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Updated: 1 hour 26 min ago

Need to be more careful as festivals approach

Wed, 09/08/2021 - 16:46

The season of festival is upon us.  After Thimphu Dromchoe and Thimphu Tshechu from mid of this month, a series of tshechus and other popular festivals will occur.

We must celebrate our customs, traditions and festivals because of their special significance. Bhutan is what it is because of our rich and unique heritage and traditions. However, in these difficult times, we may do well to keep such celebrations low-key and small.

Although we have not had dangerous surge in cases, thanks largely to sensible interventions and effective management of threats, what we must remember is that we are still very much vulnerable. Covid-19 is not going to go away anytime soon. It will linger on and continue to test our resilience what with new variants and fatigue in many countries that are showing in strong public resistance against protracted lockdowns, hard-wearing measures and immuring protocols.

Publicans and restaurateurs, who have lost business and income for a long time, are understandably eager to get back to something like normality. They have lost employment and income because of continuing restrictions and measures. But then, in the kind of situation we are in today, it is always better to not be reckless.

Many argue that with the entire population almost fully inoculated, restrictions could be eased. What we must remember, however, is that we are not fully protected from the virus just because most of us got the second jab. With cases running at alarming rates in the neighbouring countries and beyond, taking precautions is all the more critical.

Nothing has changed significantly in our battle against the Covid-19. It is still largely upon us to manage the risks that continue to evolve. There will be demands from certain quarters of the society to open up or to loosen the restrictions. Some might even disregard the protocols in place because they got the second jab. In fact, complacency is already showing.

Simply put, the fight is nowhere near over. We have a long way to go. In this respect, we have many gaps to fill. That’s why we should be extra careful with many festivals coming our way where large gatherings can happen. Lyonchhen recently said the government would not lift the protocols despite requests from the people. The reason is, as he explained, if an infected person from a high-risk area entered a lower risk area, the disease would spread exponentially within a day.

That’s true, which is why adhering to health and movement protocols is absolutely necessary. Standing protocols and measures must not be eased or ignored, now more than ever. 




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Banking on Menchu hotstone bath to ease poverty

Wed, 09/08/2021 - 16:44

Choki Wangmo | Dagana

With the inauguration of a hotstone bath facility on September 5, members of Tashi Dargay Community Forest (CF) in Pangserpo, Dagana, are hoping that they would generate some income.

The hotstone bath facility is at Tashi Dargay menchu (a medicinal water), which is a 10-minute drive from the Drujeygang gewog centre. It falls within the CF and is run by the community on a benefit-sharing basis.

The CF’s chairperson, Sangay Choden, leased the menchu for five years. As a fee, she has to annually pay Nu 20,000 to the CF. 

A one-storey structure has four rooms, one for office and three fitted with wooden bathtubs for hot stone bath with attached washrooms.

World Wildlife Fund Bhutan (WWF) helped with materials and wages for skilled labour. CF members contributed labour and local materials.

Water from the menchu is piped to two 1,000 litres of water tanks which is joined to the 1,000 litres boiler, heated using firewood, which is further connected to the bathtubs. 

Members of the CF can avail the services at a reduced rate of Nu 300 for two hours. Non-members have to pay Nu 500 for the same time. For a day, the members have to pay Nu 1,600; others have to pay Nu 3,000.

Sangay Choden said that with the income from the hotstone bath services, the CF would be further developed through activities such as sapling development which would be replanted within the CF. “The income would also help us provide loan to needy members at a lower interest rate.’”

She said that the menchu site is accessible to people since it is connected with Drujeygang-Khebisa feeder road. 

The menchu is popularly known to cure throat problems, arthritis, gastritis, heart ailments, and eye problems.

An elder resident of Pangserpo said that in the past, there were two menchus, believed to be male and female, but the female menchu was damaged during road construction.

Nguntimo, 83, from Pangserpo said that she stores menchu in water bottles and apply it when she had pain in her knees. “With the facilities developed, I hope to soak myself in the medicine.”

Dagana Dzongdag, Duba, who inaugurated the facility, focused on the importance of record-keeping among CF members and future expansion plans if the visitors increase.

He said that such local interventions were means to improve livelihood within the communities.

Deputy chief of social forestry and enforcement division (SFED), Tashi Wangchuk, said that CF is not only about trees alone but also about the harvest and utilisation of other forest resources within the communities. “Drujeygang gewog has ecologically valuable trees but no economically viable trees to earn income from. Menchu comes as an alternative source of income.”

Since the establishment of first CF in 1997 in Drametse, he said that CF has been flourishing well in the country.

Currently, there are 833 CFs across the country. Of the 32 CFs in Dagana, four are in Drujeygang.

WWF, through the community-based forest resources management (CBFRM) for an improved livelihood project, has invested more than Nu 900,000 in menchu site development.

According to WWF’s project officer, Kuenley Tenzin, the project effectively contributes to sustainable management of forest through improved participatory forest management and community livelihood by increasing their income. “The programme supports 100 CBFRMs in five dzongkhags and has helped expand SFED’s work with CBFRM outside these five dzongkhags.”

Established in 2013, Tashi Dargay CF covers 150.82 hectares of land with 54 members.




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Picture story

Wed, 09/08/2021 - 16:44

 Paro FC beat High Quality United FC with the lone goal from Dinesh Gurung in the dying minutes of the first half in Paro yesterday. Paro FC now leads the BoB Bhutan Premier League table with a 3-point advantage over the defending champions, Thimphu City FC. Both teams have three more games to play. 




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SC revokes ACC’s suspension order against three contractors

Wed, 09/08/2021 - 16:43

Rinzin Wangchuk and  Tashi Dema 

The Supreme Court (SC) revoked a suspension order the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) issued against three construction companies on September 2.

