Availing fund is one if the challenges facing Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the country.
This was the main issue discussed at a panel discussion involving representatives of CSOs held at the UN House in Thimphu yesterday. Supported by UN systems, the panel discussion was held to mark the conclusion of a two-day capacity building workshop for CSOs.
Panelists and participants stated that the CSO sector was fairly new in the country and that one of the challenges was how to avail fund.
Sonam Dorji of Civil Society Organizations Authority (CSOA) said that the CSOs were planning to strengthen their colloboration with the government, which he said was not happening currently.
He said that there should be some arrangement so that a certain amount of money from some sources such as lottery and alcohol taxes should go to a CSO fund. “It’s not that there isn’t money.”
Sonam Dorji said that the procurement rules and regulations were restrictive to CSOs, as they could not participate in procurement. CSOs, he said, did not possess business licenses as they were non-profit organisations.
Executive Director of Youth Development Fund (YDF), Dorji Ohm, advised the CSO representatives on how to approach donor agencies for fund. She said that the donors should be convinced by the project proposals and that homework was important.
She said the CSOs must carry out proper research on what they are proposing for fund. The CSOs were also advised to convince the donor about the impact of the proposed project and that the deal should be win-win for both the donor and the CSO.
Yangchen C Rinzin
It is vegetable soup and not tea that is served at breakfast at the Yebilaptsa Central School.
For last one year, the school adopted an initiative to not serve students rice with tea, which is a normal practice in many schools. Some days, the school provide milk with rice for breakfast.
The initiative, principal Dorji said, was because drinking tea with food is considered an unhealthy food habit and the school wanted to change that.
The principal said that during various school cooks’ training and monitoring programme, officials from the education ministry’s school health and nutrition division (SHND) have always advised schools to substitute tea.
“They’ve explained why drinking tea with rice is unhealthy and that tea doesn’t have any nutritional values,” he said. “Since then we tried to implement it by substituting tea and it has been successful.”
The school today instead provides only tea after keeping a gap of 30 to 60 minutes after the meal.
The principal said replacing tea with soup was not expensive, as the school boasts of a successful school agriculture programme from which they manage the vegetables.
The school, with 384 boarding students, of the 484 students, has a jersey cow that helps them provide milk at times in place of tea.
The school ensured to first create awareness on the harm of eating food with the tea, as it was difficult for students to adapt to the new habit. “But now everything is going well and students are already getting used to it.”
Such an attempt is being made by the SHND where awareness on the harmful effects of drinking tea with food is being created in all the schools they visit during the monitoring or cooks’ training.
Although the division has not issued any directives, schools are being encouraged to discontinue serving tea with the food or adopt alternatives.
An official from the SHND said that tea acts as an inhibitor that traps nutrients of the food. For instance, if a person consumes meat with tea, it would trap the protein and inhibit from reaching the body.
The official said cooks are also trained on how to cook various kind of soup to ensure students have something soupy to go with the rice. “More than eating food, eating nutritious food is what we’re focusing on,” an official said. “We’re trying to encourage schools for alternatives like extending the break and serve only tea. However, our only aim is to discourage them from consuming tea.”
A nutritionist Kuensel talked to said that there have been several reports on nutrition deficit in schools and such initiative could be one of the measures to avoid such incidents.
The nutritionist said that drinking any form of tea including suja with food is unhealthy where the intake of sugar adds to more carbohydrates. Tea has no nutritional values.
Another nutritionist said that consuming tea with food would hamper absorption of iron in the body leading to risk of iron deficiency and an increase in anaemia deficiency. The nutritionist said that although the WHO recommends reducing tea intake, it has not been successfully implemented in schools.
“Generally when a child consumes tea, they take in a lot of sugar too and when a child is in learning stage, it would develop a craving for sweets,” a nutritionist said. “This would later lead to a huge risk for non-communicable disease.”
Former MoIC Secretary and Editor in Chief of Kuensel, Dasho Kinley Dorji, was honoured yesterday with a Doctor of letters (honoris causa) by the University of Sydney, Australia.
The health ministry, yesterday, introduced administering influenza (flu) vaccination for the identified high-risk groups, more than a year after it was first launched in June last year.
Influenza (flu) vaccine was one of the three vaccines that were launched on June 4, last year, coinciding with the birth anniversary of Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen.
With this, the health ministry has administered two of the three launched vaccines. The health ministry has introduced pneumococcal conjugate vaccines into routine immunization in January this year.
According to the influenza surveillance conducted by the Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC), flu season in the country occurs from December to March and July to September.
However, influenza vaccine will be provided for five identified high-risk groups in all health centres routine immunization service in November and December every year, as recommended by the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG).
Pregnant women, those with chronic medical condition, elderly population aged 65 years and above, children of six to 23 months, and health workers involved in clinical work are the identified high-risk groups.
Health Minister, Dechen Wangmo said while influenza virus itself will not kill a person, it could induce comorbidity.
Citing an example of children and elderly people, Lyonpo said if they get flu, chances of getting pneumonia and other complication is high, which could be fatal.
“If your child or an elderly at home have flu, you have to be at home to look after them. The flu will not kill the patient but your productivity is lost,” Lyonpo said. “If a pregnant mother gets flu, then there are chances that the health of the fetus could be compromised.”
Lyonpo said health workers involved in clinical work are identified high-risk groups because they come in contact with patients who has to be protected.
“We are happy to launch this on the eve of government turning one because this was our promise to the nation. We managed to mobilise funding from the United States – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US-CDC) and Bhutan Health Trust Fund (BHTF),” Lyonpo said. “It will enhance the quality of life and improve productivity as well.”
Chief Programme Officer with the Communicable Disease Division, Rixin Jamtsho, said influenza virus is one of the most notorious viruses that cause seasonal outbreaks and epidemics and periodic pandemic.
World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates about three to five million cases of severe illness and three to seven hundred thousand deaths due to influenza epidemics annually.
In Bhutan, respiratory illness is one of the top 10 diseases affecting all age groups.
