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Updated: 29 min 3 sec ago

JDWNRH sets up Covid-19 testing lab 

Wed, 01/13/2021 - 00:21

… to ease workload of RCDC

Staff Reporter 

The Thimphu national referral hospital yesterday inaugurated a Covid-19 RT-PCR testing lab in its premises to address the testing requirements of patients and attendants.

This is the second such testing lab established in Thimphu after the one at Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC).

Medical superintendent of the hospital, Dr Gosar Pemba said the lab will cater to the needs of not only patients and their attendants but the hospital’s staff and the general public.

He said that there were some delays when the testing was done at RCDC due to large numbers of samples. “The opening of the new lab is expected to accelerate the testing process and help people get results in a shorter time,” he said.

According to officials, the lack of a lab in the hospital, had caused delays in getting the test result of the patients and attendants, thereby delaying the admission and discharge of the patients and attendants.

But the medical superintendent clarified that the lab facility is not only for patients and attendants but all in general. “Our staff also needs testing,” he said, adding that the lab started taking samples since yesterday.

This lab will not only ease the workload of the RCDC but would also hasten the testing and result of the healthcare professionals, patients and attendants of the JDWNRH, the hospital said on its official Facebook page.

Public opinion more damaging

Wed, 01/13/2021 - 00:18

The online debate after videos of an elderly man with young women went viral on social media was anything but healthy.

With many people easily drawing conclusions of who is right or wrong, the debate lost the main focus on the legality of sharing materials online without consent.

The discussions only caused more distress and humiliation to those involved and their families, as the verdict of the public opinion court (public trial) is more damaging. It does not sentence anyone but damages lives. Ignoring it is easier said than done.

The intention of why the videos are made public is not clear. Is it for revenge or harassment? Is it just a mindless sharing for ‘self glorification’? Online users only blamed the women.

Police are yet to question the man, as he stays in a ‘red building’ but one of the women, who was featured in three videos that are not so explicit, has already filed a harassment case against the man since May last year. She is waiting for police to charge the case to court.

The Covid-19 pandemic should not delay justice to those affected.  Justifying that there is limited control over online content is not acceptable. Law should protect the victims and bring offenders to justice.  Victims should be protected and get justice.

The recent incidents also show that just having laws against such offences is not enough. We need to implement them. Justice delayed, it is said, is justice denied. It also calls for interventions from agencies like RENEW and NCWC.

What is not right with the ‘beral’ (viral) videos is filming without consent and also sharing intimate private moments in public. What people do in their private or personal life should remain private.

It’s also not acceptable to take the matter lightly and share the videos. No one will gain anything out of it besides the momentary cheap thrill. It is those women we are making a mockery of today. It can be anyone in the future – our daughters and sisters next time. We will only feel the pain when it is about us.

With more than 681,000 people subscribing to 4G and 3G internet services in the country as of September last year and more parents forced to buy smartphones for their children for online education, it’s time we ensure our children grow up in a safe online society where they have right over their privacy. Educating our children on the safety of online platforms has become a necessity.

Let us also not glorify anything that breaches privacy but condemn it.

UNDP launches Accelerator Lab in Bhutan

Wed, 01/13/2021 - 00:17

Chhimi Dema 

The Accelerator Lab, part of UNDP global, aims to address issues in the society by testing innovative solutions from local expertise and wisdom, and speed up the progress towards sustainable development goals.

The launch was held virtually yesterday.

UNDP’s resident representative, Azusa Kubota, said that the Accelerator Lab aims to help accelerate the rate of learning to keep pace with the world while also fast-tracking the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals and agenda 2030.

“It is our sincere hope that the Lab serves as a platform to reflect whether the current approaches, systems and mindsets designed to address the 20th-century problems are adequate to tackle the challenges of the 21st century through the application of innovation,” Azusa Kubota said.

The lab consists of the head of exploration, solutions mapping and experimentation to work and test ideas.

Head of solutions mapping, Tshering Wangmo, said that the lab was a new service offering to look at things and do them differently. “The lab focuses on promoting inclusive innovation to build an innovation ecosystem in the country.”

Before the lab was launched UNDP established an innovation unit last year which initiated system-based approaches to youth unemployment and waste management issues. The unit serves as a foundation for the lab.

Currently, the lab focuses on three frontiers: a system approach to overcome barriers in the youth unemployment landscape, apply behavioural insight interventions in waste management and build an inclusive innovation ecosystem to nurture the culture of innovation.

Tshering Wangmo said that the lab not only focused on these frontiers challenges but went beyond.

UNDP would identity partners such the government, civil society organisations and local innovators to bring innovative ways to address issues, Tshering Wangmo said.

A week before the launch, UNDP initiated the innovation idea challenge as a platform for young innovators.

The idea challenge received 62 ideas within seven days. Three ideas (electronic voting system for persons with disabilities, online system to track the learning progress of high school students and an App providing real-time information on city bus routes) were selected from the challenge.

More than 1,167 tested in Trashigang and Trashiyangtse

Wed, 01/13/2021 - 00:15

Neten Dorji | Trashigang

To assess the risks of Covid-19 in the communities, Trashigang and Trashiyangtse health officials collected more than 1,167 samples as part of the mass screening to implement further lockdown relaxation.

Trashigang dzongkhag health officials collected more than 567 samples from seven flu clinics in Tsangpo, Reserbu, Khaling, Kanglung, Trashigang, Bartsham and Ranjung. All tested negative.

The test was conducted as per the health ministry’s directive to carry out the antigen test for 600 people such as shopkeepers, drivers, frontlines and travellers in high-risk areas.

Health officials said as of now there is no indication of the infection in the dzongkhag and things looked good. “We are hoping that further relaxation would go as per the government’s plan,” said an official.

Residents said that they were relieved everyone tested negative. “Most of the people were worried about the virus,” said a resident, Tandin Wangmo. “We feel safe after the mass screening.”

