Nim Dorji | Trongsa
The Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Project resumed generation at 8 p.m. on October 2 after it was briefly shut down as a precautionary measure following the flash flood in the Chamdey Gangchu stream on Thursday.
The project was shut down around Midnight after the floodwater created an artificial dam above Bjeezam in Trongsa. The backflow of water from the artificial lake has submerged the manual gauge and monitoring station of the project’s early flood warning system.
Generation stopped as the floodgates of the dam were opened to let the floodwater out. It was learnt that power generation was more than 400MW yesterday. The installed capacity for the plant was 720MW.
According to officials, the water volume is enough to use only three turbines, which are also not generating power at full generation capacity.
The agriculture minister, Yeshey Penjor visited the flood site on Saturday, October 3, and initiated the construction of a temporary bridge and mitigation work at the artificial dam.
Lyonpo said that it is important to carry the mitigation work on the artificial dam as it will be risky for the dam if it bursts in the future. “Millions of Ngultrums are lost when MHPA is not generating power for a single day,” he said.
A temporary bridge was constructed to help the people of 11 villages and the Nubi gewog after the bridge was washed away by the flashflood on Thursday. Lyonpo said a permanent bridge will be planned later after proper research.
De-Suups, dzongkhag and gewog officials, RBP personnel and officials from MHPA took part in the flood restoration works.
Nima | Gelephu
Without public transport service, travelling from Sarpang to other parts of the country has become difficult for commuters without cars or means to arrange transportation.
Except for the movement of buses and taxis within the dzongkhag, public transport service from Sarpang to other dzongkhags has not resumed. However, over 400 people who could arrange their own vehicles travelled after completion of the mandatory quarantine since the lockdown was eased last month.
Dzongkhag officials register in-country travellers for quarantine if the person could arrange their own transportation. This was done to ensure people move out of dzongkhag at the earliest after the quarantine.
However, this had kept many who could not arrange transportation, in the absence of public transport service, confused.
Kezang Choden who would be leaving for Thimphu after the quarantine said that without buses, there were many facing the problem of not being able to arrange transportation.
“The registration for the mandatory quarantine is done mainly for people who could manage their own transportation. Those without it were denied. They should register on a first come first serve basis,” she said.
She added that resuming public transport would ease the situation for travellers after required health formalities are completed. “It would be convenient for people. It’s even difficult to get registration for quarantine,” said Kezang Choden.
Kezang and her friend managed to arrange a car until Darachu. The entry of vehicles from Sarpang without movement card is restricted from that point, as it marks the start of Tsirang dzongkhag. They hired a taxi for Nu 6,000 till Thimphu from Darachu.
Officials from the Road Safety and Transport Authority in Gelephu said buses were arranged only for students. The dzongkhag task force ensures people are quarantined and tested before they depart to their destinations.
Sarpang dzongdag, Karma Galay said priority was given to travellers who could move right after the completion of the mandatory quarantine. “If not we would have to quarantine them again, which would be a waste of resources,” he said.
The task force plans to streamline procedures and plans to start bus service till Darachu from where commuters would be connected to other buses coming from Thimphu.
The dzongkhag also quarantined a few taxi drivers taking genuine travellers out of the dzongkhag in the same hotel. Taxis and private cars are permitted to drop till Darachu.
However, taxi operators had to cope up with different formalities put in place daily while driving customers till Darachu, according to Taxi Association Tshogpa in Sarpang, Neykor.
“There were no clear directives from authorities concerned to date. Taxis are allowed to move within the dzongkhag but we are often stopped at checkpoints,” he said.
To strengthen management, leadership and personal excellence skills, Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) launched Mind Tools, an international online learning and professional development platform on October 2.
Mind Tools provides participants with a platform to assess themselves, seek feedback, experience, reflect, choose and apply a set of personal development interventions. The platform would provide opportunities for bite-size training, books reviews, webinars, and expert coaching, etc.
There are five thematic areas, Right-sizing the Civil Service, Enhancing Service Delivery, Strengthening Civil Service Systems, Civil Service Wellbeing and Leadership Development and Management, identified by the RCSC to pursue a vision of “Excellence in Service”.
RCSC commissioner, Dhanapati Mishra, said that the launch of Mind Tools was initiated under the theme of leadership development and management.
The pool identified for the access to the Mind Tools were civil servants above P2, P1 management, Executives at EX3 and dzongdags, and key staff of the two training institutes; Royal Institute for Governance and Strategic Studies and Royal Institute of Management.
Commissioner Dhanapati Mishra said that considering the financial constraints only 1000 civil servants beginning P2 level was provided with the opportunity to access the Mind Tools.
“P2 level was a critical pool since the levels above P2 held posts of chiefs, executives and managers. The civil servants promoting from P2 would have already developed the leadership and management competencies and skills,” he said.
This is an opportunity for registered civil servants to hone their skills, become proficient and more professional in approach to ensure quality service delivery through the public service agencies, Dhanapati Mishra said.
He said that considering the current situation, travelling abroad for institution-based learning was difficult.
“If civil servants were limited to institution-based learning, they would be devoid of topping their skills, sharpening their knowledge and broadening their job proficiencies,” he said.
This virtual platform was affordable as the cost for one subscriber was USD 35, he added.
The platform was accessible to registered subscribers from October 2 until September 2021.
The progress we have thus far made is deserving of praise. But this just the beginning. Bhutan’s graduation from the group of the least developed country (LDC) has by far more significance than most of understand.
