Gewog officials attribute it to competition from across the border
Younten Tshedup | Gelephu
Unlike the past two years where popular rice varieties like khamtay, champay and kalo bogh sold like hot cakes during the foothills festival in Gelephu, sales have dropped this year.
Chuzergang gewog’s Pangzur chiwog tshogpa, Leki Wangchuk, said the sale of rice has not been promising in the first two days of the festival. “We sold more than five metric tonnes of khamtay in two days last year making a little over Nu 0.5 million.”
By the second day, Chuzergang stall had sold about 600kg of khamtay, Champay and kalo bogh varieties. “We expect people to buy on the last day but I’m not sure if we could match last years’ sales this time,” he said.
The tshogpa said people who gathered for religious discourse in Gelephu last year bought the rice. “The crowd is lesser this time.”
Chuzergang gup, Sangay Tshering, said the contrary to what we had expected, the sales was not so good this time mainly because people across the border have started selling rice with same names. “There are varieties of rice with the name khamtay available across the border.”
He said people prefer buying imported rice, as price of the rice was comparatively lower across the border.
Many Bhutanese also visit the Thursday market in Dadgari, Assam, to buy rice.
“A kilo of local rice from Dadgari is about Nu 35, whereas the rice produced inside is more than Nu 70,” a resident said. “If not better, the taste is almost similar and the price is half of what we pay here.”
According to Leki Wangchuk, the sticky rice, known for its distinct taste and aroma, khamtoe is a popular rice variety among people in places like Thimphu and Tsirang. “We receive orders from these places often but it is disheartening to see our own people in the dzongkhag not opting the variety and supporting our farmers.”
He said that many do not know that Chuzergang produces the khamtay and champay varieties of rice, which is why the market has not yet picked up. “We have recently started growing these varieties and most of the farmers do not grow it in mass for commercial purpose.”
Gup Sangay Tshering said that although the number of farmers opting to grow the khamtay and champay varieties is increasing in the gewog, the lower production rate associated with these varieties still deter farmers from growing these varieties.
“Many say we charge higher price on the rice but they have not really considered the difference in quality and taste,” he said “I hope people would understand this difference and help promote local products and help our farmers.”
Meanwhile, restaurants selling local alcoholic beverage and native cuisines are doing a brisk business at the ongoing Foothills Festival.
Tika Maya and her group from Chudzom gewog made over Nu 100,000 by the end of the first day. “We use only local ingredients in all our menus, which is why people come here,” she said.
One of the popular drinks at the festival is tongba, a millet-based alcoholic beverage served in a bamboo vessel.
The festival concludes today.
The government has proposed major tax reform and in the words of the Prime Minister people smart enough would be already at work spotting loopholes.
While 166 countries have already moved from the conventional taxation system to the electronic goods and services tax, it doesn’t mean that the system is flawless.
For Bhutan, we have not moved far from the system of taxes-in-kind. Abolishing the taxes was one of the major economic reforms that were undertaken under the reign of the second and third Druk Gyalpos. There was one intention then: to remove the undue burden on the people.
Thenceforward, with economic maturity, under the reign of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, taxes were rationalised. This nous changed with democracy and parties altering taxes to the extent that the supreme court’s interpretation had to be sought at one point in time.
Even today, when the government and the speaker declared goods and services tax (GST) as the money Bill, the verdict of Constitutional case comes in.
From the laymen’s perspective, anything to do with taxes are still considered sensitive and it is beyond the latitude of any party to alter taxes for the sake of future votes. It is easy for any power to grant exemptions or reduce taxes but then to reverse the status quo is an Herculean task as it involves the sentiments of voters.
Nevertheless, this government has dared to initiate a major tax reform but then the voters’ sentiments are also taken care of by way of a balancing act: bringing the GST rate as low as seven percent, exempting GST for more than 200 commodities and granting ‘zero tax’ to close to 300 import items.
This move should be considered bold enough because negative items that are harmful to the environment, health, economy and society are slapped with excise equalisation tax (EET). Will this bring about a positive impact? The government may want to simply explore the tobacco black market. Higher taxes has resulted in higher prices. And did the tobacco consumption decrease? Yes, according to the trade statistics since it is contingent on the amount of taxes paid. Practically, the answer is no. Worse is that the experts could not even derive the country’s inflation rate by truly reflecting the price changes of narcotics and tobacco.
This indicates that we failed somewhere with the implementation. The GST will become a law once the parliament endorses it. This law, for sure, will come with discrepancies in some segments.
It is the responsibility of both the government and gaining entities to pass the benefit down to its consumers, without whom the economy cannot move ahead. The government’s efficiency in implementation of tax credits and refunds will influence the consumer patterns.
Taxes are levied primarily to raise government revenue. But it is also one of the tools to direct the course of the economy as it is a fiscal tool.
Before implementing a reformed tax model, shouldn’t the government assess the value of impact across the sectors. For instance, PIT will increase the disposable income. But where will the people invest in the absence of avenues?
It is time the country’s taxation module is changed. When the country undergoes change and experiences progress, as the Prime Minister said, some people might have to pay more taxes and some would not be doing so.
The government can only rely on proud tax-paying citizens to direct the course of the economy.
Alcohol’s societal impacts are talked often but little, if any, consideration is given to environmental footprints of glass bottles. But not anymore.
Army Welfare Project (AWP) in collaboration with Greener Way started an initiative called “Every Bottle Back” to boost the collection of glass bottles manufactured by AWP. The initiative is expected to recycle glass bottles, reducing the amount of glass waste going into the landfill while reducing pressure on resources.
Globally, glass is widely accepted as a recyclable material, however, due to lack of initiatives in the country, most of the bottles end up in landfills.
Under the initiative, Greener Way would collect the bottles from AWP products and send it back to the project’s head office in Phuentsholing every month, which would then be recycled. According to the World Wildlife Fund’s website: “Glass produced from recycled glass reduces air pollution and water by 20 and 50 percent.”
Planning and strategy officer with Greener Way, Shristi Sharma said that the company aimed to send about two truckloads of bottles in a month. The first trip will be sent this week.
