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Updated: 1 hour 7 min ago

Picture story

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 16:44

The roadblock along Manitar – Lhamoizhingkha at Kezangree Ch, 29km, which occurred on June 25, is still being cleared. Heavy rain has been one of the main challenges in clearing the block. (Photo and info courtesy: DoR)

Govt. and Opposition concerned on PHPA I’s progress

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 16:43

The government and the Opposition are on the same page when it concerns the progress of Phunatshangchhu hydroelectric project I (PHPA I).

Foreign minister, Dr Tandi Dorji during the recent press conference said that the cost at PHPA I has escalated three-folds. “I would like to agree that we should make a formal decision to see weather we should continue with this project,” he said.

However, the minister said that discontinuing the works would also have major financial implications. “There have already been huge investments. Almost 60 to 80 percent of the work is completed,” he said. “If we undo it also, so much investment would have gone to waste. So we have to review to see if we can get some clear timelines with very little escalation in the cost. Then I think it is in our best interest to continue with it.”

In an earlier press conference, Opposition Leader, Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) also expressed concerns on the issue. He said that several experts including those from Europe have been consulted on the project.

He said that if the experts are not able to say anything definite or guarantee on the geological stability of the PHPA I project, it would be better to hold the project at the current stage instead of spending millions and billions more only to find out that the project would not be useful.

Pema Gyamtsho said the Opposition has supported the National Council’s recommendation to conduct a through study by experts and that the government should take a decision based on their recommendations.

He said that no one could be blamed for the current issue, including the people who planned it and those who initiated the project.   “No one can know what’s happening 30 or 50 metres below the surface,” he said. “The very term geological surprise, means that it is a surprise.”

However, if there are more surprises ahead, the Opposition leader said that perhaps it would be better to discontinue the project. There already is a mounting debt and pumping in more money in a project which has been associated with several issues would only cost the country and its people, he added.

The construction of the PHPA I started in November 2008 and was supposed to complete by November 2016. Delays mainly caused by major landslides on multiple occasions and stabilisation measures on the right bank of the river have today pushed the commissioning date to 2024.

The project cost has escalated from Nu 35 billion (B) to Nu 93.7B.

Meanwhile, the foreign minister said that the government is confident to complete PHPA II project before the end of their tenure. “At the earliest, the target is 2021. But definitely by 2022,” he said. “That we’ll do. As our Prime Minister has repeatedly said, he has put a huge responsibility on the economic affairs minister.”

Lyonpo said that the government is working closely with the Indian counterparts. “These issues are also being taken up by the Indian government,” he said. “They are also committed to ensuring that at least the PHPA projects are completed. We are correcting and taking many decisions to make sure that it is completed on time.”

 Younten Tshedup

36 new HIV cases detected 

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 16:41

With the detection of 36 new HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) cases in the last six months, the case detection gap is closed by 2.4 percent resulting in an overall case detection gap of 47.6 percent.

As of December 2018, the case detection gap was 50 percent.

Of the total detected between January and June this year, 21 are males and a majority (83 percent) of the reported cases were between 20 and 49 years, according to a press release from the health ministry.

Occupation wise, 11 are housewives, seven reported working in private or business category, six are drivers, five are farmers and two are civil servants. Two are minors while one each reported being a corporate employee, uniformed personnel and unemployed.

Transmission of the infection through unprotected heterosexual remains the major mode of HIV transmission in the country with 34 of the new cases acquiring the infection through this route. Two acquired the infection from HIV infected mothers.

According to the press release, contact tracing remained the highest mode of case diagnosis with 36 percent.

Medical screening and voluntary and counselling (VCT) followed with 31 and 22 percent. Two percent each were detected from antenatal check-up (ANC) and blood donor screenings.

“Currently, all new cases are put on care and treatment at the national referral hospital in Thimphu,” it states.

“Encouraging all people living with HIV (PLHIV) to know their HIV status is our priority to ensure timely care, support, treatment and to prevent further transmission from the source,” health minister Dechen Wangmo stated in the press release.

Lyonpo said it is important for pregnant mothers to get tested for HIV during the entire pregnancy period and if found positive then must take an appropriate action to prevent mother to child transmission.