ACC issued a two-year suspension order against Chimmi RD Construction, Phuntsho Rabten Construction and Sonam Jamtsho and Bros Construction in May this year after the Construction Development Board (CDB) reduced their earlier two-year suspension order against the companies to three months.

CDB in March this year suspended the three companies for two years based on ACC’s recommendation, but later changed the decision and reduced it to three months. 

ACC recommended CDB to suspend the contractors after their investigation found the three companies colluded while bidding for base course and blacktopping of Jarey gewog connectivity road in 2015.

ACC then wrote to the CDB that the three-month suspension does not commensurate with the severity of procurement irregularities and will not serve as deterrence to unethical practices in the future.

It then stated that the attempt to bid rigging by the three contractors caused a financial loss of more than Nu 11.77 million to the government.

In July this year, Chhimi RD Construction’s proprietor appealed to the SC, contending that ACC, as an investigating agency, does not have the legal authority to take administrative actions.

It also contended that ACC’s suspension order without SC’s permit is against the Constitution. “ACC cannot be the investigating agency and take actions,” the appeal letter stated.    

Although the SC judgment was not clear, sources following the case said it indicated that ACC should have instituted a debarment committee and referred the case to the committee.

It stated that section 137, 139 (II) and section 40 (5) of Anti-Corruption Act is a guideline for debarment and not for ACC to take administrative action.

The judgment stated that ACC should follow the doctrine of harmonious construction and based on the principles of reasonableness CDB used, it was not necessary for ACC to suspend the contractors. “ACC can only ask concerned agencies to take appropriate actions and not take actions.”

SC also ruled that the three contractors have been suspended for five months now and that should suffice as the penalty levied on them.

Meanwhile, the case surfaced after the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) on August 28, 2018, wrote to the ACC pointing out possible collusion among bidders where Department of Roads’ regional office in Lingmethang invited bids for the base course and blacktopping of Jarey GC road on August 28, 2015.

Four prospective bidders participated in the bid.

ACC investigation revealed that before the arithmetical correction made in three bids by a contractor, Chhimi RD Construction quoted Nu 35.957M, Phuntsho Rabten Construction quoted Nu 43.922M, Diamond Construction quoted Nu 47.734M and Sonam Jamtsho and Bros Construction quoted Nu 36.858M.

In the tender opening, although Chimmi RD Construction quoted the least after the arithmetical corrections, Diamond Construction which was earlier the highest bidder became the lowest. The work was then awarded to Diamond Construction on November 13, 2015.

Further review of the individual bidding documents by ACC revealed that the rates for all the Bill of Quantities (BoQ) items for all the bidders, except Diamond Construction, were either overwritten, inserted with additional digits or showing marks of striking off and re-writing.

The total amount of the BoQ however was left unchanged. “It was evident that all the corrections made were of similar in nature. Upon further scrutiny of the bidding documents, the initial of the bidders on the corrections made were similar of all three BoQs of Chimmi RD Construction, Phuntsho Rabten Construction and Sonam Jamtsho and Bros Construction,” ACC’s report stated.

In their statement to the ACC, one of the contractors said that bid rates were increased only after discussing among three contractors. They claimed that the rates were increased after finding out the workplace at Jarey gewog was too steep and difficult to work at their quoted rates.

The winning bidder, Diamond Construction, meanwhile turned out to be an independent entity and he stated that he submitted the bidding documents without any knowledge of who the other bidders were.

Based on the investigation findings, ACC officials said that the investigation review committee (IRC) deemed that although there was an attempt to commit a crime by the contractors, there was no benefit received by the action committed which had no evidential value for further actions.

The IRC recommended cautioning the three contractors in writing with copies to all the relevant agencies for future deterrence and vigilance.




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Picture story

Wed, 09/08/2021 - 16:41

  The annual summer retreat (yarney) of dratshangs and shedras across the country ended yesterday with a scenery walk.  Monks of Lhodrak Kharchu monastery in Bumthang (in picture) completed the 45-day retreat on September 6. 

The monastic retreat, practiced especially in Mahayana and Theravada Buddhist traditions, dates back to the time of Lord Buddha who instructed monks and nuns to remain in residence at one place during monsoon to prevent stepping on and killing insects.

New academic assessment in schools is timely: experts

Tue, 09/07/2021 - 11:31

Yangchen C Rinzin 

Despite criticism on the implementation of the new assessment criteria in schools, experts say that its introduction is timely and critical to the success of the National School Curriculum (NSC) implemented beginning this academic session.

The education ministry’s new assessment criteria mandate students from class IV to XII to obtain a minimum of 40 percent in both continuous assessment (CA) and written examination to pass the examination. CA will be now rated based on different categories based on respective subjects.

Concerns

The People’s Democratic Party called on the government to implement the new school assessment rule from the next academic year, according to a press release from the party.

The press release stated that this changed assessment system will change students and teachers’ learning and teaching behaviour, however, it will take time to adapt.

“The change announced and implemented in the ongoing academic session is unfair and insensitive. Everyone is aware that our schools have been disrupted due to the pandemic, and students did not have the normal conducive learning environment,” the press release stated.

It also stated that students are struggling to make up for the missed learnings and lessons,  the additional burden of having to meet up to the requirement of the new assessment system would be stressful for a large number of students and teachers.

However, PDP welcomed the change in the assessment system. “But the change should have come only after in-depth research and thorough consultation, not abruptly and direct.”

Experts say

The dean and curriculum developer from the department of curriculum and professional development, earlier known as Royal Education Council, Wangpo Tenzin said that the ministry implemented NSC from this academic session so the new assessment criteria have to be implemented to move in line with the new curriculum.

“We must remember that we can never separate assessment from curriculum, they should move together,” he said. “We cannot change only curriculum and not the assessment criteria else, it won’t make sense that assessment criteria are old and curriculum is new.”

