Delegations from Bhutan and the European Union (EU) reviewed the ongoing development cooperation under the multi-annual indicative programme for 2014-2020 during the eighth biennial consultation held in Paro yesterday.
The EU confirmed that the bilateral allocation for the current cycle (2014-2020) has been revised to Euro 49.3 million from Euro 42 million.
With additional assistance from other regional and thematic funding mechanisms in areas such as education, climate change and trade, the EU’s total support to Bhutan stands at €71 million, making EU one of the major donors to Bhutan. The EU channels almost 80 percent of its support through the national budget and the country’s systems, thus strengthening national capacities and ensuring ownership. EU’s budget support is further evidence of the maturity of the bilateral relationship.
Bhutan’s impending graduation from the Least Developed Countries category was also discussed. The Bhutanese delegation briefed the meeting on the 12th Five Year Plan and highlighted its priority areas and last mile challenges with regard to LDC graduation, and welcomed the commitments of the EU to continue its engagement in Bhutan’s development plans.
The meeting also discussed the priorities for the EU–Bhutan partnership after the current multi-annual financial framework. The EU confirmed its assistance to Bhutan would continue during the transition and beyond graduation from LDC in 2023. The EU also committed to work together with Bhutan to ensure social and economic development with due consideration to the natural environment. In light of the need to reorient and expand the areas of cooperation for future partnership between Bhutan and the European Union, especially after Bhutan’s graduation from the category of LDC, the EU delegation highlighted the possibility of blending grant and low cost loans from the European Investment Bank to support investments.
Taking note of the positive momentum reached in the bilateral relationship both sides agreed to increase the frequency of future consultations from biennial to annual and agreed to hold the next consultations in November 2020 in Brussels.
During the consultations, which was held in a friendly atmosphere, the two sides exchanged views on a wide array of subjects and agreed that EU-Bhutan relations have gained good political momentum with several meetings at the highest levels in recent years.
The EU delegation described the EU-Bhutan relations as a model partnership, both on bilateral and multilateral issues, and expressed its appreciation to Bhutan for being an ally in international fora, especially on environment and climate change-related issues.
On behalf of the government, the leader of the Bhutanese delegation conveyed Bhutan’s deepest appreciation to the EU and its members states for its generous support in the past three decades. The Bhutanese side conveyed that it deeply values its partnership with EU and assured its full commitment to this relationship.
The EU delegation commended Bhutan’s achievements in areas such as human rights – especially the efforts to safeguard women’s and children’s rights and promote gender equality, good governance and democratic consolidation, among others. The EU also noted the constructive participation of Bhutan in the Universal Periodic Review session in May this year and underlined the need for Bhutan to start implementing all recommendations accepted by the government.
The EU delegation encouraged government to ratify the remaining human rights conventions so that Bhutan can qualify under the GSP plus scheme in order to continue to have preferential access to EU markets.
The EU delegation was led by the Deputy Managing Director for Asia and Pacific, European External Action Service, Paola Pampaloni and the Bhutanese delegation was led by Bilateral Affairs director Sonam Tobgay from the foreign affairs ministry.
Distrust is unhealthy. It is growing in our society in the way it is worrying.
Civil servants are a class apart. The private sector is running hard but nowhere because there is no space for growth. And the tide is rising.
The politicians know it best because they are the key players in between these many links in the system. When the politicians are getting the message that they could do more, much more, there is a lot more that can be done, each individually.
The private sector can only moan, of course. We are not a manufacturing nation. The only option we have, because of our belief systems, is that we can punish with our good thinking.
Climate conferences are happening everywhere, for example, and it looks like we are fighting a losing battle. Our greenery is important and the animals that reside in it, of course. Better still, we could be heaven without any worry or small influences from outside.
Dreams so become more important. What have our dreams given us so far, though?
We are a nation that has been able to shake the conscience of the world. But the more important question perhaps is how does what the rest of the world look at Bhutan.
We are rumbling through a significant change. Some are calling this journey a success already. In truth, however, we have a long way to go.
It starts with the courage to be not delusional, which is a sign that we are becoming far-removed from own selves.
Our society’s greatest problem is this, here, today. Something is keeping us from giving our best. And this is showing in the way of lack of trust among ourselves. This is a serious indication of things that are not going the way we all wish for the nation and the people.
Recently, the government went to the extent of urging the people to not undermine the government. Why is this happening? There must be a reason.