According to a 2017 RCDC report, the estimated influenza-associated respiratory hospitalization among all age group was 376 and 896 per 100,000 in 2015 and 2016. The most affected age groups were children less than 5 years and elderly above 65 years.
“This estimation significantly varies from season to season due to continuous changes of influenza viruses,” Rixin Jamtsho said.
New flu vaccines are developed each year as flu virus strains change. People in the high-risk groups have to get vaccinated against flu every year.
Due to its seasonality and uncertainty, he said the preparedness is critical to reducing severity and death.
Introducing the influenza vaccine in the country was one of the main strategies of the national influenza pandemic preparedness and response plan (NIPPRP) that was developed in 2015.
In line with this plan, the NITAG has recommended introducing influenza vaccine for the high-risk groups in Bhutan.
“With introduction of this vaccine, influenza-associated hospitalization and death due to pneumonia in children below 24 months is expected to reduce in the country,” Rixin Jamtsho said. “Instituting this vaccination programme into the routine immunization services at all the hospitals will also provide a platform to deploy influenza vaccine for general population during a pandemic.”
The health ministry has received 88,000 doses of influenza vaccine worth Nu 6.16 million.
Rixin Jamtsho said the country requires approximately 107,600 doses of influenza vaccine for three categories of risk group –people with medical conditions, elderly people aged 65 years and above and children of six to 23 months, amounting to Nu 8.46 M annually for 77,000 targeted population.
The vaccine for pregnant women and healthcare worker is supported by the Task Force for Global Health through Partnership Influenza Vaccine Introduction (PIVI) under US-CDC, while the vaccine for children less than 24 months, elderly above 65 years and chronic medical conditions is supported by BHTF.
Yangchen C Rinzin
Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa rose to power in the third Parliamentary elections riding on the promise to narrow the gap.
As the government completes its first year in office today, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said narrowing the gap still remains the government’s main agenda.
“But it’s not only about closing the income gap,” he said. “Most carry this misconception even as we’re completing a year in office.”
“Although income gap is one of the many components there are gaps at every level. For instance, the accessibility to services like free health-care services,” Lyonchen said. “But we know there is a gap because people in urban can access to better facilities while people in the villages cannot even have access to a proper basic health unit.”
Such gaps were what the government wanted to narrow besides that of the income.
Lyonchhen said the government’s salary raise for civil servants in the past one year narrowed the income gap in principle where the revision for the lowest income group was six times higher than that of the highest income level. However, this benefits only public servants.
“We’re sad that we can’t do the same for those in the private sector.”
Lyonchhen said that initiatives to narrow the gaps, including improving private sector, that would benefit generations have begun.
He said that people criticise every decision of the government citing its pledge to narrow the gap.
This, the prime minister said the government is happy people were aware of the concept.
“Narrowing the gap doesn’t mean everyone should get equal salary. Those who work more should be paid more.”
Another popular pledge was to reform the health sector to provide equal, better, quality health care in every village, gewog and dzongkhag, and build a healthier nation.
However, there are reports on health sector still grappling with the lack of equipment or health workers.
Lyonchhen said that politically or personally, health would always remain close to his heart. So the government would work on providing equal primary and tertiary health care, which also means narrowing the gap.
“What we said was we need to redefine primary health care. For instance, there is a need for BHU II to upgrade to BHU I so, the vision we have set is construction of BHU I level and above. In the past one year we’ve worked and came up with the health flagship programme.”
Lyonchhen said that the Nu 1.3 billion health programme would take care of detection and prevention of the three most common cancers, all essential required diagnostic and treatment will go to the grassroots. “Formative stage and planning mode has already started and we’ll roll out the service in a proper manner.”
When pledges were made, what attracted and excited people most was the free WIFI, suung-joen app, breastfeeding allowance, and foreign domestic helpers. A year has passed and people are still waiting.
Lyonchhen said that these pledges were not made to excite the voters. He agreed that the government had failed to achieve some pledges that it had promised to fulfill in the first 120 days, which he said the government had accepted.
“We’re working on this. As the mandates have increased for these pledges, it is taking time. We’re coming up with the digitalisation flagship programme and digital Drukyul flagship programme, we’re strategising the plan for now. So it’s coming. This would cater to those pledges.”
Lyonchhen admitted that the government made a mistake by putting it in the 120-day pledges but assured that they would definitely be delivered within its term.
On domestic workers, Lyonchhen said that unless they work on the security system, have Digital Drukyul in place, Change tourism policy, it would not come through.
“Just because we pledged, it’s not necessary we’ll have to do it. If we’ve to chase this as a political pledge, we can but we don’t want to hamper the security in the long run. This is why we’re not rushing and carefully considering the pros and cons.”
Lyonchhen also expressed that he wished there was an individual or a system to thank and appreciate the government for not fulfilling certain pledges and not risking the security of the country.
“It’s an election process, a positive competition. Every political party may have tried to win through pledges. However, when it comes to implementation lot of things need to be considered. If governance is judged only on the pledges then governance is not difficult.”
On the pledge of creating 5,000 jobs annually, Lyonchhen said that the government is concentrated on creating a good platform to address unemployment and under-employment issue instead of only counting numbers of jobs created.
Lyonchhen also said that the government has started working on its pledge to create inclusive economy and it is almost in the final stage. There would be direct, indirect, and property taxation in its major tax reform that would be launched soon.
“We’re trying to push this in the Winter Parliament. Since the work is still under process, I don’t have the details.”
Exactly a year ago today, the country’s future fell under the radar of a surgeon’s when Dr Lotay Tshering, at the helm of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa, took charge of the governance.
A year later diagnosis are aplenty and surgeries pending. However, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering indicated that the initiative to prepare a patient for surgery should be construed as success.
The analogy, according to the prime minster, insinuates the bold but politically insensible decisions which should be considered an achievement. “Sometimes I wonder if we have bitten more than what we could chew,” he said.
He said that majority of public and the media would not consider initiatives taken by the government as achievement. If this is the case, he said they are not wrong. “But remember that certain initiatives can easily be overlooked and no politically elected government would dare,” he said.