Wangpo Tenzin said that there were always four elements of curriculum—learning outcomes, learning experience, teacher implementation and assessment component.

He said that is why when NSC, which was earlier known as the new normal curriculum was implemented because of the changing situation, the assessment component also had to change.

“The NSC is purely competency-based learning so, the assessment must also include assessment of CA, which would make a holistic assessment of the child’s learning,” Wangpo Tenzin said. “Examination alone cannot assess the child’s competency.”

Some of the components of CA are project work, environment profile, unit or class test, scrapbook, and research skills, among others. There are different categories against each subject. Teachers are well aware of all the components and how to achieve them, according to Wangpo Tenzin.

“The reason to keep 40 percent was that if we don’t give importance to CA, then we can never achieve our objective of NSC, which is competency-based. The implementation of new assessment criteria was vital as much as we had to complement NSC,” he said.

He added intellectual, social, emotional, cultural and physical competencies of students are some of the domains of NSC. 

The new criteria were supposed to start last year but the Covid-19 pandemic closed schools the entire academic year.

An official from BCSEA said that then it was planned to implement this year and with pandemic here to stay, it was only sensible to implement from this year.

“If not now then when because we cannot wait for the perfect time when the new curriculum is already implemented?” the official said. “The assessment is nothing new, of which teachers are well aware and the only thing is they have to put extra effort and make students understand the importance of CA.”

Edited by Tshering Palden

Flight funnel map overlooks constructions around airport premises 

Tue, 09/07/2021 - 11:30

Phub Dem 

In recent times, some concrete structures have been mushrooming along Paro international airport stretch. While some have already constructed two-storey houses, others are told that their lands fall under no construction zone.

Those residing near airport premises have to seek construction clearance from Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA). Approvals are given as per the flight funnel map that considers the safety and security of the airport and aircraft.

The colour-coded zoning maps show flight paths and standards of developmental activities such as heights of buildings and structures to ensure the safety of aircraft operations.

The map shows no construction zone, especially along the flight path. Further away from the flight path, the map shows a permitted area for the construction of one-storey house and then permitted sites for the construction of three-storey houses.

Considering the sloppy landscape of Paro, even if the lands are close by, those lands on slopes fall under no construction zones, while those below the pitch can build with its height levelling the hill. Further down towards Bonday and Pachhu, the elevation decreases, and the maps permit the construction of three-storey buildings.

The zones are prepared considering the landing and takeoff flight route as per the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s requirements and calculations.

According to the Chief of Air Navigation and Aerodrome, Sangay Wangdi, some houses are in no construction zones, but these houses existed before the map. He said that the department does not allow new constructions in these zones. “If we allow construction of houses in these areas, the airport will be unusable for landing and takeoff due to obstacles.”

Some houses which pose a high risk to flight paths are demolished. But some people reside illegally in one-storey homes in no construction zones.

Besides, he said that there are other structures for which the dzongkhag administration has given clearance without the knowledge of the department, adding that if these structures were to be demolished due to obstruction, the affected individuals would not get compensation.

While the map shows no construction along the Pelri Lhakhang area, the department only controls the flight funnel that includes takeoff and landing flight path areas towards the Bonday and Hotel Holiday Home.

For instance, he said that the department didn’t allow Hotel Holiday Home to put on the roof as it was found to be an obstacle and that land behind the hotel was not allowed for construction as it falls under the flight path.

The sides of the runway are called transitional slopes. Constructions along these slopes are reviewed and given permission based on many principles.

For instance, the new two-storey residential building behind the airport watchtower is allowed as the area lies behind the ridge.

Sangay Wangdi said that there was no way that the aircraft would go near the mountain. “The shielding principle guides the approval. The mountain already obstructs the area.”

However, he said that the construction of the commercial area right above the residential area was denied, considering the security of the runway.

The existing flight funnel map was designed in 2006. However, in 15 years, the airport has seen major developmental activities. The runway has also been extended from 1,800 metres to 2,260 metres.

With increasing air traffic, the airport will extend and exert pressure on the nearby area. Sonam Wangdi said that the department was making a new map in collaboration with the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement.

He said that the ‘no construction’ zone would further extend when the new maps come in. “We have been keeping provision for expansion and giving clearance as per the new changes happening in the airport.”

He said that BCAA was mandated to locate the flight path and brief about the hindrance of developmental activities. He said that land replacement and compensation of those affected individuals have to be routed through the dzongkhag administration. “We do not have the authority to give land replacement and compensation.”

If affected individuals want the BCAA’s support to explain it to dzongkhag and other agencies, he said the team was willing to help.

A landowner under anonymity said that he wanted to build a house but learnt that his land falls under no construction zone. He said that if land replacement is not processed sooner, there was no other way to construct homes in the no construction zone illegally.

In the meantime, Wangchang Gup Kuenzang Rinzin said that the gewog asked BCAA to take part in the survey for the new map, adding that gewog should know which land falls under the zones to make a list of the affected landholders. “The gewog will then call upon the affected individuals and seek land replacement altogether.”

He said that the gewog was awaiting the survey report and new map, and it will help process the land replacement of the affected landowners.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

Tobacco Control Rules and Regulations 2021 to be ready by year end

Tue, 09/07/2021 - 11:29

Thukten Zangpo 

The Tobacco Control Rules and Regulations 2021 (TCRR) is expected to be ready by December according to the Officiating Director General, Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA), Ugyen Tshering.

He said that the revision of TCRR was completed and was awaiting the endorsement from the BNCA board to be submitted to the Cabinet.

Ugyen Tshering said that because the board committee members are in the south working on the Covid-19 containment measures, they could not conduct the virtual board meeting.

“The Cabinet has directed to complete the TCRR before December this year. We will try to complete it as early as possible,” he added.

