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Updated: 1 hour 47 min ago

Managing tourism

Tue, 02/04/2020 - 16:21

Without concrete rules or regulations or a policy, the decision to impose a sustainable development fee of Nu 1,200 on tourists from the region seems to be the best bet.

The Nu 1,200 per day per person on adult tourists is already been debated with some calling it too expensive and some finding it cheap when compared with the USD 65 imposed on international tourists.

The number of tourists from the region has to be managed. We have seen in the recent past how unmanaged tourism is taking the Bhutanese tourism in the wrong direction. Our leadership had, for decades, resisted the temptations to harness the quick fortunes from mass tourism and insisted on reaping the benefits of a small and manageable number while focusing on sustainability.

Given the economic prosperity the region is enjoying, Nu 1,200 per day per tourist will not been seen as an exorbitant fee. The profile of tourist from our region is changing. We are, for instance, not seeing the busload of tourist with cooking pots and sack loads of rice on the bus top.

A majority of the tourists now stay in luxury hotels, hire guides and cars and even travel into the interiors. This group will not mind the SDF. Some might appreciate it because they are also complaining of overcrowding and seeing the same face at every tourist spot.

If those who want to make the most of it on a shoe string budget, driving their cars, risking their safety and get into trouble because they are not guided decide not to visit Bhutan, this is exactly what we are looking at.

Tourists have to be managed, not because we need to hire our cars or keep the guides engaged, but to let our guests make the most of their holiday or excursion. We have, in the past, seen how some tourist even lost their lives when not accompanied by guides. We have also been witness to curious and unguided tourists get into trouble.

The SDF may not be to make revenue, but given the increasing numbers it could be a good source of revenue that could be ploughed back to improving infrastructure like roads, even toilets.

It could be invested in innovations to attract tourists beyond a few dzongkhags.

The Tourism Levy and Exemption Bill of Bhutan 2020 also exempts the SDF on 11 dzongkhags to attract tourists. Exempting the fee alone cannot attract tourist. We attempted that before. Eastern Bhutan, even without the USD 65 fee or royalty, is not seeing many tourists.

Road has been widened or smoothen, we have an airport in the east, yet the increase in number is negligible. The problem it seems is not in fees or infrastructure. The problems could be in how we market eastern Bhutan or what we have to market. If it were for the dzongs and the lhakhangs, tourists would have already, like someone said,  “dzonged” out before they reach Trashigang dzong.

Everybody agrees that tourists, as our guests, should enjoy and take good memories of brand Bhutan. What we are seeing after the influx of unmanaged tourists is against the very vision of “high value -low volume.”

There will be repercussions from levying fees on some. But like the Lyonchhen says, it is always better to milk the red cow and have milk everyday instead of beef at once!

ICT must be the third language for Bhutanese: PM

Tue, 02/04/2020 - 16:20

Younten Tshedup | Gelephu

As Bhutan prepares to embrace the fourth industrial revolution, it is imperative that Bhutanese speak ICT as its third language for education to keep up with the rapidly changing digital world. 

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, while interacting with participants of the ongoing coding workshop for ICT teachers in Gelephu on February 2, said that besides Dzongkha and English, ICT has to be the third primary subject that students need to compulsorily pass in order to move onto the next grade. 

He said in the 21st century, students would be as good as uneducated no matter how much they learn in the classrooms without the digital knowledge.

“Leaving ICT as an optional subject would not serve the purpose. I’m personally excited and ready to make this change should you all, the teachers agree,” he said. “Through policy interventions, we can make this happen if you think this is the correct step.”

The crowd of over 130 teachers resounded in agreement. 

 Lyonchhen agreed to take up the idea with the education ministry and relevant stakeholders to discuss it further. 

It was suggested that by next year when all schools in the country are equipped with an IT lab, the idea could possible roll out. 

He said that in terms of learning and education, Bhutan has come a long way and the way forward, as envisioned by His Majesty The King, was to leverage on technology and use ICT as a vehicle of modern education.      

“This would be a long journey but the process has started,” he said. “You all are the pioneers in this field and in the next 10-15 years when our school system revolutionises and our children are equipped with 21st century knowledge and skills, it would be your efforts that made it happen.” 

ICT teachers from government and private schools, the Royal University of Bhutan, Royal Education Council, Royal Bhutan Army and Office of the Royal Media are attending the first phase of the workshop that began last month in Gelephu. 

As a part of the education flagship programme, the coding workshop is organised to equip participants with python programming skills and orient ICT teachers to roll out the ICT and coding curriculum in school education starting from pre-primary to grade XII starting this academic session in all levels of schools. 

One of the participants from Samtse middle secondary school, Tshering, said that although ICT is gaining importance in the country, challenges for smooth implementation remains, especially in remote schools. 

He said that senior teachers were reluctant to accept the changing technology, which in turn hindered effective teaching and learning in schools. 

Lyonchhen said that he is aware of the digital divide that currently exists between the different generations in the education system. “When we say we want to bring about a systemic change, it doesn’t mean we have to reject all the traditional ways of doing things,” he said. “We have to work this out intelligently. We’ve to see how we can improve on the existing practices and make it more workable in the modern century.”  

Another participant shared the challenges posed by lack of resources and facilities and a stable internet connection.     

The Prime Minister said that the government, through policy interventions, is doing everything possible to facilitate this change. 

