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Updated: 44 min 59 sec ago

Boulders’ heavy fall: Will it rise to its former glory again?

Sat, 02/22/2020 - 17:10

Chukha:

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

When the Pig Year 2019 began, export of boulders was touching the sky. It had topped the list of export at one point.

But there was an unmatched challenge coming its way.

Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) investigation and suspending of an ongoing dredging work at the Toorsa embankment triggered the downfall. The export game changed and the ripple effect hit the transport sector and the banks.

First it was the load capacity that hit the boulder export. Business had stopped abruptly after ACC asked the traffic and road authorities to restrict trucks carrying stones beyond the carrying capacity.

The load weight was restricted to 25MT from 40Mt trucks carried. Hundreds of trucks were stranded when the ceiling was put to effect. Many exporters claimed that business was more of transport and not just the boulder export.  The government increased the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) to 28MT but it did not go well with the people involved.

By this time last year, there were more than 1,500 dumper trucks in Phuentsholing, Samtse and Gelephu, a huge investment in transport targeting the boulders business.

The 2018 Bhutan Trade Statistics (BTS) revealed that dumper trucks worth Nu 1.9 billion (B) was imported. It was the fifth highest imported commodity. Although the figures were inclusive of other dumping equipment, exporters and transporters said the figures increased largely due to import of dumper trucks.

Load restriction alone was not the hurdle on the boulder business highway. Soon after the export resumed, issues from the Indian highway started to arise. On September 23, a mob in Fulbari attacked and damaged more than 30 Bhutanese trucks that were ferrying boulders to Bangladesh.

Fulbari locals and those in the boulder business stopped Bhutanese trucks citing load capacity as the reason. Many were fined.

Meanwhile, truck owners started to default in paying their instalments to the truck companies and banks.

One bank had lent Nu 1.24B in transport loan for heavy vehicles in 2018 alone. Heavy vehicles include dumper trucks and excavation machineries. However, this figure dropped to Nu 427M by December 2019.

As per the Royal Monetary Authority’s report on ‘credit exposure in financial sector’ until June 2019, the transport sector comprised of five percent of the overall loan composition, which is Nu 6.74B.

Out of this, a total of Nu 1.35B was as transport Non Performing Loan (NPL) outstanding, which is six percent of the total NPL composition.

 

Dredging issues

Issues of dredging of boulders along the Toorsa were also under scrutiny in the Pig year.

In September, despite controversies, the government announced three feasible dredging sites at Toorsa. More than 100 applicants rushed to secure the sites.

However, ongoing Amochhu Township Development Project (PTDP) in Zone A, opposed to the decision. On October 25, the government stopped “the dredging of boulders and riverbed materials” from Toorsa river basin.

The decision was taken after reviewing the PTDP and concerns shared by the project’s executing company, Construction Development Corporation Limited.

The government also decided to cease the export of surface collection and riverbed dredging materials originating in and around Toorsa basin.

A mixed report for the Health sector

Sat, 02/22/2020 - 17:09

Health:

Chimi Dema

It was a healthy year for the health ministry with lots of development in the health sector.

The government, which prioritised health in its election campaigns, fulfilled its commitment of ensuring  access to specialist services by deploying medical specialists in the district hospitals. Notwithstanding the criticism on hiring specialists, the government brought in 20 medical specialists from Bangladesh.

This comes as an outcome of Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering’s state visit to the country last April.

The health sector is grappling with a shortage of 2,201 medical professionals at various categories. This is made worse by number of workers leaving the profession and a few specialists attaining their retirement age. In this light, the government’s effort to bring in specialists comes as a huge relief.

One of the overarching goals the health sector achieved in the Pig year was getting the country’s first eye hospital. The Gyalyum Kesang Choeden Wangchuck National Eye Centre as the first standalone hospital for eye was opened in October.

In an effort to eliminate cervical cancer in the country, the first phase of comprehensive package of cervical cancer screening camp is underway in three dzongkhags -Punakha, Bumthang and Mongar.

The package including non-communicable diseases (NCD) screening, cervical cancer screening, clinical breast examination, screening for Pelvic organ prolapse, STI (sexually transmitted infections) screening and information on gender-based violence prevention so far covered more than 10,000 women.

The health sector saw the upgradation of grade II Basic Health Units to grade I, revision of allowances and better incentives for health workers and increasing additional five slots for Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) considering the need of health professionals in the country.

The year gone by will also be remembered for the tragic deaths of eight babies at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at national referral hospital in Thimphu between March and April.

Parents blamed negligence and attributed hospital-acquired infection (HIA), hospital officials claimed otherwise.

The incident got the hospital to assemble several sets of medical equipment to ensure that each baby had a dedicated set.  It was a measure taken by the hospital to prevent the transfer of infection from one baby to another.

The ministry also came under severe criticism when an ambulance without fuel couldn’t attend to an emergency in Dagana and resulted in the tragic death of a six-week-old baby.

Another black mark in the sector was the newly inaugurated Gelephu hospital making headlines for the wrong reasons. Less than a year after its inauguration, noticeable damage to the physical structures has emerged at the hospital.

Following the discovery of multiple cracks on the walls, the ceiling in various parts of the hospital has started to fall off. The CT scan machine remained non-functional for months. 

Several BHUs operated without doctors. The BHU I in Gasa and Dorokha did not have doctor for four months and Panbang BHU I was without a doctor for seven months.

While the country still has a significant burden of infectious communicable diseases, a disease pattern of an underdeveloped country, the year saw a rise in NCDs like diabetes, hypertension and other lifestyle-related diseases.

The health sector was also shaken by the outbreak of dengue fever in the south, especially Phuentsholing.

The first case of dengue fever was reported in May 2019 in Pasakha, Phuentsholing. By August 20, the town that shares a porous border with Indian town of Jaigaon had registered 1,239 dengue fever positive cases. The number increased to 1,468 towards the end of month.

Control measures like mass cleaning, thermal fogging, spraying, and awareness did not sort the problem. Numbers kept increasing.

By mid September 2019, although the number of positive cases had declined, the Phuentsholing General Hospital (PGH) had seen a record 2,451 dengue positive cases. This was without including the positive cases detected in the private clinics.

Dengue fever was also reported in November even after four months from the time of outbreak. By November 18, 2019, a total of 4,300 positive cases were reported across the country. About 77 percent of the total cases were reported from Phuentsholing.

Since the July 5 outbreak in Phuentsholing, more than 4,000 dengue positive cases were reported in the hospital. This included two maternal and other six deaths.

Except for Lhuentse, all dzongkhags reported dengue cases.

Although it took the ministry almost a month to react to the outbreak of the disease, it comes up with some kind of a plan to tackle the fever in the future.

Even as we were nearing the end of the Pig year, the coronavirus outbreak in China, posed a threat to the ministry. However, the ministry focused on prevention and put in place stringent measures starting from managing formal and informal entries into the country and taking precautionary steps and to avoid all possible risks. The ministry also assured all system in place to tackle the Covid-19.

