Kuensel Feed

Subscribe to Kuensel Feed feed
Bhutan's Daily Newspaper
Updated: 1 hour 58 min ago

Govt. proposes daily SDF 25 percent of USD 65 for regional tourist

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 17:04

Dechen Tshomo

The tourism sector representatives said that the government’s proposal to levy a daily Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) for regional leisure tourists is a good move to tackle the issues related to regional tourists.

Finance Minister Namgay Tshering introduced a bill at the National Assembly yesterday to amend the Tourism Levy Exemption (Amendment) Act 2018.

“The proposed amendment is to introduce USD 16.25 or 25 percent of the tourism levy of USD 65 per night halt on the regional leisure tourists visiting Bhutan.”

The levy, the minister said was expected to generate additional revenue besides promoting Bhutan as a high-end tourism destination in keeping with the policy of high value, low volume tourism.

The minister said international leisure tourists pay SDF of USD 65 per night halt.

Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators’ (ABTO) executive director Sonam Dorji said the SDF was one of the components of managing regional tourists. “Levying the SDF on regional leisure tourists is more or less in line with what the association has recommended to the government.”

However, he said the association is yet to see the other aspects of managing regional tourists.

Chairman of Guide Association of Bhutan (GAB), Garab Dorji said it was the right time for the amendment and levying the SDF. “We support the proposal. This would deter backpackers and other low-budget travellers.”

He said it alone cannot control mass tourism. “Bhutan has been ranked as one of the best tourist destinations and overall, there are over 500 million millionaires in Asia who can afford to come to Bhutan.”

With the implementation of the SDF, he said only those who can afford and who genuinely want to visit Bhutan, who value the country’s culture and tradition will visit the country.

“Most of my clients from the region including India, when asked about the SDF, supports levying the SDF,” he said. “Indians tourists told me that Bhutan being a small country it has to have measures to protect itself from mass tourism.”

Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan’s (HRAB) chairman Sonam Wangchuk said while the association fully supports the government’s move to have a proper regulation to manage regional tourists, the association requests the government to revisit the amount to be levied and to look at it holistically.

Sonam Wangchuk said 25 percent of USD 65 per person per night halt may be minimal for single travellers or couples. But, for those visitors who come in groups of families, which usually is the travelling pattern of the regional tourists, the amount is high to start with.

He said even if they come as couples for five days then they have to pay Nu 17,000 which includes charges of hiring a guide. This excludes expenditure on accommodation, meals and local transport, among others.

He suggested that initially if a certain amount like Nu 500 to be imposed like a visa fee per entry or whatever amount is proposed, levy it per person per trip. “This would not discourage travellers to visit the country.”

The association is of the opinion that levying 25 percent of USD 65 as the SDF for regional tourist will reduce the number of arrivals and the hoteliers could be affected.

Hoteliers’ investment, he said is huge compared to other stakeholders’ and the burden will be unbearable and the hoteliers are concerned. “This is why our voices are more frequent than others.”

He said it is not only about the hotel owners. If the occupancy in hotels drops, the owner has to cut down its employment size which will result in unemployment and uncertainty in the job market. “It is not only about profit, but it is also about so many indirect factors that are lined up with this SDF.”

If the government is going to control the number of tourists coming in then at a point of time, the construction of hotels should be stopped. “Those who are applying to construct hotels continued to apply and those who approve continued to do so,” he added.

The environment and climate change committee will review the Bill and present the findings to the House for deliberation of February 3.

Addressing renal diseases among children

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 17:00

Renal diseases are one of the biggest killers of children below thirteen in Bhutan. 

As our health system continues to progress, these health problems should not be very difficult address.

Although there are many causes that lead to renal diseases among children, one is pretty obvious and we can do a lot to keep them under control. 

Genetic transmission is one major problem in Bhutan. Many genetically transmittable diseases, however, can be righted with spot-on health interventions.

There may be certain health issues that need heavy investment but non-communicable diseases (NCD) are on the rise in the country. NCDs are also a significant contributor to renal diseases among children.

Medical sciences tell us that genetic diseases cannot be prevented, but there are medicines that can help to treat and manage certain ones. There is so an opportunity to change lifestyle habits of our people so that the diseases that they acquire do not become a burden of the future generations.

NCDs are already one of the major public health issues in the country today. Lack of nutrition could have been a problem in the country at one point of time. Today, however, the real problem is not lack of nutrition but overnutrition.

Bhutan can and must effectively and strategically guide policymakers and stakeholders to further promote the health and well-being of adolescents in Bhutan. That is from where we must begin. Strengthen the policies and programmes to control tobacco, alcohol, and doma, for example. But that’s not enough. Bhutanese food habits are medically very dangerous.

NCDs are estimated to account for almost 70 percent of all deaths in Bhutan making it the leading cause of all preventable deaths. These are serious challenges facing the nation’s health system today, yes, but the problems are not intractable.

Investment in education and advocacy has been there but we could do a lot more. Renal diseases among the children below thirteen in Bhutan will continue to be a problem otherwise.

We must invest in other modern health measures, treatment methods and technology. Addressing renal diseases among Bhutanese children is a generation issue. 

Getting is right with one will take care of the future.

Foothills Festival encourages local farm production   

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 16:59

Younten Tshedup | Gelephu

The third Foothills Festival in Gelephu began with much excitement and vigour to celebrate Sarpang dzongkhag’s yearlong achievements especially in the agriculture and livestock sectors.

Agriculture minister, Yeshey Penjor, officially opened the festival yesterday, for which preparations started months ago.

Started as a daylong celebration to celebrate the bountiful harvests in 2018, the Foothills Festival has today grown into a mega event in the dzongkhag.

Sarpang dzongdag, Karma Galay, said that the event was started to provide farmers with a platform to market their local produce. He said that in the first year, the 12 gewogs combined could earn about Nu 4 million (M) from the sale of agricultural and livestock products including other wood base and forest products.

“This was quite encouraging for the dzongkhag as well as the farmers which is why we decided to do it for two days the following year,” he said. “We managed to earn close to Nu 8M in the second year, which further encouraged us to do it in a bigger and better manner this year.”

Following the successful festival, he said that many farmers took up vegetable farming and livestock rearing across all gewogs. The festival is extended to three days this year given its potential to generate income for farmers and interest they have shown, the dzongdag said.

What’s new at the festival this year?

The festival boasts more participants this year with farmer groups from Samdrupjongkhar, Bumthang and Gasa displaying their produce.

To encourage effective and meaningful participation, the Dzongkhag Tshogdu and the dzongkhag administration beginning this year have decided to declare public holiday during the festival.

One of the main reasons to organise and expand the festival is to discourage people from importing food items especially agricultural and livestock products in the dzongkhag.

“In our own small ways this is an effort to curtail the import of vegetables and meat items from across the border and fulfil the national policy of self-reliance and self-sufficiency by encouraging farmers to grow locally for our people,” the dzongdag said.

Residents in the dzongkhag are often seen visiting the local markets across the border in Dadgari, Assam to buy agricultural produce and other goods. “People import a lot of food items when most of their fields are left fallow,” dzongdag Karma Galay said.

