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OCP clarifies on ‘Reckless and predatory prices of goods’

Tue, 09/08/2020 - 15:14

This has reference to the article titled “Reckless and predatory prices of goods – A necessary reform” published in the Kuensel issue dated September 5, written by Mr Sonam Tshering, Lawyer, Thimphu.

The Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) appreciates the personal opinion expressed by the author and assumes that the article must have been written in the interest of society at large. However, the OCP noticed that the author has relayed serious erroneous information through the article which is completely unfounded and could have been easily avoided had the author sought clarification from the office before publishing it or a simple click on the Ministry’s website would have served the intended purpose of the author about the lack of ‘Price Catalogue’.

Since the establishment of the OCP in 2014, which the author misconstrued as a decade old, the office has been publishing Market Price Information (MPI) or ‘Price Catalogue’ of the essential goods from the major dzongkhags and thromdes on a quarterly basis to provide choices to the consumers through competitive prices of goods and facilitate informed purchase decisions. Simultaneously, the office has been advocating on the accessibility of MPI through various platforms to enable consumers to make informed purchase decisions and report to OCP in the event of unreasonable prices being charged by the business entities. And with the detection of the first Covid-19 case in the country, the office started collecting the MPI of essential commodities from all dzongkhags and thromdes on a daily basis to track and monitor the price of the goods and has been publishing it on official websites and gazettes from time to time.

Further, in anticipation of the price issues during lockdown, the office has been sensitising the shops authorised to operate to display prices mandatorily and sell at the prices effective before lockdown. The Office has been also collecting the MPI of essential commodities from the shops operating during lockdown and comparing with the MPI collected before lockdown to track the price escalation and monitor price manipulation. Through this, the OCP has been able to take appropriate action against the business entities engaged in unfair trade practices. The same exercise is being carried out in all 20 dzongkhags, drungkhags, gewogs and thromdes to ensure the protection of consumers’ economic interest during lockdown.

In addition, in a situation where the market prices could not be left to the market forces due to abnormal conditions such as a current pandemic, the office has been leveraging on relevant agencies to temporarily fix the prices of some of the essential commodities wherever possible and enforce it. For instance, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests have determined and fixed the market prices of vegetables and the OCP ensured that these prices are implemented by business entities.

In cognizance of vulnerabilities of the consumers amid current pandemic and heightened risk of exposing  them into untoward economic situations through exploitation by unscrupulous business entities, the OCP is carrying out consumer protection activities and continues to explore every possible avenue to strengthen the system to effectively carry out the activities.

As the government ensures seamless supply of all required essential commodities clubbed under 21 broad categories, the consumers as part of their responsibility are requested to exercise due care while making any purchase decision and always ask for money receipt. Consumers are encouraged to report to the OCP through a toll-free number 1214 for any unfair trade practices and seek redresses/compensations in the event aggrieved by the unscrupulous business entities. To promote fair-trading and ensure consumer protection is a collective responsibility whereby we call for solidarity of everyone.

Lastly, the term “predatory pricing” in the article is misleading and inappropriately used. From an economic standpoint, it refers to the dominant firms deliberately lowering the prices of goods and services with the intention to force out the competitors from the market and restrict new entries. Such practices should be beneficial to the consumers through cheaper prices but the author has completely misplaced the context.

This clarification is being issued to provide right information to the general consumers.

Office of Consumer Protection, 

Ministry of Economic Affairs

Youth step up to help FCBL facilitate import and export

Tue, 09/08/2020 - 11:42

Goods diverted to Gelephu after Pling declared red zone

Nima | Gelephu

The Food Corporation of Bhutan in Gelephu employed 14 youth volunteers as it readies to facilitate import and export after Phuentsholing was declared a red zone and movement of vehicles strictly restricted.

The volunteers are engaged in unloading essential commodities coming from India and load goods that are supplied to other dzongkhags.

FCB received over six truckloads of imported consignments, mostly essential commodities, in the past five days from Siliguri, India. These consignments were otherwise handled through the mini dry port in Phuentsholing.

FCB’s regional manager, Ugyen Choedup said the volunteers were employed as the office was running short of manpower. “Most stocks from Siliguri are diverted here since Phuentsholing is declared a red zone,” he said.

He added that FCB would also be importing tomatoes, onions, and betel leaves from India.

The youth volunteers are kept in a containment centre with strict compliance to Covid-19 protocols set by the dzongkhag Covid-19 task force. The team consists of those who had lost jobs to the pandemic, teachers and students.

The team will have to unload a minimum of nine truckloads of consignments in a day, supported by officials from FCB. Ugyen Choedup said that the youth are paid a monthly remuneration of Nu 12,000 besides food and lodging supports.   

To ensure none of the members are exposed to the virus, no contacts would be entertained.

While expatriate labourers are not easily available, they demand high charges, according to FCB officials.

A volunteer, Ganga Ram Ghalley said the group had always been looking for an opportunity to help the country during the pandemic.

Expatriate workers from Bihar and day workers from the nearby Indian town of Dathgari did most loading and unloading tasks in Gelephu until the Covid-19 lockdown enforced border sealing in March this year.

Since then, most enterprises and related government agencies had been facing a shortage of manpower. The 14 youths currently working with FCB are among the 50 youths registered with the labour ministry office in Gelephu for loading works.

Regional director, Sonam Bumtap said it is also an opportunity for Bhutanese to take up the task that was mostly done by foreign workers.

“Bhutanese are not interested in this type of work. It is the right time to encourage them on a voluntary basis when the country is in need,” he said.

The remaining youth volunteers will be deployed for similar works when the mini dry port for export and import is ready.

The FCB auction yard in Gelephu received over 18 metric tonnes of potatoes from Bumthang yesterday and the auction would be carried out online using WhartsApp.

Opposition Party embraces new leadership

Tue, 09/08/2020 - 11:41

MB Subba

MP Dorji Wangdi takes over as the new OL

Zhemgang’s Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi will lead the sixteen-member Opposition Party as the new Opposition Leader (OL) in the National Assembly for the remaining three years of the tenure.

The party secretariat sought the endorsement of his nomination from the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) members due to Covid-19 safety protocols, according to officials from the party secretariat. The outgoing OL Pema Gysmtsho (PhD) also officially handed over the office yesterday.

Dorji Wangdi was the lone candidate for the post and it was learnt that there was a consensus among the DPT MPs to appoint him as the OL.

The effectiveness of the Opposition Party to play a constructive role and hold the government accountable largely depends on the leadership of the OL. The Constitution mandates the Opposition Party to ensure that the government and the ruling party function in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution, provide good governance and strive to promote the national interest and fulfill the aspirations of the people.

