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Her Royal Highness Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck inaugurates six-day mediation skills and techniques training

Wed, 05/10/2017 - 17:11

The president of the Bhutan National Legal Institute (BNLI), Her Royal Highness Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck, inaugurated a six-day mediation skills and techniques training at the Terma Linca Resort in Thimphu on May 8. Dzongkhag tshogdu chairman and deputy chairman of 20 dzongkhags are attending the training.

Small and medium hotel owners question immigration circular

Wed, 05/10/2017 - 17:09

Small and medium hotel owners in Thimphu have raised concerns that the recent circular issued by immigration officials mandating regional tourists to have an advance hotel booking to obtain a permit is affecting their business.

The April 5 circular addressed to the regional director of immigration in Phuentsholing states that the decision was based on the security meeting held on March 31 in the foreign secretary’s chamber.

The then director general of immigration, Thinlay Wangchuk, signed the circular.

Sangay Tenzin, regional director of  immigration in Phuentsholing, signed the second circular.

The circular, many hotel owners in Thimphu said, has affected their business since they were never consulted.

A hotel owner said that he learnt about the notification when his guest called from Phuentsholing asking him to send the advanced hotel booking documents. “I sent it several times and it got rejected.”

Hotel owners said the immigration department should have consulted them before issuing the circular or conducted an awareness workshop so that they could have a clear picture of what the immigration officials wanted.

A hotel owner said that immigration department should have issued a standard advanced hotel booking format.

Hoteliers said that the immigration department through such a move is trying to cut their business.

“We make our living from walk-in tourists,” a hotel owner said.

He said that many small hotels in Thimphu that cater for regional tourists are going through a worse phase because of the move. “May and October are our season, but this time, only five rooms are occupied.”

Hoteliers who are not aware why the immigration department issued the circular said they are confused.

“Small and cottage industries make about to 63 percent of the service industry. I don’t understand why they are trying to kill us,” a hotel owner said. “Such a move will only widen the gap between the rich and the poor.”

Some hotel owners said they were told that it was a temporary measure and they are waiting for immigration officials to lift it. Others said that immigration officials have told them that while it was a temporary measure put in place during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit, they intend to implement the rule.

Hoteliers said that taxi drivers and tour agents are now taking advantage of the situation and asking commission from them.

A hotel owner said that small and medium hotels provide employment to orphans, widows and needy people. “Some of them also learn from us and take up their own business,” he said.

He said that the labour ministry’s report states hotels and restaurants create the third highest private employment. “If our business does not do well, where will these people go.”

Immigration officials from the head office in Thimphu said they are not aware of such a circular. “If it is signed by the then director general and Phuentsholing regional director, media should talk to them,” an official said.

Officials said that it must have been a temporary measure during the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s visit and should not be applicable anymore.

Sangay Tenzin refused to comment, saying that media should talk to officials in Thimphu.

Tashi Dema

NC deliberates follow-up reports of 18th session

Wed, 05/10/2017 - 17:07

National Council (NC) yesterday continued deliberation on the follow-up reports on the resolutions of its 18th session last year.

Eminent Member Kesang Chuki Dorjee presented a follow-up report on teenage pregnancy, sexual abuse against children and sexual harassment. The house of review during the 18th session had recommended the government to step up nationwide advocacy efforts in tandem with stakeholder agencies, particularly civil society organisations, to create awareness.

In response to NC’s recommendations, the Ministry of Health said that in line with the National Adolescent Health Strategic Plan (2013-2018), the Department of Public Health is responsible for strengthening delivery of education and life skills training among out-of-school adolescents and youths that constitute the most vulnerable group.

The eminent member read out the ministry’s response to the house, which stated that it sensitised drayang workers on sexual and reproductive health, teenage pregnancy, types of contraceptive drugs and risks related to abortions in 2016.

The Ministry of Health accords a high priority for adolescent health issues and has initiated plans to introduce adolescent friendly health services in major hospitals.

“We will expand such services and continue to collaborate with the relevant agencies and strengthen advocacy and awareness programmes in the country,” the ministry wrote. The ministry will also continue to monitor import of contraceptives pills and create awareness on the ill effects of emergency contraceptive pills.

“We have not done any assessment on the prevalence of use of emergency pills yet. A study is important to generate adequate information on the use of this service from health centres and pharmacy shops,” it wrote.

According to the ministry, Bhutan imported a total of 95,265 tablets of emergency contraceptive pills and 132,254 cycles of oral contraceptive pills during the financial year 2015-16.

The National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) had also sent a written response to NC. NCWC stated that it has been working with partners in the government and non-government sectors to both prevent and respond to protection issues faced by children through implementation of the Child Care and Protection Act of Bhutan 2011.

Similarly, efforts to implement Domestic Violence Prevention Act of Bhutan 2013 are underway.

NCWC has been working with relevant partners to establish a child protection system through mainstreaming of child protection issues into sector policies and plans. One of the major achievements has been the transition from sector’s activities from the NCWC work plans into respective sector plans and the appointment of child protection focal points.

MB Subba

Ministries sign commitment to improve nutrition in schools

Wed, 05/10/2017 - 17:07

Agricultural diversification is seen as critically important to improve nutrition and better health among school children.

At the policy workshop on Vegetable Go To School Project (VGtS) on May 8, education minister Norbu Wangchuk and agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji signed a commitment to support synergies between school, water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and nutrition programmes in the education system.

