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APA focuses on efficient transportation

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 16:06

For efficient transportation, the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS) will prioritise enhancing load carrying capacity on national highways, industrial road and bridges from 18 metric tonnes to 30 or 50 metric tonnes in this fiscal year.

This was one of the targets highlighted by the ministry in its annual performance agreement (APA). About two weeks after the ministry’s compact was reviewed, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering signed the APA with the ministry on August 21.

A tripartite signing of the APA between the Prime Minister, MoWHS minister and the secretary of the ministry was followed by four other signings for different departments and their respective heads.

Works and human settlement Minister Dorji Tshering said that although the emphasis was given on improving accessibility through development of road networks and infrastructure until the 11th plan, the ministry in the current plan would focus on consolidating and improving existing infrastructure.

Lyonpo said that besides the regular work of improving the existing road networks through blacktopping and resurfacing, the Department of Roads (DoR) would now work on enhancing carrying capacity through construction of rigid pavement, particularly at the industrial sites and also with construction and replacement of old bridges.

“Eleven bridges will be constructed and the design for three more will be ready,” he said.

Given climatic conditions and susceptibility to climate change, Lyonpo said that developing climate-resilient structures was important. DoR has pledged to initiate activities for developing a guideline for design and construction of climate-resilient roads.

A research on slope stabilisation and protection, rigid pavement and use of plastic mixtures for blacktopping were some of the innovative actions included under the target.

Of the total budget outlay of Nu 2,555.623 million (M), the ministry has allocated Nu 1,741.04M for its first target – to improve and maintain the resilience of road network; Nu 782.42M to pursue green growth in the construction industry; and Nu 24.150M was allocated to enhance the sustainability of human settlement.

The ministry appropriated Nu 7.8M for secretariat services.

At a ministerial level, the ministry has identified a total of four objectives linked with 18 success indicators and one flagship programme.

To pursue green growth in the construction industry, Lyonpo said that the department of engineering services (DES) would initiate activities to professionalise the construction sector.

He said that because Bhutan was located on the vulnerable seismic zone, there was an acute need to assess the vulnerability of our traditional buildings, not only to seismic vulnerability but also to other natural calamities like storms.

“Therefore, research will be carried out to test the vulnerability of our structures and, subsequently develop standards and guidelines for our buildings,” said Lyonpo.

The DES will implement the Water Flagship Programme to ensure availability of adequate water for drinking and irrigation by collaborating with dzongkhags, thromdes and local governments.

To implement the flagship programme, the ministry has allocated a budget of Nu 13.50M.

However, an official with DES said that the department had not signed the APA because the Water Flagship Programme was being prepared.

To facilitate and assist in the preparation of strategic human settlement plans, the Department of Human Settlement (DHS) will prepare spatial plans for identified dzongkhags, including Lhuentse and other areas like Sonamthang in Zhemgang.

Lyonchhen said that from next year, the budget would be appropriated only after a detailed review of the APA is carried out and the prioritised activities of the agency and ministry identified.

Chimi Dema

Only 1,259 qualify for BCSE examination

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 16:05

Of the 3,256 graduates from 210 universities and colleges who sat for the preliminary examination (PE) for the Bhutan Civil Service Examination (BCSE), 1,259 qualified securing 50 percent.

The Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) declared the PE results yesterday.

RCSC officials said that 3,600 graduates registered for the PE and 3,256 graduates (1,576 female  and  1,680 male) appeared the PE on August 4.

RCSC’s senior human resource officer, Jigme Norbu, said that of the 303 graduates who appeared for Dzongkha category, only 42 got 50 percent and above to compete for the 104 vacancies this year.

In the Post Graduate Diploma in Public Administration (PGDPA), 858 candidates appeared PE and 247 qualified to vie for 45 slots. In Post Graduate Diploma in Financial Management (PGDFM), 253 from 661 graduates for 30 slots. In Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE), 460  appeared and 130 qualified to compete for  145 Vacancies.

In technical category, 974 appeared and 587 obtained 50 percent for 359 slots.

The vacancy for Bachelors in Education (B.Ed.) in the education service has also increased to 384 from 254 vacancies in 2018. 649 B.Ed. graduates registered for B.Ed in BCSE 2019.

The highest vacancies are in general subjects with 160 seats for B.Ed. Primary followed by 53 seats in B.Ed Dzongkha. This time the vacancies for Special Education Needs (English) has also increased by 31 in the B.Ed. Primary and five seats for Special Needs in Maths for B.Ed. Secondary with Maths elective. There are also 30 slots for Guidance and Counseling this year.

According to RCSC officials, the graduates will be given the opportunity to change their category of examination during documents verification and confirmation of candidature for the main examination.

Meanwhile, graduates could recheck their PE results from August 22 to 28 after paying an administrative fee of Nu 300 and the appeal result will be declared on September 2 on the RCSC website.

The main BCSE will be conducted from October 11 to 13.

Thinley Namgay

For a better city

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 16:04

Of the many performance agreements signed between agencies and the prime minister, residents of the capital city would look forward to the one Thimphu thromde signed on Wednesday.

The thromde signed to ensure 24X7 clean drinking water, a feat that was too much for the thromde thus far. It also agreed to make the urban road network pothole-free and make Thimphu a safe city. There are others like sewage network and solid waste management. These are issues the thromde is grappling with and not finding a solution. It will now be done by next June.

The agreement is bold. The Thrompon’s confidence comes from what is being done or planned. The water from Dodena in upper Thimphu will soon reach the reservoirs in the city. It is seen as the solution to the evergreen problem.

