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Updated: 1 hour 50 min ago

Covid-19 sends homestay out of business in Phobjikha valley

Sat, 06/27/2020 - 15:41

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

Every October over 400 black-necked cranes (BNC) gather in Phobji and Gangtey valley. With the birds come tourists.

After the cranes leave in March, many visit the valley and pay a visit to Karma, the injured crane.

According to Gangtey gup Gyeltshen, during peak season (winter), the homestays are occupied mostly by foreign tourists. The rest of the year they cater to more Bhutanese tourists.

However, for over two months, guests ceased and income has reached an all-time low for over 30 homestay owners in the valley.

The valley was closed to visitors in mid-May.

This was after a local complained that there were Bhutanese visitors who came to the valley during quarantine time, said Gyeltshen.

“Although there were Bhutanese who wanted to spend some time in the valley, the homestay owners declined.”

Today, the valley is closed to visitors who come for the nearby border area.

Gyeltshen said that because the valley was popular among tourists, it was wise to take such preventive measures.

“But I think by the end of this month, we would be able to open the valley to visitors.”

A homestay owner, Yangka, said that in a year, he earned more than Nu 100,000.

“We also have seen an increase in regional tourists about a year ago. Income has increased over the years.”

Today, a foreign national tourist is charged Nu 800 per night excluding meals. Breakfast is charged Nu 250 and Nu 350 for lunch and dinner. This is decreased to Nu 150 for breakfast and Nu 250 for lunch and dinner for Bhutanese tourists.

Today, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, homestay owners have resorted to farming.

Yangka said that unlike hoteliers, homestay owners owned land and had an alternative to the homestay business.

“I have given a majority of my land for sharecropping. I have cultivated potatoes in around 30 decimals. I am worried but that’s the best I can do.”

Although farmers in Gangtey have resorted to farming, for homestay owners in Phobji it is not a major problem.

In Phobjikha around 12 homestays are in Khemdo chiwog, around 8km away from Gangtey.

Khemdo tshogpa Tshering Dorji said that because the homestays were far, homestays in Gangtey took a majority of its tourists.

“The pandemic has little effect on the business in Phobji.”

The homestays in Phobji had raised concerns about not getting enough guests because of the distance.

Similarly, the business has slowed for around 20 homestays in Laya, Gasa. However, people have resorted to activities such as cordyceps collection and transporting ration for the residents of Lunana.

“We have a lot of tourists throughout the year, who choose to camp during their stay in Laya,” said Laya Gup Lhakpa Tshering. There are over 260 households in Laya.

Neyphug Trulku Rinpoche on life, disease and death

Sat, 06/27/2020 - 15:40

His Eminence Ngawang Sherdrup Chokyi Nyima is popularly known as Neyphug Trulku Rinpoche (NTR) among his students in Bhutan and abroad. A few years back Neyphug Trulku suffered a kidney failure, underwent a kidney transplant surgery and survived miraculously after a near-death experience. Our contributing writer Sönam Dema interviewed NTR on understanding life, disease and death in a deeper sense as per dharma.  

His Eminence Ngawang Sherdrup Chokyi Nyima is the 9th reincarnation of the first Neyphug Trulku Rinpoche, Tertön Ngawang Dragpa. The principle seat of the first Neyphug Trulku is Neyphug Thegchen Tsemo Monastery in Paro, which was first built in 1550. Neyphug (Heyphu) monastery belongs to the Neyphug lineage, one of the indigenous monasteries of Vajrayana Buddhism in Bhutan.

Our general perception of a successful life is a great career, big car and a big house. What is a perfect life, as per Dharma?

If you want an answer as per the Dharma, a perfect life is, not owning anything. As one of the greatest Buddhist master once mentioned: 

When people don’t respect you anymore,

When you become equivalent to a stray dog,

That is the time you are counted as a god.

In simple words, a perfect life is when people don’t recognize or regard you as important; when you become so ordinary that you are treated impassively just like a homeless dog— when your status is no better than a stray dog, that is the perfect time you will understand the true meaning of life, and so, you will be counted as a god or divine. 

I don’t know about big cars or big houses, these ideas of success or perfect life is shaped by the society— I call it the colorful mind, where we have too many views or information, none of which is correct. People cling to the idea that driving a big car or owning a big house is successful or rich. These are wrong information. It is not necessary that people are happy owning such belongings. 

At the same time, we cannot deny this generation where we grew up with the concept of having a career, owning a car or a house. I think it is, therefore, important for us to find a balance, you know. 

Gautama Buddha’s livelihood advice in the Eightfold Path emphasizes “ethically sourced and meaningfully living”. So maybe, it is good to own a simple car, humble house, and to pursue a career that is beneficial to the society and environment. 

The more you have, the more stressful you get. As mentioned by 

Master Vasubandhu in Abhidharma teaching, the wealth is the source of all our fears: first the fear of not gaining or gathering; then, the fear of not accumulating; and finally, the fear of perishing or spending. So, you see, it only causes more fear and stress, anything far from happiness or a perfect life. 

In Buddhism, everything in life is said to be temporary. Does it mean our lives are filled with delusions?

In dharma, we don’t say temporary— we say, it is constantly changing. If it is temporary, it will last certain period. But in dharma, it doesn’t even last a split of a second. Change is the only constant thing. 

For example, when we look at the river, say Paro Chhu— by the time we realize it is Paa Chhu, in that slight second, it is not the same river as the water you have witnessed has changed. It has travelled by few feet down in that split of a second. By the time you go and touch the river with your hands, the water has travelled already. So, it is constantly changing. With our delusive mind, we don’t see that. For us, the river is always there but the reality is, it is constantly changing. 

So, when we don’t know the reality, we get confused and suffer. This is the unenlightened mind, a mind filled with delusions. 

Why do we suffer or get ill as per Dharma?

We suffer when we have perception, which happens when we have this full human entity as the body, or the five senses like the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin. Once we have these physical perceptions or entity, we always have preferences or likings, you know. And with this, comes desiring, gaining or avoiding and more. So, it becomes quite impossible for us not to suffer.  

It is mentioned in the Madhyamaka teachings (founded by Buddha and taught by philosopher Nāgārjuna), as long as we have this physical existence, there is always this concept of self, ego, or “I”. As long as there is this “I” existing, there is fear and concern for the wellbeing of the self. And as long as this concern is prevailing, there will always be fear and sufferings. 

The cause of sickness has various reasons. As per Dharma, it is mainly our actions and karma that, somehow, manifests into sickness or diseases. However, we generally say, we get sick because of the imbalance in the elements in our body. Our body has four elements; we have fire, water, earth and air. When these elements get mixed up, like fire and water, there is imbalance and this manifests in the form of sickness, spirit or negative energy in our body. That is why we call it, “Nye dang, Dhuen dang, Lhay dang.”

Nye is disease due to imbalance of these four elements. Dhuen meaning spirit harm, and Lhay is your past bad karma that causes illness. 

So, most of the time when we fall sick the best thing to do is say your prayers and also consult a doctor to balance your elements. You can also try spiritual healing. If nothing works, even if doctor can’t help, then, the ultimate option is to strive to accumulate good karma, being positive and doing a lot of virtuous deeds to pay back your debt, we call it ‘exhausting karma’. This is an excellent way of looking after yourself. Again, negative karma is caused by our un-awakened mind, namely, ignorance, desire, anger, jealousy and ego. Well, it is ourselves who, somehow, generate the causes of these sickness or sufferings.

Few years back you have survived a kidney transplant surgery and recovered miraculously. Tell us what helped you with the recovery?

I think I have become a better person because of my kidney failure. Before that, although I am nobody, yet people had so much respect for me. When you are showered with so much respect, you get carried away and forget to be humble. So, when you are actually put on a hospital bed, you realize you are nobody— you are just another ordinary human being fighting between life and death. So, I promised myself if I recover, I want to live differently. 

After kidney transplant, we are prescribed medicines, and we are advised to refrain from any public gatherings, as our body is really weak.

Being a spiritual healer, we have to be next to sick and dead— we have to visit sick people and attend funerals and bless the dead ones. For first couple of months, I restricted myself, but then, I felt I have no purpose of my life in doing so. As a spiritual individual, I recovered. I felt the true purpose of my life is to help others, and here I was, fearing that I might get infected. I told myself, I would rather die if I am not going to serve my purpose in life. 