The VGtS is a multidisciplinary school garden project piloting the use of multi-intervention school garden programmes in five countries – Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Indonesia, and Nepal to improve food security and nutrition.

The joint commitment exhibited strong will to employ efforts to provide continued financial and policy supports towards project implementation. The letter also encouraged all national and international organisations to support and roll over the project to a bigger number of other schools.

The project aims to generate evidence using randomised control trials and measured nutritional impact on schoolchildren in developing countries.

Project manager of VGtS and school agriculture programme coordinator, B B Rai, said the project began from 2012 with the objective to study the impact of school gardening integrated with WASH and Nutrition funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation through World Vegetable Centre and Swiss Tropical and Public Health.

The project has completed research. The policy workshop was conducted to brief the government and policymakers on the findings of three-year project since it is a research-based project. It also presents policy recommendations.

“We randomly selected 35 out of 80 primary schools for the project and, today, they all have vegetable garden developed integrated with WASH and Nutrition,” B B Rai said. “The project was conducted to see the learning aspect of the students if these three could be combined.”

Only 35 schools from 10 western dzongkhags were selected for easy monitoring.

B B Rai explained although all these activities already existed in the country, they were implemented independently. The integration is going to bring more meaning, more time to learn and impactful learning by discussing, sitting and working together to do a single activity.

“It is going to be expensive, but it is going to have long impact on learning because this project is not only to provide nutrition in the school, but also to educate and involve youth, parents and communities. The project was led by agriculture ministry, but we are trying to concentrate on students to make them understand through education ministry,” he said.

It is expected that with the project schools can have more organised vegetables garden, contributing to nutrition. It invites government to pay more attention to VGtS for integration to succeed.

The policy recommended integration of school vegetable gardens with activities of health and school feeding programme for better food and nutrition security, greater financial support and to expand the integrated school agriculture programme in primary schools to influence dietary and WASH practice at early age.

“We’ve recommended strongly and now that the commitment has already been signed, the coordination between the two ministries is very important to implement integration beyond 35 schools,” B.B Rai said. The commitment letter, he added, will serve as a reminder to the ministries in case the coordination falters.

According to the project survey, 84.38 percent of parents said they would like to continue project activities, and 79.91 percent said the activities have benefitted the communities.

About 90 percent of the children do not receive required nutrition, which is why the commitment was signed to make sure they get required nutrition.

Education minister Norbu Wangchuk said the ministry takes nutrition seriously. “We’ll have to activate, deepen, expand, intensify agriculture programme as policy has recommended to make sure that the programme is successful in schools. The recent national nutrition survey shows the dietary intake is poor especially in rural areas where almost 27.3 percent of pregnant women and 31.3 percent adolescent girls are anemic.”

Yangchen C Rinzin

Her Imperial Highness Princess Mako of Akishino of Japan to visit Bhutan

Wed, 05/10/2017 - 17:06

At the invitation of His Majesty The King, Her Imperial Highness Princess Mako of Akishino of Japan will visit Bhutan from June 1 to 7.

Princess Mako, 25, is the eldest grand-daughter of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.

While in the country, Her Imperial Highness will grace the opening of the third Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition at the National Memorial Choeten in Thimphu.

The lows of living in the highlands

Wed, 05/10/2017 - 17:04

It is not everyday that those who live in the highlands are remembered. When they are, it is often driven by events or visits of important officials. Festivals are held to showcase them, their culture, attire and life. They adorn tourism brochures and postcards and are marketed as an exotic community where nature nurtures their way of life.

What do not seem to be captured in the frames of these moments are issues that worry our highlanders. The celebratory spectacle of pastureland, grazing rights and yaks and sheep appear to have obscured the fact that rice, like the rest of the country is also the community’s staple diet.

It is an irony that the people of Sakteng, who were provided sheep and power tillers a day before had to draw lots to buy rice. Many had to return home empty handed for want of luck, not money. It is sad that the road to the community, which is used to transport ration remains blocked while politicians fly in and out in a helicopter. It is worse that the stock of rice was saved for guests who are yet to arrive but is not available to those who need it the most.

Bhutan is known as much for its hospitality as for its belief in the roll of dice or draw of lots. Cultural norms such as luck and karma are often persuasive in informing and, to an extent, convincing a community of their problems. But such a rational for rice or any other food would be stretching these norms a bit too far. If politicians and chillies can be airlifted, bags of rice could also be transported to Sakteng. If the highlanders are Bhutan’s pride, their lack of access to available rice should be our shame. The shortage of rice in Sakteng belies the fact that it is located just miles away from the so-called rice bowl of the east.

It is hoped that the issue receives attention of the policymakers. Besides reminding us about Bhutan’s dependency on imported rice, the rice shortage in Sakteng tells us about the challenges of living in the highlands.

Our communities in the highlands are more than distant exotic cultural exhibits to be displayed in brochures and postcards. They may be afar but they are one of us. Their problems are ours and ours entirely to address.

College establishment affects Gyalpoizhing Central School students

Wed, 05/10/2017 - 17:04

Gyalpoizhing Central School’s (GCS) management handed over the school’s lower campus to the College of Information and Technology.

This move has led to shortage of hostel facility, classrooms and other infrastructure in the school.

The school handed over the girl’s hostel, science laboratory, library, principal’s office, multipurpose hall, classrooms, and other structures to the college early this year.

As of now, the school has turned some of its classrooms to science laboratory and library.

About 180 girls and 80 boys share beds.

Since the school has a shortage of classrooms, about 449 students from pre-primary to Class VI study in Kurichu Primary School.

