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Updated: 1 hour 22 min ago

Cordyceps collectors and buyers skeptical about open business

Mon, 09/14/2020 - 11:21

Kuensel Reporters 

In a move to ease the Yartsa Goenbub (Cordyceps Sinensis) business, the agriculture ministry has approved direct buying and selling of cordyceps, but buyers and sellers are still skeptical of the new arrangement.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the business, cordyceps were sold through open auctions conducted by the ministry, although some preferred to sell it to direct contacts, especially middlemen.

Last week, the Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives (DAMC) announced that interested buyers and sellers could trade directly following the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), which includes intimation and payment of the mandatory royalty at their local forestry office.

Cordyceps collectors from the four gewogs in Gasa—Khatoed, Khamoed, Laya and Lunana, couldn’t sell their collection due to the lockdown. Samdrup from Lunana, said many today feared fetching poor income from cordyceps without the auction. Cordyceps auctions for people of Khamoed and Lunana were scheduled to be held in Punakha, a few days after the lockdown was announced on August 11.

Similarly, auctions for people in Khatoed and Laya were to be held in Gasa.

Khatoed Gup Thinley Wangdi said that while people were aware that direct buying and selling of cordyceps were permitted; none of the people in Khatoed were able to sell their cordyceps. He added that collectors are concerned with the lack of buyers. In Lunana and Laya, sellers, as of yesterday have not received any calls.

In Wangdue, although cordyceps auction was conducted before the lockdown, many were unhappy with the price. Today, a few who didn’t want to sell at the auction are looking for buyers. A buyer from Nobding in Wangdue, Dorji said that like sellers, buyers were also worried about lack of market. Dorji had earlier participated in auctions in Sephu and Dangchu gewogs in Wangdue and another auction in Bumthang.   

He said that he had earlier bought around 8kg of cordyceps, which couldn’t be sold. “There are no guests here. By this time last year, around 80 percent of the cordyceps we bought were sold to tourists and guides.”

According to Dorji, cordyceps prices have dropped by 40 percent in the market.

Earlier, a kilogram of cordyceps fetched between Nu 200,000 and Nu 300,000. “Today, it would sell at around Nu 100,000. Although the price is less, it is risky. I don’t know if I want to buy it,” Dorji said.



Despite the poor quality, Wangchuk from Naro in Thimphu is expecting a better price with the new arrangement. Wangchuk said direct negotiation would benefit sellers who had either withdrawn or faced losses due to low price quoted at the auctions. In the past, the best harvest from the gewog could fetch about Nu 1 million a kilogram, he said. He is expecting more in the open market.

He said that the harvest was poor this year. “We hope to communicate well to individual buyers and meet everyone’s expectations.”

The SOP states that the cordyceps business deals shall be made at the convenience of the buyers and the sellers at the place of origin and an individual holding a valid Bhutanese trade license will be allowed to purchase cordyceps from the sellers.

The parties shall pay the royalty at the respective range/park forestry office where the volume and value of cordyceps transacted shall be recorded. According to the guidelines for collection or harvesting of Ophiocordyceps  Sinensis 2018, legitimate buyers pay a royalty of Nu 8,400 for a kilogram of cordyceps at the auction site.

DAMC has provided contacts of 39 buyers and the contacts of local government leaders who would facilitate the trade.

A buyer in Thimphu said that he would avoid middlemen and directly contact harvesters to avoid hiked prices. “I did not clear last year’s stock but I am taking risk this year while looking for ways to export,” he said.



Pem Dorji from Yaktsa under Tsento gewog said that he would still prefer open auction, as there were more chances of hike in price. Local leaders of three gewogs—Tsento and Doteng in Paro and Soe in Thimphu are yet to consult with the cordyceps collectors about the direct buying and selling of cordyceps.

The gewog leaders could not connect with the collectors, as they are in the highlands collecting medicinal plants.

The cordyceps auction of three gewogs scheduled in July was postponed due to limited buyers. Local leaders then submitted a letter to DAMC on July 27 proposing to the ministry to waive off the royalty and service charge of the cordyceps so that collectors can sell the fungus in the open market.

The letter mentions that the farmers were willing to sell their fungus without paying royalty and service charges, and if they fail to sell, they expect the government to buy it.



Chhokhor gup, Pema Dongyel, said that people might be willing to sell only if the price was higher than that of the four-day auction conducted in August where many sellers pulled out due to low price.

Only 10 bidders attended the auction and collectors with 4.6kg of cordyceps withdrew from the auction citing low price. The highest price offered at the auction for a kilogram was Nu 1.01 million and the lowest was Nu 41,000.

The gup said that people could preserve the harvest for two to three years and then sell when the quoted price increases.

Risks high in re-opening Classes PP-VIII : MoH minister

Sat, 09/12/2020 - 13:52

Yangchen C Rinzin

Based on the risk assessment, the health ministry has advised the government against reopening Classes Pre-Primary to VIII for the remaining academic session.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that the ministry’s decision came after several discussions with the education ministry and the parents and considering all the external factors.

The minister earlier had said that for schools to re-open, they must have adequate public health measures such as physical distancing, enough testing provisions, WASH station, proper ventilated areas, and a response team in case of an outbreak. 

“If these measures are in place, the government could go ahead with the re-opening of schools.”

Lyonpo at the press briefing yesterday said that it was analysed from all aspects: impact on children, economy, and other possible situations.

“For high schools, there is a milestone they need to achieve, so there are no options than to re-open. Otherwise, for the health ministry, we would be happy if all the schools remain close because one positive would infect all.”

Several other logistic issues also attributed to keeping lower classes shut.

“Globally, outbreaks are usually from lower-grade schools. We must learn from others too.”

Lyonpo told Kuensel that based on the risk assessment if one student from lower grade tests positive for Covid-19, the rest of the students and their parents have to be quarantined. This was because no parents would want to leave their minors alone at the quarantine.

“I wouldn’t want to leave my 8-year-old son inside the quarantine alone and small children wouldn’t be able to communicate if they develop symptoms.”

Lyonpo said that going by the teacher-student ratio it would be difficult to monitor students to follow health safety measures all time.

“All the measures are based on the learning from other countries, some of the best examples, global practices and recommendations from the experts,” Lyonpo said.

“When we talk about safety, there are two levels of safety, physical safety and safety of self, which the small children will not be able to practice diligently.”

Lyonpo said the decision is based on practical perspectives and from the disease perspectives.

Meanwhile, some of the teachers from remote schools and highlands said their schools should be allowed to teach face-to-face learning.

“It’s becoming difficult to reach out to students and continue mobile teaching since students cannot access online platforms,” a teacher said.

Few teachers also shared that those students who used to access online education through television are also deprived now that BBS broadcasts only movies. “They don’t have internet access to watch through other social media platforms.”

In such cases, the health minister agreed that they could continue teaching but the decision would be solely left to the education ministry.

“They’ve their own restriction and certain standards put in place when it comes to re-opening schools. The ministry cannot re-open a few schools and keep other schools closed.”

Earlier Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the government would have to look into re-opening of Classes PP-VIII, as almost 65 percent of teachers are De-Suups.

