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Job fair offers about 1,161 job vacancies

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 17:00

Despite the decrease in overall unemployment in the country to 2.5 percent in 2015 from 2.9 percent in 2013, the unemployment among youth remains a major concern.

Labour and human resources minister Ngeema Sangay Tshempo, while delivering the opening speech of the 14th national job fair yesterday, said the youth unemployment rate was estimated at 10.7 percent in 2015 compared to 9.4 percent in 2014.

“The female youth unemployment has also become concern after it increased to 12.7 percent in 2015 from 10.0 percent in 2014,” the minister said.

He said that the youth unemployment, mostly class 12 and university graduates, are higher in the urban centres than in rural areas.

Work location choices, where almost all the job seekers prefer to work in urban, job seekers waiting for the right choice of job they aspire, corporate and private companies looking for experienced workers, and mismatch of skills, according to the minister, are some of the reasons for unemployment.

Lyonpo Ngeema Sangay Tshempo said the aim of conducting such job fair is to provide platform for the employers and job seekers to interact and recruit on the spot.

Forty-one private, corporate and government firms have participated in the job fair with 1,161 job vacancies. Of the job vacancies, 759 were for class 10 graduates and 31 with no specific qualification.

Some overseas employment agencies also attended the fair and offered job vacancies, training opportunities and job information.

Three state-owned enterprises also took part in the fair.

More than 1,600 job seekers, including class 10 graduates and with master degree attended the fair yesterday.

Job seekers expressed that experience and limited slots were two things that they were disappointed with every time when they attend national job fair. They claim it was no different yesterday.

University graduates claimed most of the jobs available were only for class 10 and 12 graduates.

Deki, 23, who completed class 12, said although the job seekers are informed that job experience is not important yet, all application forms mandate experience.

“I have completed class 12 last year. How will I have one-year experience,” she said. “I am trying my luck as a receptionist.”

Another job seeker, Kunzang Choden, said she has a certificate from youth employment skills that guaranteed her a job while taking up the training by the ministry but she is still jobless because she was asked to look for a job herself.

“I’ve been trying everywhere for a job,” she said.

She claimed that even in the fair yesterday, there were few slots for stock’s inventory, in which she has experience.

“I have been photocopying applications, applying everywhere that I have plenty of application forms lying in the house, which would fill two sacks,” a class 12 graduate, Devika, said. “I wanted to try for accountant but sadly only one slot was available.”

Many also claimed that after learning there was not much vacancy available in Bhutan, they are trying for overseas employment.

Meanwhile, labour ministry’s job portal showed that 35,032 job seekers registered with the system from July 2013 to April 2017.

The minister said that total of 22,094 job seekers have been placed in various government, private, corporate and non-government organizations through regular placement schemes and overseas employment program.

“We’ve engaged 5,504 job seekers under the internship programs, 1,601 under the entrepreneurship development program and 529 through apprenticeship training program.

Ngeema Sangay Tshempo claimed that there are only about 5,205 unemployed in the job portal as of now.

Yangchen C Rinzin

Tourism policy needs to be inclusive

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 17:00

As an important sector identified as a jewel of the economy, discussions on the tourism sector is always relevant.

Bhutan is marketed as a high-end destination, one where its people live in harmony with nature and rich cultural heritage. With photographs of those living in the highlands, tourism brochures and websites celebrate the country’s remoteness, giving the country and its people almost an exotic aura of the so called the Last Shangri-La, a brand that we are not very keen on promoting.

But the National Council raised valid concerns. Like our development programmes, tourism and its benefits are skewed to western Bhutan where roads are well paved and hotel facilities better. It is the lack of these same facilities that deters tour operators from taking tourists to other parts of the country. This means benefits from tourism to the local communities is minimal. Initiatives have been taken to promote farm stays in the central and eastern Bhutan but they have not been sustainable.

These issues are real, but there is a need to be as realistic about the sector that earns the highest foreign exchange for the country after hydropower. It is a business, seasonal to an extent, and one that is prone to external circumstances such as disasters. Promotions have to be accompanied by access and the state of our domestic airports is telling of the accessibility situation. But because it is a business that employees a huge number of people in the service sector, the market does dictate the flow of tourism in the country. One could blame the business again for the practice of under-cutting is an open secret in the industry. Yet, the audit authority being unable to find concrete evidence to prove it raises more questions. For one, it could mean that the practice has become a part of the system, institutionalised even, for the audit authority to trace it.

From tour operators, guides, handicraft shops and farmers offering home stays in remote parts of the country, everyone involved in the tourism industry feels the impacts of these practices and situation. In term of policy, it is high value, low impact and remains so, but in practice the tourism industry risks becoming high impact, low value. The increasing number of regional tourists only adds to this dilemma.

The government’s decision to put in place a tourism policy is timely. It is hoped that the policy would address these issues confronting the sector because the destination may be high-end but the problems are local. The Council recommended a tourism Act to regulate the industry but says little on how enacting an Act would regulate the industry.

The tobacco Act shows that enacting an Act is not enough just as the forest Act, which prohibits constructions in protected areas but doesn’t stop construction of road through it.

Somehow we have come this far without an Act for the two important sectors that the economy depends on – hydropower and tourism. Given their importance to the country, the pulse of the economy, these jewels, their policies and Acts are more than ornaments.