Gyalpoizhing Higher Secondary School was converted to a central school in 2016. The locals say that this benefitted students from eight gewogs of Saling, Tsamang, Kengkhar, Jurmi, Silambi, Gongdue, Tsakaling and Drepong gewogs.

The school’s officiating principal, Sangay Wangpo, said the school is with managing the limited facility.

The school’s vice principal, Pema Tshewang, said that for Class 10 and Class 12 students, laboratory for physics and biology was set up in a classroom.

“These facilities were actually set up on the campus that was handed over to the college,” he said.

A Class 10 student, Kinga Tshomo, said that because the beds are so packed, students do not have enough space to wear clothes, walk and to clean rooms. “We do not have a conducive environment to study.”

The school has turned some of its classrooms to science laboratory and library

Pema Deki, the matron, said that girls’ toilet also needs repair as the shutters, windows and bathrooms are not in good condition.

Mongar’s education Officer, Lham Dorji, said that by 2019, the Gyelpoishing’s school campus one has to be handed over to college. “We phased out Class 11 this year and sent students to Yadi Central School, Drametse, Mongar High School and Kedeykhar Central School.”

He said that schools like Nagor has been upgraded from lower to higher secondary school. Lingmethang Primary School has been upgraded to a lower secondary school.

He also said that the Kurichu Primary School will be middle secondary school in coming years. Construction is ongoing for a 12-unit classrooms, offices, library room, and two toilets.

Lham Dorji said that the once the college is fully established, Gyelpoishing Central School will be downgraded.

Local residents are, however, not happy with the news. Downgrading the school will affect their children.

“The central school has benefitted many gewogs in the locality and students will be affected if it is downgraded,” a town resident said.

Tashi Phuntsho |  Gyalpoizhing

Gyalsey Cup becomes top entertainment in Gelephu

Wed, 05/10/2017 - 17:02

Gyalsey Cup football league is the hottest entertainment in Gelephu today.

The second season of the league saw 20 teams participate. Twenty-nine matches have been played so far.

Organised by the Sarpang Gelephu Sports Association, Gyalsey Cup is one of the biggest sports events that Gelephu has seen yet.

Each team had to pay Nu 10,000 to register for the league. Teams from schools and those from across the border had to pay only Nu 5,000.

The general secretary of the association, Sithar Dorji, said that coaches from Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) briefly trained the players before the league started.

“This is to keep the players informed about new BFF rules,” said Sithar Dorji.

The tournament will be an annual event. Knock out round will begin from May 19.

The first semi-final is scheduled on May 23 and  thesecond on May 25.

Winners of the tournament will receive cash prize of Nu 80,000 and the runners-up will take home Nu 40,000.

Nirmala Pokhrel |Gelephu

Professional selection for basketball national team 

Wed, 05/10/2017 - 17:01

In a major shift towards professionalism, Bhutan Basketball Federation (BBF) has started coaching aspiring basketball players to induct in to the national team.

The training has started in Thimphu about two weeks ago.

BBF coach Tshewang Norbu said that the selection of players for the national team in past were chosen random ly but with such new procedure, they hope to find good players to represent Bhutan in any international game in future.

A five-member national basketball team selection committee consisting of the general secretary of Bhutan Basketball Federation, head coach of the BBF, Bhutan Olympic Committee secretary general, vice president of Bhutan Golf Federation, and planning officer of BBF was formed recently.

There are 26 players in under-12, 13 players in under-14, and 13 players in the under-16 category.

The selection process begins with coaching in four age groups: under-12, under-14, under-16, and under-18.

The officials said those selected have the opportunity to upgrade to the next higher level after every two years provided they perform well.

Coaching classes start after school hours from 5pm to 7pm at Changlimithang outdoor basketball court on their designated days for each particular age group.

Players start with basic fundamentals of the game such as ball handling, shooting, and defending, and then progress to more advanced skills.

Another coach, Tshewang Dema said that they conduct coaching only after school hours because players have to focus on their studies.

“During the summer and winter holidays, they’ll get full time training,” she said.

Bhutanese coaches were trained by the head coach, Kim Ki Yong from South Korea.

They train the young players supervised by the head coach.

BBF has plans to organize a national tournament during which they will select players from the dzongkhags for further coaching and training.

Tashi Chophel

Govt. proposes 40 percent pay rise for LG officials

Wed, 05/10/2017 - 17:00

The government proposed to revise the monthly pay of local government (LG) members by 40 percent, their daily allowance (DA) by 33 to 66 percent along with the entitlement to claim mileage while travelling outside their gewogs and thromdes.

The revision will be effective from July this year.

There will be no pay rise for the civil servants, and the pay revision is not applicable for the four thrompons.

The salary of the LG members has been revised by 40 percent on the existing pay and introduced pay scales with two percent annual increment for LG members except for thrompons.

After the revision, the increase in take home salary for gups will be 18 percent, 21 percent for mangmis, and 22 percent for tshogpas.

“To facilitate LG members to travel within and outside gewogs or thromdes for monitoring of development programmes and activities, the government has decided to revise daily allowance by 33 percent for gups, 50 percent for mangmis, and 66 percent for tshogpas,” Lyonpo Namgay Dorji said.

In addition, the government has approved the mileage claim for gups at Nu 16 a kilometre and others at Nu 6 a kilometre for travel beyond 10 kilometres.

The special responsibility allowance for chairpersons and deputy chairpersons of Dzongkhag Tshogdu have been revised and new rates for communication allowance and post-service benefits for the LG members have been approved.