Economic Affairs Minister, Loknath Sharma, said there is no tobacco distributor besides Bhutan Duty-Free Limited (BDFL) and that with the new regulations, there will be a good distributor wholesale system in the country.

“We cannot allow only BDFL to be the sole distributor because the aim is to stop illegal trade and at the same time make tobacco and tobacco products available,” said Lyonpo.

As interim measures, the government allowed the micro-license holders (paan shops and grocery license holders) to import the tobacco and tobacco products apart from selling to meet the growing demand in the market besides BDFL with the new Tobacco Act.

With the limited supply of tobacco and tobacco products from BDFL, the paan shops have resorted to the black market. 

This has also led to the high cost of tobacco and tobacco products even as the government cut 100 percent sales tax on the sale of tobacco and tobacco products.

A packet of Wills Navy Cut cigarettes (10-piece) cost Nu 200 to Nu 250 today, against the maximum retail price (MRP) of Nu 95. A packet of chewing tobacco, Baba, with an MRP of Nu 3, costs between Nu 40 to Nu 50 in the market today.

Around 700 individuals come to buy the tobacco and tobacco products every day from 9am to 4pm. An individual or micro-license holder gets 400 sticks of cigarettes and two dozens of Baba after every 15 days, according to BDFL.

A shopkeeper said that he rarely went to BDFL to buy tobacco and tobacco products. He recently bought 1,000 sticks of Wills Navy Cut cigarettes from his friend at Nu 2,400, Nu 500 more than price at tobacco quota outlet.

“We do not want to import since there would be costs associated with it, including transportation and other logistics,” he added.

Another pan shop owner said a supply of 400 sticks of Wills Navy Cut cigarettes after every 15 days was not enough to meet the demand of the customers.

“Instead of 400 sticks of Wills Navy Cut cigarettes, if we get 1,000 sticks after every 15 days, we would be able to meet the market demand and lower the price,” she said, adding that she had no idea as to how to import the tobacco and tobacco products.

Ugyen Tshering said that public smoking was not allowed and monitoring would be done strictly.

He said that if someone was caught smoking in public places (any place with more than two persons), a fine of Nu 500 would be imposed per incident.

Person in-charge, he said, would be imposed Nu 1,000 per smoker if  found smoking in offices, institutions, Dratshangs and commercial centres, and Nu 10,000 if there is “no smoking” signage.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

Dagana DT raises concerns with highway construction delay

Tue, 09/07/2021 - 11:29

Choki Wangmo | Dagana

Dagana dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) members unanimously agreed to forward the issues in the delay of Dalbari-Lhamoidzingkha secondary national highway construction to the works and human settlement ministry for interventions.

In the recent DT, Karmaling Gup Gyan Bahadhur Subba said that although the issue had been raised for the past 15 years, there were no actions from the authorities concerned until now.

DT members said that the issue had been dominating every session without any concrete resolutions. “The authorities have to look into the issue.”

According to an official from the Department of Roads (DoR), in 2018, the department was prepared to carry out road extension, resurfacing, and blacktopping works but with talks about the Sunkosh project, plans had to be cancelled.

“Since the Sunkosh project falls in between the highway, the project is supposed to carry out the blacktopping and road extension works, including the construction of bridges,” he said.

However, he said that as per the plan, the dam site falls near the highway, where a dam backflow would damage the road. “Risk assessment and research are yet to be carried out.”

Without a proper road, Gup Gyan Bahadhur Subba said that people had been deprived of basic facilities such as health care services.

“The situation worsens during monsoon when all the four streams along the 15-km stretch between Lhamoidzingkha and Labrang washes away the temporary bridges,” he said.

He said that the gewog has proposed highway extension and blacktopping works in the 11th Plan which was then pushed to the current Plan. “We were told that all components of highway construction would be taken care of once the Sunkosh project starts.”

With the fate of the project still undecided, residents claim that waiting for the project cost them heavily, as development activities in the three gewogs of Lhamoidzingkha drungkhag have been deferred while waiting for the power project.

“If the Dalbari-Lhamoidzingkha highway is properly maintained, it would help people of 11 gewogs,” the gup said.

Residents also said that it was challenging to reach the drungkhag when they had official works. “Since its construction in 1972, the first road extension work was carried out only in 2016, after four decades,” said a resident.

Without alternate routes, people remain cut off during monsoon. There are 337 households in the gewog.

A resident, Narat Chhetri said that while making a journey on the highway, they have to wait at least three hours to get through the roadblocks, even during emergencies.

Recently, due to the pandemic, he said that many people from the towns have returned to the villages to carry out commercial farming, but with challenges in road connectivity, marketing remains a major issue. “Since we cannot travel to Dagana, our mulching plastic for winter chillies are still at the dzongkhag. We are planning to transship soon.”

Before the monsoon, residents said that people have to stock up food to reduce the risks of food scarcity. “With long monsoon season this year, we have been gravely affected.”

Recognising the risk of flooding in monsoon, the official said that the DoR has kept two excavators in Lhamoidzingkha to clear the roadblocks.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

Gewogs in Mongar seek additional health workers

Tue, 09/07/2021 - 11:28

Tshering Namgyal   | Mongar

The health centres of Chaskhar and Thangrong gewogs and Lingmethang, Saling gewog in Mongar are understaffed and that is hampering access to quality healthcare services, according to gewog leaders.

The issue was also tabled in the recent dzongkhag tshogdu where LG leaders expressed the need to deploy additional health staff to these health centres.

Chaskhar Gup Pema Dorji said that the gewog has more than 3,000 residents in its 400 households and its health centre has two health personnel.

He said that earlier the centre had three staff and services and managed to cater to the needs of the residents. With one health worker asked to move to Muhung health centre with immediate effect, the residents are worried that the shortage in the staff would hamper the timely delivery and quality of the services.

