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NCWC and RENEW question court judgment

Sat, 08/31/2019 - 13:46

Last April, a nine-year-old girl was brought to Bumthang hospital with severe injuries on her body, legs and hand. The doctor, suspecting violence, asked health officials to inform the police. The girl and the guardian went missing that night.

In June that year, the girl was again brought to the hospital. Police, an official of National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) and a volunteer of a civil society organisation, RENEW, involved. NCWC and RENEW rescued the child and brought her to Thimphu.

Six months later, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) charged the child’s guardian, a former employee of Natural Resource Development Corporation Ltd in Bumthang for child trafficking. She was accused of bringing the child from across the border in Gelephu in 2016, making her babysit her kids, battered her and even pushed her in a fire. 

The defendant owned a gym and hot stone bath facility in Bumthang.

Forensic reports from the national referral hospital stated the wounds that the victim suffered were because of battery and not accidental. The report also mentioned that the injuries were sustained over a period of time.

The girl, following the injures, got her toes amputated while movement of her left palm is restricted.

On August 21 this year, the Bumthang dzongkhag court dropped the child trafficking charges and ruled it as an illegal transportation and imposed a fine of Nu 9,900 to defendant Kuenzang Choden from Punakha. The court ordered her to pay a compensation of Nu 180,000 to the victim.

NCWC and RENEW officials are questioning the judgement.

Officials said the prosecuting agency, OAG charged Kunzang Choden for violating section 224 of the Child Care and Protection Act of Bhutan (CCPA) 2011, as the child was brought from across the border and made to work and tortured.

“Most elements of section 224 of the CCPA 2011 is present in the case and I don’t understand how the judge altered the charges to illegal transportation,” an official from NCWC said. “The victim here is a child, who suffered grave injuries and would suffer life-long impairment.”

Section 224 of the Act states, “A person shall be guilty of trafficking of a child if a person recruits, transport, transfer, harbour or procure a child by means of threat, use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power, position of vulnerability, transaction involving payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

The offence of trafficking of a child is a felony of third degree.

Another official pointed out that while the court reasoned that the charge of child trafficking was dropped since witnesses claimed the child was well taken care of, the court totally ignored the physical injuries and mental trauma the child sustained.

“The court never called relevant agencies like NCWC and RENEW officials for cross-examination,” an official from NCWC said. “The judgment is based on the witnesses of the defendant. The judge should have at least looked at the condition of the child.”

Contradicting what the drangpon told a media personnal in Bumthang that the child is handed over to her parents in India, RENEW officials said the child is still in a shelter home.

They said the court’s justification for altering the charges to illegal transportation was because the defendant didn’t crosscheck the identity of the child, which is baseless. They also alleged the defendant knew the vulnerability of the victim and transported her to Bumthang.

“Such leniency on child abuse and child trafficking case shows that our courts of law do not take the matter seriously,” an official said. “We hope and pray the OAG appeals the case to High Court and justice prevails.”

The official said they have no personal interest in the case but the judgment should deter such acts in the future. “Our judges should play a proactive role to stop child trafficking and child abuse,” an official said.

NCWC officials said the defendant submitted to the court that she adopted the child as her daughter, but she never followed up with them for adoption procedures. “The child didn’t go to school too,” an official said. “The defendant here is an educated woman, who was holding a good post and she would be aware of the legal processes.”

NCWC and RENEW officials said they would request OAG to appeal the case but no official correspondence was made.

OAG prosecutor however told Kuensel that they would appeal the case.

Meanwhile, defendant Kuenzang Choden said there are two medical reports where in one the victim told health officials that she accidently fell in the fire herself. “I feel someone might have influenced the child to say I pushed her in the fire,” she said.

She denied inflicting any injuries on the child, but claimed the child fell in the fire. She said she took the child to Siliguri for treatment since the facility is much better.

She did not have an explanation for the forensic report that stated the injuries were sustained over a period of time. “I could not inform the child’s mother about her injuries, as the mother did not have a contact number and proper address.”

 Tashi Dema

Picture story

Sat, 08/31/2019 - 13:45

Her Royal Highness Princess Dechen Yangzom Wangchuck yesterday awarded certificates to 15 spouses of armed forces personnel and a soldier who attended a month-long training to prepare Kuwaiti cuisine. As part of Project Hope activities, the spouse of Kuwait’s Chargé d’affaires to Bhutan, Abeer HEH Marafie, trained the participants in baking and cooking skills at the Vocational Skills Development Centre (VSDC) in Thimphu.

SOEs lack clarity on social and commercial mandate

Sat, 08/31/2019 - 13:44

Some of the state owned enterprises (SOE) are showing signs of financial distress and that there is a lack of clarity between social obligations and commercial expectations, according to findings of a review conducted on SOEs.

Albeit the good intent, the findings indicate that SOEs that came up in the recent past were established in haste, without substantial ground works. In addition, these SOEs were given multiple mandates, limited funds and pressure to make profits. These factors, according to the participants during the first SOE conference that was held on August 27, contributed to redundancy and absurdity in the role of SOEs.

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that SOEs must emerge as the backbone of the economy as the country graduates from the LDC category. However, he added that a line must be drawn between social and commercial mandate. “If a SOE has heavy social mandate, it must remain under the government’s arm,” he said. Even if SOEs are not performing, he said that the government has no intention to close shops but to support it.

Lyonchhen however said that SOEs must adhere to strong corporate governance code. “The board must ensure that CEOs are clear of the company’s mandate. CEO must ensure that the managers are well aware of the mandate, who in turn should assure all employees know the mandate,” the Prime Minister said. “If a driver is not clear about the company’s mandate, I doubt that company would do well.”

To warrant a successful venture, Lyonchhen said that board must be competent. He also added that CEO’s contract renewal should be based on “360 degree assessment,” where the employee’s evaluation would also be considered. “If CEOs perform, their tenure should not be limited to three years with possibility of renewal for one more term,” he said.