However, the minister said that the Third Pay Commission (TPC) said that with the delay in the commissioning of three hydropower projects and not realising the additional revenue from these projects, revision of pay and allowances of the entire civil service at this juncture is not affordable.

“As such the government has decided not to revise foreign service entitlements and pay and allowances of the GSP and ESP,” Lyonpo Namgay Dorji said.

The TPC did not recommend revision for the foreign service entitlements and general support personnel (GSP) and elementary support personnel (ESP).

The commission report stated that while the foreign service entitlements was revised in 2014 when the government revised the salary of the civil servants, revising the GSP and ESP pay would have a cascading effect on pay scales of the entire civil service.

For instance, with the marginal increase or 10 percent increase of the pay scale of GSP, Nu 8,080, their revised pay becomes higher than the pay scale (Nu 8,505) of the operational personnel (O4 level) of civil service, thereby, requiring similar revision at the O4 level. “This will result in revising the pay of all the civil servants,” the Third Pay Commission report stated.

In 2014, when the government revised the pay of civil servants, the GSP’s pay was raised 25 percent with 20 percent house rent allowance. ESP got a consolidated pay revision of 40 percent.

The commission report stated that any revision of pay at the ESP level will also raise expectation for revision in the wage rate of the national work force, which would have larger implication on the economy.

Implications

The net annual financial implication of the revision of pay, allowances, and benefits of LG members is about Nu 135.406 million (M). In addition, the net implication on account of gratuity because of pay revision is about Nu 40.199M per term.

Since the revision was for a specific group of public servants, the commission is of the view that it will have a minimum spiralling effect on the private sector. Instead, the commission’s report stated that with the increase in disposable income of the LG members, there will be an increase in the demand for goods and services at the LG level, which will promote rural business opportunities and income of the local communities.

“Based on the Macro-Fiscal Framework, the Macroeconomic Framework Coordination Committee has determined the coverage of recurrent expenditure by domestic revenue at 121 percent in fiscal year 2017-18 after including the proposed revision. Therefore, the net financial implication of Nu 135.406 million would be financed by the revenue surplus,” the commission’s report stated.

Lyonpo Namgay Dorji said: “Chukha power tariff, which is due from January 2017, will generate additional revenue of at least Nu 284.506M annually.”

The expected additional revenue in the form of personal income tax is estimated to be Nu 2.415M and health contribution of Nu 2.503M.

Lyonpo Namgay Dorji said recognising the importance of the local government, and as required by the Local Government Members Entitlement Act 2015, for the government to determine the pay allowances and retirement benefit, the Third Pay Commission was established on February 20, 2017 to examine and recommend revisions of pay, allowances and benefits of the LG members.

He said the commission was also directed to review and recommend revision of the foreign service entitlements and the pay and allowances of the GSP and ESP.

“The commission submitted its report to the government and presented the recommendations to the Cabinet on May 1,” he said.

There are 1,499 LG members consisting of gups, thrompons, mangmis, dzongkhag thromde thuemi, gewog tshogpa, and thromde thuemi.

Gup’s salary was Nu 800 in 1991, which increased to Nu 20,000 in 2014. Mangmi salary increased to Nu 15,000 in 2014 from Nu 1,500 in 1999. The salary of gewog tshogpa and thromde thuemi increased from Nu 1,000 in 2007 to Nu 7,000.

Thrompons started with Nu 38,475 monthly salary in 2011 and with 20 percent house rent allowance. Today LG members receive a consolidated pay without annual increment.

“In LG elections 2016, only 40 graduates contested, of which 24 were elected as guns, indicating the need to make the remuneration package more attractive,” the Third Pay Commission Report stated.

Tshering Palden  

Nu 60.7 billion to complete 11th Plan

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 17:05

Economic and public services allotted the highest share 

The government proposed a budget of Nu 60.777 billion (B) for the fiscal year 2017-2018, yesterday. The new financial year begins on July 1, 2017.

Out of this total budget, the government will use Nu 41.84 million (M) for lending and Nu 2.82B for repayment of loans. The rest Nu 57.9B will be spent as government expenditure, 51 percent of which is capital expenditure and 49 percent current.

The new financial year marks the final year of the 11th Plan. The budget, accordingly, has been formulated with the thrust to complete priority activities in achieving the goals of the plan.

Presenting the budget at the National Assembly, Finance Minister Namgay Dorji said the budget aims to fulfill the aspirations of the people and “ensure prosperity for all through wangtse chhirpel”, which is the ruling party’s slogan. “During the last four years, rapid socio-economic development has been achieved,” he said.

The new budget is Nu 6.397B more than last year’s revised budget of Nu 54.38B. This is an increase of 11.7 percent.

This is the largest annual budget of the 11th Plan. This significant increase, the finance minister said, will help the government complete all the ongoing activities within the plan period.

The total income estimated for the financial year is Nu 51.4B. This includes a domestic revenue of Nu 34.7B and external grants of Nu 16.7B.

The budget, which has come a year and three months before the government completes its term, also highlights major activities that will be undertaken during the financial year. The government will complete its term in early August next year.

During the FY 2017-18, major activities including the double-lanning of the East-West highway, the construction of the Gyalpoising-Nganglam highway and black-topping of 42 gewog centre roads, will be completed. The construction of three new hospitals in Tsirang, Gelephu and Haa, which are ongoing, will be completed.