Abuse of functions top ACC complaints

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 17:00

Complaints on abuse of functions by public servants continue to be prevalent. It comprised nearly half (42.6 percent) of the total complaints received last year, according to the Anti Corruption Commission’s (ACC) annual report.

The largest number of 153 complaints received in the reporting period pertains to complaints that were either grievances or those that did not constitute a corruption offence particularly but were the means to corrupt acts such as deception, coercion, forgery and collusion.

The ACC report stated that substantial resources are spent on dealing with such complaints, which affect the efficiency and effectiveness of ACC.

Allegations of embezzlement comprised 12.9 percent of the total complaints. As in the past, allegation of bribery is the least with only 0.9 percent.

“Complaints pertaining to bribery is the least every year given that bribery is perpetrated in secrecy between two parties and very difficult to detect,” the report stated.

From the 352 complaints received  last year, 58.2 percent were from anonymous sources, and 41.8 percent from known sources. For three consecutive years, the number of complaints from known sources has been declining.

This trend, according to the report, may be largely due to the fear of reprisal.

Agency-wise, complaints lodged against local governments continue to be the highest with 119 complaints, constituting 33.8 percent of the total complaints. No complaints were received against the Legislature and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA).

“With greater devolution of powers, responsibilities and resources to the local level from the central government, there can also be corresponding transfer of corruption opportunities,” the report stated.

Weak internal governance systems, passive citizens, lack of civic oversight and poor transparency and accountability are some of the factors that could expose local government to corruption with decentralisation.

“When corruption occurs locally, the impact on citizens’ lives can be the most damaging, with the poorest being hit the hardest,” the report stated.

Office of ombudsman

Since most of the complaints relate to grievances arising from lack of transparency and maladministration, 47.5 percent were referred to the agencies.

When such complaints are shared with respective agencies, they are required to conduct inquiry into the matter and report to ACC for its review through an action taken report (ATR).

The report stated that ACC noticed that there is no uniformity in the handling of such complaints among the different agencies.

Complainants are often not satisfied when ACC asks agencies to address their complaints and insist that ACC itself investigate. Consequently, the institutional and managerial capacity of ACC is overwhelmed with administrative matters instead of dedicating its limited resources to tackling real corruption cases.

Therefore, the need of the hour is to establish an adequate and effective mechanism for providing effective oversight over public administration, safeguarding individual rights and creating procedures for redress of individual grievances against the administration.

The ACC has recommended to institute an office of ombudsman to protect the general public against violation of rights, abuse of powers, unfair decisions and maladministration. The ACC justified that this will, however, require parliamentary law, as there is presently no legal provision for an ombudsman, although Article 21.16 of the Constitution provides that the Parliament may, by law, establish impartial and independent administrative tribunals as well as Alternative Dispute Resolution centres.

To deal with administrative grievances and all problems related to such complaints, the ACC has proposed for an establishment of an office of ombudsman.

The National Council deliberated on this issue while discussing the ACC report yesterday.

The good governance committee suggested that rather than creating a separate institution, the existing institutions like Royal Civil Service Commission, Druk Holding and Investments and labour ministry can be used to deal with administrative complaints pertaining to civil servants, corporations and private entities respectively.

The committee recommended the ACC to forward all administrative-related complaints directly to these agencies for remedial actions.

Gasa’s council member, Sangay Khandu, said that the issues related to administrative lapses are something that the ACC can do on their own. But it needs to strengthen its capacity.

The Council member from Bumthang, Nima, said that there is no clarity on how the office of ombudsman would be structured, cost of establishment, and laws. He suggested that the recommendation of the committee be upheld and keep provisions for such establishment in future.

However, the eminent member of the house, Phuntsho Rabten, said that ACC is also overwhelmed with mounting backlog cases.

About 529 backlog complaints were carried forward from 2006 to 2015, and reviewed comprehensively and reconciled to 165 cases. He said that such administrative complaints are deviating the focus of the Commission from its primary mandate.

He said an office of ombudsman would benefit the country because simply passing the mandate to parent agencies like RCSC, DHI and labour ministry would not achieve the desired outcome.  Some members also said that these agencies have their own mandates and would give less priority to the investigations.

Tshering Dorji

Picture story

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 12:51

Marking the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, Bhutan Telecom (BT) officially launched 4G services in 20 dzongkhags. In the BT day observed in Gelephu yesterday, BT also awarded cash prizes of best performer of the years, best regions and best division in the head office.

Picture story

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 12:50

A couple, volunteering through Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID), Philip Stigant and Annie Philips, donated their cash prize of Nu 25,000 and Nu 50,000 each won during the DANTAK open mountain bike race held on April 23 to Thimphu Mountain Bikers’ Club (TMBC). Annie Philips also donated her mountain bike, which she got as a prize for winning the women’s open category, to Tenzin Wangmo, a student of Lungtenzampa Middle Secondary School. The couple will leave the country on May 20, after the completing their one-year volunteer term.

NC will question PM on tourism policy today

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 17:08

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay will be in National Council (NC) today where he will be questioned about the “government’s failure” to adopt a tourism policy and to table a tourism bill in Parliament.

NC in its 16th session in December 2015 had passed a resolution calling on the government to immediately implement these two recommendations. The government has not implemented the both.

According to NC, lack of a comprehensive policy has hindered planning and coordination for the development, promotion and regulation of the tourism sector.

