visit health facilities. Severe RVGE would seek medical treatment.

From the HMIS data, five percent of all diarrhoeal visits were hospitalised. The study assumed that non-severe RVGE visit was 95 percent and, severe, 5 percent.

Diarrhoeal deaths reported were assumed to have been caused by rotavirus because of relatively higher prevalence of rotavirus compared with other causes of severe diarrhoeal death.

The total number of RVGE cases, hospital visits, hospitalisation with or without vaccine were studied for the report.

The qualified output of cases and death averted, incremental cost due to vaccination programme, treatment cost averted, and health workers’ personal time to treat rotavirus cases was studied.

Strength and limitation of the study

Strength: The usage of local data and meta-analysis with a validated tool (UNIVAC) gives insight on cost-effectiveness, choice of vaccine product, financial feasibility and impact on human resources. Evaluation of all WHO pre-qualified rotavirus vaccine. The input parameters and result are verified by a group of local experts through stakeholder consultation meeting.

Limitation: High probability of underreporting of rotavirus diarrhoea due to poor surveillance and a low number of samples. Lack of laboratory confirmation for diarrhoea deaths included as rotavirus deaths.  The indirect benefits of vaccination such as herd protection and societal costs were not accounted for in the analysis.

PHPA-I management finds L&T claims not maintainable

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 16:24

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

The Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project Authority’s dispute resolution committee established that the claim of Nu 3.9 billion (B) made by the Larson & Toubro (L&T) is not maintainable.

The management, about a week ago, also received an approval from the Authority’s chairman, Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma, to inform the contractors of the committee’s decision. 

The Authority’s director finance, joint managing director, and director technical are members of the dispute resolution committee. 

According to the Authority’s Managing Director NC Bansal, the dispute resolution process had three levels.

First, the engineer in-charge studies the claims and makes a decision. If, however, the contractors do not agree to the findings, they could approach the Authority’s managing director. If the contractors are dissatisfied with the managing directors, they can then go to for arbitration. 

“In case of L&T, the managing director level has been crossed,” said NC Bansal.

L&T had made 13 claims.

According to NC Bansal, the committee found that the claims were not at par with the provisions of the contract. 

Kuensel learned that L&T claims were for idling of the resources such as manpower and equipment. 

“The resources have been laying idle since 2013. Whatever cost is incurred, that can be examined and probably be compensated,” L&T official said. 

Earlier, a claim of Nu 3.29B by the Hindustan Construction Company (HCC) was also found non-maintainable. The claims received on July last year were conveyed to be not maintainable in January this year.

The decision was made by the engineer in-charge. HCC has not re-appealed to the management.

HCC was not available for comment.

“Decision on HCC was at the engineer in-charge level. But first, they had to seek internal approval so the management was involved,” NC Bansal said. 

He added that claim disputes were common. “There is always dispute; they might think they are entitled to more payment from what the engineer in-charge feels. It happens with every contract.”

The report filed by the dispute committee meeting was shared to the nominees of the two countries.

“It was also sent to other GoI members for their information, not for any necessary action. The necessary action has to be taken by managing director,” NC Bansal said

The HCC and L&T have been with the project since 2009.

Thanking His Majesty for the Kidu

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 16:24

As more and more people come to know the details of His Majesty’s Relief Kidu, Phase II, they are realising the magnanimity of the Royal kidu.

Amidst concerns as to whether there would be a second round or if it would be as generous as the first, the kidu this time has taken people, both affected and not, by surprise. The kidu for the affected individuals will continue for another three months. The amount may have decreased by a few thousands, but will cover more people. As of June, 23,000 individuals have benefited from the kidu.

Some expected only a selective sector to benefit should the kidu be continued. The biggest concern among the hoteliers and those in the construction and tourism sector is laid to rest with the full loan interest waiver extended by three more months to be followed up by a 50 percent waiver from September to March 2021.

As the reality of the soelra sinks in, people are appreciating and offering their gratitude. There is every reason to. Without the pandemic showing any sign of slowing down, lives and livelihoods are affected even if we are able to contain the spread of the virus. These are extraordinary times and such extraordinary measures can only emanate from the wisdom of His Majesty The King.

People are lost for words in expressing their appreciation. Social media is full of “kadrinchey” notes with most commenting that they cannot thank His Majesty enough or don’t know how to express gratitude. Like they say, nothing is enough to repay the Royal Kidu. But there are many other ways we can do it and it is the most befitting time.

Beyond eulogising the King with images of folded hands on social media, it is an opportunity to fulfill the aspirations the King has for the people and the country. We have heard His Majesty stressing on being responsible citizens in many addresses to the nation. This is the time to pause and reflect on our responsibilities.

While the pandemic has affected everyone, we live in a kidu culture where we still believe most tasks are still the responsibility of the zhung, government.

As a businesman, how do we thank His Majesty? We thank by being honest in declaring our income and taxes, by not fine-tuning rules and compromise with quality of goods. The three-month interest waiver alone is benefiting 139,261 loan account holders. Some could be doubly or triply benefited as they hold more than one account. The  fact is that the bigger the loan, the bigger the benefit. Those who can afford should pay their loans to ensure liquidity in the banks and avoid further monetary problems.

The interest waiver covers all including those with cushion of monthly salary and housing allowances. We can repay by being sincere, hard working civil servants, corporate employees, parliamentarians, ministers, teachers, clerks anyone we name it. We can thank by avoiding nepotism and favoritism, a problem the anti graft body is pointing out year after year or not wasting time in office on Facebook and affecting service delivery. We can, as citizens, repay by simple things like taking care of our waste.