The initiative is part of AWP’s corporate social responsibility to encourage other companies to increase their effort and demonstrate a strong commitment to sustainable development and circular economy.
Shristi Sharma said that the companies were unwilling to come forward and work towards curbing their own wastes. “There is a need for the authorities concerned to develop strong buy-back policies.”
Meanwhile, Namgay Artisanal Brewery (NAB) in Paro had been working with Greener Way and Druk Waste Management to recycle bottles produced by the brewery since its inception in 2018.
NAB Managing Director, Dorji Gyeltshen said that the brewery bought the bottles from their customers for Nu 2 a bottle. The brewery recycled about 50,000 bottles so far.
In coming years, NAB plans to crush the broken glass bottles as there are no buyers for these kinds of bottles.
In other countries, the crushed broken pieces are sorted, cleaned and mixed with other raw materials like sand to make new bottles of different colours and sizes. There are also applications which turn waste glass into building materials, concrete and paving applications, in place of sand and other natural resources, according to WWF.
Currently, glass bottles are not segregated and are collected along with dry waste in the country.
According to the National Waste Management Strategy 2019, glass comprises 3.69 percent of the total municipal solid waste in urban areas.
A Ministry of Works and Human Settlement study reported that the glass mainly consisted of beer bottles, liquor bottles, and other beverage and juice bottles. Most of the glasses were either broken bottles or household utensils.
Last week in the National Council session, while presenting on the previous session resolutions, the chairperson of good governance committee for NC, Lhatu, said that out of 13 recommendations proposed on reducing harmful use of alcohol, there were no response from the government on four proposals.
One of the recommendations was enforcing corporate social responsibility measures on alcohol industries. NC proposed that there should be an important policy measure by the government, however there should be cautionary measures so that alcohol dealer and industries do not take the opportunity to promote their products.
Younten Tshedup | Gelephu
Agriculture minister Yeshey Penjor and JICA’s chief representative Kozo Watanabe inaugurated the 41.5m Passang Zam (bridge) over Passangchhu in Gelephu on January 18.
Passang Zam is the first of the four bridges, which has been reconstructed along the Gelephu-Trongsa primary national highway (PNH-4) under Japan’s grant aid project.
The remaining three bridges – Samkhara and Beteni bridges in Sarpang and Telegangchhu bridge in Trongsa would be completed by January next year.
Department of Road’s (DoR) chief engineer with the bridge division, Karma Wangdi, said that under grant aid project that started in 1997, 22 bridges in the country were studied along the national highways. “From the 22, 12 bridges were identified as the most critical that required replacement of which five were given priority and included for reconstruction in the project’s first phase.”
So far, a total of 23 bridges have been completed under different phases of the project.
Karma Wangdi said most of the existing bridges were old, narrow and had outlived its design life. “Passang Zam was constructed in 1970 with steel truss bridge and had limited load carrying capacity and height restrictions.”
The temporary bailey bridge used over Passangchhu suffered major damage in the foundation during the last monsoon.
Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor, during the inauguration, said that the completion of the bridge would not only benefit the people of Gelephu but also all commuters in the central region.
He said that despite enormous business market Gelephu offered for the rest of the dzongkhags in the region, unstable road conditions and lack of quality bridge facilities deterred people from coming to Gelephu.
“Apart from connecting different parts of the country, the bridge is also symbolic of the friendship that Bhutan and Japan shares,” Lyonpo said, adding that the construction of the suspension bridge in Panbang by late Dasho Keiji Nishioka stands testimony of the strong friendship the two nations shares.
JICA’s chief representative, Kozo Watanabe, said that the country has always placed a high priority on the expansion and construction of road and bridge infrastructure in the past and present five-year plans.
“I am glad that the inauguration of this bridge could contribute to improving the transportation network in the country,” he said. “Whenever I meet Bhutanese officials, they always compliment to me about the aesthetic and quality of all the bridges that have been constructed so far. I believe it is a part of its own legacy and it has become an integral part of the primary national highways 1,5 and now 4.”
He said that while better road network connectivity would facilitate transportation of goods and improve human mobility and sustain economic growth, a resilient road network infrastructure plays an important role during times of disasters. “I believe that the disaster-resilient bridge would play a crucial role in enhancement of human society.”
For almost two decades, the Japan-based Dai Nippon Construction (DNC) company through Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has built over 20 bridges in Bhutan.
DNC’s project manager, Yasuhito Numazawa, said that the company has been working together with the Bhutanese since the early 1980s in the various field like agriculture, small hydroelectric plants and bridges.
“Besides imparting our techniques and skills, we have also learned a lot from our Bhutanese counterpart,” he said. “We hope we can continue working in future projects as well.”
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
If the Goods and Services Tax (GST) law is passed, protection of the domestic manufacturers and their products is the primary concern among the private sector players. This was raised during the GST consultation and awareness meeting the Phuentsholing business group had with the Finance Minister Namgay Tshering and his team on January 18.
Business specific questions were raised.
A hume pipe manufacturer based in Pasakha, Kipchu said his pipes would lose competition considering the seven percent GST on the same product from across the border. Currently, hume pipes are taxed at 10 percent Bhutan Sales Tax (BST).
“I manufactured about 2,000 hume pipes and haven’t even sold 200,” he said, adding the GST would bring down the market he is already struggling with.
Kipchu said this happened despite his pipes being BSB-certified. He lost the business because hume pipes from across the border were substandard in quality and thereby cheaper. He said there were two hume pipe manufacturers in the country, which were yet to get BSB certification.
Should he also provide the substandard pipes, Kipchu said he would be able to give a discount of 50 percent compared to 30 percent off the hume pipes from across the border that Bhutanese imported today.
“There is a strong need to check and balance this,” Kipchu said.
A brick manufacturer also said locally manufactured bricks were already struggling with the invasion of the imported ones. Bricks from across the border were cheaper due to the substandard quality.