He said that the idea is to make all energy-efficient appliances and electronic gadgets affordable and accessible.   

“To do this, the government has only one tool and this is through policy interventions in the taxation front,” he said. “We would do away with tax on all IT gadgets and bring down data charges to as low as possible and ultimately make it free. The recent decision to do away with the tax on mobile vouchers was also in line with this idea.”  

Lyonchhen said that while the public sees this initiative having a negative impact on the nation’s revenue, individual citizens are benefitting directly from this measure.  

The Prime Minister shared how digitisation of schools complemented the governments’ digital drukyul flagship programme and also communicated on the progress of the programme. 

He said that the digital movement would also be the biggest component of the ‘action-packed’ 21st-century economic roadmap that has been envisioned by His Majesty The King. 

NC to redeliberate ministers’ and equivalent post holders Entitlement Bill

Tue, 02/04/2020 - 16:18

Tashi Dema

National Council members will redeliberate the Minister and Minister Equivalent Post Holder Entitlement Bill 2019.

This is because they have to sort out how to consolidate the numerous Acts on entitlements, as the National Assembly recommended.

While most members expressed their concerns and disappointment with the NA for not discussing the Bill, they agreed to acknowledge the three objections NA raised with approval from 19 members with a show of hand.

Pemagatshel’s NC member, Choining Dorji, the chairman of the legislative committee, submitted that NC passed the Bill and forwarded it to the assembly during the last session, but on January 21, NA returned the Bill without even discussing it.

“NA’s first objection was because it contradicts with the Parliament-approved entitlements, as the Bill mandates the government to provide a vehicle for the ministers and equivalent post holder’s family,” he said. “The committee acknowledges the objection.”

The second objection was that approving the Bill might cost the country’s economy. “The third objection was that the three entitlement Acts  need to consolidated,” Choining Dorji said.

Gasa’s NC member Dorji Khandu said if NA members feel that providing vehicles for ministers and equivalent post holders wives contradicts Pay Commission Act, they should stop misusing public properties.

Eminent member Karma Tshering explained that the committee proposed the need to provide vehicles so that there is uniformity, as some use the vehicles and some do not. “If this bill is enacted, it would supersede other Acts but NA did not even deliberate on it.”

Members proposed for the Bill to be discussed in a joint sitting.

Punakha’s NC member, Lhaki Dolma, explained that accepting NA’s objections and discussing  the Bill does not serve the purpose, as the lower house’s main objection is on the principles of the Bill. “Deliberating it and amending the clauses  is not according to the procedure. So this should go to joint sitting.

Bumthang NC member Nima also expressed similar concerns.

He said the Bill should go for joint sitting, as NC members conduct detailed research and frame laws. “The objections are on principles and not on each and every clause in the bill.”

A committee member, Lhuentse’s NC member Tempa Dorji said the Bill was framed based on Royal Audit Authority’s audit on hospitality and entertainment budget. “RAA recommended a need for guidelines, rules and regulations and a budget ceiling.”

He said enacting the Bill to an Act would have benefitted the country.

Meanwhile, members also expressed concerns in consolidating the Acts, justifying that new Acts cannot be consolidated with existing Acts.

Singkauli: People struggle for drinking water  

Tue, 02/04/2020 - 16:17

Rajesh Rai | Singkauli

Nine-year-old Sudip Subba must be busy with his friends in school today. Two days ago, he was in Singkauli, helping his parents fetch water from a stream.

His father had woven the boy a small doko (a bamboo basket), just right for his size. Sudip carries nine litres of water. It takes about an hour to get home.

There are today only about 10 houses in Singkauli

Singkauli is a remote village in Phuentshopelri, Samtse, about a three-hour journey from Gomtu town. There is no road to the village.

Due to water shortage, people grow maize and tapioca. Growing winter vegetables is impossible here. Cattle raising has dropped drastically over the years. The only source of drinking water, the Kalikhola stream, is located about three hours away from the village. For people with their houses located near the stream, it takes about an hour. As the source is located at a lower elevation from the village, accessing water using pipes is not possible.

Difficulties have been growing and now the people are ready to abandon the village.

Chabilal Gurung, 56, said there was no option left for the people than to settle elsewhere there is enough water.

“Without water, sanitation is the biggest problem,” he said. There is not a single proper toilet in the whole of the village.

People say that water sources began drying up since 2000. A flood in 1993 changed everything. Kalikhola stream dries up by April. It would not flow again until the end of July.

“Only a small pond would remain,” Chabilal Gurung said.

But it is not only the distance to the water source that is a challenge for people. As the source is located deep into the forest, elephants, gaurs, and wild buffaloes frequent the place for water.

There are today only about 10 houses in Singkauli. Three families have left for good.

One of them is Phul Maya Mongar, 50. She could not bear the growing hardship.

“It’s been four years since I left Singkauli,” she said. “I used to have backaches carrying water five times a day sometimes.”

One time she put her child to sleep and went to fetch water. Worried that animals might invade her maize fields, she put on a radio and left it in the field.  When she returned, monkeys were all over the place.

In Chunag today, the family has no shortage of water to worry about.

Ramila Rai, 23, from Tendruk, lives with her three-year-old daughter and a 76-year-old father-in-law in Singkauli. Her husband is a machine operator in Samtse.

