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Updated: 55 min 23 sec ago

Sakteng grapples with mounting waste

Thu, 07/04/2019 - 15:34

Sakteng, a rural village in Trashigang is grappling with a problem that is more visible in the urban centers – waste.

Although cleaning campaigns initiated by the drungkhag administration, school and Sakteng wild life sanctuary has helped the community stay green, but the community lacks a proper place to dump waste.

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Fire damages transformer in Pasakha

Thu, 07/04/2019 - 15:31

One of the ferrosilicon industries in Pasakha industrial estate, Pelden Enterprise may not be able to carry out production for some months now.

A fire that broke out due to an alleged short circuit gutted the plant’s transformer yesterday.

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MoE stands by its decision on underage admission 

Thu, 07/04/2019 - 15:30

Upholding the existing policy on the admission age to enroll in grade pre-primary, the education ministry has decided to stand by its earlier decision to keep the admission age at six years.

The ministry informed of its decision to the cabinet secretary on July 2.

Representatives of parents, proprietors and principals of private schools had submitted a petition to the Prime Minister on June 13 appealing the government to regularise the admission of underage pre-primary (PP) students for the 2019 academic session.

The appeal was made after the education ministry in May revoked the admission of 890 PP students (below 5.5 years old) in public and private schools across the country. The representatives had also appealed the government to set five years (as of March 2019) as entry age for PP.

Even if the policy could not be changed, they had requested the government to reconsider this year’s enrollment and assured that from next year, the schools would abide by the rule.

The Prime Minister, through the Cabinet Secretary sent a letter to the ministry in the third week of June asking the ministry to extend and explore the possibility of reconsidering its decision.  “This was to ensure minimal disruption to the students who have not fulfilled the age requirement,” the letter states.

Director general with the Department of School Education, Karma Tshering in an email interview said that the ministry, taking into account children’s development stages and well being based on wealth of global research findings and practices has decided to stand by its earlier decision.

Underage students are those who have not attained six years, the criteria the ministry prescribes for PP enrollment. The ministry’s decision means that the children would have to repeat class PP next year.

The admission was revoked following a circular the ministry issued on November 23 last year, which stated that the age criteria admission of children in class PP in both public and private should have attained age six or are children born on or before February 13, 2013.

The circular had also notified that if there is still space after the admission period, the schools have the discretion to admit children who are five and half years old or older meaning those born on or before August 13, 2013. If the criteria were not followed, the student code wouldn’t be issued.

However, despite the circular and serving three reminders, the director general in an earlier interview said that schools had enrolled children who were below five and half years old.

“We’re only implementing the education policy guidelines and instructions and not to show our authority to the private schools,” he said. “We’ve removed the student code of only those children below five and half years old even if it’s a difference of just a day.”

Lyonchhen had earlier told parents that he would inform the education ministry of their request to reconsider the decision for this academic session. He said that the decisions they take also impacts rural children and that there are other factors to consider before considering their appeal.

“If the ministry is insisting on the rule, then there might be a reason and I was told that the ministry has repeatedly informed all schools not to admit underage children,” Lyonchhen said. “If it’s only one-time consideration for this batch then we can look into it but if the request is to change the policy then the case is different.”

Some of these students are four or five years old while many had turned 5 years and four months as of February 2019.

In the recent Parliament session, the National Assembly recommended the ministry to review and determine the pre-primary age limit highlighting the underage school admission issue. The House also recommended the ministry to maintain the class size as per education policy guidelines, 24 in lower classes and 30 in higher schools.


Yangchen C Rinzin

Heat wave and delayed monsoon caused Thorthormi to breach

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 16:11

The breaching of subsidiary lake II of Thorthormi lake on June 20 helped drain out about 2.73 million cubic metres (mcm) of water from the main lake, avoiding a disaster.

Officials from the national centre for hydrology and meteorology (NCHM) say the breaching was in a way like the artificial mitigating measure conducted in 2009-2012, but through a natural process. Between 2009-2012, lake Throthormi’s level was lowered in what was called Operation Thorthomi to reduce risk of glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF).

Officials said the 2.73mcm of waters did not drain out at once, which is why there was not much impact downstream, but it happened in the course of three days and helped in lowering the water level in the lake by 0.80ms.