Also, the government will establish three new central schools that will take the total number of central schools to 63. According to the budget report, all domestic airports will be functional and  the integrated livestock farm in Samrang gewog of Samdrupjongkhar, will be completed during the financial year.

The government will also initiate construction of a new National Council building and a new Sarpang dzong.

As a new initiative, the government plans to establish an endowment fund for crop and conservation to compensate farmers for crops and livestock lost to wild animals and natural calamities. The government will establish a “stabilisation fund” to maintain stability of the economy.

“Since rural life insurance is one of the most useful resources of support in difficult times, the pay out will be doubled from Nu 15,000 to Nu 30,000,” Lyonpo Namgay Dorji said. Management of rural life insurance scheme will be transferred to Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Ltd.

Recognising the role konyers (caretakers) play in the upkeep of lhakhangs besides performing rituals in the community, the government will pay salaries to all registered caretakers under the Central Monastic Body.

The budget report has also proposed to waive tax for financial institutions on the interest income from lending through the Overseas Education and Skills Development programme. Through this recently launched programme, youth can access loan without collateral to pursue higher education abroad.

“The government will also consider similar other initiatives and support programmes to provide gainful employment to youth entering the job market,” the finance minister said.

The government is committed to reduce income poverty to five percent by the end of the plan period.

The finance minister said the medium term macro-economic outlook for the country is projected to remain sustainable with a higher level of economic growth supported by an accelerated private sector investment. The economy is also expected to experience an improved current account deficit and a low level of inflation.

The budget report forecasts that real GDP will grow by 6.7 percent in the financial year. The main contributor to the growth will be the service sector.

Contribution of the construction industry will fall with completion of some hydropower projects, according to the report. The Mangdechu project is expected to be commissioned in the first half of 2018.

For the financial year, Nu 15.757B accounting for 27 percent of the total expenditure has been allocated to local governments – dzongkhags, gewogs and thromdes. The allocation includes Nu 66M for human resources development, Nu 176M for construction and maintenance of irrigation channels and Nu 363M for rural water schemes to be implemented by local governments.

Further, Nu 864M has been kept aside for construction and maintenance of farm roads.

Tax measures for the financial year have been covered under the Fiscal Incentives 2016, which the government announced on April 4. The government will seek Parliament’s endorsement for implementation of the incentives.

The finance minister said the incentives would come into force retrospectively from January 2016. Among others, the Fiscal Incentives 2016 provides tax exemption for 10 years on convertible currency earnings from export of goods by newly established manufacturing and IT companies.

To accelerate hydropower development and promote alternative energy, the government has allocated Nu 455.558M. Major activities under this sector include preparation of a detailed project report for Kuri-Gongri hydropower project, for which Nu 160M has been allocated.

Further, the government has allocated Nu 30M for on-grid connection of 362 households. Sector wise, economic and public services takes the biggest chunk of the government spending – 34 percent of the total budget, which is Nu 20.7B.

MB Subba 

NC begins with follow-up reports

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 17:04

In the 12th Plan, many small and unsustainable schools will be merged with the central schools. This is in line with education ministry’s move to reduce the number of schools through school ‘rationalisation’.

“By then, there will be 120 central and large urban schools,” the education ministry wrote to the National Council’s (NC) recommendation on education policy and strategy passed during its 18th session last year.

NC’s Natural Resources and Environment Committee, and a special committee constituted to review the education policy, presented the follow-up report on the 18th session resolutions yesterday.

Committees presented the responses from the ministries on the NC’s recommendations on education policy and strategy during the opening session.

A special committee, constituted to review the education policy and strategy, worked for more than a year and presented its report in the House during its 18th session.

NC had observed that all schools across the country do not receive a fair and equitable share of resources, and primary schools face inconveniences while implementing plans and activities in the absence of separate budget head.

The House recommended that the government urgently institute a fair, equitable and transparent resource allocation mechanism for schools.

The ministry clarified that school budgets will be allocated to schools based on the funding modality of the existing autonomous schools whereby schools will have authority over the use of the fund.

The education ministry’s response is that with investment in central schools – 60 more central schools to be established in the 12th Plan – will have implications on the enrolment in other schools. “Keeping the above in mind, the ministry does not encourage major infrastructure development, especially in small unsustainable schools, as it would lead to wastage of resources.”

However, a portion of budget is provided from time to time to schools to carry out minor repairs and maintenance projects and to ensure that teaching-learning takes place in a safe and conducive environment. Budget allocation is kept for capacity development programmes, which is seen as important if the quality of education is to improve.

The ministry is also developing per child cost for each recurrent budget code, which will be used as the basis for budget allocation. It will be implemented in the 12th Plan if approved during the annual education conference and by the finance ministry.

The finance ministry’s said that the budget allocation is based on the education ministry’s policies and guidelines. “For schools, the resource allocations are based on per student cost, past expenditure trends, remoteness of schools and transportation cost.”

Boarding schools are given budget based on the actual number of students in the school.

On the separate budget for primary schools instead of consolidating with the dzongkhag’s budget, the education ministry said consultation is sought from the schools and dzongkhags and a report will is submitted to the finance ministry.

The finance ministry said that primary school budgets are consolidated with dzongkhag education budget to avoid duplication of work and additional cost to the government.

Rationalisation

With the school rationalisation exercise, schools will function as autonomous schools and will be provided with separate budget.

According to education ministry, central school or autonomous school is the only modality to meet the goals of quality education and using judiciously the available resources in strengthening the teaching-learning in schools.

