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Updated: 1 hour 22 min ago

Eighty students to compete for Golden Youth Award

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 15:56

Themed “Selwai Melong – the mirror of clarity”, the 12th Golden Youth Award (GYA) camp opened in the capital yesterday.

A total of 80 class ten students, 40 male and 40 female from 20 dzongkhags along with eight escort teachers gathered in Thimphu to compete for the Golden Youth title.

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Sherubtse’s artificial turf put to best use

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 15:53

Sherubtse College is making good hay when the sun is shining.

The artificial turf laid at the college football ground, besides promoting football and making it more attractive, the college earned Nu 922, 000 since the artificial turf was opened in April last year.

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Picture story

Mon, 07/08/2019 - 16:48

For the well being of country, a recitation of Baza Guru and offering of 100,000 butter lamps started yesterday in Changjiji Thimphu. A total of 10,000 butter lamps will be lit every day for 10 days.

Blame me if Zhemgang gets left out, says foreign minister

Mon, 07/08/2019 - 16:47

The decision to replace Zhemgang with Sarpang under the tourism flagship programme was not politically driven, clarified the government.

In response to the opposition party’s allegations, foreign minister, Dr Tandi Dorji during a press conference on Saturday, July 6, said that the decision was never along political lines.

Lyonpo said that had there been a political angle, the government would not have put Zhemgang as a focus dzongkhag in the beginning.

Politically, he said there are only regions of East, Central and West. “So when we selected the districts, ideally, we should have taken only three districts representing the three regions,” said the minster. “But we took the fourth district in consideration of huge population in the southern districts.”

The government identified four dzongkhags –Dagana, Gasa, Lhuentse and Zhemgang as focused dzongkhags under the tourism flagship programme.

Dr Tandi Dorji said that the Opposition has questioned the legality to remove a decision, which has been already passed by the parliament.

“Normally they (Opposition) are experts in quoting Acts and articles,” he said, adding that this time the Opposition has quoted none. He said that the Constitution, National Assembly Act and the Public Finance Act clearly give full authority to the executive to decide on plans and programmes of the country. 

As for the restrictions, lyonpo said that only if a law is passed by the parliament, the executive has no authority to overrule any provisions of the law. “The flagship programme that has been passed is a policy decision and the executive has the full authority.”

On the decision to drop Zhemgang, Dr Tandi Dorji said the Opposition in the last parliament session clamoured about opening all the southern borders to tourists. At that time, the government had said there was inadequate infrastructure and lack of systems to monitor, besides the security issues it could pose, he added. Lyonpo is the chairman of the Tourism Council of Bhutan.

“Alongside, we relooked at the strategy. They were right. We found out that Sarpang has greatest opportunity of becoming the gateway for Bhutan, similar to what Phuentsholing does today.”

He said that Gelephu has an airport, which could be further developed. Immigration and custom check points had to be improved. “While Sarpang becomes the gateway, beneficiary districts would be Tsirang, Zhemgang, Trongsa and beyond.”

As per the reports with the Bhutan Tourism Monitor, the minister said that Sarpang received only 231 tourists in 2018, one of the lowest in the country. Zhemgang on the other hand received 332. In terms of bed-nights, Zhemgang received 931 tourists while Sarpang received 309.

Lyonpo said Zhemgang have a proposed target to achieve 1,250 tourists bed-nights. “They already have 931 and we just have increase by another 300-400, its easily achievable,” he said. “We don’t need to have a separate tourism flagship programme for that.”

 

Zhemgang won’t be neglected

Dr Tandi Dorji said that Zhemgang would continue to receive additional attention as one of the five project based dzongkhags.

He said that given its poverty ranking, Zhemgang has always been considered for development by the government. “A lot needs to be done. That is why, in the 12th Plan, Zhemgang (excluding budget for gewogs) has one of the highest allocation of Nu 1.003 billion, where as Sarpang has only Nu 951 million,” he said.  “We have purely done what we intend to do, that is to narrow the gap. How can the Opposition accuse us of leaving behind Zhemgang?”