Experts, who went to Lunana to assess the lake, say consistent rise in temperature in the months of April, May and June this year led to the melting of ice in the main Thorthormi lake, which caused a glacial surge.

Glaciologist Karma Toeb, who has been to the lakes more than 23 times said the presence of water accelerated glacier basil sliding, causing the rise in water level in the main lake on June 20. 

Showing the ice blocks displaced about a metre away up from the shore of the main lake and at the subsidiary lakes, Karma Toeb explained that the displacements occur only when there is a rise in water level.

“The rise in water level was caused by excess water and the source of the excess water was from the main lake itself.”

He said they initially suspected the rise in water in the main Thorthormi to have come from Lugge Tsho I, a lake above, but when they visited the sites, they found nothing happened at Lugge Tsho and the dams between the two lakes and water outlets were intact.

Karma Toeb said the temperature sensor in Thanza station showed that there was abnormal rise in temperature this year.

He said the hourly temperature record of the last seven years showed that the highest temperature was on June 16, 17 and 19, which was above 16 to 17 degree Celsius.

NCHM’s weather and climate division analysed the temperature trend from Thanza station and it showed that in the last nine years, the temperature of June this year was the highest.

“The monthly average temperature for April, May and June of last nine years shows that the three months this year recorded the highest temperature. The temperature recorded for the months this year is above normal,” Karma Toeb said. “Satellite images also show lots of melting on June 1, 3, 13 and 15. This correlates with the temperature trend we observed.”


What caused the breach?

Officials say the morphosis of Thorthormi lake is changing every day because of the rise in temperature and satellite images show lots of movements have taken place in Thorthormi lake and the displacement of glacier is more than 0.4 metres a day, which is considered high.

Karma Toeb said that because of the rise in temperature for the days prior to June 20, lots of melting took place inside Thorthormi lake and that meltwater within the glaciers caused basil sliding.”

He said that when basil sliding rate is high, it causes glacier surge. “When the surge occurred, it pushed the excess water, which overtopped and caused the new breach.”

He said the new breach is the weakest moraine. “When the excess water overflowed to subsidiary lake I, which had strong moraine, it spilled to subsidiary lake II, which breached and drained out completely.”

Karma Toeb said 18,160 cubic metres of water was drained out from subsidiary lake II on June 20, which is why there wasn’t much impact downstream.

NCHM’s chief for weather and climate service division, Singay Dorji, said they conducted a lot of study after the breach of the lake and found out it was more to do with the heat wave this year and delayed monsoon.


GLOF hazard

Karma Toeb said Thorthormi looks stabilised for now, but it would depend on factors such as weather parameters and other external triggers like seismic activity.

He, however, said glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) hazards from lakes in Lunana like Thorthormi, Rapstreng and Lugge still remain high. “We are not concluding that Thorthormi is risk free.”


Restoration of EWS and AWLS

There are 18 sirens, 15 along the Phochhu, three along the Mochhu and 10 remote automatic water level stations (AWLS) to warn vulnerable communities along the river valley downstream.

A team of experts, NCHM officials in Lunana, teachers and caretaker of Lhedi Primary School, health assistant and livestock officer reinstalled the AWLS of subsidiary lake II to subsidiary lake I.

Karma Toeb explained that they initially planned to relocate the AWLS to the main lake, but since the main lake now has two outlets, they had to shift it to subsidiary lake I to capture all water outlet.

In Thanza, officials rectified the damaged terminal assemblage by replacing the sensor’s damaged bubble pipe.

NCHM officials say that besides the usual monitoring of the water level through sensors, staffs manually monitors the water level thrice a week on alternative days.


Way forward

NCHM officials say there is no way they could reduce the risk of GLOF but people could adapt through the GLOF early warning systems (EWS).

Karma Toeb said the EWS should be enhanced. “Right now our EWS is for detection but it could be enhanced to forecast and install seismic sensors.”

He said the temperature monitoring system should be reality based.

NCHM’s director, Karma Dupchu, said present EWS were installed in 2011 and it needs replacement. “There are also more hazards increasing by building infrastructure along the hazard zones.”