Thimphu had been plagued with water shortage with some residents resorting to buying or fetching water. They can live with noise or stray dogs, but not without water. If water sources are getting smaller, the bigger problem is in distribution. There is no equality in it. The agreement will force the thromde to look into this and even expose illegal connections or tapping.

Pothole is another issue that it has now convinced people that we need a VIP to visit the city to get rid of potholes or resurface our roads. In some parts of the city, some roads are not fit for vehicles. Some are on newly blacktopped road. Motorists are frustrated to the extent that some are even thinking of demanding “vehicle worthiness certificate” from authorities when they renew their vehicle’s road-worthiness certificate.

Garbage and sewer, especially overflowing or broken sewer lines, are other problems that dominate complaints both online and offline. If the Thrompon is the “wild boar” – called out of frustration for the regular road-digging activity around the city, he sure has developed a thick skin to the complaints.

The thromde performance will be judged by what is achieved by next June. Their achievement will bring a lot of difference to the capital city and make it more liveable. For this they need support. Support both in terms of budget and cooperation from those living and working in the city.

If the thromde is kept waiting for VIP visits to mend the roads, if landlords keep tapping water from sources or if people cannot take care of their trash or dispose it appropriately, the thromde will fail and so will our hope of a better city. Water, it is said, is the main cause of potholes besides poor quality work. Yet we wait for someone to fix a leakage after taking a photo and posting it on social media.

The responsibility is not the thromde’s alone. Vandalism of public property, illegal hutments, underground bars can be stopped if public take ownership. For instance, many, including legislators and law enforcers, know the whereabouts of illegal bars, if not frequenting themselves.  We know bars run from living rooms and late into the night. Shady bars that operate late brew problems including crime, petty and severe.

As our capital city expands, together with professional planning, we need responsible citizens.

EU to continue supporting Bhutan: Tomasz Kozlowski

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 16:03

The Ambassador of the European Union (EU) to Bhutan based in New Delhi, Tomasz Kozlowski, who was on a farewell visit to Bhutan from August 20 to 22, applauded the government for utilising EU’s development assistance effectively and efficiently.

As a result, according to the EU ambassador, 80 percent of EU assistance to Bhutan has been channelled through budgetary support to use fund according to the procedures and priorities of the Bhutanese government.

There are two main budget support projects that the EU is financing. The first project supports local governments and fiscal decentralisation, which is managed by the Ministries of Home Affairs and Finance. The other supports agriculture and climate-related agenda.

The EU has tripled its financial assistance to Bhutan for the period between 2014 and 2020 to €52million (Nu 4 billion) for self-reliance and inclusive socio-economic development.

As a long-term partner, the EU supports Bhutan’s efforts towards democratic governance, sustainable economic and agricultural development, climate change adaptation, and other national priorities through direct budget financial support.

The core of EU assistance, according to Ambassador Kozlowski, is provided through direct budget support to the government programmes according to its priorities. He also said that EU and the government were in consultation about the post-2020 envelope in line with Bhutan’s 12th Plan and the possibility to further support after Bhutan’s graduation from LDC status in 2023.

Including budget support and different regional and thematic projects, EU’s support to Bhutan has reached a level of €68.4 million between 2014 and 2020.


New areas of cooperation

While in Bhutan, Ambassador Kozlowski launched a new project to improve Global Research and Education Network Connectivity from Bhutan to the Trans-Eurasia Information Network under the umbrella of the Asia Connect project. The initiative, with an overall EU funding of €20 million (M), ensures that 24 Asia-Pacific countries are connected by powerful high-capacity, high-quality internet linkages.

The EU and Bhutan enjoyed a strong bilateral relationship and he was confident that this new project would further enhance our ties, Ambassador Kozlowski said.

“Strengthening our connections between research and education communities will not only improve Bhutanese citizen’s access to education and research resources but will also have a long-term positive impact on its economy and well-being,” he said.

Bhutan is one of the beneficiaries of EU funded Erasmus+ higher education programme.

Ambassador Kozlowski said: “We have different types of projects. For example, we provide support for the development of civil society in Bhutan because we think that civil society is an important element of a democratic society.”

One of the objectives of his visit to Bhutan, Ambassador Kozlowski said, was to understand the government’s priorities, expectations, and economic and social plans. His last visit to Bhutan was in April this year.

Regarding EU-Bhutan relations for which Ambassador Kozlowski has been responsible for the last four years, he said: “I have been personally engaged in promoting EU-Bhutan relationship. I am leaving Bhutan with a high level of satisfaction. We perceive Bhutan as one of the important partners on global issues.”

Both EU and Bhutan are important supporters of the implementation of the Paris agreement and all actions taken by the international community in the field of climate change.

“We are an important partner for Bhutan and Bhutan is an important partner for us,” Ambassador Kozlowski said.

Recently, the EU decided to provide additional assistance to Bhutan for the development of a national training centre for research and rescue. “We mobilised resources for the implementation of Water Flagship Programme,” Ambassador Kozlowski. We provide some technical assistance for migrational border control and production of organic food, a switch project from traditional agriculture to organic agriculture.”


On LDC status

Ambassador Kozlowski, who received an audience from His Majesty The King on August 21, said that Bhutan’s formal graduation from LDC status in 2023 would have some consequences because Bhutan then would not be eligible for certain forms of international support and using certain schemes.

This means Bhutan must look for diversification income source to finance her economic development.

“That is why European investment bank is ready to step in with concessional loan,” Ambassador Kozlowski said. “I hope Bhutan will soon enter into an agreement with the European investment bank, which is a key EU financial institutions.”

