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Updated: 2 hours 21 min ago

NC adopts Supplementary Budget Appropriation Bill 2019-20

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 16:40

Chimi Dema 

With 22 members present and voting, the National Council unanimously adopted the Supplementary Budget Appropriation Bill 2019-20 on February 18. 

The House accepted all the recommendations of the National Assembly (NA) except for the proposed supplementary appropriation of Nu 5 million (M) for the Parliamentary committees and Secretariat services.

The House recommended the NA to withdraw the proposed supplementary appropriation of Nu 5M. 

Presenting the Committee’s submission on the Supplementary Budget Appropriation Bill to the House, the chairperson of the Economic Affairs Committee, Ugyen Tshering said that the Parliament cannot grant the supplementary budget directly.

Going by the established procedures, the supplementary appropriation should come to the Parliament through finance ministry after the concerned agency submits proposal to the ministry, he said. “The Parliament can then approve.”

During deliberations on the Bill in the House earlier, most members shared concerns of breaching of established procedures and conflict of interest associated with such proposal.

 While they acknowledged the need for adequate budgetary support for the effective functioning of the NA, members shared that bringing their need in the forefront and passing the Bill would set a wrong precedent as well as violate existing financial norms and principles. 

 Meanwhile, the Bill along with the recommendation would be forwarded to the National Assembly for re-deliberation. 

 The NA adopted supplementary appropriation for a sum not exceeding Nu 903.277M on February 11.

Besides Nu 5M, the appropriation of Nu 898.277M is to cover the expenditure incurred by the salary revision and allowances of the Royal Bhutan Police, Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan, and JSW School of Law, and revision of stipend and subsidy to State-owned Enterprises.

Challenges galore at the partly functional ISC in Gelephu 

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 16:40

Younten Tshedup  | Gelephu

Three years on, the industrial service centre (ISC) in Gelephu still is not fully developed.

While plot owners blame thromde administration for not providing basic facilities such as stable water and electricity connection, thromde maintain that all basic amenities are already put in place.

In an effort to thrash out the differences and expedite works at the ISC, a stakeholders’ meeting was held on February 18 in Gelephu.

Besides understanding the issues and finding possible solutions, the meeting was also held to inform plot owners of the growing number of lessees defaulting on their monthly payments.

Gelephu Thrompon, Tikaram Kafley, said that only about five percent of the defaulters turned up for the meeting. “Many of these defaulters have not made the payment ranging from five months to a year.”

According to the lease contract, failure to pay the lease fee for more than two months could lead to possible termination of the contract.

A notice with a time extension of two months would be sent to all the defaulters within this week, said the thrompon. “Failure to make the payments during this time would leave us with no option but to terminate their contracts.”

He said that this was not the first time that these people were absent during a consultation meeting. “We have been very considerate and have provided them with enough time. This would be their final opportunity.”

Thromde officials said that there are about 18 lease defaulters. Besides the defaulters, it was learnt that about 38 plot owners have not completed their construction works. A final extension until June was also given to these plot owners.

Thromde officials made it clear that until all construction works are completed, the roads at ISC would not be blacktopped.

Of the many concerns raised during the meeting, ISC operators expressed the need to immediately blacktop the roads as it was affecting their businesses.

The centre’s general secretary, Kamal Pradhan, said that dust is a major problem at ISC. “We are losing our customers daily because of the dusty roads. Because of this many Bhutanese are visiting workshops across the border.”

He said that if thromde could start blacktopping the roads, the economic status of the centre could improve. “Just because of a few individuals who have not completed their construction, the whole community is affected.”

Thrompon Tikaram Kafley said that since there were ongoing construction activities in various locations, blacktopping at this stage would not be effective. “Construction activities could damage the road which is why we want to do it once all constructions are completed.”

Another plot owner, Sonam Dorji said that there was no adequate water supply for water-intensive units like brick factories and car wash centres. “Without proper lighting system, security is another challenge at the ISC currently.”

He said that incidences of theft and vandalism were increasing at the centre in the absence of a boundary wall. “Most of the streetlamps that were installed last year are broken down. There is a need to check the quality of materials that are being used at the centre.”

With the monsoon season nearing, the need to have a stormwater drainage system was also highlighted during the meeting. “Without a stable drainage system, those factories located below would suffer during monsoon.”

The thrompon said that the office is working on a drainage master plan, which would take care of all the wastewater and sewerage in the town. “Erratic weather conditions and lightning strikes have broken the wiring and bulbs in most of the streetlamps. We are replacing them with better ones.”

He said, “Although we have provided most of the services at the ISC, we might not have covered all. We are continuing our efforts to develop the centre and we need continued and full cooperation from all the plot owners.”

The ISC located under Tashiling demkhong spreads across 111.5 acres. A total of 110 plots (46.4 acres) were leased since January 2017 for a period of 30 years.

The centre houses all the automobile workshops, car wash centres, scrap and open stockyards, spare parts shops, godowns, manufacturing and fabrication units, among others.

HMK40 run challenge

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 16:37

Staff reporter

There is a healthier way to celebrate the 40th birth anniversary of His Majesty The King on February 21.

The Yellow Running Club is hosting a run -‘HMK40’ challenge tomorrow.  The 40-km run is open to all and those not in the country could take part in the run as the run will be hosted on the run-tracking free App Strava.

Runners should download the Strava App and join the Yellow Running Club. While running, runners have to open the App and after completing 40km, title it- “HMK40”.