We were wholly prepared but the Covid-19 pandemic put us on the back foot by several miles. The question is: should it matter? No.
Bhutan is not the only country that is ready to take on a new role in international relations and politics. All, the so-called developed, developing and underdeveloped countries, unfortunately, are affected by the pandemic. The world is in need of a new vision.
What is important though, internalising our strengths and deficiencies, is not whether Bhutan can graduate from the list of LDC; what Bhutan can do unto itself is.
The 12th Plan was supposed to be Bhutan’s last plan as an LDC but now joblessness has risen dramatically. This is on top of what the ministry responsible has not adequately been able to address the situation that has been becoming grievous by the day.
For Bhutan now, graduation from LDC must take a different dimension—survival. How can this be quantified or quantified in the world organisation that is fast disintegrating? There are endless questions. We must find our own answers.
Let’s face it, there are criteria that do not make sense. But we must also look at our development flaws. Often we are busy building our country’s image as the last Shangri-La or the to top modern tourist destination. That’s all good but how successful have we been in empowering the people to take up entrepreneurship?
The economy of a country is a serious affair. Getting it wrong can be expensive.
Covid-19 is not and ought not to be an excuse. It is ridiculous the way some of our plans that should have been implemented years ago are now blamed on the pandemic. If the pandemic really is the culprit, systemic change ought to be the new normal.
If we haven’t made an attempt even, here is the lesson. Seize it or put it to waste, here is the opportunity.
It does not matter whether Bhutan can or cannot graduate from the LDC group. We have sectors to focus on. Food self-sufficiency is one and full employment another.
For Bhutan, graduation from LDC now must take the back seat. Looking inward and bolstering the local economy is more important. The question is one of survival in these difficult times.
How well are we handling our national dream?
The health ministry last night clarified that there were no new Covid-19 positive cases as of yesterday, and requested the public to stop spreading false information.
The notification follows rumours that there would be another lockdown in Thimphu following a positive case in the capital. Rumours spread that a frontline worker arriving from one of the southern dzongkhags had tested positive. However, no new cases were reported during the weekend.
The health ministry last night shared that announcements of positive cases were made only after the RT-PCR results were compiled. This was in line with the ministry’s Covid-19 testing protocol.
“Ministry of Health confirms that as of 8pm October 4, were no new positive cases in Thimphu. We request public to refrain from sharing fake news and false information about probable lockdowns,” stated the clarification.
This however is not the first time that the ministry had to issue a clarification following a similar rumour.Last month, a similar rumour surfaced after an individual tested positive on the rapid antigen test at national referral hospital’s emergency ward. The individuals however, tested negative on confirmatory RT-PCR test.
The case (antigen positive) at the emergency ward was one of the many stray cases health officials have come across recently. However, there is little to worry about such incidences, according to experts.
Clinical microbiologist with the national referral hospital, Dr Tshokey, in an earlier interview said that although there were a few incidences where people had tested positive during the rapid antigen test, none of these individuals were positive on the RT-PCR.
This was mainly because of the reading (cut-off index) set on the antigen analyser machine. Any reading above 1 on the cut-off index gave positive results.
Dr Tshokey explained that those individuals testing positive on the antigen test had readings of 1.05, 2 and sometimes 3. These readings, he said, were low and borderline readings.
So far only those who had readings above 20 and 30 on the antigen analyser machine have tested positive on the confirmatory RT-PCR test. “We have had these kinds of cases in most of the hospitals and none of the individuals tested positive so far, even after repeating the RT-PCR test after 24 hours,” said Dr Tshokey.
The issue has been conveyed to the manufacturers of the test kits in South Korea.
Members of the ministry’s technical advisory group (TAG) have said that as long as the confirmation of Covid-19 cases are done through the reliable RT-PCR, the rapid antigen and antibody tests are used as a screening mechanism.
Meaning, anything suspicious has to be routed through the PCR for confirmation. Also, experts said that a false positive case is better than a false negative case.
Dr Tshokey said, “What is important for us is that we are taking no chances. Anyone testing positive on the antigen test, we confirm it by doing a RT-PCR test. And if needed, we repeat the RT-PCR in 24 hours.”
Homelessness is not peculiar to Bhutan. But the recent lockdown brought the issue to the fore. Although many might be inclined to think otherwise, Bhutan has a significant number of floating population.
As the argument goes, why should Bhutan have the problem of homelessness at all? But why not? It’s a reality that is threatening to grow with so-called development.
Dr Chencho Dorji, a psychiatrist, said that homelessness in urban may be side effect of modernisation- rural urban migration, nuclear families, overcrowding and limited living spaces in urban areas and loss of income. “As society progress and become more effluent, sophisticated and materialistic, people become more self-centered and less tolerant to others, especially to the weaker lot.”
The drifters of Thimphu found their home at Rinchen Kuenphen Primary School (RKPS) during the lockdown, under the care of His Majesty’s The King’s Kidu Programme, organised by the Office of The Gyalpoi Zimpon.
The down and out who came to RKPS were suffering from diverse social and other disabilities such as deafness, dumbness and physical disability. Most were alcoholic.
Dr Chencho Dorji said that persons with social disabilities would face difficulty in social inclusion. For example, he said that there was one middle aged shabbily dressed man walking with a stick in Thimphu-Paro highway. He said that people avoided him as they assumed he would hurt them but purpose of him carrying the stick was because he was scared of dogs. “Such type of person will face difficulty living in communes.”