The minister went on to say that the Opposition know only how to fuel people’s sentiments. “Their basic survival as a political party is based on this and without it they will not get the support they have,” he said.

He said that representatives of Zhemgang in the parliament constantly claim to have not received anything so far. A college, Chamkharchhu project and now they claim that the tourism budget has also be robbed off them, added the minster.

“Over the years, two ministers have come from Zhemgang. One is serving his third term as MP. What have they been doing?” he said. “He is ineffective, basically. The people of Zhemgang should seriously think about changing their MP if he continues to claim nothing is happening. This person in three elections has learnt how to divide and fuel the sentiments of the public.”

The minister reassured the people of Zhemgang that there would be developmental activities in the dzongkhag. “At the end of the five years, if the people of Zhemgang feel that they have been left out, I would take the responsibility as the chairman of the Tourism Council of Bhutan.”

However, he said if the people of Zhemgang are to be benefited, he would like to request the people of Zhemgang to rethink about the MPs they are electing.

Meanwhile, an approval letter, with a wrong date, from the Cabinet to the Gross National Happiness Commission approving the inclusion of Sarpang as one of the four focused dzongkhags under the tourism development flagship programme is being circulated on social media. 

Younten Tshedup

Government “surprised” by Opposition’s criticisms on pay revision

Mon, 07/08/2019 - 16:46

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the Opposition’s post-Parliament comments on the pay revision were a deliberate attempt to misinform the public.

At a press conference on July 5, the Opposition said that pay revision caused discrepancies and disgruntlement among civil servants due to the government’s decision to provide high allowances for a select section of professionals.

The foreign minister on Saturday called a press conference at the Ministers’ Enclave to counter the arguments, where he said that the Opposition was party to all the decisions taken by the Parliament, including the pay revision bill. He said the Opposition’s use of strong and divisive words to fuel people’s sentiments forced the government to call its own press conference.

“We were surprised by the Opposition making comments,” he said.

He said that the government expected the Opposition to play a positive role, not only by opposing, but also by supporting the government.

“While they support the government decisions in the Parliament, as soon as they come out of the Parliament their views are totally changed and inform the public that they were not a party to the decisions,” Dr Tandi Dorji said.

Dr Tandi Dorji said it was unfortunate that a party that has been in the Parliament thrice knew only one thing – to be “for” while in the government and “against” while in the Opposition.

He added the Opposition lacked a sense of working together.

“As you have seen, we have taken a positive stand to the comments made by the Opposition in Parliament. We have voted against a motion moved by our own MPs and supported the Opposition’s,” he said.

“They accuse us of setting a bad precedent. But in our opinion, this particular party set the worst precedent. The worst is now gone. That’s why the people have Bhutan have not given them [the Opposition] the opportunity to form a government again,” the foreign minister said.

He said it was said that the Opposition had politicised the government’s decision to shift the tourism flagship programme from Zhemgang to Sarpang.

“I would like to request the Opposition to change their mindset and come where we are today to unite the people,” he said, adding that people should not be divided on political grounds.

He accused the Opposition of trying to “keep democracy where it was” when it was in power. “They have forgotten that it’s not People’s Democratic Party (PDP); it is now Nyamrup Tshogpa, which is wanting to work very closely,” adding that the precedent set by the past two governments were not worth following.

While acknowledging that teachers and health professionals deserve more, the Opposition said that there were no indicators to see how the increased pay would improve the quality of education and health care services.

Foreign minister blamed lack of attention from the past governments for a decline in the quality of education and health services. He said that the two sectors required attention.

“We are yet to see the impact on quality, but we are already seeing the impact on retention.”

The opposition had not given enough to lower-rung civil servants when it was in power, the foreign minister said, adding that the government decreased the pay at the higher rung and substantially increased pay and allowances for people at the lower rungs.

MB Subba 

ALD continues to be the top cause of death

Mon, 07/08/2019 - 16:45

Although there has been a slight decrease in the deaths related to alcohol liver disease (ALD) last year, it continues to be the top cause of all deaths in the country.

