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Minister answers questions on healthcare issues

Sat, 05/20/2017 - 16:13

At question hour session of the National Assembly yesterday, Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said that according to the Economic Development Policy (EDP) 2016, privatisation of public health services is not allowed but allows participation of private sector or foreign companies and hiring of expatriate medical, and health professionals.

“This gives the impression that while privatisation of public health services will not be allowed, private health services will be allowed henceforth,” MP Dorji Wangdi said.

Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said that there is no major difference between the EDP 2010 and 2016, and added that clauses like ‘encourage and facilitate establishment of private medical colleges’ that was reflected in EDP 2010 has been removed in the EDP 2016 under health section as it is covered under education section in EDP 2016.

Lyonpo stressed on the difference between privatisation of public health service and private sector engagement in delivery of healthcare services. Privatisation of public health services, he said, would mean privatising all the healthcare services that is currently provided free by the government. Private sector engagement in health sector means allowing private sectors to engage in delivery of selective health care services to compliment and supplement the already existing services currently delivered by the ministry.

“Therefore, as per the EDP 2016, the areas that are open to private sector engagement are high-end luxury medical facilities, selective diagnostic centres, an in the area of medical tourism,” Lyonpo said. “However, the ministry haven’t receives a single proposal on this.”

Lyonpo said that the ministry would ensure all regulatory systems are in place.

The National Health Policy (NHP) 2011 allows private sector engagement such as high-end luxury medical facilities and selective diagnostic services such as endoscopy, radiology and laboratory.

Lyonpo said that the health ministry suspended the issuance of licences for private diagnostic centres in the country for the past two years because of lack of regulation.

“A regulation has been finalised,” Lyonpo said. “The suspension will be lifted once the regulation is endorsed and comes into effect.”

The first private diagnostic centre was started in Thimphu in 2012. There are 13 private diagnostic centres in the country today.

Lyonpo said that while the government will continue to provide free healthcare to the people, privatisation of public health services would depend on the people’s capacity to afford it.

“We have to promote private sector, but it is also the government’s duty to protect the interest of the majority,” Lyonpo said.

Kengkhar Weringla MP Rinzin Jamtsho said that regional referral and the national referral hospitals are facing acute shortage of medical equipment and specialists.

“As a result, patients have to travel and often have to be flown to Thimphu where there too is shortage of medical equipment and specialists,” MP Rinzin Jamtsho said.

The health minister said that the government has always accorded high priority to improving diagnostic services that facilitate the provision of timely, cost effective and high quality diagnostic care in a safe and secure environment.

Lyonpo said that annually, about Nu 90M (million) is allocated to the health sector to procure medical equipment. He added that the budget allotted for the procurement of medical equipment by the government in the 10th FYP was Nu 466.43M. Nu 504.4M has been spent till now in procuring the equipment.

“As of 2016, 769 pieces of common medical equipment were supplied to the hospitals in the country,” Lyonpo said.

Currently, patients from across the country are referred to the national referral hospital in Thimphu for a computerised tomography (CT) scan.

“The increasing number of patients referred to the national referral hospital annually for CT scan has overwhelmed the workload of the radiologists at the hospital, which has ultimately resulted in the increase in waiting time,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo informed that recognising the issue and also in line with the 11th Five Year Plan (FYP), the ministry will upgrade 16 slice CT scan to 64 slice at the national referral hospital. “The existing 16 slice CT scan will also be in function, to improve access and delivery of health services.”

A 16 slice CT scan facilities each will be established at the two regional referral hospitals in Gelephu and Mongar in 2018 with support from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

A 64 CT scan costs Nu 67.5M and a 16 slice costs Nu 30M.

Lyonpo said that in addition, JICA will support procurement of equipment such as spirometer, digital X-ray and mammography worth USD 5M.

More than 2,177 patients were referred from the regional and district hospitals to the national referral hospital in Thimphu last year.

“With the installation of the equipment, the number of referrals from the districts to the national referral hospital is expected to reduce,” Lyonpo said. “Meeting the health workforce number is one of the main priority of the ministry.”

The government allots about Nu 75M annually to enable the national doctors to undergo specialisation courses. The country currently has 14 super specialists and 36 specialists.

Of the 17 foreign specialists that the government had approved to recruit, five are already in the country. The specialists will be paid monthly salary of USD 3,000 or less depending on their experience.

Lyonpo said that the ministry would propose for more expatriates recruitment if necessary.

“The health services in the country had gone up over the years in the country,” Lyonpo said.

The number of doctors in the country increased to 299 in 2016 from 203 in 2013.

The number of nurses in the country increased from 799 in 2013 to 1,185 last year. There was also increase in the number of pharmacists and other health workers.

The number of functional ambulance in the country has increased to 124 from 87 in 2013.

Dechen Tshomo

Agriculture minister questioned on chilli and power tillers

Sat, 05/20/2017 - 16:09

The on-going import ban on chillies from Falakata spiced up the question-answer session at the National Assembly yesterday.

Agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji picked on Trashiyangtse’s Bumdeling-Jamkhar Member of Parliament (MP) Dupthob calling him the MP of Falakata.

The session saw heated debate and mudslinging among the members, one party accusing the other of sensationalising minor issues.

MP Dupthob said the ban has caused inconvenience to both vendors and consumers. “While we acknowledge the need to impose time-bound ban on food products if they are found to be contaminated, we don’t find it logical to extend it for long.”