Member of Yellow Running Club and the founder of Druk Running Club, Chimi Dema, said that the time frame for the challenge is 24 hours beginning at 00:00 hours on February 21.

Runners could run in groups, with friends or alone.

Chimi Dema said that more than 40 members of the Druk Running Club will begin their 40km run challenge at 7am from Changlimithang towards Paro.

Druk Running Club is the first non-profitable running club in the country. The club was formed in 2018. “We conduct running activities to promote a running culture by encouraging everyone with the motto- running for happiness,” said Chimi Dema.

“I am excited to take part in it as it will definitely be a fun run.”

NA overturns its decision on SDF

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 16:35

Decides not to exempt any dzongkhag from the Nu 1,200 fee

Yangchen C Rinzin 

Two weeks after the National Assembly (NA) endorsed the exemption of Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) for 11 dzongkhags, the House yesterday, taking a complete U-turn, decided that SDF should be applicable to all the 20 dzongkhags.

This means tourists visiting any dzongkhag will have to pay the SDF of Nu 1,200 for regional and USD 65 for international. Tourists from India, Maldives, and Bangladesh are considered regional tourists as they were exempted from the SDF.

The Assembly on February 4 adopted the Tourism Levy and Exemption Bill 2020 where they endorsed to levy a SDF of Nu 1,200 per night per person for regional tourists and USD 65 on international tourists. The House also endorsed to exempt regional tourists visiting 11 dzongkhags from paying SDF to improve tourism growth in dzongkhags that do not receive many tourists.

The dzongkhags are Lhuentse, Mongar, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Pemagatshel, Samdrupjonkhar, Tsirang, Dagana, Zhemgang, Trongsa, and Sarpang.

The National Council (NC) who deliberated the Bill on February 7 endorsed the recommendation and added four more dzongkhags, Gasa, Chukha, Samtse, and Haa in the exempt list.

However, following a re-deliberation of the Bill, NA members felt that exemption of tourism levy would not help to promote tourism in the exempted dzongkhags.

The members through a show of hands decided to do away the entire Section 8 that describes exemption of tourism levy in 11 dzongkhags.

Foreign minister and chairman of Tourism Council of Bhutan, Dr Tandi Dorji, said that Section 8 was viewed as a way to stop tourists from coming or to increase the number of tourists,  which was not true but a way to improve tourism in those dzongkhags.

“Although I cannot support to add four dzongkhags, we should keep 11 dzongkhags in keeping with the tourism policy of high value, low volume,” Lyonpo said.

Lamgong-Wangchang MP Ugyen Tshering said the fee should be levied in all dzongkhags if a policy is to be followed.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering who in the earlier session voted for exempting 11 dzongkhags supported the argument. He said that instead of creating disharmony due to such exemptions, SDF should be levied to all dzongkhags.

“There are chances that people may not visit those dzongkhags thinking there is no SDF so, there is nothing to offer to tourists,” he said.

Others said that tourism levy would control overcrowding of tourists. Improvement of infrastructure and amenities was also suggested.

Khamaed-Lunana MP Yeshey Dem said that there was no need for exemption. She added that Gasa has not reached a point where it needed a tourism levy exemption to attract tourists.

“NA consists of politicians, however, I hoped the NC, as a house of review would look into the matter carefully and slash off the list. But it’s shocking to see NC has instead added four dzongkhags to the list.”

Questioning the intention of NC, Bongo-Chapcha MP Tshewang Lhamo said that she had hoped that NC would adopt the SDF but not the exemption. “Instead, Chukha is added to the list. I cannot support the recommendation. Levy should apply to the dzongkhags.”

NA rejected NC’s recommendation to amend Section 2 on Commencement and Section 3 on Implementation as per the section 46B of Public Finance (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2012.

However, the House supported the recommendation on Section 10(3) to submit a bi-annual report on the tourism levy exemption to the finance ministry and Parliament.

The Bill is expected to be implemented from July.

The House endorsed Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2020 with 33 Yes votes.

Meanwhile, NC had also recommended adding an additional section in the Bill. The House recommended crediting a minimum of 2 percent of the fund generated from the annual tourism levy into the culture trust fund to support the efforts of preserving culture.

However, the recommendation was not discussed in the NA. Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that the House did not receive the said recommendation.

‘Raven Crown’ among exhibits at Royal Textile Academy 

Wed, 02/19/2020 - 16:40

Exhibition to commemorate the 40th birth anniversary of His Majesty The King

Thinley Namgay 

Uzha Jharog Dongchen (the Raven Crown) that Desi Jigme Namgyel wore to war with the British is among many national treasures on display at the ‘Royal Robes – Wangchuck Dynasty’ exhibition at the Royal Textile Academy (RTA) that began yesterday in Thimphu.

The original crown was displayed in line with an exhibition organised by RTA in collaboration with Textile Museum, Department of Culture, to commemorate the 40th birth anniversary of His Majesty The King.

Namza ghos at the exhibition

The Raven Crown is the national symbol of monarchy and unity. Lama Jangchhu Tsondu, root guru of Desi Jigme Namgyel designed and consecrated the crown as Jigme Namgyel’s special symbol to be bestowed to his successors.

“The culture of wearing a Raven Crown by the monarchs drew inspiration from this legendary helmet. Moreover, the victories which Jigme Namgyel won over his internal rivals to unify the country and against the British in 1865 are considered magical,” states the description of the Raven Crown in the exhibition catalogue.   

The patron of the RTA, Her Majesty the Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck inaugurated the exhibition.