As a middle-income country, Bhutan could lose certain trade privileges but the EU was ready to maintain some privileges under the GSP+ system, he added.

“EU is committed to continue supporting the democratisation process, economic and social development of Bhutan even after graduation from LDC,” Ambassador Kozlowski said.

Ambassador said that he never visited Bhutan before his appointment as the EU ambassador in 2016. “I made regular visits to Bhutan thereafter and I know the country very well. I feel at home here,” he said. “I will be physically in Europe but I m not leaving Bhutan.”

While in Bhutan, the Ambassador met Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji, Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor, Home Minister Sherub Gyeltshen, and Gross National Happiness Commission Secretary  Thinley Namgyel.

Ambassador Kozlowski met with Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD), other Bhutanese high-level officials, members of the mass media and other partners.

The EU, which consists of 28 countries and has had strong cooperation with Bhutan since 1982, has the world’s largest economy and its third largest population, after China and India.

Rinzin Wangchuk

Construction worker detained for “trespassing”

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 16:02

Thimphu police on August 17 detained a 22-year-old construction worker for “trespassing” into a girl’s room early in the morning.

The incident happened at Debsi, Thimphu around 5 am. Sources said the suspect had climbed on to the house with the help of pipe and entered into the 15-year-old girl’s room from the window.

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Bhutan to take part in Dubai Expo 2020

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 16:01

Bhutan will participate in the Dubai Expo 2020 scheduled to take place from October 20, 2020 to April 10, 2021 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the invitation of the UAE.

The six-month global expo, where about 193 countries are expected to participate, will provide Bhutan with an opportunity to showcase and promote investment, tourism, culture and Bhutanese products to international markets.

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Farmers blame road widening work for water shortage

Fri, 08/23/2019 - 16:00

It is paddy-weeding season in the Punakha-Wangdue valley. Without enough water, weeding is a tedious job. But farmers are happy that they have at least cultivated their land.

They did it with much difficulty. Farmers of three chiwogs in Thedtsho gewog, Wangdue Phodrang depend on Punatsangchhu for their changla (paddy transplantation). Without enough water through the renovated gewog’s Baychu irrigation channel, farmers resorted to pumping water from the Punatsangchhu.

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Thromde to get rid of potholes, ensures 24×7 drinking water  

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 16:08

By July next year, residents of Thimphu Thromde will have access to 24×7 clean drinking water.

This is one of the success indicators highlighted in the thromde’s annual performance agreement (APA) for the current fiscal year.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering signed the APA with Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee yesterday after the thromde was asked to rework on its APA document earlier this month.

To enhance health and nutrition of thromde residents, Thimphu Thromde has pledged to provide every household with 24×7 clean drinking water supply.

24×7 water supply has been considered as having adequate water for 24 hours from a tap and not pressurised from the source, which shall also be by use of storage facilities.

Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said that every building in the thromde has a storage facility. “We will be supplying water twice every day in the morning and evening. Some households will receive three times in a day so that they can fill their storage tanks.”

The hours of water supply per day have been designed differently for different locations. Officials said that supply system is technically based on consumption per capita per day of the consumers.

The thrompon said the water source in Dodena would be connected to the three-tank reservoir in Changangkha.  During the dry season the source in Motithang is not enough to cater to all the residents, he said. “Once the water from Dodena is connected to the three-tank, drinking water issue should be addressed.”

As instructed by the Prime Minister, the thrompon signed an APA with Lyonchhen on five key issues that included providing 24×7 safe drinking water to thromde residents.

The other key issues are making urban road network in the thromde pothole-free, enhancing safety in the city, putting in adequate measures to manage solid waste and connect all households to a sewerage system.

To improve livability, safety and sustainability of human settlement in the capital, thromde has pledged to achieve 100 percent pothole-free urban blacktopped roads.

Kinlay Dorjee said that this indicator would be measured based on the number of complaints received and resolved within the turn-around-time (TAT) based on the complaints shared on the thromde’s official Facebook page.

The TAT for pothole repair is catagorised into two – three days if it is a dry pothole and three to seven days if the potholes are due to water leakage from water pipes and sewer manhole. Thromde would also take care of the protruding manholes.

He said that in the last few years, Thimphu Thromde carried out major road resurfacing in various locations. “And looking at the progress of the achievement in the past, we feel that if given some momentum, we can and should be able achieve this target.”

To ensure effective management of municipal solid waste, segregation of waste at source would be carried out strictly. For this, in the current fiscal year the thromde would be piloting a two-bin system in 50 buildings in identified locations.

Kinlay Dorjee said that these buildings are those who do not match the collection timing of the waste trucks. It was found that the garbage were scattered around the surrounding. Using the two bins, residents can responsibly store their waste for the trucks to pick up, he added.

Also 10 waste-drop-off centres would be constructed in Taba, Dechencholing, Babesa, Jungzhina, Motithang, Changzamtog, Pamtsho, Changbangdu, Olakha and Simtokha.

To achieve this target, officials said that the budget for the activities would have to be approved by the government including approval for long-term government land lease for the construction of the drop-off centres.

To provide sewer service, Kinlay Dorjee said that those residents without septic tanks would have to build one. “Where there is no sewerage network, people will be asked to connect to the treatment system,” he said. “We are extending our network and would be also inspecting all the sites and ensuring that no body is discharging their sewer water into the river and streams.”


Safe city

To improve safety of residents living in the city, some 12 closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras would be installed in Changbangdu and Hejo vegetable shed areas and about 200 street light lamps in Changbangdu and Pamtsho local area plans would also be fitted.