She said they are relieved but are cautious wherever they see new faces in the town.

Wangchuk who resides in Trashigang town didn’t want to miss the test for he feared the neighbours’ retribution. “While the government is giving free tests, we have to support and get tested,” he said.

Karma Gyeltshen, 70, said there were still some who took the virus lightly. “We can’t be sure unless we adhere to the safety protocol.”

Meanwhile, the health official in Trashiyangtse collected more than 600 samples. All tested negative.

The officials said that they were testing in all high-risk areas and those who came from Thimphu and Paro. Trashiyangtse Dzongdag, Thuji Tshering said, “The unlocking phase would begin based on the National Covid-19 Taskforce’s recommendation.”

Health officials said there is no shortage of medical equipment and testing kits in the dzongkhags.

Time to balance trade-imbalance

Wed, 01/13/2021 - 00:14

Over the last ten years, our exports have doubled, so have the imports; however, the quantum differs substantially. For instance, in 2019 alone, we spent Nu 68.91 billion for imports while we earned just Nu 47.48 billion from exports leaving massive Nu 21.42 billion as the “Trade Imbalance”. However, it may be noted that the trade imbalance in  2019 had fallen by almost 28% compared to 2018, primarily due to additional revenue on account of the 720MW Mangdechhu hydropower project and the enhanced export of boulders.

If we are to narrow the import-export gap, it is imperative we enhance exports and minimize imports or promote substitutions through domestic production.

As per trade statistics maintained by DoT, MoEA, during the fiscal year 2018-19, Bhutan imported goods from 64 countries. The topmost imported items were petroleum products worth Nu 10.27bn, ferrous products – Nu 3.143bn, vehicles- Nu 3.93bn, rice products- Nu 1.66bn, and wood charcoals worth Nu 1.88bn. During the same year, we exported to 45 countries and the most exported items were electricity- Nu 16.24bn, Ferrosilicon-Nu 9.78bn; boulders- Nu 4.98bn; gravels & pebbles- Nu 1.82bn; cement- Nu 1.19bn).

From the above lists, it is clear which items need to be prioritised for exports and what to be curtailed in imports. In the export category, we must explore alternative sources for electricity generation so that more electricity from some hydropower projects could be displaced for export. This is becoming even more relevant as export tariffs earn much better. For instance, a unit of energy from Mangdechhu hydropower project displaced for export will garner Nu 4.12/unit which offers an opportunity to promote any other electricity generation alternatives that can be developed below Nu 4.12 per unit.  The other items to consider are ferrosilicon, boulder, and cement as Dungsam cement plant still has the potential to produce more without more capital inputs. 

On the other hand, we must take immediate and drastic measures to minimize the import of vehicles and petroleum products. As per records with Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA), there are 105,649 vehicles or 1 for every 7 people in the country as of July 2020. This includes 6,702 vehicles imported during the FY 2019-20. 

In 2019 alone, more than Rs 10.27 billion was spent on fossil fuel imports. One immediate intervention is to expedite promotion of Electric Vehicles (EVs)/hybrids and associated infrastructure to motivate, especially the government/public offices/institutions to opt for such alternatives.  For instance, a Hyundai Tucson comparable EV driven alternative (Hyundai Kona) comes for an upfront cost of around Nu 2.60 million, closer to that of Nu 2 million for Hyundai Tucson.  Besides this marginal upfront cost difference, the Kona will be more advantageous with minimal operational and maintenance costs. For example, the KONA comes with a battery which will consume just 39.2kWh of energy with which it can travel 452 kilometres costing just Nu 198 (Nu 5.06 per kWh). However, for the same distance, a Tucson would consume around 45 litres of diesel which translates to more than Nu 2,300, so there is a huge operational costs difference.

The other items to be considered for domestic production are rice and charcoal, which should not entail much technological complexity and raw material constraints.

While there could be many other options, these are suggestions to help relevant stakeholders/agencies/individuals to prioritise and consider more focused interventions to facilitate and promote these sectors.

Contributed by Passangyt, Thimphu


The Covid-19 vaccination plan

Wed, 01/13/2021 - 00:13

Govt. considers the option to vaccinate entire population at once

Younten Tshedup 

While at least six Covid-19 vaccines were approved for emergency use so far, the Covid-19 national taskforce is considering the Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

Although it is not confirmed when the country would receive the vaccines, the health ministry has detailed a deployment plan for all the three vaccines.

Senior programme officer with the public health department, Sangay Phuntsho, said that the vaccine deployment plan broadly considers two scenarios.

The first scenario would be adopted if the country receives the vaccine in tranches. This is likely under the COVAX Facility, of which Bhutan is a member. The Facility would deliver vaccines to cover 20 percent of the population for free, however, in tranches. The first tranche would cover around three percent of the total population.

Under this scenario, priority groups would receive the limited doses in a phase-wise manner. The ministry’s national immunisation technical advisory group (NI-TAG) has identified high-risk workers in the healthcare facilities in the first phase of the distribution. The group would include close to 6,000 individuals.

The group would also consist of about 35,000 active frontliners such as police and army personnel, and DeSuups. Over 41,000 elderlies above the age of 60 years and 34,000 plus people living with comorbidities will also be included in the first phase of vaccine distribution.

As and when the next tranche of the vaccine is received, the second and third phases of distribution would begin covering the rest of the population.

The second scenario is if the country receives enough doses to vaccinate the entire population at once. This is an option the government is considering with India, as the country recently approved the emergency use authorisation of two vaccines including the Oxford-AstraZeneca.

Sangay Phuntsho said that under this scenario, vaccines would be rolled-out at the same time across the country. “The vaccination would be completed within two weeks after it starts.”

He said that the strategy would be similar to that of the flu vaccination programme. Under this strategy, he said that every health facility has their own micro plan covering the vaccination sites, human resource and consumable requirements, and tentative dates.