Talking to Kuensel, a concrete brick manufacturer, Tenzin said no matter whatever the tax would be levied on the bricks, the danger lies on the import bills going to the customs offices, that could be manipulated.
“This is same with other products as well,” Tenzin said. “A system should be put in place to ensure everything is checked.”
Wood-based manufacturers also raised similar concerns with regards to substandard products being imported. Currently, wood products from across the border are charged a 10 percent BST. GST would give it further advantage with seven percent.
Questions regarding the Fiscal Incentives (FI) were also raised during the consultation meeting on January 18. Participants said the GST Bill was ambiguous and lacked details about how exactly it would enhance the economy.
Association of Bhutanese Industries (ABI) president Pema Tenzin said FI was the only document that protected the manufacturers. “But it is limited,” he said.
Finance ministry officials said that the FI would anyway expire by the end of 2020 and that it would be further strategised, reviewed and amended.
About GST making imported goods more or less expensive, it was explained: “In some cases, prices will go down, in some they will go up, and others will remain the same. Currently, there are multiple sales tax rates (11 different rates), most being above the GST rate of seven percent.”
GST would also have a special exemption on the manufacturing industries to protect domestic production, such as construction, agro, dairy products, and others.
Ministry officials said that there would be special intervention for exemptions in terms of manufacturing industries and that still many areas need consideration. However, officials said that manufacturers should comply to be able to provide and cover 70 percent of the domestic requirement.
Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said that GST’s important objectives were to protect the local products and enhance export.
The minister also said that there were chances of market distortion if imports were taxed heavily.
“If we cannot meet the local demand, there have to be import,” he said, adding that raising taxes on certain imports at this time would only tantamount to unwarranted inflation that would burden the country’s economy.
Citing the example of the hume pipes, Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that the ministry would work it out with the works and human settlement ministry. “No substandard quality materials should come,” he said.
Meanwhile, should the Bill be passed, lyonpo said the government would then take about a year to roll out the new tax regime.
Lyonpo said that Nu 600 million (M) would be invested for the digitisation work. “Thimphu TechPark Ltd under the DHI would take it up,” he said.
After passing of the Bill, lyonpo also said that there would be awareness programmes, training, and capacity development across all sectors. “Everything would be equipped as required for this shift from BST to GST,” he added.
Finance Minister Namgay Tshering yesterday presented the supplementary budget appropriation of Nu 898.277 for the financial year 2019-20 on account of the salary revision that was not included in the approved budget.
The funds for the supplementary budget appropriations will be drawn from the government’s consolidated fund.
The minister reported that the supplementary budget would take the total revised budget for the financial year to slightly over Nu 65,725M. The approved budget including repayment on lending was Nu 64,826.725M.
“The fiscal deficit as a percent of GDP is estimated to increase from 3.04 to 3.08 percent for the fiscal year 2019-20,” the finance minister said.
“All expenses pertaining to the supplementary budget appropriation shall be undertaken in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Public Finance Amendment Act 2012 and the Financial Rules and Regulations 2016,” he said.
The additional budget will defray the expenditure on account of the revision of pay and allowances for institutes and government-owned corporations that were not included in the 2019-20 budget.
The supplementary appropriations are Nu 684.752M for Royal Bhutan Police (RBP), Nu 35.455M for Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences (KGUMS), Nu 8.961M for Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law, Nu 54.7M for government-owned corporations, and Nu 114.409M for the revision of student stipends.
The finance minister said that the supplementary appropriation for corporations will be provided as subsidies.
Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said that housing was one of a major problem for Royal Bhutan Police personnel. “While most of their houses are too old to be occupied, some are staying in private houses,” he said.
Dorji Wangdi questioned on what basis the government would select students that would get freebies in central schools. The Speaker said that the issue could be deliberated later.
All central school students received freebies, including shoes and uniforms. But the government recently said that it would provide freebies to only about 10,000 needy and disadvantaged students from this academic session.
Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel declared the supplementary budget appropriation Bill as a Money Bill. The Bill, he said, should be passed within the same session and it will be tabled in the House for the third reading.
The legislative committee of the National Council (NC) yesterday proposed to retain the two provisions on unnatural sex in the Penal Code of Bhutan 2004.
The National Assembly members repealed the two sections of the Penal Code, 213 and 214, in the last session of the Parliament in July. Finance minister Namgay Tshering recommended during the second reading of the Penal Code Amendment Bill 2019 for the repeal, reasoning the clauses criminalised the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) community.
While section 213 states that a person is guilty of the offence of unnatural sex if an individual engages in sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature, section 214 grades the offence as a petty misdemeanour.
Lhuentse’s NC member, Tempa Dorji, who is also the legislative committee member, said they recognised LGBTIQ rights as human rights but Bhutan should not make rushed decisions to keep pace with the international movements.
Chukha NC member Sangay Dorji questioned if Bhutan would be able to align with global trends given that the country’s economic and human resource is limited.
He said the removal of the sections indicated that LGBTIQ members in the country were punished for their nature, which is untrue. “It is misinformation. No one has ever been punished for being an LGBTIQ. Bhutanese are open, supportive and accepting.”
Some of the members in the House said that the there should be clarity in defining the term ‘unnatural sex’ because it could imply bestiality and necrophilia, which is having sexual intercourse with animals and corpse.
Eminent member Phuntsho Rapten, who is also a member of the committee, said the two sections should be removed in future when it is time but it is early right now as it would encourage such crimes. “The Penal Code of India was instituted in 1862 but it passed the LGBTIQ laws in 2018, after 146 years. Bhutan’s Penal Code was enacted only in 2004.”
Gasa’s NC member, Dorji Khandu, said the two sections affected LGBTIQ community in availing services such as marriage certificate.
House will deliberate whether to retain the two sections or repeal it. If there are differences between the two Houses, the bill will go to the joint sitting.
Meanwhile, the legislative committee members recommended removing Section 7 (b) of the Penal Code. The members justified the clause stating life sentence for the defendant for an offence against the Ku, Sung, Thukten and Zung should be removed because it overlapped with the Sections 131 and 351 of the Penal Code of Bhutan.