Needs are changing by the day and that is shaping the vision of the nation. Are we keeping up with these changes?
It falls on the government of the day to convince the people that governance and responsibility are two different things and that both are taken care of well.
Distrust in society, anywhere, is a thing to worry about. Where is it coming from, we must nail it from the first flush.
The recent revision of entry fees at historical sites is not to counter the influx of regional tourists, but a periodic revision, the tourism council clarified.
The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) recently revised entry fees at monuments and historical sites. TCB’s director general Dorji Dhradhul explained that it just was a periodic revision and there is no specific reason for the revision.
Regional tourists would have to pay Nu 500 to visit Tashichhodzong from January 1 next year. The existing fee is Nu 300. For students, it is revised from Nu 150 to Nu 250.
The entry fees would also be revised with similar amounts for Memorial Choeten in Thimphu, Rinpung Dzong and Kichu Lhakhang in Paro and Punakha dzong.
The entry fees for Taktsang in Paro would be increased Nu 1,000 from Nu 500 for adults and Nu 500 from Nu 250 for students.
TCB will also introduce entry fees for Changangkha Lhakhang, Thimphu and Chimi Lhakhang, Punakha on January 1.
The revision notification coincided with the issue of regional tourists dominating discussions in the tourism sector. This made many conclude that the revision was announced to control entry of regional tourists at historical sites.
Many people have, however, welcomed the new revision and expect it to resolve the overcrowding at historical sites.
After much debate and consultation at the Tourism Council and the Tourism Development Board, the Cabinet is readying the draft tourism policy and draft regional tourism management guidelines, which will be finalised by January.
At a recent dialogue on tourism, stakeholders in the tourism industry were unanimous in agreeing on a robust policy to better manage tourists and improve services. From budget hotels to elite tour operators, everyone in the sector agree that there should be a policy to better regulate tourists.
In the absence of regulation for the regional tourists today, tourists overcrowding at popular sites during certain months, and the subsequent amounting waste issues have increasingly troubled the sector in recent years. A tourism expert said that solving the problem has been problematic because organisations worked in silos. Can the regulation amalgamate these agencies and make them see beyond their differences?
Tour operators catering to dollar-paying tourists feel that their tourists are not able to enjoy because of overcrowding. “Our tourists pay royalty, stay in star-rated hotels, hire professional guides. They spend a huge amount to visit the country and are confused at the large number of regional tourists who pay almost nothing to be here,” a travel agent said.
On the other hand, regional tourists have helped budget hotels and restaurants that do not benefit from high-end tourists.
A representative said that tourists cannot be judged by their paying capacity. She said instead the system has to ensure proper management of the visitors to avoid any mishap such as the recent Dochula incident. “If there are violations then the local counterparts also have to be held accountable and imposed fines and necessary action taken.”
“We have waited long enough. While the government is finalising the regulations some things can be done simultaneously,” a participant at the session said.
Besides the overcrowding there are issues that tourists felt should be improved. For instance, the TCB’s exit survey 2018 found that banking services, communications and toilet facilities needed to improve.
More than 20 percent of dollar-paying tourists said that they were dissatisfied with the banking system, including exchange, point of sale, and ATM services. Likewise, 15 percent of visitors from abroad said communication facilities, including Internet and telephone services, could be improved. Then there are issues with poor toilet facilities. These issues have to be addressed in tandem with main works to improve tourism.
TCB record shows 274,097 tourists visited Bhutan last year, which was a 7.61 percent increase compared with that of 2017. In the same year, the country’s second largest revenue contributor, saw its earnings go up by USD 5.6 million from the previous year.
The gross receipt from tourism is expected to increase from Nu 10.6 billion in 2018 to about Nu 39.16 billion in the next five years. Similarly, direct revenue contribution is expected to cross Nu 5.48B, about Nu 3.91 more than in 2018.
While tourism has earned millions in revenue each year, there has been only negligible investment in the sector. For instance, TCB office has only about 50 employees. For years, they have been asking the government to build roadside amenities for tourists.
There is a need to diversify and this would need investment.
TCB wants to involve everyone. Each Bhutanese is urged to take ownership in promoting tourism and not leave it only to those involved in the sector.