On his appointment as the OL, Dorji Wangdi said, “I am deeply humbled and honored to be entrusted with the responsibility. My sacred duty will be to steer our party to fulfill the vision of His Majesty The King and aspirations of the people.”

On his resignation, the outgoing OL said that it was his long-held wish to pursue his passion and interests in rural development, environment and natural resources management.

“I would like to pay my humble tribute to His Majesty The King for all the blessings and enlightened guidance that I received over the years,” Pema Gyamtsho said.

He will join the Kathmandu-based International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) as its Director General in mid-October.

Pema Gyamtsho said that he was confident that MP Dorji Wangdi would provide leadership to the party both inside and outside Parliament. He expressed his hope that the party would grow ever stronger to serve the Tsa-wa-sum under the leadership of the new OL, who is a three-time MP and one of the three vice presidents of the party besides being a former labour minister.

Although he has quit active politics, Pema Gyamtsho said he would always be at the service of the nation regardless. “I will continue to strive to do what is best for strengthening of the timeless institution of our Monarchy, the security of our country and the well-being of our people,” he added.

At the handing-taking ceremony at the National Assembly, Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that the outgoing OL had demonstrated exemplary leadership both as OL and Member of Parliament in the past 12 years.

He said that the outgoing OL had been a source of guidance and wisdom for Parliament and has contributed immensely to the strengthening of democracy since its establishment.

Thromde clears city footpaths

Tue, 09/08/2020 - 11:40

Chhimi Dema

The city footpaths in Thimphu are normally choked with vendors selling all manner of goods. There are food sellers and lottery dealers. And there are sellers of religious items. Occasionally, the streets are made smaller and more unpretty with drifters and beggars.

This is going to change. The Thimphu Thromde has taken a drastic step. Officials from the thromde, police, and De-Suung have dismantled the temporary structures and cleared the footpaths near the Centenary Farmers’ Market (CFM) on September 4.

A shopkeeper at the CFM area said that thromde made several attempts to clear the footpaths and the temporary structures. “After the officials leave, the shopkeepers display their goods on the footpaths again.”

A taxi driver from Thimphu said that it was much safer now for pedestrians with the footpaths cleared. “There was no space for us to walk with goods laid on the footpath.”

A 37-year-old woman who had come to shop said that with the footpath cleared people would now be able to maintain physical distance.

“It is also easier and comfortable for us to shop,” she said.

Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said that health protocols were not followed in the area. “Lines were not drawn for physical distancing. Although hand washing stations and Druk Trace codes were there nobody was using them.”

Shopkeepers can display their goods only till kachhen (pillars) of the shops but not beyond, Kinlay Dorjee said.

A shopkeeper said: “Thromde should monitor the area every day. If that does not happen, the shopkeepers could display their goods outside again.”

Wangmo, 33, a shopkeeper, said that the thromde’s initiative was good. “Welfare of the whole community should be considered.”

Kinlay Dorjee said that henceforth the shopkeepers would be monitored from the CCTV cameras installed by the police.

“If people are building temporary structures or displaying their goods on the footpaths, police would take immediate action,” he said.

Brighter side of the pandemic

Tue, 09/08/2020 - 11:39

Streets, offices, businesses all came to life with the third phase of unlocking coming into effect yesterday. We could literally hear the sigh of relief as people returned to work and resumed “normal” life.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the measures it forced left all our plans distraught. It disrupted businesses and life. It will take a long time to shake off the impact. However, there is a bright side, which if we reflect, is coming out of a pandemic.

The 21-day lockdown has been a catalyst in driving many organisations, government or corporate, to rethink and send them to the drawing board to strategise or come with new and innovative ways in managing challenges posed by the pandemic. For many it came as an enlightening experience, as it forced us to tackle sudden challenges, starting from decision-making to workforce productivity or operations.

We cannot avoid a pandemic, but it certainly taught us to be resilient and agile when faced with a crisis situation. Crisis management, for sure, would be a subject we would be talking about for a long time.

A lot of conventional systems would change. Working for Bhutanese means sitting on a table in an office. A lot of the decisions are made from home or using technology which enabled people to meet even during the lockdown. A lot will remain and be a part of our new working culture.

Meanwhile, the pandemic also enabled us to enforce a lot of rules or new ideas that were resisted before Covid-19 came. The national referral hospital in Thimphu, for instance, had been trying to enforce the one-patient-one-attendant rule for years. It became possible during the pandemic. A big challenge for those managing the hospital was overcrowding. This was not because of patients, but visitors carrying eggs, energy drinks or frozen chicken to hospital wards.

Doctors at the hospital say that the self-referral trend overwhelms the hospital. During the lockdown people made best use of the basic health units or the dzongkhag hospitals.  This should be the normal now.

Doctors prioritising patients referred from BHUs, dzongkhags or insisting on referral letters could discourage self-referrals. At the same time, adequate facilities in the capital city are necessary to screen patients. A good example is the flu clinics that prevented people from visiting the referral hospital. Another effective way would be people stopping to drop names and use influence when visiting the hospital.

Beyond the hospital, the thromde office managed to get rid of the extension that blocked the footpath at the lower market. The thromde tried it before. The risk of crowding convinced the vendors to clear the area. They should not come back. With footpaths blocked by vendors, it is risky for shoppers as they compete with vehicles for the little space at the busy market.

As we learn to live with the pandemic, there surely will be several brighter sides to look into.

Walking home during lockdown

Tue, 09/08/2020 - 11:38

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Two cousins, Meg Bahadur Tamang, 45 and Dhan Bahadur Tamang, 30 decided to return home in Tading, Samtse when they heard Meg Bahadur’s 70-year-old mother was sick.

They were working at a construction site in Samar gewog, Haa and were stuck after the nationwide lockdown on August 11. After seeking help from Samar gewog, the cousins were allowed to go home. But the permission allowed them to go home only “by foot” and in two days. They were asked to start on September 4 and make it to the destination by the next day.

Ngawang Dramtoe team gets a meal after walking for more than 12hrs

Meg Bahadur said taking the Haa-Samtse road on foot would have been too long, about 95km approximately. They decided to take the shortcut, the old cattle migration route.

They halted at the Sektena tshogpa’s house the first night.

On the evening of September 5, the duo reached Dorokha, exhausted and hungry. Meg Bahadur said the journey was arduous, as he had never walked the route. It also rained on the way as they crossed streams and jungles infested with leeches.

Dhan Bahadur said that their employer had also offered to send them in their vehicle.

“But vehicle was not allowed. That’s what the gup also said,” he said.