At Thimphu referral hospital, patient isolation rooms and critical units have been identified. The old Mother and Child Health unit with the hospital has been converted into the isolation unit.

Since January 15, infrared fever scanning and respiratory symptom screenings were initiated at the points of entry, the primary one being Paro International Airport.

The Prime Minister also informed that in the event of an outbreak, the government has identified Gidagom hospital in Thimphu to function as an interim hospital to treat all those who are infected.

Teams consisting of management staff, and health personnel were formed to ensure quick response in case of an outbreak.

The year of the Pig ended on a positive note with the health minister launching the patient Referral by Air. The Prime minister announced the change from Changlimethang coinciding with the 40th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty The King, yesterday.

This could benefit to an average 12000 patients and attendants annually.

In an effort to initiate mass specialisation beginning this June, the government is sending 56 individuals this year to undergo specialisation in general surgery including 12 persons to be sub-specialised in Oncology, Nephrology and Cardiology, among others.

This could ease the acute shortage of specialists that the country is facing today.

Bhutan leads climate action in mountainous regions

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:25

Through Snowman Race and Bhutan Climate Action Summit

Choki Wangmo

Mountain ecosystems are sensitive to the impacts of climate change and are being affected at a faster rate than other terrestrial habitats.

But this vulnerable system is not at the centre of climate change debates. However, Bhutan is setting a precedent, often going it alone.

Envisioned by His Majesty The King, the Snowman Race (SMR) seeks to bring the world’s attention to climate change and its impacts on the lives of people living in fragile mountain ecosystems.

Themed “Honoring Eco-preneurs and Climate Champions”, Snowman Race Secretariat yesterday announced Bhutan Climate Action Summit, which will be held after the five-day Snowman Race in October this year.

The one-and-a-half-day summit will circle around carbon neutrality and the urgency of the climate crisis.

It is expected to bring together business leaders, governments, civil societies and academia to garner commitments and pledges of concrete actions to tackle the global climate crisis towards ensuring a sustainable world.

The summit will focus on engaging the private sector in the region and beyond, with an aim to make them an integral part of climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts to galvanise global climate action.

During the summit, Bhutan would award business communities of the Asia region for their commitment to carbon neutrality. It would facilitate pledges from business leaders and multinational companies towards reducing their carbon emissions and contributing to positive climate actions.

It would also encourage sustainable business practices as a means to support the Nationally Determined Contributions and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through partnership and networking to share information, technologies and experience.

Chairperson of the SMR Secretariat, Kesang Wangdi, said that the SMR and the summit would bring the climate action at the forefront to address climate change impact faced by people living in the mountains.

“It will bring people together and work on how best the government organisations, non-governmental organisations and other agencies can identify climate actions in the national and global levels,” Kesang Wangdi said.

“It is not Bhutan-centric and will involve people from different regions for collective and coherent action,” he added.

The summit is expected to raise an innovative climate action fund to increase resilience and climate adaptation in Bhutan’s highlands and secure commitments from business leaders, partner countries and institutions.

Resident Representative for UNDP Bhutan, Azusa Kubota, said that Snowman Race in itself was symbolic and representative of climate race which translated climate change message and awareness into reality. “When a tiny carbon neutral mountain Kingdom takes action, it will inspire global movement on climate change.”

Twenty renowned international athletes and Bhutan’s five top athletes will run the 300km SMR through some of the toughest and dangerous trekking routes in the world.

This year is considered a super policy year globally for the planet and the people; 2020 marks the start of a ‘Decade of Action’ to meet the SDGs and drive climate action.

It also marks the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

This year is also a Super Year for biodiversity.

Kesang Wangdi said that for Bhutan it was a super-super year because the whole SMR and the climate action summit was an offering to His Majesty The King’s 40th birth anniversary.

Representatives from local and international partner agencies, including WWF Bhutan and UN in Bhutan were present during the announcement.

Tarayana launches micro loans for rural development

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:24

Thinley Namgay 

To meet the financial needs of rural communities, the Tarayaya Foundation has launched the Tarayana Micro Finance (TMF) for rural development programme in Thimphu yesterday.

Patron of Tarayana Foundation, Her Majesty the Gyalyum Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck launched the programme to commemorate the 40th birth anniversary of His Majesty The King.                                       

Her Majesty said, “Through the launch of this particular initiative, we strive to contribute towards fulfilling His Majesty’s vision of financial inclusion for growth and development so that all citizens live productively, and with dignity.” 

Tarayana Micro Finance was licensed under the Royal Monetary Authority as a microfinance institute. The loans for the clients will be given at an interest rate of 15 percent. 

Tarayana Foundation’s Micro Finance Officer, Kuenley Gyeltshen said that microloans will be provided in two categories- classic microfinance, and development microfinance. 

Classic microfinance is for the beneficiaries who already operate a micro-business or farming business.  Under development microfinance, TMF will provide larger loans to start an income-generating activity such as vegetable or dairy farming. 

As a partner of TMF, Bhutan Telecom had developed the B-Ngultrum financial solution to enable electronic payments even for those who do not have a bank account and smartphone. TMF customers can use the B-Ngultrum financial solution to repay loans. 

The pilot phase of the programme starts from this year in three dzongkhags-Samtse, Tsirang, and Zhemgang for 18 months. Officials said that based on the need, they had selected these dzongkhags for the pilot phase.   After the pilot phase, TMF would reach out to the rest of the dzongkhags. 

Her Majesty the Gyalyum said that the Tarayana board members decided to start an initiative on condition that thorough groundwork was undertaken first and done professionally. 

“Special attention was also to be taken to ensure that this was a development financing mechanism. Skills training and handholding services are to be provided to our clients so that together, we can ensure their prosperity in the long run. Special focus on consumer protection and adequate financial literacy training will be provided to all potential clients in the communities,” said Her Majesty the Gyalyum. 

Tarayana microfinance team had received professional advice and skills from Oliver Wyman, a global consulting firm, with its headquarter in Singapore. 

Practice of school ranking unfair: GG Committee

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:23

Yangchen C Rinzin 

The National Council’s Good Governance Committee reported that the criteria used for rating schools in school ranking system was unfair and has demotivated principles and teachers of low ranked schools.

Presenting the review report of programme initiatives towards improving the quality of education, Dagana NC and committee member, Surjaman Thapa said the school ranking system was introduced to serve as a support system to improve ranking of low performing schools.

“The ranking criteria, which is based on academic learning score, enabling practices at schools and GNH has come under criticism from teachers and school principles,” Surjaman Thapa said. “It has also shown that the practice of ranking school using academic performance was unfair.”

The report also stated that class assessments were manipulated so that both the school and teachers would receive better performance ratings.

“Manipulation and demotivated teachers would lead to poor learning outcomes of students that would affect the quality of education in the long run,” Surjaman Thapa said.