Lyonpo also cautioned HIV negative pregnant mothers to remain negative even after their delivery to ensure zero HIV transmission from mother to child through breastfeeding.

This, she said was important for Bhutan to gear towards the triple elimination of HIV, Syphilis and hepatitis B among the newborn by 2020 and beyond.

Department of public health’s director, Dr Karma Lhazeen stated that the ministry was looking forward to introducing more innovative means of HIV testing and counselling in future to ensure more holistic client-centred HIV-testing services.

With the change in time, she said that such innovative measures are required to encourage more people to get tested on time.

Since 1993, a total of 663 HIV cases (344 male and 319 female) have been diagnosed until June this year. With the detection of the new cases in the last six months, a total of 57 HIV cases were diagnosed in 2018 alone.

As per UNAIDS, Bhutan is estimated to have 1,265 HIV cases and the country now has a case detection gap of 47.6 percent. This means about 602 people are living with the HIV virus but unaware of their status.

Of the total detected cases in the country, the majority (71 percent) are aged between 25 and 49 years and 16 percent between 15 and 24 years. About six percent are below 15-years-old and eight percent above 50-years-old.

“This shows that HIV in Bhutan has primarily infected the most economically productive age group,” it states.

However, it states that the infection taking place among the older age group is also gradually picking up and if this group of population are into the intergenerational sex (sexual relationship between the young women and older men) and the transactional sex (non-marital sex involving exchange of monetary reward and gifts), the likelihood of increasing the risk of acquisition and transmission of HIV in Bhutanese population is high.

About 30 percent, a majority of HIV cases detected are through the contact tracing followed by medical screening (23 percent), VCT (22 percent) and the remaining through the ANC checkup and onsite mobile screening.

Programme manager with the national HIV, AIDS and STIs control programme, Lekey Khandu said contact tracing was a challenging task. “But, it is one key aspect of HIV case finding and need for adequate support both from the infected and affected individual is very important.”

“Contact tracing will enable our HIV counsellor to initiate a process of identification of persons who may have come into contact with an HIV infected person and subsequent collection of further information about these contacts,” he said.

However, he said that strict confidentiality of clients and persons traced are maintained during these processes.

Certain body fluids like blood, semen, vaginal or anal secretions and breast milk from a person who has HIV can transmit HIV.

The four main ways where these fluids can come in contact with each other are having unprotected sex, transfusion of HIV infected blood or blood products, sharing of HIV infected needles, syringes, blades, piercing instruments and HIV infected pregnant mother to her child.

The simple ways to prevent HIV and AIDS is to abstain from sex, be faithful to one’s partner, and use a condom correctly and consistently.

 Dechen Tshomo

OAG reviewing Taktse College case report

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 16:40

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is reviewing the case of the College of Language and Cultural Studies (CLCS) in Taktse, Trongsa, after Trongsa police and a special investigation team police sent from the headquarters forwarded their investigation report.

According to the report, only four of the nine lecturers and a supporting staff the college compulsorily retired earlier this year were charged for criminal attempt to custodial rape, attempt to rape, official misconduct, sexual harassment or battery.

Police framed similar charges against two lecturers, who are still serving in the college.

Police charged a 30-year-old lecturer from Paro for criminal attempt to custodial rape, official misconduct, battery, sexual harassment and harassment.

He joined the college in February 2016.

He was charged for two counts of criminal attempt of custodial rape, as it is alleged that the lecturer invited one of the female students as his personal guest during his class picnic to Gangtey Goenpa in Wangduephodrang. She travelled in his private car to and from the picnic spot and also had marks on her neck. Police also found messages where he claimed he loved her when they reached Pelela.

The student also alleged that the lecturer tried to emotionally blackmail her by telling her his stories and took her to his house where he tried to rape her.

He was also charged for sexual harassment, as 14 female students testified that he pinched under their armpits and touched them inappropriately.

He was also charged for battery as 41 students gave written statements that the lecturer pinched them under armpit in class as a punishment.

The lecturer was also charged for harassment, as a student claimed that he forced her to drink during a picnic. Other students also testified against the claim.

He was also charged for official misconduct, as students gave written statements mentioning the lecturer forced them to go for picnic and deducting marks if they didn’t. “However, after taking students to a picnic, he forced them to drink alcohol and sexually harassed a girl.”