Having a policy and a tourism Act to regulate the sector, NC says, will also provide clarity on what “high value-low impact” of Bhutan’s tourism industry stands for.

NC had also asked Royal Audit Authority (RAA) to conduct a special audit to examine, among other malpractices, possible tax evasion. Accordingly, RAA conducted a performance audit of the sector and submitted the findings to NC’s economic affairs committee on April 20.

After a brief presentation of the report on May 15 by the committee, NC decided to invite the prime minister to the house of review for questioning. The prime minister is also the chairperson of the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB).

PM Tshering Tobgay is expected to outline the government’s plans and policies for the tourism sector, which he has described as one of the “five jewels” of the economy. Tourism is one of the most important sectors that generates revenue, employment and earns convertible currencies.

In the financial year 2017-18, TCB aims to promote Bhutan as an exclusive travel destination, develop tourism infrastructure and promote cooperation with regional and international organizations. For this, the government has allocated Nu 109 million.

Presenting the RAA’s report to the house, Gasa’s NC member Sangay Khandu said that the economic affairs committee also conducted a study of its own last year on the tourism sector and that the findings of RAA and the committee were similar.

“Then the 49th plenary meeting held on April 11 directed the committee to draft questions to be asked to the prime minister about why the government failed to adopt a tourism policy and table a tourism bill as recommended by NC,” Sangay Khandu said.

The house also decided to submit the RAA report to a joint sitting of Parliament through the public accounts committee.

The chairman of the economic affairs committee, MP Sonam Dorji, said that the audit report has acknowledged that there are avenues for malpractices such as undercutting by tour operators. “However, RAA was not able to concretely prove existence of undercutting and tax evasion,” he said.

The RAA report has also recommended TCB to prioritise formulation of a tourism policy and also to adopt tourism bill. It has asked TCB to regulate regional tourists in conformity with the principle of “high value and low impact”.

“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 roads, lack of roadside amenities and long travel distances among other problems.

NC also feels that some tour operators could be practicing undercutting. Undercutting involves selling tour packages below the government set minimum price of USD 200 and USD 250 per person per day.

There are also rising concerns that some people act as tour operators for larger tour companies based abroad and actively engage in undercutting. This, according to NC, leads to leakages of profits and foreign currencies.

MB Subba

RemitBhutan celebrates USD 1M receipt

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 17:07

Eight months after the introduction of RemitBhutan, 637 Bhutanese living and working abroad have used this service to remit USD 1 million (M).

RemitBhutan is platform facilitated by the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) for non-resident Bhutanese to operate foreign currency accounts with any authorised bank in Bhutan.

The government, RMA and banks celebrated the success by offering prayers and lighting 1,000 butter lamps for good health and success of Bhutanese living abroad.

However, going by the number of Bhutanese living abroad and their income, the country should be able to receive remittance of USD 10M if all non-resident Bhutanese use the RemitBhutan service.

The governor of the Central Bank, Dasho Penjore, said that with more Bhutanese going abroad to study and work, there are many incentives to secure their savings within the country.

For instance, Bhutanese living abroad can open a foreign currency account without any charge and zero balance. The only cost is the remittance charges that clients have to pay to the host banks abroad which is minimum.

Once the account is credited with foreign currency, all facilities like online shopping, remittance to other local and international banks and card facilities are provided.

Foreign account holders can hold or convert to local currency as long as they wish. In case the clients decide to convert and save in a fixed deposit, there is tax waiver.

The Bank of Bhutan, for example, gives 0.25 percent higher interest on RemitBhutan accounts than Common Wealth Bank in Australia. The debit cards availed from foreign currency accounts can also be used all over the world.

RemitBhutan also facilitates loan repayments.

This is an extended service to facilitate overseas education and skills development loan that was launched recently. Under this scheme, banks will provide a loan of up to Nu 1.5M without collateral for youth seeking jobs and training abroad. However, there are other criteria that labour ministry and agents have to fulfill.

Around 54 percent of the foreign currency accounts are from Australia alone.

While some Bhutanese workers have raised concerns that the facility might be used by the government to keep an eye on their income, an official from the Central Bank assured that full confidentiality of the accounts is guaranteed.

Under the confidentiality agreement of the banks, only the account holder and the bank have access to the respective accounts unless the account holder(s) authorise someone on their behalf. Apart from this, the Central Bank may have the authority to access the accounts in suspicion of illegal transactions.

Contribution from foreign remittance to the country’s GDP is marginal today. Should Remit-Bhutan help swell the inward remittances from the non-resident Bhutanese, the country could achieve new dimension to measure economic growth.

GDP is the total value of goods and services a nation produces over a specific time. The net income receipts from abroad, when added to GDP, provides a figure reflecting the country’s gross national product.

Tshering Dorji

 

More space for crocodiles and gharials in Sarpang

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 17:06

From a cramped and congested cages in Phuentsholing crocodile breeding centre, four crocodiles and 15 gharials have been relocated to a spacious enclosure in Jigmeling, Sarpang.

The reptiles are translocated to the regional animal rescues and rehabilitation centre in April last year.   The centre has 15 acres area.

A senior forestry officer, Sangay Dorji, said that the centre serves to just keep the crocodile and gharial in a safe and spacious area unlike the breeding centre in Phuentsholing, which was open to visitors.

The Phuentsholing breeding centre had only about 20 decimals area.