As landlords, we can thank His Majesty by letting the benefit of the kidu trickle down to the affected tenants. It would be wrong to even think of making profits from Kidu granted during a national crisis. It should have the ripple effect to uplift those affected badly.

There are several other ways.

Tashichholing runs short of fuel

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 16:23

Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

The Druk Petroleum Corporation Limited (DPCL) has been able to transport fuel (petrol and diesel) to Tashichholing (Sipsu) from Samtse after the oil tankers were stranded at Buduney river for four days since June 24.

Heavy rains led to swollen river.

The fuel was transshipped in barrels and transported on June 28.

Tashichholing depot was without fuel for more than a week.

With the Indian route from Nagarkatta closed due to the lockdown, the only option is to convey the fuel tankers from Samtse. However, tankers are not allowed to use the two bridges over Buduney and Dina rivers due to the limited load capacity of these two bridges.

The bridge over Buduney river, about one km away from Samtse towards Tashichholing, has load carrying capacity of just 12 metric tonnes (MT). Dina bridge, about three to four kms away from Samtse has load limit of just six MT.

A tanker, with fuel load, is about 15MT to 16MT.

After the heavy and continuous rainfall, the Buduney river had swollen, making it difficult for the tankers to cross the river on June 24.

Only one of the three tankers was able to cross the river, that too with the help of heavy machinery.

Tashichholing’s fuel depot manager, Mahesh Gurung, said that the depot was able to transship the remaining fuel on June 28.

DPCL was able to transport 4,000 litres of petrol and 32,000 litres of diesel. About 170 LPG cylinders have also been delivered at Tashichholing fuel depot.

By late evening yesterday, the DPCL staff were waiting to transship remaining 18 barrels of fuel from Buduney.

“We will be able to do it,” Mahesh Gurung said.

According to Mahesh Gurung the depot did not get support from any agency in Samtse.

“People only ask if there is fuel,” he said.

Mahesh Gurung said that the staff suffered a lot and had to survive on noodles.

“They could not leave the tankers from the stranded spot and had to guard then round the clock.”

Strict vigil prevents wildlife crimes

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 16:22

Chimi Dema  | Tsirang

Foresters in Dagana and Tsirang dzongkhags have apprehended and penalised more than 77 cases of wildlife crimes until May, this year.

Of the 60 illegal wildlife activities, Dagana forest division recorded 20 illegal fishing, and 10 illegal extractions and transits of timber, among others.

The division has also caught and penalised offenders for illegal collection of non-wood forest products.

Dagana Chief Forestry Officer (CFO), Kencho Dukpa said, in some communities, some take advantage of the current situation and go for illegal wildlife activities.

He said that despite the shortage of human resources due to staff deployment for Covid-19 duty along the southern border, the division has increased the frequency for patrolling and monitoring.

The surveillance team at Sunkosh forest check post, which is currently operating as one of the point of entries (PoEs) under Tsangkha gewog, is working round-the-clock.  Kencho Dukpa said that this has controlled such illegal transit and trade of natural resources.

“The offences were minimal recently,” he said.

The division has deployed about 27 rangers for border patrolling to Lhamoizingkha drungkhag since April.

Lhamoizingkha drungkhag in Dagana shares a border with the Indian States, Assam and West Bengal, and has about 10 entry points. In addition to patrolling the border for trespassing, rangers also patrol and monitor illegal wildlife activities such as poaching, logging and wood smuggling.

Meanwhile, in Tsirang, only 17 illegal activities were recorded since January.

Tsirang CFO Dimple Thapa said that such threats to biodiversity and illegal timber extraction were generally low in the district since many know the importance of sustainable management and use of community forest resources.

“There were incidents in the past where farmers had helped rescue vulnerable wild animals,” she said.

The division has also deployed nine officials for border patrolling in Sarpang since April.

With the foresters deployed along the southern borders and various check points to provide enhanced surveillance since March, officials said that it was also helping to control human-wildlife conflict.

It was reported that human-wildlife conflict in some communities in the southern region has dropped due to increased patrolling activities by foresters.

The officials said that the foresters patrolling along the southern borders don’t have proper safety gears.

“This could pose a risk of infection if they come in contact with an infected person from across the border during patrolling,” an official said.

Artificial intelligence and adaptive governance in the corporate sector of Bhutan: the new normal

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 16:22

It is a strange time for all of us. Indeed, the Covid-19 has brought the entire world to its knees and truly disrupted the conventional ways of how we live our lives and function in our society. While such disruption has inflicted a lot of pain and inconveniences in all aspects of human endeavour, it has particularly affected business enterprises severely. Globally, businesses as varied as hospitality to manufacturing to airlines are struggling to stay afloat.

However, during such crises, it presents opportunities and introspection times for the corporate sector of Bhutan to engage in disruptive thinking that would allow organisations to re-examine their long term competitive positioning to deal with the uncertainty of any nature. Already disruptions due to emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence and other smart cognitive technologies are upending the normal business operations, leading AI to become an important area of research on organisational strategy. AI with its self-learning ability can drive and create changes in existing business models that are harder to predict and consequently can render significant disruptive uncertainty on businesses and societies. However, the impact of AI can be examined through the lens of disruptive innovation, a unique pathway to creating novel offerings, and achieving strategic growth. Further, the concept of Adaptive Governance (AG) offers one appropriate organisational response to the disruption that goes beyond the existing value network optimisation driven largely by top-down decision-making. Such AG usually lies at the intersection of the organisation’s structure, processes, and digital competence that may suitably meet the AI implementation challenges within an organisation.