“We have the most important task in places like Phuentsholing where every day patrolling is important, and we keep receiving issues like shortages of De-Suup volunteers at the borders,” Lyonchhen said. “Re-opening schools would disturb that.”

Health Minister said that public ECCD centres would not be allowed to open. It is left for the private centres to decide and in case they open the safety protocols have to be implemented strictly.

Flu vaccination for all to start from November

Sat, 09/12/2020 - 13:51

Health ministry has spent Nu 1.1 billion for Covid-19 containment efforts so far   

Younten Tshedup 

With growing evidence suggesting that flu vaccines could provide certain protection against Covid-19, the government will start vaccination for the public in November.

Protection here primarily means reducing the strain on the health care system and hospital resources in the event of the second wave of the pandemic.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo during a press briefing yesterday said that the ministry has started to provide flu vaccines to the high-risk population – health workers, pregnant mothers, people with comorbidities, elderlies above the age of 65 and children below the age of two – beginning last year.

Lyonpo said that the flu season in the country peaks by mid-October and that is when the priority groups receive the vaccination. In the following two months, as the rest of the population also starts getting the flu, the mass vaccination would begin.

The vaccines would cost the government more than Nu 120 million.

So far the health ministry alone has spent about Nu 1.1 billion for Covid-19 containment efforts. The cost incurred is for the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), test kits, testing reagents and ventilators, among others and does not include the cost of quarantine.

Fight against Covid-19 continues   

Save for a few high-risk places (southern locations), as the country resumes its regular activities, Lyonpo cautioned of the impending threat should people let their guard down.

With the movement of people now allowed across the country, Lyonpo said that the biggest concern for the government now was the detection of multiple cases from various parts of the country.

The minister said that if people were not careful, the overwhelming number of cases could collapse the health facilities in the country.

“We have seen this happen in some of the most developed countries. And given our limited resources, we cannot afford to be casual.”

Almost 10 months into the pandemic, Lyonpo said that the world knows only little about the virus and there was no specific treatment yet.

“These are unprecedented times, which we are experiencing for the first time in history. As a small country, in such situations, we must focus and prioritise on preventive measures.”

Lyonpo said that if people could sincerely follow the Covid-19 guidelines and safety protocol for at least three to four months, the country would pass the threshold. “These few months are very critical for all of us.”

The minister called for collective responsibility to get through these trying times. She said that while most of the countries have started to impose fines for not wearing face masks, the government did not want to follow a similar path.

“For the health ministry, we want to empower our citizens so that they can make the right choice. This is also a means for sustaining our interventions put in place.”

However, Lyonpo said that despite the numerous requests and pleas from the government, if people don’t follow the safety protocols, at some point in time, enforcements have to come in.

“But I personally think this won’t happen. Our people have been very supportive especially during the lockdown.”

New testing methods

As experts continue to learn about the novel Coronavirus, new information continues to evolve. One such evolvement has been in the field of testing.

To begin with, the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test was the only testing mechanism to detect Covid-19 initially.

Lyonpo said that as experts began to learn new knowledge about the virus, they came up with the rapid diagnostic test (RDT) that uses blood as samples for testing. Recently another rapid testing method (antigen) was discovered.

All three methods are currently in use in the country.

Now there are reports about Covid-19 tests being conducted using saliva and breadth as samples. Lyonpo said that although not widely used, these methods have been piloted in some of the countries.

“For now the literature is limited on these methods. We have to see and understand the efficacy of the test – its sensitivity and specificity,” the minister said.

“If these methods are better than what we currently have, we would definitely consider it.”

Govt. offers bonds worth 3B for public subscription

Sat, 09/12/2020 - 13:50

MB Subba

In view of the need of promote and sustain capital market amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the government has offered bonds worth Nu 3 billion (B) with a maturity period of three years for public subscription.

While the bond will support government spending, it is a secure investment option for those who are looking for a regular return, as the finance ministry will pay coupon (interest) on a half yearly basis.

The minimum value of investment has been fixed at Nu 1,000 (face value) while the maximum limit has not been specified.

The submission of subscription applications opened from September 7 and will close at 12PM of September 22.

The annual coupon (interest) rate of the bond is 6.5 percent. The interest earned from the bonds is non-taxable for PIT.

However, the interest income from the bond is taxable income (5 percent as TDS) for the BIT and CIT paying entities. The maturity date is September 26, 2023, on which the principal amount and final interest will be paid.

The main objectives of issuing the bonds include creating opportunities for domestic investors and domestic liquidity management during liquidity shortfall in the economy.

This is the first time that the government is raising financing through long-term bonds after the finalisation of the rules and regulations for issuance of government bonds in June this year.

According to the finance ministry, the government has been raising much of its financial requirements through external concessional borrowings. However, the government has started to resort to domestic and international markets to fund development projects.

The government plans to issue long-term bond on a regular basis to develop the bond market. 

The ministry expects that the bond will benefit investors in meeting their long-term investment needs.

The bonds are offered for public subscription through the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA).

The government is expected to issue bonds of the maturity period ranging from three years to seven years during the fiscal year 2020-21.

“Against these imperatives, the government and the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) urge all the potential investors to participate in promoting domestic bond market and support the economy in fighting the pandemic,” the RMA has notified.

Should political parties not in power matter?

Sat, 09/12/2020 - 13:50

MB Subba

On September 7, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) issued a press release objecting the government’s nomination of one of its founding members, Tenzing Lekphel, as BIMSTEC’s Secretary General.

Urging the government to review the nomination, PDP questioned the nominee’s capability and experience while calling the nomination it as a political appointee.

The government has not made any statement. The foreign minister when approached by Kuensel, said that the government of the day had the authority to nominate and that member countries agreed to the nomination.

Political parties not in Parliament had been raising issues since the first democratically elected government in 2008. The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) had been the most active and issued several press releases and even moved court to some of the PDP government’s decisions.

While political parties feel that their concerns should matter, the trend had been otherwise, if not shutting up each other.   Last month, the PDP accused the government of breaching the tobacco control Act by temporarily lifting the ban on sale of tobacco.

It alleged the government of violating the provisions of the Constitution. The Attorney General stated the government’s stand was right.

Should views of parties not in power matter? Yes, says many.

“Registered parties still represent a sizeable number of people. They might have lost the election, but they have supporters who believe in their ideology,” says a researcher. “They should stay relevant.”

Calling himself a political observer, a former Member of Parliament said that political parties presenting different views to the government and the opposition party is good.

“What we need in a democracy is discourse. There could be issues that the government or the opposition party might oversee,” he said.

Last year, during the pay revision discussions, the PDP thanked the government for considering its feedback on the salary revision.  The feedback was on increasing teacher’s allowance, minimum daily wage and revision for local leaders.

At a press conference on May 22, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, while speaking on incorporating feedback from the DNT office and others had said that he also met with former Prime Minister Dasho Tshering Tobgay to discuss the suggestions from the party and personally thanked him.