Sangay Dorji said there is no plan of opening the centre for public wanting to see the crocodiles and gharials as of now.

The centre has just two permanent staff, a forestry officer and a veterinary doctor.

Currently the animal rescue and rehabilitation centre is rehabilitating seven wild animals including barking deer, peacock, goral, common palam civel and hornbill.

While stray dogs attacked some of these animals, moving vehicles injured others. Two deer were also released recently.

Sangay Dorji explained that the centre will cater to injured animals from other dzongkhags as well. “But we could not cater to other dzongkhags since we do not have a vehicle to rescue and transport the animals.”

Meanwhile, the centre was constructed at a cost of Nu 17 million. Within the 15-acre compound, it has a single storey house, which is used as an office and clinic. Another two-story building caters a four-unit staff quarter.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Gelephu

 

Putting central school debate in the right perspective

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 17:05

The central school system debate is welcome. Such a debate must be seen as required for a successful implementation of the policy. If the policy is to succeed, authorities concerned should lend their ears to the concerns raised about the deteriorating conditions in some of the central schools.

One of the biggest advantages of a central school system is the enormous potential it has for national integration. As a nation with diverse ethnic groups and dialects, boarding central schools could help us build a more harmonious society.

People of older generations still talk about what boarding central schools gave them. Besides richness of friends from various regions of the country, they were taught to be responsible and independent. The experiences they gained prepared them for life after school.

Most of the current senior officials in the government, corporate, and private sectors are the products of the erstwhile central schools of Paro, Yangchenphu, Khaling, Punakha, Samtse, Sarbang and Zhemgang. A national education policy required these schools to enroll a number of students from different parts of the country every year, providing an opportunity for cross-fertilisation of our various cultures, traditions and languages, among others.

Putting the debate in the right perspective, we need to ask if boarding central school be solution to the ever-growing youth-related issues. It certainly has the potential to create responsible and good citizens if planned and implemented well. Our youth are less resilient today. While some are overprotected by parents, others do not receive guidance and affection from their parents and elders. They have ample free time between home and school. Therefore, a central school with fewer distractions, vigilant school staff and fellow students may make them more responsible, self-reliant and confident to face their future.

Perhaps our focus today should be on improving the quality of central schools rather than increasing the numbers. As responsible citizens, it is incumbent on us to develop a sound education system.

We may do well right to reflect on His Majesty The King’s vision for the future of this country: “I have always believed that a nation’s future is mirrored in the quality of her youth and that it is the government’s sacred duty to provide a good education and a conducive environment for you to become strong, capable leaders for the future.”

SDF for vulnerable and disadvantaged

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 17:04

Of the  USD 10.17 million (M) SAARC Development Fund (SDF) committed to Bhutan for 13 projects, USD 6.72M has been disbursed so far.

As per the SDF’s charter, the funds are for projects under a social window and it focuses on poverty alleviation, education, health, human resource development, support to vulnerable and disadvantaged sections of the societies.

In Bhutan, SDF funded projects are being implemented by both government and non-governmental organizations like SABAH Bhutan, health ministry’s reproductive health programme, agriculture ministry’s national post-harvest center, Ministry of Information and Communication’s Department of Information Technology and Telecom, National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), Royal Society for Protection of Nature, Tarayana Foundation, Bhutan Youth Development Fund and UNDP Bhutan country office.

A press release from the SDF Secretariat states that the key objectives of SDF funded projects are building a social business organisation and a model of empowerment of women through crafts making and marketing, reduction in child and maternal mortality and enhancing the shelf-life of fruits and vegetables.

The other key objectives are providing affordable door-to-door services and reduce turnaround time by 70 percent access the 110 Government Citizen services or public services by the rural communities, strengthening care and response for children and operationalized the Child Care and Protection Act and the Children Adoption Act and adapting, evaluating and disseminating post-harvest, processing and value addition technologies for fruits and develop effective marketing linkages of processed products in SAARC countries.

The press release also states that it aims to provide emergency outreach services to women and children in need of care and protection through 24-hour’s emergency phone outreach service.

SDF has three funding windows namely economic, infrastructure and social.

The press release also states that the beneficiaries of the projects are poor or marginal women, mothers and newborns, doctors and nurses, farmers, vulnerable women and children.

Staff Reporter

No exemption on income tax for cash crop

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 17:03

Finance minister Namgay Dorji, during the question-answer session of the Parliament yesterday, said that the government would not be able to exempt income tax imposed on the cash crop.

The minister justified that such an exemption would create two rules, which will cause inconvenience for the government.

Lyonpo Namgay Dorji was answering to the Samtse’s Dophuchen-Tading Member of Parliament Tek Bahadur Subba’s query on whether the government could exempt the taxes since cash crop income of cardamom was taxed in rural places recently.

The MP reasoned out that the government had increased the personal income tax slab to Nu 200,000 for 2016 and it benefitted the people. “In a similar manner, if the government could exempt the income tax from cash crop, it would alleviate rural livelihood,” he said.

MP Tek Bahadur Subba requested the finance minister to clarify the taxation policy on agriculture products, especially on tax incentives on cash crops and non-uniformity in tax collection.

Lyonpo Namgay Dorji explained that income tax for cash crops like apple, cardamom and orange were collected according to Income Tax Act 2001. “People have been paying the tax since 2001 and it is not this government who imposed the tax.”