In today’s ‘new normal’ due to thinking technologies, which was further exasperated by the Covid-19, disruptions pose significant challenges to existing organisational and ecosystem’s operations. Although organisations across industry sectors engage in strategies to deal with their new business environment through risk management strategies, most traditional approaches are usually treated as a compliance issue that can be solved by drawing up rules and forcing all employees to comply with. Such an approach is generally driven by the need to prioritise risks and resources. That is, it seeks to address the risks associated with a change that has a higher probability with severe consequences. This approach to managing risk, however, fails to address disruptive change associated with what is known as a Black Swan event, which is characterised by a high improbability and high-impact effect and ironically appears inevitable after the event.

Therefore, disruptive change is different from the normal change in the sense that it is, a) unpredictable and abrupt, and b) the severity of risks is usually felt after the occurrence of events. The consequences of emerging artificial intelligence on organisations have the potential to assume such a Black Swan proportion if organisations fail to strategise appropriately. Therefore, businesses in Bhutan need to prepare for and exploit disruptive changes brought by AI that trigger innovative technological solutions that normal change management strategies cannot address adequately.

Using the concept of adaptive principles from complex socio-ecological systems, Adaptive Governance (AG) model offers as one way to suitably support and enable decision making to deal with potentially disruptive effects associated with AI.

Therefore, an organisational adaptive capability will have to be examined by focusing on two key elements of the organisation, which seek to answer two high-level questions: 1) How are Training and Skills development shaped to enhance digital competency to adapt to the changing workforce environment as a consequence of AI? 2) What are the required new governance practices to identify and respond to changes associated with AI?


Basic concept of disruptive innovation

Disruptive Innovation theory places technology as playing a significant role in the disruption and the term Disruptive Technology is used to describe those technologies that provide different values from the existing mainstream technologies. Often such disruption alters the bases of competition by changing the performance metric along which firms are normally gauged. In such innovation, the new entrants with fewer resources enter the market by producing products and services wrapped around an enabling new technology that are initially inferior along the performance attributes demanded by mainstream customers. But such offerings are however cheaper, more affordable, and convenient, which then attract niche customers that value entrant’s offerings over the unaffordable expensive alternatives. However, as the performance of the technology improves over time to a level sufficient enough to meet the requirements of the mainstream customers, the new product abruptly disrupts the old technology and replaces it from the mainstream market.

Such disruption can strategically arise from two avenues: low-end markets or entirely new markets. Low-end market disruption comes from the segment of the market which is overserved. Such a market is not generally given importance by bigger and profitable incumbents as it offers lower profit margins. Initially, much smaller new entrants to this market do not substantially affect the existing mainstream businesses as incumbents’ priority is on their core customers with bigger purchasing power, and where higher attractive profit margins exist. This lack of attention then allows new entrants to gradually work their way up the upper tiers of the market by constantly improving their technology, and ultimately capture the profitable segments as well, disrupting the once-powerful giant incumbents.

Whereas, new market disruption means that an entirely new market is created where none existed before, and essentially entails targeting non-consumption with new products, where customers have not had access to previous generations of such products and services. For instance, common popular wearable devices are products that created an entirely new market for tracking physical activity and fitness.

Further, disruption can sometimes go beyond the low price inferior performance category and include high end but inferior performance product that go on to dominate the market eventually. One such example is Cellular phones; despite initial inferior coverage, higher prices, and less reliability it went on to disrupt dominant land-line technology as the performances and the price of the cell phones improved over time.  In the beginning, the cell phone adopters were mostly corporate executives who valued different dimensions of performance, which included portability and convenience that cell phones accorded and hence did not mind paying more for the products. Whereas, the mainstream market still preferred landlines as they were reliable, less costly, and had wider existing coverage.

Artificial intelligence

Today, Artificial Intelligence is widely discussed in all spectrums of life and is connotated with both good and evil without any meaningful understanding of what AI is. AI in essence is generally a set of interrelated technologies that can solve problems autonomously to achieve defined objectives without guidance from a human agent.  AI systems display characteristics of human intelligence such as planning, learning, reasoning, and problem solving, in addition to displaying social intelligence and creativity. Various applications and techniques that come under the broad AI term include neural networks to speech recognition to deep learning algorithms.

Such technologies have become all too pervasive, appearing in many applications that positively delight our daily lives. For instance, Chatbots such as Siri or Google Assistant on personal phones, or Cortana on desktops which are powered by AI have made getting information more easily accessible, which is a new way of gaining access to information fast.

Such learning and performing capacity of AI thus creates a potential for transformative impact on society in multiple areas and will affect how humans interact with computer systems across a wide range of industries. The autonomous vehicle is one notable example that is expected to disrupt not only how people will drive but will have broader implications beyond transportation and logistics, and affect diverse fields such as emergency responders, policing and care service delivery. Similarly, many emerging smart technologies enabled by AI can completely alter the rule of competition in various other business sectors, and the only way organisations can hope to win is to learn how to play a new game properly. Therefore, AI-led innovation as a key element of their long-term competitive strategy has become imperative for the corporate sector of Bhutan to thrive in today’s disruptive new normal and uncertain environment.