The festival is also to celebrate the diverse culture in the dzongkhag. “People from all parts of the country have settled here,” he said. “This is a platform where we celebrate our diversity and come together as a country to promote the rich and unique tradition and culture, thereby promoting community vitality.”

The festival is also an effort to bridge the current missing link between the rural producers and urban markets. “We hope the youth in the villages would see the opportunities and bridge this gap.”

To promote Gelephu as a sporting hub, several sporting events like cross-country bicycle race, marathon and walkathon are also organised besides archery, khuru and strongmen competition (nyagyoe dendur).

NA rejects Ministers’ and Equivalent Post Holders’ Entitlement Bill

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 16:57

MB Subba 

The National Assembly yesterday rejected the Ministers’ and Equivalent Post Holders’ Entitlement Bill 2019 on the verbal motion moved by the foreign minister. Only 15 of the 45 MPs present raised their hands in favour of deliberating the bill in National Assembly.

However, the move has raised questions on whether a House of Parliament can reject a Bill that is passed by the other House without deliberating on it.

It was one of the eight Bills that have been tabled in the House. The entitlement Bill was passed by the National Council (NC) and forwarded to the Assembly last year.

Proposing for the withdrawal of the Bill, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the Bill sought additional benefits to ministers and equivalent post holders. He added that many articles in the Bill were unclear.

“We also need to ask if we need so many Acts in a small country. A separate law was not required as ministers and equivalent post holders benefits are taken care by various laws including the Pay Commission,” he said.

Bartsham Shongphu MP Passang Dorji (PhD), who spoke in support of the foreign minister’s statement, said that the ministers and equivalent post holders’ entitlements were prescribed by the MPs’ entitlement Act.

“Moreover, the Constitution also clearly states who are ministers and equavalent post holders. There is no need for an additional entitlement Act for them,” he said.

Most of the members agreed that the Bill was not required. But the real issue was on the procedure of passing and withdrawing a Bill that has been passed by the other House.

Opposition leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said that although the Bills were not very important, it was important for the Parliament to follow the rules of procedure. He said that there were no provisions where a House can reject a Bill passed by another without any deliberation.

The National Assembly’s decision, the opposition leader said, may set a wrong precedent. He said that the NC’s decisions and the time spent on the Bill should be respected.

“There is a procedure to return a Bill to the House of its origin with justifications. If the National Assembly passes a Bill in the future and the NC rejects it without deliberations, then issues will arise,” he said.

Drametse Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi said that it was not in keeping with the parliamentary procedure to reject the Bill in such a manner. He said that it was important for the House to deliberate the Bill before taking a decision on whether or not it was needed.

Sections on withdrawal of Bills under Chapter 4 of Legislative Rules of Procedure (LRoP) 2017 state that a Bill passed by one House may be withdrawn by the other House on the grounds of, but not limited to, the legislative proposal covered in the Bill being dropped or a more comprehensive Bill on the same subject being proposed at a later date.

According to the LRoP, where a Bill has been passed by the National Council and is pending before the National Assembly, the Assembly may recommend to the National Council that leave be granted to withdraw the Bill.

“If leave is not granted by the other House for withdrawal of the Bill, the Bill shall then follow the procedures outlined for Disputed Bills,” it states.

The Bill proposes the establishment of a national committee on the entitlements of minister and minister equivalent post holders.

According to the Bill, the members will be nominated by the chief justice, speaker, council chairperson, opposition leader, chairperson of the privy council, cabinet and the finance ministry as non-voting member secretary.

NC’s Deputy Chairperson and spokesperson Jigme Wangchuk said that he would comment only after the National Assembly officially communicates its decision to the NC.

NA decides not to discuss Impeachment Bill

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 16:56

Tashi Dema

With the show of hands, National Assembly (NA) members yesterday decided not to discuss the Impeachment Bill for the constitutional office bearers.

The bill was forwarded from National Council (NC) to set procedure for impeachment of the constitutional office bearers incorporating the principle of natural justice and to establish an impeachment investigation committee to conduct a thorough, fair and impartial investigation into allegations against them.

Chukha’s Bongo-Chapcha MP, Tshewang Lhamo, who is the chair of the legislative committee, introduced the bill to the members stating that during the 19th session of the second NC, the good governance committee submitted a motion to the house on the need of an Impeachment Bill to achieve good governance.

She said that while there were relevant laws to make public and civil servants accountable if they failed their duties, there was no basis to make constitutional office bearers accountable. “So in line with Article 32 of the Constitution, NC drafted the Impeachment Procedure Bill of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2019 for constitutional office bearers.”

It was Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering who first said that there was no need to discuss the bill, justifying that not all provisions of the Constitution is implemented.

He said that since Bhutan was different and all constitutional post holders were capable officials. “If there is someone to appoint him or her to the post, it might not be right for the parliamentarians to impeach them.”

Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said there were 18 constitutional post holders, including 14 in judiciary, and it was necessary to impeach them if they did not fulfil their responsibilities.

He said that while the bill was returned to NC, NA should recommend the need for procedures to set the motion of no confidence votes against the government as per section 6 and 8 of Article 17 of the Constitution.

Home minister Sherub Gyeltshen was also against the discussion of the bill stating too many laws create problem in the country.

Only 15 of the 45 members wanted to discuss the bill.

Meanwhile, the Chief Justice of Bhutan, drangpons of Supreme Court, Chief Justice and drangpons of the High Court, Chief Election Commissioner, Auditor General, chairpersons of Royal Civil Service Commission and Anti-Corruption Commission are considered the constitutional office bearers.

The bill details the impeachment procedure including the grounds of impeachment, which are incapacity, incompetence and serious misconduct and motion for impeachment. “When both the houses pass the impeachment motion, the holder of constitutional office shall be suspended from his or her office until the outcome of the impeachment proceedings.”

It also sets the procedure for impeachment investigation committee, order of investigation and powers and functions of the committee. “The Parliament may, upon proper petition, order the concerned agencies to provide adequate protection to a complainant or witness if it is shown that his or her personal safety is in jeopardy because of his or her participation in an impeachment proceeding.”

Govt. proposes major tax exemption and reduction 

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 16:55

Phub Dem

The government proposed major tax revision and duties including the green tax on goods such as telecommunication equipment, hybrid cars, and energy-efficient appliances yesterday.

The finance minister Namgay Tshering proposed the Tax (Amendment) Bill 2020 in the National Assembly.

To tap into the country’s hydropower potential and to reduce the dependency on the import of fossil fuels, the sales tax and customs duty on the import of hybrid cars were proposed to be reduced by an average of 50 percent if the proposition of tax amendment Bill gets endorsed.

The export of electricity roughly amounts to Nu 10 billion (B) annually whereas the import of fossil fuels goes up to Nu 9B.

For instance, the sales tax and duty on the import of hybrid (petrol and diesel with both plugin and non-plugin) were slashed to 10 percent from 20 percent.

The 5 percent green tax on a hybrid with diesel and petrol for public transport was also proposed to be exempted.

However, the green tax was waived off depending on the cylinder capacity (cc). No green tax would be charged on hybrid cars up to 1500 cc, whereas, 40 percent green tax was levied on cars exceeding 3,000 cc if the Bill is passed.