In 2008, 176 farmers paid Nu 8.8 million (M) as income tax from the cash crop. The amount increased to Nu 9.6M collected from 158 farmers.

The finance minister said that farmers will not be imposed tax on 30 percent of the income they earn from cash crop, as that will be deducted as expenses.

The tax collected from cash crops increased to Nu 9.6M in 2010. It was collected from 158 farmers.

Tashi Chophel

Maternity leave debates leaves a lot to desired

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 17:02

The National Assembly on May 15 resolved that the government, non-government organisations, private and corporate sectors should continue to support the increasing maternity leaves as per the national feeding policy.

The Speaker Jigme Zangpo said that the government, including the members of the parliament, should continue to increase the awareness on the importance of breastfeeding for six months.

Labour minister Ngeema Sangay Tshempo presented a report on the implementation status.

The report was as per the resolution of 8th session of Parliament where the Speaker had asked the government to update on the implementation of maternity leave in the private sector by closely working with the sectors.

Members from the Opposition raised a concern on the validity.

The Panbang’s members of parliament, Dorji Wangdi, said that the report could not be considered valid because it should have been in the written form.

“There were also repetition of statements and information, which was confusing and that written report should be considered important,” he said. “Nothing was clear and verbal report shouldn’t be accepted, which didn’t have any concrete recommendations.”

The Speaker also reminded the house that hereafter any kind of report should be presented in the written format and distributed among the members for further discussion.

The labour minister said that a study was conducted on the possibility of increasing maternity leave for women in the corporate and private sectors. A six-member committee was formed. The committee comprised of representatives from labour ministry, Bhutan Chambers of Commerce and Industries, National Commission for Women and Children, Druk Holding Investments, civil society organisations, and finance ministry.

Lyonpo said after series of discussions that some recommended that it was not convenient to implement as per the policy but government should continue to create awareness on breastfeeding. He added that some members recommended that if big private organisations and corporations implement the policy first, the rest may follow.

The committee had also recommended increasing the paternity leave from five to 10 days.

“Two months maternity leave and five days paternity leave in the private and corporate sectors already exist in the Labour Act 2007,” Lyonpo said, adding that there are total of 352,953 employees, out of which, 164,909 are women.

He added that a total of 166 private and corporate firms have agreed to increase maternity leave to three months following a series of discussions and consultations.

Four corporations – Construction Development Corporation, Rural Enterprise Development Corporation Limited, Bhutan Agro Industry, and National Housing Development Corporation – have committed to increase the maternity leave to six months from two months.

Lyonpo added that there is 10 crèches with 196 children to help working mothers.

“The ministry is also discussing the possibilities of recruiting permanent caretaker and to pay them based on a qualification,” Lyonpo said.

The minister said that 12 companies under the DHI are yet to submit the two recommendations on increasing maternity leave to the board members for approval. The companies have recommended maternity leave from two months to four months, two hours breastfeeding everyday for a year with full salary or three months to six months and half day off with full salary.

Of the 10 private schools in the country that has 130 female teachers, Lyonpo said, some have opted for three months or more.

However, some of the members said that the maternity leave policy should be implemented uniformly.

Yangchen C Rinzin

Regional conference on stunting and wasting

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 17:01

A five-member team from Bhutan, led by health secretary Dr Ugyen Dophu, is attending a regional conference on stunting and wasting, a major threat for child survival and development of South Asian Nations, in Kathmandu.

The conference, which began yesterday, will  identify actions to accelerate progress in the care of severely wasted children, which affects 8 million children in South Asia. The conference, organised jointly by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) brought together government representatives, UN partners and civil society organizations from South Asia with regional and global experts on nutrition to exchange regional analyses, expertise and experience on addressing wasting in the context of overall nutrition programming.

Bumthang to have multi-sports hall by June next year

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 17:01

Sports enthusiasts in Bumthang will soon get to play indoor sports, as the Bhutan Olympic Committee (BoC) is constructing a multi-sports hall in Chamkhar.

Construction works are in full swing in an area between the Chamkhar public ground and the road between the town and Bhutan Oil Distributor.

The project engineer, Ugyen Tshering, said they have completed the raft foundation base stone soling. “The plain cement concreting is also going on now.”

Work for the sports hall construction was awarded in February 2016 but they could not work due to some geological problems.

The project engineer said that they had to make four attempts until they could actually start the work.

Explaining the problems they faced, Ugyen Tshering said the area was marshy with high water seepage. “The dzongkhag wanted the soil to be tested and it failed the test.”

He said that the work could start only from June 2016 after the design was changed.

Ugyen Tshering explained that the initial design was for footing design, which later had to be changed to raft or mat foundation design to fit the geological stability of the area.

He said even the excavators could not be taken through. “We dug 2.9 metres depth and the water drained out through multiple chutes,” he said. “The water still flows through chutes unlike in some other places where they dry up usually once drains are dug.”

The project engineer said the soil they excavated is piled up in heaps but they can’t be used it for refilling.

Bhutan Olympic Committee’s head of Infra, Kinley Tshering, said the multi-sports hall will be completed by June 2018 and the ground will also have turf soon.

The government of India (GoI) is funding Nu 70 million (M) for the construction and another 16.5M for laying artificial turf over the ground.

Kinley Tshering said the multi-sports halls in Samdrupjongkhar, Kanglung and Punakha are expected to be completed by this year.