The committee members justified that removing the clause would help defaulters redeem their actions.
However, other members did not support the committee’s proposal.
Haa and Trongsa NC members said that the clause shouldn’t be removed because it would increase vandalism cases against the Ku, Sung, Thukten and Zung, while the Dagana member suggested there should be clear definition on what is as Ku, Sung, Thukten and Zung.
Some, however, sought a middle approach where they said sentencing of the defaulters should depend on the type of monuments.
The deliberation of the bill will continue on January 20.
The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa pledged to generate an additional 5,200 Mega Watts (MW) of hydropower through Sunkosh, Kuri-Gongri, and other projects during the elections.
The party said that it would implement the inter-governmental projects of 2,585MW Sunkosh and of 2,640MW Kuri-Gongri hydropower projects.
But as there is nothing certain about the projects, the Opposition Party’s member from Kengkhar-Weringla Rinzin Jamtsho asked the Prime Minister when the projects would be initiated at the question hour session of National Assembly yesterday.
MP Rinzin Jamtsho said that the commission of projects in the country has proven to boost the economy and to create employment opportunities. “For instance, the revenue generated from electricity produced in Mangdechhu hydropower plant helped the government in bringing about recent salary revision for civil servants and employees of state-owned enterprises.”
Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that while many are aware of the benefits of hydropower projects, the potential threat from the construction of plants to the nation’s economy, sovereignty and security is hardly discussed.
The cost of Nu 35 billion (B) Punatsangchhu I has increased to nearly Nu 100B. “Currently, the interest rate of 10 percent is paid,” Lyonchhen said.
He said that the two projects together would produce only 2,500MW, the unit of electricity which can be produced by Sunkosh Hydroelectric Reservoir Project (SHRP).
“If similar delay that happened to Punatsangchhu projects happens to Sunkosh, what would be the potential consequences is hardly talked about,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lyonchhen said that another reason why the project has been held was due to the project’s modality between Bhutan and India. “While Bhutan proposes for an inter-governmental (IG) model, India wanted it as a joint venture with a public sector unit,” he added.
Meanwhile, should the 2,585MW SHRP come through, it would be the largest hydroelectric project in the country and is expected to boost the economy with an estimated yearly revenue of about Nu 30B.
During the question hour session, the members of Parliament also asked the Prime Minister what the government is doing to address issues of Bhutanese women in Iraq who are living in difficult circumstances.
“Going by the sources from the media, about 400 Bhutanese women and girls have left for Iraq to work through unregistered agents and a few private individuals with the promise of better job opportunities and high remuneration,” Sombaykha’s MP Dorjee Wangmo said.
“But what is now evident is that Bhutanese women are tortured and abused, according to reports where some of them go without food for days,” MP said. “The government has also been informed on the issue.”
Meanwhile, Jomotshangkha-Martshala MP Norbu Wangzom said that women who went to Iraq are suffering and being tortured more than what was covered in the media.
“There are a few women whom I know and I have heard how they are being tortured and abused by the agents involved even when some of them were ill,” the MP said. “Many, who pleaded the agent to let them return home, were asked to pay USD 4,500.”
MP Norbu Wangzom said that women are now completely relying on the government’s support to come home. “If there is no way that they could return home, some said taking their lives would be the only solution.”
Lyonchhen said that women must be helped. “We are planning and working on all possible measures to bring them home.”
As the women have left through unauthorised operators and are in the country that doesn’t have a bilateral relationship with Bhutan, Lyonchhen said that it is impossible to interfere immediately.
Lyonchhen also said that with media coverage on the issues, the conditions of the women have become difficult. “I am in constant touch with 30 of them,” Lyonchhen said.
Let’s sex it up because we must. National Council’s debate yesterday was most immature to say the least. It was dramatic bathos to extent it could go.
Bhutan’s penal code says that a person is guilty of the offence of unnatural sex if an individual engages in sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature.
The whole debate was about how to put this clause in the modern perspective. But the MPs got it wrong entirely.
Yes, the definition of what manner of sex is natural or not is important. Some of the MPs brought into the debate bestiality and necrophilia even. They are not alone, however. What about kinkism where couples experiment sexual innovations of the kinds to satisfy their own carnal needs? These are private matters. Where is the role of law here?
Most important, however, we are missing the real purpose of the debate. There ought not to have been this debate in the first place. That a person is guilty of the offence of unnatural sex if the individual engages in sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature is broadly enough. The law is clear.
Activists and flibbertigibbets can be stentorian but we must get to where reasonableness is.
By their demands, even touching oneself in occasional sexual moods can be a crime. Why and how not? Who is going to take account of it all then? And, ergo, why should it be a national issue unnecessarily?
There are also those who argue the point based on the availability of capacity—economic and human resource availability of the country. This is inane at best. Such myopic views are better kept aside.
We have come to a stage of development, we believe, where we are perfectly capable of deciding the growth of our own society. And that doesn’t have to be by taking wholesome in some irrelevant ideas from abroad. Our main problem is that we often fail to look in.
The bathos we could sink in is that when latex-gloved doctors insert his or her fingers up our behind and we will have to accept it on the grounds of medical intervention-that is the image of reality. Is that unnatural sex or medical intervention? Where is the space for debate then—what really is against the order of nature?
Our lawmakers have more issues of national interest to deliberate on, the economy on which the national image rests and that means taking employment into consideration.
We could do well as a nation to debate on issues that affect us seriously today than the problems like agreeing on definitions about sexual conduct. How the parliamentarians see is a different thing altogether. The voters see it very differently. There is now a gap that is widening visibly.
There are development needs more urgent than the definitions of sexual deviance. Invest more time in the nation’s urgent national development programmes. That’s what our parliament’s role should reflect.