Although the duo had packed meals for the first day of the journey, they managed with zao (puffed rice) on the second day until they reached Dorokha.

In Dorokha, De-Suups and police spotted them and were reported to the drungkhag. Without relatives they were put up in a guesthouse.

“We would like to thank the drungpa for taking care of us. It was such a relief to reach Dorokha,”

The men were thoroughly exhausted and wasn’t even able to walk from Bazar Dara to the drungkhag, a Dorokha resident said. The drungkhag officials arranged a vehicle for them.

On September 6, the drungkhag put them on a vehicle until Halhaley, the road point that connects Samtse, Phuentsholing and Dorokha. From there, they walked more than 10kms to Panbari until they found another vehicle home.

Meg Bahadur said his mother is still sick and that he would have to take her to the hospital soon.

Meanwhile, another group of 10 men from Ngawang Dramtoe village in Tading also reached Dorokha around 11am on Sunday (September 6). They worked at construction sites in Paro and were stuck after the lockdown.

They left from Paro on September 5 in two taxis until Gakidling and then walked more than 30km, along the Haa-Samtse highway, from Rangtse Chhu until Dorokha.

In total, these 10 men spent Nu 25,000 of their construction earnings to get themselves to Gakidling, Haa from Paro.  One of them, Dorji Tshering Lepcha, 23 said it was 11pm when they reached Gakidling on September 5.

“We walked throughout the night and reached Dorokha on September 6,” he said, adding they couldn’t sleep on the way and didn’t get to eat.

“We are so thankful to the drungkhag officials who arranged meals for us.”

Dorji Tshering Lepcha also said that the drungkhag had arranged a vehicle to drop them to Tading the same day.

Kuensel also learned that more than 40 people of Samtse and Chukha had walked from different places in Haa to reach home. Meg Bahadur and Dhan Bahadur walked the longest to reach home.

BAFRA disposes of around 13,000kg chicken 

Tue, 09/08/2020 - 11:37

Chhimi Dema

Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) disposed of 5,000kg chicken from Dagana and 7,045kg from Tsirang last month.

BAFRA’s deputy chief regulatory and quarantine officer, Kaling Dorji, said that meat had to be disposed of because it was spoiled. “Chickens were disposed of based on professional judgement to ensure the safety of the consumers.”

Chicken from Dagana were collected and processed on August 25 and brought to Thimphu on August 26. Whereas, chicken from Tsirang was processed on August 27 and brought to Thimphu on August 28.

Processed chicken were delivered to Thimphu using the same air-conditioned (AC) jumbo truck.

Kaling Dorji said that the meat was spoiled due to the lack of air circulation inside the AC jumbo truck. “Although chickens brought in an AC truck, they were stacked without trays to hold it separately.”

The collection from various farms prolong the holding time–the time between the purchase from the farms and the delivery to Thimphu–which caused chicken to spoil, he said.

In Tsirang, the collection started at around 6am and arrived in Damphu at 9pm At 2am, the chicken was delivered to Thimphu,  he said.

In Dagana, the collection was done in the morning and delivered to Thimphu only at night.

Due to the lockdown, BAFRA officials could not conduct the post-mortem and ante-mortem which was then conducted by the dzongkhag livestock officials.

Chickens were sent by the dzongkhag livestock sector of Dagana and Tsirang to meat shops and Bhutan Livestock Development Corporation Limited in Thimphu.

The spoiled chickens were disposed of at Memelhakha Landfill in Thimphu.

Dairy business improves as lockdown ceases

Tue, 09/08/2020 - 11:36

Yangyel Lhaden

The lifting of lockdown has eased the pressure on Bhutan Livestock Development Corporation Ltd (BLDCL) and allowed it to sell the huge accumulated stock of dairy products.

Three out of four BLDCL outlets yesterday sold Nu 400,000 worth of dairy products. Of that, 60 percent was butter and cheese, Director of BLDCL, Sithar Dorji said.

To meet demand in the capital, the corporation started collecting dairy products from the dzongkhags.  But it far exceeded the requirement and some products were spoilt. Their outlet in Thimphu town was filled with pungent smell of rotten cheese.

BLDCL chief executive officer (CEO), Jigme Wangchuk, said that except for those extremely poor quality cheese, the corporation accepted everything to provide some income to farmers during the lockdown.

Dairy products were collected from individual farmers, farmer groups, and cooperatives. The farmers’ groups and the cooperatives supplied better products than individual farmers, according to the CEO.

During the lockdown, the corporation ran out of storage space as it continued to get large quantities of dairy products. The propensity of cheese to spoil faster and lack of standard packaging and weight made the problems worse.  Dairy products were even sent to cold storage in Khasadrapchu.

To reduce losses from cheese, it was dried and vacuum packed. About 100 kg of cheese which had gone bad was converted into dried cheese.

The dairy products are usually bought weekly as per the outflow of the products from the outlets. At the start of lockdown, the corporation had about 100kg of butter and cheese.

During the lockdown, BLDCL started to procure dairy products from other dzongkhags through dzongkhag livestock sectors.

Between August 15 and September 5, BLDCL collected 132,419 balls of cheese (around 16,522 kg) and 7,856kg of butter. In the same period 63,973 balls of cheese- around 7,997kg and 4,240kg of butter were sold.

“Dairy products are slow-moving product, meaning the sale was slow as one kg of cheese could suffice a nuclear family of four for a week,” Jigme Wangchuk said.

The sale is going slow but with the relaxation of lockdown on September 1, sale improved. Many people came to the outlets to buy. The corporation could also restock private shops all over the zones and even outside Thimphu Thromde to Jemena.

Among the dairy products, cheese has the lowest shelf life. About 80 percent of eggs are sold. Butter has not gone bad and if it does the corporation is looking into converting it into clarified butter.

Sithar Dorji also said that everything procured by the corporation would be fully used and sold back and relaxation of lockdown had boost up the sale.

“Winter is coming which means demand for dairy products will be higher as supply will fall. So drying cheese and clarifying butter makes good business sense.”

PDP objects Tenzin Lekphel’s nomination for the post of BIMSTEC SG  

Tue, 09/08/2020 - 11:35

Accuses government of handing out political favours 

Younten Tshedup 

People’s Democratic Party (PDP), in press releases yesterday, has asked the government to review its decision on the nomination of Tenzin Lekphel as candidate for the secretary general (SG) of BIMSTEC.

The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) government recently nominated Tenzin Lekphel, one of the founders of the DNT party as the SG of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).

PDP has questioned Tenzin Lekphel’s nomination based on two grounds.

Questioning his capability and experience, PDP in its press release stated that although Tenzin Lekphel, DNT’s two-time Bartsham-Shongphu candidate, has a Master of Science in Agriculture Development, he has not demonstrated experience in regional or international relations and diplomacy.