“We would be aligning our strategy with the zoning system,” he said, adding that should the outbreak continue as today, based on the technical advisory group and national taskforce’s instruction, families would be called out in their respective zones with their movement cards to get the vaccines.

Even otherwise, he said that if the situation improves, vaccination would be carried out through multiple vaccination sites to avoid crowding and in line with the current health preventive measures.


The three vaccines  

Sangay Phuntsho said that logistically, it would be better if the country manages to procure either of the Oxford-AstraZeneca or the Moderna vaccines. This is because the two vaccines can be stored at a regular fridge temperature.

He said that although the Moderna vaccine requires a -20 degree Celsius storage facility, it has a shelf-life of a month if kept at regular fridge temperature (2-8 degree Celsius). “It would take us at least a week to distribute the vaccines and another two weeks to administer it. So, there is no major issue with Moderna.”

It was learned that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine had some logistical issues as it required storage temperature of -70 degree Celsius. However, Sangay Phuntsho said that if the Pfizer vaccine is procured in tranches, there won’t be any major logistical issues.

He said that there are two facilities in the country where a -70 degree Celsius temperature storage was available — the national referral hospital and the Royal Centre for Disease Control in Thimphu.

“But once out of the -70 degree Celsius, we can keep the Pfizer vaccine in 2-8 degree Celsius only for five day. So, if we receive vaccines for the entire population at once, it would be logistically difficult to deliver them to all,” he said.

However, the ministry has worked up a plan. In absence of refrigerated vans for transportation, helicopters would be used to reach the vaccines to the identified strategic locations. Besides Thimphu, some of the strategic locations are Mongar and Samdrupjongkhar in the east, Bumthang and Gelephu in the centre, and Phuentsholing in the south.

Sangay Phuntsho explained that health officials from rest of the dzongkhags would have to be present at the strategic locations so that as and when the helicopter arrives, they pick their share of the vaccine and return to their respective locations on the same day.

Similarly, other far-flung locations would also have to be present at the respective locations on the same day to collect the vaccines and return to their stations. “This is not the most ideal method, but it is doable. And we don’t have other options with the Pfizer vaccine.”

He said that because it was still unsure when the country would start receiving the vaccines, including the type of vaccine and the number of doses, the ministry had come up with strategies to immediately deploy the vaccines without wasting any time. “We’ve made a plan that is comprehensive in all situations irrespective of the type of vaccines we get.”

The plan was presented to the national Covid-19 taskforce on January 11.

Share prices of major players fall despite active trading 

Tue, 01/12/2021 - 00:11

… difficult to pinpoint the impact of Covid-19

The economic slowdown caused by the pandemic did very little to hurt the stock market enough.

The stock market in the country remained active as ever recording a trading of shares worth Nu 863 million (M) in the secondary market last year. While it is a marginal decrease compared with 2019, this is one of the highest trading recorded ever in the history of stock exchange. The year 2019 saw the highest trading with a three-fold increase in share trading valued at Nu 1.13M in the secondary market.

Secondary market is a platform, where investors buy and sell securities they already own. It is what most people typically think of as the stock market, though stocks are also sold on the primary market when they are first issued as an initial public offering (IPO).

“Since market is a reflection of investors’ sentiments, it is difficult to pin-point the impact of Covid-19,” Dorji Phuntsho, the chief executive officer of Royal Securities Exchange of Bhutan (RSEBL) said. However, he said that prices of major stocks fell compared with 2019.

Going by what some investors said, stocks are being viewed as liquid assets, an asset which can be easily converted into cash. In other words, people have been engaging in share trading to draw cash. More so when the economy is experiencing a downturn, resulting in price fall.

However, it can be noted that prices did not fall dramatically.   

This is because the demand was also high. People with disposable income are into buying shares when the prices fall, thinking that it might prove lucrative down the years. Even when the rights offer given by the GIC-Bhutan Reinsurance Limited (GBRL) went for auction, the lowest bidding price touched the market price.

Rights are offered by listed companies to its existing shareholders at a special price in proportion to their holding of old shares. If the existing shareholders do not subscribe to their rights it goes for public auction.

Another worry some investors raised was with regards to the dividend payout. To provide livelihood support and upon the Royal command, banks have extended interest waiver and deferred the loan repayment tenure. This will create a hole in the profitability of the banks indirectly impacting the dividend payout. Some observers feel that this could be the reason some shareholders are disposing their shares in the secondary market, thus depressing the share prices.

Banks, particularly the shares of Bhutan National Bank, Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan and Druk PNB constitute more than half of shares in the market.

Thus, these companies dictate the Bhutan Stock Index (BSI). Stock indices can serve as benchmarks for investors measuring the performance of their own investment portfolio. It provides a broad insight of a stock market by measuring the performance of selected securities.

The BSI has decreased from 1,020 points beginning January, 2020 to 904 points in May of the same year, when the economic activities suddenly slowed due to pandemic. The BSI has more or less stabilised between 950 to 936 since September last year till December.

Although the listed companies may experience the impact of Covid- 19, Bhutan’s stock market is insulated from the global market as foreign investment into the country’s stocks are restricted. Even those sectors affected by the pandemic are not well represented in the stock market, albeit delisting of two mining companies last year.

The stock exchange has also revised its circuit breaker in the wake of the pandemic, from 5 percent to 2.5 percent. Circuit breaker is a temporary halt in trading to prevent overnight spike or drop in prices.

While it can be said that the RSEBL has not experienced a direct hit from the pandemic, it is also creating more public awareness in terms of educating the general public on fundamentals of share trading. The session has also gone virtual since the pandemic started. This, in turn, has been speculated as the major factor contributing to increased trading.