Tashi Dema

CSMI’s open to FDI

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 16:08

Should the draft foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy 2019 come through, small-scale production and manufacturing activities would be allowed to explore foreign partners and investors with its approval and clearances fast tracked.

This is one of the major changes in the proposed draft FDI policy, which is with the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) for comments.

However, the requirement that FDI in manufacturing and service sectors with maximum foreign investors’ equity of 74 percent and minimum project cost of Nu 50M and Nu 25M for manufacturing and services respectively except for those in the Negative List, is still intact.

The draft policy states that the government shall allow FDI in select small-scale production and manufacturing activities to foster induction of new technology and skills and enhance market access. The minimum project cost of these projects shall be Nu 5M and the maximum foreign investors’ shareholding shall be 49 percent.

While investors from India are allowed to invest in INR, exception is made for the small-scale activities. In addition to the two schedules of priority list stipulated in the existing FDI policy, another schedule is added to the priority list to accommodate small-scale activities.

As for the visa, the draft FDI policy only permits multiple entry visas and route permits to foreign investors, board of directors and expatriate workers. In the existing policy, multiple entry visas, route permits and exemption of international tourist tariff is extended to foreign students enrolled in Bhutanese schools and institutes, patients and escorts visiting Bhutan for treatment in addition to the above.

The new policy also mandates the FDI division to function as an investment promotion agency and to provide single window services to FDI businesses in the country.

“The department shall approve/reject proposals falling under the Priority Sector Activities and Small-Scale Activities whereas for the Other Activities, the authority shall rest with the Project Approval Committee constituted within the Ministry,” the draft policy states.

The existing policy also prescribes the basis for approval and denial of proposed FDI activities, which is now removed from the draft. The criterion in the existing policy is based on GNH principles, employment, revenue contribution, foreign exchange earnings, value addition and innovation.

The draft policy has removed foreign investment in hydropower. In the existing policy, FDIs in the hydropower are based on the sustainable hydropower policy. Currently FDI in small and micro hydro power plants are permitted. 

However, the draft FDI policy allows foreign investment in other renewable energy but the size of investment is based on Alternative Renewable Energy Policy 2013.

In education, the new policy requires a minimum of Nu 300M investment and 74 percent foreign ownership in contrast to the Nu 200M investment and 100 percent ownership in the existing policy.

On infrastructure facilities, the existing policy allows investment based on PPP. However the new policy allows 100 percent investment.

For instance, FDI in waste management facilities, as per the existing policy, should be returned to government on expiry of term. This clause is removed in the draft FDI policy.

The new schedule in the priority list comprises of value-added agro-based products like dairy based processing, fruits, vegetable, food and confectionery processing, herbal and medical products and honey-based products.

Another section in the new schedule includes forest-based production like value-added hand-made paper products, integrated wood and bamboo products and cosmetics. Another section on souvenir and ceramic products has also been added to attract FDI.

The negative and prohibited list remains unchanged.

Tshering Dorji

Contractor faces termination for poor progress

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 16:07

The works and human settlement ministerial level-tendering committee has decided to terminate the contractor that is involved in the construction of a 2.5 million liter water treatment plant (WTP) at Pinchina in Samdrupjongkhar.

The committee forwarded its decision to the Samdrupjongkhar thromde on June 13, however, the thromde administration didn’t issue the termination letter to the contractor as Asian Development Bank (ADB) is investigating and reviewing the work progress.

Meanwhile, the contractor has written to the ministry stating that they assured to complete the construction works and commission the water supply by the end of this month. The Nu 89M project began in May 2016.

According to the committee, it was decided to terminate the works because the contractor has delayed the completion by the number of days for which the maximum amount of liquidated damages can be paid.

The initial deadline for the treatment plant was October 2017 but the contractor failed to complete on time and was given six months extension until April last year. However, the contractor again failed to complete the works.

The thromde administration gave a second extension in May 2018 but the contractor yet again failed to meet the deadline of November 15 last year.

Thromde’s infrastructure development department (IDD) head, Pema Chokey, said they didn’t issue the termination letter to the contractor because they are consulting with the ADB, which as funded the project.

