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Frothing in shame?

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 17:00

Rains have come and there is the real show going on in the town this day. Along the thoroughfares of Thimphu city, great drama is unfolding. Our manholes are bursting gloriously. That is the picture of our city plan.

For sure we cannot blame our thrompon, and for sure we cannot blame our government.

But why must our sewer lines fail us whenever there is just a little rain? As deep in ‘ frothing shit’ as we are, do we not have the right to question, even?

Things are going good. We are all working towards securing the goodness that is the glory of our happy little society. Maybe we are losing our focus. Maybe our plans do not mean anything to us. We look at civil servants for example, but are they showing the good any which way at all?

This day as we speak, civil servants are themselves the disgruntled lot. Is being inquisitive “our” fault? Let’s come back to the ‘frothing shit’ if that is ours to make any sense at all.

Summer has barely come and our manholes are flooding. This is Thimphu this day this season. City population will grow. Usage of urban facilities, in whatever forms, will only grow. Do we have enough space to accommodate our flaws?

This day as we speak, parts of Motithang are being dug feverishly. Digging is our problem. We have a structural plan for the city, but what is it really if we can’t even channel our own waste properly? It is Thimphu today, how far are we going to go tomorrow?

Questions are a problem today. If you question, you are from the ‘other’ group. This is shameful. But the real shame is when we can’t even allow a real debate to take place. Let’s clean our waste and we will have wiped our faces clean altogether.

Oh, but, let’s talk our waste again. It is a serious problem. Thimphu is struggling with sewer problems. It shows how we are tackling it. When manholes burst to glory every time there is a little rain, there is a problem.  When we have no options but to let our waste froth and let out noxious smell, we have a problem.

We have our city plan. That much we know. Is sewer not part of it? How can a city plan be complete without a dependable sewer plan?

This summer is one. Many summers have gone by. Thimphu’s sewer has remained a problem still.

Five sentenced for dzee theft and illicit transaction

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 17:00

Bumthang court, on May 12, sentenced a 19-year-old monk to life imprisonment for stealing a 12-eyed dzee (cat eye) from Jampa lhakhang.

The court also sentenced two taxi drivers in Bumthang, Sonam Dorji and Tshewang Gyaltshen, a Bumthang businessman, Sangay Wangchuk, and a non-Bhutanese, Tshering Nima, to two to 11 years in prison.

The court passed the in absentia judgement to Tshewang Gyaltshen since he absconded the country.

The monk, Lham Rinchen, from Baling in Trongsa was found guilty of stealing the dzee from the Jowo Jampa, the main statue of the lhakhang.

The monk, who was assisting the Jampa lhakhang dzongpon, stole the dzee on May 14 last year on the request of a taxi driver from Bumthang.

The court verdict stated that the monk was appointed to the post with trust and responsibility of maintaining the security of the lhakhang. “The person entrusted with such responsibility breached the trust,” it stated.

The verdict stated that Lham Rinchen had taken Nu 300,000 from a taxi driver, Sonam Dorji.

It was found that the monk had taken the money even before the dzee was sold to Sonam Dorji and bought a WagonR with the money.

The verdict stated that the WagonR that was confiscated by police, to be sold through auction and the money should be refunded to the government. “Lham Rinchen will have to top up if the car does not fetch the amount and he would be given the remaining if it fetches more.”

The other defendant, Sonam Dorji received two prison terms.

He was imprisoned for seven years for asking Lham Rinchen to bring antics like the dzee, pearls and copper statues knowing that Lham Rinchen was working in Jampa lhakhang.

Sonam Dorji was given an additional four years imprisonment for taking the dzee to Phuentsholing with Tshewang Gyeltshen and Sangay Wangchuk where it was sold to Tshering Nima, who is a non-Bhutanese.

The three men sold the dzee to Tshering Nima in Phuentsholing at Nu 2 million (M) and Sonam Dorji paid Nu 100,000 each to Tshewang Gyeltshen and Sangay Wangchuk as a commission for helping him sell the dzee.

Sonam Dorji will have to serve 10 years, eight months and 12 days in prison after deducting the days he had already served under detention while the case was under trial.

The court also asked Sonam Dorji to pay Nu1.5M of the Nu 2M to the government.

The verdict stated that the properties he purchased with the money should be auctioned to recover the Nu 1.5M.

The non-Bhutanese, Tshering Nima, was sentenced to four years in prison for selling the dzee for Nu 3.7M to a non-Bhutanese in Nepal-India border.

Tshering Nima will have to pay Nu 1.7M to the government.

The verdict stated that the Nu 69,550, which was confiscated from Tshering Nima, will also be given to the government.

Other defendants, Sangay Wangchuk and Tshewang Gyeltshen received two years in prison for aiding and abetting the crime.

Sangay Wangchuk can pay Nu 75,500 in lieu of the remaining one year, eight months and 12 days prison term. He also has to pay Nu 100,000 to the government.

Tshewang Gyeltshen, who absconded the country, should serve the remaining term in the prison when police manage to arrest him.

He absconded with his wife after the former Bumthang drangpon granted bail to him with his wife as his surety. He will also have to pay Nu 100,000 to the government.

Meanwhile, it was learnt that Lham Rinchen only picked the dzee from the Jowo’s neck amongst pearls and jewels when he went to collect the empty golden butter lamp in front of the Jowo Jampa statue.

Nima Wangdi | Bumthang

iHUB to incubate innovative startups

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 17:00

To complement the existing lone incubation centre, iHUB would now be able to facilitate more startups and entrepreneurs.

While working at the CIO Academy Asia in Singapore, Tashi Wangdi, 26, came across such establishment and found it relevant for the country where many aspiring entrepreneurs are coming up with innovative ideas.