However, Mongar’s principal district health officer (DHO) Tshering Dorji said that the health worker was transferred from Muhung primary health centre, earlier called BHU, and was temporarily posted to Chaskhar health centre during the pandemic.

Tshering Dorji said that while the Bhutan civil service rules allowed only two health staff in each primary health centre, the need for additional health staff in Chaskhar, Thangrong and Lingmethang were genuine given patient load and population size.

In Thangrong gewog the settlements are scattered and providing healthcare service by two staff was challenging. “Moreover, the population there is increasing with a new satellite town, and regional offices, additional health staff was required,” the principal DHO said.

The DT resolved to submit it to the health ministry.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

Druk Lhayul defeats City 2-1

Tue, 09/07/2021 - 11:27

…threatening the defending champions’ otherwise comfortable hold on the title 

Thinley Namgay

In what could be one of the biggest upsets in the ongoing BoB Bhutan Premier League (BPL), Druk Lhayul FC defeated defending champions Thimphu City FC 2-1 on September 5 at the Changlimithang Stadium. 

City suffered their first defeat of the season at a time when it was struggling to maintain its lead over title contenders Paro FC.

Despite an impressive 76 percent ball possession during the game, City failed to capitalise on the numerous opportunities they created. Druk Lhayul, on the other hand, took every possible opportunity to take the lead from the defending champions.

Accordingly, Lhayul’s Kelzang Jamtsho and Jigme Tshultrim rose to the occasion and scored two goals before the break.

Although the Cityzens fought back, they could manage only one goal from Phuntsho Jigme’s strike in the opening minute of the second half. City defeated Druk Lhayul by two goals to one during the first round of the tournament.  

Druk Lhayul’s head coach, Sonam Tenzin, said that winning a game against the defending champions was encouraging, and compared it to almost winning the title. 

“Weak or strong, we have been taking all our opponents and games very seriously and have given equal importance. In the next three games, we will keep the same spirit.”

City’s skipper, Tshering Dorji, said that the team could not capitalise on the many chances they had created during the game. He said that the team lacked ‘finishing’ that day.

As of yesterday, City had three games left in the season. With 38 points each, Thimphu City and Paro FC are on top of the league table. Paro FC however, has one  more game in hand.  

Tshering Dorji said that his team had to win all the remaining games against High Quality United FC, Transport United FC, and Paro FC to retain the title. “I’m confident we can do this.”

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

When will we learn the lesson?

Tue, 09/07/2021 - 11:27

As a country emphasising on the happiness and well-being of its citizens, Bhutan rescued more than 160 women who were tortured and ill-treated in the Middle East countries, especially in Iraq, Bahrain and Kurdistan.

Governed by the ‘kafala system’, millions of Asian and African women are tortured in the Middle Eastern countries on a daily basis, forced to work round the clock with little or no food.

With abusive immigration policies and no labour law protections, most women are underpaid. Wages are either delayed or withheld. Some were also physically or sexually abused.

The Bhutanese women, who went there in 2019, contacted many Bhutanese officials, including police, Members of Parliament and the government to rescue them. They even lodged formal complaints but nothing much progressed.

The rescue operation started only after His Majesty The King commanded that every effort and resource must be used to bring the women home safely. About USD 700,000 was spent to rescue the 160 women.

But we now hear that people are travelling to the countries again after obtaining clearance from the National Covid-19 task force. It is believed that the people have already left after signing an undertaking letter.

The government had a clear stand on the issue. Bhutanese intending to work overseas should route it through licensed overseas agents in the country so that the government could verify the working environment, living conditions and salary.

It also claimed to have developed a standard operating procedure that would address the issues of overseas employment and wrote to the governments of the Middle Eastern countries and requested them to issue work visas to Bhutanese jobseekers only if they produce official documents from the government.

The government also changed the authority mandated to process documents for overseas employment from the labour ministry to immigration department.

But what is now happening is that it is the National Covid-19 task force that is issuing the documents and not immigration department. With officials refusing to talk to media, it is not clear if due process has been followed and how the task force was given the mandate.

There are questions that remain unanswered. Will it be the responsibility of the task force to ensure that the people would be safe in the Middle Eastern countries? Why are the overseas employment agencies not allowed to operate if individuals could go? What about the 32 women, who are alleged of sending the 160 women to the Middle East countries and are being accused of trafficking?

Lack of monitoring and seriousness in implementing the process the government introduced to tackle the overseas employment issue would have disastrous implications. It’s time we learnt the lesson and implemented the procedures.

200,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine to land today

Tue, 09/07/2021 - 11:26

Children between the age of 12 to 17 years will receive the vaccine

Younten Tshedup  

The biggest consignment of Pfizer vaccine, about 200,000 doses will land at the Paro international airport today.

The arrival, however, is contingent upon favourable weather, said Sowai Lyonpo (Health Minister) Dechen Wangmo last night. The consignment was due yesterday but owing to the non-availability of flights, it was delayed.

This is the first consignment of vaccines that the government is purchasing from the vaccine company, Pfizer Inc., an American multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology corporation.

Pfizer vaccine would be given to children between 12 and 17 years

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that the Pfizer vaccines would be used to inoculate children between the age of 12 and 17 years. As of yesterday, 59,759 children (12 to 17 years) in 13 dzongkhags have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Children in this age group residing in Phuentsholing and Samtse received their first dose of Pfizer vaccine between July 22 and 23. They were given Moderna vaccine for their second dose upon the recommendation of the National Immunisation Technical Advisory Group (NI-TAG) last month.

The health ministry also used Moderna vaccine to inoculate children in 13 dzongkhags — Chukha, Dagana, Samdrupjongkhar, Sarpang, Samtse, Zhemgang, Pemagatshel, Thimphu, Paro, Trashigang, Tsirang, Trashiyangtse, and Haa.   