So, I took a drastic decision. I thought it doesn’t matter even if I live for a few months, weeks or even a day as long as I can bring smile on other people’s lives. This is exactly what I wanted to do. Of course, my mother hated me for that and my friends thought I was insane. 

After the surgery, I had 12 inches stitches left on my body and I was high on medication. The doctors had warned me constantly to be very careful, saying my new kidney might reject me as I have now a foreign organ in my body. Of course, I was scared. But I recovered swiftly. The miracle behind this was I started my devotion to Medicine Buddha. Of course, I was doing my daily meditations and offerings but nothing really helped my recovery. 

Then, somehow, when you are helpless and dying, I realized there is this Buddha called Medicine Buddha. So, I called a senior colleague of mine from India, and requested for the text. Then, I went for a strict 21 days of medicine Buddha retreat. I was very sincere, devoted and confident, putting all my trust in Medicine Buddha. In 21 days the result was remarkable, my doctors were surprised as my medication reduced and my wounds healed faster. One of my doctors asked me what I was doing, and I told him I was doing a healing meditation. Then, I introduced my non-Buddhist doctor to Medicine Buddha. Jokingly, he said, I thought your Buddha was yellow, but your Buddha is quite dark and blue. Well, I said this is another Buddha. You are a Buddha and I am a Buddha too. Then, we had a great laughter. 

And now, I have few doctor friends who give an image of medicine Buddha to their patients, asking them to try medication and meditation as well. 

As I was saying, the purpose of my life as spiritual healer is to help people, now I have projects coming up and I am doing whatever I can, within my own limits, you know— and I feel it will be ok even if I die tomorrow, we can always come back. I don’t know if I can come back as who I am, you know, but it doesn’t matter even if I come back as a dog. 

Our body is like a cup. When you pour hot water, it becomes hot. When you pour iced water, it becomes chilled. But it is not the cup that is hot or cold. Likewise, our mind and body are two different entities. If we don’t differentiate and analyze them, it becomes one. Body becomes the slave to our mind. Our mind will still exist even when our body is gone. 

So, here I separate my body and mind. I tell myself, my mind never had kidney failure, my mind is untouchable, my mind is perfect and my mind has no problems. So, when we are able to separate our mind and body, we feel good, alive and optimistic. 

Talking about death, why do we have to ultimately die one day?

Many great masters have mentioned that the purpose of birth is to die, and the beauty of death is to be reborn again. It is just a physical exchange. For example, many great masters advise us to treat our body as a guest house and our soul or mind as a guest. 

This, whatever life we are born in to, is a guest house— we check in for a certain period of time, like a lifespan. And eventually, one day we need to check out. 

As I have mentioned, the beauty is if there is no death, there is no birth. Every death is a new beginning.  If you are talking about physical death, we are constantly dying every second. It is nothing ultimate, it is happening all the time. However, the consciousness of our mind actually never dies— it continues to exist from beginning-less to the endlessness. 

For example, when great masters are very old or sick and about to die, they say, they need to change their physical existence as their body cannot sustain their soul anymore. In simple words, they say, they need to look for a new body to sustain their mind. This is called Juu-Kay or spontaneous birth. So, great masters, when they age, they can actually just transfer their consciousness into a young body— thus, reviving their youth as a continuity of their life. This is how death is defined spiritually. 

As death is inevitable, how do we prepare ourselves to pass away peacefully?

As ordinary individuals it is very difficult for us to prepare to die in peace as we have this colorful mind again; and the current affairs will cling to our minds, hold us back to our current lives. So, the best way to prepare is by spiritual means by really practicing, meditating and having a great teacher. 

Many great masters have proven and passed away peacefully.

 So, I always joke that the purpose of dharma is to live happily and die peacefully. If you are able to do this, then you are a good dharma-practitioner. So I advise you to look for spiritual path, spiritual support, and to be fearless and prepare for your peaceful departure. 

What is bardo in simple words?

Bardo in simple words is a state of transit where the soul is wandering without any particular form or being, or reincarnation. In Dharma, we are supposed to experience rebirth in six different realms. Not just as humans, but in any forms, whenever the soul or the mind transits or departs from the body, we always have to experience this bardo. In this transit, it takes up to 49 days from the day we die to decide the next rebirth. So, that particular period is called bardo. 

What is a Trulku? Are all trulkus same? 

Trulku means manifestation. When you say manifest, you mean someone who has the control or the power to manifest in the form of whatever they wish to. So, all the authentic trulkus are deliberately or intentionally returned to the world, to serve and to help sentient beings.

That is what we call, Sam-Zhing Seepar-Zhung wa, meaning intentionally reborn in Samsara to be very ordinary or to be with the ordinary beings. 

However, in today’s world anyone of pure rebirths of, for example, Lama Tony or John Rinpoche, has been also called as trulkus. These are good rebirth or good reincarnations but they cannot be categorized as trulkus in a pure sense, as per the Text. 

If it is a trulku, firstly, the rebirth has to be prophesized or predicted by Guru Rinpoche or by the successive masters, that there would be a manifestation of so and so. For example, the highest Trulku in the country is, of Tertön Pema Lingpa, the current Sungtrul Rinpoche. Pema Lingpa was with Guru Rinpoche as Lhacham (Princess) Pemasal. Guru Rinpoche assigned him to be reborn or manifest as Pema Lingpa in 15th century to carry on the works of Guru Rinpoche. Similarly, all the Trulkus like, Pema Lingpa (Sungtrul), late HH Nyizer Trulku, Gangtey Trulku, Gyalsey Tenzin Rabgye, Khyentse Rinpoche, Namkhai Nyingpo, all the masters with proper address and lineage, tradition and history—  we call them the true trulku or manifestation. Otherwise, any great lama who meditated in caves, their reincarnate, we call them Yangsi or good rebirth. Those authentic trulkus we never call them reincarnation, you know, we call them manifestations. Yangsi means reincarnation and Trulku means manifestation. There is a huge difference between the two. 

This is just for information. Of course, the most important aspect is whoever is selfless and benefits the sentient beings the most in their lifetime. 

If you do research of our history, the term Rinpoche never originated from Bhutan, it was actually borrowed from Tibet. Traditionally or culturally, in Bhutan we call Je (meaning refuge). For example, we only have limited indigenous Trulkus in Bhutan; they were called either Je or other individual titles like, Gangtey Chapgon, Siwula Jamgon, Tsamdra Je, Heyphug Je. Later, we borrowed the term Rinpoche from Tibetan culture. Rinpoche means the precious one and we can call anyone who is precious to you. For example, you can call your sweetheart Rinpoche, you know, someone who is very precious to you. If you find that individual very important, makes sense to you— then, you can call them Rinpoche. In spiritual world today, Rinpoche doesn’t really mean anything. Sometimes we call each other Rinpoche to feel good or make the other individual feel good or respected. 

You are the 9th reincarnation of the first Neyphug Trulku Rinpoche, Tertön Ngawang Dragpa. As a Trulku, do you describe yourself as an enlightened being? 

Absolutely not. I always have trouble accepting the duty of Trulku. When you say Trulku, it means manifestation, so all the authentic trulkus actually represent enlightened beings. They manifest as ordinary beings to really compliment the sentient beings who are wandering in the darkness, to lead them to the light. Personally, I find this responsibility very stressful. Generally, I don’t think there are many individuals who are fit to be trulku, including myself for being very ordinary. A trulku’s job is a huge responsibility. I always joke saying, it is like a dog in a lion’s skin, or like a wolf in a sheep’s skin. It is very difficult because a trulku should be unconditional, really compassionate, and living selflessly. It is very complex, you know, for one individual to take up the job of manifesting, serving every sentient beings’ needs, desires and expectations. It is absolutely not an easy job. 

Well, in simple words, Tertön Ngawang Dragpa is a remarkable master, Guru Rinpoche’s immediate disciple, and has done a wonderful selfless dedication towards Buddha Dharma. Not only Tertön Ngawang Dragpa, but all the successive trulkus have been great, and I think I am the one, who is really living in the shadows of their names, just trying to live my life, imitating to be in their shoes. There are also times when I feel I am fake, a hypocrite and using dharma for livelihood. I tell my friends jokingly, I am a total loser and destroyer of the Dharma, mad and not yet divine. 

So, I wish and hope one day I would be enlightened, and be able to make more progressive impact, and live meaningfully. This is my only aspiration whenever I visit any holy places of great masters. And I always seek blessings from older people, wishing to live up to the names of all the great and successful trulkus and benefit all the sentient beings. So, I hope all the readers would also wish me the same. 