A clear path and strategy of the SOEs in line with the government priorities, not necessarily the party pledges but five-year plans, according to Lyonchhen will aid the SOEs and government to grow together without duplication.

To this effect, the Gross National Happiness Commission also made a presentation on the national priorities and the flagship programmes. The Finance Minister, Namgay Tshering said that SOEs could chip in wherever they can fit.

While the number of civil servants should shrink to a minimum requirement, Lyonchhen also said it must also be contemplated whether there is a need for more SOEs.

Issues such as the Farm shops under Food Corporation of Bhutan selling the same imported goods such as cheese, noodles and other consumables was found to be directly competing with small shops.

The role of Green Bhutan Corporation Limited (GBCL), a new SOE created for urban greening and beautification was also viewed as duplicating the efforts of forest department and NRDCL.

Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that SOE could maneuver over their mandate to remain in business since most of the SOEs under the finance ministry have social mandates. “There is a misconception that SOEs are supposed to make profits and more pressure are put on the CEOs,” he said. “While pursuing the social development mandate, if SOEs can make profit, its nothing like it. If not the government must support them.”

The government explored the possibility of divestment to shares of six SOEs- Menjong Sorig Pharmaceuticals Corporation Limited (MSPCL), Bhutan Livestock Development Corporation Limited (BLDCL), Farm Machinery Corporation Limited (FMCL), Bhutan Lottery Limited (BLL), Bhutan Duty Free Limited (BDFL) and GBCL.

However, it was found that only BDFL and BLL qualified for criteria of divestment. Considering the policy obligations of these two companies, the idea of divestment was shelved.

The upgrading the REDCL to a CSI bank was another option.

While many anticipated a dramatic shift in the role of SOE with some ownership transfers and structure, the review proposed only few changes in the mandate of seven existing SOEs.

For instance, the BLDCL mandate was changed from engaging in production, supply, import and export of livestock and apiculture to just production and supply. Likewise there were few changes in the mandates of Bhutan Post, FMCL, FCB, GBCL, NHDC and REDCL.

The finance secretary said that ideally it is the aspiration of the government to divest, de-link and privatize. The cement industry and tourism industry were but few examples that elucidate the transformation in the past.

However, he said all SOEs currently have heavy social mandate to the extent that even if they were divested, private sector would not be interested. “But it will take place gradually,” he said.

Tshering Dorji

HC upholds lower court’s judgment in favour of Thimphu thromde

Sat, 08/31/2019 - 13:44

The High Court (HC) yesterday upheld Thimphu dzongkhag court’s judgment that allows Thimphu thromde to acquire land in Hejo to develop diplomatic enclave.

According to the HC order, the judgment passed by the lower court on December 28 last year, which claimed the development of diplomatic enclave is in the national interest, stands correct.

HC also ruled that Thimphu thromde has not breached any law including the Constitution while acquiring land for the development of diplomatic enclave in Hejo.

The four appellants (landowners) had moved court after they refused to surrender their land to thromde.

In their appeal to HC, the landowners submitted that the lower court did not verify the documents the thromde presented to the court and that the Thimphu Structural Plan 2002-2007, the basis of the thromde’s claims had not been signed by landowners.

They also submitted that the government had no authority over private property. In supporting their claims, they quoted section 9 of the Constitution, which states that a Bhutanese shall have the right to own property. “The lower court’s decision allowing the acquisition of private land is against the law,” the submission stated.

The appellants had quoted section 93 of the Land Act which states that “… a person owning an independent thram shall have the executive right to transact his land, including surrendering to the government.”

Another ground of appeal was made on compensation rate and on opportunity loss the landowner had to undergo while developmental activities in the land were frozen.

The four landowners demanded that should they agree to surrender their land, they have to be compensated based on the existing market rate and not on the government rate based on the 2017 Property Assessment Valuation Agency (PAVA).

According to the HC order, as stated in the lower court’s judgment, the compensation rate was fixed after discussing with the parties involved.

Of the total 58 landowners involved, 54 were paid compensation based on the 2017 PAVA rate.

According to HC’s judgment, the grounds of appeal submitted by the four landowners had no basis. The court, therefore, upheld the lower court’s judgment and dismissed the appeal.

The litigants have 10 working days to appeal further.

Meanwhile, the diplomatic enclave is a part of the Thimphu Structural Plan 2002 -2027, where space for 16 embassies and missions were planned after acquiring 31.7 acres of land opposite to the Indian Embassy.

The government in 2002 identified the area in Hejo. The plan was proposed in the Thimphu Structural Plan and approved by the Cabinet in 2003. Out of the 31 acres, 8.5 acres belonged to various monastic institutions.

The government has granted user rights over 1.5 acres to Bangladesh for construction of the Bangladesh Embassy at Hejo in 2017.

Younten Tshedup

How to take tourism to the top

Sat, 08/31/2019 - 13:43

Bhutan has long been a highlight of travel in Asia. So it makes sense that efforts are underway to improve the quality of tourism in the country. The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) says it wants to take the status quo shimmering “to the top”.

But while the dialogues are centered on new tourism products, which is a good thing and long time coming, we believe that one of the best ways for TCB and the government would be to start by working at the foundation first. By that we mean improving the basic infrastructure.

A great way to begin would be to build adequate and functioning toilets along the trekking trails. Stories have abounded for a long time about how tourist campsites filled with human feces. High time we address this embarrassing issue. After decades of repeated pleas from the guides and feedback from the tourists, a toilet was finally built at the base of the Taktsang about a year ago, which is a good sign. There are a few along the highways.

Next would be to install adequate and operational garbage bins along these trekking routes. For a nation that proudly maintains the image of a clean and environment-loving populace, the sight of litter along the trails and rivers does more than damage the mood of today’s environment-conscious tourists.