The revision, according to the chief executive officer of State Trading Corporation of Bhutan (STCBL), Kuenga Namgay was in accordance with the report by the company submitted to the government.

Although the revision might improve the sales of the company, he said that 50 percent exemption would not benefit the common users. “Both hybrid and EV are expensive and many cannot afford it.”

He also said that the future of transportation was electric vehicle, but it would take some time to completely switch to EV. The switch to hybrid cars was a temporary alternative while  developing infrastructure and technology development required for EV was in place.

The recently launched Energy Efficiency and Conservation Policy, recommended the government to provide fiscal incentives, based on viability, to compensate higher prices of the energy-efficient appliances in the market.

Considering the average export tariff of Nu 2.17 per unit of electricity, the country was expected to earn extra revenue of Nu 336M every year, by improving energy efficiency and standards in four major sectors: building, appliances, transport, and industry.

In keeping with the policy and to promote environment-friendly technologies, the government proposed to exempt sales tax and customs duty on energy-saving appliances.

The import of ‘parts of electrical appliances’ was proposed to forgo a total of 15 percent sales tax and duty.

The government also proposed to exempt 30 percent tax on the Light-emitting diode (LED) lamps.

To drive the digital transformation approach, the finance minister put forward the exemption on taxes and duties on telephone sets for cellular or wireless networks.

The telephone sets were levied 20 percent duty and 10 percent sales tax as of today.

The removal of a 5 percent voucher tax for prepaid users was also proposed for amendment. However, a sales tax rate at 7.5 percent would be levied on postpaid and tourist SIM.

He said that the prepaid users were mostly based in rural communities and there was no other way to bridge the gaps other than through tax revision.

The government further proposed a new chapter in the Tax Bill 2020 –revision of duty, sales tax, and green tax. The chapter will revise the sales tax, duty and green tax rates on the goods and services and tariff schedule based on the suggested exemption.

The taxation measures as per finance minister were expected to facilitate the redistribution of income, promote fiscal sustainability and lay a strong foundation for digital transformation.

“The revision will form an integral part of the economic road map for the current century.”

The Bill will be presented as a money Bill by the economic and fincance committee on January 30.

Meanwhile, the government also proposed the Fiscal Incentives (Amendment) Bill 2020 to continue the income tax exemption to small and micro-businesses in rural areas until December 2023.

The proposal was aimed to promote economic opportunities, livelihood, and employment in rural areas. The Bill, if endorsed is expected to benefit 12,571 micro trade licences holders.

Govt. proposes goods and services tax

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 16:51

Tshering Dorji

In what can be called as a major overhaul to the tax regime, to reinforce the tax administration and to recoup an additional revenue of Nu 3B, the finance minister yesterday proposed goods and services tax Bill (GST), introducing a standard single rate of 7 percent, which would subsume the sales tax and modify the excise system.

GST is a consumption-based tax and it is supposed to eliminate the cascading taxation effect. Just like any other GST regime across the globe, business entities and individuals in the country would be levied GST on all goods and services either manufactured within or imported. Exports, on the other hand, are considered zero-rated supplies, free of tax.

“This ensures that Bhutanese exporters are not at a competitive disadvantage,” the finance minister said.

The good part of the GST is that it will eliminate the compounded tax that is usually passed down to the consumers. For instance, a manufacturer procures raw materials from a vendor and it is inclusive of taxes. The manufacturer adds value and sells it to a consumer and selling price includes the tax accumulation. Consumers, in the end, bear the brunt of all the taxes that are cascading. With GST, the manufacturer can claim tax inputs to negate the taxes borne by him. This means that end consumers pay for the taxes only on the investment for value addition borne by the manufacturer, while the manufacturer is eligible to avail tax credits or returns for the taxes imposed on procuring the raw materials.

However, if a firm imports goods and services, GST is levied. But that doesn’t mean that all goods and service are slapped with a flat seven percent GST. The fiscal tool lies in the new regime called the Excise Equalisation Tax (EET), meaning that luxury and negative goods like vehicles, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, plastics and so on will attract both GST and EET.

Vehicles of engine the capacity of below 1,500cc is proposed an EET of 30 percent, excluding the green tax, customs duty (if imported from third countries) and other permissible charges. A GST of seven percent makes the effective tax rate to 37 percent, meaning that there is a reduction from 45 percent.

The effective tax rate for other vehicles above the engine capacity below 3,000cc  becomes 47 percent (40 percent EET and 7 percent GST), down from 50 percent. This again doesn’t include the customs duty and green tax

Likewise goods like alcohol and beverages, and tobacco will attract 100 percent EET on top of the seven percent GST.

The GST permits exemptions and classified some commodities as ‘zero taxed’ and these constitute items like rice, milk powder, vegetables and meat, among others.

Under the GST regime, all essential goods and services related to agriculture, education and health will be exempt; export will be zero-rated and all GST registered business entities will receive the input tax credit.

As a result, GST is expected to have a positive impact on the economy due to reduced tax burden and improved competitiveness. Since the GST implementation will be fully supported by an automation system, it will strengthen tax administration, improve taxpayer services, minimize leakages and enhance tax collection.

“Upon full implementation of GST at a standard rate of 7 percent, the additional annual revenue is estimated at Nu 3B,” the finance minister said.

However, businesses and entities, whose turnover is less than Nu 5M are not required to register for the GST. Although it is voluntary, such businesses cannot avail input credits while GST on imports would be in keeping with the norms.

Businesses would be also required to file their taxes after every month. But understanding the complexities of the implementation, business types and modalities, the new GST regime has worked out a formula for every circumstance.

For instance, an individual processing multiple business licenses declares loss and defaults on one business. However, his or her other business is thriving. A modality has been placed to recover the taxes from one pocket as the proceeds go to one pocket.

The GST has many aspects depending on the diversity and modality of business operation. This is further administered by a carrot and stick approach.

RAA seeks intervention from policy- makers and stakeholders

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 16:49

Tashi Dema

Royal Audit Authority’s (RAA) review of the Bhutan Schedule of Rates (BSR) and its application by government agencies revealed poor assessment of item rates of any construction works in absence of standard data management and data dissemination.

BSR is a tool to assist project cost estimations and is widely used in all government agencies.

According to RAA, although BSR should just be a reference to prepare work estimates in absence of other reliable basis,  it is being widely used as an authoritative and benchmark document across all procuring agencies. “It undermines and impedes the economy, efficiency and effectiveness in executing public works.”

It also pointed out numerous systemic problems, unclear strategies and objectives with consequential adverse impact on the cost of project, which impedes the achievement of value-for-money in constructions. “The practices currently being followed in preparing estimates, carrying out analysis of rates and regulating payments for variations provide considerable scope for abuse of the system and inflating project estimates and cost.”

RAA stated that although audit reported on the systematic lapses to the government through specific report and annual audit reports, it never received any intervention from policy makers and other stakeholders. “Policy makers and other stakeholders should come up with policy interventions directed towards achieving value for money through efficient and effective computation and application of cost index and rate analysis.”

 

Issues

RAA observed inconsistent formulation of cost index, application of cost index not aligned with items of works, calculation of cost index not aligned to distance from the base town, inconsistent use of BSR for application of cost indices and flaws and ambiguity in the derivation of weightage of materials.