The press release stated that while the party (PDP) rejoices at the prospect of Bhutan leading the BIMSTEC with the appointment of the country’s first SG for the organisation, the party was ‘deeply concerned’ with the government’s nomination.

PDP stated that with the highest regard for regional organisations like SAARC and BIMSTEC, Bhutan in the past has had individuals with distinguished careers and experienced diplomats take up prominent positions in such organisations.

Also with other member states appointing former ambassadors and senior diplomats for the post of BIMSTEC SG, PDP stated that a vital position like that of SG of a regional organisation required a more experienced individual.

“We urge the DNT government to review its decision and nominate a candidate that would not only be in the best interests of the country but also appointed in a manner that does not favor nepotism over merit and experience.”

PDP stated that although BIMSTEC is an economic forum, political commitment is key to its success. “Therefore, appointing a secretary general with respectable rank and experience will be of paramount importance in order to fulfill the mandate of BIMSTEC and steer it through the increasingly uncertain times.”

It further stated that, “Despite its small size and economy, Bhutan has till date, rendered quality and exemplary leadership to regional and international organisations to which we are parties, and must continue to do so.”    

A political move? 

PDP has reasoned that the appointment of Tenzin Lekphel as the SG of BIMSTEC was politically driven.

The party stated that since the beginning of parliamentary governance in the country, there were concerns of the civil and public service system being flooded with political appointees. Thereby, rendering the civil service ineffective and irrelevant.

It also stated that the DNT government has appointed political nominees in the Prime Minister’s Office, with ‘lucrative remunerations and perks’.

“The appointment of non other than its co-founder and two time former Bartsham-Shongphu candidate as the SG of BIMSTEC not only imperils the once-in-twenty-one years opportunity that Bhutan gets to serve as SG of BIMSTEC, but also sends a wrong signal to the thousands of qualified civil servants that important posts will, henceforth be in the domain of political parties.”

According to the party, active connivance of such political favoritism and nepotism based on party affiliation instead of merit and experience by the Upper House and the Opposition compelled PDP to voice its concerns.

“While we know that DNT is rewarding Tenzin Lekphel for his years of service to the party, the position of SG of BIMSTEC is too critical to be handed out as a political favor,” the press release stated. “If this system of political appointees is allowed to be carried out without any checks and balances, many more such appointments will follow as rewards for political support, which is an unhealthy trend that Bhutan can ill-afford.”

PDP also stated that Bhutan has a highly qualified human resource pool with plenty of serving and retired bureaucrats including retired secretaries and ambassadors fitting the position of SG.

“Ultimately, what is important is the long term interests of the nation, and in this political party interests should be secondary. After all, the position of the SG is for Bhutan and not for a political party in the government.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the government of the day has the authority to nominate individuals for any such appointments.

Moreover, Lyonpo said that all the member countries had agreed to the nomination and were happy to have an experienced individual as the country’s nomination.

Lyonpo had earlier said that the BIMSTEC secretariat would propose a meeting of foreign ministers to endorse the nomination formally.

Export dropped to 20 percent during lockdown

Mon, 09/07/2020 - 11:23

Economic affairs minister optimistic about minimising the economic impact of lockdown

MB Subba

Export of goods from major industries declined to around 20 percent of the normal export capacity during the three-week nationwide lockdown, according to the economic affairs minister Loknath Sharma.

Overall export (export from major industries and other goods), however, he said could have decreased to 10 percent. This comes in the light of GDP having contracted by 6.7 percent and the domestic revenue reduced by 70 percent in view of the nationwide lockdown.

The economic affairs minister said that the government was able to facilitate the export and import activities since the second week of the lockdown although the country could not export anything in the first week.

“We exported whatever was manufactured by our industries in Pasakha in Phuentsholing and Motanga in Samdrupjongkhar from the second week of the lockdown,” he said.

He said that about 52 industries, especially the big ones, functioned in a self-contained mode during the lockdown.

The recently opened land customs station at Allay in Pasakha, he said, also helped export and import of goods between Bhutan and India. Import mainly was of raw materials for the manufacturing industries.

“There was no complete halt in the export of goods. Even now, we are facilitating the export of cash crops like potatoes from Samdrupjongkhar and other points,” Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said.

The government, he said, also tried to continue importing goods, mostly industrial raw materials, from Phuentsholing and the Alay land customs station by following the Covid-19 safety protocols to keep the economy running. 

Import of goods reduced to around 10 percent during the lockdown.

“We did not have to rush to import essentials as we had maintained a buffer of such goods. That strategy really worked well and those goods imported by the Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCB) and other wholesalers are still helping us,” he said.

The country, economic affairs minister said, did not face much problem during the lockdown in terms of availability of essential goods. He said that the government, however, continued to facilitate the import of goods like fuel and LPG.

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that export of goods, including apples, would not be affected despite the Covid-19 situation. He said that a standard operating procedure (SOP) has been put in place to carry on with export activities.

“As it is, we have allowed normal activities in gewogs and villages. The offices will open from tomorrow and things are expected to return to normalcy to some extent,” he said, adding that the Phuentsholing mini dry port is also preparing to facilitate the export of all goods.

The economic affairs minister said that the damage of the 21-day should not be “too bad” on the economy if further lockdowns do not come. Except for the agricultural works in rural areas, economic activities came to a halt during the lockdown.

The positive side of the lockdown, he said, was that the export of electricity continued unaffected.

The lockdown, he said, helped the government stop transmission of Covid-19 although some damage has been done to the economy. He said that the government was trying to maintain a balance between the need to protect the people’s health from Covid-19 and to keep the economic activities running.

“Life is very important. At the same time, livelihood is important,” he said.

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that although the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown have impacted the economy, the “devastating impact” can be saved if the economic activities resume quickly with the lifting of the lockdown,” he said.

Citing the examples from other countries, he also highlighted the challenges involved in unlocking the country saying that such countries have seen spikes in Covid-19 cases.

He also highlighted the challenges of operating small business houses in small economies like Bhutan during the pandemic. The country, he said, had many small family-run industries and that they are difficult to be operated in a self-contained mode.

 

Import substitution

On import substitution, the minister said that it was difficult to substitute almost everything due to the small economies of scale. “The ministry has carried out a study on the possible areas of import substitution. The cost of labour and production is high in many cases,” he said.

The government, he said, was facilitating Cottage and Small Industries (CSI) in production of goods like noodles and tissue papers with the aim of substituting imports. He said that the government would help farmers with technology in production and preservation of dairy products.