However, it was the PDP’s latest press release that generated a debate on the social media. As the PDP’s press release went viral, some anonymous social media users shared a video clip of the DNT candidate from Bumthang’s Chokor Tang constituency in which he accuses the PDP government of appointing a party supporter as the managing director of BBS.

The candidate, Dawa, had made the statement during the 2018 election period.

The former government had questioned the legitimacy and moral right of DNT to issue press releases. The DNT also got ridiculed by the then prime minister, Dasho Tshering Tobgay when responding to DNT’s press release on the fiscal incentives in June 2017, saying that the party was issuing press releases “every now and then” even when it did not have presence in Parliament to suit its political interest.

The DNT had called for resignation of the prime minister and the finance minister on moral grounds for granting the fiscal incentives without passing through Parliament. But the former prime minister said that press releases were a desperate means of DNT to engage with the government and be heard.

The DNT sued the government on the constitutionality of the fiscal issues. The case was dismissed due to lack locus standi.

The PDP is having a taste of its own medicine, according to journalist and writer, Gopilal Acharya, referring to the remarks the former Lyonchhen made on the DNT press releases.  The former editor said democracy could only be deepened if people actively participate in politics through the parties of their choice.

“There is a constitutional limit which disallows representation of registered parties in the Parliament, but this should not limit their importance,” he said.

Gopilal in an article soon after the former Lyonchhen’s remark on DNT press releases had written that parties with no role in governance should continue to provide platforms for political engagement to their supporters.

“They could help communities remain connected to politics after the polls. To their supporters these parties will represent political inclusion in reaching out to policy makers, and the very existence of the party that one supports is itself an incentive to engage in politics.”

On the issue of political appointees, a former National Council (NC) member said that it was difficult for him to comment on the government’s decision as the precedent was set by previous governments. “From one angle, the decision looks legitimate,” he said.

The former PDP candidate from the Radhi Sakteng constituency, Trashigang, Kinlay Dorji, was selected as the secretary general of Colombo Plan. He had worked as executive director of the Youth Development Fund and director in the labour ministry.

There is a small difference. The Colombo Plan had selected Kinlay Dorji among many applicants from member countries. The BIMSTEC secretary general, however, need not go through competition with candidates from other countries as it is appointed on a rotational basis.

Some argue that the PDP suggesting nominations from the civil service or former diplomats was also a political move. “Can we not say that PDP is trying to keep the civil servant votes in mind,” said one.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji has said that Tenzin Lekphel’s nomination has been accepted by BIMSTEC countries. Formal appointment by foreign ministers of the member countries remains to be completed, which is expected to take place soon as the tenure of the incumbent secretary general expires on September 20.

Tenzin Lekphel did not comment on the PDP’s statement.

All’s well that ends well

Sat, 09/12/2020 - 13:49

Commuters along the Indian Embassy road at Hejo were yesterday shocked to see expatriate construction workers protesting and threatening to walk back home from Thimphu. Most were worried to see the commotion and the crowd when Covid-19 norms are still to be followed. The only sight of people coming out on streets and protesting, for many Bhutanese, is only in movies or television.

The construction workers who had been in the country for months wanted to go home. The closure of the border and the nationwide lockdown has caused inconvenience to our friends from the neighbouring states of West Bengal. Missing parents and loved ones back at home, the frustration of getting confined in huts for 21 straight days and not getting onions, fish or chickens added to the problem. The festival season is not far away and everybody wants to go home.

The crowd was controlled and dispersed with the help of police within a few hours. Everything ended well. The workers approached the right place, the Indian Embassy, which had been helping repatriate workers who wanted to go home. It was an additional headache during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the Embassy had come to the rescue of workers and the Bhutanese employers both in facilitating their journey home and avoiding problems here.

There are thousands of workers waiting to go home. During normal times, it is the time expatriate workers take leave to go with their savings and celebrate the numerous festivals. It is called the puja season, from now until the end of October. Covid-19 has disrupted the plans.

As we ease the lockdown, the issue of thousands of workers wanting to go on back deserves some attention. In fact, our authorities should take this up as a priority. The workers are here to earn, save and go back to their families. We are talking about hundreds of young men who are frustrated by the lockdown. There is no point holding them back even if it is at the cost of delayed works.

The thekadhars (contractors) and the construction owners should understand that too. Most of the workers had no issue with the government or the Indian Embassy. They were complaining of building owners not paying them or thekadhars not being honest after receiving payment from the owners. It may sound like an internal problem, but there are repercussions.

We might have relaxed the restriction, but the threat still remains. That’s why the health minister and her team are insisting on the Covid-19 prevention protocols. When angry or frustrated mobs come out in droves not respecting established norms, it is a risk. Our friends from across the border are used to coming out in groups and flaunting rules. They are even complaining about the shortage of onions or its price. The mob culture is there and the situation is ripe for them to gather and demand.

Let us be honest. We need the hands of the expatriate workers. Notwithstanding the numerous programmes or incentives to encourage Bhutanese to take up blue-collar jobs, it will take ages to replace them. We need not give into their demands, but we cannot hold them back against their will.

Section 35 of Evidence Act an impediment to consumer justice

Sat, 09/12/2020 - 13:49

The Section 35 of the Evidence Act (EA) of Bhutan 2005 is an obstacle and impediment to justice in consumer disputes. This section determines the validity of a written agreement. It decides the fate of any dispute arising out of a written agreement. According to this section, every written agreement must be executed in presence of a witness from each party, signed by all the parties, and must bear a legal stamp.

The evidence plays a critical role in deciding any dispute because it is only “evidence that logically goes to prove or disprove the existence of those facts and would thereby get to the truth of the matter.” Section 14 of the EA defines admissible evidence as to any evidence that proves or disproves a fact in issue or “rationally renders the existence of a fact in issue probable or improbable.” But Section 35 overrides Section 14 because, if an agreement becomes invalid, the written agreement is inadmissible in the court.

Section 16 of the Contract Act 2013, which is a parent contract law, states that an agreement is valid as long as it is made by competent parties, with “free consent for a lawful consideration or object and is not declared to be void or illegal by any laws in force.” However, Section 19 states “irrespective of the value of its subject matter”, if there is a prescribed formality, it must be followed only if it fulfills the requirement, validating the enforceability of Section 35 of EA.

Most of the consumer contracts are based either on system generated receipts or a cash memo or mere handwritten receipts. As per Section 123 (e) of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) 2012, a consumer contract means a “contract for the supply of goods, or services, for a price or consideration.” This means, if there is a price or consideration for the goods supplied or services rendered, the agreement becomes valid. However, consumer contracts fall short of fulfilling the requirements of Section 35 of EA if there is no witness or legal stamp. While a competent witness and legal stamps are important in many written agreements to “reinforce the validity and authenticity and add “another layer of security” exceptions are necessary.

These possess a huge impediment not only for consumer contracts but a whole range of other written agreements. This is because, unlike other laws which only pertains to their own subject matter, Section 35 of EA applies to every written agreement. It is must be understood that production of witness and legal stamp in every transaction in the consumer world is impossible. Further, the requirement of witness and the legal stamp is an economic burden and impedes an efficient business service, especially in the current situation.