There was also no check and control by appropriate or designated authority, which allowed government agencies to resort to varying decisions in formulation of cost indices and officials responsible for calculation and application of cost indices either lacked clarity in the procedures provided in the BSR or not competent enough to appropriately interpret the laid down procedures in the BSR.

The calculation and application of cost indices are not aligned with the components specified in the labour and material coefficients (LMC) as well as sample cost indices table provided in the BSR against specific items of works of the BSR.

BSR requires agencies to determine the cost index based on the procedures provided for the calculation of cost indices to arrive at the actual cost of a particular project at any location other than the base towns.

“There are no consistent approaches in application of cost index in different agencies despite the BSR stipulates procedures for calculation of cost index. The cost index is applied to base rates of Phuentsholing, Samdrup Jongkhar, Gelephu and Thimphu determined in the BSR to cover the cost of making the items available at places of constructions,” RAA stated.

BSR was revised and updated in 2015 and 2017 but there was inconsistency in the use of BSR as well as application of cost indices. “There is no system of validation in the use of BSR and application of cost indices by central authorities to ensure consistency and uniformity in the adoption of BSR for the application of cost indices,” RAA found.

The RAA noted inconsistent approaches in use of weightage of materials for calculation of cost index despite stipulated procedures and requirement for the calculation of weightage using rates of items of the nearest base towns for different kinds of projects. “The BSR categorically stipulated that weightage differs for different kinds of projects, thus use of weightage given in the sample may have cost implications in the preparation of cost estimates of the project or valuation of variations and additional works.”

The labour cost is the major component of the cost of the project. While the BSR has provided weightage for the labour cost in the sample provided for calculation of cost indices, some dzongkhags have not considered and provided weightage for labour cost for calculation of cost indices inflating the cost indices to the extent of weightage for labour cost represented in the total cost of the project.

RAA also stated that BSR incorporated the hire charges for plant and machinery based on the built-up rates provided by the Construction Development Corporation Limited, (CDCL) and Natural Resources Development Corporation Ltd (NRDCL) rates for aggregates stones although contractors are allowed to operate stone quarry for the contract works.

“The CDCL built up rates are rates taking into account CDCL’s direct cost, depreciations, operating cost, overhead cost administrative expenses and contingencies of the CDCL. Thus, the CDCL hiring rates are applicable if the CDCL plants and machinery are hired and deployed for the related works,” RAA stated.

It observed that there were no consistent approaches in the obtaining of rates of materials. For the calculation of cost indices, government agencies have use rates of aggregates stones obtained during annual quotation or tenders, base rates of BSR, NRDCL rates and rates provided by the contractors.

The government agencies use rates for calculation of cost indices obtained under various methodology even on the stipulation of conditions for allowing operation of stone quarry at worksites in the tender documents. “In the absence of standard in obtaining rates of material from the market and use of NRDCL rates, varying practices prevailed in the obtaining rates of materials and application in the calculation of cost indices.”

Although BSR requires to exercise due diligence in inquiring the prices and compare with the market prices, the procuring agencies generally do not conduct market surveys but rates at the project locations are either based on annual quotations (sometimes on single-quoted rates) or rates of the single supplier prevailing in the market of the locations.

“This had defeated the intent of public procurement in obtaining the competitive price and had resulted in government agencies paying exorbitant prices,” RAA stated. “It is possible that in absence of any check and control in the calculation and application of cost indices, preparation of cost estimates for projects as well as valuation of cost for additional and deviated works may tantamount to inflation of cost of project works with undue benefit to the contractors.”

RAA also stated that this may also result in engagement of unethical processes and practices siphoning the government scarce resources. “There needs to be uniform procedures along with standard format which can be consistently followed in carrying out of rate analysis.”

 

Recommendations

The government needs to establish a robust system, procedures and standards to ensure consistency and uniformity in the calculation and application of cost indices and rate analysis.

RAA stated that the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS) as the nodal technical authority of the government and custodian of the BSR should institute standard procedures for working out appropriate cost indices for various project locations from the base towns to depict true cost for the locations of construction sites.

“The ministry should require the procuring agencies to strictly ensure conformance to procedures for calculation of cost indices and rate analysis outlined in the BSR as to ensure consistency and uniformity in the preparation of reliable cost estimate of the projects,” it stated.

It also stated that BSR must be robust, comprehensive and reflective of all items of works required for civil and road infrastructures including market prices to provide reliable and realistic preparation of estimated cost for all government projects.

BSR should also incorporate all aspect of expected new technologies like ZeoCrete technology that is being adopted for road works to prevent flawed and inflated preparation of estimates by all procuring agencies.

MoWHS should ensure mandatory and appropriate use of the published BSR in the estimation of project cost and ensure that most recent BSR is applied uniformly by all procuring agencies.

It should specify effective dates for implementation of revised BSR, make it mandatory to apply new BSR from the effective date  and ensure that newly published BSR is easily accessible to all agencies.

Court asks litigants to seek mediation unit service in a civil case

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 16:47

Nim Dorji | Trongsa

Trongsa dzongkhag court has asked the 10 staff of the College of Language and Cultural Studies in Taktse, who were compulsorily retired after sexual harassment case surfaced in May last year and has filed case against the college and Royal University of Bhutan to settle the case out of court.

The court gave the option to settle the case in mediation unit established recently through Bhutan National Legal Institute’s initiative.

The three lecturers, who are charged for alleged sexual harassment of students, six lecturers and a staff who were compulsorily resigned but not charged to court by police and Office of the Attorney General has requested the court to make the college management and RUB compensate them for not following due process of law.

While the seven staff filed the case against the college management and RUB in November last year, the three lecturers filed a petition as a separate civil case for compensation on January 13 when the court conducted hearing for the seven staff.

Their main argument was that they were wrongfully charged and dismissed unfairly.

The legal representative of the seven staff requested the court to revoke the termination orders issued by the college and the RUB and reinstate them.

The three lecturers, in their petition, cited section 25.8.2 of the Human Resource Rules and Regulation (HRRR) 2017 of RUB and submitted that they were not given an opportunity for clarification and were directly terminated.

The section states that the disciplinary committee, when convinced that a prima facie case exists, shall notify the respondent staff in writing of the administrative charge(s) and require the staff to answer the charge within 30 days they receive the notification.

They submitted that the college and RUB did not follow section 15.9.5 of the HRRR by collecting evidence without following the Evidence Act of Bhutan.

The section states that the Evidence Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2005 shall govern evidence of the case.

They also cited Article 7 (1) of the Constitution and requested the court to provide justice for the college president and management’s power abuse and bias.

All the lecturers and the staff accused that the authorities had acted on their assumptions, biases, rumours, and conspiracy by the college’s president.

Meanwhile, if parties do not want to mediate outside the court, the next hearing will be held on January 30.

Rethinking highland development

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 16:46

Bhutan’s highlanders, the custodians of northern borders, are increasingly leaving their homes and migrating to the plains for good. And that matters.

Balanced development is still a major challenge for Bhutan. The tourism sector is only now looking at taking the benefits from international visitors to places outside Thimphu, Paro, Wangdue, and Punakha. It will not be easy, of course, because save the raw nature, there is pretty much nothing to entice visitors to the remote parts of the country.