Lyonpo said that it has been a challenge so far to make the dairy products non-perishable. “These are ongoing works and the Covid-19 has stressed our focus on import substitution,” he said, adding that the government would help those industries that will contribute in import substitution.

Offices open but movement outside dzongkhags restricted

Mon, 09/07/2020 - 11:22

… saloons, barbershops, garment shops and footwear shops to remain closed

Yangchen C Rinzin

All offices will resume full-time today and in addition to public transport, private cars will be allowed to move within the dzongkhags as the final phase of unlocking the lockdown begins.

However, this will not apply to high risks areas like Phuentsholing, Samdrupjongkhar, Samtse, and Gelephu.

All cars must carry only half the capacity unless one is accompanying a child or an elderly of the same family.

Offices have to operate within the Covid-19 norms like physical distancing, compulsory facemasks and handwashing at all times. The offices should also keep options for “work from home” or introduce a shift system.

The Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) has asked all the government agencies to reconfigure physical office environment/setup and working procedures to align the health protocols under “new normal”.

All government offices should have hand washing facilities and resources like hand sanitisers for staff and clients, including proper safe distance marking within the office.

According to the official reminder from the RCSC to head of agencies, the “new normal” will entail new working arrangements working as normal, working from home (WFH) and work in split teams.

If the office space allows for sufficient, safe physical distance while delivering services, the staff could work from the office as usual. If it does not have enough space, the staff would be split into teams and work alternatively every week.

However, WFH like pre-lockdown will apply to only those staff who have breastfeeding babies, children below the age of one and those who have serious health issues. The commission has also come up with guidelines for WFH, which is mandatory for all agencies to follow.

“If required, an agency can customise it to their specific requirements,” the letter stated.

Given the uncertainty of Covid-19 virus and lockdown, RCSC has also asked all the public agencies to draw staff engagement plans to be prepared for any future lockdowns and subsequent re-openings.

For instance, a staff engagement plan developed by RCSC secretariat for post lockdown states that there should be a fortnight timetable for WFH, weekly virtual meetings with divisions or services, and standards of hygiene at RCSC like providing a welcome back kit. The kit will consist of facemasks and sanitisers.

All the agencies would also be required to identify staff for deployment during lockdown to continue providing critical services. To ensure a safe office, RCSC instructed that offices could disinfect frequently, use telecommute, video and teleconferences whenever possible.

The RCSC also suggested cancelling non-critical work or events and personal gatherings, 20 minutes weekly cleaning sessions, and staff must take leave if they fall sick or show any flu-like symptoms.

Similarly, private, corporate, state-owned enterprises and non-governmental organisations are also working on the WFH while few offices have implemented shift system pre-lockdown.

Meanwhile, the inter-dzongkhag movement will be allowed only from September 11. The vehicles must seek prior permission from the police.

The vehicles would be allowed to carry only 50 percent of passenger capacity unless minors and elderlies from the same family.

Registration portals are also being created, which will include online registration, help-line calls and physical registration at identified offices or nearest check posts.

However, a press release from Prime Minister’s Office stated that with the increasing number of people seeking to travel to other dzongkhags, which also increases the risk of infection, the government has decided to discontinue the movement of stranded people in all the dzongkhags, except Phuentsholing thromde.

An official from the PMO said that it was decided to continue facilitating the movement of the stranded people from Phuentsholing because it had protocols in place such as a mandatory three-day quarantine and testing upon release.

The Southern Covid-19 taskforce will continue to facilitate their travels out of Phuentsholing.

The government has also decided to allow shops like electronics, printing and furniture units to operate from today. The barbershops and saloons, non-essential shops like garment and footwear will continue to remain closed given the associated risks.

Public gatherings or outdoor activities like picnic, hiking or visiting spiritual sites will still be restricted.

While institutions like RBA, RBP, RBG, IMTRAT, and Project DANTAK will continue to operate in self-containment for another four days.

“Medically, those who get the infection start becoming symptomatic by the second or the third day. It peaks around the end of the first week and so far we’ve not recorded new cases. However, it doesn’t mean we’ve come out of the risks,” the PMO’s press release stated.

KHEL construction picks momentum 

Mon, 09/07/2020 - 11:21

Neten Dorji | Trashiyangtse

With evaluation of the techno-commercial bids for the main work, contracts for the main civil works, including the construction of the dam, headrace tunnel and the powerhouse of the 600MW Kholongchu Hydro Energy Project (KHEL) in Trashiyangtse is expected to begin by the end of 2020 or early next year.

“No time was lost in upping this momentum,” said a senior Bhutanese officer. “Despite restrictions posed by the pandemic, we completed the evaluation of techno-commercial tenders and are currently working on financial evaluation.”

The officer said that over 2,500 workers would be engaged during peak construction periods. “A bulk of the labour requirement will involve those for contractors, but they are to employ Bhutanese first.”

He, however, added that there was labour shortage in the country. “Since several categories of skilled workers are required in the project, labour shortage might have to be met from outside,” he said.

The two project implementers, Druk Green Power Corporation and Indian firm Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited will be contributing the equity portion of the financing. The debt portion is expected to be available by 2021.

According to the officer, KHEL will facilitate with government authorities and relevant agencies on foreign labour recruitments.

“With pandemic situation, we are taking up the issue separately with ‘Covid-19’ task forces,” he said. “We are working closely with DGPC and other relevant agencies to ensure the recruitment of labourers now and in the future within the parameter of the ‘Covid-19 norms and protocols.”

He said the on-going lockdown in India would directly affect movement, procurement and transportation of construction inputs of the projects.  “Since the project of such scale will require frequent crossborder movement of labourers, materials and other services, the compliance to decontaminate materials and quarantine people could lead to delays.”

KHEL has spent Nu 3.3 billion as of June 2020.

The majority of expenses, exceeding Nu 2.00 billion, were made on the infrastructure such as access roads, bridges, site offices, colonies, office complexes and other assets.

Construction of the project colony in Doksum is underway.

The Nu 54.82 billion project excluding the costs for transmission systems is expected to be completed by 2025.

Punakha farmers unhappy with chilli price

Mon, 09/07/2020 - 11:20

Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha

Farmers in Punakha are unhappy with chilli price in the market.

However, most are appreciative of the dzongkhag’s initiative to collect the vegetables to avoid rotting.

Barp, Toedwang and Chhubu gewogs in Punakha are the major producers of vegetables in the dzongkhag.

According to Chhubu’s agriculture extension officer, Tshering Lhamo, until late August, the gewog sold around 9.2 metric tonnes (MT) of vegetables—9,080kg small chillies, 554kg beans and 332kg big chillies, among others.