Well, to conclude this topic on life, disease and death, I would like to emphasize that there are many aspirations and practices in Dharma, even as a Lama, we say, when I die, when I finally leave this body, I will just run to the freedom, to Nirvana, to the pure land, like how an animal would run wild from the trap. 

When an eagle, for example, is released from a cage to freedom, it will fly swiftly miles and miles away, never to look back or return. Similarly, many great masters await to die or depart, because being in Samsara is like being trapped. So, for the spiritual practitioners, death is never a concern. 

While, for the ordinary individuals, since we are confused and too attached to our physical surroundings and current affairs, we have lots of attachments, so it is very important to prepare and search for a spiritual path to depart, peacefully. 

Sönam Dema is a part-time travel writer and blogger. She is currently working as TV Producer with Bhutan Broadcasting Service in Thimphu. She can be reached at sonamdema123@gmail.com

Our United Nations: 75 Years on…

Sat, 06/27/2020 - 15:39

One war too many; one misery, all miseries; one dream, all dreams… This was the context, extent, and intent that led to the founding of the United Nations Organisation from the ashes of the Second World War that engulfed humanity on a scale unprecedented and desolation unimaginable. The United Nations came into existence on October 24, 1945, when the UN Charter was officially ratified by the five permanent members and a majority of other signatories, with the cherished aim ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’. 

Signed 75 years ago today, on June 26, 1945 at San Francisco, the United Nations Charter enshrines the most fundamental and comprehensive aspirations of humanity and the obligations of member-states to enable the flourishing of life and conduct of nations befitting the human of the species. The many organs that constitute the United Nations Organisation are mandated to fulfil the foundational aims of the world body in letter and in spirit.

In its chequered journey, the United Nations has come a long way. With all its imperfections, the United Nations remains the most important, truly international institution comprising some 193 sovereign, independent states from across the globe as its members. It symbolises the most fervent hope of humanity for peace, security, and a life of dignity and respect in an environment of inter-state, inter-regional, and inter-national relationship based on mutual tolerance, integrity, and goodwill.

Despite the threats to its basic goals that were unleashed almost from day one with the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the blatant violations of membership obligations, challenges posed by human and environmental crises, cyber-security threats, and a host of other compelling issues that claim the attention of the United Nations at different points, it remains the most reassuring symbol of hope and sanity in the world today. 

With all its imperfections, it is thanks to the sustained efforts of the United Nations that the world is this much safer, the human lot this much better, and the future still worth-working for. Often close to the brink, yet short of strike, a global conflagration of a Third World War has been avoided, humanitarian crises mitigated, and chances for peace enhanced. The UN is the first and the last point of reference for standards of good behaviour for governments and nations around the world.

Successive secretaries-general, heads of agencies, regional as well as country chiefs and functionaries at all levels, past and present, have each brought to bear their individual convictions and professional commitments on the discharge of their duties and advanced the goals of the United Nations and given it cause for legitimacy and worth often in the face of cynicism and threat.

Come 2021, it will be half a century of exemplary partnership between the Kingdom of Bhutan and the United Nations. Becoming the 128th member of the United Nations Organisation on September 21, 1971, thanks to the far-sighted vision of the Father of Modern Bhutan, Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, has immensely benefitted the country, both in tangible as well as symbolical terms, advancing thereby the foundational ideals of United Nations to which Bhutan is fully committed and enhancing the overall development goals of the country through targeted, strategic support provided by the UN system. 

Having started its operations in the country as early as 1973, the office of the United Nations Development Programme was formally established in 1979. Currently, it has some 26 agencies of the UN working in the country under the auspices of the Delivery as One approach with the Resident Coordinator as the overall chief. 

Each head of the UN system in Bhutan and their colleagues have made their own unique contributions to the advancement of the country’s development goals particularly in the human resource capacity building and governance areas with significant, visible results in diverse sectors they have been involved in.

As a passionate believer in the noble ideals of the UN Charter, Bhutan has been playing its role, albeit modest, by participating actively in deliberations in the different bodies, advocating the foundational vision of the organisation, and in more recent years contributing volunteers to peace-building and peace-keeping missions in some of the most challenging hot-spots in the world. 

Bhutan’s holistic development vision of Gross National Happiness, articulated by His Majesty Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck, has found deep resonance with the long-term development goals of the UN. Endorsed as the ninth Millennium Development Goal, the UN General Assembly adopted pursuit of happiness as a basic human right and declared March 20th as the International Day of Happiness in 2012. Several themes of the 17-point Agenda 2030 draw their inspiration from the work of the high-level international experts’ team, including Nobel Laureates, appointed by His Majesty the King in 2012 to chart the post-2015 development road-map.

As the world celebrates the 75th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter, it is a moment for some deep soul-searching, to reflect on the vision of the founding-fathers and the distance we have covered. How might the world look like without the United Nations? How might we make it more efficient, effective and fair? How do we hold the defaulters to account?

For Bhutan though, the benefits that have come through our membership to this pre-eminent extended family of nations have given to us a global platform to share the country’s unique vision of holistic development dedicated to human and societal flourishing within mutually supportive planetary boundaries. This membership has allowed us to make our own the all-embracing foundational ideals of the United Nations.

Inspired by Friendship in all Seasons, “working together to ensure no one is left behind is at the heart of our work in Bhutan and we are grateful for these partnerships”, in the words of the current UN Resident Coordinator, Mr Gerald Daly.

This is the inescapable fact. The ideals of the UN are human ideals, conceived and communicated in time for a time beyond time. The UN is us and ours. So are its ideals. They survive and thrive through individual faith and conviction. It is the integrity of individual leaders and individual nations and their citizens to breathe life into the UN and live out its noble ideals in their life and action. The soul of the UN expresses itself in the role of its functionaries and signatories.

For me as an individual, and a man of faith, the United Nations still represents the best of human yearning and the noblest of collective striving. If not for Covid-19, I should have been at Seville in Spain this moment to partake of the historic 75th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter as a special invitee. 

May the ideals of our United Nations flower and flourish in all realms, at all times, and in all lives…

Contributed by

Thakur S Powdyel

Former Minister of 

Education

Local bricks mark record sales 

Fri, 06/26/2020 - 11:50

… firms worry about lifting restrictions on imports could hurt their business

Nima  | Gelephu

The Covid-19 pandemic that resulted in restrictions on the movement of vehicles from the border gate has come as a blessing for local brick manufacturers in Sarpang.

Brick manufacturers who earlier complained and appealed to the government for not having market are making the most of the current restrictions. 

 Yangjung Sonam Bricks and Steel Fabrication (YSBSF), in Gelephu made record sales in March this year after the border closed.  The company sold over 87,000 bricks in March, over 41,000 in April, and more than 71,000 in May. During the same period last year, close to 87,000 bricks were sold.

The owner of the company, Sonam Dorji said earlier his bricks were taken only to government constructions within the dzongkhag.

“When the border was sealed, the demand for bricks increased. The private constructions placed their demands,” he said.

He said the unit is unable to meet the demand for local bricks.

“The bricks that were in the stock were sold out in the first month. In the following months the unit faced the shortage of labour,” he said.

Like most small and cottage industries in Gelephu and Sarpang, day labourers from across the border were the main workforce at Yangjung manufacturing unit.

Sonam Dorji said that local two bricks manufacturers closed shop for lack of demand in the past.

“Now, there is pressure to produce more from all sectors,” he said.

Gelephu saw a decrease in brick manufacturing units over the past three years.

The brick-making business struggled against different types of cheap imported bricks in the country.

Today, there are three brick manufacturing units in Gelephu.

With the government transitioning to the new normal, the number of trucks conveying imported bricks is on the rise in Gelephu.

The local brick manufacturers are worried about losing business again.

Druk hollow blocks sold its entire stock of 15,000 bricks as soon as the border closed. But the demand for bricks has dropped since the gates were opened for imported bricks about one month ago.

Three major government constructions are ongoing in Gelephu. Local bricks manufacturers said it was disappointing to see the project not using local bricks.

“How can we convince private individuals to use our products in such situations. Government projects should start using local bricks and encourage others,” said Sonam Dorji.

YSBSF employs over 20 staff and also produces concrete door frame.