This is why, he said, that there is no intelligent tool devised to measure the success of the government. “If there is one, I’ll be very excited but it’s not so easy,” he said.
In the last one year, the Prime Minster said that the government has built a foundation not just for five years, but for generations to come. The focus, in the first year has been on the road ahead, for instance, ministries being asked to come up with a vision.
The Prime Minister acknowledged that if the public judged government’s achievement with something rigid and visible, nobody speak well of the government. “But understanding the national vision in the long run is equally important,” he said.
For instance, he said the country’s philosophy of gross national happiness has become a sort of official language. “From day one, I’ve been asking the government officials to deconstruct GNH,” he said.
Moves like the salary reivsion and doing away with cutoff poitns for class X could be considered bold as it went through despite resistance from various groups.
Lyonchhen said that he has been critically questioning the relevance of health and education polices besides questioning some practices such as restricting the five-year plans and budgetary provisions.
The analysis in the health sector, according to Lyonchhen should be based on Buddhist understanding of Kye-gha-Nah-Chi, loosely translating into state of birth, rejoice, illness and death. Likewise, he said reforms in education should be based on relevance to the job market. “My scanner found that youth would not take up a labourer’s job but the construction sector could interest the youth with some innovation. This is why TVET is coming in a big way,” he said.
The surgoen’s scanner also found that 66 percent of the university graduates are unemployed. Nonetheless, the radar also scrutinised as to how many colleges and the Royal University of Bhutan is aware of the job market requirement. “This is the product of working in silos.”
“In this day and era, one cannot be considered literate unless the person is ICT literate,” he said adding this is why the digital drukyul flagship is a crosscutting programme in the 12th Plan.
The Prime Minister was honest in saying that the government initially did not have confidence to undo the whole 12th Plan, which was drafted by its predecessor, because there wasn’t much time. Moreover, he said the first diagnosis was the planned period was strictly following the financial year, because of which the government lost few months. This trend, Lyonchhen said will continue and the gap is bound to widen.
Citing an example of the odd financial year closing, Lyonchhen said that he had to travel to Haa and it coincided with the June closing. Since all the agencies are mandated to handover the cash balance to the finance ministry by June end, Lyonchhen said he had to use his personal money to finance the trip of some official too. “There is no system to see how much money an agency would need to run for next few months,” he said adding that a couple of months is lost in formalising the budget release and closing, leaving behind only about nine months in a financial year to execute the plan.
“I have asked the finance ministry to come up with a solution to maintain continuity, but if they don’t have the capacity to do so, we can’t do anything,” he said.
In a span of year, Lyonchhen said that nothing could have sailed without the support of civil servants and his colleagues. “I will not take the credit of the achievements because whatever I did was a result of consultation. And my answer will be the same even after the end of my tenure.”
Suicide is a major public health issue and the number of suicide attempts in the country is increasing, especially among the youth.
The national suicide registry shows that a total of 132 individuals have attempted suicide in 2016 and 2017. Last year, 34 attempted suicide, of which 24 were female.
Meanwhile, records with the police show that 54 attempted suicides were reported between 2013 and 2015.
According to a review of the three-year suicide prevention action plan by the National Suicide Prevention Programme, majority of the attempted cases, 88, were by women.
Similarly, a study to describe the epidemiological characteristics of attempted suicide patients who were admitted in the national referral hospital in Thimphu from January 2014 to September 2018 also showed a higher rate of suicide attempts among the female population at 56.4 percent.
The retrospective descriptive study, conducted by Zimba Letho, a clinical nurse with the national referral hospital’s Psychiatry Department also found that the highest number of suicide attempts (41.67 percent) was in the population aged between 21 and 30 years.
He said that the finding was in line with the global findings where it has been reported that suicide is the leading cause of death among people aged between 15 and 29 years.
About 72 clinical records of patients who attempted suicide and were admitted in medical and psychiatric wards were analysed.
Zimba Letho, during the fifth International Conference on Medical and Health Sciences in Thimphu, last month said that only cases that fulfilled the definition of attempted suicide were taken into consideration for the study.
In Bhutan, he said there is an increasing trend of attempted suicide. “For every suicide, there is five attempted suicide in the country. The ratio is 1:5.”
Region wise, the study found that about 48.6 percent of those who attempted suicide were from the western region. This was based on the patients’ permanent address. In terms of occupation, it was found that an equal number of students and those working in private and corporate agencies (30.56 percent) were admitted with attempted suicide in the hospital.
Pre-exiting mental disorders, mostly affective mood disorder was the main cause of attempted suicide.
“In the past five years, affective mood disorder was the most frequent pre-existing condition of suicide attempt,” he said.
Health officials said that those who attempted suicide, but failed are most vulnerable; if they do not receive proper counselling, they are likely to attempt again.
According to WHO, about one-third of people who attempt suicide will repeat the attempt in a year and up to 10 to 15 percent of those who threaten or attempt suicide eventually die by suicide.
To prevent suicidal attempt, the study recommends preventing and improving early detection of mood disorder and control the easy availability of paracetamol. Paracetomol, a painkiller is the most abused drug among those who attempted suicide.
The study recommends similar kind of study to be carried out nation-wide, follow up care of admitted patients with attempted suicide, training of professionals who work with mental and behavioural health units, primary care and emergency care settings.
It also recommends screening of suicidal ideations in all healthcare settings.
Younten Tshedup | Gelephu
It’s 8am. Villagers of Chuzergang gewog had gathered on the far end of Maokhola in Gelephu.
They are armed with patang (machete), spades, sickles and saws.
With bodies half-submerged in water, more than 70 people, young and old, are involved in ferrying logs and bamboos to the other side of the river.
Volunteers wade through Maokhola to help ferry materials
People say it is their annual ritual when residents from the four gewogs located on the other side of the river – Chuzergang, Sershong, Tareythang and Umling come together to construct a temporary bridge over the Maokhola, small and tamed, at this time of the year.
Within a few hours, the team managed to erect the supporting base for the temporary bridge. People gathered around said that it was the experience of doing the same work for several years that helped them to do the work swiftly.
By noon, more men join the force with refreshment and additional tools.