He said that extending the ban was illogical as chilli is a seasonal crop and the chemical content could vary from time to time. “If the intention is to boost local production and aim to achieve self-sufficiency, why is the government interfering in the pricing of local chillies.”

Agriculture minister said that import of chilli was banned for public health safety.

Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) tests found chilli, beans, and cauliflower from Falakata contained toxic levels of pesticides. BAFRA continues to monitor through regular tests on the quality of food products and agriculture imports including chilli and the results have not changed, the minister said.

The ministry has paid better rates for local chillies from Belphu in Trashiyangtse.

“No one has died or fell ill from not eating chilli,” the minister said.

Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) asked the minister if the ministry had any negotiations with the suppliers in Falakata to reduce the chemical content in the vegetables.

“For the suppliers, what they supply to Bhutan is a small fraction of their market which is why I think it did not make business sense for them to make the changes,” the minister said.

However, the government is implementing numerous measures to promote self-reliance in vegetables supplying poly house, trying different varieties, and incentives, among others.

Wamrong MP Karma Tenzin asked Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji to submit an update on the distribution of power tillers to all chiwogs that the government had pledged.

The minister informed that according to an assessment carried out by the Farm Machinery Corporation Ltd, about 7,000 power tillers were required for the country to solve the problem of farm labour shortage.

“We’ve issued a power tiller each to most of the chiwogs and distribution of power tillers to the remaining chiwogs is a priority given its multiple uses including transportation of patients,” the minister said.

Tshering Palden

A cooperative in Samtse thrive on dairy products

Sat, 05/20/2017 - 16:08

Yoghurt has taken the business of Choling Yargay detsen (CYD), an ice-cream-manufacturing cooperative at Singeygang in Samtse, to a new height.

CYD ventured into manufacturing yoghurt in February this year and since then they had been selling about 100 to 150 cups of chilled yoghurt every day. A cup of yoghurt costs Nu 20.

The group, formed in 2014, produced ice cream initially.

Shops in Gola town that buy the yoghurt from the group sell it for Nu 25.

Sale increases on weekends when people travel to Jitti border and Belbotay Haat.

On May 14, when Kuensel visited the sale counter, the cooperative had sold 400 cups of yoghurt by midday. Only 50 cups remained.

CYD was formed with 25 members.

The cooperative chairman, Gauri Shankar Bhandari, said with summer around the corner, the business might prosper.

He said the members supply about 200 litres of milk in a day. “Today, we receive only about 50 litres of milk a day.”

Meanwhile, Gauri Shankar Bhandari said he learnt to make yoghurt when he attended a training in Thailand in May 2016. The economic affairs ministry had initiated the training.

He said agriculture ministry and UNDP’s GEF-small grants programmes, supported the establishment of the cooperative.

“Apart from all the support, the group also took a risk by availing a loan of Nu 2 million (M),” the chairman said. “The group has to clear the loan in five years’ time.”

He said with the government leasing 90 acres of farmland where cattle are reared and fodders are grown, the future of the cooperative is good.

“In another two months’ time, we will have additional 20 milking cows,” Gauri Shankar Bhandari said.

He said the group met recently and decided to expand the members. “We will have marketing person too.”

The cooperative also manufactures paneer, cheese, and butter.

“Demand for paneer has also increased with people, as far as from Thimphu, asking for it,” the chairman said. One kilogramme of paneer costs Nu 350.

The cooperative is located near the Sipsuchu bridge.

Rajesh Rai | Tashichholing

Thromde initiates evening study for armed force children

Sat, 05/20/2017 - 16:05

Starting yesterday, Thimphu thromde introduced an evening study at Zilnon Namgyelling Middle Secondary School in Thimphu.

This was a continuation of the school’s evening study for classes four to seven.

Zilnon Namgyelling school’s principal, Sonam Phuntsho, said that with the thromde’s new initiative, they will provide the facility to all the students in the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) premises irrespective of the school they study.

He said that  a survey conducted by the school revealed that there are about 191 students in the campus. “But the turnout was less than what we expected,” he said.

It was learnt that only about 40 students attended the evening study yesterday.

The evening studies will be held from 5pm to 7pm in the school.

The principal said two teachers from the school will monitor the evening study. “Teachers are not paid for the additional responsibility as of now.”

The initiative, according to Thimphu thrompon Kinlay Dorjee is expected to keep the students engaged and spend their time meaningfully.

He said the students will attend the evening studies during week days. “If it goes well, we can even propose to have on Saturdays.”

Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee also said evening studies will be introduced in schools in Dechencholing and Lungtenphu.

He said that the children of the armed force personnel are vulnerable to fall into bad companies.

Principal Sonam Phuntsho said that they initiated the program aiming to enhance academic excellence and also to provide space for children to study because children live in congested houses.

The thrompon said that the thromde will look into providing overtime allowance to teachers who monitor the evening studies.

The thrompon, during the recent thromde council meeting, urged the officials and thromde thuemis, to work with a focus on solving youth-related issues in the country.

He said that according to the Local Government Act, it is the thromde’s responsibility is to keep the city clean, beautiful and peaceful. “Solving youth problem and community issues will help in maintaining peace in the city.”

Meanwhile, thromde thuemis also suggested the possibility of initiating evening study in schools near labour camps in the city for the children of the labourers.