She said ADB is investigating and reviewing the work progress among others and they would also conduct a joint assessment at the site soon. About 75 percent of the plant’s construction is completed. “We are waiting for the ADB’s decision to issue the termination letter to the contractor.”

The joint venture, Tundi-Tacho’s project engineer, Karma Kinley, said they have nothing to say about the committee’s decision on the termination, as they have not received any letter officially. He said they have requested the ministry and the thromde to wait until the end of this month.

He said the company has also submitted to the ministry and thromde in writing stating that the company assures to complete the works and commission the supply of water by the end of this month. The company claims that 90 percent of the works are completed and only electro mechanical works remain.

“We could not complete within the second deadline and LD period because it took more time to construct the chemical building and procuring the electro mechanical equipment,” Karma Kinley said.

Drinking water shortage

Meanwhile, the residents of upper (Toed) and middle (Maed) Samdrupjongkhar thromde are still fetching water from the nearest pond and well given the water shortage for the last three weeks.

Water connection was cut off as the main water diversion dam was washed away in the heavy rainfall from June 15-17 at Rikhechu. Although thromde officials reconnected the water pipes, it was blocked by the debris in the recent downpour. However, the water connection was restored yesterday.

Thromde’s water section head, Mani Kumar Rizal, said that although thromde officials and volunteers reconnected the pipeline to the reservoir in Pinchina, they have to keep replacing it as and when it gets washed away.

He said there is water problem but that it is not an acute one, adding that they also supply enough water through thromde’s two tankers. “We request the building owners to store water in the tank and supply to the tenants.”

Residents said it would be helpful if the thromde could install proper and permanent pipelines as some of the pipelines are old and placed on hilly sites.

They said that although the thromde administration supplies water through the tankers, the water supply system is not same to all residents. “Some tenants get direct water connection to their homes from the tankers while some have to fetch water from the tankers and carry homes.”

Thromde officials said they are planning to construct a gabion wall with a larger base and three metres height as an immediate measure. “We will also construct reinforced cement concrete (RCC) water tank after the monsoon.”

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

PM Modi to visit Bhutan next month

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 16:06

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in Bhutan on a two-day visit next month, according to the foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji.

Lyonpo shared the information to the media during the Friday Meet on June 28.

The foreign minister met with the Indian Ambassador yesterday to discuss the details of the visit.

He said further details could not shared as the two sides are still discussing.

The itinerary of the visit would be finalised after next week when an advance party would be in the country.

Prime Minister Modi visited Bhutan as the first foreign destination after winning the elections in 2014.

He visited the Maldives and Sri Lanka after being sworn in on May 30 for the second successive term.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering’s first foreign visit after his party formed the government was to New Delhi.  Lyonchhen also visited India to attend Prime Minister Modi’s swearing in ceremony in May where Lyonchhen reiterated his invitation to Prime Minister Modi to visit Bhutan at the earliest convenience. Prime Minister Modi accepted the invitation to visit Bhutan on mutually convenient date.

Staff Reporter

It’s a call to rise and decide for our own good

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 16:05

The implementation of the annual grants for gewog (AGG) has now begun. The first allotment of Nu 2.4 billion of the total package of Nu 12 billion has already been sanctioned for the 205 gewog in the country.

Here is the opportunity for real decentralisation.

Many a State plan has gone wrong because it did not benefit the people in a remarkable way. What it means is that the available budget was squandered for the good it was designed for. AGG gives the authority to plan development and demand change. This means our people in the communities should be able to streamline the development needs according to imperatives that define them.

Let us forget the billions of ngultrums for a little while. We can afford that, can’t we? What we cannot omit, however, is the rapidity of change that is affecting even the furthest of our communities. We talk about big flagship programmes all right. The danger is in losing small but critically important elements that sustain the life of the nation.

AGG, as we understand, is giving the power to the members of the community to decide their own development needs. The beauty of this idea is that every single farmer can contribute to the building of the community that is fast disintegrating.

Recently, a workshop in Paro, spearheaded by Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy tried infusing the idea of community ownership by transferring the roles of upkeep down to the last resident. As a member of a community, we have the responsibility to co-create our own environment in the way we want for our posterity.