The thrompon said that the office is also working closely with entertainment centres. More than 40 karaoke operators in the capital have formed an association to resolve issues related to the business.

“There was no association in the past and no guidance so everyone was doing business on their own,” he said. With the association formed that has a working committee, if there are things being done out of the rule, the association will take care it.

“With the help of these associations we are trying to handle the illegal bars flourishing in the city,” said the thrompon. “We will have no sympathy for people thriving on illegal businesses.”

Meanwhile, sharing his contentment with the final document, Lyonchhen said that Thimphu Thromde’s APA document could be used as a model document for the rest of the agencies and ministries.

“It has turned out to be just as I expected,” Lyonchhen said. “Achieving these targets would definitely have a positive impact to the residents of Thim-throm.”

Lyonchhen also assured full support of the government in helping thromde fulfil its activities.

Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said that with the Prime Minister’s reassurance to provide support both in terms of financial and policy interventions wherever required, his team is excited to achieve all the outlined targets.

Also another APA with details on the activities and other mandatory indicators was signed between the thrompon and the executive secretary.

Younten Tshedup

Two die from dengue fever, number of affected people increasing

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 16:07

With one more patient succumbing to dengue fever, the recent outbreak of dengue has claimed two lives while the number of affected are increasing.

A 30-year-old man died yesterday at the intensive care unit of the Thimphu national referral hospital. The deceased is a resident of Phuentsholing where 1,239 confirmed dengue cases were reported as of Tuesday, August 20. The other victim was a 25-year-old woman from Tading, Samtse. She died on August 11.

Meanwhile, a severe dengue outbreak has stricken residents of Phuentsholing. Phuentsholing general hospital reported 33 positive cases in one day, on August 19.

There are four types of dengue fever. The most common in Phuentsholing and other affected parts in the country is “the cerotype 2,” which is also the most threatening.

Dengue fever symptoms appear three to 14 days after a mosquito bite. Mild and high fever, severe headache, pain behind the eyes, joint pains, and rashes are some of the symptoms.

Phuentsholing general hospital has become crowded with patients waiting in queue everyday for the reports and treatment since the last 10 days. With the emergency room packed, the hospital had for many days adjusted trollies along the corridors.

On August 12, the hospital received more than 700 people and most had come complaining of dengue symptoms.

Nothing had changed as of yesterday.

Some sat with on the staircase with their heads down on their relatives’ shoulder, while some just laid down on the benches. A hospital staff said that more than 20 hospital staffs were affected by the fever. From government officials to private offices and corporations and students, people from all organisastions have been hit by the fever.

A woman who was headed to Thimphu had to stay longer in Phuentsholing when two of her friends were diagnosed with dengue. She was with her friends at the hospital waiting for the reports yesterday.

“I will have to stay here now,” she said. “I have brought both to the hospital.”

A government official said that the fever has gone beyond control now. He said it was also “disturbing” that somebody had died.

“We are educated and we at least know how to take care, but I am worried for those who come from villages,” he said, adding that the government has to do something before it is too late.

“I am recovering from a painful experience.”

People who come from other dzongkhags are also reported of getting the fever. Chogyal, a businessman said he had no idea when the dengue mosquito had bitten him.

“I was on tour for several days in Thimphu,” he said. “Symptoms started to show right after I came to Phuentsholing.”

Chogyal said his blood platelets had decreased to 91. Dengue fever reduces blood platelets below the required standard count of 150.

Kuensel learned that there are just two fogging machines to control mosquitoes by spraying. Owing to the severity of the situation, a rapid response team comprising of the health, drungkhag, and thromde are now getting five more fogging machines from Samtse and Gelephu. The team is also working on the way forward.

Drungkhag health officer Passang Tshering said they are going to conduct a mass cleaning campaign on August 24 to eradicate the mosquito breeding sources in the town.

“Most cases are being reported of those people living across the border,” he said.

The response team member Tenzin said that “the improper storage of water” has caused more mosquito breeding grounds in Phuentsholing. “People store water because of the shortage of water supply here,” he said.

Tenzin said that dengue is a viral disease spread by Aedes mosquitoes. The disease can manifest as simple febrile illness or severe hemorrhagic forms.

“Though it is the mosquito that is responsible for the transmission of dengue, our behavior, mainly improper management of waste is directly responsible for maintaining the mosquito population, thereby increasing the risk of it spreading,” he said.

The number of positive dengue fever cases could be higher than the hospital record considering hundreds of people who visited the private clinics for blood tests. Most visit private clinics because of the rush with increased number of patients at the hospital.

Three main private diagnostic centres in the town recorded about 579 blood samples collected for dengue fever. Out of this, about 267 cases were reported positive as of yesterday. Phuentsholing diagnostic centre alone tested 100 positive cases from 250 blood samples. However, these include both Bhutanese and those from across the border. Some people who are tested positive also do not report to the hospital, which otherwise would mean more were affected.

Dr Lethro of Phuentsholing general hospital also said the numbers of positive cases could be higher than the current records maintained.

“Sometimes the rapid kit test does not give 100 percent accuracy on dengue results,” he said, adding that it was rare incidences though.

In some cases, although the result showed “negative” the clinical picture of the fever was similar to dengue’s.


Prevention, better than cure

Dr Lethro said dengue fever prevention strategies have two components, which people should be mindful of.

“First is personal protection such as wearing light colored long sleeve clothes, applying mosquito repellants, using nets and coils,” he said.