Dechen Tshomo

Pam’s water woes might end by early next year

Sat, 05/20/2017 - 16:04

It is the time of the year when neighbours gather around to help each other to sow maize in Pam chiwog of Samkhar gewog, Trashigang.

Besides the labour contribution, the annual tradition also calls for a social get together under extreme weather conditions, where farmers are seen singing on top of their voices. To beat the fatigue, alcohol is plenty at the site.

However, Sonam Gyeltshen looks concerned.

Some 10 people have come to offer their labour to sow maize on his fields. The 53-year-old is worried because there is not much water stored in his small tank.

“I used to enjoy such gatherings before but it worries me today,” he said. “Without enough drinking water, we are left handicapped most of the time.”

The issue of water shortage in Pam is not new.

Sonam Gyeltshen said that it’s been more than six years since they have been suffering from water shortage in the area.

Today most of the households in the chiwog get the water on their own, investing not less than Nu 30,000 in the process.

Sonam Gyeltshen connected to a private source from about 600 metres above his home. It is barely enough to sustain his family of five.

He said in times of events like rimdro, the situation worsens. “With limited water in the tank, we can only manage to cook,” he said. “There is no water left to clean the utensils and other chores.”

Karma Yangzom, 46, who runs a workshop in the chiwog also shared similar challenges. After surviving on runoff water from the fields above her workshop, she finally managed to build a mini reservoir from the groundwater near her workshop.

She also provides carwash service at the workshop, which requires a continuous supply of water with adequate force. However, the water from her mini reservoir couldn’t deliver the required pressure for a car wash.

With the help of a friend, the woman pumped the water. “I have cleaner water,” Karma Yangzom said.

She also said the water benefitted about 20 individuals working at the workshop.

However, Pam’s water shortage is likely to end by early next year, as the dzongkhag has identified a new water source for the village in the upper part of Rangshikhar.

Work has been tendered out and it is expected to begin by next month and all the 82 households will receive a water tap each once the project is completed.

The project is being implemented at a cost of Nu 5.6 million.

Younten Tshedup |  Trashigang  

Extended thromde area residents seek tax refund

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 17:05

Residents living in extended areas of Rinchending and Pekharzhing under Phuentsholing Thromde seek government intervention to get a refund of the urban tax they paid to the thromde from 2011 to 2015.

The extended areas were taxed (urban) Nu 0.25 per square foot (sqft) and Nu 0.125 sqft for the four years. However, in 2016, the works and human settlement ministry withdrew the urban tax and provided incentives. The rural tax was once again reinstated in extended areas under thromde. This decision also came in line with basic infrastructure and facilities not being in place in such areas wherein landowners were not benefitted economically.

Landowners had to large amount as urban taxes.

Aita Singh Tamang of Rinchending had paid more than Nu 300,000 as urban tax. “I paid when there was no infrastructural development in my area,” he said. “I would like to know why this was done.”

Aita Singh said the feeder road in his village was constructed only in 2016. There are no other facilities even today, he said. According to him, there are about 15 landowners in Rinchending who had paid urban tax.

The landowner also said that he paid vacant tax to the thromde.

“I haven’t seen such cases in Thimphu,” Aita Singh said. He added that the thromde also has not given approval for construction, which had made him keep the land vacant without any private developments.

Damber Bahadur Ghalley is another landowner from Rinchending, who is not happy that he had to pay high tax when there were no facilities given. “There is no road, no water, no sewerage system, and no drains,” the farmer said. “And I paid taxes.”

Damber Bahadur is also among those who had to sell about 80 decimals of land to pay urban tax. The Rinchending resident paid Nu 38,115 in 2011 when the tax was Nu 0.25 per sqft.

“I used to sell areca nuts but I sold my land when I could not manage,” Damber Bahadur said. He added that from 2.75 acres of land he owns today, some fall under the Green Zone.

In Pekharzhing, Anil Pradhan said that their village is still underdeveloped and remains without basic facilities. “We don’t have proper water connection,” he said. “We have managed water on our own so far,” he said.

Although water connections were provided twice, Kuensel learnt that the residents have connected pipes on their own after the installed system went defunct. The feeder road that links lower Pekharzhing was also completed in the end of 2016.

Meanwhile, for a place to be levied urban tax, it needs to have access to motor-able urban roads, electricity supply, solid waste disposal water drain, drinking water supply (private or public), and sewerage (on site or centralised).

Except for electricity, Pekharzhing people said such facilities were not in place when they paid urban taxes.

Pekharzhing tshogpa Tirtha Maya Mongar said 26 households have suffered while paying urban tax. “People mortgaged areca nut trees to pay taxes,” she said. “Some even resorted to selling land.”

Bobi Ghalley of Rinchending also paid a large amount for her land in Pekharzhing. “It would be good if affected landowners get refunded,” she said.

Pekharzhing tshogpa Tirtha Maya Mongar and villagers also cited that Weeling village under Nubi gewog in Trongsa had paid urban tax in 2016. “They were refunded,” she said.

Besides Pekharzhing and Rinchending, residents in Pasakha and Dhamdara were also imposed urban tax.

Phuentsholing thrompon Uttar Kumar Rai said the matter is not in thromde’s hand. “The revision of tax was also not within our jurisdiction,” he said.

Thromde had “clear directives” from the ministry, he said adding that the thromde only followed the instructions. The thrompon said that thromde, however, is working hard to put in place all facilities under thromde areas.

