… by then vegetable markets in the zones would be complete
In two months, all vendors operating at the Centenary Farmers Market (CFM) in Thimphu will move out to their designated vegetable markets in various zones across the thromde.
CFM is identified as a high-risk area during the pandemic and the increasing urbanisation, and population density at the CFM remain significant issues increasing the burden on the city’s infrastructure.
Thimphu Thrompon, Kinlay Dorjee said that the decision to move vegetable vendors would decongest CFM, and allow the government to convert it into a commercial space which would not attract as much a crowd as CFM did.
Thimphu thromde is working on to relocate vendors of CFM to various zones and multi-level parking buildings.
On Sunday, around 200 vegetable vendors and around 150 local produce vendors participated in a lucky draw for the new locations in the zones. Vendors selling dairy products, dry fish, cereals and others would participate in the lucky draw for the new locations today.
The construction of new vegetable markets in zones is expected to complete within two months.
The thrompon said that considering the urgency of vegetable vendors to sell their goods; the thromde was working round the clock to ensure everything completes on time.
One market will be in Motithang above fuel station with space for about 40 vendors, two at Babesa – above and below expressway, and parking area above Changbangdu vegetable market.
The vendors who got the new locations – multi-level parking buildings would be able to begin selling their products from today. The vendors who got new areas at zones would be allowed to sell at CFM until the construction of vegetable markets in zones complete.
Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said that the size of vegetable markets at zones would depend on the space and population density.
“We are proposing to build another structure at Chang Gidaphu for about 16 vendors.”
The thrompon said that in zones with low population density, the thromde would build a few shops to ensure people had access to vegetables in case of a lockdown.
The vegetable markets at various zones will sell all the products which were available at the CFM. The thrompon said that there would not be wholesalers anymore and products would be procured from the dzongkhags in collaboration with the thromde, which would ensure all zones get the same quality and price of products.
“Unlike in the past, there would not be a hierarchy of supply chain, and the people would only have to bear transportation charges.”
Construction of the country’s first overhead bridge at Olakha in Thimphu is expected to resume next week after it remained suspended since the announcement of lockdown.
Thimphu Thrompon, Kinlay Dorjee said, “We lost the momentum and some labourers because of the lockdown.”
The expatriate labourers have returned home while few Bhutanese workers went to their village during the lockdown.
The contractor of the overhead bridge project will recruit some foreign workers while the Bhutanese workers will return after the blessed rainy day holiday.
The pedestrian bridge is being built to reduce road accidents and streamline traffic movement. “Overhead bridges will help the traffic flow and pedestrian safety,” said the thrompon.
The project is worth Nu 3 million.
However, the Covid-19 health safety protocol could increase the project cost. Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said, “The suspension of construction will not only push back the completion schedule but also increase the overhead cost of the project.”
If this project is successful, thromde plans to build some more overhead bridges along the Thimphu-Babesa expressway.
Thimphu thromde has identified a few strategic locations along the expressway. Places with high population density on both sides of the expressway and the school areas would be chosen.
For instance, an overhead bridge could be built near Dr Tobgyel School, in front of Shearee Square, near Changjiji school, Changbangdu, and near Deki School in Changzamtog.
“Such overhead bridges will allow schoolchildren to cross the road safely,” said Kinlay Dorjee.
The earthquake-resistant bridge will be 5.2 metres high, and 25 metres long and exhibit Bhutanese architecture.
The overpass bridge construction work which started in June is expected to end by December.
Good Governance Committee reviewing nomination
The government’s decision to nominate Tenzin Lekphel as the Secretary General (SG) of BIMSTEC has now come under the radar of the National Council.
The Good Governance Committee of the National Council has written to the foreign ministry seeking clarification on the criteria set for nominating the candidate from Bhutan, if the post was advertised in a transparent manner and if other candidates were also considered.
The letter addressed to the foreign secretary stated that, “In the interest of promoting good governance and upholding the values of democracy, the National Council, as the House of review felt the need to review the issue.” The NC directed its Good Governance Committee to write to the foreign ministry.
The Committee is also seeking details on the credentials of the past SGs of BIMSTEC and SAARC Secretariats, as the two positions are filed with nominations from member countries on a rotation basis.
A foreign ministry official confirmed receiving the letter, but said that they had not responded as of last evening. They have however, completed processing the nomination based on government directives. The 21st session of the BIMSTEC Senior Officials Meeting on September 2 has accepted the nomination of the candidate. It was Bhutan’s turn to nominate.
Kuensel learnt that there are no written criteria or minutes circulated among member countries for the appointment of BIMSTEC’s secretary general. A former BIMSTEC official said that while there is no set criteria, the general understanding is that member countries presumed the nominating country has identified and nominated “the most prominent public figure or the senior most bureaucrat or diplomat who served in the foreign ministry.”
“Since the SG has to interact with ambassadors not only from the member countries but also from around the world, he or she should be highly qualified and should have served as secretary, ambassador or even as a minister,” he said.
On the credentials of former BIMSTEC secretary generals, the People Democratic Party (PDP) in a press release issued on September 7, urged the government to review the nomination of its candidate. PDP stated that both the former secretary generals served as ambassadors and were experienced diplomats prior to their appointment.
The first SG of BIMSTEC, from August 2014 to September 2017, Sumith Nakandala of Sri Lanka served as ambassador of Sri Lanka to Nepal from 2006, Deputy High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to the UK from 2008, and ambassador of Sri Lanka to Iraq prior to his appointment.
The outgoing Secretary General, Shahidul Islam of Bangladesh, was the ambassador of Bangladesh to South Korea and France prior to his appointment as Secretary General. He has been appointed the next ambassador of Bangladesh to the United States.
“While Bhutan is not bound by practices of other countries in the nomination of our candidate for Secretary General of BIMSTEC, the nomination and appointment by Sri Lanka and Bangladesh of experienced diplomats and ambassadors as Secretary Generals of BIMSTEC speaks volumes on the importance attached to the role of the Secretary General,” PDP stated in its press release.
Meanwhile, Tenzin Lekphel is still an active member of the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa as of yesterday. An official from the Election Commission of Bhutan confirmed that Tenzin Lekphel, one of the founding members of DNT had not resigned.