Along with four young enthusiastic entrepreneurs developing a business concept, Tashi Wangdi promoted iHUB. These young entrepreneurs are being mentored and guided by experts.

He said iHUB is the innovation hub that provides a digital platform for the entrepreneurs by providing co-working space, common network, Internet services and basic office assets.

Currently, few young entrepreneurs are using the working space to startup their business venture.

Yeshey Samdrup, an aspiring entrepreneur is creating an agri-technology app that would help farmers with the weather forecast.

Dawa Tashi is writing a program to develop travel app for the regional tourist to guide them with information on places, restaurant and hotels along with the map.

Khandu Wangchuk is also developing a creative learning mobile app to help students learn academic subjects including Dzongkha.

Besides the apps, ‘Planet Plastic’ is another project under incubation. Two young entrepreneurs are planning to recycle plastic by reproducing it into other products like flowerpots and mobile covers.

iHUB provides virtual space at Nu 500 a month where entrepreneurs get a free mentor and invitation to attend workshop and training. The scheme of co-working space cost Nu 1000 a month. This comes with free Internet, working space, conference, printing facilities, free mentor and, training and workshop. Shared cabin space at Nu 2000 is inclusive of a shared office cabin with rest of the benefits and an individual cabin. There is also another option called fixed desk that cost Nu 5000.

The operational director of I-Technology, who is one of the mentors of iHUB said that with growing numbers of young entrepreneurs coming up with good ideas, iHUB is an important incubation centre like Bhutan innovation and Technology Centre (BITC) that will provide space and guidance to them.

Tashi Chophel

Community surrenders eco-lodge to gewog

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 17:06

The people of Dangkhar village in Trong gewog, Zhemgang, surrendered Dangkhar community lodge to the gewog after they could not operate the lodge.

The representatives from the dzongkhag administration and the gewog took over the operations of the lodge.

Dangkhar, located below Zhemgang-Trongsa highway, is a 15th century village surrounded by rich flora and fauna.

The village is habitat to some of the rare and endangered wildlife such as Golden langur, Rufous Necked Hornbill, Red Panda, and Bengal Tigers.

Dangkhar was made a traditional tourism village with basic amenities, luxury tent camp, eco-lodge, homestays, traditional medicinal bath, storytelling, folk songs, local food, and drinks as part of project to improve livelihood of rural poor in Bhutan in 2009.

Three women from the village were operating the lodge on behalf of the community until it was surrendered.

Ugyen Choden, 35, who was one of the operators, said not a single guest came to the lodge for the past one year.

“We had to clean the lodge and do other works,”  she said. “But we didn’t earn anything.”

She said lodge was built on a private land and the community had to pay rent of Nu 12, 000 a year. With no visitors coming, payment became difficult.

“We paid from the community’s saving and finally decided to surrender the lodge,” Ugyen Choden said.

The landowner, Dorji Dema, said she would dismantle the structures and grow fodder. She added the structures couldn’t be used since they are not maintained.

She said the lodge failed because of bad road connecting the lodge from the town. “The lodge used to get a few people in the past,” she said. “The best option was to shut it down.”

Trong Gup, Wangay, said there was a problem between the landowner and the operators.

He said the community was given an option if the landowner wants to take over the operation. “The furniture and other accessories are with the gewog today.”

Gup said the gewog will come up with an eco-lodge at Berti and the furniture will be taken there.

The lodge had three double-bedded rooms, two dinning halls, two toilets and bathrooms each and a kitchen.

Tourism Council of Bhutan, dzongkhag administration, Programme for South-South Cooperation (Benin, Bhutan, and Costa Rica) funded the construction.

Nima Wangdi | Zhemgang

 

The paradox of self-reliance

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 17:05

The government’s announcement of Bhutan being unable to achieve the national objective of economic self-reliance by 2020 is disturbing.

By acknowledging this to the donors, the government almost implied that the 11th Plan’s objective of self-reliance and inclusive green socio-economic development might also not be met.

This acknowledgment has come at a time when the country is reeling under the so-called chilli crisis, not because we don’t have enough but because we depend on imported vegetables and grains. We are also as dependent on our development partners in meeting our five-year plan goals and the irony of development partners funding our 11th Plan to make Bhutan self-reliant is hard to miss.

The Economic Stimulus Plan has reinvigorated growth and stability of the economy but we do understand that the fund was not met through domestic revenue. How do we then understand the concept of economic self-reliance when we rely on donors, who we affectionately call development partners, to meet our economic needs?

We tend to use shortage and crisis inter-changeably. So the shortage of chillies and rupees became a crisis. But this situation of shortage or crisis pales when we see that that a large portion of the country’s development plans and economic needs are met through donor funds. When reliance on the self is limited and constrained, it becomes an issue of economic sovereignty. That would be a crisis.

The government estimates that about 21 percent of the capital expenditure this fiscal year will be financed through domestic revenues. But more than double, 57 percent will be met through external grants. Our GDP has grown along with our dependence on external grants. Given our stage of development and developmental needs, it is understandable that we need to borrow. We need resources to spur economic growth, build infrastructure and create jobs. It could be argued that these are investments in nation building and in making every Bhutanese self-reliant, because it is the people that make a nation-state.

We see that efforts are being made to meet the needs of the people, more so to meet the pledges made to them.

Entrepreneurship is encouraged among the unemployed even though the ease of doing business at home for its people is as if not more challenging as it is for foreign companies to do business in Bhutan. Farming is being mechanised even though farmers in some communities are no longer farming. Human wildlife conflicts worry those who are farming as much as the dry irrigation canals.  Attempts are made to ease traffic congestion in urban centres even as we distributed utility vehicles to rural communities.