The second one, he said was to prevent mosquito breeding through proper disposal of tyres, pet bottles, coconut shells, buckets, and other containers that can collect rainwater and allow mosquito to breed.

The panic among the public has also increased, which actually, has helped people to be more cautious.

In the town, the Namsay Pharmaceuticals medical shop owner said that the shop ran out of Odomos, a mosquito repellent,.

“We are the Odomos distributor but we have found the company has no Odomos at present,” he said. “Yesterday, we called company to ask if they can manage. They said there is no production in the company.”

The proprietor said that they recently sent about five tubes of Odomos to Bangladesh, where dengue fever outbreak is severe. Namsay’s stock of Odomos exhausted on August 18.

Across the border, a medical shop owner said that Odomos production has stopped about a month ago. However, few shops across the border have Odomos, Kuensel found yesterday.

The first dengue fever was reported in the first week of July in Phuentsholing hospital. The number had increased to about 100 cases by July 19. In total, 468 dengue fever tested positive in July alone. More than 771 cases have been confirmed this month until now.

Phuentsholing has consistently seen dengue fever cases in the last five years. In 2016, the hospital recorded 857 positive cases but no casualties were reported. It was the year Phuentsholing received the heaviest rainfall. This year it has rained more with more intervals. The temperature also has soared this year.

The situation is similar across the border in Jaigaon.

Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

Wage rate rise to follow soon

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 16:06

Among the many pledges of the government, increasing the national minimum daily wage rate to Nu 450 in keeping with its goal of narrowing the gap was received generally well. 

The issue was discussed in the Parliament but with the Opposition concerned that rise in national minimum wage rate could do more damage than good to the economy, nothing concrete has come of it until now—seven months after the debate in the Parliament.

In the meanwhile, with the salary rise for the civil servants through and the initiatives begun already on revising salary for the state-owned enterprises, the question of national minimum daily wage rate has returned with a tone of renewed urgency, particularly among the segment of population who feel they too deserve a rise.

The standoff that resulted from the parliamentary debate, however, is likely break soon. Labour and Human Resources Minister Ugyen Dorji said that the groundwork for revision of the national minimum wage rate had begun and that the concept paper already been submitted to the ministry.

Lyonpo said that wage rate rise was in the party manifesto and that the revision was long overdue. It has also been reflected in the ministry’s Annual Performance Agreement.

Classified into five categories, the wage rate revision is based on various skills in line with the Wage Rate Act 1994. The last wage rate was revised by about 30 to 35 percent in September 1, 2015.

“It would be premature to comment and share the details because the ministry is trying to explore the possibilities,” Lyonpo said. This means the Department of Labour will have to form a wage rate committee task force to study the wage rate, work on the revision and recommend the options.

“This is what we are planning to do. We hope to complete the task in about a year’s time. But concept paper is ready,” Lyonpo said.

The government’s manifesto that it would keep track of inflation, cost of living, GDP and revise the rates accordingly.

“The revision is important and should be done periodically like how the pay revision takes place every five years,” Lyonpo said. The wage rate would be revised because it was a party promise, not necessarily because of salary revision for the civil servants, he added.

Wage rate revision is expected to benefit people working in the private sector, especially those who are paid less.

Currently, category I workers—auto mechanic and carpenter—get Nu 324 a day while category II workers like supervisors, metalsmiths and plant operator get Nu 286 a day. Auto electricians, plumbers and linemen are paid Nu 254 a day under category III. Sweepers, wiremen and sawyers, who fall in category IV, get Nu 234 a day.

Unskilled national work force gets Nu 215 a day.

Yangchen C Rinzin

Asi@Connect launched to enhance  DrukREN connectivity

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 16:05

Bhutan will be connected to the global research and education network community through Asi@Connect project, which was launched on August 20.

The launch highlighted DrukREN connectivity to Trans-Eurasia Information Network (TEIN) initiative (TEIN) and Global R&E Network.

Druk Research and Education Network (DrukREN) is a national research and education network. It facilitates the participation of researchers in projects such as radio astronomy, telemedicine, and crop research both within and outside Bhutan.

It is expected to support cost-effective and time-efficient e-learning initiatives, making education more flexible and accessible.

Minister of Information and Communications Karma Donnen Wangdi said that such a platform would make education more flexible and accessible. He said, with the support from Asi@Connect, DrukREN would support countries to develop and deploy new network services, facilitate human capacity building, knowledge exchange and improve public internet access in the least developed countries.

The high-speed (10 Gigabit per second) fiber optics backbone network began operating last year. Initially, DrukREN started as a national project in 2014. It interconnects 25 research and education institutes in the country.

DrukREN has 11 points-of-presence (PoP), which are in Thimphu, Paro, Gedu, Phuentsholing, Wangdue Phodrang, Gelephu, Trongsa, Bumthang, Pemagatshel, Mongar and Kanglung.

During the launch, specialist from Kyushu University Hospital in Japan demonstrated live streaming of Endoscopy with Telemedicine Development Center of Asia (TEMDEC).

DITT plans to expand DrukREN to cover all 20 dzongkhags and connect more than 160 research and large educational institutes including hospitals and schools in the 12th FYP under Digital Drukyul Flagship Project.

A technical workshop on network management and application was also conducted. It concluded yesterday.

Phub Dem

Caution: Dengue at the door!

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 16:04

Dengue, a painful mosquito-borne viral infection, which was first reported this year from Doksum in Trashiyangtse and claimed a life, is now raging in the south of the country with almost-unprecedented rapidity and force.