This week, both Kuensel and BBS indicated, the right to settle out of court in civil case as some kind of special consideration by Trongsa District Court. Such news may create confusion among the general public who are ignorant of litigation. However, this remedy known as “negotiated settlement” under the Bhutanese legal system has been a part of our judicial process since decades. In fact, S. DA-3-1 of Thrimzhung Chhenmo provide this right any case including criminal offences except larceny, armed robbery, murder and treason. Thrimzhung further outlines how the negotiated settlement must be done in detail. These provisions are incorporated into Civil and Criminal Procedure Code 2001 (CCPC). First, S.150 states “ at any stage of the proceedings, it shall be open to the parties to take the help of a Chimi, Gup, Chipon, Mang-mi or Barmi as mediators for mutual settlement of a civil case”. And S.150.1 encourages the parties for mediation all civil cases”. This means right mediation even after filing the suit in the court exist in every civil case. S.150(2) to S.150 (8) details the process of negotiated settlement. It requires that, a party must first request the court for an adjournment to pursue mediation and such mediation must be “voluntary consent and signed by the parties and the mediators in their presence” and execute an negotiate settlement agreement. The agreement must be valid and legal stamped and any party has the right to object the negotiated settlement within ten days after execution. If the agreement is valid, the courts are mandated to dispose off the case negotiated outside the court by issuing summary judgment. This is unique to Bhutanese legal system as such remedies are not available once a case has been officially filed in the courts in other legal systems around the world.
There are numerous merits in out of court settlement. First, it provides opportunity of win-win situation rather than litigation to help maintain peace and harmony in the community which is of paramount importance in small society like ours. Second, it helps a party to rethink of their case at any stage of the litigation and seek a mediation as instead of full court proceeding where one party will win and other lose creating disharmony. Third, such rights will help reduce burden on the court and thereby improving efficiency and productiveness of judiciary in rendering justice to the people in other disputes. This right will also help reduce cost of litigation and reach a decision at much faster rate.
Since existence of this right is less known to parties in Bhutan as most litigants who come to court are lay people. Thus, it has become a general practice in all trial courts across the country to give ten days to settle the disputes outside the court upon completion of preliminary hearing in any civil case. Considering difficulty in finding mediators, court-annexed mediation has been established recently to encourage more litigants to mediate within the court premises where formal litigation remains open to the parties, if the negotiated settlement mechanism fails. Therefore, this is one of the visionary wisdoms of our monarchs and forefathers to maintain peace and harmony in the Bhutanese society rather than making the country litigious. Media must create public awareness of existence of such right rather than incorrect information.
Yangchen C Rinzin
The already delayed amendment of Local Government Act 2008 is yet again deferred for deliberation. The National Assembly members deferred deliberating it in the second session of the Third Parliament in June last year.
NA members yesterday decided to deliberate on the LG Act (Amendment) Bill 2020 in the fifth session of the Parliament, which would be the winter session of 2020.
Citing the need for intensive discussion, comprehensive study and consultations, Home Minister Sherab Gyeltshen, a member in-charge of the Bill, moved the motion to defer the deliberation of the Bill.
He said that while reviewing the Bill, the committee formed to review the Act felt that there were many sections that really needed to be re-looked and studied intensively.
“Although it was deferred earlier, during the review it was found that if it amends only some sections of the Act, it would not solve many issues related to the local government,” Lyonpo said. “We don’t want to rush for amendment and fall short in the responsibilities, which is why we are submitting to Parliament to defer.”
Lyonpo added that the longer it takes, it is only going to benefit in the future.
It was learnt that the committee members gave similar reasons for deferment during the second session too.
By a show of hands, 27 of the 44 Members of the Parliament (MP) voted for the Bill to be tabled in the fifth session despite a few members opposed for the deferment.
Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said that the draft Bill should have been ready by now and deliberation of the Bills should not be deferred.
On asking why the government decided to defer the Bill, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that although the committee is ready to submit the Bill in the fourth session, a need was felt to look into the disconnection between politically elected central government, local government, and bureaucrats.
Lyonchhen also highlighted on the disconnection between the central government to work with the local governments, which is why the committee feels the amendment require time to review. “It requires consultation and review with many stakeholders because we want to look into how it would benefit the entire local government in the future. We don’t aim to amend only to benefit the coming LG election.”
Lyonchhen argued that deferring the deliberation is for the general benefit so that people do not feel that any government could change the LG Act. “We want to do a comprehensive review before tabling in the next session. It is not about timing or how soon the Bill is tabled but to come up with a comprehensive Act.”
The good governance committee in the last session had proposed amendment to make it necessary for gups, mangmis and thromde thuemis to have a minimum of Class X qualification.
The LG Act was one of the Acts that the law review taskforce had recommended for amendment.
The National Assembly (NA) members yesterday decided to deliberate the Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2020 this session but will do the third reading in the next parliament session.
Paro’s Lamgong-Wangchag Member of Parliament Ugyen Tshering said the law review taskforce recommended the amendment of the Anti-Corruption Act of Bhutan 2011 and the good governance committee was assigned with the responsibility. “We have consulted the Anti-Corruption Commission officials more than three times.”
He said the Act needs amendment and it would help in deterring corrupt practices in the society and would also ensure effective and efficient functioning of the commission in providing public services and enhance people’s welfare. About 39 sections of the Act will be deliberated for amendment.
Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel asked the good governance committee to work for the third reading.
Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi, who is a member of good governance committee, asked if the third reading of the bill would be done in this session of the Parliament.
He said that the committee members consulted ACC officials, who explained to them the need to amend the Act.
Speaker explained the third reading should be in the fourth session, as the committee members need time to work on the bill.
Six months after the Pay Revision Act was endorsed, the finance minister introduced the Pay Revision (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan, 2020 in the National Assembly yesterday.
Finance minister Namgay Tshering proposed five amendments.
In the Pay Revision Act, ECCD facilitators noted a downward revision from existing Nu 11,125 to Nu 8,400 in the Act when the revised pay scale of ECCD facilitator was pegged with Non-Formal Education (NFE) instructors.
The ministry’s amendment proposes a revision of ECCD facilitator by 22 percent.
Furthermore, the House Rent Allowance (HRA) for Gyadrung and NFE instructors was proposed to be included in Section 30 (2) of the Act.