According to the annual health bulletin 2019, deaths related to ALD has decreased from 167 cases in 2017 to 113 last year, the lowest cases reported from across the country in the last five years.

However, the incidence of ALD per 10,000 has increased from 35 in 2017 to 37.5 last year. In 2016, the incidence of ALD per 10,000 was 46, 11 more than the previous year.

The total number of mental and behavioral disorders due to alcohol has also increased from 923 in 2017 to 1,010 last year. A majority (72 percent) of the patients reported to have mental and behavioral disorders due to alcohol were females.

Despite the decrease, it still being the leading cause of all deaths in the country could be due to high social and cultural significance of alcohol in Bhutanese society, according to the bulletin.

Of the 1,220 ALD cases reported to out-patient departments in all the health centres, except for the JDWNRH and two military hospitals last year, a majority was in the age group between 15 and 49 years with 776 cases.

About 271 patients were in age group 50 to 59 years, 170 were 60 years or above. Three patients with ALD were aged between five and 14 years.

In terms of inpatients, a total of 1,366 ALD patients were admitted in all hospitals in 2018, of which 109 died.

Health officials said that while the revenue from sale of alcohol is substantial, it does not compensate for the economic losses incurred as a result of alcohol-related harm, loss of productivity, and premature deaths occurring in the society.

About 70 percent of the 3,261 cases of domestic violence recorded by the RENEW from 2004 to 2017 was committed under the influence of alcohol.

According to a study conducted in 2014, the estimated economic returns in trade were Nu 1 billion, which translates to approximately one percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

The health ministry spent about Nu 27 million to treat alcohol related diseases in the country in 2016, up by a million from 2015.

Dechen Tshomo

12th Plan priorities for health sector

Mon, 07/08/2019 - 16:44

To ensure a healthier nation, the health sector’s priorities in the 12th Plan include providing access to equitable quality healthcare, reducing the incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and ensuring the sustainability of healthcare.

To achieve the objectives of the 12th Plan, the budget report 2019-20 states that the health sector is allocated a total of Nu 5.7 billion in the financial year 2019-20. Of the total allocation, Nu 2.3 billion is for the health ministry.

According to the report, the health ministry’s allocation includes Nu 420 million for the on-going construction of 150-bed Gyaltsuen Jetsun Pema Mother and Child Hospital and 40-bed hospital in Dewathang.

An addition of Nu 350 million is allocated in the dzongkhags for infrastructure development and Nu 212.5 million for construction and maintenance of rural water supply scheme.

Nu 60 million has also been allocated for the construction of additional wing at JDWNRH.

About Nu 75.5 million is allocated to pursue health promotion and disease prevention programmes to combat the emerging challenges with increasing healthcare costs associated to communicable and NCDs.

For the procurement of medical equipment and spare parts, the ministry and JDWNRH are allocated Nu 135 million and Nu 63.4 million respectively; Nu 19.2 million for the procurement of two ambulances and three service vehicles; Nu 56.8 million for human resources development programmes; Nu 13.5 million for continued medical education, and Nu 9.7 million for promotion of traditional medicines.

Flagship programme

Of the seven 12th Plan flagship programme, health is relevant to three programmes – water, Digital Drukyul and health.

According to the budget report, Nu 130 million for the health flagship programme is provisioned under the general reserves.

The heath flagship programme includes strengthening services at the regional hospitals, improving and strengthening the eight trauma centres, improving BHU IIs in six strategic areas, strengthening services at BHU II, especially lab services, and strengthening health-screening services at the grassroots.

For Digital Drukyul, health ministry’s chief planning officer, Tashi Penjor, said that the ministry had gathered a fund of USD 4 million for a project, EPIS (electoral patient information system) that would have patient’s clinical reports.

Health indicators

Mother and child health is one area that measures the nation’s health. In terms of trends in health indicators, maternal mortality ratio, infant mortality rate, under-five mortality rate, deliveries attended by skilled health personnel, institutional delivery and percentage of the population who live three hours of less from the nearest heath facility are the major health indicators.