He was also alleged of taking students to his residence and attempting sexual assaults.

Police charged a 32-year-old assistant lecturer from Wangduephodrang for criminal attempt to rape, official misconduct, sexual harassment or harassment.

He joined the college in January 2019.

The former monk was charged for criminal attempt to rape, as he and a colleague went to the female student’s house and tried to rape her. She was a day scholar then.

He was also charged for two counts of sexual harassment, as he tried to pull a girl to a dark place after a dance session during a picnic in Bumthang and asking another female student to sleep with him after visiting her house.

The assistant lecturer was charged for harassment, as he forced students to drink during another picnic in Kuengarabten. When the students went to sleep, he got offended and entered the place where the girls were and tried to touch the girls inappropriately. He was also alleged of throwing bottles at the boys when they tried to intervene.

He was charged for official misconduct as he was alleged of asking a female student to marry him, promising he would open a shop for her.

A 32-year-old assistant lecturer from Chukha was charged for official misconduct and sexual harassment.

The former monk, who joined the college in January 2016, was charged for touching two girls inappropriately when they were watching a football match.

He was charged for official misconduct as he has relationship with a student.

It was stated that the girl came forward to give voluntary statement of her relationship with the assistant lecturer and claimed it was consensual.

An assistant lecturer from Sarpang was charged for official misconduct and sexual harassment, as he married a student in 2016.

The report stated that although they married after she graduated, it was learnt that they were in relationship when she was a student.

A 34-year-old lecturer from Zhemgang was also charged for official misconduct and sexual harassment.

He married a student, who joined the college when he was doing his masters in India. They claimed they informed the college management about their marital relationship before he joined college after completing his masters.

Police also charged a 56-year-old assistant professor from Trashiyangtse for official misconduct and sexual harassment.

The former monk, who joined Semtokha Rigzhung College in 1986, was charged for repeatedly sending text messages to a female student, recharging her mobile data and giving her money.

Police found many text messages he had sent to the student.

Meanwhile, the two lecturers who were detained by police during the investigation are on bail.

Tshering Palden and Tashi Dema

Govt. to expand diplomatic relations

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 16:38

Amid differences, the government and the opposition are on the same page on the need to expand diplomatic relations.

Five years after the former government completely froze expansion of diplomatic relations, the prime minister in his State of the Nation report announced that Bhutan would establish at least one embassy or consulate this year.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering’s announcement was a policy reversal necessitated by the growing number of Bhutanese living abroad. In addition, he also announced that the government would explore establishing diplomatic relations with two countries.

The Opposition at the post-parliament press conference on July 5 welcomed the government’s announcement.

“In principle, we should be happy that the government is expanding our diplomatic relations and it should be like that,” Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said.  He said that all should welcome the government’s decision as a matter of policy.

The prime minister did not name the countries with which Bhutan would establish diplomatic relations. Countries like Australia and Malaysia are tipped to be in the list although the government is yet to confirm the speculations.

Bartsham Shongphu MP and the opposition’s foreign relations focal person, Passang Dorji (PhD), said the government has plans to establish diplomatic relations with at least five countries although the countries are not named.

“At the moment, we say that we have diplomatic relations with 53 countries. We actually have diplomatic relations with 52 countries, excluding the EU,” he said.

The MP said Bhutan had a standing foreign policy that it would not have diplomatic relations with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. But there was no standing policy that the country would not expand diplomatic relations with other countries, he said.

Passang Dorji added that the more diplomatic relations the country has the better it would be. He reminded about the geopolitical sensitivities and the established foreign policy operations had to be considered. “We support the government’s decision to expand diplomatic relations,” he said.

During the opposition’s tenure as the government, expansion of diplomatic relations was a top priority and exercised a policy of using “soft power”, to the extent where even a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council was sought. Bhutan lost the bid.

However, the second elected government had reversed the policy, saying that economic environment at home was not favourable for expansion of diplomatic relations. It wanted to focus more on consolidating relations with countries with which Bhutan already had diplomatic ties.

MB Subba

For better connectivity

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 16:37

In what is a huge milestone for exporters and the government, Bhutanese exporters have found a solution to the problem of exporting stones and aggregates to Bangladesh.