The housing allowance for them was included in the schedule, however, it was not mentioned in the section.
The government also proposed to amend Discretionary Allowance in the Act to Discretionary Grant considering the tax imposed on the allowances except for travel and daily allowances.
The finance minister said that many were not happy with the term discretionary allowance and requested to change it to grant.
Section 42 of Foreign Service Entitlement was also proposed for amendment. For children studying inside Bhutan, the Children Education Allowance (CED) was proposed to be USD 70 a month.
Although these children studying within the country were not liable for any allowance before, the government proposed to give them the allowance.
Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that this reform would help the children to root themselves in the culture and traditions of the country. He said that the rate for the in-country allowance was much lesser than ex-country.
The designated duty vehicle for dzongdag was also proposed to change the SUV with Front-Wheel Drive (FWD) of up to 2500 cylinder capacity (cc) with FWD up to 2800cc. The dzongdags currently have duty vehicles with 2980cc.
However, Panbang’s Member of Parliament said that the proposal for the amendment of pay revision was first of its kind and questioned if it was not breaching the Constitution.
He said that the Pay Revision Committee was time-bound and as per the Constitution the money bill was final after the Bill was passed as an Act.
While some provisions were mere technical errors, he said that the other three provisions should come in as a new bill. “There are more than printing errors in the proposal.”
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the amendment if not deliberated before, doesn’t mean it was against the law.
“Although it has been endorsed, there is some change in the procedure. It is not a new law.”
Drametse Ngatshang’s Member of Parliament Ugyen Wangdi said that the amendment to the Act might become a trend. He said that there would be many who were unsatisfied with the revision. “If it is open to change, everyone will demand change.”
He added that the new provision in the Bill such as Discretionary Grant and CED should come up as a new Bill and not an amendment.
Meanwhile, the NA Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that the slip-ups in the Act were the carelessness of both the government and the House.
He said that the House should consider deliberating on the pay of NFE, Gyadrung, designated duty vehicles for dzongdag and HRA provisions.
On other provisions, he said that it was up to the House to deliberate or not.
The Economic and Finance Committee would present the recommendation on February 10.
To ensure tourism developments reach to all dzongkhags, the National Assembly in its second parliament session passed the resolution to open five additional entry and exit points for tourists in the southern border.
The resolution states that the government would open entry and exit points for tourists at Samdrupjongkhar, Gelephu, Samtse, Nganglam, and Panbang. However, even after a year, the endorsed decision was still not implemented and Phuentsholing remains the only entry point for regional tourists to travel into the country by road.
Dewathang-Gomdar’s Member of Parliament (MP), Ugyen Dorji, questioned Home and Cultural Affairs Minister, Sherub Gyeltshen at the National Assembly yesterday on why it was delayed.
Lyonpo Sherub Gyeltshen said that the government is still working on it.
“Although it is an endorsed decision, before implementing it, we have to do the proper studies on its impact. We are also framing a proper tourism policy to regulate the decision.”
“Just by focussing on the present benefits may lead to a challenging situation in the future. We have discussed with the relevant agencies on how to work on it,” Lyonpo said.
MP Ugyen Dorji also asked the minister to clarify on security issues regarding the opening of tourists’ entry points. “People are questioning me during constituency visits. When I say that it was delayed due to security issues, it does not seem a satisfying answer to the people.”
Home Minister said that he doesn’t have anything to say on international tourist. However, Lyonpo said the growing number of regional tourists is worrisome. He also cited few examples on increasing tourists at Punakha dzong, Paro Taktshang and Changangkha Lhakhang.
Meanwhile, Bumdeling- Jamkhar MP Dupthob asked the Information and Communications minister to clarify on when the government would fulfil its pledge on free Wi-Fi.
The government pledged to provide free Wi-Fi to the people.
Information and Communications minister Karma Donnen Wangdi said the rationale behind free Wi-Fi is to access the services provided by the government through online. Other objectives according to the minister were to access important information on time and to ease the communication among the people.
Lyonpo said that recognising the importance of ICT in the 21st century, the government is working on a comprehensive ‘Digital Drukyul Flagship Programme’ in the current 12th Plan.
“ICT is developing in the country and different organisations have different information management system. We want to combine all these systems through this flagship programme and provide efficient services to the people. Free Wi-Fi and Suungjoen will be clubbed together under this flagship programme,” he said.
Maenbi Tsaenkhar’s Member of Parliament (MP) questioned the Prime Minister on the slow down in the economy, which would result in numerous issues such as the drop in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, which at present is three percent, youth unemployment, debt increment and failure of private sectors.
Prime minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that economic diversification was the only solution to curb the economic slow down of the country.
He said that the dependency on hydropower alone cannot sustain the economy. He emphasised on diversification of investment in human capital—health and education, agriculture and tourism.
Considering the challenges the engine of growth—private sector were facing, Lyonchhen said that there were no big issues, although many mentioned about major glitches.
A capital budget of Nu 2.5 Billion (B) was allocated for this fiscal year—2019-20. However, 60 percent of the budget remained unutilised due to formality incurrence, not getting necessity clearance and incomplete designs according to PM.
He said that the aim should be utilising the 65 percent of the budget in the remaining six months.
The government allocated Nu 3B as a capital budget for 2020-2021 financial year which would be the highest capital budget allocated in its entire term.
Lyonchhen said: “We started off at 16-17 percent at the beginning of tenure and the plan was to keep the highest at 2020-2021 and to drop to 15 percent by 2024.”
He said that the government deliberately planned to have less capital expenditure at the beginning of the term because as a new government there was every chance of investing in the wrong infrastructure.
“We deducted 16 percent of the capital budget this year.” But as the year goes by, he said that the government would increase the capital expenditure.
As Bhutan’s currency is pegged with Indian Rupee, the drop in the Indian economy subsequently affects the Bhutanese economy. However, to prevent drastic slowdown, the solution was diversifying the economy.
Lyonchhen said that the drop in GDP growth in 2018 was the result of investments made in the previous year.