The development initiatives down from the bureaucracy perhaps did not succeed as they should have because we lost the real picture along the way. We could so not understand why our farmlands are left fallow. Consequently, today, we have people by droves leaving their homes and moving in to urban areas for better livelihoods.

AGG now gives the local government leaders to listen to the people and bring the real change that is critically important to the communities. In other words, we now have the freedom to build own future.

Taklai bridge connects Umling gewog 

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 16:04

Until last year, Umling gewog in Sarpang remained cut off from the rest of the dzongkhag when the Taklai river swelled during monsoon.

However, with the completion of the 400ft bailey bridge over the river earlier this year, gewog residents are hopeful that they would now remain connected throughout the year.

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Social workers trained to address violence against children 

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 16:03

When a seven-year old child in a difficult family situation was referred to relevant agencies few years ago, he was in a protected environment.

However, without trained social workers to follow through, even though the case was closed and the child sent back to his community, reemergence of similar case was uncertain without a monitoring procedure in place.

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Recent rain costs thromde millions

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 16:01

Heavy and incessant rain on June 25-26 in Phuentsholing has damaged thromde’s properties worth Nu 7.85 million (M), a preliminary disaster report reveals.

Valuation for the damage to public properties is still going on.

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5th annual India-Bhutan tennis tournament begins

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 15:59

The 5th India-Bhutan friendship tennis championship began in Thimphu yesterday.

With majority of players from Bhutan (45), a total of 75 participants from Bhutan, India and Nepal are taking part in the tournament. Nepal is participating in the tournament for the first time.

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Parents’ committee to sue BEO’s counterpart in Japan

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 16:00

The parents’ committee of youth sent to Japan through “learn and earn programme” (LEP) has drafted the Power of Attorney to sue Bhutan Employment Overseas’s (BEO) counterpart SND of Japan.

Committee’s legal representative Ngawang Tobgay said that because of the jurisdiction, the youth and parents cannot sue the counterpart and the lawyers in Japan have come forward to help them.

Ngawang Tobgay said that a Japanese lawyer has showed equal concern to the victimisation of youth through the LEP and to seek justice, five young and one senior lawyers have agreed to sue SND on their behalf.

“The parents and youth have agreed and we would be dispatching the Power of Attorney to Japan soon so that they can initiate the action soon,” he said. “I’m also trying to seek advice from relevant officials on how to go about or if this is legal.”

He added that the counterpart would be also sued on similar criminal charges as the committee had submitted to the Royal Bhutan Police. Some of the charges would be human trafficking and harassment.

“We met the lawyers during our visit to Japan and they usually help foreign workers in Japan. We were introduced to them by a Japanese NGO and during the conversation they had approached to help us.”

Ngawang Tobgay said there is a reason to sue them because they found that SND did not even have an office in Japan or staff and before they were registered as a company, BEO had an agreement with them to send the youth.

“We tried to meet them but there was no one to represent them. SND was supposed to provide jobs as per the agreement, which did not happen,” he said, adding few Bhutanese lawyers have also come forward to support the LEP case for the youth.

The committee had submitted a letter appealing the Chief of Police to register their complaint against the BEO based on five criminal issues on June 27. The police would register the case after Thimphu district police completes the investigation. They are yet to receive a response from police.

The letter claimed that BEO had forged documents, involved in deceptive practices where youth were deceived with guaranteed jobs in Japan, harassed the youth for complaining about the case, abandoned a person in danger through the programme, and also included human trafficking where the youth were exploited.

Meanwhile, labour minister Ugyen Dorji when asked about the government’s comments on the committee’s appeal to police during the Friday Meet, said there is no reaction or comment. Lyonpo said that the government cannot interfere in the matter and would wait for the police to look at the case.

“We’ll comment when necessary and in the due course of time.”

The case came to light last year after the ACC asked the labour ministry to compel BEO to refund translation fees amounting to Nu 3.832 million (M) to the 511 students sent to Japan through the “learn and earn” programme.

The parents’ committee is yet to file a case against the agent in court here. “We will now wait for the police’s decision because if the case is accepted as criminal then we’ll not have to file the civil case.”