The function of judges is to ascertain the existence or non-existence of fact by evidence and “apply the substantive law to the ascertained facts and to declare the rights, liabilities or remedies in any dispute.”  Section 35 contradicts this fundamental principle if a written agreement is invalidated merely because of the absence of a witness or a legal stamp.

Without the only and crucial evidence, there is no way the judges can render justice in any consumer disputes.  Since there is comprehensive contract law and other relevant statutes pertaining to written agreement, repealing Section 35 of the EA would be a good option.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.

Construction workers demand that they be sent home

Sat, 09/12/2020 - 13:49

Yangyel Lhaden

Frustrated with the lockdown that disrupted work and the festival season approaching, a huge group, about 400 expatriate construction workers from as far as Paro protested outside the Indian Embassy yesterday, threatening to walk back home, if they are not allowed to go.

The commotion was quickly dispersed with the help of the Royal Bhutan Police. The crowd of workers extended from the lower gate of the Embassy to the Zhichenkhar building, popularly known as CBS Dzong.

Some workers claimed that they were frustrated as the embassy informed them that vehicles were arranged for them to go home yesterday. “We came with our belongings as early as 5 am thinking that there are buses arranged,” said one. Embassy officials trying to control the crowd said they had nothing to comment.

The construction workers claimed that they had registered to go home with the embassy more than three months ago. Some registered only days ago.

The patrolling team of De-Suups and police were taken by surprise when the workers started shouting and protesting. The workers said that they wanted to forcefully let the officials give them permission to go home. “If we are given the permit, we are ready to walk home,” said one.

However, after police intervened, they were dispersed peacefully to their camps. Officer in Command (OC) of Thimphu Police Station, Gembo Penjor said that it was unlawful to protest in the country.

Most workers said they wanted to go home as they have families to look after. Some claimed that they were out of work for more than two months and living was expensive. Many said onion and tomato were not available and even if it was it was not affordable. Many are worried if there would be another lockdown in the country.

Kapudin Miya, a construction worker said that he applied for the permit three months ago and he was desperate to go home to his family. “My family is struggling,” he said. Another worker, Phalanath said he came with his belongings after he found out that his contractor lied to him saying that his name was registered three months ago.

Meanwhile, some workers said that Embassy Officials have informed them they would be sent in the following days according to their registration numbers.

Every day there is a long line of Indians waiting to register at the India house to go home. The Embassy had been assisting workers to leave for home.

In May, two buses with 17 workers left Phuntsholing for Assam. On June 3, bus with labourers went home, and on September 5, 145 Punstsangchu Project II workers left for India.

Asia’s Journey at 60

Sat, 09/12/2020 - 13:48

On 16 September, Malaysia celebrates her 57th national day, having celebrated on 31st August the 63rd anniversary of independence from Britain in 1957.         

What does Independence mean for former colonies?  It means that a nation is free to choose its own future independent from imperial influence.  Lest we forget, colonization in Asia arrived in the 16th century with Portuguese, Dutch and British pirateers who came, saw and conquered.   They did this in the name of their king and Christianity, but it was mostly for their own well-being.   No statistics illustrates this better than the stark fact that India before colonization in 1700 accounted for 24.4% of world GDP (Maddison, 2007) and by Independence in 1947, her share was down to only 4.2% in 1950.  Of course, the British left behind the English language, the rule of law and a durable administrative structure that is still being practiced in many former colonies.  

We should also be grateful that decolonization (shedding of empire by the European powers) was encouraged by the post-war American administration, which basically did not want any challenges to her dominant status, British cousins or not.  The result was that Hong Kong was the last of the colonies to lose her status in 1997.   Considering that some Hong Kongers are still waving the Union Jack, colonial nostalgia has not lost all its fans. 

What matters is what the newly independent countries achieved with their sovereignty.   Singapore is the exemplar that pulled herself into the ranks of advanced income status by sheer grit and determination, having almost no natural resources.  Myanmar, on the other hand, was richly endowed with natural resources and had one of the best educated elites at independence in 1948.  Ruled mostly by the military junta, her growth has been stunted relative to her neighbours.   

The Asian Development Bank has just published an excellent book on Asia’s Journey to Prosperity, commemorating 50+ years of its establishment in 1966.  The book tracked Asia’s transformation from a post-colonial era of essentially rural Asia to today’s urban and technologically driven region that accounts for roughly half of global growth.  

Seen from a 60-year cycle, Asia’s transformation has been world-shattering.  In 1960, Developing Asia (ex-Japan) accounted for only 4.1% of world GDP, measured in constant 2010 USD terms.  That year, EU accounted for 36.2% and the United States 30.6% respectively, together 18 times larger.  Japan was already a developed country with 7.0% of world GDP. By 2018, Developing Asia’s share increased six times to 24.0%, on par with EU (23.2%) and USA (23.9%).  This means that including Japan, Asia accounted for 31.5% of world GDP.  The global GDP shares for Latin America, Middle East, Africa and rest of the world were essentially unchanged in the last half century.  

In other words, the loss in share of world GDP by Europe and the US between 1960-2018 was largely gained by Developing Asia, of which China was in its own class.  China’s GDP grew 84 times over this period, whereas the other three Asian dragons, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore grew between 55 to 58 times.  By comparison, over the same period, OECD countries, including Japan and Australia, basically grew 8 times.  Malaysia is in the upper pack, having grown by 35 times.

The secrets for Asia’s successful transformation deserve repeating.  During this period, there was peace and general political stability, with Asian governments being fiscally prudent and willing to invest in infrastructure and people.  Asia did not follow the “import substitution” model adopted in Latin America but adopted the Japanese export industrialization route.  Development essentially came from a young growing population that shifted out of rural agriculture into urban centres, with pragmatic governments working hand-in-hand with markets to create jobs in new industries and services.   This raised the savings and investment levels significantly above that of the rest of the world.  The state took care of macroeconomic stability, education, health and infrastructure, preparing the labour force for foreign and domestic enterprises to propell exports and growth.   

Those economies that were most open to technology and innovation, including welcoming foreign investment, grew fastest.  Initially, income distribution improved, but in recent years, income and wealth inequalities have widened.  Furthermore, climate change issues in terms of weather change, impact on water, food and increasing natural disasters, are rising in the social agenda.  The geopolitical temperature has also risen with the West feeling more insecure. 

Currently, China’s rise is seen as the main geopolitical rival for the West, since she is the West’s largest market, biggest supplier, toughest competitor and rival political model.  But not far behind China are India and ASEAN, both with culturally diverse, younger population, totalling 2 billion people and US$5.8 trillion GDP, about to enter into technologically driven, middle-class income levels.  Both South and Southeast Asia are about to enjoy the same demographic dividend as China, but it will take competent governments to ensure that the rise to middle and advanced income will be accompanied by good jobs and fair distribution, particularly in the face of growing protectionism, and decoupling in technology and supply chains. 

Asia’s growth must be in cooperation with the West, socially, commercially and technologically.  But the greatest risks are the neo-con hawks in the West who are willing to risk war to disrupt Asia’s rise.