Contributed by Jigme Singye, Ph D 


Postgraduate Research (Faculty of Business), Australia

Thromde constructs overhead footbridge in Olakha 

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 16:21

Younten Tshedup

The long-awaited overhead footbridge along the expressway in Olakha is beginning to take shape.

Earlier this week, Thimphu Thromde’s pilot project finally took off with the laying of the bridges’ foundation.

The 5.2m-high-and-25m-long footbridge is being constructed near the Pelkhil School intersection that has a bus and taxi stand.

Officials from the thromde’s infrastructure division said that the location for the pilot project was identified given the high density of motor and pedestrian traffic in the area.

After receiving a lukewarm response from the public on the use of the two underpasses along the Doebum Lam (swimming pool road), the thromde is switching to an overhead pedestrian footbridge.

“Not many people were utilising the two underpasses and we couldn’t control people crossing the road,” said an official. There were also incidents of vandalism reported at the two underpasses a few months after it was open to the public.

The official said that considering the safety of the pedestrians, the thromde decided to construct the overhead footbridge. “If the pilot project is successful, we would replicate the same in other places too.”

She said that the structure could not be made disabled-friendly for now given the limited space. The footbridge would incorporate traditional designs and also be earthquake resistant.

A businessman, Tashi Tshering said that overhead footbridges, especially across expressway and Doebum Lam, have become necessary with the increasing vehicles in the capital.

“This was long overdue with the city’s vehicular and pedestrian traffic expanding. More order is needed on Thimphu’s roads and footpaths.”

There were fatal accidents along the expressway. A corporate employee said that even if a pedestrian is careful, there are reckless drivers.

“Agencies concerned need to reconsider the maximum speed that people should be allowed to drive on the expressway.”

Meanwhile, once the overhead footbridge is completed, towards the end of the year, the zebra crossing near the structure would be removed.

A private contractor is executing the Nu 3 million project.

Labour charges at customs port in P/ling revised

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 16:20

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Following importers’ complaints, the rates for transhipment, loading and unloading at the customs port in Phuentsholing have been revised with effect from June 25.

The new rates have been fixed by the Covid-19 Task Force in Phuentsholing.

Transhipment rate for a Bolero Pickup is now Nu 1,000, down from Nu 1,200 to Nu 1,500. In a transhipment, labourers will directly shift the goods and commodities from one vehicle to another.

The new rate for unloading or loading from a Bolero Pickup is Nu 1,200 now, down from more than Nu 1,500.

Transhipment and “unloading and loading” for a six-wheeler truck has been fixed at Nu 3,000 and Nu 3,500 respectively. Earlier labourers charged anywhere between Nu 4,000 and Nu 9,000.

A loader at the customs port, Tanding Tshering, who has taken up the manual job more than a month ago said that the income has dropped by about 25 percent.

“But we are still getting work,” he said. “And we are okay with the revision.”

The former employee of a private firm said that it was still an earning opportunity considering the lack of jobs.

Tanding Tshering, who is also the head of the 32 loaders at the customs port said, “There were complains that loading and unloading charges added up the prices on the end consumers.”

“We are okay with the revision but the benefit should be passed down to the end consumers and the authorities should ensure this is done.”

A member of the hardware association, Kaka Dawa said that the rates of hardware in the market will definitely decrease.

“Although there may not be huge changes people will benefit,” Kaka Dawa said.

Kaka Dawa also said that their association had proposed the revised rates to the government. The revised rates, he said were almost the same as the association had proposed with minor changes. “We are okay with that,” he said.

Meanwhile, the hardware association has also provided two machines, a forklift and a payloader at the Mini Dry Port (MDP). It was to help the young labourers to manoeuvre the heavy hardware materials.

The coordinator with the hardware association, Thinley Dorji said that they have also deployed 15 workers at the MDP, who have started to work since June 28. “We are doing this for accountability.”

Thinley Dorji said that a lot of materials, such as glasses and tiles were broken, while some goods were also missing. Since the importers couldn’t enter the MDP to verify, they were clueless and faced losses.

“Now we have deployed two supervisors and others are our own workers,” he said.

On June 28, Thinley Dorji said that 24 imported tiles were broken before being unloaded. Without their staff at the port, it would have been difficult to ascertain this. He said the blame would then be passed onto the loaders.

He said that all the staff they deployed follow the same Covid-19 safety protocols as the loaders.

The proprietor of Inspire Bhutan, a construction company, said he could save at least Nu 4,000 to Nu 5,000 from the revised rates.

“However, we still have to pay charges for hiring local vehicles and then loading the goods,” he said. “Earlier the same vehicle would drop.” 

With the revision, the charges of transhipping an AAC block (small size) has dropped to Nu 2.50, which is a decrease from Nu 3 before. For medium and large ACC blocks the new rates are Nu 4 and Nu 4.50, Nu 1 for every red brick, and Nu 5 for a bag of 25kg rice.

Kholongchhu project agreement signed as first JV project

Tue, 06/30/2020 - 16:20

MB Subba

The government and the Kholongchhu Hydro Energy Limited (KHEL) signed the first joint venture (JV) hydropower project between Bhutan and India in Thimphu yesterday, six years after the foundation stone was laid. 

The Trashiyangtse-based 600MW run-of-the-river project is expected to generate about 2,568.88 million (M) units annually.

KHEL, which is a joint venture company formed between Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) and India’s Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SJVNL), is expected to complete the project by the second half of 2025.