Nima Wangdi | Chamkhar

NA rejects committee proposals for highlander’s development

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 17:00

Members claim some programmes are  being implemented

The National Assembly (NA) resolved that the government should implement the projects for highlanders’ development and initiate more such programmes.

The members, in a majority show of hands, decided as suggested by the ministers.

The ad hoc committee, led by opposition leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD), submitted numerous policies and programmes to support highlanders to enhance the sustainability of their livelihoods.

The deliberation extended till the afternoon with members appreciating the work of the committee. Although all members raised the need to prioritise highlander development, they argued without direction.

For the ministers, it was an opportunity to report in depth what they were doing for the highlanders.

The ministers including the education, health, finance and foreign minister, who was also a committee member objected to endorsing the recommendations.

They said since most of the programmes and policy interventions recommended were being implemented, adopting the committee’s recommendations could only lead to duplication and problems in implementation.

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk said that if the NA adopts the programmes and policies for highlanders’ development, another community might seek such interventions. “Can we afford to do that,” he said.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji said that tax exemptions for highlanders cannot be approved by the House during the session.

The committee report stated that in recent years, because of changing socio-economic conditions such as dwindling family labour and depleting natural resources as well as access to better alternatives elsewhere, there is a serious risk of people moving away from the border areas. This trend was already observed in high altitude areas of Haa, Paro, Thimphu, Bumthang, and Lhuentse.

The committee chairperson, Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said once herders give up herding yaks, sheep, cattle and horses, the pastures they use are vulnerable to encroachment from herders across the border which may lead to undesirable events in future.

He said there are plenty of factors pushing highlanders out of their ancestral lands like depleting natural resource base, changing social norms and behaviour, restricted access to resources such as building materials and forest products as most the highlands fall in protected areas, and limited access to social services and limited access to financial and economic services.

The 11-member committee made 46 recommendations to the ministries and Tourism Council of Bhutan.

“Tsamdro lease should be given to the highlanders as soon as possible and if delayed it would lead to unsustainable use of the pastureland,” Pema Gyamtsho said.

There are opportunities to produce dairy products for tourists consumptions.

“Today, they have to carry cheese and milk because what is available in the highlands is not suitable for tourist consumption,” he said.

Making souvenirs for tourists is another area to explore.

Agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji said that while some of the proposed programmes are being implemented, some could not succeed because of difficult conditions.

He said the highlanders could expect some respite from human wildlife conflict with numerous measures expected to implement soon.

The ministry has proposed for an endowment fund for crop and livestock in gewogs in the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

South Thimphu MP Yeshey Zimba said there is a need to relook into leasing the pasture land. “The highlanders should be allowed to graze their livestock like in ancient times and not restrict them within their own dzongkhags.”

Tshering Palden

SP+ defence lawyers ask court to acquit their client

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 17:05

Citing the dangers of proliferation of trafficking, Office of Attorney General (OAG) asked the Supreme Court (SC) to convict a man who was alleged of abusing Spasmo Proxyvon plus (SP+), a drug not listed as banned substance in the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substances Abuse Act of Bhutan (NDPSSA) 2015.

The Mongar district court and the High Court sentenced the man to nine and a half years in prison for the offence. The man appealed to the SC.

OAG prosecutor said that while the SP+ may be different from the banned Spasmo proxyvon (SP), the two substances had the same effect on consumers. So he urged the court to consider the substances same and penalise the man for the alleged offence.

Police arrested the man at Korila, between Tashigang and Mongar, in May 2016 with 115 tablets of SP+.

The prosecutor said that the person did not have a prescription to use the drug and the quantity exceeded the permissible limit of 10 tablets.

He said that the mischief rule, a certain rule that judges can apply in statutory interpretation in order to discover the intention of the act, should be applied to the case.

The application of the mischief rule gives the judge more discretion as it allows him to effectively decide on Parliament’s intent.

“If the court does not punish such cases, then it would only create an opportunity for the undesirable illegal sale of the drugs, which could have an immense adverse impact in the society,” the OAG prosecutor said.

While the accused submitted that he had bought the substance at the request of another man in Mongar from Samdrupjongkhar, the courts did not accept the excuse.

The defence lawyers, Yeshi Wangdi and Sonam Dendup, argued that there is no need to apply the mischief rule, as the rules are clear.

They said that there cannot be penalty without law.

The two defence lawyers said their client could be penalised as per the Bhutan Medicine Act 2003 but not the NDPSSA 2015.

“A careful scrutiny and an analysis of all the ingredients of the two drugs, SP and SP+, reveals that they are utterly different from each other by virtue of its varied component present in it,” a defence lawyer said.

He said while SP contains paracetamol, dicyclomine, and dextropropoxyphene, the SP+ contains dicyclomine, acetaminophen or paracetamol, and tramadol hydrochloride.

“None of the above ingredients of SP+ is restricted and controlled by NDPSSA 2015 under any of its schedules,” the defence lawyer said. “The two drugs have two common ingredients but these medicines being non-prescription do not require any prescription to possess. This proves that the two drugs are different.”

He said the question was if the substance in question, SP+ and its ingredients, are contraband substance under the Act and its schedule.

The defence lawyers submitted that while both dextropropoxyphene and one of the ingredients of SP+ tramadol contain opiate and asked why was it not listed as an illegal substance in the Act. “It was not a new drug as it was introduced by Germany in international markets in 1977,” a defence lawyer said.