The finance ministry said that it will ensure financial sustainability of the central schools, but the ministry may need to diversify, formulate strategies and programmes to supplement and support the government allocations for the long-term development and sustainability of the schools.

Among others, the ministry intends to provide staff quarter to 80 percent of the teachers at the school campus.

Another recommendation was for the government to follow the standard curriculum review cycle in order to provide adequate time and resources to ensure current, relevant and right size curriculum through focused national level subject conferences and workshops.

The ministry responded: “If it were not for budget constraints, many subjects would be reviewed in the light of changing systems and economic development.”

NC Chairperson, Sonam Kinga (PhD), said that lack of budget to maintain a dynamic and relevant curriculum was a lame excuse. The ministry, he said, has the budget to train English teachers for a week on teaching Shakespeare but the budget is lacking when it comes to curriculum development, including teaching History in Dzongkha.  This, he said, was contradictory.

NC committees will seek more details on the activities the government is carrying out to address the issues the committees raised.

Agriculture policy and strategies

NC had also recommended that government involve agriculture ministry and economic affairs ministry to work out the modalities for integrated water resources management. A minimum of one percent of royalty energy in cash should be made available on annual basis to agriculture ministry for integrated water resources management.

The MoEA ministry said that there was no linkage between allocations of royalty energy and for enhancing the agriculture productivity.

At present, the government provides an annual subsidy of Nu 1.78 billion for electricity supply in providing 100 units free to rural households. “Ploughing back royalty energy in without the accompanying human, land and institutional reforms would only lead to misallocation of public funds and an opening of precedence for other sectors to also make similar claims. Thereby deviating from the purpose of why royalty energy was established,” MoEA’s response stated.

However, the economic affairs ministry said that the ministry was asked to do a study and analysis of royalty energy.

In line with the recommendation of NC, agriculture ministry said that commercial production of cereal and horticulture crops are prioritised. In the 12th Plan, agriculture department aims to 95 percent self-sufficiency.

The agriculture ministry is working towards 65 percent rice self-sufficiency by 12th Plan, reverting about 7,075 acres of fallow paddy fields. Land consolidation and development is underway through the Farm Mechanisation Corporation Ltd.

Rice self-sufficiency ratio was 45 percent in 2015.

Among others, the NC had also recommended the government to scale up investment in irrigation infrastructure development and timely maintenance of the existing irrigation channels. The agriculture ministry, Chukha MP Pema Tenzin, said has until now only mentioned the schemes.

“We’ll have to write back to the ministry seeking details about the location of the irrigation schemes and the size of those schemes,” he said.

Tshering Palden

Chukha dzongkhag education office to register battery case

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 17:03

Chukha dzongkhag education office will register a case against the warden of Pakshikha Central School (PCS) who is alleged of battering two class 10 students.

The case, which was initially registered with the Gedu police, was withdrawn after the parents of the students and teacher involved resolved it mutually.

The incident occurred on the evening of May 1, where the warden allegedly battered two students with a wooden plank. A bent nail on the plank injured the two students.

School authorities said that the warden, after finding the two students in a friend’s room, hit them with a plank that was lying in the room. “One of the students was hit on the cheeks and the other on head,” A school official said. Both the students had to undergo stitches.

The official, who did not want to be named, also said the warden had warned the students not to visit their friends’ room in order to prevent theft and other disciplinary issues.

School authorities took the students to hospital and they were discharged from the hospital the same night.

The parents of the students reported the matter to Gedu police and the case was registered. “But since the parents and warden compromised, the case was withdrawn,” a source said. “The warden paid Nu 55,000 to the parents of the boy who underwent stitches.”

But the case was re-registered after the education ministry asked the dzongkhag to intervene.

Chukha dzongkhag education officer (DEO), Kinley Wangchuk, said they will register the case today so that police could conduct a thorough investigation. “Based on police report, the dzongkhag administration will take action.”

The education officer said that they have been directed to investigate the case. “Appropriate action would be taken if the warden is found guilty.”

Meanwhile, the education minister, Norbu Wangchuk, on his Facebook page, said that the ministry is deeply disturbed by the incident.

The minister said it was a gross violation of the school regulations and a serious betrayal of ethical conduct required of a school authority such as the warden.

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk also posted that the Prime Minister is seriously concerned about the incident and had called for a thorough investigation into the incident by the police.

“At the instruction of the Prime Minster, the Chukha police had been asked to undertake a comprehensive investigation into the case,” the minister’s Facebook post stated.

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

Chukha DEO said that the warden was given orientation on code of conducts before he was deputed to the school.

School authorities also claimed that they provided orientation to the warden.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Joint project assess Bhutan’s hydropower system

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 17:02

To investigate the current status of hydropower plants and power transmission network, two softwares have been developed under the University-Business Partnership Project between Germany and Bhutan.

A two-day workshop on the three years Project called ‘Modelling and simulation of Bhutan’s Hydropower Project Plants and Transmission Network’ began yesterday at the Le Meriden, Thimphu.

Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdient (DAAD) and German Academic Exchange Program have been funding the project since December 2013. Along with the University of Rostock in Germany, the College of Science and Technology (CST), Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) and Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) had been working with the project.

The project investigates the current status of hydropower plants and if possible works towards the stability improvement of Bhutan’s Hydropower Projects through modelling and simulation research. The DigSilent Power Factory Software, the transmission network is used by the BPC while MatLab software which checks the modulation of Hydro Power Plant currently is used by DGPC.

An engineer with the DGPC Pema Lhamo said that the goal of the overall project is to create a dynamic model of the Bhutan Hydropower System.