Phuentsholing hospital is reportedly overwhelmed with patients suffering from the debilitating fever and the cases are increasing by the day. As the infection continues to spread, private clinics are also bogged down with increasing number of patients. 

Even as we speak, there are more than 1,200 confirmed dengue cases in Phuentsholing.

The fast-spreading infection was also reported from Samtse where a 25-year-old woman from Tading died due to lethal complication, otherwise called severe dengue. Yesterday, a 30-year-old resident of Phuentsholing with the infection died in Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital’s intensive care unit.

Fear, panic and frustrations among the people are now beginning to show in the most unreasonable ways. But that is understandable. What we must bear in mind, however, is that the hospitals and doctors are giving all in their capacity. Response has been commendable and they are being stretched to the limit.

In the face of such a threat, much that we do might seem to be of little avail. The rate at which the infection multiplies can leave us helpless and vulnerable. Awareness campaigns and health advisories, therefore, must gain greater momentum, for these could be our only weapon against the deadly infection.

According to a WHO study, the global incidence of dengue has grown dramatically in recent decades. Not less than 400 million dengue infections occur worldwide every year, about 100 million resulting in illness. Cutting to the chase, it even warns that more than half the world’s population could now be at risk.

What we need to be aware of is that the Aedes Aegypti mosquito is the main carrier of dengue; the virus is transmitted to humans through the bites of infected female mosquitoes. Infected humans are then the main carriers and multipliers of the virus as the source of the virus for uninfected mosquitoes.

In our efforts to combat such threats we need to first get some basic facts right. If we continue to make our surroundings ideal habitats for the proliferation of mosquitoes, the threat of mosquito-borne viral infection will only grow. Environmental management and modification to eliminate habitats by getting rid of open sources of water and disposing of solid waste responsibly are simple enough control and prevention measures.

These measures, however, simple as they are, should be followed by active monitoring and surveillance regularly because wherever there are human settlements the danger is ever-present. Hygiene is a collective responsibility as much as it is personal obligation. In the border towns like Phuentsholing, sustained collaboration with settlements across the border is critically important to contain the spreading of the viral infection successfully.

What we must also know, more importantly, is that there is no specific treatment for dengue fever. As clichéd as it sounds, in a situation like this, prevention is better than cure.

Test confirms Karma’s sex

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 16:03

Karma is a male.

After years of trying to determine Karma’s sex, the injured black-necked crane, molecular sexing method revealed that Karma is a male crane.

Curators and experts from Japan, professors Isao Nishiumi, Shimano (PhD), and Tsukasa Waki (PhD) extracted DNA from the base of shaft from a molted feather of Karma. The test was carried out using the Fridolfsson and Ellegren method of molecular sexing.

In early 2016, juvenile Karma was found with neck injuries and a broken left wing, which rendered the bird permanently flightless. Since then, the Black-Necked Crane Information Centre in Phojikha took care of Karma. As Karma was in captivity, he lacked companionship and the officials at the centre could not determine Karma’s sex.

Chief of communications and membership division in RSPN, Tashi Phuntsho said, “There was no incidence through which we could say Karma is a male or female because there were no copulation, unison calls, or other sexual behaviours through which we could determine.”

Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) plans to bring a mate for Karma and a larger aviary is yet to be completed.

Black-necked cranes prefer wetlands and paddy fields fed by fresh water. The cranes roost in shallow ponds and riverbanks, feed in wetlands, paddy fields, and potato farms. The birds prefer trees or shrubs, gentle areas to roost and to protect from predators and other potential dangers. It sleeps in groups ranging from as small as few individuals to large groups of 350 individuals in Bhutan.

Phobjikha valley is one of the largest natural wetlands in the country. From 2018 to 2019, the valley received 458 cranes, according to the data maintained with RSPN.

The cranes visit Bhutan in October and depart to its summer habitat in March after spending roughly five months in the country.

Each winter, large flocks of black-necked cranes are found to be flying over the Himalayas, about hundred kilometres from the Tibetan Plateau in China to the valleys of interior Bhutan.

Cranes have cultural and historical significance in Bhutan and are revered as the ‘heavenly bird.’ They are often associated with good luck and fortune, and are found in paintings such as the six symbols of longevity.

From 2018 to 2019, there are 609 blacked-necked cranes in the country.

Choki Wangmo

Relieving civil servants hamper service delivery: Tsirang DT

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 16:02

Local leaders in Tsirang say relieving civil servants in the middle of the year without substitute affects their work.

In the recent dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) session held earlier this week, local leaders decided to write to home ministry and Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) to deploy substitutes or regularise the service of those on contract.

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No big changes in vehicle import quota rule

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 16:01

In keeping with the pay revision Act 2019, the finance ministry on August 16 has issued vehicle import quota rules to be implemented  retrospectively from July 1, this year.

The ministry is also in the process of institutionalising online vehicle quota application.

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Sri Lanka beats Bhutan 3-2

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 16:00

Sri Lanka defeated Bhutan 3-2 in an ongoing SAFF under-15 Championship held at Kalyani stadium at Kokata in India yesterday.

The Junior Dragon Boys started well and took the lead when Kinzang Tenzin scored in the seventh minutes of the game. Bhutan kept good notable ball possession and got several opportunities to double the lead, but couldn’t capitalise on the chances.

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GAG better than GDG: Foreign minister

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 16:09

Even after a nation-wide sensitisation programme on the gewog annual grant (GAG) by the finance minister, some confusion remains on whether the introduction of the GAG has removed the flexibility given to gewogs by the erstwhile gewog development grant (GDG).