The first consignment of stones using river Brahmaputra left for Bangladesh yesterday, signifying a new beginning in the export business. Inland waterways are cheaper, environment friendly and hassle free, even as the cargo ships ferry thousands of tonnes of materials at one go.

This comes a time when the lucrative business came to an abrupt halt from issues related to transportation. Issues surrounding carrying capacity, export permits, illegal taxes along the highways and even alleged corruption affected the business and therefore revenue to the government. With strict rules on the carrying capacity and confusions, much time and money was lost.

Those in the business desperately explored alternate routes. Some even resorted to railways, but in vain. The private sector has paved a way.

The nearest port at Dhubri is 160 kilometres from Phuentsholing. It is even closer to Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar and Nganglam making export convenient and cheaper. The same waterways could be used for import, which otherwise use land transport and increase the cost of goods. The starting of an alternate cheaper route should benefit the people of both countries.

For the government, this is one significant achievement, an outcome of the prime minister’s maiden state visit to Bangladesh earlier this year where they signed five bilateral instruments.

The facility benefits businesses and people of three countries and is a testimony of the bilateral relations Bhutan, India and Bangladesh enjoy.

This could be the first step in improving and enhancing connectivity among the three countries. Connectivity is an issue in our region although we are close neighbours. Bhutan is landlocked, but has natural resources, hydroelectricity for instance, that could benefit its neighbours. The cooperation in easing connectivity would result in better relations, beside economic growth.

The purpose of transport is the movement of people and goods. It is critical for our economic development. Bangladesh is busy building or improving its infrastructure as it prepares to graduate to a middle-income country like ours. Its economy is the second fastest growing in the region. And it needs resources that it lacks to fuel the growth.

The next cheap means of connectivity the three countries should explore is railway links. Safer, cheaper and faster rail connections will give landlocked Bhutan access to India’s ports and markets while also making Bhutan accessible to the immediate region around us.

The convenience railways can bring to the transportation sector transcends trade purpose at a time when road transport in the region has become a good example of failed transport planning.

A look at Phuentsholing, the gateway to Bhutan, is enough to convince us. Phuentsholing is already choked. Traffic comes to a halt as 16-wheelers trucks compete for space with other vehicles.  On any given day, broken trucks line the Phuentsholing-Pasakha road.

The need now is connecting our border towns and industrial estate with railways.

Access to finance and rents top challenges for businesses

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 16:36

Difficulty in access to finance and paying rent affect two in five business establishments, according to the first Economic Census of Bhutan that was launched on July 8.

The census had a module on business environment to assess the challenges faced by businesses in the country.

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USD 25.3 million for climate resilient agriculture

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 16:36

Green Climate Fund (GCF) approved USD 25.3 million for development of climate resilient agriculture in Bhutan.

The five-year project from 2020 to 2025 is expected to benefit the rural communities through the provision of sustainable land and water management, climate-resilient irrigation, agriculture, and roads.

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Plastic use declines in Samdrupjongkhar

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 16:35

The ban on use of plastic bags in Samdrupjongkhar thromde has been fairly successful with about 90 percent drop in use of plastic bags and doma wrappers.

Shops across the Indian border towns have also stopped giving plastic bags to Bhutanese vendors and customers after the ban.

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Transport, water problems top among NGOs, coops, and farmers’ groups

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 16:33

Water, electricity supply, transport, access to land, finance, and competition of the informal sector are the most common obstacles to businesses for non-governmental organisations (NGOs), cooperatives, and farmers’ groups.

These obstacles pose problems to at least 20 percent of the surveyed establishments, according to the first economic census (ECoB 2019). Transport and water supply are obstacles for more than 30 percent of the establishments.

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1098 help line well-received

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 16:32

The National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) has received a total of 1,730 calls related to women and children through the 1098 toll-free helpline since its operation from October 2018.

NCWC’s protection service’s head, Yeshi Lham, said that 1,154 calls from October 11, 2018 to June 30 this year were received during 9-5pm on weekdays and government holidays; 576 calls were received after 5pm where the calls are redirected to mobile in person and officials attend the call even at night.