Nima | Gelephu
Exporters in Gelephu are close to completing the ground development works for the stockyard near the industrial service centre that would be used for the export of aggregates soon.
The development of the site is carried out in consultation with the dzongkhag administration, Bhutan Export Association and National Resource Development Corporation Limited, among other relevant agencies.
Over 14 exporters have contributed for the development of the site as they prepare to resume the export of boulders that came to a halt since March.
An exporter from Gelephu, Chencho Gyeltshen, said the exporters came together to start developing the stockyard while the dzongkhag administration is working to complete the required formalities.
“The export market in India remains uncertain because of the lockdown. And only a few suppliers are willing to start the trade,” he said.
Exporters in collaboration with the dzongkhag taskforce and the relevant agencies resumed the export of boulders for one day before the nationwide lockdown was imposed last month.
Around six truckloads of boulders were exported that day.
“There was a high risk of getting exposed to the infection,” said Chencho Gyeltshen.
Once the stockyard development is completed, which is located below ISC along Sarpang-Gelephu highway, Bhutanese trucks will ship the gravels to the stockyard from the source.
Trucks from India will collect the aggregates from the stockyard that would be operated under the containment facility. Ground development for the site is almost complete and the works to build containment infrastructure are underway.
The development of over five-acre site began on September 2.
The exporters had submitted a proposal to the dzongkhag administration and the relevant agencies to develop the stockyard on the cost-sharing basis.
Programme officer with Bhutan export association, Guru Wangchuk, said stakeholders concerned are in the process of finalising the plan.
“Export of the boulders would be resumed immediately after the completion of the stockyard. Proper containment facility and health protocols would be developed,” he said.
Kuensel learned that the plan to develop stockyard on a cost-sharing basis would be jointly supported by the dzongkhag administration, National Resource Development Corporation Limited, Bhutan Chamber for Commerce and Industry, and BEA.
Guru Wangchuk said that the same SoPs followed in other southern dzongkhags for the export of boulders would be implemented in Gelephu too.
The stockyard is expected to solve problems faced by the exporters along the Indian highways.
Chencho Gyeltshen said that by allowing Indian trucks to carry aggregates from the stockyard, the problem concerning Bhutanese truckers on the Indian highway would be managed by themselves.
“Bhutanese truckers face unnecessary taxation and harassments along the way. And this would help both local and Indian counterparts involved in export business,” he said.
He added that there was no other option because it would be difficult for Bhutanese truckers to transport boulders during the lockdown. Resuming the export could take time.
A separate resting room for the drivers and weighbridge construction are being planned.
The total export of boulder last year doubled to Nu 4.9B from 2.1B in 2018. In 2017, boulder export value stood at Nu 690 million.
The air is not clear of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, but there is a lot of clarity emerging even as we find ways to fight the virus and its impact.
We are convinced that what we are going through is the normal. We have to fine-tune a way around the pandemic. One thing that is crystal clear is that the impact of the pandemic is going to stay. If there are no lockdowns, there will be restrictions unless a solution, in the form of a vaccine, is found.
The reality, like many realised, is that life has to go on with or without Covid-19. While we adapt to live with a pandemic, what we are also clear is that we are getting a better sight of our priorities. Take, for instance, import substitution. This is not an overnight thought. We have been talking about this for a very long time now. The only difference is we have had to wait for the pandemic to get us really working on it.
How do we substitute import as a landlocked country totally dependent goods and services from the neighbouring countries? There are so many things that we cannot produce. For instance, cars or computers. But the Covid-19 pandemic taught us what matters the most. When we were locked-down for nearly a month, we were after basic necessities. Everything else was secondary. What we needed was food and safety.
If we ran through the import list and the cost, the numbers are mind blowing—Nu 10.2 billion (B) worth of fossil fuel for a country known to be carbon neutral, Nu 1.5B of meat for a Buddhist country known to be against killing, Nu 2.3B for charcoal for a country known to be 72 percent forested. We import Nu 7B worth of rice almost every year.
There is something inherently and terribly wrong. The pandemic has opened our eyes. The focus of the government, even as it meets different sectors, is to look into import substitution and enhance export.
We have not looked into our potentials. In other words, we have not made the most of our strengths. To the world, Bhutan is known as a clean country, one of the few spared by the greed of commercialism. We boast about our snow fed rivers, the clean Himalayan air and the unpolluted soil. We call it brand Bhutan. How effectively are we making use of it?
Now is the time. There are other benefits like creating jobs for the thousands who suddenly lost their livelihoods or the thousands who are readying to join the workforce. Judging by the import figures, substituting even 50 percent of import would mean jobs, food, and sustainability.
There is a focus on local produce. It should transcend just the “Made in Bhutan” name. If we import all the ingredients and package or bottle it here, it is not made in Bhutan. It is an eyewash because it is cheaper and easier to import raw materials than using locally produced goods.
At the same time, the name local, in our context, means expensive. Whether it is vegetable, cereal or meat, everything is beyond the reach of most Bhutanese. This drives people to buy imported goods, which is by far cheaper.
How do we make locals buy local produce? How do we encourage competitiveness among growers and sellers? Most important of it all, how do we make the whole initiative sustainable?
There are more questions than answers.
In the last three and a half months, about 4,600 Bhutanese had joined Coursera, a worldwide online learning platform founded in 2012 that offers massive open online courses (MOOC), specialisations, degrees, professional and master track courses.
Through this collaborative programme, the labour ministry’s employment and human resources department strives to skill job seekers and workforce who are affected by the pandemic.
The learners took close to 46,000 online lessons from about 500 Coursera courses.
Popular courses that learners enrolled themselves in are computer science, business, information technology, language and data science, among others.
Most Bhutanese had enrolled in Python Programming, followed by excel skills for business.
Also, courses such as professional English writing, introduction to web development, and data analysis had higher number of enrolment.
Kinley Choden, a university graduate, said that she completed a course on technical support fundamentals under information technology course domain.
She said: “In this ‘fast-pacing’ digital world, the information technology’s (IT) components are changing. I took the course to keep a similar pace.”
The course taught her to troubleshoot and learn about common issues in electronic gadgets, she said.
The labour ministry’s chief programme officer, Tenzin Choden, said that the number of participants increased during the lockdown.