Put simply, if Asian growth stalls, the world will lose its growth engine.   

The rise of Asia for the rest of the century is neither destiny nor pre-ordained.   The West will not sit by to see its leadership erode.  But as McKinsey’s useful analyses on Future of Asia opined, “The question is no longer how quickly Asia will rise; it is how Asia will lead.”  Leading in a culturally diverse and complex world is not about fighting, but about how to work together, meaning competing and cooperating at the same time.  The greatest Asian divide is not technology, but social polarization riven by race, gender, religion, ideology and health/wealth inequalities, all exposed brutally by the pandemic.  

How a new generation of Asian leaders heal these social wounds and move forward without fragmentation and fighting will be the true test of Asia’s maturity in the next 60 year cycle.    

Andrew Sheng 

Asia News Network

Flying solo

Sat, 09/12/2020 - 13:47

Phub Dem | Paro

This does not happen often. Kinley Yangden was the lone passenger on a Druk Air cargo flight.

The grade 12 student of United World College South East Asia, Singapore was returning to her school on Wednesday.

Days before her flight to Singapore, Kinley Yangden was worried about possible crowding at the airport and the plane. But then, she was told that she was the only passenger on the plane because of the pandemic.

Airports have become risky due to Covid-19.

Kinley Yangden said that it was fun travelling alone on the whole plane. “When I was getting on the plane, I felt like I own the plane.”

And she felt safe.

She added that the crew checked on her occasionally, making her solo flight comfortable. “I was able to do my work and enjoy the scenery. I was at peace during the journey.”

The two airlines have drastically cut their schedule flights. Repatriation and cargo flights are almost always empty.

Kinley Yangden is a scholarship student funded by the Youth Development Fund. She won the Golden Youth Award in 2018.

She had to return home towards late March with the outbreak of the Covid-19 in the region. With words doing the round that it was the last flight from Singapore, she rushed to book her flight home.

“Being the youngest, my family worried about me as the Covid-19 cases were on the rise daily,” she said.

After four months, her school resumed on August 18. However, with no flight to Singapore and delay in the approval letter from the Singaporean government, she has missed her classes for almost a month.

Until summer break, she said that she was engaged in remote learning due to the lockdown in Singapore.

She said that her classmates returned to school after the vacation. With only a few students joining the classes virtually, she said that she had a hard time catching up with the syllabus. “I missed most of my practical classes for the final exam.”

Although it was a relief to be able to go back, she has to complete her two-week quarantine. “Hopefully, I will be able to catch up. I am relaxed and happy, as I am back to my school.”

Mass surveillance begins in S’jongkhar

Sat, 09/12/2020 - 13:46

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

Eight teams of health officials began collecting swab samples yesterday in Samdrupjongkhar thromde as part of the mass surveillance.

The teams were deployed in the four zones in the thromde and started collecting samples from the lower town yesterday. The teams collected about 1,343 samples yesterday. 

The swab samples collected from two members of every household would be sent for the RT-PCR test to Covid-19 testing centre at Dewathang hospital.

The incident commander (IC) and Samdrupjongkhar dzongdag, Tharchin Lhuendup, said they are conducting the test to every household because it was unknown how the index case, the 18-year-old woman who tested positive on September 7, contracted the virus.

“She also does not have travel history.”

The dzongdag said that two members – an elderly and the one who goes out from every household would be tested for Covid-19.

“It is also to assess the risk of community transmission in the thromde.”

“The results would be reported to the government, and the relaxation or unlocking would be carried out as per the government’s order,” Tharchin Lhuendup said, adding that they would also conduct the test at Dewathang town.

A resident, Khandu said that they were worried after an 18-year-old tested positive because the source was unknown.

She said that the concerned agencies should restrict Indian trucks into Samdrupjongkhar ferrying grocery items during such situations.

“But we are happy as there is no local transmission. We also hope that all the results would be negative,” Khandu said.

MOE launches Kadrinchhe Gyalyon Bangsum

Sat, 09/12/2020 - 13:44

Tag line: A nation in gratitude and solidarity initiative by the education family

Yangyel Lhaden

Ministry of Education (MoE) launched Karinchhe Gyalyon Bangsum (KGB), an online platform on September 8, coinciding with International Literacy Day to thank and motivate the nation in its continued efforts to combat the pandemic.

It is a month programme initiated by the education family and organised by a group of teachers.

The poster of KGB says that everybody worked hard, The King, prime minister, health ministry, education ministry, organisations, private entities, frontliners from day one of the pandemic.

KGB is a platform where anybody can send their write-ups and messages in various genres—poetry, essay, stories, art, photography, songs, personalised cards, and short videos. The themes of expressions are opportunities, gratitude, resilience, responsibility, volunteerism, solidarity and unity.

Awareness about the initiative was made to the public on Spetember 3 through various social media platforms through posters and videos.

In first two days, KGB received more than 100 entries.

The entries can be send to their “Drukyul Education Family- group” on Facebook or email to kadrinche2020@gmail.com.

One of the entries; a poem by Gem Dorji Lepcha, student of Samtse Lower Secondary School reads:

My heart sings for De-Suups, police and my King.

Thank you frontline worker for working day and night

You all are fighters

You all are warriors

I am thankful to doctors

For saving the life

You are the protector

And you sacrifice your time

A teacher of Lobesa Primary School, Sonam Norbu, said that with this initiative the team planned to engage individuals meaningfully by creating theme wise projects and to motivate creative content creation by children.

In the opening statement of the launch, education minister, Jai Bir Rai said, “Adversity reveals character – 2020 revealed the character of the Bhutanese as a Nation. The audacity to challenge a global pandemic with solidarity, sacrifice and openness the new Bhutanese normal. While normal times gave us glimpses differences in position, gender and background, the new normal gave poetry of hope, compassion and equanimity.”

Energy diversification for a energy secure Bhutan 

Sat, 09/12/2020 - 13:42

Choki Wangmo 

During the nationwide lockdown last month, a power outage in central and western parts of the country lasted for about an hour. While both 220KV at Chukha and Basochhu were restored, some said it came as a warning for being too dependent on hydropower.

Unlike hydropower systems, other forms of renewable energy like solar, wind, bio-energy, and small hydro have decentralised systems which are less complex and more reliable. A breakdown in one grid doesn’t affect the entire network, avoiding a systematic power outage, said the director of renewable energy department, Phuntsho Namgyel.

Considering threats to the hydropower sector from climate change impacts and other associated issues in hydropower development, he said harnessing energy from other renewable sources would enhance energy security of the nation.  “Domestic demand for electricity can be met from other renewable energy sources while hydropower electricity can be primarily targeted for export. Thus, energy security would be ensured to a larger extent.”

Diversification of energy can also complement hydropower plants in making electricity available during the lean winter season when hydropower generation is minimum, he added.

The renewables readiness assessment for Bhutan 2019 conducted by the International Renewable Energy Agency, also recommended diversified energy system in the country that constitutes several renewable energy technologies that can be more resilient to the impacts of climate change. “Bhutan’s dependency on hydropower to meet its electricity demand could make the country vulnerable to long-term climate change impacts, thereby raising energy security concerns.”