The committee recommended the government to revisit the current practice of school ranking system to ensure that its implementation would not deviate from its intended purpose.

The committee also reported that there was inadequate budgetary support for primary education services to procure teaching learning materials and to implement other school-based initiatives. The report stated that there were several instances where budget meant for one purpose was utilised for other activities.

It also recommended the government to ensure adequate provision of facilities and tools for effective implementation of any new or revised curriculum to have timely orientation for teachers on curriculum and other support services.

The committee’s report also recommended exploring possibilities of reviving the Centenary Institute of Education that was discontinued in 2016, or strengthen the existing Royal Education Council to assume the responsibility of designing and delivery of professional development programmes of teachers.

Although the education minister emphasised on Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) and create access to quality ECCD, the committee observed that there were gaps in ensuring 74 percent of children aged 3-5 years having access to ECCD.

Committee member and eminent member, Tashi Wangmo, said the government should expedite the expansion of access to ECCD centres to attain 100 percent before 2030 and enhance Bhutan Education Blueprint’s target on ECCD coverage from 50 percent by 2024.

Today, there are 379 existing ECCD centres (319 public and 60 private) in the country with a total enrolment of 8,743 children.

Some members said that the committee should have also considered looking into the impact of starting central schools, government’s decision on doing away with Class X cut-off point, issues raised by the private schools, and doing away examination for Classes PP-III.

Committee member and Bumthang NC, Nima, said that the ministry has already worked out on the issue pertaining to central school and since it has been just a year since the cut-off policy was implemented, the committee decided that it would not give accurate report on the impact of such decisions.

The committee decided to conduct a study on doing away with examination from classes PP to III at a later date.

The House will continue the deliberation on the report on February 26.

Tribute to King and the nation

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:22

The nation’s come together this day for a very special celebration. It is His Majesty’s 40th Birth Anniversary.

And, it is just the beginning. The celebration will continue until the end of 2020 because this year is also a very auspicious year.

 Schools are planning special programmes and, likewise, government offices and private business too are busy gearing up for this year-long celebration.

 This national celebration is special because we are rising yet again as a nation—we are witnessing the maturity of national vision.

 So this is a year of tribute. What do we offer our King and the nation?

 It’s a change of era we are witnessing this day. Bhutan has begun taking on its small shoulders the weight of the world. And, so, it is upon us to rise to the occasion. We are already a leader on many fronts but we also know we can do better.

 But then, a serious pratfall is never too distant a chance. How must we enter this new era in Bhutanese history?

 There ought to be songs and dances, of course. And there will be many dedication programmes. But we will not have lived up to the vision of the nation if we did not work hard enough to make them meaningful.

 So let us look and delved deep into the wise words of His Majesty The King: “As a developing country, we have limited resources. We must manage our available resources wisely, minimise waste, and ensure that all our resources are directed at improving the well-being of the people, and in fulfilling our national vision.”

 This is the real challenge facing the nation today. We are increasingly becoming a careless and wasteful society. We are a small nation and that is our strength but we are undermining it with unnecessary complications.  Public service, for example, is becoming a serious impediment to national development and progress. As His Majesty The King said, our greatest danger will come from their complacency and indifference.

Complacency and indifference is already the biggest implement to national progress today. Corruption is rising and this chain reaction is eating into the health of the nation. There are other pressing national problems to address, also born of these root causes—rising poverty and youth unemployment.

 It would not be right to say that the governments are failing the nation. The people too are equal partners in this grand failure.

The citizen’s true prayer this day should be to serve the nation each individually in their capacity. And that will take a leap of faith.

If we can do anything for the nation, it is this day. And so, as a true tribute, there is nothing better than beginning with following the advice of His Majesty The King.

Lumang residents wait for a bridge over Demri

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:22

Neten Dorji | Trashigang

With every rainfall and the impending monsoon, villagers in three chiwogs of  Lumang in Trashigang are worried about crossing Demri and Shoskomre streams. 

Every summer they swell and disconnect the gewog from rest of Trashigang. Villagers said that a bridge is crucial for the gewog. The alternative road also needs a bridge over the same stream. 

The stream is about four kilometres from gewog centre and about six kilometres from Reserbu hospital towards Lumang gewog. 

“It is difficult for us to seek services from the gewog centre,” said Reserbu-Tshangphu Tshogpa Tashi Dorji.

More than 300 households from three chiwogs are separated from the gewog centre by the streams.

Local residents said that during monsoon, the stream swells unpredictably and remained a menace to people disturbing travel and causing a threat to lives. “Construction of a bridge over the stream would only end the perennial plight,” said villager Ngawang Dema. 

She said that without a proper bridge over the stream, several vehicles remained stranded on either side of the stream every time it rained. “It is an inconvenience for people who need to avail services on time.”

“It has been many monsoons we are cut off from the rest of the dzongkhag when the flood comes,” said a resident Sumchu Dema. “People trans-shift every time. It is inconvenient for students.”  

She said that heavy vehicles on the narrow road also posed a problem for other travellers. “Recently, one of the trucks nearly went off the road.”

A parent, Ugyen Lhaden said, “We worry, as unpredictable Demri stream swells making it difficult for young children to cross.” 

Villagers said another problem has been evacuating patients during monsoon.  “We don’t understand whether the government has not allocated budget or planners failed to include the bridge in the Plan.” 

A 50-year-old resident, Chardor Dema said that it was obvious officials understood that they need the bridge. “Everybody knows we are in dire need but nothing has happened.”

Meanwhile, Lumang gup, Wandi said that as gewog centre road was handed over to dzongkhag the gewog administration is hoping for dzongkhag to solve the problem for the people. 

“We are well aware of the problem but gewog administration doesn’t have authority to allocate the budget,” he said. 

The gup said more than Nu 80 million would be needed to construct a bridge over Demri stream.

Bhutanese refraining from gatherings hurts Dadgari businesses

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:21

Younten Tshedup | Gelephu

As much as people in Gelephu and nearby gewogs depend on Dadgari village in Assam, India for trade, the small Indian settlement’s main customers for business is it’s neighbours this side of the border.

Over the years, the tiny settlement known as Hatisar among the locals has grown. Many small businesses have also mushroomed along the highway connecting Bhutan and India.

One of the star-attractions here is the weekly bazaar every Thursday. Besides those from Gelephu, this rapidly growing market attracts shoppers from Sarpang, Zhemgang, Tsirang, Nganglam, Wangdue and Punakha, among others.

Records from the border checkpoint show that more than 8,000 Bhutanese visit the market during Thursdays. All manner of goods – vegetables, garments, utensils, meat, and construction materials are sold here.

However, business at the bazaar has comparatively dropped in the past two weeks. Indian traders blame the global COVID-19 outbreak for poor sales.

One of the businessmen, Sanjib Chakraborty, said that the fear that they might contract the virus, many people have stopped visiting the market. “No one is infected in the area and people should not worry. We know about the outbreak and are equally concerned.”