Going by the major health indicators, the country has made a significant progress over the years. In 2000, the maternal mortality ratio was 255 per 100,000 live births. The health sector aims to reduce the ratio from 89 to 83 per 100,000 live births in the 12th Plan.

Infant mortality rate has been reduced from 60.5 in 2000 to 15.1 per 1,000 live births. The sector aims to further reduce it to less than 15 per 1,000 live births in the next five years.

Similarly, the under-five mortality rate per 1,000 live births is targeted to reduce to 20.3 per 1,000 live births from 34.1. In 2000, under-five mortality was 84 per 1,000 live births.

The sector also aims to increase institutional delivery to more than the current rate of 93.40 percent and the percentage of the population who live three hours or less from the nearest health facility to more than 90 percent.

Declining health financing, rising incidence of NCDs and chronic diseases, rising healthcare costs, the triple burden of disease, human resource constraints especially at the tertiary care level, scattered and hard to reach settlements and poor health-seeking behaviour are some of the challenges faced by the sector in the 12th Plan.

Dechen Tshomo

Our people deserve better

Mon, 07/08/2019 - 16:42

The people and the country have moved on from the divisive politics that spewed distrust and hate during the campaign days.

The on going spat between the government and the opposition tells us that our elected leaders have not.

Where the issues and the disagreements should have been on the pay revision and tourism flagship programme for Zhemgang, concerns that matter to the people, the debate has whipped up politics and personal attacks. Where the people expect changes and decisions to be based on reason, they are today subjected to witness the theatrics of impulses and arguments of the lowest order.

Insinuating political discrimination based on how and who the people voted for to explain the change in policies is despicable, especially when it comes from the opposition, whose members have been representing the people since the country’s transition to democracy.

For the government that espoused change and spoke about healing the wounds left behind by the campaigns, retorting with personal attacks and questioning the choice of the people of Zhemgang is both deplorable and vicious.

We are not proud of the discourse the people’s representatives are indulging in. A passive opposition insinuates political discrimination and the government, which remained silent on the GLOF threat from Thorthomi when the whole country was abuzz with it, calls an adhoc press conference to rebut the opposition’s accusations. It is becoming clear that the claims of reconciliation and the two working together are mere political gimmicks.

The venting has resulted in diluting the issues at hand and the reasoning behind the decisions made. The opposition will continue to question the decisions but it will be the government of the day who is answerable to the people of its decisions. The check on the leaders is that, if they make the wrong decisions, and the gaps are too large, they will not last. For the government, the mandate of the people to govern should be good enough to prioritise its choices. Its responses should provide clarity, not confusions seething with personal attacks. It should respect, not ridicule the choice of the people. Our politicians should stop dividing the country and pitching the east with the west or the central with the south and aligning parts of the country with one or the other political party.

What has become critical for our political leadership is to see the bigger picture as a nation, not as political parties that come in for only five years. Comparing itself to the past governments is akin to the comparisons being made between those who are getting a higher raise and those professions that aren’t.

It would be naïve to assume that politics is not inherent in the decisions that politicians make. What this calls for is for the society to ask bigger questions. It is time we question the purpose of pay revision, its politicisation and thereof the civil service, and debate the rationale for higher raise to clinical health personnel and teachers.  It is time to question how and why Zhemgang remained on the blind spot of policy makers for decades and not just its inclusion or exclusion from a tourism programme. It is time elected leaders understand that the people deserve better.

MoH allocates highest budget for drugs and infrastructure

Mon, 07/08/2019 - 16:41

A majority of the 12th Plan budget for the health ministry– Nu 2.51 billion of the total outlay of Nu 3.58 billion – is allocated for medicines, health technologies and infrastructure.

For medical services, the ministry would be given Nu 268 million and Nu 523 million for health promotion and disease prevention. About Nu 190 million is allocated for the traditional medicine services.

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ACC calls for quality and responsible complaints

Mon, 07/08/2019 - 16:40

The Anti-Corruption Commission received an average of 28 complaints a month last year, taking the total number of complaints received to 333, according to its 2018 annual report.