Dr Chencho had another story to tell. About 10 years ago, Her Royal Highness Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuck brought 10 alcoholic people from Centenary Famers’ Market who were living on Bazam bridge to be counselled at the psychiatric ward. The group started razzling on the first day in the ward. They did not believe when told that they were brought in for detox as they thought they were taken into a new housing.
Detoxification and counselling programme did not work.
Dr Chencho said that chronic psychosis or schizophrenia were among the severest and most disabling from social point of view as such people would face difficulty living in communes and would not show dramatic improvement over a few weeks or months of attention. Moreover, too much attention could be anathema to their mental well-being.
How do we socially include such people?
“The problem is complex and there is no simple straight forward answer to help these group of people otherwise the industralised and rich countries could have taken care of all their destitute people,” Dr Chencho said.
And he warned: “Destitution and suicide were likely to increase unless something was done about it as the weaker and poorer lot would not be able to compete for limited opportunities with rapid modernisation and they would fall into the abyss.”
Developments come with cost. How must such social problems be addressed so that Bhutan’s GNH does not fly flat on its face?
Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
Schools in Samdrupjongkhar thromde would reopen today with Covid-19 preventive protocols.
Since the Samdrupjongkhar thromde is considered a high-risk zone, schools would be treated as a containment zone where movement out of schools would be restricted.
Thromde education officer (TEO), Dorji Gyalpo, said 159 students are studying at the Samdrupjongkhar Middle Secondary School (SJMSS). Boys would be accommodated in the multipurpose (MP) hall and girls in the classrooms.
The TEO said the government had approved a stipend of Nu 1,500 per student and parents need not have to pay for food and lodging in the schools. He said the Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) would supply about nine perishable items such as rice, oil, chickpeas and dal, among others. “We have also deployed cooks from Orong.”
The thromde had provided a separate water supply source to ensure the continuous water flow in the school. “We also have set up the hand washing taps and are constructing 10 hand washing stations.”
Meanwhile, about 126 students went to their respective schools in the dzongkhag yesterday because they had completed a weeklong quarantine. Two teachers and a student of Dungsam Academic would complete their quarantine today.
Health officials carried out the RT-PCR testing for Covid-19 on October 3 and all tested negative. The dzongkhag administration arranged transportation to drop those students to their respective schools.
Alcohol and junk were the most sold
Going by what grocers in the capital sold during the 21-day lockdown, it was junk food rather than essentials that many residents of the capital city were after.
Grocers said many ordered packaged snacks and carbonated drinks as they started delivering goods at the doorsteps. Alcohol was one of the top items, said a grocer who even suggested including alcohol in the essential list.
One of the earliest grocer to open shop during the lockdown, 8 Eleven, nearly sold out all its snacks and instant noodles. The manager said the demand for junk was so huge that they couldn’t even replenish the shelves even after they received their consignments. “Yes, people have started eating more junk foods during lockdown. I think the more you buy and stockpile, the more you eat,” she said.
The owner of T.G Tshongkhang, Tek Bdr. Ghalley said that he couldn’t sell much of the essential items as he opened his shop on the 12th day of lockdown. “Most of the customers were looking for alcohol. Since we didn’t sell alcohol, we sold biscuits, instant noodles, butter, tetra pack milk and fizzy drinks,” he said.
Breakfast cereals such as oatmeal and cornflakes were slow selling items at Gongphel general shop, which sold out all its goods during lockdown. The owner, Phub Gyeltshen said, “May be people have no choice because of the limited shops opened in their zone, they had to buy. Maybe they are stressed out or bored being locked in and started consuming snacks.”
Phub Gyeltshen claimed that most of the customers were looking for fresh vegetables as much as they were buying junk foods. Since imported snacks ran out of stock, people also started buying Bhutanese homemade snacks.
Nana general shop also saw an overwhelming demand for alcoholic beverages during lockdown. Dawa Tamang, the owner, said they had to restock alcohol every two to three days.
The lockdown has also, many said, increased consumerism making a lot of people spend more than what they usually do. “I discourage my children from buying junk food like chips and carbonated drinks. During the lockdown, I didn’t realise I was stocking them up,” said a corporate employee. He said he spent more than Nu 17,000 on junk and beer. “My wife who usually is against my drinking habit let me stock beer!”
A panshop owner, Tshering claimed that she spent more than Nu 15,000 during lockdown on snacks like noodles, chips and fizzy drinks. “I was shocked when I calculated my spending. I never spent this much on junk foods on normal days.”
There is a general agreement that many spent more on food items, both essential and non-essentials, during the lockdown. “The home delivery facility and staying indoors for weeks made people buy and buy,” said another.
This is also evident from the brisk business many did. A grocery in Changzamtog sold goods worth more than Nu200,000 in three hours on the morning of the lockdown, August 11. Daily average sales of Nana Tshongkhang during the lockdown was about Nu 45,000.
Nima | Gelephu
Members from the committee of Friends of Frontliners handed over masks and essential items to the frontline workers in Gelephu yesterday.
The initiative began after His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck visited the point of entries, according to the dzongdag.
There are close to 200 members in the group, formed last month, to support the frontline workers with the basic essential items and support services to ensure efficient surveillance along the long porous borders.
The group contributed mask worth Nu 120,000 and common electric kitchen appliances, rice cookers, and curry cookers, worth Nu 290,000 for different points of entry in Sarpang.