It is hoped that the fiscal measures being implemented would address these issues confronting the society. The government must deliver for the people to first become less dependent, self-reliant and then prosperous. Economic self-reliance is a national goal that needs to be met. Simply acknowledging that the objective cannot be met is not an option.

Central school debate re-emerges

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 17:05

The debate on sustainability and conditions of central schools reappeared in the National Assembly on May 12.

Panbang’s Member of Parliament (MP) Dorji Wangdi said the central school system was re-introduced by the present government in haste and haphazard manner without a clear policy or plan, and that has led to many problems in the schools today.

“Three years after being converted to central school, many schools are facing numerous problems and challenges such as cramped hostels, poor library, lab, and information technology facilities, inadequate dining and multipurpose hall, the dire shortage of drinking water, over-burdened teachers and so on,” he said.

He said in many central schools, the so much hyped ‘three eggs a week’ programme is a farce. Children still do not get it. “It appears that the quality of education and health and well-being of the children are being affected.”

He asked the education minister where the government has gone wrong and how the government plans to streamline and resolve the problems.

Education minister Norbu Wangchuk said that the MP was twisting and distorting the facts and challenges in the central schools.

He said there were enough measures to identify and solve problems in the central schools and that it is unlikely the schools have major problems like the MP reported.

The minister said that the central schools have been established to ensure quality education and for sustainability of the school system.

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said that while the schools are trying to provide three eggs a week, the government will soon supply the schools with fortified rice for better nutrition to students.

The minister said that he visited 50 of the 60 central schools and did not observe major problems.

“There are problems in some schools but in general the central schools are working well,” he said.

He attributed the success of the schools to hard work of teachers and dzongkhag officials. “Dzongdags are asked to visit the central schools two times a month and submit reports to the ministry.”

Their reports, he said, mentioned some problems but they were not insurmountable. “The problems of hostel and water shortages are in other schools, not central schools.”

The minister said that the government had to hasten to establish central schools because problems in schools were worsening. “The government established 60 central schools in the past two years,” he said. “The ministry plans to establish another 60 in the 12th Plan.”

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said that the central school teachers are bearing additional responsibilities to provide wholesome education.

“Understanding the burden on them, we have recruited 202 matrons and wardens to reduce the workload on teachers,” he said. “Administrative support staff will also be recruited and sent to the schools soon.”

The minister responding to a supplementary question from the Nubi-Tangsibji MP Nidup Zangpo said that the central schools are more sustainable than the non-central schools.

MP Nidup Zangpo said that with the development of the country, people have become economically well off and that they have to bear certain costs.

“The central school idea is a short term and expensive affair,” he said.

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said that most of the schools in the country are facing problems of decreasing enrolment as the population growth has slowed and dilapidating school conditions.

He said that there are more than 555 schools in the country today, of which 255 are more than 20 years old and become unsustainable today. “About 205 schools urgently need major repairs.”

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said that are 27 students in Sengor school which has three teachers. “The school has one of the highest teacher-student ratios in the world,” he said. “However, because of teacher shortage, teachers need to teach multigrade.”

The minister said there are many schools like Sengor school and many more will become like it in a few years. “There are still schools where students have to walk more than an hour to school.”

He said that when children have to walk for long hours to schools, quality education will be difficult. “Central schools are sustainable and can ensure quality education.”

Tshering Palden

Thromde officials have to be proactive: Thrompon

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 17:04

Thimphu thromde division heads and tshogde theumis could work a little harder to achieve the thromde’s mandate, thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said.

He said the officers are not being responsible during the thromde’s seventh council meeting on May 12.

The thrompom said that with support from Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, there has been much development in the city in terms of water and sewer facilities, but the thromde officials are failing in their duties.

“We are still not able to connect all the households’ water and sewer pipelines to the water reservoir tank and sewer ducts in the city,” he said.

The thrompon said it has been more than two years since the water reservoir tanks of Olakha and Lungtenphu were completed, but most of the residents are yet to connect the private line to the municipal’s tank.

“Recently, some residents from Chang gewog came to me and said that they want to continue using the community water sources rather than the municipal’s.”

He said that it does not make sense saying that they do not want the water from the municipal’s reservoir tank after the government spent millions to bring the water at their doorstep.

The thromde was supposed to divert the community water sources in the area to the treatment plant from this month.

The thrompon said that thromde failed for not ensuring that all private lines are connected to the reservoir tank.

The households will be given some time to connect their private line to the reservoir tanks.

Many residents in Babesa, Simtokha, Langjophakha and Dechencholing are yet to connect their water and sewer lines to the reservoir tank and the sewer systems.

“The government is spending millions to provide these facilities to the people and if the thromde is not able to provide these services to them, then we are failing our part,” Kinlay Dorjee said.

He said that if they don’t do it now, it wont be easy later.

He also said there is a vast difference in doing the work now and doing it later. “If we take long, then most of the pipes will be blocked.”

The thrompon urged the officials concerned and the residents to have their private water and sewer pipes connected to the treatment plants and the sewer systems.

“Our engineers, management and tshogde thuemis are failing our duties,” the thrompon said.

Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee also said that the sewer pipes in Changangkha and Motithang areas had been laid but not a single resident is getting ready to connect their pipelines to the sewer system underneath the road.

“I have told the engineers to inform the residents to connect their pipes to the sewer lines. Otherwise, we will have to again dig the road after blacktopping it,” Kinlay Dorjee said. “I have been telling them time and again and stressing on resource optimisation but no one seems to be listening.”

Thrompon personally met with the house owners in Changangkha and Motithang, and urged them to connect their sewer pipes to the sewer duct.  “The house owners called me and said that they haven’t received a call from the engineer. For how long are we going to keep the road bumpy and cause inconvenience to the residents?”