She said: “Through online learning, the unemployed participants will be able to increase their chances of getting gainful employment based on the knowledge and skills acquired.”
Neha Powrel, 23, said that she took a course on climate change mitigation in developing countries through the programme. “The online learning helped me learn beyond the classroom walls. It is also safer in the current situation.”
According to the learners’ feedback, 63.1 percent of learners rated the learning experience as excellent. The learning experience was rated poor by 1.9 percent.
The feedback shows that 98.1 percent of respondents were interested to continue online courses in the future. More than 300 respondents said that the high internet cost was an issue while taking the online course.
Majority of the respondents said that the objective of taking the online courses was for personal development. Learning skills to do better in a job and getting competent in the area of interests were other objectives for enrolling in Coursera.
Thinley, a university student, said that she completed more than 10 courses through the programme. She enrolled in courses such as contact tracing, Covid-19 science matters and animal welfare.
“Through the programme, I got access to various courses and recognitions,” she said.
Tenzin Choden said that labour ministry was exploring learning and skilling initiative on other online platforms such as Udemy and Skillshare.
Nim Dorji | Trongsa
The people of Bembji in Trongsa are busy drying thingye (Sichuan pepper).
The pepper is usually harvested in the sixth month of the Bhutanese calendar. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the people there have not seen buyers.
Sonam Choden, a farmer, said the people did not have to go look for buyers. “It’s a different story this year.”
She has piled up sacks full of pepper in a corner of her house.
Every year, each household in Bembji makes at least Nu 10,000 by selling the pepper, which is one of the principal sources of income for many.
Each household has more than five bags of pepper.
“Without no buyer coming, I am worried,” said Sonam.
The pepper is sold at Nu 600 per kilogram.
The villagers say that they harvest the pepper from young trees; older the tree, the lesser the yield.
The highland dairy products shop in Thimphu, which was opened in July by a youth group from Sakteng in collaboration with National Highland Research Development Programme, is progressing well.
Since April, this youth group bought around 2,786kg of zoetey (fermented cheese) and around 1,720kg of butter from their locality, which has benefited the people who faced difficulty in marketing dairy products amid Covid-19 pandemic.
Located at Sangay Sales building near the vegetable market in Olakha, the shop is run by five men including three university graduates and two drivers who work with tour companies.
One of the group members, Pema Khandu, said that the shop was getting customers. “We could sell a minimum of 15kg of butter and 5-6kg of zoetey daily.” The group also provides door-to-door service within the thromde area in Thimphu.
The group is looking to collect dairy products from other communities.
During the nationwide lockdown, the group bought 10,000 balls of cheese and 500kg of butter from the localities of Haa, Gasa, and Wangdue. Moreover, the group also bought 500kg of butter from the people of Merak last month.
Pema Khandu said that the group tried to buy the products from other highland communities but it’s expensive. “For example, highland communities of Haa charges Nu 700 for 1kg of butter. We pay only Nu 280 each for 1kg of zoetey and butter from Sakteng.”
So far, the group spent around Nu 1.8 million, including the cost of products, transportation charges and the monthly rent of Nu 32,000.
As of yesterday, the group had 600kg of zoetey and 100kg of butter in the stock.
Phuntsho Wangdi, a group member, said that the group might be able to further improve their sells with facilities such as packaging, drying and grinding machine, and cold storage.
The group is paying Nu 32,000 for a bolero pickup truck and Nu 40,000 for a DCM truck as transportation charges to bring products from Sakteng.
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
Farmers of Jangphutse in Trashiyangtse have reasons to be happy with the border closure.
Before the border shut in March, they sold potatoes to Tawang, a neighbouring village across the border in Arunachal Pradesh.
A kilogram of large red potatoes fetched Nu 34.15 while the medium-sized potatoes earned Nu 22 a kg.
Last year, the farmers got Nu 25 to Nu 30 for a kg of red potatoes for the large and medium ones.
Residents carry the potatoes on their back while some use horses.
Thukten Lhaden, a mother of four, said that she used to take potatoes five times a day till the border and transport to Tawang.
With the border closed now, villagers are transporting all potatoes to gewog centre. It is the first time that they are selling potatoes to traders at home.
“I harvested 200 bags (one bag weighs 50 kg) last year and earned well,” said Thukten Lhaden. “I expect to earn more this year as the price is better,” she added.
People do not carry all farm produce to Doksum because of the challenges they face while moving everything on their back.
A villager, Tshewang Dorji said it is easy to transport all products across the border, because of access road till border.
“With the border closed today, it is a challenge to carry potatoes on horseback downhill,” he said. “Although we face difficulties, we’re happy that the price is better than what we get from across the border.”
He said they set off early 4am from home and arrive at the gewog centre at around 9.30am. About 50 to 60 horses transported potatoes daily.
“With the border closed, we have no choice but to carry potatoes downhill, taking risks on narrow tracks,” said Dorji, a villager from Jangphu. “I am happy that the hard work of my family has been rewarded with good returns.”
He said with hardship to carry potatoes, and other farm products to Doksum, people easily export them to Tawang and sell at a cheaper rate.
Another villager, Tashi said with a fair price this year he got double what he got in Tawang last year.
“When the price is good, it encourages farmers like us to work more,” he said. “It would help us cultivate more potatoes in the future if the rate doesn’t drop.”
He said that they take around five hours to reach the gewog centre from Jangphutse carrying potatoes on their back. “Because of the hardship, most of the farmers sell agricultural produce to Tawang.”
One of the villagers said calculating all pony charges they are at a loss for carrying potatoes down to the gewog Centre. “We usually get Nu 300 per horse, but they are giving around Nu 150 as pony charges.”
Trashiyangtse dzongkhag administration and Agriculture Marketing and Co-operative regional office in Mongar facilitate farmers to sell potatoes, and farm produce.
Meanwhile, 25 metric tons of potatoes were sold and 25 more metric tonnes of potatoes were collected as of yesterday. The government agreed to bear 50 percent of pony charges while transporting potatoes from Jangphutse.
Dzongkhag agriculture officer Kuezang Peldon said last year about 90 metric tons of potatoes were produced from Jangphutse and Om ba village.
“We are supporting them like other farmers in construction of irrigation canal, seeds, machinery and among others.”