Cordyceps collection benefited the far-off settlements, particularly the highlanders. Looking back, Bhutan’s development approach should have been a little more far-sighted. Today, highlanders, each individually, earns a lot more than a mid-level civil servant or businessperson annually. Many from the highland communities have invested heavily in the urban centres—in properties and profitable businesses.

Here is a lesson drawn from our own experience. While the country’s few urban centres are bursting at the seams what with development activities and projects of kinds and kinds, the rural parts of the country have not witnessed significant change beyond a few roads and telecommunications networks. In fact, these very modern amenities are encouraging our people in the rural parts to abandon their homes and move increasingly towards the growing urban centres.

For Bhutan, to keep our communities and people at the borders is vitally important. But we must not forget the fact that our people will stay put in these many strategic locations only if we take development at their doorstep. Here is where the governments have repeatedly fallen short. The government cannot ask or compel the people in the highlands to not modernise and remain herders and farmers forever.

We may have messed up with some of the biggest opportunities we had but all’s not lost. Taking major development projects to the highlands and strategic locations is still very much possible. Why can’t we take happiness centres to the highlands, for instance? We can boast connectivity today and can improve on it. Why can’t we take some of our top wellness centres to the highlands?

These small development initiatives and activities have the potential to revitalise our communities. Centralised development approach may have done us good in the past when we had to look through from the perspective of development budget. Not anymore. We risk losing more by asking highlanders to continue to be highlanders without giving them the benefits of modern development.

Our highlands can be the seat of the most efficient research houses and world-class universities and education centres. Rethinking highland development must go beyond small workshops and rhetoric. Blathering we have had enough.

More children die of renal diseases 

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 16:44

Dechen Tshomo 

Renal diseases have become a major cause of morbidity and mortality among hospitalised children in the country.

About 28 children with renal diseases admitted to the national referral hospital in Thimphu in 2018 succumbed to the disease, according to a study conducted by a pediatric resident of the Department of Paediatrics, Faculty of Post Graduate Medicine.

This means at least one child aged one month to less than 13 years died every month because of renal diseases. Of the 1,648 children admitted to the hospital in 2018, 128 had renal diseases or diseases related to kidney.

The pediatric resident, Dr Sonam said renal diseases refer to any disease or disorder associated with renal systems in children.

The study carried out to determine the burden of renal diseases among children with renal diseases admitted in JDWNRH from January to December 2018 found that the situation is similar to those reported in other developing countries.

As per the literature review, he said renal diseases among hospitalised children ranges between 1.3 to 8.9 per cent. In his study, it was found that 128 children, that is 7.8 per cent of the total children admitted in the hospital had renal diseases. “This was comparable to studies from other countries.”

The study found that acute kidney injury (AKI) was the most common renal disease associated with morbidity and mortality of those admitted children with renal diseases.

He said AKI is an impairment of renal functions. It is diagnosed when there is either a reduction in urine output or increase of creatinine.

About 48 children were reported to have AKI, followed by acute glomerulonephritis and urinary tract infection with 28.9 per cent or 37 cases each. Congenital abnormality of kidney and urinary tract and nephrotic syndrome constituted 8.6 per cent each.

Of the total deaths, 26 had AKI and two had chronic kidney diseases. The median duration of hospital stay was eight days.

About 40 patients of the total admitted were referred to Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) with a median duration of ICU stay of 6.5 days. Four were referred abroad for further treatment and another five underwent dialysis.

Health officials said children with renal diseases present with non-specific signs and symptoms due to which it often went undetected.

The study recommends improving pediatric renal services which would help in early detection and treatment of such conditions.

He said AKI of infective etiology the most common renal disease associated with morbidity and mortality in the study, is mostly preventable.

“This could be reduced or prevented through education and creating awareness among parents about pediatric renal diseases like it is currently being done for adult chronic kidney diseases, and timely follow up before complications develop.”

The department is currently run by general paediatricians. “We don’t have pediatric subspecialists in the field of nephrology unlike in adult medicine”

While the department has started providing peritoneal dialysis services to the children with AKI since 2018, the department still faces challenges when the older children require hemodialysis as it lacks expertise in pediatric hemodialysis.

He said some complicated cases require certain tests for which the samples are sent to India since it is unavailable in the country and some require referral abroad for renal biopsy and pediatric nephrology consultation.

DPCL finally succumbs to despair

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 16:43

Phub Dem 

Three years after the withdrawal of Superior Kerosene Oil (SKO) subsidy, Druk Plaster and Chemical Limited (DPCL) that manufactures Plaster of Paris from gypsum finally shuts down.

The company issued a notification on its voluntary shutting down on January 13 this year.

After the withdrawal of the subsidy by the government in September 2015, the company decided to shut down its operation, because the factory was reported unviable.

However, the board directed the management to explore alternatives to continue operations. The company then switched to electricity as an alternative. The company recorded more than Nu 5M for the electric calcine system in 2008 which as per the chief executive officer (CEO) of DPCL, Kuenzang Leki failed miserably.

Another attempt in 2013 worth Nu 4M failed when a similar product captured the plaster market.

Considering the failures, he said that the company explored the market for gypsum powder and had been sustaining until last year.

The production of gypsum powder had some issues with the Department of Geology and Mines (DGM). The company was imposed Nu 2.2 million as export royalty and mineral rent in 2018.

Kuenzang Leki said that the gypsum powder did not qualify as ‘value-added’ products.

The company also pursued the case to Samdrup Jongkhar’s dzongkhag court with regard to the irregularities in the interpretation of rules and definition of ‘value addition’. However, the officials withdrew the case considering disadvantages to other associated companies.

Further, DGM notified the company to relocate the factory out of the gypsum mine area. With meagre financial capacity, the management requested DGM for compensation to cover the cost associated with the relocation.

DGM, however, denied paying any compensation because the factory was established as a sister concern of Druk Satair, the CEO said.

“We were asked to relocate factory so that DGM could auction Khothakpa gypsum mine, which may happen in March this year.”

According to Kuenzang Leki the company’s effort to obtain a plot at the Matanga Industrial Park was unsuccessful.

After numerous board meetings, it was resolved that the market for gypsum powder was seasonal which meant the company did not have a long term business prospect considering the cost that might involve in the relocation of the factory, besides the unreliable market for the powder.

He said that there were other manufacturers of gypsum powder.

Subsequently, the board, considering the sustainability of the company recommended processing for winding up of the company voluntarily within December last year.

Implication

The shutdown has forced the company to lay off employees. In 2017, it laid-off at least 19 employees, and 13 more employees were laid-off in December last year.

The company paid Nu 1.2M as a retirement benefit for the 13 employees. An additional Nu 712,029 was also paid as repatriation allowance to the employees.

The Company had invested Nu 4.8M in an associate company- Druk Gypproducts and Chemicals Limited (DGCL) in 2015.

While the parent company—DPCL can recover its investment from DGCL, the CEO said that the company could not recover the investment because DGCL was also considering shutting down due to unsustainable operations.

Accordingly, the company’s notification states that after the third extraordinary general meeting with the shareholders, it was agreed to voluntarily shut down. The meeting also approved the delisting of the company from the Royal Securities Exchange of Bhutan Limited.