Local brick manufacturers said bricks made in the country were not known for being a good quality despite sharing equally good qualities and sold at lower prices than the imported bricks. This is because several construction workers are from India. They don’t prefer using our local bricks, according to the bricks makers.

The local brick manufacturers said there should also be proper monitoring to improve the quality of local products so that inferior quality and uncertified bricks won’t enter the market. This trend has spoiled the name of local bricks. 

Hygiene and thromde plan do not see eye to eye

Fri, 06/26/2020 - 11:49

Choki Wangmo

What things can go into the flush toilet? Human waste for sure, but not used condoms and sanitary pads.

Sewerage is a big problem in Thimphu. In summer, especially, when there is even just a slight rain, drains and manholes begin to froth.

Gem Tshering, a landlord, has built a toilet near the road. His neighbours have it the same way. Many blame the thromde rules. Is the preservation of heritage and the need to hang on to past giving rise to otherwise easily avoidable waste problems in Thimphu’s suburbs and the main?

The answer remains conspicuously hidden.

For example, in Babena in Thimphu, most household waste goes directly into the Samteling stream. Most of the traditional houses do not have a sewerage tank. At best a polyvinyl chloride pipe connects to the stream.

Six months ago, the Thimphu Thromde and the National Environment Commission told the households to dismantle the structures.

“We don’t have any choice,” Gem Tshering said, adding that he would build one next to his house. He must process clearance and drawings and submit them to the thromde. It’s a long and tedious process. And meaningless too, according to the householders.

Another landlord, Tandin Wangchuk, wants to build a toilet attached to his house. Thimphu Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said that the thromde had asked the residents to dismantle the current structures and clearances have been given to construct attached toilets.

Inside and above the army headquarters in Lungtenphu, more than 150 households are living in what looks like temporary sheds without a proper sewerage tanks and drainage system.

Thrompon said that a letter was sent to the Royal Bhutan Army headquarters to build a proper sewerage system. “The thromde is following-up.”

The residents in Changedhaphu, also in Thimphu, are facing the same problem. Hundreds of thromde workers use pit toilets. When one is filled to the brim, they dig a new one.

Residents said that without streetlights, people defecated everywhere, making the place unhygienic, particularly for children sprawling in the area.

With the space filling up quickly with human waste, Amar Gurung said that he was concerned about hygiene. Summer brings the worst with rising heat and endless rain.

His toilet is located few metres away from his home. The matter becomes difficult when the residents get water only twice a day.

Untreated sewage contains water; nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus); solids (including organic matter); pathogens (including bacteria, viruses and protozoa); helminthes (intestinal worms and worm-like parasites); oils and greases; runoff from streets, parking lots and roofs; heavy metals (including mercury, cadmium, lead, chromium, copper) and many toxic chemicals, including dioxins, furans, pesticides, phenols and chlorinated organic.

All these pose threats to human life.

Last week, due to a heavy downpour, the Centenary Farmers’ Market in Thimphu was flooded almost completely. The manager of the market, Tshering Tenzin, said that the lack of proper drainage in the north side of the market caused the flooding.

The National Environment Strategy 2020 notes that the National Integrated Water Resource Management Plan 2016 requires every dzongkhag and thromde to prepare an integrated water use management plan based on demographic projections for the next decade to ensure efficient water supply and effluent disposal, including drainage systems in its jurisdiction.

This includes actions for treatment of leachate from waste landfill sites.

With the support of international partners, an energy-saving, small-scale sewage system is being explored for Thimphu Thromde.

Burglar at large arrested with help of public

Fri, 06/26/2020 - 11:48

Yangyel Lhaden

Thimphu police’s idea of roping in public support in catching a culprit paid off when information shared of the culprit led to his arrest on June 23.

A 36-year-old man from Trongsa broke into The Craft Gallery in Thimphu and made off with items worth Nu 700,000. He was arrested in Jemina, Thimphu.

Police began looking for the suspect from May 29 after the burglary was reported. The suspect had broken into the gallery on May 28 at around 6:30pm. The picture of the suspect caught on closed-circuit television (CCTV) was circulated to the community police centres, Crime Investigation Department officers and cab drivers.

Officer in Command (OC) of Thimphu Police Station, Gembo Penjor said the search went in vain since the picture from the CCTV footage was not clear. The OC said that for timely recovery and arrest of the culprit, police decided to seek help from the general public to locate the person.

On June 22, the picture of the suspect was posted on the Royal Bhutan Police’s (RBP) Facebook page.

On the same day of posting the picture on facebook, an informer reported the police about the suspect . It was found out that the suspect was a repeat offender. He was imprisoned for burglary in 2016 and was released from Genekha open-air prison in April this year.

The OC said that they got the phone number of the suspect’s mother from Chamgang Central jail. “After his mother gave us the suspect’s number, Bhutan Telecom traced the location of the number,” the OC said. The tower location of the suspect was found to be in Jemena at around 10:20pm on June 22.

The OC said that along with his team they went immediately to search for the suspect. The search went on till 1:00 am but it wasn’t successful, he said. On June 23, they continued the search at 6:00 AM from Khasadrapchu to Jemena in a taxi to disguise their identity. The team searched along the road, every house and bar, but in vain. While returning back from Jemena at around 10:00am, they found a suspicious man along the roadside in Jemena. The OC said, “He was wearing a sweater cap and pretending to pee.”

They recognised and arrested him. The suspect confessed to the crime at the scene.

The culprit had kept the stolen items in Paro at his friend’s place. He had even sold one of the Kiras worth Nu 53,000 to a woman in Shaba for Nu 3,000.

The OC said that all the items were recovered on the same day and both the culprit and his friend were arrested.

The OC thanked the public for the support and urged people to support police in the future.

A deep-rooted problem

Fri, 06/26/2020 - 11:47

Fresh out of an institute and ready to start a career in the civil service, Sonam landed a job as a procurement officer with a government establishment in the capital. Few months into the job, she realised her store officer could handle her job. She wanted a change.

She called her father. Her father called his cousin who he though would have better “influence or network” to get a transfer. The reason the father suggested in the transfer application was family issues. A young officer not being able to learn on the job, he thought, would not convince the bosses. Sonam got transferred.

It is no exaggeration to say that most Bhutanese would try to pull strings when something has to be done. Telephone calls to the boss before a job selection interview, using uncle and aunties, friends and the elected leader from the constituency to get things done are common. The National Integrity Assessment report confirms this. It found out that half of the people it interviewed for the report perceived that family and friendship were beneficial in having services processed faster. In short, it is better if we have “connections.”

But this is not new.   What is also not new is the findings on favouritism and nepotism in public service delivery based on relationships. What is new is we have not been able to do anything. The Anti Corruption Commission publishes the assessment report almost every year. What has changed?

Even if it is the duty of the service providers, people still look for connections to receive the service they are entitled to.  After decades of substantial investment in human resource development, technology and initiatives to professionalise service delivery, the fact that people still look for connections or is a clear indication that there is no impact. If people still prefer using relationships or influence, the purpose of professionalism is defeated.

Although the professional levels in Bhutan have improved, there is much house cleaning to be done.  Controversy follows most job interviews, transfer and promotion. The notion of “his candidate or her candidate” is hard to get rid off to an extent that people are challenging the ACC to conduct a survey on the lucrative posts and family background of those selected. It is common to see the son or daughter recruited in the same professions their parents are in.

With social media providing a platform to vent out frustrations, it is full with complaints and criticism. Many brush it aside as a sour grape example. And many do not complain officially. However, there is a reason. Without evidence, it could backfire. Even if one accusation holds water, there are ways and means to hide it. For instance, nexus among the job selection panel would bury all evidences.

It boils down to ethics and morality. The recommendation the report made like developing service delivery standards, education and managing feedback are not new. It has not worked. One problem is everybody is a part of it. Everybody is trying to pull his or her own strings. The difference is in the thickness of the string.

E-service sounds like a good solution. But again, it depends on the person sitting behind the computer and the calls he receives from.

Ultimately heads of ministries and organisations, senior leaders of the official and private sector, and the increasing number of people those who supposedly understand the situation have to make more responsible decisions.

Online platform to enhance price information

Fri, 06/26/2020 - 11:46

AMIS launched on June 24

Thinley Namgay 

The agriculture ministry in collaboration with the European Union (EU) and the International Trade Centre (ITC) launched the online Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) on June 24 in Thimphu.  

Through AMIS, people could understand the market prices of 37 varieties of agriculture, dairy and forest produce from the 23 markets around the country by accessing through the website or mobile app.  