This, she said, included sales made to vendors in Punakha and other dzongkhags.

Kinley, a farmer from Barp gewog, said that under different circumstances, small chillies fetched around Nu 350 per kg in the market, which dropped to Nu 180 after the lockdown. Today, small chilli sells at Nu 200 per kg.

“We heard that the price of a kg of small chilli is Nu 400 in Thimphu,” said Kinley.

Bumtakha-Tempakha chiwog Tshogpa, Namgay Tshering, said that while farmers had expected at least Nu 250 per kg for small chilli, many understood the nation’s situation. “But there are some who are unhappy with the price.”

The dzongkhag officials today offer price in accordance with the local market price offered by the Department of Agriculture Marketing and Cooperatives.

Most of the vegetables from Punakha are sold in Thimphu.

Collections and transportation of vegetables are managed by the dzongkhag administration.

Bhutanese food delivery man abused in Perth

Mon, 09/07/2020 - 11:19

Staff Reporter

A Bhutanese, working as a food delivery driver in Perth, was sprayed with a hose for being late with a KFC order.

The incident occurred at Freemantle, one of the suburbs in Perth, on the night of September 2.

The incident was reported in Australian television and online media after the abuser posted a video of the incident. The audio-visual news about the incident has been circulating in social media groups and has gone viral at home.

In the video footage of the abuse, the Bhutanese known as Karma Thinley, who is a father of three was sprayed with water by the customer. He doesn’t retaliate instead he apologises.

The video has generated a huge backlash from fellow Australians on social media, many encouraging Karma Thinley to sue the abuser. If the matter goes to court, the abuser could go to jail and even be imposed a hefty for the crime.

Australian media also reported that the food delivery app that he used to order his dinner from KFC, Menulog has banned him for life.

A source said that Karma has not filed a complaint to the Association of Bhutanese in Perth Ltd. Kuensel also learnt that a donation drive is underway to help him.

Cheesed out?

Mon, 09/07/2020 - 11:18

The capital city’s main thoroughfare, Norzin Lam, is not rotting. But some part of the street sure does smell of rotten cheese as hundreds, even thousands of cheese balls are rotting at the outlet.

Bhutanese, if we may generalise like smelly cheese, is not completely rotten. It is the perfect ingredient of a delicious emadatshi, the easy to cook favourites dish of many. When the government announced the sudden nationwide lockdown, many panicked where to buy fresh cheese or just cheese. Cheese is still an important ingredient in Bhutanese dishes. Butter, not so much as people become more health conscious.

All the cheese and butter was brought to the capital to meet the demand or the assumed demand. Records with the Bhutan Livestock Development Corporation show that over 130,000 balls of cheese and more than 74,000 kilograms of butter was brought to the capital city during the lockdown. Only half of it was sold.

Similarly about 5,000 kilograms of chicken went to waste, as they had to be disposed. This all happened when many were running out of the essential items. Chicken, for most, is a treat even without a lockdown.

The experience has taught us some valuable lessons. What we can be sure of is there is enough supply. What we lack are facilities to encourage those trying to make a living from livestock. We supply, with subsidy, hybrid cattle to farmers, encourage farmers’ cooperatives and many more. What we have missed, learning from this experience is the most important part – linking farmers to the market. And more than that, not letting investment and hard work go into waste.

If the purpose of transportation is to enable the movement of goods, the recent experience has taught us where to invest. We need to invest in facilities that can not only make many live off livestock or horticulture, but achieve the renewed urgency of food self-sufficiency. The need for cold chains, refrigerated vehicles to ensure perishable goods are not damaged was felt with urgency. Availability of dairy products was not a problem.  Storing them, officials experienced, was the main issue during the lockdown.

For our policy makers, this is not bad news. Producing food is a problem. If we can produce enough, we should have the technology, the idea and most importantly, the will to not let them go in waste. If livestock can be a profitable means of livelihood and even employ people, it should receive priority. It should not end with the farmer or a businessman churning out butter and cheese. It should find a market in many forms, fresh or fermented.

The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us a lot of lessons. We have realised how basic needs transcend all our wants. The general feeling is that there will be no new normal, as initially thought. What we are going through is the normal and it is only wise to adapt to this. The pandemic came as a good reminder for the negligence of the agriculture and livestock sector.

If we can learn from this pandemic, food-wise, Bhutanese will be ready for any sort of crisis. If we don’t, we will be remembered as fools for not learning from mistakes.

Many worried as prescribed medicines are stuck in Phuentsholing

Mon, 09/07/2020 - 11:17

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Bhutanese who depend on medicines imported from Jaigaon will have to wait as medicines, even if prescribed, are not being delivered beyond Phuentsholing.

There are at least 10 to 12 “parcels” at the Bhutan Post Corporation Limited (BPCL) office in Phuentsholing. Out of these, eight are ordered from Thimphu and others are from Sipsu, Trashigang and Samdrupjongkhar.

At the gate: Bhutan Post official receives medicines from Jaigaon

Every Wednesday and Friday, BPCL officials in Phuentsholing receive the medicines at the main gate. Prior to this, patients have to call the Dolma Pharmacy in Jaigaon and order their medicine. They can make e-payment.

The medicines are quarantined for a night and then distributed the next day in Phuentsholing.

However, medicines from other places have not been delivered on time because there is no formal and dedicated vehicle for this purpose. BPCL sent eight packages of medicines to Thimphu on September 3 through a stranded vehicle.

The deputy manager with BPCL in Phuentsholing, Sarmilla Chhetri, who receives the medicines and distributes it to the people in the town, said they try to dispatch orders to other places whenever possible.

“But there is no such formal arrangement to send the medicines as of now,” she said.

Meanwhile, with some crucial medicines not available within the country, some are worried. A civil servant in Thimphu has ordered some medicines for his father, a cancer patient, from Dolma Pharmacy in Jaigaon on August 2.

The medicine has been brought to Phuentsholing by BPCL and stuck there since then.

“The medicines are for his heart and blood pressure. They are prescribed by the doctor and not available here,” he said. “I will need the medicines for my father within the next few days.”

Initially, when the border was sealed on March 23, people were allowed to get medicines at the main gate. Jaigaon pharmacies would get the medicine at the gate where Bhutanese made payment in cash or transferred it electronically. This was stopped later and BPCL was given the responsibility to get medicines from Jaigaon and distribute to the people.

In Phuentsholing, after the lockdown, BPCL has made 382 deliveries until August 3.

“I receive more than 100 calls a day,” Sarmilla Chhetri said. “People mostly order medicines from Jaigaon for diabetics and heart disease.”