In her message conveyed through the foreword of the exhibition catalogue, Her Majesty wrote, “While this exhibition will offer rare glimpses into the private moments in the lives of our Kings, past and present, it will also give the people an opportunity to pay tribute to our selfless monarchs who have made and continues to make extraordinary contributions and sacrifices for the nation and the people of Bhutan.”

Chief Curator of the Textile Museum, Tshering Uden Penjor, said that the ceremonial sword which belonged to Jigme Namgyel, namza kutoe (women’s jacket) of Her Majesty Gyalyum Phuntsho Choden and a child’s jacket of Third Druk Gyalpo are some of the speciality at the exhibition besides the Raven Crown.

The exhibition has namza gho of all the five Druk Gyalpos, namza kira of Her Royal Highness Ashi Wangmo, Her Majesty the Gyalyum Phuntsho Choden, Her Majesty the Royal Grand Mother Kesang Choden Wangchuck, Her Majesty the Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck and the multi-purpose ceremonial cloth (chagsi Pangkhep) that belonged to Her Majesty the Royal Grand Mother.

Other exhibits are Zhablham collections of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo and His Majesty The King.

Tshering Uden Penjor said that the namza kutoe of Her Majesty Gyalyum Phuntsho Choden and child’s jacket of Third Druk Gyalpo tells a story about mother and a son along with historical facts.

“The weaving tradition in the country dates back to generations, but it gained momentum during the time of second Druk Gyalpo. The skills of the weavers improved during the second King under the patronage of Her Majesty Gyalyum Phuntsho Choden,” she said.

Other items at the exhibition includes different types of hat, namza rachu (women’s shoulder cloth),  gayok (saddle cover), and a pair of cuff links.

The exhibits were contributed by members of the Royal family, RTA, Textile Museum and some are from private individuals on loan.

The exhibition will remain open to public at the RTA for a year, until January next year.

Tshering Uden Penjor also said that under the patron of Her Majesty the Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck, Bhutanese textiles has been recently recognised as one of the last major arts of Asia to gain international recognition.

Meanwhile, guests at the opening of the exhibition said that they were blessed to see so many rare items on display. “I never thought I would see the Raven Crown in real,” said a guest.

“It is a rare opportunity. Her Majesty’s vision to open the exhibition to the public will give people from all walks of life an opportunity to link with our great leaders though the exhibition.”

Another guest at the inauguration thanked Her Majesty the Gyalyum for reviving and preserving Bhutanese textile as the patron of the RTA. “The rich and unique Bhutanese textiles were on the brink of extinction had it not been for Her Majesty’s timely intervention,” he said.

Haa gearing for sixth RBFE

Wed, 02/19/2020 - 16:35

Phub Dem

Haa is busy preparing for the Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition (RHFE).

Haa Dzongdag, Kinzang Dorji, said that people were working on infrastructure. “In two weeks, we will start the plantation.”

He said that two important sites for the exhibition would be near the dzongkhag administration office and Lhakhang Karpo.

Beautification officer, Yeshey Tshering, said that seeds were sown in greenhouses of horticulture centre in Haa, Paro and Thimphu because of the cold weather.  Local seeds were procured and seedlings were transplanted in nurseries.

Officials planned paperwork and site development between December and January.  Site development included road widening, blacktopping, drainage work and preparing soil for seedlings, among others.

The dzongkhag administration, Yeshey Tshering said, they had to plan with the municipal office so that the structures for the exhibition were in line with Local Area Planning. “We will not remove anything after the exhibition.”

Landscaping, designing and transplantation of seedlings will follow after the identification of the green zone.

“Flowers such as tulips and daffodils have already started budding,” Yeshey Tshering.

Katsho Gup Kencho said that the dzongkhag administration had given Nu 30,000 each for six gewogs to purchase quality seeds.

He said that Katsho gewog was processing the necessary requirements. The gewogs are yet to receive the seeds.

Except for the seeds, he said that other site development projects had been completed. “The team spearheaded by dzongdag had been working tirelessly for the grand event. We are excited.”

According to dzongdag, entire Haa, including schools, Basic Health Unit (BHUs), Renewable Natural Resources (RNR) sectors, lhakhangs and 2,900 households were preparing for the exhibition.

“Individual households will contribute in keeping the surroundings clean, planting trees and flowers in their areas and work in their kitchen garden,” he said.

Indian contractor charged for illegal transportation of immigrants

Wed, 02/19/2020 - 16:33

Staff reporter

The Office of the Attorney General charged a 28-year-old contractor from Cooch Bihar in India for illegal transportation of immigrants after he was found transporting nine Indian workers from Haa to Thimphu in December last year.

Thimphu police arrested the man, who works as a contractor for Royal Bhutan Army in Haa, on December 14 last year. Investigation revealed that he was transporting the nine workers from Haa to Thimphu when they were arrested.

The nine workers have told police that they did not know they needed a permit to work in Bhutan. They were sent back to India.

Illegal transportation of immigrants is a penal offence according to section 444 of the Penal Code of Bhutan, which states, “A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of illegal transportation of immigrant, if the defendant aids or provides a means for the immigrants to illegally enter into Bhutan.”

The offence is graded a fourth-degree felony with prison terms ranging from three to five years imprisonment.

The case was registered on January 17 in Thimphu dzongkhag court.

NC recommends withdrawing the GST 2020 Bill

Wed, 02/19/2020 - 16:32

Says unprecedented for a Bill to have two different dates of commencement

MB Subba

The Goods and Services Tax (GST), arguably the government’s biggest reform initiative, has hit a hurdle, as the National Council (NC) is likely to vote for withdrawal of the Bill.