In discussion with health ministry on duration of mandatory quarantine
Yangchen C Rinzin
With strict restrictions on travel where travellers will be put under the 21-day mandatory quarantine, the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) is exploring options and discussing with the technical advisory group (TAG) of the health ministry to ease the restrictions.
As tourism is the hardest hit and the 21-day mandatory quarantine is seen as a big hurdle, the council has approached the TAG to either do away with the quarantine or reduce the number to about three days.
TCB director general Dorji Dhradhul said TCB is exploring to use the “bubble” tourism or let local tour companies come up with travel options. Bubble tourism, also known as green lanes, travel corridors, and corona corridors, is essentially an exclusive travel partnership between two or more countries that have demonstrated considerable success in containing and combating the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dorji Dhradhul said for the bubble tourism, countries will agree on special travel arrangements by opening up borders and allowing their people to travel free in their countries without having to undergo mandatory on-arrival quarantine.
“The concept cannot be implemented by one single country. Even if we decide to go ahead with bubble tourism, we cannot do it without a partner country agreeing to it or without the approval of the government.”
The director general added that TCB is working with relevant experts to come up with options that are more convenient for everyone.
“Tourism was the hardest hit sector by the Covid-19 pandemic globally, and tourism could be the slowest to recover post-Covid-19,” he said. “The pandemic has unprecedentedly prioritised health and wellbeing, so this would force the prospective tourists to decide where to travel and contribute to the slow recovery of tourism.”
However, it is also believed that travel could boom immediately when tourism re-opens due to the long period of restrictions on the entry of tourists.
“So, our way forward plan is to see how best we can adapt to the new normal,” he said. TCB has already started preparatory works such as capacity building, tourist sites, infrastructure improvements, and digitisation of services, among others.
The director general added that TCB at least hopes these options would give the industry the much-needed hope regardless of how many would visit the country. “This would also convey to our overseas tourism partners and prospective tourists that Bhutan is exploring ways to re-open despite difficulties.”
Dorji Dhradhul said that all these options and plans are being prepared with the sole objective to help stakeholders such as people working in hotels, village homestays, restaurants, tour operators, handicrafts, and tour guides.
Meanwhile, TCB is also working on developing domestic tourism with a focus on a new product known as “Druk Neykhor” or “Bhutan Pilgrimage” and the “Trans Bhutan Trail,” the 400 plus km trail connecting Bhutan from east to west via the traditional route. “However, it might take a while to make a significant economic impact,” the director general said.
The director general, however, said that Bhutan’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has already received a lot of positive coverage from international media, and this would help make Bhutan a destination to travel. “However, what would actually happen to depend on how the rest of the world and our source market countries react.”
Tourism has remained closed since the first Covid-19 case was detected in March. TCB has foregone revenue to the extent of more than 90 percent of the 2019 figures where tourism generated USD 345 million(M), USD 88M of foreign exchange earnings, and USD 23M from direct revenue contribution from about 315,599 tourists.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Around 1,408 Class IX to Class XII students of four schools in Phuentsholing, including one private school are expected to leave for their new schools in Punakha, Wangdue and Dorokha in Samtse starting today.
They have sat for Covid-19 tests yesterday. Results are expected early morning today.
Should everything go as per the plan, 826 students from Phuentsholing HSS (PHSS) and Norbu Academy will leave today. About 36 teachers from PHSS and 27 from Norbu Academy will accompany the students.
Buses, boleros and trucks have been arranged from both Phuentsholing and Thimphu to drop the students and teachers.
About 19 buses will take 561 PHSS students to Punakha and Wangdue, while separate three buses, a bolero and a truck have been arranged for carrying their luggage.
The 265 students of Norbu Academy will be taken to Dorokha in 11 buses.
The next batch of 582 students from Phuentsholing MSS and Sonamgang MSS will be taken tomorrow.
The education ministry recently announced that a total of 1,580 students from these schools in the bordering town will be relocated. However, this figure is the total number of students in six schools in Phuentsholing.
Students from two schools, Chumithang MSS and Yonten Kuenjung Academy will not be relocated as these schools are outside Phuentsholing town and can be managed.
Meanwhile, students from PHSS, PMSS and SMSS will be relocated at Punakha and Wangdue in Shengana Lower Secondary School (LSS), Thinleygang Primary School (PS), and Kuruthang Middle Secondary School (MSS). In Wangdue, students will be relocated at Wangdue PS.
Yesterday, hundreds of students and their parents came out in the town for shopping. The task force had given yesterday as an extra day for shopping as many students were unable to shop on the first day on September 12.
Initially, only a few identified shops were allowed to open for students to shop but more shops were allowed yesterday, including garments shops.
A class XI student Dawa of Norbu Academy said, “Studying from home wasn’t effective as studying from campus,” he said.
“There are families at home and disturbances. It is totally different studying at home.”
Yesterday, Dawa had bought a fresh set of mattress, bed sheets, pillows, and toiletries.
Sangay Norbu, who is sending his son to Khuruthang, said, “Relocation is the best decision.”
On their journey to school, students will have to carry their own packed meals as they will not be allowed to buy on the way. All other safety protocols have to be followed.
After reaching to their respective schools, students and teachers will have to undergo a week in quarantine within their respective schools.
Meanwhile, Phuentsholing residents have been allowed to move without movement permits until 7pm since September 11. From today, the third phase of lockdown relaxation begins.
Movement of public transport (taxis and city buses) will be allowed from today at half passenger capacity.
However, public gathering or outdoor activities like picnics, hiking, or visiting spiritual sites are not allowed.
During the third phase, shops that cater to electronic services, printing and furniture will also be allowed to operate. Those with higher risks such as barbershops, non-essential shops such as garments and footwear shops will not be allowed.
During the fourth phase, which starts from September 17 until September 19, the movement of private vehicles will be allowed. All government offices will also be opened during this time.
Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha
The four schools in Wangdue and Punakha are set to welcome 1,111 students from Phuentsholing and their teachers and supporting staff.
The students will arrive on September 14 and 15.
The preparations began immediately after the government announced the relocation of 1,580 students from Phuentsholing to schools in Punakha, Wangdue, and Samtse.
In Punakha, Thinleygang Primary School, Shengana LSS, and Khuruthang MSS were identified to accommodate 986 students, teachers, and supporting staff from Phuentsholing MSS, Phuentsholing HSS and Sonamgang MSS in Phuentsholing.