The initiative would benefit small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and farmers by enhancing price information for agricultural commodities and empowering them to get better market prices. AMIS aims to provide a strategic source of information for the ministry to monitor and manage the unprecedented hike in prices of various food products which impacts consumers and food security.

AMIS online platform was developed with the financial support from the EU under the framework of EU-Bhutan Trade Support Project, and with the technical expertise of ITC. 

Agriculture minister Yeshey Penjor graced the launching ceremony. EU’s Ambassador to Bhutan and India, Ugo Astuto, and ITC’s Director of Country Programmes, Ashish Shah, also attended the ceremony through a virtual platform.  

Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor said that Bhutan was working to divert the supply-driven market to a demand-driven market and the AMIS was crucial and timely. “The information on the system is uploaded on a weekly basis, and it is linked to the Food Corporation of Bhutan’s auction system and will directly pull the auction data to give holistic price information to the farmers in the field.”

Ugo Astuto said that the AMIS would support Bhutan’s efforts to boost domestic and international trade while contributing to improved sustainability of rural incomes. “Connecting the agricultural ecosystem across the country will ensure not only unified market information for agricultural products but also facilitate inclusive growth, in line with our overall support to Bhutan in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.” 

 The agriculture and marketing services department will hereafter carry out an awareness programme on the usage of the AMIS.

Damphu town runs short of eggs

Fri, 06/26/2020 - 11:46

Chimi Dema | Tsirang

Damphu town in Tsirang is the commercial hub of the second largest egg-producing dzongkhag. But of late, shop owners  are not seeing many eggs reaching their shops.

This is despite daily average egg production remaining the same. Records with the dzongkhag livestock sector show that on an average, 51,347 eggs were produced a day from January to May. Producing about 20 million (M) eggs last year, Tsirang is the second largest egg-producing dzongkhag after Sarpang

As of May this year, the dzongkhag produced over 1.5M eggs with about 91,400 layer birds in 115 farms.

Shopkeepers said that despite being near to the poultry farms, supply is decreasing. Vendors from other dzongkhags, it was found, contact farms owners and take the eggs to other dzongkhags.

A rich source of protein and a good substitute for meat, the restriction on the import of meat and the ban on meat during the auspicious month could have increased the demand for eggs from other dzongkhags.

Damphu vendors said even if they were willing to pay as much as vendors from other areas, which is about Nu 2500 per carton, there is no supply. The owner of Drangtse Bakery said that she visits farms to look for eggs. “Although the prices have almost doubled, the produce is in short supply even at the farms,” she said.

Given the huge demand, a carton of an egg (210 eggs) costs Nu 2,450 from farms today, in Phuentenchu, the largest egg-producing gewog in the dzongkhag.

Last month, the gewog produced an average of 18,700 eggs in a day. The gewog, today has more than 27,000 layer birds in 20 farms.

According to gewog’s officials, the gewog supplies about 200 cartons of eggs to nearby dzongkhags every week.

The owner of Tara shop manages supply from his cousin’s farm. He said that it takes only one day to sell off a carton of eggs, today. “It used to take at least three days in the past.”

Meanwhile, today, a tray of an egg in the town costs between Nu 350 and Nu 400.

Dzongkhag Livestock Officer, Gyem Tshering said that the fall in supply could be due to vendors from other dzongkhags taking away the produce paying higher prices.

He said that many farm owners have signed contracts with vendors. In terms of overall production, he said that there was no decrease. “Our annual performance agreement target this year is to produce 19.5M eggs,” he said.

Meanwhile, the farmers claimed that it was difficult to get chicks unlike in the past.

This, according to farmers, has affected production. Mahananda Rizal, a poultry farmer from Kilkhorthang said that his production has dropped by half. “I used to supply 70 cartons of eggs a month earlier but today, my farm produces only about 25 cartons,” he said.

According to gewog officials, the increased price for chicks also makes it difficult for farmers to buy. Farmers in Sergithang said that it was easier for them to supply directly to nearby dzongkhags in Wangdue and Punakha through Burichhu bypass than taking to the market in Damphu.

Bhutanese trucks stranded at Fulbari return home

Fri, 06/26/2020 - 11:44

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Bhutanese trucks stranded at Fulbari for more than three months due to the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown in India have finally returned. 

Fulbari borders with Bangladeshi town of Banglabandhu. Boulders and other riverbed materials (RBM) headed to Bangladesh in trucks from Bhutan enter through this town. 

Of 489 trucks stranded at the Fulbari parking lot, 316 have entered Bhutan as of yesterday, according to the Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA). 

Of that 240 trucks are from Phuentsholing, and 76 from Gomtu. 

According to the exporters, 40 trucks remained at Jaigaon looking for work because there is limited work in Phuentsholing with the export of boulders severely hit by the pandemic. Another 10 trucks are in Jaigaon for repairs. 

The general secretary with BEA, Tshering Yeshi said that they were working on it since the lockdown began. 

“We had informed the Covid-19 Task Force in Phuentsholing and sought their help,” he said.

“We want to thank the Task Force for the support.”

The general secretary also said that BEA’s decision to keep the trucks at the parking lot and letting the consignments be delivered across the border to Bangladesh was a wise decision. 

All the consignments of 489 trucks have been exported to Bangladesh.

“The materials were worth approximately Nu 24 million (M),” Tshering Yeshi said.

The trucks are being isolated for three days at Toorsa embankment at Purbey area with a security system in place before their respective owners take them. They are also disinfected before they are handed over. 

The drivers from across the border who drive the trucks home are escorted back to Jaigaon.

Meanwhile, 119 trucks out of 489 stranded at Fulbari are yet to enter Bhutan. Although these trucks have offloaded their consignments to Bangladesh, the owners have not informed or recorded their details with the association. 

Exporters said this could be trucks that are registered in Bhutan but owned and operated by people from across the border.  

Further, there are more than 500 Indian trucks loaded with Bhutanese consignments (boulders), headed towards Bangladesh at Changgrabandha parking lot, the Indian town that borders with Bangladesh’s Burimari.

BEA general secretary Tshering Yeshi said that the officials have not agreed to open the India-Bangladesh border to offload the consignments yet. 

Police nab a serial burglar

Fri, 06/26/2020 - 11:42

Chimi Dema | Dagana

Dagana police detained a 20-year-old man for a series of burglary cases.

The suspect, a Class X student, was arrested on June 11 in connection to 18 different burglary cases.

The suspect stole items including electronic gadgets, jewelry, ornaments, and foreign currencies.

Most of the items belonging to 18 individuals were recovered.

According to a police official, of the 18 individuals, five had lodged a complaint with the police.

The Police said that the suspect had confessed to committing the crimes.

 Police advise the general public to report any crime at the earliest as many cases go unreported, which leads to serial crimes.

What fate for returnees from the Middle East?

Fri, 06/26/2020 - 11:41

Thousands of Bhutanese have returned home, many want to stay back and look for jobs

Yeshey Lhadon  | Hotel Silver pine (quarantine facility), Thimphu

Not able to find jobs in the country, thousands of Bhutanese applied for the labour ministry’s overseas employment programme. Going by the numbers, the programme, even if temporary, was successful.

About 6,935 Bhutanese, mostly youth, found jobs in the oil-rich Gulf countries since the programme started in 2013. However, with the Covid-19 pandemic hitting the Gulf States, 1,566 Bhutanese have returned home, mostly from Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman. According to the returnees, more are on the way or waiting to come home. 140 will return today.

Many were compulsorily retired while some took unpaid leave, resigned voluntarily and some completed their contract term. As of today, the returnees are confused about future prospects. While some want to return, many said they have not decided with the best bet staying back and looking for jobs or starting a business.

The pressure is felt strongly by those who have recently found a job in the Middle East. Sonam Tobgay, 21, came home on May 9. He is among the 3,000 Bhutanese working in Kuwait. He barely worked for two months as a Doughnut operator with a monthly salary of 120 Kuwaiti Dinar (KD) or about Nu 29,400. One KD is about Nu 245. When Kuwait was hit by the pandemic, he was still on his probation period.

“I’m broke. I spent all my savings to buy a flight ticket,” he said recently. He left for Kuwait to support his family in Bhutan. 

“I am willing to do any sort of manual jobs in the construction sites for my family’s livelihood.” He is on unpaid leave for two months. His company might hire him if the situation improves, but he is worried about the return journey. “I cannot afford the flight ticket to go back. I have to find a job in Bhutan as soon as possible.”