“What I’m more worried about is that if individuals are being charged and penalised without any clearly written and publicly disclosed laws, it may violate the very principle of rule of law,” a defence lawyer said.

The closing hearing will be held on May 18.

Tshering Palden

NC passes Paris Agreement and Indo-Bhutan trade pact 

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 17:04

National Council (NC) passed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Trade, Commerce and Transit Agreement between Bhutan and India on May 12.

Both the agreements were passed by National Assembly last year. NC will  now submit the agreements to the Druk Gyalpo for Royal Assent.

Presenting the Paris Agreement in NC, Agriculture Minister Yeshey Dorji explained to the house of review the benefits and obligations of the agreement.

He said Bhutan is a leader in climate change initiatives and that it was important for the country to ratify the agreement.

Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said Bhutan is highly vulnerable to the adverse impact of climate change because of its fragile mountainous landscapes and a high dependence on agriculture.

The country’s hydropower sector, he added, is also vulnerable. The agreement was adopted on December 12, 2015.

The agreement outlines frameworks for global actions to address climate change after 2020.

The objective of the agreement is to maintain the increase in global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, while making efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees.

The agreement addresses adaptation to climate change, financial and other support for developing countries, technology transfer and capacity building, as well as loss and damage.

After NC endorsed the Paris Agreement, Economic Affairs Minister Lekey Dorji introduced the Indo-Bhutan Trade, Commerce and Transit Agreement.

Lyonpo Lekey Dorji highlighted some of the salient features and expected benefits of the agreement. “Ratification of the agreement will benefit both Bhutan and India,” he said.

Economic affairs minister and the minister of state for Indian commerce and industry, Nirmala Sitharaman, signed the agreement on November 12 in Thimphu.

The bilateral trade agreement expired in July last year  but the validity had extended with effect from July 29, 2016, for a period of one year or till the new agreement came into force.

A new Article has been added to the revised agreement. The new article requires the completion of internal ratification procedures of both countries for the agreement to come into force.

The revised agreement states that both India and Bhutan should undertake measures to ensure proper documentation of trade data, and exchange them periodically. The two sides will also put in mechanisms to reconcile those data at regular intervals.

The agreement also states that both countries will not impose the prohibition on the export of essential food items to the other country, provided they meet reasonable end user requirements.

The agreement allows free trade regime between the two countries. The agreement also allows duty-free transit of Bhutanese merchandise for trade with third countries. Additional exit/entry points for Bhutan’s trade with other countries is also allowed.

The bilateral trade agreement expired in July. But the validity was extended with effect from July 29, 2016, for a period of one year or till the new agreement comes into force.

The agreement was renewed on July 29, 2006, for a period of ten years.

The first Agreement on Trade and Commerce between Bhutan and India was signed in 1972. Since then, the agreement has been renewed four times.

MB Subba

Thimphu bans entry of medium and heavy vehicles in core city area

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 17:03

In an effort to reduce traffic congestion and road accidents, Thimphu traffic police will restrict the movement of medium and heavy vehicles during the peak hours in the city.

Except for buses, medium and heavy vehicles, including earthmoving equipment and machinery will not be allowed to enter the city between 8am to 10am, and 3pm to 6pm.

Thimphu traffic division’s superintendent of police (SP), Yeshay T Phuntsho, said that the restriction of entry of medium and heavy vehicles in the core city area was already there, but the restriction now applies in all the city areas.

“With the increasing number of vehicles plying on the roads, traffic congestion is there in every area of the city,” the SP said. “The move is expected to ease traffic and make pedestrians’ safe.”

The SP said that heavy vehicles move slowly on the road, worsening the traffic congestion.

Motorists complain that with the huge vehicles in the front, they are not able to see vehicles coming from the opposite direction and are also not able to see pedestrians waiting to cross the road. “This causes road accidents,” Yeshay T Phuntsho, said.

The SP said that while this might help  to ease traffic flow, it could adversely affect construction projects. “But it is important to look at the public benefit.”

Meanwhile, in 2016, driving without necessary documents topped the list of traffic violation in the country. About 2,326 drivers were fined for drink driving.

The SP said that for the last nine years, drink driving has been one of the main causes of road accidents in the country. “It may be because alcohol is easily available in the country and also because the penalty for drink driving is only Nu 1,750, which is low.”

The Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) is in the process of revising the penalty amounts.

Of a total of 726 vehicle accidents in the country last year, 161 accidents were caused due to drink-driving, followed by unlicensed driving, and speeding.

According to police records, there were 105 deaths and 355 injuries in vehicle accidents last year.

The SP said that while conducting alcohol test, some commercial drivers are found under the influence of alcohol. “They carry passengers and they are risking many lives.”

The RSTA and traffic police division will carry out alcohol and drug test for all bus drivers daily before their departure from the stations starting this week. There will be ad hoc checking on the way.

“This initiative is to ensure the safety of passengers,” the SP said.

Penalty for drivers for not giving way to pedestrians is had been raised to Nu 1,200 from Nu 700.

“There are complaints from the motorist that the pedestrians walk slowly on zebra crossings and that they show up abruptly at the zebra crossing,” the SP said. “If accidents happen, the pedestrian will be the one who will suffer more. Therefore, I feel we should give priority to the pedestrian.”

Despite notifying the public through advertisement and various activities, the SP said that there are still people who violate traffic rules and regulations.