Of 986, Thinleygang PS will accommodate 353, Shengana LSS 242 and Khuruthang MSS 391. Family members of a few teachers and supporting staff accompanying them to Punakha and Wangdue will also be provided accommodation.
Punakha’s Chief Dzongkhag Education Officer (CDEO) Lemo said that while the teachers, supporting staff and students could be accommodated in the Thinleygang PS and Shengana LSS as classes haven’t begun for lower grades, around 120 class IX and X students from Khuruthang MSS would resume their classes at Punakha Central School.
She added that the students from Khuruthang MSS would continue to be day-scholars and would be provided bus services.
“It’s to provide comfortable space for the students from Phuentsholing and also for their safety.”
Since the dzongkhag received the information to relocate the students, mattress, pillows and cooking utensils were collected from schools with boarding facilities.
Thinleygang PS and Shengana LSS didn’t require these items as they have boarding facilities.
Until yesterday, teachers, supporting staff of the schools and dzongkhag staff were preparing kitchens, securing essential items, and doing electrical and plumbing work at Khuruthang MSS.
Without boarding facilities, showerheads in bathrooms and electrification of certain areas were required in the school.
Lemo said that cooks were also identified to cook for those coming from Phuentsholing. “Many students coming from Phuentsholing might not have stayed in boarding school in the past, they are leaving behind their families, their comfort zone, and they are coming from urban areas, so we trying to provide our best.”
In Wangdue, Wangdue Primary School will accommodate 202 class IX and X students and 12 teachers and supporting staff from Phuentsholing HSS.
Wangdue’s CDEO Pema Dorji said that cooking utensils, mattress and pillows were collected from schools with boarding facilities in Wangdue.
Apart from gathering these items, teachers and supporting staff in Wangdue built a kitchen in Wangdue PS as the school only caters to day-scholars.
Pema Dorji said that the dzongkhag had been notified to use the budget from the school-feeding programmes to buy perishable items for those coming from Phuentsholing.
Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) will provide the essential items.
All students and teachers are expected to follow at least a week’s quarantine period for safety.
The Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) during the lockdown received about 100 calls from consumers complaining about the price hike, denial of sales or services, sale of expired products, inappropriate product labelling and underweight products, among others.
After the first positive case of Covid-19 in the country, OCP nominated market-monitoring team in all the dzongkhags. The team was given virtual training on consumer responsibilities. OCP also developed Standard Operation Procedures and guidelines.
OCP’s director, Sonam Tenzin, said, “The OCP’s market-monitoring team in collaboration with relevant agencies carries out surveillance on the presence of underweight and expiry products, bulk purchase and hoarding by consumers, and other unfair trade practices.”
OCP ensured the protection of the economy and health safety of individuals, he said.
The pandemic has affected many; some are living on their savings or daily wages. If these people are served with expired products or if they are given underweight products, then their hard-earned money is not equated with the products they bought, he says.
“At the national level, the free medical facilities in the country are pressurised. The productivity of consumers are affected and they will not be able to contribute to the growth of the economy,” he said.
Kezang Wangmo, 24, a corporate employee, said that after drinking packaged milk she suffered from diarrhoea. Some home delivery services delivered rotten chicken, she added.
Also, social media was flooded with aggrieved customers receiving underweight items or the hiked prices of commodities during the lockdown.
Chief programme officer of OCP, Jigme Dorji, said that advertisement to lure customers through false information was a form of deceptive trade practice.
He said that all consumers are considered vulnerable. “Consumers are considered vulnerable because, in unprecedented times like this, the trade activities are increasing. Businesses are trying to exploit the consumers so there is a need for consumer protection.”
Moreover, the growth of the digital economy created a digital divide and the vulnerability of consumers was further widened, he said.
Jigme Dorji said that when a complaint is received, the consumer is asked to produce receipts.
“First, we see the nature of the complaint. If it is related to expiry products, leveraging on agencies like Bhutan Agriculture and Food Authority or Drug Regulatory Authority the products are disposed of,” he said.
During the lockdown, if the complaint was on price escalation, the price of the product was compared to the Market Price Information (MPI)—the prevailing price in the market—on essential goods, he said.
Issues which are not resolved after mediation between the consumer and business entity are taken up to the management committee. If the issue is not resolved then the dispute settlement committee intervenes.
OCP created animations and infographics to advocate on consumers’ rights and duties. Business entities were advised on after-sales services such as guarantee and warranty. Guidelines for saloon services and other services were developed by OCP to ensure consumer protection.
OCP’s objective was to educate consumers and make them smart consumers, Sonam Tenzin said. “If we have smart consumers then shopkeepers will not conduct unfair trade practices. Currently, shopkeepers drive the market, we have to change the dynamic and the change can be achieved only if we empower the consumers.”
To ensure one is safe from unfair trade practices performed by the business entities, consumers must be aware of their consumer rights and responsibilities, Jigme Dorji said. “Be informed of the trade practices in the market. Check if products sold in the market are genuine and compare prices in the market with the MPI.”
Sonam Tenzin said: “In unusual times like this business entities should not take advantage of the situation but conduct ethical business as a form of public service.”
OCP was established in 2014 as per the Consumer Protection Act 2012.
For Bhutan, there is no looking back. We may have torn down the many bridges behind us, but we did it with full knowledge of what lies ahead of us. It is going to be a testing journey, yes, but the nation and the people together will face the adversity with determination and valour unprecedented.
All these challenges call us to look inward urgently. Nations and governments are failing to deal with the threat of Covid-19. Even the big and strong economies of the world have been brought to their knees. The Bhutan story is different because we are compelled to face myriad challenges with limited recourses. But then, even as the nation and people together—led by His Majesty The King was fully prepared to face the worse that the pandemic could unleash upon us—we saw how we could fall by far short.
Moving on, we can only imagine the kinds of threat and burden on the people. How better can we manage herefrom? There are loopholes aplenty. Communication, or rather the lack of it, is one. When lockdown happened in the wee hours of August 11, the nation almost came to standstill. The many agencies and organisations were found to be duplicating the critical services, leading to needless disruptions. There was the lesson.