He said that in the absence of Bhutanese customers, there is hardly any business. “We mostly depend on the Thursday market and Bhutanese customers for our survival. Otherwise, the local people do not buy much of our goods.”

He added that on a regular Thursday, his earning hovered between Nu 20,000 to Nu 30,000. “Business is better when the schools reopen. We earn more than Nu 50,000 over the week,” he said. “However, in the last two weeks, we could barely make Nu 4,000.”

There are more than 400 stalls at the bazaar.

Security officials at the border gate also said that the number of people visiting the weekly market has drastically dropped with intensive awareness programmes and screening measures put at the checkpoint.

The number of people who entered the border gate yesterday was less than 3,000.

Health officials said that the drop in the number of people visiting Dadgari market is a positive sign. “It shows that people are concerned. While there are no suspected cases detected in the locality so far, it is wise to avoid such large gatherings,” said an official.

The business community in Gelephu are also equally pleased with the current development. “So it’s going to take a virus to stop our people from going outside,” said a hotelier.

He said that the Thursday bazaar remains one of the biggest challenges for local vendors in Gelephu. “We have tried on several occasions to inform the public to refrain from spending outside when all the goods were available inside. Nothing worked so far.”

Meanwhile, those who had come to the bazaar said that most of the commodities were comparatively cheaper in Dadgari than in Gelephu town.

“There is no point coming all the way here if the items inside were charged the same,” said a customer. “Prices in Gelephu are almost double of what is charged here.”

However, many business operators argue that the public fails to take into consideration the transportation and time factor when they compare the prices. “They are basically paying the same, if not more by going all the way to Dadgari.”

Luejong: Dancing for a healthy life

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:20

Ugyen Penjor

Koko ri ko, koko ri ko

bjapay ngari zetog…

 

This rooster song is an evergreen song among many Bhutanese. The lyrics are simple, the dance steps fun and it is a sing-along song.

If many grew up singing or dancing to the rooster song, there is a new dimension added to it. Koko ri ko has become a Bhutanese version of Zumba, an exercise fitness programme.

Called Luejong, the fitness programme is a part of the health ministry’s  “Health in and health for all” approach with the concept developed by the health minister, Dechen Wangmo. It is a dance-based fitness program that encompasses around achieving cardio, strength, balance, flexibility and improving concentration.

Koko ri ko is the first song of the 10-minute long dance- based fitness programme. Then comes Druk zhung di na gawa lu, another popular song that is on every lips, especially after the 112th National Day, where it was the theme song.

Choreographer Deepika Adhakari (right) and dance partner in the Luejong video

With more dancing beats added and sung by an octogenarian, Ap Teyh Teyh, Druk Zhung di na has traditional steps to keep the tradition alive and Zumba steps like squats, turns and shakes to tone the muscles.

Lumba Chungchu, the third song is another lively song that everybody likes to jump, turn as we clap hands to the song. It is the favourite song at all gatherings, especially when those gathered are not so good at dancing.

The Luejong ends with a remix of M Studio’s Losar Tashi Delek song, which is full of messages on the importance of a healthy life.

Choreographer Deepika Adhikari calls the Luejong a mix of traditional moves and Zumba steps to generate interest among all age groups.

Luejong is not typical Zumba fitness programme. It is more than that. “Through fitness, we are trying to promote culture and revive popular Dzongkha songs and dance steps that has a fitness steps engrained in it,” said Deepika who is a certified Zumba trainer.

The longer version, 30 minutes, of the Luejong released today has 10 songs including the Wang Zhay, some steps from mask dances and other popular songs like Kesangla and Zumbuling la.

Wang Zhay involves large arm and foot works and high jumps, moves while mask dance steps involve a lot of jumps and back and forth movements in combination with aerobics moves and mixed martial arts. “The steps are good for calves and thighs,” said the trainer.

The idea of the Luejong started in a small hall at the health ministry where Deepika initiated an after-office fitness programme. “The health minister saw the groups and suggested making it a national programme,” she said.

With support from the World Health Organisation, a complete 30-minute programme is readied with a new approach.

The “Health in all” is an approach to reflect on health impact in all aspects of development and policy considerations. “It is considering the impact on health from our development activates,” said Deepika.

The “Health for all” approach is supposed to make health accessible to all in achieving Universal Health Coverage and inculcate healthy lifestyle through promotion of healthy activities and routines into day-to-day lives of everyone.

500 students from 11 schools of Thimphu Thromde, teachers and 100 government officials performing the Luejong at the Changlimithang stadium today is the official launch of Luejong.

The plan is to introduce the progamme to all schools and then to other formal and informal communities and ultimately to the whole population of Bhutan.

“It is simple, easy and short. Anybody can do it at their convenience and stay healthy,” said Deepika Adhikari.

Transporters against Indian trucks ferrying boulder

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:18

Younten Tshedup  | Gelephu

Exporters and transporters in Gelephu remain divided on the proposal to allow Indian trucks to ferry boulders to Bangladesh from the border town.

The exporters proposed the option to address the growing harassment incidents Bhutanese truckers suffered while travelling along Indian highway and to expedite the boulder export that has failed to pick up in Gelephu since last year.

Exporters viewed the move as a last resort, a desperate attempt to revive the dying business and to enable returns on their investments.

Since 2018, most exporters have spent millions on dredging and screening of the riverbed materials (RBM) along numerous river banks in Sarpang.

The Moakhola basin alone has more than 400 million metric tonnes (MT) of stocked RBM. Natural Resources Development Corporation Ltd (NRDCL) pay the exporters on a disposal basis, meaning unless the materials are lifted and exported from the river basins, the exporter is not paid for the dredging and screening works.

The oncoming monsoon remains another challenge, whereby if the stocked RBM is not disposed before monsoon, exporters fear that the rain would wash away the deposits and they have to incur huge loses.

However, transporters and truckers have strongly opposed this idea saying the initiative would completely send them out of business.

“We are already struggling to pay off our loans on the trucks because of the slow boulder business,” said a trucker in Gelephu. “Allowing Indian trucks inside will definitely put us out of business.”

He said the transportation rate would go down comparatively as the Indian trucks would be in a better position to ply at a lower rate. “This is because these Indian trucks have been operating for decades and do not have loans on them.”

Majority of the Bhutanese trucks are new and purchased on loan, he added.

He said that another advantage Indian truckers would have is on the carrying capacity. “They could carry overload and still won’t face harassments along the way as we do. So it is only natural for them to lower the rates and leave us without the business in our own country.”

Requesting anonymity, another trucker said exporters’ claim that Bhutanese transporters are charging high rates is false. He said that the reason transporters cannot lower the rates was because carrying consignments below the current rate would incur losses.  

“There is no logic whatsoever if we are to operate in loss. Even the current rate is just barely enough for some truckers to pay off their loans given the varying incidental changes along the way.”