The government expects enormous economic opportunities to the community, which is also expected to benefit from the newly-built access roads and bridges.

The joint venture company, which was incorporated on June 12, 2015, is expected to employ about 500 people besides people that contractors would employ, according to the economic affairs ministry.

The other immediate benefits of the project are access roads connecting the gewogs, widening of the national highways near the project, development of integrated township, and the renting of accommodation from the local community at Doksum.

The project is being financed through a debt-equity ratio of 70:30 with 50-50 equity holdings between the DGPC and the SJVNL.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation stone for the project during his visit to Bhutan on June 16, 2014. His Royal Highness the Gyaltshab Prince Jigme Dorji Wangchuck graced the groundbreaking ceremony on September 18, 2015.   

The government says that the pre-construction works have been completed. However, the work award for the construction of the dam, headrace tunnel and the powerhouse have been delayed as the two governments had to finalise tariff determination on a long-term power purchasing agreement (PPA) before signing the agreement.

Speaking at the signing, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said the tariff setting formulation was finalised recently and that with the signing of the concessional agreement (CA), the construction of the project was expected to commence anytime soon.

According to the agreement, concession rights are given to the developer to build, own and operate the project for a concession period of 30 years and then transfer it to the Bhutanese government in good running condition at free of cost in keeping with the Bhutan Electricity Act and Bhutan Sustainable Hydropower Development Policy.

The agreement requires the developer to provide maximum local benefits like employment, giving preference to local goods and service providers and, most importantly, the engagement of Bhutanese contractors in the construction of the main components of the project.

The project would have an underground powerhouse of four 150MW turbines with water impounded by a concrete gravity dam of 95 meters height.

Foreign ministers of Bhutan and India emphasised the importance of hydropower development as an important pillar of mutually beneficial bilateral economic cooperation between the two countries.

Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said that the implementation of the project would further strengthen the Indo-Bhutan cooperation in hydropower development. He said that the signing would be an important milestone in the history of hydropower cooperation between Bhutan and India.

“Some may feel that years of delay in the project implementation has led to cost escalation and missed opportunities in terms of immediate benefits to the community. My view is that all the details of the project of such a magnitude should be thoroughly worked out before construction commences,” Dr Tandi Dorji said.

The delay, he said, had benefited in terms of the project being able to undertake confirmatory field investigations to reduce the possibility of unexpected hindrances during the implementation of the project.

“With the signing of the concessional agreement, I have no doubt that the implementation of the main works will commence soon despite numerous challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

Lyonpo said the project would have to secure debt financing to immediately start the works and the Indian joint venture partner should take the lead.

“For this, I would like to seek the support and intervention of the Government of India to ensure that the project has access to the most viable financing at the earliest,” he said.

India’s external affairs minister, Dr S Jaishankar, who joined the signing ceremony through video conferencing, highlighted the special ties between the two countries, saying, “the time tested relations, characterised by so much trust and understanding, have matured over the years and have been sustained by the tradition of regular high level visits and dialogues between the two countries”.

He said that hydropower sector was the most visible symbol of the mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation between the two countries. “With continued working together, we are in process of expediting the completion of other ongoing projects including the1200MW Punatsangchhu-1, 1020MW Punatsangchhu-2 and now the 600 MW Kholongchhu HEP.”

He said: “This is yet another milestone in our diverse and multifaceted bilateral cooperation. This has come at a time when our two countries are fighting Covid-19 pandemic. I am sure that the commencement of the construction activities of the Project will create economic and employment opportunities in Bhutan in this critical time.”

And he added: “GoI has provided support, as it should, to Bhutan in terms of medical equipment, kits and medicines as per RGoB’s requirements. Besides continuing with our developmental partnership, we have also ensured uninterrupted supply of essentials and other goods to Bhutan despite the lockdowns.”

Indian ambassador to Bhutan, Ruchira Kamboj, remarked that Kholongchhu project was the continuation of the bilateral cooperation as Chhukha, Tala, Kurichhu, and Mangdechhu projects stood as proud examples, epitomising the core the partnership and friendship for a greater good.

“This project set in the spirituality and culturally rich Trashiyangtse district promises to bring growth and prosperity in the region,” she said.

With the inauguration of the 720MW Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Project in August last year, four hydroelectric projects of bilateral cooperation (336MW Chukha HEP, 60MW Kurichhu HEP, 1020MW Tala HEP, and 720 MW Mangdechhu HEP), totaling over 2,100 MW, are operational in the country today.

People relieved after the announcement of relief measures phase II

Mon, 06/29/2020 - 11:36

Interest waiver  expected to benefit 112,024 in 20 dzongkhags

MB Subba

The announcement of the second phase of the Covid-19 relief measures by the prime minister on June 27 on His Majesty’s command came as a huge relief to many as the first phase of the relief measures end on June 30. 

The Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu has already benefited about 23,000 people with the granting of Nu 700 million (M). The relief kidu will continue from July until September 2020. 

The only difference is that the amounts have been revised to Nu 10,000 from Nu 12,000 and Nu 7,000 from Nu 8,000 per month in anticipation of rising number of applicants. 

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) encourages kidu recipients to actively seek employment opportunities through various government and private led initiatives. 

Through a televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that it was imperative to acknowledge the support of many business entities that have continued to employ and pay the salaries and wages of their staff despite the setbacks. 