Contributed by

Tshering Dorji

Tshering Dorji is a freelance journalist and co-founder of OxMedia

IBD outbreak in Darla

Tue, 01/12/2021 - 00:10

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Four poultry (broiler) farms in two villages in Darla, Chukha have reported an outbreak of Infectious Bursal Disease (IBD), the livestock officials have confirmed.

IBD is a highly contagious disease that affects young chickens. It is caused by Infectious Bursal Disease Virus.

The officials came to know of the disease on January 5.

Chukha’s chief livestock officer, Sherab Tenzin, said there were close to 2,400 vulnerable birds.

“About 260 to 300 birds have died until January 7,” he said. “Right now, everything is under control. We have our team continuously monitoring the situation.”

IBD is not an airborne disease.

The birds of the four farms are currently isolated and are being monitored continuously.

However, since IBD doesn’t have treatment, the infected areas will be declared red zones and will be disinfected. The dead birds will be buried with bleaching powder in a 1.5-metre-deep pit.

Livestock officials say that the outbreak could have happened due to the lack of vaccination of birds from the source across the border.

Sherab Tenzin explained the birds must be vaccinated at least twice after reaching the farm.

The supply of chicken meat from these farms has been currently suspended.

Sherab Tenzin said Darla Gewog still has a stock of more than 9,000 broiler birds and about 10,000 layer birds.

The gewogs such as Darla, Doongna, Metekha, Sampheling, Phuentsholing, Chapcha, Bjachhog, and Lokchina in Chukha have been able to supply livestock products to Thimphu and Paro from December 23, 2020.

The dzongkhag supplied 5.17 metric tonnes (MT) of chicken to Thimphu and Paro, 6125.83 dozens of eggs, 760kg pork, 7.2MT cheese, 1.82MT butter, and 3.22MT milk.

Social media facilitates information gathering amid the pandemic

Tue, 01/12/2021 - 00:09

Chhimi Dema 

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the way journalists gather information, especially during the lockdown when everyone is mandated to stay indoors.

Many media professionals rely on social media and the internet to gather information.

A freelance journalist, Karma Wangdi, said that social media was a platform that provided story ideas. “Journalists can verify and work on issues that are posted on social media platforms.”

According to a journalist working in a private media, she was able to work during the pandemic, as she could gather information from social media.

She said going to the field and meeting with sources give in-depth understanding of the issue but during the pandemic, she conducted interviews on phone and via Zoom, Whatsapp and Messenger. “I picked up ideas from Facebook.”

She could also attended virtual conferences and webinars on social media platforms.

A broadcast journalist said that people share different views on issues and opinion on social media.

“Without field visits, I was able to pick story ideas from social media platforms,” he said.

According to an online data portal, DataReportal, there were 430,000 social media users in the country last year.

As of September 2020, there were 681,239 subscribers of 4G and 3G internet services in the country, according to the information and communications ministry’s quarterly statistics.

Questions on Penal provision application for lockdown breach

Tue, 01/12/2021 - 00:08

Yangchen C Rinzin 

The application of Penal provision Section 410 and 448 for those who breach the lockdown protocol has the various sections of the legal fraternity in loggerheads.

Lawyers and some prosecutors debate the penal provisions that are applied to those who breach lockdown. Those crossing the international border are also charged under the same provisions.

They are charged for Criminal Nuisance under Section 410 and 448 of the Penal Code of Bhutan.

Section 410 states a person is guilty of a criminal nuisance if he knowingly or recklessly creates or maintains a condition including spreading a dangerous disease that injures or endangers the safety or health of the public.

The offence is a fourth degree felony, which is liable for a prison term between three and five years.

Section 448 states that if the defendant purposely fails to abide by the government’s orders issued in the interest of public safety, public order and tranquillity, it will be graded as a petty misdemeanour liable for three months to a year prison term.

A lawyer said that Section 410 is self-explanatory where it says if the defendant injures or endangers the safety or health of the public by spreading a dangerous disease would be guilty of the offence. However, none of those that the Office of The Attorney General (OAG) charged with the provision had the disease.

“People will have to have the disease first if they don’t then how does one prove the person had the intent to spread the disease?” a lawyer said.

“If a person tested negative, which in this case, is Covid-19, public health and safety aren’t endangered.”

Attorney General Lungten Dubgyur recently said that the OAG had prosecuted 139 Covid-19 related cases since March last year involving 239 defendants.

Of that 75 people were convicted and imprisoned for a maximum of 15 years and 57 cases are still pending with courts due to second nationwide lockdown.

Another lawyer based in Thimphu said that some are convicted against one section and others both sections which are unjust because in almost all cases the incidents are similar, which is breaching of government’s order.

“Then how does one prove that the person had violated only one section?” the lawyer said. “It’s in the hands of police how they charge. If they want they could apply both Sections equally.”

Many said the state should prove that a person breached the protocol and spread the disease, otherwise, it would be unfair to assume the person would have spread if “he/she had tested positive.”

“Section 410 is appropriate in the recent case where a positive Covid-19 patient had breached protocol by visiting people during the lockdown,” a lawyer said. “But not on a father who had just asked his neighbour residing near the border for water to feed his thirsty son and has landed up in prison for five years.”

In an earlier interview with Kuensel, some of the prosecutors shared that any violation of national safety protocol must be considered criminal given the kind of emergency that the nation is facing today.

While some lawyers agreed that people could be charged against 448 for failing to abide by the government’s order, other lawyers argued that the reference to ‘order’ in the Section could apply to any government order not just during the current situation.

“But how far government followed Article 33 of the Constitution to declare an emergency and come up with such order in the current situation?”

Another lawyer said that law could not be applied based on the public sentiment and that it has to be on the gravity of the crime irrespective of circumstances.

Many have also questioned the accountability of lapses in the protocols that led to two lockdowns while locking up people for breaching the public’s order where the people were not the source for disease spread.