“I have to fetch water from a jungle, three times in a day,” she said. “I feel like leaving this village.”

Baldhoj Subba, 65, has already left Singkauli too, to Chunag. He has leased a private land as a temporary measure.

Another villager, Sukman Subba, 55, has more than seven acres of land in Singkauli, which is just a jungle today. From his place, it took five long hours to get to the water source. He has also left the village.

“Although I love the place it is of no use without water,” he said.

Phuentshopelri Gup Robat Lepcha said he raised the issue in DT in 2017.

“People were repeatedly raising the issue. I visited the place and found that it was a serious problem.”

Engineers visited the village to study the feasibility of bringing water to the village from the source. The option of pumping the water was not sustainable. Taking a road there was also not the option then. It costs villagers Nu 300 to take a bag of rice.

“They need 55 acres of land,” Robat Lepcha said. “We have identified the place that has water sources and enough land to settle.”

The gup said the new place at Chunag would benefit Singkauli villagers economically with enough water to farm and consume. Road is expected to come soon.

While Samtse DT has forwarded the case to department of local governance, no resolution has come so far. People are waiting.

Demand for face masks surge

Tue, 02/04/2020 - 16:15

Supplier run out of stock

Sonam Pem Tshoki

Never have pharmacies sold hand sanitisers and face masks like they are doing today. With more and more people becoming aware of the coronavirus and the precautions, pharmacies are having a good business, some even running out of stock.

Suppliers in India declared shortage of face masks and refused to supply the amount pharmacies ordered after they ran out of stock.

The Kuenphen Pharmacy in the centre of the Thimphu town received assurance of only 5,000 face masks. They ordered 50,000 three days ago.

“After all the masks we had in the store went out of stock, we ordered face masks worth 50,000, but the supplier has sent us a letter stating that they are out of stock themselves and will be sending the last batch of face masks worth 5,000 on Wednesday”.

The proprietor of the pharmacy, Jharna Rai, said they hardly sold any hand sanitisers, as people did not buy them on a daily basis. “ But now, face masks and hand sanitisers are the most sold item.”

Another pharmacy in town has also received a notification from their supplier informing them about the unavailability. “They told us they wouldn’t be able to supply until further notice,” said the owner.

Namsey Pharmacy on Norzin Lam is out of hand sanitisers and face masks. Pharmacist Choden said that their order is supposed to get here before Thursday.

She said, “After we ran out of surgical masks and hand sanitisers, people bought the N95 masks which is more expensive and effective. The store was out of stock with the N95 masks the same day the masks arrived”

Tshering Dema, 36, a resident of Thimphu was buying face masks and hand sanitisers at a pharmacy. “I heard about pharmacies running out of masks, so I wanted to buy some for my children and husband before it is runs out,” she said.

The Office of Consumer Protection, yesterday, notified all business entities dealing with supply and sale of medical equipment to refrain from charging unreasonable and exorbitant price on any medical equipment or any other products meant for prophylactic purpose to prevent and control the ongoing epidemic Coronavirus.

The price of face masks and hand sanitisers have not increased as of yesterday.

Surgical masks are sold at around Nu 5-10 while the cloth masks are sold for Nu 25-30. The price of the hand sanitisers varies depending on the quantity and brand.

Jabchor—a tale of angel investors and young entrepreneurs

Tue, 02/04/2020 - 16:14

Choki Wangmo

After college, Kuenga Dendup, who pursued computer applications, went to his village in Trongsa to try his hands on organic farming. That was five years ago.

With his partner Pema C. Gyaltshen, he is a budding entrepreneur in aromatherapy. He is the founder of Kingdom Essenses (KE) in the country.

Things weren’t easy, he said, adding that he believed that any business would flourish with time without investors. It took years before he came across jabchor and the concept of angel investors.

With the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) with investors yesterday, KE’s future looks bright.

Initiated by Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) in 2018, Jabchor is a platform to support scaling up of cottage and small-scale businesses by enabling connections to angel investors through equity financing model.

Kuenga Dhendup said that in the beginning, he thought the jabchor platform was a funding and not an investment scheme.  “We weren’t too keen on participating but soon realised our business lacked good partnership.”

He pitched his business idea during the second season of jabchor last July. After repeated negotiations and discussions with investors, KE signed an MoU with Naturally Bhutan and private investors.

“More than investment, we needed strategic partners and chose them carefully. The investors are experienced individuals and we look up to them as our mentors” said Kuenga Dhendup.

The founder of Naturally Bhutan, Rabsel Dorji, said that the country had passionate, knowledgeable and capable entrepreneurs but lacked proper packaging, distribution, networking, financial and accounting skills to run businesses properly.

Through strategic partnership with KE, Rabsel Dorji’s team expects to help KE explore unreached potentials of essential oil business with larger social impact in the country.

Thinley Choden, a private investor, said that she wanted to help set precedent in impact investment and build faith in young entrepreneurs, while at the same time working towards value addition of the products.

In the beginning, KE faced hurdles due to lack of public knowledge on essential oils. “It was difficult to get the right information but with His Majesty’s support. We were trained in Thailand which helped us kick start the project successfully,” Pema C. Gyaltshen said.

Pema C. Gyaltshen and Kuenga Dhendup expect to do well and, more importantly, to replace imported synthetic oils with local essential oils. “We are known as the land of medicinal plants and we have all the resources at our doorstep,” she said, adding that in the future KE would upscale production and explore market opportunities in the tourism industry.