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Conference discusses challenges facing RAA

Wed, 07/10/2019 - 16:30

The 16th conference of the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) at the professional development centre in Tsirang on July 8 highlighted the challenges of retaining human resource, poor documentation of the audited agencies and lack of budget, among others.

Themed “Value and benefits of the Supreme Audit Institution (SAI),” the conference’s focus is on improving the efficiency of audit services to strengthen good governance, transparency and accountability.

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First waterways load to Bangladesh ships today

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 16:07

About 1,000 metric tonne (MT) of stone aggregates from Bhutan is the first waterways consignment that will be ferried to Bangladesh via the Brahmaputra river today.

The consignment is lifted from Dhubri Port in Assam, India. In three days, it will reach the Narayanganj Port in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Dhubri port is about 160km away from Phuentsholing. The port is under the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI).

With this first shipment, Bhutanese exporters and importers now have an additional leeway of transport route with Bangladesh, which is comparatively cheaper than road transportation.

To mark this event, the general secretary of Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA), the proprietor of Bhutan Stones and Minerals (BSM), who is exporting the first consignment, and officials from IWAI, and a Kolkata based shipping company met on July 7 at Dhubri Port.

BEA general secretary Tshering Yeshi said it was a much-awaited event. “It is historic,” he said, adding that it took almost two months to come to this point.

Tshering Yeshi said that the “flagship” consignment was possible after India and Bangladesh declared Dhubri Port as “port of call.” The government had taken it to the Indian government to assist in using the Dhubri Port for transit route for transit cargo. Accordingly, a standard operating procedure (SOP) was developed and signed during the Prime Minister’s visit to Dhaka in mid April this year. Cooperation on inland waterways was one of the five bilateral instruments signed then.

To study the feasibility of the inland waterways, BEA and trade officials also recently travelled to Bangladesh using the same waterways route via Chilmari Port and Mongla Port.

“We found it is feasible and the depth of the river is satisfactory and even convenient in monsoons,” BEA general secretary Tshering Yeshi said.

With the opening of the inland waterways route to Bangladesh, the cost of transportation would decrease by at least 30 percent compared to surface transportation, officials said.

The distance to Dhubri, the third largest city in Assam, from Gelephu is about 135km. This means export of riverbed materials (RBM) from Gelephu, Nganglam and Samdrupjongkhar would be easier and cheaper from Dhubri Port. After unloading the materials, the trucks can also return the same day from Dhubri.

Today, trucks from Gelephu travel 281km to reach Nakugaon in Bangladesh and have to cross Assam and Meghalaya. Exporters from Phuentsholing and Samtse travel 156km to reach the India-Bangladesh border Changrabandha-Burimari. Trucks also ferry 97km to reach another border point at Fulbari-Banglabandha.

It takes at least seven days for one truck carrying an average weight of 40MT to make a round trip. Transportation cost of Nu 850-900 is charged for ferrying one MT load. A truck also pays detention charge of Nu 1,500 per day.

Importers from Bangladesh then bear the transportation cost from border areas. This has affected the final price of stone aggregates and other RBMs.

Further, the expenditure increases when problems arise and trucks are stuck at the border areas. Trucks sometime halt for more than 10 days.

From the inland waterways, it costs Nu 1,000 per MT to reach Narayanganj Port in Dhaka from Dhubri. It is the quantity that gives more advantage to the Bhutanese exporters. The cargo ship has the capacity to lift 2,200MT of load and make  more than three round trips in a month.

The shipping company, Ocean Marvel Shipping Services Private Ltd’s director Prabhakar Prakash said 2,200MT is equivalent to 100 truckloads.

“Waterways is cheaper than road,” he said, adding fuel consumption and manning cost is relatively cheaper. “Waterways is also the best option from an environmental perspective.”

At Dhubri Port, the proprietor of BSM said that waterways as an alternative would decongest the existing overtly jammed land ports.

“The land ports are choked,” he said. “Trucks get stuck for 10 to 15 days. Trucks will return the same day now and it is 30 percent cheaper.”

BEA general secretary Tshering Yeshi also said that exporters and importers in Bhutan could now explore the waterways. “We have showed the way,” he said.