The few bins that have been installed, say along the Taktsang trail, is a sad image of decrepit looking cans, smelly and bursting at the seams.

Something as humble as wooden benches to rest on along the trekking routes would be a terrific addition too. Add to that simple wooden shelters for eating purposes and you have a generation of exceedingly grateful tourists. The tradition now, no matter how tired or hungry a tourist is, is to sit on the ground and deal with it come rain or snow, or ants.

The quality of roads is telling of the importance given by a country to the future of its tourism. How our quaint little towns look and feel also depend on the quality of roads coursing through them. Mucky potholes kills the charm of a town no matter how great it maybe in other realms. And we have one too many towns flailing in these conditions.

Most of these ideas are not new. In fact, our tour guides and tourists have been suggesting these measures for decades.  You need only go through the feedback pages of the TCB.

Surely TCB and by extension, the government, which depend on tourism for much of its foreign-exchange earnings and accounting for the sizeable share to the nation’s GDP, can do a lot more to develop these basic tourism infrastructure.

Applying a portion of the Nu 1.5B, which the government has allotted to tourism on building these essential facilities will go a long way in actually taking our tourism to the top.

Baby dies in BHU waiting for ambulance 

Sat, 08/31/2019 - 13:43

A couple from Lajab gewog in Dagana lost their six-week-old baby on August 26 while waiting for an ambulance to take her to Damphu hospital.

Lajab basic health unit’s (BHU) health assistant (HA), Rinchen Dendup, said the baby was brought to the BHU unconscious around 10:30am from Balung, which is about three hours walk from the BHU.

“The baby suffered from central cyanosis. Her lips and face had turned bluish and the parents said the baby had shortness of breath, lethargy and diarrhoea,” the HA said.

He said after examination, they put the baby on oxygen after which the baby regained little consciousness and was breastfed for a while.

According to the HA, he tried contacting a doctor in Tsirang for consultation at 11:45am, as the baby was in critical condition, but the phone was switched off.

He then tried to arrange an ambulance from Drujeygang but the service wasn’t available. “I talked to the ambulance driver but was told that the ambulance had no fuel.”

The health officials arranged an ambulance from Tsirang, which was sent at 3pm.

“We tried everything possible. Lajab is a remote village and there are not many vehicles,” HA Rinchen Dendup said.

It was learnt that when the baby died, the ambulance only reached Compa, which is about 23kms away from the Lajab gewog. Lajab gewog is about 132 kms away from Dagana town.

The deceased’s grandfather, Gyemba, said it is sad they lost a precious life because of the lack of basic necessities like ambulance service. “No one arranged helicopter service for our baby.”

Meanwhile, a Facebook post written by the father went viral yesterday and many people questioned how the e-PEMs system could hamper basic service delivery.

Rinchen Zangmo | Dagana

Strategic Plan to eliminate cervical cancer

Sat, 08/31/2019 - 13:43

Another milestone was achieved in improving cervical cancer prevention, screening and treatment services in the country with the launch of a Strategic Plan for Cervical Cancer Programme (2019 – 2023) on August 29.

The strategic plan outlines interventions and plans for the next five years to accelerate reduction of cervical cancer morbidity and mortality in the country.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo, during the opening of the three-day National Workshop towards cervical elimination in Bhutan in Thimphu on August 29, said that Bhutan was the first country to raise that cervical cancer had to be eliminated.

This, Lyonpo said, was because it is preventable, treatable and curable. “Knowing the science behind this and not putting up our socks for 700,000 population is unacceptable.”

Bhutan will be the first country in the region to present the cervical cancer elimination strategy in the 72nd WHO South-East Asia regional committee meeting, which will be held in Delhi, Inida from September 2 to 6.

Improving organisation and programme coordination; primary prevention for HPV vaccination; providing high quality cervical screening, early detection; ensuring equitable access to cervical cancer and treatment, and palliative care; establishing quality assurance mechanism and strengtheiening of Public Based Cancer Registry, are the five priority areas of the strategic plan.

In 2006, nationwide cytology based cervical cancer screening programme was instituted.

“After more than a decade of introducing the service, we have a coverage of 56 percent. This is not acceptable,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said that the coverage of Pap smear would increase to 60 percent even if nothing was done. It would increase just from the sheer changes that are happening around.

“I hope that this workshop will help you understand and chart the way forward,” Lyonpo said. “Let us know how much it is going to cost, because we have the political will and the commitment at the moment to mobilise the resources. It is my responsibility to raise it and I will not shy away from the responsibility.”

Lyonpo said that the DHO, CMO’s and health assistants must know their districts in and out. The participants were urged to focus on their districts and plan a way forward.

The strategic plan has been developed in align with the goals and targets to 12th Plan, Sustainable Development Goals and global strategy for cervical cancer elimination.

Dzongkhag health officers, Chief medical officers from all the dzongkhags, related programme officers and gynaecologist are attending the three-day workshop that ends today.

Dechen Tshomo

My biggest achievement is the incredible value we created

Sat, 08/31/2019 - 13:41

You have been one of the longest serving bankers in the country.  How would you describe your journey?

I joined Bhutan National Bank Ltd. on May 19, 1997 when the bank was a mere six months old.  Serving the bank as its Chief Executive Officer for the past 22 years has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life and I feel a great sense of pride and achievement as I muse upon the institution that we have built and reflect upon the journey that we had to take to get here.

What is your biggest achievement?

Our greatest achievement has been the incredible value that we have created for our stakeholders, including shareholders, clients, suppliers and business partners, CSR partners, board of directors, management, employees, and most importantly, the country and the general public at large. Over the past two decades, BNB has grown from being a small entity to the second largest commercial bank in the country.