Diversifying tourism would mean involving local communities. Most tourists are concentrated in Paro, Punakha, and Thimphu today. But some research found that there is a need to create awareness among communities, train monks and nuns on how to deal with tourists at temples and monasteries. The holy monuments mean so much to the locals, said one, but to those foreigners a choeten would be only a stack of stones white washed.
The draft policy and the regulations emphasise on ‘High Value, Low Volume’ proposing to put a cap on the number of tourists, mandatory guides, and entry fees at sites, spread tourist visits across the year, among others.
Within the sector itself, there are apprehensions that one industry could lobby to influence the policy. For instance, budget hotels that cater mainly to regional tourists would not want a cap on the number of regional tourists entering the country any time of the year.
The general consensus at the dialogue was that everyone wants the tourists to have an enjoyable experience and the best of Bhutanese hospitality. Stakeholders want to treat all visitors the same. They said the regional tourists would not mind paying a nominal fee to avail of the services for their safety, a comfortable stay and make the best out of their journey in the country.
Weringla drungkhag in Mongar will have a new court.
In a simple ceremony yesterday, justices of the high court graced the ground-breaking (salang tendrel) ceremony.
Although the drungkhag court was established in 2009, the court has been sharing the infrastructure with the drungkhag administration.
The ceremony was graced by High Court justices Lungten Dubgyur and Pema Rinzin and attended by the members of Parliament, drungkhag and local government officials and the people of Salambi and Gondgu gewogs.
Justice Lungten Dubgyur said that Bhutan under the visionary and dynamic leadership of His Majesty The King experienced a successful journey towards ensuring independent judiciary through building of infrastructure, enhance professional knowledge and the development of technology.
“Our Kings who always desired that our people in remote areas get prompt access to administrative services delivery established Weringla drungkhag administration in 2006, followed by the drungkhag court in 2009 so that the people of Salambi and Gongdu gewogs get prompt and cost effective judicial services at their door steps,” justice Lungten Dubgyur said.
Weringla court is funded by the government (GoI) and expected to commence its construction by January 2020. The tender of the construction has already been floated. With the completion of 14 drungkhag courts, Lingzhi in Thimphu will be the only court among the 15 drungkhags without independent court building.
The budget for the construction of Lingzhi drungkhag along with the district courts of Thimphu, Paro and Chukha has been proposed in the current Plan.
In the first phase, the GoI funded Nu 36 million (M) for the construction of four drungkhag court buildings, which included the drungkhag courts of Nganglam, Lhamoizhingkha, Jomotshangkha and Samdrup Chholing. The constructions were completed in January 2011.
In the second phase, spanning over the period of 2011 to 2019, GoI funding with the initial approved budget of Nu 55.2M, funded the construction of other seven drungkhag court buildings of Dorokha, Panbang, Sakteng, Sombaykha, Sibsoo, Thrimshing and Wamrong.
Bhutan’s under-19 national team will play Jordan in the 2020 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-19 Championship qualification at Khalifa Sports City Stadium in Manama, Bahrain at 4:14pm today.
A total of 46 teams are competing in the championship, which was divided into 11 groups (A-K). The draw was held earlier this year on May 9 at the AFC House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
In each group, teams play each other once at a centralised venue.
Bhutan, Bahrain, Bangladesh and Jordan are placed in group E.
All the matches of group E are scheduled at the Khalifa Sports City Stadium in Manama, Bahrain from today till November 10.
Bhutan will play the second match against host Bahrain on November 8 and the last match with Bangladesh on November 10.
The 16 qualified teams will play in the final tournament including Uzbekistan who qualified as a host.
Other SAARC countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka and India are also taking part in the championship.
The qualification round started on October 2 in 11 host countries and will end on November 10.
The 2020 AFC U-19 Championship will be held in Uzbekistan from October 14 to 31 next year.
The third bilateral consultations between Bhutan and Switzerland was held in Thimphu on November 4.
The Swiss delegation was led by Ambassador Raphael Nageli, the assistant state secretary for Asia and the Pacific division, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Swiss Ambassador to Bhutan Andreas Baum. Foreign secretary Kinga Singye led the Bhutanese delegation.
The two sides exchanged views on the recent political developments in the two countries and discussed their bilateral cooperation, cooperation in the UNs, and other multilateral organisations and the importance of the regional groupings.
The two sides also held significant discussions on building business to business linkages and on the overall aspects of attracting foreign direct investments to Bhutan. The two countries established diplomatic relations in 1985.