He said that it is also important to inform the people that if their sewer lines are not connected to the duct before the thromde resurfaces the roads, the blacktopped road will have to be dug again, which is a waste of resources.

“Our engineers and site workers should push the contractors and focus on completing the work on time without compromising quality,” Kinlay Dorjee said. “The tshogde thuemis and community members should also support the work.”

Taba-Dechencholing thuemi, Ugyen, said that all private water lines are not connected to the reservoir tanks because of lack of budget.

Ugyen said that stopping the water supply from community water sources immediately would affect the residents.

He said that no matter how big the reservoir tanks are, there hardly is any water in the treatment plant. “It is important to investigate the leakages from the reservoir tanks and also why the water is not available at some connecting points even after the line is connected to the tank.”

Ugyen said that shifting the water pipe line from community sources to the thromde’s reservoir tanks is not a problem, so long as the thromde provides continuous water supply to the residents.

The thromopn said that it is the responsibility of the thromde officials and the thuemis to see which household’s water and sewer lines are not connected to the thromde’s tank and sewer system. “We have to see why we are failing and then try to correct it.”

He added that if all households are connected to the thromde’s reservoir tanks then, the personnel responsible to monitor the water supply to the households has to take the extra responsibility.

The thrompon said that if the treatment plant is empty most of the time, the residents should complain to the thromde’s official concerned until the tank is full. “The official will not have a choice than to look into the matter if he receives complains.”

“It is the responsibility of the thromde officials, the thromde thuemis and community members to educate residents on using the water from reservoir tanks,” the thrompon said. “If the thromde officials are failing in their duties, then we have to take action.”

Dechen Tshomo

 

Gedu police detain Pakshikha Central School warden

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 17:03

Gedu police detained the warden of Pakshikha Central School (PCS), who was accused of battering two class 10 students since May 9.

Police completed the investigation and forwarded  the report to the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) head office in Thimphu on May 12.

Gedu’s officer-in-command (OC), Pema Dangsel, said they also informed the findings of the investigation to the Chukha dzongkhag education office.

“It is a battery case,” the OC said.

The police investigation also found out that the warden was under the influence of alcohol when the incident occurred.

Students who witnessed the assault gave written statements to police stating that the warden was under influence of alcohol.

The incident occurred on the evening of May 1, where the warden had allegedly battered two students with a wooden plank when the students were found in their friends’ room.

School authorities said a bent nail on the plank, which the warden did not notice, had injured the two students.

School authorities had earlier said that one of the students was hit on the cheeks and the other on the head. Both were required to undergo medical treatment and stitches.

The police report also has similar findings.

Initially, the victims’ parents registered the case with the Gedu police but it was withdrawn after the parents of the students and warden resolved it mutually.

However, the education ministry had directed the Chukha education office to re-register the case with the police on May 9.

Meanwhile, sources said that the police might forward the case to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) for prosecution.

It was learnt that the warden joined the school two months ago. He was deputed to the school in the government initiative of deputing wardens and matrons in schools.

Chukha dzongkhag education office and PCS authorities said that the warden was given orientation on the code of conducts before he was deputed to the school and after joining the school respectively.

Chukha dzongkhag education officer (DEO) Kinley Gyeltshen said the education office would take necessary action through HRC meeting once they know the degree of offence.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

People are tired of Nganglam-Tsengkari road saga

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 17:02

Works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden said that the construction of the first concrete road in the country has begun in Nganglam, Pemagatshel. The extra five-kilometre road stretch between the border entry gate and Dungsam Cement Corporation Ltd (DCCL) is underway.

However, Nganglam residents say it is not the first time the government has said so.

The minister during the question hour at the National Assembly said that the ministry tried the concrete road near DCCL and found that it performed better than the ordinary blacktopped road.

Residents said that the road, which is worst than a farm road, has remained the same with potholes. Actually, the potholes have been increasing by the year.

People of Nganglam said that according to the minister, the work has already begun from the Nganglam checkpost till Tsengkari bazaar, which is about 12km stretch, but they have not seen any work going on.

“We’ve been hearing all the time that the government doesn’t have budget to renovate.  When the government does, it does certain portions at a time. By that time, the renovated parts get damaged,” said Jigme, a resident. “In summer it is the potholes, in winter it is the dust that is a concern.”

Residents said the concrete road would remain as a lip service like before and they have almost lost hope for a good road.

“We don’t know which part they are talking about, but we’ve not seen any concrete road construction going on although there is one near the cement factory,” said another resident, Kezang. “If it is true, it is good for us. Otherwise, we’re tired of hearing that the road would be renovated whenever any VIP visits the area.”

Nanong-Shumar MP Dechen Zangmo raised a concern about Pemagatshel-Nganglam highway and the need to properly maintain the certain perennially damaged stretches.

The national highway, which has been benefitting the people of Pemagatshel, has been posing serious threats for the travellers and the public bus in particular at certain section because of portion of roadblock and damages, she said.

Nanong-Shumar MP said: “The road condition has gotten worse within two years of completion, posing even life threat to the travellers commuting along the highway.”

Lyonpo Dorji Choden said that athough the road is very comfortable, its condition become bad at two points, one at Laniri and another at Baynang Goenpa, which are 14km and 23km from Dungmin respectively.

She added that during monsoon last summer, the road created inconvenience for the heavy vehicles. Many travellers and locals had called her about the problems and the department of roads had to clear it.

The minister said: “It is similar to the inconvenience that happens even along the well-established roads such as the Thimphu-Phuntsholing and Samdrup Jongkhar-Trashigang highways.

“The problems mostly occur during summer. Otherwise, I don’t see any major problem in the highway,” the minister said.