Under your leadership, we have witnessed the transformation of BNB into one of the leading banks in country.  What was your inspiration and challenges?

I draw my inspiration from His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo and His Majesty The King, who have always emphasized the importance of institution building and of sustainable growth and development—principles that I have used to guide my work at the bank.  As for challenges, there were many, including but not limited to maintaining and enhancing financial performance, meeting high shareholder expectations, facing new competitors in the marketplace, leveraging digital transformation, etc.


 Over the last decade the whole banking sector in the country has embarked on a journey towards digital transformation.  Where has the BNB reached?

It is fair to say that BNB has led the way in using the forces of technology to streamline operations and give users a better experience.  The bank was the first financial institution in the country to fully computerize its banking transactions using core banking software and also the first to introduce ATM services, POS services, VISA credit card facilities, B-Wallet, and internet banking.  Today, it also provides mobile banking services such as mPAY and has recently introduced BNB Payment Gateway and BNB Ngotshab (agency banking).


With the inception of private banks, beginning 2010, there is still an ongoing competition for a small market segment.  What are the challenges and opportunities?

The challenge of having more competitors in Bhutan’s banking sector or any other sector for that matter is that the market is only so big and has only so much potential.  While the emergence of private banks in 2010 increased the number of banks fighting for the same pie, the change in environment compelled us to stay on our toes, set new goals, identify new opportunities, and to continuously learn.  Competition is always healthy for any industry and for any organization and the more progressive way of thinking and working should now be of enhanced collaboration within the industry.


What was the main focus, in terms of loans, in your entire time with BNB?  How has it changed?

I have found it to be of great value to know well our clients and to forge good relationships based on understanding, trust, and loyalty with them.  Another focus in terms of loans has always been on effective risk management, which is driven by informed and timely decision-making.


Besides services, BNB is known for investing in human resources, given the perks employees receive in comparison to other banks.  Marketing, advertisement and sponsorships are other areas where the bank has been lavish.  What is the motive behind?

In comparison to other industries, our banking workplace demands a higher level of integrity, trustworthiness, and responsibility from employees as it involves dealing with sensitive, personal information about clients and valuable inventory, cash.  Thus, it is necessary to ensure that our employees are fairly compensated.  This is further necessitated by the need to recruit and retain talent in an increasingly competitive market and the direct correlation between incentive and performance, which is one of the key driving forces for BNB’s success.

In terms of marketing, advertisements, and sponsorships, it is not enough in today’s world for banks to simply introduce a scheme.  Consumers have become smarter and competition demands that we do more; the need to build awareness around our banking products and services and the need to stand out is greater than ever.


 As you leave the bank after serving 22 years, do have any unfinished business, which you would like to finish if you have some time?

I was only a little apprehensive of not being able to complete the construction of our state-of-the-art corporate office during my tenure, but we persevered and met this final target in February 2019 and also recently had the inaugural celebrations.


 You were also chairman of the Financial Institutions Association of Bhutan. What are some of the achievements, in terms of guiding the financial institutions in the right course?

The Financial Institutions Association of Bhutan (FIAB) was conceived bearing in mind the importance of enhanced collaboration within the financial sector.  The FIAB gives us the platform to discuss common challenges we are faced with and to address these challenges through our united strength and collective effort.  It is because of FIAB and with the support of the RMA that we were able to establish the Financial Institutions Training Institute (FITI), a training center for all financial institutions.


What is your next plan?

With BNB securely positioned as the market leader, I now leave the company in the very good and capable hands of the new CEO and the management and the team in whom I have utmost faith and confidence.

After more than four decades of work, I now look forward to spending relaxing and enjoyable time with my family, especially my grandchildren and also exploring and pursuing my interests in horticulture, which I hope will contribute positively to the local farming community.


Some of our biggest achievements are: Paid-up capital from a mere Nu 59.5 million to Nu 3.95 billion Net worth from Nu 139 million to Nu 7.19 billion Total asset size from Nu 1.03 billion to over Nu 40 billion Profit from Nu 20.91 million to Nu 736 million with BNB being the first bank to hit the Nu 1 billion net profit mark Total dividend payouts since inception amounting to Nu 3.62 billion Total tax payments to the government exchequer since inception amounting to Nu 3.33 billion Over 5,000 shareholders  Over 600 employees Number of branches from 2 to 11 with 25 extension offices covering all 20 dzongkhags

Dagana: HR shortage could affect APA targets

Sat, 08/31/2019 - 13:40

With most of the targets of the Annual Performance Agreement (APA) related to construction activities, the Dagana Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) resolved to apprise the works and human settlement ministry of the shortage of engineers in the dzongkhag.

The dzongkhag is reportedly short of about eight engineers.

Tshangkha Gup Tawla said that the issue of not having enough engineers and accounts assistants was discussed at the DT since the first session. “It is not new. However, without the engineers and accounts assistants, it is difficult to fulfil the targets. Not having human capital will affect the targets set in the Annual Performance Agreement(APA).”

He suggested the DT look into removing the time factor for the targets and the risks associated with failing to fulfil the targets.

Dzongkhag engineer, Jamyang Dorji, said that engineers worked at the field and the shortage affected the work progress and targets.

There are 10 engineers in the dzongkhag today.

“There are only seven of us who are actively involved,” Jamyang Dorji said. “If we don’t get at least five engineers by September 30, it is impossible to fulfil the targets. “

Local leaders said that one accounts assistant was handling five gewogs along with an autonomous school.

Dzongkhag’s finance officer, Norbu Tshering, said that the dzongkhag had written to the finance ministry about the shortage.

Human resource officer, Jamyang Norbu, however, said that there were enough accounts assistants. “The dzongkhag has 11 accounts assistants today,” he added.

The local governments are given 50 percent of the budget as part of the decentralisation process. “However, with the power comes responsibility and accountability of managing the human resources,” said planning officer, Sonam Jamtsho.