Health officials said that due to the lack of vaccines, children in the remaining seven dzongkhags could not be vaccinated.   

“Now that we are receiving a good quantity of vaccines, we should be able to vaccinate all children in this age group throughout the country,” said one of the officials.

The official said that the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine was on time as children in the 13 dzongkhags were almost due for their second dose. The NI-TAG has recommended a gap of four to eight weeks between the two doses for children.

Although a specific date to roll out the second dose for 59,000 plus children and the first dose for more than 16,000 children in seven dzongkhags has not been decided, health officials said that the rollout could begin from the second week of September.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering in an earlier interview said that given the global shortage of vaccines, it was difficult to secure adequate vaccines for both children and adults. However, Lyonchhen said that the government was in constant consultation with the vaccine manufacturers to get in the vaccines at the earliest.

Lyonchhen added that the manufacturers of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — the only two Covid-19 vaccines approved for emergency use in children — had submitted proposals for approval to use their vaccines in children above the age of six. “Should this be approved, we have made all arrangements so that we have an adequate number of vaccines to cover all eligible populations in the country.”

There are over 100,000 children above the age of six in the country.

In the meantime, it was learnt that the government was also preparing to secure additional Moderna vaccines. Sources said that the government had placed a request for over 145,000 Moderna vaccines from the United States.

Once all eligible children are vaccinated, health officials said that achieving the theoretical herd immunity coverage, which is more than 80 percent of the total population in the country, would become more realistic.

So far, 65 percent of the total population have been fully vaccinated (both doses) and 76.5 percent of the total population have received the first dose of the vaccine.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Farmers’ groups wait long for project to start

Mon, 09/06/2021 - 11:11

Nima | Gelephu

Four years after Tarayana Foundation supported a group of farmers in Shariphu of Singye gewog, Sarpang, to produce reusable plates and bowls using areca nut leaves, people are still waiting for the project to start.

A small production house where the machinery sets were supposed to be installed is empty and filled with old clothes. A small part of the roof is torn. The unit was not used even for a day.

Plate-making hydraulic machinery was stored in the house for the past four years until an official from the foundation lifted the machinery for repair recently.

A group member said that it was disappointing to see the project remaining incomplete and idle. “We hope the plan comes through. Farmers worked for almost two weeks and contributed planks to build the house.”

She said that the group reported the need to install the machine to the former coordinator repeatedly. “The official told that he was coming but he never came. We heard that he left the foundation now. We couldn’t contact him later.”

Tarayana Foundation supported the group to buy the machinery and required equipment. However, the machinery was not even put to work for a day.

It is being taken to Tsirang for repair today.

A farmer leased the land to the group of 34 farmers for free to set up the unit.

There are over 35 households in Shariphu. Most people from the remote village in Singye depends on areca nut for cash.

While the nuts were exported, leaves from areca nut trees remain discarded and it turns into a mosquitoes breeding source when it rains.

“The project would have helped us in reducing malaria and dengue-related cases and help us earn additional revenue. It would make us financially stable,” a villager said.

Singye Gup Lachu Man Rai, said that the project could have benefitted people and also replace plastic plates and mugs in the gewog. “We could also sell to other gewogs. There was a good market for it.”

He said that the machinery and equipment were monitored last month. “The officials found out that it couldn’t be used. It will be returned to the group after the maintenance.”

Farmers in Singye prefer to grow areca nut as the damage from the wildlife is minimum on the cash crop.

Field officer Namgay said that the machine would be returned to the group next year as it was difficult to get the spare parts and technical person for the repair.

He said two field officers who were supposed to implement the project resigned and the machine kept in the house was not well-taken care.  “We are asking the former officers about the project. No proper hand taking was done and we don’t know the project well.”

He said the project needs bigger houses. There are five different sets of equipment.

Namgay said the gewog and dzongkhag assured to help build a better structure.

Edited by Tashi Dema

NRDCL struggles to sell sand and stone in east

Mon, 09/06/2021 - 11:10

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

With export restriction and domestic construction halted due to Covid-19 pandemic, the Natural Resources Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL) is struggling to sell sand and stone in the east.

The corporation’s regional manager (RM) in Mongar, Tandin Wangchuk, said more than 30,000 truckloads of sand and 6,500 truckloads of stones are in stock in its various sites and depots.

Of the unsold stock, 18,000 truckloads of sand are in Bangtar, Samdrupjongkhar, 8,000 truckloads in 18 sites along the banks of Sherichhu and Drangmechhu river, 3,000 and 1,500 truckloads of sand at Durungri and Khagari in Nganglam.

During the pre-pandemic times, NRDCL sold about 10,500 truckloads of sand in the eastern region annually.

Tandin Wangchuk said the demand for sands and stone dropped as constructions were stalled due to shortage of imported and cost escalation in transporting construction materials due to the pandemic.

He said Denchi new township in Pemagatshel with more than 150 plots was the main target but of 47 buildings that were required to complete by 2020, only three structures were completed. “Construction of other buildings are stalled in the absence of labourers.”

The regional manager also said there is no demand for sand as Kholongchhu is in infant stage with labour camp construction and it is not certain when Kuri-Gongri construction would begin.

Similarly, 3,000 and 3,500 truckloads of stones are in stock at two sites in Samdrupjongkhar and Nganglam, which were mainly for export.

However, NRDCL officials said the stones gathered through surface collection and dredging from three sites were stagnated after exporting about 4,000 truckloads in three months since its commencement from September to December, 2019.

Tandin Wangchuk said there is a huge demand for boulders from the border Assam state and Guwahati but they cannot export it.

He said three boulder extraction sites have the capacity to extract between 4,500 to 5,000 truckloads of stones in a year.

He also said NRDCL had also identified and demarcated 10 more sites along the river banks between Nganglam in Pemagatshel and Jomotsangkha in Samdrupjongkhar. “But we don’t know when we would extract it.”