Currently, KE produces essential oils, bath bombs, body butter and herbal salve from pine, juniper, cypress and medicinal herbs grown in Nubi in Trongsa.

“We are also promoting sustainable harvest of forest products and ensuring a sense of ownership among communities,” said Pema C. Gyaltshen.

The past two seasons of jabchor helped young entrepreneurs, particularly among the startups to access formal alternative source of financing by bringing together entrepreneurs and angel investors.

In the future, RMA expects to improve the platform by formally institutionalising jabchor with Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

NA finalises SDF at Nu 1,200 per person per day

Tue, 02/04/2020 - 16:11

Tourism Levy Bill ignites hope of opening additional entry points 

MB Subba

Tourists from the region visiting Bhutan would have to pay Nu 1,200 per night per person as sustainable development fee (SDF), according to the Tourism Levy and Exemption Bill of Bhutan 2020.

The National Assembly (NA) decided this yesterday following the recommendations of the environment and climate change committee, as a new proposal in the Bill.

However, amid concerns on whether the SDF may be a bit high, the Bill seeks to exempt regional tourists visiting 11 dzongkhags from paying the SDF. The dzongkhags are Lhuentse, Mongar, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Pemagatshel, Samdrupjonkhar, Tsirang, Dagana, Zhemgang, Trongsa and Sarpang.

Six eastern dzongkhags already enjoy the exemption of SDF of USD 65 on international tourists. The Bill extends the same exemption to Tsirang, Dagana, Zhemgang, Trongsa and Sarpang.

The Bill is expected to be implemented from July this year.

The exemption is to improve tourism growth in dzongkhags that do not receive many tourists. However, the exemption list does not feature Samtse. 

Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma expressed his regrets on the exclusion of Samtse. 

“Samtse has potential in tourism development but it is one of the dzongkhags that do not receive tourists. It was unfortunate that my dzongkhag is not included in the exemption list,” he said.

Chairman of the environment and climate change committee, MP Gyem Dorji, said more studies needed to be carried out to include Samtse. “The exemption list will be updated from time to time,” he said.

Some members said the impact of the exemption of USD 65 for international tourists to the six eastern dzongkhags was yet to be seen. Suggestions for improvement of infrastructure such as roads were made.

The exemption of levy will expire on December 31, 2024, according to the Bill. It will be up to the next government to decide on whether or not the exemption will be continued.

 

Entry points

The levy exemption for the 11 dzongkhags has given some hope about the government’s commitment on opening additional entry and exit gates for regional tourists in line with a resolution of the first sitting of this parliament.

Prime Minister Lotay Tshering said that when the implementation of the Act begins in July or August, border gates for entry of tourists would be opened in Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar. He said regional tourists were a major source of income for the country and people.

The Bill does not differentiate between children and adults. But it was clarified that children under five years will be exempted from SDF, while those between six years and 12 years will be levied 50 percent.

The House also weighed possible impacts on the hotel business and Bhutan’s unique image as a champion in environment and cultural preservation.

The Bill also re-phrased “high value, low impact” tourism as “high value, low volume.” It was reasoned that the high volume posed a challenged in maintaining low impact of tourism.

Phuentshogpelri MP of Samtse, Ganesh Ghimiray, asked how the government would go about should SDF affect hoteliers. “Imposition of SDF is a good idea, but it poses risks to our hoteliers,” he said.

Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said that the SDF should be per person per trip for three years instead per person per day. He reasoned that hoteliers’ interests should be considered.

However, home minister Dasho Sherub Gyeltshen supported raising the SDF up to USD 30 as a measure to control overcrowding. “We should preserve the pristine environment and culture in the country’s interests,” he said.

Foreign Minister and chairman of Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), Dr Tandi Dorji, said that it was too early to predict the impact of the SDF. But he added that the government would consider fiscal incentives if the new policy affects hoteliers.

Gangzur Minjey MP Kinga Penjor said that regional tourists coming in families should be offered packages to minimise the impact on local businesses that are dependent on tourism. He said that the SDF of Nu 1,200 on each person on a daily basis could be expensive for regional tourists.

If a family of five stays for six days, the family would pay Nu 36,000 as SDF and given the high numbers of regional tourists, the country is expected to earn hundreds of millions annually. Bhutan received 202,290 regional tourists in 2018, according to official records. Regional tourists are ones that come from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives. 

However, Menbi Tsenkar MP Choki Gyeltshen said that SDF alone would not improve tourism development and emphasis should be given to infrastructure development as well.

Dr Tandi Dorji said regional airports would be improved to encourage tourists. “Gradually, there would be one policy for both regional and international tourists.”

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the proposed SDF was the most appropriate the government could come up with.

The Bill identifies TCB as the competent authority to verify and ensure proper compliance of the tourism related law. It is also entrusted to review and recommend the revision of the tourism levy and submit a bi-annual report on tourism levy exemption to the finance ministry.

The Bill also identifies offenses, which include failure to submit supporting documents or submitting false documents. Fines will be imposed as per the Rules and Regulations of Tourism Council of Bhutan for failures to comply with the law.

The environment and climate change committee had proposed major changes, including the name of the Bill. It was first introduced as Tourism Levy Bill.