“Once these facilities are provided, it would be easier for us to charge urban tax,” he said.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

World Bank gives USD 8M for agriculture project

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 17:04

World Bank and Bhutan signed a USD 8 million (M) Global Agriculture Food Security Programme grant agreement to increase productivity and improve market access.

The government will add USD 1.33M to the Food Security and Agriculture Productivity Project  (FSAPP) funded by the programme. World Bank’s Resident Representative for Bhutan Yoichiro Ishihara, finance minister Namgay Dorji and agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji signed the project agreement yesterday.

The project is expected to benefit 10,400 households and 3,000 students of Chukha, Dagana, Haa, Samtse and Sarpang over the next five years.

The 24 gewogs in these dzongkhags were chosen since they lack irrigation facilities and market access.  The project would also support four major irrigation projects.

The project will contribute to reducing pockets of extreme poverty and build the capacity of smallholder farmers to move from subsistence farming to commercial market-driven agriculture.

The project will help farmers’ groups in business capacities, increase productivity of high-value crops through efficient use of water and improved inputs. The project targets to improve the production of rice, vegetables, pulses, and potatoes, large cardamom, ginger, and citrus.

Agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji said that the agriculture sector is seen as one of the five jewels of the country and the lives of so many people depend on it. “The project will support the government’s goal of moving from subsistence farming to the commercialisation of agriculture through value chain development,” the minister said.

The agriculture ministry aims to increase vegetable production to 65,200 metric tonnes (MT) in 2018. The country’s self-sufficiency rate in vegetable production increased to 85 percent in 2015. The agriculture department has been supporting commercial vegetable production in the country since 2012. Rice self-sufficiency is more than 51 percent.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji said that despite the government’s focus on agriculture in the 11th Plan, much remains to be done.

“The growth and expansion of the agriculture sector will play a key role in Bhutan’s economic development and in trade deficit reduction,” Yoichiro Ishihara said.

Agriculture sector employs the majority of Bhutanese and provides livelihoods to about 58 percent of its population and has the potential to ensure greater inclusiveness of growth while reducing the country’s food import bill and combatting malnutrition in children below five years, the World Bank press release stated.

Food and Agriculture Organisation will provide technical assistance for the project.

Tshering Palden

Paper and textile recycling to empower women’s livelihood

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 17:03

Shortage of recyclable waste in the country was one of the issues raised during a stakeholder meeting for sustainable smart city at the RENEW (Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women) conference hall yesterday.

The shortage, according to stakeholders, is because people are not aware of where to dump their waste and not because of the shortage of waste in the country.

YDF’s project manager, Jigme Thinley, said the YDF’s egg tray manufacturing unit in Bjemina doesn’t get enough waste papers and cardboards to make the trays. “It is not because there is a shortage of paper waste in the country,” he said. “The collectors prefer to sell it at a higher price across the border.”

Clean Bhutan’s executive director, Nedup Tshering, said he had placed donation boxes in the city for people to throw plastics like milk powder packets. Some boxes are still found empty while a box contained a Nu 50 note. “Which means people are not reading what is written on the boxes,” he said.

The stakeholders felt there is a need to have containers or places to dump other wastes such as clothes and glasses.

The meeting on integrated solid waste management for sustainable smart city and gender empowerment was organised together by the South Asian Forum for Environment (SAFE), a non-profit civil society organisation from India and RENEW.

Indo-Bhutan Fund Projects support the intervention that attempts to develop a sustainable livelihood paradigm for the common women in Bhutan by transforming waste paper and fibre to a climate adaptive microenterprise.

SAFE director, Amrita Chatterjee, said that largely common women are involved only in non-rewarding household works and childcare.

“Women have been found migrating from villages in search of livelihood, who often fall victims to gender parity and domestic violence,” she said.

Poverty and missing identity stop their children from going to school, she added. “Waste recycling is the easiest option for non-skilled and illiterate women,” Amrita Chatterjee said. “What you throw in the landfill has the potential to create a livelihood.”

RENEW’s executive director, Tandin Wangmo, said the workshop is aimed at capacity building of women on recycling and re-use of paper, textile and organic waste to reduce burden on the landfill.

Besides carrying out awareness campaign at the community level on waste recycling, RENEW will select beneficiaries for training and capacity building, provide infrastructural support for training and capacity building and local market linkage for recycled micro utility products. Amrita Chatterjee said that each month, beneficiaries would target to recycle 1,000kgs of waste paper and 500MT (metric tonnes) of textile waste that is expected to reduce about 15 to 20MT of waste going to the landfill.

Dechen Tshomo

Surveillance stepped up in Trashigang after rabies outbreak

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 17:02

Awareness programs are held to allay excessive fear among the residents 

Following the recent outbreak of rabies in Trashigang, residents have become vigilant especially when they come across stray dogs.

During a multi-stakeholders workshop on active surveillance and monitoring for rabies control programmes in Trashigang on May 15, participants shared incidences of excessive fear among the public from stray dogs.

One of the health officials from Rangjung Basic Health Unit (BHU) said that on several occasions, people have approached the staff to provide them with injections saying that a stray dog passed over their legs. Others who leave bowls and jerry cans outside to collect water have also shared concerns over infected animals putting their mouth into the containers and contaminating the water.

Officials from the dzongkhag livestock department said the excessive hysteria is frequently observed among the public although a series of awareness and risk communication programmes have been conducted in the dzongkhag.