But the nation must think beyond small and immediate problems because it is often the challenges lying in wait that bring us the most uncomfortable situations later. The economy has been hurt badly. There is no better way to put it. But then, there is the opportunity that has not been harnessed—the power, energy, and dynamism of youth. It was a different story before the pandemic. The new normal is come and this means the need to brace for new hurdles along the way. The same refrain is unacceptable.
The pandemic might force us to keep inside and small as we are, but how are we rising to this particular challenge? Blame it on the young people? We can’t. Do we then blame it on parents? That’s not fair. Do we lay the blame on the education system? A far cry. The policies and the lawmakers? It is hoped that they are all ears.
The lack of planning is our biggest lesson. Where the people must be fed, the agriculture development and its many linkages must come in bold and flawlessly. Where the country’s economy must grow, the power and the energy of the nation’s young people must be harnessed.
It is one nation, one people. We tackle the problems together.
The ultimate question is: How far have we come? By honest measure, we have a long way to go and it is going to be a hard ride ahead.
FAO has elaborated a comprehensive Response and Recovery Programme to overcome the impacts of Covid-19 through up-scaled and robust international collaboration
As the impacts of Covid-19 take their toll on human health and well-being around the world, the imperative of producing and ensuring access to healthy food for each and every one of us must not be overlooked. The food systems that must give daily sustenance to all humans are under threat. If we want to avoid what could be the worst food crisis in modern history, we need robust and strategic international cooperation at an extraordinary scale.
Even before the pandemic, global food systems and food security were strained by many factors, including pests, poverty, conflicts and the impacts of climate change. According to the latest FAO report on The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, in 2019 close to 690 million – or nearly one in ten people in the world – were hungry. The Covid-19 pandemic could push an additional 130 million people worldwide into chronic hunger by the end of 2020. Furthermore, in 2019 three billion people did not have access to healthy diets and suffered from other forms of malnutrition.
Due to the pandemic and related containment measures, we have already experienced disruptions in global food supply chains, labour shortages and lost harvests. Now we are seeing a delayed planting season. Around 4.5 billion people depend on food systems for their jobs and livelihoods, working to produce, collect, store, process, transport and distribute food to consumers, as well as to feed themselves and their families. The pandemic has put 35 percent of food system employment at risk, impacting women at an even higher rate.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has actively supported countries and farmers to work on scalable and sustainable solutions. This forms the basis of the comprehensive FAO Covid-19 Response and Recovery Programme, which identifies seven priority areas for action. However, to catalyse and build upon these solutions, a business as usual approach will not suffice. The following three strategic shifts must guide our collective response.
First, we need better data for better decision-making
Timely and effective responses depend upon knowing exactly where and when support is needed, as well as how that support can be implemented best. This means up-scaling work on data, information and analysis, and taking a bottom-up approach.
FAO is rapidly adapting and enhancing data collection methods at the country, regional and global levels, as data collection processes have been disrupted by physical distancing measures to contain the pandemic. For instance, FAO has recently released the FAO Data Lab to bring real time data on food prices and sentiment analysis. We have also developed the Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform which brings more than 1 million geospatial layers to help prioritise interventions within countries.
Second, we must dramatically increase the synergy of our collective actions
The COVID-19 crisis calls for us to act in unison like never before, particularly on promoting economic inclusion, agricultural trade, sustainable and resilient food systems, preventing future animal-to-human disease outbreaks and ensuring coordinated humanitarian action.
The pandemic is already generating an unprecedented impact on global and regional trade, with world merchandise trade in 2020 expected to fall by as much as 32 percent, according to WTO. Unlike any other food or health crisis in modern times, the impacts of COVID-19 are causing supply and demand shocks at a national, regional and global level, leading to immediate and longer-term risks for food production and availability. We need to ensure the compliance of trade requirements and improve efficiency in moving goods across borders.
The prevention of future animal-to-human disease outbreaks requires coordination between stakeholders from all relevant sectors. FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO) have strengthened the Joint FAO/WHO Centre. This Centre unites expertise on zoonotic diseases from FAO, WHO and other global partners and coordination mechanisms, to build national capacities to predict, prevent and control zoonotic threats.
An effective response also calls for joint humanitarian action, particularly to improve the livelihoods of vulnerable smallholder and family farmers. We must thoughtfully and adequately increase collaboration and partnerships among and between United Nations’ entities, the private sector, civil society and key local actors.
Third, we must accelerate innovation
New investment strategies, digital technology and infrastructure innovation are essential to obtaining better data, increasing efficiency in food production and providing market access. In this regard, there are many solutions from the private sector that could be of great use to governments and international organizations, which can fine-tune their methods based on the private sector’s innovation-centric, results-oriented approach.
The prevention of food crises cannot wait until the health crisis is over. FAO is placing its convening power, real-time data, early warning systems and technical expertise at the world’s disposal. Together, we can help the most vulnerable, prevent further crises, increase resilience to shocks and accelerate the rebuilding of our food systems. To build back better.
Contributed by QU Dongyu,
Director-General of Food and Agriculture
Organization of the United Nations
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
A basic skills learner labourer at the Wangdue construction, today earns Nu 421 a day. This is an increase from Nu 351 as Zorig chusum allowance (skills allowance) since August.
The government approved the revised allowance as finding workers and retaining them at the Wangdue dzong reconstruction project became increasingly difficult.
Similarly, wages increased from Nu 457 per day from Nu 381 for grade three workers; Nu 515 from Nu 429 for grade two workers; and Nu 583 from Nu 486 per day for grade one workers. Workers of the three grades vary in their level of skills.
Until August this year, workers were entitled to 50 percent Zorig chusum allowance, which now has been increased to 80 percent. The Zorig chusum allowance was last reviewed in October 2015.
According to Project Director Kinley Wangchuk, for casual labourers (unskilled workers) who aren’t entitled to Zorig chusum allowance, daily wage has been increased to Nu 280 from Nu 215.
He added that in addition to the increase in the allowance, unskilled workers were eligible to be promoted to category four within three to six months’ provision period.
“Earlier it took around one or two years.”
The provision period is to monitor a worker’s working ethics, sincerity, and their capabilities. “We cannot judge a worker in the beginning. Some just work in the beginning and then stop coming to work,” Kinley Wangchuk said.
Despite the revision, the pay is still less compared to what is offered at private construction sites.