“Through this, investigation can be done concerning stability, island operation, network and system optimisation of the hydropower plants which can be used for future reference”, she said.

Professor Herald Weber of the University of Rostock said it is one of the oldest universities in Germany and that it is important to encourage an exchange program between the two partners.

“The exchange program of faculties and students is essential to exchange ideas, get knowledge and new thoughts in solving problems,” he said.

The Managing Director of BPC, Gyem Tshering, said that BPC is the transmission and distribution company and plans to fulfill the mission to light each and every corner of rural areas in Bhutan.

“For now, we have achieved 99.87 percent of electricity coverage in the country but by the end of this year, we expect every hut to be lit in rural areas of Bhutan like Lunana,” he said.

After the initiation of the project, BPC has signed a memorandum of understanding for another project called ‘Modelling and Analysis of BPC Network’ with Rostock University.

Except for the 64 Megawatt Basochhu Power plant, the two teams have completed modelling and validation of hydropower projects in the country. The two-day workshop was organised to reunite the alumni of the project partners. The event had 50 participants, including dignitaries and guests.

Phuntsho Choden

Langurs causing menace in Langthel

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 17:01

While those travelling along  the Trongsa-Zhemgang highway may consider it a good omen to see langurs along the way, residents in the locality are fed up of the animal.

Residents of Bayling, Baling and Koshala in Langthel are complaining that the langurs are eating their crops like other wild animals.

The langurs, according to the residents, eat chillies, beans, orange and other fruits.

Farmers say these animals have become more destructive.

Tshering Zangmo, 53, from Baling village said the langurs never came near human settlement until five years ago. “But they have now started feeding on our crops.”

She said the langurs, which come in a troop, destroy everything in their garden.

Tshering, 62, said she has to guard her orchard and garden because the golden and grey langurs destroy the crops, vegetables and fruits.

“Langurs can’t peel and eat oranges like monkeys but they squeeze the juice by making a small opening,” she said.

Tshewangla, 64, from Duegang said only the langur who gets hit by stone runs away when people chase them. “It is difficult to chase them.”

Some village elders said they used to believe that the langurs chased monkeys from coming to their fields if they are found around their fields in the past. “But they also started causing menace now.”

Nima Wangdi | Langthel

Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen graces BRCS launch

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 17:00

Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen, the president of the Bhutan Red Cross Society, graced the launch of the Bhutan Red Cross Society, coinciding with the World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day yesterday.

The Prime Minister Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay, Her Excellency Annemarie Huber-Hotz, the Vice President of the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) and International Committee of Red Crescent (ICRC), and regional heads of the IFRC and ICRC attended the launch.

Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen said: “His Majesty The King has always reminded us that any real and lasting solution to global issues can only come through a universal wave of human empathy, desire and passion for the common good.”

That our duty should not be only to oneself, or to one’s family and country but that we must build from these true and intimate relationships, outwards and upwards to the nobler duty to the greater world and to peace, prosperity and happiness that is global.

“I am confident that the Bhutan Red Cross Society will greatly supplement the efforts of the Royal Government of Bhutan, the Desuung and various other organisations and CSOs who have pledged their time and service in the spirit of equality, active participation and volunteerism.”

The Bhutan Red Cross Society (BCRS) is an autonomous and not-for–profit organisation established under the Bhutan Red Cross Society Act 2016. It is a voluntary aid society, auxiliary to the public authorities in the humanitarian field, having the mandates to save lives, protect livelihoods and strengthen recovery from disasters; to enable healthy and safe living; and to promote social inclusion and culture of care and protection. The BRCS is part of a network of the movement with 190 countries having an establishment of a Red Cross or a Red Crescent National Society.

The BCRS strives to establish a network of members and volunteers in communities throughout Bhutan to provide services in the areas of social inclusion, health, and disaster risk management that are complimentary to those of the government and other organisations.

“I also extend our gratitude to the Swiss Red Cross, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent for your invaluable support in the establishment of the Bhutan Red Cross Society,” Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen said.

The World Red Cross & Red Crescent Day is observed globally on the birth anniversary of the founder, Henry Dunant, a Swiss businessman born in 1828.

Staff Reporter

Keeping them where they are

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 17:00

The alacrity with which change is coming is amazing. It is, also, deeply worrying. Our urban and rural landscapes have gone through dramatic changes in a short span of time. Over the decades, our value systems have evolved, threatening the very survival of our identity. We may have succeeded in preserving the façades of the society, but losing the soul that defines us as Bhutanese could be an expensive affair.

Our farmers are increasingly leaving their village homes and coming to urban centres. Goongtong is a serious issue of the day. Crop loss due to increasing human-wildlife conflicts is among the leading challenges that drive our farmers to towns and cities. For many farmers depending on farmlands has become difficult.

The challenges that we confront today will only grow if appropriate interventions are not employed while we have time in our hands. It is time we asked ourselves some deep searching questions. We ought to view our dwindling presence, particularly in the highlands, with serious concern.

Highlanders are our sentinels in the north. It is important that they remain there. What this will require is taking development to their doorsteps. Agriculture, health facilities, and school are services we that could put in place to hold our highlanders back. Recently, highlanders of Merak in Trashigang implored livestock department intervene urgently. In many highland communities, yak- and sheep-rearing culture has visibly declined. This means soon our highlanders will have lost their traditional textile-making skills, making their lives in the highlands even more difficult. In the long run, upshots from such developments in society could have unhappy implications.