Citing many changes the committee had proposed, Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said that government had not worked adequately on the Bill. “The Bill has been changed significantly, which shows that government didn’t do enough homework,” he said.

However, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the House was empowered to incorporate changes into a Bill.

Deliberations completed yesterday and the House is scheduled to adopt the Bill today. It seeks to repeal Tourism Levy Bill of 2018.

No drastic measures required at the moment: PM

Mon, 02/03/2020 - 16:48

Younten Tshedup | Gelephu

Should Bhutan seal its entry and exit points to tourists in the light of the ongoing global coronavirus outbreak?

Not at this moment, according to Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering.

Speaking to hospital staffs of the regional referral hospital in Gelephu yesterday, Lyonchhen said that although he acknowledges the concerns shared by public on social media platforms to temporarily seal off entry and exit points, the current situation do not demand such drastic measures.

“We have not resorted to this because we have put all necessary measures in place including various screening measures at the entry points,” he said. “We would definitely use it should the situation get worse and the need arise. But for now, the country has not reached to that level of threat from the virus.”

Lyonchhen said that the government is doing all it could to prevent the virus from entering the country. “But we don’t want to go overboard and be unreasonable right now. We are monitoring the situation on an hourly basis,” he said, adding that the reason for not closing tourism business temporarily was not for revenue. “It is about being professional. And should the threat level go up, we would do whatever is necessary”

Although Bhutan is geographically located near China, where the outbreak occurred, Lyonchhen said that Chinese tourists coming into the country are negligible. “Moreover, since the exit for Chinese people from the epicenter of the outbreak is sealed, we would not receive people from there anyway.”

 However, as precautions, Prime Minister urged the people to minimise or avoid unnecessary travels outside the country. He said that people should avoid travelling to places like Nepal and Bodhgaya for pilgrimage and to Bangkok.

Lyonchhen reminded the health official to carry out their duties responsibly and take extra steps to inform the public about the outbreak.

“These are the times when professionals like you must step up and give public suggestions and advises,” he said. “For a non-medical individual, it is only right to worry at such times, but as a medical professionals, it is your duty to calm their worries and share the correct information.”

The Prime Minister added that health professionals cannot afford to ‘add salt to the wound’ and in the heat of the moment, share rumours and an unconfirmed information on the social media platforms.

Lyonchhen also informed that in the event of an outbreak, the government has identified Gidagom hospital in Thimphu to function as an interim hospital to treat all those who are infected.

“Even otherwise Gidagom hospital would soon be converted into a dedicated 100-bed international level infectious disease hospital with support from JICA,” he said. The hospital would function as a headquarters to treat any kinds of outbreak, which is currently missing.

The Prime Minister added that coronavirus is of top most priority today and official concerned are coming up with measures on a daily basis.

Lyonchhen has also shared his personal number to answer queries about the outbreak. “At times of emergency, there is no protocol. It is also the time where public should agree to the central decisions and should there be any differences in the opinion, come forward to discuss.”

Class XII results best in 14 years

Mon, 02/03/2020 - 16:45

Chimi Dema

The Bhutan Higher Secondary Education Certificate (BHSEC) 2019 Examination recorded the highest pass percentage, 91.55 percent, in the last 14 years.

This pass percentage is an increase of 3.56 percent from 87.99 percent recorded in 2018. An increase in pass percentage in the past three years since 2016 averaged only 1.58 percent. 

Science students topped the class XII board examination 2019 result with 96.29 percent candidates passing the examination. The pass percentage is 93.39 percent in Arts and 85.78 percent in Commerce.

Only 95 from 2,560 who appeared the examination failed in science. While 520 of 3,658 in commerce and 320 of 4,873 arts students failed.

Ugyen Academy Higher Secondary School’s (HSS) Tandeen Wangmo topped the examination with 90.50 percent, Angie Yoedzer from Sherubling Central School, Trongsa with 89.50 came second and Basu Dev Upadhya from Samtse HSS scored 89 percent to come third.

In commerce, students from Ugyen Academy HSS bagged all three positions. Scoring 87.75 percent, Esha Sharma topped the stream. Kinley Bidha with 87.50 and Rigzin Bimlha with 85.75 took the second and third positions respectively.

Kinley Namgyel of Motithang HSS topped the arts stream scoring 86 percent.  Tshering Yangden from Ugyen Academy with 84 percent came second and her schoolmate Bir Man Ghishing shared the third place with Kelzang Choden from Chukha HSS with 83.50 percent. 

While Agriculture for Food Security, Environmental Science and Media Studies have 100 percent students passing the subjects, students also performed well in Biology, Dzongkha Rigzhung, English, Chemistry, Physics, Geography, History and Dzongkha with pass percentage above 95 percent.

The commerce subject has the least pass percentage with 69.46 percent.

Of the 11,061 students from 61 higher secondary schools including 20 private schools, that appeared the examination, 10,126 passed the examination.

In the Language and Cultural Studies Certificate, Tenzin Yangzom from Taktse Central School with 75.75 percent came first. Scoring 75.25 percent, Karma Wangchuk from Desi HSS, Thimphu came second and Kezang Dawa with 74.50 percent from Language and Cultural Institute in Thimphu came third.

Of the 349 students from three schools who sat the examination, 303 students passed.