In the UAE, M.H Al-Shaya, a global branding retail company absorbed the largest group of Bhutanese youth. Bhutanese graduates were not only paid handsomely but also found an opportunity to build a career overseas. Tandin Pem, Sherubtse College graduate returned from UAE after almost four years. Her professional ethic as a sales associate earned her promotion and a salary raise from 3,500 AED to 4,500 AED (about Nu 90,000). One AED is about Nu 20. The graduate, while in the UAE, financed her siblings’ education and even renovated her parent’s house. She retired to come home and is helping her mother until she’s clear about her next move.

Where are the jobs?

The demand for cheap workers in the Middle East provided the solution to growing unemployment pains in South Asia including Bhutan. Coming home and with the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic, they are worried.

Finding a job in Bhutan is of primary concern for most of the returnees. “I think getting a job in Bhutan would be more competitive as many capable youths from abroad have returned,” said Tandin Pem.

Majority of the youth working in the Middle East have secondary and tertiary education. Bhutanese youth on the other hand are looking for a secure job. Kinley Dema, a class 12 graduate was terminated without any notice or benefits while she was home for a vacation. She worked for Nijoud Restaurant in Kuwait for two years. She said, “My job in Kuwait is not secure. We are sacked when the business is not good.”

Others took up low-skilled jobs such as waiter or waitress and sales person in the Gulf States on a two-year contract. However, the same job in the country is taken up reluctantly because of poor wages.

Kinley Dema said, “I want to find a secure job in Bhutan but I am worried if I can make my ends meet. The salary paid in Bhutan would leave me hand to mouth at the best.” She used to earn 145 KD and send nu 20,000 every month to her mother.

She said, “My plan was to work in Kuwait until I save enough money to start a small business at home but the pandemic ruined everything.” She has been desperately looking for a job for the last three months. “It’s hard to get a job in Bhutan with my skills and experience related to hotels and restaurants in today’s situation,” she said. “I can’t wait for the pandemic to get over. I want to look for a job in Qatar or Dubai.”

 

Self-employment an option

Many returnees see self-employment as the key for survival and even income generation if they stay back. However, many returnees could not earn enough to start a small business. Dorji Wangchuk returned from Kuwait after working there for 16 months. He has no savings as he used to send money home. He said, “I want to stay back, open a grocery store. It would be possible if the government supports with loan”

Tashi Namdrel returned home empty handed after working in Kuwait for seven months.  He went back to his village in Samdrupjongkhar.  “I will start selling vegetables,” he said.  His income while in Kuwait was the only source of cash for the family.

Some of the returnees have not only gained skills and exposure working there, but also gained some business ideas to startup their own business. “It’s time to think out of box and do something for ourselves and others rather than grieving over losing jobs and expecting more support from the government,” said Tandin Pem.

Meanwhile, some returnees are recipients of the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu while some are waiting for the government to create job opportunities.  However, with a huge number in the working age group remaining unemployed in the country, the opportunities are limited.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, in an earlier interview, said that His Majesty The King has commanded the government to tap the potential of these returnees equipped with experience and skills of working aboard. The government, he said, is working along this line and as far as possible to create enough opportunities for them to stay back.

Mines and Mineral Act to decide nationalisation of resources

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 11:28

PM says nationalisation process has begun

Rinzin Wangchuk

The government cannot decide on the nationalisation of mineral resources in the country without the Mines and Mineral Bill being passed as an Act, according to Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering.

Following the recent decision to hand over the Chunaikhola dolomite mine in Samtse to Sate Mining Corporation Ltd. (SMCL) after cancelling a scheduled auction, the National Council (NC) recommended nationalising mineral resources and allocate all mines to SMCL for operations. The Assembly on June 16 rejected the recommendation with only two of the 36 members present supporting the NC’s recommendation without a debate.

Justifying the government’s stand for rejecting NC’s recommendation, Lyonchhen said that for nationalisation, the weapon is the Mines and Mineral Bill, which is still not passed. “I could have easily, with one stroke of the pen, asked Druk Holdings and Investment to take over the mines. I do not have that weapon right now but that Act will give me,” he told Kuensel.

The NA had adopted the Bill 2020 during the last Parliament session and forwarded it to the Council for deliberation and adoption. “Until the amendment Act is passed by both Houses, we have to adhere with the Mines and Minerals Act (MMA) 1995 and its rules and regulations,” he said.

The Prime Minister said that the government has started the nationalisation process with the passing of the Bill. 

“Parliament held several debates on this, the concept itself is present there. The line – ‘State will decide’ itself is enough,” Lyonchhen said adding that if the government was not for nationalisation, the Mines and Mineral Bill would not have been passed in the Parliament.

PM defines strategic mines

One contention of the mines debate at the moment hinges on the definition of what is a strategic or non-strategic mineral. The Council recommended that all mines should be operated by the state-owned enterprises until a new Mines and Minerals Bill is enacted. But Assembly members said that the government should take over only strategic mines and leave non-strategic minerals to the private sector.

However, there is no clear definition on strategic or non-strategic minerals. Both the mineral policy and the MMA Act 1995 defines it vaguely.

The MMA Bill 2020 defines strategic minerals as those that are in short supply and essential for domestic industries, or are rare and have high values with security implications. It is at the discretion of the government to review and update the list periodically.

Lyonchhen, however, has a very clear definition of strategic mines. He said that there is no international definition for strategic or non-strategic mineral. “All minerals in Bhutan are strategic when we define them for generations to come. To me, given our size, all deposits by their size are also small. Whatever we have here is strategic.”

He said that what is non-strategic now will be strategic in the future. “It may not be strategic for now but it will be strategic for my children and grandchildren,” Lyonchhen said.

Lyonchhen said that Section 4, Article 5 of the Constitution states that Parliament may enact environmental legislation to ensure sustainable use of natural resources and maintain intergenerational equity and reaffirm the sovereign rights of the state over its own natural resources.

The mining policy adopted in 2017 has defined ‘intergeneration equity’ in terms of minerals, being exhaustible in nature, means to prescribe various measures to invest the mineral resources cautiously and in productive capacity bequeathing future generation with direct and indirect benefits.

Citing the example of dolomite, which has a deposit to last for about 200 years, Lyonchhen said that he will not live for 200 years. “But my blood will be passed down and there will be somebody with my blood who will be walking around in 200 years time,” he said.  “He has to consume it. I don’t want him to blame me for running out of dolomite.”

Going by generational definition it is a highly precious mineral that’s why all minerals are strategic, Lyonchhen said.  “At the same time, people need to consume it now as well. So when it is like this, there is no mineral that is non-strategic for Bhutan.”

On Chunaikhola dolomite

The NC had commended the government for handing over the Chunaikhola dolomite mine in Samtse to the SMCL. The auction was scheduled to take place subsequent to the expiry of the present lease of the mine operated by Jigme Mining Corporation Ltd. (JMCL).

Prime Minister on June 1 wrote to the Economic Affairs Minister to discuss with SMCL to look into the operations of the mine to ensure minimum business activity and to keep the service afloat in the interim period after the present lease expires this month.

The only condition according to Lyonchhen was that there should be a smooth transition. “Jigme Mining should not be roughed out of the business as soon as possible. And so SMCL’s coming in must also be gradual and slow. SMCL must also realise that it is not for them, it is for the state,” Lyonchhen said.

Lyonchhen said that SMCL today has the guts to say that they can do a better job.  “But their basis is set by JMCL, market is explored, branding is also done. It cannot go down below what JMCL has done.”

JMCL would not be allowed to extract or excavate mines after the end of June this month. However, JMCL can sell their stocks during the six months seamless transition period.

The Prime Minister said that during this transition period, SMCL and JMCL should hold talks and whatever agreement they come up with, the government would be happy. “We have to give them a transition time. Jigme Mining has been working for 15 years,” he said.

Lyonchhen also said that SMCL has to make plans and strategies. “Taking over can be smooth and slow. More time SMCL takes in taking over, the better would be the strategy,” he said. “We need patience. The cow should be milked, not slaughtered for meat.”

JMCL, which has been given an extension until the end of June after completing15 years of mining lease period on May 14, has about 500,000MT of dolomite in stock which may last about two years given the present market situation.