During the daylong workshop, participants from school, hospital, livestock and BAFRA, and key persons from affected areas were asked to make clear to the public that rabies is mostly transmitted to humans, and between animals, through the saliva of infected animals. The transmission is generally through animal bites. Officials also informed participants that transmission between humans is extremely rare, although it could occur through organ transplants, or through bites.

A veterinary officer with the dzongkhag veterinary hospital, Dr Jamyang Namgyal, said the workshop was conducted to build a strong surveillance and monitoring system among the stakeholders and to enhance communication for rabies control.

Following a massive anti-rabies vaccination and risk communication campaign in the dzongkhag, active surveillance and monitoring in high-risk gewogs are on going.

During the first round of the campaign, some 1,660 dogs and cats were vaccinated in Kanglung, Samkhar, Radhi, Phongmey, Bidung, Bartsham, and Rangjung. In the second round, 849 cats and dogs were vaccinated in Chaling, Shongphu, Galing, Changmey, Bikhar followed by 889 in Bidung, Udzorong and Khaling in the third round.

The first case of rabies in Trashigang was reported in a stray dog on July 29 last year in Merak. The dog died the next day and tested positive for rabies virus. The National Center for Animal Health on August 5, 2016 confirmed the disease.

According to livestock officials, the source of rabies in Merak is assumed to be the movement of rabid dogs that travelled with people during trade and festivals from the border area via Sakteng.

The last reported case was on April 25 this year in Rangjung. About 20 people are suspected to have been bitten by rabid dogs since July last year. However, no case of fatality has been reported.

Dr Jamyang Namgyal said that although there has not been a fatal case, the outbreak is alarming. “Rabies is a global issue and Bhutan is aiming to eliminate dog-mediated human rabies by 2020,” he said. “For that reason, this outbreak is a big concern to us.”

This is the first reported case in almost a decade in Trashigang. The disease has caused 17 deaths in the country between 2006 and 2016.

Younten Tshedup 

Dangdung farmers to grow cardamom on trial

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 17:01

People of Langthel gewog in Trongsa might earn additional income if the cardamom plantation trial goes successfully.

A five-member farmer’s group in Dangdung village will plant cardamom on trial on a land belonging to a private individual.

As of now, members are transporting sand for water tank construction. They have completed digging about 400 pits in the two acres of land already. The area is also properly fenced.

The members have also connected water pipes.

The group in-charge, Lhendup, 55, said he is optimistic that the cardamom would grow and yield well.

He said he had received good feedback.

“It should grow and fruit well since I will be spraying enough water,” he said.

The group also intends to plant fruits like orange, guava, mango and jackfruit.

Lhendup said he proposed the gewog administration for the plantation and Mangdechu Hydroelectric Project Authority (MHPA) is funding it through the dzongkhag administration.

“We are procuring materials like barbed wires, water pipe, cement and saplings but MHPA is bearing the cost,” he said.

He said the group is planning to plant 300 cardamom plants and 500 other fruit trees. “I will collect the saplings soon from Gelephu,” he said.

Explaining why the group is switching to cash crops, Lhendup said it would be difficult for farmers to sustain by farming as manpower in the villages are decreasing with children going to school.

“It was also difficult to guard crops against the wild animals,” he said.

Nima Wangdi | Trongsa

Agriculture: Going beyond figures

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 17:00

Agriculture is coming back on the focus of our national life. And this is good news. Although agriculture does not feature prominently in the report, the national budget for the financial year 2017-18, has allocated 9 percent to the sector, a slight increase from the last fiscal year. But we need to put things in the right perspective. More needs to be done. Agriculture is the answer to the many problems we are facing today.

Goongtong in the remote corners of the country and rising urban youth unemployment are the challenges that can be solved by viable and improved agriculture. Rural to urban migration is a problem because of our development approach. When job opportunities are concentrated in just a few towns, our young people will flock there, of course. Agriculture has become expensive, what with rising human-wildlife conflicts in the rural pockets of the country and broken irrigation systems. A survey conducted by local experts in 2016 for Asian Development Bank found that about 29 percent of the existing irrigation canals have shortage or inadequate water supply.

Findings of the GNH survey 2015 should worry our policymakers and politicians. Our farmers are the ‘most unhappy’ group in the country today. When farming becomes less viable, our dependence will only grow, which could have influence on the security and sovereignty of our nation. As it is, our total arable land is too small. We do not produce enough to feed ourselves. The sector that provides livelihood to 56.7 percent of the population is writhing in pain. There is an urgent need for right and timely intervention.

We have introduced Agriculture for Food Security as an optional subject for classes XI and XII. But we need to look at the real challenges facing our society today. Agriculture has suffered in Bhutan mainly because of lack of access to finance. It has been found that credit from the financial institutions to the agriculture sector was only Nu 2.65 billion in 2014 – 4.1 percent of the total Nu 63.98 billion issued. It is hard to understand why other credit schemes like vehicle and housing are much cheaper than agriculture. Going by this, agriculture is not considered a priority sector. This much change.

Agriculture is a sector with great potential. If we can make agriculture attractive and viable, it will help the country cut on imports. It could also help the country achieve its all-important national goal of achieving self-sufficiency. This means securing the life of the nation.

Agriculture is our mainstay. We need to look at the sector’s development beyond the allocation of budget.

Multi-sports hall construction misses second deadline

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 17:00

The ongoing multi-sports hall construction in Samdrupjongkhar has failed to meet the deadline even after they were given four months extension.