This was 28 more complaints compared with 2017.

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MoAF yet to finalise pilot schools to supply nutritious food

Mon, 07/08/2019 - 16:39

Despite concerns raised by the officials from the education and agriculture ministries on the transfer of increased stipend for school feeding, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering announced that stipend would be transferred to agriculture ministry.

This was announced in the State of the Nation report recently where the prime minister said that this would in turn ensure supply of locally grown food to schools while also facilitating farming communities with a ready market.

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RENEW’s microfinance members sensitised about social and health priorities

Mon, 07/08/2019 - 16:38

A non-government organisation, RENEW, conducted a workshop in Tsirang to its microfinance members, who would help women in rural areas.

The three-day workshop, which ended yesterday, was expected to help the members become aware of the social issues and health priorities.

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A giant with a gentle heart

Mon, 07/08/2019 - 16:37

In December 1977, a convoy of Royal Body Guard jeeps on their way from Trashigang came to a halt when a cow resting in the middle of the road near Pam village, refused to budge.

Out came a herder from the bushes, a tall figure trying to make the cow move. The cow remained stubbornly on the road. 

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Picture story

Mon, 07/08/2019 - 16:34

Friendship Cup 2019: Monks of Dordedrak monastery, Thimphu take part in their version of super league at about 12,000 feet above the sea level. (Photo: Karma Nima)

Focus point

Sat, 07/06/2019 - 14:46

Zhemgang unflagged, opposition cries foul

Sat, 07/06/2019 - 14:46

The government’s recent decision to replace Zhemgang with Sarpang as one of the four focused dzongkhags under the tourism flagship programme is politically driven, the opposition claims.

During a press conference yesterday, Opposition Leader, Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said the decision has undermined the parliament and the whole planning and budgetary process.

Under the flagship programme, the government had identified Dagana, Gasa, Lhuentse and Zhemgang as priority dzongkhags for tourism development in the 12th Plan.

For equitable development across all regions, it was a positive move, said Pema Gyamtsho. However, the last minute decision to remove Zhemgang from the list was questionable, he added.

Given that both the Members of Parliament (MP) from Zhemgang were in the Opposition, Pema Gyamtsho claimed that the decision was politically motivated. “If this is the truth, all constituencies falling under the Opposition should be concerned.”

He added that the role of Opposition is to provide check and balance. “However, the government wants us to keep quite and is always harping on cooperation. Their interpretation of cooperation is that the opposition agrees to whatever they decide.”

Panbang MP, Dorji Wangdi, said, “It is a deeply worrying political development, which has never happened in the past. Whatever justifications the cabinet may give, it is a bare fact that it is nothing other than outright political discrimination.”

He said the government has stated that the decision to replace Zhemgang with Sarpang was a result of Opposition’s motion to open entry points in the south.

Dorji Wangdi said the Opposition had put forward a motion during the first parliament session where it proposed five entry points –Gelephu, Panbang, Samdrupjongkhar, Samtse and Nganglam in the south.

“If what the government said is true, why only consider Sarpang and not the rest of the areas for potential tourist destination,” he said, adding that all the MPs from Sandrupjongkhar and Nganglam are from the Opposition while both the MPs from Sarpang are in the ruling party.   “This is all clear, and we all should be worried with such developments.”

Pema Gyamtsho said there is no link between the decision to open up tourist entry points and removing Zhemgang from tourism flagship programme. “It is a policy decision. The link here is very weak and the connection between these two issues are very suspicious.”

Members of the Opposition said that Zhemgang should be included in the focused group while Sarpang could be considered as an additional dzongkhag under the flagship programme.

Bardo-Trong MP, Gyembo Tshering, said the government’s decision is in conflict with its core value of narrowing the gap. “Zhemgang is one of the poorest and least developed dzongkhags. Despite this, the government has removed the dzongkhag from the list.”