He said that if the required engineers were not in the dzongkhag, we could at the least use the dependency section in the APA where the works and human settlement ministry would be listed. “We could clearly cite the reasons for every target.”

Dzongdag Phintsho Choden said that management was important and that the monitoring needed to be strong. “We need to change the APA targets or rely on the dependency section reflected in APA if engineers are not enough.”

Rinchen Zangmo | Dagana

Chagzam–Doksum road needs maintenance

Sat, 08/31/2019 - 13:39

From Chagzam in Trashigang, Doksum town in Trashiyangtse is just 10.2km. But the journey is treacherous.

The condition of the road has been worsening over the years.

Sangay Dorji, a taxi driver, said it is difficult, particularly for small cars. “The road has not seen maintenance for along time.”

Another taxi driver, Pema Wangchuck, said that he has been travelling up and down this road for two years. “For us, it is very expensive. The little money that we earn goes to maintenance because of the poor condition of the road.”

Medical emergencies are a serous problem on the road, he added. “The road is dusty in winter and muddy in summer. And it is risky.”

Chungku Wangdi, 48, said officials of the dzongkhag and Department of Roads were not bothered about the hardship facing the people. “The widening work was completed a long time ago. But we don’t understand why they are not blacktopping the road.”

People living along the highway say that from the road is a serious problem.

Chief Executive Engineer, Jampal Wangchuk, said the shortage of budget was the main reason why the road was not blacktopped.

The approved budget of Nu 20 million could be enough to blacktop only 1.5 km stretch, he added.

Neten Dorji | Trashigang

Tim Fischer: Bhutan’s Loyal Friend

Sat, 08/31/2019 - 13:39

Tim Fischer was a leading Australian politician, diplomat and acclaimed writer. Tim passed away on August 22 and fare-welled at a state funeral in Albury seven days later. For 34 years, he was Bhutan’s unofficial Ambassador-at-large.

He began his love affair with Bhutan in 1985.

Tim was 39 years old and in 1985, had just moved from state to federal politics. As a member of Australia’s national House of Representatives, he had the opportunity to make various visits to Asia.

Educated by the Jesuits, Tim had an enquiring mind. He considered the Jesuits as the greatest educators and instilling curiosity as their trademark. Before his incursions, he started doing research on Asian countries. He made a list of countries and quickly narrowed it down to three, finally choosing Thailand over Japan and India.

Tim led a practical life and had simple reasons, which were often dictated by his heart. At the time, Thailand was an emerging parliamentary democracy. He thought he could be of some help and was eager to share Australia’s experience with Thailand.

So, in 1985 he visited Bangkok. In a short span to time, Tim knew the high streets of Bangkok like the back of his hand.  He made friends both in high office and with tuk tuk drivers which was his preferred mode of transport while in the City of the Angels.

While doing research on Asia, Tim’s curiosity got the better of him. He looked at countries in the periphery of Thailand and was pleasantly surprised to come across another Buddhist kingdom but situated in the Himalayas. He decided to visit it straight after Thailand.

The first book Tim read about Bhutan was Shirley MacLaine’s, “Don’t Fall off the Mountain.” Tim used to say that he found the dimensions of Bhutan simple and extraordinary and after reading the book had to visit the country.

In 1985, the Australian bachelor flew to Paro in the Dornier Do 228 twin engine from Kolkatta. Two years earlier, the national flag carrier had started its operations. It was love at first sight. What got Tim hooked to Bhutan was the landing at the Paro airfield. Since then Paro airfield has undergone many facelifts and yet remains one of the world’s most difficult airstrips.

Tim showered praises on the pilots who he thought had to be daredevils to land in the rice fields of Paro.  He would often joke and coined the acronym for Drukair as, “Drink Rum Kamakazi. Arrival in Rice field.” Tim’s eldest son Harrison has inherited his fascination and knowledge of aviation.

Four years after his Bhutan trip, at the age of 43, Tim became the leader of Australia’s National Party. He made history in Australian politics as no bachelor had ever been elected to the party’s leadership.

Almost a decade later, in 1998, a year before he stepped down as the leader of the party, Tim visited Bhutan again. He was 52 years old and at the height of his political career. He felt that he to repay the kindness he received. He said, “I felt strongly that I should not forget the smaller countries of Asia, and now I had the opportunity to return the favours and hospitality I had received as a junior politician by visiting Bhutan.”

As the deputy Prime Minster, Tim had a busy schedule. Yet he chose to stop in Bhutan for 48 hours eating into the Nepalese time who were not very happy waiting at the airport.

For Tim, this trip was a game changer. He called on His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. It was his first meeting. Over the next 21 years, the relationship of the two great statesmen forged into a personal one.

During Tim’s visit to Bhutan he used to always look forward to his audiences and straight after which like a soldier, would head straight to his hotel room and spend the next hour or so recording his audience. The two extraordinary leaders kept in touch till Tim’s last days.

Tim Fischer was a well-wisher of Bhutan. Despite not having any trains, the railway enthusiast simply adore Bhutan and its people.  Affectionately known as Tim, people in the streets of Thimphu and Paro or at the airport would recognize him with his signature Akubura hat.

In 2013 Tim was appointed as the special envoy of the Prime Minister of Australia to Bhutan. Even before his appointment, he served as our country’s un-official ambassador. In every article, most of his book, radio talks, speeches including the ones at Duntroon; The Royal Military College of Australia, Tim would find a creative way to weave Bhutan’s narrative.

From 2009 to 2011, Tim served as Australia’s first resident ambassador to the Holy See. Appointed by a Prime Minister from an opposing political party, it was a sign of how much he was respected. In Rome, he made friends with one of the only Bhutanese working and living in the city.