Exporters argue that transporters have hiked the rates to Nu 1,500 per MT from Nu 1,200 per MT when the business first began in Gelephu. Today, almost 73 percent of the total cost is incurred in transportation.

One of the truckers said that the reason for the increased rate is because they are no more allowed to carry overload. “Because we were carrying some 35-40MT before, the rate per MT was lower. We cannot afford to carry at the same rate when we are carrying just 18MT today.”

Citing examples of Phuentsholing, Samtse and Gomtu, exporters have requested if the government could allow Indian trucks to operate within 5km radius inside the border gate.

However, transporters said that it would set a negative precedent and complicate things. “Phuentsholing and Samtse are already facing traffic issues from these Indian trucks. Gelephu have managed to stay away from such incidences and it would be in the best interest for all if this is not allowed from the beginning in Gelephu,” said another trucker.

Meanwhile, it was learnt that several Bhutanese trucks are operating in coal mines in Sibsagar, upper Assam, and Nagaland.

“Yes, some of our colleagues are working at the coal mines because there was no other option to pay off the huge loans they had with the banks.”

The monthly installment for a single dumper truck (10-wheeler) ranges between Nu 45,000 to Nu 50,000 for five years.

NA rejects motion to bring select public services under gewog administration 

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:17

Chimi Dema   

The National Assembly rejected the motion to include farm shops, power tiller services, fuel and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) depots and community information centres (CICs) under gewog administration.

Bardo-Trong Member of Parliament Gyambo Tshering moved the motion in the House yesterday saying it would improve service delivery.

Submitting the motion, the MP said that in an effort to benefit rural residents and boost development, the former government has established 202 farm shops, 64 fuel and LPG depots and 205 CICs as well as provided power tiller services.

However, these services have not been used to the optimum, he said.

This, according to him, was because the farm shops which are currently under Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited did not serve the vital purpose to the farmers despite its objective.

The MP said that the farm shops sell only groceries, but do not have farm machinery, tools and agricultural seeds that the farmers need. In addition, many of the shops have not implemented the Buy-Back Policy, as pledged by the government.

He also attributed the ineffective service delivery to poor maintenance of the power tillers and higher fees charged for its use.

“The recent notification of the government to place the power tillers under the dzongkhag further aggravates the problem,” the MP said.

Going by the Annual Report 2019, fuel and LPG depots were established in 64 gewogs but without people getting the services, he said that it was such a waste of resources. ”The decision to retain CICs under Bhutan Development Bank Limited has impeded service delivery to the public.”

Given the challenges, Gyambo Tshering called for a Standard Operating Procedure and consolidating all these facilities under the gewog administration. He said that stationing all these services at one place would be convenient and would ensure efficient and quality service delivery to people in the remote areas.

While members acknowledged that the issue was pertinent, many of them were of the view that bringing facilities under gewogs would hinder efficient service delivery considering the absence of adequate human resource, technical expertise and other resources at the gewog level.

The members also said that further assessment needs to be done to study the feasibility.

With only 18 members out of 41 present favouring the motion, the NA did not endorse it.

National football players to receive Nu 30,000 in salary

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:16

DHI commits Nu 20,000 for each of the 30 players in the national team

Thinley Namgay 

 Players of the Bhutan football national team will receive a salary of Nu 30,000 per month from next month, a 200 percent increase in their monthly salary.

This is made possible by the Druk Holding and Investments (DHI) who agreed to support the Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) with Nu 20,000 a month for the 30 players in the national team.

A memorandum of understanding will be signed today at the Ariya Hotel, Thimphu coinciding with the 40th birth anniversary of His Majesty The King.

Today national football players receive a salary of Nu 10,000 paid by BFF.

National players welcomed the news. When told about the raise, Jigme Tshering Dorjee, defender with the national team and skipper of Paro FC said that the revision in salary would help improve football in the country.

He said that players had a hard time to survive in the capital where house rent and expenses are high.   “Future players will choose footballer as a profession and they can sustain in life. Now the parents will encourage their children to be a footballer.”

Tshering Dorji, 25, who hails from Trashiyangtse, is a mid-fielder of national team and Thimphu City FC. He was in the national squad since 2010.

He said that the salary increase was encouraging as most of the national players are without jobs and live in rented apartments.  “Sometimes there is family pressure to quit football because of the less salary. Now the situation will change as we don’t have to focus on other works,” he said. “With good salary, competition will be stronger and there will be more talented players in the national team.”

The financial support is a part of corporate social responsibility of DHI. This is the first time an institution is paying salaries for the national players.

“While there are national and dzongkhag outreach programmes and infrastructure facilities to promote the game, it still remains a challenge for the nation to attract, groom, and retain national football players. Recognising the need of financial support to the national players, DHI commits to provide financial support to supplement the remuneration for 30 national players,” a press release from DHI stated. “Football events enable participation of the entire spectrum of our society, and highlights the common values and bonds that bring people together as a nation.”

A press release from BFF states that the financial support would induce a sense of professionalism and dedication for the players in shaping future of football. “With the recent development of football and achievement in an international arena, the support from DHI is encouraging for the BFF to work harder.”

Meanwhile, BFF and Free Will Sports Private Limited (NIVIA) will also sign a contract agreement for kit sponsor worth USD 51,000 for a period of three years starting this year.  BFF will also launch new jersey for upcoming season.

Gewog finds solution to water shortage

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:15

Banks on reservoir to boost agriculture besides ensuring drinking water

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

Ngatshang gewog in Mongar has been coping up with an acute shortage of water for both drinking and agriculture. They are not complaining anymore. They found a solution.

The gewog administration and people of its five chiwogs have decided to construct private reservoirs for each household.

Through the rural water supply scheme budget, gewog would provide materials like 10 bags of cement, manhole cover, inlet and outlet corner, flashing gate and float valve. Residents will construct the reservoir tank themselves.

The private tanks will be connected to the recently built tanks in some villages.

The gewog would procure the materials soon and distribute it to the households, who could complete the structure in a set time line.

Ngatshang gup, Dorji Leki, said the decision was made in gewog tshogde and it is aimed to address the drinking water problem, boost winter vegetable plantation and prepare for disaster management.

He said stored water could be used to fight fire mishaps too.

Residents of the 350 households in the gewog are happy.

A farmer from Yekhar village, Drubtho, said they faced water problem until a common tank for the village was constructed.

He said he would now grow vegetables on a large scale if water were available. “I could not grow vegetables for our consumption until now due to water shortage.”

The village tshogpa, Norbu, said they could now tap rainwater during monsoon and connect to the tanks.

Meanwhile, the gewog is also in the process of connecting farm roads to land left barren for years. Last year, the gewog constructed a 3.5kms farm road to a place called Thangdong. The road diversion from Yadi-Sershong gewog connects to over 10 acres of paddy fields belonging to 15 households in Peshuphu chiwog.