Meanwhile, the Attorney General did not want to comment.

e-TA/DA system to curb table tours and bogus payments

Tue, 01/12/2021 - 00:07

MB Subba 

To control travel-related expenditure, which forms a large chunk of the government’s recurrent budget, the finance ministry will launch an ‘electronic Daily Allowance and Travel Claim System (e-DATS) next month.

The new system, the ministry believes, will not only facilitate timely processing of travel claims (TA/DA) and payments but also eliminate the practice of table tours and bogus payments. The system will be incorporated in all budgetary agencies, including dzongkhags and gewogs, by June.

Ngultse Lyonpo (Finance Minister) Namgay Tshering said that e-DATS will not only enhance transparency in the TA/DA expenditures of government agencies at all levels but also eliminate the practice of fictitious claims and payments.

The initiative is expected to inculcate the habit of proper travel plans in agencies and public servants.

Lyonpo said having annual travel plans at the beginning of the year as per the annual work plan would enable the government to make more accurate budget estimates and minimise unexpected expenditures.

He said, “Most travels currently are undertaken on an ad-hoc basis. All travels, except unforeseen travels, should be in line with the annual work plan,” he said.

The e-DATS is also aimed at doing away with chances of manipulation in the mileage and the number of travel days by civil servants.

“With this system in place, expenditure reduction will naturally happen. Considering, that a huge chunk of the recurrent budget goes to travel related expenses, it is time to streamline the system and promote digital processing of the claims and payment,” Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said.

For the fiscal year 2020-21, the government has earmarked Nu 32.9 billion (B), which is 44 percent of the total allocation, as recurrent expenditure.

The initiative is being undertaken at a time when handling and passing of papers from one person to another have been a concern during the pandemic given the chances of transmission. Public servants file two papers, one is the travel authorisation form and the other being travel claim form, besides other papers.

Such initiatives, Ngultse Lyonpo said, would also minimise the use of papers gradually. He said that the e-DATS would strengthen the public finance management system. The online web-based system was designed by experts within the ministry.

Some civil servants said they welcomed the new system.

“It would help stop fraudulent practices,” said a civil servant. But he added that the system should be transparent and that travel opportunities should be available for all employees in a fair manner.

According to the ministry, the government is also developing an integrated financial management information system (IFMIS) dashboard and 95 percent of the work has been completed. The system, it says, will consolidate the management of domestic revenue, keep track of government expenditure and ensure sustainable debt management.

The system will also give updated information in the form of system generated dashboard for the designated users. The initiative is aimed at creating a digital market place for the government agencies to promote transparency and efficiency in the public finance management.

For tranquility

Tue, 01/12/2021 - 00:06

Some among the legal fraternity are not agreeing with the provisions of the penal code that the Attorney General said his office would strictly adhere to if people breach lockdown protocols.

The concern in the application of the law given the complication of the cases and also the uncertainties surrounding the Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The two penal provisions are quite clear. One, section 410, concerns, in this case, people knowingly or recklessly creating conditions including spreading the coronavirus virus and thereby endangering the safety of public health. The other, 448 is failing to abide by government orders issued in the interest of public safety, public order and tranquillity.

Violating 410 is a fourth degree criminal offense that carries a prison term between three and five years. The later, 448 is graded a petty misdemeanour liable for imprisonment term of three months to a year.

The penal provisions are not new. People are reminded of it with the risk of spreading Covid-19 in the community. While the hope is that nobody would come into conflict with the laws the concerns are genuine.

Laws are there to not punish people. It is to prevent getting into trouble. A lot will depend on how we interpret and implement it. The concerns are on the discrepancies. A 16-year-old student worried of missing school was penalized for violating section 410. A father is imprisoned for trying to quench the thirst of his five-year-old son. They have technically violated laws by crossing the border. They have not contacted the disease nor had the intention to spoil the tranquility and spread dangerous diseases.

The penal provisions initially tried to discourage people from crossing the international border. It was to prevent people from getting infected and bring it back home. Now the attention is on the two red dzongkhags. Given the risk of the disease, we ought to be careful and remind people of laws.

While the hope is nobody would deliberately violate laws, it is good to hear that the OAG would prove beyond reasonable doubt, that a person had knowingly created conditions or spread the disease. In the case in Thimphu, the person under investigation, tested positive after he visited places including outside his zone. if he had tested positive, he would have been in isolation.

The recent surge in cases has forced us to leave no stone unturned in preventing further transmission and save the country and the people from the Covid-19 scourge. There will be people, knowingly or unknowingly that come in conflict with laws.

What we can be confident of is the independence of the judiciary. Our Drangpons who preside over the cases could use their independence and wisdom in interpreting and applying the legal provisions.

To quote a maxim popular among the judiciary, it is better to let hundred criminals go scot free than convicting  a single innocent.

Caravan 2021 celebrates Bhutan’s art, culture, and literature

Tue, 01/12/2021 - 00:06

Choki Wangmo 

Amidst lockdown, artists, writers, and poets from Bhutan and India, virtually, celebrated Bhutanese art, culture, and literature titled “Caravan 2021 -Bhutan” on January 10.

The event was organised by the Asian Literary Society (ALS) in association with the Journal of Asian Art, Culture and Literature.

Founder of ALS, Manoj Krishnan, said the caravan series was a tribute to cultures, arts, and the literary traditions of Asia, which gave the world the gifts of many generations who have received their heritage by right and responsibility.

Former education minister and chief guest of the event, Thakur Singh Powdyel, highlighted the grandeur of Bhutanese culture. “The 13 traditional arts of Bhutan were a manifestation of the creative genius of the culture each of which effortlessly integrates the primary functions of usefulness and beauty.”

He said that the religious paintings that dominate the massive walls of the dzongs and lhakhangs were among the most precious treasures that hold Bhutanese history and speak to the core as a nation and people. “Caravan 2021 was a rare celebration of the true essence of Indo-Bhutan relationship, beyond a breath-taking festival of love and letters.”