She said that government is concerned about the quality road as there will be gypsum trucks plying on the highway, which might cause bad road condition to worsen.

Therefore, with discussion with Pemagatshel dzongdag, dzongkhag administration is looking for other alternatives to strengthen the road.

Currently, 127km Pemagatshel-Nganglam highway, which was completed in 2015, has been paved with base course.

The government will be paving 20km of the road by next year.

The Asian Development Bank has funded the Panbang-Nganglam and Pemagatshel highway construction.

Tashi Chophel & Yangchen C Rinzin

Bridge constructed since 9th Plan remain unused in Phuentsholing

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 17:01

Road construction between Rinchending to Pasakha in Phuentsholing and construction of two bridges across Bhawanijhora and Bhalujhora will be retendered, works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden said.

She also said the works will be retendered since the last contractor failed to deliver the work on time.

“Works are expected to start soon under the South Asia sub-regional economic cooperation (SASEC) project,” the minister said.

Answering the Chukha’s Phuentsholing Member of Parliament (MP) Rinzin Dorji’s question on the deteriorating condition of the Singeykhola bridge, lyonpo Dorji Choden said that although the construction of the bridge has been completed, the approach road is still under construction.

MP Rinzin Dorji, during the ‘question-answer session’ on May 12, said that the new bridge over Singeychu, locally known as Singaykhola, has been under construction since the 9th Plan.

He said that although the bridge has been completed, vehicles were not allowed to ply through it. “Project Dantak was executing the work and the bridge was supposed to be in use by the first month of 2008.”

The representative said that people are still using the risky bypass bridge and the deteriorating condition of the bypass bridge has been a concern for the local residents since the last monsoon.

He said that the load capacity of the existing bypass bridge in use is 24 metric tonnes. “The government should provide a better bridge with a load capacity of about 50 metric tonnes.

The MP said that Phuentsholing is the trade centre of Bhutan and it is important to have proper infrastructure.

Citing the Kamji incident, where the road formation width of Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway was completely washed away the last monsoon, Rinzin Dorji said that it is must to have a good bridge over the Singeykhola so that the Pasakha-Darla bypass road can keep the highway open to traffic.

Lyonpo Dorji Choden said that project Dantak assured a quality bridge, which is actually built by a private construction company, will soon be handed over after the inauguration.

She said that if natural calamities occur like last year, on the order of Prime Minister the ministry has kept bailey bridge materials ready to be constructed whenever necessary.

Tashi Chophel

The lone ECCD centre survives amidst challenges

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 17:01

It’s 7am and Dorji Khandu is all set to leave his cosy house in Merak to join his friends at the early childhood care and development (ECCD) centre.

The temperature outside is around two degree celsius but the four-year-old doesn’t mind the cold as long as he gets to see his friends at the centre.

He is almost two hours early. The centre opens only at 9am.

Dorji Khandu sits near a bukhari sipping on a cup of butter-tea, growing impatient.

Not every kid in the community is fortunate enough to go to the centre. Since its establishment in July 2013, the ECCD centre in Merak has received a lukewarm response from the community in terms of enrolment.

According to one of the facilitators of the centre, Thinley Wangmo, the enrolment is decreasing every year.

A total of 23 children were enrolled this year, but only around 15 of them come to the centre regularly.

The lack of interest among parents to send their children to the centre is because most of the parents take their children along while they migrate with their cattle.

Thinley Wangmo said that the number has been decreasing ever since she arrived in the gewog two years ago. “When parents don’t send their kids to the centre, our work plan for the year remains incomplete,” she said.

The facilitator said that the matter was discussed on several occasion with the gup and community representatives.

Merak Gup, Lama Rinchen, said that since a majority of the people in the community are nomadic herders, they are out with their cattle most of the time without anyone to look after the kids back home.

“People stay for just about four months in the village, and for the rest of the eight months they are out with their cattle,” he said. “It is not because they don’t want to enrol their kids in the centre.”

The gup, however, added that awareness campaigns and meetings are held with the parents on the importance of education.

But for those parents who don’t migrate, having an ECCD centre has allowed them to get some time to do other chores at home.

Pema Yangzom, 25, who sends both her kids to the centre, said that while the kids are gone, she gets time for chores and also to weave. “Once the kids are at the centre, we don’t have to worry.”

Apart from the low enrolment rate at the centre, the ECCD centre in Merak is confronted with other challenges.

Kinley Deki, also a facilitator, said that without a heating system at the centre, children are left freezing most of the time.

“We proposed for a room and water heating system two years ago,” she said.

She also said they asked for a jute carpet for the centre because it gets very cold in winter. “We haven’t received any response so far.”

Kinley Deki also said most of the toys at the centre are broken and they were not provided with new toys  since it started four years ago.

She said that there is no television facility like other ECCDs to show educational clips to the children.

Unlike the rest of the civil servants in the gewog, the two facilitators do not enjoy the altitude and difficulty allowances.

“We are also working for the community here, but we do not get benefits like others,” Kinley Deki said. “It’s not easy working in such conditions.”

Younten Tshedup | Merak  

Focus point

Sat, 05/13/2017 - 16:22

DNT instilling fear to gain political mileage: PM

Sat, 05/13/2017 - 16:05

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that while he is happy that Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) is following the country’s economic situation and has raised concern, he is unhappy at the way that the party blamed the government.

Lyonchoen, during the Friday Meet The PM Session yesterday, said that DNT is sensationalising the issue by stating that the economy is on the verge of collapsing and comparing it to the Greek economy.

DNT’s real objective, according to the Prime Minister, is to instil fear in the public so that they gain political mileage since the elections are nearing. “That is unfortunate,” he said. “It’s wrong to instil fear.”