“There are also many people who have been affected but chose not to avail themselves of the Relief Kidu by exploring other livelihood options. Such support truly reflects the solidarity and unity of our people to make their share of contribution to the country,” her said. 

As part of the Druk Gyalpo’s support for interest payment, the prime minister announced that a full (100 percent) interest waiver would be granted for another three months from July to September 2020 across the board. The rate of interest waiver will be reduced by 50 percent from October 2020 to March 2021. 

The interest waiver is expected to benefit 112,024 individuals across the 20 dzongkhags with personal and business loan accounts including those accounts listed as non-performing loan (NPL). 

The cost of the interest payment for the period of nine months (100 percent waiver from July to September and 50 percent waiver from October 2020 to March 2021) is estimated at Nu 7.5 billion (B) and will be fully granted from the National Resilience Fund. 

Finance Minister Namgay Tshering clarified that borrowers who repay their loans regularly and fully during the deferment period will be offered one percent interest rate reduction during the deferment period.

He said that the interest rate reduction for regular interest payers would be adjusted against the borrower’s outstanding balance. 

For loans that are fully repaid during the deferment period, the financial institutions will refund the interest differential, according to the government. The prime minister in his address said that the monetary measures would ease debt pressure through the deferment of loans for one year without penal interest. 

Financial institutions will also provide soft loans at a highly concessional interest rate of 5 percent for businesses. 

Another feature of the relief measure is that the National CSI Bank will provide micro loans up to Nu 500,000 for agriculture activities at the rate of 2 percent and soft loans to cottage and small industries at 4 percent interest rates for another 12 months. 

The prime minister announced that the government would also continue to implement fiscal measures to boost domestic demand, increase economic activities, generate employment and ensure stability and growth. 

This will be done mainly by front-loading capital investments. To support this, procurement guidelines will be simplified including preferential treatment for local goods. 

“To ease cash flow, targeted tax deferments and rental waivers will also be provided. Support to ensure the country has sufficient stock of essentials will also continue,” the prime minister said. 

With the implementation of these measures, the prime minister said that the government was optimistic that the private sector would continue to play an active role in the economy to provide necessary goods, services and jobs to tide over the period. 

On April 10, His Majesty The King had highlighted the need to protect the health and lives of the people in our country from the risks posed by global spread of the Novel Coronavirus, during the address to the nation. 

His Majesty also emphasised on the need to build resilience, confidence and security of our people and businesses, as we face unprecedented economic difficulties this pandemic. 

A National Resilience Fund of Nu 30 billion was established to support the Comprehensive National Response to the Challenges of the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

The prime minister said that Bhutan had been fortunate, thus far, to have successfully prevented any local transmission of the novel coronavirus. 

“The immediate grant of the Royal Kidu for affected individuals, and interest waiver and other government interventions have alleviated the economic difficulties and uncertainties faced by the people and businesses,” he said. 

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that in view of the ongoing difficulties, His Majesty the King has commanded that in these extraordinary circumstances, the State must rise above all other considerations and continue to provide substantive, timely and inclusive support to sustain public confidence and build resilience in these challenging times. 

Hoteliers express gratitude to His Majesty

Mon, 06/29/2020 - 11:32

Younten Tshedup

With the fiscal measures, especially the loan interest waiver, coming to an end on June 30, hotelier Kencho Lham was worried. Her new hotel has not operated since completion on March 5.

With huge investment made in the hotel, and business stopped even before its inauguration, it was a nerve-wracking experience for Kencho. However, like for hundreds of other business operators, the phase II of His Majesty The King’s Relief Kidu came as a huge relief.

She said, “The past three months helped me stay calm and peaceful amidst the uncertainty of Covid-19. But as the months passed swiftly and the pandemic worsened, deep inside I was worried.”

Kencho said that it would have been difficult for His Majesty to go on supporting the entire nation literally giving away money to citizens. “So, I thought the interest waiver would not continue.”

However, when Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering announced the second phase, like many others, the mother of three felt a huge burden lifted off her heart. “I felt so blessed to be born in Bhutan. There is no leader on this earth who cares so much for his people than our King. I cannot thank my King enough.”

With the pandemic affecting the hospitality sector the most, many hoteliers expressed their gratitude to the King and the government.

Another hotelier, Chencho Tshering said he has spent several sleepless nights resulting from the pandemic. “His Majesty’s Kidu has once again saved me. I want to fulfill my loan responsibilities dutifully, but without any income, there is no way for us to pay back,” he said.

He said that with business closed, the task of paying each of his staff has become challenging. “I’ve not even dreamt of laying off any of my staff. My family and I decided that we will keep them and we were even ready to beg, borrow or steal because they have been great employees. They would be badly affected if they lose their only source of income.”

Chencho Tshering said that Covid-19 is here to stay and that he would have to strategise his business to at least be able to pay his staff. “My hope is also that the financial institutes continue to support us. We will definitely pay back when the situation improves, ” he said.

“I pray that my King is blessed with a peaceful and successful reign and that we as citizens shall serve the nation wholeheartedly, come what may.”

Karma Jigme of Tashi Namgay Resort in Paro said that the loan repayment deferment announcement on the command of His Majesty has come as a blessing to all during such trying times. “We are thankful and relieved. Further the deferment of BIT/CIT payment for hospitality sectors until December is much needed support extended by the government.”

President of Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan, Sonam Wangchuk said that the primary benefits hoteliers would receive from the fiscal measures would be less pressure on their fixed costs. This means that hotels can still be retained by the owner and still be in the position to project for future even if there is no business.