With material and technical support from Agriculture Research Development Center (ARDC) in Wengkhar, farmers cultivated spring paddy in about three acres of wetland last year. Landowners are planning to increase the area for plantation this season.

Gup Dorji Leki said another 1.5kms farm road is connected to Namkha Aring in Thumbari chiwog where acres of wetland and dry land including orange orchard has been left barren.

“Around 30 fruit-bearing orange trees are sold for Nu 3,000 to the middleman due to transportation problem, and the road is expected to boost the interest of rural farmers to generate income and achieve self-reliance through modern infrastructures,” he said.

The gup also said the gewog would construct a road to connect two similar farmlands of Yawri and Kapashing which are in the 12th Plan.

 

Canadian govt. to offer biometrics service

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:14

Staff reporter

The government of Canada would offer biometrics collection service in Thimphu on March 16 and 17.

This, according to officials of the High Commission of Canada in New Delhi, is to help those who intend to avail a Canadian visa for visit, studies, work or permanent residence.

The biometrics collection service, according to a press release from the High Commission, was a key commitment made at the first Canada-Bhutan bilateral consultation last November. “Its aim is to facilitate travel for Bhutanese visitors to Canada and advance people to people ties between the two countries.”

It stated that collecting biometrics provides the government a reliable and accurate tool to establish traveller’s identity. “It improves the ability to process applications and entry of people upon arrival in Canada.”

Meanwhile, the service is being offered on a pilot basis and applicants who paid the biometrics fee and received an instruction letter.

Canadian High Commission officials said people interested to avail biometrics service on March 16 and 17 must apply for visa online before March 8.

Man sentenced for assault and display of weapon

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:13

Staff reporter

Gelephu drungkhag court sentenced a 26-year-old man from Serzhong in Gelephu for assaulting a taxi driver and snatching a sickle from a woman and threatening to assault her in September last year.

Sangay Yang Dorji was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison for assaulting a taxi driver on September 11 and threatening to assault the woman in Dekiling who was sharpening her sickle.

According to the judgment, the defendant reserved the taxi to go to Jigmeling from Gelephu town but attacked the driver with a knife after they reached Samtenling.

The driver, who saw the defendant attacking him in the mirror, escaped with some minor injuries on the chin. The defendant then drove off the taxi and toppled if on the road.

Sangay Yang Dorji was given three years and six months imprisonment for robbery. He was found guilty of violating section 245 of the Penal Code of Bhutan, which states, “A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of robbery, if in the course of committing a larceny, the defendant uses or threatens to use force against another person.”

The court ordered him to pay a month’s wage rate, which amounts to Nu 3,750 to the taxi driver as compensation for the assault and Nu 58,500 for keeping the taxi grounded while repairing. The defendant’s father repaired the taxi.

Sangay Yang Dorji was also given another two months imprisonment for displaying weapon to the woman in Dekiling and threatening to assault her.

He was found guilty of violating section 486 of the Penal Code, which states, “A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of display of a weapon, if the defendant purposely threatens or intimidates another person by displaying a weapon.”

The amended Penal Code grades the offence a misdemeanour.

The judgment stated that although he cannot pay thrimthue in lieu of the prison term for the three years and six months imprisonment, he could pay thrimthue for the two months prison term.

Hydropower potential increases to 37,000MW

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 16:46

Plan prioritises 18 projects between 2030 and 2050

Ugyen Penjor

The country’s hydropower potential and availability is now around 37 gigawatt (GW) or 37,000 megawatt (MW) from 155 identified sites, including the existing power plants.

This is according to the Power System Master Plan 2040, a detailed master plan, which revised the PSMP-2004. The report identifies 90 sites having an installed capacity about 33GW or 33,000MW as techno-economically feasible.

The 2008 Bhutan Sustainable Hydropower Development policy estimated the overall hydropower potential of the country at 30,000MW with production capability of about 120,000GWs.

The master plan, which revised the 2004 plan, excludes the six existing power plants, 13 earmarked projects and 20 sites with an installed capacity of about 25MW. It also excludes three project sites requiring resettlements and another 44 sites whose components like dams, reservoir, waterway or powerhouse with an installed capacity of 8.6GW falling in the protected areas.

The master plan revised with assistance from Japan International Cooperation Agency, has identified 69 potential sites with a capacity to generate 14GW of electricity for further screening.

The master plan was revised to reassess the overall hydropower potential including techno-economic potential of the country after having detailed hydrological information and data based on the newly established hydrological network and advanced planning technologies.

It was also to ensure judicious identification and selection of the promising projects after doing multi criteria analysis (MCA) and to engage stakeholders in identifying, selecting and developing projects for optimum utilisation of river basin potentials based on market opportunities and the country’s absorptive capacities.

Presenting a synopsis of the master plan in the national Assembly on Monday, economic affairs minister, Loknath Sharma said that 18 potential sites were shortlisted to be harnessed by 2050.

The development plans for the 18 shortlisted sites (see table) are scheduled from 2031 to 2050 at and estimated construction cost of nu 608 billion (B).  “The 18 sites were prioritised considering technical, economic, social, environmental impact and the state of development of the sites,” Lyonpo said.

Out of the 18 priority projects, 14 are identified as run-of-river schemes to ensure minimum negative social and environmental impact and bring cumulative benefits to local communities through development or improvement of infrastructure like access to education, health, roads and economic opportunities.

The master plan recommends developing three projects, the 550MW Dorokha site, Pinsa (153MW) and the 414MW Chamkharchhu- II site between 2030 and 2035. It recommends carrying out feasibility studies for these three sites at the earliest for early development.

 

MPs question minister

Members of the National Assembly welcomed and thanked the economic affair minister for sharing the master plan, but many questioned the minister on the priority projects while some cautioned on the risks associated with building hydropower projects.

Drametse-Ngatshang member, Ugyen Wangdi said that while there was a proposed deadline for the 18 projects identified, there is no mention of when the projects that are already finalised or feasibility study done like the Dorjilung, Sunkosh, Wangchhu, Bunagu and Kuri Gongri projects would be started. “Are we going to build these projects together with the new identified projects or in the next 10 years until 2030 since the new projects are beginning from 2030,” he said.

Drawing the attention of the House to the problems of sinking land in Kingarabten alleged to have caused by the Mangdechhu project, Dragteng-Langthel’s member Gyem Dorji cautioned the Assembly about the risks associated with building mega projects. The member insisted on the importance of DPR (detailed project report).

Members of the opposition questioned the minister on the progress of the planned projects. The Dewathang-Gomdar MP, Ugyen Dorji said that even after spending seven years on the DPR for Nyera Amari I and II there is no progress. “When will the DPR be ready?” he said.

Pangbang MP Dorji Wangdi questioned the modalities of the planned projects. He said it was not clear if the projects would be build on inter- Governmental (IG) model or on a joint venture (JV) model. He asked the minister what the government was doing to ensure energy self-sufficiency in winter. “Export is important, but what are the plans on the firm power (power generating capacity at all times)?”