Chuzergang mangmi, Leki Wangchuk, said that for the past 21 years, since resettlement began in the gewog, people have been involved in constructing the temporary bridge over Maokhola during winter.
“There is no support from the government whatsoever for this. People in the gewog collect a minimal amount and build the bridge,” he said. “Without a bridge, it is difficult for our villagers to get to Gelephu.”
Locals spent about Nu 40,000 annually in constructing the temporary bridge.
Although the gewog is now connected with a road, the mangmi said that it is convenient to reach Gelephu and beyond, with a bridge. “Not everyone in the village can afford to pay Nu 300 for a single trip to the town every day.”
As it rained in the evening, people returned home by 5pm, completing almost 70 percent of the construction. The team would take another day to complete the bridge.
A forgotten promise?
A promise to build a bridge across the river started with the introduction of democracy. It is on the elips, if not on the agenda, of all political parties. Two governments were elected, the bridge was promised and forgotten.
A bridge had been promised by the present government, too.
In the last 11 years, two ministers for the communication ministry have come from this dzongkhag. The irony, people said, is they are building their own, every winter.
A villager, Karma Phuntsho, said that the first democratically elected government, as promised, conducted multiple surveys in the area and informed the public that a bridge would be constructed.
“For whatever reasons, they failed to deliver the promise,” he said. “The second government said it might not be possible due to the huge investment required, but they promised to look into it. Nothing happened.”
The 49-year-old farmer is hopeful that the current government would live up to their pledge and deliver them the bridge.
Gewog mangmi Leki Wangchuk said that given the huge scale of the project, a large amount of money would be required for the bridge and they understand it. “But the DNT government has assured the people that they would construct the bridge. We have high hopes from this government.”
Leki Wangchuk also said that people of the four gewogs are struggling, but they would ‘patiently’ wait as the government has intimated that they are studying the feasibility of the project.
Is there a need for a bridge?
Now that all the four gewogs are connected with a road network, many feel that the requirement of a bridge over Maokhola is not a priority.
Gewog residents have cited security threats that could come along with the bridge, as the bridge would be near the border area.
Leki Wangchuk said that while a bridge over the river would ease the lives of the people on the other side, it would also pose a threat to residents.
“A bridge would be very helpful, but looking at the huge cost and duration including the security issues, the government has to make a decision,” he said. “Given an option, people would definitely want the bridge and the government has to deliver, as tpromised. But would it be a wise decision? It’s the government who has to decide.”
Should the project come through, it would be the longest bridge in the country, measuring not less than 800 metres.
As shared by engineers in the past, given the complex river system of Maokhola including the numerous tributaries, the wide floodplains, erratic rainfall and flooding patterns could delay the project further adding to the cost.
The government has a budget outlay of Nu 400 million in the 12th Plan for the Maokhola bridge.
Could the promise come true this time?
Kuensel learnt that a team from the bridge division of the Department of Roads (DoR) in Thimphu will be in Gelephu tomorrow to conduct a detailed survey.
It was also learnt that a possible location of the bridge has been identified.
The identified location, which is in line with the preliminary study conducted by DoR stretches from the area below the Gelephu Thromde’s water treatment plant until the fishery area.
The four local leaders in the past have remained divided on the location of the bridge.
Gelephu thromde, on the other hand, agrees to the current location, as it fears that constructing the bridge anywhere above the treatment plant could potentially affect the infiltration process of the plant.
Lyonchhen in a recent interview said that the government’s intention is to train the river to reduce the bridge span. The reclaimed parts could be used for recreational or other purposes.
In the meantime, people would have to do with the makeshift bridge this winter, like every winter.
There is no consensus in the country on how to increase women representation in the parliament and local governments.
Bhutan is traditionally a matriarchal and equalitarian society. But the irony is that women constitute only 15.27 percent and 12 percent in the parliament and local governments respectively.
To delve into the issue, a panel discussion on the political participation of women was held on November 4 in Thimphu on the occasion of the fourth round of bilateral consultations between Bhutan and Switzerland.
One of the panelists and executive director of Bhutan Network for Empowering Women (BNEW), Phuntsho Choden, said that some special measures are required to increase the number of women in elected positions.
“Unless the numbers are there, it is difficult to see them and then to hear them. When only two out of 205 women are sitting at the annual gups’ conference, you can barely see them and they can hardly be heard,” she said.
Phuntsho Choden said that although the country was a traditionally gender equalitarian society, the myth of gender equality had to be re-examined in the context of democracy.
“Some special measure is required to try and work on increasing the numbers,” the BNEW executive director said.
Today, there are 11 women MPs in parliament, four in the National Council and seven in the National Assembly.
She said barely 176 out of 1,454 elected posts in local governments are held by women. “So we do need to work on the numbers a bit,” she said, expressing her concerns about the fewer women in local governments.
The internationally recommended critical mass is 33 percent.
UN Resident Coordinator in Bhutan, Gerald Daly, said that the UN considers gender equality as a matter of human rights and that it was essential for peace and prosperity.
Based on his observation during his recent visit to eastern dzongkhags, Gerald Daly said that there were only few women local leaders. He said the UNs was working with BNEW and Women’s Parliamentary Caucus (WPC) to address the issues related to gender equality and gender violence.
Gerald Daly said gender quotas either in politics or executive leadership positions might not be an immediate make or break issue in Bhutan. The issue, he said, has to be addressed in a sensitive manner.
“It has to be a parallel action. We can work on the numbers and even as we work on the numbers, we need the men to step up,” he said.
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that it was important for the country to create an enabling environment for women to participate in elections.
She said that seven out of 10 women candidates in the general election got elected, which according to her meant women were accepted in leadership positions.
She said that it would not be wise to put people in some positions just to bring up the numbers. Bhutan, she said, is a young democracy and that people needed to exercise patience.
She said women should be empowered to make their own choices. “Human rights is about being able to exercise your choice.”
Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that although women enjoyed equal rights, there were struggles in terms of women participation in the electoral process from the point of cultural norms and expectations of what women are supposed to do.