Rajesh Rai | Assam

Four dzongkhags home to more than half of businesses

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 16:04

While the country is looking forward to graduate from the LDC group in 2023, Bhutan’s inability to fulfill the economic vulnerability index, one of the three criteria for graduation, indicates that the country’s economy is shallow and superficial.

Its direct impact, according to Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering is on unemployment, which is going to continue for some time. Underemployment, he said has not even been recorded and if proper instruments are not put in place, it will pull the underemployed back to the pool of unemployed.

“If we don’t plan and invest wisely, we are heading for a big crisis,” Lyonchhen said. “If unemployment is not addressed, GNH will be a far-fetched dream.”

As Bhutan released its first economic census yesterday, Lyonchhen said that the report should have been launched before the finalisation of the 12th Plan and the endorsement of FDI and CSI policies.

“This is how we are functioning, framing policies without evidence,” he said. After the National Statistical Bureau (NSB) announced that the next survey would be done after a decade, Lyonchhen insisted that the next report be published in the first half of 2023 and make it accessible to everyone. 

“This will help the parties formulate their manifestoes and pledges based on evidence unlike in the past,” he said.

World Bank resident representative, Yoichiro Ishihara said that Bhutan’s statistical indices are lower than the average of South Asia. Data predictability, frequency and availability, he said is low.

For instance, he said the national accounts data is the most important and that the GDP figures are revealed much later, which could delay interventions. “It is like you go for a medical check-up and your reports are known after seven months,” he said.

However, he said the economic census is a big first step. “It now depends on how you use the data to formulate policies.”

The director of NSB, Chhime Tshering said that lack of support and willingness to share data from the establishments, households and agencies was the most daunting task for the bureau. “Most often we had to rely on personal relations to secure data,” he said.

He sought the support of the government to draft a statistical Bill to ease the process of data gathering and professional use of data.

Lyonchhen said that time has come to centralise data and gather quality reliable data with improved access. He informed that the 12th Plan’s digital drukyul flagship would cater to the issue.


The Economic Census

According to the results of the Economic Census of Bhutan (ECoB) 2018–19, as of December 31, 2017, there are about 14,000 establishments engaged in different economic activities in the country.

This excludes household-based crop production, public administration, and defense services. Of the total number of establishments, 8,900 (63.5 percent) are located in urban areas and 5,100 (36.5 percent) in rural areas. Four dzongkhags—Thimphu (24.9 percent), Chhukha (13.6 percent), Sarpang (8.1 percent), and Paro (6.2 percent)—together accounted for 52.8 percent of the total establishments in the country.

The distribution of establishments by legal status and by economic organisation is dominated by establishments that operate as single establishments under single proprietorship or partnership ownership, accounting for 12,700 or 90.5 percent of all establishments in the country.

Almost all single proprietorships, partnerships, or permanent shed vendors operate as single establishments.

Mean duration of private limited company is at least 13 years, whereas that of other establishments is below eight years. State-owned limited companies have on average the longest operation duration (16 years). The single proprietorship and partnership establishments that make up the largest category of establishments in terms of legal status operated on average only for around six years.

On gender, male between 35-39 years own maximum firms. Female has maximum ownership between 20-39 years.

However, there is a large gender difference in terms of educational attainment among establishment owners. Some 39 percent of female owners have no education at all, compared to around 26 percent of the male owners. On the other hand, 13.7 percent of the male owners completed university education against only 5.2 percent of the female owners.

The ECoB reveals that for every 100 female establishment owners in the lowest two educational categories there are, respectively, only 86 and 94 male owners. But for owners with more advanced education—vocational and tertiary education—the gender ratio is in favor of men, 446 and 264 men for every 100 women.

In terms of the number of establishments, the economy is dominated by two economic sectors: wholesale and retail trade, repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles with 62.5 percent (more than 8,700 establishments), followed by accommodation and food service activities with 21 percent (2,900 establishments). The next largest section is manufacturing representing only 5.1 percent of all establishments.

On employment, from the total of 74,000 persons employed in various sectors, the highest share (24.1 percent) of employment is observed in the wholesale and retail trade sector, followed by the construction sector, which employs 18.5 percent of the total employment.

The share of employment of women is also higher than men in sectors like accommodation and food services and arts and entertainment.