Sarpang dzongdag, Karma Galay, said the support from the Friends of Frontliners would ease some problems facing frontliners placed in different point entries.
“It was important that we support the frontline workers in times like today. There was a need to make their workplace more comfortable and convenient as the pandemic gets longer,” he said.
Karma Galay said that the initiative would enhance collaboration between the private sector and the administration, which is essential during the pandemic and also during disasters.
The dzongkhag is often confronted with floods almost every year. The group is expected to continue their support during such incidents.
A member of the group, Dawa Penjore, said that the dzongkhag had a high risk of transmitting Covid-19. “It is important that we help and keep the frontline workers motivated.”
This pandemic has shown that without our monarchs and their wise wisdom, the existence of our democracy and democratic system is questionable at best. It would not be wrong to presume that if His Majesty did not personally handle the situation, our political leaders would have been lost in confusion, people left in fear and this deadly pandemic would have already claimed the lives of many Bhutanese. The repeated personal visit of His Majesty in the highly risky places has touched every person and now even His Majesty the 4th Druk Gyalpo has joined His Majesty at the cost of their own health, shows the selflessness of our kings.
The pandemic has proved that His Majesty is the true Symbol of Unity. When the nation was in complete fear and confusion after Covid-19 case was confirmed, His Majesty’s national address brought every Bhutanese together overnight and reassured the calmness among the people. Hundreds of house owners waived their rents for tenants, taxi owners provided a free ride to frontline workers, hotels provided free accommodation to frontline workers and some offered their hotels as quarantine facilities. Thousands of Bhutanese signed up to join the integrated Dessung Program to serve the nation and thousands more offered cash in Covid-Fund.
As a citizen of this great nation, we have solemnly pledged ourselves to be the custodian of our nation including happiness, and well-being of ourselves in the preamble of our Constitution. This means we the people of Bhutan and our elected leaders are responsible for our own well-being, unity, and security of the nation where Druk Gyalpo is only a symbol of unity and ceremonial head. But this proved wrong when the nationwide lockdown was announced. Months of preparation by government agencies and people failed to deliver any good results. We were lost in complete chaos and confusion where social media was flooded with grievances of inefficiencies.
The chaotic situation was promptly and miraculously calmed in a few days after His Majesty himself personally intervened. Under His Majesty’s guidance, we were able to feed hungry dogs to reach medicines to sick people, efficient supply of essentials to residences across the nation to help farmers to do their farm work without compromising on the health protocol. The biggest contribution was zoning the entire country. This sets a new tone and entirely a different concept of kingship in contemporary democracy and a new jurisprudence of monarchy.
On 7 November 2008 during the Coronation Address, His Majesty said “throughout my reign, I will never rule you as a King. I will protect you as a parent, care for you as a brother and serve you as a son. I shall give you everything and keep nothing.” His Majesty’s selfless service in this current situation is a true testimony of that historic national address. This profound statement applies to everyone because we have fundamental duties to perform as a citizen.
As the Fourth Gyalpo once said, democracy is not a gift from the throne but a responsibility of the people. It is high time that the elected leaders, bureaucracy, and people of Bhutan to take the responsibility. Yet, if anything to go by this pandemic, we have failed as His Majesty had to shoulder every responsibility. The only solution is to follow the right footsteps laid down by our great kings so that we make Bhutan a uniquely true democractic nation.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.
… six families made homeless
Nim Dorji | Trongsa
The Mangdechhu Hydro Power remains shut down since October 1 midnight for safety after the Chamdey Gangchhu stream flooded creating an artificial dam above Bjeezam in Trongsa.
MHPA officials said that the plant has been shut and the flood gates of the dam opened to let floodwater out.
Officials said that everything was going well and that they preparing to resume generation.
The debris from the flood formed an artificial dam at the confluence of the stream and Mangdechhu river, which still poses risk to the plant.It is not revealed when the plant’s operation would resume.
The flood also swept away belongings of six families near Bjeezam leaving them homeless. A shop, two huts and the bridge to Nubi gewog centre were washed away.
The backflow of water from the artificial lake has submerged the manual gauge and monitoring station of the early flood warning system.
One of the tenants and a construction worker, Ram Badhur lost everything.
“Luckily it happened before dusk, if not we might have lost our lives too,” he said.
“Even my mobile phone was washed away with my certificates.”
Had it not been for the tenants and neighbours, Matia Rai would have been washed away along with her shop. They literally dragged her out from her shop as the water subsided. She was found half-submerged in the water. “I couldn’t do anything. I kept praying,” she said.
With the water level subsidised the tenants and other friends helped her get out. “I am left with nothing,” she said. She was wearing borrowed clothes yesterday.
Suk Bahadur Rai said that it would be difficult for them to live there as it is all covered with debris.
“We would be grateful if we are given a substitute land to settle,” he said.
A local resident, Sonam said that artificial dam bursts it could affect the nearby settlements.
The stream flooded two times this year, but the earlier one was a minor flood.
The dzongkhag kidu office disbursed His Majesty’s Royal Semso and other essentials to the victims. Disaster management committee handed over the emergency disaster kit.
Those infected reluctant to share accurate information with health officials
Despite stringent measures, Phuentsholing continues to see Covid-19 positive cases from the community 50 days after becoming a Red Zone on August 13.
Besides the positive cases detected from containment areas and quarantine centres, on September 29, a 32-year-old woman tested positive for the virus at a flu clinic in Phuentsholing. The following day, her one-and-half-year-old son also tested positive for Covid-19.