Scholarships

Meanwhile, the Department of Adult and Higher Education (DAHE) is offering 179 undergraduate scholarship slots including 30 in-country slots for the academic session this year.  A total of 2,399 students will be absorbed in colleges under the Royal University of Bhutan, which would also include self-financed students.

Given the need for health professionals in the country, officials with DAHE said that five slots were increased for Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) under Assistance to Privately Enrolled Medical Students (APEMS) scholarship scheme.

Students have until February 05 to apply for paper rechecks.  The results will be announced on February 13.

RUB and college request Court to dismiss the case

Mon, 02/03/2020 - 16:44

Nim Dorji  | Trongsa

The legal representative Royal University of Bhutan and Taktse College requested the Trongsa court to dismiss the case in which nine lectures and supporting staff accused the college and RUB of failing to follow due process and asked to reinstate them.

The legal representative submitted his justifications on January 30.

Taktse College compulsorily retired these employees in May last year for alleged breach of teachers code of conduct.

The legal representative submitted that the college couldn’t follow due process as the lecturers had breached the teachers’ code of conduct which was considered a severe misconduct.

He said that there was not much time for the college and university to act.

“The case first surfaced in May and the students had their examinations in June, the decision had to be made urgently as delaying it would disturb the students during the exam,” the prosecutor said.

There was also a possibility of the lecturers harassing and pressurising the students to change the views.

The prosecutor submitted that the welfare, and safeguarding the students was the responsibility of the college and RUB.

If the investigation was prolonged, there was a risk for the involved girls to suffer mental health issues, which may even lead to suicide.

He also submitted that to call the students and lecturers together for the investigation was not a convenient method in any ways.

He said that an immediate decision was taken as the management had gathered enough evidence against the lecturers for their misconduct. “So whether the principle of natural justice was followed or not, it was convinced that the outcomes for doing misconduct won’t change.”

He submitted that the lecturers’ claims for compensation and reinstatement were baseless.

“We never mentioned anyone’s name in the media,” the prosecutor said, refuting claims of defamation. He submitted that in the media the names of the lecturers were never revealed.

The management as per chapter 15 section 11 and chapter 14 section 3.9 and 2.5 of the human resource rules immediate action was taken against them.

As per section 140 of the Penal Code of Bhutan, joinder of parties, all 10 former lecturers together filed a case against the college and RUB.

Call toll-free number—1214

Mon, 02/03/2020 - 16:42

As the threat of coronavirus enters Asia—the number of cases in Thailand has reached 19, two in India and one in Nepal—Bhutan has been upping its capacity to deal with the outbreak. In China, in Wuhan from where the outbreak began, the number of infected cases has crossed more than 14,000.

For Bhutan it has become critically necessary to not only beef up surveillance at entry points, but also inform and educate the people regularly. Prime minister has asked the speaker’s permission to update on the disease before every session of the on-going parliament. That will not be enough, however.

We have now come to the point when we have to decide whether to close down borders or cancel international flights to destinations where cases of coronavirus are growing.

The ministry of agriculture has advised the people to refrain from importing and consuming food, vegetables and meat items from unidentified sources. What is important though is that our people should be aware of the dangers. Our focus today has to be how efficiently to take the message to the farthest corners of our country.

Prime minister is regularly meeting with the representatives from different agencies and members of disaster management authority to fully understand the situation and preparedness of the country.

It might not be an emergency situation in Bhutan yet, but we can ill afford to take it easy. If there is a coordination failure, we can be overwhelmed in the matter of a few hours. For seamless coordination in case the virus comes to Bhutan, we need to write and call; we need to do by much more. If all these lead to creating panic, all the better although that isn’t the media’s real intention because fear or the knowledge of something dangerous that could visit us is always good.

Preparations cannot go well without information. Because coronavirus is a new disease and we get to know only a little more about it from the new cases, the media have the responsibility to write about it so that our people know what they ought to do to keep the disease at bay. 

That the government, health ministry in particular, is managing formal and informal entries into the country, taking precautionary steps to avoid all possible risks gives us some comfort.

But even as much is being done to protect our people from the deadly disease, some people, particularly retail shopkeepers, have found it convenient—very shocking indeed—to maximise their profits. Overnight the cost of medical equipment has ratchet up. There are reports that some businesses are hoarding vital medical products and equipment because tourists are now paying fat money.

Economic affairs ministry’s office of consumer protection has notified that such unfair practices, if found, will be punished. But how are we monitor whether such things are happening in the country?

Here is the toll-free number—1214. If you are in the know who is hoarding vital medical products and equipment, call this number. In a situation like this, such things that can protect people should in fact be made free.

CDB and DoL to institute safety officers at construction sites

Mon, 02/03/2020 - 16:42

Thinley Namgay

Of the 33,000 reported work-related injuries in 2017, more than 80 percent were from the construction project sites and the industrial estates. The sector also saw 26 fatalities and nine cases of partial disabilities between 2012 and 2015.

Some of the hazards in construction sites are working at height, moving objects, slips trips and falls, airborne fibres and materials, electricity, noise and manual handling.

Construction Development Board (CDB) would now collaborate with labour ministry’s Department of Labour (DoL) and institute safety officer for large and medium construction firms.

This is in accordance with the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the two agencies on January 31 to enhance collaboration for enforcement and implementation of regulations of occupational health and safety (OHS) at construction sites.