The Khengkhar-Weringla MP Rinzin Jamtsho said that the Kuri Gongri planned project should receive the highest priority emphasising on regional balanced development. He said that five projects identified in the revised master plan, Dorokha, Pinsa, Jongthang and Chamkharchhu II has the capacity of 2,184MW while Kuri Gongri alone has 2,640MW.

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that the revised master plan transcends party politics and will be subjected to change depending on several indicators like technical, geographical or economical.

He informed the Assembly that the Sustainable Hydropower Development Policy 2008 is being revised and that it will be sent to the Gross National Happiness at the earliest.

“Whether we agree to IG, JV or public private partnership (PPP) or even JV or IG at state owned enterprises level will be known soon,” he said. “The policy will be finalised in two to three months.”

On the firm power, Lyonpo said that the government is prioritising Sunkosh because it is the only reservoir project with a capacity of generating 40MW during lean season. “Most of our projects are run-of–river and we are considering storage or pond scheme for the Kuri-Gongri project,” he said.

Human trafficking in Bhutan is real: NC committee

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 16:44

MB Subba

The National Council’s social and cultural affairs committee yesterday reported that although the law enforcement agencies had documented only 11 human trafficking cases between 2007 and 2018, there were increasing reports of Bhutanese being allegedly trafficked abroad as well as within the country.

Eight cases were prosecuted, two were returned by the Office of Attorney General (OAG), and one is still under investigation by the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP).

The committee’s chair, Kesang Chuki Dorjee, reported that the committee’s year-long review confirmed that various forms of human trafficking were prevalent within and outside the country.

“But women and girls still tend to be more vulnerable,” the committee stated. “Bhutan is no exception to the risk of this heinous crime.”

The House will deliberate on the recommendations of the committee.

Definition of human trafficking, the committee stated, was comprehensive and in line with the UN Protocol in The Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) of 2011.

It added that despite having a clear definition of human trafficking, the case in the Bumthang court recently was dismissed and instead charged the perpetrator under the Immigration Act. The case involved illegal transportation and negligence of an eight-year-old child from India. NCWC and OAG had charged the woman for human trafficking of a child and torture.

Reported cases of human trafficking

The first case of trafficking in person (TIP) was reported in 2007, where a non-Bhutanese 16-year-old girl was brought to Thimphu, but the Crime Head changed the TIP charge to illegal immigration. The defendant was convicted for three years and was made to pay Nu 3,000 as minimum wage for a month’s work.

In 2010, a man lured a 15-year-old girl to India but she was rescued from Rinchending checkpoint after a complaint was lodged in Thimphu. The suspect was convicted for three years.

Again, in 2010, a 14-year-old girl went missing from the clock tower. She was abducted and trafficked by a family acquaintance and taken first to India, then to Nepal as a domestic helper. The suspect was charge-sheeted for five years. 

In 2011, a boy was discovered in Gomtu and was the boy was returned to his family.

In the same year, two men and three women were taken from Trashigang to Pemagatshel. They were subjected to forced labour and sexual harassment. The suspect was convicted for three years and one month.

In 2016, two Bhutanese women were lured into working in Malaysia and Singapore. However, they were being sent to work in the sex industry. The suspect was charge-sheeted for attempted TIP and convicted for two years.

Again, in the same year, in Gelephu, a man was charge-sheeted for attempted TIP and cheating 19 people of Nu 736,500 to attend a Woodstock festival in the US. The crime head changed to larceny by deception at the drungkhag court. The case is now at High Court.

In 2017, a woman suspect in collaboration with Omega Manpower Company based in Nigeria sent nine Bhutanese women to Iraq. Three women were repatriated from Nepal.

The case was dropped by OAG since there was no use of threat, force, or deception while recruiting or transporting women to work as housemaids. The suspect was charged under the Labour Act and paid Nu 33,750 to labour ministry.

In 2018, immigration officials at the Mumbai airport intercepted three Bhutanese women. A Sri Lankan man with an Indian passport was escorting them. However, the OAG returned the case since the charge sheet was incomplete as some of the suspects were in Delhi. One of the suspects was arrested in Thimphu, but released after OAG returned the case.

Again, also in 2018, a 9-year-old child was brought from India via Gelephu. However, court dismissed child trafficking charges and fined the woman for illegal transportation of a foreigner, negligence of the child after she suffered grave injuries while living with the accused.

The accused was fined Nu 9,900 in accordance with the Immigration Act and also fined Nu 1,80,000 for neglecting child’s health. The case is in the High Court.

Given the increasing report of human trafficking cases, the Royal Bhutan Police initiated a sensitisation programme for 456 men and 1,048 women travelling overseas.

Based on records with RBP, the committee reported that a total of 573 adults and children were reported as missing persons from 2017 to 2019. Out of the total missing persons, 262 were found; 275 persons are still missing.

Exploitation

The committee reported that the concerns raised by the stakeholders included the proliferation of massage parlours, especially in border towns like Phuntsholing and other growing towns.

“Business establishments such as drayangs and massage parlours are now becoming synonymous with sexual services. The employees both national and foreign continue to be at risk of sexual harassment and sexual exploitation,” the committee noted.

It reported that prostitution, although illegal, was prevalent and practised in an organised manner. Some budget hotels and taxi operators are also reportedly facilitating the requests of clients looking for companionship.

Citing a media report, the committee reported that there were anywhere between 400-500 sex workers in Bhutan in 2017.

“Bhutan’s reputation of being a high-end tourist destination could change and become known as a sex tourism destination if left unchecked. The Guides Association of Bhutan also said that there was a growing demand for female guides by tourists,” noted the report. Male guides have also known to be popular for women groups and some have been accused of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.

The committee reported that over the past few months, the Royal Bhutan Police received more than 70 messages on social media from Bhutanese women in Middle Eastern countries requesting for repatriation assistance. Media reports suggest close to 200 women could be working as maids in Iraq.

Stakeholders in bordering towns acknowledged that foreign child workers were working in tailoring stores, restaurants and automobile workshops in Bhutan.

NA withdraws Impeachment Procedure Bill 

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 16:44

Tshering Palden

The National Assembly yesterday withdrew the Impeachment Procedure Bill 2019 after the National Council resent the Bill to the House and reasserting the importance of the Bill.

The Chairperson of the Legislative Committee and member in charge of the Bill, Tshewang Lhamo proposed the withdrawal of the Bill on three grounds.

She said that the committee was of the view that all the provisions of the Constitution are not made in to separate laws. “The Bill could be introduced at an appropriate time in the future as per requirement and also encompassing other aspects.”

Tshewang Lhamo said that Bill would be inappropriate at the moment as the constitutional offices are held by capable persons selected for best candidates and appointed by His Majesty The King. “If the holders of the constitutional offices are to be impeached on the basis of law, it poses a risk of contravening with our old age tradition,” she said.