As the ambassador, Tim had access to the Vatican library and was able to go through some of diaries of the Jesuits who visited Bhutan in the 17th century.  In the Vatican, he always found ways to talk about Bhutan. So much so that close friends had to remind him that he was Australia’s ambassador and not Bhutan’s.

Tim was born to a sheep farmer and the fourth child. His favourite place was his farm, Pepper in Boree Creek in New South Wales. At the farm, he would host his friends and well-wishers of Bhutan. He would drive them up in his hilux talking about Bhutan and listening to recent stories of Bhutan.

His favorite spot was near the farm’s running water because he said the bush around it reminded him of Bhutan.  Back in the farmhouse, he would proudly show his Bhutan book collection and the Bhutan corner. In half gist, he would say that he would like to be reborn as a Bhutanese and would like to be the Minster of Transport ministry.

Over the last three decades, since his visit to Bhutan in 1985, Tim visited Bhutan 10 times.  His final trip was last September. By then he was already diagnosed with acute form of leukemia.

He negotiated with his doctors who knew that they could not change his mind. They understood his deep interest in Bhutan and emotions and gave him the clearance to travel.

Tim had come to say good bye to Bhutan and his close friends. On the same trip he wanted to introduce his son to the country. During the trip he called on His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. As usual the audience was a long one and Tim headed straight to his room and spend over an hour in his room. Before he left, wrote a card to his His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, “You are my greatest teacher.”

Tim was a friend of Her Majesty the Royal Grandmother who used to send herbal medicines and constantly enquired after his health. Just a day before Tim passed away, Her Majesty sent him a message which read, “We will always cherish your friendship and goodness to Bhutan. We send you much love and thought.”

The following day, Tim passed away peacefully in the hospital in Albury. A day later, on 23 August, on command of His Majesty The Druk Gyalpo, a high level Bhutanese delegation paid respect to late Tim and conveyed His Majesty’s condolences to the family. Tim’s wife Judy Brewer and son Dominic Fischer were highly moved with His Majesty’s kindness and mentioned that Bhutan was the first country to pay respect to Tim Fischer.

Dominic said, “We are very grateful for Bhutan’s relationship with dad. Bhutan has always been a truly special place to him.”

Contributed By Tshering Tashi and Ray Marcelo

Autonomy for TVET?

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 16:09

Giving autonomy to Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) by making them autonomous national institute could be the answer to develop and change the image of TVET in the country.

This was the consensus at the coordination meeting on the TVET reform held yesterday. With the government’s plan to revamp TVET and to kick-start work, the first coordination meeting was held among relevant agencies led by the Prime Minister Dr.Lotay Tshering.

Presenting the TVET framework prepared by the Prime Minister Office (PMO) on current situation and proposed changes, Prime Minister’s Principle Secretary, Chencho said that in the current situation, there is no opportunity after attending the TVET and it is the end of the system.

Chencho explained that vocational course is considered second or last or not at all an option and only about seven percent of Class X passed students enrolled in the TVET system.

“More students opted for private schools to pursue class XI,” he said, adding there is a need to improve the current education structure to allow seamless movement of students between vocational and general education system.”

One of the key findings during the preparation of TVET framework was that on an average, about 1,500 Class X passed students leave education system in a year.

Taking an example of high performing education system like Germany, Australia and South Korea, Chencho explained the reforms in TVET system should include programmes and curriculum designs, infrastructure strengthening, policy and legislation, governance, jobs, and faculty development.

In the governance of TVET, the framework suggested either continuing with the current set up or make TVET an autonomous national institute reporting to PMO with a director or a president. “Reporting to PMO could be for three years until the TVET as an autonomous institution stands on its feet,” Chencho said.

The framework also includes programmes and curriculum designs, faculty development, TVET policy and legislations, infrastructures and service, and ensuring employment.

Calling it as a first of its kind, Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that the coordination meeting was held to discuss how TVET could be developed to make it an option, but not the last option. “We want to work together to develop TVET like a third university. Today, the belief is that TVET is chosen as the last option. This should change.”

Heads of all the technical and vocational institutes, representatives from education and labour ministry, Royal Education Council, Royal University of Bhutan, GNHC, RCSC including National Council (NC) and National Assembly attended the meeting.

Most of the representatives expressed and agreed that TVET should be an autonomous national institute. However, they cautioned to look into all the possible aspects to avoid glitches during implementation. Many suggested it should have complete autonomy without any affiliation to avoid duplication.

Lyonchhen said that although the idea (making it autonomous) was discussed for ages, it never happened and the discussion was lost.  “Although TVET existed for more than three decades, there was never a clear career path,” he said.

However, he said that it is only a suggestion and if agreed, detailed discussion is necessary on how to go about and what the government could do. “The weakness today is everyone assumes and holds onto their own territory. This should change.”

NC’s eminent member Tashi Wangmo said that although TVET was well planned and designed, it was always viewed from territorial angles, meaning that school and TVET were viewed separately. “This is why we should change this mindset of territorial system and be careful since this system has left the TVET where it is now.”

Some members expressed that the entry level for TVET should be from Class XII while the framework has kept the entry level from Class X. Others suggested looking into private entities that provides TVET to make students develop interest in TVET from a young age.

GNHC Secretary Thinley Namgyel said the reform is in line with proposals submitted. “TVET could not move forward because of the human resources and budget constraints, which making it an autonomous national institute would solve.”

Meanwhile, Lyonchhen has asked to set up a time bound taskforce to work on the details as the next step.

Yangchen C Rinzin

RICBL officials appeal 

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 16:08

Following the home minister’s appeal to the High Court (HC), the four senior officials of the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (RICBL) convicted in the false insurance claim have also appealed to the HC yesterday.

Thimphu dzongkhag court’s criminal bench I on August 27 convicted the four officials for the misuse of position, forgery, solicitation and for aiding and abetting in the false vehicle insurance claim in 2016.