CDB and DoL would also develop the capacity of safety officers, conduct health assessment in construction firms, sharing information about OHS, conduct safety seminars and workshops, and review construction rules and regulations.

The MoU was signed at the daylong workshop on construction safety themed ‘health and safety is a collective responsibility: strategies for collaborative enforcement’.

Labour minister, Ugyen Dorji, said that construction industry is an important economic sector that contributes to the socio-economic development of the country by building infrastructure and providing job opportunities.

He, however, said that the industry has hazardous working environment where workers are prone to work-related accidents resulting in disabilities and deaths.

“The probability of fatality in construction industry is five times more than in manufacturing industry,” he said.

Lyonpo said that in 2016, International Labour Organisation estimated that of all the work place accidents, about 30 percent of fatal accidents occur at construction sites. “Similarly, construction industry in Bhutan accounts for 60 percent of total work place accidents in the country.”

He said that even after more than a decade of advocating on OHS, there are issues with implementation of the rules and regulations by relevant agencies.

CDB’s director, Phub Rinzin, said contribution to the economy by the construction sectors are 14.2 percent of GDP as per the National Statistic Bureau report 2018.

Meanwhile, participants raised concerns on safety measures.

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) representative, Kozo Watanabe, said they conducted three safety seminars in collaboration with MoWHS and MoLHR along with relevant agencies in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

He said JICA is currently helping on counter-measures of slope disaster on roads in Bhutan like bioengineering at Lobesa, countermeasures against rockfall at Trongsa, and countermeasures against debris in Trongsa.

JDWNRH’s audiologist, Pelden Wangchuk, expressed his concerns on hearing sensitivity as a result of the constant noise exposure at construction sites.  “Worldwide, 16 percent of hearing loss is attributed to occupational noise ranging from 9-22 percent in various sub regions.”

He said that OHCSP conducted a study on the prevalence of occupational noise induced hearing loss (ONIHL) among the industrial workers in Bhutan with technical support from the national referral hospital and MoLHR recently. “Of the 1,638 workers screened from nine establishments, 27.90 percent reported of ONIHL prevalence. The highest was at wood-based industry with 38.94 percent.”

A clinical physiologist, Dr Phurba, said that respiratory problems are also associated with construction sites. “We have done research among 3,508 workers from different industries and 68 percent of the working groups are between 18-39 years who are vulnerable to respiratory problems.”

Chechay is made in Bhutan

Mon, 02/03/2020 - 16:40

PM launched Bhutan-made sanitary pads

Phub Dem

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering launched a locally manufactured sanitary pad, Chechay on February 1.

The proprietor, Pema Chozom, said she had been working on this project for more than a year. “Our country imports sanitary pads from neighboring countries, especially India, but with this new innovation Bhutanese don’t have to import pads from India or any other countries,” she said.

According to Pema Chozom, access to finance remained a challenge, but through the Royal Monetary Authority’s initiatives such as Jab-Chor and the Priority Sector Lending (PSL) she managed to start the business.

The Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering during the launch said that he was excited that Bhutanese women could now use sanitary pad made in Bhutan.

Lyonchhen said that the government would support the startup with distribution mechanism in the initial years. “The education ministry is already working with her so that she can distribute the sanitary napkins in schools.”

Emphasising on the importance of entrepreneurs, Lyonchhen said startups should be committed and have the endurance to reach the finish line. Besides, entrepreneurs must think of employing people rather than getting employed, Lyonchhen said.

The market price for ultra-thin standard flow is Nu 50 and for heavy flow is Nu 65.

Although Chechay is slightly costlier than some imported sanitary pads, Pema Chozom said that the company has no intention to compete with imported pads.

Pema Chozom said that beyond production, the company also focused on quality and creating awareness on menstrual hygiene in rural communities. “We focus on 4As—accessibility, affordability, awareness, and advocacy.”

Mounting pressure from increasing crowd at Gelephu tshachu

Mon, 02/03/2020 - 16:38

…drungkhag to build two more ponds and improve safety at the existing facility by June

Younten Tshedup | Gelephu

With the tshachu (hot spring) season at its peak, hundreds of people have flocked the facility at Gelephu tshachu.

The crowd however, has subsided in the recent days compared to the earlier months. Many have returned after failing to get “adequate” soaking time at the tshachu.

It was just overwhelming a few weeks ago, said the caretaker of the facility, Phuntsho Wangdi. “While it is a common observation during the peak season, but the crowd this year was exceptionally large.”

With only four ponds, Phuntsho Wangdi said that during the peak season that usually starts from November until February, separate timing for men and women is prepared so that everyone gets to use the facility.

To accommodate the large number of visitors arriving annually, the dzongkhag administration constructed four additional ponds a few metres below the existing facility. The hot water was pumped from one of the two existing sources.

However, the new ponds have failed to attract visitors. Since October 2018, the facility has remained under lock and key with occasional visits from dogs.

It was learnt that the difference in water temperature at the new ponds and the belief that the water coming in was wastewater drained out from the old ponds deterred people from using the new facility.

Visitors also raised concerns over the safety at the existing facility.

A regular visitor, Phub Dolay from Paro said that fist-size stones frequently fell on top of the roof above one of the ponds.  On January 30, he said that when people were entering the pond, multiple stones fell on the rooftop.