The construction was supposed to complete by January this year.

The contractor, executing the work, is yet to approach the Bhutan Olympic Committee (BOC) for the deadline extension.

Project manager with Tenzin Geley construction, Sonam Tobgay Waiba, said that there are many works left to be completed. “We will approach BOC and ask to extend the deadline until September this year.”

Sonam Tobgay Waiba said they could not complete on time because of water lock and water table at the construction site.

“It took two months for us to clear the ground,” he said. “The ground and the foundation level should be same but after laying the foundation, the ground level has risen by 1.3 metres.”

He said they had to increase the height of the foundation and it took four months to level it. “It hampered our work.”

Sonam Tobgay Waiba said that the actual foundation was 1.5 metres deep but with the increase by 1.3 metres, it has become 2.8 metres high. “We had to build 20 metres safety wall behind the sports hall and that took another four months.”

He also said they could not work for two months during the summer season.

The project manager said delayed payment and lack of labourers also hampered the work. “We could not procure any materials but we continued the work,” he said.

He said labourers across the border leave after every three to four months. “We approached the labour ministry to allow us to recruit local Indians but they didn’t permit us, saying it should route through employment agencies”.

Officials from BOC said the duration of the construction was 15 months but they extended the time by another four months.

Officials said that if they ask for time extension again, it has to be put up to a committee to decide. “But the project is under small development project and budget is until June end,” an official said. “If the committee decides not to extend the deadline, we will impose a penalty.”

The multi-sports hall construction began on October 6, 2015. The government of India (GoI) is funding Nu 20.23 million for the construction.

Kelzang Wangchuk |  Samdrupjongkhar

Administrative complaints overwhelm ACC

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 17:00

Such complaints deviate the ACC’s  focus from ‘real corruption’ cases 

The process of agencies examining administrative complaints that are forwarded by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is affecting the morale of civil servants.

Some members of the National Assembly shared this concern while deliberating the ACC’s annual report yesterday. About 126 complaints perceived to be administrative in nature and not corruption, are forwarded to agencies to examine the allegations and submit an action taken report to the ACC within a month’s time.

During the course of examination, if the agencies find any element of corruption, it is required to return the complaint with further information to the ACC.

However, the ACC did not receive action taken report from the agencies on 57 complaints.

Foreign minister Damcho Dorji said that when agencies are mandated to conduct investigations, it goes to the extent of discrediting civil servants and bringing the issue into the public domain.

He said there are also instances when the accused comes out clean but his/her image in the society is tarnished. As a result it demotivates civil servants from being innovative.

He suggested that a system be introduced where a preliminary investigation is conducted in secrecy and if charges are severe, things be brought to the public domain. “But this is not to say that we are least bothered,” lyonpo said. “We should support ACC by all means to fight corruption.”

Education minister Norbu Wangchuk also said that complaints relating to administrative issues are mostly biased. He said it is important to ascertain whether the complaints are perceived or actual in nature. “It is not quite right for the agencies to examine the complaints based on doubts,” he said.

Sharing his experience on complaints pertaining to schools, lyonpo said the vigorous examination involving students disturbs the environment while the individual in question suffers from stress. “It is our responsibility to fight corruption but it is also our responsibility to protect the people who are clean,” he said.

Tsirang Toe member, Novin Darlami also shared his experience when he gained the attention of media charging him for corruption based on un-established facts. He said he had difficult time managing the perception and responding to questions raised by his constituents.

However, Bartsham Shongphu MP, Wangdi Norbu said the government need not worry because the ACC already has a system where it screens complaints and based on its preliminary findings, some qualify for further investigations. He said there is also cynicism among the public when complainants are not satisfied. “The ACC should gain the trust of the people,” he said.

The deliberations however also lost track when the ruling and opposition members started pointing fingers at each other. Opposition member from Nubi-Tangsibji Nidup Zanpo said that the government’s stand on supporting the fight against corruption contradicts with their concerns over the moral of civil servants. In response, health minister Tandin Wangchuk said that complaints of administrative nature existed since the last government’s tenure and opposition members should not assume that no cases of corruption were reported during that time.

The finance minister suggested the house to emphasise on the good governance committee’s recommendations to ACC rather that deliberating the whole report, he did not gain support from the members to do so.

The house will continue discussing the ACC report today.

Meanwhile the ACC in its report recommended that an office of ombudsman be instituted to redress the grievances relating to maladministration. ACC also stated that from past experiences, there is no uniformity in handling such complaints and actions taken. Further the ACC said it is burdened with such cases and that it deviates the Commission’s focus from real corruption issues.

Tshering Dorji

Picture story

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 12:11

Foreign Secretary Sonam Tshong, addressing the 73rd session of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP) in Bangkok, acknowleged ESCAP’s role  as an essential arm of the UN system, providing global context to regional and national efforts on yesterday. He also said that UN ESCAP has advanced regional economic prosperity to eradicate poverty and inequalities through coordinated action.

Rain damages acres of maize and potato

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 17:06

Heavy downpour in two hours damaged about 78 acres of maize fields belonging to 93 households and 37 acres of potato fields belonging to 58 households in four gewogs of Mongar on the night of May 15.

Of the four affected gewogs, Drepong was affected the most with 49 households losing about 60 acres of maize and 48 households losing 30 acres of potato.

In Thangrong gewog, seven acres of potato belonging to 10 households and 14 acres of maize belonging to 16 households were reported damaged.