The good governance committee of the House yesterday cited issues regarding the legality of the commencement date and preparedness of the government for its inability to support the Bill.

The committee recommended withdrawal of the Bill, on which the House is scheduled to vote today.

Chairman of the committee, Lhatu, said that in the interest of saving the parliament from willfully violating Section 46B of the Public Finance Act and for providing enough time to the government to get ready for smooth transition to GST system, the committee proposed the House to recommend National Assembly to withdraw the adoption of the GST Bill 2020 until all necessary systems are put in place.

The National Assembly has proposed that Chapters 7, 8, 9 and 10 of the Bill would be implemented from July 1, 2021 and the rest of the Chapters from the day of its enactment.

“Firstly, it is unprecedented for a Bill to have two different dates of commencement. Secondly, as per Section 46B of the Public Finance (amendment) Act 2012, the imposition or increase of any tax or abolition, reduction or remission of any existing tax once passed as law by parliament shall be applied retrospectively from the date it was initially tabled in the National Assembly,” Lhatu said.

Any deviation from Section 46B of the Act, he said, would amount to willful violation of the prevailing law.

The committee chairman stated that the government had clearly indicated that necessary facilities required for implementation of the GST are yet to be established. The government, he said, had plans to buy time for the GST to be operational.

“If that is so, the need for the Bill to be passed immediately in this session is not found justifiable,” Lhatu said,

Citing Section 46C of the Public Finance Act, he stated that “a Bill shall not be deemed to be a money Bill or Financial Bill by reason only that it provides for principles and procedures that relates to taxation or spending or for the imposition or alteration of any fine or other pecuniary penalty or for the payment or demand of any fee or charge for any service rendered”.

He said that a digital application software system, which was prerequisite for enforcement of GST rates, would take time. “It may be safe for parliament not to rush the Bill,” he said.

Money Bills are the prerogative of the National Assembly.

Bridge Bhutan Project targets 80 percent adult literacy 

Wed, 02/19/2020 - 16:30

Chimi Dema

In an attempt to achieve 80 percent adult literacy and skills development by 2024, the Bridge Bhutan Project was launched in Thimphu yesterday.

The project aimed at enhancing accessibility for quality education through non-formal education (NFE) consisted of two programmes: implementation of non-formal education projects and annual capacity-building and peer-learning workshops.

“The workshops would enhance access to quality education for educationally marginalised people and create a platform for active interactions and knowledge sharing,” an education official said.

In addition, two community learning centres (CLCs) would be established each year until 2024 in the regions on priority basis considering the need and proposals from the respective dzongkhag administrations and recommendations of the ministry, the official said.

To help NFE graduates and out-of-school youth to continue learning, a six-month CLCs programme would provide vocational skills in tailoring.

Since its inception in 2000, the CLC under the Non-Formal and Continuing Education Programme (NFCEP) equipped out-of-school youth and adults with community development programmes in health, agriculture, education, and entrepreneurial skills, among others.

The country today has 23 CLC centres with 293 learners. At least 84 percent of the learners are women. Considering the increasing number of women learners, many CLCs provide livelihood skills such as tailoring, embroidery, and weaving.

Meanwhile, the NFE programme which began in 1990 has so far benefitted more than 203,000 learners. As of last year, there were 5,476 learners with 520 instructors in 482 NFE centres in the country.

The programme has helped achieve 66.6 percent adult literacy by 2017. Major activities are planned to raise the rate to 80 percent by 2024 and 100 percent by 2030.

To equip the remaining 34 percent with literary skills, diversifying vocational skills in CLCs, enhancing capacity and competency of NFE instructors, and developing digital teaching and learning resources were some of the activities outlined in the project.

To ensure effective implementation of the plans, monitoring and evaluation tools would be developed.

Supported by the Korean National Commission for UNESCO (KNCU), the five-year project is a collaboration between Bhutan National Commission for UNESCO and NFCEP division with the education ministry.

The initiative comes about three months after signing of the memorandum of understanding between KNCU, education ministry and gross national happiness commission to support strengthening non-formal education and community learning Centre programmes in the country.

Bhutan’s future is ICT and STEM

Wed, 02/19/2020 - 16:28

We are told that a clear path for the trouble-stricken 1,200MW Punatsangchhu project will be ready within days. This has been a long time coming. Time has come for us to decide on the future of one of the largest hydroelectric project in the country today.

All these seem to come from the hard lessons we have had to learn. Hydropower is increasingly being debated among our policymakers.

Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma, who is also the chairman of the project, said that a “holistic” report on the issues related to the dam and sliding was finalised.

What we can do at best is make some changes to the original plan. Because there has been heavy investment in the project, its completion has to be our focus. The sooner it happens the better.

And then we should have clear and solid future plans because Bhutan has arrived at a time when we should not only think seriously about what development models and initiatives have done us good in the past, but also begin charting a roadmap to steer our economy in keeping with new opportunities and challenges at our doors.

As a landlocked country, we have many challenges. And argument today is that if we focused on half the challenges facing the country, we could easily turn them into opportunities. We are beginning to talk about a new economic roadmap for the country.

Hydropower has done us well but times has changed and we need to explore alternative sources of growth and financing. Energy demands are changing across the regions due to the increasing effects of climate change. Hydropower could become redundant.

 According to a World Bank report, sitting on hydropower alone for economic growth on which rests much else can prove to be dangerous for Bhutan. Looking beyond is critically necessary.

 So what can we do?