Thai volunteers stay back to help the country during the pandemic

Mon, 09/07/2020 - 11:14

The two TICA volunteers are currently working at the RCDC 

Younten Tshedup

Behind the face mask and the coveralls (protective suit), it is hard to tell who is who at the virology and molecular laboratory, Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC) in Thimphu.

Ever since the detection of the first Covid-19 positive case in the country in March, RCDC has been functioning round the clock. Keeping up with the ever-increasing testing procedures at the facility are the staffs – laboratory technicians.

Among these laboratory officers involved in performing over 4,000 Covid-19 tests daily, there are two foreigners, who have made this facility (on the outskirts of Thimphu) along with the rest, a home for themselves.

Jib and Nisa are from Thailand and currently assisting the RCDC team with the Covid-19 surveillance and testing of samples. They are volunteers sent by the Thailand International Cooperation Agency (TICA).

Things were much easier when they arrived in the country last October. Every weekend there was a hiking schedule planned among the volunteers and other exchange students in the country.

With most of the hiking destinations in the capital completed, the team had just started to explore locations outside Thimphu. It was in the midst of this adventure, Bhutan detected its first Covid-19 positive case on March 5.

Concerned about their safety and wellbeing, TICA wrote to the volunteers asking them to return to their country.

Mashchimaporn Songsang, who is known as Jib among her friends at RCDC said that after the detection of the first case, several samples started to come to the centre from all across the country.

“There were only six people working throughout the night. It was not appropriate to leave them at that time,” she said.

The three volunteers (two at RCDC and one with the health ministry) wrote to the Thai ambassador in Bangladesh requesting to stay behind. “We couldn’t leave the team when they needed us the most so we decided to stay back and help,” said Jib.

Nisanart Yeamkhong (Nisa) said that even if they had returned to Thailand, the situation there was worse than Bhutan. “We wanted to stay back and be useful and productive for Bhutan.”

Nisa, a pharmacist, is mostly engaged in preparatory works for the laboratory and mainly deals with the management of data and surveillance information that comes in.

“Unlike others I do not get involved in the laboratory activities but it has been a big learning opportunity for me working as a team,” said the 25-year-old. “I’ve learned a lot about management and communication skills and, this, I would take it back home and apply there.”

Jib is a medical lab technologist and thus directly involved in the RCDC’s primary function. With a major in microbiology, the 27-year-old was sent to Bhutan to help the RCDC team with the influenza surveillance.

Besides some issues, mostly with food, the two volunteers said they enjoy working in the country. “Since day one, everyone was welcoming and all worked as a team. We are accepted as a part of the team who is working day in and day out to fight the pandemic,” said Nisa.

She said that although their contract expires in October, if the situation in Bhutan does not improve, they would want to stay back and help. “It would be difficult for me personally to leave my team and friends like this in the middle of the pandemic,” she said.  “And also if they have to find my replacement, they have to start it all from scratch, wasting precious time and money.”

Just like the rest of the RCDC staff, the two volunteers are also living at the facility following the lockdown.

“I can go home if I want to, but in doing so we miss precious time that can be used to test an additional sample or two,” said Jib. “Although it’s not the most comfortable to stay at, it is no time to look for comfort.”

She said that Bhutan is doing very well in containing the spread of the outbreak after the local transmission was recorded. “People here are very fortunate. There are so many people working so hard to keep you all safe. Please follow the protocols and cooperate with the government and the health ministry.”

Meanwhile, RCDC head, Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that since the detection of the first case in the country, the volunteers have been working equally with the rest.

“They have no complaints. They live in the facility, working 24 hours just like the rest of us. They have been very helpful to us especially in these times.”

GDP slumps to negative 6.7 in August

Sat, 09/05/2020 - 11:50

Slowing down of the economy unavoidable: FM

Phub Dem | Paro

As feared, the economy is at its worse and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the conventional yardstick to measure growth, slumped to its lowest in August registering a growth of negative 6.7 percent.

“The economy is really bad. It is worrying,” said a worried finance minister, Namgay Tshering who is in Paro to facilitate and coordinate the functioning of the dzongkhag Covid-19 taskforce with that of the national task force. “The country is already into a recession.”

In the beginning of the current fiscal year, the government projected a GDP of negative 2.3 percent. However, with the nationwide lockdown starting August 11 bringing every business and economic activity to a standstill, the GDP was – 6.7 percent.

People could not do business due to the restrictions imposed to break the transmission chain, lyonpo Namgay Tshering said. “The second wave of the pandemic is on the economy.”

While the government is applauded for its Covid-19 containment measures, there is a lot of criticisms on its handling of the economy.   

Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that the government’s focus was on balancing Covid-19 containment measures and revamping the economy.

However, against the backdrop of the recession, the government plans to initiate a major overhaul of the 12th Plan with drastic shifts in priorities of the developmental activities. “I think it is high time the government bring forward the midterm review to plan a way forward,” said Lyonpo.

Kuensel learnt that the government has asked all the ministries to start readjusting and appropriating budget for the rest of the Plan period. The Gross National Happiness Commission secretariat had been tasked to adjust budget wherever possible.

Meanwhile, the priority of the economic recovery plan will be to boost export and substitute import. Lyonpo said the government should, for instance, intensify export of boulder and explore additional mines and minerals to earn additional revenue. “Government is open to amend Acts and policies to encourage innovative activities to revamp the economy.”

The government has allocated 31 percent on capital expenditure from the 12th Plan budget outlay. The significant jump in allocation, according to lyonpo, was essential to offset the losses. For the last five months alone, the country inflicted economic lost about Nu 5 Billion .

As the government’s spending alone contributes 32 percent to the GDP, Lyonpo said that the government must spend the amount otherwise the impact would be significant. In an economic downturn, he said that the governments should pump in money to boost consumption capacity, and purchasing power of the individual to initiate money flow in the economy.

The government allocated Nu 73B for the current fiscal year. Of the total, Nu 36.2B is allocated for capital expenditure and the remaining for recurrent expenditure.

The domestic revenue is bleak without economic activities in the country. Contribution to the domestic revenue is mainly from hydropower, tourism, and tax revenue. While there is  zero revenue from the tourism industry, tax revenue has decreased by 70 percent, according to the minister. “We are betting on hydropower now.”

Export of hydropower is not affected while the country experienced a favourable hydrology this year, so far.

Recurrent expenditure, as per the Constitution, has to be met from domestic revenue, which in comparison to last year, has reduced by 15 per cent. “We have to adjust from within the envelope,” said the minister.

The government is identifying alternative productive sectors which could contribute to the country’s GDP in short to medium term.