He said that on the merit of the party’s concerns it shows that they don’t have an understanding of the macro economy of Bhutan. “They have no understanding of the economy of Bhutan and the real debt situation.”

According to the budget report finance minister Namgay Dorji presented during the ongoing National Assembly session, the country’s debt is 103 percent of GDP. “On face value, the country should be alarmed but more than 80 percent of the total debt is hydropower debt,” Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay said. “The debt reflects the money the country borrowed to construct hydropower.”

He said DNT is talking about Mangdechhu, Punatsangchu I and II, Dagachu and left over of Tala where the loans are self-liquidating.

Explaining that self-liquidating basically means that the tariff on the electricity project is determined by the cost of the project, the Prime Minister said lower the cost means lower the tariff. “Because the loans are self-liquidating, we paid off the Chhukha, and Kurichu, loans” he said.  “We are almost ready to pay off Tala completely.”

Lyonchoen said that the loans are not bad loans and bad investments. “They are a good investment but because it is debt, we should monitor it carefully.”

He said that DNT should not misrepresent the situation to instill fear in public.

Prime Minister also claimed that 20 percent non-hydro debt includes loans to Bhutan Power Corporation, Bhutan Development Bank Ltd and Bhutan Hydro Power Services Ltd. “This money is going to be paid by these entities, not the government.”

He said that the balance is what the government has to pay. “We cut off all the commercial borrowing from the non-hydro where all the corporations will have to pay back themselves and look at what the government has to pay back with taxpayer money.”

Lyonchoen said that as of March 31 this year, non-hydro debt is Nu 34.5B (billion) and it works out to 21.6 percent of the GDP. “Of the 34.5B, non-hydro commercial debt is equal to Nu 6.02B, which is going to be paid by the corporations,” he said. “The government has to pay the balance of Nu 28.48B from its own revenue.”

He said that World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) did a detailed study on country wise, unlike other indexes on the debt sustainability analysis. “They say Bhutan’s exposure is just moderate.  Not medium and definitely not high.”

He said that hydropower is huge and if it is not self-liquidating, World Bank and IMF would be alarmed. “So I am afraid that DNT has exposed their lack of understanding of the economy.”

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that the government was then concerned about the previous government’s debt management. “In those days, along with the rest of the country we were scared because the total debt stock was much higher,” he said. “The non-hydro debt was higher and the government had borrowed billions just to finance the rupee crises and that was dangerous.”

He claimed that the overall debt has decreased in their time.

He also claimed that they had to deal with rupee crises and there was the ban on construction and vehicle loans and foreigner (Indian) accounts were closed. “We could all feel the impact of the rupee crises and the fact that we were borrowing to finance it was a concern. That is quite different from the current issue.”

Dechen Tshomo

Government will not be able to blacktop all GC roads

Sat, 05/13/2017 - 16:05

Works and human settlement minister cite stability problems

The government will not be able to meet its pledge to blacktop all gewog centre (GC) roads by the end of its term next year.

Blacktopping the GC roads was one of the government’s major pledges during the run-up to the general elections in 2013.

Against the pledge of blacktopping all GC roads, the government will complete 157 by the end of its term next year, the works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden said.

Of the 205 GC roads, 46 have been blacktopped so far and by December this year, 74 more will be completed.

The minister said five GC roads are new construction and it cannot be blacktopped. “Three gewogs cannot be connected with roads and two other GC roads don’t need blacktopping.”

Lyonpo Dorji Choden said that in Samrang, even the highway is yet to be blacktopped and the other gewog road is Tongmijangsa GC road, which will be done by the Kholongchhu hydropower project as it is part of the project’s road.

The minister said this while responding to Mongar’s Kengkhar-Weringla MP Rinzin Jamtsho’s question on whether the government would fulfil the pledge of blacktopping all the GC roads and if the government would black top the Gongdue GC road.

The MP said that many GC roads are not included in the blacktopping list. “In my constituency, GC roads to the poverty-ridden gewogs of Silambi and Gongdue are not included in the plan for blacktopping,” he said.

Like the Gongdue GC road, the minister said there are 18 such roads in Chukha, Dagana, and Zhemgang that were not included in the blacktopping list.

Lyonpo Dorji Choden said that it is not because the government doesn’t want to blacktop the roads. “The government studied the feasibility of blacktopping the GC roads, which began initially as farm roads, and found that some were steep, others narrow, and then some passing through poor geology,” she said. “A few were recently built and are not stable.”

The minister said that the government could carry out the blacktopping but did not because those roads would not last.

She said that the Gongdue GC road is an important link road between Gyalpoizhing and Nganglam but because it is a new road, blacktopping is not feasible. “The road needs to stabilise first or else the blacktopping would not last.”

Tshering Palden

PM orders OAG to support ACC in Trongsa case

Sat, 05/13/2017 - 16:05

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay has directed the Office of Attorney General (OAG) to render full support and cooperation to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in Trongsa land transaction case involving the former Trongsa dzongdag Lhab Dorji.

The executive directive was issued to the OAG after Attorney General (AG) challenged the commission for prosecuting the Trongsa land case at the dzongkhag court stating it was unconstitutional in the media recently.

This was revealed during the Friday meet the PM session yesterday.

Lyonchoen said that he had written to the AG to refrain from criticising and challenging the ACC, which is exercising its authority empowered by the ACC Act. “As a government’s legal advisor and legal representative, I have directed the AG to support and cooperate with the commission.”

The executive order was issued on May 10.

Lyonchoen said that if the laws need to be amended and judicial interpretation is needed then AG should do it when there is no case.

He said that the ACC taking up the case provides good check and balance between the prosecuting and investigating agency.

When ACC took the alleged illegal Trongsa land transaction case, which was initially dropped by the OAG, AG questioned the legal standing of the ACC to prosecute the case.