Although about 30 percent of the country’s energy consumption today is met through electricity, mainly hydropower plants, the current plants are run-of-river, with no water storage, therefore reduction in output during lean season.

Annually Bhutan earned Nu 10.5B from the export of electricity from which only Nu 1.283B of the revenue remained after deducting the cost of import of electricity and fossil fuel, including LPG.

Diversification, Phuntsho Namgyel said, could enhance energy sales by displacing power from hydropower plants, augmenting the country’s revenue from electricity. “Solar and bio-energy can be used for heating systems, and other domestic use if harnessed effectively.”

As per the Renewable Energy Management Master Plan, Bhutan could produce 12 gigawatts of solar and 760 megawatts (MW) of wind energy in technical terms. Yet the country’s current installed capacity for renewables, apart from large hydro plants, only amounts to 9MW.

Bhutan has a potential of 12,000MW of solar energy but only 170KW are installed for home lighting systems, 761MW of wind energy out of which 600KW are installed. Similarly, out of 2,680MW bio-energy capacity, 6,000 number of domestic biogas plants were installed. Only 8MW of the total 23,292MW capacity for small hydro is used.

The transition to renewable energy, however, is not without challenges. Lack of or appropriate incentives for harnessing alternative renewable energy sources, poor eco-system for green and renewable technology, lack of experts, and lack regulatory and policy frameworks among others have impeded the diversification goals, he said.

Currently, Bhutan is 99.97 percent electrified. Due to rugged topography and hindrance in obtaining environmental access rights, Lunana and communities around Ajay Nye are yet to be connected to grid electricity.

As of now, renewable energy has developed and piloted renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind, biogas and small hydro power but in the future the department plans to enhance value of the per unit energy by deploying energy efficiency initiatives in net energy savings, freeing more electricity for export.

Phuntsho Namgyel said that with renewable energy technologies getting cheaper each year, it was critical for Bhutan to diversify the energy mix by harnessing the energy from alternative renewables and its benefits. “Solid waste related issues are on the rise in our country. It may be prudent to assess and explore opportunities to turn waste into energy in the form of biogas or electricity.”

The Bhutan Ecological Society and renewable energy department last month signed a memorandum of understanding to implement renewable energy projects in the communities where grid electricity is infeasible.

In the next nine months, there would be 180-KW solar power plant along with the 600KW wind farm at Rubesa in Wangdue.

Tracing the contacts: A look into how the National Surveillance Team works

Sat, 09/12/2020 - 13:41

Yangchen C Rinzin 

Please tell us honestly, where have you been last week?

Can you remember the places and people you met?

Did you travel by taxi or bus?

There is a barrage of questions as information becomes crucial when somebody test positive for Covid-19. With key information, the spread of the virus could be curtailed as they are traced, quarantined and tested.

Behind this crucial task of tracing contacts are 41 officials called as the Covid-19 Surveillance Team that was formed in March soon after the first positive case in the country was detected.  The team trace people that a positive case may have come in contact with two weeks before the onset of symptoms and during the duration of the illness. They also investigate the source, contain and prevent future outbreaks, monitor situations, advise testing and quarantine, liaise with other institutions to arrange testing and quarantine of suspected cases.


The team

Started with seven members in March, it became 17 members in April and merged with the surveillance and quarantine team in July, which became 20. Each dzongkhag has a surveillance team with health workers, officials of the drug regulatory department and Bhutan Medical and Health Council.

Understanding the risk, a National Surveillance team with experts from the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority, Bhutan Red Cross Society (BRCS), KGUMBS, Royal Bhutan Army, and Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) was formed. Based in Lungtenphug, it is also the command centre for all the local teams.

The team now has 41 members. 

As of September 1 more than 1,333 primary contacts and more than 976 secondary contacts were traced concerning the outbreak in Phuentsholing and the two cases in Gelephu.

Officials from the team said the additional members have been helpful, as the transmission in Phuentsholing increased the workload.

Divided into two shifts, the team starts work by 8:45am and goes until 10pm. “However, if the situation demands, both teams come to the office and work together. Like many, we also do not go home.”

Involving the police in the tracing team, officials said, had been a masterstroke in tracing contacts. Some primary contacts of the first case in Gelephu could be traced only after involving the police.

“The police have been helpful from the beginning, especially in tracing contacts, and their presence has made it easier for coordination and active contact tracing,” he said.

The team also works closely with the local team to build a case history by talking to the person who tested positive, which helps in finding the likely source of exposure and number of people the infected person might have come in contact with.

“People are cooperative, but there have been cases where some became abusive on the phone,” an official said. “The biggest challenge in tracing is the lack of proper address and phone numbers not working or answering. A few positive individuals didn’t want to provide a full history of travel and people they came in contact with.”


Safety first

As a safety precaution, the team’s first work is to ensure they do not come in direct contact with any cases. All the discussions with the positive or suspected case happen over the phone. In few cases, the team provided SIM cards to those without phone numbers.

After they receive information about a positive case, a member calls up the individual and explains their test result. A hard part is sharing the news of their result. “It is difficult but we have to let them know so that contact tracing is executed as soon as possible,” said a team member.

The team gives them time to relax and compose themselves after the news is broke. Some hang up the phone upon hearing the news, most usually call back or cooperate when follow up calls were made. In a few cases, people called the centre to share information .

There are counsellors with the team and counselling is provided when necessary.  “Getting in touch with primary contact is not difficult. However, it is difficult when their phone numbers are out of reach,” said an official.

In some of the recent local transmission cases, it took almost three days to locate the person who tested positive. This is where RBP and BRCS and the taxi drivers, members of BRCS, came handy.

The smallness of the country has also helped contact tracing.  “Because our community is small, people know about positive patients and they call us, sometimes requesting us to quarantine them,” said a team member.

Not all contacts are considered as a risk. The people at higher risk of infection are usually those who had face-face contact with a positive case for more than 15 minutes. Others include having physical contact with the positive patient and having unprotected direct contact like being coughed on.

Low-risk contracts are usually those who had face-face contacts or were together in a closed environment for less than 15 minutes.

Onion and tomato lead to chaos at CFM

Fri, 09/11/2020 - 11:12

Yangyel Lhaden

The arrival of onion and tomato at the Centenary Farmers’ Market (CFM) in Thimphu yesterday resulted in commotion that bordered on total chaos.

There has been shortage of onion and tomatoes in the country for some time due to lockdown.

The rush at the CFM happened largely because of gaps in coordination among the agencies that are suppose to handle the situation. The pandemonium had the people disregard health protocols. There was no physical distancing and many were not wearing face mask.

When patrolling teams advised the people to wear facemask and maintain physical distance, the patrolling teams got invective from the angry people.

Some shops stopped selling onion and tomato, which added fuel to the fire.

The prices of onion and tomato had also risen suddenly. The Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) received seven complaints. Tomato was selling at Nu 150 and onions at Nu 100- Nu 120. Price according to Ministry of Agriculture and Forests  (MoAF), tomato should be sold at Nu 106 and onions at Nu 60 in Thimphu.