A grade one worker, who receives a revised pay of Nu 583 a day at the project would get more than Nu 700 working at a private firm.
However, a mason at the project, Chador said that with free accommodation from the project and the increased pay, the benefits were almost equal.
He added that at the project, employees didn’t work during government holidays. The workers also didn’t have to bear travel expenses as their camps were near the project site.
“Workers have been requesting a pay raise for a while. Now many workers who left earlier also want to return,” Chador said.
With the increase in pay, the project management had also requested for increments for employees with more than 10 years experience.
Kinley Wangchuk said that increment of Nu 50 per day for workers with more than 10 years experience, Nu 150 for those with 20 years experience and Nu 300 for those with 30 years experience were proposed. However, the Cabinet didn’t approve the proposal.
The workers at the project are not entitled to pension or provident fund after retirement.
“When the project completes, workers have to leave with their last month’s pay to look for another work,” Kinley Wangchuk said.
Today, the project has recruited five new workers.
With the completion of the ground floor of the middle courtyard, the project is expected to find more work. Hence, the project will announce additional 30 vacancies.
The project has spent Nu 726 million (M) of Nu 1 billion budget and completed around 77.5 percent of the construction work.
Despite the lockdown, work at the project began on August 26 with the project following Covid-19 health safety protocols.
The project director said that the project had already secured hardware materials, and raw materials like mud, timber and stones.
He added that the hardware materials, which were imported, would last until December this year.
Today, project management has asked the Department of Culture to secure additional hardware materials.
While stones and mud for construction would last until the completion of the project, work to secure timber from Bumthang is in progress. “Supply of timber is ready from Chamkhar, Bumthang,” Kinley Wangchuk said.
The project is expected to complete in 2022 if work continues without hindrance.
Vegetable vendors of the Centenary Farmers Market (CFM) will start selling vegetables from different areas of the city. Following a notification, on Friday, from the Prime Minister’s Office stating that the CFM would remain closed, Thimphu thromde is working to place vegetable vendors in zones identified during the lockdown and the two multi-level parking buildings.
Vendors took part in a “lucky draw” yesterday for the new locations where they would be vending from. Vegetable vendors at the CFM were out of business since the nationwide lockdown. The vendors said that they were worried when the CFM was not allowed to open after the relaxation of lockdown.
Most vegetable vendors wished for a place in the town and some walked out from the National Land Commission (NLC) Office, where the “lucky draw’ was held, disappointed with their luck.
Tshering Yangzom who has been in the vegetable business since she was 12 said that she would lose her regular customers and selling at Babesa was like telling her to leave her home- CFM. She got Babesa during the draw.
Another vendor said that she prayed to get a good location. Her prayers were answered. “When I opened the paper, it said in one of the multi-level parking buildings. I was happy I got the zone I wished for,” she said.
Vendor Punam didn’t want to risk her chance. She volunteered to go to Changbangdu when officials asked if anybody wanted to go to Changbangdu. She said, “I thought Changbangdu is a better location than picking a paper which would force me to go to Serbithang.” Serbithang is also one of the zones included in the zonation.
Those who got areas far away from the town were left disappointed. Some got Serbithang, which many said didn’t make sense to include in the zonation. Ashamriya Rai, who sells only local produce, said that on average she sold between Nu 4,000 and Nu 5,000 every day from the CFM. “It is hard to imagine making a livelihood out of selling vegetables if we are placed in a blind spot of the town,” she said. “Will the thromde ask people to shop only from their zone? This would help vendors.”
Residents in Thimphu can purchase tobacco products from the various identified outlets in different zones from today.
Bhutan Duty-Free Ltd. (BDFL) decided to distribute the tobacco products to the shops identified as outlets after buyers overcrowded its main outlet at Chubachu, creating a chaotic situation on September 11.
De-Suups and police patrolling team struggled to enforce physical distancing, while the BDFL outlet closed before lunch leaving many disgruntled.
Some desperate consumers claimed that they were at the outlet as early as 5am although the outlet opens at 9:30am. More than 800 people gathered at the tobacco outlet that day.
BDFL sold tobacco products only to those with tokens to encourage people to queue up instead of crowding. Some days, BDFL issued as many as 500 tokens. But the customers increased each day.
BDFL opened three counters to address the overcrowding. But the situation continued to worsen.
One of the consumers said that she reached the outlet at 6am. She said that there were only eight people before her.
She said, “I came here yesterday too. I am not happy as I lost my place in the line because people started rushing and pushing.”
Another consumer claimed that he walked from Taba to buy Baba (chewing tobacco). But he was chased away as the outlet closed its counter before time. He said that he would pitch a tent near the outlet to get his share if allowed.
A De-Suup on duty at BDFL tobacco outlet said that people became aggressive, and it was challenging to manage the crowd.
Some at the outlet said that most of the buyers were shopkeepers who brought all of their family members to buy cheap tobacco products.
The shopkeepers brought their non-consumer relatives and friends, even underage youth and elderlies above the age of 60. “They are hoarding,” an official said.
People were misusing the identity cards of others to get more tobacco products, some customers alleged.
“Shopkeepers pay Nu 150 for a dozen of Baba at the tobacco outlet and later sell each packet for Nu 250. It’s an unfair price,” said a consumer.
Customers are urged to follow Covid-19 protocol and follow the outsourcing guidelines for fair distribution and to avoid such unpleasant incidents in future.
PT Tshongkhang at Changzamtok zone ran out of tobacco products on Saturday. All the zone outlets will restock tobacco products on Monday.
Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
A 25-year-old woman tested positive for Covid-19 during the mass screening in Samdrupjongkhar on September 12.
The woman stays at the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) colony with her parents. While the mother has tested negative on the RT-PCR, the results for her father and other contacts are awaited.
According to health officials, the 25-year-old maintained that apart from her parents, she had no other contacts. Also, the woman shared that she had no recent travel history in the past three months. Her father, a policeman, frequently attended duty.
Her two primary contacts, her parents, had contact with about 15 people within the colony. All the secondary contacts were placed under home quarantine.
The health officials will conduct the RT-PCR test for the entire RBP officials and families today.
Meanwhile, officials said that the boyfriend of the index case the 18-year-old woman resided in the same RBP colony.