Lyonpo said that the government would facilitate private sector development by improving access to finance and amending policies.  He added that the financial institution should work closely with the government to ensure impactful investment in productive sectors at a favourable lending term.

Future lockdowns will depend on individual responsibility: Health Minister

Sat, 09/05/2020 - 11:50

Says Bhutan should come out as a more resilient nation after the pandemic is long gone 

Younten Tshedup 

With no new cases detected in the past 48 hours (September 2 and 3), the nationwide lockdown has proven effective in preventing further spread of Covid-19.

This is according to Health Minister Dechen Wangmo who said that the nationwide lockdown was imposed at the right time.

If the lockdown was delayed even by a week, the disease would have spread exponentially, she said.

Lyonpo said that although there were no new cases in the past two days, it did not mean that the country was free of the disease. She said that no expert could tell that Thimphu was free of Covid-19.

“This is mainly because it depends on the mode of transmission mode of the virus. Covid-19 is an infectious disease. A single individual is enough to spread it to the rest of the community.”

Giving a hypothetical situation, Lyonpo said that it would take only five days for 13 positive cases to infect the entire population in Bumthang. “It is a highly infectious disease which is why, for now, we cannot ascertain that Thimphu is free of the virus.”

She said that although, for now, there was no infection in the community, the possibility of detecting new cases in the coming days was not ruled out. “What we are saying is that there is no spread of infection in the community for the past two days.”

The minister added that the government drew its confidence to initiate the unlocking phases based on the effective surveillance, which established that there were no major outbreaks in the communities.

Besides the scientific and well-calculated initiatives put in place by the health ministry, Lyonpo said that it was also because of a ‘divine intervention’ that led to the effective execution of the lockdown measures.

“Like the Prime Minister says, for us the local transmission and lockdown all came in a proper manner, which allowed things to go as planned,” she said.

She said that divine intervention, led by His Holiness with several kurims in the country, timely lockdown, detection of cases in a proper manner, and being able to effectively put in containment measures all contributed in keeping the transmission of virus under control.

Positive cases since lockdown

Lessons learned 

Lyonpo said that the first ever lockdown, in itself, was the biggest lesson for both the people and the government. “It allowed us to prepare better for future lockdowns and also oversee and monitor the implementation of our guidelines in the field.”

Besides the monitoring aspects, streamlining of existing systems and improving the health outcomes were some of the other lessons learned during the entire lockdown phase, she said. “We have taken years to promote hand-washing. The people are now growing conscious of this essential public health measure.”

At a wider level, she said that the absence of readily available data was a major challenge for the ministry, especially during contact tracing of positive cases. “We don’t have a data system in place. Everything is compiled manually on paper.”

Drawing inspiration from His Majesty The King, the minister said that Bhutan ought to come out as a more resilient nation after the pandemic is long gone.

She said that in order to achieve this, the country must strive to digitise the existing system and have readily available data. “At any given point of time, we should have access to where Ap Penjo and Aum Pem, for example, are and have been. Only then it would bring us into the 21st century.”

For the ministry to make strategic and timely decisions, Lyonpo said the data was essential.

 

Journey hereon

Without an effective vaccine, the Covid-19 pandemic, experts say, is here to stay. This means more lockdowns could happen based on the severity of the outbreaks.

The Health Minister said that drawing lessons and experiences from the first ever lockdown in the country, the government was preparing a guideline for possible future lockdowns.

The guidelines, she said, would look into all issues and lapses confronted during the first lockdown and streamline them.

The health ministry is mapping what future lockdowns would look like.

“Would it be a nationwide lockdown again or just lockdowns of specific locations and regions? This would depend on how the outbreak would happen including the extent and spread of the infection,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said that future lockdowns and its frequencies would depend on individuals. “If you don’t like lockdowns, you can prevent it. Even if we have the best of guidelines and protocols in place, in the end it is the individual behaviour and responsibility that would determine future lockdowns.”

Govt. nominates Tenzin Lekphel as SG for BIMSTEC

Sat, 09/05/2020 - 11:47

It was Bhutan’s turn to nominate the SG

MB Subba

One the founders of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa, Tenzin Lekphel, is set to become the next secretary general (SG) of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). The government nominated him. 

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the BIMSTEC secretariat would propose a meeting of foreign ministers to endorse the nomination.

He said that all the member countries had agreed to the nomination and that the nomination remains to be formally endorsed by a meeting of foreign ministers. “This time, it is Bhutan’s turn to nominate the SG,” he said.

The role of the secretariat headed by the secretary general is to coordinate and facilitate the implementation of its activities and projects and service the meetings of the organisation.

Meanwhile, a meeting of foreign secretaries of BIMSTEC, which was held virtually a few days ago in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, recommended the appointment of Tenzin Lekphell for the post.

A press release issued by the Dhaka-based BIMSTEC secretariat on September 2 states that the foreign secretaries welcomed Tenzin Lekphel’s nomination for the position.

A meeting of foreign ministers from the member nations is expected to endorse his nomination soon as the tenure of the incumbent SG M Shahidul Islam from Bangladesh expires on September 20. The tenure is for a non-renewable three years.

The BIMSTEC keeps the post of SG open to people from all fields. According to the Memorandum of Association (MoA) on the establishment of the permanent secretariat, the secretary general of the organisation shall be nominated by the member country on the principle of alphabetical rotation.

Tenzin Lekphel said that it was the first opportunity for Bhutan to nominate the SG.

According to the BIMSTEC press release, Sri Lanka, which is the current Chair of BIMSTEC, is ready to host the fifth BIMSTEC Summit in early January 2021.

The foreign secretaries’ meeting finalised some important legal instruments including BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters; Memorandum of Association on the Establishment of BIMSTEC Technology Transfer Facility (TTF) in Colombo, BIMSTEC Charter; and Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Mutual Cooperation between Diplomatic Academies/Training Institutions of BIMSTEC member states.

These legal instruments are envisaged to be signed at the fifth summit.

The meeting agreed to leverage regional cooperation through BIMSTEC process to combat the adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The meeting also approved the MoU between the BIMSTEC secretariat and the Asian Development Bank for enlisting greater project support in the region.

BIMSTEC has identified 14 priority areas. Bhutan takes lead in cultural cooperation. The first BIMSTEC ministerial meeting on culture was held in Paro in May 2006.

The organisation comprises seven members – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand – housing about 1.5 billion people (about 21 percent of the world population) and with a combined gross domestic product of USD3.5 trillion.

The organisation was formed in June 1997 as BISTEC (Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand – Economic Cooperation). Bhutan joined the organisation in 2004 and the grouping’s name was changed to BIMSTEC at the first summit meeting held in Bangkok in the same year.

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