Each shop got a sackful of onion and a tray of tomato though some shops didn’t receive onion and tomato. Some vendors, who were driven off the footpaths, were selling onion and tomato from residential buildings.

Maita Rai, a taxi driver, said that she had been out of tomato for more than two weeks and went to buy as soon as she heard the supplies has arrived at CFM. However, the vendor made her buy other vegetables if she wanted tomato. “The tomato price is already high.    

I bought spinach also for no reason.”

By evening, officials from OCP investigated the price hike to take appropriate actions against deceitful vendors.  The vegetable vendors met the official in shock and they tried to defend the reasons for hike in price.

A vegetable vendor, Tandin Zangmo, said that she got tomato and onion at higher price from her whole-seller and was not aware of price fixed by MoAF.

An official from OCP said that the shopkeepers should produce receipt for evidence so that actions to be taken on whoever was guilty.

The customers are advised to ask for receipt for evidence if vendors charge high prices and to call 1214 to launch complaints.

According to Consumer Protection Act of Bhutan 2012, for non-issuance of money receipt, the shops “ Shall be imposed a fine ten percent of the value of good subject to maximum of six months minimum wage.”

For charging higher prices, a fine equivalent to the value of the goods shall be imposed.

An official from OCP said that the marketing monitoring team in dzongkhags and gewogs were already instructed to implement the prices fixed by MoAF today.

Inter-dzongkhag travel to start from today 

Fri, 09/11/2020 - 11:11

.. commuters should register at cpms.rbp.gov.bt 

Yangchen C Rinzin

Except for Samtse, Phuentsholing (red zone), Samdrupjongkhar, and Gelephu, commuters can travel freely across the country from today as the final phase of unlocking begins.

However, vehicles can carry only 50 percent of passenger capacity unless minors and elderlies from the same family.

The travellers must register with the Royal Bhutan Police prior to leaving respective dzongkhag through check post management system, which will keep the record of vehicles and people travelling via various checkpoints.

To facilitate smooth passage, the Road Safety and Travel Authority with support from information and communications ministry came up with the website http//:cmps.rbp.gov.bt.

RSTA officiating director general Ugyen Norbu said, “People can register directly with the citizenship identity card number through the website, give details of destination and passengers’ details.”

Details of those travelling in public transport would be automatically registered through RSTA while they book the bus ticket. Taxi association would ensure details of taxi passengers are registered.

Ugyen Norbu said in case if the driver does not have smartphones, the passenger can help register and also register other passengers. Taxis are now allowed to carry a maximum of three passengers: two at the back, one in front.

However, those travelling in private cars must register themselves and share the details of passengers travelling with them.

Ugyen Norbu said there is no need to deregister or inform RSTA or police if the journey is cancelled.

“They should make sure to register next time when they actually travel. Once you’ve registered people should not wait for any confirmation or message from RSTA or police. They can proceed to travel after registering.”

There is no need for Covid-19 test to travel to other dzongkhags except for Southern dzongkhags. No one can travel to other dzongkhags from four southern dzongkhags as of now.

However, as per the press release from Prime Minister’s Office, if a person is travelling from high risk to low-risk areas, people will have to undergo a seven-day mandatory facility quarantine at the place of origin. A Covid-19 test would be also carried out at the end of the quarantine period.

In case of an emergency, travellers will be tested and released on the same day.

The press release also stated that people will have to wait until all unlocking formalities are complete to travel from low risk to high-risk areas and regional taskforce members will update on the stages of unlocking and subsequent relaxations.

But elderlies and individuals with co-morbid conditions will be discouraged from travelling to high-risk areas.

Those wishing to travel from high risk to another high-risk area need not go through the quarantine protocols unless specified by the health ministry.

Ugyen Norbu said, for instance, if a person needs to travel to Samtse via Phuentsholing, the person can register and travel, but they cannot halt in Phuentsholing. Similarly, if a person needs to return to gewogs under Gelephu dungkhag, people cannot halt at Gelephu Thromde.

If a person is travelling to Trashigang from Thimphu, there is no need to register in every checkpost in different dzongkhags. “If a person has registered Trashigang as a destination, it’s clear he is going to cross certain dzongkhags.”

Colonel Phub Gyeltshen said that they have put 32 check posts in 20 dzongkhags to ensure movements are well monitored.

“Since it’s a new system, there will be glitches but we’ve SOPs ready.  Police personnel will help people register at the check post if they cannot register or can seek help by calling 1010.”

The registration was initiated after learning lessons from the recent lockdown. The registration will help and ease trace people’s travel history in case there is a positive case.

Fighting Covid-19 as together 

Fri, 09/11/2020 - 11:09

WHO DG assures equitable distribution of vaccines once it’s ready

Younten Tshedup

Concerned by the impact of the Covid-19 on all aspects of lives and recognising the importance of regional solidarity, Bhutan along with 10 other member countries of the WHO South-East Asia Region resolved to collectively fight the pandemic.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo signed the declaration at the end of the ministerial round table session yesterday. The signing also marked the closing of the 73rd regional committee session for the South-East Asia Region.

The annual event hosted by Thailand was held virtually for the first time due to the pandemic.

Besides collectively fighting the pandemic, the Declaration was signed also to strengthen the region’s response with better-equipped health systems to deliver essential health services during the pandemic.

The Declaration called for efforts to sustain essential health services and public health programmes during public health emergencies and use the current pandemic as an opportunity to build back their health systems to be better.

WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the spread of Covid-19 has impacted almost every community, overwhelmed health systems and disrupted economies and livelihoods with effects reaching far beyond the health sector.

During his inaugural address to the session on September 9, Dr Tedros said that Covid-19 has caused so much pain, sorrow and uncertainties. “But it’s also giving us an opportunity. The whole world can now see that health is an essential investment in safer, healthier, fairer and more sustainable societies.”

WHO Regional Director Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said that people’s health needs do not disappear during such extraordinary events. “Health security is not only about building capacity to prevent, prepare for and respond to acute events. It must also be about building capacity to maintain essential health services for the duration of response and into the recovery.”

Member countries agreed to allocate adequate budget to ensure uninterrupted services during and beyond the pandemic.

Countries also resolved to strengthen the health information systems by leveraging digital technologies, which capture timely reporting of outbreaks and sharing information for policy decisions.

With health workers playing a crucial role during the pandemic, member countries pledged to ensure occupational health, safety and wellbeing of health professionals and other related workers.

Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said, “Continued efforts should be made to keep health workers safe from infection and violence and to provide mental health and psychosocial support.”

The Bhutanese delegation shared the country’s challenges in combating the pandemic and recommended for the institution of a regional warehouse to facilitate and stockpile essential medical supplies required for response to health emergencies.

Member countries agreed to continuing and expanding the multi-sectoral collaboration – strengthening regional collaboration for scaling up capacities for preparedness, surveillance and rapid response, field epidemiology training, supply chain management of medicines and medical supplies, and regional stockpiling of essential health resources, among others.