Former Governor of Sikkim, Shri Balmiki Prasad Singh, shared his experiences based on his long and enduring personal relationship with three generations of monarchs in Bhutan and his understanding of the country.

The former secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, India, drew on his intimate knowledge of Bhutan assimilated from about 60 visits to the country.

An online art exhibition on the theme “Bhutan” was displayed for online viewers.

Poets and writers from India and Bhutan joined the session on poetry recitation and storytelling.

Meanwhile, local writers like Kunzang Choden Roder, Gopilal Acharya, and Passang Tshering participated in the panel discussion.

The day-long programme engaged invited speakers with presentations on the diverse aspects of Bhutanese way of life and culture, online performances of songs and dances, literary recitations, online art exhibition, and a panel discussion.

Woman survives fall from the second storey

Tue, 01/12/2021 - 00:05

Staff reporter

A woman fell off the balcony on December 7 in Babesa but is in stable condition at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital.

The police ruled out foul play after investigation. The police said that they suspected criminality but it was accidental.

The victim and her family were drinking alcohol when the victim went out to the balcony to pick up laundry. She slipped and fell off. The balcony did not have railings.

Police and DeSuup on patrol spotted a taxi  rushing to the hospital.

The case was reported to police at 10:20pm. Major Lobzang Dawa said that the doctor informed she smelt of alcohol. “She might have fallen down due to intoxication and moreover there is no railing in the balcony.”

Major Lobzang Dawa said that since they could not go inside the hospital due to Covid-19 protocols. “We got a statement from the woman saying she fell off from the balcony while picking up laundry and nobody harmed her.”

Reforming civil service: Towards a future ready government

Tue, 01/12/2021 - 00:04

Anticipatory governance means different things to different people. For some, it is about envisioning, future forecasting, and scenario building in policymaking and planning. For others, it is about accelerating learning loops by engaging citizens to input real-time data and feedback to make decision-making participatory. The Covid-19 crisis was a wake-up call for the civil service to embrace an approach that is anticipatory and not reactive in nature. His Majesty The King stressed the need for reform in the civil service in his Royal Address on Bhutan’s 113th National Day last month, bringing a renewed sense of urgency to this pressing need of the hour.

So, what would anticipatory governance in the civil service look like? For Bhutan, three learnings from the pandemic stand out:

Accelerated innovation and experimentation: A year ago, the civil service system was equipped with processes that require extended periods to establish partnerships, budget, and execute a plan. But ever since Covid-19 struck the country in March, we saw civil servants testing digital ideas at an accelerated rate to learn what works and what doesn’t. In a way, the pandemic became a catalyst for rapid innovation and experimentation in the public sector.

Embedded ‘next generation’ engagement platforms: The pandemic rather abruptly eliminated the traditional method of in-person citizen engagement. Almost overnight, there was an emergence of national information hotlines and social media platforms, for the public to receive critical information on multiple services.

These e-engagement platforms provided a feedback loop for citizens to articulate their preferences, grievances, and other proposals that would help them better navigate and adapt to the fast-evolving pandemic. As a result, it placed citizens at the core of an iterative designing process.

Focused on co-creation and co-production: Going out of traditional institutional silos, civil servants used or built networks to access ideas and resources through new partnerships, cooperation and collaborations across agencies as well as with the private sector. We observed an increase in flexibility and mobility within public servants and across communities for redeployment to strengthen efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated that in times of difficulties, the public in general relies on the government to come to the rescue, reinforcing the need to future-proof the civil service. So, what can be done? Here are some ideas that would help chart a post-Covid pathway for the civil service.

Build capabilities in foresight: The government’s ability to anticipate is directly linked to the capacities of the civil service in future thinking, foresight tools and practices. A cohort of civil servants who are curious, on a constant lookout for signs of change, and strive towards continuous improvement is key. A good case in point is Centre for Strategic Futures established by the Singapore government. The Centre has been successful in integrating foresight in the public service’s consciousness, by stress testing current strategies and policies. Perhaps, it’s about time that Bhutan had something like this in place. It would be worth establishing a Future’s Commission.

Enhance co-production of services: The role of civil servants could gradually transition to become facilitators for co-production of services. Tools and techniques on design thinking can be used to develop solutions with citizens to cater to their evolving needs. This may also entail adopting a more client-based service offer approach by considering empathy in public service education and training. In the end, what’s important is to view citizens as active partners and not passive customers waiting to consume services provided by the government. The Swedish government, for example, provides platforms for citizens to engage in the co-production of many services. Likewise, Singapore initiated an idea sprint, calling on the public to contribute and co-create solutions to address the Covid-19 crisis.

Foster inter-agency collaboration: To encourage collaboration beyond agency boundaries, civil servants will need to understand how the same problems can spill and interact across ministries and agencies. It is important to tap into these integrated networks of knowledge that offer access to low hanging fruits for integrated decision making.

Estonia’s ‘once-only’ principle is a great example for institutionalising inter-agency collaboration into structured routine settings. It mandates the state to re-use the information submitted by any citizen or business instead of asking for the same information again.

Inter-agency collaborations also require implementing the practice of coordinated leadership. This emerging leadership paradigm sometimes termed as distributed or adaptive leadership encourages leaders to direct their employees towards collaborative efforts to get results rather than solely limiting efforts within the agency.

Improve service intelligence: We live in a data age where every agency is generating huge amount of data. But unless the data is structured and shared in real time at an accelerated pace, it might not be of any public value. For instance, decisions are made on statistics and publications that suffer from a substantial time lag.

What is required here is a common data bank, which not only breaks down data silos but also ensures data accessibility in real-time. Such digital spaces could be further expanded to include open-ended processes and synergistic feedback loops enabling a real-time governance framework.