The sentencing ranged from one month to one year.

A defendant, who is the former RICBL executive director, Sonam Dorji, in the appeal letter stated that the judgment convicting the four officials for settlement of insurance claims amounting to over Nu 200,000 was ‘extremely harsh’ and not merited for the reason that the claim was genuine like any other claims that they had settled before.

He said that as a commercial organisation, RICBL on an average has generated Nu 3.2 billion (B) annually between 2012-2016 of which the premium of Nu 800 million (M) pertains to the general insurance business. The average claim paid every year is about Nu 500M, he added.

“Our evidences on the case and experts opinion on the entire business process were all together ignored, and instead only contradictory, unsubstantiated and vague statements from various sources were used as a basis to convict us,” he said. “Moreover, only negative points from the same statements were cherry picked to arrive at the decision.”

According to the appeal letter submitted by the defendants, the conversion of third party to the comprehensive insurance policy is a normal and valid business transaction.

It is one of the business strategies to lure clients to upgrade insurance from third party to comprehensive in order to boost the business volume for the insurance business, the letter stated.

As per the appeal letter, the allegation made by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) that the comprehensive insurance was issued after accident was baseless as the insurance policy was issued prior to the accident.

The appellants claimed that while inspection of the vehicle before insuring is necessary to ensure road worthiness and the condition of the vehicle, however, often, inspection are not carried out and the policy issued based on the utmost good faith, a fundamental principle of insurance business.

“Since the client had the valid comprehensive insurance, therefore, the payment of the claim was valid and legitimate. The STCBL also confirmed that the vehicle had sustained damage, which was caused by an accident.”

On the blank receipt signed and issued by the workshop, the appellants claimed that it was never used for payment. “It was used for comparative analysis for which the claim was further reduced, benefiting the company,” the appeal letter read. “Therefore, the issue of deceptive practise never arise as none of the committee members benefited from the receipt.”

Since the claim was legitimate, the appellants said that the claim committee made the decision to settle the claim. “Had this claim been not genuine, the case could have escalated to the management and settled the claim through ex-gratia payment on the business ground, as in the past, many claims where settled wherein the claimants didn’t even had valid insurance policies at the time of accidents, yet were paid on business grounds.”

Sonam Dorji said that the business transactions in question were never carried out under compulsion. He said that he had never instructed any of his subordinates to carry out any illegal activities or any activity that would compromise the interest of the company.

“The case in point was a normal business transaction where the client bought the comprehensive insurance cover, later met with accident and the claim was paid,” he said. “All the transactions were carried out in line with insurance manuals of the company. This case was intentionally picked up and sensationalised with intentions to persecute people who meant everything for the organisation and the country. The act is unrelenting, insidious and vindictive persecution.”

Meanwhile, Sonam Dorji is charged with two offences of misusing his position. He is convicted for one year, which is graded misdemeanor.

RICBL’s general manager of general insurance department, Sangay Wangdi, was sentenced to six months in prison for solicitation.

Deputy manager, Ugyen Namdrol, is charged for forgery and deceptive practice. He is sentenced for a year.

Deputy general manager, Sangay Dorji, is sentenced to one month for aiding and abetting in the case.

All of them can pay thrimthue in lieu of imprisonment.

Younten Tshedup 

Digital platform, answer for entrepreneurship challenges

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 16:07

Digital platform and use of social media could solve most of the challenges Bhutanese entrepreneurs face in the country today.

This came up as entrepreneurs and mentors pitched their entrepreneurship challenges and possible solutions yesterday evening at the Taj Tashi.

As a component of the ongoing Druk Entrepreneurial Challenge, entrepreneurs showcased the problems of new entrepreneurs and discussed possible solutions.

Bhutan Agri Entrepreneurs discussed a case study of a kiwi farmer in Tsirang, where the investment was huge but the return was too meagre from the fruit. They discussed how to market, meet demand and scale-up food production. The solution, they found was technology and digital platform, where it would bring stakeholders from agriculture and labour ministry, farmers, vendors and buyers together.

Bhutan Molay Travels, the first travel company focused on women travellers and empowering women, said social media could attract more clients and groups.

CDK and Sushi’s Candles endorsed online presence to get more sales and market locally, nationally and internationally.

The Druk Entrepreneurial Challenge is a final component of the Australia Awards short course for Bhutanese entrepreneurs after 19 entrepreneurs visited Australia in May this year to learn the entrepreneurs ecosystem there.

According to the course leader, Wendy Perry, about 70 to 80 people have been involved in the challenge in the last two days to help Bhutanese businesses, enterprises and organisations in addressing real-world problems, scaling up within and beyond Bhutan.

“An Entrepreneurial Challenge opens up an invaluable opportunity to access and leverage scaling up business ideas and solutions,” she said.

With the cooperation of Australia Awards and the Australian government, local business, the government, industry connections and young minds, the event has the potential to build upon an impactful entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Labour Minister Ugyen Dorji said the government is committed to support any entrepreneurship activities, as it could create youth employment and meaningful engagement.


Why Druk Entrepreneurial Challenge?

With the inclusion of startups and scaleups, stakeholders and students, mentors and the entrepreneurial community, the Druk Entrepreneurial Challenge transcends the boundaries of economic struggle in Bhutan, according  to a press release from the course conductor.

With a mutual focus on socio-economic issues like youth engagement, employment opportunities, gender equity, and global sustainable development, the challenge provides participants a platform to address opinions and make voices heard, on the development of business models and opportunities for scaling up.

There are many idea generation and startup programmes in Bhutan but there is an agreed gap in the ecosystem in relation to scaling up.  Enterprises, organisations, startups and scaleups pitched their challenges or problems live in front of an engaged audience on issues such as encouraging women entrepreneurs in Bhutan, establishing a call centre industry in Bhutan, developing the entrepreneurship ecosystem, engagement between entrepreneurs and government in Bhutan.