Gewogs found GDG useful because they could plan and use it for activities that were not included in five-year Plan activities. Some local leaders feared that GAG would not allow them to implement projects that were not included in the 12th Plan.

However, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that GAG gives gewogs the flexibility to reprioritise activities in line with the National Key Result Areas. This means that the introduction of GAG does not stop gewogs from planing and implementing activities that were not included in the 12th Plan. 

It was learnt that some gewogs did not propose certain activities in the 12th Plan with the aim of availing GDG. 

“The whole block grant (GAG) itself is like GDG. In fact, the block grant is better than GDG,” he said, adding that the gewog budget was allocated under GAG.

However, the foreign minister who is also the government’s spokesperson said that gewogs must seek the approval of the central government if an activity is worth more than Nu 5M.

Dr Tandi Dorji said the GAG not only streamlined the use of funds by local governments but also ensured that the budget is used for the right activity. GAG is introduced from the fiscal year 2019-20.

However, local leaders say they are happy with the increased amount of budget that came with the introduction of GAG. Gups also said the risks of mismanagement of funds also increased.

“We used to get only Nu 2 million (M) under the GDG scheme. Moreover, the money comes to the gewog directly unlike in the past where the fund had to be routed through the dzongkhag,” Kelzang Dawa, Bartsham gup from Trashigang, said.

However, he said that the budget had not reached his gewog although they received the GAG guidelines.

Dogar gup in Paro, Lhab Tshering said that GAG benefit gewogs as it was given in addition to the common minimum infrastructure (CMI) budget. “The GDG were not enough when we distributed among chiwogs.”

Tsholingkhar gup from Tsirang, Passang Thingh Tamang, said that GAG gave greater fiscal power to gewogs.

The implementation of GAG has commenced and the first allotment of Nu 2.4 billion (B) of the total package of Nu 12B for the 12th Plan has already been sanctioned for the 205 gewogs across the country. A budget of Nu 12B from the Nu 50B of LG allocation is kept for the GAG, which is given annually.

The government also recently launched GAG guidelines, which fixes the amount of GAG a gewog can receive in a year. 

The grant consists of two components – current and capital. The MoF will determine the grant based on current expenditure requirement, while the GNHC will allocate the capital grant based on the resource allocation formula (RAF).

The capital grant will be used for construction and improvement of farm roads, renovation of community centres like schools, BHUs, and maintenance of water supply irrigation schemes.

According to the guidelines, a gewog can also spend the capital on ad-hoc programmes that fall within national priorities such as creation of employment opportunities, waste management and environment protection, among others.

The guidelines prohibit gewogs from spending the grant on unproductive spending such as hospitality and entertainment and procurement of vehicles.

The government claims that the introduction of GAG is a milestone of progressive decentralisation process as it would empower gewogs and deepen the decentralisation process. The GAG is also expected to enhance flexibility and discretion in planning and use of gewog budget and ease disbursement and reduce bureaucratic procedures.

The GAG is also expected to give local governments greater flexibility in planning, budgeting and release of money from this year. This means that gewog administrations will not have to hold budget discussions with MoF and the Gross National Happiness Commission annually.

Individual gewogs are only required to submit their budget utilisation plan. The change, the Plan document states, is aimed at promoting ownership and quality delivery of local plan priorities and development by local governments.

MB Subba

WB recommends Bhutan to negotiate international treaties

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 16:08

If Bhutan wants to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), she should negotiate international treaties for extensive FDI inflow.

The World Bank (WB)recommends this as Bhutan lags behind many countries in terms of FDI. The FDI rules and regulations 2019 is currently being reviewed.

The WB report states that Bhutan is a signatory to only few international conventions. While it adheres to trade agreements, it has not signed any that have a strong investment component. In terms of double taxation treaties, it has reached an agreement with India on the avoidance of double taxation and prevention of fiscal evasion.

According to World Investment Report 2019, Bhutan is attracting the least FDI among Asia countries. However, last year, Bhutan attracted around Nu 5.7 billion worth of FDI, contributing its larger share to capital-intensive projects especially hotels.

The data from FDI annual report published by the Department of Industries (DoI) states that the services sector attracts most FDI (65 percent out of a total of 73 projects).

FDI development is limited by a controlled system and an inadequate policy in the areas of the industrial license, trade, work, and finance. Shortage of skilled labour is also a barrier.

Bhutan restricts FDI in certain sectors in order to avoid competition with local traders. The Negative List is still intact in the latest FDI policy.

Bhutan is ranked 81 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Doing Business, 2019, and for a landlocked country, the ranking is considered only satisfactory.

Most of the FDI projects are concentrated in Thimphu, Paro and Chukha. These dzongkhags receive the highest number of FDI projects, accounting for more than two-thirds of total FDI projects.

Economic affairs minister, Loknath Sharma said that the inflow of FDI was increasing gradually. He said that the ministry’s focus was on the diversification of sectors. “FDI should not just concentrate on hotel and service sector.”

He said that FDI inflow was stagnant for a few years, however, potential business hubs were participating in international trade fairs and important events like BEFIT.”

The economic affairs ministry will publish the investment climate report soon.

What the WB says

Currently, Bhutan has no bilateral or multilateral investment treaties to protect foreign investors. It relies on national laws and policy frameworks.

Given the low costs and comparative advantage of Bhutan in services, WB recommended FDI inflows to be catalysed in tourism and financial services.

The report recommends Bhutan to build administrative and legal capacity to negotiate future investment treaties.