Other prospective ideas include developing an innovation playbook for the civil servants. An interagency group could be convened to develop the toolkit consisting of creative tools and techniques such as hackathons, citizen science, crowdsourcing and human centered design thinking among others. Nesta’s playbook for innovation learning is a good resource.

A dedicated innovation fund might just provide the right condition to not only break silos but also instill a culture of innovation among the civil servants. The government of Canada has a dedicated public sector innovation budget for each ministry and agency. Furthermore, it’s also equally important to create incentives to encourage civil servants to innovate. For instance, providing fast track promotions as a reward for those who are delivering results differently and better.

Given the far-reaching impact of the civil service in driving services, they have a stake in ensuring that they are equipped with the right skills, incentives and an ecosystem to innovate. The Covid-19 crisis provides a once in a generation opportunity to transform the civil service ecosystem, and to ensure fast, relevant and agile recovery pathways that are more inclusive, greener and sustainable in alignment with the ethos of a Gross National Happiness nation.

Contributed by 

Azusa Kubota, 

UNDP Resident Representative

Tshoki Zangmo

 Head of Exploration, UNDP Bhutan Accelerator Lab

Note: The official launch of the Accelerator Lab is happening today, January 12, from 10:00 to 11:30 am. Follow the event live on UNDP FB page (@UNDPBhutan).

Water treatment plant in Pinchina not serving its purpose

Tue, 01/12/2021 - 00:03

…thromde and contractor blame each other

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

Although Samdrupjongkhar thromde constructed a water treatment plant (WTP) at Pinchina (when) to address water shortages in the thromde, residents of Samdrupjongkhar Toed and Bar are still facing acute water shortage.

A resident, Ugyen Zanmo, said she fetched water from a pond near automobile workshops about a kilometre from her home in summer, but it is challenging in winter, as ponds dry.

Another resident, Leki Zangmo, 50, said they were provided water twice a day last year but not this year. 

Residents allege the WTP failed because of technical problem.

They said thromde should explore more bore well and construct WTP with new distribution lines. 

“Landslides wash away water pump for the plant at Pinchina in summer,” a resident, Pema Gyeltshen, said.

Thromde officials say they supply water from its old gravity line and gallery at Pinchina because the intake water pump of the new WTP is damaged.

Thromde’s engineer, Mani Kumar Rizal, said there is water shortage, as the old gravity line and gallery have less capacity.

He said thromde’s tankers supply water whenever residents demand. “We have told the contractor to fix the pump at the water intake. In the meantime, I would request house owners to store water and supply to the tenants.”

Mani Kumar Rizal said the thromde had also tendered and awarded the distribution lines’ construction works. “We have realised about five percent mobilisation funds.”

He said the water problem would be addressed after the distribution lines are completed.

The thromde tried to explore two bore wells near the automobile workshops and State Mining Corporation Limited (SMCL) office for Local Area Plan (LAP) II and LAP III but did not get water even after digging more than 250 metres deep. Thromde spent about Nu 800,000 for this.

Meanwhile, project manager Karma Kinley said that since the project’s manual operation started in August 2019, contractors requested the thromde to enter into the operation and maintenance (OM) phase as they supplied the treated water on manual operation mode.

He said although automation works completed about 95 percent by the end of November 2019, they could not do the finishing and testing due to the requirement of the voltage stabiliser transformer (VST). “We realised this was required towards the end of 2019.”

He said thromde denied to accept OM phase without automation in place. “We requested thromde to release 100 percent of the bill of quantity (BoQ) and OM budget, but they released only 50 percent a month.”

He said the budget could not meet staff salary and a pool vehicle. “So we could not repair and maintain pumps that malfunctioned often.”

Karma Kinley said they tried to send the pumps to India for repairing and procure new pump, spending more than Nu 150,000 but couldn’t run the project from August 18, 2020 as the thromde stopped payment.

He claimed there is nothing mentioned in the tender documents that the contractor should run the project before entering into the OM phase and supply water at their own expenditure. “We are also worried about the wear and tear of the equipment, which may have extra cost in the OM period.”

He said the thromde should run the plant at their own decision and cost until they are not comfortable accepting the OM phase or release actual OM price.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) funded Nu 89M for the WTP.

Aggregating vegetables in Zhemgang not profitable

Tue, 01/12/2021 - 00:01

Nima | Gelephu

Farmers in Gholing, Zhemgang were struggling to fetch good prices for vegetables until the dzongkhag administration came in to buy, to be supplied to Thimphu during the second nationwide lockdown.

Khengrig Namsum Cooperative (KNC) collected vegetables from the farmers.

Gholing chiwog tshogpa, Ugyen Penjor, said that more farmers were into commercial vegetable farming in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“But, many are disappointed with the price and return from the work in the early days,” Ugyen Penjor said. “We tried to supply to the schools nearby but it’s done by the cooperative.”

He added that providing equal opportunity to the farmers and the cooperative would help farmers understand the market better. “It would also motivate farmers. Farmers would also know the rates.”

This, he said, helped the farmers fetch good rates. The farmers sold vegetables to aggregators at around Nu 10 lower than the fixed rate.

Tashi Tshering, a farmer, said the farmers followed the price fixed by the government. “The dzongkhag’s initiative to collect the vegetables helped market our products. We did not know how the price was decided earlier.”

Chairperson of KNC, Thinley Wangdi, said collecting vegetables was not a profitable business in Zhemgang. The aggregator takes days to collect, grade, and sort the vegetables before reaching retailers in Thimphu.

The cooperative has collected over eight tonnes of vegetables to date.

“We pay farmers lower than the fixed farm gate price to meet transportation charges. The price of vegetables differs from place to place. It is based on the distance we travel for collection,” Thinley Wangdi said.

He said that the farmers were not aware of the challenges. “There are around 20 percent weight loss of vegetables and damages along the way. We don’t even meet our transportation expenses sometimes.”