The CEO of Loden Foundation, Karma Phuntsho (PhD) questioned the panellist what was being done to enable “women in red robes (nuns)” to vote. He said they were marginalised and disfranchised.
“Forget about leadership, they don’t have the basic right to vote. It’s not a problem that we have inherited from the past. It is a problem we created in our generation as a new inequality,” he said.
Responding to the Dr Karma Phuntsho’s question, the UN Resident Coordinator said that one of the things the Bhutan government is currently considering is the expanding the mandate of NCWC to also include human rights. Another panellist cited electoral rules.
Delegations from Bhutan and the European Union (EU) reviewed the ongoing development cooperation under the multi-annual indicative programme for 2014-2020 during the eighth biennial consultation held in Paro yesterday.
The EU confirmed that the bilateral allocation for the current cycle (2014-2020) has been revised to Euro 49.3 million from Euro 42 million.
With additional assistance from other regional and thematic funding mechanisms in areas such as education, climate change and trade, the EU’s total support to Bhutan stands at €71 million, making EU one of the major donors to Bhutan. The EU channels almost 80 percent of its support through the national budget and the country’s systems, thus strengthening national capacities and ensuring ownership. EU’s budget support is further evidence of the maturity of the bilateral relationship.
Bhutan’s impending graduation from the Least Developed Countries category was also discussed. The Bhutanese delegation briefed the meeting on the 12th Five Year Plan and highlighted its priority areas and last mile challenges with regard to LDC graduation, and welcomed the commitments of the EU to continue its engagement in Bhutan’s development plans.
The meeting also discussed the priorities for the EU–Bhutan partnership after the current multi-annual financial framework. The EU confirmed its assistance to Bhutan would continue during the transition and beyond graduation from LDC in 2023. The EU also committed to work together with Bhutan to ensure social and economic development with due consideration to the natural environment. In light of the need to reorient and expand the areas of cooperation for future partnership between Bhutan and the European Union, especially after Bhutan’s graduation from the category of LDC, the EU delegation highlighted the possibility of blending grant and low cost loans from the European Investment Bank to support investments.
Taking note of the positive momentum reached in the bilateral relationship both sides agreed to increase the frequency of future consultations from biennial to annual and agreed to hold the next consultations in November 2020 in Brussels.
During the consultations, which was held in a friendly atmosphere, the two sides exchanged views on a wide array of subjects and agreed that EU-Bhutan relations have gained good political momentum with several meetings at the highest levels in recent years.
The EU delegation described the EU-Bhutan relations as a model partnership, both on bilateral and multilateral issues, and expressed its appreciation to Bhutan for being an ally in international fora, especially on environment and climate change-related issues.
On behalf of the government, the leader of the Bhutanese delegation conveyed Bhutan’s deepest appreciation to the EU and its members states for its generous support in the past three decades. The Bhutanese side conveyed that it deeply values its partnership with EU and assured its full commitment to this relationship.
The EU delegation commended Bhutan’s achievements in areas such as human rights – especially the efforts to safeguard women’s and children’s rights and promote gender equality, good governance and democratic consolidation, among others. The EU also noted the constructive participation of Bhutan in the Universal Periodic Review session in May this year and underlined the need for Bhutan to start implementing all recommendations accepted by the government.
The EU delegation encouraged government to ratify the remaining human rights conventions so that Bhutan can qualify under the GSP plus scheme in order to continue to have preferential access to EU markets.
The EU delegation was led by the Deputy Managing Director for Asia and Pacific, European External Action Service, Paola Pampaloni and the Bhutanese delegation was led by Bilateral Affairs director Sonam Tobgay from the foreign affairs ministry.
Distrust is unhealthy. It is growing in our society in the way it is worrying.
Civil servants are a class apart. The private sector is running hard but nowhere because there is no space for growth. And the tide is rising.
The politicians know it best because they are the key players in between these many links in the system. When the politicians are getting the message that they could do more, much more, there is a lot more that can be done, each individually.
The private sector can only moan, of course. We are not a manufacturing nation. The only option we have, because of our belief systems, is that we can punish with our good thinking.
Climate conferences are happening everywhere, for example, and it looks like we are fighting a losing battle. Our greenery is important and the animals that reside in it, of course. Better still, we could be heaven without any worry or small influences from outside.
Dreams so become more important. What have our dreams given us so far, though?
We are a nation that has been able to shake the conscience of the world. But the more important question perhaps is how does what the rest of the world look at Bhutan.
We are rumbling through a significant change. Some are calling this journey a success already. In truth, however, we have a long way to go.
It starts with the courage to be not delusional, which is a sign that we are becoming far-removed from own selves.
Our society’s greatest problem is this, here, today. Something is keeping us from giving our best. And this is showing in the way of lack of trust among ourselves. This is a serious indication of things that are not going the way we all wish for the nation and the people.
Recently, the government went to the extent of urging the people to not undermine the government. Why is this happening? There must be a reason.
Needs are changing by the day and that is shaping the vision of the nation. Are we keeping up with these changes?
It falls on the government of the day to convince the people that governance and responsibility are two different things and that both are taken care of well.
Distrust in society, anywhere, is a thing to worry about. Where is it coming from, we must nail it from the first flush.
The recent revision of entry fees at historical sites is not to counter the influx of regional tourists, but a periodic revision, the tourism council clarified.
The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) recently revised entry fees at monuments and historical sites. TCB’s director general Dorji Dhradhul explained that it just was a periodic revision and there is no specific reason for the revision.
Regional tourists would have to pay Nu 500 to visit Tashichhodzong from January 1 next year. The existing fee is Nu 300. For students, it is revised from Nu 150 to Nu 250.
The entry fees would also be revised with similar amounts for Memorial Choeten in Thimphu, Rinpung Dzong and Kichu Lhakhang in Paro and Punakha dzong.
The entry fees for Taktsang in Paro would be increased Nu 1,000 from Nu 500 for adults and Nu 500 from Nu 250 for students.
TCB will also introduce entry fees for Changangkha Lhakhang, Thimphu and Chimi Lhakhang, Punakha on January 1.