“Treaties such as Bilateral Investment Treaties (BIT) and international investment agreements (IIA’s) will provide international arbitration of disputes between investors and governments,” the report states. “BIT provides an assurance of non-discriminatory treatment and legal security to foreign investors.”

Negotiating IIA’s is expected to provide potential benefits such as stimulating domestic reform, enhancement of credibility, improved access to foreign markets and positive signal to foreign investors.

The report recommends Bhutan to be a part of Regional or Preferential Trade Agreements, Investment Promotion Agreement and Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

“By joining ICSID, an investor from any of the 153 contracting states could be assured that they would have access to conciliation or arbitration in the event of a dispute with the Kingdom of Bhutan.”

Currently, dispute settlement is done through the Bhutan Alternative Dispute Resolution Centre. Besides, 2013 Alternative Dispute Resolution Act (ADRA) of Bhutan has limited the scope of the subject matter of international commercial arbitration in the country.

It prohibits arbitration on matters of insolvency and winding up, the subject of taxation and other matters which are against public policy, morality or any other existing provisions of the law in Bhutan.

Investment treaties are expected to help stimulate domestic reform and lend credibility to the policy regime besides providing increased access to foreign markets.

Lyonpo Loknath Shrama said,ss negotiating agreement should not just focus on attracting more FDIs, but must consider the country’s long term advantage and benefits.

“The ministry is currently working on the adoption of new policies. There is a long way to go before we look into bilateral agreements on investment that will benefit both parties.”

Phub Dem

JDWNRH resumes MRI service

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 16:07

The magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) service at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) in Thimphu resumed on August 19, almost 11 months after the hospital stopped providing the service.

About eight patients availed themselves of the service on the first day after the service resumed.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo, during the inauguration of the upgraded MRI machine yesterday, said that critical care that required immediate MRI services was always taken care. “We have referred them abroad at the expense of the government, like any other referrals.”

A total of 74 patients who required immediate MRI service were referred to Siliguri in India.

The hospital spent about Nu 700,000 for the referrals.

As of August 18, there were about 670 patients on the waiting list.

Prabha Katel, head of hospital’s bio-medical engineering services, said that the hospital used to provide MRI services to more than 2,000 patients every year. “We had more prescription. This could be a reason for a huge caseload.”

She said that 670 cases in 11 months was quite less. This, she said, could be because many of the cases were addressed by the CT scans. The critical patients who require the MRI service were referred abroad immediately.

“Those who are on the waiting list are patients who require the MRI service but not urgently,” she said.

She said that the hospital would provide the services to a limited number of patients for the first few days because parameters must be set for every case.

“Since it is entirely a new system, for every new case we have to set the parameters. That is why we have an application specialist from the company in India with us. There are hundreds of parameters and each parameter has to be adjusted,” she said.

The application specialist will be in the hospital for a week to train the users-technicians and doctors on how to set the parameters.

Off-hour service to avail MRI service also resumed yesterday.

Since October last year, the hospital was not able to provide the service as the only MRI machine in the country was in the process of up-gradation from 1.5T GE Signa HD MRI to Signa Explorer system.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that if the health sector can afford, there was a need for a new MRI machine which would cost about Nu 95 million.

Lyonpo said that the people demand quality care, state-of-the-art technology but the proportion of budget has remained constant in relation to  GDP. “It has not even touched four percent of the GDP.”

About 3.6 percent of the GDP is allocated to health.

“The services that we are providing is far beyond the 3.6 percent. We have to manage to provide not just the primary health care, but also secondary and tertiary level health care within the budget,” Lyonpo said.

“If you look at many countries that do not even provide full health services, they allocate at least above 10 percent of their GDP to the health services,” Lyonpo said. “If we really want to enhance quality, we must also think about providing adequate resources.”

Dechen Tshomo

Of expressions and friendships

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 16:06

VAST Bhutan hosted four Balinese artists and launched the second part of Bali-Bhutan Art Exchange group exhibition at BhutanArt Gallery in Thimphu on August 19 to develop and strengthen friendship between Bhutan and Indonesia through art.

The six-day exhibition is aimed at sharing artistic ideas, techniques, and other elements of an artist’s practice which would help develop creative expression of self-taught artists and enrich artistic expressions. 

Majority of contemporary Bhutanese artists are self-taught. 

The art exchange programmes are seen as means to thinking beyond the national borders and deepen artistic and innovation skills. Exchange among artists is expected to improve goodwill and friendship between the two countries.

Founder of VAST Bhutan, Asha Karma Wangdi, said that young artists in the country were fortunate to have guidance and support of His Majesty The King and their parents. “Our young artists are trying hard. There are opportunities when there is support and goodwill.”

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that until now the governments had been focusing on political and economic diplomacy. “We need to give importance to cultural diplomacy,to have exchange of arts and crafts, which contribute towards understanding, building friendship, and strengthening diplomatic ties. Arts and crafts encompass important aspects of development. ”

According to Lyonpo, art exchanges help artists from different countries take opportunities and learn some of the techniques to express through creative works and skills. 

An artist from Indonesia, I Ketut Jaya Kaprus, who had been painting for the last two decades, said that good spirit was a must for a creative art.  He said the artworks of Bhutan and Indonesia were different but the idea was the same. “Art is about expression.”

The first part of the exchange programme took place last month. Asha Karma Wangdi and three Bhutanese artists went to Bali. The Prime Minister’s Office funded the travel. 

Founded in 1998, VAST Bhutan has been promoting and facilitating art exchange programmes with various nationalities. 

The exhibition will end on August 24. 

Choki Wangmo