A significant difference is observed in the construction and mining sector, where the proportion of male employment is six times higher than female employment. “To a large extent, this can be attributed to the population of male non-Bhutanese workers, who are employed as either contract or casual-paid employees in these sectors,” the report stated.

In terms of wages, an NSB official said that the least paid employee are in art and entertainment business.

The survey also revealed that more women than men are in the three lowest remuneration categories (below BTN 15,000), more than half (54.1 percent) of the female workers against just over one-third (35.6 percent) of male workers.

At the higher end of the remuneration scale, gender distribution is more balanced again, with even a slightly higher representation of women in the highest remuneration category.

Lyonchhen said that only seven percent of the university graduates are employed in various economic sectors. “This means that a big chunk of university graduates fall in the unemployed category and this is worrying,” he said.

The ECoB was conducted by 80 enumerators with the help of dzongkhag statistical officers spanning over two and half months. The survey was initiated by the NSB with support from the World Bank.

Tshering Dorji

MHPA starts commercial operation of Unit 2

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 16:03

The Mangdechu Hydro Project Authority (MHPA) began selling the power generated from 180MW of Unit 2 from 12:30pm yesterday.

It was learnt that the unit would be generating about Nu 18 million a day.

The testing and commissioning of the unit was done on June 30. The first commercial operation of Unit 1 was carried on June 28 with the export of 180MW.

The actual date for the commercial operation was scheduled for July 10 but was brought forward by two days. Project management claims this to be one of their significant achievements.

Joint Managing Director of MHPA Chencho Tshering said no issues have arisen from the dam to the powerhouse. “Everything is going smoothly giving successful achievements,” he said.

The testing and the commissioning of Unit 3 is scheduled for July 15 and the commercial operation date is scheduled on July 25 with the commissioning of last unit. On August 4, the power generated from the last unit will be officially exported.

Each unit will generate 180MW earning Nu 533.9M every month. The power export tariff for the 720-mega watt Mangdechhu hydropower project was fixed at Nu 4.12 per unit.

Nim Dorji | Trongsa

It’s simple, not two-thirds majority: Opposition

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 16:02

Assuming all members are present, a simple majority is enough to pass a bill in the National Assembly.

In trying to stress that the opposition had also voted for the pay revision Bill, the foreign minister at a recently held press conference incorrectly mentioned that the government needed a “two-thirds majority, which is 33 votes”.

The press conference was held following the opposition’s criticisms of the pay revision at a separate press conference after the parliament session.

A money Bill, which the pay revision report was, does not go to a joint sitting and can be passed by a simple majority, which is 24 votes, in the assembly.

This means that the government did not require the support of the opposition in passing the pay revision bill as it has 29 members, except the Speaker, who votes only in case of a tie.

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said, “So the opposition could have killed the bill, if they wanted to. If all the opposition members opted not to vote with us, the bill would never have been passed.”

The Fourth Pay Commission’s report was first amended by the government and submitted to the 13-member economic and finance committee, which has seven members from the ruling party and six from the opposition.

The pay revision bill received 37 yes votes and two no votes, while five abstained. This means that members of the opposition also voted for the Bill.

“A Bill shall be passed by a simple majority of the total number of members of the respective Houses or by not less than two-thirds of the total number of members of both Houses present and voting, in case of jointing sitting,” Article 13(4) of the Constitution states.

Although most had voted for the Bill, the opposition members have criticised the pay revision bill.

However, the government maintains that the opposition is party to the pay revision bill. “That’s why we say that speaking one thing in the Parliament and saying something else outside is nothing but an attempt to create distress and disharmony among our people,” Dr Tandi Dorji said.

Meanwhile, parliamentarians from Zhemgang have also raised questions about the legality of the decision to take the proposed tourism flagship programme from Zhemgang to Sarpang, saying that the decision could have undermined the parliament’s decision.

The recently concluded parliament session had endorsed Zhemgang as one of the four dzongkhags chosen for tourism flagship programmes. The annual budget 2019-20 initially allocated Nu 11 million each for Zhemgang, Dagana, Lhuentse and Gasa.