“When there is no income for the hotels, their fixed cost would keep compiling leading to bankruptcy in the long run. This has been prevented by the Kidu,” he said.

dusitD2 Yarkay’s general manager Sonam Maekay Penjor said that besides the chaos and disruption brought about by the pandemic, people have realised the blessings and good fortune for being a Bhutanese.

He said as countries across the world struggle, the morale of the people are waning and Bhutanese are no exception. “But in our country there is a flicker of light that has now amassed the strength of a fiery inferno, providing hope and courage to the hearts of the countless people in the country. That flicker of light is our beloved People’s King.”

He said His Majesty’s compassion, dedication, strength and determination has triggered a domino effect whereby the collective strength of the nation has come about.

“Team dusitD2 Yarkay, on behalf of our fellow counterparts, the hospitality industry, would like to express our utmost respect and immense gratitude to our King, the government and the financial institutions.”

SOP to manage Pasakha industrial estate during lockdown

Mon, 06/29/2020 - 11:31

Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

In case there is a lockdown in Phuentsholing, the industrial estate in Pasakha must continue to function. That is if there is no community or local transmission there.

For this, the Covid-19 task force in Phuentsholing has prepared a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on June 22.

The key implementing agencies, as per the SOP, are the Department of Industries (DoI), Royal Bhutan Police (RBP), Phuentsholing Thromde, Ministry of Health (MoH), and Association of Bhutanese Industries (ABI).

The Department of Immigration, Department of Revenue and Customs, and other relevant agencies will support the new move.


General management

As per the SOP, all factories in Pasakha will be allowed to operate during lockdown in Phuentsholing provided there is no community transmission in Pasakha.

“No worker living in Phuentsholing will be allowed to move in or out of Pasakha,” the SOP highlights.

ABI will ensure that the companies maintain a list of workers responsible for operation of the industry during the lockdown.

Industries also must station the workers within the factory premises and provide decent mess and accommodation facilities.

Workers who require to move in and out of the workplace owing to different locations of factory sites will follow containment protocols and transport services provided by the company, the SOP states.

The companies will be allowed four hours of window period daily to collect and drop workers from Pasakha area.

To minimise physical contact, companies will also have to identify pickup and drop points for workers.

The company buses will only transport their workers and ply along the authorised routes within Pasakha. All buses transporting workers will have the thermal screening facilities and provide hand sanitisers. Only non-symptomatic workers will be allowed to board the company buses.

All the drivers engaged in transporting workers will be provided lodging and food facilities within factories or the confined areas. The companies will also ensure that hand-washing facilities are provided within and at entry and exit points of the factory.

“ABI shall enforce the implementation of safety protocols such as hand-washing, social distancing, mandatory use of Druk Trace and PPE in the factory and other workplaces in Pasakha,” as per the SOP.

Factories will also have to identify a focal person (occupational health and safety officer and security person) for Covid-19 and they will be trained by the health ministry. RBP supported by Desuups and other relevant agencies shall monitor the compliance of all safety and containment protocols.


Import and export management

As per the SOP, there will be no import and export owing to lockdown in Phuentsholing, except for import of raw materials for industries manufacturing gas, animal feed, food and cooking oil.

Companies will have to restrict the number of vehicles to their daily loading and unloading capacity to a manageable limit. All the Indian vehicles will also have to return from Pasakha on the same day.

The SOP states that overnight halt shall not be permitted, but in case of breakdown the drivers will be kept in the holding room.

“Should any vehicle break down, RBP will allow the driver to repair the vehicle implementing containment protocol. ABI will inform the concerned company to depute a specialized team to repair the vehicle, if required,” according to the SOP.

Further, the SOP also maintains that the documents relating to import will be placed on a tray, which will then be photographed for reference and deposited into a box for 12 hours. The security personnel who photograph the documents will wash hands after handling the consignments.

Security personnel of the company will direct vehicles to its unloading bay. Each company will nominate one person per shift to manage the unloading of the goods. If the unloading is done manually, the nominated in-charge will ensure the unloading team has no contact with the driver and his assistant.

Once the unloading is completed, the SOP states that all the workers will be required to follow the containment protocols. ABI will escort the vehicles back until the Rinchending check post, from where RBP will take over.


Ration management

Meanwhile, respective companies will have to maintain adequate stock of essential items such as rice, oil, pulses, salt, tea, milk powder, spices, flour, sugar, soya and toiletries items for two months.

Establishments intending to procure essential items can place online orders to the retailers identified by RTIO or FCBL. Delivery of essential items to respective factories will be encouraged.

ABI will coordinate with the industries and relevant authorised suppliers for supply of vegetables and grocery items once a week, according to the SOP.


Petroleum, oil and lubricants (POL), and liquified petroleum gas (LPG) management

The SOP says that the respective companies will maintain one month’s POL and LPG requirement within factory premises as per the safety measures.

To replenish the POL supplies, the respective companies will have to collect their supplies in barrels from Pasakha BoD under strict supervision of respective factories. LPG will be delivered to the factories on demand.

The two gas manufacturing industries in Pasakha, AHA Oxy and Quality Gas, will supply the required industrial gas to the factories as per the containment protocols.


Health and safety management

Meanwhile, respective companies will have to procure and use thermal screening facilities in their workplaces. If there are any emergencies (signs and symptoms) of Covid-19 amongst the workers, Covid-19 focal persons from the respective factories will contact the health ministry.