“While the young ones were quick to escape, the elderlies and disabled were left behind,” he said. “Although no one was injured, it was risky especially for the disabled people who have come to soak in the tshachu.”

The roof at the facility was recently repaired after the roofing materials were found corroded.

Umling drungpa, Karma Wangdi, said that while the concerns shared by the public were genuine, there was no budget allocated in the plan. However, with support from the dzongkhag economic officer, he said that the drungkhag administration has managed to gather a fund of about Nu 3.5 million (M).

The drungpa said that by June this year, two new ponds would be constructed within the existing facility to accommodate more people. “Given the limited space, we are doing everything we could to make it more convenient for the public,” he said, adding that concrete slaps would also be laid over the facility to improve the safety at the facility.

With increasing number of visitors annually, there is mounting pressure on the drungkhag and dzongkhag administrations.  Officials shared that the facility’s limited space is a major hindrance to expand the services.

Also, it was learnt that brining in major changes and modifications could put the facility in danger as it could possibly alter the natural-state of the facility.

Annually, the Gelephu tshachu sees more than 40,000 visitors from across the country. 

Sluggish economic growth hits employment

Mon, 02/03/2020 - 16:33

Tshering Dorji

A trading house based in Thimphu laid off 20 employees, closed two units of its business and has entered a steep cost-cutting mode recently.

“We are struggling to stay afloat because of the downturn in the economy,” said the proprietor.  “If the situation does not improve soon, we will be compelled to lay off more people. If this trend continues other companies and firms will also cut down their expenses.”

With economic growth directly linked to job creation, the impact of a GDP growth rate that hit a four-year low at 3.4 percent, is being felt across all sectors.

 

 

The Royal Monetary Authority’s (RMA) annual report, launched last week, validated that economic deceleration has adversely affected employment prospects, particularly youth unemployment,   which touched a historic high at 15.7 percent in 2018.

“The persistent slowdown in economic growth for the past two years limited job creation, resulting in overall unemployment rate of 3.4 percent (or 10,414 persons), highest since 2010,” the report stated.

It further stated that the key factor for growing unemployment in the market was due to demand side constraints and skill mismatches reducing the output and fall in investment.

On the supply side, more than half of the unemployed labor force either lack appropriate experience or required qualification and skills for available jobs. The RMA concludes that the combined effect of labor market mismatches and lackluster economic growth caused higher unemployment level in 2018.

In addition, private sector employment still remains less attractive for job seekers. In 2018, more than a third of the unemployed labor force (or 7,253 persons) preferred jobs either in civil service (55 percent) or public corporations (15 percent) compared to total labor demand of 2,166 (civil service: 1,444 and corporations: 722).

Despite constant efforts made for private sector development, labour market in the private sector still remain less attractive due to job insecurity and non-competitive employment benefits compared to the civil and corporate job market.

Figures reveal that more than half of the unemployed remained without job for more than 12 months – long-term unemployment. During the last five years, of every 10 unemployed persons, five were in search of work for more than 12 months. Youth, in particular are exposed to long-term unemployment. In 2018, 47 percent of youth were in chronic unemployment group.

 A unique scenario

Despite increasing working-age population, labour force participation rate remains more or less constant.  In 2018, a total of 185,694 potential workers remained out of the labour force, largely students (43 percent), attending family duties (28 percent) and old age (15 percent). In terms of age, youth population in the age group 15-24 years comprises 48 percent of total inactive population followed by old age population above 65 years (18 percent).

While agriculture is still a principal economic activity in rural areas generating more than half the total workforce, due to gradual economic transformation from agriculture to industry to service sector, employment in agriculture has been steadily declining from 59.6 percent in 2010 to 54 percent in 2018.

Labour productivity in the agriculture sector is also comparatively lower than industry and service sectors. Driven by the electricity sector, which is capital intensive in nature, labour productivity in the industry sector is higher than the agriculture sector.

Overall, employees work 53 hours per week at national level whereas workers in agriculture, industry and services sector work 54 hours, 51 hours and 53 hours respectively.

This is higher than the international standard of maximum of 40 hours per week.

Measured by sectoral output to hours worked, labour productivity in industry and service sectors are 17 and nine times higher than the agriculture sector. Average income of a worker in agriculture sector amounted to Nu 63 per hour compared to Nu 1,060 per hour in industry sector and Nu 560 per hour in service sector. “This shows high income disparity among the workers across sectors. Majority of poverty-stricken population are also found in the rural areas who are largely dependent on the agriculture sector,” the report stated.

“In such a situation, reallocating labour from the agriculture sector to more productive sectors will enhance economic output without requiring additional production inputs,” the RMA recommended.

The estimated underemployment rate has increased from 2.8 percent in 2010 to 6.1 percent in 2018 with the rate higher in rural sector, comprising 87.8 percent of total underemployment in 2018 (18,200). The main reason for increase in underemployment is financial needs, as earning from the given employment is inadequate to meet economic needs.

Employment is still dominant in the informal sector. Of the total, 73.6 percent are working in the informal sector and only 26.4 percent are in the formal sector. The informal sector employment is largely distributed in the rural areas in agriculture.

Employability in formal sector was found to increase with education level and about two thirds of informal employment are those with either no formal education or with minimal education level. This, according to the RMA reflects how disparity in education affects the quality of employment in the labour market.

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