NRDCL officials said except for criptomeria species and red oak timber, almost all the six depots in the eastern region have no timber in stock.

Criptomeria species are those that the government initiated mass plantation a few years ago in various locations, but later had to fell the trees due to alleged spreading of synopsis and rashes.

There is not much domestic demand for criptomeria timber for being softer but NRDCL sold 35,000cft at a lower rate to a private individual in Siliguri, India.

Officials said the same individual had also demanded the additional rest of the 36,000cft of timber in stock.

The timbers were collected from Yonphula and Wamrong in Trashigang and Rongmanchhu in Lhuentse but with no hope for the situation to get better any sooner, Tandin Wangchuk said the remaining timber was being transported to the Lingmethang depot since September 2.

The timbers would be sown in panelling size, preserve in the shed and sell them after making panels from the joinery in Lingmethang, which has higher demand in the local market.

Similarly, around 7,000cft of red oak extracted from Dongdechhu, Trashiyangtse, which were brought to the joinery in Lingmethang to sell after making into door and window frames and flooring as there is no demand for this hardest wood, which has a lifespan of over three centuries, in both log and sown form.

NRDCL’s Zhongar region in the east currently extracts about 200,000cft of timber reduced from 400,000cft in the recent times due to lack of demand in the region.

Edited by Tashi Dema

Gasa dzongkhag to assess flood damages and plan mitigation works in tshachhu 

Mon, 09/06/2021 - 11:10

Phurpa Lhamo | Gasa

Gasa dzongkhag would plan for flood mitigation works after assessing the damages at Gasa tshachhu, according to dzongrab Dorji Gyeltshen.

The swollen Mochhu washed away the tshachhu ponds on August 26 this year.

According to the dzongrab, the dzongkhag administration is waiting for the river to subside to assess the damages and implement mitigation work.

He said that before reconstructing the ponds at the site, a flood mitigation work was important. “We are making a comprehensive plan before reconstructing the tshachhu ponds.”

Dzongrab Dorji Gyeltshen said flood mitigation plan would try to broaden the river course to decrease the speed of the river and avoid damage to the tshachhu site.

Earlier, a river diversion work had diverted 30 percent of the river through a different course, while 70 percent of the Mochhu flowed near the tshachhu ponds.

According to the dzongrab, the small hill separating the two river courses would be merged to broaden the river course. “A retaining wall would be constructed along the riverbank near the tshachhu ponds.”

He said they would raise the ground of the tshachhu if possible. “But that will depend on how forceful the tshachhu source is. If the tshachhu water cannot reach up, then we cannot raise the ground but if there is force, we will raise the level of the tshachhu ground.”

The volume of the Mochhu is expected to subside only by November when the dzongkhag starts receiving less rainfall.

“Since Gasa falls in a rain shadow, the river will only subside by November,” Dorji Gyeltshen said. “Until October, there is nothing we can do.”

Currently, an excavator has been deployed at the site. Boulders are being deposited at the site to protect the source and avoid further erosion of the land at tshachhu site.

Dorji Gyeltshen said that the source was intact. “But the height of the source might go down because a valley has been created by the river.”

The tshachhu witnessed similar flooding in 2009, when ponds, shops, an outreach clinic and an attached room, and public toilets were washed off.

Currently, the tshachhu manager and a police constable are at the site to keep guard of the property.

Edited by Tashi Dema

GC road improvement progress excites villagers

Mon, 09/06/2021 - 11:09

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

With progress in the improvement work of 8.2km gewog centre (GC), villagers of Phobjikha are happy that the troubles with the bad road would finally be over. Today, almost 65 percent of the work has been completed.  

This came as a huge relief to farmers and homestay owners in Phobjikha and Gangtey gewogs.

According to homestay owner Yangka, poor road conditions had been a concern for many visitors. “When bringing international guests, the agents complained about the bad road,” Yangka said.

Phobjikha Gup Jamtsho said that with improved road conditions, large scale potato growers would benefit immensely since it would ease transport for sale. “Farmers would raise concerns about how risky it was to have trucks with heavy loads travelling on pothole-ridden roads.”

The route to a primary health centre and the central school in Phobjikha was also bifurcated from the GC road. Currently, workers are laying of the wet mix macadam (WMM). 

Wangdue dzongkhag planning officer Passang Dorji said that the work progress was good. 

He added that the road would have a French drain system, which was more effective for marshy areas such as Phobjikha valley. 

“The blacktopping won’t take long. And the contractor has the raw materials as well. The contractor is experienced, has human resource and machinery too.”

Except for applying bitumen on the road surface four years ago, the GC road had not received any major renovation.

Gup Jamtsho said that the road was once maintained with a budget of Nu 30,000 a kilometer in the past. “Even farmers voluntarily provided tractors to help maintain the road.”

The government has approved Nu 85 million (M) for the work. Passang Dorji said that the quoted price was Nu 86.57M. “The remaining amount would be paid from the dzongkhag budget.”

The project work began in May this year. While the contract term is one year, the work is expected to complete in December this year.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Bhutanese athletes break personal records at Tokyo Paralympic Games 

Mon, 09/06/2021 - 11:09

Thinley Namgay   

In their first major Paralympic games, the three Bhutanese Paralympians outdid themselves setting new personal records.

The last competition for Bhutan was on September 4, where para-athlete Chimi Dema took part in the women’s F40 shot put event at the Olympic Stadium.

Chimi Dema broke her personal best record of 4.51 metres (m) and set a  new record of 5.04m. She stood last out of nine participants.

Chimi said that she did her best. “This is the biggest competition. I learnt that we have to do more training and work harder to compete with others.”

She said that she would work hard after reaching back. “One day, Bhutan will also win medals. We have to be optimistic.”