The revision notification coincided with the issue of regional tourists dominating discussions in the tourism sector. This made many conclude that the revision was announced to control entry of regional tourists at historical sites.
Many people have, however, welcomed the new revision and expect it to resolve the overcrowding at historical sites.
After much debate and consultation at the Tourism Council and the Tourism Development Board, the Cabinet is readying the draft tourism policy and draft regional tourism management guidelines, which will be finalised by January.
At a recent dialogue on tourism, stakeholders in the tourism industry were unanimous in agreeing on a robust policy to better manage tourists and improve services. From budget hotels to elite tour operators, everyone in the sector agree that there should be a policy to better regulate tourists.
In the absence of regulation for the regional tourists today, tourists overcrowding at popular sites during certain months, and the subsequent amounting waste issues have increasingly troubled the sector in recent years. A tourism expert said that solving the problem has been problematic because organisations worked in silos. Can the regulation amalgamate these agencies and make them see beyond their differences?
Tour operators catering to dollar-paying tourists feel that their tourists are not able to enjoy because of overcrowding. “Our tourists pay royalty, stay in star-rated hotels, hire professional guides. They spend a huge amount to visit the country and are confused at the large number of regional tourists who pay almost nothing to be here,” a travel agent said.
On the other hand, regional tourists have helped budget hotels and restaurants that do not benefit from high-end tourists.
A representative said that tourists cannot be judged by their paying capacity. She said instead the system has to ensure proper management of the visitors to avoid any mishap such as the recent Dochula incident. “If there are violations then the local counterparts also have to be held accountable and imposed fines and necessary action taken.”
“We have waited long enough. While the government is finalising the regulations some things can be done simultaneously,” a participant at the session said.
Besides the overcrowding there are issues that tourists felt should be improved. For instance, the TCB’s exit survey 2018 found that banking services, communications and toilet facilities needed to improve.
More than 20 percent of dollar-paying tourists said that they were dissatisfied with the banking system, including exchange, point of sale, and ATM services. Likewise, 15 percent of visitors from abroad said communication facilities, including Internet and telephone services, could be improved. Then there are issues with poor toilet facilities. These issues have to be addressed in tandem with main works to improve tourism.
TCB record shows 274,097 tourists visited Bhutan last year, which was a 7.61 percent increase compared with that of 2017. In the same year, the country’s second largest revenue contributor, saw its earnings go up by USD 5.6 million from the previous year.
The gross receipt from tourism is expected to increase from Nu 10.6 billion in 2018 to about Nu 39.16 billion in the next five years. Similarly, direct revenue contribution is expected to cross Nu 5.48B, about Nu 3.91 more than in 2018.
While tourism has earned millions in revenue each year, there has been only negligible investment in the sector. For instance, TCB office has only about 50 employees. For years, they have been asking the government to build roadside amenities for tourists.
There is a need to diversify and this would need investment.
TCB wants to involve everyone. Each Bhutanese is urged to take ownership in promoting tourism and not leave it only to those involved in the sector.
Diversifying tourism would mean involving local communities. Most tourists are concentrated in Paro, Punakha, and Thimphu today. But some research found that there is a need to create awareness among communities, train monks and nuns on how to deal with tourists at temples and monasteries. The holy monuments mean so much to the locals, said one, but to those foreigners a choeten would be only a stack of stones white washed.
The draft policy and the regulations emphasise on ‘High Value, Low Volume’ proposing to put a cap on the number of tourists, mandatory guides, and entry fees at sites, spread tourist visits across the year, among others.
Within the sector itself, there are apprehensions that one industry could lobby to influence the policy. For instance, budget hotels that cater mainly to regional tourists would not want a cap on the number of regional tourists entering the country any time of the year.
The general consensus at the dialogue was that everyone wants the tourists to have an enjoyable experience and the best of Bhutanese hospitality. Stakeholders want to treat all visitors the same. They said the regional tourists would not mind paying a nominal fee to avail of the services for their safety, a comfortable stay and make the best out of their journey in the country.
Weringla drungkhag in Mongar will have a new court.
In a simple ceremony yesterday, justices of the high court graced the ground-breaking (salang tendrel) ceremony.
Although the drungkhag court was established in 2009, the court has been sharing the infrastructure with the drungkhag administration.
The ceremony was graced by High Court justices Lungten Dubgyur and Pema Rinzin and attended by the members of Parliament, drungkhag and local government officials and the people of Salambi and Gondgu gewogs.
Justice Lungten Dubgyur said that Bhutan under the visionary and dynamic leadership of His Majesty The King experienced a successful journey towards ensuring independent judiciary through building of infrastructure, enhance professional knowledge and the development of technology.
“Our Kings who always desired that our people in remote areas get prompt access to administrative services delivery established Weringla drungkhag administration in 2006, followed by the drungkhag court in 2009 so that the people of Salambi and Gongdu gewogs get prompt and cost effective judicial services at their door steps,” justice Lungten Dubgyur said.
Weringla court is funded by the government (GoI) and expected to commence its construction by January 2020. The tender of the construction has already been floated. With the completion of 14 drungkhag courts, Lingzhi in Thimphu will be the only court among the 15 drungkhags without independent court building.
The budget for the construction of Lingzhi drungkhag along with the district courts of Thimphu, Paro and Chukha has been proposed in the current Plan.
In the first phase, the GoI funded Nu 36 million (M) for the construction of four drungkhag court buildings, which included the drungkhag courts of Nganglam, Lhamoizhingkha, Jomotshangkha and Samdrup Chholing. The constructions were completed in January 2011.
In the second phase, spanning over the period of 2011 to 2019, GoI funding with the initial approved budget of Nu 55.2M, funded the construction of other seven drungkhag court buildings of Dorokha, Panbang, Sakteng, Sombaykha, Sibsoo, Thrimshing and Wamrong.
Bhutan’s under-19 national team will play Jordan in the 2020 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-19 Championship qualification at Khalifa Sports City Stadium in Manama, Bahrain at 4:14pm today.