Meanwhile, Greenovation, a social enterprise focused on youth employment and resolving paper waste issue was the winner of the “Pitch the entrepreneurs” held yesterday evening. The entrepreneurs who made the pitch would receive 30 minutes online session with Queensland University of Technology for two times and USD 500.

Tashi Dema

Unidentified disease affects ginger farms in Dewathang

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 16:06

An unidentified disease has affected about five acres of organic ginger farms in three chiwogs of Dewathang gewog, Samdrupjongkhar.

Farmers of the three chowogs- Rikhey, Martang and Domnphu grow ginger at a commercial scale. This season, however, the farmers are worried whether they will be able to harvest enough for sale in the market.

They said the disease is unknown to them. Leaves of the worm-infested ginger plants turn yellow and rot within a week after getting affected by the disease. “This is happening when the ginger price is high in the market,” a farmer said.

A farmer, Rinchen from Rikhey chiwog, said she invested more than Nu 10,000 to plant about 1,000kg of ginger in two acres of land. The farmer said that she sent her children to school with income from her ginger farm.

She is a worried farmer as more than 50 percent of her ginger are rotting in the field.

Many farmers claim that the disease has also affected their ginger farms too. Farmers in the chiwogs have planted more ginger after their last produce fetched Nu 80 to Nu 85 for a kilogramme.

Another farmer, Lobzang Dhendup from Domphu chiwog, said he cultivated Nu 45,000 worth of ginger this season. “I’m worried about the farm getting infested by the disease. Ginger is the only source of income for my family,” he said.

He said that the farmers are experiencing the disease for the first time. “It would be of some help if officials from the agriculture department visit the affected field.”

The disease was first noticed about three weeks ago. But farmers did not report to officials thinking that it would not spread.

Agriculture extension officer, Lungten, said they have visited the affected fields. Lungten said he has submitted a report to the dzongkhag agriculture office.

He said the disease could not be confirmed. “We suspect that the farmers might have planted infected seeds. It would have been helpful if they have reported the issues on time.”

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

Challenges galore to contend with

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 16:05

Talking to the future does not require a rare gift. We need only listen to the many voices that are growing louder by the day to feel the wind of change blowing and the nation’s pulse quicken. It is exciting, almost exhilarating, to be able to discern the range of possibilities and opportunities awaiting us all. It is, at the same time, deeply worrying.

Are we keeping pace with the speed of change, however? Or, are we vastly overwhelmed already by the many challenges that developments have brought to our doorstep?

Some might argue that taking a pratfall on a hard concrete is only natural considering the velocity of change we are faced with today. But then, there are others who harbour a different view of the reality, that having started late on the development journey we have the privilege of learning from the mistakes others made, and that things are not well in our hands this day because we failed to pick some critical lessons along the way.

Waking up from a deep slumber meant rushing to catch up with the rest. And we knew that was not going to be easy. In a world that is fast shrinking due to rapid advancement in the areas of technology and innovation, challenges ahead will be more than just daunting for Bhutan.

Much of Bhutan’s future difficulties, however, will largely be the extension of current problems; only the magnitude of the challenges will have grown which will exert heavy pressure on the nation’s limited resources. This rude awakening calls us to pause and take stock of the challenges so that we are not overpowered and crippled by our inaction.

In our race to keep step with change, we are pushing—inadvertently—some sections of our population to the fringes of our society. While the statistics may say one thing, the reality is beginning to rear its head quite the other way. Urban poverty is growing with youth unemployment rising year after year. With agriculture failing due to factors like increasing rural to urban migration, human-wildlife conflict, and lack of irrigation water rural poverty is also on the rise. Waste is a problem that threatens to explode and overpower us. Some of our pristine forests are already littered with hazardous waste from imported goods. Even as we are a water-rich country, urban Bhutan is drying.

As bigger population centres grow, these realities will, unfortunately, be the theme of our development narrative. But if we can bring ourselves to look and talk to the future, all is not lost yet. Innovative and kinetic minds are eager to play their part. Most of the startup ideas are about tackling these growing issues. The government must recognise this urge and support the novel initiatives, particularly from the nation’s young people, to address the mounting challenges. And that means creating conducive environment for the new and innovative ideas to prosper and flourish which in the long run will also fuel private sector growth.

In our hands today are challenges galore to contend with and we may already be losing the benefit of time.

10 men charged for smuggling 19kg gold

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 16:04

If the Paro court is busy with several gold smuggling cases, there is more coming.

The dzongkhag court has seen the trial proceedings of six smuggling cases involving 19 individuals and 86.17kg gold since June 13 this year. 

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SATRC-20 highlights regulators role in telecommunication

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 16:03

With the emerging trend in digital transformation, the risk and preparedness of policymakers and regulators have become essential.

Following the 19th Asia-Pacific Telecomunity (APT) Policy and Regulatory Forum (PRF) where policymakers met to discuss issues related to telecommunications and ICT policy, regulators from nine member countries attended the 20th meeting of South Asian Telecommunication Regulators’ Council.

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Bhutan and India to collaborate in waste management

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 16:02

The Government of India (GoI) and Bhutan will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) within a month to address waste management challenges through collaboration in technical and financial assistance.

The MoU is also expected to enhance Indo-Bhutan cooperation on waste management.

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Candidate requests court to suspend three BBSC officials

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 16:01

The candidate, who dragged Bhutan Broadcasting Service Corporation (BBSC) to Trongsa court, requested the court to suspend BBSC’s administration and finance division head, legal officer and human resource officer until the case concludes.

The plaintiff submitted to the court that the three officials have called his friend to their office and made him sign a false statement against him and submitted to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). The plaintiff had even lodged the complaint to the ACC.

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