Health Minster Dechen Wangmo during a press conference yesterday said that Phuentsholing still has an active infection in the community. Those testing positive in the border town showed varying stages of infection.
“Some of them have acute infection meaning they were recently infected. While there are also people who are detected at a later stage when they are about to get cured.”
Lyonpo said that although Phuentsholing was a Covid-19 hotspot, conducting mass testing again in the entire community was not epidemiologically recommended.
Lyonpo said that risk profiling of certain locations was conducted as and when positive cases emerged.
According to sources, the 32-year-old woman in Phuentsholing tested positive while taking her mother to the hospital for another illness. The mother required hospital admission and as per the health ministry’s protocol, both were tested.
The woman tested positive on the antigen test and then on the RT-PCR. The woman had some mild symptoms but did not visit a flu clinic.
Royal Centre for Disease Control’s (RCDC) head and a member of the technical advisory group (TAG), Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that people were still not visiting the flu clinics despite having symptoms.
“We still don’t understand if it’s because of the stigma of being branded Covid positive or if people really didn’t care.”
He said that so far, majority of the positive cases detected from the community maintained that they didn’t have any travel histories to high-risk areas.
Kuensel learned that the 32-year-old also shared that she had not travelled or had any contacts besides her family members.
Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that it was almost impossible to get infected if an individual had stayed indoors. “This virus is primarily spread when a person comes in close contact with an infected individual.”
The woman’s husband tested negative. Until recently, the husband was living outside in a contained facility.
Considering that the husband could be a possible suspect, health officials also conducted antibody test. The antibody test detects antibodies, the body’s response to an infection and suggests possible exposure to the antigen (virus).
Also, given the close proximity of the woman’s house to the international border and IMTRAT campus, officials suspect there could have been some contact between her and those from across the border or IMTRAT campus.
Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that investigations so far have not been able to establish any links between Covid-19 outbreaks in different parts of the country.
“This is because people are not sharing the truth with us, which affects our containment efforts.”
Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that people should avoid visiting the high-risk areas including Phuentsholing.
“Our responsibility is to treat people when they test positive. But the people have a more important responsibility of preventing the spread of the disease. Please be responsible and comply with the public health measures at all times.”
The government has put its plan for Bhutan to graduate from the United Nation’s category of Least Developed Country (LDC) in 2023 on the back burner due to the Covid-19-induced economic disruptions.
The country was supposed to cross the last mile economic challenges in all sectors during the 12th Plan. But the government believes that economies would have gone back by decades and that bringing back the development activities back on track would not be easy.
Addressing the 75th UN General Assembly virtually from Thimphu, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering last week requested the UN to reset the LDC graduation path to help the country regain its grip on a smooth transition from the LDC category.
The prime minister said that it would be extremely challenging especially for developing countries to reverse their economies. He said that governments and agencies around the world were realigning their programmes with the realities of Covid-19.
He said the pandemic had derailed Bhutan off the LDC graduation track. The plan for graduation from the LDC and a lower middle-income country was supposed to coincide with the completion of the present government’s term.
“Now everything is changed. Our focus has shifted to saving lives and livelihoods from the challenges posed by the pandemic,” the prime minister said. He added that millions in the world have been pushed back to poverty and more have lost jobs.
The thresholds for the three criteria for graduation are a gross national income (GNI) per capita of USD 1,242 based on a three-year average, a human assent index (HAI) score of 66 or more and an economic vulnerability index (EVI) score of 32 or below. A country becomes eligible for graduation if it meets the threshold levels for graduation for at least two of the three criteria.
When countries graduate, an element they lose in the transition period is the preferential access to markets mainly in developed economies. Generally, a country also loses foreign grant aids and technical assistance that are linked to LDC status.
However, graduating from LDC indicates that the country is doing well with a stable political and social setting, which could attract FDI. The other benefits of graduation could mean that the country would be more positively viewed by international investors, leading to increased access to international private finance for both public and private sectors.
In a recent interview with Kuensel, secretary of GNH Commission, Thinley Namgyel, was optimistic that the country would still be able to meet some of the criteria despite the economic downfall.
“The GDP has been impacted by the Covid-19. But still we will probably meet the GDP threshold,” he said.
Thinley Namgyel said that Bhutan could fulfil the income level and the human asset criteria. “If we fulfil the criteria, we qualify, if we don’t fulfil we will not qualify,” he said.
In an earlier interview before the August lockdown, the Prime Minister had said that he did not expect much change in terms of our deadline to graduate from the LDC.
Bhutan had qualified to graduate from LDC in 2021. But the country had requested that the UN body kept 2023 as the graduation year so that the country could time it with the 12th Plan.
The country’s request for extension of the graduation timeline by two years was endorsed by the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly held in New York on December 13, 2018.
…includes unemployed, overseas returnees and laid-off staff
Yangchen C Rinzin
Leki Wangmo, 29, joined a construction firm recently. She doesn’t know the name of the company who employed her. She joined the company as soon as she got the opportunity not even questioning the kind of job.
Leki needed the job. Seven months ago before her new job, Leki was a waitress in a Thimphu hotel. She lost her job owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. After leaving the job in May, she depended on the Druk Gyalpoi’s Relief Kidu apart from her husband’s, a salesman, income.
“It was not enough to pay house rent and meet other expenses,” she said. “I wanted work, any kind of work and I was feeling guilty having to depend on the Kidu.”
The moment she learnt about the government’s plan to engage youth through the Build Bhutan Project (BBP), she applied.