The other two Plaster of Paris manufacturing plants, Barma Chemical Industry (BCI) and Bhutan Gypsum Private Limited (BGPL) have shut down in 2017. Most of their products were exported to India and the rest was used locally.

However, DPCL being a public company took years to process the winding-up procedure because the process required the shareholders’ acquiescence.

Distribution of subsidised kerosene to Plaster of Paris manufacturers was withdrawn in July 2016 because of the significant financial implications to the government.

Larjab village’s long dream of a farm road 

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 16:41

… gewog administration says construction will begin next year

Neten Dorji | Trashiyangtse

From the nearest road point at Laishum, residents of Larjab village have to walk four hours to get to their village.

Laishum-Larjab is the only chiwog in the gewog in Jamkhar gewog, Trashiyangtse without a road.

Residents buy basic necessities from Doksum and transport it on their back.

“Without road connectivity, it is difficult,” a resident, Sonam said.

A villager claimed that every time there is an election, the parties and candidates promise them a road.

“All political parties and local leaders pledged to connect our villages, but it is forgotten after the election,” a villager said.

A villager, Ugyenmo said when someone falls ill they have to carry patient on stretchers for more than two hours. “In a year, we have to carry about seven patients to the Jamkhar BHU.” 

She said, evacuating patients is difficult during monsoon season as they have to carry the patient down steep slippery slopes.

Villagers said that they had been requesting the gewog administration for the farm road since 2009. “We don’t understand why the government and gewog administration are holding the farm road.”

It was learnt that the survey for the road was conducted twice in the past 10 years to connect the chiwog to Ninda-Paachu chiwog which has a road.

Laishum-Larjab Tshogpa, Kota said that the need to connect Larjab with a farm road was discussed in the gewog tshogde.

Residents at Larjab said that their village is suitable to grow all crops. “People only grow potatoes for self-consumption, as it is difficult to take it to the market.”

Another villager said that they were growing varieties of vegetables but without a farm road, they only cultivated for self-consumption. Surplus potato and vegetable are given to livestock as fodder.

“More people are leaving the village and the number of empty households (gungtongs) is increasing,” Takchi,79, said. He said only old people are left at the village.

Residents claim that all other four chiwogs and villages were connected with farm roads, except for Laishum-Larjab chiwog.

Villagers said it could be because their village does not have a large number of voters.

Meanwhile, Jamkhar Gup, Karma Tshewang said that the gewog administration is not neglecting the chiwog.

“We are well aware of the problems and the road construction is expected to begin by the next financial year,” he said.

“A survey was done and the gewog administration is waiting to tender the works.”

The gup said the dzongkhag tshogdu has approved Nu 0.25 million from the dzongkhag development grants for the Laishum-Larjab farm road.

Transport United FC to play against team Oil India in the semi-finals

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 16:39

Thinley Namgay

Transport United FC (TUFC) has cruised through to the semi-finals of the All India Chief Ministers’ Gold Cup International Tournament 2020 without a loss.

TUFC will play against team Oil India in the semifinals tomorrow at Jorethang stadium in Sikkim, India. The TUFC defeated Punjab FC (PFC) 2-0 in the quarter-finals on January 14.

TUFC dominated the game right from the kickoff. Kinley Dorji headed in Dawa Tshering’s corner kick and snatched the lead in the second minute of the game. Buoyed by the early goal, TUFC hurled more pressure to the opponent, but the chances were wasted. The first half ended 1-0.

The PFC fought well in the second half, but Tenzin Dorji scored in the dying minute of the game to seal the victory 2-0.  Tenzin Dorji was declared as the “Hero of the Match” and awarded a cash prize of INR 10,000.

TUFC also beat team Indian Navy 1-0 at the same stadium on January 10.  Jigdrel Wangchuk for his contributions became the ‘Hero of the Match’ and bagged the INR 10,000 cash prize.

The official Facebook page of the club stated, “Jigdrel’s control over the ball and beating opponents double his size with ease was cheered by the local crowd, who were behind us throughout the game.”

The local teams from Sikkim have been eliminated from the tournament which has helped TUFC as it became favourites with the home support.

TUFC is the runners up of the 2019 BOB Bhutan Premier league.

The team boasts some talented players such as its skipper Dawa Tshering, who won the most valuable player of the 2019 national league, and the former national goalie Hari Gurung.

A total of 14 teams from India, Nepal and Bhutan are participating in the tournament that began on January 5. The finals will be played on January 19.

Parliament offers gratitude to Their Majesties

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 16:32

Rinzin Wangchuk 

His Majesty The King graced the opening ceremony of the third session of the third Parliament at the Gyalyong Tshogkhang yesterday.

National Assembly Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel on behalf of the members of the Parliament expressed their deepest gratitude to Their Majesties for strengthening Bhutan’s bilateral ties with the two countries of Japan and the United States of America during a royal visit last year. Their Majesties also granted audiences to Bhutanese people, particularly youth studying and working overseas, and imparted words of wisdom and guidance.

“Such noble initiatives from Their Majesties inculcated a sense of belonging to our nation,” the Speaker said.

The Speaker said that during the 112th National Day celebration, His Majesty The  Druk Gyalpo in his Royal address to the nation focused on three broad areas to guide the nation: the need to chart a clear economic roadmap for 21st century Bhutan; the need for creating a smooth and convenient working environment that would maximise output;  and the importance of youth as an asset and equivalent to a country’s health. 

Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that His Majesty shared what other countries take years could be a matter of months for Bhutan to accomplish and commanded that the roadmap should come up within one or two years.

He urged all the people of Bhutan, civil servants, public servants, private sector and the military officials to respond to the call with a deep sense of duty and dedication.

He said that under the visionary guidance of His Majesty, the Desuung programme was rolled out for the security of the nation. It has immensely benefited the country and the people to a greater extent.

Now, His Majesty has announced the Gyalsung programme to enhance the skills and to strengthen the capacity for our youths. “Therefore, the Parliament would like to offer gratitude and prayers for the successful achievement of the Gyalsung programme as per the royal aspirations of His Majesty The Druk Gyalpo,” Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said.

The Speaker said that the joyous announcement of the birth of a royal child to in the Iron Male Rat Year has brought immeasurable joy and sense of pride to the Bhutanese people.

“It is indeed a symbol of eternal continuity of the glorious Wangchuck Dynasty and therefore, we the people would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to His Majesty The Druk Gyalpo and Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen,” he said.

The Parliament also offered sincere gratitude to His Majesty for conferring the recognition of selfless service to the nation with national merit of Druk Wangyal, Druk Thuksey and gold medals to venerable Dorji Lopon and other officials.

Tshogpon Wangchuk Namgyel also expressed gratitude to His Majesty for showing love and compassion to the Bhutanese people all the time.

In October 2019, His Majesty The Druk Gyalpo granted land holding certificate to 4,532 households in Paro, and 131,801 households in other 18 dzongkhags, amounting to a total of 137,745 acres.

Under the patronage of Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen, Bhutan Red Cross Society was established, and the subsequent Act passed by the Parliament. Bhutan’s membership to the recent International Red Cross Society would ensure that the nation will be able to garner aids and assistance during the times of emergency. “Hence, the Parliament would like to offer deep thankfulness to Her Majesty,” the Speaker said.