She said, “Japan is a developed nation, and their arrangement for this competition was perfect.” 

On September 3, para-archer Pema Rigsel lost to Kirill Smirnov of Russia in the men’s individual recurve open archery elimination round. However, Pema won one of the three sets. During the ranking round on August 27 at the Yumenoshima Park Archery Field, he scored 523 points out of 720.

On September 4, para-athlete Gyeltshen also broke his own record in the men’s F40, shot put event at the Olympic Stadium. Gyeltshen threw 6.31m surpassing his previous record of  6.29m.

The 16th edition games saw 4,537 para-athletes from 163 nations featuring 22 sports, covering 539 medal events at 19 venues. The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games began on August 24 in Japan and ended yesterday.

Team China took home 207 medals, followed by the United Kingdom and the United States with 124 and 104 medals, respectively.

Among the SAARC member countries, India bagged 19 medals, Sri Lanka got two, and Pakistan snatched one.

The athletes will reach home on September 13.

Edited by Tshering Palden

CodeMonkey in Bhutanese schools

Mon, 09/06/2021 - 11:09

Bhutan is looking at an education system that is time-relevant. But then, what does it really mean?

After many years of development experience, the country needs an education system that can give its young people the academic and skills advantage to succeed individually and to make significant contributions to advance the bigger national dreams.

Where is Bhutan in this awesome dream?

We have a long way to go. We know what reforms we need in the system and who must play the central roles to make the reforms a success.

CodeMonkey is the latest intervention in Bhutanese schools today to activate scientific curiosity in children from pre-primary up. However, this fun and educational game-based programme from where our children can learn how to code and navigate through bigger and more complex programming world, seems to be waddling in difficult waters.

Where there are computers, there aren’t trained teachers to teach. Where there are trained teachers to teach, there aren’t enough computers; and, where there are teachers and computers, there is no reliable internet.

Who is to blame?

The education ministry says that it has done all in its capacity to roll out the programme. Department of Information Technology and Telecom says it has done its best to connect all the Bhutanese schools with reliable infrastructure and networks.

The reality is that some schools have been able to roll out the programme and others haven’t.

The network provider, education ministry, and schools authorities, can work together, why not?

August, the timeline for seamless rollout of the programme is long gone. Yet our many players with the mandate to introduce CodeMonkey in Bhutanese schools do not seem to look each other in the eye. This serious disconnect is going to have a lasting impact on generations of Bhutanese children.

For a landlocked country like ours, education and innovation are our biggest strengths. We are already talking about robotics and space science. These are dreams worth dreaming but our dreams should have solid foundations.

How we educate our children so is critically important. In a fast changing world, even a minute’s delay in decisions could leave us centuries behind.

That’s why we must reform our education system, that’s why we must invest in it; that’s why government must give special emphasis on making it a reality.

It’s a race we are already in and we must win. There is no other option. Reform in education must receive special priority. For Bhutan, all the more!

Bhutan’s biggest asset in the coming years will be in education reform and their success. CodeMonkey is here. We have many more steps to cross—and fast. We can’t falter anymore.

Consumers don’t benefit from revised customs duty

Mon, 09/06/2021 - 11:08

Yangyel Lhaden  

Despite the customs duty revision two months ago, prices of imported third-country goods have not dropped, according to retailers and shoppers.

The Customs (Amendment) Act 2021 which came into effect in July was expected to make the third-country goods except for automobile, tobacco, and automobile cheaper in the local market to benefit the consumers.

Customs duty on third-country imports is reduced to uniform 10 percent or zero from the rates up to 50 precent prior to revision.

An importer in Thimphu said that it was difficult to reduce the price of third-country imports with an increase in transportation charges and daily overhead charges when vehicles were stranded in Phuentsholing. “Vehicles get stranded for weeks in mini-dry port (MDP) in Phuentsholing and we have to bear the overhead charges.”

He said that if there was no issue in transportation from MDP consumers could expect cheaper rates on third-country imports.

A wholesale dealer said that if the reduced customs duty did not come into effect the prices of third-country imports would have soared  in the market. “We can balance the rate and not increase the rate of commodities because there is tax reduction.” 

Phurba, the owner of shop Number 7, said that wherever possible prices of certain third-country goods were reduced. 

More discounts would be given when the situation improves.

A wholesale dealer who imports canned meat said that she was planning to import this year’s batch next month. “I can assure the price in the market will not increase but considering the pandemic, the price will also not drop.”

Another wholesale dealer said that the price of third-country goods was decided by the market. He said, for instance, Pringles cost Nu 90 at the source and it was sold for Nu 200 in Bhutan. “If people did not go for Pringles and bought another brand of chips  the price of Pringles will  naturally go down.”

He said that how much the price of third-country imports would reduce will also depend on consumer’s choices and market competition. “Importers know the cost price and it’s up to them how much to reduce.”

He added, if the market is comfortable with Nu 10 reduction and people still buy then there might not be a further reduction.

Consumers who talked to Kuensel said that the intent of the revision in customs duty has not been met since it has only benefited the importers.

The Ministry of Finance on July 23 notified that it will refund the customs duty levied in excess of the new rates on the goods imported on or after May 31.

An official from the Department of Revenue and Customs (DRC) said that they were in the process to refund the excess customs duty as lockdown in Phuentsholing delayed the procedure.

He said that the reduced customs tax was intended to benefit the consumers and when consumers are not getting the benefit the importers are not entitled to a refund. “For the refund, the importers have to prove they sold the goods at a reduced rate through their detailed cash memo.”

The official added if transportation charges were the reason for not reducing the market price of goods then why did shopkeepers not reduce the price of commodities of the goods during the lockdown when fuel price was at the lowest at Nu 60. “A strong monitoring on the ground is important so that consumers’ right is ensured.”

Edited by Tshering Palden

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