Bartsham-Shongphu MP, Passang Dorji (PhD) said the move is an attempt to muzzle vocal parliamentarians. “It also discriminates the constituencies represented by the Opposition members and I think it would have a huge implication on democracy in future,” he said.  “This is the first incident where a government is targeting members of the Opposition and also the constituency, as well. This is a dangerous example the government is showing.”

During the budget deliberation at the recent parliament session, foreign minister, Dr Tandi Dorji, who is also the chairman of Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), had said that if it were a political move, Zhemgang would not have been considered from the beginning. “We have the authority,” he had said.

Lyonpo Tandi Dorji reminded the house that members had pressurised the government to open tourist entry points from Gelephu. He said that Sapang is most feasible because there is already an airport. “We need to prepare to open tourist entry also,” he said. “But there is no change in budget, which was endorsed by the house.”

He said the move was also in keeping with the regionally balanced development. However, he said it’s not finalised and that the government is discussing with Gross National Happiness Commission and TCB.

However, yesterday, Pema Gyamtsho during the press conference said, “From what we have heard, TCB has received directives from the government to replace Zhemgang.”

Younten Tshedup 

When and from where formal education must begin

Sat, 07/06/2019 - 14:44

The Ministry of Education standing the ground on the issue of underage admission is welcome.

The ministry in May revoked the admission of 890 PP students (below 5.5 years old) in public and private schools across the country. Parents, proprietors and principals of private schools then submitted a petition to the Prime Minister on June 13 and suggested that the government to set five years (as of March 2019) as entry age for PP.

The argument from the parents, proprietors and principals of private schools is clear and understandable. There are other factors that impel this decision from their side. There is now the middle class to consider where both parents are working. And there is severe shortage of babysitters or helpers.

But then, let’s look at and understand the point that the education ministry is making. It will not allow request from the parents, proprietors and principals of private schools, however it is constructed, taking into account children’s development stages and well-being based on global research findings and practices. It is a valid argument. When the child is not ready to learn or go through the school system, where is the real benefit?

However, there is also a serious problem with the education ministry. If age criteria for admission of children in class PP in both public and private is six or are children born on or before February 13, 2013, how is this monitored? A circular from the ministry says that if there is space after the admission period, the schools have the discretion to admit children who are five and half years old or older to Class PP.

The argument must rest here. 

Going by research by educationists worldwide, by the age of 6, a child’s brain is almost adult-like. Learning is significantly dependent on the basic language and higher cognitive capacities the brain has developed in the early years.

The ‘right’ age to start school could vary depending on the environment a child is brought up in, but that cannot, and should not, compel us to meddle in the system that is better informed. A study by well-placed university has found that kids whose parents waited to enrol them in kindergarten by age 6 (instead of 5) had measurably better scores on tests of self-control by the time they were 7 and 11.

The ministry must carry out a serious study considering the socioeconomic development and the many changes occurring in our society today. But we cannot settle for convenience of a few, because we are talking about education and the future of this country.

OAG drops embezzlement charges against former RICBL CEO

Sat, 07/06/2019 - 14:43

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has dropped the case of public fund embezzlement against the former chief executive officer of Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan (RICBL), Namgyel Lhendup.

In his letter written to the Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) chairperson yesterday, Attorney General (AG) Shera Lhendup stated that OAG had reviewed the case diligently and determined that the case in Chapter V does not merit to initiate criminal prosecution against the former CEO of RICBL.

The ACC forwarded the case to the OAG on December 29, 2017 alleging Namgyel Lhendup had embezzled public fund of Nu 237,907 from the company’s Ex-Gratia Fund and CEO’s public relations Fund without endorsement of management committee. The commission implicated the former CEO for seven counts of embezzlement of funds or securities by public servant. In one count, he was implicated for withdrawing Nu 80,000 to donate to Dongkola lhakhang and a Rinpoche but failed to produce any supporting documents.

AG Shera Lhendup stated that to meet various natures of expenses, the RICBL board  approved six different budget heads, including two- ex-gratia fund and CEO’s PR fund, which are relevant to the present case. The fund, which disburses from this ex-gratia budget-head, is subject to prior endorsement of the core management team comprising of CEO, executive director and five general managers of different departments. Clause 6.3 of the General Insurance Claim Manual 2011 defines Ex-gratiaas “… a payment for losses outside scope of insurance policy considered in special cases on grounds of good business relationship and policy.”