Yangchen C Rinzin 

NC rejects Speaker as head of legislature

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 15:59

The National Assembly’s recent decision to increase the salary of the Speaker above that of the National Council (NC) Chairperson has raised questions about who is the head of the legislative body.

The NC in its recently held post-session press conference said that it wouldn’t be in keeping with the Constitution to recognise the Speaker as the head of the bicameral legislative body. The NC is of the view that such a decision would invite differences even between MPs of two Houses about who is above whom.

The National Assembly’s decision not only elevated the Speaker above the National Council Chairperson but also Cabinet Ministers in the hierarchy. The decision implied that the Speaker was the head of the legislative body, while the Supreme Court Chief Justice was the head of the Judiciary.

Chairman of the committee, which reviewed the pay revision report, Nima, said at the press conference that the National Assembly’s economic and finance committee had come up with the recommendation based on its view that the Speaker was the head of the legislative body.

“In case of a unicameral legislature, there wouldn’t be any problem if the Speaker is the head of the legislature. Ours is a bicameral legislature,” Nima said.

The member from Bumthang argued that Bhutan’s Constitution does not place either House of Parliament above the other. The Constitution, he said, also provides equal power to both the NA and the NC.

“That’s why there is no such thing as upper house or lower house, and, accordingly, we have two heads for the legislature,” he said.

Should the Speaker be elevated above the NC Chairperson, Nima said, issues regarding about the hierarchy between the MPs of two houses would arise. He said that some people might claim that National Assembly members are above NC members.

He also cited the Parliamentary Entitlement Act, which places the Speaker, the NC Chairperson, the Chief Justice of Bhutan and ministers at par in terms of their entitlements. “The National Assembly has accepted our recommendation that the Speaker and the NC Chairperson should be equal, which is good,” he said.

The National Assembly had accepted its economic and finance committee’s recommendation to increase the salaries of the Speaker and the Supreme Court Chief Justice by 13 percent, 7 percent above that of the NC Chairperson.

Even though the House later reversed the resolution and kept salaries of the Speaker and the Supreme Court Chief Justices at par with the NC Chairperson and cabinet ministers, members of the committee remain firm on their stance after objections from the NC.

Some members of the committee argue the Speaker is the head given that he presides over all joint sittings, which are held in the National Assembly hall. It was also learnt that the committee wanted to give more power to the Speaker.

The committee’s members justified that the salaries of the heads of the three arms of government – executive, legislative and judiciary must be higher than the ministers.

However, although the Constitution clearly prescribes the Prime Minister as the head of the Cabinet, it does not identify either the head of the legislative body or the Judiciary.

Both the Houses have their own Rules of Procedure. As for the legislative procedure, a Bill passed by Parliament shall come into force only upon the Assent of the Druk Gyalpo. 

Further, Article 10(1) of the Constitution states that all legislative powers are vested with the Druk Gyalpo, the National Council and the National Assembly. Article 10(12) states, that the Speaker and the Chairperson shall convene an extraordinary sitting of Parliament on the command of the Druk Gyalpo if the exigencies of the situation so demand.

MB Subba

ACC freezes another 19.96 acres of land

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 15:57

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), which is still investigating the alleged fund diversion of the Buddha Dordenma Image project involving former project manager, Damchoe Choden, has issued another freeze notice on 19.962 acres of land belonging to nine individuals in Punakha, Paro and Thimphu last month.

This brings the total size of land frozen to 20.685 acres and five houses belonging to Damchoe Choden and 13 other individuals since ACC began investigation for suspected possession of disproportionate assets and income, alleged project fund diversion, fraudulent practice in tourism business and tax evasion.

ACC on June 24 issued freeze notice on 11.442 acres land in Dzomi gewog Punakha belonging to the joint ownership of Choeten Zangmo, Choni Zangmo and Tshering Wangmo, 0.9 and 0.98 acre land in Kabisa, Punakha belonging to Sonam Lhaden and Kuenzang Dema.

ACC also issued freeze notice to 1.3 acres of land in Barp gewog, Punakha, 0.16  acre in Taba and 3.38 acre land in Mewang, both in Thimphu and 1.2 acre land in Lungnyi, Paro belonging to Tshering Wangdi. ACC also put a freeze to any transaction of 0.12 acres of land owned by Jamphel, Kuenzang, Tashi Wangdi, Nima Dorji and Leki Tshering in Lungnyi.