“Neither of them has revealed having any contact with each other,” said an official, adding that the patient would be referred to the isolation centre in Mongar soon.
The incident commander of the dzongkhag, Tharchin Lhuendup, said that the task force had stopped all movements in the four zones identified in the thromde since yesterday. However, the movement in the town would resume based on the situations.
Samdrupjongkhar dzongdag said that import of the essential items continued following Covid-19 safety measures.
“But entry and exit of vehicles from Samdrupjongkhar are temporarily restricted until the completion of the contact-tracing procedure.”
Meanwhile, health officials screened 1,343 individuals in the thromde on the first day. All tested negative during the RT-PCR test. About 917 samples were collected on the second day from where the 25-year-old tested positive.
Last month, the threat of the pandemic became very real for Bhutan when the first COVID-19 cases were detected outside the quarantine facilities. It was extremely worrying to find several positive cases, in more than one place. Those who contracted the virus and their loved ones have suffered a great deal of anxiety.
A nationwide lockdown was introduced with immediate effect to contain the virus. The entire population had to stay home for weeks, stopping work, losing income, and running out of food and essentials. Yet, our people fully understood the magnitude of the threat we face, and willingly endured the discomfort and hardship, extending their wholehearted support to the government. I thank our people for being concerned about the collective good and showing exceptional forbearance and resilience.
We closed our international borders in March. But, in the following months, there has been no sign that the COVID-19 pandemic will end. It has continued to spread; bringing illness, death, and distress to so many people around the world. In comparison, we were able to lead reasonably normal lives in Bhutan with some disruptions caused by just a few cases. The government, led by the Prime Minister, Dr. Lotay Tshering, has worked tirelessly over the past six months. Many public servants have put in long hours of work. Health Minister Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo, the health ministry– secretary, doctors, nurses, technicians, and other health workers – have been serving without even a day’s rest. The armed forces – RBA, RBP and RBG – supported by Desuups and numerous other volunteers, have served with inexhaustible strength and energy. Most importantly, their work has been strengthened by the unwavering sense of civic duty of the people. All these efforts have culminated in our success so far.
What we do next is critical. The road ahead will be arduous. The enemy that we are confronting is invisible. But we cannot afford to allow COVID-19 to spread unchecked among the population. It is a new virus and, therefore, still unpredictable. Our priority will always be the health and wellbeing of our people. We will continue to do everything to ensure that lives are not put at risk.
As we battle the pandemic, we need to be aware that it will not disappear in a matter of months – we have to brace ourselves to deal with the impact of the pandemic for the next year or two. We need a cure or a vaccine to see an end to COVID-19. There will undoubtedly be a vaccine, but it will take some time before it is ready, and some more time before it becomes widely accessible. All our planning, at both the individual and national levels, must be based on this fact.
The pandemic and its ramifications have posed some debilitating challenges. Education has been interrupted this year. The national development process, economic activity, and the everyday lives of the people have been disrupted. When I look ahead, I see a period that will be fraught with difficulties for our people.
At the same time, however, I am confident that we will overcome this. All our national resources, accumulated over the years through the hard work of our Kings and ancestors, our national assets, the collective capability of our institutions, the knowledge and experience of our public servants, and the dedication and stamina of our people, are being utilised today.
Indeed, an enormous responsibility faces us all – the King, the government, and the people. As in the past, if we think and act as one, and exert our concerted efforts, we will surely overcome every obstacle and prevail against all odds.
Although we were confronted by unforeseen challenges this year, everyone has been outstanding in performing their services. We have come together and made sure that the national machinery is functioning well. This was possible because of the immense love and dedication that our people have for our country. Our commitment to the wellbeing of our fellow Bhutanese was clearly evident in the hard work, and what we have accomplished in the past six months.
Moving forward, to further build on our achievements, we must now muster the active involvement and support of our youth. Demographically, we have a large proportion of young people who can make a significant difference if given the opportunity. The youth of Bhutan embody vigour and energy, and they are ready to serve without fear or hesitation when needed. I am always profoundly heartened when I hear their aspirations and see their enthusiasm.
During such times, our most crucial national endeavour is to ensure the continued wellbeing of our people. One major challenge we face today is the shortage of workforce. Understandably, expatriate workers wish to return to their homes during the pandemic, and many have already left. It is up to Bhutanese citizens, therefore, to step in and serve wherever there are shortfalls. In a sense, this is a timely opportunity. At a time when our youth are ready to serve, we can translate this prospect into reality for the long-term benefit of the nation, and achieve the extraordinary.
When we place such a mandate on our youth, we have to be, first of all, clear about precisely what we expect. Secondly, the task that we give them should be timeless and of such national importance that it will inspire and motivate them. And finally, what we ask of them must be pragmatic and achievable given the limitations of the current situation.
For example, Bhutan has abundant water resources compared with most of the countries in the world. Yet, there is no water in many places where it is needed, leaving large tracts of productive land fallow. Water is also a cause of conflict between communities and a predicament for rural and urban settlements alike. Our food import in the past year was over Nu. 7 billion while about 78,000 acres of arable land remained fallow.
An estimated half of the Bhutanese population is engaged in the agriculture sector. If with a well-designed programme, our youth were engaged in building a robust water management infrastructure, it would be of long term benefit to the country. While global conflicts and wars will be fought over access to water, if we can solve this problem once and for all in Bhutan, it will be a truly noble accomplishment. This would also ensure food security, an essential aspect of our overall national goal of self-reliance. What the youth of Bhutan achieves over a year or two during the COVID-19 pandemic, will remain as a mark of triumph– an invaluable asset and a lasting legacy for future generations.
As we grapple with this pandemic today, our religious institutions continue to supplicate the blessings of our Guardian Deities, and the government will not relax in its efforts to contain the threat. Our institutions, armed forces, Desuups, public servants, and volunteers will continue to serve the nation. The elderly will remain safe, and the people thoroughly conscientious.
We look to the youth of Bhutan to come forward – in this hour of need – so that, beyond overcoming the challenges posed by COVID-19, we build a stronger nation.
During this pandemic, my only priority is the wellbeing and happiness of our people, including those living abroad. With the blessings and protection of our Guardian Deities, we will all remain safe. And, as I always say, if our people stay diligent and committed, united in purpose and spirit, all will be well.