CEO’s PR fund is at the sole discretion of the CEO for fulfilling corporate-social-responsibilities by way of donations and other contributions.

The letter stated that the citation of wrong budget-head caused procedural lapses.  While there was the ex-gratia fund, there did not exist a budget head called “CEO’s Ex-gratia Fund.” CEO’s personal assistant (PA) had processed the PR fund release on several occasions by citing it as CEO’s Ex-gratia Fund.

The heads of General Administration Department & ADM approved, and the funds were released from the ex-gratia fund” instead of CEO’s PR Fund without the endorsement of the management team as required. “It is on this basis that the ACC alleges the CEO for embezzlement of funds by a public servant,” AG Shera Lhendup stated in his letter.

He stated that the wrongful citation of budget-head was neither notified to the CEO nor informed to his PA for necessary corrections. “The joint statements deposited with ACC by the dealing officials of RICBL maintained that the CEO cannot be held accountable for the alleged release of funds as it was the dealing officials whose failure had resulted in the disbursements of funds from the ex-gratia fund,” AG stated.

While determining CEO’s culpable intent or if he had issued any instructions to withdraw money from the ex-gratia fund, OAG found that the CEO consistently maintained in his statements that the funds should have been released from the CEO’s PR fund and that he never instructed his PA or other dealing officials to disburse the funds from the ex-gratia fund. That assertion by the CEO, according to AG, is corroborated by the statements of the dealing officials who maintained that they received no directives from the CEO for such fund release.

For CEO’s PR Fund, the board approved Nu 500,000 each for the financial years 2016 and 2017. Of that allocated budget, the CEO spent Nu 200,000 in 2016 and Nu 85,000 in 2017. While reviewing, the OAG found that there was a balance of Nu 300,000 in 2016 and Nu 415,000 in 2017.

For ex-gratia fund, the board also approved Nu 450,000 for the financial year 2016 and Nu 460,000 for 2017. The total release made from the ex-gratia fund for the two years was Nu 237,907 and remained a total balance of Nu 672,093.

“Any unused budget in those two budget-heads lapsed annually in favour of the company at the end of each fiscal year,” the letter to ACC stated. “The receipts for the alleged amount spent by the CEO has been fully accounted and their receipts validated by the ACC at various stages of the investigation and on reviewing the case by OAG.”

Based on theses findings, the OAG concluded that the release of funds from the ex-gratia fund was due to the wrong citation of budget-head by the CEO’s PA as there was sufficient balance amount in the CEO’s PR Fund to meet the alleged releases.  It also stated that the CEO fully accounted for the budget he had released to fulfill corporate-social-responsibilities, and had personally gained no material benefits from the alleged funds that he had spent.

The letter stated that it is incontrovertibly conclusive that the CEO had neither gained any material benefits from the alleged embezzlement nor had intent to misuse funds from the Ex-gratia Fund for his own vested interest as he still had unused funds under CEO’s PR Fund which got annually lapsed.

“The alleged offence is thus nothing more than administrative lapses on the part of the dealing officials of RICBL,” AG Sheral Lhendup said. “The case is being dropped from the prosecution proceedings and, in all our humility, we are of the view that the case did not merit to be forwarded to OAG for prosecution.”

ACC’s Commissioner Jamtsho said that ACC will review their report vis-a-vis OAG’s letter on Monday.

Rinzin Wangchuk  

When and from where formal education must begin

Sat, 07/06/2019 - 14:42

The Ministry of Education standing the ground on the issue of underage admission is welcome.

The ministry in May revoked the admission of 890 PP students (below 5.5 years old) in public and private schools across the country. Parents, proprietors and principals of private schools then submitted a petition to the Prime Minister on June 13 and suggested that the government to set five years (as of March 2019) as entry age for PP.