The commission notified individuals, institutions and any business entities to refrain from entering into any transactions on the immoveable properties.

On August 9 last year, ACC had issued the first freeze notice on immovable properties registered in Damchoe Choden’s name against any transaction. The commission had listed six properties – three dry land in Sarpang and Thimphu and three buildings in Thimphu and Punakha. ACC also froze transactions for two building registered in her brother Ugyen’s name and one Sonam Yangzom in Guma, Punakha.

Section 60 and 107 of the Anti-Corruption Act 2011 empowers ACC to investigate disproportionate assets and income he or she possesses and issue a seizure of immovable property. Section 107 states that where the commission is satisfied on information obtained by it that any immovable property is the subject matter of an offence under the Act or evidence of the commission of such offence, such property shall be liable to seizure.

Popularly known as Anim Damchoe, Damchoe Choden was suspended from work on August 6 last year by the Buddha Dordenma Image Foundation in Kuenselphodrang after the ACC found prima facie of corruption when she was managing the project as manager.

Kuensel learnt that the ACC team has visited Singapore, Malaysia and Hongkong to interview people who donated for the Buddha Dordenma project.

Tax fraud in exports and import

On the alleged tax evasion issue, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is yet to charge sheet the case before the court. ACC found that the proprietor of Lhaimetog Export and Import, Anim Damchoe and its chief executive officer and her nephew Younten Jamtsho allegedly evaded Nu 21.296 million in tax between 2009 and 2017.

Between 2009 and 2017, the firm reported taxable income of Nu 88.819 million to the tax authority and paid Nu 1.133 million as business income tax. ACC found that the firm’s actual earning was much more and that it had concealed export income of at least Nu 70.987 million.

Lhaimetog export and import registered in 2009 exported cordyceps to certain foreign customers in Southeast Asia. The company belongs to Anim Damcho, but was operated by her nephew Younten Jamtsho.

Younten Jamtsho and his staff allegedly falsified and significantly undervalued its export invoices, and in many instances, even directed its foreign customers to wire transfer the money to the personal bank accounts. “The investigation concluded that the fraud was willfully committed to abate its statutory obligation to pay genuine tax and deprive the sate of its lawful dues,” ACC stated in its annual report that was distributed to the members of the Parliament last month.

ACC determined that the invocation of relevant provisions of the Income Tax Act 2001, the business firm is liable to restitute Nu 85.21 million including the evasion penalties and overdue interest calculated of June 30, 2018. The commission, having considered the merit of the evidence as well as the existence of public interest element, forwarded the case to OAG for prosecution on December 31 last year.

Rinzin Wangchuk

Delayed monsoon causing heatwaves

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 15:57

The monsoon this year arrived more than a week late than normal.

Monsoon usually begins from the first week of the June. This year, however, it began from  mid of June.

“One of the major reasons for the delayed monsoon is due to Vayu cyclone,” said Tyba Buddha Tamang, Dy. Ex. Engineer of the National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM).

He added that the other reason for delayed monsoon could be the seasonal variation.

According to NCHM, the maximum temperature was recorded in Lhuentse (38.5 ˚C) and minimum temperature in Bumthang (4.5 ˚C) in June this year.

The highest rainfall was recorded in Gelephu – 330mm.

An official from NCHM said that the southern part of the country received light to moderate rainfall, while the rest of the country received light rain.

Forecast says the weather will be partly cloudy in the morning and the country will receive light rainfall in the afternoon or evening during the next 72 hours.

Dem Zam

Non-subsidised LPG prices drop by Nu 118

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 15:56

The price of non-subsidised cooking gas dropped to Nu 722 in Thimphu from yesterday. 

According to a press release from Department of Trade (DOT), the change in price was due to price revision in India. However, the price for subsidised will remain same – Nu 530.

Earlier, the price of non-subsidised cocking gas was Nu 840 per cylinder. There is a difference of Nu 172 between subsidised and non-subsidised.  

A press release issued by Indian Oil Corporation said the decision to cut LPG price was due to softening prices in the international market and ideal dollar-rupee exchange rate.