Today, Leki is one of the 100 or so youth who is employed with eight specialised firms in the construction sector. She works with the Design and Build Bhutan firm.
The specialised firms launched yesterday is a critical component of the BBP under the Economic Contingency Plan prepared during the pandemic. These firms will engage youth trained in electrical (house wiring), plumbing, construction carpentry, steel fabrication, masonry, and building painting at the technical training institutes (TTI).
Another youth, Deo Kumar Subba was worried about finding a job after completing TTI training in electrical wiring. “But our trainer informed us to try BBP and today I’m happy to be working under a firm that gives me Nu 18,000 a month.”
At the launch, the firms were awarded both certificates and repair and maintenance works of government agencies. The work, which is worth Nu 11.201 million is for the fiscal year 2020-2021.
The Department of National Properties designed the work package after finding which government agencies needed repair and maintenance work. Of 63 works submitted by 20 agencies, 13 works were awarded to the eight specialised firms. Most of the works are based in Thimphu and Paro. An official from the department said the rest of the work would be awarded in the next package when new firms are set up.
“We selected works based on the date of commencement and immediate requirement for repair and maintenance. Most of the work was planned for October.”
BBP project manager, Kezang Jigme said that apart from awarding work without tender, these specialised firms are provided free registration with Construction Development Board (CDB) for certification, and the government will provide 25 percent wage top-up for the employees.
He said they would also ensure those workers who will be employed through BBP, have Provident Fund where the government will provide 10 percent, and another five percent will be deducted from the employees’ salary.
The government has also provided uniform, personal protective equipment and power tools and equipment, which were handed over to firms yesterday.
The government will also help these firms avail loans at a lower interest rate from National Cottage and Small Industries Development Bank Limited. The labour ministry is also looking into bringing in trainers from abroad to train youth.
“Our aim right now is to make specialised firms sustain and take up works to compete with other regular contractors in future,” Kezang Jigme said. “We want to formalise these firms, as they were doing small business and never got the opportunity to participate in larger contracts.”
He added that when regular/principal contractors take up government work it would be compulsory for them to employ workers from these firms.
Initially, 19 interested groups had registered for certification. CDB certified eight after meeting certain criteria.
Pelden Skills Service run by four graduates from TTI was also one of the firms that were certified and received works yesterday.
Tashi Rinzin of Palden Skills Service said they used to take up small plumbing works but never got the chance to work as a registered firm. “An official from the labour ministry helped us to register, and we’re happy that we’ve our own firm where we can slowly employ people like us.”
Meanwhile, since its launch in July, more than 3,000 youth have registered with BBP of which 30 percent chose to join the TTIs. About 271 are directly employed (including those in specialised firms), 77 were trained in plumbing in the first batch from various TTIs and are currently on the job training.
More than 300 are being placed in different TTIs for the second batch. “We’ll try to take in all those registered. The highest demand for workers are in Thimphu, Phuentsholing and Gelephu, but it’s difficult to engage them given the pandemic situation.”
As of yesterday, there is a demand for 3,690 workers against the 3,151 youth registered with BBP. While the requirement for overall workers in the country is about 50,000 and there are only 18,000 foreign workers in the country today.
“This means we’re short of about 30,000 workers right now. We may not be able to fill the gap, but we’ll be happy even if we engage about 14,000 through the BBP,” Kezang Jigme said.
Tshering Namgyal | Mongar
The Covid-19 patients, who were shifted from Samdrupjongkhar to the eastern Covid centre in Mongar, are doing well, according to health officials.
Except for one, who is in a comorbid condition, three of the four patients have become asymptomatic now while the 31-year old Indian was reported asymptomatic on the first day itself.
Health officials said the patients were given supportive treatment, and they are still undergoing PCR testing.
To move out of isolation they have to test negative for two times within 24 hours.
A team of health staff comprising a doctor, five nurses, two safety officers, an X-ray technician, two lab technicians and a driver attends the patients in the isolation centre.
After completing their two-week duty on September 19, the first team goes into quarantine and the second team assumes duty.
The health teams have been functioning from the facility quarantine at the Wangchuk Hotel.
The Medical Superintendent of Mongar eastern regional referral hospital, Dr Pelden Wangchuk said the teams follow strict protocols like wearing of full personal protective equipment (PPE) with strict monitoring and examining by safety officers, no mingling, travelling in a dedicated van from the work.
The vehicles transferring the patients were disinfected and sent back after a day at the centre to the respective stations. Each team serves a six-hour shift.
“So, it’s absolutely safe with the strict implementation of safety protocols,” Dr Pelden Wangchuk said.
The first two cases were Indian labourers of Kholongchhu project detected positive while in facility quarantine in Samdrupjongkhar. The second case was an 18-year-old woman who lived at the NHDCL colony.
She visited the flu clinic in Samdrupjonkhar due to flu-like symptoms and was confirmed positive on September 6.
The 25-year-old woman and the 49-year old man were detected from community surveillance at the RBP colony and diagnosed at the testing facility in Dewathang hospital. The last patient, a 49-year old was brought to the Covid centre on September 18.
As of September, a total of 2,218 RT-PCR, 1,050 RDT (antigen) and 640 RDT (antibody) were conducted at the Mongar hospital Covid Lab.
The isolation centre has 43 beds for isolation ward and 11 beds in the ICU.