 Invest in ICT and STEM education. We may be a landlocked nation, but that should not be a problem. Right and timely investment in ICT has the potential to expand markets. Bhutan can capitalise on both.

 We have the right environment and so investment in these sectors should begin in earnest.

NA members urge amending NEP Act for Shingkhar-Gorgan highway

Wed, 02/19/2020 - 16:27

Yangchen C Rinzin

The National Environment Protection Act should be amended if obstructed the construction of Shingkhar-Gorgan highway, National Assembly members said yesterday.

Works and human settlement minister Dorji Tshering was questioned on the status of Shingkhar-Gorgan highway for the second time yesterday demanding that he clarify if the government would be able to construct the highway.

Maenbi-Tsaenkhar Member of Parliament Choki Gyeltshen reminded the minister that the government had pledged to construct Shingkhar-Gorgan highway. “However, people are yet to see the highway.”

“Now people are confused if the highway is coming or not. They want to know if at all it is coming because every time the issue is raised, there are different reasons for the delay.”

The status of Shingkhar-Gorgan highway, which has been promised by the past two governments has been repeatedly raised in the National Assembly. The issue has been there since 1997, members said.

MP Choki Gyeltshen said that it has become necessary to ask repeatedly with the hope there would be some progress.

“People have repeatedly asked about Maokhola bridge including the MPs, which is why now work on Maokhola has started,” MP Choki Gyeltshen said. “We’re questioning time and again on this road expecting similar change.”

Lyonpo Dorji Tshering said that the work has been delayed only because of the National Environment Protection Act and the reason is not different from what the past two governments have shared.

“If I say the highway would come then I don’t have an answer as to when it would exactly come. If I say it’s not coming then it would be a lie because it might come through in future,” Lyonpo said.

“The highway was not delayed because of a lack of technical capacity or expertise, it was solely because of the Environment Act and budget.”

MP Choki Gyeltshen said that if it was Act that is delaying the work then it should be amended. This proposal was supported by some members saying that it should be discussed in the House instead of arguing over the issue repeatedly.

Chumig-Ura MP Karma Wangchuk said that if it is important then Act should be put up for amendment or otherwise the government should maintain the road between Ura and Lingmethang or clear those roads that are on hold for maintenance because of Shingkhar-Gorgan highway.

Lyonpo said that to amend the Act, it is not up to the ministry. “However, it was learnt that the  Ministry of Agriculture and Forests would submit for amendment soon.”

“Only then, I can give a straight answer. However, we’ll ensure that other road work would be carried out as planned.”

Nganglam MP Choida Jamtsho also questioned the minister on the government’s pledge to construct 2,500 low rent apartments to solve the housing shortage issues. He said people are still living in Jaigaon as Phuentsholing has an acute housing shortage.

Lyonpo Dorji Tshering said that realising the gravity of the issue, the government decided to first develop a housing policy because there was none.

Lyonpo said the National Housing Policy 2019 has been developed and it would look into building affordable rental housing and homeownership, among many.

“We’re currently exploring the budget to enforce the policy.”

Meanwhile, Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel reminded the members not to raise the Shingkhar-Gorgan issue in the House since there has been no concrete response to the issue, which is time-consuming.

This is the second time the Speaker has cautioned members on this issue.

Two Houses at loggerheads over unnatural sex provisions 

Wed, 02/19/2020 - 16:26

Choki Wangmo 

National Assembly (NA) rejected the National Council’s (NC) recommendation on section 213 and 214 that criminalise unnatural sex and its grading in the Penal Code while re-deliberating the Penal Code Amendment Bill yesterday.

Home Minister Sherub Gyeltshen alone was in support of the recommendations.

In what seemed to be a stern move,  most of the MPs said that NC’s recommendation was unclear and baseless, citing that one way or the other, the sections criminalised lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and the queer community.

Chairperson of the legislative committee for NA, Tshewang Lhamo, said that the term ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ can never be defined and what NC did to the sections were vague. As a result, it would complicate the working process for the judiciary system as well.

“NC should amend laws according to facts and figures.”

Commenting on NC’s amendment, “However, any consensual sexual conduct that is against the order of nature committed in private between any adult human beings shall not be considered unnatural sex. For the purpose of this section, unnatural sexual conduct is considered not to have been committed in private, if it is committed in a public place”, the MP said that the Parliament should be least concerned about where and when people have sex.

Echoing the MP’s view, Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said that there was no need to define what natural and unnatural sex was. “The House needs to see the sections’ impact on the criminalised community.” He said that sexual intercourse was a private affair and it was pointless to even discuss.    However, forging the middle path, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, said that completely repealing the sections would have consequences in the future. “There are no recorded cases as of now but if it occurs in the future, there won’t be a proper law.”

Lyonchhen said that unnatural sex involved intercourse other than those conducted for biological purposes and to bear children which is natural.  He suggested accepting NC’s recommendations with some changes.

Meanwhile, the House unanimously accepted NC’s amendment of section 183: “A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of rape of a child above the age of 12 years if the defendant commits any sexual intercourse against a child between the ages of 12 and 18 years. However, if the sexual intercourse between the children of sixteen years was consensual when it occurred, it shall not be considered to be rape thereafter even if one of the children has become an adult when a complaint is lodged.”

The original section in the Code graded the defendant with an offence of rape of a child above the age of 12 years if the defendant commits any act of sexual intercourse against a child between the ages of 12 and 18 years. However, consensual sex between children of sixteen years and above is not deemed to be rape.