The focal persons of the respective factories will maintain stock of first aid medical supplies in the factory premises as per the advise of medical officials.

RBP will escort vehicles en route to Phuentsholing from Rinchending, while ABI will maintain the exit record of the vehicles at Rinchending.

Another blessing

Mon, 06/29/2020 - 11:29

Even as thousands of businesses, big and small, feared the worst with the relief measures of loan interest waiver and loan payment deferment coming to an end, His Majesty The King’s kidu has lifted the burden off the people providing immediate relief.

There were three days left for the kidu month to end when the Prime Minister announced the fiscal and monetary measures and the continuation of the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu, benefiting thousands of Bhutanese whose lives and livelihood are robbed by the impact of the pandemic. There are 23,000 recipients from the first kidu programme. Many had returned to their village, taken up odd jobs and some are working in agriculture projects that sprang up to absorb the affected.

Relieved and comforted by the kidu, gratitude started overflowing on social media while discussions over the weekend mostly surrounded the relief measures.  If the Relief Kidu came as a blessing, the decision to continue it for three more months, despite the loss it is incurring on the government and the banks, is unprecedented.

The pandemic has affected the entire world. Economies have crumbled, livelihoods are affected and people are dying, both from the virus and its impact. We have managed to literally contain the virus within the quarantine centres.

The leadership provided by His Majesty The King, always leading from the front and the preparedness and hard work of the health ministry and health workers, and the thousands of volunteers have prevented a community transmission, the most feared, so far. With this safety ensured, the focus is on protecting the lives and livelihood.

With June, the last month of the relief tenure coming to an end, all those affected, worried and distraught, were lost of ideas. Deep inside, some said they prayed, as the situation was not improving. The prayers were answered.

If the first phase incurred huge loss on the government, the second phase covers more and looks beyond just another three months with some loan interest arrangement that will extend until March 2021. To lift pressure from debt, there will be no penalty charged for deferment of loans for a year, highly concessional loans and micro loans for interest as low as two percent is provided and borrowers willing and able to service their loans during this period will receive a one percent reduction in interest rates.

The burden on the national exchequer is going to be huge. It is estimated that the cost of the interest payment for the period of nine months alone is going to cost Nu 7.5 billion. Then there are additional costs from tax deferment, waivers on rent, utility, electricity charges for industries among others.

This is the most generous soelra from the Golden Throne. Some might have expected some interventions, but not many would have imagined the profundity of His Majesty The King’s extraordinary and compassionate support to his people.

This reminds all of us for what His Majesty said in His Coronation address: “Throughout my reign I will never rule you as a King. I will protect you as a parent, care for you as a brother and serve you as a son. I shall give you everything and keep nothing; I shall live such a life as a good human being that you may find it worthy to serve as an example for your children; I have no personal goals other than to fulfill your hopes and aspirations. I shall always serve you, day and night, in the spirit of kindness, justice and equality.”

We are so fortunate to be living in such a time, crisis or no crisis, with His Majesty The King at the helm.

FCB to move stock to colder regions to prevent loss

Mon, 06/29/2020 - 11:28

Nima | Gelephu

In an attempt to prevent damage to food stock, Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) is going to move them to dzongkhags in the cooler regions.

The corporation has stored a large number of food items in the multipurpose halls of schools in the southern dzongkhags.

For instance, FCBL would store essential items that would last only three months in Sarpang and move most of the items to Bumthang and Trongsa where the weather is favourable to store for a longer period.

FCBL chief executive officer, Naiten Wangchuk said this in response to concerns from the LG officials during a meeting in Sarpang on June 25.

Local government officials said the plan to stock essential commodities to last for seven months in the southern dzongkhags like Sarpang could be unsafe with rising heat and onset of monsoon.

Gelephu gup, Ugyen Wangchuk said essential items like rice could be stored only for a few months in the region.

“Too much of heat and humidity leads to contamination of essential items within a few months.  Mice and birds could contaminate the food items too. This poses an even bigger threat to the health of people than the coronavirus,” he said.

He added that the country was burdened with debt and struggled with a bad economic situation even before the ongoing pandemic.

“The plan to stock essential goods for seven months was not necessary. This might lead to a huge loss if the stocks are not properly monitored,” said Ugyen Wangchuck.

He said certain measures of selling old stocks and storing the new stocks for the later days must be stocked to avoid unnecessary loss.

Naiten Wangchuk said that measures were in place to avoid contamination.

“We are using sprays. But, we can’t assure the contamination doesn’t happen,” he said. “The storage places must be kept dry and cold, which is difficult.”

He said that installing humidifiers would be expensive at this time.

FCBL has not received any reports of contamination and damage.

Today, there are over 619 MT of rice, 100MT of oil, and 20MT of pulses stocked in Gelephu, which would be supplied to the dzongkhag as a preparation for the worst-case scenario.

The local government official said the stores and halls used to store essential commodities lacked proper facilities that would prevent contamination of the commodities and also from birds and rats.

“There were incidences where birds and rats feeding on the supplies stored in the halls. Most halls are open air,” said Ugyen Wangchuk.

Naiten Wangchuk said earlier FCB planned to stock up essential commodities that would last for three months.

“The lockdown was extended in India and the pandemic was getting worse. We started to stock essential items to last seven months then,” he said.

The schools are preparing to open gradually and FCB has requested schools and dzongkhags to ensure the stocks are properly monitored.