Lyonchhen also said that the government had looked into the cause of decline of national account statistics and was working on it.
“Citizens need not worry about the decline in the economy. There won’t be a serious problem.”
The 15 percent drop in electricity production in 2017 caused a decline in capital account statistics in 2017, which was expected to have hampered GDP growth rate in 2018. The drop in electricity production was attributed to inconsistent rainfall, according to Lyonchhen.
In 2017, the capital budget declined by about 11 percent. The decline, according to Lyonchhen was due to the delay in construction of the dam in hydropower projects, delay in completion of Mangdechhu project, and the geological surprises in Punatsangchhu projects.
National Assembly’s good governance committee will table the Negotiable Instrument (Amendment) Bill 2020 on February 12 for deliberation and endorsement in the House.
Assembly members yesterday voted unanimously to accept the Bill for deliberation.
Following the introduction of the Bill, the committee’s chairman, Lamgong-Wangchang Member of Parliament (MP) Ugyen Tshering said courts refer to the Act to decide on monetary cases.
Ugyen Tshering said that the Royal Monitory Authority and financial institutions were consulted when reviewing the Bill. “There was no issue from the financial institutions because when they receive a cheque and if the details do not match with their records then the banks do not accept.”
The MP said that the main objective for the proposal of Amendment was to make it consistent with Penal Code of Bhutan which the existing Act refers as Thrimzhung Chenmo 1959.
There are only two amendments in the Bill: Section 29B and Section 131 of the Negotiable Instrument Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2000.
Section 29B is in regards to forged or unauthorized signatures and section 131 on dishonour of cheque for insufficiency of funds in the accounts. Both sections state that the penalties for the offences have to as per the provisions of the Thrimzhung Chenmo 1959. The amendment proposes to change it to the Penal Code of Bhutan 2004.
The National Law Review Task Force, which was constituted by the former government during the Third session of the second Parliament recommended harmonising existing laws in line with the Constitution, and consolidation of several laws.
The NA’s Legislative Committee through its review of the report prioritised few laws and presented before the plenary stressing on its urgent need for amendment.
Accordingly, the Bills were distributed amongst the relevant committees to further review and submit a report for deliberation. The good governance committee will submit its report for the deliberation in the House next month.
Nim Dorji | Trongsa
With a farm road that is only pliable during winter, residents of Mangdephu and Jongthang in Trongsa have been struggling every summer to get to their villagers every summer for some years now.
The people of Mangdephu said that the road was built around 10 years ago, but no maintenance was carried out. The road does not have proper drainage.
Only four-wheel drive vehicles and power tillers can travel in the winter but in summer it is difficult even for power tillers.
Most of the vegetables and crops are grown in the summer, but they cannot transport any due to poor condition of the road.
A villager, Jamyang Lhendup said that they grow all kinds of vegetable and cereals in the area, but they could not sell anything owing to difficulty in transportation.
“We struggle to push the power tiller in the muddy road,” he said.
It was learnt that the road from Weling to Karshong was built by a private individual and was taken care by the then public works department and later handed to the dzongkhag. The road from Karshong to Mangdephu was constructed as farm road by the gewog.
The poor condition of the road from Weling to Mangdephu affects the residents of Sembji.
Sonam Lotey from Jongthang said that they have to fetch timber from far crossing the Mangdechu river. “Because we cannot use the road in summer all the works related to timber for construction are done in winter.”
During the recent visit by the Agriculture Minister, he assured that the road from Welling to Mangdephu would be maintained and upgraded to an all-weather road. A bypass road from Sembji to Karshong was also approved, residents said.
Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor said the old route passes through marshy areas and the area is a habitat for big wild cats. “So it was decided to construct a new road.”
“The old route will be preserved for the tiger enrichment area,” Lyonpo said.
The gewog administration has kept Nu 0.2 million for the maintenance of the farm road in the current financial year.
There is also a plan to connect all the chiwogs of Nubi gewog with a ring road by constructing a bridge over Mangdechu between Jongthang and Karshong towards Bembji.
One day, a cherished horse of an old man ran away. The horse was so valuable to the old man as his whole property because it ploughed, carried the loads, and helped him a lot.
The loss was immense that he could not even eat but kept thinking of the lost horse. Some friends and neighbours of the old man came by to eat with him and console him, but he was still disheartened.
Few years later, the horse came back. The horse returned with foals. The old man was overjoyed. The joy was even greater with the new foals as well as the old horse’s return. We call this episode “A misfortune turns into a blessing.”
This happens a lot in our life journey. Many times, weaknesses turn into strengths and benefits. Weakness is like a bridge to change a situation. This happens not only to a single person but in family, community, society, and nation where we belong to.
Our life gets sometimes overwhelming and painful, but the pain turns to joy and bliss over the time. In the time of hardship, optimistic mindset and vision to the future should be taken with the thoughts of “I can do it, you can do it, thus we can do it,” instead of being taken by depression.
Switzerland, one of the most want-to-visit countries, has many disadvantages. The area is 41,284 km2, that is the similar area of Bhutan (38,394 km2). The population is less, 80% of the territory is mountainous lacking sufficient flatlands for farming, and natural resource is almost to zero. The Swisses were aware of the disadvantages of their country and made many efforts and researches. What does not require flatlands and natural resources? What kind of industry would suit us? The solution was building a precision watch industry. The result, the best watches in the world, sold at high prices. “What more industries are legit while maintaining the watch industry?” The key to this questioning was food and pharmaceuticals industry.
To this day many other countries recognise the Swiss foods and pharmaceuticals and use them. Furthermore, precision watch, food, and pharmaceuticals industries comparatively make less contamination to the nature that the natural environment of Switzerland is well-preserved.
Many countries in the world take the nature for granted damaging or destroying it for the economic development. Because the industry in Switzerland improved but the nature was safeguarded, it unexpectedly attracted numerous tourists at first. If Switzerland had vast terrains with ample natural resources, the people would have not thought of the industries like that of watches.