In Ngatshang gewog, 16 households reported damages of about three acres of maize field.

Drametse gewog reported damages to an acre of maize belonging to 12 households.

Ngatshang gup Dorji Leki said that about three acres of maize fields belonging to eight households were damaged in Tagor village and eight households of Zangdari village.

The gup said that rain has filled almost six acres of paddy field. “About an acre of land is not usable.”

The dzongkhag agriculture officer, Khampa, said that the affected maize is in early stage while the potato is in maturing stage.

He said they are compiling reports to send to the Department of Disaster Management (DDM).

Tashi Phuntsho | Mongar

Govt. to adopt tourism policy

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 17:05

But states that a tourism Act is not required urgently

Bhutan already has adequate policies and guidelines in place to regulate the tourism sector and does not need a tourism Act urgently, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said yesterday.

Appearing at National Council, the prime minister, who is also the chairman of the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), said Vision 2020, Economic Development Policy 2016 and the 11th Plan guide the development of the tourism sector.  The government, he said, does not feel the urgency to have a separate policy and a tourism Act.

The 16th session of NC that concluded in December 2015 had called on the government to immediately adopt a tourism policy and to table a tourism bill in Parliament. Gasa’s NC member Sangay Khandu asked the prime minister about why the government had “failed to implement” those recommendations.

Sangay Khandu said the tourism sector today is facing problems including inadequate monitoring, weak institutional capacity and a lack of accountability. He also said that in absence of a tourism policy, there is no clarity on what “high value, low impact” of Bhutan’s tourism industry stands for.

Lyonchoen said the policy of  “high value, low impact” is protected through the imposition of the minimum tariff fee on international tourists. The government charges a daily tariff from USD 200 to USD 250 a person for international tourists.

“It’s not because of our failure that we don’t have a separate policy or a law for the tourism sector,” he said, adding that the industry is doing well without major problems. “It’s wrong to say that we don’t have a tourism policy.”

The tourism sector contributed a total of USD 73 million (M) to the country’s exchequer in 2016. The number of international tourists increased from 57,537 in 2015 to 62,773 in 2016.

However, the rapidly growing numbers of regional tourists have been a concern to the government, lyonchoen said. The number of regional tourists increased from 97,584 in 2015 to 146,797 in 2016.

He said the government is looking at possibilities of reducing the number of regional tourists. “The large numbers of regional tourists are good in one way but we are also concerned about possible risks,” he said.

As part of the “high value, low impact” policy, the prime minister informed that tourists will have to pay to enter Punakha Dzong. After introducing a payment system in Tashichhoedzong and Taktsang, he said a total of Nu 8.8M has been collected.

However, the prime minister acknowledged the need to adopt a tourism policy to not only regulate the growing numbers of regional tourists but also to promote domestic tourism. He informed the house that the Cabinet endorsed a draft tourism policy in February this year.

Lyonchoen said that although a special audit of the tourism sector was conducted, the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) could not find any evidence of malpractices such as tax evasion and undercutting. Unlike in other sectors, the prime minister said it was difficult for tour operators to evade taxes.

The RAA had audited the sector to examine, among others, malpractices and possible tax evasion. The RAA report has also recommended TCB to prioritise formulation of a tourism policy and to a adopt tourism bill.

“TCB should integrate tourism activities in dzongkhag development plans,” the report states. As per the recommendations of RAA, the TCB should review its pricing structure to make it more responsive to the pace of global economic development.

According to NC, the benefits of tourism are not spread evenly across the county and that tourism activities are mostly concentrated in the west.

Some of the reasons for lower visit rates in the east are attributed to poor quality of road, lack of roadside amenities and long travel distances.

MB Subba

NA defers Think Tank endorsement debate

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 17:04

Lyonpo Damcho Dorji introduced the Multilateral Agreement for the Establishment of Think Tank for Land Locked Development Countries in the parliament yesterday in a way that leaves a lot to be desired from elected representatives.

Lyonpo asked the members of the parliament to google the Almaty Declaration and Programme of Action. The Almaty Programme of Action was among the first steps adopted in addressing the needs of landlocked developing countries. The action was superseded by The Vienna Programme of Action.

He said the agreement would benefit the country in sharing ideas and expertise for development of landlocked countries.  However, members were not given action documents to understand the advantages and disadvantages of the agreement.

Lyonpo said that the agreement would help make trade and transit easy for Bhutan, and bolster the nation’s security and sovereignty.

Representative from Panbang, Dorji Wangdi, said that it is important to understand the roles and responsibilities of the Think Thank itself. “The programme of action is not clear”

Along the same vein, the representative from Lamgong-Wangchang, Khandu Wangchuk, said that transit is important trade but there is a need to understand every aspect of the agreement before Bhutan desides to become a signatory.

The debate had to be deferred because the foreign minister had not distributed the programme of action documents to the representatives. He urged the members to browse about the programme actions on the net.

The foreign ministry will distribute the ‘required” documents among the members and deliberate on the pros and cons of the agreement again.

Jigme Wangchuk

53,000 foreign workers in the country

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 17:03

The government has breached the foreign workers ceiling in the country to meet demands of the hydropower projects, home minister Dawa Gyaltshen said.

National Assembly in 2004 decided the ceiling at 45,000 foreign workers. Today, there are 53,042 foreign workers in the country. This figure excludes the foreign diplomats, employees of Project DANTAK and IMTRAT.