A total of 46 teams are competing in the championship, which was divided into 11 groups (A-K). The draw was held earlier this year on May 9 at the AFC House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
In each group, teams play each other once at a centralised venue.
Bhutan, Bahrain, Bangladesh and Jordan are placed in group E.
All the matches of group E are scheduled at the Khalifa Sports City Stadium in Manama, Bahrain from today till November 10.
Bhutan will play the second match against host Bahrain on November 8 and the last match with Bangladesh on November 10.
The 16 qualified teams will play in the final tournament including Uzbekistan who qualified as a host.
Other SAARC countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka and India are also taking part in the championship.
The qualification round started on October 2 in 11 host countries and will end on November 10.
The 2020 AFC U-19 Championship will be held in Uzbekistan from October 14 to 31 next year.
The third bilateral consultations between Bhutan and Switzerland was held in Thimphu on November 4.
The Swiss delegation was led by Ambassador Raphael Nageli, the assistant state secretary for Asia and the Pacific division, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Swiss Ambassador to Bhutan Andreas Baum. Foreign secretary Kinga Singye led the Bhutanese delegation.
The two sides exchanged views on the recent political developments in the two countries and discussed their bilateral cooperation, cooperation in the UNs, and other multilateral organisations and the importance of the regional groupings.
The two sides also held significant discussions on building business to business linkages and on the overall aspects of attracting foreign direct investments to Bhutan. The two countries established diplomatic relations in 1985.
Younten Tshedup | Gelephu
Gelephu Thromde terminated the lease agreements of 10 plot owners at the industrial service centre (ISC) in Tashiling constituency, Gelephu in October.
With no signs of work progress at the new site, the thromde administration on October 14 wrote to the 10 plot owners asking them to surrender their lease agreement and land lease certificate.
Initially, people who had obtained plots at the newly developed ISC were required to finish construction works and begin operation by December 2018.
Since most of the owners failed to complete the construction works and relocate, the thromde extended the deadline until September this year.
Thrompon Tikaram Kafley said that relocating the small industries to the ISC has been an issue for the past three years since the plots were distributed. “Considering the challenges, we have given them with enough extensions.”
He said that the final extension was ‘unanimously’ agreed by all the plot owners during a meeting held earlier this year.
During a recent inspection by thromde officials, it was found that only a few owners had started site development works. “None of these plot owners had started the construction, least to say complete the construction works. Therefore, we had to terminate their lease agreements,” said the thrompon.
He added that complaints from other plot owners were also brought to the administration. “While some of them had shifted their business, many were still operating from the old location,” he said. “People at the ISC complained that their businesses were being affected.”
The delay according to the thrompon was also affecting the thromde’s annual performance agreement (APA).
“We have a target under our APA to generate employment through these small-scale industries which was also being affected.”
Last week, the 10 plot owners appealed to the thromde administration to reconsider its decision.
One of the affected plot owners, LB Gurung, said that the thromde upon submission of the architectural drawings approved the building permit in July 2018, which was valid for two years.
“With the two-year validity still effective, thromde have issued us with a termination letter. We still have until July 2020 to complete the construction,” he said.
He added that the group had also requested for another six-month extension on September 3 after they failed to complete the work within the deadline. “We could not complete most of the work during the summer, which is why we requested for an extension.”
Besides the monsoon rain, there was no electricity or water supply at the site to carry out the construction, said LB Gurung. “We were told that some administration actions would be taken for failing to meet the deadline. However, we didn’t expect the thromde to terminate the agreement.”
Another affected party who requested anonymity said that he could not complete the construction since he had to first level the area and carry out other developmental works.
“Just leveling the area took so much time and an investment of about Nu 0.9 million,” he said. “Except for a few, most of the owners have not completed their work at ISC.”
He said that during a meeting, thromde officials had said that irrespective of the work progress, all those with incomplete structures would be terminated if the final deadline was not met. “I don’t understand the reason for targeting only the 10 of us.”
Thrompon Tikaram Kafley said that the administration terminated the lease agreements for those who had done nothing at the ISC.
“Our committee had these plots thoroughly checked and some of them are those who had never turned up to our office and expressed their problems,” he said. “It was a complete negligence on their part.”
He added that those who had invested on the site development works would be considered according to the government procedure.
On the allegations of not providing the ISC area with electricity and water connections, thrompon said that some of the heavy construction works could have required additional water, for which people would have managed from other sources.
However, he said that the thromde administration have provided the area with enough drinking water supply. “We’ve an independent water tank for the ISC, but sometimes due to some disruptions, it may not be enough.”
He said that the thromde had also completed civil works to provide electricity connection. “The laying of cables by Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) may not have been fully completed yet,” he said. “But we are working together with BPC to address this at the earliest.”
The plot distribution
The ISC spreads across 111.5 acres and a total of 110 plots (46.4 acres) have been leased out since January 2017 for a period of 30 years.
The distribution carried out in a lucky dip format to provide equal opportunity to all participants seems to have backfired. The thrompon said that in the lucky dip arrangement, logical investors and genuine people were not lucky enough to get the plots. He said that people from places like Gasa and Trashiyangtse who won the plots could not be contacted after the distribution.
“There are genuine people who need these plots in Gelephu,” he said. “This time we are going to select the applicants ourselves, who can perform. Not everyone would get the plots now. ”
Meanwhile, since October 16 the thromde has cut off water and electricity supply lines to nine automobile workshops in Jampeling constituency for failing to relocate their business to the ISC within the given deadline.
The thromde’s action came after complaints from workshop owners, who had already shifted to the ISC.
Officials said that people complained that customers still visited the old site and didn’t come to the new location. “They have started to move now. The relocation should be complete soon,” said a thromde official.
With the launch of various electronic banking channels, the use of paper-based banking instruments have declined by at least 28 percent, both in the number and value of transactions.
Records with the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) show a steady growth in the volume of overall payment instruments in the third quarter of 2019 on all modes of instruments, including paper-based, mobile and internet, electronic, card, and wallet.
The volume of paper-based transactions dropped from 328,270 in the second quarter to 237,030 transactions in the third quarter. In terms of monetary value, paper-based instrument declined to Nu 62.4B from Nu 87.7B during the same period.