We have accepted that we are in the age of technology and that it plays a vital role in the daily lives of Bhutanese. We should also accept that there are challenges and that we should not be surprised when we hear about social media accounts getting hacked, password getting stolen or losing documents stored in the safety of the office computers.
It is emerging now that there has been a spate of attacks on Facebook accounts this year. It is not only the popular accounts. Most of us on social media have seen friends sending messages of having to create new accounts as some got “suddenly deactivated.”
Cyber attacks are not new. It has been the trend. Within the last two days of reporting hacks on social media accounts, cyber criminals have stolen millions of dollars. Cyber security company, Mitiga reported on Thursday that a newly detailed business email compromise campaign resulted in 150 organisations worldwide diverting USD 15 million to hacker-controlled bank accounts. German Privacy Watchdog fined the popular clothing retailer H&M USD 41M for spying on workers. There are several others.
Having become a part of the globalised world, our natural boundaries or the peace we enjoy are no safeguards for cyber criminals. In fact, given our poor computer literacy or lack of cyber security awareness, we have become more vulnerable. We have had incidents in the past how e-mail and bank accounts were hacked and institutions lost money in the millions.
Like some of the people whose accounts were hacked said, today it is social media accounts. It could be on government accounts, financial institutions and even classified information or the defense systems. Computer-related crime is something we will have to deal with.
The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the way we live and work. We are convinced that we have to leverage technology and change the way we work as we try to live around the pandemic. Cyber security is the real concern if we are to adjust our lives in the new normal.
Are we even aware of the risks? Are we prepared to deal with it? How much are we investing in security? The questions are many. The international computer trend has nurtured a culture in which security has become an indispensable component of computer development. Crime through technology is not only sophisticated, it knows no boundaries. We become as vulnerable to international criminals as to local perpetrators.
We can surmise that not many are aware and do not have the discipline as we embrace change forced upon us by technology. For instance, many parents bought mobile phones or laptops to assist their children with the new norm in education- online learning. Many created social media accounts, but not many are aware of the risk of exposing their children to the internet world.
Some say legislation is equally important. While legislation has become indispensable, the nature of cyber crime is complex. The recent hackers were from Los Angeles, USA. How do we reach to them, forget tackling it? Many organisations from around the world, including several cities and universities are paying significant amounts of money to recover their files following a ransomware attack. Could we afford the same?
The convenience of technology and the social media apps have convinced even our farmers, making us vulnerable. Perhaps, not the ultimate solution, but education and awareness and the discipline in using technology could be of a great help.
We have a body, Bhutan Computer Incident Response Team, which is mandated to enhance cyber security. A quick glance through its website alerts netizens of the security updates and vulnerability notifications. But not many are aware of the body or what it is publishing, forget the risks.
Buildings are more than a design, brick and mortar. They are the testimony to the changing times.
The few remaining traditional buildings tell the story of how Thimphu has grown as a capital city. Soon these little landmarks in the capital city could disappear. Already, the narrative of Thimphu Thromde development is lost on the younger generation of Bhutanese.
That way, are we losing vital part of Bhutan’s development story? But then, changes will have to come, anyway. What little vignettes of the capital city’s development that we have are becoming rarer by the day.
The country was in the fourth year of the fourth Five-Year-Plan, the focus of which was improving the economic conditions and living standards of the people. The year was 1980. Roads had come. There were only a few shacks along what is Norzin Lam today.
Then came the better traditionally-build structures—sign of prosperity. Many made way for the “modern” edifices.
On the second storey of a traditional house on Norzin Lam, in front of the main traffic, had a sign “The Attic”. The Attic was a small room. It was a popular hub for young Bhutanese men and women to hang out, drink beer and play backgammon while listening to Joan Baez and The Police being played from a tape recorder. That was a moment captured of Thimphu by the New York Times in April 1980.
What was once a popular hub for the young and modern Bhutanese is now a dwarfed and is rendered insignificant.
The house has leaky ceiling and creaky. The ramparts are coming off. Rats have made it their home.
The house was built in 1972 by Rinchen Dorji, popularly known as Thimphu Zimpoen Jochu.
Sona Lal Ram, 51, a cobbler from India, sits in his one-room shop busy mending shoes. His shop is located inside the traditional building in front of the PNB.
Sitting on the bench inside his small shop, one would notice, pasted on the cardboard wall, movie posters of classic Bollywood films like Sholay, Aashique, Mohabat Ka Paigham and Sanam Tere Hain Hum.
Sona Lal said that he came to Bhutan when he was a 12-year-old with his father. He has been mending shoes in the same traditional building for more than 40 years. “Back in the early years of my life, the buildings were all traditional and one or two-storeys. There was a forest in front of this building,” he said. “This building, this shop, has been my home.”
There were restaurants and grocery stores run by Tibetans, he recalled. There were only a few jeeps. Tungba—fermented millet drink, was popular, he said.
Sona Lal saw Thimphu grow to become the largest city in the country. He will witness the fall of the last two traditional houses.
Thirty young people completed a basic entrepreneurship course in Thimphu TechPark on October 1. The programme was designed to equip returnees from abroad with entrepreneurial skills.
The 15-day course targeted the returnees because they had the necessary exposure, experience, and savings to start a business, said the chief of the labour ministry’s entrepreneurship and self-employment division Kinley Dorji.
According to the trainers, due to urgency demanded by the pandemic, the course focused on developing old ideas rather than new innovative startups which require more time.
The top six business ideas received Nu 70,000 each to kickstart the business. The ideas were selected based on criteria such as the feasibility, marketing, sustainability, idea presentation and skills, among others.