The argument from the parents, proprietors and principals of private schools is clear and understandable. There are other factors that impel this decision from their side. There is now the middle class to consider where both parents are working. And there is severe shortage of babysitters or helpers.

But then, let’s look at and understand the point that the education ministry is making. It will not allow request from the parents, proprietors and principals of private schools, however it is constructed, taking into account children’s development stages and well-being based on global research findings and practices. It is a valid argument. When the child is not ready to learn or go through the school system, where is the real benefit?

However, there is also a serious problem with the education ministry. If age criteria for admission of children in class PP in both public and private is six or are children born on or before February 13, 2013, how is this monitored? A circular from the ministry says that if there is space after the admission period, the schools have the discretion to admit children who are five and half years old or older to Class PP.

The argument must rest here. 

Going by research by educationists worldwide, by the age of 6, a child’s brain is almost adult-like. Learning is significantly dependent on the basic language and higher cognitive capacities the brain has developed in the early years.

The ‘right’ age to start school could vary depending on the environment a child is brought up in, but that cannot, and should not, compel us to meddle in the system that is better informed. A study by well-placed university has found that kids whose parents waited to enrol them in kindergarten by age 6 (instead of 5) had measurably better scores on tests of self-control by the time they were 7 and 11.

The ministry must carry out a serious study considering the socioeconomic development and the many changes occurring in our society today. But we cannot settle for convenience of a few, because we are talking about education and the future of this country.

Tading residents raise concerns over mining and dredging

Sat, 07/06/2019 - 14:41

More than 30 people of Tading village, Samtse, yesterday met the Tading gewog administration officials and raised concerns over the ongoing mining (quartzite) operations in their villages.

The gathering underlined that several people’s land have been affected by the mining activities. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is also not met, the villagers highlighted. There are three mining companies operational at the village today.

Some villagers also questioned the gewog officials on the mining clearance and procedures.

One of the residents, Ugyen Lama, said it was surprising there are several mining operations in just one gewog.

“Are they feasible? The gewog office has to tell us who signed for the clearances,” he said.

Ugyen Lama also said that he would like to see and understand the terms and conditions of the mining. After his land was affected, the businessman had also written to the gup office.

Villagers stressed that mining is causing problems such as landslides, lack of drinking water as pipes were damaged by mining activities, and dust.

They said the farm road condition has gone from bad to worse – dry and dusty in winter – and muddy during summer. In a desperate move, villagers have also stopped trucks from plying their roads a few times.

One villager said that the mining company told people they didn’t have fuel to help clear the road when villagers had approached for help once. They were there to earn, the mining company had told, he said.

Another villager from Howri Khola, Bhim Bahadur Ghalley said he objected to mining operation at Jhandidara about 10 years ago.

“I still have the objection letter,” he said. “But I don’t know how it got through later. About three people from my village had signed for the clearance.”

Bhim Bahadur Ghalley said there was an urgent need to take consultation and discuss further because the impact is happening now.

“Should we talk to the mining owners or do we take this from the gewog?” he said.

Rudra Singh Ghalley told the gewog officials that it was still not late and proposed something must be done now.

“We all know the damages done by the mining,” he said, adding that development activities would never happen if mining activities kept causing damages in the villages. “People expect the gewog office to do something.”

Dredging was another issue some Tading villagers stressed. The dredging works at Purbeychhu have not helped the river diversion as expected.

Although dredging works are necessary in Purbeychhu, works should help river diversion, villagers said.

Gewog officials told the villagers that they would take the concerns to the forest office.

There are about four dredging companies at Purbeychhu.

Meanwhile, those in the meeting and the gewog officials yesterday said that most people who knew better about the mining operations and clearances were missing.

Villagers have demanded another round of meeting on July 8. This time, villagers asked the gewog officials to request the mining and dredging owners to attend the meeting.

Tading gup, gewog administration officer, mangmi, and tshogpa attended the meeting. They also took notes of people’s problems and said they will inform to relevant authorities. The gewog officials also said they would arrange a meeting with the mining and dredging owners.

Rajesh Rai | Tading

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