NC’s proposal on sections such as statuary rape, value-based sentencing, child in conflict with law and rape, among others were also rejected by the House. Few sections will be tabled during the joint sitting.

Most of the members said that during amendment, the NC had increased sentencing of the offences in most of the sections in the Code which was not a sign of a progressive community. They said that people should be given time to rethink and change their life, considering that more than 50 percent of offenders in the country is youth.

The House will continue to deliberate on the Bill today.

Clear roadmap for PHPA I ready

Tue, 02/18/2020 - 16:09

Kholongchhu project all set to kick off

Ugyen Penjor

A clear path for the trouble stricken 1,200MW Punatsangchhu project will be ready within days, which will decide the future of the largest hydroelectric project in the country.

The economic affairs minister, Lyonpo Loknath Sharma, who is also the chairman of the project, said that a “holistic” report on the issues related to the dam and sliding has been finalised and is being independently vetted.

“As soon as the on-going Parliament session is over, we will have a clear roadmap for the project,” he said. “We will come to a consensus on what type of dam we will have, what stabilisation measures should be put in place so that this project happens and happen for a long time.”

Sliding of entire slope on the right bank of the project delayed the construction of the dam. So far three major sliding occurred at the project, the first in 2013, another one in August 2016 and a third one last year.

Lyonpo Loknath said that after he became the chairman, he asked for a holistic report. “They were doing in tits and bits. We have the report and will soon receive the independently vetted report,” he said.  

The minister was presenting the report on hydropower developments as a follow up to the resolutions of the National Assembly yesterday.

Kholongchhu

Calling it good news, Lyonpo Loknath Sharma informed the Assembly that by next month, March, the Concessional Agreement of the 600MW Kholongchhu project would be signed soon.

He also informed that major construction works would also be tendered out by next month. “We are short of the last word on an agreement,” the minister told Kuensel on the Concessional Agreement.

“Both the joint venture partners, the Druk Green Power Corporation and SJVNL (India) reached the last stage of discussions on tariff related issues,” he said. “We can say Kholongchhu is ready. We have to decide on the power export modality and costing methodology. Discussions have gone back and forth. The government of India has also agreed and we are pushing forward on tariff related issues.”

The Minister also presented a summary of the Power System Master Plan 2040 to the National Assembly.

NC says no to Nu 5 million supplementary budget

Tue, 02/18/2020 - 16:07

Chimi Dema

The National Council yesterday decided to repeal section 6 of the Supplementary Budget Appropriation Bill Financial Year 2019-20 and assigned the Economic Affairs Committee to prepare the Bill for final adoption.

Section 6 proposes a supplementary budget of Nu 5 million (M) to the National Assembly for Parliamentary Committees and secretariat services.

While re-deliberating on the Bill, many NC members questioned its legitimacy and shared concerns of conflict of interest.

Paro NC member and chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee, Ugyen Tshering, said that even the NC has shortage of resources for running committees and secretariat services for the next four months.

But appropriating such supplementary budget to overcome shortage each time would violate existing norms and set wrong precedent, he said.

Chhukha NC member, Sangay Dorji, questioned if the procedure followed to approve the budget was right.

He said that going by the procedure, approval should come through finance ministry. “But when it is the Parliament which is proposing and endorsing the budget, it questions the norms.”

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Namgay Tshering presented the money Bill to the House on February 14. He informed the House that the supplementary appropriation is for a sum not exceeding Nu 903.277M as adopted by the National Assembly on February 11.

With the supplementary budget, the total revised budget for the 2019-2020 financial year is about Nu 65,730M.

The appropriation of Nu 898.277M is to cover the expenditure incurred by the salary revision and allowances for the Royal Bhutan Police, Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan and JSW School of Law, and revision of stipend and subsidy to State-owned Enterprises.

The House will adopt the Supplementary Budget Appropriation Bill, today.

NECS initiates reforms to ease environmental clearance

Tue, 02/18/2020 - 16:06

Thinley Namgay

To streamline and improve service delivery, the National Environment Commission Secretariat (NECS) reformed the process of availing environmental clearance (EC).

The reforms are simplifying the initial environmental examination (IEE) forms, repealing section 12 and 13 of regulation for environmental clearance of projects (RECOP) 2016, and colour coding projects.

The reforms were presented yesterday at a press conference.

IEE forms  for getting an environmental clearance was changed  from eight forms with 10-page each in 2012 to nine forms with four page each in 2017.

Repealing section 12 and 13 of the RECOP was to reduce bureaucratic procedures. Before the reform, an applicant needed dzongkhag or thromde’s administrative approval along with clearances from relevant agencies besides requiring official clearances from the concerned agencies for a proposed project whose location is within 50 meters of a public park and hospital.

NEC’s Secretary, Sonam P Wangdi said that the nature of the administrative approvals is similar to the development consent that follows the issuance of EC.  Other sectorial clearances are taken care of by various concerned agencies.”

The colour coding of projects classifies projects according to their impact on the environment.

Projects under the green category are those with minimal environment impact and which does not have to follow the environment assessment process. “Such projects increased from 44 in 2002 to 99 in 2016.  It was further increased to 126 in 2020,” said Sonam P Wangdi.

Blue category projects are those with minimal environment impact and the assessment will be carried out at IEE level.  Projects with major impact on the environment and which requires environment impact assessment (EIA) study are coded red.

NECS officials said that a total of 387 EC applications were received between 2017 and December 2019.  Out of this, 351 applicants got the EC, but 32 applications are still pending owing to incomplete information.

Between 2018 and 2019, NECS received 95 applications for renewal of EC. All were renewed.