In an earlier interview with Kuensel, ACC officials had said hat the commission is taking up the case as per section 128 (3) of the ACC Act, which gives them the authority to prosecute a case. The ACC also claimed that they took up the case because the OAG manipulated it.

However, OAG prosecutors said that section 128 of the ACC Act is unconstitutional and that it is only the OAG that has the authority to prosecute cases.

AG Shera Lhundup then said he respects the ACC’s zeal to file the case, as it is a healthy sign since democratic institutional arrangements are made to provide necessary checks and balances.

He said that as much as the OAG determines to drop an ACC case report based on its merits, ACC is empowered to pursue its own due process if there is a prima facie case of fact manipulation as the ACC believes. “But for ACC to invoke Section 128(3) of ACC Act for locus standi to file suits against suspects, it is mandatory to first convince the court of the fact of alleged manipulations done by the OAG.”

He had said ACC could not malign a statutory institution like the OAG merely on their perceived view. “They must prove before the court,” he said.

The court conducted the preliminary hearing on the alleged illegal land transaction case on April 20.

The next hearing will be held on June 1. The 10 defendants will submit their rebuttal statements.

Rinzin Wangchuk

Weakening Bhalujhora bridge worries users

Sat, 05/13/2017 - 15:59

The old bridge over Bhalujhora River in Pasakha, which was left partially damaged in summer of 2016, has become a cause of concern for the people.

Heavy vehicles to cannot ply through the bridge due to its vulnerable status. The carrying capacity has decreased.

Currently, industrial trucks cross the river near the bridge to reach to the estate. When it rains, trucks cannot ply on it.

Representing the industries’ concern, the Association of Bhutanese Industries (ABI) has been trying to reach to the department of roads (DoR), Phuentsholing thromde, and department of industries (DoI).

ABI’s programme officer, Pema Yangchen, said that the association has submitted letters expressing the impact of not having a strong bridge over Bhalujhora River. “We are following up,” the programme officer said.

In 2016, heavy and continued rain affected many industrial trucks. Transporting raw materials and finished products became a huge challenge. Some industries had to be closed for days.

Problems related to shortage of fuel in Pasakha were also reported. Employees of the industrial estate also faced difficult time day and night having to walk about five kilometres. Even small cars were not allowed to cross the bridge for safety reasons.

ABI in its letter to DoR has mentioned that the incessant rain last year had caused damage to industries and thousands of workers and that the condition of the bridge has worsened.

Taxi drivers who operate between Phuentsholing and Pasakha are also concerned with condition of the dridge.

A cabbie, Chenga, said that if it rains like last year, the bridge would not last. “The bridge condition is bad and it will be washed away,” he said. He added that without the bridge, small vehicles would not be able to cross the river.

Another taxi driver, Sangay Wangdi, said that agencies are not taking care of the bridge and the roads.

Construction of a new bridge close to the existing bridge was also ongoing. It was a SASEC project. However, DoR terminated the contractor after he failed to complete the targeted portions of works in time.

DoR said that it is concerned about the coming monsoon. The only option, the officials said, was to station required machinery so that debris could be cleared on a daily basis.

Bhalujhora Bridge was constructed in 1986.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Improve public transport to ease traffic congestion

Sat, 05/13/2017 - 15:59

Improving public transport should be the first priority to ease traffic congestion, according to a public transport specialist, who is also an Asian Development Bank (ADB) consultant, Gordon K Neilson.

The specialist pointed this during a high-level stakeholder workshop held on Thimphu public transport on May 11 after the works and human settlement ministry requested the ADB for some technical assistance to review the current public transport situation and propose improvements that could be undertaken in the short term to ease increasing traffic congestion in the city.

Gordon K Neilson said that 50 percent of families in Thimphu own a car. Car registration increased by 11 percent last year and congestion is beginning to appear at key locations.

He said that taxi is the main mode of public transport. “Buses carry a very small share of the total travel demand.”

Gordon K Neilson said that with the population and income growth, people opt to buy cars and without any vehicle restrictions, it is important to find out how the city can cope with the traffic congestion issue.

“If you don’t want the number of cars on the road to increase, it is must to improve the public transport,” he said.

He also said that public transport should not be just for students and the poor. It should be attractive to a high proportion of the population and meet almost all their needs. “It should be affordable for everybody.”

The specialist said that if people, even after providing good public transport, chose to use other modes of transport, authorities must introduce other measures like high parking fees and fewer parking spaces.

He said that a good bus service is a measure of a caring and competent government. “It helps young, non-drivers and those who doesn’t own a car,” the specialist said. “Good public transport is a good indication of a good governance.”

Gordon K Neilson also recommended the improved frequency of the bus services especially during the peak hours, increasing the bus service hours, increasing supervision of fare collection, change of ticketing system to enable sustainability of the services and increasing buses for the busy routes.

The works and human settlement minister, Dorji Choden, said the increasing traffic congestion in Thimphu has been a concern for everyone.

The works and human settlement ministry and Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) came together along with stakeholders to address the growing transport issue.

Lyonpo Dorji Choden said that the workshop is timely as everyone in the city started to feel the impact of traffic congestion.

MoIC minister DN Dhungyel said that Thimphu is a small city but it has about 3,000 taxis and 50 buses plying around on a daily basis. The number of private vehicles plying on the city road is much more. “The problem of traffic congestion is increasing every day.”

He said that it took him unusually longer to reach the MoWHS to attend the workshop yesterday. “I was caught up in a traffic,” the minister said. “We have to find out a solution to ease traffic congestion immediately.”

City bus Service (CBS) transport director, Sonam Dendup, said that the CBS is already carrying out most of the recommendations while some are under process. “We will further see how best we can do to improve our services.”