He added that it would be difficult for the farmers to market their produce in the absence of the cooperative’s service.

“Farmers of Zhemgang struggled to reach their produce to market in the past. Not many grew vegetables on a large scale then. We are committed to helping them market their products,” said Thinley Wangdi.

No new cases from communities in the last three days

Tue, 01/12/2021 - 00:01

Vaccination programme readied and submitted to National Covid-19 Taskforce

Younten Tshedup 

With the completion of the 21 days of the second nationwide lockdown, the health ministry has started mass surveillance in dzongkhags other than Thimphu yesterday.

Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo said that randomised testing would be conducted in these dzongkhags to find the presence of the virus. “Not everyone in the dzongkhags would be tested but only those high-risk people like frontliners, drivers and businesses,” said Lyonpo.

Around 600 individuals in each dzongkhag would be randomly tested. Depending on the outcome of the surveillance, which would complete by January 14, further relaxation would be considered.

Lyonpo said that with a significant number of people testing positive to the virus on a daily basis in Thimphu, many were requesting for a mass testing in the community. However, she said that testing and screening should be evidence-based.

The minister explained that a randomised screening enabled the ministry to understand the risk associated with a particular cluster or community. “If there are positive cases in that cluster, then we sweep the entire area.”

Meanwhile, in the last 23 days since the detection of the index case, 365 Bhutanese contracted the disease with 12 new cases in the last 24 hours. Although the daily case detection was high, Lyonpo said that the good news was there were no cases detected from the community.

She said that in the last three days all the positive cases were from among the close contacts of those who have already tested positive earlier. “We are certain that most of the close contacts would test positive which is why they are quarantined,” she said, adding that the concern was when cases were picked from the communities including the flu clinics.

Paro dzongkhag has not recorded any Covid-19 positive cases from the flu clinics or the community in the past 10 days.     

Without a single case from the community for three straight days, the minister said the situation was improving for now.

Of the total 365 cases detected since December 20, 26 of them were above the age of 60 years including 16 people with pre-existing medical conditions. Four Covid-19 patients currently required dialysis service and were treated separately in containment. These categories of people are generally vulnerable to the infection.

There are also 45 children below the age of 12 years who have contracted the virus.

Lyonpo said that although a majority of the patients have shown some symptoms, around 25 percent of the infected were asymptomatic. “If you have any flu-like symptoms, please visit the flu clinics before the virus spreads to others.” So far, the flu clinics in Thimphu and Paro picked up 25 positive cases.

The minister added a detailed plan for procuring Covid-19 vaccine was presented to the national Covid-19 taskforce yesterday. However, in absence of an effective vaccine, Lyonpo urged the public to follow health preventive measures such as hand washing, wearing face masks and practicing physical distancing.

Bhutan’s efforts increase Black-necked Crane population and safety

Mon, 01/11/2021 - 00:56

Choki Wangmo 

Black-necked Crane or Grus nigricollis (BNC) has moved one category closer to safety—from vulnerable to near threatened— according to the IUCN’s Redlist of Threatened Species 2020.

According to IUCN report published last year, the species is classified as ‘near threatened’ because it has a single small population that is subject to a number of threats that are suspected to be sufficient to cause future declines.

“It no longer qualifies as ‘vulnerable’ as there is no continuing decline,” it stated.

The recent increase in the population has been driven by a reduction in adult mortality through a combination of winter habitat protection and creation, and increased suitable breeding habitat due to glacial melting.

Chief Communications Officer with Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), Jigme Tshering, said that benefits from glacial melting were short-term. “In the long run, continuous rise in the global temperature would melt the permafrost and the wetlands will be disappearing.”

In Bhutan, from 2019-2020, RSPN had recorded 590 crane arrivals in the country.

Jigme Tshering said that although the general population trend has been increasing, at the local level, there were various sites which were abandoned by cranes due to habitat degradation.

The cranes are found in the wetlands of Tibetan plateau in western China, adjacent parts of northern India, and Bhutan. Over the years, these areas were encroached on by intensive agriculture and urbanisation, studies found.   

“Population has been increasing only in Phobjikha, but in other parts of the region, arrival has decreased,” Jigme Tshering said.

He also said that the cranes have now adapted to foraging in the farmlands, which would cause human-wildlife conflict in the future. “It, however, is an opportunity to promote crane-friendly or organic farming.”

To address the challenge, in the last three years, RSPN, in collaboration farmers of Bumdeling, Tashiyangtse restored degraded fields. The fields were left fallow in winter for cranes to feed on.

Currently, more than 300 acres of paddy field in Bumdeling were restored and fenced.

A BNC conservation action plan was also developed in collaboration with the forest department, which would bring coordination among the stakeholders to implement conservation activities.

The IUCN report, however, stated that the species’ threat will grow, specifically from feral dogs and human disturbance at breeding sites, and power line collisions and accidental poisoning events during migration and non-breeding season.

In 2014, the global population of BNC is estimated at 10,000-10,200 individuals, roughly an equivalent to 6,600-6,800 mature individuals. Recent counts suggest that numbers may be larger than published data. The current population trend is marked ‘stable’.

A channel to watch Chencho Gyeltshen

Mon, 01/11/2021 - 00:55

Staff Reporter 

Bhutanese football fans can now watch two Bhutanese football professionals, including Chencho Gyeltshen, in the I-League tournament in India on channel 1Sports. 

The channel was introduced by the multi-service operator (MSO) NetCom Bhutan Ltd last week. 

“The channel is an Indian-based premier sports channel which brings various sporting action from around the world,” a press release from NetCom Bhutan stated. 

The sports channel was approved by the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA). Currently, there are 56 TV channels in the country. 

NetCom Bhutan Ltd was established in November last year to acquire television channels and distribute the signal to all the local cable operators.