The Speaker also thanked His Holiness the Je Khenpo and other religious masters for performing numerous kurims (prayers) for the wellbeing and prosperity of the people and the country.

Considered as one of the longest winter sessions, the Parliament will deliberate on new bills, Income Tax Amendment Bill and other tax bills, and ratification of international conventions, agreements, and protocols.

There will also be deliberation on three committee reports on Sustainable Development Goals. The Public Accounts Committee will also present three reports on audits and audit bill will be deliberated in the Joint Sitting of the Parliament.

The winter session will conclude on March 6.

NC to discuss crucial policy issues

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 16:36

Phub Dem 

At a time when Bhutanese are debating whether overseas employment could have been exploited by some individuals and agents to traffic young Bhutanese women to the Middle Eastern countries, the national council (NC) is set to deliberate on legislation and strategies to address human trafficking.

The chairperson of social and culture affair committee of NC, Kesang Chuki Dorjee, said that the issue was of great concern to the nation.

She said that the committee had extensive consultation with the relevant stakeholders and conducted a thorough review. The committee will deliberate the issue and submit the recommendations to the national assembly. Others include review reports on policy issues such as the program initiative towards improving the quality of education, RNR marketing policy review and policies related to vehicle import.

The NC’s economic affairs committee will deliberate on vehicle import issues. The committee’s chairperson, Ugyen Tshering, said that the congestion of vehicles, especially in the urban hubs, was a matter of serious concern.

The import of vehicles increased significantly from 11,990 in 1990 to 150,509 last year.

Ugyen Tshering, however, clarified that the discussion would be carried out based on the congestion in urban hubs such as Thimphu, Phuentsholing, and Paro. 

“The policy recommendation of the vehicle import will not affect the rural communities.”

Speaking at the pre-session in Thimphu yesterday, Jigme Wangchuk, deputy chairperson of NC, said: “After much delay, the session would be caring out numerous deliberations on legislative and policy issues, joint sitting and deliberation on money bills.”

Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2019, the Penal Code of Bhutan 2011 (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2019 which was passed by NA in the last session and sent to the NC, will be re-deliberated. Minister and Minister Equivalent Post Holder’s Entitlement Bill 2019 and Impeachment Procedural Bill of Bhutan 2019 that was deliberated in the 23rd session of the National Council will be re-deliberated as well.

Jigme Wangchuk said that the House would also introduce the review report on the Entitlement and Service Conditions Act for the Holder’s Members and Commissioners of Constitutional Offices of Bhutan and the Lhengye Zhungtshog Bill of Bhutan 2019.

Kesang Chuki Dorjee said that some provision of Lhengye Zhungtshog act 1999 was found redundant. Social and Cultural committee will also deliberate on the Lhengye Zhungtsho  bill in this session of parliament.

Although NC has no authority over the money bills, the house will deliberate on the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2020, the Tax (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan, the Tourism Levy Exemption (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2020, the Fiscal Incentives (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2020, the Goods and Services Bill of Bhutan 2020, Property Tax Bill of Bhutan 2020, Pay Revision (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2020, and the Supplementary Budget Appropriation Bill for the Financial Year of 2019-2020.

The 24th Session of the National Council of Bhutan will commence today and will conclude on March 5, 2020.

Trongsa court cancels former lecturer’s bail 

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 16:35

Nim Dorji | Trongsa

Trongsa court cancelled the bail of the author of the book ‘Turning point’ and former lecturer of Taktse college yesterday.

Trongsa police on January 13 submitted to the court that the content of the book, released recently, was related to the police investigation and sexual harassment case that the author was involved in. Its publication and distribution was sub judice.

The defendant was on conditional bail since July 2019.

A police representative submitted that the publishing and distribution of the book while on bail is contempt of the court and defamation of the investigating Police officers.

As per section 80 of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC) the defendant was given an opportunity for clarification.

The author and former lecturer in his clarification submitted that the book he published was about the turning point of his life based on the true facts and personal experience he had undergone after the prison term and also cited Article 7 of the Constitution.

The court after hearing the defendant’s clarification, reading through the book he had published and his Facebook posts, ruled that the book published and the several posts the defendant made on the social media were related to the ongoing case in the court.

The court stated that the defendant’s act was an act of sub judice as per section 189 of the CCPC.

The defendant is said to have also violated the section 102.1 (A) of CCPC, the section states that a person may be subjected to civil or criminal sanction in accordance with the laws of contempt for interfering with a case, either orally or in writing.

The court found him guilty of violating section 199.4 (D) of CCPC, which states that a person released on bail shall be required to abstain from making any inducement, threat or promise, directly or indirectly to a person acquainted with the facts of the case so as to dissuade the person from disclosing such facts to the court or police.

The defendant was sent back to the police custody.

On the request to issue an injunction order to stop the book’s distribution, the court will hear from Bhutan InfoCom and Media Authority before deciding as they have issued the registration number of the book.

Accountant embezzles more than Nu 8.4M

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 16:34

Tashi Dema

A former accountant of Samdrupcholing drungkhag misused and embezzled more than Nu 8.4 million (M) government funds through fraudulent and deceptive practice.

The Royal Audit Authority (RAA) pointed this out in its financial audit report for July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018.

The accounts assistant, according to RAA, misappropriated more than Nu 5M by forging and tampering documents and records, double, excess and inadmissible booking of pay and allowances, misuse of fund transfer, leave encashment, leave and travel concessions, irregular booking and adjustment of advances and inflating contractors’ claims in 2016-2017 and Nu 3.3M in 2017-2018 financial years.

He was alleged of misappropriating more than Nu 3.25M by forging and tampering pay and allowances of drungkhag officials, more than Nu 1.4M travel claims were deposited into his saving accounts and misappropriated more than Nu 2M from staggering of remittances like loans, advances and rural life insurances through double claim, excess claim, deposit into his personal accounts, payment without bills and passing journal voucher in 2017-2018 financial year.

According to the report, the accounts assistant has prepared salary schedules in MS excel sheet (Out of PEMS) and included ghost employees of other organisation in the salary sheet. “He had asked individuals to deposit the amounts in his personal accounts later.”

It stated that in the month of September 2017, Nu 165,822 was deposited into the saving account of the accounts assistant as his monthly salary although his net payable amount was only Nu 5,314. “He was paid Nu 375,314 in the month of October, Nu 214,410 in November and Nu 165,314 in January 2018.”

The accounts assistant’s wife, who is an office assistant, also took an excess of Nu 52, 568 against her net salary of Nu 9,534. He created a ghost teacher of Pemathang School and paid Nu 185,000 as salary. A former gup of Pemathang gewog was impersonated as a teacher and paid Nu 100,000 in January 2018.

The accounts assistant also impersonated as employees of other sectors such as agriculture, malaria and gewog administration and claimed travel allowances.

He misused funds by inflating contractor’s bill amount by Nu 400,000 in the construction of approach road and maintenance of RNR staff quarter in Martshala gewog. He embezzled Nu 300,000 from Martsahala Central School fund.

Of the Nu 700,885 he misappropriated through deceptive practices, he misused TA/DA of school teachers of remote schools, inflated claims and payments without supporting documents.