Zhemgang’s National Council member Pema Dakpa in a Facebook comment said he was hoping that the foreign minister, who is the TCB Chairperson, would have to give serious second thought while rejecting the approved Budget Act 2019-20 by the Parliament.

Panbang MP Dorji  Wangdi rejects the government’s clarification that it was a policy decision, which is within the power of the executive. He said that it would be considered a policy matter, if the decision were made before the pay revision was passed as a bill.

The foreign minister argues that both the Constitution and the public finance Act allows the executive to decide on plans and programmes of the country.

A former parliamentarian stated that it was not the first time that a parliament resolution had been ignored.

He cited the decision on Chamkharchhu, which was also not implemented. Similarly, the decision to establish a college in Zhemgang in the 12th Plan was also not implemented.

In another such case, the Royal Civil Service Commission in March had terminated the contract of 74 gaydrungs despite a standing resolution of the National Assembly to retain them.

The government is of the view that such resolutions of the parliament are different from legislative Bills.

MB Subba 

Fighting a losing battle

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 16:01

The reports are coming one after another that alcohol is taking a toll on our society. Alcohol liver disease (ALD) is still the leading cause of death in the country.

Last year, ALD killed 113 although it was a drop from the previous year, 167. From the figures, it is evident that we have lost our battle and hope against alcohol.

There are many reports and surveys that spell out how alcohol has become a heavy burden on the society. We know the reasons, we have the statistics and we know what can be done.

Alcohol is not a natural disaster. It is man-made, within our control. However, not much is being done. Every time there is a report, media highlight it, officials talk about it – all to be soon forgotten as we move on to another issue.

We know alcohol is cheap, freely available, lucrative for those brewing or importing it, and it is killing a lot of people. It is also costing the government in the billions. It has now become a cliché to say that we have found no solutions to a problem that we long diagnosed. This is a bigger problem than alcohol itself.

The health ministry had been saying, for many years now, that the substantial revenue from the sale of alcohol does not compensate the economic losses incurred as a result of alcohol-related harm, loss of productivity and premature deaths. But decisions are skewed towards promoting it than curbing.

So far, the decisions had been in favour of those in the alcohol business, producers, promoters, and decision makers. They have a hand in this, the social ills caused by alcohol.  Reports show that alcohol is a problem for Bhutanese as young as five. It is not for anyone’s welfare.

From what is happening, it seems like the health ministry is left to deal with it all alone. It is unfair to leave everything to the ministry or the hospitals. However, if prevention is the best approach, they should fight for reasoned policy balance and priority.

Together with alcohol, lifestyle diseases are burdening our health facilities and the government coffer. If it can be prevented, the focus should be there.

It is said that our health system is now focused toward treatment than prevention. If we can prevent funding one liver transplant, the cost can be diverted to buy essential drugs for a remote BHU. If we can prevent one kidney transplant, the money can be diverted to buy one more dialysis machine.

If the ministry cannot fight to shut or cut down supply of alcohol, make it dearer or restrict access to it. It could then fight for more energy and resources in the prevention sector.

Over 2,500 years ago, Buddha said those who abused alcohol were not his disciples nor he their teacher. What if our free health system, the saviour, starts differentiating among the beneficiaries? What if they start charging people who fall ill from abusing alcohol and suffer alcohol liver diseases?

Policy calls for progressive devolution of power, resources

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 16:00

Local governments (LG) will be provided an opportunity to generate revenue to finance their local projects and programmes, the draft decentralisation policy states.

Less than one percent of LGs’ income comes from own source revenue generation today.

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Govt. wants to do away with vehicle quota: Foreign Minister 

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 15:59

The government may do away with vehicle quotas, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji hinted at a press conference on July 6.

“We want to do away with the vehicle quota. There should be no quotas,” he said.

The foreign minister, who is also the government’s spokesperson, made the comments amid public criticisms about billions of Ngultrums being forgone in revenue because of the vehicle quota system. He did not provide details.

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When hunters become conservationists

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 15:58

Without a meaningful landholding on the family’s name, Tempa was destined to be what he has been for the better part of his life. In the twilight of his days, he is remembered as the top tiger hunters in Norbugang in Pemagatsel.

Norbugang falls partially within the Royal Manas National Park (RMNP), one of the prime tiger habitats in the country.

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