To develop its economy, the nature could have been damaged that eventually pollute the land, air, and water. If it happened, Switzerland would have not been a tourist area as well. The key to the story of Switzerland called as the paradise in Europe both economically and environmentally is the endeavour to shift the weaknesses to strengths. The most important psychological aspect is their mentality to ponder on such questions like what the best they can do is and what the most appropriate is in their circumstances and to strive on researches and finally to develop on them.
In the case of Switzerland, the conditions were poor to make an economic development just like the old man who lost his horse. Meanwhile, the poor conditions allowed the Swiss to be able to work on watches where not many people are involved in and on food and pharmaceuticals in a row. The continuous research to find the most suitable in their conditions gave them an idea of eco-friendly industry.
This had no negative effect to the nature that enabled tourism industry as well which is an analogy to the return of the lost horse with its foals. Before complaining, how can I make use of the weaknesses? This attitude is crucial. Weakness is like a bridge, transition so to speak, to change to strength.
Contributed by, Sangrok Suh
Yangchen C Rinzin
Should the National Assembly pass the government’s proposed income tax reforms those with annual income of less than Nu 300,000 need not pay personal income tax (PIT) from 2021.
Income Tax (Amendment) Bill 2020 tabled at the National Assembly yesterday proposes raising the tax exemption from Nu 200,000 to Nu 300,000.
Presenting the Bill to amend the Income Tax Act 2001 and revised Taxes and Levies Act 2016, Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said that the taxation measures were proposed to make taxes more progressive for narrowing the income gap by providing tax relief to the lower-income segment of the society.
“The proposed amendment is expected to facilitate the redistribution of income for narrowing the income gap,” Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said.
The government has also proposed to exempt PIT on pension income, a surcharge of 10 percent on the PIT of those whose annual personal income tax is equal to or more than Nu 1 million. Surcharge means the additional tax levied on the tax payable or tax paid for an income year.
A new one-time 20 percent income tax is also proposed on lottery winnings on all prizes equal to or more than Nu 5,000 per lottery ticket.
The government proposed to increase the amount of total dividend income exempted from PIT from Nu 10,000 to Nu 30,000 per annum. The Bill also proposes to exempt income tax on cash crops. It also includes the allowable deductions for education expenses for students will be the actual cost of the education expenses or Nu 250,000.
The allowable PIT deduction for education expenses is proposed to be Nu 20,000 per child in the absence of supporting documents.
Although the income tax rate for state enterprises is retained as 30 percent of the net profit, the Bill has proposed to reduce the corporate income tax (CIT) from 30 percent to 25 percent of the net profit.
Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that the proposed amendment is going to benefit 21,071 taxpayers, 377 private companies, 12,571 business entities, and 122 pensioners besides farmers who grow cash crops.
“With the new pay revision, it is not fair if there is no change in the income tax because, without the change in tax slabs, people might feel the government is taking away all the money,” Lyonpo said. “The reason to amend the Income Tax Bill is to ensure people benefit from the salary revision.”
Meanwhile, the finance minister also proposed a new Bill, Property Tax Bill of Bhutan 2020. The Bill proposes to slash the property transfer tax from five percent to three percent on the sale value of the land or buildings.
It also proposes to lower the property transfer tax on the motor vehicles to one percent from five percent.
Lyonpo said the property tax is proposed to enhance compliance to facilitate a smooth transfer of ownership.
“Compliance on this has been a challenge for the Road Safety and Transport Authority because of a high level of transfer tax,” Lyonpo said. “This is also like going against the law.”
Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel asked the Good Governance Committee to look into the provisions of the bill and submit the findings to the Parliament on February 7.
Of 18 recommendations Special Committee of Nation Council (NC) for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) submitted last year, the committee’s recent assessment showed that the implementing authorities met only half of them.
During the deliberation on follow-up reports on the resolution of the previous NC session yesterday, the eminent member and committee’s chairperson Phuntsho Rapten said that revamping works for TVET were either midway, ongoing or in the initial stage.
“The recommendations were important and timely, but the progress is lukewarm and the committee is not satisfied,” he said.
One of the most important recommendations was to develop a comprehensive national TVET policy to foster unified growth and progress of TVET system in the country. However, the revision of draft TVET policy 2013 is currently on hold as the expert working group was established to look into TVET governance structure by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) last September.
The PMO has instituted expert group for TVET governance and TVET curriculum but there are no developments and updates, Phuntsho Rapten said. “The lack of national policy is impeding the success of the programme in the country.”
The special committee had also recommended the need for a National Institute of Technical Education within labour ministry to serve as an apex body for providing professional development services.
Although the PMO is looking into it, the committee was told that it was not included in the current plan. “Everyone knows TVET is important but it is worrying since the sector is not getting its due importance. TVET blueprint has documented necessary activities and plans but new activities are being planned.”
The committee presented updates on the establishment of TVET council, skills council, professional development of instructors and trainees, diversification of courses and financial support, among others.
Labour ministry is expected to revisit the 18 recommendations of the special committee in July.
Meanwhile, Deputy Chairperson of the Good Governance Committee Sangay Dorji said that of three recommendations to the education ministry regarding the government’s decision to remove the cut-off point, the committee was dissatisfied on the impact analysis on the quality of education.
The committee recommended that the education ministry should reconsider conducting a thorough impact analysis of the removal of cut-off point for class X students, particularly on the quality of education, financial sustainability and social problems.
The ministry responded that there were no studies on the impact of the initiative but Samtse College of Education was conducting research on the subject.
Gasa National Council member Dorji Khandu questioned the authenticity of the study. “The government’s move on removing the cut-off point is at a national level but Samtse College’s focus is on academic research. The ministry needs to conduct in-depth research to better understand the impact.”
“The move has created more gaps between the rich and the poor, going against the government’s vision of narrowing the gap,” he said.
The House also deliberated on the annual Anti-Corruption report 2018, recommending the judiciary to explore appropriate measures such as the establishment of special bench for corruption cases to expedite the trial process.
The judiciary will establish a special bench in the four regions by this month. Updates on reducing harmful use of alcohol and fronting issues were also presented by the respective committees.