Chief trade officer with DOT, Rinchen Zangmo, said that the news was welcoming because the department had been advocating on surrendering subsidised cooking gas. “The decrease in price will invite consumers to switch to non-subsidised and we are hopeful that many would turn up.”  

The prices for petrol and diesel were also revised following the revision in India. 

The price of petrol per litre has increased by Nu 0.27 to Nu 0.72. However, the price per litre of diesel has dropped by Nu 1.35 to Nu 1.84 for different locations. The price of petrol in Thimphu will be Nu 60.88 and Nu 58.96 for diesel. 

Phub Dem

Premium buses for improved public transport 

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 15:50

To provide comfortable and improved modern facilities in public transport services, Dophu transport’s premium bus service started its maiden journey on June 29 from Thimphu to Phuentsholing.

Without overloading and commercial luggage, the proprietor of Dophu transport service, Karma Thinley said that the time bound premium service is focused on providing comfortable ride to passengers at a reasonable price.

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Haa opens Visitor Information Center

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 15:47

Dzongkhag administration of Haa and the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) launched a Haa Visitor Information Centre (HVIC) at Lhayuelkha on June 29.

HVIC is a multipurpose platform designed for comprehensive solutions to addressing multiple needs of tourism stakeholders for development of community-based sustainable ecotourism programme.

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Businesses resort to buying water in Thimphu

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 15:41

With water supply unreliable, a number of businesses in the city’s core area have resorted to fetching water on their own.

If paying for fetching water is equivalent to buying, water is becoming expensive in the capital city. A proprietor of a milk booth recently spent Nu 20,000 a month on water. His business is water intensive. With cleanliness at the core of the business, the proprietor said he couldn’t compromise on water. He fetches or asks the dealer to fetch his from Hongtsho.

“We have to use clean water to clean all the machines and the floor every day,” said proprietor Kinley Penjor. For 1,000 litres of water, he pays Nu 1,000. The proprietor ended up fetching water for 20 straight days earlier this year. The supply in his area, Hongkong market, has improved a bit these days.

“Even if I have to spend the profit on buying water for a few months in summer, I have to, as I cannot compromise,” he says.

Below the milk booth, the Seasons Pizzeria is another client. Above it is the Khamsum Inn, a three star hotel. There are smaller businesses that use their cars or hire bigger cars to fetch water. And it is expensive.

The monthly water bill for Khamsum Inn averages between Nu 2,000 and 3,500. But the hotel, with 17 rooms, pays Nu 4,500 for 4,000 litres of water. “When there is full occupancy, the thromde water is not enough,” says a staff who readily flipped through the files to show their water bill. The hotel has tanks that can hold 18,000 litres, but half the time it is empty or half-filled.

Last month, the hotel bought water for three straight days. The damage was Nu 12,000. The latest purchase was on June 12. “Since then the supply has improved,” says the staff. “There are many hotels like ours who buy water.” Some hotels use their men and machines to fetch water- from Jungshina and Babesa.

Water suppliers, as the clients call them, say there are several of them who fetch water “based on as and when demand”.  One supplier, Thinley, says some had been in the business for about eight months. Thinley had supplied to Namgay Heritage, Om Tara and Bhutan Boutique hotels, all luxury hotels. 

Thinley charges Nu 3,000 for pumping, carrying and labour charges from Jungshina to the town. “I have heard managers complain of the cost of water eating into their profit. It happens when they have a lot of guests,” he says. “Some hotels have identified truckers and done this for the last two years.”

The thromde’s rationing of water supply for a few hours in the morning and evening is not enough, says a hotelier. “It is a problem especially when it is tourist season,” says one. “There is no point complaining. Its the same old story- there is no water at the source.”

The capital city is plagued with shortage of water, although they are not buying like the businesses. The growing population and expanding city is attributed to the shortage or erratic supply, but there are also those who feel there is problem in the distribution system.

“Why are some having excess and some shortage,” asks a resident. “Somewhere something must be going wrong in the distribution system.”

A construction owner in Chang Jalu is confident that the water that is being tapped should be enough for all if it is properly distributed. “Why do some have private source together with thromde supply?” 

Ugyen Penjor