Gordon K Neilson also pointed out that there is a need for an agency between the high-level policy or financial decision makers and the bus operators.

He said that in most countries, it is the city authorities who are responsible for the specifications of urban public transport service. “If this practice is adopted here then Thimphu Thromde would be the responsible agency. This might be best done through setting up a transport unit within the Thromde.”

Thimphu Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said that without a budget it would be difficult to improve the service.

He said that the thromde and the CBS recently started a bus service for students of two schools in Thimphu on a pilot basis. “To pick and drop all the students of the two schools, it requires 14 buses.”

The thrompon said that many students, including teachers, want to avail the bus service but they can’t increase the number of buses.

The thrompon recommended that if the public transport in the city is to improve then the government will have to give priority and provide an additional budget. “I will not be able to improve public transport service until enough resources are allocated.”

Dechen Tshomo

Implementation is the weakest link

Sat, 05/13/2017 - 15:59

Gambling has silently plagued our society for a long time now. Yet, we are not able to do much in solving this menace. From a logical perspective, gambling is at the centre of bigger social issues related to drugs and youth problems. It is associated with mental health problems, loss of jobs, severe debts, depression, mood disorders, and anti-social personality.

The subject had received attention from the Third Druk Gyalpo in the late sixties, who issued a decree prohibiting gambling in the country. Further, the National Assembly (NA) had discussed the issue in eight of its sessions since 1967. In 1977, the NA passed a resolution banning gambling completely in the country. The home ministry also had occasionally issued circulars since 1999 and the NA further resolved not to permit gambling in 2006.

However, with all the past efforts and legal provisions in the Penal Code of Bhutan, gambling, especially high stake card games, persisted over the years tearing families apart by the day and gamblers themselves falling victims to merciless “loan sharks”, who take advantage of the situations of compulsive gamblers.

The Anti-Money Laundering bill is being tabled during the current session of the NA, which though little late, is vital to protect and save families in future.

Some study estimate that for every problem gambler at least 10 other family members, friends and colleagues are also directly affected.  While many family relationships fail, the children are the victims with negative environment at home or absence of proper parental guidance and care.

The recent move of the Royal Bhutan Police that arrested 15 for alleged gambling is welcome. Yet it is not going to be an easy task knowing the loopholes and connections in our society. Looking at the past practices, the issue may altogether be brushed under the carpet, only to surface again. There are also stories of failed raids due to prior information received by the gamblers. Some say gambling is rampant in the homes of senior and influential people. In these circles, gambling is not even considered a bad thing or illegal.

If gambling is illegal, then the laws must be applied and implemented without exceptions of status. But if the lawmakers or the law enforcers themselves are occasionally in pursuit of “maal”, “marriage”, and “carriage”, then our fight against gambling is meaningless.

The irony is we accept, celebrate, and even praise the winning gamblers but discard and criminalise the losers.

Thimphu Techpark employs more than 700 Bhutanese

Sat, 05/13/2017 - 15:53

What was once tagged as a white elephant, the Thimphu Techpark Limited (TTL) today has employed more than 700 Bhutanese youth.

It has also rented out all its space and has six foreign companies operating at the park.

This means that the park had met its initial target to employ 700 Bhutanese people by 2016.

The Techpark’s chief executive officer (CEO), Tshering Cigay Dorji said that most of the employees are women in most of the companies and the companies can still take in more youth.

He said that Scan Café, a US-based company, employs the highest number of people. It employs about 470 people. “The other companies employ 10 to 50 people.”

The CEO also said most of the employees are class 12 graduates.

He said that they are exporting services where our Bhutanese employees are serving foreign clients. “But the number of employees fluctuates because few leave when they get better jobs,” Tshering Cigay Dorji said. “But it doesn’t go below 700.”

The CEO said three companies are 100 percent foreign direct companies.

The Techpark also has a number of Bhutanese start-ups that operate from the incubation centre inside a centre named Bhutan innovation and technology, which is aimed to promote entrepreneurship by providing incubation space, training and mentorship.

Two foreign companies are still under registration process, according to the CEO. “Once these two companies get approved, the 60,000sq ft Techpark space would be fully occupied.”

He said that they are exploring the possibility of expanding the IT Park, as they keep getting inquiries. “We’re hopeful that other companies might rent the park.”

The companies pay Nu 27 per sq ft that is generated as revenue for the Park while the Park pays a land lease of Nu one per sq ft to the Thimphu Thromde.

Tshering Cigay Dorji said the Park not only met the employee target but also made a profit since 2015 after running into loss since its inception from 2012. “The staff received a bonus for the performance for 2016.”

The CEO added the Park has also been able to meet their monthly loan repayment to the Bank of Bhutan for the construction of the park. The park pays about Nu 500,000 every month.

He said that since the companies at the park mostly serve foreign clients, they bring in much needed foreign exchange. “Although we don’t have exact figures but it is estimated that the Park bring in at least a few million US dollars annually.”

He said the job demand is increasing, as they recently received applications from 300 people for three vacancies.

The Park was inaugurated in 2011. Druk Holding Investment (DHI) owns 51 percent of the share. Bhutan Telecom owns the rest.

However, some of the companies’ officials said Internet fluctuation affects their work.

Tshering Cigay Dorji said the park has redundant fibre-optic cable connections and services from both the main ISPs in the country.

Yangchen C Rinzin

Picture story

Sat, 05/13/2017 - 15:53

National Plant Protection Centre in Semtokha launched its pests of Bhutan website yesterday. The website has information on the identification and management of over 50 insects, pathogen, weed, and wildlife pests as well as other electronic resources relevant to plant protection. It hosts a database of more than 600 species of pests recorded from different crops grown in the country.

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