Lyonpo Dawa Gyaltshen said additional 8,042 labourers mainly work for the three ongoing hydropower projects, Punatsangchhu I and II, and Mangdechhu hydropower projects.

“Almost 60 percent of the 11th Plan budget is on infrastructure building, which is why there was a huge demand for labourers,” the minister said.

The minister was answering to Trashiyangtse’s National Council (NC) member Tashi Phuntsho, who asked   on the status of the foreign workers’ ceiling and related issues.

As of today, there are 3,811 employees of Project DANTAK and IMTRAT, 322 UN and other diplomats.

The minister said that with the completion of the hydropower projects within two years, the number is expected to drop drastically.

NC members asked the minister what the government thinks of the violation of the ceiling and why the issue was not raised.

The minister said that the cabinet discussed numerous times if the ceiling should be raised but decided not to. If the government raised the ceiling, he said, it could open the floodgates to foreign workers, which could have adverse implications.

“If we revise it, then we also start the precedence for the successive governments to do the same which is not in the interest of the country,” Lyonpo Dawa Gyaltshen said.

According to the hydropower project agreements the government is obliged to supply enough labourers, which is why there was no way to restrict them.

“We tried to keep the numbers as low as possible, and moreover there are strict procedures in place to issue permits to foreign workers in the labour and home ministries,” Lyonpo Dawa Gyaltshen said.

National Council’s chairperson Sonam Kinga (PhD) thanked the government for implementing its recommendations concerning the foreign workers in the country and illegal immigration.

National Council members and the home minister thanked Project DANTAK and IMTRAT for their cooperation in bringing their non-uniformed employees within the purview of the country’s immigration and labour laws.

Tshering Palden

Labour ministry creates 2,208 jobs

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 17:02

Plans to create 4,139 jobs by the end of the year

The labour ministry has created 2,208 job opportunities, meeting 53 percent of the target from the Nu 262.808 million supplementary budget that was allotted in the last financial year.

The budget was approved to create 4,139 jobs during the 8th parliament session. The ministry is still in the process of creating more job opportunities with the approved budget and is hopeful to meet the target by the end of the year.

Labour minister Ngeema Sangay Tshempo presented the status on job creation to the parliament on May 16 in response to a question from Kengkhar-Weringla’s member of parliament (MP) Rinzin Jamtsho, during the question-answer session.

Rinzin Jamtsho asked the minister to update the house on the status of utilisation of the budget and the number of job opportunities created to meet the target. The MP asked how many were employed and in which sectors.

Lyonpo said various employment programmes were introduced in state owned enterprises and through overseas employment scheme. He said 711 people were employed through direct employment programme and permanent employment programme in different sectors. He added that another 655 were employed in other programmes with the government paying full salary.

The health sector, schools and other ministries have employed another 383 while 60 non-governmental organisations employed about 28 people. The ministry has also employed 842 people under overseas employment scheme. About six states owned enterprises employed 147 people.

Lyonpo informed the house that another 191 would be employed during the job fair that opened in the capital yesterday.

“The ministry has spent Nu 80 million of the budget so far and we have met about 53 percent of the target,” Lyonpo said. “We’re still working on it as per the human resources plan to meet the target by the end of this year.”

Lyonpo explained that the ministry also has another programme called education and skills where job seekers can go to study and work in Japan by availing a loan. “This has helped reduce the government expenditure.”

Yangchen C Rinzin

Govt. seizing private sector’s opportunities?

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 17:01

Trashiyangtse’s Jamkhar-Bumdelling Member of Parliament (MP), Duptho, said the government has established many business ventures after it took office, depriving private sector of business opportunities.

During the question-answer session on May 16, the MP said that business is best left to the private sector and that the government’s role is to create an enabling environment for the growth of the sector.

He asked how the government would develop the private sector when it is depriving them of business opportunities by taking up all kinds of businesses.

Economic affairs minister Lekey Dorji said it has been a norm in the country for the state to start enterprises that the private sector can’t. “After the successful establishment, it will be handed over to the private sector,” he said.

He cited examples of public transport and tourism, which he claimed were established by the state and gradually taken over by the private sector once it becomes profitable. “The farm machinery centre has changed to Farm Machinery Corporation because the private sector cannot reach every part of the country.”

The minister also said that the private sector is driven by profit and in some areas, supplying machinery is not profitable.

He said the farm shops are temporary measures to market farm produce and cater to the basic needs of the farmers. “The government does not intend to seize business opportunities in the private sector,” he said. He added that the State Mining Corporation is to explore strategic minerals that the private sector is unable to exploit.

According to the minister, there are three factors, which indicate the private sector is thriving and not affected by the government’s enterprises and that since 2013, there are 6,373 small and cottage industries. “There are about 8,000 industry license holders in the country.”

Lyonpo Lekey Dorji said that in 2012-13 fiscal year, the business firms paid Nu 4.8 billion (B) as corporate tax which increased to Nu 7.5B in 2015-16 fiscal year. “In 2012-13, businesses availed Nu 52.4B as loans that increased to Nu 65.7B in 2015-16 fiscal year.”

He said the government has endorsed the economic development policy, which is a roadmap for the private sector development.

The government has also launched fiscal policies, and through Business Opportunity and Information Centre (BoIC) first and now through Rural Enterprise Development Corporation (REDC), offers low-interest loans to start businesses.

Tshering Palden