The main markets for Chunaikhola dolomite are premier steel sectors in India like Bokaro Steel Plant, Durgapur Steel Plant, Tata Steel Ltd and more than 100 units of Ferro Alloys and Sponge Iron Plant. Due to intensive marketing, JMCL used to export about 2.6 million MT in a year.

Report finds high prevalence of corruption in public service delivery

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 11:27

One in eight employees received unreasonable work instructions, either from the heads of the agencies or from immediate supervisors

Yangchen C Rinzin

The perception of corruption in the form of favouritism based on friendship and family relationship is prevalent in public service delivery, according to the National Integrity Assessment (NIA) 2019.

However, the experience of corruption in service delivery is very minimal.

The NIA found that 50 percent of the service users believe that family and friendship were beneficial in having services processed faster; more than 40 percent of service providers responded that instruction from supervisors and friendship are the most influential factors in providing service faster.

According to the assessment, one in eight employees received unreasonable work instructions, either from the heads of the agencies or from immediate supervisors.

The assessment, conducted Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the National Statistics Bureau (NSB), was released yesterday.

The NIA is an assessment of whether, in an agency, a public official follows standard procedures in providing services fairly and transparently, not based on personal propensity towards a special condition or inducement.

The report stated that one in 147 offered entertainment such as food and drinks to get the services, one in 274 offered other forms of gratification while availing services, and one in 379 service users made payment in cask or kind to get the service. Other form of gratifications means providing accommodation, transportation, gifts, lending money (interest-free), and overseas trips.

The findings have indicated that favouritism was one of the most prevalent forms of corruption in the country. There is also nepotism in public service delivery based on regions and relationships.

For instance, the service delivery is faster if the service user is from the same region or is an acquaintance of the service provider, followed by favours for specific individuals.

The complaints received by the ACC on nepotism and favouritism were related to selection and recruitment process, nomination, evaluation and award of the tender, and procurement services bidding.

A total of 11 different categories of agencies comprising of 272 services from 96 agencies were covered for the NIA with a total of 13,869 respondents.

The respondents comprised of 9,861 service users (external clients) and 4,008 service providers (internal clients), including 335 complaints received by ACC in the financial year 2018-2019.

“The majority of the respondents feel that corruption is quite serious in Bhutan and has increased over the last five years,” report stated. “It also responded that ACC’s efforts in combating corruption has declined over the years.”

The report also stated that the administrative procedures for services, which indicates that the procedures, were complex and less user-friendly.

However, the NIA revealed that efforts and initiatives undertaken by the public agencies to improve integrity are on track to achieve intended results, but the report recommended there is a room for improvement.

The report also found that weak accountability culture in the form of public officials, ignoring official duties, abuse of functions, and ineffective grievance redressal mechanisms require improvement.

Shortcomings were also found in terms of public officials ignoring official duties to pursue a private interest, protection of whistle-blowers, and disciplinary action against wrongdoings.

“This shows that some of the officials are abusing power in service delivery. The public officials are not putting in the required efforts to accomplish duties or complacency, non-responsiveness to clients needs, and unnecessary delay by officials were also found,” the report stated.

The report stated that if the service users make payment in cash or kind and entertainment, it could influence HR decision. The respondents also indicated that they had no idea related to decisions concerning HR matters, indicating that transparency in information related to HR matters is weak.

Public officials revealed the repercussion when they do not comply with unreasonable work instructions from head/supervisors and indicated unfair assignment of works among the staff.

“Although employees agreed that the leaders create a conducive working environment for employees to work independently, it also indicated that leaders pursue his/her own interest at the expense of others,” the report said.

Meanwhile, the report has recommended the need to develop and implement service delivery standards, educate service users and employees on service delivery standards, strengthen e-service, manage feedback and grievances and to strengthen ethical leadership, among others.

Impact of Covid-19 on legislature

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 11:26

MB Subba

The fourth session of the National Assembly (NA), which otherwise would have been concluded by now, is expected to be convened right after summer to meet the constitutional mandate of having two sessions a year.

The Covid-19 pandemic affected not only regular activities of parliamentarians but has also delayed the passing of important Bills.

For instance, the National Council (NC) would have completed discussions on the Mines and Minerals Bill 2020, which was passed by the NA in January this year. In absence of a new Mines and Minerals Bill, debate has been raging over whether the state or the private sector should operate the mines and minerals businesses.

Similarly, the NA would have concluded deliberations on the Lhengye Zhungtshog Bill and Entitlement and Service Conditions (amendment) Bill for the Holders, Members and Commissioners of Constitutional Offices, which were passed by NC in the last winter session.

To take stock of such issues, the NA convened a post-session plenary on June 19. Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel, who chaired the plenary, said that he was expecting to have a session before the winter session, which will be held after a break.

The decision, however, would be made later keeping in consideration the Covid-19 situation, he added. Normally, winter sessions begin in November while the summer sessions begin in May.

“Parliament has not had any session in 2020 if the recently concluded session is considered to the continuation of the third session. Now we must have two sessions as the recently concluded third session was considered as that of last year,” he said.

The NA earlier officially stated that the recently concluded session was not a new session but a continuation of the winter session, which was supposed to conclude on March 6.

The Speaker, however, added that since the annual budget 2020-21 was passed some members were of the view that the session, which was held from June 1 to 17, was the fourth session.

But he cited the Constitution, which states that the Druk Gyalpo shall be received in a joint sitting of Parliament with Chibdrel Ceremony at the commencement of each session of Parliament. Each session shall be opened with a Zhugdrel Phunsumtshogpai Tendrel and each session shall conclude with the Tashi Moenlam.

Wangchuk Namgyel said that most members, however, agreed that the 17-day session would not be considered as a separate session. He said, “More or less, we agreed that it was the third session.”

Had the situation been normal, Parliament would have already held a joint session on disputed Bills, including the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2019.

For the NC, the 25th session, which concluded on June 16, was a new session unlike in the case of the NA. The House of review would have deliberated the Bills passed by the NA had the conclusion of the NA’s third session happened in March. 

However, the delay in passing of the bills can be minimised if Parliament calls a session before the winter session. For instance, the NC would be able to deliberate the Mines and Minerals Bill in its 26th session and a joint session on it can be held in the winter session if it becomes a disputed Bill.

According to the Speaker, Parliament is also reviewing and amending the laws that are recommended by the law review taskforce.

The task force found that the Civil Service Act of Bhutan 2010, the Mines and Minerals Management Act 1995, the Medicines Act of Kingdom of Bhutan 2003, Immigration Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2007, Royal Bhutan Police Act 2009, the Pesticides Act 2000 and the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code of Bhutan 2001 were not in conformity with the Constitution.

The Speaker said that Parliament had worked on the recommendations of the law review task force except for a few laws like the Local Government Act and the Royal Bhutan Police Act. “We are mindful about the Covid-19 situation, the Constitution and what is left to be done,” he said.

The task force has also recommended the enactment of seven news laws—Law of Limitation, Interpretation Act, Insolvency Act, Administrative Tribunal Act, Right to Information Act, Impeachment Act and Official Secrets Act.

The NC has also held its post-session plenary and discussed several issues including those related to foreign matters. An NC member said that the plenary discussed the use of social media platforms to carry out works.

National Museum in Ta Dzong reopens for visitors

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 11:25

Phub Dem | Paro

The National Museum of Bhutan (NMB) in Paro, which has closed to visitors for almost nine years following damage caused by an earthquake in 2011, is now open for visitors.

For visitors whose travel is restricted due to the pandemic could visit the museum virtually on the museum’s website.

The virtual tour feature, according to the officiating director of the NMB, Phendey Lekshey Wangchuk, was to ease crowding and to make the museum accessible to everyone.

He said that the people willing to visit the museum should follow Covid-19 protocols such as wearing facemasks and maintaining social distance.

Built in 1649 by La Ngonpa Tenzin Drugdra, the first Paro Penlop, the Ta Dzong served as a watchtower for Rinpung Dzong.

In 1960, His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck passed a decree to renovate the dzong and to turn it into the first museum in the country.

The museum underwent a major restoration in 2014 after the structure sustained considerable damage.

The seven-storey building, often called as the only encyclopedic museum in Bhutan, houses the country’s history and treasures such as collections of ethnography, philately, numismatics, textiles, bronze and copperware.

It exhibits many Bhutanese artworks—from thangkas to postage stamps, weaponry to bronze wear, scared treasure relics, including an egg believed to have been laid by a mule in 1928 and an image of Milarepa carved on rhinoceros horn, among others.