NEC’s Chief Environment Officer, Choki Wangmo, said that in line with the annual performance agreement of the NECS, the time frame for assessment and issuance of decision on EC is 180 average working days for application under EIA level and 45 average working days for applications under IEE level and renewal applications.

“The turn around time is counted from the date the application is accepted and acknowledged by the NECS until the decision on the EC is taken,” she said.

In 2018, decisions on the issuance of EC for applications under IEE level was 28 average working days which ranges from a minimum of 15 days to a maximum of 130 days depending on project proposals. The duration of applications under EIA level was 68 average working days with a minimum of 58 to a maximum of 224 days.

In 2019, the duration was 21 average working days (minimum of 11 days to a maximum of 80) for IEE level and 51 average working days for applications under EIA level (minimum of 15 to a maximum of 96 working  days ).

The duration to take decisions on the renewal of EC in 2018 averaged 22 working days, which ranges from a minimum of 15 to maximum of 116 days.  In 2019, the average increased to 28 working days to renew the EC with a minimum of 13 working days and a maximum 68 days.

IEE is implemented for projects which have minimum environment impacts and EIA for the projects which would have more impact on the environment.

Lights installed at Taktikothi after major accident 

Tue, 02/18/2020 - 16:05

Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

Lights were installed near Taktikothi where widening work is underway on the Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway for the safety of travellers since February 16.

Lighting facility would remain on between six pm and 11pm. Police had requested Project DANTAK after a recent landslide incident in which two drivers were injured. Both are recovering at the national referral hospital. The incident happened at 8:45pm on February 14.

Boulders from a landslide hit a DCM truck and a jumbo truck. Drivers were evacuated and admitted to Gedu hospital.

The wife of the 48-year-old jumbo driver from Pemagatshel, Karma Cheki said her husband is still in the hospital and recuperating.

“He was brought to Thimphu two days ago,” she said. “His has suffered fractures on his ribs.”

Police officials said initial injuries recorded at Gedu hospital were pain on chest, lower back, right leg, and ankle. The DCM driver fractured his leg.

Karma Cheki said that her husband had told her that the movement of the long queue of vehicles had stopped for a while when the landslide occurred. Some other drivers were having an argument when the landslide hit the vehicles.

A bus passenger headed to Thimphu from Phuentsholing, Yeshey Needup said the road was completely blocked after the landslide.

“Most of us spent the night in the bus,” he said, adding that some returned to Phuentsholing.

Yeshey Needup said that Taktikothi stretch has become a menace these days. The work must be completed soon for the safety people plying the highway, he added.

RBP officials said awareness and sensitisation have been continuously carried out for people’s safety. Unnecessary travelling at night must be done away with or be done with utmost caution.

RBP has also deployed two traffic personnel during the night and Project DANTAK would be providing the temporary accommodation.

Blasting will be carried out from eight am to 12pm. Protruding and precarious rocks and boulders would also be removed. RBP has also been liaising with other relevant agencies to ensure safety. Road safety messages have also been placed at both ends of the road.

Facing natural disasters

Tue, 02/18/2020 - 16:03

Underway in Thimphu is a workshop on river flow/flood forecasting and early warning systems.

Experts from Bhutan and abroad are looking at the tools that the country is using to deal with disaster incidents.

Bhutan has come a long way in terms of coping with natural disasters. From a small unit in its early days, we now have a National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM).

Development must, however, walk with the demands of the time.

Our river systems have early warning systems, some of the most sophisticated, according to some officials. Is that enough, however?

Early warning systems are good but we have a lot more to achieve by way of sophistication in this age. There is always this familiar national narrative—shortage of resources. There are other challenges too.

Resource shortage is there perhaps because we are getting our priorities wrong. We are a small nation and we can manage our resources and capacities well.

NCHM’s importance has to be understood in a new light. 

As a mountain and landlocked country, we are facing the impact of climate change at the rate that is becoming very serious. And, it will only grow.

Let’s imagine a GLOF along the Punatsangchhu basin. There are early warning systems all right. But if our people do not have the knowledge of the extent of possible damage in the event there is a GLOF, how prepared are we?

Our disaster management system is yet to develop impact-based forecasting.

Climate is changing and temperatures are rising. GLOF is becoming almost a regular event in the country. The problem with natural disasters is that no level of preparedness is good preparation.

We have legislations, frameworks and contingency plans in place. We have trained and sensitised people on the impending dangers. But we need to look beyond. 

If we cannot estimate the extent of danger that can visit us any day, we aren’t prepared. Professionals responsible are feeling handicapped.

Conferences and workshops so must devote less time on our present and past. We often somehow lose ourselves in the maze of grand visions and ambitions that come from someplace else with heavy names. Visions and ambitions are important, yes, but we must know what they are.

If the professionals and offices related to disaster management are not able to push for better preparedness, it is their fault. If the government does not see the urgency today, it is sad.

So, where are we?

Despite NC’s efforts, NA rejects Entitlement Bill once again

Tue, 02/18/2020 - 16:02

Tashi Dema 

The National Assembly yesterday rejected the Ministers’ and Equivalent Post Holders’ Entitlement Bill 2019.

This is the second time NA rejected the deliberation of the Bill.

NA rejected the Bill on January 16 when foreign minister moved the verbal motion for the deliberation. Only 15 of the 45 members present raised their hands in favour of deliberating the Bill then.

Yesterday, it was the Bji-Katsho Member of Parliament (MP) Ugyen Tenzin who introduced the Bill to the assembly but it was not deliberated since only 14 of the 44 members present raised hand to deliberate it.

Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel expressed his regret for the bill’s non-deliberation.

He said after NA rejected the Bill last time, NC wrote to NA explaining the need for the two houses to work together to frame laws. “The NC chairperson came personally to request for the deliberation. I discussed with the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader and they supported the deliberation.”

However, Speaker said that according to the rules, it should be a majority decision whether to deliberate the Bill or not.

He said that the National Assembly Act 2008 does not allow a Bill to be introduced in a session in the same year if it was rejected unless by leave of the assembly. “So we will have to reintroduce it and decide whether it will be redeliberated.”

He said he expected the members to support the redeliberation this time. “But this is democracy and there is nothing much I can do. We will explain it to NC.”

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said he supported the deliberation this time, as he believed it gives an opportunity for the two houses to work together. “It’s not about who is right or wrong but its benefit to the country.”

Meanwhile, the Ministers’ and Equivalent Post Holders’ Entitlement Bill 2020 was one of the eight Bills that have been tabled in the House. The Bill was passed by National Council (NC) as a private member’s Bill and forwarded to the Assembly last year.

NA endorses Fiscal Incentives Amendment Bill 2020

Tue, 02/18/2020 - 16:02

Choki Wangmo

The National Assembly (NA) yesterday rejected the National Council’s (NC) proposal with 33 votes to commence the fiscal incentive amendment Bill 2020 as per the Section 46B of the Public Finance Amendment Act 2012.

Section 46B of the Public Finance Amendment Act 2012 states: “The imposition or increase of any tax or abolition, reduction or remission of any existing tax once passed as law by Parliament, shall be applied retroactively from the date it was initially tabled in the National Assembly.”

Commencement of the Bill, if passed as per NC’s recommendation, would cause inconvenience to taxpayers, collectors and the rural businesses that were exempted from the tax. There would be gaps between fiscal incentives for income tax exemption to small and micro-businesses in rural areas.

As proposed by NA, the Bill should come to force retroactively from the income year 2019.

The Lower House of the Parliament also amended section 3 of the Bill deferring expiry year of the income tax exemption to small and micro-businesses in rural areas from December 31, 2023 to December 31, 2024.

This, according to Finance Minister Namgay Tshering, is because the income tax exemption to small and micro-businesses in rural areas were granted in 2014 but the fiscal incentives policy was changed to an Act only in 2017.

Lyonpo said that the Act superseded the policy and there were gaps in the extension of expiry date. As the new government took over in mid-2018, there was no time for the government to extend the exemption expiry dates.

The amendment of the section is expected to reduce inconvenience to users.

During NA’s deliberation of the Bill on February 5, Lyonpo said the Bill required major amendments according to review and would be presented in the upcoming session. He said the government should make need-based changes in the Act as exemption of income tax has incurred government a loss of Nu 4.2 billion.

A long walk to school

Tue, 02/18/2020 - 16:01

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

Students residing in Rishor, Dewathang are feeling that the distance to their school, Garpawoong middle secondary, has suddenly increased.

What took about 30 minutes to reach school and home now takes about five hours on foot. The bus service, the SD Eastern Bhutan Coal Company Limited provided, ceased operation after the mining activities ended on December 31.

The school was supposed to provide boarding facility from 2018, but the construction of a 120-bedded hostel failed to complete on time.

In the meantime, those who can afford pay to send their children to school hire vehicles or pool car. For others, it is additional work.

Sonam Pemo, 41, said she now wakes up around 4am and prepare lunch for her daughter as she goes to school at six in the morning. Garpawoong school is about 10 kilometres away from the Rishor village. Her daughter studies in class VIII. “My daughter is too tired to do anything after school. She skips dinner and goes to bed straight away,” she said.

Worried that the walking distance would affect her studies, she arranged a car for Nu 1,500 a month together with other parents.

Another parent, Pema Lhaden, said her child could not walk after trying for three days. “I am now paying Nu 900 a month for the transportation.”

Residents are already worried about the monsoon. “Heavy rains, falling boulders and landslides are common in our area and it might be unsafe for students,” said a parent who couldn’t afford to pay for transportation.

“Our children are walking because we cannot afford to pay Nu 900 to 1,500 a month for the transportation. It would help us if the school could at least arrange a bus service,” another parent, Dawa Dema said.

However, works to construct the hostel will soon continue with the legal battle between the dzongkhag administration and the contractor, Delek Builders Private Limited, sorted out.

Samdrupjongkhar dzongdag, Tharchen Lhuendup, said the reconstruction of the hostel would start soon as they got reinforcement order from the High Court (HC) and dismissed the case recently. Re-estimation works are being carried out today.

He said that the dzongkhag is targeting to complete the hostel within a year and provide boarding facility from next academic year.

Delay

The construction was delayed as the case was in the court. The dzongkhag administration had applied for a reinforcement order in the dzongkhag court.

The construction of the 120-bedded hostel started in 2016 and was supposed to complete in August 2017, but the contractor was made to execute the works on penalty as he failed to complete the works on time.

However, the dzongkhag administration terminated the contractor in May 2018 as he failed to pay the penalty. The dzongkhag then took him to the court.

The dzongkhag court, last year, rendered a verdict in favour of the dzongkhag administration and asked the contractor to refund about Nu 12.323 million to the dzongkhag within three months.

However the contractor appealed to the HC.

The HC issued a reinforcement order and dismissed the case later because the contractor failed to report to court besides several summons.

The government of India funded about 32M for the construction of the hostel.

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