Maybe for the young people in the far-off communities urban lifestyle with dazzling array of modern amenities is irresistible. The challenge we face today is making our rural lifestyles attractive and viable so that people do not want to leave their homes. If highlanders are of the view that providing them with fine-breed animals will encourage them to stay behind, maybe it is time we heard them and saw how their needs are fulfilled. We need to encourage them to stay where they are.

Luck, not money decides rice buyers in Sakteng

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 17:00

Shortage of rice compels shopkeeper to hold a lucky dip

Rinchen Khandu rushed to the Sanam Tshongkhang in Sakteng gewog around 8:10 yesterday morning. His friends told him the rice stock was limited and it could finish any time.

“I thought I would be the first one to reach the shop,” the 21-year-old said. “But when I reached, there were already some 40 people waiting in front of the door.”

He said that although the crowd was discouraging, he stayed back and prayed to at least manage a bag of rice.

The crowd in front of the farm shop grew bigger by the minute and when the shop opened at 9am, there were more than 180 people waiting to get a bag of rice.

Given the crowd waiting at the door, the farm shop’s salespersons decided to conduct a lucky dip to decide who gets the limited stock of rice bags. However, the two salespersons could not control the crowd and police had to manage the situation.

A lucky draw winner takes home a rice bag

Of the 75 bags (25Kg each) of rice, the people were given only 27 bags yesterday after the lucky dip. The remaining bags were saved for upcoming visitors.

One of the salespersons, Sonam Zangpo, said it is difficult to deal with people in the gewog. “They get physical when things like this happens,” he said. “There was rice shortage last time too and we had to call police since people broke the door.”

He said the shortage was caused by the on-going work on the road connecting the gewog. The road was blocked even for horses and cattle.

“We bought about three tonnes of rice, as the gewog received information that several programme would be held until next week and we expected many visitors,” he said.

Locals said that since the opening of Sanam Tshongkhang on February 5 this year, the people of the gewog have benefited. Rinchen Khandu said most of the commodities at the tshongkhang are cheaper than those sold in other local shops.

“Essential items like rice, oil, sugar, salt, milk powder, soap and other groceries are available at the tshongkhang,” he said. “A bag of 50Kg rice costs Nu 1,200 from Thrakthi, the nearest road point to the gewog. We have to pay Nu 400 extra for pony.”

A 50kg bag of rice costs Nu 1,400 at Sanam Tshongkhang. Rinchen Khandu, however, said it is difficult to get rice from the shop.

Other residents also said the farm shop only brings limited essential commodities, often resulting in similar commotion among villagers.

Phuntsho Choden, 77, who claimed that she was the first to arrive at the tshongkhang wasn’t lucky enough to get the rice yesterday.

“The rice stock at my home is almost finished,” she said. “I’ve seven members in my family and I’m not sure what to feed them.”

Another resident, Sangay Dorji, 64, said he came because he heard that there is limited stock of rice and since the road was closed.

“Luck did not favour me but I am not worried,” he said. “I keep stock at my house in case such situations arise.”

He said he needed the extra rice since it is almost time for them to move to the mountains with their yaks.

Sonam Zangpo said that rice is the most sold-out commodity at the shop. “In the beginning we brought just around four tonnes of rice but because of the demand we received from the community, we doubled our order,” he said.

Sanam Tshongkhang makes a minimum sale of Nu 12,000 every day when there is stock. The shop made more than Nu 1.1 million (M) since it opened.

Meanwhile, like the rest of the 153 people who gathered at the tshongkhang, Rinchen Khandu’s luck too did not favour him and had to return home without a bag of rice.

Younten Tshedup | Sakteng

Picture story

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 12:14

The Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) was awarded the ADB Civil Society Partnership Award on May 5 during the 50th Annual ADB Meeting in Yokohama, Japan. RSPN was selected as the recipient of this year’s Civil Society Partnership Award for the implementation of the project supported by ADB JFPR Grant – 9158 Regional: Improving Gender-Inclusive Access to Clean and Renewable Energy in Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.​

Hailstorm damages 100 houses in Lhamoizingkha

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 17:06

Falling tree kills one

A 75-year-old man from Kereni village was killed and about 100 houses were damaged after a strong hailstorm hit Lhamoizingkha, Dagana on May 6 evening.

The man died on impact when a broken tree fell through the roof of his house and struck him on his head during the hailstorm.

His wife and daughter, who were also home during the mishap escaped with minor injuries.

Karmaling Gup Gyan Bahadur Subba said the mother and the daughter were taken to the hospital and are in stable condition.

“There was heavy rain with hailstone and windstorm,” the gup said.

The family of the deceased lived in a make shift house roofed with CGI sheets. He said the windstorm snapped the tree to fall on the house.

Since the hailstorm, Lhamoizingkha Drungkhag officials and the gup have been going around to record the destruction. CGI roofs of more than 100 houses have been damaged in Karmaling and Ninchula gewogs and numbers are likely to increase.

While livestock deaths were not reported, farmers reported heavy damage to their maize fields. More than five acres of maize fields were recorded as damaged so far with gewog administration still locating damages to crop.

Nichula Gewog, where hailstones rained for about half an hour on May 6 evening reported damage to the roofs of 50 houses in three chiwogs.

“People and livestock were not affected but it damaged three acres of maize field,” Gup Dilip Gurung said.

Officials from gewog administration, drungkhag, and  Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Limited have inspected the affected areas.

About a month ago, strong hailstorm damaged about eight houses in Tintaley village in Lhamoizingkha.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

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