The museum houses over 3,000 permanent artworks that represent the cultural heritage over 1,500 years.

Phendey Lekshey Wangchuk said that other than amenities such as modern museum lighting system and security surveillance system, the traditional structure was preserved as it was.

Besides collecting, preserving, interpreting and exhibiting objects, the museum also compiles documents on tangible and intangible heritage of the country.

The Home Minister Sherab Gyeltshen launched a set of books based on colloquiums at the consecration ceremony in Paro yesterday.

The renovation of the museum cost Nu 69.8 million.

The museum has plans to build offsite climatically controlled storage to address the congestion, as it has outgrown its capacity to house all the collection.

In the future, the museum would have a tribal history gallery to showcase the tradition of various regions by their customs, arts and crafts, and lifestyles.

Turning a problem into opportunity

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 11:24

On any day, a large crowd at the Phajoding monastery is a good sign. But not the way it has been observed in the past few weeks. 

The monastery and its monks are dealing with the largest number of hikers, mostly youth, they have ever seen. They visit the lakes above the monastery and a huge number camp nearby leaving a trail of garbage that included a hookah – used for marijuana. 

The monks are so exasperated that if it were up to them they would stop hikers altogether. 

Phajoding is not alone. Monasteries in Paro and hiking areas in nearby dzongkhags share similar stories of indiscriminate dumping of waste and a large number of daily visitors despite the health ministry advising against such ventures. Some of them were just out of quarantine. 

Mountains and lakes are sacred. Campers are having good time at the cost of those monks and nuns in deep prayers or retreat. Such behaviour is unacceptable. We are taught values in schools to protect the natural environment and respect others. 

What is more disturbing is the safety of those in the monasteries. Some have also reportedly manhandled monks when they could not get a place to camp. Whose responsibility is it to ensure the safety of the monks at the monastery? The safety of the hikers? The trash?

Given the gravity of the situation, it does not seem far fetched to worry about vandalism or personal injury to the monks. 

They are endangering their own lives. There were incidences where police and DeSuup had to rescue some youth after they suffered from altitude sickness. Others were injured. The DeSuups at the entry point cautioned but none heeded. 

The weather in the mountains changes quickly from warm and sunny to foggy or heavy hail and snow. The dangers increase as darkness falls. We need not look far back into the past to realise the consequences of such misadventures. 

On July 27, 1996, six boys disappeared in the forest above the Tango monastery. It triggered nationwide concern. Twelve days later, some members of the massive search and rescue mission found four boys in Punakha. Two had died in the forest from fatigue and hunger. 

On 27 July 2009, eight boys from Tshimasham went on a picnic by the Wangchhu. Only one made it back home.

Anything can go wrong any time in such an environment. 

When every agency’s hands are full dealing with the Covid-19 and fixing the disruptions the pandemic caused in the plans and programmes, such a distraction is the least they need at this point in time. 

Closing the route is the easiest the authorities can do. But where do those college students, and students whose schools remain closed go? Many youth have returned from abroad. With not much to do at home, they are restless. 

There are many online courses through which a lot can be learnt including critical skills such as coding, data analysis and research, and graphic designing. Labour ministry has subscribed to Coursera. Local colleges and institutes have similar platforms too. More effort is needed to make these options known. 

Opportunities have to be made for them to volunteer, remain engaged. After all, an idle mind is a devil’s workshop.  

e-Library portal begins with fanfare, remains unknown

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 11:23

Chhimi Dema

Following the announcement of the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi during his state visit to Bhutan in June, 2014 the e-Library portal was established in 49 schools and 12 colleges.

The portal was inaugurated on September 6, 2016 in Thimphu.

The project was supposed to be handed over after three years but remained idle for a few months due to some issues, which officials did not specify.

The project would be handed over to the Ministry of Education (MoE) this week.

The vision of the portal was to provide world-class educational content to enable learners to gain knowledge and information using ICT technology.

A student at one of the Royal University of Bhutan colleges said that he did not hear about the e-Library portal in his college. Likewise, a student from Trashigang said there she never heard of it.

The e-Library portal provides a framework for students, teachers, scholars and others to access (online and offline) e-content from central repository or local cache in form of e-books, audio, video and images.

The Government of India supported the project with Nu 148 million.

An education ministry official involved with the project said that the implementation plan of the project had five major components entrusted to the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC)- a scientific society under communications and information technology ministry in India.

Development of an e-Library portal and the National Council of Educational Research (NCERT) from India sharing their e-content for kindergarten to 12th standard education which is similar to Bhutanese school syllabus were the first two components.

The other two components were the establishment of e-Library facility in 49 schools and 12 colleges, and establishing the central repository to store all data from the portal at Thimphu TechPark Limited.

Creating an e-Library studio at the Department of Youth and Sports in Thimphu was the final component.

The official from the MoE said that the portal has not gained popularity for lack of local content and awareness about the portal.

The e-Library portal has 3,205 items  of audio, video, images, books, journals, and newsletters. School textbooks and reading materials, content from NCERT and e-Learning videos are available on the portal.

The official said that buying content for e-Library and giving free access was a challenge.

“If you want the portal to be successful, it has to be rich in content,” he said.

The official said that the ultimate vision of e-Library is to cater to the need of all levels of education. Even a farmer should be able to access information on mechanised farming through e-Library, he said.

The target of the e-Library was shifted to education institutions when there was pressure to launch the portal at the earliest, he said.

Two phases were introduced for the launch. Phase one of plan targeted educational institutions and phase two was for the public.

“The budget that was released could only complete phase one of the plan,” the official said.

The project faces challenges such as user-friendliness and lack of coordination with CDAC for development of e-content.

“After the Covid-19 pandemic, e-Library portal has received better response because e-Learning content which are broadcast on BBS are uploaded for students and parents,” he said.

Farmers say only channel fencing solution can save crops

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 11:23

Nim Dorji | Trongsa

With paddy cultivation nearing, the people of Nabji and Korphu are looking to the government to provide channel fencing.

Channel fencing is a system of fencing with a raised concrete base.

Channel fencing, the villagers say, would be much more effective in keeping the animals away.

Nabji and Korphu together have more than 200 acres of paddy fields.

Phub Tashi from Nabji, said that the people would not be able to protect their crop without support from the government.

It was learnt that the government had issued the materials for electric fencing but the people rejected them because electric fencing wasn’t found to be effective.

Tashi Gyamtsho from Nabji said that wild boars could get inside electric fencing. “Looks like only channel fencing can work.”

The villagers believe that if things do not improve, many could leave the village altogether. Reportedly, fallowing of land is growing in the villages.

Tashi Penjor from Korphu said that farming was becoming unproductive and cumbersome.

Korphu Gup Sangay Khandu said that the issue was discussed in the Gewog Tshogdu and included in the 12th Plan.

He said that the gewog’s total budget for developmental activities was just Nu 8M. The 5km fence could cost around Nu 20M, according to engineers.

300M Yen for purchase of medical equipment

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 11:22

Staff Reporter

Bhutan’s ambassador to Japan, V Namgyel and Japan’s ambassador to Bhutan, Satoshi Suzuki signed the exchange of notes for the Economic and Social Development Programme (provision of medical equipment) under Japan’s Grant Aid on June 23 in New Delhi, India.

A press release from the Bhutan Embassy in New Delhi states that under the programme, the Government of Japan will provide a grant of 300 million Japanese yen to procure medical equipment to strengthen public health and medical system of the country.

Ambassador of Japan, Satoshi Suzuki

Ambassador of Bhutan, V Namgyel

The proposed medical equipment that would be purchased with the grant includes portable ultrasound and X-ray machine including ambulance.

The press release states that the medical equipment purchased through this grant would strengthen the capacity of the country’s health services, especially during the current pandemic when the public health system is overstretched.

The Bhutanese government ‘deeply’ appreciates the assistance and recent support received from the Japanese government to deal with the pandemic, states the press release.

Japan has been supporting Bhutan in many different areas such as agriculture, telecommunications, rural electrification, construction of bridges, building of schools, providing fire engines, police patrol cars, compactor trucks, ambulances, and medical equipment and farm machinery, among others.

The press release states, “Ambassador V Namgyel conveyed the deep appreciation of the Royal Government and people of Bhutan to the Government and people of Japan for their steadfast and generous support to Bhutan’s socio-economic development for many years, and for their assurances of continued support in the years ahead.

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