There were 23 individual business ideas and three ideas from a group. Agribusiness topped the list.
Most of the participants had worked in the Middle East before returning to the country.
Chencho Thinley, who returned from India, wants to start a large-scale Shiitake mushroom farm. His idea, CT’s Farm, was among the top six ideas selected. He has procured land in Bjemina for the project.
A participant, Kuenzang Norbu, said that he wanted to start a vegetable farm. He worked as a supervisor in Kuwait for a year before returning to the country in April.
He said that the skills he learnt during the course would help him manage the business. “I learnt finance managing skills in this course,” he said.
Labour Minister Ugyen Dorji said: “Coronarvirus is here to stay and we have to lead our lives. Your exposure to outside world on how businesses are run, organised, and how profits are made would help revive our economy through creation of employment opportunities and in being self-reliant.”
The chief executive officer of TechPark, Tshering Cigay, said that the impact of such courses and programmes might not be sudden but the skills learnt would be of use in any scenario for the youth. “Once trained, the chance of entrepreneurial activities is high and the government has to create an ecosystem by involving the private sector.”
The course was criticised in the past for just training the young people and not making an impact in creating a startups ecosystem.
According to a survey by the labour ministry, out of 3,000 young people trained, only 11 percent started the business, said Kinley Dorji, adding that in the current Plan, the scope was narrowed down to groom the startups.
“Instead of training a huge number of startups, we will focus on supporting and training the impactful few,” he said.
An interim measure until normal international flights resume
An air travel bubble arrangement has been agreed between Bhutan and India to enable flight operations between the two countries until the resumption of normal international flights.
According to a press release from the foreign ministry, under the agreement, Drukair operated its first flight to Bagdogra on October 1. Drukair will operate one flight each to Delhi and Kolkata, and one flight to Bagdogra/Guwahati a week hereafter.
Travellers would be subject to strict adherence to the mandatory quarantine and other Covid-19 related health protocols put in place by the two governments.
All foreigners entering Bhutan must produce a Covid-19 negative certificate at the time of boarding and port of arrival. However, migrant workers from India should produce a negative certificate on rapid antigen test if they do not have access to RT-PCR testing.
The RT-PCR test must be carried out from a certified laboratory, but not earlier than 72 hours (three days) prior to leaving the country of origin.
All Bhutanese and foreigners arriving in the country must undergo the 21-day mandatory quarantine and testing as per existing protocols of the health ministry.
The cost of quarantine and testing and/or medical treatment, if required, for foreigners have to be borne by themselves. Bhutanese returning home for the first time are not required to bear such costs.
However, Bhutanese who exited Bhutan on their own volition during the pandemic after signing the ‘Undertaking Form’ with the foreign ministry have to bear the costs of quarantine and testing as stipulated in the form when they return to Bhutan.
According to the press release, all travellers entering India should submit a self-declaration form along with a negative RT-PCR test certificate on the online portal (www.newdelhiairport.in) at least 72 hours before the scheduled travel.
Travellers may seek exemption from institutional quarantine by submitting a negative RT-PCR test report on arrival.
The test should have been conducted within 96 hours prior to undertaking the journey. Test report should be uploaded on the portal for consideration. The test report could also be produced upon arrival at the point of entry airport in India.
Bhutan Airlines also intends to begin operations in the near future, according to the press release. Both the airlines would also have the right to cancel or reschedule flights.
Detecting Covid-19 early can avoid grave consequences of the pandemic which is why everyone with flu symptoms must visit clinics for testing, the health minister said.
Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo in a press conference yesterday urged the public to visit flu clinic if anyone has Covid-19 or flu-like symptoms.
“With early detection, testing and tracing, treatment can be done effectively and will contain the virus from spreading further,” the minister said.
She said that flu-related symptoms should not be taken lightly. “Most of the Covid-19 positive cases failed to visit the flu clinic for early detection.”
Everyone who visits flu clinic with flu symptoms is tested for Covid-19 through antigen test which takes about 30 minutes.
Earlier, only the contacts of Covid-19 positive cases were tested. From September 1, everyone visiting flu clinic was tested for the virus. Between September 1 and October 1 around 5,500 people were tested at the flu clinics across the country.
The health minister said that if a person takes responsibility and visits flu clinic when they show symptoms of Covid-19, it could prevent the nation from having another lockdown.
“With early detection smart lockdown can be implemented, meaning only the vicinity area of the positive case will be locked down.”
There are 54 flu clinics in the country. On average, 205 people visit the flu clinics across the country every day, the minister said.
The flu clinic at Royal Bhutan Police ground in Thimphu saw about 65 patients yesterday.
The registrar at the flu clinic, Choki Dorji said that the number of visits had reduced.
However, people who showed mild symptoms of flu visited the clinic.
The health minister said that the government was looking into setting up about four new flu clinics in Thimphu and more clinics in the southern parts of the country. The government was also considering building a permanent flu clinic in Thimphu, lyonpo said.
“If people are reluctant to visit flu clinic then the flu clinics will be a waste,” the health minister said. “The nature of the virus is new and with little the knowledge we were more focused on precautionary measures.”
She asked the people to go to the clinic alone or call the hospital if they don’t have vehicles.
“Flu clinics are servicing around the clock. Covid-19 test is provided to all who visit the clinic. The services are provided free but it would be effective only if people take the responsibility and cooperate with the government,” the health minister said.