RAA stated that there was no dispatch number in the forwarding letters sent to Bank of Bhutan along with cheques, copy of forwarding letters were not endorsed by the drungpa and office copies were not maintained.

He inflated the bills payable to a vegetable supplier of Karmaling HS and misused patient diet budgets.

In 2016-2017 financial year, the accounts assistant was alleged of 24 cases of irregularities, misuse, embezzlement and corrupt practices amounting to more than Nu 3.3M.

According to RAA, the drungkhag administration started operating a separate letter of credit account from the beginning of 2016-2017 financial year but the budget for sectors like schools, malaria programme and land records were retained with dzongkhag administration in Samdrupjongkhar until the end of that financial year.

The accounts assistant was assigned with the task of handling the drungkhag accounts and he booked different amounts in PEMS against the employees and their salary form presented to the bank, created ghost employees in self-prepared excel sheets and later misappropriated the amount.

He also paid excess amounts to employees and later asked them to refund it in his personal account, impersonated as employees of other agencies, misused stipends of students and rural life insurances.

He also embezzled capital budget of Nu 438,000.

RAA also pointed out there was lack of supervision and monitoring controls by supervising officers in the drungkhag and dzongkhag.

It had asked home and cultural affairs ministry to review and take appropriate action against the officials as per law. “The supervising officers are liable for supervisory accountability.”

The drungpa, dzongrab, accounts officer and human resource officer were held liable for supervisory accountability as per section 3.5.4 and 19.5.2 of the Bhutan Civil Service Rules 2018, which mandates the head of agency to be held responsible for subordinate’s corrupt and official misconduct charges. Others involved, including accounts assistants, teachers, gewog administrative officers and former gups were held direct accountability for aiding the accounts assistant.

Meanwhile, it was learnt that the accounts assistant was transferred to Trashiyangtse from Samdrupcholing in 2018 but is now suspended because of the issue.

RAA sent a copy of the report to finance secretary, Samdrupjongkhar dzongdag and Samdrupcholing drungpa.

Where are we going as a nation?

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 16:32

Visibly, Bhutan’s economy is state-dominated. The private sector is hyped as engine of growth. Reality is, however, different.

That the small retailers, startups and vendors cannot navigate the economic course, we must understand. The economy needs big players, investments, innovations and technologies to coach a tectonic shift. Limiting their potential and foiling their enthusiasm could cost the economy.

The global industrial revolution was fueled by innovation to tap enormous energy and that was followed by technological advancement.

Bhutan’s energy quest began with Chukha and, later, Tala. The first government pursued a programme of accelerated hydropower development with a goal of attaining 10,000MW by 2020. The second government slashed it by half because the economy was deemed incapable of dealing with spillover impact.

Even as the country is known for harnessing clean renewable energy in abundance, four villages in Trongsa are yet to see the light, literally. Industrial estates, wherein power-guzzling industries are supposed to come up a decade ago is now on halt.  People in some parts of Dagana, where the prevalence of poverty is high have not witnessed infrastructure developments like roads, bridges and BHUs for three decades. All the while they were promised the benefits of  Sunkosh hydropower project  as it did to towns of Chukha, Gedu, Wangdue and Trongsa. However, Sunkosh has never happened and the people of Dagana have now had it to the neck.

The state of mining companies has been in limbo for ages with governments waddling with mining policy and proposing amendments to the mines and minerals management Bill, which is yet to be tabled.

Banks are on a lending spree, that too chiefly biased towards inward-looking (consumption-based) policy. Investment in the capital market is skewed, remittances are on the decline, hydropower, according to some experts, are showing symptoms of Dutch disease. The private sector is contingent on government investment, government’s effort to promote Bhutan as investment destination fell short and the small market size makes the matter all the worse.

In short, the country lacks economic direction.

Getting to the basics, the proponents of the licensees for the industrial estates, for instance, pointed out lengthy approval procedures, incompetent project appraisal officials at the banks, delay in issuance of environment clearances and land lease certificate as some of the reasons establishment of industries is delayed. Isn’t it the government’s responsibility to create an enabling environment and private sector’s to explore market, call for investment and innovation.

To drive the engine of growth, our bureaucrats and policymakers must understand that drivers, be it an individual or groups must be compensated for their investment. If wealth accumulation by a few individuals is a concern, the Indian economy wouldnot have reached where it is today.  Ambani, Tata and Godrej, to name a few, have had the Indian economy running by creating jobs and horizontal business opportunities.

Nevertheless, Bhutan being a GNH-led economy should be wary about the consequences of crony capitalism. Businesses must thrive on risks and innovations,  rather on returns amassed through a nexus between a business class and the political class. This may be food for thought for young and enterprising Bhutanese in the 21st century.

Health issues mounting in the mountains

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 16:32

Chimi Dema

About half the women examined for cervical cancer in Soe and Lingzhi gewogs of Thimphu in October,  last year showed abnormal Pap smear results. A total of 12 women availed the test. 

A health awareness and screening camp for the hard-to-reach population in Soe and Lingzhi, conducted in September last year revealed that 31 out of 59 women screened for cervical cancer had abnormal Pap smear results. 

This, according to the screening report released recently, is likely to suffer major complications in the future if left undetected and without being treated. The result included inflammation genitals, and fungal and bacterial infection, among others.

Thimphu dzongkhag health officer (DHO), Kencho Wangdi said that limited knowledge on personal and menstrual hygiene and lack of awareness about genitourinary infections and cervical cancer could have led to problems among women in highland communities.

“Poor practice of using contraception could also have caused the abnormality,” he said.

Of the 64 people who availed voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) for human immunodeficiency virus and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), only one was found positive for Hepatitis B infection. Another two persons tested positive for treponema hemaglutination pallidum assay (THPA), a sexually transmitted disease.

Based on the severity of cases, the women were given necessary treatment and medication, the DHO said.

Besides providing health services, the dzongkhag health sector, with support from the Ministry of Health and Bhutan Foundation also conducted health awareness campaign where people were advised on the priority public health problems and other prevention measures.

The screening report also  found that about 26 percent of the 87 adults screened for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) were found overweight and six percent obese.

Overweight, largely referring to an excess amount of body fat can increase the risk of many health problems, including type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and hypertension, among others, some studies state.

Studies have shown that the prevalence of overweight and obesity also reflects the greater availability of cheap calories from fatty and sugary foods in the market.

The nine percent of the total adults screened were diagnosed with pre-diabetes and two percent with diabetes. Of the total, four suffered from severe hypertension and 15 from mild hypertension.

Kencho Wangdi attributed the prevalence of non-communicable diseases among highlanders to dietary habits. “It could be because they consume large quantities of dairy products and other fatty food items,” he said.

He said that irregular physical exercise could also have led to weight gain.

The health awareness and screening programme screened 230 people from Soe, Lingzhi and Naro and also a few guests and tourists who attended the last Jomolhari festival.

Meanwhile in the September test, about 82 percent of the total 173 adults screened for NCDs were  found pre-diabetic.

In Lingzhi alone, about 43 percent of people were diagonised with hypertension including two severe cases in Chebesa village.

Today, Soe is home to 182 people living in 29 households. Lingzhi has a population of 490 individuals and 94 households.

Pages