Meanwhile, all countries in the region agreed to fully engage in global discussion on equitable allocation of vaccines, medicines and diagnostics for Covid-19.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that in the coming months the WHO was expecting good news with regard to a possible vaccine.

He said that WHO would ensure that vaccines reach in small amounts, to begin with, to every country. “It should not be everyone getting the vaccines in some countries.”

“Gatekeepers” to be trained for suicide prevention 

Fri, 09/11/2020 - 11:08

Chhimi Dema

Coinciding with the world suicide prevention day yesterday, the national Covid-19 mental health and psychosocial response team launched an online training of suicide prevention for gatekeepers who interact daily with other people in the community.

Dr Chencho Dorji, psychiatrist leading the response team, said that the gatekeepers were individuals who help save lives.

The training is expected to end on October 10, which is observed as the world mental health day. Interested individuals can register for the training online.

According to the suicide data of the World Health Organisation (WHO), in a year worldwide, close to 800,000 people take their own lives, which is one person every 40 seconds; for every suicide, there are more than 20 attempts.

Dr Chencho Dorji said that the suicide trend was increasing. “Around 100 people die of suicide in Bhutan every year, which is more than the global average rate of 11 suicides per 100,000 population.”

The convergence of biological, psychological, environmental and societal factors causes people to die due to suicide.

Dr Chencho says that the cause of suicide is multifactorial, meaning there are many causes such as mental disorders, addiction, poverty, chronic illnesses, interpersonal conflicts, loss of livelihood, jobs and partners, among others.

There were increased risks of suicide and self-harm during the pandemic, Dr Chencho said. “Not just the psychological stress, but individuals suffer economic loss due to the lockdown and social restrictions which affects the mental well-being and livelihoods of people.”

He said that well up to 90 percent of suicides cases were associated with mental disorders, among which depression, schizophrenia, drugs and alcoholism are highly related.

There were challenges in preventing suicide because it was a complex disease and there was no simple solution, he said. “It needs a multi-faceted approach by a multi-disciplinary team to address the problem.”

Moreover, suicide prevention depended on the individual’s resources to cope or deal with the problem, the environmental factors such as the type of help and support available, he added.

If a person is suicidal, someone has to stay with the patient even if it is through remote means like a phone conversation. The person should be referred to a professional counsellor or mental health worker.

“Our culture is very unfriendly to people living with mental disorders,” Dr Chencho said.

He said that people were afraid to ask whether someone was suicidal lest it could encourage the person to take his or her own life.

“Rather than asking a question, most of us will simply shut the person up saying – ‘oh, why are you worried, why are you depressed, why are you crying?’. This sort of statement does not help or allow the person to express their emotions and issues.”

Onions: another opportunity?

Fri, 09/11/2020 - 11:07

There were no tears shed over onions at the Centenary Farmers’ Market last evening, but there certainly were some sour stories as people rushed for onions and vendors took advantage of the demand.

The demand for the bulb was too good to resist as vendors violated price fixed by authorities. The complaint was not on the price, which was more than double the fixed price, but not getting onions, even if import was allowed and rationing on quantity sold. By late evening, officials of the Office of Consumer Protection had to be called in to control the price and others to control the crowd.

If we thought onions are not as important as chillies to Bhutanese, we were wrong. Onions, as much as it is needed in our ezay, is an essential part of the Bhutanese diet. There is a huge demand and its shortage creates panic. It is not the leafy or the spring onions that elderly Bhutanese are used to, but the bulb imported in hundred of tonnes from India and grown in insignificant quantities in the country.

Even without lockdown or restrictions on import, supply of onions fluctuates at this time of the year. Supply depends on what happens in neighbouring India. Disruption in supply happens because of excessive rain or draught, diseases and trade malpractices like hoarding. This is quite rampant.

It is said that shortage or price of onions can decide an election in India, from where we import all our onions. While onions may not make Bhutanese demand for a government to step down, the demand and price is an opportunity. If we cannot live a week without onions, it opens an opportunity for Bhutanese mulling to return to farming after the pandemic disrupted livelihood.

We could start with a robust yearly agricultural outlook. What is the size of our demand? Which vegetable or spice? What season and so on. Farmers and youth groups realised this potential and made an attempt. It has not picked up. Cultivating onions could be another field where we not only meet local demand, but also help the demand of just one state in India. Rainy spells damage vast fields of onions in India. It is where we can fill the gap, even if for a small Indian city like Siliguri with a population more than Bhutan. The market is there and the demand is assured.

Bhutanese can rely on onions as a cash crop. We have the potential. There is land and climatic conditions favour us when there is shortage in India. Above all, the pandemic has taught us the importance of growing our own food. With the right investment and technology, it would be a good opportunity. The government has identified 15,942 acres of fallow land that is fit for farming. We have more data collected because of the Covid-19 pandemic to help make decisions and we know India, our source of onions, bans export when there is shortage in supply.

All these should make us have the last laugh and not cry over onions when there is shortage.

RICBL offers opportunity to renew lapsed life insurance policy

Fri, 09/11/2020 - 11:07

MB Subba

Have you updated your life insurance policy? You need not worry if you have not.

In view of the difficulties faced by policyholders due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Limited (RICBL) is offering the opportunity with two options to renew the policy until December 31, 2020.

The first option is to pay the full amount of the delayed life insurance premium and get a 10 percent from the RICBL.

The policyholder can also protect the policy by paying 50 percent of the delayed premium, which is the second option. The remaining 50 percent should be paid within the next six months.

The policyholders will be exempted from producing a medical report for renewing the policy.

However, conditions apply.

Firstly, the scheme is applicable only for those policies that have lapsed for more than six months as of June 30, 2020 since the last date of default.

Those policyholders taking the opportunity will not be eligible to cancel their life insurance policies within two years of the renewal.

They will be eligible for benefits only after three months of the renewal except under accidental demise and concessional period.  Also, the policy bonus will not be applicable for the lapse period.

Other special offers rolled out by the RICBL include up to 10 percent premium discount for renewal of fire and motor vehicle insurances.

It has also offered up to 40 percent premium discounts for new fire and motor insurance proposals. The premium on the new insurance can be paid in two instalments if the amount exceeds Nu 50,000.

RICBL’s CEO, Karma, said that the number of default cases was significant.

“The RICBL’s role in the economy is huge in terms of protecting the people from financial loses and providing them resilience,” he said.

However, he added that the offer was a one-time measure and that the RICBL would follow the normal practice after December 31. He said that it was not sustainable for the company to keep the offer beyond that period.

He said that while Covid-19 had threatened lives and livelihoods, Bhutan had been fortunate to mitigate the negative impacts.

“Bhutan put in place a response like no other, to a situation like no other, by a leader like no other. Even so, Covid-19 continues to inflict pain and hardship on the people and the economy,” he said.

Karma said that the measure was a humble support the corporation was offering to the government’s efforts in alleviating the damages of Covid-19.

He said that the offers were well-thought-of in the context of Covid-19. “It was our moral responsibility to do something for the society,” he said.

He said that people should visit branch offices if they wish to understand the technical details of the programme.