The committee also proposed that the Bill be drafted and consolidated with a provision of no-confidence votes against the government in future and at an appropriate time.

Legislative Rules of Procedure (LRoP) 2017 states that a Bill passed by one House may be withdrawn by the other House on the grounds of, but not limited to, the legislative proposal covered in the Bill being dropped or a more comprehensive Bill on the same subject being proposed at a later date.

According to the LRoP, where a Bill has been passed by the National Council and is pending before the National Assembly, the Assembly may recommend to the National Council that leave be granted to withdraw the Bill.

“If leave is not granted by the other House for withdrawal of the Bill, the Bill shall then follow the procedures outlined for Disputed Bills,” it states.

NC members raised strong arguments on the need for the Bill during the deliberation of the Bill on February 4 after NA decided to withdraw it earlier this session.

NC in line with Article 32 of the Constitution, NC drafted the Impeachment Procedure Bill of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2019 for constitutional office bearers.

Members said that the Impeachment Procedure Bill is very important in a democratic nation. It has been 12 years since constitutional offices were established. We don’t have an impeachment act in place right now. It is clearly reflected in the Constitution that the Parliament is entitled to build an impeachment Bill and impeach those that violate the laws.

“Their reasons for objections are vague and we cannot accept that. That is why we decided to re-deliberate during the joint sitting and we will wait for Royal Command,” a member said.

The Chief Justice of Bhutan, Drangpons of Supreme Court, Chief Justice and Drangpons of the High Court, Chief Election Commissioner, Auditor General, Chairpersons of Royal Civil Service Commission and Anti-Corruption Commission are considered the constitutional office bearers.

In the interest of wise tourism policy

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 16:43

What is happening?

This was the big question yesterday after the National Assembly took a U -turn decision on the Nu 1,200 sustainable development fee (SDF).

 The Assembly decided to do away with the SDF exemption for regional tourists visiting 11 dzongkhags, a decision they endorsed about two weeks ago when discussing the Tourism Levy and Exemption Bill 2020. 

 The National Council who reviewed the Bill then added four more dzongkhags to be exempted from the SDF. As it stands now, the entire section on exemption is scrapped, perhaps even demanding a new name for the Bill.

 Notwithstanding what prompted the parliamentarians to completely change their decision or the manner in which it was done, the decision to not exempt any of the dzongkhag is a wise decision.

 What is the purpose of the SDF? 

Even before the issue came to the parliament, a minimal SDF was proposed both in the draft tourism policy and the pay commission’s report. This was one way to regulate and manage tourists effectively in the face of increasing tourists from the region.

 The SDF was not to stop tourists from the region, but to give those who pay the fee and come to the country to make the most of their visit through proper management. The SDF was also not to promote tourism in the dzongkhags that members of parliament sought exemptions for.

 Waiving off a small fee will not attract tourists. An attempt was made in the past. For the same reason, tourists wishing to visit eastern Bhutan were exempted the USD 65 fee or royalty. Hoteliers, tour agents and handicraft shops are still complaining of not seeing many tourists. USD 65 is more than double the Nu 1,200.

 Tourists come to visit Bhutan for mainly two reasons. Bhutan is a cultural tourism hotspot. It is our unique culture and traditions and landscapes that attract tourists. Then there are our trekking routes, secluded and preserved, clean and pristine. Culture and trekking are the main attractions.

 It is not only the Americans, Europeans or the Japanese that want to experience Bhutan and its uniqueness. Those in the region with appreciation for culture, nature and art visit Bhutan for the same reason.

There is another group, increasing every year, that finds Bhutan a cheap destination. The daily SDF will help manage mass tourism that overcrowd every tourist spot bringing in their cars, guides and sometimes food.

 We are talking about a long term tourism policy. Not a short-term to make revenue from fees. After much problems and discourse, we have realised that we need a policy to control mass tourism. From the discussions at the parliament, it seems that not many cannot look beyond their dzongkhag, their vote bank.

 If we want tourists to visit places other than Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, or Bumthang, we need good plans to attract them, starting with improving infrastructure. 

What are the attractions? What did we put back from the billions of money we made from tourism thus far to develop or leverage on the potential of other dzongkhags?

 What is happening there? This is the relevant question.

Agriculture Economic Zone expected to propel sector ahead

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 16:42

Phub Dem

The disparity between the ambitious national policy of food security and food self-sufficiency and increasing imports question where the agriculture sector is headed. 

The solution, according to deputy chief planning officer for Renewable Natural Resources (RNR) enterprise development, Tshewang Tashi could be Agriculture Economic Zone (AEZ). 

AEZ is a virtual zoning concept where a specific region in a country is demarcated for setting up particular RNR processing industries. Mapping the commodities with potential location is expected to mitigate variations in crop prices and production, among others. 

Tshewang Tashi said that the concept was required to group potential commodities together. 

There are varieties of RNR products such as crops, vegetables, livestock, wood, and non-wood products in the country. Such potential produces, according to him could be mapped into a specific location. 

For instance, wheat for Haa, Paro, Bumthang, and maize for Trashigang, Pemagatshel, and Mongar. 

The mapping of the produce, he said could invite investments, focus on sustainable production and could provide whatever help required by the groups.

He said that revamping the whole agriculture ecosystem might forecast a positive future for the agriculture sector. 

As of today, he said that agriculture-related issues had received a symptomatic intervention, which means that if there is a problem with wildlife or irrigation, the solution was specific for these problems alone. “The sector will not grow if we continue the practice. Solving the barriers in silos won’t bring any development.” 

However, if the concept of AEZ is implemented, the entire production factors: land, labour, and capital would be put together to speed up the development. 

Moreover, the concept is expected to distribute investments, decongest agribusiness in urban areas, and to foster partnership among the producers and consumers.   

Tshewang Tashi said that the production of value-added agro-products and strengthening the supply chain would require several interventions including the adoption of technology, innovative farming practices, and the establishment of clusters and aggregators. 

This, he said would be difficult for individual farmers. “Therefore establishment of a commercial agricultural hub, and product aggregator that will support production through marketing, and buyback scheme is necessary.”

The AEZ, he said would emphasis the promotion of innovative technologies in the sector through the shift of focus from low-value products targeted for domestic consumption to producing high-end niche products. 

The concept of AEZ was discussed during the agribusiness forum held in Thimphu yesterday. 

Moreover, the forum also discussed the challenges facing agri-entrepreneurs. 

Participants raised barriers to agribusiness including license processing, access to finance, issues related to equity or collateral –lower valuation for rural lands, and questioned balanced regional development. And they also raised issues related to Imbalance supply chain, poor market linkage and inadequate research related to agricultural businesses. 

The forum saw discussions on fostering partnership for agribusiness, exploring technologies and innovations, enhancing market access ecosystem, and improving access to finance.

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