The volume of overall payment system transactions in the third quarter, ending 30 September 2019, saw an increase of 37 percent compared with the previous quarter. The second quarter saw almost 9M transactions as compared to more than 12M transactions in the third quarter.
Mobile and internet recorded the highest number of transactions, 7.7M in the third quarter and its share to the total payment system is 63 percent during the quarter. However, in terms of value, its share is only 21 percent when compared to paper based, 63 percent. This is because most of the transactions that are huge in amount, especially those initiated by government and corporate bodies are paid in cheque.
“Based on the average value of each transactions processed using the cheques (260,555 cheques), it is observed that cheques are mostly used for making large value fund transfer,” the RMA stated in its quarterly report.
In terms of percentage increase, card transaction recorded the highest increase in the value and volume of transaction, which was contributed by increase in the ATM withdrawal using domestic as well as Rupay cards. Card involves transactions made through ATM, PoS and RuPay.
RuPay, according to the RMA has been picking up since its launch in the previous quarter, which contributed to the overall increase in card transaction.
Both the value and volume of transactions done through mobile app and internet show an increasing trend.
In the third quarter, the volume of transactions increased by 14 percent to 7.7 million, while the value increased by 11 percent to Nu 20.99B as compared to the second quarter of 2019. The average value of each transaction is Nu 2.73, which means mobile and internet payment channels are mostly used for making small value retail payments.
During the quarter, banks exited the operation of National Electronic Clearing System (NECS) and National Electronic Funds Transfer System (NEFT) with effect from October 2019.
The GIFT system replaced the NECS and NEFT as a platform to make retail payments and interbank fund transfer during the third quarter. The GIFT system offers three payment components such as BULK, BITS, and RTGS to effectively make retail payments, interbank fund transfer, and also real time large value fund transfer respectively.
In terms of volume, BULK has the highest percentage share in all quarters from amongst the three transfer channels, whereas, RTGS dominates the share for value since it facilitates all the large value fund transfers.
Yangchen C Rinzin
To enable public servants to develop and implement a systematic approach for professionalising the civil service, the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) launched a public administration programme yesterday.
The three-year programme, “professionalising the public service” that would reach out to about 100 public service leaders and officials is a part of civil service reform efforts included in the 12th Plan.
The programme is in partnership with Temasek Foundation and Singapore Polytechnic. Officials from both Singapore and Bhutan would also share experiences and challenges in public service.
The collaboration, according to a RCSC press release, follows the successful outcome of two previous programmes, design thinking methodology in 2016 and development of a competency-based framework for Bhutan’s public service.
Deputy chairman of Singapore Polytechnic, Johnny Tan Cheng Hye said the collaboration has deepened the relationship and led to a better understanding of Bhutan’s public service over the years. He said that the third programme would leverage on the first two programmes.
“The three important lessons public servants have learned in decades is the importance of training, which was assumed as a distraction from work, however, without training, public servants were not prepared for the future,” he said, adding the second lesson was the importance of lesson where integrity is also important apart from possessing intelligence.
The third lesson, he said, is the importance of being futuristic. “The other component is to train another 50 nursing specialists in advanced patient care, identified as a priority by health professionals.
Selected participants will also get to visit Singapore to interact with counterparts from Singapore and share their respective experiences and challenges.
Health minister Dechen Wangmo who was the chief guest said that the programme is a timely intervention where public servants could reflect on what the system is doing, where it is going and how the system should be to collectively come up with an action plan to address human resource related issues.
“This will also help develop sound human resources for times to come and make a resilient system to prepare ourselves for LDC graduation,” Lyonpo said.
Lyonpo said that after 51 years of the foreign ministry’s inception and diplomatic relations with 52 countries, there is not a single diplomat with expertise on a specific country, no single diplomat who is fluent in any of the country’s language, or an expert in trade negotiation, cultural diplomacy and economy diplomacy.
After 34 years of establishment with the mission to have adequate access to food and natural resources, Lyonpo said that the agriculture ministry is still struggling with import substitution and building a food the resilient system even if the system was reflected in several Five Year Plans.
“The government has spent huge resources to have cancer services, but today with the superannuation of a gynecologic oncologist and one surgical oncologist nearing superannuation, there is none in the pipeline to continue the service,” Lyonpo said. “We’ll be back to ground zero and this I feel this is all because we didn’t design a proper HR system.”
A Note of Understanding was signed between the RCSC chairperson Karma Hamu Dorjee and Johnny Tan Cheng Hye.
Nim Dorji | Trongsa
Three former lecturers of Taktse college submitted their rebuttal to Trongsa court yesterday.
The former lecture from Chukha submitted that the victim whom he was accused of touching inappropriately in the football ground should be revealed.
He said that although he cannot imagine doing such things in public, he was charged for sexual harassment, which he alleges was done “on personal grudge”. “It is important to reveal the victim and discuss face to face.”
He submitted that if he had touched the girl in public as accused, she should have immediately reported to lectures, students and college councillors who were present.
He claimed that the college administration conducted a survey based on some personal grudge with some lectures and students. He alleged the college administration of listening to the accusation made by some students and depriving the lecturers the opportunity to clarify. “We were compulsorily retired, put under police custody and dragged to court,” he said.
The former lecture from Paro refuted the charges submitting that if the victim was called as his personal guest during a picnic at Gangtey Goenpa, only she should be there with him. “There were 17 students from other classes,” he said. “If I did something wrong to her, she would not come to my house when I called her after reaching the college.”
He also submitted that if he had forced and asked her friends to come, they should have reported to concerned authority. He claimed that he pinched the students who came late and those failing to do their homework as a punishment. “I am charged for sexual harassment.”
He requested the court not to accept it as sexual harassment.
He refuted forcing the students to drink alcohol stating that he gave them some after making the alcohol offering. “This is also considered sexual harassment,” he said.
He submitted that he did not respond to the charge where he was accused of touching a girl and telling her he would open a shop if she married him. This, he said was basles and not necessary to clarify.
Trongsa police will rebut on November 26.