Until May 15th this year, 48 drivers have been fined for not giving way to pedestrians on zebra crossings.

Dechen Tshomo

BT launches 4G services in 16 dzongkhags

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 17:02

With the recent launch of 4G services in Samdrupjongkhar, Bhutan Telecom (BT) has provided the service in 16 dzongkhags.

Officials from BT’s regional office in Samdrup Jongkhar said the remaining four dzongkhags, Trashiyangtse, Dagana, Lhuntse and Gasa, will be connected with the service soon.

Before the launch of the 4G service, people of Samdrupjongkhar experienced issues with B-mobile network.

Officials said that the increasing number of users causes the network problem. “About 80 percent of the Samdrupjongkhar population today uses B-mobile,” an official said.

Officials explained that 4G is mainly for data and that more than 1,000 users subscribed for the SIM within a week.

BT, according to the officials, launched full-scale 4G service to commemorate the first birth anniversary of His Royal Highness the Gyalsay and to uphold BT’s credence to act responsibly in upholding the principle of balanced economic development through the extension of telecommunications service to rural and remote areas of the country.

But the 4G service has no voice over LTE (VOLTE) like 3G, which means 4G SIM users cannot make calls where there is no 2G and 3G services.

BT’s general manager for the marketing department, Penjore, said if people make calls, it should automatically fall back to 2G or 3G and 4G SIM has no fall back system.

He said the main difference between 3G and 4G is speed. “For 3G data service, the data speed is up to 21mbps but for 4G, data speed is up to 150 mbps.”

Penjore said that the expenditure of 4G depends upon on the type of mobile and the features people opt for.

He also said after providing 4G services in 20 dzongkhags, they will explore the possibility of providing the service to villages. “Being business oriented, we have to look for a return. If there is a genuine return, we will definitely connect 4G services in the villages.”

Officials said BT has received fewer complaints this year compared to the year before.

Penjore said implementation of cutting edge technologies like Wi-Fi offload, additional 3G sites and 4G LTE roll out have attributed to lesser complaints. “We are expanding the network and optimising it on a continuous basis to further improve the quality of our service.”

The general manager said that the rate at which technology is changing is overwhelming that the existing systems or equipment becomes obsolete very quickly. “Such a situation calls for significant and periodic new investments, the return on investment (RoI) of which is often low or slow at times,” he said.

He also said BT, which is given financial targets annually, face the challenge of keeping abreast of such a rapid changing technology, considering the surging amount of investments required.

“BT as a responsible ICT company takes initiatives to roll out new technologies on a timely basis, but then at times, we are confronted with the challenge of the ecosystem being not ready to embrace such a technology and one good example is the launch of 4G LTE,” the general manager said.

Penjore said that although 4G LTE is launched, most people are not able to take advantage of the service because the mobile phones they are using do not support 4G.

He said that they are trying to explore cheaper and good smart phones, which meet international safety and other standards.

He said another is the growing customer expectation. “Customers today demand high-quality services at an exceptionally cheap rate but trade-off needs to be made and this sometimes causes disappointment to a few customers.”

Penjore said that a specific case at hand is the recent launch of new data packages where BT almost doubled the amount of data, keeping the same price tag but the unavoidable trade-off was that they had to bring down the validity of some of these packages a bit.

He said this reduction in the validity might have disappointed a few customers who bombarded them with complaints through the print, broadcast and the social media and eventually they had to also increase the validity recently.

Today, about 53.9 percent of the Bhutanese population use B-mobile SIM and about 3.2% of them have 4G SIM. Bhutan Telecom’s 4G service was first piloted in 2013 in Thimphu.

Kelzang Wangchuk |  Samdrupjongkhar

The snail pace of Gong farm road construction

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 17:01

With the gewog depending on gewog development grants (GDG) to finance the construction, the farm road construction to Gong village in Jigmecholing gewog, Sarpang, is going at a slow pace.

Annually, a GDG of Nu 2 million (M) is diverted towards constructing the road.

The gewog has spent Nu 6M to construct a 27km stretch of the total 46km farm road till now.

Jigmechholing gup Kumar Gurung said that the project has been delayed mainly because of lack of budget. “If we had the budget like other farm roads, it would have been long completed,” he said. “We’ve to depend on the GDG.”

The farm road will cover the remote three chiwogs of Gongsekha, Gonduegang and Tshetenkhar (Sukumbasi). As of now, these villages are two days walk from the gewog centre and four days walk from the dzongkhag centre.

Gup Kumar Gurung also said that there is a need for a bridge over the Roong river, flowing at the base of Jigmechholing. “Without the construction of a bridge there, the farm road would be useless during monsoon as vehicles will not be able to cross the swollen river.”

He said that requirement of about a 50-meter long bailey bridge has been included in the 12th Plan. “The bridge is a priority.”

Gong farm road construction has a long history. The construction began as early as 2008. Lack of budget stalled it for almost eight years until the project was initiated again in 2015.

Gong is one of the remotest chiwogs in Sarpang and basic services like electricity, school and health facilities reached late.

Completion of the on-going farm road construction is expected to open market for farm produce such as cardamom, ginger, vegetables and mandarin. As of now, farmers carry their farm produce on their back for two days to reach a nearest market.

Meanwhile, the farm road will benefit more than 350 households of the three chiwog.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang

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